Heidi's Reviews > Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
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Dec 05, 13

Read in December, 2013

I read and loved this back in college. And I just read and loved it again, for different reasons.

The premise is that the money-hungry industrialists, those who have been vilified for centuries for lacking values and not caring about the common man, are disappearing one by one, leaving the world to its fate. In the meantime the government is passing laws which take money from the wealthy and successful and give it to those who are struggling, and which artificially limit the output of successful businesses in order to prop up unsuccessful businesses. The nation's economy collapses as the politicians insist that they're the first nation in history to behave morally, without being driven by money.

As the world falls apart around them, Dagny Taggart, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, the inventor of a new metal alloy, struggle to keep performing excellent work in the face of laws which increasingly punish excellence. They're thwarted in their efforts by the moralists who believe nobody should have more than another, by their mediocre competitors who believe they should be able to work less and still get the same share, by scientists and philosophers who insist that all efforts should be for the good of mankind instead of individual gain, and by politicians who want power more than freedom.

In college, I loved this philosophy. I subscribed to it entirely. I grew up in a part of the USA where people worshiped at the altar of self-sufficiency--no crime was greater than the crime of taking something that wasn't earned by the sweat of one's own brow. (At the time I believed everything I heard--I had no idea that half of these people were accepting farm subsidies, government grants, and free school lunches.) "Everything I earn should be mine and mine alone!" I cried, while ignoring the fact that I was going to a state-subsidised university after receiving 13 years of free education. "I shouldn't have to support anyone else with my earnings," I insisted, conveniently overlooking those who were disabled, those who didn't have the opportunity to get an education, or those who had worked hard all their lives but lost all their savings in an economic downturn.

It's safe to say that my views have matured and I now believe businesses have an obligation to pay taxes to a community which educates its employees and protects its goods from banditry, among other things. However, I got different things out of the book this time around. Ayn Rand worships the human potential. She believes that the human mind surpasses anything else in creation, and the greatest sin a person can commit is to let their mind go to waste. If we're not giving our best effort at whatever we're doing, we're cheating ourselves as well as withholding progress from the world.

Society tells us that the more a woman sacrifices, the more of a saint she is. The ideal woman, society says, is one who is self-sacrificing to the point where she does absolutely nothing for her own happiness but has given everything for the comfort and happiness of her family and community. Ayn Rand would say that to sacrifice altruistically, with no hope of personal gain, is evil. Encouraging leeches just makes fatter leeches. Of course, in Atlas Shrugged nobody is encumbered by children, elderly parents, or anyone else who might have a legitimate claim on someone else's money or time. But I like her point that if you're unhappy, you're probably doing it wrong. People deserve to be happy, and they also deserve the opportunity to create their own happiness rather than have it sacrificed to them. Self-sacrifice doesn't lead to happiness for either party.

Atlas Shrugged inspired me to work harder, to produce, to be a stand-out in the crowd of mediocrity, and to not be ashamed of my mind or talents. I don't espouse her philosophy fully but I can take these things away from the book: (a) I can work to my fullest potential without being embarrassed by success, and (b) I have the right to make myself happy.
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12/05/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Betty (new)

Betty Well stated! You explained my feelings about the book precisely. Thanks for the great review.


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