Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

by Ayn Rand

A Signet Book; 1957

Price: RM 37.95


"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

— John Galt, Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's magnum opus and It is her most philosophical novel.

When it was published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged created great controversy because of Ayn Rand’s uncompromising defense of capitalism and the state of the mind of individual. Denounced by many critics and intellectuals, the book nevertheless reaches world wide audiences. The book sold millions of copies and have tremendously influenced the lives of countless readers. Since 1957, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism has gradually taken hold in the civil society. Today, her books and ideas are becoming widely taught in colleges and universities in Europe and America.

Atlas Shrugged is a mystery story which pondered on why so many of the world's productive minds are gradually disappearing; the other being about the invention of a revolutionary new kind of motor.

The main character in the story are:

Dagny Taggart -- She is the vice-president for operations of Taggart Transcontinental railroad and the book's main protagonist.

Henry "Hank" Rearden -- As the founder and president of Rearden Steel, he is America's greatest industrialist.

John Galt -- Galt is a mysterious figure involved in the disappearance of the world's great thinkers and business leaders.

Francisco d'Anconia -- This heir to an enormous copper-mining fortune appears to be squandering his wealth and talent. He is Dagny's childhood friend and former lover.

The central theme of Atlas Shrugged is the role of the human mind in life and society they belong to. Rand argues that independent creative and innovative thinking is the engine that runs the world. In Atlas Shrugged she illustrated what would happen to the world if the "men of the mind" went on strike: the engine of the world would shut down and civilization crushed. The primary philosophy of the book has its roots entirely in Objectivism, the philosophical system propounded by Rand.

Atlas Shrugged is a novel about a strike. Ayn Rand sets out to show the fate that befalls the world when the thinkers and doers should go on strike. The author raises an intriguing question: What would happen if the scientists, medical researchers, inventors, industrialists, writers, artists, and so on withheld their minds and their achievements from the world?

The story of Atlas Shrugged takes place at an unspecified future time. Dagny Taggart, vice president in charge of operations for Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, seeks to rebuild the crumbling track of the Rio Norte Line that serves Ellis Wyatt’s oil fields and the booming industrial areas of Colorado. The country is in a downward economic spiral with businesses closing and men out of work. Other countries in the world have become socialist Peoples’ States and are destitute. Colorado, based on Wyatt’s innovative method of extracting oil from shale, is the last great industrial center on earth. Dagny intends to provide Colorado the train service it requires, but her brother James Taggart, president of Taggart Transcontinental, tries to block her from getting new rails from Rearden Steel, the last reliable steel manufacturer. James wants to do business with the inefficient Associated Steel, which is run by his friend Orren Boyle. Dagny wants the new rail to be made of Rearden Metal, a new alloy that Hank Rearden developed after ten years of experiment. Because the metal has never been tried and has been denounced by metallurgists, James won’t accept responsibility for using it. Dagny, who studied engineering in college, has seen the results of Rearden’s tests. She accepts the responsibility and orders the rails made of Rearden Metal.

Worsening the economic depression in the U.S. is the unexplained phenomenon of talented men retiring and disappearing.

James Taggart, in an attempt to recover the railroad’s losses on the San Sebastian Line, uses his political friendships to influence the vote of the National Alliance of Railroads. The Alliance passes what’s known as the “Anti-dog-eat-dog rule,” prohibiting “cutthroat” competition. The rule puts the superb Phoenix-Durango Railroad, Taggart Transcontinental’s competitor for the Colorado freight traffic, out of business. With the Phoenix-Durango line gone, Dagny must rebuild the Rio Norte Line quickly.

In this novel, Rand argues that all human progress and prosperity depend on rational thinking. Human have invented aeroplanes, telephones, computers, and televisions. Human had erect skyscrapers, and grow an abundant food supply. Humans have been to the moon and mars and had developed abundant technologies. Human beings have found cures for many diseases that had plagued the society. All of these achievements result from the human application of a rational mind. If intellectuals responsible for such advances would chose to abandon the world, then the world would turned into a regressive and primitive state.

The thinkers had gone on strike in Atlas Shrugged to protest the oppression of their intellect and creativity. The thinkers in Atlas Shrugged strike on behalf of individual rights and political freedom. They strike against an enforced moral code of self-sacrifice — the creed that human life must be devoted to serving the needs of others. Above all, the thinkers strike to prove that reason is the only means by which man can understand reality and make proper decisions; emotions should not guide human behavior. In short, the creative minds are on strike in support of a person’s right to think and live independently.

The focus of Atlas Shrugged is the role that the human mind plays in human existence. Atlas Shrugged shows that rational thinking is mankind’s survival instrument.

In the novel, the withdrawal of the great thinkers can cause the collapse of the nation’s economy. The strike proves the role that the rational mind plays in the attainment of progress and prosperity.

When Ayn Rand was writing Atlas Shrugged, many Americans strongly believed that the government should have the power to coercively redistribute income and to regulate private industry. The capitalist system of political and economic freedom was consistently attacked by socialists and welfare statists. The belief that an individual has a right to live his own life was replaced, to a significant extent, by the collectivist idea that individuals must work and live in service to other people. Individual rights and political freedom were threatened in American politics, education, and culture.

Rand argues in Atlas Shrugged that the freedom of society is responsible for its greatest achievements and that economic freedom would liberated the great creative thinkers, permitting them to put into practice new ideas and methods. But what would happen if economic freedom were lost?

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand projects the culmination of a twentieth-century socialist nation. The government portrayed in the story has significant control over the domestic economy. The rest of the world has been swallowed up by Marxist States and subsists in abject poverty. A limited degree of economic freedom still exists in a democratic nation, but it’s prosperity is steadily declining. The successful are heavily taxed to support the poor, and the poor are similarly levied to finance the even poorer people in foreign Marxist States. The government subsidizes inefficient businesses at the expense of the more efficient. With the state controlling large portions of the economy, the result is the rise of corrupt businessmen who seek profit by manipulating crooked politicians rather than by doing productive work. The government forces inventors to give up their patents so that all manufacturers may benefit equally from new products. Similarly, the government breaks up productive companies, compelling them to share the market with weaker (less efficient) competitors.

In short, the fictionalized universe of Atlas Shrugged presents a future in which nation states which are treading toward socialism had been accelerated. Twentieth-century realities such as heavy taxation, massive social welfare programs, tight governmental regulation of industry, and antitrust action against successful companies are heightened in the universe of this story. The government annuls the rights of citizens, and freedom is steadily eroded, rapidly becoming a fascist dictatorship.

The result, in Rand’s fictional universe, is a collapse of a nation’s prosperity. Great minds are shackled by government policies, and their innovations are either rejected or expropriated by the state. Thinkers lack the freedom necessary to create new products, to start their own companies, to compete openly, and to earn wealth. Under the increasing yoke of tyranny, the most independent minds in a free society choose to defend their liberty in the most effective manner possible: They withdraw from society.

Atlas Shrugged shows that intellect is necessary to promote man’s prosperity on earth. But intellectual ability isn’t within a man’s volitional control. The ability of his brain is something that a man is born with, but he chooses whether he uses it. An individual can be judged only by what is subject to his control.

Rand suggests that a society will stagnate to the extent that independence and individual achievement are discouraged or demonized. Inversely, a society will become more prosperous as it allows, encourages, and rewards independence and individual achievement. Rand believed that independence flourishes to the extent that people are free, and that achievement is most fairly rewarded when private property is strictly observed. She advocated laissez-faire capitalism as the political system that is most consistent with these beliefs. These considerations make Atlas Shrugged a highly political book, especially in its portrayal of socialism and communism as fundamentally flawed.

Rand also argues that traits like independence and individual achievement, which currently drive the world, are actually virtues, and in her worldview are central to a "rational" moral code.

Atlas Shrugged is the astounding story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world--and did. Tremendous in scope, breathtaking in its suspense, Atlas Shrugged stretches the boundaries further than any book you have ever read. It is a mystery, not about the murder of a man's body, but about the murder--and rebirth--of man's spirit.
Good book and worthe the time and money spent.



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