Integrity is one of the main identified and extensively defined virtues in Atlas Shrugged, along with rationality, honesty, independence, productiveness, justice, and pride. It is a fundamental quality that any person should acquire and develop, regardless of their field of work. However, when it comes to business and leadership, integrity is essential if you want to ensure success. In Atlas Shrugged, we can observe many situations in which the main protagonists have maintained their integrity. We can also identify cases in which, some of them have failed to do so and the effect it has had on them and we also have a fair share of characters, which had no integrity to begin with, which is why this book provides an interesting learning opportunity. As readers we get to see the thought processes of the characters, their decisions, and the consequences of their actions, both positive and negative, enabling us to extract valuable lessons about the relationship between business and ethics, which we can apply to our own lives and practices. And integrity, is a virtue, which can be easy to overlook for businesspeople, as it requires the courage to choose the more difficult path and stand by it. But as we see in Atlas Shrugged it is also a virtue, which predetermines success.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, integrity means “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values,” but in her philosophy Ayn Rand broadens the definition by including that you must act in accordance with your own moral values, derived by your own rationality and objectivity. It means “loyalty to one’s knowledge” (Becker 157). The truth should be held at the highest esteem and that which is unreal should be disregarded. This includes being impervious to social opinions, convictions, or pressures, as you cannot fake your own consciousness or reality. A person should not sacrifice himself for the desires of others but fight for his own goals and achievements. To understand this notion, it is important to define what sacrifice is. Helping others is not a sacrifice, as when you choose to help the ones you love, you do so because of your own values, which is the essence of integrity. However, helping others because you are pressured into feeling responsible for those who have less is sacrifice, as you act in accordance with social pressure to share what you have earned yourself.
The most vivid example of integrity can be observed in the face of John Galt. He is the first character, who realizes the threats of a society governed by looters and decides to stand up for his moral values. When the reform of Twentieth Century Motor Company starts, he concludes that the only way to stop the exploitation of those who think and create is to show society what the world without them would look like, or as he calls it – “to stop the motor of the world.” Ever since this realization, he has been fighting to achieve this goal, driving the story from behind the curtain. He managed to convince all thinkers to stand alongside him and strike and this is where it gets tricky. As integrity means acting based on your own rationality and morality, some might argue that those who joined the strike, betrayed their integrity, because they let themselves be influenced by someone else. However, that would be a false inference, because Galt does not recruit thinkers randomly. He observes them and waits until they are ready, until they have seen the practical reality and come to the same realization on their own. That is the moment, when he approaches and as they agree to join the strike, he makes them swear to serve themselves and no other, thus maintaining both theirs and his own integrity.
Galt is the embodiment of all seven fundamental virtues. He acts rationally, seeks truth and justice throughout the entire book and refuses to be guided by emotion for the expense of reason, even when the truth is unpleasant. An example of that is his relationship with Dagny. Although he loves her, he knew that she wasn’t ready to leave the world she knows and join the strike, so he let her go and waited. If he had made her stay or let her return before she was ready, he would have compromised the integrity of the strike and of himself, as Dagny is not yet a supporter. If he had compromised his integrity, the strikers wouldn’t have the same faith and trust in him. As a leader he has to set an example and honor his commitment to the cause, which brings about a clear focus for those who follow him and more efficient results. Like in this case the strikers follow Galt because they trust him and his judgement and admire his achievements.