Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion


Since its publication in 1957 Atlas Shrugged, the philosophical and artistic climax of Ayn Rand's novels, has never been out of print and has received enormous critical attention becoming one of the most influential books ever published, impacting on a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, economics, business, and political science among others. More than a great novel, Atlas Shrugged is an abstract conceptual, and symbolic work that expounds a radical philosophy, presenting a view of man and man's relationship to existence and manifesting the essentials of an entire philosophical system - metaphysics, epistemology, politics and ethics. Celebrating the fiftieth year of Atlas Shrugged's publication, this companion is an exploration of this monumental work of literature. Contributions have been specially commissioned from a diversity of eminent scholars who admire and have been influenced by the book, the included essays analyzing the novel's integrating elements of theme, plot and characterization from many perspectives and from various levels of meaning.


I first read my favorite novel, Atlas Shrugged, in the spring of 1992 on the recommendation of Wheeling Jesuit University MBA student Jessica Lofgren (now Bedway) and my colleague in WJU’s Philosophy Department, Fred Seddon. Upon entering Ayn Rand’s fictional universe, I was immediately enthralled by her brilliant philosophical insights and by her striking narrative power. The plot of Atlas Shrugged was a model of integration among theme, story, and characters. All elements were logically connected, tied to the whole, and integrated with the novel’s unifying theme. Even the philosophical speeches were integrated with the events of the story.

Here was a novel about the great minds of the world going on strike while the world is moving toward destruction. The heroes were giants of intellect and productivity who make the evil of the villains possible by their own assistance and support (i.e., their sanction). Although their minds had been restrained by government intervention and regulation, Rand showed that the great minds were themselves partly to blame because they conceded to the altruistic claims of the would-be destroyers of capitalism. Although Rand had great admiration for producers and entrepreneurs as heroic, she also displayed her disdain for their unwillingness to defend themselves.

Atlas Shrugged is appealing on many levels. It is a moral defense of capitalism, political parable, social commentary, science fiction tale, mystery story, love story, and more. The further and deeper I studied Atlas Shrugged the more I was able to appreciate how these multiple approaches to plot enriched one another.

This anachronistic alternative-reality allegory was both dystopian and utopian in nature. Its world was populated by giants of ability, moral character, and achievement and by productive geniuses who created futuristic inventions. The novel displayed a sharp contrast between these heroes and the villains of the story who were crooked politicians and businessmen. Both the heroes and villains were larger than life.

The story is about a revolution brought about by the heroes of Atlas Shrugged. It is about the fall that occurs in the world when the thinkers and creators go on strike. This is John Galt’s ingenious strategy to solve society’s problems. Galt creates a band of heroic men to implement this strategy. As a result, the independent minds withdraw from society to live in Galt’s Gulch, an ideal community which illustrates what the world could be like.

Ayn Rand not only builds in dramatic conflict between the good and the bad (e.g., Dagny and Rearden vs. the looters), she also shows conflict between the . . .

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