Atlas Shrugged

Willem de Kooning with Harold Rosenberg, Revenge (in-text plate, folio 8) from 21 Etchings and Poems, 1960

Atlas Shrugged


Commentary on the book by Ayn Rand.

“Who is John Galt?” is the question that appeared on several billboards throughout Brazilian cities last year.[I] The answer to that question is both simple and complex: it's simple because John Galt is a character in the book Atlas Shrugged, written by the writer and activist Ayn Rand and published in 1957, translated in Brazil in two different editions: Who is John Galt?, and now how Atlas Shrugged.

The complex answer concerns John Galt's influence on society. Although Ayn Rand's writings are not widespread in Brazil, John Galt is an American icon. According to data from the Ayn Rand Institute, her books have sold 30 million copies[ii]. Wikipedia has a list of well-known people influenced by it, including its founder.[iii]. Penn State University publishes the journal The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which is a space where your work can be discussed, analyzed and criticized in a peer review system.

The question “Who is John Galt?” relates to the question “Who is Ayn Rand?” For those who recognize the name of the founder of Objectivism, her reputation precedes her. Freedom paragon or cult leader? Herald of enlightened selfishness or hypocritical fraud? One thing is certain: she had a strong personality and lived off controversy. It is almost impossible to remain neutral towards her. Her life is much discussed in biographies – one of which, the scholarly biography of Jennifer Burns, is aptly titled The Goddess of Market (“The Goddess of the Market”).[iv] Therefore, I already advance that my evaluation tends not to be very positive because of my disagreements. I'm not part of her primary target demographic. However, that was not why I wrote this text.

I already knew about Rand's reputation and so I avoided her. But I have a research project on the evolution of the perception of the entrepreneur in economic thought and how he became a “hero” of capitalism. This change occurred not only because of academic discussions. Public intellectuals were important, something some scientists tend to overlook. A layman wanting to know about something will throw it into the search bar and the first result is likely to be Wikipedia rather than an academic article. And Rand was definitely a big influence in shaping the entrepreneur-as-hero narrative. Zizek argued that there is something revolutionary about their apparent conformism.[v]

A brief biographical sketch: born in 1905 to a wealthy Jewish family residing in St. Petersburg, Russia, as Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum. Both Jennifer Burns and Andrea Heller's biographies report that her ideas about selfishness as a virtue emerged early in her childhood, as well as her passion for cinema and literature. She witnessed the Russian Revolution at age 12 and her family never regained the wealth she once had. She migrated to the United States in 1926, dreaming of working in Hollywood. Upon arriving in New York, bound for California, she changed her name to Ayn ​​Rand, to emphasize her new life. Upon arriving in California, she landed an internship with Cecil B. DeMile. From then on, she would become a writer and activist, building a large network of supporters and readers.

She has spread her ideas through fiction and non-fiction books, but her fiction books reach farther. Among her works of fiction are We the Living (1934, semi-autobiographical work about his hardships in Soviet Russia), chant (1938) East (1943) and his best-known work Atlas Shrugged/Who is John Galt, which can be considered the synthesis of his philosophical ideas in the form of a novel. If Georg Lukács defined the novel as the bourgeois epic[vi], Atlas Shrugged definitely takes that definition one step further.

For this text, I will focus on Atlas Shrugged itself (hereinafter AS, because I have read the English edition published by Signet[vii]). I will strive to keep references to Rand's biography to a minimum, although understanding the context of Rand's life explains a lot about AS.

The two most important characters in the book are Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Dagny is vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad that has existed for decades, founded by patriarch Nathan Taggart, a man who built his fortune from nothing, through sheer effort. Hank is president of Rearden Steel and creator of the miraculous Rearden metal, which is sure to revolutionize steelmaking. They are the heroes whose development we follow.

They are complemented by Eddie Willers, Dagny's main helper and who supports her unconditionally; Francisco d'Anconia, heir to D'Anconia Copper, playboy extraordinaire; and, of course, John Galt, a figure who has become a mysterious and fearsome force.

Dagny and Hank are characters who, above all, are passionate about what they do. They refuse to spend their valuable money on conspicuous consumption. They are always running after the best raw material, the best workers. Hank refuses to commit fraud. In a rather interesting scene, Dagny is lost in the middle of the United States and yet sees opportunities to improve small-town production through a better transportation system. Rand wrote them to be achievers in the purest sense of the word, and that includes intolerance of mediocrity.

Such mediocrity is present in the villains of the story: James Taggart, Dagny's brother and president of the company, unable to make the necessary decisions to make the company prosper; Wesley Mouch, Hank's lobbyist and later traitor; doctor Floyd Ferris, a biologist who denounces the concept of rationality itself, who just wants more power over others; and Robert Stadler, a brilliant physicist who gave his gifts to the collectivist state.

In the novel, the United States is a productive island surrounded by a sea of ​​collectivism. All countries in the world have become “People's Republics” and their economies are in shambles. Even the United States is moving in the same direction, with laws being enacted involving the seizure of producer assets, wage and employment freezes, and the introduction of eastern soybeans into the diet.

Heroes need to be strong people and make unpopular decisions. They resist the attempts oflooters[viii]” from the government to appropriate their creations. Charity works are seen as an insult because, in the end, they are making what they have created available to people who don't deserve it. The producer owes nothing to anyone, not workers, not the government, not even his shareholders. He must do things for himself.

When Hank is called to account for the people he is accountable to, he responds, “Only a man who has never done an honest day's work in his life would think or say that… You wouldn't understand if I said that the man who works, works for himself, even if he carries all the assholes like you. Now I think you're thinking: go ahead, say I'm mean, that I'm selfish, arrogant, cruel. I am. And I want nothing to do with this nonsense of working for others.”

Dagny and Hank represent the average achiever. After all, regardless of ideological affiliation, who has never felt harassed when filling out the federal revenue statement? Or with a view from the health agency? Or had to deal with a troublesome employee? By giving them the role of protagonists, Rand creates an artifice through which the reader can identify with their struggles and desires. The entrepreneur does not enter into his business just to profit, but to express himself. Heroic companies are named after their founders, while villains have anonymous names. The artist and the entrepreneur are brothers.

But they are not perfect.

The first to draw attention to this is Francisco. The only relevant non-American character in the work, Francisco is the heir and tycoon of the copper plant built by his ancestor who fled the Spanish Inquisition to Argentina. There, each generation of d'Anconias made the business grow. You are not born a d'Anconia, you become one. And Francisco had a lot of potential. Dagny's childhood friend and first love, she always commented that whatever Francisco did, no matter if he was a rookie, he easily outmatched Dagny. He himself says “Dagny, there is nothing of greater importance in life than how well you do your job”.

But something changes in him. Francisco becomes a playboy, interested in singing women and throwing extravagant parties. Not only that, he uses his monopoly on copper to crash the copper market, even if it means the destruction of his business. This disappoints Dagny, but there is a reason. He becomes eloquent. His speech about money is one of the best known parts of the book. “To love a thing is to know and love its nature. By loving money is knowing and loving the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you…Money is the barometer of virtue” and the United States is the greatest nation in the world to recognize this, “a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, rewards…” and the “highest type of human being” is the “American industrialist”.

Dagny observes Francisco's love of life attitude, unable to understand why he took this path. Francisco replies that one day she will understand. “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you are faced with a contradiction, check your premises. You will see that one of them is wrong.”

Meanwhile, the other flawed producer in question, Hank, is having trouble. Its Rearden metal is viewed by the government as a “social hazard” because it will make its competitors obsolete and thwart EO plans. Yet the government wants your metal.

Hank and Dagny begin an affair. Hank was already married to Lilian, but she was a terrible woman. I didn't mind the romance because I don't share Rand's fetishes, so I won't dwell on that point, but adultery is shown to be sympathetic to both of them and Lilian is a woman who can be ignored as a drag on Hank.

Still, their partnership goes beyond romance. Dagny wants to build her railroad and connect the Atlantic to the Pacific, while Hank sees her as one of the few customers worthy of his metal. As she builds, she is still plagued by the phrase “Who is John Galt?” which has become commonplace across the country. So she decides to do the unthinkable: she names her railroad the John Galt Railroad.

She goes after the best people and the best material, including rumors that an engineer has invented an infinite energy engine – something perfect for Taggart Continental trains. Then begins a detective work behind the engine that takes Dagny through various parts of the United States. Meanwhile, infrastructure problems become more and more common. Lights across the country begin to go out and members of the working class begin to disappear. Many of the potential employees Dagny tries to hire say they can't take it because there's something they must do.

Hank, on the other hand, is harassed by government agencies. They use his affair with Dagny to blackmail him. He is forced to give up his Rearden metal, now "miracle metal". He does this to preserve Dagny's honor, which is an "exchange" - a selfish action rather than a false and evil altruistic "sacrifice".

With that I cover the first two parts. Summarizing AS is a difficult task because the book is over a thousand pages long and there are so many things going on, the relevance of which is often in doubt (I even fear I have forgotten something relevant, so I will try to focus on the points that are important to my argument). Rand loved to deliver huge speeches about the moral superiority of his heroes and the nihilistic hatred of his villains. Villains are evil or cowardly people (who end up evil like Robert). Their hypocrisy is infinite, when they announce that they do it for the common good, but they only think about themselves, or they are too stupid to realize that they are hypocrites. We have class-traitor bankers and industrialists who boast that they never make a profit.

Cooperatives, like Twentieth Century Motors, fail the moment they distribute power among workers, rather than relying on the decisions of a producer. The most sympathetic villain is trade unionist Fred Kinnan, who manages to get away with it in the end; many readers believe he was an undercover agent of Galt, though that's probably because Rand realized the book had gotten too big and swept it under the rug.

The decay of the economy is a consequence of the moral weakness of these people. No part of the book holds such disdain for these people as the scene in which one of Dagny's trains, taken over by the looters, is destroyed by several factors, including lack of maintenance and control (because all the productive members are gone). Everyone dies and Rand describes in detail how all the passengers on the train deserved to die.

Dagny goes into a depression, obviously not because of the death of these people, but because it was a hard blow to her company. It is at this point that Francisco tells her that she is her greatest enemy and that she must relinquish her railroad in the name of something greater. That's what he did with his mining company. However, Dagny loves her railroad too much to accept those words. This puts even more pressure on her to look for John Galt. She finally gets a lead that allows him to follow, flying a plane through the Colorado canyons. However, the plane breaks down and, in her last words as the plane crashes, Dagny screams “What the hell! Who is John Galt?”

The third part is the climax of the work. Dagny wakes up and realizes that she has been rescued from her fate. This rescuer brings her to his hiding place: a valley protected from the influence of the decadent world, a place where the producing elite can live their most intimate dreams alongside like-minded people, where there is abundance and passion. Atlantis, the Utopia of Greed, the Ravine of Galt. It doesn't matter the name, each one calls the place what they want, because it is heaven on earth. Soon Dagny discovers the true identity of her savior: John Galt.

Dagny is taken to a tour through the valley and learn how it works. There are no rules or laws, just the custom of never using the taboo word: “give”. No one gets anything for free, everyone works, including Dagny. Even when others pay something for her, she is given a commitment to pay her back.

Dagny also meets a lot of people and sees a few people she's met on her journey, from philosophers to artists. All of them creating wonderful and revolutionary things for the enjoyment of only their coreligionists in the valley. The outside world does not deserve your talents and creations, because, in your nature of looters e moochers, require them to make them available without paying due recognition. In conversation with Ellis Wyatt, oil tycoon, Dagny asks why he abandoned his position of privilege to stay in the valley, he replies “I now work for use, not profit – my use, not the profit of the looters. Only those who add to my life, not those who devour it, are my market.”

I will say more about the valley below. For now, suffice it to say that Galt and his associates present Dagny with an ultimatum: she must choose between loving her railroad and loving herself. The same goes for Hank, who is also expected in the valley as he makes the decision. That's what Francisco was trying to tell her and that's why he let his mining company fail, because there are better things out there. looters they cannot appropriate. All residents of the valley did this by joining the strike. That's why the main "villain" in Dagny's story is herself. And she must make the choice soon, for judgment day draws near.

As the villains prepare to carry out their plans, which are in reality the last gasps of collectivist society, John Galt takes control of official radio as the president is about to deliver a speech. Rand spent two years writing what may be the summation of his ideas not only philosophically but also about how to live life – his personal theory of everything, so to speak. She certainly wrote more philosophical works, but the center of her ideas is in the speech.

For John Galt there is a moral crisis in which the masters and producers of economics are exploited by others less brilliant than themselves. They are forced to give away their products, created with their sweat, blood and tears for a penny. These subhumans, looters e moochers, are those who hold political office and non-governmental organizations. They are aided by producers who have betrayed their calling and now conspire against the true heroes.

“You claim to harness the forces of inanimate matter, and yet you purpose to harness the minds of men who are able to achieve feats that you cannot. You proclaim that you cannot survive without us, and yet you propose to dictate the terms of our survival. You claim to need us, and yet you indulge the impertinence of asserting your right to rule over us by force - and expect that we, who are not afraid of that physical nature which fills you with terror, will be frightened at the sight of any clown. who convinced them to elect you to a chance to run us.”

That's why he went on strike. And not only him, but the entire production class. Galt proposes a more perfect path. Through human rationality, mastery over emotions can be achieved and man can become master of himself. A is A. "If devotion to truth is the true mark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking."

Demonstrating the influence of Rand's conversations with Ludwig von Mises, Galt proclaims that "man discovered that nature was a firm" and that the price system is fundamental to mastery over nature. Therefore, bureaucrats must not interfere.

Non-interference is central to John Galt's speech. As has been emphasized many, many times, the producer owes nothing to anyone, not the government, not his employees, not the shareholders, least of all the public and society. He creates because it is his nature to create. And being a master of himself, he can become a master of anything – that's why Francisco always beat Dagny when they were young, that's why the Valley's producers didn't mind taking on menial jobs. And also why Robert Stadler couldn't join them, even though he was a genius in physics: he was only a genius in physics. When selfishness illuminated by Objectivism is practiced, the result can only be the best for everyone else. This is the meaning of the Utopia of Covetousness in the Valley. That is why he ends with the sentence that summarizes his worldview: “I swear – on my life and on my love for it – that I will never live for another man nor ask any other man to live his for me”.

After the broadcast, the villains are cornered. Uprisings occur across the United States. The great American union begins to fall apart and the villains plead for days for John Galt to help them.

On the side of the heroes, Eddie has a revelation: the handyman with whom he built a friendship, portrayed at the beginning of the novel, at the end was John Galt disguised as a track worker, “the lowest of track workers”. Galt has, in fact, been watching Dagny and her railroad for 10 years, learning about her, falling in love with Dagny's passion.

With the riots continuing and the agony of collectivist society, the men in power are even more desperate. They beg Galt for help while threatening to kill him - as if that would help anything. Even when they succeed in locating and arresting him, they continue to be humbled by Galt's ability to expose the hoax and refuse to compromise his principles.

In fact, this part has the funniest part of the book. When Galt is cornered and they ask him if he would like to cooperate with them, he refuses, saying, “It took me three hours on the radio to tell you why. ” I laughed a lot here, because this is where the telenovela almost has a moment of self-awareness. This is almost, however.

In the end, Galt is rescued by his supporters. Dagny and Hank make a decision and achieve perfection and lead the group that rescues John Galt. Dagny even kills a worker who refused to make a decision. They save Galt, the villains are destroyed by their incompetence. The heroes return to the Vale to gather and plan the new society of heroes and creative individuals.

“'The road is clear,' said Galt. 'We are back in the world'. He raised his hand and over the desolate land he traced the dollar sign.”

And so the story ends and I am free of it. 1100 pages of a world made up of caricatures and idealizations fighting each other. Demonstrating influence of Soviet cinema, there is no room for middle ground, only Good and Evil and the readers should choose the Good defined by the author if you don't want to fail morally. Rand is always keen to emphasize that her heroes are beautiful, healthy people – no doubt something she learned in Hollywood, which has been parodied in films like The last great hero, with Arnold Schwarzenegger – and the villains are terrible, hypocritical people who never stop talking about how terrible and hypocritical they are. Rand embraced the style camp[ix] from the cinema. Whether you're a hero or a villain, everyone loves to deliver endless rants.

To a person outside the target demographic it may seem like a mystery how this book became so well known. The book doesn't have the worst prose, but it doesn't have all the artistic merit that its fans claim it has. I particularly hated the pirate Ragnar. GK Chesterton once said that a good novel says something about its story, while a bad one says something about its author.[X]. And AS says a lot about Rand. Having read Rand's biography before, I can say that Rand's life experiences greatly influenced his writing.

For example, at the end of the book, when the Galtian revolts spread, she narrates that a woman was admitted to a hospital with a broken jaw after a passer-by hit her after hearing her order her five-year-old son to give his best toys to his neighbors. . Heller's biography[xi] recounts a similar episode in Rand's life, when she was five years old, in which her mother told her that she would have to give up her toys for a year so that she could enjoy them. After a year, she was anxious to get her toys back, but her mother said that she had given them away. One of her philosophy origins, says Heller, was in this episode. Reality is stranger than fiction. I even imagine that if someone responded to this text by saying that this episode is apocryphal, they would not be surprised.

At heart, the book can be considered a parable about the dangers of collectivism, the creative power of the producer, and that creative destruction is something to be embraced rather than feared. The problem is that Rand had other expectations. In the afterword, she says that “nobody can tell me that men like the ones I write about don't exist. The fact that this book was written and published is proof of that.” It doesn't seem to me that she wrote this just as metaphorical encouragement. Because her expectations were not met, she went into depression. “John Galt wouldn't feel that way,” she confessed.

Objectivism remains an obscure doctrine. Even at liberal conferences, few authors and speakers will say "A is A" (and they may even be considered eccentric by other liberals). People promoting AS will focus on the “great men doing great things” and “work is empowering” story, conveniently obscuring the part about unlimited selfishness. Fans will read and reread AS and then donate to charity and see no contradiction. Most reviews don't consider how much Ayn Rand suffered from what Roland Barthes called "the author's death"[xii] — something Rand struggled with throughout her life, as she wanted her writings to have the effect she wanted.

The target demographic was entrepreneurs. As Burns wrote, many of them found the book revolutionary, just as it was to the source, in 1943. “Doubts and conflicts are a thing of the past”, “one day I recommended your books to my class and repeated the Oath of Allegiance to the Self”, “it was as if my eyes were opened for the first time”, among many others thousands of letters of support. Lisa Duggan reports that Rand has a huge readership in the LGBT community and other minorities for its anti-traditional message and focus on the deeds of great men.[xiii]. She cites the case of Belgian gay and social democratic theater director Ivo van Hove who made a play based on East, emphasizing Howard Roarke's struggle with mediocrity, after being inspired by the book.

At first glance, the main problem would be that the book inculcates the author's prejudices, as there is no good government action in this world (“governmental scientific research is a contradiction in terms”). Rand was no anarchist, but the people of the Vale are so enlightened that they don't need a government. Patriarch Taggart is praised for having killed a politician who opposed him. Meanwhile, in real life, Mariana Mazzucato has already demonstrated that risky technologies are not produced solely by brave entrepreneurs, but with investment consortia with huge amounts of public investment.[xiv]. Even if we consider Galt's infinite energy engine as a metaphor for limitless potential, it still needs to be supported by a vast network of supporters.

Fans also cite Ayn Rand as a forerunner of public choice theory.[xv]. Public choice is an approach that applies the rational economic man model to demonstrate that politicians are selfish and potentially harm the economy – this theory has been associated with a cynical view of politics. As Douglass North put it, the public choice erred in treating the state only as if it were a “giant robbing machine”.[xvi]. Only recently, with Elinor Ostrom's research on the commons, is public choice moving away from this stigma.[xvii].

Of course, this can be dismissed as "it's just fiction". But, as has been demonstrated, both Rand and his followers want to go further. I consider the most important part from the reader's point of view to be the revelation that Eddie's friend, the shortest trail worker, was John Galt in disguise. It is here that Galt, miracle engineer, the Übersmench Randian, who transforms every undertaking he undertakes into a work of art – from digging holes to engines with infinite energy – is also the Everyman everyday.

Who is John Galt? You are John Galt – or you can be if you follow his precepts, epitomized by John Galt's speech.

John Galt is the self idealized by the producer, to which the target reader can identify. This is a common practice of bestsellers, with examples of Bella Swan from the series Twilight, Wade Watts Number One Player and Kirito Kirigaya from Swort & Art Online. This shows another point overlooked by Rand's analysts: AS can also be seen as self-help fiction, such as O Alchemistby Paulo Coelho[xviii]. But Rand, unlike the other works cited, tried to create a new philosophy.

Rand's main argument is that if we remove the producers society falls[xx], that's why they should be celebrated. John Galt is a new Jesus Christ, Francisco his John the Baptist and Dagny his Pedro mixed with a gnostic Judas, who ends up accidentally betraying him, but redeems himself by saving him. Galt is incapable of hating his enemies, but neither does he feel pity or guilt. His rant has so many references to religion and how it's evil and anti-rational, but the only relevant religious reference is Hank's mother. Burns writes that Rand had planned to have a priest, named Amadeus, who learns the truth of Objectivism, but was cut because she thought religious people didn't deserve even that.[xx].

The prototype of the society that Rand saw as ideal is in the Vale. There, all producers produce what they want while sustaining the infrastructure. Nobody is ashamed to work as a plowman, a shop assistant, even if they are qualified for more complex professions. The free market runs on Midas Mulligan's bank gold and prices are extremely cheap. Not only industrialists are there, but also philosophers, academics, liberal professionals and even manual workers. All convinced by John Galt, who takes the role of mechanic. All with no place in the collectivist world.

However, as already noted by Alan Clardy, the place fails as a utopia.[xxx]. The Valley is, in reality, an escapist fantasy. Rand never faces the potential problems of his utopia, such as the very existence of public goods and the celebration of monopoly as something virtuous, beneficial to all. One of the villagers shows how he knocked out a competitor with a better product and gained a monopoly on steel in the valley and his competitor graciously accepted the result. He looks forward to the day when Hank Rearden defeats him, "he would triple the production of the whole world". Now I ask myself: what kind of businessman would simply accept being defeated in this way? What kind of CEO would accept losing his market niche just because a new competitor came along? The chance is that he will try to buy the competitor and remove him from the market, as is what happens in practice.

The practice distances itself from the fantastic utopia. If I can say anything positive about the book, it would be how it portrays the producers. They refuse to act corruptly, always look for the best material and personnel for their business, are frugal and do not spend at all. Honesty is non-negotiable. In contrast, many CEOs are always looking for ways to evade taxes, create forms of planned obsolescence – a dirty practice for the “objectivist” – and are hired precisely for corrupt activities.[xxiii].

As Miya Tokumitsu demonstrated, people with a passion for their work are constantly exploited by their employers, who force them to accept lower wages and benefits, because they imagine that “doing what they love” means they can receive lower wages.[xxiii]. They proliferate the bullshit Jobs[xxv], encourage a toxic work culture even when shorter work hours are more productive. Ironically, they turn to AS to be left alone while they are nowhere near John Galt.

For example, Lisa Duggan comments that Donald Trump is practically a Randian villain, “a businessman who resorts to clientelism and government manipulation, advocates interference in so-called free markets, practices bullying against big companies to do what he wants, who does not read. His public and personal corruption reflects his characters' routines as traitors and filth. Trump encouraged nationalism in his rhetoric and some of his policies, and he nods to religious conservatives — both ideologies Rand hated.” Still, he considered himself an Ayn Rand fan and his government was full of her other fans. Obviously they're not seeing what Rand wanted them to see. So what did they see?

I believe the answer lies with Eddie Willers, the story's most tragic character. Eddie shared Dagny's passion for the railroad. When the situation called for it he stepped forward and took the reins. But the narration and characters often point out that he doesn't have a talent, a je ne sais quois for that. In all the years that he talked to John Galt in disguise, it seems that Galt never commented on the Vale, even indirectly. As a result, Eddie ends the book trying to save the doomed railroad and fails. He is abandoned in the middle of nowhere, left for dead. Metaphorically or literally, whatever.

One of the emphases of Galt's speech is that a person is not born a Man - he becomes one through great effort. Francis emphasizes that he has become a d'Anconia. However, what the book demonstrates is a simple truth: not all human beings can become “Men”. This is obvious with villains, but it also applies to others who may be sympathetic to the message but lacking something. The bottom line is clear: Eddie Willers is not a Man. He is not included in "I swear - on my life and on my love for it - that I will never live for another man nor ask any other man to live his for me".

Since feeling sorry goes against "objectivist" doctrines, Galt cannot feel sorry for Eddie. Not being a Man, Eddie must work for the Men and is given two choices: worship the producers and dutifully follow their orders or question his place in the world, denying that A is A and be crushed. His dedication and kindness have no effect, for he is not a Man, having more in common with looters e moochers than with the heroes. That way, if Eddie ever becomes an obstacle, even accidentally, he must to be crushed – and it is a Man's duty to crush him.

Incidentally, Eddie's fate is still discussed today. In the 2014 film adaptation – an odyssey in its own right in the same vein as The Room, by Tommy Wiseau – during the final scene, the heroes make a point of commenting that they are going to rescue Eddie. For a person capable of subpoenaing any attempt to appropriate her characters' names (if Rand found out about a community that had John Galt in the title, she would send a cease and desist subpoena), the question remains whether Rand would accept it. such a change. Burns notes that a fan sent Rand a letter asking about Eddie and she replied that in a collectivist society Eddie would be exploited and in a free society he would prosper. Given her blueprint for a perfect society, it seems like an obvious answer.

Even if the argument is made that the producer works for the Eddies, the Eddies have no agency in this mode of production. Even though Rand had said that anyone could lift themselves out of poverty, this is contradicted by Eddie's fate in the novel. The Eddies are “them”, never “us”. Rand, on the other hand, corroborates this by defending the killing of Native American peoples because they were an obstacle to progress, “savages” who did not recognize property rights and who should be hunted for that reason. She was nominally against racism, calling it collectivism, but her characters were always monochromatic. It seems that she imagined that everyone will become rational like New York objectivists.

Nothing must stand between the producer and progress. If someone gets destroyed in the process, so be it. For this reason, she also criticized the environmentalist movement. Nature can only react to Galt's speech with deafening indifference. The coronavirus doesn't care what Galt proclaims as absolute truth. The message is clear: Destroy it. Destroy it. Transform it. We can even go so far as to reduce it to the absurd: destroy nature so that humans looters don't enjoy it. Climate change, destruction of ecosystems, none of that matters to the producer.

The inculcation of liberal prejudices is a minor problem when compared to the legitimization of the exploitation of man by “Man”. These more complicated issues are simply swept under the rug. The emphasis on limitless creative power overlooks numerous problems by emphasizing a narrative of selfish empowerment. The pandemic, which led to the installation of the aforementioned billboards, is one place where this is most obvious. “Essential workers” of the pandemic, who need to be sacrificed to maintain the ambition of producers, while they are begging for the opening, no matter the cost of deaths – after all, being a cost, it can be easily reorganized into other factors of production.

“Am I my brother's keeper?”[xxiv] Rand's answer to that question is "no," as much through the hypocrisy of the villains as it is through the ideals of the heroes. Could she also have answered that question that way? At the end of her life, after being abandoned because her lover, Nathan Branden, preferred a younger woman, and seeing her organizations crumble because of the scandal, she dedicated herself to taking care of her husband, Frank. He was always a brooding person and became an alcoholic after these events and was stricken with dementia. I wonder what she thought about it. The biographies aren't very clear, other than that Rand seemed to really love him after all this. Could she have committed an “objectivist” sin and feel guilt? Pity?

“Objectivist” ideals are based on the strength of one's mind. Everything can be controlled by a strong enough person, including emotions. That's why Rand's books are back on the agenda during crises like the current one. But aren't we putting too much emphasis on strength? I can compare it to a game called Spec Ops: The Line (2012), which tells the story of an American soldier, Martin Walker, fighting in a Dubai ravaged by sandstorms. Your influences are The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902) and the film Platoon (1986)

The game, which at first looks like an imperialist fantasy, becomes a psychological horror that makes players question why they are even playing the game in the first place. Walker reaches the last level after killing so many people and the antagonist (or his hallucination) comments, after Walker denies that he caused all the destruction in the game, “It takes a strong man to deny what's in front of him. And if the truth is undeniable, you create your own.”[xxv].

A is A. And if A is not A, something is wrong with the premises. But for a “strong” person A is A if he wants to be[xxviii]. In contrast, we are always bargaining with ourselves and this must be taken into account to build a better world – she herself writes in to the source “To love is to make exceptions”. As much as we fight emotions (or emotionalism, as Rand called it), it's often like fighting the storm. It cannot be won. Despite having left out many points and problems of the book in this text, I can say that reading AS along with Rand's biographies was not a waste of time, but I learned something about human nature.

*Rafael Galvão de Almeida holds a doctorate in economics from UFMG.


Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. Translation: Paulo Henriques Britto. São Paulo, Saraiva, 1216 pages.





[iv] Jennifer Burns. The Goddess of Market. Oxford: OUP, 2009.

[v] Slavoj Zizek. The Current Affairs of Ayn Rand. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, v. 3, no. 2, 2002.

[vi] Georg Lukacs. The Theory of Romance. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000.

[vii] Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet, 2005.

[viii] The translation is “looters”, but the term is so iconic that I decided to keep it for the text. The same goes for “moochers” (thieves).

[ix] Camp is film slang for cheesy, aesthetic exaggerations that are celebrated rather than dismissed. A huge money symbol in the Valley definitely fits into this. See at

[X] GK Chesterton. heretics. The entire chapter 15 can be applied to AS.

[xi] Anne C. Heller. Ayn Rand and the world she built. New York: Doubleday, 2009.

[xii] Roland Barthes. The author's death. In: the sound of the tongue. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2004.

[xiii] Lisa Duggan. Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed. Oakland: UCLA Press, 2019.

[xiv] Mariana Mazzucato. The Entrepreneurial State. São Paulo: Portfolio, 2014.

[xv] Bryan Caplan. Atlas Shrugged and Public Choice. In: Edward Youngis (ed.). Perspectives on Ayn Rand's Contributions to Economic and Business Thought. Lanham: Lexington, 2018.

[xvi] Interview with R. Spencer and D. Macpherson. Lives of Laureates. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014. I wrote about this in my doctoral thesis, Dreaming of Unity: Essays on the History of New Political Economy, UFMG, 2019.

[xvii] Mateus Cesar, Ivette Luna, Ellie Perkins. From tragedy to solution: the theoretical and empirical relevance of common resources in Brazil. New Economy, v. 30, no. 1, 2020.

[xviii] It may seem like it, but I am not using the term “self-help” pejoratively. Self-help, especially in the American tradition, has an interesting history, as it began as a workers' revolt against oppressive bosses, but has developed into what might be called "magical voluntarism", the idea that man only depends on himself for a living. means of your desire (Joshua Gunn, Dana Cloud. Agentic orientation as magical voluntarism. Communication Theory, v. 20, 2010). Watch the video from the WiseCrack channel.

[xx] Watch the fictional documentary A Day Without Mexicans (2004) for a similar premise that draws attention to the importance of Latino ethnicity in the United States.

[xx] Ironic when her group had a lot of cult characteristics, with her micromanaging her students' lives and her own cancel culture. I won't go into that because it's beside the point, I'm trying to judge AS on its merits only; however, Rand's scent permeates the entire book. To see The Ayn Rand Cult, by Jeff Walker (1995), but such a conclusion can be reached by reading even his most neutral biographies.

[xxx] Alan Clardy. Galt's Gulch: Ayn Rand's Utopian Delusion. Utopian Studies, v. 23, no. 1, 2012.

[xxiii] Ling Harris et al. Recruiting dark personalities for earnings management. Journal of Business Ethics, 2021.

[xxiii] Miya Tokumitsu. Do what you love: and other lessons about success. San Francisco: Regan Arts, 2016.

[xxv] David Graeber. Bullshit Jobs: The Theory. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

[xxiv] Genesis 4:9.

[xxv] View the full scene at

[xxviii] To the extent that some Objectivists reject quantum physics as it complicates the “A is A” relationship (Warren Gibson, Modern Physics vs. Objectivism. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, v. 13, no. 2, 2013).

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