Finishing Atlas Shrugged has given me a feeling of invincibility – the kind that necessarily comes with the completion of a philosophical and political manifesto dressed in novel threads and clocking in at just under 1200 pages. Booyah.
Finishing Atlas Shrugged has also given me a feeling of exasperated curiosity – the kind that desperately wishes to ask Miss Rand a single, pointed question: “How could you get so much right, and yet get so much wrong?”
The novel’s title refers to Atlas, that Titan of Greek mythology who was doomed to bear weight of the world on his shoulders (quite literally). The significance of the reference can be seen in this conversation between Francisco d’Anconia and Hank Reardon, two of the main characters:
“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”
“I… don’t know. What… could he do? What would you tell him?”
The consequences of such a move would be cataclysmic – and that is exactly Rand’s point. Atlas is a man of myth; but what about the great men and women who keep the world going, all while being violently maligned as “greedy” and “self-centered” by the looters and moochers of society? What if these builders and producers – these Atlases – simply shrugged? What would happen if they abandoned their responsibilities altogether and left the world to fend for itself?
Rand’s answer: Political anarchy. Societal collapse. Economic ruin. Hell on earth.
Rather than trying (and failing) to address everything Rand and her novel have to offer, I’ll limit myself to two points. And they are:
I. Rand is an excellent writer who knows how to express her ideas with bold and unequivocal passion.
II. Anyone who believes her philosophy is or should be the moral bedrock of conservatism needs to do some serious rethinking. Continue reading Book Review: Atlas Shrugged