Atlas Shrugged: Don’t Support Your Own Destroyers!
WHAT happens if men of ability and of self-esteem in a free and civilized society just went on strike?
Ayn Rand’s bestselling book Atlas Shrugged offers a possible scenario if, in a semi-enlightened society like the United States, freedom were taken away from the people, and man’s pursuit of happiness were perverted by the scheming bureaucrats. The result, according to this philosophical book, would be severe economic instability, dictatorship and social chaos.
Ayn Rand, who is the greatest philosopher on earth, presents two types of man of ability and self-esteem in her magnum opus (Sciabarra, 1995, p. 96). One is the man who refuses to surrender his freedom, rejects the concept of altruism, and upholds self-esteem and self-interest, while the other is the man who, despite being stripped off his liberty and immolated for the sake of common good, still holds on to that faint belief that one day the system would change for the better. The first represents Francisco D’Anconia, an heir to a giant copper mining company who builds his own empire from scratch, while the second represents Henry Rearden, a steel magnate who invented a ‘miracle metal.’ These two productive industrialists have lots of things in common—they believe in the ideals of capitalism and in the concept that man’s moral duty is the pursuit of his own happiness. Both of them love and celebrate life.
Ironically, it is their differences that bind them together. Francisco D’Anconia is one of those who supported the idea of withdrawing the brains of the world. He believes in the moral virtue of an unusual strike John Galt initiated. To Francisco, it is immoral for any man to sacrifice himself for what the society calls the common good, and it is also immoral for man to surrender his virtues and to put faith above reason. This is the code of morality which he and his friends—John Galt, the inventor of a great motor, and Ragnar Djanneskold, the anti-thesis of Robinhood—passionately believe in. Together, these uncompromising heroes of Atlas Shrugged seek to drain the brains and muscles of the world.
The man who serves his own destroyers is Hank Rearden. Like Francisco, Henry is a productive genius who invented a miraculous metal that gave him both fortune and misery. As a creative man, Henry expects to be rewarded for his virtues, but instead he is punished and immolated by the society. As a businessman, he is gradually strangulated by the absurd and non-objective policies of statist bureaucrats like Wesley Mouch who incompetently runs the economic affairs of the country. Unlike Orren Boyle, a competitor who maintains political connections in Washington, Rearden earned his fortune without securing government help and subsidies and without procuring the services of Washington men to enact laws favorable for his business interest. But the more he gave, the more they demanded. The government, to control Rearden’s business, passed a number of regulatory policies. Scheming politicians, with the connivance of Boyle, also issued laws that determines the kind and number of workers Rearden may employ, the volume of copper ore he is required by law to acquire, and the quantity of metal and steel he is allowed to produce. Rearden has been subjected to many kinds of atrocious injustice notwithstanding the fact that the government needs his cooperation.
The word ‘victim’ befits the character of Rearden, while Francisco is the man who refuses himself to be sacrificed and immolated. During their first meeting, Francisco asks Rearden the following puzzling question— “who is the guiltiest man in this room tonight” (Rand, 2000, p.387). Rearden’s answer ends with a question mark: “I suppose— James Taggart?” (Rand, 2000, p.387). This dialogue reveals the difference between the two— their philosophy and their concept of life. Rearden is not sure who his real enemy is, as he fails to grasp the concept and meaning of guilt. His enemies are not really those who rob him of his hard-earned money and achievement, not Wesley Mouch and his fellow looters-by-law, not Orren Boyle and his fellow moochers, and not the ideological and philosophical system is destroying his country. That is, Rearden’s real enemy is own self.
Ayn Rand implicitly explains her idea of guilt through the character of Rearden who, according to her, belongs to America’s persecuted minority (Rand 1966, p. 44). Like a few successful businessmen who earned their fortune without relying on anyone’s help, Rearden is deemed guilty because of his virtues. But this industrialist is only guilty of a single moral crime— that he allowed himself to be sacrificed and immolated by supporting his own destroyers. His fault is his failure to understand the meaning of the ‘guilt.’ A man cannot be guilty of securing or protecting his own virtues. But John Galt explains the very idea of the word in his speech. According to him, the guiltiest of all is the man who had the capacity to know and yet chose to “blank out reality” (Rand, 2000, p. 976). This is to say that Rearden’s own destroyers are cashing in not only on his love of life, innocence, and generosity, but also on the idea that he is guilty of upholding his self-interest over the welfare of others.
On the other hand, Francisco believes that Henry Rearden is his greatest conquest— and his real enemy in the outside world. His purpose is to convince Rearden to join their strike in order to accomplish their mission—to give the world “just exactly what it deserves” (Rand, 2000, 380). Francisco clearly understands the nature of evil that is destroying the world and that he is able to identify the philosophy upon which it is based. For this reason, he exposed himself as a worthless playboy who chased women. He projected himself as a womanizer to fool the people around him, including Rearden, except Dagny Taggart, her childhood sweetheart who runs the Taggart Transcontinental, the country’s largest and most successful railroad company. To withdraw the fortune he inherited from his great ancestors from political looters and “hitchhikers”, he deliberately ruined his copper mining empire.
At a time when the world was gradually shrinking to collectivism and gripped by extreme poverty and social chaos, Francisco cut the world supply of iron ore by deliberately reducing his mining companies scattered in different people’s states to rubbles. As a result, steelmakers like Rearden were deprived of the supply of iron ore at the very precarious moment when the country issued economic policies like the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule, Equalization of Opportunity Bill, Railroad Unification Board and the infamous Steel Unification Board, which interfered with the business of Rearden.
Francisco D’Anconia’s sense of life is embodied in his eloquent speech about the nature of money. According to him, money is the root of all that is good because it represents man’s virtues (Rand, 2000, p. 381). In his speech, he defends the moral basis of money as a tool of exchange, which cannot exist without men who are able to produce. What he seeks to defend is not just the morality of the concept of money, but its very basis, which is man’s virtue. The object of his defense are not the men who loot or mooch, but the men of ability, of creativeness, of innovation and of integrity like Henry Rearden, oil mogul Ellis Wyatt, John Galt, and Dagny Taggart. There is one political concept that covers all these ideals—capitalism. Through the character of Francisco, who is the best fictional representative of capitalism, Ayn Rand (2000, p. 381) defines wealth as the “product of man’s capacity to think.” In a free society, wealth is the outcome of productive and creative people’s willingness to work, to trade with other people, and to discover new things and ideas.
However, it is not enough for man to acquire these virtues, because what is necessary is the courage to defend and protect his fundamental rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness (Rand and Branden, 1962, p.13). Ayn Rand discussed these fundamental rights of man in her book through her heroic characters. John Galt provides the philosophical basis of man’s right to existence, while Francisco offers the best defense of capitalism as the only economic system that is consistent with man’s individual rights. It is the character of Rearden that explains why it is important for men to protect their business interests against statist interventions and to defend their right to economic autonomy. Atlas Shrugged explains that there can be no economic prosperity if the government interferes into the economy and regulates business.
In Atlas Shrugged, the statists and the socialist bureaucrats led by the head of the state, Mr. Thompson, based their government policies on the concepts of altruism and self-sacrifice. They endorsed the idea, which they hold as noble and pragmatic, that man is his brother’s keeper. For this reason, the effect of their laws and policies is the sacrifice and immolation of men of ability to the weak and inept. Before it is too late, Henry Rearden realized it is he who perpetuates the injustice of his own destroyers and that their authority over him comes from his sanction as their generous victim. Both heroes of the world of Atlas are bound by the same motivation in life—to live according to a rational philosophy for living on earth.
Rand, A. and Branden, N. (1962). The Objectivist. California: Palo Alto Book Service
Rand, A. (1966). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New York: New American Library
Rand, A. (2000). Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet
Sciabarra, C.M. (1995). Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Philadelphia: PSUPress.Org