I have just finished reading Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, the enormous (approx. 1,100 pages) novel that outlines her philosophy through the fictitious characters of scientist John Galt, industrialist Hank Rearden and railroad executive Dagny Taggart. This was the second time I have read the novel, the first being when I was at university. It had a more profound effect on me this time.
Firstly, a criticism - it is not a literary masterpiece. It is long-winded, particularly the nearly 100 page monologue by Galt near the end, and her writing style is overwrought.
But Ayn Rand did not set out to write a literary masterpiece, she set out to espouse her philosophy, and Atlas Shrugged does this brilliantly. There can be no doubt in the reader's mind by the end of the book what Ayn Rand believed in and why she considered her philosophy the only truly moral means by which men should conduct their lives (and incidentally, in the book she continually uses the noun "man" to include all of mankind - almost as if she was anticipating and defying the feminist political correctness of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries).
The reason why Atlas Shrugged had a more profound effect on me this time is two-fold. Being older and more experienced, Atlas Shrugged resonated more with my life experience. I have seen the "moochers" and bludgers, the anti-humanist collectivists, the dishonest politicians and the businessmen who apologise for making money, and all the other tawdry characters she parades before the reader. Even the titles of the fictitious laws and government agencies that are created in the name of social good are recognizable from the perspective of the contemporary political and economic environment.
The second reason is that I am more confident that my own philosophical viewpoint is right and moral. This viewpoint has not changed since I read the novel the first time - what has changed is that I am no longer prepared to feel guilty for holding these beliefs.
I believe that every man (and woman) has the right to pursue his own interests so long as that pursuit does not directly impinge upon the rights of others to pursue their interests. I believe that no man owes any other a living. I believe that no man (or government) may morally initiate force against another and that the only moral basis for the use of force is self-defence. I believe that the vast majority of people have the ability to take care of themselves and that those who do not should be assisted by the voluntary actions of those who have an interest in caring for them (such as parents for children), not by compelling others to do so.
I do not believe that anyone should be forced to give up his life, his liberty, his work (including the rewards of his work) or his value as a human being for anyone else. This means I believe that the legitimate role of government is solely to prevent the use of force by any man or group against another. I believe that governments should be funded solely by the voluntary contributions of those they serve. I believe that governments have no place in economics - not even to issue currency, let alone to interfere in the running of legitimate businesses.
I believe these things because I believe human beings are inherently rational. In this respect, I am a humanist - I believe the only truly "human" way to live is without compulsion or compunction. My heaven is a society on earth in which free men deal with each other in a rational, voluntary manner with the only resort to force being that needed to defend against the initiation of force.
I won't apologise for believing these things. Ayn Rand got it right.