The Mind as Hero in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
by Dr. Andrew Bernstein
Traditionally the great heroes admired by mankind, in both literature and life, are men of distinctively physical prowess. But it is the men of the mind—the scientists, the thinkers, the producers—who are truly the greatest achievers. These are the life-giving creators whose work makes possible human success, prosperity, happiness.
Atlas Shrugged stands in sharp contrast to the anti-mind mentality. Ayn Rand dramatizes the power of the mind in a story that is, in effect, an ode to the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions. Atlas Shrugged is like an epic poem, but unlike those of Homer and Virgil it does not glorify martial prowess, warfare, and destruction but reason, science, technology, production.
The heroic view of the mind presented by Ayn Rand stands opposed to two philosophical ideas dominant in Western civilization: the self-sacrifice ethics and the “ivory-tower” view of reason’s impracticality. Plato and Kant, the leading purveyors of the “ivory-tower” view, have cut the mind off from practical reality, leading to the widespread conclusion that heroism is either physicalistic or non-existent.
In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has revolutionized our understanding of “heroism.” She has presented a new, more advanced, intellectual hero. John Galt is a hero representing the best of modern civilization—with its science, its medical research, its technological progress, its life-giving intellectual achievements.
When this new realization catches hold among men—when millions of human beings strive to actualize their rational potential—then we will be in the midst of cultural Renaissance.
When that day comes, Atlas Shrugged will have been the cause.