I remember exactly when I became a conservative or a libertarian, to the extent that I am either. Maybe a better explanation is I remember when I decided that individuals were more important than the state. I was 14 and in the back seat of our car coming home from visiting my grandparents. My mom had given me the Fountainhead to read previously and that had led me to Atlas Shrugged. It was 12 hours there and I read almost every minute of it, I continued while we enjoyed the 4th of July and some Nebraska Summer and finished it on the ride home. I was completely blown away.
I knew instinctively that I didn't like when people or institutions imposed their will on me. I had problems in school and elsewhere over this for most of my then young life. School was designed to ensure everyone passed and consequently ran at a lowest common denominator level. There were no advanced placement classes or other ways to keep those running at a higher level engaged. You were expected to become another cog in the great machine that would break all to the proper level of mediocrity. Well, I disconcurred and in my own way I went on strike.
In Atlas Shrugged I heard the voices of people who believed they were beholden only to themselves. They would live their lives for no man, and expect no man to live his life for them. Amen to that, there was a philosophy I could get behind. It also dovetailed with my rejection of religion and provided a way to exalt the one thing I could control, my self. Now that sounds very arrogant and I would temper it by saying that this does not mean claiming some sort of god or demi-godhood for the self. It means believing that the highest goal I could achieve is to live my life to its full potential. I needed no one’s permission and didn’t need to heed anyone’s sanction.
Atlas Shrugged does a brilliant job of caricaturing both the individuals and the statists. It is excellent propaganda for the anti-statist, anti-communist/socialist view point. The designation of the statists as Looters and Moochers is so apt and so wicked that it was natural to hate them, a lot! I was livid at the actions of those bastards who believed they had a right to take the fruit of a man’s labors and appropriate it for their own purposes. I was disgusted that they would try to limit the most productive so those less capable could compete. That the strong would be forced not just to subsidize the weak, but would be bent or broken until they became equal to the weak.
Socialism and its bastard step child Social Democracy are designed to level outcomes, not playing fields. They aim to eliminate the playing field entirely and have all human events occur in scripted theater. The strong would be obligated to realize their full work potential, they just would not get to enjoy the rewards they should have earned. Rand called this the sanction of the victim, and that is what the strikers withdrew. They refused to participate in their own destruction, and the attendant destruction of a productive society. There is no socialist entity ever created that has prospered. There is a simple reason for that; if you want productivity, you must provide rewards, period. If the only reward for working better or smarter or faster is more work, then the productive will stop producing to their full potential and the system will devolve to its lowest common productivity level.
You can look at our society today and easily map it onto the Randian model. There are producers and there are looters, and while the Democrats ran Washington for the past couple of years we watched a number of Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rules attempted and some put in place. Buying a couple of car companies only to give them to their unions is a perfect example. The unions turned an entire group of people who used to be producers into looters represented by moochers. Unions are specifically designed to ensure that the least valuable workers are valued as highly as the most valuable. You are measured not by how much you produce or how successful you are, you are measured by your ability to keep a set of work clothes off the ground and fill a slot. Your take of the loot is determined simply by how long you have kept your clothes off the ground.
Now the book itself is a bit of a soup sandwich and is about as subtle as the Hammer of Thor. But that is not the point; this book serves a much bigger purpose than mere literature. It forces you to choose between collectivism and individualism. That is the most important cultural decision anyone makes. The book is designed to point out the absurdity of expecting the best and brightest among us to shackle themselves to the weakest and simply continue to strive out of an imposed sense of obligation. America has the highest level of charitable giving of any country on Earth, but it is not coerced. Those who give do so of their own free will, but that is not good enough for the looters and the moochers. They see the very creation of wealth as oppressive and done through exploitation, and they feel that anyone who accumulates more than they “need” should be forced to share it with those who have not managed to do so. Again, I disconcur.
"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter."
— Francisco d'Anconia, Atlas Shrugged
When Rand turned this into her philosophy of Objectivism and herself into a cult of personality she became a fairly repellent and wicked person. You could say that is the ultimate end to employment of her individualism, or you could say she was a twisted, narcissistic bitch. In the end it doesn’t change the fact that she wrote a wonderfully evocative book that should be read by every American in Junior High. If you can read it and see the end game of social engineering and still believe it is the way to live, then the rest of us will still take care of you. But I think that a dose of Galtian wisdom might help lessen the number of parasites the productive class is forced to carry along.