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Who is John Galt?

The question reverberates around a crumbling society, epitomising exactly the refusal of human intuition that has led America to its final whimpering days as the last great country on Earth.

Ayn Rand’s masterwork tells the story of two great industrialists: Dagny Taggart – A transcontinental railroad executive, and Hank Rearden – A master metallurgist, and their struggles to engage their talents amidst a world of simpering bureaucrats, ever seeking to punish and exploit their skills in the name of a non-existent greater good.

All around them, the country is devolving into disaster. Other great minds, thinkers and industrialists are disappearing one-by-one, leaving a dearth of human talent which cannot be filled out of the broken government schools. The same schools which teach children not to think or value themselves, but to only strive for successes for their unseen, unnamed neighbour; the schools which teach that a human brain should be offered on an altar as a veritable feast for the undeserving and the unwilling.

In an attempt to remedy the situation, the camarilla of thieves masquerading as ‘government’ introduce increasingly destructive legislature which all but cripples the country once and for all. Beginning with laws which prevent direct competition between rival businesses, and ending with legislature which illegalises any man leaving his job, the government strangles competition, stifles inspiration and erodes culpability, leaving a homogenised workforce which refuses to practice ability or take responsibility for the most simple of tasks.

Through the struggles of her protagonists, Rand develops the idea of the individual’s mind as the sole required tool for success and survival. With man’s mind alone, he will achieve great things and build a world worth based on solid logical principles; the absolutes of trade, the reverence of ability, the virtues of self-respect and the refusal of slavery, violence and unearned wealth.

Atlas Shrugged is a work of great power and implication. It is savagely anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-fascist, anti-government, anti-religious and anti-charity in nature, and unsurprisingly has drawn heavy criticism over the years. Though I firmly believe that those who suggest that Rand only values a human being based on the sum of their bank balance, or utterly despises human compassion, or sees no place for a man without God-like production capability, have missed the point of the entire novel by miles.

Despite being heavy on rhetoric, and essentially a vehicle for Rand to express her philosophy of Objectivism, the underlying story does not suffer in the slightest. It is consistently engaging, mixing mystery and adventure, alongside humour, tragedy and sheer face-palming human stupidity. I can unabashedly say that this is the greatest book I’ve ever read to-date.

Rand’s writing style is rock-solid and her characters strongly likeable or detestable, depending on their angle and methods. Are they believable characters? That is a question that ran through my head throughout. Do such men and women of Promethean ability and unshakable resolution exist in real life? They appear in the novel as unbreakable, almost superhuman, but then again maybe that is the point. Would we see more individuals like this if we lived in a world where the great are unobstructed and allowed to flourish in their chosen field, rather than the super-taxed reality we live in today?

I began reading this book with some inbuilt, mildly socialist tendencies, and it undoubtedly changed me. I doubt anybody can read Atlas Shrugged and come away without being sufficiently moved, inspired or disgusted by the words contained within it. It’s more than a novel, it is a life-changing piece of philosophy and a blueprint for how individuals can achieve a form of greatness. Any book which simply preaches that you the individual are the key to your own happiness, and that happiness is not the accumulation of material wealth but the love of yourself and your own ability, can only be a positive thing in my eyes.

On the site of what had once been Project X, nothing remained alive among the ruins – except, for some endless minutes longer, a huddle of torn flesh and screaming pain that had once been a great mind.


10/10
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Added by The Flagship
6 years ago on 15 May 2011 12:07


Comments

Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 9 19:44
Well put. I think you have recruited this book onto my wanted list.
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 10 9:41
Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy is utter garbage and goes against human nature itself. While I can see where she is coming from, with her hatred of Communism and all it stands for, I still found it to be moronic. Her hero is so preachy, he is almost like the priest of his own religion. Profoundly annoying.
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 10 16:46
I'd be interested to know how a profound belief and trust in the abilities of oneself goes against human nature. It seems to me the only possible way humanity can ever progress is if individuals understand and maximise their potential in spite of all of the unwilling and contented miscreants who are happy to sell themselves short and leech off of the handouts of others.
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 10 17:43
She goes beyond just belief in oneself - to the rejection of almost all human bonds and compassion. I can see how she is reacting to the Communism of her native Russia. But but living in communities and forming human bonds and dare I say it, being somewhat dependent on each other is an essential part of human nature and society.
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 10 19:47
I don't believe she does. All she suggests is that people should be loved if they deserve to be loved, and that love based on merit is ultimately more powerful than any other form of compassion. One of her protagonists offers a job to a homeless bum who stowed away on her train because she sees the potential in him. Likewise she offers an olive branch to the wife of her brother once she realises how disgusting a person he is. I think I agree with her wholeheartedly that you need to respect your lover in order to truly love them.
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Jun 13 17:29
Excellent review of one of my favorite books. Galt's speech is one of the best things I've ever read, and I too can't see how anyone could be unaffected by it.

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