For Atlas Stumbled, one of the things I’m going to provide is a larger context for Atlas Shrugged. While reading Atlas Shrugged, I noticed along the way that Rand will invent things she doesn’t need to invent. So she will create fictional philosophers when, you know, there are real ones to choose from. She does things like this because it is exceptionally hard to argue about these fictional sources. What does the fictional philosopher really say? Only the snippets we get from the characters in a novel, they are our only source of interpretation! If you use a real philosopher, well, now people can actually look into what they said and see the nuances or see how Rand misrepresents their work. Thus, Rand is careful to avoid specific references to Kant and Nietzsche because people might legitimately argue her interpretation and what this means to the story overall.
(This is the big reason I’m writing Atlas Stumbled. She’s dishonestly using the fiction of her ridiculously unbelievable novel to spread ideas about our actual society. In doing so, well, I think about a third of the novel is paper tigers and straw men of various sorts. It’s insane that a book written in such bad faith should be so influential, but the novel is indisputably influential.)
So, context is important for me in order to counter the straw men in Atlas Shrugged. (I also submit it will be better for the story, creating a richness and texture that Rand lacks, and is perhaps incapable of producing.) And what comes with that kind of context is reinterpretation. The significance of events in the story change, often quite dramatically, with actual context.
Part of what I am doing, then, is imagining how communism could be part of American culture. I am choosing to say that the USSR developed atomic weaponry during WWII and came to dominate the world in a big way, specifically preventing the US from developing atomic weaponry, and becoming a satellite state of the Soviet Union. That communism in the US during the 1940s and 50s arises from the immediate atomic threat of the USSR, and the political domination that would arise from this fact.
This allowed me to see some of the core conceits of the novel in different ways. Particularly, how people engaged in labor.
In Atlas Shrugged, people don’t work very much, either individually or in the government. Only the book’s heroes, or those inspired by the book’s heroes, willfully and enthusiastically engage in labor. Well, if one looks at conquered or dominated nations, and for this I’m thinking about Nazi-occupied France but there are other examples, people will engage in a lot of work stoppages and slowdowns. In a communist-influenced America, it is very easy to see Americans – unable to strike directly at an atomic armed USSR – engaging in the same behavior. I think Americans would do everything in their power to stall the engine of American industry in order to prevent the Soviet Union from profiting on their domination.
Which is a bit of a “holy shit” moment for me. It recontextualizes almost everything in the whole book! The government in Atlas Shrugged is wildly incompetent . . . or are they part of the government slowdown?
Was all that “collectivist” talk a code used by people in order to convince Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart to stop helping the USSR take advantage of American industry? Were they trying to bring Hank and Dagny into the conspiracy to slow down US industry to prevent it from being used by the Soviet Union?
Were any of the people in the cast, like Wyatt Ellis, Soviet collaborationists, using capitalism as a pretext to trick Hank and Dagny into making goods for the USSR?
If the US is dominated by the USSR, all of these things are possible, even plausible.
That there is a significant alternate interpretation of Atlas Shrugged where the protagonists are acting rashly and stupidly is not particularly surprising. Rand creates so many straw men and paper tigers, she explains things so badly with such frequency, that an alternate interpretation seemed inevitable. I am surprised on how comprehensively powerful my alternate interpretation seems. I feel I could literally rewrite Atlas Shrugged, using all the same dialogue and situations, but in such a fashion that Dagny and Hank are nothing but Russian stooges, ignorant of the consequences of their actions. I didn’t expect for there to be a single explanation that was so all-encompassing.