Atlas Shrugged Chapter 21: Atlantis

Well, it was a long slog to get here through some dark and repetitive prose, but: John Galt at last!

I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live my life for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Chapter summary: Dagny wakes up after her plane crash to find herself in a hidden valley in the middle of the mountains in Colorado. She has an injured leg, and she’s being attended to by John Galt. As she learns, this is where all the people (mostly men) who’ve disappeared have gone to. She learns about a nearly self-sustaining community where they spend a month out of every year. She learns about the strike, and the motor. She meets nearly everyone (Francisco is ominously missing). She fails to decide whether she’s going to join them.

I enjoyed this chapter quite a bit. As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t agree with the absolutism of Objectivism’s attitudes on greed and selfishness, and I think it’s ultimately unworkable. Rand’s characters admit that they have wives and children, and that therefore some sort of interdependencies exist, but Galt et alia hold fast to the notion that all other relationships have to be based solely on monetary-or-equivalent exchange.

Galt does make an excellent case about how the intellectual elite are mistreated more often than they’re respected; Huxley makes a similar case in Brave New World. While Atlas Shrugged and Brave New World touch on many of the same themes, the latter is far more cynical.

Based on this chapter alone, I can see how fans of Rand would feel that her Objectivism is ultimately optimistic and life-affirming. I would love to live in a world where such intrinsic generosity exists as a matter of expectation among the powerful members of the intelligentsia, but I think the reality is closer to Huxley’s version than Rand’s.

More to come, I’m sure, as it appears that the remainder of the book is dominated by Galt’s joyously selfish sermonizing.

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