Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Paean to American Liberty
ALL
The Anti-Intellectuality of Donald Trump: Why Ayn Rand Would Have Despised a President Trump
by Onkar Ghate | November 06, 2017
The Immigration Debate
by The Editors | April 17, 2017
Why Our Campuses Are Boiling over in Left-Wing Rage Instead of Discourse
by Steve Simpson | March 13, 2017
At Free-Speech Event, UCLA Tried to Ban My Book
by Elan Journo | February 11, 2017
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Ayn Rand at the Ford Hall Forum
by The Editors | June 18, 2015
Independence Day: What July 4 Really Means
by Tom Bowden | June 26, 2014
An Introduction to Objectivism
by Leonard Peikoff | 1995
Capitalism without Guilt
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2013
How The Welfare State Stole Christmas
by Yaron Brook | December 23, 2012
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Time to Read Ayn Rand?
by Keith Lockitch | October 19, 2012
Ayn Rand’s Appeal
by Onkar Ghate | August 21, 2012
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Paean to American Liberty
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand — Why Are You Still So Misunderstood?
by Don Watkins | February 02, 2012
How Did Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Predict an America Spinning Out of Control?
by Onkar Ghate | October 31, 2011
Atlas Shrugged: With America on the Brink, Should You “Go Galt” and Strike?
by Onkar Ghate | April 29, 2011
The Radicalness of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
by Onkar Ghate | April 25, 2011
The Tea Party Will Fail — Unless it Fully Embraces Individualism as a Moral Ideal
by Tom Bowden | January 21, 2011
Let’s Take Back Columbus Day
by Tom Bowden | October 08, 2010
Atlas Shrugged’s Timeless Moral: Profit-Making Is Virtue, Not Vice
by Yaron Brook | July 20, 2010
Why is Ayn Rand Still Relevant: Atlas Shrugged and Today’s World
by Yaron Brook | August 10, 2009
Is Rand Relevant?
by Yaron Brook | March 14, 2009
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
The Influence of Atlas Shrugged
by Yaron Brook | October 09, 2007
The Real Museum Looters
by Keith Lockitch | June 03, 2003
Ayn Rand's Ideas — An Introduction
by Onkar Ghate | June 02, 2003
Shame on Casey Martin
by Tom Bowden | January 31, 2001
The Joy of Football
by Tom Bowden | January 26, 2001
Whose Children Are They?
by Tom Bowden | January 05, 2000
Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial
by Leonard Peikoff | December 25, 1996
Cultural Update
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1978
The Moral Factor
by Ayn Rand | April 11, 1976
Metaphysics in Marble
by Mary Ann Sures | February and March 1969
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
Our Cultural Value-Deprivation
by Ayn Rand | April 10, 1966
The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 18, 1965
Is Atlas Shrugging?
by Ayn Rand | April 19, 1964
Racism
by Ayn Rand | September 1963
Through Your Most Grievous Fault
by Ayn Rand | August 19, 1962
The “New Intellectual”
by Ayn Rand | May 15, 1961

MORE FROM THE BLOG:

Culture And Society in Voice for Reason
Culture & SocietyMore

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Paean to American Liberty

by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012

It’s not often that an American election sparks debate about a philosopher. But ever since Mitt Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate, talk has turned to the ideas of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand.

Ryan is on record as being a fan of Rand’s, and although he has taken pains to distance himself from her entire philosophy, he continues to stress that her novel Atlas Shrugged “is a great novel.” Ryan is far from the only one who thinks so. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, Rand’s 1957 novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies.

But here’s something interesting: virtually all of those sales took place in the US. Why are so many Americans, from students to politicians, talking about Rand’s novel — and why are her books comparatively unknown in Europe?

The answer to both questions is the same: Atlas Shrugged is a hymn to the American spirit.

The American spirit is characterized by independence, individualism, political and economic freedom, and productive ambition. It’s the sense of life best summed up in the American Revolutionary motto “Don’t tread on Me.” It was this spirit that led so many Americans to rebel against the post 2008 expansion of state power. They didn’t just see big government as a threat to the economy: it was an affront to their whole conception of what America is about. After eight years of Bush and eight minutes of Obama, they were fed up with being tread upon.

Atlas speaks to this spirit. Set in a world eerily similar to ours — a world where the economy is crumbling, where government intervention is growing, and where productive individuals are denounced and drained for the sake of the unproductive — it tells the story of men and women who decide to stop being tread upon.

But the dramatic story contains a powerful intellectual punch: Atlas gives the American spirit a philosophic defense it has never had. The American spirit often has been attacked as atomistic, cruel, and materialistic. Atlas blasts any such notion. It shows that capitalism is a win-win system where all individuals are free to pursue their happiness. It shows that it is right for individuals to be concerned with their own happiness. And it shows that those who seek to “tread on you” — to control your life, redistribute your wealth, and mortgage your future — are morally wrong

It’s no accident, then, that Ayn Rand’s immense popularity in America has not crossed over to Europe. It’s for the same reason that Europeans largely embraced the government’s post-financial crisis interventionist policies — from bailouts to stimulus spending sprees to vast new regulatory powers — while Americans rebelled. Whatever motto best captures the European attitude toward life, “Don’t tread on me” is not it.

Ayn Rand wrote Atlas, in part, as a warning to Americans. She believed that, as early as 1890, America had veered from its free-market roots and was descending into statism. (She would have regarded as absurd the widely-held notion that America in the years before the financial crisis had anything resembling a free market.) To reverse that trend, Americans would have to translate their individualistic spirit into an explicit ideological program: one that upheld individualism and laissez-faire capitalism as moral and political ideals.

To succeed in this task, Rand argued, Americans would need to question and reject the alien idea of altruism. Altruism is the Old World doctrine that it’s your duty to live for others and renounce your own self-interest. In one form or another, this moral doctrine has been the justification for every welfare program. Other people need money for their retirement or healthcare, it’s claimed, and therefore they’re entitled to that money from you. The individual’s pursuit of his own happiness versus altruism — this is the choice facing America.

Although Rand was primarily speaking to Americans, she was not only speaking to Americans. The spirit of America, she held, is open to any individual willing to think. Today, as Europe is doubling down on the welfare state, that spirit, and the ideas of Atlas Shrugged, are needed more than ever.

About The Author

Don Watkins

Former Fellow (2006-2017), Ayn Rand Institute