Today, Robert Tracinski writes about the historic significance of the book:
...in 1816, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, a group of Britain's best young literary minds—including Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley)—gathered together to explore their new school of literature, which they called "Gothic" because it took its inspiration from the mysticism of the Middle Ages. In that spirit, they challenged each other to write the best ghost story, and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein—a story which portrays the quest for scientific and technological knowledge as a kind of dangerous madness.
Just as capitalism was propelling us forward into a technological future that would, among other advantages, double the average human lifespan, the intellectuals were looking backward to the Middle Ages and predicting that all of this new science and technology would bring disaster. (They're still doing it, except that now they conjure up the bogeyman of global warming in the place of Frankenstein's monster.)
A few decades later, a German intellectual named Karl Marx gave one of the most influential accounts of the new capitalist system—and he got everything wrong. An Industrial Revolution driven by scientific and technological advances springing from the minds of a few extraordinary individuals, he would describe as the anonymous, collective product of brute physical labor; an economic system of liberty, he would describe as a system of oppression; a system built on the right to property he would describe as a system based of expropriation—and then he would propose actual oppression and expropriation as the solution.[emphasisi mine]
This has been the pattern of the artists and intellectuals in dealing with the most significant phenomenon of our age. While the world was transformed around them, they refused to grasp the real meaning of these events, choosing to ignore or denigrate the forces that were rapidly improving human life.
In this context, we can see the widest significance of Ayn Rand's literary and philosophical achievement. She was the first thinker and artist to fully grasp the meaning of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution and to give them expression both in literature and in philosophy.
The most radical aspect of Atlas Shrugged is that Ayn Rand found epic drama, heroism, and profound philosophical meaning in the achievements of the entrepreneurs and industrialists who were reshaping the world.
Atlas Shrugged was written in an age of creeping global socialism. Extrapolating from the trends of the day, Ayn Rand projected a future in which most of the world's nations are collapsing into the poverty and oppression of socialist "people's states," while America itself is collapsing under the weight of an increasing government takeover of the economy.
She saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen—after decades of being vilified and regulated—started to disappear? The disappearance of the world's productive geniuses provides the novel's central mystery, both factually and intellectually....
Ayn Rand's detractors sometimes dismiss her novels as "unrealistic," but it is today's mainstream intellectuals who frequently seem as if they are wandering around in a fog of unreality, missing the monumental lessons of two centuries of history. The era of encroaching global socialism has since given way to an era of global capitalism, which is beginning to transform the lives of billions of people across the globe, from Eastern Europe to India to China. But there is no one to help them understand what capitalism is, its deepest personal meaning for their lives and values, and why it is good.
No one, that is, except Ayn Rand. And that is why Atlas Shrugged is even more relevant and necessary today than it was when it was first published five decades ago.
Read it all, of course.
Rand, the novelist, had a significant impact on my teenage self...I still remember reading The Fountainhead and being knocked out of my adolescent complacency by the characters and themes of the book. Soon I was reading everything that Rand had written, including the dauntingly long, Atlas Shrugged.
Even after my fictional tastes outgrew the excessively romanticized writing style and moved on to other novelists; Rand, the philosopher, continued to have a profound influence on my evolving intellectual life, and does so to this day.
I find myself returning frequently to ponder her stimulating and sublime ideas about metaphysics, epistemology and ethics in order to make sense of the enormous amount of bullshit and insanity pouring forth from the mouths of today's "intellectual" elites, who have abandoned reason, truth, and objective reality in their pursuit of the postmodern utopia.
In fact, Rand's intellectual legacy has become one of the pillars supporting much of my own thinking on political and psychological issues.
Leszak Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher expelled from the Communist Party in 1968 for his heretical views made the following keen observation about the morality of socialism (from My Correct Views on Everything:
Socialism as a social or moral philosophy was based on the ideal of human brotherhood, which can never be implemented by institutional means. There has never been, and ther will never be, an institutional means of making people brothers. Fraternity under compulsion is the most malignant idea devised in modern times; it is the perfect path to totaltarian tyranny.
The most important intellectual breakthrough that Rand helped me to understand was how the social engineers of the left, motivated as they are by their creative utopian aspirations--expressed by the desire to impose (forcibly, if necessary) universal peace, social justice and brotherhood upon humanity--are completely oblivious to the malignant side of their own natures. Both they and the capitalist entrepreneurs of the right who they despise so vehemently are both driven by the darker human emotions: envy, greed and a need to dominate others.
However, there remains an extremely crucial difference between them:
The do-gooder leftist in all the various ideological incarnations--the antiwar crowd, the environmental crowd, the communists, socialists, and assorted collectivists--offers the rationale that he does what he does for the "common good" and for "social justice", "peace" and "brotherhood". His high-minded, self-righteous rhetoric justifies (to him anyway) imposing his will and beliefs on others for their own good; and he will not hesitate to use whatever coercive capablity he has at hand to get others to do what he wants and what he says.
The capitalist, on the other hand, is overtly out to pursue his own selfish profit, and understands he must use persuasion. That is, he must convince people that his ideas and the products of his mind are better than all the rest so that they will be willing to part with their hard-earned money to possess them. His desire for power over others is manifested in an indirect manner because people must want what he has to offer and believe that they will benefit from an interaction with him.
There is no parallel social limitations on the behavior of the leftist. This tyrant wannabe does not feel the need to convince others of the veracity or even the effectiveness of his ideas; nor does he accept defeat when others are not interested or resist their implementation. He knows in his heart what is best for everyone, and he will use coercion if necessary. He will not allow options; nor will he permit others do do what they think is right for themselves. Their feelings or concerns are a matter of complete indifference to him. Only his own matter.
The leftist's desire for power is direct and absolute; and this is a direct consequence of his utopian ideology.
And there is no area of your life which will escape his intrusive psychopathology, because he justifies it by saying he is really doing it for your sake.
The clever leftist always manages to hide these darker motivations--the envy, greed, and desire for power--and pretend they don't even exist--even to himself. He tells himself he does not possess such dark motives; that his motives are pure and uncontaminated by the kind of self-serving goals the selfish capitalists pursue. The banal platitudes and silly slogans he chants during his protest marches make him feel oh so good about himself; and experiencing too much knowledge and insight about his inner state would make him extremely uncomfortable; perhaps even causing him to question some of his basic assumptions about himself or his beliefs.
This is the essence of the "dilemma of the utopians". They see themselves as so pure and righteous; so correct and virtuous; how is it possible that their beautiful utopian dreams always turn into such horrible human nightmares?
You can then count on the true leftist believer to close his eyes not only to his own internal reality, but also to the external reality that proves the uselessness of his beliefs in the real world. Few on the left have ever acknowledged the nightmare of the Soviet gulag; or Lenin's purges; or China's crackdowns. Few have ever even accepted the incredible human cost their ideologies have taken on humanity; the death the suffering and misery. Even today, they actively support the Stalin's and Hitler's of today's world-- like the Venezuelan thug, Chavez; and the Iranian murderers, Ahmadinejad and his mullahs-- in their grabs for unparalleled power. Chavez, of course, follows the pure utopian aspirations of the typical leftist and is only allowing himself to become "dictator for life" because he wants to help his people. [See here about the rise of neo-fascism in Latin America and here about the neo-marxist fascists of the left].
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad is given a podium in our highest intellectual establishments so that he can cynically admonish America for being a "dictatorship":
Remember how inviting Ahmadinejad to Columbia University was supposed to impress the Iranian president with the power of American freedom and the courage of American academia? Well according to Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Ahmadinejad has just called the US a "dictatorship" whose citizens are not allowed to know the facts and described the Columbia invitation as a "Zionist plot".Referring to his speech at Columbia University, President Ahmadinejad said, "The Zionists wanted to turn the event into a trial of the Isalmic Republic of Iran, but with help from the Almighty God, the plot turned into a scene in which nations could express their hatred with the rulers in the White House. The behavior of the government and media in the US shows that there is dictatorship in that country and people are not allowed to know the facts," said the president.
Despite the implacability of Ahmadinejad's remarks, there will be those will persist in attempting "dialogue" and bending over backward in the belief that American goodwill towards "the Iranian people" has simply been misunderstood or misrepresented by the Bush-Hitler administration.
Indeed. There seems to be no end to the denial and delusion that runs rampant on the political left as they invert and distort reality itself to preserve their utopian dreams and nightmares.
Celebrity after celebrity kisses up to tyrants like Chavez, Ahmadinejad and others, possibly hoping that the powerful aura of glorified evil will enhance their own fragile selves. They jubilantly celebrate these demagogue's "courage" in taking power to do what they believe is "just "and "helps the poor". They cheer on the thuggish oppression because they believe their ends justify any means. Every obscenity is tolerable-- as long as you rant about the evil capitalists and their "exploitation" and "oppression"; or say you are only taking control of everyone's lives for the sake of "social justice".
When you consider the historical --and catastrophic -- human consequences that have ensued whenever their perfect utopias are implemented, it is little wonder that they will ignore, deny and distort any information that exposes the underlying envy and rage that drive their sociopathic selflessness. Their precious self-esteem would surely plummet, and their self-esteem must be preserved at all costs.
While societies that operate under the rule of law have all the necessary checks and balances that prevent the capitalist from cheating or robbing his clients and hold him to account if he does; civilization has been fooled repeatedly throughout history by the virtuous, self-righteous, anti-capitalist robbers and cheaters of the left who simply disguise their robbery and fraud behind the stated purity of their motives (see here, for the most recent example).
SC&A wrote in a post some time ago :
Many on the left believe their agenda is driven by a piety that only they, in their heightened awareness, are capable of. Their motives are pure, they say. Disagree with them and you are evil. They are true believers, and as such, they are entitled to make decisions for others, on behalf of others and despite others. They love their fellow man, they say. They hate injustice, they say. They are true believers in the highest calling of mankind.
Well, the Nazis were true believers, too. There were communists that were true believers and they have the blood of 50 million people on their hands. The North Vietnamese killed 2-3 million after we left Vietnam. Castro and Che slaughtered hundreds of thousands between them. African communists have shed the blood of millions.
All of the aforementioned were true believers. All of them believed they were serving the best interests of mankind.
Being a 'true believer' is no mark or guarantee of moral or ethical superiority.
That applies to all 'true believers' of every political, religious or ethical stripe. When you are not open to new ideas, thoughts or challenges, you are no better than ther legions of evil 'true believers' that preceded you. This latest crop of 'true believers' are intellectual pygmies, the 'useful idiots' and apparatchiks of our time, afraid of debate and most of all, afraid of accountability.
They are the true enablers of evil. They deliberately choose blindness and deafness, so as to affirm their 'righteousness.' They see themselves as charged with a mission-- to blind and render deaf others, so that their status might be validated. Without their distortions,evil would be held to account. Instead, evil is allowed to flourish.
They are no more than the fertilizer for evil, violence and death.
Today's left promises wealth and happiness and justice and brotherhood. What they have always delivered is poverty and misery; injustice and death. It will be no different this time around.
Every time I hear the left voicing their utopian aspirations and dreaming their totalitarian dreams, I think about all the victims that will suffer from their selfless virtue. I remember Ayn Rand's heroes and heroines as they struggled to achieve their supposedly "selfish" pursuits; and I think of the words of a contemporary Randian hero, Mal Reynolds, in the movie Serenity, after discovering an entire planet's population has been wiped out as a result of the same kind of selfless utopian motivations:
"Somebody has to speak for these people....Sure as I know anything, I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, they'll swing back to the belief...that they can make people...better.
And I do not hold to that."
Neither do I.
Happy Birthday, Atlas Shrugged. And, thank you, Ayn Rand.