I just read Atlas Shrugged. It was my third attempt in 20 years. It took me five weeks of fierce determination. If you’ve mulled reading the book, I may be able to add precious days to your span on this mortal coil. (WARNING: The rest of this little essay is pure, unalloyed spoiler.)
Dagny Taggart runs a transcontinental railroad company. Dagny is slim, elegant, bold. In her spare time, she’s writing a 1,168-page novel in which she has sex with three different slim, elegant, bold men. She’s not a slut, mind you, nor horny as a rabbit during the rut.
No, she has sex with each man because she agrees with his philosophy, best summarized thus: I am the most important being in the universe, and my pleasure is the goal of the universe, so leave me alone.
Dagny has sex in her youth with Francisco D’Anconia, heir to an historic copper fortune and the richest man on earth, who’s also writing a 1,168-page novel.
Dagny has sex repeatedly with Hank Rearden, a rich (unhappily married) steel magnate, who, in his spare time, is writing a 1,168-page novel.
And finally, Dagny has sex with John Galt, the most interesting man in the world (who’s not pushing Dos Equis), but who IS writing an 1,168-page novel which, like the others’, contains a mix of economics, philosophy, daily news and sex. It’s basically the Huffington Post, in book form.
Galt has worked as a laborer for Dagny’s company for 12 years, in the same building as she, though Dagny doesn’t know it. In his spare time, Galt works to shut down the economy of the entire world by getting a handful of effective producers to abandon their life’s work and to defect to Galt’s Gulch, an idyllic hideaway in the mountains.
Is it just coincidence that each svelte, ingenious, wealthy member of this foursome has all of this amazing perfect sex while running his or her massive business, and writing a 1,168-page novel?
No, not coincidence: It’s Ayn Rand.
Miss Rand (whose first name is pronounced any way you please) is the author of a 1,168-page novel called Atlas Shrugged. She’s her own inspiration for each of these characters. So, in a very real sense, Atlas Shrugged is about a svelte genius who wants to be left alone, to fantasize about an industrial Utopia while having sex with herself.
When you realize that all of the leading heroic characters are merely projections of Rand’s inner ME, it explains why neither D’Anconia, Rearden nor Galt stays jealous long when he learns that someone’s been plowing with his heifer, so to speak.
Meanwhile Galt, convinced that God and government (only one of which exists) has destroyed humanity, sets out to set things right by destroying everything else.
Although his name drips from every lip, Galt remains a ghost until Miss Rand adequately prepares us with hundreds upon hundreds of pages of expository dialogue, interrupted by occasional action. That’s a good thing, because when Galt finally shows up, he has a lot to say and we don’t want to miss a precious word of it. So, by the time you get to his 80-page radio speech near the end of the book, you’re thinking: “Bring it on, Galt. I can read until you’re blue in the face. Miss Rand has trained me.”
Atlas Shrugged takes a frank look at what human nature has done to the world — empowering the most venal, and cowing the masses into quivering inertia by establishing centralized, all-controlling governments staffed by self-loathing idiots. Who can argue with that thesis?
Meanwhile, a league of supermen convenes in a secret lair, awaiting the collapse, so they can return triumphantly to society and build a just and free world, where slim, elegant, bold industrialists paw at each other like rabbits during the rut.
Rand’s philosophy rests on the notion that satisfying your own desire is the highest and best use of your time. Yet even in her own fictional novel, she can’t fabricate more than a handful of people for whom this habit leads to wealth, happiness and lots of sex with lean, wealthy, brilliant people.
By the end of the book, you’re pretty sure that when Galt’s League of Genius returns from exile to rebuild society, they’ll have to kill everyone else to make a fresh start of it. That’s assuming society doesn’t kill them first.
While Ayn Rand has become a secular goddess for libertarians, she’s really no different than our modern Progressives who stake their future on the impeccable wisdom of a narrow elite, while damning the masses for peeing in the pristine pool of human potential. In other words, she relies on the sovereignty of humanity to save the world, while grumbling that so few actual persons have expressed human nature in its sweet, crystalline form.
If you still find that you must read Atlas Shrugged, I recommend the Kindle version, rather than the dead-tree. At least then you can hold 1,168 pages in just one hand, so it’s less likely to suck your soul through the sinew of your chest as you contemplate the looming mass of pulp, the brevity of life, and the joyous things you might be doing if you were not pinned to the couch by Ayn Rand.