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Atlas Shrugged Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1996
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About the Author
Born February 2, 1905, Ayn Rand published her first novel, We the Living, in 1936. Anthem followed in 1938. It was with the publication of The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) that she achieved her spectacular success. Rand’s unique philosophy, Objectivism, has gained a worldwide audience. The fundamentals of her philosophy are put forth in three nonfiction books, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Virtues of Selfishness, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. They are all available in Signet editions, as is the magnificent statement of her artistic credo, The Romantic Manifesto.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
INTRODUCTION: Ayn Rand held that art is a re-creation of reality according to an artist s metaphysical value judgments. By its nature, therefore, a novel (like a statue or a symphony) does not require or tolerate an explanatory preface; it is a self-contained universe, aloof from commentary, beckoning the reader to enter, perceive, respond. Ayn Rand would never have approved of a didactic (or laudatory) introduction to her book, and I have no intention of flouting her wishes. Instead, I am going to give her the floor. I am going to let you in on some of the thinking she did as she was preparing to write Atlas Shrugged. Before starting a novel, Ayn Rand wrote voluminously in her journals about its theme, plot, and characters. She wrote not for any audience, but strictly for herself that is, for the clarity of her own understanding. The journals dealing with Atlas Shrugged are powerful examples of her mind in action, confident even when groping, purposeful even when stymied, luminously eloquent even though wholly unedited. These journals are also a fascinating record of the step-by-step birth of an immortal work of art. In due course, all of Ayn Rand s writings will be published. For this 35th anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged, however, I have selected, as a kind of advance bonus for her fans, four typical journal entries. Let me warn new readers that the passages reveal the plot and will spoil the book for anyone who reads them before knowing the story. As I recall, Atlas Shrugged did not become the novel s title until Miss Rand s husband made the suggestion in 1956. The working title throughout the writing was The Strike. The earliest of Miss Rand s notes for The Strike are dated January 1, 1945, about a year after the publication of The Fountainhead. Naturally enough, the subject on her mind was how to differentiate the present novel from its predecessor. Theme. What happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike. This means a picture of the world with its motor cut off. Show: what, how, why. The specific steps and incidents in terms of persons, their spirits, motives, psychology and actions and, secondarily, proceeding from persons, in terms of history, society and the world. The theme requires: to show who are the prime movers and why, how they function. Who are their enemies and why, what are the motives behind the hatred for and the enslavement of the prime movers; the nature of the obstacles placed in their way, and the reasons for it. This last paragraph is contained entirely in The Fountainhead. Roark and Toohey are the complete statement of it. Therefore, this is not the direct theme of The Strike but it is part of the theme and must be kept in mind, stated again (though briefly) to have the theme clear and complete. First question to decide is on whom the emphasis must be placed on the prime movers, the parasites or the world. The answer is: The world. The story must be primarily a picture of the whole. In this sense, The Strike is to be much more a social novel than The Fountainhead. The Fountainhead was about individualism and collectivism within man s soul ; it showed the nature and function of the creator and the second-hander. The primary concern there was with Roark and Toohey showing what they are. The rest of the characters were variations of the theme of the relation of the ego to others mixtures of the two extremes, the two poles: Roark and Toohey. The primary concern of the story was the characters, the people as such their natures. Their relations to each other which is society, men in relation to men were secondary, an unavoidable, direct consequence of Roark set against Toohey. But it was not the theme. Now, it is this relation that must be the theme. Therefore, the personal becomes secondary. That is, the personal is necessary only to the extent needed to make the relationships clear. In The Fountainhead I showed that Roark moves the world that the Keatings feed upon him and hate him for it, while the Tooheys are out consciously to destroy him. But the theme was Roark not Roark s relation to the world. Now it will be the relation. In other words, I must show in what concrete, specific way the world is moved by the creators. Exactly how do the second-handers live on the creators. Both in spiritual matters and (most particularly) in concrete, physical events. (Concentrate on the concrete, physical events but don t forget to keep in mind at all times how the physical proceeds from the spiritual.). However, for the purpose of this story, I do not start by showing how the second-handers live on the prime movers in actual, everyday reality nor do I start by showing a normal world. (That comes in only in necessary retrospect, or flashback, or by implication in the events themselves.) I start with the fantastic premise of the prime movers going on strike. This is the actual heart and center of the novel. A distinction carefully to be observed here: I do not set out to glorify the prime mover ( that was The Fountainhead ). I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers, and how viciously it treats them. And I show it on a hypothetical case what happens to the world without them. In The Fountainhead I did not show how desperately the world needed Roark except by implication. I did show how viciously the world treated him, and why. I showed mainly what he is. It was Roark s story. This must be the world s story in relation to its prime movers. (Almost the story of a body in relation to its heart a body dying of anemia.) I don t show directly what the prime movers do that s shown only by implication. I show what happens when they don t do it. (Through that, you see the picture of what they do, their place and their role.) (This is an important guide for the construction of the story.) In order to work out the story, Ayn Rand had to understand fully why the prime movers allowed the second-handers to live on them why the creators had not gone on strike throughout history what errors even the best of them made that kept them in thrall to the worst. Part of the answer is dramatized in the character of Dagny Taggart, the railroad heiress who declares war on the strikers. Here is a note on her psychology, dated April 18, 1946: Her error and the cause of her refusal to join the strike is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last). Over-optimism in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn t really understand them and is generous about it. Over-confidence in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) single-handed, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her own talent; not by forcing them, of course, not by enslaving them and giving orders but by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they ll catch it from her. (This is still faith in their rationality, in the omnipotence of reason. The mistake? Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.) On these two points, Dagny is committing an important (but excusable and understandable) error in thinking, the kind of error individualists and creators often make. It is an error proceeding from the best in their nature and from a proper principle, but this principle is misapplied. The error is this: it is proper for a creator to be optimistic, in the deepest, most basic sense, since the creator believes in a benevolent universe and functions on that premise. But it is an error to extend that optimism to other specific men. First, it s not necessary, the creator s life and the nature of the universe do not require it, his life does not depend on others. Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be. The decision will affect only him; it is not (and cannot and should not be) the primary concern of any other human being. Therefore, while a creator does and must worship Man (which means his own highest potentiality; which is his natural self-reverence), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind (as a collective). These are two entirely different conceptions, with entirely (immensely and diametrically opposed) different consequences. Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled within each creator himself. Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever; numbers have nothing to do with it. He alone or he and a few others like him are mankind, in the proper sense of being the proof of what man actually is, man at his best, the essential man, man at his highest possibility. (The rational being, who acts according to his nature.) It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man; let him live up to that ideal himself; this is all the optimism about Man that he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will become better, or she will teach them to become better or, actually, she so desperately wants them to be better) and to be tied to the world by that hope. It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it s up to him to do it. (He feels it because he is a man of reason. But here is what he must keep clearly in mind: it is true that a creator can accomplish anything he wishes if he functions according to the nature of man, the universe and his own proper morality, that is, if he does not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander. Therefore, he must never feel confident that he can do anything whatever to, by or through others. (He can t and he shouldn t even wish to try it and the mere attempt is improper.) He must not think that he can. somehow transfer his energy and his intelligence to them and make them fit for his purposes in that way. He must face other men as they are, recognizing them as essentially independent entities, by nature, and beyond his primary influence; [he must] deal with them only on his own, independent terms, deal with such as he judges can fit his purpose or live up to his standards (by themselves and of their own will, independently of him) and expect nothing from the others. Now, in Dagny s case, her desperate desire is to run Taggart Transcontinental. She sees that there are no men suited to her purpose around her, no men of ability, independence and competence. She thinks she can run it with others, with the incompetent and the parasites, either by training them or merely by treating them as robots who will take her orders and function without personal initiative or responsibility; with herself, in effect, being the spark of initiative, the bearer of responsibility for a whole collective. This can t be done. This is her crucial error. This is where she fails. Ayn Rand s basic purpose as a novelist was to present not villains or even heroes with errors, but the ideal man the consistent, the fully integrated, the perfect. In Atlas Shrugged, this is John Galt, the towering figure who moves the world and the novel, yet does not appear onstage until Part III. By his nature (and that of the story) Galt is necessarily central to the lives of all the characters. In one note, Galt s relation to the others, dated June 27, 1946, Miss Rand defines succinctly what Galt represents to each of them: For Dagny the ideal. The answer to her two quests: the man of genius and the man she loves. The first quest is expressed in her search for the inventor of the engine. The second her growing conviction that she will never be in love For Rearden the friend. The kind of understanding and appreciation he has always wanted and did not know he wanted (or he thought he had it he tried to find it in those around him, to get it from his wife, his mother, brother and sister). For Francisco d Anconia the aristocrat. The only man who represents a challenge and a stimulant almost the proper kind of audience, worthy of stunning for the sheer joy and color of life. For Danneskjöld the anchor. The only man who represents land and roots to a restless, reckless wanderer, like the goal of a struggle, the port at the end of a fierce sea-voyage the only man he can respect. For the Composer the inspiration and the perfect audience. For the Philosopher the embodiment of his abstractions. For Father Amadeus the source of his conflict. The uneasy realization that Galt is the end of his endeavors, the man of virtue, the perfect man and that his means do not fit this end (and that he is destroying this, his ideal, for the sake of those who are evil). To James Taggart the eternal threat. The secret dread. The reproach. The guilt (his own guilt). He has no specific tie-in with Galt but he has that constant, causeless, unnamed, hysterical fear. And he recognizes it when he hears Galt s broadcast and when he sees Galt in person for the first time. To the Professor his conscience. The reproach and reminder. The ghost that haunts him through everything he does, without a moment s peace. The thing that says: No to his whole life. Some notes on the above: Rearden s sister, Stacy, was a minor character later cut from the novel. Francisco was spelled Francesco in these early years, while Danneskld s first name at this point was Ivar, presumably after Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish match king, who was the real-life model of Bjorn Faulkner in Night of January 16th. Father Amadeus was Taggart s priest, to whom he confessed his sins. The priest was supposed to be a positive character, honestly devoted to the good but practicing consistently the morality of mercy. Miss Rand dropped him, she told me, when she found that it was impossible to make such a character convincing. The Professor is Robert Stadler. This brings me to a final excerpt. Because of her passion for ideas, Miss Rand was often asked whether she was primarily a philosopher or a novelist. In later years, she was impatient with this question, but she gave her own answer, to and for herself, in a note dated May 4, 1946. The broader context was a discussion of the nature of creativity. I seem to be both a theoretical philosopher and a fiction writer. But it is the last that interests me most; the first is only the means to the last; the absolutely necessary means, but only the means; the fiction story is the end. Without an understanding and statement of the right philosophical principle, I cannot create the right story; but the discovery of the principle interests me only as the discovery of the proper knowledge to be used for my life purpose; and my life purpose is the creation of the kind of world (people and events) that I like that is, that represents human perfection. Philosophical knowledge is necessary in order to define human perfection. But I do not care to stop at the definition. I want to use it, to apply it in my work (in my personal life, too but the core, center and purpose of my personal life, of my whole life, is my work). This is why, I think, the idea of writing a philosophical nonfiction book bored me. In such a book, the purpose would actually be to teach others, to present my idea to them. In a book of fiction the purpose is to create, for myself, the kind of world I want and to live in it while I am creating it; then, as a secondary consequence, to let others enjoy this world, if, and to the extent that they can. It may be said that the first purpose of a philosophical book is the clarification or statement of your new knowledge to and for yourself; and then, as a secondary step, the offering of your knowledge to others. But here is the difference, as far as I am concerned: I have to acquire and state to myself the new philosophical knowledge or principle I used in order to write a fiction story as its embodiment and illustration; I do not care to write a story on a theme or thesis of old knowledge, knowledge stated or discovered by someone else, that is, someone else s philosophy (because those philosophies are wrong). To this extent, I am an abstract philosopher (I want to present the perfect man and his perfect life and I must also discover my own philosophical statement and definition of this perfection). But when and if I have discovered such new knowledge, I am not interested in stating it in its abstract, general form, that is, as knowledge. I am interested in using it, in applying it that is, in stating it in the concrete form of men and events, in the form of a fiction story. This last is my final purpose, my end; the philosophical knowledge or discovery is only the means to it. For my purpose, the non-fiction form of abstract knowledge doesn t interest me; the final, applied form of fiction, of story, does. (I state the knowledge to myself, anyway; but I choose the final form of it, the expression, in the completed cycle that leads back to man.) I wonder to what extent I represent a peculiar phenomenon in this respect. I think I represent the proper integration of a complete human being. Anyway, this should be my lead for the character of John Galt. He, too , is a combination of an abstract philosopher and a practical inventor; the thinker and the man of action together In learning, we draw an abstraction from concrete objects and events. In creating, we make our own concrete objects and events out of the abstraction; we bring the abstraction down and back to its specific meaning, to the concrete; but the abstraction has helped us to make the kind of concrete we want the concrete to be. It has helped us to create to reshape the world as we wish it to be for our purposes. I cannot resist quoting one further paragraph. It comes a few pages later in the same discussion. Incidentally, as a sideline observation: if creative fiction writing is a process of translating an abstraction into the concrete, there are three possible grades of such writing: translating an old (known) abstraction (theme or thesis) through the medium of old fiction means (that is, characters, events or situations used before for that same purpose, that same translation) this is most of the popular trash; translating an old abstraction through new, original fiction means this is most of the good literature; creating a new, original abstraction and translating it through new, original means. This, as far as I know, is only me my kind of fiction writing. May God forgive me (Metaphor!) if this is mistaken conceit! As near as I can now see it, it isn t. (A fourth possibility translating a new abstraction through old means is impossible, by definition: if the abstraction is new, there can be no means used by anybody else before to translate it.) Is her conclusion mistaken conceit ? It is now forty-five years since she wrote this note, and you are holding Ayn Rand s master-work in your hands. You decide. Leonard Peikoff September 1991. Chapter 1: THE THEME Who is John Galt? The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him. Why did you say that? asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense. The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky. Why does it bother you? he asked. It doesn t, snapped Eddie Willers. He reached hastily into his pocket. The bum had stopped him and asked for a dime, then had gone on talking, as if to kill that moment and postpone the problem of the next. Pleas for dimes were so frequent in the streets these days that it was not necessary to listen to explanations and he had no desire to hear the details of this bum s particular despair. Go get your cup of coffee, he said, handing the dime to the shadow that had no face. Thank you, sir, said the voice, without interest, and the face leaned forward for a moment. The face was wind-browned, cut by lines of weariness and cynical resignation; the eyes were intelligent. Eddie Willers walked on, wondering why he always felt it at this time of day, this sense of dread without reason. No, he thought, not dread, there s nothing to fear: just an immense, diffused apprehension, with no source or object. He had become accustomed to the feeling, but he could find no explanation for it; yet the bum had spoken as if he knew that Eddie felt it, as if he thought that one should feel it, and more: as if he knew the reason. Eddie Willers pulled his shoulders straight, in conscientious self-discipline. He had to stop this, he thought; he was beginning to imagine things. Had he always felt it? He was thirty-two years old. He tried to think back. No, he hadn t; but he could not remember when it had started. The feeling came to him suddenly, at random intervals, and now it was coming more often than ever. It s the twilight, he thought; I hate the twilight. The clouds and the shafts of skyscrapers against them were turning brown, like an old painting in oil, the color of a fading masterpiece. Long streaks of grime ran from under the pinnacles down the slender, soot-eaten walls. High on the side of a tower there was a crack in the shape of a motionless lightning, the length of ten stories. A jagged object cut the sky above the roofs; it was half a spire, still holding the glow of the sunset; the gold leaf had long since peeled off the other half. The glow was red and still, like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop. No, thought Eddie Willers, there was nothing disturbing in the sight of the city. It looked as it had always looked. He walked on, reminding himself that he was late in returning to the office. He did not like the task which he had to perform on his return, but it had to be done. So he did not attempt to delay it, but made himself walk faster. He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two buildings, as in the crack of a door, he saw the page of a gigantic calendar suspended in the sky. It was the calendar that the mayor of New York had erected last year on the top of a building, so that citizens might tell the day of the month as they told the hours of the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A white rectangle hung over the city, imparting the date to the men in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening s sunset, the rectangle said: September 2. Eddie Willers looked away. He had never liked the sight of that calendar. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality. He thought suddenly that there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the calendar seemed to suggest. But he could not recall it. He walked, groping for a sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape. He could neither fill it nor dismiss it. He glanced back. The white rectangle stood above the roofs, saying in immovable finality: September 2. Eddie Willers shifted his glance down to the street, to a vegetable pushcart at the stoop of a brownstone house. He saw a pile of bright gold carrots and the fresh green of onions. He saw a clean white curtain blowing at an open window. He saw a bus turning a corner, expertly steered. He wondered why he felt reassured and then, why he felt the sudden, inexplicable wish that these things were not left in the open, unprotected against the empty space above. When he came to Fifth Avenue, he kept his eyes on the windows of the stores he passed. There was nothing he needed or wished to buy; but he liked to see the display of goods, any goods, objects made by men, to be used by men. He enjoyed the sight of a prosperous street; not more than every fourth one of the stores was out of business, its windows dark and empty. He did not know why he suddenly thought of the oak tree. Nothing had recalled it. But he thought of it and of his childhood summers on the Taggart estate. He had spent most of his childhood with the Taggart children, and now he worked for them, as his father and grandfather had worked for their father and grandfather. The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength. One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it. Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since. Eddie Willers shook his head, as the screech of a rusty mechanism changing a traffic light stopped him on the edge of a curb. He felt anger at himself. There was no reason that he had to remember the oak tree tonight. It meant nothing to him any longer, only a faint tinge of sadness and somewhere within him, a drop of pain moving briefly and vanishing, like a raindrop on the glass of a window, its course in the shape of a question mark. He wanted no sadness attached to his childhood; he loved its memories: any day of it he remembered now seemed flooded by a still, brilliant sunlight. It seemed to him as if a few rays from it reached into his present: not rays, more like pinpoint spotlights that gave an occasional moment s glitter to his job, to his lonely apartment, to the quiet, scrupulous progression of his existence. He thought of a summer day when he was ten years old. That day, in a clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and in wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, Whatever is right, and added, You ought to do something great. I mean, the two of us together. What? she asked. He said, I don t know. That s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires, or climbing mountains. What for? she asked. He said, The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us? I don t know. We ll have to find out. She did not answer; she was looking away, up the railroad track. Eddie Willers smiled. He had said, Whatever is right, twenty-two years ago. He had kept that statement unchallenged ever since; the other questions had faded in his mind; he had been too busy to ask them. But he still thought it self-evident that one had to do what was right; he had never learned how people could want to do otherwise; he had learned only that they did. It still seemed simple and incomprehensible to him: simple that things should be right, and incomprehensible that they weren t. He knew that they weren t. He thought of that, as he turned a corner and came to the great building of Taggart Transcontinental. The building stood over the street as its tallest and proudest structure. Eddie Willers always smiled at his first sight of it. Its long bands of windows were unbroken, in contrast to those of its neighbors. Its rising lines cut the sky, with no crumbling corners or worn edges. It seemed to stand above the years, untouched. It would always stand there, thought Eddie Willers. Whenever he entered the Taggart Building, he felt relief and a sense of security. This was a place of competence and power. The floors of its hallways were mirrors made of marble. The frosted rectangles of its electric fixtures were chips of solid light. Behind sheets of glass, rows of girls sat at typewriters,
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It is a good story, but prone to belabor the point. Every stupid character (and there are many) must apparently show their stupidity dozens of times to make absolutely sure the reader understand how stupid they are. Similarly, the chapter where hero John Galt sets out the argument for how society should be organized reads like a over-long political manifesto.
Through her process of rational deduction, Ayn Rands objectivism comes to the conclusion that nobody has any claim on the value produced by anybody else. This leads her to reject every aspect of the state, especially taxation and thus places objectivism next to anarcho-capitalism.
You don't have to agree with her conclusions to find the book entertaining and thought-provoking. Recommended.
The story, the characters, the plot... Where to begin? It's a beautiful story. I've always enjoyed Ayn Rand novels, but I can see how this is her crowning achievement. Rather than reading it as a commentary on capitalism (as many have), I read it as a story of true love. Dagny's growth and experiences moved me, and every piece of her past and future fit neatly into this grander puzzle of what I consider to be true love.
I'm glad I didn't have any other influences telling me to read this book solely from an economic or philosophical standpoint, because it would have ruined the beauty and adventure of what I see to be an excellent story. And you certainly don't need to read any further into it than a grand love story if you don't want to.