Thursday, December 23, 2010

Atlas Shrugged

This will likely be the first in a series of posts about Atlas Shrugged. I started reading Ayn Rand's tome in August but due to the advent of Fall Semester I was forced to pause my mental feast until Christmas break.

First things first, how was it?

A.S. is a 1000+page, 3-part novel about what happens when the great men charged with the burden of carrying the world on their shoulders refuse to perform their task. These are the industrialists, the men of the minds, the inventors, the great minds that shape the progress of stability of society.

At its focus is Dagny Taggart, the operating vice president of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad empire, and second-in-command only to her incompetent brother James due to her gender. James and his buddies in government and various positions of social power have taken it upon themselves, in grand democratic tradition, to right the wrongs that a free market inevitably imposes on those who are less capable and are endowed with less means by enacting social programs that rob the rich and give to the poor. Or at least, that's what they will tell you their doing.

In all actuality, they create programs that allow them to continue as non-contributing zeros while the giants of industry support them in their ineptitude.

As more and more good men find it impossible to make a living under such insurmountable government meddling the economy begins to fracture and society as whole begins to disintegrate as capable men seem to be disappearing off the face of the earth. All the while, Dagny's unconquerable dedication to her railroad and the preservation of something she can't quite define drive her to continue laboring while the country itself dies.

That is the most basest level, and its hard to recap the other plethora of levels to this book without becoming long-winded. Simply put, you just gotta read it.

A.S. is Rand's love letter to capitalism, the free market, and human will. She creates a world where man's reward is garnered by his need rather than his merit and the disastrous consequences of such a dogma. In it, society is divided into 3 groups: the looters, who seek to gain without having deserved anything; the strikers, brilliant men who society attempts to destroy while simultaneously riding on their shoulders; and the comman man, incapable of scientific greatness, but able to appreciate the efforts of others and give an honest labor and appreciation to those that have made luxury in the world possible.

It is thought-provoking, frustrating and heavy stuff, and Rand doesn't not rush through the events. Instead, she takes full advantage of the pages to draw out the suffering consequences of a single government action, political maneuver, and tragic accident to the point that you, the reader, want to scream at the characters to open their eyes.

But what's more, is that even in the frame of a blatantly obvious allegory, Rand creates a feeling of genuine terror as the men in her novel seem all-too-familiar, and their ideas all-too-recognizable in the world around us. The same arguments about unfair advantages and undeserved hardships that social progressives use today to draft policies of hope and change are all present in A.S. and slowly contribute to the destruction of the modern world.

Extreme? Yes. And even for members of the choir, like myself, Rand's preaching can come off a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, the brilliance of A.S. is just how simple it is. When men are rewarded for incompetence, what motivation is there to be great? And when men lose the desire to be great, how can society thrive, continue, or even survive?

Few novels have changed the way that I look at the world, but I suspect that I'll be thinking about A.S. for the rest of my life. A-

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