5 Things the Right Doesn't Understand About Atlas Shrugged

Categories: Books

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Despite the fact that we lean pretty left, one of our favorite books of all time is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. We must've read it at least seven times, and we still find new and brilliant things in every single page.

This tends to baffle our various right-wing and libertarian friends who swear that the book is the guiding light to true freedom. We have two answers to that. The first is that we are a firm believer in self-determination, that you should get up off your tuffet and get some work done if you want to leave a mark in the world, which is a major theme of the book. The other is that most people who say they adhere to the book's principles don't really understand it. They forget that...


The True Bad Guys are Corrupt Businessmen

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The downfall of society in Atlas Shrugged doesn't begin with some kind of environmental regulation or arbitrary redistribution tax. It begins at the behest of various business people who are either too inept to make a profit or are just outright thieves. When Hank Rearden develops an amazing new alloy, it's a less-talented steel manufacturer named Orren Boyle who uses bribes and trickery at every turn to attempt to undermine the accomplishment in order to control the market.

Sure, eventually this degenerates into buying legislation in order to ruin Rearden, but in the end the main culprit in that part of the story is simply an unscrupulous and less talented entrepreneur who doesn't believe in a free market, only in one where he is allowed to use any means necessary to destroy the competition no matter how beneficial Rearden's product is for the country.

With a few notable suggestions, this greed and lack of moral principles is the main driving force behind all the book's villains. To a man they desire prestige and a fortune they didn't earn, and are in fact incapable of earning, and almost exclusively they begin their destruction of civilization from the boardrooms of America. It's only when that fails to work do they begin to try and use government forces to their benefit under the guise of providing humanitarian aid.


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86 comments
Chaosandorder
Chaosandorder

I thank you for taking a deeper look at Rand's work.  I think Ayn may have allowed the aftermath of the piece go to her head, hence the whole philosophical movement.  I definitely took away from Atlas Shrugged that no true winner is without hard labor.  We have now raised two generations of Americans (and maybe more around the globe) who believe that "making it" means you no longer have to work.  This is where many problems lie in our current system.  For one, like a previous commenter pointed out, the investments for corporations come from the stock market (his example was of course the car loan)...why should a corporation be able to just have their desires all up front and open big, while taking jobs away from the little guys?  Is it not possible to build a business up from the ground slowly?  We know this can happen and there was more incentive to do well before the age of incorporated entities.  Stock holders then get rewarded for no effort.  We are now in the age of quickies.  Everyone wants to get rich quick and then many others put their lives on hold in the hopes to make a great life for them after retirement.  

I'm not sure what can help us now...Who is John Galt?

arthurm1
arthurm1

Look guys, I understand that maye Ayn Rand tried to promote a certain political ideology.

Now, regardless of what she wanted it to be, I found this book to be a 1000+ pages pep-talk, you know? I mean, all of the characters that are not the main guys are so cartoonishly bad, that I couldnt take this as a serious statement on society. However, the book gave me plenty opportunity to think about why, in each instance, the behaviour of the bad guys was bad (lootish), and reasonably refine my thoughts on that (instead of having an automatic emotional response without justification). 

I think people should take this book for what it is, rather what Ayn Rand wanted it to be - a hymn to personal initiative, which is great. It seems to me, that the bigger majority of those who slander the book, take this as a statement about themselves (that they behave this way - looters - if they are not for the big capital) - which is obviously not true of them. But if you take this book as a slander of certain type of behaviour and self-entitled attitude that the "looters" exhibit (and I doubt that anyone would argue that that kind of attitude is anything but bad) - then things appear much easier

PhantomMojo
PhantomMojo

Actually you are looter yourself.  In order to escape the taint of looterism you'd have to save and pay for the car up front.  What you're saying here is that you wanted to use the financing company's $10,000 without paying for it.  Maybe it's true that the company shouldn't make such a scum-sucking profit, however you wanted the car, and you wanted it now, and you can't afford it.  Don't blame someone else for your inability to control your own desires.  That's what you actually paid for by the way: Desire-management. 

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

For the same reason why liberals bitch about Fox News. The media should not be partisan.

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

Your paper really should stay out of politics.

regent040
regent040

I think the Hank Reardon character's take on unions shows a flow in trying to place her ideas in the modern world.  His factory was non-union and he said he didn't need a union because he paid higher wages than any other manufacturer and he did so because he wanted the best employees.  That sounds great, but that's not how modern capitalism works.  In the real world, no matter how good the employees are, a businesses maximize profits by closing the factory and moving it to Vietnam, Myanmar, China or South Africa or wherever else they can pay the lowest wage and have the fewest regulations. If Hank Reardon were running a company today the board would vote him out and make him VP of research and development, then they'd outsource all production overseas, declare profits through a Caribbean based subsidiary to avoid taxes, and reap profits in the billions. 

Bill
Bill

Money is NOT the root of all evil, "the love of money...." IS. When progressives got involved in trying to manage businesses dealings with each other we incurred the wrath of segregation and tyranny. Wilson RE segregated the military and his cohorts began the covert dealings with the soviet and facsists in Europe and Asia. Government contracts and promises provided the beginnings of what we have today, entitlements and grants programs that enslave the recipient workers of the companies benefitted by such entitlements. The book proves out the purest of the free market strengths, that small businesses are the inovators and the ownership of ingenuity should stay with the inventor, so they can work out the bugs (see- APPLE, IBM, FAB, NIKE, INTEL, McDONALD'S). Once the bugs are worked out then the ownership can be expanded and markets grown to benefit more and more people. More workers have jobs, from 1st job opportunities to expanded team leadership roles with large salaries commensurate with experience. Liberals should like the book, it displays the opportunities they can prosper and benefit by and the ways in which they can restrict ingenuity and desires that don't match their own abilities and directives.

David Pawson
David Pawson

From a right-winger (me): Excellent article and right on the money. It is greed --the desire for unearned profit -- that is the true destroyer, whether that be from a high-profile businessman or a lay-about drawing welfare checks. Any dollar, any cent! taken from me that has not been taken in exchange for goods or services represents greed.

Kevin Roelofs
Kevin Roelofs

We should be proud of production, but our ideas are not ours! Many people can have the same idea, which clearly shows our ideas are not exclusive to us as individuals. So why do we feel we need to profit from them? The profit is ensuring that all people have the basics provided, when all the basic needs are provided for, mankind tends to chill out. Money is merely a symbol for the exchange of energy. Oddly people opposed to Socialism participate in Socialism everyday, our current system is a Social system based on the premise of individuality. People opposed to it complain that they shouldnt have to pay for someone else, yet they do, in the form of taxes, profits, fees, etc etc. Everytime we buy a product from the store are we not "paying" for someone?

Margaret Birnie Higgins
Margaret Birnie Higgins

Great article. I too have read "Atlas Shrugged" at least ten times. The Right just does not get it. You left out one of the best scenes when the slimy Floyd Ferris comes to Reardon to blackmail  him into signing over his new metal. He says to Reardon what good is a nation of law abiding citizens? I don't have access to my copy but the point is government wants to have something on everyone. Everyone is guilty of something. Reardon gives up his metal for the woman he loves. The world got "miracle metal" to make small items not rails or building materials or anything productive. I was glad to see someone on the left write something good about the book. Rand believed strongly in self determination, Never taking anything that was not earned or deserved and that is the moral lesson one should take from the book. It is basically a utopian novel. She is right though about a lot of things. Her heroes are true heroes and her villains are true villains, I was glad you mentioned poor Eddie Willers his end broke my heart.

Asis
Asis

That's rather twisted. It may well be the Orren Boyles of the world that are sleazebag capitalists, but ultimately it was the corrupt government that passed laws to cripple Hank Rearden. It's called crony capitalism, kind of like the current administration: crippling the coal industry while squandering our money on bogus "Green energy" companies run by donor buddies.

Smileycakes
Smileycakes

So many comments about cost efficiency here, so I thought I might share this little tidbit for the sharks.

Suppose you own a bike.  Presumably, you ride that bike to places other than your home.  So you buy a lock for that bike to prevent people from stealing it.  The cheapest piece of shit bike chain at Wal-Mart costs 5 dollars.  Estimated rate of bicycle theft in the Houston area is about 0.05%.  Unless you spent more than 10,000 dollars on your bike, you have spent an amount to protect your bike that exceeds the actual risk.  So my question to those here who seem to worship efficiency:  Do you own a bike, and have you bought a lock for that bike?  If so, you really have no concept of efficiency.  If you don't own the lock, where do you park your bike?  I could use a new bike, the chain keeps coming off of mine.

JoseArturoOrnelas
JoseArturoOrnelas

Eddie Willers was a good character, reminds me of Dyson in T2.  He was a victim of circumstance and didn't have the farsightedness to get the HELL OUT OF THERE.

Warren
Warren

The right and especially the Libertarians get this. these days the left are in favor of an ever expanding government. The large and more powerful the government the more corrupt businessmen. This is abundantly clear from Atlas

Lara
Lara

Not a bad article, but it's kind of creepy how you keep saying "We".

Bigvaf
Bigvaf

5 things this article didn't understand:

1. Objectivism2. The characters of Atlas Shrugged3. The Plot of Atlas Shrugged4. The point of Atlas Shrugged5. The corresponding lessons for our world

Jpdekervor
Jpdekervor

Wow so a regulator would have saved the train. That's what you take from it? The problem is that the people who own the train know best. But the government coerced owners. A regulator to regulate the government or just the owner. Which would have been more efficient? You have got to be kidding or never had worked in the real world.

Pablo Romero
Pablo Romero

I see someone failed their reading comprehension classes.

Efeeny
Efeeny

Madmac...nobody held a gun to their head to make them work there....they choose to stay.   So why do we need government to make those rules...the labor market would demand it.

Efeeny
Efeeny

Jef...and you base this belief in a strong central government on what?...How many extraordinary things can you say a strong central government has accomplished at the best price and most efficient manner?

H_e_x
H_e_x

She could have really used an editor.

Stating_the_Obvious1
Stating_the_Obvious1

But this still doesn't explain what Jimmy Barrett is doing in this film?!?!?!

Jonathan Powers
Jonathan Powers

That's great Jef! Keep re-reading it because there are obviously still "new and brilliant things" that you've missed so far.

MadMac
MadMac

As a novel, AS, creates a controlled environment to extract an argument the right has cooped into a thesis. Amazing and, absolutely no wonder these geniuses totally reject scientific findings. Unless those findings support their economic agenda.

Oh, Baubin, the reason the labor laws were drafted WAS  to "protect rights of workers..." that goes back to the early assembly lines where workers were worked for six or eight or more hours without so much as a restroom break. As for your full quote--  "It would be a government that did not choose sides in economics, and only regulated economics in order to protect rights of workers and businessmen." --I don't believe a government can serve both without regulating both, equally. As long as business can buy access but not face corporate sanction, labor will always be at a disadvantage.   

advancedatheist
advancedatheist

Rand did have one practical idea: Society's most productive people don't have to put up with progressive-abusive governments. She didn't phrase it this way, but she showed that society's alpha producers can "fire" governments which treat them badly and shop around to "hire" governments which offer to treat them better. 

For example, Tiger Woods fired California's state government, with its unreasonable tax demands, and hired Florida's state government, which doesn't demand a state income tax, simply by moving there. And nobody in California's government could stop him. 

Similarly, many of China's new millionaires reportedly want to fire China's government and hire governments in other countries which offer them better deals, by seeking citizenship in those countries and moving their fortunes beyond the reach of China's progressives.

I doubt that Tiger and China's millionaires got the idea from reading Atlas Shrugged, but rather figured this out on their own.

ladymoondancer
ladymoondancer

I see nothing wrong with " op ed" pieces. ( opinion editorials, for those who have never seen it in full)

I DO agree that news articles should be as opinion free as humanly possible. News outlets are owned , run, and written by people. To say that those people have no right to use that platform to express their opinions , well , it doesn't seem right to me. Should opposing view points be published as well? Certainly! We each have to accept our own responsibility to look for more information, other view points. At least when a news outlet is up front about it's editorial policy, we know which way the slant goes, and can interpret accordingly.

ladymoondancer
ladymoondancer

Only if it was a publicly traded company. A private , sole ownership is not beholden to shareholders. And you kind of proved the point about short sighted , parasitic, looters! If you move the ability to earn money away from your product market, eventually you have no market!

kelly.mcclymer
kelly.mcclymer

Interesting...but actually, APPLE, IBM, FAB, NIKE, INTEL...etc. are not the inventors. The inventors are individuals, not corporations. So the corporations, in not giving the individual recognition and ownership of his or her inventions...are the bad guys :-)

dana1974
dana1974

You're assuming that people getting welfare checks are all layabouts.  I see you're a guy.  That explains a lot.  Men, and women without children, and women who've never *raised* their own children (preferring to hire someone else to do it so they can chase a career where kids are not allowed at work), love to believe that stay-at-home moms are not workers.  Then they turn around and pay salaries to maids and cooks and child-care workers and teachers who do the same things a SAHM does.  Cognitive disconnect much?

 

For those who *are* lazy, and I'm sure there are a few, it's not about whether they've worked for the money, it's about what kind of society we want.  Do we want a society where anyone can be left to die in the street because we have decided they haven't done enough to deserve to live?  I don't want that.  I don't know why anyone would.Most of us would become extremely bored if we had the opportunity to sit around all day and draw a welfare check.  Which is probably the reason why the very wealthy, who sit around drawing a dividend or interest check, prefer to spend the time vacationing in the Bahamas instead, or taking up charitable causes.  If someone is genuinely lazy and drawing welfare, there is probably something mentally wrong with them.  Which, again, what's the alternative?  Letting them starve.  I'm not OK with that, and keeping those people alive costs considerably less than funding corporate welfare or the military-industrial complex.

 

I don't get why Americans insist on envying the poor.  You know you wouldn't want to live that way, and you waste your tax money on dumber things--so quit complaining, and just live your life.  You'd be a lot happier. 

Ubermensch
Ubermensch

An exchange of currency for a good or service is not "paying for someone". Both side in a voluntary exchange believe they are getting a higher value that what is being exchanged. If the person with money was buying shoes and thought the price too high, they wouldn't buy the shoes. If the buyer offered a price below what the seller thought the shoes worth, with cost of overhead factored in, the shoes wouldn't get sold. No one is "paying for someone" in this exchange, that only happens when one side does not receive an expected increase within the exchange. We don't voluntarily pay taxes, it is forced, because if you don't pay taxes you go to jail (i.e. force).

dana1974
dana1974

You want to know what will really cripple the coal industry?  Running out of coal.  I don't understand people who refuse to plan for the future, who squander resources for a quick buck, then refuse to help those in need with the excuse that those people didn't plan for the future and squandered their resources.  You don't stand for anything noble--you just want your quick buck now and you don't care who you have to hurt to get it.

Smileycakes
Smileycakes

My meandering and rambling point being that we all love efficiency.  But only so long as it isn't our own ass that's taking the hit.

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

Good comparison. Eddie was actually my favorite character, and I thought his ending was bullshit.

dana1974
dana1974

How about you speak for yourself and we'll speak for ourselves.  We want a government that actually does something for the people it purports to represent--all the people, not just the rich ones.  If you aren't going to give me anything except not killing or imprisoning me then why should I pay you anything or pledge allegiance to you?  Make it worth my while or else you are a waste of my time.

 

Maybe you've gotten too accustomed to government only caring about one group of people, so you think that's the way it always has to be and, if the government is looking out for the little guy, that necessarily means the big guy is left out in the cold.  Well, sorry, but that's not how it has to be.  We don't have to do things the way they've always been done.  If that were the case we never would have moved away from monarchy at all.Think outside the box.  Consider a different way of being.  It wouldn't kill you. 

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

First person plural. That's how most of the articles on HP are written.

dana1974
dana1974

We have seen this play out historically, over and over again, that business owners do what gets them the quick buck and don't bother thinking about the good of the larger community.

 

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  All I'm sayin'.

dana1974
dana1974

We are talking about government, not business.  They have completely different aims.  If you want to run something like a business, start a business.  Government is supposed to represent all those it governs, not just the ones with the most money or the most efficient business practices.And at some point you have to choose between efficiency and fairness.  It's pretty tough to have both at once, and you can't always choose efficiency.  Even if you look at Nature, you see a lot of redundancy and "extras" there that make no sense from a mechanistic or business standpoint.  But you'd be in a hell of a mess if you were born with only one lung and one kidney.

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

Maybe... as Galt himself says we'll have to let reality be the judge, won't we?

dana1974
dana1974

Tennessee has no income tax.  I lived there.  The sales tax was over nine percent last I knew, and that is devastating to low-income people, as they are paying a higher percentage of their assets in tax.  There's sales tax on food as well though I believe it's lower, which doesn't help either.  And with two of Tennessee's three major cities on the state line and one of them close enough for a quick trip on the weekends?  Retail has been hemorrhaging in TN for years.  But it's a major source of state government income.  I don't even want to know how bad the property taxes are.  And what has TN got to show for it?  A lot of poverty, and none of its cities are particularly nice places to live.Florida can get away with no income tax because they've got tourism.  If they didn't have that, they'd become a banana republic overnight.California's got a high cost of living but it's also mostly desert, and it is considered a highly desirable place to live (why, I have no idea), which pushes the prices of everything up.  Income tax is the least of their problems. 

ladymoondancer
ladymoondancer

I can't say what he meant, obviously, but he didn't SAY that all welfare recipients were layabouts, he said layabouts drawing a welfare cheque. I think we all know someone, who has fit that category. Abusers of the system exist in all income brackets, and make it harder for those who play by the rules.

adesrosier
adesrosier

 @dana1974 Other than the statement "I see you're a guy.  That explains a lot." I agree with what you say. There is nothing at all to envy about being poor. There is nothing at all to having creativity stifled. There is nothing to envy about not feeling good about yourself for not earning an honest paycheck. 

Mike18706
Mike18706

 @dana1974 Also, I think the "lay-about" comment also doesn't figure in that not everybody receiving government assistance wants to be there.  There are some people who are stuck in situations that make it impossible for them to get out.  I think few people can appreciate what crushing poverty really feels like.  Not everybody has parents who help them get a start in life.  Where would most of us be if our parents didn't get us our first car or help put us through college?When I first started out in life, I had a one room apartment over a garage.  My rent was $400.  My car loan was $300.  My car insurance was $200.  My electric was $100 to $150.  Food was about another $200.  Telephone was another $50.  Plus I had to have gas for my car, so that was about $100.  I took home about $1500 a month from working 40 hours a week, sometimes more.  Occasionally I would get like $100 for selling subscriptions to premium channels (I was customer service).  So after everything, I had less than $100 left over at the end of the month.  My apartment had no furniture and I had no family that was willing to help me out.  All I had was an air mattress and a folding table with lawn chairs.  Talk about demoralizing.  Every day I would wake up with a sore back (at 20 years old) and go to work and have nothing to show for it.  I had no break from it, either.  My vacation time included laying on my air mattress and maybe ordering a pizza during the week.  I cannot express to you how much I hated my life at that point.  Had just ONE major thing happened to my car, I would have lost my job and ended up one of those "welfare lay-abouts".  There are lots of people out there like me, too.  I'm a bit more comfortable now but I'm still only about two paychecks away from financial ruin.  So honestly, before judging somebody, you need to look at their situation and what brought them to subsistence living in the first place, because that's all welfare is anyway.

dana1974
dana1974

You are also forced to breathe if you don't want to die.  Life is not about being an island unto yourself and you only do things if you want to do them.  Sometimes force is involved and that's just the way it is.  You were forced to exist.  You didn't choose that.  You are forced to stay on Earth.  You don't control gravity.  And you want a civilization, so that means you pay taxes.  There hasn't been a nation yet that didn't levy them.  Good luck ever creating one.  It'd last maybe a year, and that's if you're lucky.

jgnixdorf
jgnixdorf

 @dana1974 Finite resources run out. I don't get why they have such a hard time understanding these simple concepts. Sunlight is always there. Coal will end, soon.

Brian Yoder
Brian Yoder

Actually, I thought that the way Rand treated him was brilliant from a plot point of view.  He represented the best of the common man.  Not a genius, but a good solid, fully moral ordinary person.  He was a very sympathetic character and you just had to like the guy. So what would be the fate of such a good person in a world where the villains win?  He couldn't escape to some kind of special utopia, he couldn't overcome the whole system of the villains himself, so his fate is uncertain and determined by the leaders and strategy of those who oppose the villains of the story.  So Rand didn't kill him off, she left it as a literary question mark.  Perhaps he went off and died in the chaos of a dying civilization, maybe he hooked up with a little settlement somewhere, who knows?  But we care about him and should be concerned with the horrible fates that may await the real life people like that if we don't win against the villains in the real world.  Reality doesn't somehow protect good people from disaster and likewise, Ayn Rand didn't stack the deck for him in her imaginary world either.

Chaosandorder
Chaosandorder

@Mike18706 @dana1974 Just one clarification if you would...you had a car not that was $300 a month?  Damn I would have loved to have been you.  

I bought a car for $600 that had no reverse, the speedometer didn't work, and the passenger side had been t-boned. 

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