Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Review

Lee Lawrie's bronze statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Centre. (ThreeOneFive/Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a chance Atlas Shrugged opposes everything you ever knew. Sometimes, that can be a good thing.

Chances are, when you, or someone you know, speaks of the rich, and perhaps not even the mind-blowingly rich, but those with a few million dollars to their name, they’ll be described as villains, in a way. “They have all this money, and they’re not letting anyone else have it! What an injustice!” Meanwhile, Ayn Rand’s novel is a big au contraire to that common sentiment – one that says, “maybe the rich are deserving of their wealth?”

But it goes further – Rand spent her later life promoting a philosophical system named “objectivism”, based around a few core tenets, such as reality’s existence independent of anyone’s consciousness, the use of formal logic to obtain an understanding of reality, and a morality based on respect for individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. Atlas Shrugged was essentially the test-bed for objectivism, exploring a number of themes that would be used in its development.

The plot of Atlas Shrugged follows the lives of a select few members of the upper echelon of society, all of whom run businesses vitally important to the United States, while their government imposes stricter and stricter regulations on businesses throughout the novel. Meanwhile, the country continually descends into economic collapse, and leaders of other economically important businesses mysteriously disappear from their jobs without a trace. In this way, Atlas Shrugged explores what would happen if all the men and women “of the mind”, as Rand puts it – those responsible for the great technological and cultural advancements of their time – were to drop off the face of the Earth, leaving the rest of the population to fend for themselves.

With all that our culture views through an external locus of control, Atlas Shrugged is a friendly reminder that your destiny still rests in your hands, and for that, I found it refreshing to read, more than enough to forgive the parts where it goes a bit God’s Not Dead on you. Even if it doesn’t strike the right chord in your mind, chances are it’ll still resonate with you in some sort of way, and you’ll come out of the experience just a bit wiser.