Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Predicted the Now?

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged   has been on my “to read” list for a long time, and I finally finished it.

I “read” it via audio book — the 25th Anniversary Edition — which contained a long introduction about Ayn Rand and her process. I found it fascinating.

She journaled obsessively about the story before beginning to write, and filled hundreds of pages with information about the characters and how they felt, what they did and why they acted in certain ways and more. She determined precisely how she would portray a character and listed ways to show this to readers.

The book is a hefty tome, and the audio version was over 63 hours of listening. There were times I wanted to just pull the plug, but I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

Atlas Shrugged is the story of Dagny Taggert, who fights to save Taggert Transcontinental Railroad from failing as the US falls into a downward economic spiral. Bad economics are caused by government intrusion into industry and the economy.

The government passes the Preservation of Livelihood Law, which limits the production of any one company to the output of another; as well as the Fair Share Law, making it possible for anyone who wants its “fair share” of a commodity to simply file the paperwork and get in line, regardless if they can pay for it or not.

Big Business is essentially forced to pay for the privilege of being in business. And if obeying the laws creates a negative profit flow, they can’t close up shop: because there’s another law that states that a business must remain open and continue to employ all its workers.

[Spoiler Alert]

This government intrusion spurs John Galt, an inventor who creates a motor which would revolutionize the world, to destroy the motor and withdrawal from society. He creates a home in a Colorado valley which he hides with the help of another invention, and one-by-one invites other industrialists to join him. Their disappearance signals the end of the US economy and the death of many who no longer have the support of the industrialists.

[End Spoiler]

Rand’s writing in Atlas Shrugged can only be called ‘philosophical.” She employs rhetoric every chance she gets, which accounts for the length of the story. In fact, there is a radio speech at the end of the book, made by John Galt which lasted over two hours of my listening time.

(I never wanted to fast-forward something so much in my life!)

Part of me can’t help but feel that what Rand describes is what’s happening now in the U.S. Did she predict this present turmoil?

But that’s the nature of a philosophical work: the questions asked are timeless and thought-provoking.

I’ll go a step further and opine that Rand was writing alternate-future (rather than alternate-history), pushing the What if?  boundaries as far as they could go. Let’s hope her fiction never comes to pass.

*Photo above is courtesy of Flickr Commons/Fibonacci Blue

2 comments to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Predicted the Now?

  • Congratulations on completing the book! I read Atlas in high school, and it seemed a predictive work then too. Aside from it been philosophical and at times boring, what are your thoughts on the writing quality?

    To me, Ayn Rand seems to be one of the most emotional philosophers of all time. She smacks her readers upside the head with her views, leaving no doubt where she stands. I think it must be tough to write a novel about political philosophy without it coming off a bit preachy. What do you think?

    • Hi Steve! I think Rand’s work is interesting, but quite repetitive: though I suppose that’s the nature of a philosophical treatise. She writes well, if a tad lackluster. In fact, I found some of the dialogue to be, as you say, predictive. Even more of it proved boring.

      I do think Rand sets up both sides of the argument quite well. At different times I found myself agreeing with both factions: so while she does beat you over the head with her opinions, she captures the opposing viewpoint well, I think.

      And I feel that she had to choose one side to be the “winner,” else how could she have published? I’m not so certain any house would have put out a book without a distinct ‘ending.’

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