“Atlas Shrugged,” the magnum opus of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, depicts a world in which the productive, the efficacious and the creative are damned and shackled by those who think that the only way to be moral is to sacrifice, to give and to be selfless. It also shows what happens to human existence when those who produce the material and spiritual values we all take for granted choose to no longer be damned or shackled and instead go on strike.
For the celebration of the 50th anniversary of this inspirational novel’s publication, the University of Michigan Students of Objectivism would like to take a moment to discuss the historical significance of the novel’s message, especially its revolutionary new morality of rational egoism.
The call to serve others – whether a supernatural being, one’s neighbors or one’s nation – has gone on throughout human history, and the 21st century has not been an exception. In today’s political realm, it appears to be self-evident that the productive members of society must (not have the choice to, but must) give their fair share to the collective “greater good,” or in other words, give to those who haven’t produced. Examples of this coerced sacrifice can be seen in the current welfare states around the world, the calls for national service, the billions spent on foreign aid and altruistic wars and the tax systems that support these sacrifices. During both the sermon and the classroom lecture, we’re told to be our brother’s keeper, to serve the community, to avoid selfish achievement and to be altruistic.
But does life require altruism? Are other people and the obligatory satisfaction of their wants and needs the sole purpose of living? In other words, does a human being have a moral right to exist, to live and take action? If so, who ought to be the beneficiary of such action?
The idea of rational egoism, as presented in “Atlas Shrugged,” states that an individual has the moral right to exist, should be the beneficiary of his own action and should hold his own life as the standard of value. Using reason to figure out what goals are actually in one’s long-term self-interest and accomplishing these goals becomes a daily necessity. Instead of regarding this policy of selfishness as evil and immoral, rational egoism regards it as a profound achievement.
In a passage from character John Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand summarizes the essence of rational egoism: “To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem.”
The characters of the book either embody this spirit or anti-spirit of an egoist. Whether it’s dealing with the struggle between the producers and the looters or the courage to rely upon one’s own mind, “Atlas Shrugged” vividly depicts the heroic life of a moral, rational, selfish person and the consequences of an irrational, altruistic parasite. It’s no wonder that Rand characterized her philosophy as one “for living on Earth.”
In this novel, a type of selfishness is presented that is not irresponsible, brutish, moronic or irrational. Instead, this type of selfishness is principled, fulfilling, just and rational.
If readers would like to know more about this new morality, the University of Michigan Students of Objectivism suggests you pick up a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” and attend our speaker event, “Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism,” tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Angell Hall Auditorium A.
Andrew Sardone is an LSA senior and Roderick Fitts is an LSA sophomore. Sardone is the president and Fitts is the vice president of the University of Michigan Students of Objectivism.