For A Woman Who Fled Soviet Russia In 1926, “Success” Was Perfectly Rational

by | Sep 25, 2007

“Joy is the goal of existence, and joy is not to be stumbled upon, but to be achieved, and the act of treason is to let its vision drown in the swamp of the moment’s torture.” -from Atlas Shrugged

The New York Times Business section is marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Rand celebrates industry and the power of individual contributions. To her, these are the central engines working for good in the world.

The novel begins in a time of recession. To save the economy, the hero, John Galt (an inventor of a revolutionary new motor powered by ambient static electricity), calls for a strike against government interference. Factories, farms and shops shut down. Riots break out as food becomes scarce.

Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”

The book was released to terrible reviews. Critics faulted its length, its philosophy and its literary ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of “greed is good.” Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.

According to the article, Rand’s fans include many captains of industry. James M. Kilts, who led turnarounds at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, said he encountered “Atlas” at “a time in college life when everybody was a nihilist, anti-establishment, and a collectivist.” He found her writing reassuring because it made success seem rational.