Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957) is the fictional story of industrialists vs. socialists in mid-twentieth century America. However, in her novel, the real movers and shakers of society – the very top industrialists, businessmen, inventors, scientists, managers, etc. – decided to shun the socialist government and society that was living off their hard work like a nation of vampires, leading to a national (global?) collapse.
Having heard of it for years, I only just now finally got around to reading the book. Although widely acclaimed, including in some survivalists circles, I was completely underwhelmed by this book; Suburban Survivalist Shrugged. Why? Two main reasons; the characters and the overall philosophy.
The main characters simply were not believable; they were gross caricatures. The businessmen were driven in business but inexplicably could not understand the need to lobby in Washington, a trait rare if not non-existent in truly successful businessmen.
In her story, these genuine heroes of civilization, prompted by none other than John Galt, decide to forsake society until said society appreciates their efforts and stops living off them like remoras. This is also unrealistic; talented others are always waiting to fill any vacuum in such fields. That’s reality.
The socialists characters (mostly government, but some businessmen who inherited their companies) were so stupid as not to understand that a business cannot operate at a loss and still continue to function. While some socialists must indeed be that dense (the early twentieth century was apparently full of such men), these characters simply did not have the ring of reality.
The philosophy Rand expounds upon in Atlas Shrugged is Objectivism. Rand describes it as:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
To her this also means, as expounded upon in the book and later interviews, an almost anarchist reliance on capitalism, no charity, and the rejection of religion. Neither realistic nor desirable, in my opinion. Of course I’m distilling it down to the bare essence, but it’s still unacceptable to me. It could be termed Calvinism in an anarchy, without God.
I’m a Christian (not the preachy kind, hopefully evident if you read this blog), and believe in charity. Rand rejects religion and the concept of charity completely, which I cannot and will not do. I do reject the government engaging in charity and forcing me to pay for it, however.
Probably the main point could have been made just as well with about half the pages, over one thousand in the 50th anniversary edition paperback I read. Very well written, especially for someone doing so in a second language, but a lot of unneeded detail.
It almost seems if Rand was seeking to establish her own religion/cult of sorts, but without a spiritual – or mystical, as she put it – deity at the center. I get the feeling an adherents to Objectivism would deliver their pitch with that same thousand-yard stare you’d get from someone trying to sell you on Amway or Scientology.
With all that negativity up front, it should be clear that Rand developed and wrote the book while much of Europe was succumbing to socialist ideals after WWII. She also correctly predicted America’s slippery slope into socialism.
My suggestion is read this book, despite the flaws I see (you may not). Borrow it from the library, know what it’s about. Rand makes many very good, if slightly unrealistic, points about the absurdity of socialism.
I’ll close with a key phrase from the book: