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Ironic Contradictions

I'm a long time reader - since way back when I was seven. That makes it over three quarters of my life that I will be a reader for. But it is worth it. When I'm not reading or wasting my time online on here or Goodreads I'll be off playing video games, studying teaching and messing around with friends and pop culture. Or reading some more.
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged is another of those novels which are classic because they create both an entertaining story, contain philosophical ideas and tie into historical events. Yet for me Atlas Shrugged was a contradictory enigma. It was both a long novel and yet its most basic message could be boiled down to a line such as ”I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine”; it was both exceptionally good and exceptionally poor in places; and it at points seemed to support an ideology and then attack it. Ultimately I liked some of the philosophy, I enjoyed the story (or else I would have quit reading likely) and yet I found that the long philosophical spiels turned out to be far too preachy and hence ruined the entertaining aspects of the story. I feel that George Orwell and Alduous Huxley wrote far better in their balance between story and message.

The plot follows two central characters while also covering several other important individuals. However one of the two characters makes almost no appearance in the first three quarters of the book. Hence the mysterious question on everyone’s lips: ”Who is John Galt?” It could be seen as a dystopian and a semi-science fictional type of novel for Atlas Shrugged is set in a fictional America where the government rules ‘for the will of the people’, seizing the assets of the wealthy in order to do so. The main protagonist Dagny Taggart blindly accepts this system as she tries to become the sole female entrepreneur in the fictional economy. Yet gradually she comes to see that the government is manipulative and self-serving and that she cannot continue to accept that system as proper any longer.

It appears to me that Ayn Rand’s book was very much influenced by the contrast between the governments of Russia and America around the time of writing. Rand left Europe to go to America where Atlas Shrugged was published and therefore it is likely she would have witnessed communism first-hand. Yet it also appears to me that as a result she turns American capitalism into a kind of panacea, believing that because that system was better than Russian communism it was a wonderful system. She certainly argues her philosophy in her novel that those who become rich through work have earned it and deserve to keep their wealth and not have it taken from them. Yet I think she is in many ways too optimistic as any human made ideology has flaws in it: to believe that one is the cure to all ills is a fallacy in my opinion. Even democracy as we have institutionalised it has many flaws. I for one do not get a truly direct say in governing my country.

I disagree with many of Ayn Rand’s philosophical ideas, for instance when she defines the notion of a sacrifice as being only when we give up something of value. Her example that it is not a sacrifice for a woman to give up food to a child rather than for a hat is false in my view. I think that sacrifices occur in every act of giving something up for another human. I do agree with how she indicates that we must allow creativity and thinking to flourish. As a future teacher this is something I think must be encourages to flower in any democratic and liberated society for education. I also agree with a handful of other points she makes. Yet I personally feel that her major philosophy of objectivity is flawed to the point where I cannot agree. Her idea appears on the whole too materialistic. As she states:

“my philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

This thought is in contrast to many of my beliefs about humanity. I see humanity not as truly noble but more as a flawed being striving to become heroic, to earn salvation. How humans gain that salvation becomes the debate of religions in general. Curiously Rand’s philosophy appears highly selfish and self-serving, making man not the noble being she perceives but a hypocrite. I think she holds an ‘every man for himself’ mentality as he can fit into society. It is up to a man to find what happiness, what enjoyment he wants from life (which is why her characters, even her heroes prove unfaithful to their spouses and to themselves – again no noble characteristics). She also seems to push a message of ‘the wealthy deserve their wealth and no one deserves to use what products they produce.’ Ultimately if this is man’s ultimate aim it seems to me a shallow, egotistical end.

I do recommend reading this, despite its length, as it is an interesting read. Like Orwell and Huxley its great strength is in how it prompts the reader to consider the author’s messages. However unlike those other authors Rand tends far more toward preaching and using unnecessary words and thoughts. I’d never read a 60 page speech in any novel, and now I have. Yet there is an entertaining dystopian novel here which even if you dislike its ideas you may still find worth the read. And if you don’t there should be some reward for slogging through over 1100 pages of writing.