The masterpiece known as “Atlas Shrugged” by the American author and philosopher Ayn Rand explores the importance of the individual mind and the destructive nature of collectivism. First published in 1957, the novel was Rand’s final and largest novel, racking up 1200 pages. The work contains a major statement of Rand’s philosophy known as objectivism, as well as major themes such as capitalism and individualism.
Ayn Rand was born on the 2nd of February 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She witnessed at an early age what nationalisation meant when the Communists came to power. She had an early interest in literature and moved to America to escape the violence of the revolution. Her dislike towards communism is apparent throughout her works, most notability in “Atlas Shrugged”. The communistic ideology forced the individual to give-up her own interest for the good of the state, removing individual and intellectual rights. Even in the United States at the height of the Cold War, there were Marxist beliefs that favoured an expansion of the welfare state and greater market regulations – Rand composed “Atlas Shrugged” as a disapproval towards those ideas.
The novel is set in a dystopian United States in the second half of the 20th century. The worsening economic conditions continue to make private businesses suffer. Dagny Taggart, the main protagonist, is the vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, a railway enterprise, and struggle to preform her working duties under increasingly tougher regulations by the “lotters” regime. The story follows Dagny in this dystopian world, with the quest of building a new capitalist society founded on individualism and rationality.
Throughout the novel, Rand explores the importance of the individual mind. In the story, creative minds are removed from the world and the consequences are quick destruction of society and the collapse of the economy. Ayn Rand wants to stress her belief that the mind holds the prevailing tools of creating a prosperous society: the mind enables innovation and creation, and ultimately powers the world forward. Labour and the working force cannot alone create productivity and economic wealth without the “thinking” of the mind.
Furthermore, Rand also demonstrates through her dystopia what happens when governments adapt a solely socialistic agenda. The result is chaos and evil, and Rand argues that collectivism puts the need of the neighbour above ones own rational self-interest. An economical or political plan based on collectivist ideas, such as sacrifice of the individual for the greater cause of the group, will create chaos and destruction.
The reader learns that Ayn Rand clearly opposes Marxist ideas and that capitalism and individualism is what has driven the greatest moments of history – those men and women who followed their own rational self-interests. And to this day the novel remains influential with many business leaders noting the book has had a major impact on their decisions as executives.
If you are wondering about the title “Atlas Shrugged”: Atlas is the hero in Greek mythology who carries the world on his own shoulders. This, according to Rand, symbolises the exploitation of industrialists and businessmen, who work hard and with strength to support the world and the people who live of their productive capabilities (just like parasites). Rand thinks that if all the smart and creative doers, such as artists, engineers, professors etc went on strike, opposing all the bad governmental policies, they metaphorically “shrug” off the weight of the world.
As a conclusion, “Atlas Shrugged” is one of the most prominent business books ever written, composed of 1200 pages published over 50 years ago. Ayn Rand supports the rights of the individual to live for their own interest. I personally found this book to be very influential – especially as a young university student aiming high in life. It covers principles applied to both business and personal life. I feel it gives a clearer picture on where in politics we stand today and how the economy has developed. This is probably the longest book I have ever read, but it is without a doubt the greatest. Everyone will of course not agree with me on this point. But if you are business oriented and highly motivated in life (and if you have a lot of time to spare,) give “Atlas Shrugged” a chance: it might just change the way you look at the world.