October 2, 2012. The film you are going to watch is a remarkable achievement on the part of John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow and the team they put together. From a standing start two and a half years ago, they have completed Parts 1 and 2 of their tri-part adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. In a deeper sense, though, as an adaptation of Ayn Rand's unique vision, this film was more than a century in the making.
Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand's love letter to America, and to the American spirit. But it was also a prophetic warning of how altruism would undermine capitalism.
Ayn Rand was born Alyssa Rosenbaum in 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her father owned a pharmacy, one of the few professions Jews were allowed to practice in the city under the Czars. Alyssa was twelve when Lenin took power. The Bolsheviks seized the family business, depriving the family of their middle-class income; and seized their house, forcing them to share a single room.
Alyssa fled the Soviet Union as a young woman, arriving in New York with little English and less money. She took the new name we know her by and found her way to Hollywood, to work in the films she idolized as a girl. Over the next three decades, she became one of the best-selling novelists in the 20th century—one of a handful of non-native English speakers who achieved that status as writers. Her greatest achievement was Atlas Shrugged, the novel she published in 1957, a work that has remained a best-seller for over half a century and has only increased its impact in the last few years.
Among the millions of Russians who were dispossessed, impoverished, exiled, or murdered during the dark reign of communism, Ayn Rand was unique in seeing past the economic chaos and political oppression of socialism to the moral essence. She recognized that those horrors were made possible by the demand that the individual sacrifice to the masses.
Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged is darkest part of the story. It is also the most relevant part for our world today.
She idealized America as the country where the individual reigned supreme. But when she came to this country as a young woman, she saw that Americans did not understand their own uniqueness. They lived as self-owners, they acted as entrepreneurs in their lives, they enjoyed the freedoms created by the Founding Fathers. But they also gave credence to the moral code of altruism, which teaches that the noblest act is sacrifice to others. Rand—uniquely—recognized that moral code as the basis for the appeal of communism, and as the enabler of oppression. If a society does not recognize individuals as ends in themselves, with the moral right to live for themselves, then it will sooner or later start treating individuals as means to political ends.
Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand's love letter to America, and to the American spirit. But it was also a prophetic warning of how altruism would undermine capitalism, as Rand could see happening in the New Deal of the 1930's and Kennedy's New Frontier of the 1960s; and as she would certainly have flagged in the new collectivist initiatives of our era.
In Part 1of Atlas Shrugged, we saw the triumph of the productive heroes, Dagny Taggart, head of operations for Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, and Hank Rearden, inventor of a new metal that Dagny used to build a branch line to Colorado, the only productive part of the country. But the triumph is short-lived, as the government seizes control with new regulations.
As Part 2 opens, both Dagny and Hank are stymied by ever-increasing government regulations. In the world Rand depicted, the growth of gov't power and decline of freedom of trade has accelerated. Neither Dagny or Hank can conduct business as usual. You will see Hank Rearden having to make an ordinary business deal secretly in a hotel room, because it violates a regulation. As a result, the economy is in steep decline, hastened by the disappearance of the most capable producers. Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged is the darkest part of the story. It is also the most relevant part for our world today.
Part 2 of the film trilogy is titled "The Strike." In what you are about to watch, the meaning of that title is part of the suspense, so I won't spoil it. But Rand's title for Part 2 of her masterpiece is "Either-or." Either what—or what? I'm convinced that she meant trade vs. power: trade as the voluntary relationship of equals, vs. the forced exchanges of the welfare and regulatory state. She meant freedom vs. power: the freedom to choose your doctor, your broker, your retirement plan, your children's school; versus the socialist idea that government must provide for these human needs—and control them.
Ladies and Gentlemen: We are weeks away from an election that will determine which alternative this country chooses. Please take the message of this film to heart. Please take note of Francisco d'Anconias's statement about money as a tool of trade. Take note of Hank Rearden's defense when he is tried for an honest business deal. Take note of the story Jeff Allen tells, late in the film, about an experiment based on the premise that "we are all in this together." And then think about the meaning of this story, and these ideas, for the world we live in today and the choices we will make in coming weeks.
And if you like what you see, please spread the word. Tell your friends. Take them to see the film when it opens October 12. Vote with your feet at the box office. Vote early. Vote often.
David Kelley earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, and later taught cognitive science and philosophy at Vassar College and Brandeis University. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harper's, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, and elsewhere. His books include Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand; TheEvidence of the Senses; and The Art of Reasoning, one of the most widely used logic textbooks in the country. Kelley is founder and chief intellectual officer of The Atlas Society.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism was set forth in her epic novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and in her brilliant non-fiction essays. The Atlas Society promotes Objectivism and its core values: reason, achievement, individualism, and freedom.