Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is polled to be the second most influential book in Americans' lives, coming in second only to the Bible. Whether this statistic is skewed or not, there is no doubt that Rand’s longest work has had a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of its readers since its publication in 1957. It may be too soon to know if it stands the test of time, but it has certainly persevered with power and passion. It’s hard to understand how Atlas Shrugged has remained so popular while the views of its author remain so controversial. Forget the left-wing masses—many self-proclaimed libertarians avoid being associated with her last name. In most circles (even sympathetic ones), the Randian badge is not worn openly.
Furthermore, she is consistently attacked by critics who paint her philosophy of objectivism as radical, rudely selfish and dangerous to modern society. When most people today—even on the right—recognise the need for some form of welfare or safety net, how can one include Rand’s voice in modern discourse?
At the ASI’s annual Ayn Rand Lecture on Monday night, guest speaker David Sokol addressed an audience of almost 300 attendees and reminded all of them why Atlas Shrugged transcends the criticisms and attacks on objectivism.
Unlike most philosophers and economists, Rand was able to connect philosophy and fiction in a way that inspired people to observe and revere the power of individualism. As Sokol pointed out, the right to have hope for yourself and whatever you choose to build is going to win against any promise a government can make.
Even in the 1950’s, Rand could see what direction governments was heading—that entrapments were disguised as promises, as governments increasingly encroached on individual's rights and property:
(Bureaucrat) Floyd Ferris:"You honest men are such a problem and such a headache. But we knew you'd slip sooner or later . . . [and break one of our regulations] . . . this is just what we wanted."
Rearden: "You seem to be pleased about it."
Ferris: "Don't I have good reason to be?"
Rearden: "But, after all, I did break one of your laws."
Ferris: "Well, what do you think they're there for?"
Ferris: "Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed? We want them broken.”
Today, some of the world’s most important leaders are looking to snare businesses, paint them as the enemy, and project the idea that the state is responsible for the success of business, job growth, and any individual achievement. It's an uncomfortable and deeply flawed narrative—and fortunately, not a particularly successful one. Regardless of bureaucratic narrative, Atlas Shrugged continues to inspire individuals in a way that collectivist approaches can't come close to; as such, Rand and her philosophy have secured their place in modern society.
To see photos of the ASI's Ayn Rand Lecture, click here.