Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Galt's Gulch: Ayn Rand's Utopian Delusion

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Galt's Gulch: Ayn Rand's Utopian Delusion

Article excerpt


Often identified as one of the more popular utopias of the twentieth century, Galt's Gulch, the name of the utopia in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, has not been analyzed as such. After the Gulch is located in the context of the book's larger story, the nature and structure of the utopia are described. This utopian vision is then critically analyzed and found wanting on two main criteria: its logical adequacy, completeness, and stability and in terms of the soundness of its psychological and sociological underpinnings. Problems on all these dimensions are detailed. As it is a premier example of right-wing, libertarian dreams that inspire political action, it is argued that it is imperative that the accuracy of such utopias be examined. In addition, the philosophical and methodological errors found here can be instructive in how to critically evaluate utopian visions in general.

Ayn Rand's 1,100-odd-page magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is the story of how a corps of elite capitalist-geniuses, led by her demigod John Galt, go on strike against the world, leaving it to the inept machinations of collectivist looters, with the collapse of civilization soon following. Bur hidden deep in the bowels of the book is a second, smaller story of her capitalist haven, the alternate world to which her hero class retreats while on strike, where they live according to her Objectivist philosophy. Nestled in a bit more than one hundred pages, this alternate world is really her version of utopia, the ideal realization of what human existence could and should be like (Milgram 2005). As a prototype of right-wing utopias (Fitting 1991), her utopian model has never been specifically examined as such, however. The arguable ascendency of right-wing politics today demands that a spotlight be placed on the dreams inspiring this movement. A critical examination of Rand's utopia not only becomes a way to examine her philosophy but also suggests analytic tools for examining the potential credibility of utopian visions in general. Utopias offered normatively as the way things should be done invite vigorous assessment. There are three purposes, then, for this article: to describe the structure and dynamics of her utopian world, to critique it, and finally to consider vigorous methods for utopian analysis and criticism. Thus, the first section recaps the plot leading up to the revelation of the utopia, followed by the second section, which describes the structure and principles of her utopia. The third section is an extended critical analysis of her model, while the fourth draws lessons from this study in assessing utopian schemes.

Atlas Shrugged: The Plot Precis

The plot of Atlas Shrugged centers on the struggle for the heart and soul of Dagny Taggart, an heir to the Taggart Transcontinental railroad. She is the real operating brains and muscle behind the railroad, which is headed by her vapid older brother. The story plays out in the context of an American society that is increasingly following the rest of the world into economic and moral collapse, as the state is taken over by bureaucrats driven to hamstring the economy and redistribute the wealth, while the culture is brought under the sway of intellectuals who emphasize mysticism and socialism. Dagny is one of the competent, risk-taking, achievement-driven few who make things happen and, in her case, keeps the railroad running against ever mounting opposition from politicians, her brother, and her class. In spite of her best efforts, though, things continue to fall apart. Mysteriously during this time, the few competent, risk-taking, achievement-driven captains of industrial capitalism seem to be simply disappearing one by one, taking with them their brains and can-do ability while leaving their former enterprises empty, valueless shells. It is like a Destroyer is taking the best away.

At one point in her travels, Dagny accidentally stumbles across the skeleton of a machine that she recognizes can make energy out of the atmosphere, and she begins a quest to discover its origins as well as rebuild its functioning. …

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