Is Atlas Shrugging?
Boston: 19 April 1964
by Ayn Rand

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

The Objectivist Newsletter, August 1964

Nathaniel Branden Institute, New York; 1964
18 pages

collected in —
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

The Objectivist Newsletter, 1962-1965 April 2009

Prophecy or history?

Ayn Rand's major novel Atlas Shrugged was published in December 1957. Her lecture "Is Atlas Shrugging?" was delivered in April 1964 in answer to many of her readers who were wondering how closely applicable the novel is to actual events we see in headlines every day across America.

Or, to put the question in a form which has often been addressed to me: "Is Atlas Shrugged a prophetic novel — or a historical one?"

The second part of the question seems to answer the first: if some people believe that Atlas Shrugged is a historical novel, this means that it was a successful prophecy.

The lecture is mostly a compilation of contemporary news clippings from the early 1960s, interspersed with pertinent passages from the novel and some pointed comments by Rand. It's worth looking back, from a half-century on and more, to the political, business, and cultural highlights (or rather stumbles and bruises) that Rand points out. If you haven't seen such an array before, you will be surprised, and not pleasantly.

A warning novel, a dystopia? Hard-eyed realism, blue-sky exaggeration, near-future science fiction? I don't worry much about classifications, but I do illumine a couple of contemporary 1958 reviews in Atlas Shrugged as Science Fiction.

The seeds of the present

The spoken lecture with some audience interaction can be heard for free online, but listeners may make heavy going of Rand's Russian accent. My comments are based on the printed version as it first appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter.

There are plot spoilers in the lecture, but there's really no purpose in reading it until you've read Atlas Shrugged itself. That accomplished, if you are curious to see how Ayn Rand and her early readers evaluated its applicability and speculated on its impact, only four and a half years after its publication, take a look at "Is Atlas Shrugging?" In December 1964 she published a sort of sequel in The Objectivist Newsletter, essentially on the futility of politics without philosophy, titled "It's Earlier Than You Think".

So — is Atlas shrugging?

When we learn everything implied in that question, we see that newspaper clippings are symptoms, but the real answer lies elsewhere:

There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty — the power of ideas.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson

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