Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”

I began reading Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, on the flight from Portland to Los Angeles on the outset of my 6-month sabbatical with my wife.  I completed the 1,074 page novel on the flight to New Zealand at the conclusion of our European-leg of our trip.  WHAT A GREAT BOOK!  My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.  I was originally given this boheamouth of a book by a close friend after graduating from college but was always to intimated to start it.  I think this book makes an excellent gift to any college graduate!

The story follows the trials and tribulations of the US economy during a fictional period in which an overwhelming wave of socialist/ communist ideology comes to fruition.  As new economic policies are implemented the story follows the impact they have on “industrialists” who share a common conviction of free enterprise.  Through the dialogues Rand is able to articulate her own conviction for the tenants of “objectivism“, which is a philosophy she is credited for pioneering (or at least giving a title). 

There are two epic dialogues in the book that do well in summarizing Rand’s philosophy in my opinion.  If you do nothing else, find the book and read these two sections:

-The first occurs on pages 382-386 where the character Francisco d’Aconia, an industrialist, speaks to a group of “socialist” thinkers at a cocktail party.  Here is an excerpt:
    “Money is your means of survival.  The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life.  If the source is corrupt, you have damned your existence.  Did you get your money by fraud?…If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or penny’s worth of joy.  Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame.”

“They say it’s hard for man to agree.  You’d be surprised how easy it is- when both parties hold as their mutual absolute that neither exists for the sake of the other and that reason is their only means of trade.”

“Did it occur to you, Miss Taggart…that there is no conflicts of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in the most personal desires- if they omit the irrational from the view of the possible and destruction from their view of practical?  There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another- if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t.” 

-The second occurs near the end of the book (pages 927-984) and for me is the pinacle of the story.  It is a speech given by John Galt to the nation given as a radio address.  Here is an excerpt:
    “Do not say that you’re afraid to trust your mind because you know so little…  Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life…  Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience- that your mind is fallible- that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.”


    “Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is the agent of death.  Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievements of one’s values.”

Here are some other notable excerpts:

-Dagny Taggert asks Francisco, “…what’s the most deprived human being?”  His reply: “The man without purpose.”

-Francisco speaking to Mr. Reardon (two industrialists) on the subject of gaining trust-
    “…I don’t like people who speak or think in terms of gaining anybody’s confidence.  If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception.  The person who craves a moral blank check of that kind, has dishonest intentions, whether he admits it to himself or not.”

-Dr. Stadler speaking to Dagny on 1st sight of the motor reminents-
    “…do you know the hallmark of the second-rater?  It’s resentment of another man’s achievement.  Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater then their own.  They have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top.  The loneliness for an equal- for a mind to respect and achievement to admire.  They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them- while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them.  They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors.  They don’t know that their dream is infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear.  They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors- hatred?  No, not hatred, but boredom, of what account are praise and adulation from men who’m you don’t respect?…”

-Dagny Taggert’s principle-
    “Place nothing above the verdict of your own mind.”

-Dagny observing the luxury of simplicity she experienced in Mulligan’s home:
    “There was an art of luxury about the room, but it was the luxury of expert simplicity; she noted the costly furniture, carefully chosen for comfort…  There were no superflous objects, but she noticed a small canvas by a great master of the Renaissance worth a fortune, she noticed an oriental rug of a texture and color that belonged under glass in a museum.  This was Mulligan’s concept of wealth, she thought- the wealth of selection, not of accumulation.”

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