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New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

The Part and Chapter Headings of Atlas Shrugged (Part 2)

Learn how to grasp the mystery and the logic of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus.

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Part I focused on achievement: the creation of a rail line made of a new metal superior to steel, in order to provide service to the booming state of Colorado. It dealt with the obstacles Dagny and Hank faced in building the John Galt Line—both the men of ability disappearing and the looters like Jim, Mouch, Boyle, and Stadler attacking Rearden Metal, destroying the Phoenix-Durango and passing the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. It showed how Dagny and Hank succeeded nevertheless—and then how easily their achievement was destroyed by the looters’ directives.

Part II contains no comparable act of achievement. Colorado rapidly disintegrates and Dagny and Hank are left trying to tread water, hoping that they can somehow prevent the whole country from going under. The only thing that gives meaning to the future for Hank and Dagny, a future where achievement would once again be possible, is the quest to find the inventor of the motor and learn why his invention was left abandoned in a factory.

They must learn that it is either-or. Either the world is such that an inventor of a new power source is admired, or it is a world where achievement disappears. Either it is a world where the productive state of Colorado is protected and not looted, or it is a world that descends into a thousand Starnesvilles. There is no stable middle ground, only a downward spiral. The appearance of a firm middle ground came only from the fact that there always seemed to be another victim to loot. But as more and more industrialists vanish, from Colorado and elsewhere, new victims are more difficult to find.

In a last stab to find a stable middle ground, the looters attempt to freeze the nation and the economy by issuing Directive 10-289. Under the directive, they know, there will be no new achievement, but also, they hope, no further decay because everyone will be tied to their jobs, performing the same routine over and over. But by outlawing achievement and its source, the thinking mind, the looters simply hasten the nation’s disintegration.

The Taggart tunnel disaster illustrates how the nation descends from the shining productivity that was Colorado to the fate of Starnesville. As a result of Directive 10-289, there are few thinking men left on Taggart Transcontinental. They’ve been replaced by individuals who seek to exist without judgment, without having to decide whether something is either A or non-A. In reality, either it is safe to send a coal-burning engine into the tunnel or it is not safe. But no one at Taggart Transcontinental will officially declare that it is safe or not safe. They seek to exist in some indefinite, nebulous middle. The passengers too seek to exist in the middle. They accept and echo all the ideas and slogans of the looters, yet still expect there to be functioning trains and a functioning industrial civilization. They discover otherwise; their last sight on earth is Wyatt’s torch.

Looking at it another way, what destroyed the Twentieth Century Motor Company and led to Starnesville is precisely what the whole nation is now trying to implement: the special tax imposed on Colorado was morally justified by noting that Colorado was “the state best able to assist the needier states to bear the brunt of the national emergency” (part I, 334). The results of this morality have to be the same.

This is what the Twentieth Century Motor Company’s young engineer grasps. He realizes that it is either-or. Either you are on the side of the mind and achievement or you are on the side of the world’s corrupt moral ideal—and only the sanction of the victims has obscured this fact. When he hears the Starnes’ plan, John Galt promises to stop the motor of the world.

What he has learned is what Hank and Dagny must discover. Both are caught in the middle. Hank senses the freedom that would come from quitting—he laughs at Wyatt’s act of destruction and later at the crash of d’Anconia Copper’s stock, and he wants to laugh when Ragnar tells him no one will be permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal. But he stops himself because he cannot desert his mills—nor blame Ragnar for the course of action Ragnar has chosen.

Hank is beginning to discover with Francisco’s help, however, that he is in the middle: he hasn’t been fighting the looters, he’s been propping them up through his moral sanction. But Hank thinks he can withdraw his sanction, as he does at his trial, and still remain in the world fighting the looters.

Dagny does quit after Directive 10-289 is passed, but she doesn’t know how to go on after that. She feels caught in a world without shape or identity. “It seems monstrously wrong to surrender the world to the looters,” she says, “and monstrously wrong to live under their rule. I can neither give up nor go back. I can neither exist without work nor work as a serf” (618). But she rushes back to the world after the tunnel disaster, unable to abandon her love to its complete destruction.

Both Hank and Dagny must learn that their battle is either-or: that they are either on the side of the strikers or on the side of the looters, either on the side of the mind or on the side of the mindless.

Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth

The title of this chapter refers to Hank—and to Stadler. Both men have a spirit-matter split. Hank is a man who belongs on earth, or more exactly, Dagny thinks to herself, “a man to whom the earth belongs”; but he is only beginning to discover this fact (370). Stadler, by contrast, is the man to whom the earth could have belonged, but he’s renounced it.

When Hank walks to Dagny’s apartment from the conference with the doomed copper producers, he is filled with loathing for the world. “If what he saw around him was the world in which he lived, then he did not want to touch any part of it, he did not want to fight it, he was an outsider with nothing at stake and no concern for remaining alive much longer” (374). But Hank does not succumb to the loathing; he sees and chooses to hold on to the possibility of another mode of existence, of men whose purpose is to rise and to build, to create metals and motors; “so long as he knew that there existed one man with the bright courage of a new thought, could he give up the world to those others? . . . the men who invented motors did exist, he would never doubt their reality, it was his vision of them that had made the contrast unbearable, so that even the loathing was a tribute of his loyalty to them and to the world which was theirs and his” (377).

Hank is a this-worldly idealist: he wants to make the ideal, real. This has always been his motivation in business, to build in the image of his vision of what could be—to erect mills and produce steel and invent a metal superior to steel. He’s now beginning to see that this union of the spiritual and the material should pervade his whole life—that he should not leave his capacity to love Dagny unexpressed, confined to the hopeless longings of paintings and museums—that the pleasure of luxuries are real when infused with spiritual significance, as they are between him and Dagny—that his desire for her and hers for him are expressions and celebrations of their desire to live—“that that which he had called her depravity” in Wyatt’s house “was her highest virtue—this capacity of hers to feel the joy of being, as he felt it” (378).

As a this-worldly idealist, Hank won’t surrender the world to evil. He would not, for instance, sell Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute without knowing what Project X is. And he is now beginning to see how to fight his enemies. They depend on some kind of sanction from their victims—the traffic cop from the State Science Institute needed Rearden to pretend that the transaction would be a friendly sale, just as Stadler needed Dagny to pretend that his was still a mind devoted to intelligence and truth, not to their destruction.

But can you remain in the looters’ world without sanctioning their evil? Hank senses the answer, when he laughs in triumph and deliverance at Wyatt’s burning oil fields, but he then pulls back, “now condemned to constant vigilance against himself” (363). He wants to remain in the world, with his mills and his metal, and still fight the looters. He’ll discover it’s either-or.

Stadler too feels loathing for the world as it is, but for him the loathing has become a constant emotion. Why? Because rather than fighting for his kind of world and for any man with the courage of a new thought, as Hank resolves to do, Stadler declares the fight futile—what can you do when you have to deal with people? Instead of fighting, he chooses to make terms with evil by divorcing spirit from matter. He seeks as a refuge a pure world of theory and intellect. He renounces the material world as low and unworthy—a realm in which intelligence is unneeded. The only possible function of its inhabitants is to serve him; he commands—he needs a research laboratory or more heating at the Institute—and they should obey. He thereby helps deliver the world to the mindless and so, eventually, to the brute.

And this is precisely what we begin to see springing up everywhere: rule by the non-mind, from the State Science Institute “successfully” reclaiming Wyatt’s oil fields without producing a drop of oil—to Jim claiming that Taggart Transcontinental is at its most profitable because unearned money is flowing in from Washington—to the Wet Nurse becoming the Deputy Director of Distribution for Rearden Metal. It is this fact that Floyd Ferris’s book, Why Do You Think You Think? drives home to Stadler and which he must evade: Stadler has placed his name and intellect in the service of the anti-mind. Stadler desperately longs for men of intelligence—while promoting the idea that men are irrational and that intelligence is unnecessary to live in the world. He wants above all to see Galt, but has to hope Galt is dead, because Galt’s is the voice that would blast away Stadler’s evasions and reveal Stadler’s actual motivation.

For Stadler too it is either-or: either he acknowledges the inescapable fact that life on earth demands intelligence, and like Hank resolves to fight for these men instead of making them his victims—or he holds that the material world does not demand intelligence. But then what do its keepers need Stadler for? This is his great fear: rather than the Floyd Ferrises of the world—the valets of science—ministering to him, they won’t need him any longer.

Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull

As Francisco remarks, the aristocracy of pull has replaced the aristocracy of money. The people now running the country, we see in this chapter, trade not in money but in men. They therefore must hold something over the men whom they trade.

It is a precarious form of existence: even within the world of the looters, none can be certain his blackmails will work. Jim had Mouch in his pocket because of written evidence documenting how Mouch double-crossed Rearden. But Mouch is getting to be so influential in Washington that even such an ugly scandal would not derail him; Jim’s hold on Mouch is slipping: Mouch doesn’t even bother to show up for Jim’s wedding.

But as these men jockey for the power to loot, their schemes require that there still exist men who make money. They believe there will always be producers continuing to produce, whom they can exploit. The power-seekers at Jim’s wedding are all counting on Francisco to make d’Anconia Copper wildly profitable. They are, in Francisco’s words, “the men of the double standard . . . the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue.” But what if Francisco removes the pillar holding them up, by deliberately choosing not to produce? With the news of d’Anconia Copper’s impending crash, we see the looters for what they are: “These men had become a pile of rubble, clattering in the wind of panic, the rubble left of a structure when its key pillar has been cut” (422).

But three pillars remain in the room, looking at one another: Francisco, Dagny, and Hank. And the looters still have a hold on the last two.

The looters count on their victim accepting their standards without him understanding those standards or being fully aware that he is sanctioning a whole different code. We see this happen with Hank. He attends Jim’s wedding because he thinks he is guilty and Lillian is in the right to demand that he perform his duties as a husband. But his evaluation of his guilt and her right actually comes from her standards, not his own. And his very presence at the wedding implies that they are not looters. “In your code but not in theirs,” Francisco tells him, “accepting a man’s hospitality is a token of good will, a declaration that you and your host stand on terms of a civilized relationship. Don’t give them that kind of sanction” (416). But Rearden can’t yet understand what Lillian and the others are after and so what it is he’s sanctioning.

We see the same form of error with Cherryl. She can’t understand much of what Jim confesses to her, and the parts she thinks she understands, she has whitewashed by reinterpreting according to her standards. So for instance she thinks that Jim’s fellow looters hate him because they envy his achievement and that when Jim flaunts that she’s only a shop girl, it’s “the gesture of a courageous man defying their opinion” (391). Like Rearden, she is suspicious and uneasy at times, but she gives Jim the benefit of every doubt. She can’t fathom his motivation: “there are people who’ll try to hurt you through the good they see in you,” the sob sister tells her, “knowing that it’s good, needing it and punishing you for it. Don’t let it break you when you discover that” (392).

But the pull the looters have on a man of virtue is actually more precarious than the blackmails they have on each other. It will disappear if their victim identifies his own standards and those of his oppressors. And Hank is beginning to glimpse this fact: at the party he suddenly wonders why he should have to live by standards other than his own—why doesn’t he just seize Dagny, as he so desperately wants to? He also momentarily applies his own standards to Lillian by thinking that a contract is not valid if “no valuable consideration had been given by one party to the other” (398). He senses that all the questions of his life would be answered if he discovered the connection between having to hide his deal with Danagger and his affair with Dagny. And he laughs at Francisco’s deliberate act of destruction.

For the looters’ world to collapse requires only that one of its last pillars, Hank, grasp that the answer to Francisco’s question is that he, Hank, is the guiltiest man in the room. As Francisco says at the end of his speech about the meaning of money, “When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns—or dollars. Take your choice—there is no other—and your time is running out” (415). Time is running out—the world is descending into savagery—because Galt has been systematically removing the pillars like Hank, the pillars on which the whole (seemingly civilized) aristocracy of pull depends. The greatest symbol of Jim’s power, much greater than if Mouch had attended his wedding, is Lillian’s gift to him: Hank’s attendance. “Your guests are quite impressed,” Lillian tells Jim. “Most of them are thinking: ‘If he has to seek terms with Jim Taggart, we’d better toe the line.’ And a few are thinking: ‘If he’s afraid, we’ll get away with much more.’ This is as you want it, of course” (398). But Hank can end Jim’s power simply by walking away.

Chapter III: White Blackmail

The few remaining pillars continue to fall—Ken Danagger quits, refusing (we learn in a later chapter) to be paid with torture for his virtues. It is this form of torture, this white blackmail, that Hank is starting to understand.

Lillian is worried, and not without reason, that Hank will do what Francisco did to d’Anconia Copper. The reason she is worried is that although Hank remains captive to alien standards in his personal life, he is beginning to see the importance of explicitly proclaiming his standards in business. This becomes evident when Ferris tries to blackmail Hank into voluntarily selling Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute for Project X. Ferris threatens to expose the business deal Hank made with Danagger, and Hank wonders why Ferris seems pleased that one of their laws has been broken. “Well,” Ferris answers him, “what do you think there they’re for?” Hank now sees the flaw in their racket. They don’t care that their laws have been broken—they want them to be broken—but they rely on their victim caring about upholding the law and experiencing guilt when he violates it. What happens if the victim refuses to feel guilty for violating a law he rejects? You cannot blackmail a person by threatening to publicly expose that which he himself regards and will openly proclaim as good. This is what the looters will find out at Hank’s trial.

But Hank cannot yet see that the same applies to his affair with Dagny, because he still does not fully understand the virtue involved in their affair or the vice involved in his marriage. Although he tells Dagny he thinks he was lying to himself in Wyatt’s house, he still cannot accept that Dagny wants to sleep with him (or with anyone) and believes that it’s right that he suffer for betraying Lillian. (In actual fact, his suffering comes from his betrayal of Dagny by remaining with Lillian.) When Lillian discovers he’s having an affair, Hank thinks it’s right that Lillian now dictate the terms of their relationship; he wants a divorce, but grants that the decision is hers. When she refuses him a divorce, he thinks the cause is her love for him. Yet her punishment for Hank is that he will have “to come home and face the only person who knows you for what you really are, who knows the actual value of your word, of your honor, of your integrity, of your vaunted self-esteem” (431). Hank senses that there is some flaw in her system of punishment, but cannot yet name it.

But Francisco is helping him name it. He tells Hank that the issues Hank is grappling with are much wider than business. “What I wonder about, Mr. Rearden, is why you live by one code of principles when you deal with nature and by another when you deal with men?” (451). Francisco tells him he’s facing a moral conflict. “You who won’t allow one per cent of impurity into an alloy of metal—what have you allowed into your moral code? . . . You bowed to their code and never upheld your own. . . . Their moral code is their weapon. Ask yourself how deeply and in how many terrible ways you have accepted it. . . . You have been paying blackmail, not for your vices, but for your virtues. . . . Yours was the code of life. What, then, is theirs?” (454–55). In this conflict, Francisco is indicating to Hank, the choice is either-or: either Hank applies his principles everywhere or he ends up applying them nowhere.

But if Hank is beginning to see the injustice he’s been subjected to, how, Francisco wonders, can he carry such an inhuman burden? Because Hank does not see himself like Atlas—“blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength” (455). As Hank sees himself, he is a pillar that will not break. Hank’s enormous vitality, Francisco learns when Hank saves his life during the accident in the mills, masks the heavy burden Hank carries. This metaphysical issue is the looters’ deepest hold on Hank, their deepest form of white blackmail. “Don’t you see?” Hank tells Francisco. “We’re able to act. They’re not. So it’s we who’ll win in the long run, no matter what they do to us” (460).

Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim

In this chapter Hank frees himself from the guilt his family has spent its energies trying to induce in him. He sees that Lillian’s attempt to punish him rested on his virtues—another form of white blackmail. Accusations of his moral depravity would affect him only if he had the virtue to take his own moral character seriously. He would worry about causing Lillian pain only if he were benevolent enough to feel concern for her. “His virtues, all the virtues she needed to achieve his punishment, came from another code and lived by another standard.” But what then is the nature of her code? “A code—he thought—which would destroy only those who tried to observe it; a punishment, from which only the honest would suffer, while the dishonest would escape unhurt. Could one conceive of an infamy lower than to equate virtue with pain?” (465).

But does his family understand the nature of the code they espouse?

Hank senses that they do—he notes that Philip seems to enjoy that Hank is being denounced by all the newspapers and that Lillian seems to enjoy her status as the betrayed wife who has the right to seek vengeance on him. He also notes the radical difference between their reactions and that of the Wet Nurse, who has come to worship Hank and the mills. But Hank cannot believe anyone is capable of the level of evil he is sensing in his family. Yet why don’t they even try to defend their code, now that he openly rejects it and asserts his own standards—as he does when he tells Philip that the next time Philip utters his depraved moral views, Hank will toss him out of the house? Hank senses that the key here too is the sanction of the victim—that he has somehow made their whole code possible—but he does not yet understand in what precise way.

But he understands how the principle pertains to his trial, and in proudly proclaiming his own standards in business and rejecting theirs, he gets off. The looters need his help to make his trial look like a tribunal of justice, and he refuses to cooperate. They scurry away, unsure of how to proceed. “But if this is what has beaten us, he thought, the guilt is ours” (483). The real sentence the trial imposes on him is to discover why men are so willing to renounce the good within them as sin.

Despite the trial’s outcome, only Dagny and Willers gain inspiration from it; Hank’s fellow businessmen do not join his stand; instead, they seek a middle ground. Like Francisco, Hank feels contempt for them as they struggle to evade that the issue is either-or. “Why go to extremes?”—one businessman tells Hank. “There’s always a middle ground.” Hank answers: “A middle ground between you and your murderers?” (484).

But Francisco suggests to Hank that he too is caught in the middle: Hank is not consistently practicing the principle he declared at his trial. And notice that Hank in fact lost the trial and is still trying to function under the looters’ unjust and non-objective laws. In the course of his conversation with Francisco, Hank learns of a whole area that he had not yet considered or understood, namely the two opposing codes’ evaluation of sex; this knowledge will eventually help him understand the true scope of the sanction of the victim.

And at the end of their conversation, Hank witnesses—though he doesn’t know it—a man who is not caught in the middle, a man who fully understands the principle of the sanction of the victim. Francisco refuses to prop up and sanction the looters’ system by allowing the three ships carrying d’Anconia copper to reach New York, even though he knows it will cost him Hank’s friendship.

Chapter V: Account Overdrawn

“You’re the account I own!” Lillian shouts at Hank in this chapter. But the reality she senses and is trying to escape is that she no longer does. She has controlled Hank by draining his self-esteem, but she knows that his affair with Dagny, which Lillian has just discovered, has revived it. His own pleasure is now sacred to him; he would have the joy he gets from his relationship with Dagny even if it took Lillian’s life. Hank still feels guilt, but not because of anything he has done to Lillian; emotionally, he is now free of concern for her. His guilt comes from what he said to Dagny in Wyatt’s house and for its root within him, “the obscenity of letting impotence hold itself as virtue and damn the power of living as a sin” (530).

But though these are Hank’s emotions, he is not actually free of Lillian. He still thinks she is motivated, in some twisted way, by love for him and that out of pity for her unrequited love he should take her standards into account. “By every standard of mine, to maintain our marriage will be a vicious fraud. But my standards are not yours. I do not understand yours, I never have, but I will accept them. If this is the manner of your love for me, if bearing the name of my wife will give you some form of contentment, I won’t take it away from you. It’s I who’ve broken my word, so I will atone for it to the extent I can” (529–30). But there is one condition: no one is to discuss Dagny or their affair. Lillian senses a last way to shackle and control Hank; her account may be overdrawn, but it is not yet closed.

More widely, across the whole nation too many pillars that the looters had been counting on are gone. The looters’ seemingly bottomless account is overdrawn. Rearden Steel fails for the first time to deliver an order on schedule; Danagger is gone and coal shipments are late; Colorado’s great industrialists have disappeared and the state is in its death throes; the achievement that could have fueled the Second Renaissance, the John Galt Line, is soon to be closed. Even d’Anconia Copper cannot get its shipments to the United States; they cannot get past Ragnar Danneskjöld.

So who are the looters still counting on? Dagny and Taggart Transcontinental.

But the looters evade this fact, supposedly safe in their belief that producers are a fact of nature like the sun: just as the sun will rise each day, so they believe producers will continue to produce. The looters can impose whatever schemes they dream of, and there will always be someone else to loot. The man sent from Washington, Mr. Weatherby, won’t entertain the repeal of even one control; we “wouldn’t even consider listening to any talk on the subject” (508). And the one person in the boardroom whom he does not need to take notice of is Dagny. No one in that boardroom wants to know what policies have brought Taggart Transcontinental to its desperate state, yet if the John Galt Line is to be closed, the Board wants it to be Dagny’s decision, since she is the producer who will, somehow, makes things work out.

Francisco comes to Dagny when the decision is made to kill the John Galt Line, hoping against hope that her account is overdrawn and ready to be closed: that she has seen enough of the looters’ world and is ready to quit. But as Francisco expected, though in pain, Dagny will keep going; for her cause, she will tear up the John Galt Line and use it to support Taggart’s transcontinental system.

Although Washington can count on Dagny, it is not sure it can continue to count on Hank—not after his trial. The looters are uncertain they can control him. Jim sees his opportunity: his Washington account is overdrawn—Mouch is no longer in his pocket and Jim is losing the looters’ magic title of “the public”—but he hopes to replenish his account by delivering Hank to them (via Lillian’s knowledge of Dagny and Hank’s affair).

Chapter VI: Miracle Metal

The looters’ whole policy consists of counting on the mind while evading its nature and existence. If the looters faced what the mind was and what its requirements were, they would see the futility of their own policy and would have to face the motivation that actually drives them: hatred of values and of existence. This is the meaning of the directive issued in this chapter, Directive 10-289.

The directive attempts to freeze the economy: it attaches employees to their jobs and business owners to their businesses, “voluntarily” turns over patents and copyrights to the government, and declares that everyone must continue to produce, spend, and earn whatever they have been producing, spending, and earning. It is a moratorium on brains. It is an attempt to have a functioning industrial economy without the need for any thought or judgment on behalf of the economy’s participants. It is an attempt to escape the either-or, absolute nature of reality: to enjoy the looted products of intelligence, while denying the need for intelligence to function, denying even the existence of intelligence.

But even the looters have trouble maintaining this gross of an evasion. They are frightened by so openly attacking intelligence, sensing that they are still counting on it. “It was to avoid moments such as this that all the complex twisting of their minds had been devised. They wished the directive to go into effect. They wished it could be put into effect without words, so that they would not have to know that what they were doing was what it was” (536). The more intellectual of the looters supplies the cover to cloak that which they’re evading. “Naming the unnamed in all their minds,” Ferris declares:

There is no such thing as the intellect. A man’s brain is a social product. . . . A genius is an intellectual scavenger and a greedy hoarder of the ideas which rightfully belong to society, from which he stole them. All thought is theft. If we do away with private fortunes, we’ll have a fairer distribution of wealth. If we do away with the genius, we’ll have a fairer distribution of ideas. (540)

But they cannot escape the consequences of Directive 10-289, which is to drive out whatever remnants of intelligence still existed in their system. Hank’s employees start to quit, industrialists vanish, Dagny resigns.

If the looters’ scheme is to have a chance of even momentarily succeeding, they need Hank to sign the Gift Certificate for Rearden Metal. Ferris threatens to expose Hank’s affair with Dagny. In that moment and through a characteristically ruthless act of mind, Hank grasps the view of existence that underlies their code and the genesis of his own pain.

“It was proper,” he thinks to himself, “that they should now call it ‘Miracle Metal’—a miracle was the only name they could give to those ten years and to the faculty from which Rearden Metal was born—a miracle was all that the Metal could be in their eyes, the product of an unknown, unknowable cause, an object in nature, not to be explained, but to be seized, like a stone or a weed” (560). They count on his mind, yet torment him for exercising it.

You need the products of a man’s ability—yet you proclaim that productive ability is a selfish evil and you turn the degree of a man’s productiveness into the measure of his loss. We lived by that which we held to be good and punished that which we held to be evil. You live by that which you denounce as evil and punish that which you know to be good. . . . Such was the code that the world had accepted and such was the key to the code: that it hooked man’s love of existence to a circuit of torture. (561)

His guilt was to put aside his mind and accept this view, not in the material but in the spiritual realm: he damned his love of existence by damning his desire to physically possess the spirit that was Dagny’s. “My crime was committed when I said to her [Lillian], ‘By every standard of mine, to maintain our marriage will be a vicious fraud. But my standards are not yours. I do not understand yours, I never have, but I will accept them’” (565).

But precisely as a man of the mind, not a looter or a mystic, Hank does not accept the miraculous. He knows that there “is no escape from justice, nothing can be unearned or unpaid for in the universe, neither in matter or in spirit—and if the guilty do not pay, then the innocent have to pay it” (565). Through Hank’s own reproaches and shame at their affair, Dagny has been paying for his crime. This injustice must end. He is a man who pays his way. He signs the Gift Certificate, having now fulfilled the real sentence imposed on him at his trial: he has understood the tenet—the soul-body dichotomy—through which “the victims come to sanction a code that pronounced them guilty of the fact of existing” (561).

Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains

In this chapter, the full effects of the moratorium on brains are being felt. Taggart Transcontinental, like most businesses, is losing its best men, replaced by human driftwood and scum. The deserters, as the men who quit are called, roam the countryside directionless. The nation is disintegrating, and in response Washington dispenses men like Chick Morrison to boost morale.

Dagny has been replaced by Clifton Locey. No one at Taggart Transcontinental now dares exercise his intelligence to make a decision, because he is the one who will be blamed. No one wants to run the railroad, only hold his job. Each tries to shift the burden of judgment to someone else’s shoulders. Locey pretends to be in charge but has no thoughts of his own and tries to mimic Dagny’s actions on “anything that matters” (569). To Locey and the other looters, the world is not either-or but neither-nor. The choice is not between a world of intelligence or a world devoid of intelligence. Somehow, it’s possible to have neither a world of intelligence nor a world devoid of intelligence; “like everything they do today,” Willers observes, “it is and it ain’t, at the same time” (568).

But in fact the world is either-or—and life and production in it demand intelligence. Outlaw intelligence and catastrophes like the tunnel disaster must ensue. In a world which teaches people that the only absolute is the cries and wishes of men in power—that the way to get people to act is through fear—and that men do not live by reason—in such a world, what else is to be expected? In such a world, both the Dagny Taggarts and the Bill Brents are replaced by men who will send a coal engine into the Taggart Tunnel.

But the victims are not blameless. The passengers support and echo all the ideas that led to Directive 10-289: “there was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of” these ideas (607). The conductor who allows the train into the tunnel just before deserting, thinks to himself:

there had been a time when he had placed the safety of the passengers above his own . . . . Now, he felt a contemptuous indifference and no desire to save them. They had asked for and accepted Directive 10-289 . . . they went on living and daily turning away in evasion from the kind of verdicts that the Unification Board was passing on defenseless victims—why shouldn’t he now turn away from them? (604)

In the world of Directive 10-289, what mode of existence is left to men? Either “to be a looter who robs disarmed victims,” Danneskjöld tells Hank, or “to be a victim who works for the benefit of his own despoilers” (575).

But Danneskjöld chooses another path: to use his mind to take up arms in defense of human ability. Hank can neither condemn Danneskjöld’s chosen path—nor the path of those who’ve simply stepped out, like Wyatt and Danagger—nor can he follow it. Hank is still caught in the middle. He cannot renounce his mills and would rather go down with the last of his world, because he can see no possibility of a different kind of world. Yet when Danneskjöld tells Hank that despite the Gift Certificate no one will manufacture Rearden Metal, Hank wants to laugh—but he stops himself, sensing that he would never see his mills again. He senses that Danneskjöld is right and another mode of existence is possible; as Danneskjöld will later describe it to Galt, Hank is hanging by a thin thread.

Chapter VIII: By Our Love

Whatever the looters are fundamentally moved by, their victims—and those actually fighting the looters—are moved by their love of values. This is what we see in this chapter.

Dagny has given up Taggart Transcontinental and is in pain at the loss of an irreplaceable loved one. She wants to create, but there is nowhere to build a railroad to and no one to build it for. She is losing her right to Hank’s love: “He could help her to live; he could not help her to decide for what purpose she wished to go on living” (612). Even worse than giving up Taggart Transcontinental is giving up her quest to find the secret of the motor and the world of unlimited achievement that it represents: “it was her last link to the future. To kill seemed like an act, not of murder, but of suicide” (612).

Dagny cannot understand how she has lost if evil is in fact irrational and impotent; yet nothing can shake her conviction that this is the nature of evil, that only the good is potent and real. She can find no solution. The clarity of her either-or world has been replaced by the nightmare of a neither-nor realm. “It seems monstrously wrong to surrender the world to the looters,” she says, “and monstrously wrong to live under their rule. I can neither give up nor go back. I can neither exist without work nor work as a serf” (618).

What she now feels about the world is what she has felt all along about Francisco. In her world, one is either a great industrialist or a playboy—but Francisco seemed to be neither the great man she had known him to be nor the worthless scoundrel the newspapers had said he had become. In the ten years since he left her, she could neither lose her feeling for him nor retain it. Yet in her misery at losing her greatest love, Taggart Transcontinental, it is Francisco who comes to her. She discovers his secret.

She learns that he is still moved by the same love as she. Out of his love for d’Anconia Copper and for her, he was one of the first men to quit. He is now systematically destroying d’Anconia Copper. Francisco refuses to divorce spirit and matter, as the looters’ code demands: d’Anconia Copper is just so much meaningless material when its spirit is gone, he tells her, when its purpose has gone from serving life to serving the enemies of life. “We can never lose the things we live for,” he tells Dagny. “We may have to change their form at times, if we’ve made an error, but the purpose remains the same and the forms are ours to make” (615). The key to Dagny’s dilemma, he tells her, is that she has made her enemies possible. “By accepting punishment, not for any sins, but for our virtues, we betrayed our code and made theirs possible. . . . They count on you to feel that no effort is too great in the service of your love. . . . Your unrequited rectitude is the only hold they have upon you. . . . The day when you’ll discover it is the only thing they dread. You must learn to understand them. You won’t be free of them, until you do” (619).

But at this point Dagny still cannot understand the looters, nor does she see how she has made their code possible. When she hears of the tunnel disaster, she runs back in the name of her love to save Taggart Transcontinental. By returning, however, she once again saves Jim, who was about to resign. What she cannot yet grasp is that what she has saved is a being consumed with hatred of her, of life, of existence—“hatred as his claim against the universe, as a justification, as a right, as an absolute”—and that she is granting him this right (624).

Both Dagny and Hank now realize, however, that they’re being held hostage by their love of life, but “price is no object any longer” (632). They will go down with their rails and mills, with the last remnants of what they love. Neither Dagny nor Hank can conceive of an alternative existence, of a world of unlimited achievement that does not contain looters. Why? Because Dagny and Hank cannot yet see that they’ve made the looters’ whole view of existence—and so the looters themselves—possible.

Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt

This is a chapter filled with fear, with pain, and with guilt. We witness Dagny’s fear that Francisco will break and kill Hank, the man who slapped him; her pain in thinking that she lives in a world where her vision of man’s limitless potential is to remain unrealized; her guilt in now thinking that it may have been she who deserted Francisco, not the other way around. We see Hank’s pain from discovering that his hated rival, Francisco, is the first man who slept with Dagny. And we see Hank’s guilt after denouncing a man he loves and who set him free from guilt—and who, it seems, also loved him. While Hank was driven to inflict pain on Francisco, Francisco refused to inflict the pain he knew he could have on Hank.

The source of all this suffering is divided loyalties in the pursuit of the same love—when the actual choice is either-or. Dagny thinks she is serving the man with an “intransigent mind and an unlimited ambition” who is “in love with his own life” (635). But this man, Francisco tells her, “permits no divided allegiance, no war between your mind and your body, no gulf between your values and your actions, no tributes to Caesar. He permits no Caesars” (636). Atlantis is blocked to Dagny because she is supporting its destroyers; she thinks if she works hard enough she can outlast the looters: “They need me. They know it. It’s my terms that I’ll make them accept” (636). She doesn’t understand that their terms are non-negotiable: they want her dead.

Hank too is divided. He is driven to lash out at Francisco because he cannot accept that within him which responds to Francisco, even though he senses the liberation it involves; Francisco’s world is one of betrayal and of renunciation, but Hank knows one must never renounce that which one loves.

And it is only the divided allegiance of Dagny and Hank that has the power to cause pain in Francisco—and in Galt. Francisco is out of reach of the looters; they can no longer inflict their tortures on him. But his pain is real: at losing Dagny, at being prohibited from defending his love for her, of being unable to answer Hank’s insults and face him openly. When he stops himself from killing Hank, Dagny knows “that she was witnessing Francisco d’Anconia’s greatest achievement” (641). Francisco is able to stop himself by reminding himself of his loyalty to that which he loves—undivided loyalty to the cause and to the man Dagny thinks she is serving. Francisco “was looking at Rearden, but it was not Rearden that he was seeing. He looked as if he were facing another presence in the room and as if his glance were saying: If this is what you demand of me, then even this is yours, yours to accept and mine to endure, there is no more than this in me to offer you, but let me be proud to know that I can offer so much” (641).

It is Dagny and Hank’s tribute to Caesar that has produced “some vast, impersonal suffering that had made them all its victims” (641).

By contrast, the nameless Taggart Transcontinental worker possesses a face that looks as if it has “never known pain or fear or guilt” (652). Yet two events from Dagny’s world even have the power to disturb his face’s guiltless serenity. He’s disturbed to learn that Quentin Daniels has been working to discover the secret of the motor—yet his shock turns to laughter when he hears Daniels’s reasons for quitting. And he actually rushes out of the cafeteria when he learns that Dagny is sleeping with Hank. The cause of his pain comes from the divided allegiance of the woman he loves.

Chapter X: The Sign of the Dollar

The country is now rapidly decaying. As Dagny rides east to reach Daniels, she thinks of what a difference a month under the moratorium on brains has made. When she reaches the prairies, she sees “the remnants of towns” and “the skeletons of factories,” now only “monuments to how much had been achieved on the edge of nature’s void by men who had once been free to achieve” (655). It had once been a nation ruled by the dollar.

In Jeff Allen’s recounting of the fate of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, we see the cause of the world’s destruction in inception and in microcosm: what ideal, brought into full reality, replaced the rule of the dollar.

“The plan,” Allen tells Dagny,

was that everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need. . . . None of us knew just how the plan would work, but every one of us thought that the next fellow knew it. And if anybody had doubts, he felt guilty and kept his mouth shut. . . . Hadn’t we heard it all our lives—from our parents and our schoolteachers and our ministers, and in every newspaper we ever read and every movie and every public speech? Hadn’t we always been told that this was righteous and just? (660–61)

The result was anything but righteous and just—as employees tried to hide their ability and exhibit their need—as competition turned from one of achievements to one of sores—and as the best men took the role of suckers and the worst, the role of bloodsuckers.

The originators and profiteers of the plan were the Starnes heirs. “But profit,” says Allen, “depends on what it is you’re after. And what the Starnes heirs were after, no money on earth could buy” (666). Eric Starnes was after causeless love; Gerald Starnes wanted causeless prestige and envious stares; Ivy Starnes wanted to hold the lives of her betters in her hands, degrading these men to the status of her bootlickers. But those who merely voted for the plan were not innocent: they secretly felt that their need would entitle them to the products of the ability of others.

The ideal the Starnes heirs implemented in the factory is the ideal now engulfing the nation. Gone is what the United States once was, a nation ruled by the dollar sign, the sign which stands “for achievement, for success, for ability, for man’s creative power” (683).

And it is this ideal that Dagny is inadvertently sanctioning. The passengers on her frozen train need transportation; they contemptuously demand that Dagny provide it, since hers is the ability, theirs is the need. And in providing it, Dagny warrants no acknowledgment or consideration, not even the consideration of being protected from the marauding gangs of raiders. A woman onboard screams at Dagny: “I’ll report you to the Unification Board!” and Kellogg underscores for Dagny the meaning of her reply: “if I give you a train to get you within sight or hearing of your Board” (677).

It is precisely this sanction that Galt withdraws when he walks out of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. He will teach the world that it is either-or: either the monstrous ideal of the Starnes heirs or the ideal of the dollar sign.

But although Dagny is unknowingly supporting the wrong ideal, consciously she is still fighting for hers. She is shocked to find how little of her world is left: her only request of Kellogg, should she die, is to tell Willers to give Allen a job and to tell Hank what happened to her. But she continues to fight for her world’s remnants, unwilling to “abandon an incalculable wealth such as the brain of Quentin Daniels,” ready to give her life if only she could take the destroyer’s first, ready to go down with her plane in pursuit of her love (696).

But as she is crashing, she doesn’t think she’ll die. Another type of existence must be possible—it must be reachable—it must be real.

Image credit: BrAt82/Shutterstock.com

Continue to Part 3 here.

Reprinted from the English Language edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” edited by Robert Mayhew and originally published by Lexington Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA. Copyright © by the author. Published in the English language by arrangement with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reprinting, or on any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

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Onkar Ghate

Onkar Ghate, PhD in philosophy, is a senior fellow and chief philosophy officer at the Ayn Rand Institute. A contributing author to many books on Rand’s ideas and philosophy, he is a senior editor of New Ideal and a member of the Ayn Rand University faculty.

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