With its clear message on the dangers of government over-reach, Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged has been an inspiration to generations of libertarians. If you want to understand just why a society where politicians make all the decisions is headed for disaster, this is the book for you. But does it hold a useful message for preppers, too?
If you’ve read a plot outline, or seen the movies, it might be hard to see a connection between Atlas Shrugged and prepping. After all, Rand’s heroes are mostly rich industrialists. Dagny Taggart is the operations manager of the transcontinental rail network her family owns. Hank Reardon’s steel business is one of the richest and most productive in the world. Ellis Wyatt is an oil baron. Even playboy Francisco d’Anconia has inherited a vast fortune built on the family copper mines.
Of course, many of the villains in Atlas Shrugged are rich industrialists too. What separates the good guys and bad guys in the book is that the good guys are willing to step in and get their hands dirty. When the Taggart terminal is paralyzed by a power failure, Dagny takes control of the situation and gets the trains running again. When a blast furnace breaks open, Reardon – helped by d’Anconia – puts his own life on the line helping to stop the flow of molten steel.
So, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged can and will act decisively to deal with a problem, which is definitely the right mindset for a prepper, but that’s not the lesson the book has for us.
The heroes also came up in life the hard way. Reardon started out as a steelworker, before buying his first mill. Dagny is a senior officer in her family’s business and Francisco owns his, but both started in menial jobs and worked their way up. By contrast, Dagny’s useless brother was parachuted straight into senior management. The heroes all had the real-world experience they needed to make the right decisions, and that’s a point we should all remember – but this isn’t the book’s lesson either.
If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself
The real lesson of Atlas Shrugged is simple – if you want to make sure that whatever’s done is in your best interests, you better do it yourself. You can’t rely on anyone else to do what’s best for you. Even if they’re doing what they think is best for you, they might be wrong. Other times they’ll be doing what they think is best for them – and there’s no guarantee they’re right about that, either. They might even be trying to do “the greatest good for the greatest number”. This is what the government in Atlas Shrugged is trying to do most of the time.
There are things only governments are good at doing. We need the government to run the military, because that’s not something we can do for ourselves. We need a court system that’s answerable to the people, so the law doesn’t depend on the interests of whoever owns it. We even need some infrastructure that governments are better at providing. A business, or a homeowners’ association, can finance a perfectly good road on its own property, but if you want a freeway that spans a continent the government can probably do that more effectively.
In most cases, though, the government isn’t very good at doing stuff. It’s too big. Its various parts aren’t good at talking to each other, so never mind the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing – the government is like a huge beached squid that has almost no control over its waving mass of tentacles.
And the government is always trying for an average solution that will work for millions of people who all have very different needs. Government programs are the ultimate in one-size-fits-none design. The government doesn’t really know what you want, because it isn’t you and it doesn’t really listen to what you tell it. This comes up all the time in Atlas Shrugged. The government tries to keep the railroads running – but it doesn’t know how to, and won’t listen to the people who run the railroads. It tries to maintain steel production – but it doesn’t know how to, and won’t listen to the people who run steel mills.
Related: The First Counties To Be Relieved By The Government After SHTF
Do you think the government knows what’s best for you? Of course not – that’s why you’re a prepper. If you believed that you’d think there was no point being prepared because you’d trust the government to look after you in an emergency.
Also, remember that the government – and I mean all levels, down to your town selectmen – isn’t thinking about what’s best for you. It’s trying to do what’s best for the average person, and the average person isn’t prepared. It’s very unlikely FEMA will bother with trying to confiscate your food stores – much easier for them to order a C-130 full of MREs from some government stockpile – but local authorities might. Sharing out your food could make things a little better for your neighbors, but it certainly won’t make them better for you.
Critics of the novel say it promotes selfishness. It’s true that its heroes are self-interested. They do what’s in their own interests. The thing is, that ends up being in everyone else’s interests, too. In one early scene, Dagny Taggart confronts her brother over a shipment of the new rail he ordered from Orren Boyle. James Taggart says it’s “unfair” that they always order rail from Hank Reardon and Boyle should get a fair chance. Dagny says she doesn’t care what’s fair; Reardon can deliver the rail on time, and Boyle can’t.
And, of course, Dagny is right. If Boyle doesn’t deliver, the railroad has to cut services. Service cuts mean oil doesn’t get distributed to the cities, factories shut down because they run out of parts, food rots in the fields because farmers can’t ship it to market. Giving the incompetent Boyle a “fair chance” hurts many other people, but always buying from Reardon keeps things running smoothly.
The core lesson of Atlas Shrugged is that we should do what we’re good at, and trade the products of our work fairly – because we deserve a fair reward for our work. It applies to preppers too. If you give away food to every refugee family that comes along, soon enough they’ll be hungry again – and so will you. If you feed them as payment for their labor in your fields you’ll grow more food and nobody has to go hungry. That’s not selfishness; it’s rational self-interest, it’s fair and it benefits everyone.
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BUT, do you really think that a starving desperate person who isn’t thinking clearly if at all, is going to think that? NOPE. They are gonna think me first and the gimme gimmies are going to be right behind them. My fear is someone is going to think “Well, if I can’t have it than no one can and here comes the flaming cocktails…
Never read it never saw it.
It’s a bit of a tome; but, here it is at no cost except your time.
That is a possibility; but, having noted the possible problem, you can plan to mitigate it, since even the lowly .22 rimfire can reach farther than normal people can toss a glass jar or bottle.
Sorry for any confusion…just meant that you have a right to protect your self and your goods from ANYONE who thnks they deserve it, including with guns ,if necessary. YOu never owe them anything. You share because YOU want to ,not because someone wants or needs what you have. Atlas Shrugged explains this better than I do.
OK, I misunderstood; but, firearms are not always the proper tool.
That may be true in a post SHTF WROL world; but, in the interim, it is likely not true in most places. I think Texas still allows use of lethal force to protect property; but, here in Ohio and in many other jurisdictions that is not the case. Here the use of lethal force for self defense requires that one be in fear of imminent death or severe bodily harm, and someone stealing your stuff and running off with it does not fit the bar.
True, and while you have no obligations to others, charity in some cases may still be the better path.
That is whatyour self protection is for…read guns
You lost me with that remark?
After having read the book in the 70’s, I have seen the movies with my MAG and own the DVD’s, and with some explanation for newcomers, the movies can also tell the message for those with no time to read that tome.
While Rand’s heroes are mostly rich industrialists, all of them are self made, the makers of their day, who provide jobs without using government largess and debt; but, like we individuals, are seen as a source of wealth to be used by unskilled, self important bureaucrats and politicians.
It probably helped that I’ve had the self reliance mindset as a kid, long before I read Rand’s books, where I found her objectivists philosophy interesting, especially as portrayed in Atlas Shrugged, although I found the message of Fountainhead to be a bit radical and off-putting.
If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself
Early roads often called turnpikes, were privately built toll roads, with the <turn Pike” as the gate, where tolls were collected and don’t even get me started on what I see as the fascist governments that are HOA’s.
I’ve worked as a volunteer with my county EMA for 20 years, and our mostly volunteer organization, can be trusted to help our citizens in an emergency; but, it comes down to a matter of scale where there simply are not enough people and resources to bail you out except over a long time scale, which is why that 72 hour kit as a minimum is so important, since the best efforts will still take time to get you help.
This is mostly a myth; but, perhaps could come to pass in some jurisdictions; but, certainly not here, and we’ve all been informed in no uncertain terms that this is the case. Doing otherwise is theft and is punishable by law.
If you mean sharing, as in my charity, I would disagree; but, if you mean confiscations and handouts, I would agree. It’s best that you check and know your local laws.
Actually it is selfishness; but, Ayn Rand penned another book: “The virtue of selfishness” that explains why selfishness is not a bad thing, and is in itself just rational self-interest, the core of what all of us should embrace.
This book’s provocative title was chosen because Rand was on a mission to overcome centuries of demonization. “In popular usage,” Rand writes, “the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
The exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests, a concept that does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
Personally I am ethical, moral, charitable, and yes; selfish.
Ayn Rand was a Rothschild mistress. Insert RED FLAG here! The premise of Atlas Shrugged was to have the elite burn down their own corporations in order to create a new system. Create the problem, provide the solution, and steer everything to your own agenda (Hegelian dialectic). “You don’t want to miss the opportunity of a crisis, because you can do things you couldn’t do otherwise.” Do you remember hearing that recently? Hillary and Rahm Emmanuel said that in the same week a few years ago!
I suspect that would have really surprised Frank O’Connor, her husband of 50 years.
RED FLAG indeed. The purpose was to burn it down rather than let it be stolen by government hacks who didn’t earn it, like Nurse Ratchet, AKA Pocahontas, AKA Elizabeth Warren who only wants 2% more from the wealthy. If I had that kind of money I would burn it in front of her, just to hear her envious cackle fade to silence.
I didn’t hear that before; but, it sounds like something those useless elitists would say, and in the current world spit out like it meant something.
As for being a Hegelian dialectic, that requires a thought process devoid of beliefs, feelings, and emotions, to arrive at a truth, something that Clinton and her ilk are incapable of.
“If you want it done right, do it yourself” is not even an aspect of a message in Atlas. The heroes in the book are happy to find competent people they can trust to work for them so they don’t have to do everything themselves.
Atlas is a rich and deep book, contrary to popular myth.
It also represents an entirely different way of looking at the world. Many people never quite understand Rand because they try to do it with the categories we all learned in school. If you’re curious to get the most out of it check out the “Atlas Project” videos on the Ayn Rand Institute’s youtube channel or the ‘campus’ at the website.
You do realize that metaphorically there is no difference in those statements, since competent people often hire other competent people, since often projects are too large for a single person or require the expertise of multiple disciplines.
Over my career I designed both electronic hardware and complex software to support it; but, I’m rather lost on the mechanical side of things, so the layout and production of PCB’s (printed circuit boards), and the design and construction of cases, and packaging required people whose wheelhouse was not mine.
The real point is that when politicians and government bureaucrats think they can take over the complex interactions of a company they do not understand, things always end up badly, often with the support of those with the knowledge, who throw in the towel or worse. It’s sort of the I made this and I’d rather vburn it down than let you take it from me.
As someone who read the book nearly 50 years ago, I’d never heard that myth; but, if you are short of tume, John Galt’s speech pretty much sets the tone.
This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. I am the man who has deprived you of victims and thus has destroyed your world, and if you wish to know why you are perishing—you who dread knowledge—I am the man who will now tell you.”
Or to listen in its entirety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN6JV2GXyvg
While he did not know it, nor did I at the time, my father was John Galt, so my perspective was not that from school; but, from the I can do anything and I’m only helpless if I decide to be version of life. My kids were brought up the same way, and they are all thriving.
I’m familiar with the Institute; but, hadn’t thought to look on YouTube, although that makes sense since you can find nearly anything & everything there.
The book promotes two great American falsehoods, that successful people are incredibly physically attractive, and that, left unregulated, business will naturally provide a comfortable living to all employees. Good working conditions only came about in America because of the struggle (sometimes war) waged by the Unions she despised. The American Union movement today exists principally as the AFSCME and the teachers unions, notice all the good middle class industrial jobs are gone.
Tried to watch the 3 part movie collection, the first movie is really good, the other 2 unwatchable, guess all the competent people involved with the 1st movie found their way to Galt’s Gulch.
The best thing I ever did was start my own business, I learned real fast Government regulations kill you so I went completely off book with it. There is a growing underground economy in America, in a way a salute to Ayn Rand’s ideas.
Her ideas aren’t common knowledge because Atlas Shrugged is a really long, boring, preachy, didactic and dull stab at a novel in which none of the characters are particularly real or interesting. Good to read if you’re laid up in a bodycast and your phone battery is dead.
Attractive? Only if you watched the movies.
Actually many employers will provide a comfortable living; but, too often you have an employee who is a slacker, and ruins it for others.
I worked more than 40 years with no Union, rarely wearing a tie; but, I had skills that were in demand, and as the demand changed I upgraded those skills.
All true; but, those jobs are still here in some places. Our local Honda plant, its R&D facility, and some of its local vendors provide more than 10,000 jobs, with good wages and benefits and no Union. The UAW approaches the employees on occasion; but, has been voted down every time, since they have nothing to offer.
I have the DVD set; but, at only $17.00 for 3 disks it was cheap.
I also liked the 1st movie, sort of liked the 2nd movie, and was following the production on line, and what happened was that since the first two movies made some money in the theaters, Hollywood money came in to fund the 3rd and as they say, the rest is history.
I started a business and we played by all of the rules; however, back then, most of our production labor was contract piecework, so my partner & I only had to do designs, packing and shipping of products.
I sold out to my partner when he wanted to move to AZ, and the company now has 40 employees and is large enough to have people to handle the paper work, so he pretty much still just does design, along with a small engineering staff.
The underground economy can be seen here at various guns shows, flea markets, and farmers markets, and the fact that some small businesses will cut you a break on price for cash. I of course would never do that!!! LOL
I read it long before phones came off the wall, and it did take a while. Some of the scenes, like the long train ride through the tunnel were indeed didactic and boring; but, I trudged through it and have a slightly different perspective than before I read it. There were definitely places that could have been shorter.
Thanks for your thoughts and perspective. My criticism of interesting and successful people always being very good looking applies to American Lit broadly, in my humble experience. Honestly, though, in college one year I worked as errand boy for a very successful and attractive couple who looked like Elvis and Dolly Parton and always dressed the part. Dolly used to pick me up in her Caddy after dark to cruise through the condo complexes they owned checking the common areas for burned out light bulbs I could replace. This was not a Union job…
OK, that’s understandable; but, all too often west coast (Hollywood) influences seem to take precedence on that, often by wealthy people whose only talents are memorizing words & pretending to be other people, so looking good and putting on airs above your real abilities is often important to them.
If they could afford the Caddy and were honest brokers with their clients and employees, that’s their business. Personally I’ve never been impressed with that kind of thing, with my first new car out of college, a Powder Blue, 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser that spent as much time off road as on. While powder blue wasn’t my first choice of color, it was available on the lot and they cut me a better deal because of that color. To be honest it didn’t look all that bad when covered in a patina of mud, that was often the case.
The summer between high school graduation and college I worked as a bus boy / gopher at a local greasy spoon restaurant (”The Coney Island Lunch” owned by a a Greek couple. They treated everyone OK and if I came early or stayed late they would also feed me and the other employees, so it was not a bad summer job. The owners ”Mister” & ”Misses” both worked hard (60-80 hours per week); but, they traded in their Caddy each year for a different color. I didn’t get it; but, it was not mine to judge.
I have nothing against Unions per se; but, have seen too many large unions take care of their executives, often at the loss to their members. I grew up in steel country and saw too many people laid off or permanently out of work because of outrageous demands. I recall that early unions were more concerned with workplace safety than pay scale; but, once supplanted by OSHA, MSHA, and other agencies, they had organizations that were too lucrative to abandon.
It was the same thing with organizations like the ”March of Dimes” raising money to attack ”Infantile Paralysis” (Poliomyelitis); but, with the eradication of Polio using the Salk & Sabin vaccines in the late 1950’s, they had to change their mission to keep collectin money to support the organization and its executives.
I have no doubt that there are other organizations that would do the same if their stated goals were ever completely met.
Great article, Mr. Mason! For all of it’s flaws, it is one of my favorite novels. My favorite scene is when Rearden’s metal is poured for the first time. He blows off his wife’s party to be there. Instead of the party his meaningful social interaction is a wordless moment with the foreman of the blast furnace, the only other person who understands the momentous occasion. If you never made something with another person, you won’t get it.
Great observation!!! I’ve been in that situation numerous times in my career, where a complex interaction of tricky or microsecond tight hardware and software interact to make something work, generally with the collaboration of another or others.
I share a patent that I think only the other engineer and I understood at the lowest functional level. The patent was an afterthought of the company attorneys; but, getting that intertwining of finely tuned hardware & software to finally work as designed was the real adrenalin rush, especially when we were warned that the difficulty of what we were doing was somewhere between hard & impossible. There is often nothing as satisfying as tweaking a circuit and related software, sometimes in a marathon session until you finally get it all to work.
I know people in other disciplines who have this same interaction and feelings of accomplishment.