Private Property Is Sacred; Essay
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Summary of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand
Summary of the main idea of the book
Ayn Rand, an American writer and philosopher, creator of the philosophical direction of objectivism, was born in Saint Petersburg in 1905. In 1926 Ayn emigrated To the United States. The novel “Atlas Shrugged” was the most outstanding masterpiece that made the writer known all over the world.
Rand wrote the first line of "Atlas Shrugged" in 1946, it was apocalyptic phrase "Who is John Galt?", and then spent twelve years trying to answer this question in a philosophical dialogue. The philosophical novel “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957. With this novel Ayn Rand was destined to go down in history as the author of the anthem to the capitalist system. Its significance for capitalism is similar to the value of Karl Marx for communism. Now Rand’s books are used in many courses of metaphysics and epistemology. Rand had an enormous impact on society and capitalism, and perhaps did more to destroy the Berlin Wall than all politicians and bureaucrats of the world put together. “Atlas Shrugged” was translated into many languages and had a huge impact on the minds of several generations of readers. Uniquely combining fantasy and realism, utopia and dystopia, romantic heroism and grotesque the novel became one of the most contradictory creations of modern literature.
“Atlas shrugged” may be divided into three parts.
The main characters of the book "Atlas Shrugged" are divided into successful businessmen, managers of companies and the people who have power of making political decisions. The philosophy of total control over the economy is opposed to the full freedom in the economic sphere in the book. Ayn Rand begins her book with the fact that successful vice president of the largest railway company in the United States Dagny Taggart tries to keep the company afloat and to prevent the loss of the main transport markets. To do it she conflicts with her brother James Taggart, who is the president of the company and does not share her ideas. He believes that the most competitive advantages are obtained not in competition, but in the backroom games with legislators. "Dealers" confront lobbyists trying to support their business, while the country is moving rapidly towards socialism. Strange things begin to happen in the society: more and more successful people disappear leaving all their property and capital, while untalented people claim for higher incomes, higher positions, etc. A few diehard manufacturers are trying to work regardless of all mentioned above including Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden. They are trying to make the last effort in building a railway line in the industrial Colorado. Their efforts have succeeded and Colorado finds ways to deliver the goods across the country. But lobbyists adopt the law that limits competition and introduces significant restrictions for businesses. It leads the country to economic collapse. The first part of "Atlas Shrugged" ends with the disappearance of the largest oil producer who finally set fire to all his mines that he had been building for many years.
In the second part of the book the main heroes Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden are trying to understand what happened to the economy. Businesses stop the production all over the country, successful people disappear, leaving all their capital. Dagny and Henry notice that the disappearance of these people is preceded by a meeting with some mysterious people who make successful people stop trying to keep their companies afloat. The country continues to be controlled by non-economic methods and language of orders, laws. The country transforms into socialist camp where products are redistributed from people who deserve to those who need. Dagny is trying to save her company from destructive actions of her brother, who prefers to solve the issues through Washington.
During a joint vacation Dagny and Henry find remnants of the amazing engine that can radically change the existing technology. Dagny searches for the inventor of the engine to retrieve it. She finds a young scientist who accepts the challenge. At the same time Henry Rearden is forced to defend the right to sell his metal at the court. After the adoption of another law restricting the sales Dagny leaves the company. She returns only after the news about the terrible train accident with a big number of victims. She picks up everything again but the scientist wants to stop his work on the engine. She rushes to find him and the search brings her to the airport. Unknown people flew away with the scientist. The second part of the book "Atlas Shrugged" ends with a description of how she got in air accident chasing the plane.
The third part of the book describes how Dagny gets into the valley where all successful people hide. Their goal is to escape from the world where nobody appreciates the results of their work. Business owners and intellectuals try to hide all important people from the rest of the world to show others how to live without the mind, competition and justice. Dagny stays in this valley for a month but soon refuses to join them and returns to her business. Meanwhile, the situation becomes critical: the economy does not work well, no one wants to undertake any responsibility, no one produces goods and services, the remaining humans distribute the products of the intellectuals. However, people who hold the power continue to blame the owners and businessmen in chaos and strengthen the control over all possible resources. All railway companies are controlled by Washington, the same situation is in the steel industry. It becomes the last straw for Henry. He joins the striking industrialists and leaves all his plants. At this critical situation, the president, who led the country to this situation, plans to make a public speech to the nation on radio and television to reassure striking people. One of the strikers, inventor John Galt intercepts the broadcast and makes a speech instead of president. In this speech he brings the real idea of what happened to the country, why the most intelligent, talented, responsible people refuse to work for the whole society, which takes away all earnings like a bandit and does not recognize and respect the work intellectuals do for the benefit of all progressive nation. After this speech the remaining manufacturers begin to disappear faster. The book "Atlas Shrugged" ends with a description of how the missing people prepare plans for their coming back to the world as soon as people are willing to cooperate with them on the basis of stated principles.
"Atlas Shrugged" is a social dystopia of that rare genre that allows you to see the mechanism of formation of dysfunctional society. In the book "Atlas Shrugged” the philosophy of total control over the economy is contrasted to total freedom in the economic sphere. Both economic phenomenon are viewed from the perspective of people who contribute to the country’s wealth and those who just distribute the goods. The author draws a clear parallel between the Greek myth of Atlas and modern "Atlas". "Atlases" in the novel by Ayn Rand are sentenced to keep the major driving forces of humanity - the production, creation and creativity on their shoulders. In her opinion, it is due to "Atlases", who are the heroes of the novel, the existence of mankind is possible. There are not many of them, but the government is trying to usurp the achievements of "Atlases", accusing them of social problems and destroying the whole system supported the nation. In such situation "Atlases” cease to carry their burden and one after another disappear and the society is deprived of everything that ensured its existence. This leads to the destruction of mankind celestially punished for their greed that has nothing to do with the divine origin.
The novel can be characterized as a kind of textbook on the theory of public choice. It investigates the activity of politicians from the standpoint of economic agents. Rand describes not only the mechanism of making terrible political decisions but also the root of dystopia. "Atlas Shrugged" describes a society in which big businessmen do not bet on the expansion of production and the creation of new products but on lobbying; where such businessmen gradually become economic dictators, where economic success does not depend on the hard work and talent but on the power, where the state controls each sector of economy. In such a society problems in the economy caused by excessive regulation are treated with even greater tightening of laws and the escalation of the apparatus of violence. The main problem is that people have no other choice than to vote for such laws. Deciding to get rid of "the aristocracy of money” society of "Atlas" creates a "aristocracy of cronyism" in the end.
In addition to the dystopian storyline in the book, there is an utopian line describing the behavior of active people and intellectuals in the society controlled by capitalists. In the novel, all of them sooner or later escape from this society in their own small paradise, triggering the collapse of the system by their absence. As a result these people ultimately defeat the system. The utopia of such situation hides in the fact that it is hard to believe that all competent people able to refuse to cooperate with the criminal state for high ideals. Talented and competent people also have interests and their own incentives. Actually, the main character of the book, Dagny Taggart, does not join the protest not wanting to throw inherited from her parents company and letting down her employees and customers.
Summing up, the author makes several statements throughout the book that are essential for the development of healthy and thriving state:
people are engaged in voluntary economic relations;
the economic benefit dictates the rules, but not the gun;
all members of society get a fair reward depending on results rather than on the needs;
justice is valued more grace;
access to resources is determined on a competitive basis.
Main issues of the book and its development
The very question of how should businessmen left without work and freedom, blamed on greediness and disregarded for their "social obligations" behave themselves has a direct relationship to the modern reality. To a large extent "Atlas Shrugged" is an attempt to answer it. Someone blows their plants and runs into the valley becoming not accessible for the authorities, someone goes underground, someone continues to do his own things. In one of the central episodes of the book steel magnate who is on trial for the performance of his businesses refuses to cooperate with the criminal court in order not to legitimize an absurd process. In such a situation Rand represents an act of victim’s acquiescence being the part of total evil. This is one of the most important points of the book. This idea like other ideas in the book is not new. But it is described clearly and, moreover, with providing an understandable example.
One of the key ideas of the book that promotes Rand is that you can not sacrifice your personality for another people, only the time and the resources. She sees a crime against yourself in losing the personality. One of the main heroes of the book, John Galt, expresses the entrepreneurial spirit of all mankind, that is most clearly expressed in his famous phrase: "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" (Rand, 1997). A talented engineer and inventor who gave up a career to call upon the best people of society to non-violent resistance, strike. Anti-Robin Hood, returning the income tax to honest businessmen the matter of his life. Wealthy heir, who invests in senseless projects to destroy with his own money the prosperity of robber barons. What do they all have in common? They are positive characters of "Atlas Shrugged". They may be selfish but "non-commercial". They have a dream. This is not a dream of “Scrooge”. This is a dream of recognition that everyone who earns money honestly deserves respect from the society and benefit. We have all those good things in life thanks to inventors, entrepreneurs, farmers and simple office workers.
Atlas Shrugged" opposes the socialist and capitalist economic systems. The author shows a world where a small group of people who are considered to be the greatest geniuses and deserve respect, the right for freedom and to prosper from the results of their work. The main task of “parasite” part of society is to help the minority of people to slip into the primitive, cruel animal way of living, where the main task is not to create a product using the ability, intelligence and passion, but how to redistribute it.
Ayn Rand points out that if mind is the measure of everything, then a socialist system can not exist in such society. By denying mind people resign themselves to rapid self-destruction. If there are no incentives to do anything and there is only an attempt to withdraw, share and redistribute, then society will be plunged into a total fear that such fate can reach each of us one day. Even by taking away the factories from the businessmen the “faceless world” can not make it work. The desire to achieve this lies in the basis of the total production but not only a machine.
Rand, A. (1997). Atlas shrugged (p. 731). New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Signet.
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