The actions of these collective groups lead only to frustration, a lack of responsibility, ineptitude, and inefficiency.
What sort of world does this lead to? The people who are most capable seem to be disappearing, while the least capable are left in charge. Dagny wants to know why the capable people are disappearing, and she has to find the answer to this question in order to understand what is happening throughout society. The old virtues, virtues that sustained the business community and that made America great in the past, are no longer in force. People once took pride in their work and in the act of earning their own way. These things seem to have disappeared just as have the capable workers. The consequences are all around as things keep breaking down -- systems, machinery, people.
The villains in this story are socialists, or more descriptively those who oppose individualism and free enterprise. Wesley Mouch is representative of this group. He is a collectivist who sees the need for social programs and welfare systems that in essence protect the workers from having to work at all. He sees the big factories and manufacturing plants as places whose ownership should be divided among the workers, while he views the leaders at the top as parasites who make no contribution to the general welfare. In the structure of the novel, Mouch is one of those responsible for the long slide of the economic system into torpor and decay, while Dagny and the men with whom she becomes allied fight to stop this slide and to return the economy to an individualistic base.
In the novel, Rand presents good characters as those who believe in personal achievement and individual effort, while the bad characters are those who accept collectivism and who do not value the individual as much as they do the general welfare. In Dagny's view in the beginning, the good characters are those who seem to be disappearing, while the bad characters are those left behind to inflict damage and to destroy through their own ineptitude. One set of good characters can be clearly identified by their association with the mountain community where the new free enterprise system has been created. Rand is not very subtle in the way she differentiates the good from the bad characters. It is not unlike the old westerns where the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black hats. This utopian community is known as Galt's Gulch and is the brainchild of the shadowy figure of John Galt, the ultimate good guy in the structure of the novel and the man who is soon revered by all those who oppose the collectivist mentality that has infected society. This community has as its motto that no one in it will ever live for the sake of another nor allow another to live for their sake. Instead, individual effort and individual achievement are to be elevated to a high degree. This is how Rand defines morality and alternatively defines immorality. Moral action is individual, personal action taken by the individual with no external authority.
It is John Galt who spells out the essence of the moral life when he makes his broadcast after commandeering the airwaves. This is said to be a rational philosophy in opposition to what he calls the "cult of zero-worship" that he says has captured the national will. The society he pictures in the outside world is a society in which the weak sap the strength of the strong, and he calls for all of those who are strong enough to take themselves out of such a society and vanish rather than allowing themselves to be used by the weak.
This is the way Rand envisions a socialist society. She sees the weak as those who cannot compete and cannot make it on their own. She would reject any form of the welfare state as no more than a case of the weak feeding off the strong. The heroes are those who assert their individuality and succeed. Francisco expresses the view that seems to infuse Atlas Shrugged, namely that the making of money is a measure of success and proof of the assertion of individuality. He denies that money is the root of all evil:
Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. (Rand 387)
For Dagny, the railroad represents the essence of what life should be about and what it would be about were it not for the intrusive and destructive welfare state and collectivist mentality: "A train has two great attributes of life, she thought, motion and purpose; this had been like a living entity, but now it was only a number of dead freight cars and engines" (Rand 335). This is what is happening to society as well -- it is becoming a series of dead freight cars and engines, and indeed here the engines have vanished. Society has lost its purpose, and without this there is no motion.
In Rand's assessment, the only solution is a revolution in which there is a reversal of the usual revolution from the bottom. In this case, the revolution will destroy the bureaucratic nature of society, and the elite will then return from their exile to rebuild. The rebuilding effort will be the real revolution, and it will bring society back to what it should have remained -- a system of free enterprise without interference and without a parasitic class living off the successful.
Technology has an important place in the new society. It is a tool leading to increased wealth and production. For others, Technology can pose a threat, often set against normal human emotions and effort, as is seen in Brave New World, the futuristic novel by Aldous Huxley, where the primary accepted emotion is happiness, while other emotions, especially any that might threaten happiness, are denied. Love is a positive emotion, but love has within it the potential for negative responses, for hurt feelings, for pain, and so is to be eliminated in the utopian society. The love that develops between Bernard and Lenina is therefore something that the two have difficulty recognizing for what it is because love is an unfamiliar emotion and one that society has in effect demonized. Yet clearly love cannot be eliminated entirely. Lenina indeed experiences feelings of a growing need for long-term intimacy before she meets Bernard, and her friend excoriates her for it:
It's such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man... And you know how strongly the D.H.C. objects to anything intense or long-drawn. (Huxley 40)
This is true not only of sexual love but of love between mother and son, as is evident in the story of John and Linda. Linda mouths all the accepted ideas about having children like a savage and being ashamed of having a child, but there are feelings within her that are stronger than social conditioning:
But she didn't hit him. After a little time, he opened his eyes again and saw that she was looking at him. He tried to smile at her. suddenly she put her arms around him and kissed him again and again. (Huxley 128)
Yet it is made clear what this society believes about such relationships in families:
Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! (Huxley 37)
Individuality is also downgraded by this society, and emotions we would accept as self-esteem have been eliminated in favor of a communal "emotion." The accepted view in this society is that "everyone belongs to everyone else":
The students nodded, emphatically agreeing with a statement which upwards of sixty-two thousand repetitions in the dark had made them accept, not merely as true, but as axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable. (Huxley 39-40)
The social controllers have eliminated these emotions through a number of conditioning methods, but the primary means of eliminating them has been to eliminate the family, the crucible where emotional bonds are formed and where the need for later bonds to supplant those between parent and child is formed. The elimination of the family has gone so far as to make the family and its relationships appear socially undesirable, psychologically unhealthy, and un-human. Human beings are touted as more advanced than animals and thus as no longer in need of the bonds and crutches animals…