February 3, 1962
Mr. John Brierley
421 East Wads. Hall
Michigan College of Mining & Technology
Dear Mr. Brierley:
This is in reply to your letter of January 24th. I appreciate your interest in Atlas Shrugged and in my philosophy. But I am puzzled by certain contradictory elements in your letter.
On the one hand, your interest in philosophy and your desire for knowledge sound genuine and sincere. And this is the reason why I am answering your letter. But on the other hand, you seem to be much too concerned with other people.
You write: “I have always admired machines, and dreamed of building them, but when I looked at the people around me it didn’t seem worth the while. I didn’t know what they wanted, if anything, but it couldn’t be anything that I wanted.”
I do not understand what you mean. If other people do not want the same things you want, why should that stop you from achieving your goals? If you are able to create new machines, if your achievement is rationally valuable, you will find people who will appreciate it—as you should have learned from the story of Howard Roark. No man can expect to be an innovator and, simultaneously, expect to find a ready-made audience sharing in advance the values he has not yet produced.
You write: “Now I am ½ year away from graduation (Physics Major) and in the middle of the employment program—and I have no ambition to work for any of the companies.”
I do not understand what you mean by “to work for any of the companies.” If you mean, to earn a living, and you have “no ambition” to do it, then what did you learn from Atlas Shrugged? Since factories and businesses do not grow on trees, one has to begin a career by working for an employer. But the purpose of such work is one’s own career.
You write: “I see no other alternative but to quit. When the world falls apart (as it must, because mankind can progress no
further than it has today without accepting Objectivism) it will be without my help.”
The world can fall apart without anyone’s help. But what right have you to expect the world to accept Objectivism without your help? If you agree with the philosophy of Objectivism and you know that it is new, how and why do you expect other people to advocate it or teach it or spread it while you do nothing about it? Whom do you expect to provide you with the kind of world that you want?
This tendency to expect a perfect world, ready-made for you by others, is very pronounced in your letter. You write: “I have never told anyone what I really believe—and that, too, is a bad thing, because after a while it begins to feel like some shameful secret.” It is a very bad thing indeed, for more reasons than the one you name. The most fundamental of these reasons is the fact that you do not bother to express or advocate your own convictions, yet, somehow, expect the world to share them. You say that you want to quit. How can you quit what you have never started? If you do not fight for your own ideas, you have no right to blame the ideas of others, nor to complain.
You write: “I notice that The Fountainhead differs from Atlas Shrugged in that Roark fought the creed of the second-handers by speaking out for the truth, while Galt found it necessary to “stop the motor of the world.” Is that because conditions have changed, and Roark’s way is no longer possible?” No, it is not because “conditions have changed.” You seem too eager to believe that “Roark’s way is no longer possible.” If you studied ideas more carefully, you would observe that Galt “spoke out for the truth”—to the whole world and for three and one half hours, on the day when he achieved the possibility to do it. The political conditions presented in Atlas Shrugged are those of an almost total dictatorship. Only when a society reaches that stage is it proper for men to think of quitting. So long as a country has no censorship, it is not yet a dictatorship—and men are free to speak and to fight for their ideas. The strike in Atlas Shrugged applies to our present-day conditions only in the following way: it is against the dominant cultural trend of our society, against its philosophy, that one should go on strike. Which means: that one should reject the basic premises of today’s culture and start building a new culture on the philosophical foundation of Objectivism. Which means: that one should actively advocate the right ideas, regardless of what other people think. Which is a policy diametrically opposed to the one you suggest.
I have asked Mr. Branden to send you the information you requested. I hope that you will find it helpful. But I must warn you that I cannot engage in private correspondence nor undertake to discuss philosophical issues by mail.