Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged Business Style

Svmplv By Svmplv, 12th Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Business, Finance & Law

A short review and analysis of the business owners in Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged introduces two very distinct sets of characters; these businessmen operate very differently from each other in life and in industry. The novel celebrates free enterprise while providing perspectives on human relationships, business morals and ethics, intellectual power and the concept of self-sufficiency.

In the novel, Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart, the industrial geniuses, are pitted against James Taggart (Dagny’s Brother) and Orren Boyle, the industrial looters. Both sets of characters are wealthy in their own right. However, they each display fundamental differences in how they operate. Henry and Dagny are both self-motivated, and succeed because of their pure love for business and intellectual prowess. They are not afraid to do what is necessary to achieve the desired results; forfeiture is not an option. They work purely for success, and their core belief of self-sufficiency is borne out in the text,”I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I made my money by my own effort.”(pg.444-445)

Henry and Dagny thrive off of material and financial achievement, not public acceptance or spiritual goals.”We haven't any spiritual goals or qualities. All we’re after is material things. Thats all we care about.”(pg 87)

In stark contrast, Orren Boyle and James Taggart built wealth by looting others and pulling government favors,”his gift of “making railroads popular”, his “good press”, his “Washington ability”. He seemed unusually skillful at obtaining favors from the legislature.”(pg 55) James and Orren opt to shirk responsibility and commitment and manipulate others to make new rules in their favor rather than simply working hard to achieve success. They were both handed wealth and positions of power unlike Henry and Dagny who had to strive to make their way to the top. James and Orren play the game of the looters, and rely solely on their network of business and political connections to garner success. Whereas Henry and Dagny rely on their intellectual abilities to succeed in their endeavors, regardless of who they know. This is best illustrated when Orren and James argue over their Washington connections,”I’ve got my own friends in Washington. Friends money can’t buy-just like yours Jimmy.”(pg 366) In contrast ,Henry and Dagny cherish the sacrifices they made to get where they are, without resorting to ruthless tactics.

The motivations and interactions of key players in the novel help define the core principles of business in Atlas Shrugged, such as strong moral values, free enterprise, and intellectual capability among others. These lofty ideals represent all that is good in business. However, Atlas Shrugged is not a mere celebration of business, it also subtly explores Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism.

Ayn Rand defines this principle as, “a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit...The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights.” (www.AynRand.org) Ironically, some of the events depicted in the novel are contrary to this core principle in Rand’s philosophy.

For example, Directive 10-289, the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog rule, the Railroad Unification Act and the Equal Opportunity Bill, all seek to limit business productivity for “public good”. James Taggart and Orren Boyle embody characteristics contrary to Ayn Rand’s principle. They use political pull to pass legislature that seeks to hinder any type of productivity or innovation. As looters, they run the country as oligarchs who use “public good” and “social cause” as a front to justify the blind robbery of the nation’s top enterprises. Specifically James Taggart and Orren Boyle persuade Wesley Mouch to double-cross Henry Rearden in order to be appointed head of the National Economic Board. Like puppeteers they use Wesley to craft laws that kill any and all industrial competition, effectively running the economy into the ground.

Laissez faire capitalism can only be made possible if our minds are free, free to think, free to build, free to dream as the mind is what creates wealth. We must set our minds free in order to do create wealth. This idea of a “free mind” is a broader theme that runs throughout Atlas Shrugged. Rand deliberately inserts these events to highlight what happens to society when men choose to deal with one another “as victims and executioners.”

In the novel, true businessmen are free-minded, productive thinkers. Industrial tycoon, Francisco D’ Anconia slowly and deliberately destroyed his empire built up over generations, in order to be admitted into the a hidden retreat for intellectual. Ellis Wyatt, another magnate set fire to his oil fields that had been the marvel of modern industry, so that he could enter the valley. John Galt gave up a motor whose technology would’ve revolutionized the world, all to retreat into the valley of the minds. Each of these great thinkers had to relinquish his greatest material achievements to free himself and join the strike of the minds against the restrictions imposed by the looters. Like the mythological Atlas, these are the free minds that held up the world.

In contrast, the “villains” of the novel, namely Dr.Ferris, Wesley Mouch, James Taggart, and Orren Boyle, display a lack of rational thinking and refuse to exercise reason or logic. It is this irrational manner of thinking in which they operate that causes them to make absurd decisions, “No new devices, inventions,products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold.”(pg.497)

James and Orren work hard to rule based on brute force and indadvertedly create destitution.They teach that any personal motivation or want placed above the “need of the public” is one of the highest social crimes a person can commit in the eyes of the public, “Look at the fortune he’s made. Has he ever given anything in return. Has he ever known any sign of social conscience?”(pg.213) Their philosophy states that we should all work to provide for the need of the public and underprivileged, “Everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need.”(pg.607) They preach that using basic logic and rational thinking are ways of the primitive past, and that people should just accept what they are told, everything else is merely an illusion of the mind.

These deep contrasts between the free mind and irrational thinking makes Ayn Rand’s message: that we each have a right to be free, think free, and pursue our own happiness without any moral sanctions or involuntary sacrifice, resonate lucidly and profoundly.

Atlas Shrugged as a whole presents business as a moral choice. The novel provokes us to reflect on our own moral standard, and forces us to recognize our right to freedom and happiness. Ayn Rand accomplishes this through characterization on an emotional and metaphysical level. We as readers learn what motivates these characters, how they feel, think, and their individual moral code. These rich and complex ideas create a definite persona and this is what allows us the reader to clearly see the deeper meaning in the novel. Atlas Shrugged is not a profound novel solely because of the concepts it presents, but because it readily applies to the world today. Ayn Rand’s principles have stood the test of time and continue to influence the world, one reader at a time.

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