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What Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” Teaches Us About the Insufficiency of Good Intentions

What Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” Teaches Us About the Insufficiency of Good Intentions

The book is an extended lesson in what happens when we focus only on what we see.

The search for the Great American Novel should have ended in 1957 when a Russian immigrant named Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged. Arresting in its breadth, depth, and style, Atlas Shrugged is a manifesto on politics, philosophy, and economics wrapped up in a compelling narrative featuring larger-than-life (and smaller-than-life) characters.

Atlas Shrugged has shaped the worldview of many devotees of liberty, and it surged in popularity in the wake of the recent financial crisis since it became clear that the government’s response to crisis and recession would not be to learn from its mistakes and recede but to expand its reach.

I first read Atlas Shrugged during my fourth year of graduate school. On one hand, I wish I had read it much earlier. On the other, I feel like I appreciate it on a much deeper level than I would have had I read it in high school or college. Atlas Shrugged is my favorite novel for two reasons.

Atlas Shrugged has shaped the worldview of many devotees of liberty, and it surged in popularity in the wake of the recent financial crisis.

The Beauty of Human Potential 

The first is its treatment of human potential. Atlas Shrugged is a brilliant exposition of the things that are made possible by the rational, thinking human mind. A lot of things that we take for granted are the product of free markets harnessing the power of free minds. Something as mundane as a hot cup of coffee, for example, embodies innumerable decisions by innumerable people, each with their own specialized knowledge. We see what happens throughout the book when people are unshackled and allowed to pursue their own goals. Production increases. Lives are saved. Life is meaningful.

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