Reviewed date: 2006 May 11
Ayn Rand's famed Atlas Shrugged is a vehicle for explaining her ethical philosophy of Objectivism. Objectivism holds intelligent, thinking life as its highest moral ideal: anything that prevents a man from achieving his full potential as a productive, rational agent is evil. Everything that promotes this cause is good.
Politically and economically, Objectivism demands a libertarian government and laissez-faire capitalism. Atlas Shrugged focuses on two characters--railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Hank Rearden--as they struggle to run successful businesses in an economy hampered by a meddlesome socialist government. Taggart and Rearden succeed, and their industries keep the entire economy afloat, but both eventually confront the revelation that it is their efforts which are supporting a nation that views businessmen as thoroughly evil.
In the moral climate that permeates the world around Taggart and Rearden, earning profit is considered selfishly immoral. By contrast, Objectivism holds selfishness to be a virtue. By selfishness, Ayn Rand does not refer to the illogical thoughtlessness of the hedonist, but to deliberate, rational self-interest. For example: Hank Rearden helps Dagny Taggart out of a tight spot with a loan of $1 million, not out of altruism, but out of self-interest. Rearden understood that the failure of Taggart's railroad would trigger the collapse of the economy and his own steel industry, while Taggart's success would open up tremendous new business opportunities for him.
While Objectivism is often equated with laissez-faire capitalism, it is more correct to say that laissez-faire capitalism is only one consequence of Objectivism. Objectivism encompasses all aspects of relationships between men, including personal non-business relationships.
Atlas Shrugged is over 1000 pages long. I found two sections tedious: the first 100 pages of Part III, and the 55 pages of John Galt's speech. Ayn Rand uses those sections to present and explain Objectivism, so they are only slightly more exciting than a philosophy textbook. As a novel, Atlas Shrugged rates only fair; considering it for what it is, I rate Atlas Shrugged a solid 4 out of 5.