This is a literary analysis of the works of AYn Rand that I had to write for AP English.  Hope you enjoy.

 

            "Who is John Galt?"  Is he the man who while sailing through a terrible storm found the city of

Atlantis that was lost to man, shining on the floor of the ocean, who sank his boat and went down with his

entire crew to reach it?  Is he the greatest explorer that ever lived, who roamed the Earth to find the Fountain

of Youth, but when he tried to bring it to man, and found it could not be moved?  Is he the man who had

such a mind that if he had lived everyone would be talking about him?  Is he the man who said he would

stop the motor of the world and did?  "John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind.  After centuries of

being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the Gods, he broke his chains and

he withdrew his fire-until the day when men withdraw their vultures" (Rand 395).  John Galt is not only the

hero of Atlas Shrugged, but also the embodiment of Objectivism, a philosophy like no other in existence. 

Out of all the philosophies that man has developed, Objectivism is the only one that allows man to be truly

free to live his life as demonstrated in Atlas Shrugged.

 

            Out of all the books that have been written in history according to the book of the month club, in a

1991 survey as noted by Charles Murray, Atlas Shrugged was ranked the second most influential in people's

lives next to the Bible.  To fully appreciate why this is, one first has to get an understanding of what

objectivism is because Atlas Shrugged is a demonstration of Rand's philosophy, "As a total work, Atlas

Shrugged is the artistic and philosophical climax of all of Ayn Rand's novels, bringing the full of her

dramatic stylistic and intellectual power to its most consummate expression" (Branden 30).  Ayn's

philosophy challenges every part of the altruistic tendencies that permeate today's society.  Even the

common every day collectivist expressions such as 'from each according to his ability, from each according

to his need', and the ever famous, 'you are your brother's keeper'.  As Nathaniel Branden states that

Objectivism challenges the notions that, "wealth is the product of brute muscular labor…that wealth is

acquired by the exploitation of workers and the expropriation of the "surplus value" of their efforts,"

(Branden 7).  Ayn Rand was born in the Communist U.S.S.R., so she witnessed firsthand the destructive

nature of altruistic, collectivist systems.  As a result, she forged a philosophy that is a polar opposite to

communism.  As Ronald Merrill says, "the essence of statism is the destruction of all that is good in the

human spirit…" (Merrill 26).  "The principals of her philosophy can be outlined as individualism, morality,

reason, judgment, self-sufficiency, and freedom from guilt" (Hubble 14).  But to merely outline the

philosophy is not enough to show its uniqueness in the realm of philosophical systems.  One has to

understand what her systems of ethics and morals are.  Jeremy Hubble points out that reasoning and

judgment are center pieces of Objectivism (Hubble 15).  Objectivist metaphysics follows to a large degree

the teachings of Aristotle, that is, reality exists whether man wants it to or not, that there are certain

unchanging facts in the universe, that there are absolutes, that A is A.  “Ayn Rand has challenged the

modern doctrines of neo-mysticism and epistemological agnosticism...” (Branden 32).  Ayn did not accept

religious beliefs as a reason for acting a certain way because there was no evidence of God in reality.  To

place such a heavy emphasis on metaphysics Rand had to also challenge the accepted Epistemology, which

is that man is an unthinking brute, incapable of knowing nay thing for certain.  As Murray points out,

“Objectivism's epistemology is based on the capacity of the human mind to perceive reality through reason,

and the adamant assertion that reason is the only way to perceive realty” (Murray 2).  Rand also forged a new

set of morals, and ethical code.  As demonstrated in Atlas Shrugged, according to Rand's morals, men like

John Galt, and Hank Rearden are held upon a pedestal, as they are the men of high ability and

achievement.    While the less able men with good morals, like Eddie Weillers   receive no moral

condemnation.  According to Branden, in Objectivism, men of high intelligence are exalted; the men of

average intelligence who have good morals are treated with respect.  The o people who Rand disapproves of

are the people who demand something of someone else, claiming they have a right to what they have not

earned (Branden 32).  The reason why people like Eddie Weillers are not morally condemned is because Eddie

does not demand that others sacrifice for him.  “According to Rand and Objectivism, a persons' pursuit of

happiness is the top priority in life,” (Hubble 17), so since Eddie does not demand others be the source of

his happiness, he is moral.  Rand's morality can be condensed into one phrase from John Galt's speech in

Atlas Shrugged, “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for another man's sake, nor ask

another man to live for mine” (Rand 557).  Even with Rand's strict and seemingly unforgiving moral code,

she does allow a person who is immoral to redeem themselves.  As Merrill points out, “Rand is careful

despite her 'black and white' moral code to avoid any hint of moral determinism.  One villain, the

“wet-nurse,” demonstrates that it is possible to turn around..." (Merrill 25).  Based off of the principals

outlined above, there is only one economic and political system that will fit objectivism.  Rand believed that

people should exchange in trading value for value, and not do anything based on faith in another person. 

She believed in making business decisions that were mutually beneficial decisions.  These principals and

ideals are put to work in her novel Atlas Shrugged, which serves as the application of her philosophy to 'real

life'.  “The practical implications of philosophical ideals are illustrated on every level, from metaphysics to

epistemology to ethics, to politics, to economics, to ethics,” (Merrill 18).  The thesis of Atlas Shrugged is

the productive and successful men of society, men like John Galt and Hank Rearden go on strike.  They go

on strike because they are tired of being demonized, called selfish, and having their profits taken from

them.  “Many of the concepts that Rand develops in this novel are, 'sanction of the victim' and the

impotence of evil; envy and the hatred of the good for being good; the 'individual surplus' of the greatest

innovators...” (Merrill, 27).  These beliefs are what the heroes of Atlas Shrugged battle against, and finally

reject, most notably Dagny Taggart, vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, and Hank Rarden of Rearden

Steel.

 

            Early on in the novel it becomes apparent the two philosophies that will be battling each other out

throughout the novel.  Dagny's first battle of the novel is against her altruistic brother Jim, who is the

president of Taggart Transcontinental.  Dagny is living in reality and can tell that the People's State of

Mexico is going to nationalize one of their branch lines, the San Sebastian Line.  When the line gets

nationalized, Taggart Transcontinental would lose a lot of capital.  In an attempt to minimize the loses,

Dagny has ordered that all the equipment on the San Sebastian Line to be replaced with the worst equipment

in the system.  When her brother Jim, who refuses to see what is going to happen in Mexico, discovers what

his sister is doing he tells her she will not get away with it, and will stop her at the next board meeting.  As

Edwin Locke notes, “His (Jim's) first concern is to altruistically help an underprivileged country.  Facts are

secondary to in his mind...he looks at them as “gliding off and past thins in eternal resentment of their

existence” (Locke 317).  Jim feels no concern for the preservation of the company, thinking that people have

a right to transportation first and foremost, and that profits come second, even if it is the profits that make

it possible for them to provide transportation.  Jim even gets angry at Dagny when she orders Rearden Metal

after Orren Boyle's repeated delays.  When she issues Jim an ultimatum which was to either accept what she

is doing, or cancel her order and replace the equipment on the San Sebastian Line, Jim says, "That’s the

trouble with you.  You always make it 'yes' or 'no'.  Things are never absolute like that.  Nothing is absolute"

(Rand 19).  Dagny, operating on Objectivism's epistemology responds, "Metal rails are (absolutes), whether

we get them or not is" (Rand 19).  As Locke notes,

 

             No matter what setback or disaster she is faced with - the loss of key employees,                       

contractors, and suppliers, the shortage of money to build the John Galt Line, the             passage of

productivity killing legislation by the government - She never once                         considers faking reality

in any way.  Every fact no matter how unpleasant, is faced            and evaluated fully and honestly (Locke

318).

 

While Dagny is facing facts and trying to keep things going, Jim is turning his head the other way in hopes

that he will not have to deal with any issue that requires a decision, as a result he is not free to live life

because he spends all his time trying to avoid it.  While Dagny is fighting to keep an already established

company alive in an increasingly chaotic world, Hank Rearden fights to not only produce his new metal, but

to keep the rights and the profits of his metal.

 

            Hank Rearden is one of the most unique and dynamic heroes of Atlas Shrugged and the one who

suffers the most.  Unlike Dagny or John Galt, Hank has been living with his wife, mother, and brother, who

all tell him he is a selfish man who cares about nothing but his mills, that he is egotistical, and unfeeling. 

As a result Hank has started to feel like an inferior human being, a feeling that his wife Lillian has been

carefully developing within him.  According to Jeremy Hubble, "The closest people in his life keep telling

him that his attention to business rather than to people is evil and selfish, Hank develops a deeply rooted

sense of deficiency as a human being, convinced that he lacks compassion" (Hubble 15).  Through most of

the novel it does appear that Hank Rearden is unfeeling, and has no interest in love or other people, but this

is put to rest when he falls in love with Dagny.  As Merrill notes,  It is not that Hank Rearden is unfeeling, it

is that the closest people around him are not people he can feel love for, and after their attacks on his

apparent lack of feeling and love for business, Hank has responded by emotional withdraw (Merrill 24).  One

of the faults that Hank has, is he has accepted the guilt his family and society has placed on him.  He has

not stopped to question whether they have a right to place such guilt on him.  This is what Ayn Rand

referred to as the sanction of the victim, for the altruists moral code to succeed they have to make the great

feel bad for being great, the legitimately rich feel bad and apologize for their wealth.  As Jeremy Hubble

says,

 

            "He does not question the rational impulse of injustice the he feels whenever a                member of

his family calls him egotistic and unfeeling.  In the objectivist doctrine,           reasoning and judgment are

imperative in one's self-awareness.  Instead, Hank         accepts the guilt they impose on his lack of interest

and respect for their lives, and            does not question whether he is right in dismissing their concerns as

unimportant"             (Hubble 15).

 

Rearden was set free from this guilt by Francisco, a man that at times he loves and would kill on site.  Before

Hank can join the strikers, he has to see the great injustice that has been placed on him, and its

consequences.  The great injustice being him accepting an unearned guilt, and the consequence being that

his mills are really all he has come to care about.  As Merrill mentions, "before he can join the strikers, he

must not only deal with his unearned guilt, but he must establish a new, interpersonal values so that his

mills are not the be-all of his life - otherwise he could not abandon them" (Merrill 24).  As the novel

progresses, and Rearden begins to understand the moral code that his enemies have imposed on him, as

Salmieri mentions, he begins to apply it to all areas of his life, he starts to treat his home life like his

business life, which is, living by the morals he works by (Salmieri 404).  For many of the heroes the final

straw is usually a new directive or policy from the collectivists in Washington, which at their core are

anti-mind, anti-freedom.        

 

            The policies put forth by the government in Atlas Shrugged are based on the belief that knowledge

does not exist, and the notion of it must be destroyed.  The most glaring example of this policy is directive

10-289, part of an emergency legislation out of Washington which attempts to freeze the economy, and the

people in it.  As Onkar Ghate notes, "It is a moratorium on brains.  It is an attempt to have a functioning

industrial economy without the need for any thought or judgment on behalf of the economy's participants. 

It is an attempt to escape the either-or, absolute nature of reality: to enjoy the looted products of

intelligence, while denying the need for intelligence to function, denying even the existence of intelligence"

( Ghate 28).  One doesn't have to just turn to Atlas Shrugged for examples of destructive anti-mind

policies.  One can look at the recent economic crisis.  Which was started by the sub-prime mortgage crisis,

which has been brought about by legislation that essentially forced banks to loan money to people based on

their need, not their ability to pay it back.  Reality was ignored, and money was loaned out on the faith that

somehow it would all be paid back by the people it was lent too. When Mortgage rates started to go up,

people defaulted on their mortgages, leading to the collapse of the financial industry.  One can still turn to

Atlas Shrugged however, for an example of what happens when loans are based on need.  Eugene Lawson

was the head of Community National Bank which gave a loan to the Twentieth Century Motor Company, and

when the motor company failed, took the bank with it.

 

      They were perfectly good men. They were a perfectly sound risk— though, of course, I am speaking in human terms, not in the terms of cold cash,  which you are accustomed to expect from bankers. I granted them the loan for  the purchase of that factory, because they needed the money. If people needed                 money, that was enough for me. Need was my standard, Miss Taggart. Need, not     greed. My father and grandfather built up the Community National Bank just to amass a fortune for themselves. I placed their fortune in the service of a higher ideal. I did not sit on piles of money and demand collateral from poor people who    needed loans. The heart was my collateral.      (Rand 237).

            As a result of both of these examples, money has become an evil thing, and self sufficiency a taboo. 

            In the society portrayed in Atlas Shrugged and in today's society money had become associated with

evil and greed, it is considered evil to make a lot of money and considered immoral to do something in the

hopes of making money.  Rand yet again, challenges this notion.  According to Objectivism, money is the

result of the mind; money cannot exist without some producing something, and someone being able to

produce it.  Objectivism holds that, "You accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the

conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others" (Rand 313).  At Jim's weeding

Francisco challenges the notion that money is evil after hearing someone say it in the crowd, "Francisco's

logic teaches those who actually listen to him about the faults in the so-called altruistic approach, which

dismisses the value of work and glorifies the value of need.  Rand thus explains the Objectivist principal of

self-sufficiency and honest labor as inherently moral" (Hubble 16).  At the end of his speech Francisco

concludes that money is not evil since it is merely a symbol used for exchange.

 

            As long as altruism and collectivism are part of the practiced humanities philosophies, there will be

some who will try to hold others back either by guilt or by force, there will be some who will damn the mind

and what it stands for, there will be some who think money is the root of all evil, there will be some who will

ask "Who is John Galt?"  There will also be men like John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Eddie Willers who will in

their own way be truly free to live their lives.  They will be in Atlantis, at the Fountain of Youth, exploring

the Earth, dealing with each other based on their individual merits, and abilities, not based on need and

self-sacrifice.  

 

Out line

Thesis:  Of all the Philosophies of man, Objectivism is the only one that allows man to be truly free to life his life as demonstrated in Atlas Shrugged.

            Introduction

                I.             What is Objectivism?

                                A.  Metaphysics

                                B.  Epistemology

                                C.  Morals

                                D.  Ethics

                                E.  Economics

                II.            Demonstration of Objectivism

                                A.  Dagny's action

                                                1.  San Sebastion Line

                                                2.  Rearden Metal Order

                                B.  Hank Rearden

                                                1.  Family Battle

                                                2.  Freedom from guilt

                III.           Demonstrations of not following objectivism

                                A.  Directive 10-289

                                B.  Sub-Prime mortgages

                                C.  Eugene Lawson

 

Thanks for reading,

 

-Anubis

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