Atlas Shrugged/Concepts

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Some of the important concepts discussed in Atlas Shrugged include the Sanction of the Victim and the Theory of Sex.

Sanction of the Victim[edit]

The Sanction of the Victim is defined as "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values."

The entire story of Atlas Shrugged can be seen as an answer to the question, what would happen if this sanction was revoked? When Atlas shrugs, relieving himself of the burden of carrying the world, he is revoking his sanction.

The concept is supposedly original in the thinking of Ayn Rand and is foundational to her moral theory. She holds that evil is a parasite on the good and can only exist if the good tolerates it. To quote from Galt's Speech: "Evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us", and, "I saw that evil was impotent...and the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it." Morality requires that we do not sanction our own victimhood, Rand claims. In adhering to this concept, Rand assigns virtue to the trait of selfishness.

Throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters admit that there is something wrong with the world but they cannot put their finger on what it is. The concept they cannot grasp is the sanction of the victim. The first person to grasp the concept is John Galt, who vows to stop the motor of the world by getting the creators of the world to withhold their sanction.

We first glimpse the concept in Section 121 when Hank Rearden feels he is duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility towards him.

In section 146 the principle is stated explicitly by Dan Conway: "I suppose somebody's got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain."

Theory of Sex[edit]

In rejecting the traditional Christian altruist moral code, Rand also rejects the sexual code that, in her view, is a logical implication of altruism.

Rand introduces a theory of sex in Atlas Shrugged which is purportedly implied by her broader ethical and psychological theories. Far from being a debasing animal instinct, sex is the highest celebration of our greatest values. Sex is a physical response to intellectual and spiritual values—a mechanism for giving concrete expression to values that could otherwise only be experienced in the abstract.

One is sexually attracted to those who embody one's values. Those who have base values will be attracted to baseness, to those who also have ignoble values. Those who lack any clear purpose will find sex devoid of meaning. People of high values will respond sexually to those who embody high values.

That our sexual desire is a response to the embodiment of our values in others is a radical and original theory. However, even those who are sympathetic to this theory have criticized it as being incomplete. For instance, since according to Rand the economy is also such an expression of values, and since it is always possible to encounter someone who embodies one's values more completely, this would seem to make family undesirable. (Indeed, Rand treats "family" as a sort of trap.) Furthermore, promiscuity, prostitution, and an endless round-robin of "values-driven" sexual relationships would become inevitable. From this viewpoint, one could say that Aldous Huxley portrayed the ideal sexual state: Brave New World features humans who are incapable of deviating from their caste-oriented "values", which naturally include a code of sexual desirability.

Her sexual theory is illustrated in the contrasting relationships of Hank Rearden with Lillian Rearden and Dagny Taggart, and later with Dagny Taggart and John Galt.

Other important illustrations of this theory are found in:

  • Section 152 - recounts Dagny's relationship with Francisco d'Anconia.
  • Section 162 - recounts Hank and Lillian Rearden's courtship, and Lillian's attitude towards sex.