In the forward of my copy of Atlas Shrugged, the leading expert on Ayn Rand and her philosophy cites several pages from the journal she kept in preparing to write her novel. In one of these pages, she explains that Dagney Taggert’s fatal flaw in trying to keep the Rio Norte Line running is that Dagney thinks people are basically good, or at the least, that they can be taught to do the right thing. According to Rand, this is a flawed view of humanity. She believed that the only truly “human” humans are those few she thought of as the inventors, creators or the “doers” of the world. She refers to these people as the engine of the world. The rest of humanity — for Rand, anyway – is a waste, as is any attempt to try to teach the common people anything, anything at all. According to rand, the hero of her novel is John Galt, because he leads a strike by the doers against the takers in society. But herein lies Rand’s mistake: one does not lead a strike unless one is trying to influence another person, and trying to influence another person is something Rand explicitly says is a waste of time and, therefore,an irrational act. And doing something irrational is blaspheme to rand, a person who thought man is a god unto himself and perfectible by perfecting the rational intellect.
Now, I am not going to pretend I know all the detailed nuances of Rand’s philosophy. In fact, I know just enough to understand her basic arguments. But that is enough to understand that she asserted a conflicting ideology. For one thing, she speaks of morality, but without a Creator, there can be no such thing. A person who claims the mantle of pure reason should understand this. At best, you can have little more than a personal code of ethics and a system of laws, but not morality: not without a Creator to establish it as a universal. Furthermore, in the same pages cited in her book, Rand makes reference to “spirituality.” She doesn’t explain this, but she mentions that reason is connected to it. I wonder how she defines spirituality without some notion of a Creator. To me, the two notions – pure reason and spirituality – would seem to be contradictions without an allowance for a Creator.
However, as soon as one allows for a Creator in their world view, then Dagney Taggart’s efforts to keep the Rio Norte Line running become an exemplary act of selflessness and service to her fellow man. While it is true she is partially motivated by a stubborn refusal to be defeated, she also shows great concern for her employees, her customers and even the nation as a whole. She even shows this concern for the nation that continually elects the very people who are shutting her down, thereby making the lives of the common person all the more miserable. So I disagree with rand in this point. Rand says Dagney’s fatal flaw is her doomed attempt to save humanity by keeping the RNL running, but Dagney never once tries to save humanity in Rand’s novel. She just tries to keep her part of the world running so others can depend on her and the services she provides. Nor does Dagney do this by forcing others to do her will. She leads by example, she tries to teach and coach and she places competence above incompetence, but never once does she act in a tyrannical way toward her employees or even her competitors. Now, this may be because rand subconsciously over-glorifies the industrialist, but it is – never the less – a perfect example of how we should treat each other. It is also a perfect example of how one shows honor and homage to one’s Creator: by serving others in the process of doing what we do.
So, whether this was Utah’s conscience understanding or not, I think the name The Rio Norte Line is more than befitting of this blog as we are trying to keep this nation working in the face of those who seek to destroy us. We do this through education and leading by example, and – when necessary – by sheer force of will. But we always do so in the spirit of service to our fellow man, and not in some desire to harm and destroy by going on strike to “get back at them” toward those we perceive to be takers. Because, if we “go Galt,” then just like Galt in the book, Atlas Shrugged, we become that which we claim to be better than: the destroyers or society.
As tempting as it may sound, to go on strike just to get back at those who harm us is a supreme act of selfishness, but then, self-interest is at the heart of Rand’s philosophy. I only wish she had lived to see and understand that our modern society is the product of self-interest. The “mouchers” as she calls them are as self-interested as her heroes, and just as rational. After all, they have found a way to live at the expense of those who will be their slaves. How is that not rational? But the end result is what we have now: a dysfunctional and decaying society. Going Galt would not cure this rot, it would only accelerate it. And how is that any different from the mouchers Rand reviles?
So, no, for me, the real heroine of Atlas Shrugged is Dagney Taggert, who struggles to serve others no matter how much those same people work against her. And – for me – that is what The Rio Norte Line is: a collective effort to help others, even if they are doing their best to stop us from doing so. But at no time did Dagney, nor are we trying to “save” anyone. We are humble enough to understand that that’s not our job…