Atlas Shrugged Part 2 , now in theaters, could be more than just exciting fall film fare. This is the latest installment of the trilogy of Ayn Rand’s great novel, a book that has influenced many policymakers, including GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan, and that could influence voters in the presidential election.
Atlas Shrugged is set in an alternate America. But the world depicted in Part 2 will be painfully familiar even tomoviegoers who haven’t seen Part 1. The economy is in free fall. Gasoline prices are through the roof. And government is engaged in a jihad against the most productive and prosperous individuals of self-made wealth, taxing them and imposing regulations to force them to provide their “fair share.”
And just when the productive efforts of particular entrepreneurs are most needed to shore up what’s left of the economy, those individuals begin to disappear, quitting work, abandoning homes and enterprises.
The uninitiated might think that Atlas Shrugged was written in recent years to mirror America’s current plight. But the book was published in 1957. Ayn Rand meant it as a warning of what would happen if America continued down not just the wrong economic path but, more important, the wrong philosophical path.
America was founded on the principle that individuals are endowed with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”
Millions of individuals—including Ayn Rand—came to America to live their lives as they saw fit, to make real their own dreams, to take joy in their productive achievements, dealing with their fellows based on mutual consent. Freedom is a win-win situation!
Americans will enter the voting booth this fall against a backdrop of the world collapsing as in Atlas Shrugged
Today, millions of Americans watch the personal autonomy and the opportunities this country has historically offered shrinking as the economy collapses, and they ask, “What happened?”
Atlas Shrugged Part 2 gives us insight. Hank Rearden is the Steve Jobs of the steel industry. He has created a new metal stronger, lighter, and cheaper than any ever produced. But he has had to fight government attempts to keep his product off the market. Now the same politicians and bureaucrats who tried to destroy his business want to control to whom he can sell his metal and at what price, further crippling his enterprise. Rearden asks, “How can such small people do so much damage?”
Copper CEO Francisco D’Anconia helps him understand by asking another question: “Did you want to see your metal and your wealth used by looters who think it’s your duty to produce and theirs to consume—moochers who think they owe you nothing, no wealth, no recognition, no respect?”
Rearden answers, “I’d blow up my mills first.” He is coming to appreciate that free people forge their own chains when they surrender the moral high ground to their enslavers, when they allow themselves to be guilt-tripped into serving and supporting their destroyers.
D’Anconia then asks Rearden, “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders … knees buckling, arms trembling but still trying to hold up the world with the last of his strength, what would you tell him to do?” At this point audiences will understand D’Anconia’s own answer: “To shrug.”
Audience members who don’t fully share Rand’s explicit philosophy can still admire Rearden and Dagny Taggart, the woman who runs the country’s largest railroad. They can still understand the injustice of punishing these individuals for their productive efforts. They can still loathe the crony capitalists who try to destroy these producers and to secure wealth through political pull.
And they will be swept up by the mystery of a motor that Dagny and Hank find in an abandoned factory, a motor that could provide an almost limitless supply of cheap, clean energy but that seems to have been deliberately abandoned by its creator.
Americans will enter the voting booth this fall against a backdrop of the world collapsing as in Atlas Shrugged. Those who see the film or read the book will be compelled to ask deep and serious questions about the moral, political, and economic direction of the country. And their answers could well determine who is elected and whether America’s future will be bright or nasty, brutish, and short.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.