In this great nation of the United States, we have long maintained our democracy on a strict, two-party platform. In more recent times, these two positions have been filled by the left-leaning Democrats and right-leaning Republicans, but, aspiring to exercise to the fullest their rights as participants in the democratic process, smaller third parties have always managed to remain in existence. Among these more peripheral groups, one of the most prominent has long been the Libertarians who, in the opinion of this writer, offer a captivatingly stringent ideological adherence to the fundamental principles of liberty and small government.
Today’s brand of Libertarian represents a diverse membership, but many holding such a political ideology often cite in their political development one common influence. A Russian immigrant to the United States in the early 1900s, Ayn Rand, ceaselessly propagating her philosophy of objectivism, would later write one of the century’s most influential novels, an ideologically dense yet invigorating tale she named Atlas Shrugged, which appears to have become the gospel of the contemporary libertarian movement.
Set an ulterior, dystopian United States, in a world that is increasingly Marxist, the novel follows the events that surround Dagny Taggart, an executive of her family’s transcontinental railroad company. As her brother, James, the president of the corporation, increasingly engages in reckless and destructive business choices, seemingly sympathizing with the notion and proponents of a totalitarian state, Dagny becomes the real director of the company, attempting to extend its longevity to the greatest extent possible. Our protagonist finds solidarity with another rational man of business, Hank Rearden, president of Rearden Metal, whose innovative steel, the strongest and most durable of its kind, she utilizes for the construction of a new section of the Taggart rail network. Time progresses, and a trend of successful businessman leaving their corporations to fall into despair exponentially develops, yet Dagny and Hank fight on in their endeavor to merely remain above water.
While the world around them continues to grow grimmer and increasingly less hopeful, Dagny and Hank find one spark of hope in an abandon factory: a revolutionary engine that possesses the capacity to transform static electricity from the atmosphere into the energy needed to power a locomotive. Unaware of but desperate to discover the inventor of this engine, they embark on a quest that takes them to various places in a now hellish American country. Eventually, miraculously they find themselves in Galt’s Gulch, where they become acquainted with various figures, from business, medicine, art, and other important social spheres, including the aforementioned businessmen, all who have left their respective trades to join John Galt, with whom the reader, at this point in the story, is already somewhat familiar as the result of the novel’s widespread street phrase, “Who is John Galt?”
As the novel closes, the storyline wraps the mystery and uncertainty of why these people are present in Galt’s Gulch and what the future of the nation, and indeed the world, will be all together into a coherent, revelatory, and gripping ending, but that, as well as the answer to the question of Mr. Galt’s identity, is for you, reader, to discover for yourself.
In all verity, Atlas Shrugged is not an easy read. Its length alone might frighten some readers, but requiring even more mental faculty than that necessary to trudge through the nearly thousand pages is that required to pore the dense philosophical dogma that lies therein. Why, then, do I still maintain a positive opinion of and recommend this novel? The story is one that, though gripping, is even more so absorbing for its excellent use and conveyance of Rand’s beliefs. As it has affected countless others, Atlas Shrugged has similarly influenced my philosophical outlook and beliefs.
There will be those who will wholeheartedly disagree with Ms. Rand and her writings, yet the novel discussed here is worth the read even for the mental debate it will inevitably spark. If you are up for the challenge, as any good reader should be, and are open to intellectual growth, give Atlas Shrugged a shot.
-Sebastian R., 11th grade