In 1957 the ever prescient Ayn Rand published her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. Though I am ashamed to admit it, I have never before read this novel. I have only recently begun reading this 1069 page tome, and have found myself reading it with a vigor that I have never known in any other piece of literature. In Atlas Shrugged, I have found put to words the all that is currently wrong with this great nation of ours. I won’t deny that I am not the first person recently to point out the correlations between Rand’s fictional dystopia and our own society. Indeed, my interest in the book is based on the recommendations of those who have declared that such a world is where we are heading. I’ll also admit that I’ve started this novel knowing far more than I wish I did. Since it is more than 50 years old, I suppose such a prospect is unavoidable. But regardless, my reaction to the book is not one of precaution or warning. Instead, only one thought springs to mind as I read Atlas Shrugged.
This novel fills me with dread.
This dread swells up not because of the fact that Rand is presenting some bizarre world where everything is turned on its head. It is not the dread that comes from imagining a world that could genuinely exist some day in the future. That’s the kind of fear which occurs while reading novels like Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. Instead, the feelings I have through reading the novel arrive because every time I read the words spoken by the novel’s looters and moochers, I can easily imagine some member of the liberal intelligentsia, or even one of their regurgitators, saying exactly the same thing. And to think, I’ve only made it to page 154, the end of part 1, chapter 6.
The most fascinating concept that Rand puts forth in the novel is that of the “Sanction of the Victim.” The concept, to put it simply, is that those who are good allow themselves to suffer evil, to play victim for no greater reason than the fact that they are producers, indulging in the sin of creation. Nowhere is this sanction more prominent than in the character of Dan Conway, whose rail line, the Phoenix-Durango, was forced out of service by an all powerful cabal.
Conway’s rail line was targeted only due to the fact that it was successfully cutting into the business of the poorly run Rio Norte Line of Taggart Transcontinental. That Conway’s line, small and relatively unknown, was able to compete with the Taggart giant spoke of how well the business was run. And yet in the interest of “ensuring competition” the rail cabal passed the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog rule which, in a purposefully oxymoronic fashion, snuffed out the competition provided by the Phoenix-Durango. A poorly run rail line which, as some would say, was “too big to fail” found itself bolstered by Conway’s refusal to fight the rule that effectively put him out of business.
The Sanction of the Victim is also shown to be riddled with hypocrisy. When Francisco d’Anconia’s San Sebastian Mines end up being nationalized by the Mexican government, d’Anconia is met with ridicule. Men like james Taggart, who had invested heavily in d’Anconia’s mines, only to find that they were worthless, become infuriated. Francisco responds to James’ anger by stating that he did everything society asked of him: he hired men based on need not ability; he set up housing for his employees; he took a loss on the business venture and surrendered it according to the will of the people. What more could a responsible member of society have done? But the truth is that the Sanction of the Victim is only meaningful when the victim is an unwilling participant. Francisco d’Anconia wanted the mines to be taken. In that regard there was no victory to be found for the looters.
I can see many modern occurrences of the sanction of the victim. Barack Obama left the investors in GM and Chrysler out in the cold, effectively taking away what was rightfully theirs to give to the undeserving. In fact, the history of American cap companies has been one long chain of creators (the companies and their owners) willfully allowing themselves to be wronged by unions, who have taken more and more, until there was nothing left but the rotting corpse of that which once signified American exceptionalism.
When you consider that something like 10% of Americans pay 90% of taxes, it is hard to deny that even taxation has become a vehicle for the sanction of the victims.
“I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free.” – Dr. Pritchett