Atlas Shrugged (criticism)

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Atlas Shrugged, the magnum opus of Ayn Rand, has been the subject of intense criticism, some of it scathing, and most of it arising from a superficial understanding of its theme and probably from irreconcilable opposition to Rand's political, social, and moral philosophy. The virulence of most of the criticism probably indicates that Miss Rand struck several sensitive nerves.

Contents

In the Popular Press

Barbara Branden (the first wife of Nathaniel Branden) made the following observation of the criticisms of Atlas Shrugged, as quoted by Harold Leiendecker of the ASPEC Writers' Workshop[1]:

The reviews of We the Living had been bad. The reviews of The Fountainhead had been worse. The reviews of Atlas Shrugged were savage.

Herewith a sample of the reviews, as compiled by Harold Leiendecker in his essay:

  • "Written out of hate." — Granville Hicks, The New York Times. Leiendecker notes that Hicks was, at the time of the publication of the novel, a spokesman for the Communist Party of New York State.
  • "Even the horse, it appears, cannot survive when liberals flourish" — The New Yorker. The context was a scene in which a farmer must draft a team of human laborers to pull a plow because draft animals are not available.
  • "It would be hard to find such a display of grotesque eccentricity outside an asylum. Galt is really arguing for a dictatorship." — Adam Kirsch, The Los Angeles Times
  • "Perfect in its immorality" — Gore Vidal
  • "Longer than life and twice as preposterous" — anonymous.
  • "Makes well-poisoning seem like one of the kindlier arts" — anonymous.

With regard to this last: "To poison the well" is a common proverb used to describe gross violations of trust, breaches of etiquette, gratuitous insults, or other acts of which one might justly say that one who commits acts of that kind could not more thoroughly earn the wrath or enmity of another person if that were his original intent. Thus the anonymous critic who compares Atlas Shrugged to an act of poisoning a well might simply consider that Miss Rand insulted him, his friends and associates, and/or his particular political philosophy so thoroughly that he could never forgive her for any consideration whatsoever.

At least one reviewer compared the novel to Adolf Hitler's political screed, Mein Kampf (German, "my struggle"), which he had written while serving a sentence of imprisonment after the failed Bierhalle Putsch.

Not all the reviews were unfavorable. John Chamberlain of The New York Herald-Tribune compared her work favorably to the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. In addition, Leiendecker found these two quotes:

  • "Rand is destined to rank in history as the outstanding novelist and profound philosopher of the twentieth century." — The Daily Mirror (London, England, United Kingdom)
  • "Breathtaking suspense which carries the reader headlong." — anonymous

But the two most comprehensive reviews ever written, and the ones that perhaps deserve the greatest scrutiny, did not appear in the popular press. One appeared in a magazine read primarily by conservatives. The other appeared in a lecture distributed originally as a voice-only recording and eventually transcribed and hosted on the World Wide Web.

Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers is best known for his public exposure of Alger Hiss, the ranking official of the United States Department of State who participated materially in the creation of the United Nations, as an agent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But toward the end of his life, Chambers served as senior editor of National Review. In that capacity he wrote what stands today as the most infamous review ever written of Atlas Shrugged. He titled this review, "Big Sister Is Watching You."[2]

Chambers considered the novel a caricature of the political situation in and of the United States in the year of publication. He assumed, perhaps correctly, that Rand intended to set the book at a time contemporary with its publication. (See Atlas Shrugged#Time setting for details.) And so he believed Rand guilty of wild, unjustifiable exaggeration of the types of policies that liberal politicians were recommending (and in some jurisdictions, enacting) at the time, and of their deleterious effects.

Turning to the novel's characters, he suggested that most of the businessmen depicted had all the hallmarks of eccentric and often crude millionnaires. This was actually a common Hollywood type during the "Golden Age of Hollywood," and was typically portrayed to obvious comic (and sometimes melodramatic) effect in the motion pictures by such actors as Sydney Greenstreet, Burl Ives, and even Charles Laughton.

He then took issue with two of the three anti-villains of the novel, namely Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjold. The chief issue he took with Francisco d'Anconia involved his full name—six names in all. Perhaps Mr. Chambers forgot that many Latin Americans did often carry as many names as Francisco d'Anconia has. As to Ragnar Danneskjold, he found the spectacle of a modern privateer, popularly regarded as a pirate, difficult to accept—but gave no indication of having read the explanation that Ragnar Danneskjold gives, in his conversation with Henry Rearden, of why he turned to privateering as his contribution to the great strike of the men of the mind.

Concerning Dagny Taggart, he spoke negatively about her two affairs with Francisco d'Anconia and Henry Rearden and finally of her premarital trysts with John Galt before her final defection from society. Noting that Dagny never falls pregnant from any of these encounters, Chambers suggested that children were an afterthought to Rand. Much more likely, Rand was writing a story by an adult and for adults, and took a certain literary license with the likelihood that any given intimate encounter would result in a pregnancy. (Rand did remember the place of children in society. John Galt tells Dagny that several residents of Atlantis have wives and children, and that family relationships constitute a "mutual trade.")

Chambers also found the "looters," meaning the story's various villains, difficult to accept as real people. He did recognize what these villains were allegorical types of:

Left-Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders, or, at any rate, such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk the nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies.
But he suggested that Rand had failed to discuss how such people as these came to be powerful enough in politics, and in business, either individually or as a group, to earn the enmity of Galt and d'Anconia and the violent wrath of Danneskjold.

From this point Chambers suggested that Rand's villains and anti-villains had their inspiration in Friederich Nietzche's Untermenschen and Übermenschen. And here, halfway through his essay, Whittaker Chambers ceased to act as a literary critic. From then on, his criticisms were not of Rand's use or alleged abuse of the literary craft, but strictly of her content. Chambers paid particular attention to Rand's rejection of God, and now chose to discuss what he called the central flaw in any philosophy of pure materialism, whether one of free enterprise or one of atheistic socialism. That flaw was this: without God, the pursuit of happiness becomes the pursuit of pleasure, and leads to a general softening of moral fiber, and from there to decadence.

But then, Chambers suggested, through a leap of logic, that Rand was calling for a type of dictatorship; hence the title of his review, "Big Sister Is Watching You." To Chambers, Rand's alternative to the socializing elite of liberal politicians, judges, and so on, was the technocratic elite of businessmen (like Henry Rearden), financiers (like Midas Mulligan), and inventors (like John Galt, who invented electrostatic motors, but also again like Rearden, who invented Rearden Metal).

When she calls "productive achievement" "man's noblest activity," she means, almost exclusively, technological achievement, supervised by such a managerial political bureau.

By "a managerial political bureau" Chambers never said what he meant in terms of the actual characters and situations in the novel. Did he mean the apparent triumvirate of John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjold? A more careful reading of the novel than Chambers appears to have spared it would have revealed to him that none of those three men ever proposed to supervise anything of the kind. John Galt makes clear that Atlantis is a voluntary association. At best, these three constitute a Committee of Safety, which is not a government in the usual sense of the word, but a group of concerned citizens who seek to guarantee the safety of the community from invasion from without, and convulsion within.

As to what any of these men would supervise: John Galt would probably go on to "supervise" a motor company specializing in the electrostatic motors he invented and used to such spectacular effect. Ragnar Danneskjold "supervised" a privateering crew and, in the end, a militia-style rescue operation. Francisco d'Anconia would, of course, "supervise" the great mining combine that he would build from scratch after destroying the old one so that a Communist government could not nationalize it.

Chambers ended with a very difficult-to-understand section in which he railed against the tone that the novel sets. According to him,

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber—go!"

That criticism might perhaps with some justice apply to Rand's characterization of the three hundred victims of the Taggart Tunnel disaster. It could not apply to John Galt's exhortation to the remaining non-strikers to "stop supporting [their] own [would-be] destroyers."

In summary, Whittaker Chambers began his review with certain criticisms of Ayn Rand's situation and character development, two legitimate areas of writer's craft, and then continued with a criticism of the content of Rand's message. In the first place, such a content criticism deserved clear and logical separation from criticism of her craft as a writer, a separation that Chambers did not provide. In the second place, most of Chambers' criticisms appeared to derive, not from a close reading of the novel, but rather from a superficial misunderstanding. One almost forms the impression that Chambers' entire criticism was in fact based upon hearsay, and that we see in Chambers' essay the heavy and influential hands of Hicks, Kirsch, Vidal, and the editorial staff of The New Yorker, whom as a matter of well-established fact Rand held in the utmost contempt.[3]

In Chambers' defense, it is useful to recall the political context. Chambers, like many others, misread the clues to the time setting of Atlas Shrugged and failed to grasp that the novel was an alternate history of the United States and of the developed world (which, in her version of history, consisted of the United States of America and the People's States of Everywhere Else) and was not a reflection of current events.

To anyone believing that Atlas Shrugged did represent an attempted prediction of America's political future, the spectacles of the Equalization of Opportunity Act, Directive 10-289, and especially Project X would surely have seemed outrageously exaggerated. No one then could have predicted that a "looter elite" like that depicted in Atlas Shrugged would ever have come to power.

Yet Chambers might have been shocked to see his old friend Richard Nixon actually put in place an economic program that read like a reworked version of Directive 10-289, with its "Ninety-Day Wage and Price Freeze," its Pay Board, its Price Commission, and the like. And what he would have made of the presidency of Barack Obama, and of some of the allegations now being made against his administration, no one can begin to guess.

Nathaniel Branden

Nathaniel Branden was associated with Ayn Rand for eighteen years. That association began, by his own account, with a letter that he wrote to Miss Rand to discuss certain philosophical implications of her earlier novel, The Fountainhead, which he had thoroughly enjoyed.[4] He became friends with Miss Rand, and that friendship deepened to an intimate level before it ended catastrophically in 1968.

During this eighteen-year association, Branden had the privilege of seeing Atlas Shrugged in manuscript form while Rand was writing it. So Branden was eminently qualified to offer his own critique of Atlas Shrugged, and the larger body of Rand's work, in his lecture titled "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand."

Branden took great exception to the representation of Rand and her work in the Mainstream Media:

I don’t know of any other philosopher who has had her ideas quite so shamelessly misrepresented in the media....Here was a philosopher who taught that the highest virtue is thinking—and she was commonly denounced as a materialist. Here was a philosopher who taught the supremacy and inviolability of individual rights—and she was accused of advocating a dog-eat-dog world. Here was the most passionate champion in the twentieth century of the rights of the individual against the state—and her statist opponents smeared her as being a fascist.

It was not a pleasant experience, during my twenties and thirties, to know the truth of our position and to encounter the incredible distortions and misrepresentations that so commonly appeared in the press, or to be present at some event with Miss Rand and later read a summary of what happened in a magazine that bore almost no relationship to the facts of the occasion. I suppose, however, it focused and dramatized something I needed to learn about the world: how low in their priorities is the issue of truth for most people when issues are involved about which they have strong feelings. Media people are no worse than anyone else; they merely operate in a more public area.

Branden might, or might not, have had Whittaker Chambers' review of Atlas Shrugged in mind when he wrote the above. He almost certainly had in mind the reviews that are credited to Hicks, Kirsch, Vidal, and The New Yorker (see above).

Concerning Atlas Shrugged, Branden offered this in its praise:

And what is Atlas Shrugged if it is not a hymn to the glories of this earth, this world, and the possibilities for happiness and achievement that exist for us here? What is Atlas Shrugged if it is not a celebration of the human mind and human efficacy? And isn’t this just what the young so desperately need? And not just the young, but all of us? To be told that our lives belong to ourselves and that the good is to live them and that we are here not to endure and to suffer but to enjoy and to prosper—is that not an incalculably valuable gift?

But Branden did offer several criticisms that deserve attention. First, he suggested that Atlas Shrugged, like The Fountainhead before it, encouraged emotional repression. Branden observed that those who served the cause of justice tended to "ruthlessly [set] their feelings aside," while those who served the cause of injustice "in effect, [dived] headlong into [their] feelings and emotions." Certainly the villains often accused the heroes (Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden) and those of the anti-villains that they actually met (John Galt and Francisco d'Anconia) of behaving in an unfeeling manner. And by Rand's own account, she sought initially to show that reason was superior to emotion.[3] But as Dagny explains to the ill-fated Cheryl Taggart, the heroes do feel a great many things. The problem is that much of what they appear to feel is contempt and loathing for their fellow man, when what they actually feel is indignation at the betrayal of their ideals by those in positions of authority, including some (like Robert Stadler) who should know better. Furthermore, what Branden called "repression" might in some cases have been a refusal to allow emotions to cloud sound judgment.

Indeed at least one of the three anti-villains risks everything in order to satisfy an emotional urge. Ragnar Danneskjold actually comes ashore, and alone, to meet Henry Rearden, on an almost irresistible impulse to bring comfort to someone to whom his society has done an egregious wrong. This is not the act of an emotionally repressed man, and in fact is an act of thoroughly bad judgment for which, one suspects, Danneskjold himself would discharge any officer or man among his crew. On the other hand, John Galt appears rather ruthless in his insistence to Dagny that, should she decide to remain a part of Galt's Gulch, he will inform her of "every wreck,...every discontinued train,...every abandoned line," and the eventual collapse of the Taggart Bridge. "No one stays in this valley by faking reality in any manner whatever," he says. That Dagny would actually fall in love with a man who could behave so coldly to her says more about Dagny, and about Miss Rand herself (who, by her own admission, was Dagny Taggart's archetype[3]), than about whether John Galt can truly be said to be more than a one-dimensional character. Thus, when Branden accuses Rand's heroes and anti-villains of being emotionally repressed and repressive, he actually is observing that her characters are one-dimensional, which is probably truer of John Galt than of any other character.

Branden develops his criticism further, by observing that very often Rand's heroes and especially the anti-villains tend not to speak with one another on a simple human level, apart from a slavish attention to the philosophical implication of every thought, word, and action. For example, Branden noted that when Dagny Taggart discovers John Galt working as an unskilled laborer in the Terminal, the two of them have a brief tryst—and then immediately afterward, John Galt is talking like a philosopher again.

I have reason to believe that Galt has a great many imitators around the country, and I also know that it is driving wives and girlfriends crazy!

Branden did not cite any further examples, and indeed one would almost expect an anti-villain to talk that way. But when Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden talk that way to one another, that is a less-excusable lapse of the writer's craft. These are, after all, the heroes of the work, the characters who must re-evaluate everything they ever felt about the world around them, and every concept they ever had of their duty toward it.

Branden's third criticism, both of Objectivism (in theory and practice) generally and in the particular expression of it that was Atlas Shrugged, was the consistently condemning tone that Rand sounded throughout the work. If Branden were not an atheist, and did not know Rand to be one, he might have called this tone "preachy." Branden took considerable time to explain that such a tone was not likely to convince anyone that what he thought, felt, or did was wrong. Perhaps it was actually a symptom of Rand's decision to assume the omniscient point of view in her novel, a practice that many professional authors avoid today. Perhaps also it was a symptom of another flaw that Branden found in Objectivist practice in general, or at least Ayn Rand's own practice: that she could be excessively dogmatic, both in her theory and in her presentation, and this dogmatism inevitably affected her writing.

Harold Leiendecker

Harold Leiendecker's essay, for the ASPEC Writers' Workshop, is more recent and, as it happens, more favorable. He suggests that the work succeeds magnificently in demonstrating that reason and productivity are two human virtues that have been unfairly maligned.[1] Also, in marked contrast to Chambers (see above), Leiendecker finds no fault with the dialog, having observed that many characters do in fact talk and act after the manner of the novel's villains. He does, however, suggest that many of the situations in the novel are excessively contrived. The most striking contrivance, of course, is the incongruous suggestion that the government officials would actually put John Galt to torture in order to force him to accept a position of dictatorial authority. (This might, however, be an example of what Rush Limbaugh has often called "to illustrate absurdity by being absurd.") Leiendecker also criticizes Rand for suggesting that a certain character might stand for election to the United States Senate from a State in which he had no history as a resident. (That he wrote his essay prior to the successful Senate candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton should, of course, be obvious.) Lastly he denounces as heavy-handed the symbolism of the dollar sign, and especially John Galt's tracing of that symbol in the air as he tells Dagny that "the road is cleared" and that the strike is now settled, if only by default.

Concerning the characters, Leiendecker found the villains remarkably true to life, and the heroes and anti-villains less so. In fact, "stilted" was his word for much of the dialog, and especially monologs, of the heroes and anti-villains. But the villains spoke in a manner that he found readily recognizable.

Leiendecker also noticed that, like Charles Dickens before her, Rand gave most of her villains certain surnames, utterly unknown to genealogy, that are intended to suggest the character of those that possess them. To the list of such Dickensian surnames as Murdstone, Creakle, Chuzzlewit, Spottletoe, and especially Scrooge and Pecksniff, one can now add the Randian coined surnames Mouch and Slagenhop, and her creative use of such common surnames as Boyle and Ferris.

Leiendecker found the time setting of the novel difficult to assign. From the titling of Mr. Thompson as "Head of the State" instead of President of the United States (and the total lack of appearance of Mr. Thompson's first name), and the division of the civilized world into the United States and the various People's States throughout the world, Leiendecker concluded, or cited certain anonymous sources who concluded, that the action of the novel occurred between 1980 and 1984.

Jason Lee Steorts

The most recent extended review of Atlas Shrugged, titled "The Greatly Ghastly Rand," appeared in the August 30, 2010 issue of National Review and in fact came from its managing editor, Jason Lee Steorts.[5] Steorts said that he sought to determine for himself why Atlas Shrugged remained popular. He drew no definite conclusion, because he concluded that the work is a most unworthy example of the novelist's craft, and indeed could not be more offensive had Rand deliberately intended to insult all who disagreed with her.

He begins with his most strenuous single objection to the work: Rand's treatment of the passengers of the ill-fated Comet in the Taggart Tunnel disaster. He confirms that when Whittaker Chambers famously accused Rand of saying,

To a gas chamber—go!
that Rand was talking specifically about a group of three hundred people who died in a mass transportation disaster. In no account of such a disaster in real life—whether it was the sinking of RMS Titanic, the destruction of the two Boeing 747 airliners in a runway collision at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or any of a number of commercial-aviation accidents—has anyone suggested that the casualties of that disaster deserved what they got. (The obvious exception is a terrorist strike, which is an act of mass murder after which the murderers typically blame their victims.) Yet Rand names sixteen specific examples of passengers that committed some sin or other against individual freedom, declared that everyone aboard the train "share[d] one or more of these ideas," and then cut to the scene with Dagny Taggart and Francisco d'Anconia, at the end of which a breathless radio announcer gives the details of the disaster. The outraged Steorts declared that he could read no further.

Steorts' objection is this: Rand has ably demonstrated, up to the offending passage, the chain of carelessness, venality, and cynicism that led multiple railroad employees and supervisors, any one of which should have known better, to cause a passenger train to enter an eight-mile tunnel with a coal-burning steam locomotive to pull it. Yet, in the end, Rand blames the passengers themselves for, in effect, creating the climate that put such cynical operators into key positions of management. That, he says, is a symptom of a larger problem: that Atlas Shrugged is a grand exercise in misanthropy.

Steorts then sets up a contrast between this novel and Rand's earlier work, The Fountainhead. The hero of that work, architect Howard Roark, is in many respects just as flawed a protagonist as John Galt is, the flaw being that neither man shows any real emotion. In John Galt, this is excusable: he is not a hero, but an anti-villain, and thus allowed to be one-dimensional and single-minded. But Steorts objects even more to something that he finds glaringly lacking: the anti-villains have no worthy adversary. All of the villains of the work are absurdly incompetent at what they do, and seem incapable of building a truly fearsome security apparatus. Roark did have a worthy adversary in architectural critic Ellsworth Monkton Toohey. Atlas Shrugged has no Toohey—nor a Hitler, nor a Lenin, nor a Stalin, nor a Mao. Steorts had a point, but never read far enough to recognize it: Mr. Thompson is a very poor substitute for a national dictator. His pretense at dictatorship, at the demonstration of Project X, is as close as he comes—but in the end, Thompson abdicates his powers and leaves everything to the closest thing to a truly evil person: Floyd Ferris, associate director of the State Science Institute.

Steorts fails, however, to observe that real life has vindicated Rand in two respects. For one thing, a true hero often does not always have a worthy adversary, and the enemies of freedom rarely rise to the frightening competency and efficiency of a Hitler or a Stalin or arguably a Mao. For another, the American electorate elected a modern-day Mr. Thompson in 2008; his name is Barack Obama. Advocates of freedom, including the Tea Party Movement, have accused Obama of many things, but competency is not something that most of his critics have attributed to him. (Glenn Beck may believe that Obama is deliberately destroying the American economy in order to excuse his promulgation of a Directive 10-289, but some of Beck's pronouncements indicate that Beck believes that Obama well and truly believes his own pronouncements and thus is more tragic than villainous.)

Perhaps Steorts would have like Atlas Shrugged better if it had had a George Soros type—a financier who made his money by currency arbitrage and was the real political mover behind Mr. Thompson, Wesley Mouch, Floyd Ferris, and some of the other villains. But Rand never believed that conspiracies of evil men were or could be held responsible for society's ills, and would certainly accuse Steorts of running out of ideas and preferring to fight men instead. Rand would say, as she did in fact say in a number of other essays, that the real villain in the piece was someone who was long since dead: Immanuel Kant, who with Friederich Hegel was the primary influence on the philosophical thinking of the usually credited (or blamed) father of communism, Karl Marx. How does one craft a novel setting up a dead man as the uber-adversary? Well, one doesn't.

Steorts raises one valid point—that disaster victims cannot be said to have brought disaster upon themselves, except perhaps by not thinking their ideas through. (That, and that at least one of the anti-villains, namely D'Anconia, behaves with unreasonable and often unfocused anger toward some who cross his path, an anger that John Galt and even Ragnar Danneskjold are better able to manage). But his other points are much harder to justify, especially since he, unlike Chambers, has the benefit of direct observation of a modern-day scenario that is imitating Rand's work in the most uncanny manner imaginable.

The Ayn Rand Center

Yaron Brook, head of the Ayn Rand Institute and Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, offered another review appearing in Investors Business Daily on July 20, 2010.[6] In it, Brook holds that the hypothetical political situation that Rand portrayed is remarkably similar to the actual political situation in the United States under the Barack Hussein Obama administration. Furthermore, the responses to the crisis follow the same process in real life as in the novel, almost as if the American people really had elected Mr. Thompson as President of the United States, and Wesley Mouch really had been appointed "Economics Czar", with a willing Congress following his every recommendation as though it were an order. He further credits this situation with the reported sales of 500,000 copies of Atlas Shrugged in 2009.

The one character that he clearly identifies as a metaphor for most productive citizens in modern America is Henry Rearden, the novel's true hero. John Galt, the anti-villain who encourages Rearden and many others like him to go on strike, receives no mention. Brook does not want to call such a strike; he wants to persuade the American electorate to, in effect, vote Mr. Thompson out of office, fire Wesley Mouch, and allow Henry Rearden to run his steel mill without any further government interference. Therefore he quotes extensively from Rearden's counterargument before the administrative-law court that tried him under the Fair Share Law. He also quotes Francisco d'Anconia, though not by name, for his observation that the most admirable quality of Americans is the notion of "making money," a phrase that clearly implies that wealth is created and that its distribution is not a zero-sum game.

Summary

Probably no novel that tries to make a serious point about the world or the people who live in it will be entirely without its critics. Most of the criticism that Atlas Shrugged has received, reflects more resentment of its content and message than an actual appraisal of the novel as an example of literary craft. Indeed, any close reader of the novel will recognize, in the novel's villains, the very critics who condemn it most scathingly. That those same critics would recognize themselves in those villains is only logical to suppose. And, as Nathaniel Branden might predict, they reacted defensively and launched what amounted to a concerted counterattack—not on any legitimate literary grounds but purely on the ground of mutual dislike and contempt between themselves on the one hand, and Ayn Rand on the other.

Nevertheless, several criticisms of the novel's craft appear fairly frequently, and from sources that have been shown have varying degrees of sympathy with, or antipathy against, the novel's central message. They include:

  1. A description of many of Rand's characters as one-dimensional.
  2. A description of many of the situations as contrived and stretching the boundaries of literary license.
  3. A description of the tone of the novel as excessively "preachy" and condemnatory toward all who disagree with the message.

Surprisingly, very few critics seem to have paid attention to the four inventions that might qualify as science fiction, none of which have been duplicated in real life in the form depicted in the novel. They are:

  1. John Galt's electrostatic motor,
  2. Henry Rearden's new alloy of copper and iron,
  3. The ultrasonic weapon of mass destruction known as Project X, and finally
  4. The refractor-ray screen that provides concealment for Galt's Gulch.

Harold Leiendecker notices these inventions but mentions them without comment, leaving no clue as to whether he found them plausible or not. Branden, Chambers, and the rest do not mention these inventions at all. (Chambers does rather severely criticize the notion of Ragnar Danneskjold's privateering activities, but that would qualify as a contrivance of an entirely different kind from science fiction.)

In short, Atlas Shrugged is not a perfect example of the novelist's craft. Probably no such work exists. But, as in any other endeavor, one must evaluate criticism critically. This is especially true when that criticism is of a work that must necessarily engender great controversy, and which, one might almost say, is deliberately calculated to embarrass, offend, and annoy the very persons most likely to be asked for their critical appraisal.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Leiendecker H, "Atlas Shrugged," ASPEC Writers' Workshop, n.d. Accessed May 5, 2009. <http://www.eckerd.edu/aspec/writers/atlas_shrugged.htm>
  2. Chambers W, "Big Sister Is Watching You," National Review, December 28, 1957. Hosted at National Review Online, published January 5, 2005. Accessed May 1, 2009. <http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/222482/big-sister-watching-you/flashback>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "History of Atlas Shrugged," The Ayn Rand Institute, n.d. Accessed May 5, 2009. <http://atlasshrugged.com/book/history.html>
  4. Branden N, "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," audio presentation, 1984. Transcript hosted at <http://www.nathanielbranden.com/catalog/articles_essays/benefits_and_hazards.html>.
  5. Steorts JL, "The Greatly Ghastly Rand," National Review,, August 30, 2010, pp. 43-48. <http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/244381/greatly-ghastly-rand-jason-lee-steorts>
  6. Brook Y, Atlas Shrugged's Timeless Moral: Profit-Making is Virtue, not Vice," Investors Business Daily, 20 July 2010.
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