Atlas Shrugged – Chapter 1, Part 1

After my (not-so-) recent post on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, I decided to start reading through the book again to write a real critique. I started writing this over two years ago, but got distracted by things that seemed important at the time, but now seem rather trivial.

My plan is to go through the book, chapter by chapter, and spend time writing about the various issues presented from a Biblical perspective. As I said, not all of Rand’s ideas are trash, and I did want to give credit where she does convey truth, accidental as it may be.

I’m hoping to do this chapter by chapter, but some chapters are extremely long, and will probably need to be divided in order to better facilitate conquering. If I find I’m getting too long winded in a single post, I’ll split them to allow for better digesting.

Before digging into the content, we need to check out the table of contents. Atlas Shrugged is divided into three parts, each with ten chapters. The three parts are given the names “Non-contradiction”, “Either-or”, and “A is A”. Those of you familiar with formal logic will recognize these as the three classic laws of thought, the law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity, respectively. These laws were articulated by Aristotle, and are fundamental to Rand’s philosophy. I will be going into more detail throughout the book, but I wanted to point out that Rand’s love for formal logic hits you right from the start.

So, starting with Part 1, Chapter 1, “The Theme”, let’s see what we find.

“Who is John Galt?”

An unnamed bum utters the Atlas Shrugged catch phrase as the first line of the book, and it’s clearly intended to confuse the reader. Eddie Willers, the nondescript anyman, is clearly shaken by the question, but shrugs it off and moves on. As he continues is walk through the city, we see descriptions of economic troubles. As Eddie walks, he remembers back to an oak tree from his youth. The tree appeared solid from the outside, but when lightning stuck it during a storm, the truth was different.

The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside-just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

These subtle analogies continue throughout the book. Willers finally arrives at Taggert Transcontinental, a railroad corporation run by his childhood friend, James Taggert. James is not described attractively, and his first interaction does nothing to creating a good impression of him. There was an accident on the Rio Norte line, and we discover that the company is far behind on maintaining the line.

James Taggert had made a business deal with Orren Boyle, the president of Associated Steel, but Boyle hadn’t delivered on his promises. Willers reminded Taggert that the order was thirteen months late, and there was little evidence that Boyle would ever deliver.

“I resent your attitude. Orren Boyle will deliver that rail just as soon as it’s humanly possible. So long as he can’t deliver it, nobody can blame us.”

This line from James Taggert gives us an initial glimpse into his fundamental motivations. His goal in every activity is not to get the job accomplished, but to avoid being held accountable. He would have succeeded in this goal had not his failure to deliver to his customers allowed a competitor to successful take Taggert Transcontinental’s business. We also learn about Ellis Wyatt, an oil prospector who doesn’t seem to have the same business values that James Taggert possesses. We learn that when Taggert failed to deliver on his business commitments, he took his business to Taggert’s competition.

“Ellis Wyatt is a greedy bastard who’s after nothing but money. It seems to me that there are more important things in life than making money.”

Right in chapter one, we see the business values conflicting, and are introduced to a theme that will be repeated many times. James Taggert makes a jab at Wyatt, accusing him of valuing only money, while Taggert places himself on a higher rung on the moral ladder because he has better understanding of priorities in life, and making sure money isn’t at the top.

“Yes, I know, I know, he’s making money. But that is not the standard, it seems to me, by which one gauges a man’s value to society. And as for his oil, he’d come crawling to us. and he’d wait his turn along with all the other shippers, and he wouldn’t demand more than his fair share of transportation-if it weren’t for the Phoenix-Durango. We can’t help it if we’re up against destructive competition of that kind. Nobody can blame us.”

As Rand’s focus in Atlas Shrugged is to make a point regarding business ethics, I’m going to be spending a lot of time writing about how Christian ethics relates to business. At first glance, Taggert seems have a point. It is true that there are more important things in life than money. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 that we are to seek first his kingdom, so it would impossible to obey this statement while doing what Taggert was accusing Wyatt of, considering money the most thing in life.

But, what remains to be seen is whether Taggert’s accusations against Wyatt are accurate, and whether Tagger’s priorities that he values as more important than money are correct.

Comments are closed.