At the time I was the only person on the planet, apparently who had never heard of Ayn Rand or “Atlas Shrugged.” But I saw they had a scholarship for $1,000 with a deadline a week away and I needed money. So I read the entirety of Atlas Shrugged in 5 days and wrote the following draft paper which, when edited, I sent in on deadline. I do not recommend replication of this attempt. However the experience was formative in distilling down the textual narrative, minus the objectivism, into an “Atlas Shrugged” scenario which became one of my earliest examples of feedback thinking six years after this essay and three years before discovering system dynamics. (Ed. 10/3/2023)
I finished the essay for the Atlas Shrugged scholarship contest. It’s due today but I can submit it online. If anyone has time to give it a quick once over and point out any glaring grammatical errors or structure problems I would appreciate it. I have a post to make on the similarities I’ve found between Atlas Shrugged and the Matrix, but that’s another topic. Also, are tab indentions standard when beginning paragraphs in essays? I’m an anti-tab man myself, but not sure what the correct format is in an essay.
Topic Selected: In Atlas Shrugged, the heroes want to make money while the villains want, on the surface at least, to have money. What is the difference in the views of money held by the two groups? Do their differing views of money have deeper philosophical roots? Explain your answer by reference to actual events in the novel.
Draft Essay Response: In Atlas Shrugged, the heroes wish to make money while the villains want it, the same end accomplished by two very different means. The difference between means is the core conflict of the novel, the difference between how heroes and villains perceive value: in the individual who produces or the production itself and how the public consumes it. The villain’s failed philosophy mirrors real-world socialist movements seeking to separate the producer from the produced by claiming that money, goods, businesses, machines, and art have value simply by existing. Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s unapologetic response to that argument and the strongest credo of capitalism before or since: that true value rests in the individual who produces the goods, invent the machines, and creates the art – not in the goods, machines, or works of art themselves. In Atlas Shrugged, this conflict is symbolized by the struggle to obtain “motive power”, the trains and locomotives that keep the country running, even as the nation verges on collapse. The villains want the benefit of the railroads while tearing down the industries that make transportation possible just as they want money, art, and machines while systematically destroying the very motive power, the individuals, who made those things possible.
To eliminate the objective value of producers the alliance of philosophers, media, and politicians portray success in business as a sin, not a virtue. Accumulation of money is granted as the only practicable aim of industry and since wealth is a vice then businessmen must be corrupt. Successful businessmen are expected to suffer the disdain of the public as their penance for success. Only apologists like Mr. Mowen who are quick to point out they have no motive in business to make money, only to serve the public good, are considered virtuous even as their businesses fail. So successful is the promulgation of this vital lie that few aside from Galt, Francisco, and Danneskjold recognize the absurdity of the argument or have the willingness to confront the premise. When Dr. Ferris asks Rearden “What do you care, so long as you make money?” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 436) he is relying on Rearden accepting the falsehood unchallenged, that to be in business for anything but the accumulation of money, and by extension to not sell metal to Project X would be impractical. That Rearden does not accept this premise is his strength, that he is unwilling to confront it until his trial his weakness. Dagny herself suffers from the same vital lie and asks Francisco “If you didn’t want to make money, what possible motive could you have had?” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 120) Rather than answering her Francisco responds only as he’s leaving “You have a great deal of courage, Dagny. Some day, you’ll have enough of it.” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 126) The courage he speaks of is the courage to confront the lie and expose the absurdity of the system. But if the accumulation of money is not the motive power of the producer, what is? Ellis Wyatt, in the valley, answers “What greater wealth is there than to own your own life and to spend it on growing?” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 722) To the looters money or businesses seized are the end itself, but to the strikers, it is the activity of earning, of challenging oneself, that has objective value. This is why after her time in the valley Dangy feels more pride in the few gold dollars earned there than at a five hundred thousand dollar check handed her by Mr. Thompson. Dagny realizes that she can accomplish more of value for herself and others with the gold dollars in the valley of Atlantis than printed money provided by those who took it with a gun in the land of the looters.
The villains of Atlas Shrugged seek to remove the motive power behind art as well as money through the intelligentsia. At Lillian Rearden’s, party three individuals Eubank, Pritchett, and Liddy articulate this philosophy respectively “Plot is a primitive vulgarity in literature”, “Logic is a primitive vulgarity in philosophy” and “…melody is a primitive vulgarity in music” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 134). The villains only value that which is produced all while trying to claim that the producers have no hand in creating that good. This attack on the motive power behind literature, philosophy, and music is answered by Richard Halley when asked his opinion of the current artists in the outside world: “he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 783). To Richard there is no value in the music itself but only in the process of creating it and an audience who understands what it took to create it. Rand’s premise is that capitalism is not only an approach of economics but of art and philosophy as well. The producers of great works in thought or culture are businessmen in their own right trading years of dedication to a profession to an educated audience who acknowledges the value of their production.
Throughout the novel, the conflict over motive power is also portrayed by the abandonment of machines. “On her way through the plant, she had seen an enormous piece of machinery left abandoned in a corner of the yard. It had been a precision machine tool once, long ago, of a kind that could not be bought anywhere now. It had not been worn out; it had been rotted by neglect, eaten by rust and the black drippings of a dirty oil” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 64). To those who simply wish to have money, the machines are the ends of that goal; to be seized by regulation or looting. The strikers understand that machines have no motive power to create value without the businessman or engineer behind them. John Galt promises to turn off the world motor and accomplishes this not by attacking industry but by removing the industrialists. He proves that a machine or business has no value and can produce no value without the engineer or capitalist maintaining it. Just as Prometheus should have done John Galt has removed the fire of the world until mankind calls off its vultures. The fire is the motive power, the flame of reason that creates good works.
In the final scene of the novel, Eddie Williers, representing a public struggling to understand Galt’s message fails to restart the Comet for lack of a skilled engineer. His is the observation of the common man, too late to save the train or the nation from collapse “business and earning a living and that in man which makes it possible – that is the best within us, that was the thing to defend” (Rand Atlas Shrugged 1166). The “that” that Eddie refers to is the motive power within the heroes of Atlas Shrugged, the great industrialists, musicians, actors, judges, doctors, scions and sons of nobility who went on strike to prove the point that there is a difference in making a thing and in having it.