I think a lot of critics don’t like that the main characters in Atlas Shrugged are all rich, powerful, and have fancy titles. I think the reason why the main characters had to be wealthy and powerful is in the title of the book – the book is mostly about specific people becoming the next new hope for the broken economy… and then disappearing and taking their industry with them, leaving the country to fend for itself and find the next new hope. They are the people who extract/produce stuff we all depend on – fuel, raw materials, the infrastructure. When they shrug, bad shit happens. A lone worker or an academic shrugging wouldn’t have the same effect.
However, it doesn’t mean such a person’s story is not worth telling. I think this happens to philosopher Hugh Akston. He was a professor at a university, and a known advocate of reason. After a while, reason fell out of favor and his teachings were no longer marketable. Not only that, but John Galt calls on him to strike and contribute at little as possible to the world. So Dr. Akston gets a job flipping burgers. He’s extremely good at it. Dagny finds him and can’t believe a philosopher would work as a cook. She tries, unsuccessfully, to get him to work for her, for a much higher pay.
“ ”But . . . but what are you doing here?” Her arm swept at the room. “This doesn’t make sense!”
“Are you sure?”
“What is it? A stunt? An experiment? A secret mission? Are you studying something for some special purpose?”
“No, Miss Taggart. I’m earning my living.” The words and the voice had the genuine simplicity of truth.
“Dr. Akston, I . . . it’s inconceivable, it’s . . . You’re . . . you’re a philosopher . . . the greatest philosopher living . . . an immortal name . . . why would you do this?”
“Because I’m a philosopher, Miss Taggart.””
What I like about this is that Dr. Akston abandons his fancy title for a low-status job, for justice. When he says “Because I’m a philosopher”, I hear “Because I live my principles”. Although the first time I read that, I interpreted it as “I can’t just be a philosopher, getting a monthly paycheck from the government, I’d rather do something real people are willing to pay for”. And perhaps my original interpretation is not entirely wrong. Even while he’s striking, Dr. Akston is doing a great job at work. I think someone who values competence and reason can’t stop themselves from living up to those values, even when their goal is non-contribution. They want to live off of something real people are willing to pay for.