Shrugging Atlas?

Pics of Atlas Shrugged

A tattoo of one of the main statements of the book
A tattoo of one of the main statements of the book

En route from our honeymoon in Disneyland to our regular moon in Cincinnati, I hit upon a brilliant idea to make the 15-plus hour car ride more enjoyable: get a book on audio. Before we left, we found a miniature mecca in the form of Borders at the Florida mall. After a much delayed parting, my new husband and I left with a copy of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (my idea) and Spock v. Q (his idea). When it was my turn to drive, I insisted on putting my choice, especially as we were both tired and I wanted to indulge in my own whim. What followed gave us the opportunity to reexamine our own ideas of the economy and government involvement.

Atlas Shrugged, in the words of one of my longtime friends from high school, is incredibly conservative and has a baseline argument that amounted to disfavoring those who just couldn't get a break while approving those whose sole aim was to just make money. The material was so offensive to her mind that she stopped reading several chapters in. This isn't too surprising. According to Wikipedia, when Atlas Shrugged was first published, critics generally disliked it and thought it was very hate-filled. One critic said it was a "nightmare." Yet the book remains a classic and, according to my husband, it usually sells more during times of economic downturn. And in view of the events happening today, it seems chillingly relevant.

One of the main problems this book tackles is government intervention. It is the "boys in Washington" who are responsible for causing so many of the problems. For instance, one of the acts that is passed is the fair share act, which mandates that each company put out their own fair share of a product and no more than any other. This is done to discourage monopolies from forming. In the context of the story, this is ridiculous because Reardon Metal is so superior to the product that his competitor puts out. Yet as the government becomes increasingly extricated with businesses through the laws it passes, leading industrialists begin to quit or go on strike to protest. This then causes a dearth of capable industrialists who play more integral roles in the economy than their opponents would like to admit. In many ways, some of the situation presented parallels some of the situations in the U.S.

Unless you are living under a rock, you can't escape hearing debates about the new health care plan that Obama is seeking to implant. Whether or not you agree with the plan or Obama, some consequences can't be overlooked regarding this. Firstly, if the health care plan does go into effect, many of the doctors claim that they would quit because they wouldn't get paid enough to compensate for the years of schooling that they will have gone through. Without the doctors to provide treatment, what good is national health care? Also, should the government become involved in something else when it has shown that it is more often than not incapable of doing so?

To better understand the government's inability to achieve its goals, take a look at its role in the education system. Specifically, the No Child Left Behind Act is a piece of legislation that fails to really help all the students that it intends to. One of the basic problems with this act is its emphasis on the school district producing progressive test scores each year. So theoretically if a school were to produce 100 percent results in every subject, they would need to improve that the following year. Otherwise, they would be under watch.

This is not to say that government intervention is entirely bad. Yet after entering Ayn Rand's chilling distopia and seeing the problems that U.S. citizens are facing today, the question then is just how much should the government be involved and in what capacity? Can government involvement really produce the solutions to the problems it attempts to solve?

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Comments 17 comments

watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 6 years ago

Good title! Ayn Rand will probably always retain the capacity to stir up strong opinions for-and-against her work. She really knows how to grab your attention with some of the conflicts/situations she builds into her stories.

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Now I've got to follow you. . . .!

I loved reading Atlas Shrugged. I thought that it was a fantastic story! Ayn sure can make a hot sex scene. . . .

HOWEVER. . . .I disagree with her philosophy. I DO understand how she came to see things the way that she did. You have to understand her situation-she's actually a Jewish woman from a wealthy family in Russia-except the communist took over.

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Ha ha! Ayn Rand's sex scenes are so funny to me! Have you ever read The Fountainhead? She writes about sex the same way there too. Cracks me up so much.

No, I didn't know that about her past, but it makes the stuff she says make so much more sense. That's awesome that you disagree with her philosophy! I feel as though I need to go through her stuff again just so I can figure out how I would argue with her. So fun.

Do you think that some of her stuff is valid? If so, what? And what parts do you think are lacking?

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

I might have to have some coffee before I'm able to give you a satisfactory answer-but I think that MOST of her ideas are valid, and that this makes her lack of compassion all the more scary.

I haven't read "The Fountainhead," but I will, eventually-but on my mypsace comments someone posted a comic that summed it up. I enjoy her style, and if that story is as good as Atlas, then I should get after the fountainhead soon.

Daniel J. Neumann profile image

Daniel J. Neumann 6 years ago from Harrisburg, Pa

Great hub, Elefanza.

Personally, I believe the government ought to re-enact Anti-Trust (or, in this case, Anti-Oligopoly) investigations. Every industry has conglomerated ownership to a handful. That's great for the government, since a few is easier to control than many... but it isn't good for us as consumers.

What we need is true capitalism (competition), not crony capitalism. We need small and medium-sized businesses. Big Government and Big Corporations are the two real issues plaguing our economy, compounding a down-ward spiral that can only lead to hyper-inflation.

Out of every hate filled episode of Glenn Beck (that I endure, to understand the Tea Party better), there is some truth in what he's saying... and that's hyper-inflation. There's no other way. We can make up the debt with tax money. It would take centuries, because of interest.

I believe nationalizing the banks, but decentralizing the government would do this nation some good.



Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

I definitely think that some conglomerates and multinationals have gotten too powerful. Especially when they go overseas and treat workers like crap. That can't be good for international relations. And I definitely agree the government also should be promoting capitalism instead of ensuring that power remains in the hands of a few (like big farmers). And the bailouts are certainly not promoting capitalism.

As for a decentralized government, I'm not certain how that would work. Theoretically, it sounds good. But if the government is decentralized, what does that imply in terms of national defense? For that matter, would the government be even more unlikely at stopping the big conglomerates from taking yet more control (if the government were to decide that it wanted to do this instead of maintaining the ease of having less to control).



Daniel J. Neumann profile image

Daniel J. Neumann 6 years ago from Harrisburg, Pa


Well, even a decentralized, confederate-like system can unify its influence for certain tasks: like national defense (conglomerating state militaries) or dismantling corporations that have an unfair (and unproductive) marketshare by decreeing in all member states, "Company X, Inc. cannot sell their product here."

I wrote an entire manifest/utopian-proposal about this, called "Libracracy." It's just an idea for the future, so people can start fixing the problems with it now.



Acid Rahne profile image

Acid Rahne 6 years ago

There was a huge argument about Ayn Rand in my facebook status stream the other day. My sole exposure to Rand comes in the form of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Virtue of Selfishness." (Philisophically I classify myself as Nietzschean, and I am also a devotee of Spinoza.) As such, I claim no deep knowledge of Rand or objective philosophy. But this was a comment my friend (an analytic psychologist) left in my stream...

"Rand was a cult figure and narcissistic in the extreme, lacked empathy, and was also prone to outbursts of rage and frustration. She exploited young, emotionally vulnerable people and frequently sabotaged their self-image with her vindictiv...e cruelty. She claimed to love her husband but carried on an affair with a younger man right in front of him, a situation that drove her husband to alcoholism as a means of escaping the pain. She had serious issues with intimacy in her relationships with men. She was also a hypochondriac--and showed signs of paranoia. She had an addictive personality, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and abused amphetamines (uppers). She despised "average" people, whom she regarded as ugly and stupid and irrational, while viewing herself in exalted terms as the greatest writer in history and the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. She was concerned with no one's needs or wants or suffering except her own. She was able to claim in print that no one had ever helped her, when in fact she had benefited for years from the charity and goodwill of relatives and business associates and friends. She alienated nearly all her friends and allies by the end of her life, and died nearly alone. I'm curious how it is you feel her philosophy leads to personal happiness or to a better world? She raged against compassion, showed disdain toward altruism and the poor, and supported an ideology of egotism that captured the likes of Alan Greenspan and Wall Street. What we know about her via biographies warrants our compassion toward her human misery, but to hail her as a virtuous guru--I think not."

According to Nietzsche who was an avid fan of the ad hom, it is important not simply to ask questions about the validity of a philosophical thesis, but to ask what sort of person would develop such ideas in the first place. (Normally critique about the philosopher his/herself is withheld, it's bad form.)

Cosidering what I now know about Rand's personality and the way she conducted her life, it begs the question: Do these things reflect on her philosophy?

I'm not sure, but it's interesting to consider, and there is never going to be any doubt that she left a mark on this country, and on philosophy in general.

Sorry for the comment on your older stuff....I was just skimming through :-P

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Hey Rahne,

Thanks for the comment. I didn't know all that information about Rand. Yet having read that, I can certainly see how her life flowed into her philosophy. Especially in the way she writes romance. The concept of fidelity isn't something that she promotes in either Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. As for her sneering at the average man, that certainly comes through in her work as well as contempt for charities.

I don't think however that her philosophy should be completely disregarded because she does make some very salient points in her works. Although sneering at the average man might be a bit much, this stance becomes a little more comprehensible when looking at what she means by this stance in her works The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In these works, it becomes clearer that she isn't sneering so much at the man who is by ability average, but at the kind of person who has so much more ability but sacrifices that ability because society expects a much watered down version of that ability. Tooehy, the arch nemesis of Howard Roark, is responsible for making the society he lives in think that "average work" is amazing, thus creating a man v. society in the struggle of Howard Roark to be an amazing architect instead of just going along with society's definition of what is good architecture. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand also has a few characters that she points out as not having the most amazing ability in terms of all the different abilities there are, but she describes them in terms of how they refuse to be less than their best.

Now for the charity part. Rand's stance certainly seems cold and heartless at face value because she's very much against charity. Yet again, this stance could better be understood within the context of her work. In Atlas Shrugged, "charity" doesn't function in the context of helping the less fortunate but rather is a tool used to force the industrialists into another level of social compliance. Charity essentially serves society's whims of what it decides is right, yet this breaks down because the society doesn't recognize the flaw in this plan. Rand's arguments against charity are seen poignantly in the character Hank Reardon, who is expected to provide for everyone because of all his hard work, and the character Francisco. Francisco has a humorous part early in the story where he gives into the idea of doing things for society and charity, yet no one does the work, the operation he sets up is shoddy, and ultimately the investors lose a lot of money. So again, you really have to understand some of Rand's stance on issues in terms of context of her works. Of course, her ideas on charity are by no means complete, but it does provide a critical way to look at what society calls "good."

Consequently, I heard how one organization's charity to another country completely destroyed that country's economy. Why try to make a livelihood on products given for free? Still, it is easy to see why Rand's philosophy might be thrown out because of her life, which is a shame because she did have some good points.

Lorenzo C 6 years ago

My initial Bachelor's was in Economics and my cultural background Chilean, Mexican and U.S.A...Having lived in Chile, Pakistan, Bangladesh, France, Spain and the United States, my comment will be brief since I have read Rand.

Rand was the impetus of a philosophical time period that also created "Blacklists" of people who believed in some wisdom of "government." She also hated any "collectivist" type of social justice.

In short, I lived through the various "right wing" economics that was forced in Latin America, and in Asia, and Ayn Rand contributed to the economic philosophic forces behind "The Chicago Boys" who catalyzed the VARIOUS Military DICTATORS who killed THOUSANDS of non-violent people associated with "collective" movements toward SOCIAL JUSTICE, a justice historically IMPOSED by European and United States FOREIGN POLICY.

Ayn Rand is a complete orifice of the lower CHEEKS of of the WORLD BODY of economics, political justice, historical verity, philosophic VERITY and any notions of cultural VALUES that MONEY and UNFETTERED Capitalism has destroyed of COUNTLESS human resources and many of the EARTH's non-renewable resources.

Ayn Rand can suck the Walnuts and Pecans of a beetle infected tree, she was a near sighted BUFFOON.

Respectfully and Kindly, further test my knowledge and I will further destroy her entire set of ridiculous writings.

~ L

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Interesting perspective, Lorenzo. Not having that same experience and mindset, I hope you don't mind answering a few questions/thoughts your comment inspires? I shall try to mimic your brevity, though my background unfortunately inclines me to failure. If you prefer to skim, I would please ask you to focus on the second to last paragraph.

First, your mention of the problems that happened in Latin America seem problematic firstly because one side of economic policy (right wing) was forced and second because it was one side of an extreme -- two ingredients for disaster for any system. Ayn Rand's philosophies, being quite extreme on the right side of things, should have been checked by opposing philosophies and ideas to create balance and catch the parts of that philosophy and analysis that wouldn’t work. It sounds, however, as though the Chicago Boys were given carte blanche to run things as they saw fit. Same with dictators like Pinochet. Bad move.

Now for the questions this prompts: Your experience has quite obviously given you a lot of reason to be skeptical of Rand’s philosophies and right wing extremism. Yet rather than blaming Rand and right wing policies specifically, couldn’t the real culprits be the following: first, the lack of opposing ideas to keep in check Rand’s philosophy, similar philosophies in power, and extreme right wing fiscal policies and second, the problem being the forced system that would by nature of it being forced automatically create opposition in which people would rise up to oppose it? Is it not possible to imagine that if an antiRand philosophy were greatly influential along with an imposed, extreme left wing policy that also managed to silence opposition, similar consequences would result?

This is not, by the way, an attempt to take away the culpability of the parties that silenced opposition and doubtless perpetrated many undocumented acts of atrocity that were committed. (are you referring to the travesty of the Dirty Wars specifically at this point?) As far as Rand is concerned, if the actual person was responsible for silencing the other side and perpetrating those same philosophies, than she, the person, should be hated and reviled. The actual person sounds quite detestable, to be quite blunt. However, does that mean that all her philosophies should be completely eschewed as well? Her perspective of coming from a communist Russia in which she saw the collective ruin her world doubtless lent another level of analysis that those coming from different backgrounds would not have. Again, the problem seems to be that her philosophy went unchecked by opposing thought. From one extreme comes another.

Now for the final question/problem. You mention US as part of your identity. So while my context of reading Rand is evidently different than yours, I find myself agreeing with some of the analysis Rand provides in Atlas Shrugged in response to events I see (and you being US might be able to provide an interesting counterpoint). So I will be interested, of course, to hear your analysis. Because while my context is not watching the unchecked extremities of Rand’s philosophy coupled with enforced right wing fiscal policies carry out untold disaster and my mindset is not as economically minded as yours, my context is watching taxpayer dollars be wasted on programs like No Child Left Behind, a program that, for all its seeming merit, is impractical, impossible and a huge time drain (yet the very kind of program that the antagonists would have thoughtlessly approved of in Atlas Shrugged for it purportedly upholds public good), it is watching as collective organizations pay lip service to what good should be done and then completely bungle the entire operation* (much like Franciso does in Atlas Shrugged with D’Anconia Copper), and it is watching the U.S gov. bail out companies that then turn around and give large bonuses and have ridiculous parties – situations similar to the ones described in Atlas Shrugged. You say that you don’t like unfettered capitalism – and I agree that historically it would be bad for the U.S. – but what are your thoughts exactly on the government’s decision to bail out big businesses, offer farm subsidies, and do other maneuvers that influence the domestic and nondomestic economy? From this context, I find the analysis in Atlas Shrugged highly pertinent.

I realize, of course, that my context does not in any sense compare with your own context for watching the implication of Rand’s philosophy (coupled with other factors) wreak havoc abroad. However, I would be grateful for any insight you could shed on any question addressed above because while I don’t necessarily agree with everything Rand argues for in her works, her analysis in Atlas Shrugged to me is just another tool in which I can analyze how money is being spent by this government and other collective orgs. – not something to be taken as gospel truth.

*Case in point: the university I attended spent thousands of dollars funding a program touting to improve literacy levels, increase college enrollment among students of Appalachia, help more students graduate high school and other such noble ideas. The provosts had several pizza gatherings with students explaining the vision and several of those really expensive flags flew around campus, touting the program. Yet for all the high sounding ideas, there was no discussion on how the vision was to be implemented. By the time I left, there was no noticeable influence of the vision, no discussion, nothing – just dollars wasted.

Lorenzo C 6 years ago

Your questions have their answers if you know any North Americans that have faced the "puppet" Military Regimes of Right Wing economic forces. You can start with seeing the movie "Missing" with Meryl Streep and Jack Lemon I believe.

Torture and guns from systemic "philosophy" are hardly going to face opposition from from unarmed public. Simple. Think of the systemic injustice "Civil Rights" was fighting the lynchings, and police disasters of that time period. Latin American countries, unless financed illegally, have never faced the military regimes, you might read Mario Vargas Llosa "The City and The Dogs."

I read it in Spanish, "La ciudad y los perros."

Many Asian countries are not much different in facing systemic military power, think of Tianamen Square and what happened there. Think of Suharto and the Indonesia public that feared him. SEE the movie "The Year of Living Dangeously." Fiction, but interesting in portraying the UNARMED PUBLIC...

Well the public in much of the world you don't know "Guns are illegal" and systemic kow-tow-ing to economic policies does NOT ALLOW "civil disobedience" to military regimes.

Do you know any information on how the CIA functions? They know precisely how to pin many public opposition movements in foreign countries to submit to U.S. foreign policies, economic and political.

From what I can tell of your writing, your analysis is provocative, but you have not SEEN and FELT the INTENSITY of SOCIAL injustice and the POWERLESSNESS of people in the world WHO LIVE in fear of DEATH AND TORTURE.

They LIVE between a ROCK and a HARD PLACE because they oppose ECONOMIC policies ruled by selfish multi-national corporations THAT rule PROFIT, gov't military policies, and in the END, cheap LABOR...

Ayn Rand's writings fought the idea of totalitarian and tyrannical "collectivism" but the ideas advocated in part what became ENFORCED corporate Selfishness which in VERY COMPLEX behavioral ways EVADES YOUR logic, makes Rand's ideas look foolish and makes the narcissistic and hedonistic international MARKET for LUXURY, the SEED of international CONSUMERISM and unlimited WASTE, and lastly FACILITATES WAR for Resources.

If you think Rand was wise in any manner, it was indeed in her focus on responsibility, and on the unjust imposition of a more "naturally" formed set of social and economic rules, but she was by no means a "behavioral economist" and her agenda was to cleanse anyone with any "social justice" collective movement against "economic freedom" even of corporations.

As Nietzsche warned "When you fight with monsters be careful that you do not become one yourself."

In a nutshell, Rand became her own monster, and my response here is NOT is a view of what Rand ignored of the REAL WORLD.


~ L

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Thanks for the response! I shall have to look into the resources you mentioned. You're definitely right in that I haven't experienced the suffering that has been caused by Rand's philosophies along with the ultra conservative movement. My experience is limited to books, documentaries and things of that nature, which is why I want to again say thanks for your analysis.

As you've doubtless realized, our contexts are different.

Your mention of my analysis of Rand's wisdom is indeed what I take away from Atlas Shrugged. Also, I think Atlas Shrugged provides a look at the incentive that causes people to want to work and what happens when that incentive is thwarted by a misdirected society. And of course, what this means for my limited context and own analysis. However, I had not thought to connect the way Rand's philosophy is carried out to multi-nationals, but I can see how some of her philosophy would drive the utter selfishness and greed of the multi-nationals. They would naturally cling to a philosophy that eschewed social responsibility and made productivity for money king. Something I need to mull over more, apparently.

Thanks again for the analysis and for bearing with the bludgeoning questions.

Lorenzo C 6 years ago

There is an interesting book titled "Nature: An Economic History" by Geerat Vermeij, you can google him. Now that better explains the "behavioral economic" phenomena of humans and SOME of the animal world.

He is actually a paleontologist, a blind naturalist who has done REAL scientist work, the truth is HE IS BRILLIANT on animals and human behavior and geology. His knowledge is VAST.

The other human who knows precisely of human anthropology and destructive behavior is Wade Davis, he is sharper than a Samurai blade.

~ L

Lorenzo C 6 years ago

BTW, the movie "Missing" was with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemon, NOT with Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep acted in another torture movie about torture during Chile's military regime.

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 6 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

I feel as though I've seen that movie before, but it was probably during the mad amount of information being given to us students. I will have to revisit the movie of course. Thanks again for the resources.

Lorenzo C 6 years ago

this is an insightful report on the nature of biological Dr. Vermiej...


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