By Andrew Bernstein
Professor Salmieri’s recent post regarding Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is dead-on accurate. Atlas, as known to its millions of fans, is deeply philosophical and is, by whole orders of magnitude, the book most relevant to the political-economic crisis of our time. It dramatizes profoundly important truths of epistemology and metaphysics—that reason, not faith or feelings, is man’s sole means of knowledge and that reality is immutable, impervious to the wishes of both Washington politicians and millions of religious believers clinging to their fantasy of a supernatural dimension. Regarding political-economy, Atlas Shrugged provides the philosophical foundation of individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism, the rational antidote to both the socialism of the Democrats and the religious theocracy of the Republicans.
But above all, Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel ever written. Its plot alone establishes its artistic stature, for it tells the story of “a man who vowed to stop the ‘motor of the world’”—and who then did. It is a story that, in a single integrated fabric, dramatizes the collapse—and rebirth—of advanced modern civilization and the reasons for both down to the deepest level of philosophy.
Further, the book’s dramatis personae includes a colorful and intriguing cast of players who—each in his own way—represents a distinctively etched variation on the book’s complex theme that the mind is man’s instrument of survival and that its proper functioning requires a system of full political-economic freedom. As but one example, nobody but Ayn Rand could have created the character of Ragnar Dannesjkold—philosopher, pirate, international police officer, and collector of internal revenue.
But Ayn Rand’s masterpiece encompasses vastly more. She successfully weaves every imaginable literary device into her story, masterfully integrating irony, mythology, symbolism, and at least one innovative technique that she herself created. Indeed, the book’s very title (and sequence in the story explaining its significance) is derived from a brilliant re-adaptation of an ancient Greek legend for her own moral and philosophical purposes.
For the most part, with notable exceptions, the sad truth is that literary critics and English professors are yet to discover the reason for the book’s immense general popularity: its sizzling, eyeball-popping, “un-put-down-able” story.
Andrew Bernstein is the author of Objectivism in One Lesson: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (University Press of America), The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire (University Press of America), and is a contributor to Robert Mayhew’s Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Lexington Books). Additional essays and information about Dr. Bernstein can be found at his website.