Montreal, September 9, 2007 • No 232




Dr. Edward W. Younkins is a Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.


A Review of Andrew Bernstein's The Philosophic and Literary Integration in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged


by Edward W. Younkins


          This is a timely review of Andrew Bernstein's 1995, 8.5 hours long, 7 tape, audio course, The Philosophic and Literary Integration in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It is timely because the year 2007 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Ayn Rand's masterpiece and many people will be wanting either to revisit Rand's magnum opus or to find out what it is all about. I can think of no better source for people who wish to gain an understanding and appreciation of the philosophical and literary aspects of Atlas Shrugged than Professor Bernstein's excellent course.


          Tape one begins with a discussion of Atlas Shrugged's plot devices. Bernstein identifies these as (1) the imminence of collapse of Western civilization; (2) the mystery of leading producers and great minds vanishing without a trace; (3) the question, "Who is John Galt?"; and (4) the strike of the men of the mind. Bernstein explains each of these in great detail and refers to many example passages in the novel. For example, with respect to the strike, he discusses four types of characters in Atlas Shrugged: (1) strikers; (2) scabs; (3) management (i.e., the looters); and (4) shareholders (i.e., the American people). He also explains why the strike must remain a secret until Galt's speech.

          Narration is Professor Bernstein's next topic. He explains (1) what he calls Ayn Rand's "switching narration" technique, (2) why Eddie Willers is the proper narrator of the first section of the novel and (3) why it is necessary for Dagny Taggart to be the novel's primary narrator.

          Tape two starts with a discussion of Ayn Rand's literary techniques. After explaining the author's use of dialogue, Bernstein moves to a consideration of Rand's use of symbolism as a subsidiary technique. Symbols discussed include: (1) the oak tree, (2) the calendar, (3) the chain bracelet of Rearden Metal, (4) Wyatt's torch, and (5) the sign of the dollar. Bernstein then explains how Rand's use of symbolism is analogous to, and builds upon, her theory of concepts. Other topics include Rand's use of irony, double-meanings, and what Bernstein has dubbed the "juxtaposition of opposites." The last topic is carried over and completed on tape three.

          Tape three is primarily devoted to a consideration of how Ayn Rand readapts and recasts Greek myths to tell them from an Objectivist perspective. These myths include Phaλton, Prometheus, Atlantis, Atlas, and Odysseus and the Sirens. Toward the end of tape three Bernstein begins a presentation with respect to the levels of meaning in Atlas Shrugged's chapter titles.

          Tape four completes the discussion of the chapter titles and then explains the significance of the titles of each ten-chapter part of Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand draws the titles (Noncontradiction, Either/Or, and A is A) from Aristotle's three laws of logic.

"I can think of no better source for people who wish to gain an understanding and appreciation of the philosophical and literary aspects of Atlas Shrugged than Professor Bernstein's excellent course."

          Tape five starts with an analysis of self-sacrifice in the love triangle between Francisco, Dagny, and Galt. To analyze the above situation, Bernstein compares it with the love triangle found in Cyrano de Bergerac. Bernstein next explains how Atlas Shrugged is both a utopian and dystopian novel and compares it with George Orwell's Animal Farm. After that, Bernstein compares the writing styles of Ayn Rand and the great master, Shakespeare.

          Tape six evidences a transition between the study of the literary aspects to the philosophical elements of Atlas Shrugged. Topics discussed here include secondhandedness, whimworship, the mind-body split in self-sacrificial ethics, and the relationship between nihilism and socialism.

          Tape seven begins with an in-depth explanation of the sanction of the victim principle. Bernstein explains that man is a rational being who requires a moral code to guide his actions that must be justified to others and to oneself. The theme of Atlas Shrugged is identified as the role of reason in human life. Bernstein then discusses how Atlas Shrugged is both a polemical and a positive novel. Next, he explains the philosophical reasons behind the phenomenon of redistribution in society. Then, the evils of democracy and majority rule are made clear. The last polemical point involves the story of the fall of Robert Stadler who sells his mind to the looter-politicians in exchange for funding for his theoretical research.

          The course concludes with a discussion of Atlas Shrugged as the presentation of a rational philosophy. Bernstein identifies the theme of the novel as the role of the mind in man's existence. He then briefly talks about Galt's speech as embodying Rand's revolutionary, systematic, and rational philosophy. The course then ends with a short but interesting question and answer period.

          Professor Bernstein is the author of Cliffs' Notes for Atlas Shrugged and is arguably one of the world's foremost experts on this great novel. His immense knowledge, incredible enthusiasm, and fine sense of humor are clearly evident on this audio course. See for yourself. It is available at the Ayn Rand Bookstore. The only recommendation I have for the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and Second Renaissance Books is to consider filming the course and bringing it out on DVD.