Atlas Shrugged is (supposedly) Ayn Rand’s “Magnum Opus”.
The first major problem with this is: Ayn Rand stated that her goal with her fiction-writing had always been to project “the ideal man”.
If this is true, then both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged demonstrate that Rand’s “ideal” man was basically a complete schmuck who just happened to have a really bad temper.
Think about it:
Howard Roark spends most of The Fountainhead making exactly the least strategic decision at every turn:
- Instead of contesting his expulsion from architectural college, he just shrugs and wanders off, on the assumption that somehow his portfolio will “speak for itself”.
The problem with this is: Rand should have realized that a lack of “credentials” matters — ESPECIALLY under a sociopolitical system dominated by cronyism and collusion.
The fact that he was expelled from college would have effectively frozen Roark out of the vast majority of architectural jobs simply because — to the vast majority of his potential employers/clients, he was nothing but a “credential” with a body attached.
Why do you think certain schools are (mistakenly) regarded as “prestigious”? It doesn’t have anything substantive to do with the quality of instruction. If Anything, the quality of instruction is probably much worse than it might otherwise be, given the sheer prevalence of the latest horrible Leftist trends (Political correctness, “Radical” feminism, the whole “social justice warrior” fiasco, etc.)
The unfortunate fact is: in far too many cases, applicants whose credential originates from a “status” school will be given preferential treatment over applicants from a less “prestigious” institution — even if they have substantively identical knowledge-base and ability.
(In some ways, this is the less-publicized equivalent of what happens to job applicants who happen to have noticeably “black”-sounding names.)
The above is why I don’t get particularly incensed about “affirmative action”: the “System” is already so encrusted with “Status”-markers which are not meritocratic, to the point where a (vanishingly few) more “token” admissions don’t really make any difference.
A good example of the kind of thing I’m talking about is: the “old money” bullshit, and the preferential treatment extended to “legacy” applicants. Pure cronyism.
So, at any rate: Roark is portrayed as somebody who basically clawed his way up from “the gutter” only to get expelled from architectural college for failure to kiss enough ass.
So what does he go and do? Hire on with Henry Cameron — an architect he genuinely admires (who has become a burnt-out drunk, because nobody “got” what he was doing.)
Now, here’s the problem:
At this point, Roark should have realized that – at his first meeting with Henry Cameron – he was basically staring his “future self” square in the face.
But he doesn’t.
The rest of the novel is basically “window-dressing” for the (pathetic) “friendship” between Roark and Peter Keating.
Keating is basically the most empty and vacuous sort of “status”-seeker imaginable. He doesn’t particularly like architecture. He wanted to be a painter — but allowed his love of painting to be browbeaten out of him by his mother.
So, he becomes exactly the sort of bootlicking, “Yuppie” scumbag you’d expect somebody like that to become: the problem is — even the various “Status”-symbols (money/chicks/”Celebrity” status etc.) just leave him empty and hollow — primarily because that is ALL he ever was: empty and hollow.
Dominique is probably the most openly pathetic person in the novel: She spends the entire novel doing the lifestyle-equivalent of “I cut myself to feel alive!” She has a grandly exalted vision of her “ideal” — but because real life fails to exactly mirror that “ideal” in ever detail 100% of the time she invests her effort into tearing down and destroying everything and everyone who even tangentially echoes that “ideal” in the real world.
Thus, since Roark is basically her “ideal man” come to life, she spends (almost) the entire novel attempting to hobble and destroy him. Along the way she marries Keating (specifically because she finds him nauseating and contemptible). Keating becomes Dominique’s version of a “hair-shirt”.
The Wynand/Toohey subplot is nothing but Rand’s (clumsy) attempt to insert “philosophical” speeches. Toohey is a particularly implausible character: he’s not exactly a power-luster. he repeatedly says that he doesn’t particularly like what he’s doing. he FULLY realizes that the ideas he’s promoting are ruining civilization, and can only end badly. Yet (paradoxically) he comes off as if he genuinely believes that the best way to ‘serve” others is by enslaving them.
THIS is the pivot of Toohey’s character: He (like Rand) believes that the vast majority of humankind are simply incapable of functioning at a fully human level (as represented by Roark/Galt). Thus, Toohey’s “solution” to the problem is: get them to function at an EVEN LOWER level. Horribly enough, his method is to (mis)use his victims capacity for empathy, benevolence and mutual concern to get them to “voluntarily” enslave THEMSELVES.
I think this gives a real insight into Rand’s character, as a person: She recognized this tactic (IE: the fact that would-be power-lusters/tyrants etc. must appeal to some sort of “noble” ends to justify/excuse their actions. After all, she’d seen it firsthand back in Soviet Russia (all the slogans about “brotherhood” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, etc.)
At the same time, she had also seen the fact that everyone EXCEPT for the new “ruling” clique/their cronies were infinitely worse off.
I’m pretty sure that this experience made Rand distrust empathy, compassion and mutual-aid as such.
At any rate: Rand’s “heroes” in her novels all eventually come to the same general conclusion:
The only to way avoid “enabling” the power-lusters is to BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND.
So: Roark (stupidly) uses Keating as “front-man” for a project he would never have been able to get under his own name — and wouldn’t even have wanted in the first place. (Low-income housing). Somebody else other than Keating makes revisions to the plans.
This pisses Roark off to the point where he blows up the building.….even though nobody (except Keating) even KNEW that he was involved.
This is just fucking insane.
Wynand ends up destroying his entire chain of newspapers specifically to deprive Ellsworth Toohey of a means to disseminate his ideas.
The thing is: in both cases, Rand’s “heroes” utterly fail to achieve their stated goals:
Sure, Roark ends up actually being able to parlay the publicity from his trial into an architecture firm of his own: BUT HE DOES NOT PREVENT UGLY/STUPID ARCHITECTURE FROM BEING CREATED BY OTHER FIRMS.
Likewise: after Wynand destroys his newspaper (to stop Toohey): Toohey simply saunters over to one of Wynand’s competitors.
In other words: whatever their high-minded “philosophical justirications” for doing so, Rand’s “heroes” spend 3/4ths of her novels ENABLING THOSE WHO ARE CORRUPT/IDIOTIC. When they (finally) realize what they’ve been doing, they THROW A TANTRUM.
That’s what Atlas Shrugged amounts to: John Galt’s giant, civilization-destroying tantrum.
Remember: the “strikers” don’t just leave, and go to “The Gulch”: they actively monkey-wrench the hell out of everything within reach while doing so: oilfields, mines, etc. — specifically so that the “looter” regime is unable to make use of them.
The mass death that would (inevitably) result from the rioting/famine/plagues etc.? Fuck ’em.
That’s the central thesis of Rand’s whole “fiction” career: NOT merely that human greatness is made possible by the equivalent of Nietszche’s ubermenschen — but that those Ubermenschen should do everything in their power to degrade and destroy the hordes of idiotic sub-animals surrounding them.
Rand’s “philosophy” (at least judging by her novels) really ISN’T about cultivating human greatness: it is about revenge masquerading as “justice” — with no regard for any “collateral damage” (IE: mountains of “bystander” corpses) that would inevitably result.
The worst thing about Rand is: her damnably stupid “mythos”, itself:
To quote from the “Roark Courtroom speech”:
Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had lifted darkness off the earth.
In other words: humankind is divided into two (and ONLY TWO) “factions” which are both mutually ehaustive AND mutually exclusive:
These are basically neitszchens “Masters” and “slaves” — excepting of course, that Rand doesn’t even consider non-Masters worthy of enslavement.
Going back to the Roark speech-excerpt above:
Rand’s “heroes” have exactly one method of dealing with others:
- Caveman discovers fire (becomes Prometheus)
- Tribe fails to kiss Prometheus’ ass sufficiently (which is odd, because Rand makes a big deal about how the “Creators” don’t really give a shit whether anyone recognizes their “greatness”, or not. Their motive is “self-sufficient”, and explicitly “non-social”.
- Prometheus (recognizing that his tribe plans to destroy him (which makes NO sense whatsoever, given that this would be the equivalent of “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”) proceeds to burn them all to death while they’re asleep — down to the tiniest infant.
Atlas Shrugged would have been (somewhat) less horrifying if Galt & Pals had merely withdrawn from the (collapsing and increasingly vicious) anti-civilization surrounding them without monkey-wrenching it to shit, themselves.
Here’s the thing: were the “Looter/Moocher/Parasites” smart enough to keep at least some precarious “cargo cult” version of “civilization” operational, or not?
If “yes”, then Galt & Pals best long-range strategy would have been to infiltrate that society, actively “recruit” more members, and attempt to “steer” the culture in a healthier direction
But, no. Galt & Pals “solution” is to DO EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER TO MAKE AN (ALREADY BARELY-SURVIVABLE) SITUATION WORSE.
The “leadership” is corrupt/inept/vicious to the point of uselessness — to the point where they are unable to do anything to stem the tide of rioting, desertion and chaos their own policies has created.
If anything, Galt’s faction is WORSE because they are fully aware that the accumulated achievements of millennia of “creators” before them are going to be smashed to scrap by “civilzation’s” death-throes — and they HELP IT ALONG.
The whole “We’re going back — the road has been cleared!” thing is particularly loopy:
The Road has been “cleared” of what exactly?
Millions of (un-buried) dead resulting from the famines/plagues you actively caused?
Entire “cities” reduced to burnt-out scrap-heaps?
An entire continent (planet?) REDUCED TO THE LEVEL OF STARNESVILLE?
Let’s not forget: Dagny and Rearden stumble across the remains of Galt’s prototype motor in the (oddly post-apocalyptic) ruins of “Starnesville”. In fact, it is the downfall of Starnesville more than anything else, which prompts Galt to want to “stop the motor of the world”.
What genuinely “heroic” individual looks out at what is essentially a localized apocalypse and thinks “Hmmm….how do I make this happen to the ENTIRE WORLD?”
The same sort of person whose response to minor alternations in the plans for a project with which he is NOT EVEN publicly involved is to blow up a building.