I'm still reading on Atlas Shrugged. I'm about 750 pages into it now, about 2/3 of the way through. As I'm sure I've noted before, it's very topical due to the current political regime in power. The book does strike some anachronistic notes that let you know that the book is fifty years old: The ubiquity of trains as the way to travel long distances (Eisenhower's Defense Interstate Highway System was in its infancy), classical music as the highbrow music of the day (our heroine Dagny Taggart has a favorite composer), and especially, the common acceptance of cigarette smoking in all social situations. Ayn Rand's cigarettes in the book are so omnipresent that they are almost a minor character.
Still, it is the objectivist philosophy that the book conveys that makes it a must-read. Their enemies, the "looters," are everywhere, and just as in our society today, they tell the productive people that it's their duty to produce for those who leech off of them and give them nothing in return but scorn for their "greed" and "selfishness." The looters promote policies to "make the rich pay their fair share," and in the book, it provokes a strike by the people who make the motor of the world run. In real life, we may be seeing the beginnings of the same thing, as more and more people realize that it is foolish to work harder in order to be taxed at a higher rate.
When Dagny gets to Galt's Gulch, the strikers' secret hideaway in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, she meets a number of productive people who have gone on strike. One of them is a famous doctor. She asks him to give her his reasons for doing so (p. 744):
"I quit when medicine was placed under State control, some years ago," said Dr. Hendricks. "Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, of the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all of the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything -- except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the 'welfare' of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only 'to serve.' That a man who's willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards -- never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind -- yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it -- and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn't."Topical? You make the call.