>>Finally got around to it: July 2012
“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?”
This is not a review. Quite simply, Atlas Shrugged is review-proof; those who love it will defend it to their last breath, and those who don’t will condemn it for its many glaring faults, the least of which is that it is painfully overwritten. A good three to four hundred pages of crippling emotional immaturity and self-satisfactory praise could be torn from the book without even putting a dent into Rand’s overarching message.
And just what is that message? For the lucky few that have managed to avoid the shadow this book has cast, especially in recent years (as the adopted bible of the neo-con movement in the United States), let me spell it out for you: Spock was a fool. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Ha! Not in this Objectivist nightmare. Rand’s dystopian future is one of brilliant men and women being unfairly stripped of the ownership of their intellectual pursuits, be they feats of engineering or works of art (or both, given the masturbatory way Rand depicts John Galt’s incredible society-changing motor), by a government working ostensibly for the betterment of mankind—for a public that, in Rand’s perspective, is comprised of nothing more than irresponsible leeches, incapable of achieving the same heights of these gods of industry, and therefore not worth an ounce of self-sacrifice.
The industrialist as god, as the taste makers of society beyond academics, beyond celebrities and politicians alike. Rand’s idealized world is a post-capitalist extreme where luck and legacy never once enter into the conversation. It is the self-made individual who holds all the power, and is asked, always, to abandon it for a population portrayed as infantile, unintelligent, and hungry solely for the accomplishments of others. With so few being of worth and intellectual and creative ambition, Rand, through John Galt, her idealized soapbox, posits a world slowly ground to a halt when those of true value cease to give of their perfect minds.
It’s a disturbing worldview to say the least, and one wholly ignorant of the manipulation and undeserved prominence of so much ill-gotten legacy. Rand’s utopia is one built on the bones of the many, for only those of true greatness deserve to live. It’s a survival-of-the-fittest conceit taken to an unhealthy and manipulative extreme—unhealthy given the universally childish and melodramatic reasoning of those who would seek to limit the power and influence of those most deserving of it. In essence, it is pro-monopoly, anti-distribution of wealth, and in full support of an unsympathetic world that looks down its nose at anyone and everyone without the means to run a cross-continental railroad, or to build a motor to outclass every other motor ever made.
And all that without even touching upon the “romantic rape” and the utter bullshit character assassination that takes place throughout the book—how the book’s protagonist Dagny can be so strong, so completely self-reliant, until she meets the perfect man in John Galt and suddenly one-eighties into the role of an emotional supplicant.
As disturbing as it is at times, there is one thing I can say to Atlas Shrugged’s benefit: it is a genuine artistic expression. One gets the impression, while reading the book, that, however horrifying its central message, Ayn Rand believed every single word of it, right down to her core. That’s worth something, isn’t it?