"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand was published 50 years
ago this month. I read it for the first time five years later. Millions
more have been influenced by it since.
On his Sunday TV show recently, George Stephanopolous wondered why
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was getting so much support
from young people. Panelist George Will responded that young people are
still reading "Atlas Shrugged."
Director Vadim Perelman has signed Angelina Jolie for the long-planned
movie. I don't know how anyone can make this 1,084-page paperback into a
feature film; the characters and plot are secondary to the ideas, which
are not just integrated into the story, but delivered as a 53-page
I once wrote to Rand suggesting that the book be serialized for
television. This was long before miniseries like "Roots" and "Rich Man,
Poor Man," so it wasn't considered then; and it probably wouldn't work
today, given our sitcom-influenced attention span.
It's better to just read the book.
If you aren't interested in philosophy or wondering why the world isn't
working, you might at least want to be prepared for being asked which of
Rand's books featured the recurring question "Who is John Galt?" The
question was posed recently on the quiz show "Who wants to be a
millionaire?", and the contestant was able to advance toward his goal by
giving the correct answer -- "Atlas Shrugged."
I won't tell you who John Galt is, since it's not revealed until the
middle of the novel. However, my crumbling paperback jacket states that
this is "the astounding story of a man who said that he would stop the
motor of the world -- and did."
Rand fled the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks broke into her father's
pharmacy and declared his livelihood the property of the state. Written
in America, her books reflected the ideological debate of the Cold War
between communism and capitalism. Rand equates the latter with freedom.
But though the Cold War is over, the debate continues -- between
socialism and personal responsibility, between government regulation and
the free market, between reason and emotional decision-making.
My own first reaction to her writing was emotional. I had always felt
that something was wrong with the ideas I'd been taught, but had no idea
why. After I left my small town for the larger university world, three
boys I dated told me that I would like the writings of Ayn Rand. One of
them gave me "Anthem," which projects collective concepts into the
future, creating a totalitarian world. If you can't find the time now
for "Atlas," this tiny book is also still in print. It is similar to
"1984," but with a happier ending -- the validation of individuality:
"I am. I think. I will.... These are the words. This is the answer.
"I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning ... I know
what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no
higher aim to vindicate it ...
"I am not a means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a
tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a
bandage for their wounds. I am not a sacrifice on their altars.
"I guard my treasures: my thought, my self, my will, my freedom. And the
greatest of these is freedom."
Finally, I had the words for what I had always felt. I read all of
Rand's books, met with others who had formed her Objectivist Movement,
and, taking her advice to think for myself, eventually went on to my own
version of a freedom-based philosophy.
Limited taxation, though a compromise with pure libertarianism, helped
me combine philosophy and a more pragmatic activism. I have been happy
Every issue in the daily news can be analyzed using the principles found
in "Atlas Shrugged" vs. the concepts more commonly used in our society,
especially those taught in our schools and expounded by most of our
politicians. It's fun to find common ground with other people's
principles, and easier to discuss things with them than with those who
wander lost and confused in today's fast-moving world.
Taxation, health insurance, education: on all these issues we must
decide between our right to keep our own earnings and the responsibility
to pay for things that benefit us, and the socialist theory "from each
according to his ability, to each according to his need." Is it better
to pay for services with money taken by government force or with money
voluntarily spent on casino gambling? (But if one is addicted to
gambling, is that voluntary?)
Regarding immigration the question is posed: Restrictive borders or
freedom to live anywhere one wants without taxpayer-funded services. Or
should government open the door to more recipients of taxpayer dollars?
On war: Should we plan to protect only our own interests, or is there a
requirement to help others in the world attain freedom too?
It is much easier when you define the basic principles, then move on to
the complexities that exist outside of theory, in the real world.
Reading "Atlas Shrugged" will give any reader a sense of where on the
ideological spectrum he can start, depending on his response to its
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.