Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand. Penguin Group, Penguin Books USA, Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, USA. ISBN 0-451-17192-6 Paperback. vii + 1084 pages. 1957. $7.99.
D. van Oort
Atlas Shrugged is the opus magnum of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, and is the first work of fiction to be reviewed in these pages. Its theme is the role of the mind in the affairs of man. Atlas Shrugged illustrates this dramatically and memorably by showing just why, for the first time in history, the men of ability should go on strike against the advocates of incompetence and the purveyors of envy, and what will happen when they do.
"Who is John Galt?" Throughout Ayn Rand's brilliant expose of the decline of the industrialized west disguised as a novel, this is the question that pervades every page. "Who is John Galt?" is not a question, it is a smear spit out by every incompetent, every altruist, every hater of intellect who demands to know how competent men dare to be competent, how selfish men dare to despise altruism, and how intelligent men dare hold the willfully ignorant in contempt. "Who is John Galt?" is the unspoken demand by the mob that men of competence, ability and intelligence serve them as slaves. "Who is John Galt?" is the sneer muttered by stock-yard animals who cringe before the individual who denies the collectivist-altruist premise, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
The heroes of Atlas Shrugged answer the altruist-collectivist demand for their servitude by refusing them the one thing the altruist-collectivists cannot shackle--their minds. This resistance is beautifully stated by the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, when the collectivists demand that he return to "do something" to save a world they are willfully destroying:
"We are evil, according to your morality. We have chosen not to harm you any longer. We are useless, according to your economics. We have chosen not to exploit you any longer. We are dangerous and to be shackled, according to your politics. We have chosen not to endanger you, nor to wear the shackles any longer. We are only an illusion, according to your philosophy. We have chosen not to blind you any longer and have left you free to face reality--the reality you wanted, the world as you see it now, a world without mind."
Atlas Shrugged is set in a despicable near future, one much nearer today than when the book was first published in 1957. From the beginning, Atlas Shrugged was denounced and slandered by critics from both the socialist liberal appeaser and conservative Buckley-ite compromiser schools. Precisely because its theme is the role of the mind; because its scenario is a world increasingly of, by, and for the mindless; because it illustrates so beautifully the types of ideologies that lead to power blackouts in New York City and the creativity that leads to the discovery of new types of energy; because it predicted events and policies that have occurred since, and because it is the story of the most intractable of resisters on strike against those very ideologies, events and policies that are choking the life out of us today--this book is not dated. Indeed, it is prophetic. Atlas Shrugged is coming of age with a vengeance.
Throughout the novel, John Galt, defying every disgusting premise of altruism and collectivism travels the country on a mission of sedition to recruit true capitalists to his strike. In response to demands that he return with "the men of the mind" he defiantly states:
"All the men who have vanished, the men you hated, yet dreaded to lose, it is I who have taken them away from you. Do not attempt to find us. We do not choose to be found. Do not cry that it is our duty to serve you. We do not recognize such duty. Do not cry that you need us. We do not consider need a claim. Do not cry that you own us. You don't. Do not beg us to return. We are on strike, we, the men of the mind."
As with any legitimate work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged projects an ideal. So why would the ideal productive genius, Francisco d'Anconia, destroy his copper mines and become a useless playboy? Why would a brilliant young philosopher, Ragnar Danneskjold, sail the high seas as a pirate, waylaying ships transporting looted capital to various "People's States"? Why would the most brilliant of them all, John Galt, whose greatest invention is looted by the unworthy heirs to the once-great company he worked for, wage a clandestine war against the world by removing the men most hated by it? Why would the heroine, Dagny Taggart, after struggling against the combined efforts of the world to destroy her transcontinental railroad, vow to kill this man, and upon breaching the strikers' security, meet him and fall in love with him?
And what kind of new ideology would they forge from the ashes of two thousand years of mysticism, altruism and collectivism? What will be the greatest gift they give to the world, they, the ideal who are only concerned with themselves? This is their gift:
"We have granted you everything you demanded of us, we who had always been the givers, but have only now understood it. We have no demands to present to you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. WE DO NOT NEED YOU."
Atlas Shrugged is a long book, a great read for a long winter. But be warned; Atlas Shrugged is much like these pages it is reviewed on, because not everyone can handle it, and not everyone would like for you to read it. In spite of that, it is proper that Atlas Shrugged repeatedly tops the Book of the Month Club's bestseller list, because the type of person who reads this book is the type who makes his decisions on his own, for his own reasons, and for his own benefit.
If you have reason to seek a real literary masterpiece, and if you think you can benefit from a genuine ideological challenge, follow the tale of a few great men and women in a mindless world of "People's States" and cringing appeasers, as they launch the ultimate resistance movement for the ultimate reason, and stop the motor of the world.
Atlas Shrugged will reward you like no other book known to this reviewer. It will do so with entertainment, suspense, one hell of a premise, and a few years worth of things to think about.
But don't take my word for it. Judge for yourself.
Atlas Shrugged may be ordered from: Second Renaissance Books, 143 West St/PO Box 1988, New Milford, CT 06776. 1-800-729-6149 (orders only).