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Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021

Introduction

“Atlas Shrugged” is a passionate appeal for the liberation of human mind as ‘mystics of spirit’ and ‘mystics of muscle’ denies the mind’s role in human life, and Ayn Rand challenges the long-held belief that human beings should simply follow their heart. Being an ardent follower of Aristotle, Rand views the world as made up of individual entities, and understands causality as the relationship between an entity and the actions necessitated by its nature. Her philosophy is based on a close look at the history of scientific, technological, and Industrial Revolutions of nineteenth century, and understanding of the benefits of political/economic freedom of the capitalist system that could carry the nation to prosperity and greatness.

The picture of United States in Atlas Shrugged is heavily dominated by an unselfish moral code, a collectivist dictatorship, which holds that an individual has no right to his life, but must serve society. The cult of John Galt uphold a system of limited government and political/economic freedom, a tolerant society that liberates the great creative minds to develop new ideas and products, free from exploitation by the dictators. Rand combines metaphysics, morality, economics, politics, and sex, and with the characterization of Ragnar Ranneskjold, and other lot of John Galt tries to show the bond between metaphysics and economics in Atlas Shrugged. In this context, the deep moral meaning of the statement of Ragnar Ranneskjold that “Robin Hood is the man he is out to destroy” has to be analyzed on the hypothesis of Rand’s philosophy of “metaphysical realism.”

Discussion

Rand saw human products as physical manifestation of human spirituality and her view that there should be no divide between mind and body, between ideas and actions. Rand draws a sharp difference between the man made and the metaphysically given, as metaphysical phenomenon cannot be judged. The hypothesis of Rand’s philosophy is called “metaphysical realism,” which states that “in reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, is to perceive reality not to create or invent it.

Rand adopted the genus of good fiction writing in Atlas Shrugged, as the conflicts of her extremely willful characters are built powerfully throughout the story, until they are finally resolved in a climax that demonstrates the theme. Her theme is the importance of reason to human life, and her plot, characters, dialogue, and descriptions all reinforce to advance that theme. Her characters are realistic, “are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings.” She also states “My characters are never symbols; they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. It implies that readers should have insight to see her characters through the filter of a guiding theme, as she focuses selectively on the trait and motives that made each character distinctive.

Rand’s concept of man as a heroic being—her vision of human beings as able to achieve great things, and the universe as open to their efforts—is a hallmark of her thought, and certainly a significant part of her widespread appeal. The philosophy of Ayn Rand 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” (Rand).

Atlas Shrugged is structured in three major parts, each named in tribute to Aristotle’s laws of logic, titled “Non-Contradiction,” “Either-Or,” and “A Is A,” typically suggesting the multiple layers of meaning and implications each has. In the outer layer it is a tale expressing the views of Dagny Taggart, chief of operations, of a railroad company, who is keen to know the cause apparently inexplicable for collapse of her railroad company ‘Taggart Transcontinental’.

The novel begins with a question “Who is John Galt?,” a popular phrase whose origins no one knows, but which seems to summarize all the feelings of pain, fear, and guilt that grips the world, and it is also an indicator to the basic mystery of the plot, which is intricately woven into the web of the novel till its end. In part Two, a glimpse of John Galt comes from the remark of Dr. Stadler that he knew a John Galt once: “a mind of such brilliance that, had he lived, the whole world would be talking about him.” Only at the end readers will realize that the reasons for the disintegrating world, for the disappearing men of ability, and motives of each character involved in the plot lie in discovering the answer to this basic question: “Who is John Galt?’

The question “Who is John Galt?” is asked repeatedly throughout Atlas Shrugged, and his identity is revealed in the latter part as the man who stopped the motor of the world and leader of the ‘Strikers’, and has another title the Mystery Worker. Galt perceived what was wrong with the world and what has to be done to stop it. He puts his mind on strike, and started persuading the other men of the mind to go on strike as well. The Strikers were people of the mind who went on strike, because they do not appreciate being exploited by the ‘Looters,’ who demonized by a society that depends on the strikers for its very existence. The Looters are a group of evil characters, consisting men and women, who use force to obtain value from those who produce it. They seek to destroy the producers despite the fact that they are dependent upon them. Each character created by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged has unique features of their own, role to play, and send a message to society that what is perceived right and according to the books of law are not so, and calls for a complete overhauling of the established government system and machinery, to be successful in a competition filled capitalist economy.

Ragnar Danneskjold is a friend of John Galt, who joins the strike at its very inception. A brilliant philosopher, who chooses to fight the looters as a pirate, he robs their ships and restores the wealth to the people who produced it. Danneskjold is the opposite of Robin Hood: he takes from the parasitical and restores wealth to the productive. The character, Ragnar Danneskjold (appears in front of Rearden, looking like a beggar, carrying gold) is one of the original Strikers, son of a bishop and the scion of one of Norway’s most ancient, noble families, turned famous as a pirate, disowned and excommunicated by established society. Ragnar seizes relief ships that are being sent from the United States to Europe, and reportedly his ship is better than any available in the fleets of the world’s navies. No one knows what he does with the goods he seizes. But, his words,

“I have never robbed a private ship nor taken any private property. Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel…But, I have seized every looter-carrier that came within range of my guns, every government relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship, every vessel with a cargo of goods taken by force from some men for the unpaid, unearned benefit of others,”

gives true picture of his personality and substantiate his motive to destroy Robin Hood, as an action to change the myth prevailing in the American Society that all produces should be shared with the have-nots, non-producers (Rand). While discussing with Hank Rearden, he further adds:

“The idea that need is a sacred idol requiring human sacrifices—…that all of us must live with our work, our hopes, our plans, …This is the horror which Robin Hood immortalized as an ideal of righteousness. It is said that he fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man, who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth, which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity.”

Ragnar and his striker allies judge that under the guise of ‘public good’ the government is executing socialist policies, confiscating patents, controlling production and trade, imposing heavy taxes, and subsidizing unproductive business at the cost expense of productive ones, which is prohibition of capitalist characteristics. It is perceived that with the ban of entrepreneurs and drop in productive output there will be steady destruction in worldwide prosperity and decline in American civilization. The government directive attaching men to their jobs, prohibiting them from leaving their employment may not be tolerable for the free great minds. It may be seen that the moral theory that a man must sacrifice himself for others, and the political belief that an individual exist to serve the state is renounced by the strikers, under the leadership of John Galt.

Atlas Shrugged portrays great businessmen as heroic, productive thinkers, and it venerates capitalism as the only social system that leaves such minds free to create and produce the material values on which all our lives depend. It gives philosophic and esthetic expression to the uniquely American spirit of individualism; of self-reliance; of entrepreneurship; of free market. While many people appreciate these elements of Atlas Shrugged on a personal, emotional level, often they are uncomfortable on a moral level with the novel’s arguments in support of business and capitalism. Rand’s ethical philosophy of rational selfishness and impassioned defense of capitalism constitute a radical challenge to the dominant beliefs of American culture. Ragnar’s character is a quintessence of the virtue of justice, who understands that those whose actions benefit man’s life on earth are good. The looting politicians, whose oppressive laws make creativity and production impossible, are evil. The essential message of the story is that the men of the mind, who like Atlas, carry the world on their shoulders, gradually get fed up with being exploited and abused, would retire from the world, shrugging the burden.

“In the form of a suspenseful, romantic, tightly-woven mystery spanning more than a thousand pages, and following scores of characters across a sweeping panorama of American life, Rand simultaneously dramatized and demonstrated every major aspect of a new moral code.” (Bidinotto).

Works Cited

Bidinotto, Robert James. Atlas Shrugged as Literature. The Atlas Soceity. 1990-2005. Web.

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. Mass Market Paperback-35th Anniversary Edition: Barnes & Nobles, 1996.

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