The influence of Ayn Rand’s last novel, Atlas Shrugged (first published in 1957), simply can’t be ignored. Rand called it, particularly the portion known as Galt’s speech, a perfect fictional presentation of her philosophy. A 1991 survey conducted for the U.S. Library of Congress and the Book-of the-Month Club identified Atlas Shrugged as the second-most influential book in America, second only to the Bible. In 2012 the U.S. Library of Congress included this novel in its eighty-eight-book display of “Books That Shaped America.”
With millions of copies sold, Atlas Shrugged has been a staple of bookstores and classroom curriculum since the early 1960s. Generations of college and graduate students have been drilled on this tome, instilling in them variations of moral codes and economic ethics they’ve since carried into the marketplace worlds of business and politics. Many of these ethics are distorted.
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What should be read as a cautionary tale against the evils of collectivism and socialism she suffered as a child in her native Russia, Atlas Shrugged teaches Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism.” Particularly through her description of the utopia she named Taggart Terminal (or the adopted name of Galt’s Gulch) and the voice of John Galt’s epic speech, Rand extols the benefits of her Objectivism. Some benefits of her philosophy were distorted and elevated by her adopted America and its postmodern audience, particularly radical self-interest, rugged individualism, and a limited government that does not interfere with individual liberty (unlike her native Russia). Over time and retroactively Rand has been dubbed, properly or improperly, “The Mother of Capitalism.”
Contrary to a cursory understanding of Atlas Shrugged, the enlightened mutuality of the kingdom of God as we discussed in our previous series about Adam Smith, is likewise found in Rand’s Objectivism. We recognize this claim may be surprising or even outlandish to some, but one’s reaction doesn’t make the claim any less accurate. We encourage and challenge you not to dismiss our claim without considering at least our threshold evidence with an open mind. Recall our earlier post Your Ability to See – usually all we need to achieve clearer vision is a receptive posture and to relax a little. We also recognize Rand can stir strong emotions, both for and against her views. We invite you to relax a little and find your receptive posture, so clearer vision into perspectives you were not looking for can surface.
Based on Rand’s own assessment of the significance of Atlas Shrugged, in these next several posts we’ll focus on Galt’s Gulch and Galt’s speech as keystones among her voluminous and wide-ranging texts. These keystones, representative of and shedding light on her larger body of work, speak powerfully of mutuality, even if to the surprise of many readers. In this way, Rand, too, carries forward the thread of an ethic of mutuality and of partnership economics.
We’ll be transparent as always, and share with you our primary goal for this particular series is to give you a more accurate understanding of what Rand actually said. To that end and spoiler alert – No she doesn’t advocate for self-interest and self-interest only, without any regard for others’ interest and no matter the cost or harm to others. Rather, Rand advocates for self-interest that involves relationships with other selves also ably pursuing their interest. Her self-interest position is not gain for self to the detriment of others, but various selves mutually seeking aligned benefit. In the portion of her work that she herself identified as the perfect presentation of her philosophy via a novel, she explicitly rejects gaining for self at the expense of others and explicitly advocates for exchanging in mutually beneficial ways with others. You’ll see how we support this in the next several posts.
To understand Rand correctly is to understand the Mother of Capitalism rejects a dog-eat-dog approach to business. What might that clearer understanding of what you’ve been taught about self-interest do to your understanding of how capitalism is intended to run? We welcome you on this part of the journey to better capitalism.
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