'Atlas Shrugged': With America on the brink, should you 'go Galt' and strike?
In the face of onslaught, the heroes of Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' (now in theaters) decided to stop working, retreat to a valley, and try to rebuild only when the country had collapsed. What we really need to reject, Rand advised, are the flawed moral ideals that cause our economic troubles.
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Now, if you’ve only seen the movie, the fact that "Atlas Shrugged" is not a political novel might surprise you. But the book’s point is that our plight is caused not by corrupt politicians (who are only a symptom) or some alleged flaw in human nature. It’s caused by the philosophic ideas and moral ideals most of us embrace.Skip to next paragraph
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“You have cried that man’s sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded,” novel hero John Galt declares to a country in crisis. “Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster.”
He elaborates: “You have sacrificed justice to mercy.” (For example, calls to make homeownership “accessible” to those who could not afford it and then bailouts and foreclosure freezes to spare them when they couldn’t pay.)
“You have sacrificed reason to faith.” (For example, attempts to prevent stem cell research on Biblical grounds or blind faith that Mr. Obama’s deliberately empty rhetoric about hope and change will magically produce prosperity.)
“You have sacrificed wealth to need.” (For example, Bush’s prescription drug benefit and Obamacare, both enacted because people needed “free” health care.)
“You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial.” (For example, attacks on Bill Gates for making a fortune; applause when he gives that fortune away.)
“You have sacrificed happiness to duty.” (For example, every president’s Kennedyesque exhortations to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”)
The result? “Why ... do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you? That world is not the product of your sins, it is the product and the image of your virtues. It is your moral ideal brought into reality....”
Must question our ideals
This is what "Atlas Shrugged" is asking us to question: our ideals. Rethink our convictions and philosophy of life from the ground up. Without doing so, it argues, we won’t escape further crises.
Strike, the book urges us, but intellectually, since to strike means to reject the fundamental terms of your opponents and assert your own.
This kind of thinking is difficult, Rand held, but necessary to enter the Atlantis depicted toward the end of "Atlas Shrugged" – “at least psychologically,” she wrote, “which is a precondition of the possibility ever to enter it existentially.”