The WSJ pays tribute on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”
Robert Tracinski writes on “The Historic Significance of Atlas Shrugged:”
The most radical aspect of Atlas Shrugged is that Ayn Rand found suspense, heroism, and profound philosophical meaning in the achievements of the entrepreneurs and industrialists who were reshaping the world.
Atlas Shrugged was written in an age of creeping global socialism. Extrapolating from the trends of the day, Ayn Rand projected a future in which most of the world’s nations are collapsing into the poverty and oppression of socialist “people’s states,” while America itself is collapsing under the weight of an increasing government takeover of the economy.
She saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen–after decades of being vilified and regulated–started to disappear? The disappearance of the world’s productive geniuses provides the novel’s central mystery, both factually and intellectually.
Factually, the story follows Dagny Taggart, a woman in the then-unconventional role of operating vice-president of a transcontinental railroad, as she struggles to keep her railroad running under the burden of strangling government regulations, while trying to solve a series of mysteries: a promising young railroad worker refuses a promotion and takes up a menial job instead; a spectacularly talented heir to a multinational copper company abandons his work to become a flamboyant playboy; a genius who invented a revolutionary new motor abandons his creation in the ruins of a derelict factory.
The factual question is: where did all of these people go? Why did they give up their work? Is there someone or something that is causing them to disappear?
The philosophical question raised by this plot is: what is the role of the entrepreneurs and innovators in a society? What motivates them, what are the conditions they need in order to work, and what happens to the world when they disappear? The factual mystery is integrated with the novel’s deepest philosophical question: what is the moral status of the businessman and industrialist?
Capitalism unleashed an extraordinary burst of scientific and technological innovation and of human creativity–yet this had largely gone unrecognized as a phenomenon with any moral or intellectual significance. Ayn Rand was the first to celebrate the accomplishments of the James Watts and Andrew Carnegies and Thomas Edisons and to recognize in their productive energies an example of moral heroism.
Robert Bidinotto blogs about an “Atlas Shrugged” celebration in Washington. The producers of the upcoming movie were there. I’m still not sold on Angelina Jolie. And I’m not sure Ayn Rand would be, either. Guess we’ll really see, given her Hollywood politics, how good of an actress she is.
The Ayn Rand Institute is here.
Exit question: Did you read the book? Share your thoughts. I read it my senior year of high school, memorized parts of Galt’s lengthy monologue at the end of the book, and re-read it in college as solace from the crazy, anti-capitalist atmosphere on campus. No, it’s not the greatest piece of literature ever written, but it’s the kind of polemical fiction that’s missing these days on the right.
Who is John Galt?
Who is the next Ayn Rand?