Scott H Young

Quotes From Atlas Shrugged


Over the last two weeks I’ve been churning through Ayn Rand’s epic novel, Atlas Shrugged. The book is close to 1200 pages long and covers Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. The story follows a man who said he would, “stop the motor of the world,” and did. Rand’s philosophy centers around the idea that it is a person’s selfish ego that is the driving force for human progress.

Here are some choice quotes:

On money…

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia, “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”

“Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he’s evaded the choice of what to seek.”

“The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.”

On the difference between thinking and feeling

“I don’t feel that you’re right, so I know that you’re wrong.”
“How do you know it?”
“I feel it. I don’t go by my head but by my heart. You might be good at logic, but you’re heartless.”
“Madame, when we’ll see men dying of starvation around us, your heart won’t be of any earthly use to them.”

Rand’s views center on the supreme right of the individual. That means that taxes, trade restrictions and charity are all forms of evil which punish the strong to sustain the weak. While I’m not sure I agree with Rand’s philosophy when applied to politics as a whole, there are more than a few individual lessons I’ve gathered from this book.

A few thoughts that I came across when reading this and Rand’s earlier book, The Fountainhead:

  • The Virtue of Independence. Few virtues are more important to Rand than independence, meaning that you survive, not on charity, but on what you have earned.
  • Profit is Virtuous. To most people making profit is a dirty, selfish indulgence. Rand claims the opposite, that it is the reward for creating value. As long as you don’t steal, coerce or con profit from your victims, then profit is a sign you are contributing value.
  • Love Can’t Make 2+2 = 5. Feelings of love, pity and charity can’t put food on the table or create progress in society, only production can. Who really contributes more–the person who cries for charity, or the person who creates value?

I can’t say I agree with everything Rand says, but the book is definitely thought-provoking.


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25 Responses to “Quotes From Atlas Shrugged”

  1. Jaan says:

    Ayn Rand is a great writer, I just finished reading the Fountainhead, highly enjoyable.

    Is this also for her foundations essay contest?

    I’m in 11th grade so I’ve gotta do the Fountainhead. $10,000 sure is enticing though.

    Good luck!

  2. Gideon says:

    Rand is… well, she’s kind of the Stephen King of the philosophy world. Many people may like her, but professionals tend to sigh sadly whenever someone brings them up in a class room, for instance.

    That is not to say something cannot be learned…. but it’s important to keep reminding oneself when reading Rand that, like all philosophy, reality must step in and assert itself after the thinking is done – and you are left with a lot that is either trite or crap.

    For something along these lines with a bit more chops, I suggest you read Nietzsche. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things either, but his ideas are more sophisticated and he’s MUCH more fun to read and there is a great deal more wisdom in his other thinking, as well.

    A quick slap at the thinking, which kind of cuts down to it, is here:
    http://www.angryflower.com/atlass.gif

    You can find a lot more by looking around, criticism of objectivism, etc (there is no shortage of it, though professional philosophers rarely give it the time of day anymore). But really, like all philosophy/theology, etc. to my mind the litmus test is what kind of person does it make you if you follow it, what kind of society arises from such thinking.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d rather sit next to a fundamentalist christian, a rabid atheist and a politician than next to an objectivist on a plane. I’ve never met someone claiming to be one that wasn’t an absolute horror of a human being.

    That being said, one could see a form of “enlightened self-interest” providing a moral system that works. To quote Emerson, “nothing is good for the bee that is bad for the hive” which is the core of the enlightened bit, and what most objectivists simply do not get. The other problem is it implies people are enlightened enough to work in such a system, and they’re not. If you assume people are rational and will make the best choices for themselves all you have to do is look at the condition of this country to see how that is not the case.

  3. suvine.com says:

    SHE NEVER SAYS CHARITY IS A FORM OF EVIL, JUST THAT NOONE SHOULD BE FORCED TO. CHARITY IS SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE RELEGATED PRIVATELY OR THROUGH CHURCHES, NEVER MANDATORY. BEFORE WELFARE WHEN A FARMER LOST HIS LAND HE WAS RICHER THAN BEFORE BECAUSE OF THE COMMUITY, WHEN IT BECAME A RIGHT, THAT IS WHEN ALL THE PEOPLE COME OUT AND SCAM AND PRODUCE LESS.

  4. Favela Cranshaw says:

    “I can’t say I agree with everything Rand says, but the book is definitely thought-provoking.”

    It confounds me that so many addend this proviso to their expressions of agreement with Ayn Rand. It can only be seen as the fear of disapproval of the others who read your blog. It almost sounds confessional: Forgive me, father, for I have begun to think for myself. :)

  5. Kali says:

    Thanks for the link on Objectivism.

  6. Mike Stankavich says:

    An interesting side note – while reading Alan Greenspan’s new book I discovered that he considered Ayn Rand a close friend. He said that he found her to be very intellectually challenging.

  7. nada says:

    @Gideon: “I’ve never met someone claiming to be one that wasn’t an absolute horror of a human being.”

    Funny you should mention that. I lived with one for several months, originally attracted to what I believed was someone who truly embodied what they preached. In the end, I discovered exactly that – Objectivism had become the excuse to rag on life for being so “misguided” while at the same time being pretty ineffective at it by refusing to play.

    The world doesn’t necessary make sense, but to succeed, you need to learn to play by its rules enough to win on its terms, not yours. The “cult of the individual” may appeal to an ego-centric society or person – and philosophically Rand has her moments – but she’s cherry picking at the extremes. Most of the real Howard Roarks of the world never get out of the proverbial rock quarry. I read a quote somewhere about there being nothing more common than unappreciated genius. It was a humbling point. Humility in general is not something that fits well into Rand’s framework.

  8. I love that quotation about money. I think it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read, and it definitely strongly shapes my work as an entrepreneur.

    No philosophy can ever be fully-realized. There will always be some flaws, somewhere. (Actually, probably a lot of flaws.) I think it’s important not to wash our hands of it because we can’t achieve perfection, however, and instead focus on working towards the goal. Our society could certainly benefit tremendously if more people took responsibility for themselves and believed in the power of their own two hands (typing counts!).

  9. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments,

    As to my disagreements with Rand, I hesitate to agree with her believe that the individual is supremely important. I tend to lean more towards Objectivism (which is ethical egoism, not just a pragmatic adaptation of the utilitarian principle) than Utilitarianism, in that the individual is important.

    My distinction with Rand is that I’m not certain that the individual is supremely important in the sense Rand describes. I’m not quite sure how to bridge the gap without compromise, so therein lies my debate.

    As for Rand’s political philosophy, I disagree with her on matters of the environment. The environment is an area where the pursuit of self interest could eventually lead to our own destruction. And I believe that governments are necessary to pay for things where the benefits can only be applied to society as a whole and not individuals.

    I also object to the perfect-world Rand portrays in her book. This is speculation, not experiment, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.

    So, no I don’t agree with everything Rand says. Then again I never agree with anything, anyone says in full. But that definitely doesn’t mean I haven’t started to think more.

    -Scott

  10. Scott Young says:

    Suvine,

    Rand’s book is a moral philosophy — what one “ought” to do. Of course, she says that everyone is free to give charity if they want to. But if you follow her philosophy closely, any pure form of charity (where your own benefits are not the main goal) goes against the idea that man is a purpose unto himself (or herself).

    Yes, I would say Rand believes that it is unethical for governments to “loot” the money of the rich to give to the poor. But it would be a lesser evil to give charity since this embodies the selflessness that Rand strives against.

  11. This is absolutely one of my favorite novels of all time. Especially in a capitalist economy like the United States, it should be read more often — our entire livelihood is based on the principles and ideas discussed in this book.

    No philosophy holds 100% of the time, and I’m sure others will agree that her capitalist utopia is a bit over the top, but it helps put a lot of things in perspective. Basically, you have two options — you can whine about how you don’t have any money, or you can get out there and do something that’s worth paying you for. Ironically, the second option is both selfish AND benefitting others at the same time.

    Enjoy the book!

  12. Joshua says:

    I fear this book will soon be banned for daring to show the evils of socialism…

  13. Evan says:

    @nada
    “If you assume people are rational and will make the best choices for themselves all you have to do is look at the condition of this country to see how that is not the case.”

    The assumption isn’t that everyone is rational. The assumption is that people who are rational, and do produce, and do accomplish great things in their lives, should not have to bow down and suffer for those who aren’t rational. She’s not opposed to ignorance, she’s opposed to rewarding ignorance. And to the person who said that most of the Howard Roarks of the world never make it out of the metaphorical rock quarry, I ask whose fault that is. Is it their fault, for wanting to earn their own money, and not wanting hand-outs they didn’t earn, or is it society’s fault for telling them they can’t own their own life? Also, what’s wrong with working in a rock quarry? It’s honest work, and somebody has to do it. That’s exactly Ayn Rand’s point. Look at Hugh Akston working in the diner. He was doing a pretty low level job, but he was doing it WELL.

  14. Scott Young says:

    Evan,

    Well put.

    I think the point of The Fountainhead wasn’t that Roark was lucky, but that he was perfectly fine with the terms if he had to work in that quarry for his life. He accepted those terms, even if many people would not. He was independent.

    -Scott

  15. matt says:

    Atlas shrugged is one of the most damaging books ever published. Not to the individual, but to the brutes and mystics. That is why people that have read the book are either terrified of what it implies or praise her for putting what most hard working people belive but can quite name it. Anthem, The virtues of selfishness, we the living, and the romantic manafesto are some more books to get a better perspective on objectivism.

    You also have to understand that she was also speaking the truth her works, not facts. Howard Roark could be Sullivan, and architect in the late 19 and early 20th century, John Galt is most definately Nikoli Tesla.

    In the fountainhead she clearly states that the objectivist philosophy is not of her creation. read again the Roark in the Deans office scene in the begining of the book, about how things are borowed.

  16. Tom DeCamilla says:

    Given the current state of our country and government, Atlas Shrugged is must read for all of us. Our government is trying to take over and run private businesses and corporations, a major point of Rand’s in this book. Who is the new John Galt?

  17. Avery says:

    Yes there are flaws in any philosophy. And no, not every believer of Objectivism is a shining example of that which the philosophy emodies. But what sect is perfect? I object to those previous posts pertaining to playing by the world’s rules. Compromising. Going with the flow because it’s the more acceptable thing to do. And no, every Howard Roark isn’t a sucess story. Most stay in the quarries. But the fact that we are out there is the sucess. Not everyone can be the grand prize winner. You can’t have a million first places. That is the theory of competition. But the philosophy of Objectivism is that we would rather get out there and try and possibly fail as individuals, then accept middle ground and blah of ‘what’s good for the hive’.

  18. Cassy Foltz says:

    Scott –
    “But if you follow her philosophy closely, any pure form of charity (where your own benefits are not the main goal) goes against the idea that man is a purpose unto himself (or herself).”
    A good point – charity, by definition, would go against Rand’s philosophy. However, in the way that it is used loosely, simply meaning donating time or money to another cause, doesn’t, necessarily. If you enjoy the work you’re doing or if you simply gain fulfillment from your charity, it is still a benefit to you, while helping others as well.

  19. Scott Young says:

    Cassy,

    I don’t like meta-level discussions applied to Ayn Rand’s philosophy because I think they depart from the meaning of her words. One could argue that, because of the good feelings you get from charity, service or selfless duty, that those actions are selfish under Rand’s definition. But then, you could also argue that it is impossible to do something that gives you no satisfaction (unless it was a completely stupid decision), therefore, it is impossible NOT to follow Rand’s philosophy. But Rand wrote her books to argue a philosophy of life, not state obvious truths, so I don’t think it’s useful to needlessly broaden the context of “selfish” actions.

    -Scott

  20. Cassy Foltz says:

    Scott –
    I agree, and I think Rand would agree, that it’s impossible to do something that’s not a selfish act. I think she was less advocating selfish acts, than advocating the acceptance of this fact. No act in the book IS selfless – in fact the “moochers” and the “looters” in fact are probably the most selfish of all. I think Rand’s point is that we shouldn’t try to PASS OFF any actions at all as selfless, as they were doing, and instead admit that while all acts are selfish, selfish is not a bad thing. I’ll give an example of what I meant. Rand twisted many of her characters’ actions around to make them selfish. John Galt risks his life to watch over Dagny in the real world for his own sake. This is essentially what I was doing when I twisted charity around to make it more selfish.
    -Cassy

  21. Teddy Galt says:

    “The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.”

  22. Chris says:

    You say she believed “it is a person’s selfish ego that is the driving force for human progress.” You need to remove the word “selfish” from your statement. Look up “egoist” and “egotist” in the dictionary and you’ll know the difference. A man must have confidence in himself to succeed. Misplaced arrogance does more harm than good. As for the angry flower cartoon… someone missed, in the book, the point that honest labor… the men who really care and take pride in their work, were valued highly by the ethical “metal king” and were paid well for their work. And, isn’t the whole point of objectivism to question everything, look at all sides of an issue, and try to come up with the best answer? We have seen that completely unregulated capitalism allows for too much power to those who have the most money, but without the freedom to strive for more, what incentive is there for us work hard?

  23. Scott Peterson says:

    I would like to know if you could direct me to a location in the text where a certain quote is found. I do not remember the quote exactly. It is a dialogue between Dagny and a male character (I can’t remember if it is Rearden or Galt). They are discussing the sun’s imminent explosion. The male character says that he always thought that the brilliance of humans would someday prevent the unfortunate occurrence. If you can help that would be great, if not thanks anyways. Let me know the part number and chapter if you can.

  24. puneeta says:

    I would like to refer everyone who wants to be unselfish to the Friends episode where Joey says that there is no such thing as an unselfish act. :)

  25. Mr. E says:

    Its so funny all of the people claiming that Rand is not welcomed in the classroom.

    What a ghastly laugh that gives me, to think that modern education is a reference for intellectual prowess and superiority.

    Rand is a simply an organized thinker who aptly structured moral philosophy.

    That fact that many people don’t understand her or the ideas, is referential evidence of why the times are so dreary, 3rd world-ish, and barbaric.

    Long live the ideas, and honor to Ayn Rand.

    May the rationalists prevail against the animals slurring their words, thinking their style is what makes them individuals, that believe that pity and suffering are a means for prosperity by the hand of gun from people who work hard and earnestly.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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