Ayn Rand — Atlas Shrugged — Videos
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Atlas Shrugged Part 1
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|Born||Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum
February 2, 1905
St. Petersburg, Russia
|Died||March 6, 1982 (aged 77)
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Kensico Cemetery
Valhalla, New York, U.S.
|Pen name||Ayn Rand|
|Alma mater||Petrograd State University|
|Notable works||The Fountainhead
|Notable awards||Prometheus Award Hall of Fame inductee in 1987 (forAnthem) and co-inaugural inductee in 1983 (for Atlas Shrugged)|
|Spouse||Frank O’Connor (m. 1929;wid. 1979)|
Ayn Rand (/ˈaɪn ˈrænd/; born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, Russian: Али́са Зино́вьевна Розенба́ум; February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-born American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. Born and educated in Russia, Rand moved to the United States in 1926. She had a play produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. After two early novels that were initially unsuccessful in America, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead.
In 1957, she published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982. Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism, and rejected altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights. In art, Rand promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for some Aristotelians and classical liberals.
Literary critics received Rand’s fiction with mixed reviews, and academia generally ignored or rejected her philosophy, though academic interest has increased in recent decades. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings. She has been a significant influence amonglibertarians and American conservatives.
Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum (Russian: Али́са Зиновьевна Розенбаум) on February 2, 1905, to a Russian Jewish bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg. She was the eldest of the three daughters of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and his wife, Anna Borisovna (née Kaplan), largely non-observant Jews. Zinovy Rosenbaum was a successful pharmacist and businessman, eventually owning a pharmacy and the building in which it was located. With a passion for the liberal arts, Rand later said she found school unchallenging and she began writing screenplays at the age of eight and novels at the age of ten. At the prestigious Stoiunina Gymnasium, her closest friend was Vladimir Nabokov‘s younger sister, Olga. The two girls shared an intense interest in politics and would engage in debates at theNabokov mansion: while Nabokova defended constitutional monarchy, Rand supported republican ideals. She was twelve at the time of the February Revolution of 1917, during which she favored Alexander Kerensky over Tsar Nicholas II.
The subsequent October Revolution and the rule of the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin disrupted the life the family had previously enjoyed. Her father’s business was confiscated and the family displaced. They fled to the Crimean Peninsula, which was initially under control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. She later recalled that, while in high school, she determined that she was an atheist and that she valued reason above any other human virtue. After graduating from high school in the Crimea at 16, Rand returned with her family to Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg was renamed at that time), where they faced desperate conditions, on occasion nearly starving.
After the Russian Revolution, universities were opened to women, allowing Rand to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University, where, at the age of 16, she began her studies in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, who would be her greatest influence and counter-influence, respectively. A third figure whose philosophical works she studied heavily was Friedrich Nietzsche. Able to read French, German and Russian, Rand also discovered the writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, and Friedrich Schiller, who became her perennial favorites.
Along with many other “bourgeois” students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before graduating. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, many of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924. She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For one of her assignments, she wrote an essay about the Polish-American actress Pola Negri, which became her first published work.
By this time she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand, possibly as a Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname, and she adopted the first nameAyn, either from a Finnish name Aino or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning “eye”).
Arrival in the United States
In the autumn of 1925, Rand was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She departed on January 17, 1926. When she arrived in New York City on February 19, 1926, she was so impressed with the skyline of Manhattan that she cried what she later called “tears of splendor”. Intent on staying in the United States to become a screenwriter, she lived for a few months with relatives in Chicago, one of whom owned a movie theater and allowed her to watch dozens of films for free. She then set out for Hollywood, California.
Initially, Rand struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living expenses. A chance meeting with famed director Cecil B. DeMille led to a job as an extra in his film The King of Kings as well as subsequent work as a junior screenwriter. While working on The King of Kings, she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O’Connor; the two were married on April 15, 1929, around the time her last visa extension was set to expire. She became a permanent US resident in July 1929, and became an American citizen on March 3, 1931.Taking various jobs during the 1930s to support her writing, she worked for a time as the head of the costume department at RKO Studios. She made several attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to acquire permission to emigrate.
Rand’s first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn to Universal Studios in 1932, although it was never produced. This was followed by the courtroom drama Night of January 16th, first produced by E.E. Clive in Hollywood in 1934 and then successfully reopened on Broadway in 1935. Each night the “jury” was selected from members of the audience, and one of the two different endings, depending on the jury’s “verdict”, would then be performed. In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a movie loosely based on the play. Rand did not participate in the production and was highly critical of the result. Ideal is a novel and play written in 1934 which were first published in 2015 by her estate. The heroine is an actress who embodies Randian ideals.
Rand’s first published novel, the semi-autobiographical We the Living, was published in 1936. Set in Soviet Russia, it focused on the struggle between the individual and the state. In a 1959 foreword to the novel, Rand stated that We the Living “is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. It is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual sense. The plot is invented, the background is not…” Initial sales were slow and the American publisher let it go out of print, although European editions continued to sell. After the success of her later novels, Rand was able to release a revised version in 1959 that has since sold over three million copies. In 1942, without Rand’s knowledge or permission, the novel was made into a pair of Italian films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira. Rediscovered in the 1960s, these films were re-edited into a new version which was approved by Rand and re-released as We the Living in 1986.
Her novella Anthem was written during a break from the writing of her next major novel, The Fountainhead. It presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which totalitarian collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that even the word ‘I’ has been forgotten and replaced with ‘we’. It was published in England in 1938, but Rand initially could not find an American publisher. As with We the Living, Rand’s later success allowed her to get a revised version published in 1946, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies.
The Fountainhead and political activism
During the 1940s, Rand became politically active. Both she and her husband worked full-time in volunteer positions for the 1940 presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. This work led to Rand’s first public speaking experiences, including fielding the sometimes hostile questions from New York City audiences who had just viewed pro-Willkie newsreels, an experience she greatly enjoyed. This activity also brought her into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. She became friends with journalist Henry Hazlitt and his wife, and Hazlitt introduced her to the Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises. Despite her philosophical differences with them, Rand strongly endorsed the writings of both men throughout her career, and both of them expressed admiration for her. Once Mises referred to Rand as “the most courageous man in America”, a compliment that particularly pleased her because he said “man” instead of “woman”. Rand also developed a friendship with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. Rand questioned the well-informed Paterson about American history and politics long into the night during their numerous meetings and gave Paterson ideas for her only nonfiction book, The God of the Machine.
Rand’s first major success as a writer came with The Fountainhead in 1943, a romantic and philosophical novel that she wrote over a period of seven years. The novel centers on an uncompromising young architect named Howard Roark and his struggle against what Rand described as “second-handers”—those who attempt to live through others, placing others above themselves. It was rejected by twelve publishers before finally being accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company on the insistence of editor Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if his employer did not publish it. While completing the novel, Rand was prescribedBenzedrine, a brand of amphetamine, to fight fatigue. The drug helped her to work long hours to meet her deadline for delivering the finished novel, but when the book was done, she was so exhausted that her doctor ordered two weeks’ rest. Her use of the drug for approximately three decades may have contributed to what some of her later associates described as volatile mood swings.
The Fountainhead eventually became a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security. In 1943, Rand sold the rights for a film version to Warner Bros., and she returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Finishing her work on that screenplay, she was hired by producer Hal Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work for Wallis included the screenplays for the Oscar-nominated Love Letters andYou Came Along. This role gave Rand time to work on other projects, including a planned nonfiction treatment of her philosophy to be called The Moral Basis of Individualism. Although the planned book was never completed, a condensed version was published as an essay titled “The Only Path to Tomorrow”, in the January 1944 edition of Reader’s Digest magazine.
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Rand extended her involvement with free-market and anti-communist activism while working in Hollywood. She became involved with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a Hollywood anti-Communist group, and wrote articles on the group’s behalf. She also joined the anti-Communist American Writers Association. A visit by Isabel Paterson to meet with Rand’s California associates led to a final falling out between the two when Paterson made comments to valued political allies, which Rand considered rude. In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a “friendly witness” before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. Her testimony described the disparity between her personal experiences in the Soviet Union and the portrayal of it in the 1944 film Song of Russia. Rand argued that the film grossly misrepresented conditions in the Soviet Union, portraying life there as being much better and happier than it actually was. She wanted to also criticize the lauded 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives for what she interpreted as its negative presentation of the business world, but she was not allowed to testify about it. When asked after the hearings about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations, Rand described the process as “futile”.
After several delays, the film version of The Fountainhead was released in 1949. Although it used Rand’s screenplay with minimal alterations, she “disliked the movie from beginning to end”, complaining about its editing, acting, and other elements.
Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism
In the years following the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom it profoundly influenced. In 1951 Rand moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she gathered a group of these admirers around her. This group (jokingly designated “The Collective”) included future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a young psychology student named Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara’s cousin Leonard Peikoff. At first the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. Later she began allowing them to read the drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the manuscript pages were written. In 1954 Rand’s close relationship with the younger Nathaniel Branden turned into a romantic affair, with the consent of their spouses.
Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was considered Rand’s magnum opus. Rand described the theme of the novel as “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.” It advocates the core tenets of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. The plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists, and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy. The novel’s hero and leader of the strike,John Galt, describes the strike as “stopping the motor of the world” by withdrawing the minds of the individuals most contributing to the nation’s wealth and achievement. With this fictional strike, Rand intended to illustrate that without the efforts of the rational and productive, the economy would collapse and society would fall apart. The novel includes elements of romance, mystery, and science fiction, and it contains Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction, a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt.
Despite many negative reviews, Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller, and in an interview with Mike Wallace, Rand declared herself “the most creative thinker alive”. After completing the novel, Rand fell into a severe depression. Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s last completed work of fiction; a turning point in her life, it marked the end of Rand’s career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.
In 1958 Nathaniel Branden established Nathaniel Branden Lectures, later incorporated as the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), to promote Rand’s philosophy. Collective members gave lectures for NBI and wrote articles for Objectivist periodicals that she edited. Rand later published some of these articles in book form. Critics, including some former NBI students and Branden himself, have described the culture of NBI as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand, with some describing NBI or the Objectivist movement itself as a cult or religion. Rand expressed opinions on a wide range of topics, from literature and music to sexuality and facial hair, and some of her followers mimicked her preferences, wearing clothes to match characters from her novels and buying furniture like hers. Rand was unimpressed with many of the NBI students and held them to strict standards, sometimes reacting coldly or angrily to those who disagreed with her. However, some former NBI students believe the extent of these behaviors has been exaggerated, with the problem being concentrated among Rand’s closest followers in New York.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks to students at institutions such as Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and MIT. She received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College in 1963. She also began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterward to questions from the audience.During these speeches and Q&A sessions, she often took controversial stances on political and social issues of the day. These included supporting abortion rights, opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft(but condemning many draft dodgers as “bums”), supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 against a coalition of Arab nations as “civilized men fighting savages”, saying European colonists had the right to develop land taken from American Indians, and calling homosexuality “immoral” and “disgusting”, while also advocating the repeal of all laws about it. She also endorsed several Republican candidates for President of the United States, most strongly Barry Goldwater in 1964, whose candidacy she promoted in several articles for The Objectivist Newsletter.
In 1964 Nathaniel Branden began an affair with the young actress Patrecia Scott, whom he later married. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden kept the affair hidden from Rand. When she learned of it in 1968, though her romantic relationship with Branden had already ended, Rand terminated her relationship with both Brandens, which led to the closure of NBI. Rand published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other “irrational behavior in his private life”. Branden later apologized in an interview to “every student of Objectivism” for “perpetuating the Ayn Rand mystique” and for “contributing to that dreadful atmosphere of intellectual repressiveness that pervades the Objectivist movement.” In subsequent years, Rand and several more of her closest associates parted company.
Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974 after decades of heavy smoking. In 1976, she retired from writing her newsletter and, despite her initial objections, allowed Evva Pryor, a social worker from her attorney’s office, to enroll her in Social Security and Medicare. During the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined, especially after the death of her husband on November 9, 1979. One of her final projects was work on a never-completed television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.
Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982, at her home in New York City, and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. Rand’s funeral was attended by some of her prominent followers, including Alan Greenspan. A 6-foot (1.8 m) floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. In her will, Rand named Leonard Peikoff the heir to her estate.
In epistemology, she considered all knowledge to be based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic, and reason, which she described as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” She rejected all claims of non-perceptual or a priori knowledge, including “‘instinct,’ ‘intuition,’ ‘revelation,’ or any form of ‘just knowing.'” Rand argued that the requirements of cognition determine the objective criteria of conceptualization, which she summarized in the form of a philosophical razor. Known as “Rand’s razor,” it states that “concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity—the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.” In her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand presented a theory of concept formation and rejected the analytic–synthetic dichotomy.
In ethics, Rand argued for rational and ethical egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral principle. She said the individual should “exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” She referred to egoism as “the virtue of selfishness” in her book of that title, in which she presented her solution to the is-ought problem by describing a meta-ethical theory that based morality in the needs of “man’s survival qua man”. She condemned ethical altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness, and held that the initiation of force was evil and irrational, writing in Atlas Shrugged that “Force and mind are opposites.”
Rand’s political philosophy emphasized individual rights (including property rights), and she considered laissez-faire capitalism the only moral social system because in her view it was the only system based on the protection of those rights. She opposed statism, which she understood to include theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism,communism, democratic socialism, and dictatorship. Rand believed that natural rights should be enforced by a constitutionally limited government. Although her political views are often classified as conservative or libertarian, she preferred the term “radical for capitalism”. She worked with conservatives on political projects, but disagreed with them over issues such as religion and ethics. She denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism. She rejected anarchism as a naïve theory based in subjectivism that could only lead to collectivism in practice.
Rand’s aesthetics defined art as a “selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” According to Rand, art allows philosophical concepts to be presented in a concrete form that can be easily grasped, thereby fulfilling a need of human consciousness. As a writer, the art form Rand focused on most closely was literature, where she considered romanticism to be the approach that most accurately reflected the existence of human free will. She described her own approach to literature as “romantic realism“.
Rand acknowledged Aristotle as her greatest influence and remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend “three A’s”—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. In a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, when asked where her philosophy came from, she responded, “Out of my own mind, with the sole acknowledgement of a debt to Aristotle, the only philosopher who ever influenced me. I devised the rest of my philosophy myself.” However, she also found early inspiration in Friedrich Nietzsche, and scholars have found indications of his influence in early notes from Rand’s journals, in passages from the first edition of We the Living (which Rand later revised), and in her overall writing style. However, by the time she wrote The Fountainhead, Rand had turned against Nietzsche’s ideas, and the extent of his influence on her even during her early years is disputed. Among the philosophers Rand held in particular disdain was Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as a “monster”, although philosophers George Walsh and Fred Seddon have argued that she misinterpreted Kant and exaggerated their differences.
Rand said her most important contributions to philosophy were her “theory of concepts, [her] ethics, and [her] discovery in politics that evil—the violation of rights—consists of the initiation of force.” She believed epistemology was a foundational branch of philosophy and considered the advocacy of reason to be the single most significant aspect of her philosophy, stating, “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”
Reception and legacy
During Rand’s lifetime, her work evoked both extreme praise and condemnation. Rand’s first novel, We the Living, was admired by the literary critic H. L. Mencken, her Broadway play Night of January 16th was both a critical and popular success, and The Fountainhead was hailed by a reviewer in The New York Times as “masterful”. Rand’s novels were derided by some critics when they were first published as being long and melodramatic. However, they became bestsellers largely through word of mouth.
The first reviews Rand received were for Night of January 16th. Reviews of the production were largely positive, but Rand considered even positive reviews to be embarrassing because of significant changes made to her script by the producer. Rand believed that her first novel, We the Living, was not widely reviewed, but Rand scholar Michael S. Berliner says “it was the most reviewed of any of her works”, with approximately 125 different reviews being published in more than 200 publications. Overall these reviews were more positive than the reviews she received for her later work. Her 1938 novella Anthem received little attention from reviewers, both for its first publication in England and for subsequent re-issues.
Rand’s first bestseller, The Fountainhead, received far fewer reviews than We the Living, and reviewers’ opinions were mixed. There was a positive review in The New York Times that Rand greatly appreciated. The reviewer called Rand “a writer of great power” who wrote “brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly”, and stated that “you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time”. There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed most of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. Some negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it “a whale of a book” and another that said “anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing”. Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand’s style “offensively pedestrian”.
Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed, and many of the reviews were strongly negative. In the National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book “sophomoric” and “remarkably silly”. He described the tone of the book as “shrillness without reprieve” and accused Rand of supporting a godless system (which he related to that of the Soviets), claiming “From almost any page ofAtlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber—go!'” Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, including praise from the noted book reviewer John Chamberlain, but Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that “reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs”, calling it “execrable claptrap” and “a nightmare”; they said it was “written out of hate” and showed “remorseless hectoring and prolixity”. Author Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to a friend that “The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.”
Rand’s nonfiction received far fewer reviews than her novels had. The tenor of the criticism for her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, was similar to that for Atlas Shrugged, with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to “the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union”, and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint “nearly perfect in its immorality”. Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers.
On the 100th anniversary of Rand’s birth in 2005, Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times, referred to her fictional writing as quaint utopian “retro fantasy” and programmatic neo-Romanticism of the misunderstood artist, while criticizing her characters’ “isolated rejection of democratic society”. In 2007, book critic Leslie Clark described her fiction as “romance novels with a patina of pseudo-philosophy“. In 2009, GQ ’s critic columnist Tom Carson described her books as “capitalism’s version of middlebrow religious novels” such as Ben-Hur and the Left Behind series.
In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked club members what the most influential book in the respondent’s life was. Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible. Rand’s books continue to be widely sold and read, with over 29 million copies sold as of 2013 (with about 10% of that total purchased for free distribution to schools by the Ayn Rand Institute). Although Rand’s influence has been greatest in the United States, there has been international interest in her work. Rand’s work continues to be among the top sellers among books in India.
Rand’s contemporary admirers included fellow novelists, such as Ira Levin, Kay Nolte Smith and L. Neil Smith, and later writers such as Erika Holzer and Terry Goodkind have been influenced by her. Other artists who have cited Rand as an important influence on their lives and thought include comic book artist Steve Ditko and musician Neil Peart of Rush. Rand provided a positive view of business, and in response business executives and entrepreneurs have admired and promoted her work. John Allisonof BB&T and Ed Snider of Comcast Spectacor have funded the promotion of Rand’s ideas, while Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and John P. Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, among others, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success.
Rand and her works have been referred to in a variety of media: on television shows including animated sitcoms, live-action comedies, dramas, and game shows, as well as in movies and video games. She, or a character based on her, figures prominently (in positive and negative lights) in literary and science fiction novels by prominent American authors. Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason, has remarked that “Rand’s is a tortured immortality, one in which she’s as likely to be a punch line as a protagonist…” and that “jibes at Rand as cold and inhuman, run through the popular culture”. Two movies have been made about Rand’s life. A 1997 documentary film, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The Passion of Ayn Rand, a 1999 television adaptation of the book of the same name, won several awards. Rand’s image also appears on a 1999 U.S. postage stamp designed by artist Nick Gaetano.
Although she rejected the labels “conservative” and “libertarian“, Rand has had continuing influence on right-wing politics and libertarianism. Jim Powell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, considers Rand one of the three most important women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson) of modern American libertarianism, and David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party, stated that “without Ayn Rand, the libertarian movement would not exist”. In his history of the libertarian movement, journalist Brian Doherty described her as “the most influential libertarian of the twentieth century to the public at large”, and biographer Jennifer Burns referred to her as “the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right”.
She faced intense opposition from William F. Buckley, Jr. and other contributors for the National Review magazine. They published numerous criticisms in the 1950s and 1960s by Whittaker Chambers, Garry Wills, and M. Stanton Evans. Nevertheless, her influence among conservatives forced Buckley and other National Review contributors to reconsider how traditional notions of virtue and Christianity could be integrated with support for capitalism.
The political figures who cite Rand as an influence are usually conservatives (often members of the United States Republican Party), despite Rand taking some positions that are atypical for conservatives, such as being pro-choice and an atheist. A 1987 article in The New York Times referred to her as the Reagan administration‘s “novelist laureate”. Republican Congressmen and conservative pundits have acknowledged her influence on their lives and recommended her novels.
The late-2000s financial crisis spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis, and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel. During this time, signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests. There was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming the economic crisis on her support of selfishness and free markets, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, Mother Jones remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed”, while equating Randian individual well-being with that of the Volk according to Goebbels. Corey Robin of The Nation alleged similarities between the “moral syntax of Randianism” and fascism.
During Rand’s lifetime her work received little attention from academic scholars. When the first academic book about Rand’s philosophy appeared in 1971, its author declared writing about Rand “a treacherous undertaking” that could lead to “guilt by association” for taking her seriously. A few articles about Rand’s ideas appeared in academic journals before her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist. One of these was “On the Randian Argument” by libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who argued that her meta-ethical argument is unsound and fails to solve the is–ought problem posed by David Hume. Some responses to Nozick by other academic philosophers were also published in The Personalist arguing that Nozick misstated Rand’s case. Academic consideration of Rand as a literary figure during her life was even more limited. Academic Mimi Gladstein was unable to find any scholarly articles about Rand’s novels when she began researching her in 1973, and only three such articles appeared during the rest of the 1970s.
Since Rand’s death, interest in her work has gradually increased. Historian Jennifer Burns has identified “three overlapping waves” of scholarly interest in Rand, the most recent of which is “an explosion of scholarship” since the year 2000. However, few universities currently include Rand or Objectivism as a philosophical specialty or research area, with many literature and philosophy departments dismissing her as a pop culture phenomenon rather than a subject for serious study.
Gladstein, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Allan Gotthelf, Edwin A. Locke and Tara Smith have taught her work in academic institutions. Sciabarra co-edits the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a nonpartisan peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of Rand’s philosophical and literary work. In 1987 Gotthelf helped found the Ayn Rand Society with George Walsh and David Kelley, and has been active in sponsoring seminars about Rand and her ideas. Smith has written several academic books and papers on Rand’s ideas, including Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, a volume on Rand’s ethical theory published byCambridge University Press. Rand’s ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities. Scholars of English and American literature have largely ignored her work, although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s.
Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought, describe her style as “literary, hyperbolic and emotional”. Philosopher Jack Wheeler says that despite “the incessant bombast and continuous venting of Randian rage”, Rand’s ethics are “a most immense achievement, the study of which is vastly more fruitful than any other in contemporary thought.” In the Literary Encyclopedia entry for Rand written in 2001, John David Lewis declared that “Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation”. In a 1999 interview in theChronicle of Higher Education, Sciabarra commented, “I know they laugh at Rand”, while forecasting a growth of interest in her work in the academic community.
Libertarian philosopher Michael Huemer has argued that very few people find Rand’s ideas convincing, especially her ethics, which he believes is difficult to interpret and may lack logical coherence. He attributes the attention she receives to her being a “compelling writer”, especially as a novelist. Thus, Atlas Shrugged outsells not only the works of other philosophers of classical liberalism such as Ludwig von Mises,Friedrich Hayek, or Frederic Bastiat, but also Rand’s own non-fiction works.
Political scientist Charles Murray, while praising Rand’s literary accomplishments, criticizes her claim that her only “philosophical debt” was to Aristotle, instead asserting that her ideas were derivative of previous thinkers such as John Locke and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Although Rand maintained that Objectivism was an integrated philosophical system, philosopher Robert H. Bass has argued that her central ethical ideas are inconsistent and contradictory to her central political ideas.
In 1985, Rand’s heir Leonard Peikoff established the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Rand’s ideas and works. In 1990, philosopher David Kelley founded the Institute for Objectivist Studies, now known as The Atlas Society. In 2001 historian John McCaskey organized the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, which provides grants for scholarly work on Objectivism in academia. The charitable foundation of BB&T Corporation has also given grants for teaching Rand’s ideas or works. The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pittsburgh, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among the schools that have received grants. In some cases these grants have been controversial due to their requiring research or teaching related to Rand.
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- Ayn Rand Biographical FAQ from the Objectivism Reference Center
- Frequently Asked Questions About Ayn Rand from the Ayn Rand Institute
- What’s Living and Dead in Ayn Rand’s Moral and Political Thought by the Cato Institute
- Works by Ayn Rand at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Ayn Rand at Internet Archive
- Works by Ayn Rand at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Rand’s papers at The Library of Congress
- Ayn Rand Lexicon – searchable database
- Ayn Rand at C-SPAN‘s American Writers: A Journey Through History
- Ayn Rand entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Ayn Rand entry by Neera K. Badhwar and Roderick T. Long in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, October 4, 2010
- Ayn Rand at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by Ayn Rand at Open Library
- Ayn Rand at Find a Grave
- Ayn Rand at DMOZ
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Atlas shrugged)
This article is about the novel. For the film adaptations, see Atlas Shrugged (film series).
Atlas Shrugged is a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. Rand’s fourth and last novel, it was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. Atlas Shrugged includes elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance, and it contains Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction.
The book depicts a dystopian United States, wherein many of society’s most prominent and successful industrialists abandon their fortunes and the nation itself, in response to aggressive new regulations, whereupon most vital industries collapse. The title is a reference to Atlas, a Titan described in the novel as “the giant who holds the world on his shoulders”. The significance of this reference appears in a conversation between the characters Francisco d’Anconia and Hank Rearden, in which d’Anconia asks Rearden what advice he would give Atlas upon seeing that “the greater [the titan’s] effort, the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders”. With Rearden unable to answer, d’Anconia gives his own response: “To shrug”.
The theme of Atlas Shrugged, as Rand described it, is “the role of man’s mind in existence”. The book explores a number of philosophical themes from which Rand would subsequently develop Objectivism. In doing so, it expresses the advocacy of reason, individualism, capitalism, and the failures of governmental coercion.
Atlas Shrugged received largely negative reviews after its 1957 publication, but achieved enduring popularity and consistent sales in the following decades.
Context and writing
Rand’s stated goal for writing the novel was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them”. The core idea for the book came to her after a 1943 telephone conversation with a friend, who asserted that Rand owed it to her readers to write fiction about her philosophy. Rand replied, “What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?” Rand then began Atlas Shrugged to depict the morality of rational self-interest, by exploring the consequences of a strike by intellectuals refusing to supply their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas to the rest of the world. The working title throughout her writing was The Strike, but Rand having thought this title would have revealed the mystery element of the novel prematurely, she was pleased when her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged, previously the title of a single chapter, for the book.
To produce Atlas Shrugged, Rand conducted research on the American railroad industry. Her previous work on a proposed (but never realized) screenplay based on the development of the atomic bomb, including her interviews of J. Robert Oppenheimer, was used in the portrait of the character Robert Stadler and the novel’s depiction of the development of “Project X”. To do further background research, Rand toured and inspected a number of industrial facilities, such as the Kaiser Steel plant, rode the locomotives of the New York Central Railroad, and even learned to operate the locomotive of the Twentieth Century Limited (and proudly reported that when operating it, “nobody touched a lever except me”).
Rand’s self-identified literary influences include Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Edmond Rostand, and O. Henry. In addition, Justin Raimondo has observed similarities between Atlas Shrugged and the 1922 novel The Driver, written by Garet Garrett, which concerns an idealized industrialist named Henry Galt, who is a transcontinental railway owner trying to improve the world and fighting against government and socialism. In contrast, Chris Matthew Sciabarra found Raimondo’s “claims that Rand plagiarized … The Driver” to be “unsupported”, and Stephan Kinsella doubts that Rand was in any way influenced by Garrett. Writer Bruce Ramsey observed, “Both The Driver and Atlas Shrugged have to do with running railroads during an economic depression, and both suggest pro-capitalist ways in which the country might get out of the depression. But in plot, character, tone, and theme they are very different.”
Due to the success of Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead, she had no trouble attracting a publisher for Atlas Shrugged. This was a contrast to her previous novels, which she had struggled to place. Even before she began writing it, she had been approached by publishers interested in her next novel. However, her contract for The Fountainhead gave the first option to its publisher, Bobbs-Merrill. After reviewing a partial manuscript, they asked her to discuss a number of cuts and other changes. She refused, and Bobbs-Merrill rejected the book.
Hiram Hayden, an editor she liked who had left Bobbs-Merrill, asked her to consider his new employer, Random House. In an early discussion about the difficulties of publishing a controversial novel, Random House president Bennett Cerf proposed that Rand should submit the manuscript to multiple publishers simultaneously and ask how they would respond to its ideas, so she could evaluate who might best promote her work. Rand was impressed by the bold suggestion and by her overall conversations with them. After speaking with a few other publishers (out of about a dozen who were interested), Rand decided a multiple submission was not needed; she offered the manuscript to Random House. Upon reading the portion Rand submitted, Cerf declared it a “great book” and offered Rand a contract. It was the first time Rand had worked with a publisher whose executives seemed truly enthusiastic about one of her books.
Random House published the novel on October 10, 1957. The initial print run was 100,000 copies. The first paperback edition was published by New American Library in July 1959, with an initial run of 150,000. A 35th-anniversary edition was published by E. P. Dutton in 1992, with an introduction by Rand’s heir Leonard Peikoff.
Many translations have been published, including editions in Albanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Marathi, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian,Spanish, Slovak, Swedish, and Turkish.
Atlas Shrugged is set in a dystopian United States at an unspecified time, in which the country has a “National Legislature” instead of Congress and a “Head of State” instead of President. Writer Edward Younkins noted, “The story may be simultaneously described as anachronistic and timeless. The pattern of industrial organization appears to be that of the late 1800s — the mood seems to be close to that of the depression-era 1930s. Both the social customs and the level of technology remind one of the 1950s”. Many early 20th-century technologies are available, and the steel and railroad industries are especially significant; jet planes are described as a relatively new technology, and television is significantly less influential than radio. Although other countries are mentioned in passing, the Soviet Union, World War II, or the Cold War are not. The countries of the world are implied to be organized along vaguely Marxist lines, in references to “People’s States” in Europe and South America. Characters also refer to nationalization of businesses in these “People’s States”, as well as in America. The “mixed economy” of the book’s present is often contrasted with the “pure” capitalism of 19th century America, recalled as a lost Golden Age.
The novel is divided into three parts consisting of ten chapters each. Robert James Bidinotto noted, “the titles of the parts and chapters suggest multiple layers of meaning. The three parts, for example, are named in honor of Aristotle’s laws of logic … Part One is titled ‘Non-Contradiction’ … Part Two, titled ‘Either-Or’ … [and] Part Three is titled ‘A Is A,’ a reference to ‘the Law of Identity‘.”
See also: List of Atlas Shrugged characters
As the novel opens, protagonist Dagny Taggart, the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company established by her grandfather, attempts to keep the company alive against collectivismand statism. Her brother, James Taggart, the railroad’s president, is peripherally aware of the company’s troubles, but seems to make irrational decisions, such as preferring to buy steel from Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel, rather than Hank Rearden‘s Rearden Steel, despite the former continually delaying delivery of vital rail. In this as in other decisions, Dagny simply continues her own policy, but is herself disappointed to discover that Francisco d’Anconia, her childhood friend and first love, appears to be destroying his family’s international copper company without cause.
Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate, has developed an alloy called Rearden Metal, now the most reliable metal in the world, but keeps its composition secret, sparking jealousy among competitors. As a result, pressure is put on Dagny to use conventional steel, but she refuses. Hank’s career is hindered by his feelings of obligation to his wife, mother, and younger brother. Dagny also becomes acquainted with Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist initially working for Rearden, whom he betrays, and later notices the nation’s most capable business leaders abruptly disappearing, leaving their industries to failure. The most recent of these is Ellis Wyatt, the sole founder and supervisor of Wyatt Oil, who leaves his most successful oil well spewing petroleum and fire into the air (later named “Wyatt’s Torch”). Each of these men remains absent despite a thorough search by politicians. While economic conditions worsen and government agencies enforce their control on successful businesses, the citizens are often heard repeating “Who is John Galt?”, in response to questions to which the individual has no answer. It sarcastically means: “Don’t ask important questions, because we don’t have answers”; or more broadly, “What’s the point?” or “Why bother?”.
Having demonstrated the reliability of Rearden Metal in a railroad line named after John Galt, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart become paramours, and later discover, amongst the ruins of an abandoned factory, an incomplete motor that transforms atmospheric static electricity into kinetic energy, of which they seek the inventor. Eventually, this search reveals the reason of business-leaders’ disappearances, when Dagny pursues a scientist to ‘Galt’s Gulch’, where the character John Galt is leading an organized “strike” of business leaders against the government.
Reluctant to forsake her railroad, Dagny leaves Galt’s Gulch, but Galt follows Dagny to New York City, where he hacks into a national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech (70 pages in the first edition), to explain the novel’s theme and Rand’s Objectivism. As the government collapses, the authorities capture Galt, but he is rescued by his partisans, while New York City loses its electricity. The novel closes as Galt announces that they will later reorganize the world.
Main article: Objectivism (Ayn Rand)
The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Rand’s ethical egoism, her advocacy of “rational selfishness“, whereby all of the principal virtues and vices are applications of the role of reason as man’s basic tool of survival (or a failure to apply it): rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride. Rand’s characters often personify her view of the archetypes of various schools of philosophy for living and working in the world. Robert James Bidinotto wrote, “Rand rejected the literary convention that depth and plausibility demand characters who are naturalistic replicas of the kinds of people we meet in everyday life, uttering everyday dialogue and pursuing everyday values. But she also rejected the notion that characters should be symbolic rather than realistic.” and Rand herself stated, “My characters are never symbols, they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. . . . My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings”.
In addition to the plot’s more obvious statements about the significance of industrialists to society, and the sharp contrast to Marxism and the labor theory of value, this explicit conflict is used by Rand to draw wider philosophical conclusions, both implicit in the plot and via the characters’ own statements. Atlas Shrugged caricatures fascism, socialism, communism, and any state intervention in society, as allowing poor people to “leech” the hard-earned wealth of the rich, and Rand contends that the outcome of any individual’s life is purely a function of its ability, and that any individual could overcome adverse circumstances, given ability and intelligence.
Sanction of the victim
The concept “sanction of the victim” is defined by Leonard Peikoff as “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin‘ of creating values”. Accordingly, throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters are frustrated by this sanction, as when Hank Rearden appears duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility toward him; later, the principle is stated byDan Conway: “I suppose somebody’s got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain”. John Galt further explains the principle: “Evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us”, and, “I saw that evil was impotent … and the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it”.
Government and business
Rand’s view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt: “The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force”, whereas “no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right of property”. Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, society stagnates when independent productive agencies are socially demonized for their accomplishments. This is in agreement with an excerpt from a 1964 interview with Playboymagazine, in which Rand states: “What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy — that is, a mixture of freedom and controls, which, by the presently dominant trend, is moving toward dictatorship. The action in Atlas Shrugged takes place at a time when society has reached the stage of dictatorship. When and if this happens, that will be the time to go on strike, but not until then”.
Rand also depicts public choice theory, such that the language of altruism is used to pass legislation nominally in the public interest (e.g., the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule”, and “The Equalization of Opportunity Bill”), but more to the short-term benefit of special interests and government agencies.
Property rights and individualism
“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.”
— Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged
Rand’s heroes continually oppose “parasites”, “looters”, and “moochers” who demand the benefits of the heroes’ labor. Edward Younkins describes Atlas Shrugged as “an apocalyptic vision of the last stages of conflict between two classes of humanity — the looters and the non-looters. The looters are proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution”.
“Looters” are Rand’s depiction of bureaucrats and government officials, who confiscate others’ earnings by the implicit threat of force (“at the point of a gun”). Some officials execute government policy, such as those who confiscate one state’s seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others exploit those policies, such as the railroad regulator who illegally sells the railroad’s supplies for his own profit. Both use force to take property from the people who “produced” or “earned” it.
“Moochers” are Rand’s depiction of those unable to produce value themselves, who demand others’ earnings on behalf of the needy, but resent the talented upon whom they depend, and appeal to “moral right” while enabling the “lawful” seizure by governments.
The character Francisco d’Anconia indicates the role of “looters” in relation to money itself:
“So you think that money is the root of all evil? … Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or the looters who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? … Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into bread you need to survive tomorrow. … Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values … Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account Overdrawn.'”
Theory of sex
“Through Dagny’s associations … Rand illustrates what a relationship between two self-actualized, equal human beings can be … Rand denies the existence of a split between the physical and the mental, the desires of the flesh and the longings of the spirit.”
– Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Ayn Rand and Feminism: An Unlikely Alliance
The first and predominant act is of Hank Rearden, who partners with Dagny after the opening of the John Galt Line to celebrate their success. The affair continues until Hank’s wife discovers it, but allows the affair to continue until Hank manipulates the judicial system to obtain a divorce, awaiting which Mrs. Rearden seduces Dagny’s brother James (who is also married, and despises Hank). Having caught them, and by now understanding that Dagny Taggart was in fact the real mind behind Taggart Transcontinental (and her husband the archetypal ‘looter’), James’ wife Cherryl commits suicide after a violent argument – screaming “No! No! Not your kind of world!” as she leaps to her death.
Mentions of consent within the text include Dagny and Francisco’s first sexual encounter, described as “a shocking intimacy that needed no consent from her, no permission” and “she knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his”. During the encounter, the text says, “he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most – to submit”. When she is with Hank, it says he “took her wrist and threw her inside his room, making the gesture tell her that he needed no sign of consent or resistance”.
Ayn Rand also presents sex as the sole act a human being can do only out of desire. And since it stems only from desire, it reflects with precision the true personality of that person, and the person’s most passionate wants.
The novel includes elements of mystery, romance, and science fiction. Rand referred to Atlas Shrugged as a mystery novel, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit”. Nonetheless, when asked by film producer Albert S. Ruddy if a screenplay could focus on the love story, Rand agreed and reportedly said, “That’s all it ever was”.
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory appear in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify it in the genre of science fiction. Writer Jeff Riggenbach notes: “Galt’s motor is one of the three inventions that propel the action of Atlas Shrugged“, the other two being Rearden Metal and the government’s sonic weapon, Project X. Other fictional technologies are “refractor rays” (to disguise ‘Galt’s Gulch’), a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader), voice-activated door locks (at the Gulch’s power station), palm-activated door locks (in Galt’s New York lab), Galt’s means of quietly turning the entire contents of his laboratory into a fine powder when a lock is breached, and a means of taking over all radio stations worldwide. Riggenbach adds, “Rand’s overall message with regard to science seems clear: the role of science in human life and human society is to provide the knowledge on the basis of which technological advancement and the related improvements in the quality of human life can be realized. But science can fulfill this role only in a society in which human beings are left free to conduct their business as they see fit”. Science fiction historian John J. Pierce describes it as a “romantic suspense novel” that is “at least a borderline case” of science fiction.
Atlas Shrugged debuted on The New York Times Bestseller List at #13 three days after its publication. It peaked at #3 on December 8, 1957, and was on the list for 22 consecutive weeks. It continued to sell strongly through the 1960s and beyond. By 1984, its sales had exceeded five million copies.
Sales of Atlas Shrugged increased following the 2007 financial crisis. The Economist reported that the 52-year-old novel ranked #33 among Amazon.com’s top-selling books on January 13, 2009, and that its 30-day sales average showed the novel selling three times faster than during the same period of the previous year. With an attached sales chart, The Economist reported that sales “spikes” of the book seemed to coincide with the release of economic data. Subsequently, on April 2, 2009, Atlas Shrugged ranked #1 in the “Fiction and Literature” category at Amazon and #15 in overall sales. Total sales of the novel in 2009 exceeded 500,000 copies. The book sold 445,000 copies in 2011, the second-strongest sales year in the novel’s history.
“Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of greed is good. Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.”
Despite being a popular success, Atlas Shrugged was generally disliked by critics. Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that when the novel was released, “reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs”; one called it “execrable claptrap”, while another said it showed “remorseless hectoring and prolixity”. Author Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality”. In the Saturday Review, Helen Beal Woodward said that the novel was written with “dazzling virtuosity” but was “shot through with hatred”. This was echoed by Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review, who stated that the book was “written out of hate”. The reviewer for Time magazine asked: “Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?” In theNational Review, Whittaker Chambers called Atlas Shrugged “sophomoric” and “remarkably silly”, and said it “can be called a novel only by devaluing the term”. Chambers argued against the novel’s implicit endorsement of atheism, whereby “Randian man, like Marxian man is made the center of a godless world”. Chambers wrote that the implicit message of the novel is akin to “Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s brand of Communism”: “To a gas chamber — go!”.
The negative reviews produced responses from some of Rand’s admirers, including a letter by Alan Greenspan to The New York Times Book Review, in which he responded to Hicks’ claim that “the book was written out of hate” by saying, “… Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.” Greenspan had read unpublished drafts of the work in Rand’s salon at least three years earlier. In an unpublished letter to the National Review, Leonard Peikoff wrote, “… Mr. Chambers is an ex-Communist. He has attacked Atlas Shrugged in the best tradition of the Communists — by lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations. Mr. Chambers may have changed a few of his political views; he has not changed the method of intellectual analysis and evaluation of the Party to which he belonged.”
There were some positive reviews. Richard McLaughlin, reviewing the novel for The American Mercury, described it as a “long overdue” polemic against the welfare state with an “exciting, suspenseful plot”, although unnecessarily long. He drew a comparison with the antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saying that a “skillful polemicist” did not need a refined literary style to have a political impact. Journalist and book reviewerJohn Chamberlain, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, found Atlas Shrugged satisfying on many levels: as science fiction, as a “philosophical detective story”, and as a “profound political parable”. In a tribute written on the 20th anniversary of the novel’s publication, John Hospers, a leading philosopher of aesthetics, praised it as “a supreme achievement, guaranteed of immortality.”
Influence and legacy
Over the years, Atlas Shrugged has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. Each year, the Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of works by Ayn Rand, including Atlas Shrugged, to high school students. According to a 1991 survey done for the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was situated between the Bible and M. Scott Peck‘s The Road Less Traveled as the book that made the most difference in the lives of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members surveyed, with a “large gap existing between the #1 book and the rest of the list”. Modern Library‘s 1998 nonscientific online poll of the 100 best novels of the 20th century found Atlas rated #1 although it was not included on the list chosen by the Modern Library board of authors and scholars.
Rand’s impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable. The title of one libertarian magazine, Reason: Free Minds, Free Markets, is taken directly from John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who argues that “a free mind and a free market are corollaries”. In 1983, the Libertarian Futurist Society gave the novel one of its first “Hall of Fame” awards. In 1997, the libertarian Cato Institute held a joint conference with The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged. At this event, Howard Dickman of Reader’s Digest stated that the novel had “turned millions of readers on to the ideas of liberty” and said that the book had the important message of the readers’ “profound right to be happy”.
Former Rand business partner and lover Nathaniel Branden, to whom the book was originally dedicated, has expressed differing views of Atlas Shrugged. He was initially quite favorable to it, praising it in the book he and his wife Barbara Branden wrote in 1962 called Who Is Ayn Rand?. After he and Rand ended their relationship in 1968, both he and Barbara repudiated their earlier book.:12 As of 1971, though, in an interview he gave to Reason, he listed some critiques, but concluded, “But what the hell, so there are a few things one can quarrel with in the book, so what? Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel that has ever been written, in my judgment, so let’s let it go at that.”:17 However, in 1984, two years after Rand’s death, he argued that Atlas Shrugged “encourages emotional repression and self-disowning” and that her works contained contradictory messages. Branden claimed that the characters rarely talk “on a simple, human level without launching into philosophical sermons”. He criticized the potential psychological impact of the novel, stating that John Galt’s recommendation to respond to wrongdoing with “contempt and moral condemnation” clashes with the view of psychologists who say this only causes the wrongdoing to repeat itself.
The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises admired the unapologetic elitism he saw in Rand’s work. In a private letter to Rand written a few months after the novel’s publication, he declared, “… Atlas Shrugged is not merely a novel. It is also (or may I say: first of all) a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society, a substantiated rejection of the ideology of our self-styled “intellectuals” and a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties … You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”
In the years immediately following the novel’s publication, many American conservatives, such as William Buckley, Jr., strongly disapproved of Rand and her Objectivist message. In addition to the strongly critical review by Whittaker Chambers, Buckley solicited a number of critical pieces: Russell Kirk called Objectivism an “inverted religion”, Frank Meyer accused Rand of “calculated cruelties” and her message, an “arid subhuman image of man”, and Garry Wills regarded Rand a “fanatic”. In the late 2000s, however, conservative commentators suggested the book as a warning against a socialistic reaction to the finance crisis. Conservative commentators Neal Boortz, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have offered high praise of the book on their respective radio and television programs. In 2006, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels. Republican Congressman John Campbell said, for example, “People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in [the novel] … We’re living in Atlas Shrugged“, echoing Stephen Moore in an article published in The Wall Street Journal on January 9, 2009, titled “Atlas Shrugged From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years”.
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 CEOs that Atlas Shrugged has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas.”
In 2005, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said that Rand was “the reason I got into public service”, and he later required his staff members to read Atlas Shrugged. In April 2012, he disavowed such beliefs however, calling them “an urban legend”, and rejected Rand’s philosophy.Ryan was subsequently mocked by Nobel Prize-winning economist and commentator Paul Krugman for reportedly getting ideas about monetary policy from the novel. In another commentary, Krugman quoted a quip by writer John Rogers: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
BioShock, a critically acclaimed 2007 video game, is widely considered to be a deconstruction of Atlas Shrugged. The story depicts a collapsed Objectivist society, with the player learning of how it fell apart after the fact. Significant characters in the game, such as Atlas and Andrew Ryan (a play on the name Ayn Rand), owe their naming to Rand’s work. When asked about the influences for BioShock, the creator of the game,Ken Levine, replied, “I have my useless liberal arts degree, so I’ve read stuff from Ayn Rand and George Orwell, and all the sort of utopian and dystopian writings of the 20th century, which I’ve found really fascinating.”
References to Atlas Shrugged have appeared in a variety of other popular entertainments. In the first season of the drama series Mad Men, Bert Cooper urges Don Draper to read the book, and Don’s sales pitch tactic to a client indicates he has been influenced by the strike plot: “If you don’t appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we’ll see how you do.” Less positive mentions of the novel occur in the animated comedy Futurama, where it appears among library of books flushed down to the sewers to be read only by grotesque mutants, and in South Park, where a newly literate character gives up on reading after experiencing Atlas Shrugged.
In 2013, it was announced that Galt’s Gulch, Chile, a settlement for libertarian devotees named for John Galt’s safe haven, would be established near Santiago, Chile. The settlement has been dogged by internal power struggles, bureaucracy, and accusations of fraud against the founders.
Film and television adaptations
A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged was in “development hell” for nearly 40 years. In 1972, Albert S. Ruddy approached Rand to produce a cinematic adaptation. Rand insisted on having final script approval, which Ruddy refused to give her, thus preventing a deal. In 1978, Henry and Michael Jaffe negotiated a deal for an eight-hour Atlas Shrugged television miniseries on NBC. Michael Jaffe hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to adapt the novel and he obtained approval from Rand on the final script. However, when Fred Silverman became president of NBC in 1979, the project was scrapped.
Rand, a former Hollywood screenwriter herself, began writing her own screenplay, but died in 1982 with only one-third of it finished. She left her estate, including the film rights to Atlas, to her student Leonard Peikoff, who sold an option to Michael Jaffe and Ed Snider. Peikoff would not approve the script they wrote, and the deal fell through. In 1992, investor John Aglialoro bought an option to produce the film, paying Peikoff over $1 million for full creative control.
In 1999, under Aglialoro’s sponsorship, Ruddy negotiated a deal with Turner Network Television (TNT) for a four-hour miniseries, but the project was killed after the AOL Time Warner merger. After the TNT deal fell through, Howard and Karen Baldwin obtained the rights while running Phillip Anschutz‘s Crusader Entertainment. The Baldwins left Crusader and formed Baldwin Entertainment Group in 2004, taking the rights to Atlas Shrugged with them. Michael Burns of Lions Gate Entertainment approached the Baldwins to fund and distribute Atlas Shrugged. A draft screenplay was written by James V. Hart and rewritten by Randall Wallace, but was never produced.
In May 2010, Brian Patrick O’Toole and Aglialoro wrote a screenplay, intent on filming in June 2010. Stephen Polk was set to direct. However, Polk was fired and principal photography began on June 13, 2010, under the direction of Paul Johansson and produced by Harmon Kaslow and Aglialoro. This resulted in Aglialoro’s retention of his rights to the property, which were set to expire on June 15, 2010. Filming was completed on July 20, 2010, and the movie was released on April 15, 2011. Dagny Taggart was played by Taylor Schilling and Hank Rearden by Grant Bowler.
The film was met with a generally negative reception from professional critics, getting an 11% (rotten) rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and had less than $5 million in total box office receipts. The film earned an additional $5M in DVD and Blu-ray sales, for a total of about half of its $20M budget. The producer and screenwriter John Aglialoro blamed critics for the film’s paltry box office take and said he might go on strike, but ultimately went on to make the next two installments.
On February 2, 2012, Kaslow and Aglialoro announced Atlas Shrugged: Part II was fully funded and that principal photography was tentatively scheduled to commence in early April 2012. The film was released on October 12, 2012, without a special screening for critics. It suffered one of the worst openings ever, 98th worst according to Box Office Mojo, among films in wide release. Final box office take was $3.3 million, well under that of Part I despite the doubling of the budget to $20 million according to The Daily Caller. Those figures should be treated as tentative as the Internet Movie Database estimates Part 1 budget at $20 million and the Part II budget at $10 million, while Box Office Mojo says Part 1 cost $20 million and Part 2 data are “NA”. Critics gave the film a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.
The third part in the series, Atlas Shrugged: Part III, was released on September 12, 2014. The movie opened on 242 screens and grossed $461,197 its opening weekend. It was panned by critics, holding a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on ten reviews.