How did James Taggart get so angry?

Who is John Galt? Who cares?

I got my copy of Atlas Shrugged for the 21st birthday. I had just started to study literature. My father must have thought: "Before the boy dies in Adorno reading circles, that is, before he even learns to spell the word 'culture industry', I'll give him an antidote!" My father was only good to me. He is an engineer and entrepreneur, he doesn't think much of the humanities. And his move does not lack a certain sophistication. He did not give me Prosperity for all by Ludwig Erhard, which I would have quickly exposed as a simple attempt at indoctrination, no, he gave me a novel. A story. And stories have always interested me.

I had never heard of Ayn Rand, the German title Who is John Galt? sounded suspicious Who cares?. So the 1200-page briquette lay untouched by my bed for months. During the weekly calls at home, my father often asked how far I was with "the book". He never tired of emphasizing that to this day it was one of the best-selling books in the USA and even the "most influential book after the Bible" there. He probably thought that this fact should motivate me. But far from it - by now I knew how to spell “culture industry”.

I have Atlas Shrugged finally read it. Once the German translation and then excerpts from the American original. At the university, fellow students and colleagues soon only knew me by the disreputable nickname “the capitalist”. Just consists between reading Atlas Shrugged and my political emancipation from the left-wing hegemonial cultural science cake no connection.

As a son, I can say: my father's effort was a complete waste of time. And as a literary scholar, I would add: Reading Atlas Shrugged is nothing else. It is not because of the German translation, because of the free trade ideology, which is unpopular in Europe, that Ayn Rand is not on the curriculum in philosophical or literary faculties. It's because their books are just bad.

The accusation of literary insignificance can be illustrated by the example of Atlas Shrugged, to illustrate her most famous work. What is it actually about? The USA as an Art Deco dystopia: the state does what it is good at. He's nationalized. Everything imaginable. Trade unions and some big businessmen join forces with the government on expropriations - and many inventors and “doers” are withdrawing from public life because of this threatening situation. What is more: they refuse the society that sucks their companies, even their continued existence under the previous conditions. They do this by destroying their own manufacturing facilities and inventions. Refineries explode, bridges are blown up, trains no longer run - soon the country will come to a standstill, no one is producing any more. With this plot, Rand provides the - in and of itself highly exciting - conceivable scenario of a large-scale libertarian act of terror: brutal retreat and strike by the liberal employers, generators of ideas and key words. It's an original idea. So far so good.


But Ayn Rand charges the whole thing with mystery, significantly more cowboy and chimney romance and a lot of industrialization pathos. Atlas Shrugged therefore tastes like a mixture of “Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich and “Coalbrookdale at Night” by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg - plus a pinch of Leni Riefenstahl.

This crude mix might have been exciting if the author had had a little more flair for literary writing. In comparison with representatives of American literary modernism, however, Rand was narrative not up to date, indeed, in literary terms, she made use of a very antiquated stock of forms and styles. Sympathy or not, that is a sober statement. In purely formal terms, there is no creative play with content or ideological changes of perspective; Ayn Rand buries the delicate beginnings of an arc of tension under tinny pathos. The authorial narrative situation and the strong reader guidance associated with it nip the vast majority of the reader's possibilities for interpretation in the bud. The characters appearing hardly differ in their linguistic style, which almost excludes the subjective experience of each individual. Atlas Shrugged is formally closer to the narrative prose of the 18th century than to the literature of the 20th - just as if Dos Passos, Fitzgerald or Faulkner never existed.

The staff: only cardboard comrades

“Keep it short and simple”, this simple rule should have been known to the screenwriter Rand. The main storyline may be simple, but it is certainly not short: In uninspired pirouettes we follow the railway heiress Dagny Taggart into an industrial bed, visit smoldering factory halls with her, in which there are strange machines, and ultimately find with her a lot of exiled entrepreneurs in a "capital" -Atlantis »in the forest. In between, Dagny and Co. indulge in expansive, sometimes confused zero-sum dialogues that always testify to only one thing: the author's (empirically well investigated) complete lack of empathy. Incidentally, this only applies to dealing with your staff, because monumental steel structures, smoking chimneys and rumbling machines can warm up all the "good" characters and the author for pages.

In the entire personnel inventory, there is not a single character who goes through a development of any kind over the 1200 pages or who otherwise offers himself as a figure of identification. The “good guys” are separated from the “bad guys” in that the former appear from the outset as hardened archetypes of their gender and profession. As an entrepreneur, you reject any government contract, as well as subsidies. Their economic success and the increasingly noticeable “enslavement” by the fictitious US state are their other similarities. The “good guys” break their chains by breaking up their factories at some point. This act of terrorism is not only the most emphatic rejection of Marx's demand for a communitisation of the means of production; in his "resistance pose" it also represents the only possible way of identifying with Dagny Taggart, Francisco d'Anconia and Hank Rearden. But: is this destructive act in more detail Look heroic? No. It's just destructive.1

Even the antagonists, the “bad guys”, as one can put quite strikingly here - but aptly - are exclusively ideological cardboard comrades that the author builds up in order to gradually destroy them with relish. From a literary point of view, they serve no purpose beyond an ideological show trial. It is clear that they are all lawyers and beneficiaries of welfare state redistribution. Most of them have physical or linguistic deficits - or are simply difficult to understand.

"The state is crap - now also as a novel!" - If such a simple political ideological commitment is enough to be able to enjoy a literary work, then take it. It is not enough for me. For a long time I didn't tell my father about that, nor about my impression that this book was dealing with a peculiarly hermetic view of the world that - just like its technical and literary processing - fits better into the 18th than the 20th or 21st century .

Philosophy literature

Many Americans have finished reading it in the 20th or 21st century and are apparently excited. Doesn't there have to be something to it after all? No. Economic success says nothing about the quality of a literary work2 - by the way, just like his failure. The secret of the success of Atlas Shrugged is a different one: the book is literature of opinion, therefore the only novel known to me that is an unconditional one Laisser-faire-Capitalism preaches. This monopoly position coupled with the catchiness of the novel thanks to its comparatively simple structure and its simple message makes Atlas Shrugged to a clever product. It fulfills two sufficient conditions for long-term success in the book market.

Opinion literature is Atlas Shrugged This is because Ayn Rand's normative morals gush out of every line of the book - irretrievably dividing the readership into two parts from the first to the last page. In part, the fringes of socio-economic-philosophical ideals in principle agree. And in who she in principle despised. There are no gray tones in this system, reflection is superfluous and even undesirable. Atlas Shrugged thus has a big one ideological Lobby, no qualitative.3

The lobby of this book is always active when the realpolitical situation is not good for capitalism. And since state-harassed entrepreneurs, as Rand describes them, hardly go out in the real world, and economic crises probably also not in the foreseeable future, this is the market for the novel monopoly Atlas Shrugged a market with no expiration date. The demand for this always expands, especially when Dow Jones or DAX park in the underground car park again. Or more clearly: What do you give when you are invited to a confirmation and are a believer? A bible. And what do you, as a conservative American (with no religious background), give your grandchildren or employees when there is a crisis again? Exactly.

Liberal showcase book?

Ayn Rand's fans are therefore an honorable political denomination that is at home in all social classes. Whether or not they have all read the book remains to be seen; a closer examination of their philosophy has in any case deterred many independent thinkers. All those who Atlas Shrugged but whether his monopoly position is still the successful liberal model novel, a closer look at the figure of Eddie Willers is recommended here. Eddie Willers is the cardboard comrade brand “simple but capable worker” who is enthusiastic about Dagny Taggart and her ideals, but cannot always quite follow her. At the end of the book he sinks exhausted, lonely and lost in himself after trying in vain to get an inoperable locomotive to run in the middle of the desert. John Galt, after all the hero intended by Ayn Rand in this story, is of no interest to these simple, capable people. While Willers is perishing, Galt is dreamily drawing a dollar sign (!) In the night sky at his resort and looks out over the industrial desert that he and his family have left behind. Shouldn't that make you suspicious? Isn't that questionable beyond all Rand's moral axioms? In any case, this cynical behavior has nothing to do with exemplary liberalism, since the former was always a promise for the able-bodied of all walks of life. In Atlas Shrugged It therefore comes as a project of self-proclaimed elites, in which no one apart from indestructible geniuses, rich industrial heirs and objectivist convicts participates.

My father read the book too. When we recently talked about it again, we finally agreed: nice material, poor implementation.



1 In addition, it will be in Atlas Shrugged Insanely committed by precisely those who, from a purely economic point of view, would have no reason to do so: Because those affected here
Large corporations and their leaders traditionally and realiter drive much better close to the state than in free markets, the actions of their owners is largely illogical. Small and medium-sized entrepreneurs would not only have had the greater incentive to emigrate, they would also have been the better projection surfaces.
2 Or keep Kachelmann's autobiography and Fifty Shades of Gray for literary masterpieces?
3 Almost all of the major feature sections and also the notable literary magazines in the USA panned the book due to its literary flaws when it was published. In most of the major literary dictionaries (such as Kindler's literary dictionary) Ayn Rand has not found its way to this day.