Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

A colossal tome reflective of Ayn Rand’s literary greatness, her magnum opus- a beautiful volume brimming with burning conviction, fierce challenges to societal values and morals, packaged in a deceivingly modest-looking paperback. Ayn Rand- in her complete appreciation for individuality- pays homage to the driving forces of the world, the men (and women) without whom the zenith of the Golden ages, the pinnacle of scientific achievement, and the culmination of artistic creativity would not be possible. At times dark, and at others full of hope and intrigue, Atlas Shrugged falls into the category of utopian/dystopian fiction.

However, at the heart of it all, it’s a love story.

Yes, a love story.

Love for an ideal, love for a person with an ideal, love for what is right, what is true, and what isn’t defined by society. I suppose that’s Rand’s definition of love. Love of a value. That’s why Dagny loves Hank, loves Franscisco, loves Galt. Why they all love each other, in the purest form of love, by Rand’s definition. They hold a common value. Rand denounces the thought that love isn’t earned- that love is simply a devoted dedication to one person, regardless of who, what, why a person is. Love is earned.

Words cannot begin to describe Atlas Shrugged- a fair objective (we now know the basis of Objectivism, a philosophy sprung out from the depths of Rand’s beliefs) critique of it would take far more words than the length of the book (which amounts to about 600 000 words) to be formed. A rather easily readable book, it is by all means accessible by teenagers, but by all regrets incredibly hard for a normal adult reader to review, let alone an adolescent like me because of its rather contradictory (well, as it seems to me) messages.

From a completely literary point of view, Atlas Shrugged is a complete jewel. It has a flawless, spurning plot that keeps you turning pages faster and faster, to the point that you start cursing your own mind for not being able to absorb the book fast enough to feed your insatiable hunger; real, emotionally relatable characters that reverberate with spirit and life; and a strong conviction that seizes your interest and refuses to loosen its grip.

At times it shocks you with its succinct, cutting-edge words that score deep wounds- her words are like swords, a weapon of sorts to defend her rights and what she stands for.

What is the most depraved type of human being?

A man without a purpose.

However, I beg to differ. The most depraved type of human being is one who refuses to look at himself/herself from the outside. One whom refuses to see themselves for who they really are, or at least try. To fully understand oneself is to reach a certain enlightenment that I don’t think I could ever hope or wish to attain, not that I wish I would. But a man who leaves society to lead him on, without giving any thought to thought and actions- without any sense of conflict- that is the most depraved man.

I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

I don’t quite agree by Ayn Rand’s philosophy; the day everyone adopts it is the day humanity ceases to be human. As a child, as someone brought up in the belief of Christianity (even as I am an agnostic now), as a Josephian, as a human out of the 7 billion living in this day and age, I believe it is my duty to give back to society, to contribute to society, to embrace the spirit of faith (not in a religion, but faith in the present, faith in the future), service, and community. As much as I want to agree with Rand (her way of inducing emotions and getting you to stand up for her characters, to regard her ideas as fundamentally right-well, it just reflects her skills with a pen), it just doesn’t feel right.

But what is right? What is good? What is true? The truth cannot be defined by epistemological criteria because it is completely subject to opinion.

Ayn Rand denounces altruistic notions. That’s the one thing I really can’t come to terms with in her philosophy, and it’s the main facet. Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to sympathize with the protagonists- they admit that their only goal is to make money, they are ruthless and disregard their family’s sycophantic pleas, and they support profit and all that it entails, on the basis that they have earned it. Reading this, you cannot help but recoil in horror- but whilst eagerly flipping the pages of parchment, you feel nothing but ringing support for these characters. Compared to the dictatorial ‘looters’- the corrupt government that lives off the work of people like Hank and Dagny, they are heroes. Looking at it from a completely detached point of view, the two groups in the story- the protagonists and the antagonists- are both evil.

But isn’t it always a choice between two evils?

And that is Ayn Rand’s ingenuity. She leaves you with no other choice, so you so desperately cling onto the strength of the protagonists as if they are heroes of life that bring justice to all- but in essence they’re mercenary businessmen (and women). It pains me to say this because I so love the characters of Dagny and Hank; but I have to view them objectively (so much for Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism).

The valley they eventually live in- a sustainable utopia in the midst of the most horrifying dystopia- seems like a heaven of sorts; one that everyone works to their capability, to their likes and their strengths, and in turn helps each other in efficiency (opportunity cost- economics!). Seems perfectly peachy, but there simply cannot be such a world where everyone is useful in one way or another! At least, not in measured terms.

As much as I love the book, I repel the philosophy. Looking at Atlas Shrugged as a book, from a completely literary point of view, it is a gem. Looking at Atlas Shrugged as some sort of philosophical guide or Rand-ish bible? That calls for something much more to be desired.

The book does have redeeming philosophical thoughts, though- beautiful words:

If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception.

My mother wondered if Atlas Shrugged was what she and my father termed ‘a cult book’ and a generally bad influence. I suppose, if given to unsuspecting young, motivated men that constantly face obstacles to what they are trying to pursue- people weighting them down for what they are destined to do- well, I think we would have a revolution on our hands. But the truth is, those who are truly motivated and determined to achieve something for themselves, wouldn’t be concerned with how it benefits society. In fact, they would be delighted that their work could be put into use. The environment in Atlas Shrugged means that men are manufacturing weapons for their own murder- the government in Atlas Shrugged is nothing but a bunch of thieving louts. But it’s different in our society, so it makes her philosophy irrelevant.

Yes, this book promotes selfishness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read it. There will always be unjustified voices, irrational thinking (hidden in disguise of perfectly rational arguments), and crime in the world. Does that mean we have to bury our heads in the sand like ostriches (which, by the way, is only a myth and a figure of speech- even ostriches have the sense not to remain ignorant of their threats)?

No, we just siphon out what is right and wrong and stick by no man’s reasoning but our own.

On that cue, I will end this review with two ratings:

Book: 6.5/7 (Only weighed down by the fact that the vast majority of people who hardly have time to sit through a 600 000 word book!)

Philosophy: 2/7

I don’t know if it’s a fair rating, or if I’m just being biased. But oh well, who is John Galt?


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