In a postscript to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand presents her philosophy of objectivism: My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
The novel presents Rand’s philosophical ideas in the form of a mystery.
It is impossible to separate Rand’s personal history from the themes in Atlas Shrugged. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg in 1905, Rand experienced first-hand the communist takeover of Russia before emigrating to the United States in 1926. In her youth, she concluded that individual freedom had to be the basis for any moral system of government. A fierce individualist, she saw communism as a sacrifice of the good and best to the mediocre and commonplace. This theme would echo in all of her writings, including her last work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged.
Rand has described John Galt’s radio speech as her explanation of objectivism, or rational self-interest. Urged by one editor to cut the sixty book pages that make up the speech, she refused to do so, citing the speech’s critical importance to the novel. Rand’s philosophy, as expressed in Atlas Shrugged, still exerts a strong influence upon the political culture of the United States, particularly among free-market conservatives.
The philosophical themes of the book inspired the development of the objectivist philosophical school. Alan Greenspan, part of this school and a key member of Rand’s inner circle, effectively became the leading economist of the United States when he became chair of the Federal Reserve Board in 1987. (He served in that position until 2006.) Atlas Shrugged, which remains the bible of economic conservatives, is arguably one of the most influential novels ever published.