facebook pixel
New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

The Part and Chapter Headings of Atlas Shrugged (Part 3)

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

Share this article:
This is read by a computer-generated voice.
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Start with Part 1 here.


In part III, all the contradictions and mysteries, small and large, are resolved. A world of identity is restored.

Dagny finds the valley in which the cigarettes with a dollar sign are manufactured and learns why Danneskjöld became a pirate. She discovers what has happened to all the men who vanished—and learns why Akston was working as a cook in a diner, Kellogg wouldn’t take the promotion she offered him, and the brakeman seemed to be whistling Halley’s Fifth Concerto. She discovers who the inventor of the motor is—and who the destroyer is. She learns that an existence free from the looters is possible: her world of unobstructed achievement is real, lying before her in the valley.

Part III is dominated by the figure of John Galt. He is the man who unrelentingly faces the facts for what they are. No illusions, no evasions, no misrepresentations can deflect him from identifying the nature of what is.

It is Galt who gives identity to the principles and standards that have governed the lives of those he has convinced to strike, but which they were unable to name. His new moral code is the foundation for the future of unlimited achievement that the valley represents.

It is Galt who gives identity to the nature of the enemy they all face. He defines the full meaning of the code the world accepts, the meaning that is always evaded, and he identifies the source of this code in the view of existence shared by the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle.

It is Galt who identifies the danger to the men of the mind of divorcing spirit from matter. He shows them the nature of their battle and how to fight the enemy: they must withdraw their sanction of the mystics’ moral code and the mystics’ view of existence. He thereby makes the mystics—and the world—face the true nature of their creed and of their own souls.

It is Galt who shows Dagny why she is mistaken about the looters, why she can’t win her battle, and why she never had to take the looters’ world seriously. It is Galt who teaches her—and the world—the full meaning of A is A.

Chapter I: Atlantis

Dagny crash lands in Atlantis. Another type of existence is possible. In the valley, men are free to think, to work, to trade, and to profit, each to the extent of his ability. It is a realm governed by values—the tokens of which are the gold coins Mulligan mints—in which justice and reason rule. It is a world in which spirit and matter are united. It is a world in which men reverently dedicate themselves to their own lives. “What is it that you’re all doing here?” she asks Galt. “Living,” he answers. “She had never heard that word sound so real” (713).

Dagny learns what it took for these men to reach and build Atlantis. She learns that Galt has called on strike the one kind of men who had never struck before, the men of the mind. They are on strike against a code that worships human incompetence and are through making terms with their enemies. Galt has withdrawn the moral sanction they had given to the mystics and granted it instead to those who had earned it but had never received it before: the strikers. Dagny hears the specific reasons why the men in Mulligan’s living room quit and the price each was willing to pay. They had to be willing to give up their achievements in the world, realizing that there is no meaning to the matter they left behind absent the mind—the spirit—that animated it. They had to be willing to give up the world for a time being, knowing that this is the attitude hardest to attain: “what we now feel for their world is that emotion which they preach as an ideal: indifference—the blank—the zero—the mark of death” (741). Galt and the others went on strike without the expectation that the looters’ world would collapse in their lifetimes: “We knew only that this was the only way we cared to live” (748).

Sitting before the men in Mulligan’s room, she sees the identity of all she has sought. “This was the Taggart Terminal,” she thinks to herself, the destination of its rails, the goal it was meant to achieve (748). “It was for the sake of this that she had dedicated herself to the rail of Taggart Transcontinental, as to the body of a spirit yet to be found. She had found it, everything she had ever wanted, it was here in this room, reached and hers” (748–49). The man at the end of the rails, whom she was serving and whom she loves, is standing before her, real.

But the price of reaching Atlantis, she thinks, is the very rail that has brought her to her destination. Although Dagny and Galt are in love, they are still pitted against one another. Galt knows the choice is either-or and is serenely confident that his judgment and choice are correct. He’s strikingly open with Dagny; when she seeks to spare him the need to name the fact that he stole Daniels away from her, he names the fact proudly; he tells her he took Francisco and Danagger from her world, fully aware of the consequences to her; he deliberately shows her all the men he’s taken away and openly tells her he’s making it as difficult as possible for her to choose to leave the valley. More intimately, he tells her that when he saw her plane as he was flying away with Daniels, it “was the one and only time when I didn’t think of you” (712). Galt has the simplicity and severity of a man who stands before the inexorable fact “that the truth is the truth” (725).

Dagny, by contrast, is conflicted: she doesn’t know what is true. Galt is the destroyer she has sworn to shoot on sight, but he is also the inventor of the motor whom she wants to sleep with. She thinks that the valley is the Taggart Terminal, but also that she would be betraying Taggart Transcontinental by remaining here. She thinks Hank’s presence in the valley would be natural, but simultaneously impossible. She thinks it would be absurd for Galt to submit to the looters by returning to the world, but not absurd for her. She is torn by a contradiction—which Galt tells her was responsible for destroying the John Galt Line and which she must resolve in order to enter Atlantis.

Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed

What is the nature of Atlantis? It is a realm where the inhabitants proudly and greedily dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their highest values. It is a realm where sacrifice is banished and love of life rules. This is what we witness in this chapter.

Dagny is desperately in love with Galt but she doesn’t have the right to sleep with him. When she hears of Hank grimly bearing the news of her death and of the Comet crawling toward San Francisco, she feels she is betraying both by remaining in the valley—but when she thinks of leaving Galt and the existence he has created, she feels she would be betraying him. She feels homeless, “as if she were suspended in space between this valley and the rest of the earth, with no right to either” (763). She feels caught in a reality that one must never accept, “the view that man was ever to be drawn by some vision of the unattainable shining ahead, doomed ever to aspire, but not to achieve. Her life and her values could not bring her to that” (772).

Dagny wants to get word to Hank that she is alive, but she will not ask Galt for a special exception from the rules of the valley; she will not sacrifice the meaning of her love for Galt by pretending that her love for Hank is the greater. Yet it is in the name of all that she loves—of that which gives her love for Galt meaning—that Dagny chooses to leave Galt and return to the world of Rearden Steel and Taggart Transcontinental. If there is even one chance to win back the earth from the looters, to win that which is rightfully Galt’s—she must take it.

Francisco too is moved by love. His love for Dagny was Galt’s best argument against Francisco: he went on strike to win the kind of world she deserved (as she is now trying to win for Galt). He misses breakfast with Danneskjöld and Galt for the first time in twelve years because he is searching for the wreckage of her plane. Nor will Francisco sacrifice his love for Dagny by pretending that he no longer desires her. “Will I want to sleep with you? Desperately,” he tells Dagny. “Will I envy the man who does? Sure” (768). But he will also not commit the unspeakable act of asking her or Hank or Galt to sacrifice their values and desires for his sake. He knows that they all are, rightfully, moved by the same source: “by our love for a single value, for the highest potentiality of our own existence” (768). This is what no one must be asked to betray.

Hank too is desperately in love with Dagny, and continues to search for her crash site when almost everyone else has given up. Like Dagny, if he sees even one chance for success, he will continue to fight for his values. It is only a failure of knowledge, not a failure of love, that keeps the valley hidden from him.

It is this selfishness of soul that Galt exudes and which, as the leader of the strike, he has taught the strikers to refuse to do penance for. Galt is passionately in love with his life, with his capacity to live, with the earth, and with Dagny—so passionately that he will accept no substitute, no halfway existence, no aspiration to be sought but never to be reached. Consequently, he will never divorce his end from the means necessary to achieve it; for Galt, “cost is an absolute which cannot be escaped” (780). He doesn’t try to win the place he could have in the world, because he knows the price: torture at the hands of an evil whose existence he would have made possible. He didn’t go to Dagny in her lonely office when she was completing the John Galt Line, despite his desire for her and hers for him, because he knew that at that point she was his enemy and would have had to try to stop him. He holds Dagny in the valley for a month because he wants her there. He wants to sleep with her, but tells her, “It’s your acceptance of this place that I want. What good would it do me, to have your physical presence without any meaning? That’s the kind of faked reality by which most people cheat themselves of their lives. I’m not capable of it. And neither are you” (780). And he knows that Francisco and Hank are both in love with Dagny, but Galt will not sacrifice his love for the sake of either one of them; he tells Francisco “I would have given anything to let it be otherwise, except that which is beyond giving” (810).

Stadler is thus Galt’s worst enemy. Stadler’s is a radically selfless soul: he has consciously betrayed that which he loved, hoping that he could evade the fact that “cost is an absolute which cannot be escaped.”

In the name of an end divorced from means—of the desire to do theoretical research without the bother of having to earn the material means necessary—Stadler was willing to place his mind in service of the looters. In the process, he had to destroy that which he professed to love: the mind. He somehow expected Galt to work under the orders of Floyd Ferris; Francisco, under the orders of Wesley Mouch; and Danneskjöld, under the orders of Simon Pritchett. And then, as rationalization of his betrayal of all that he loved, Stadler wails that nothing else is possible in the material world. “What I want you to understand,” Akston tells Dagny, “is the full evil of those who claim to have become convinced that this earth, by its nature, is a realm of malevolence where the good has no chance to win. . . . Let them check—before they grant themselves the unspeakable license of evil-as-necessity—whether they know what is the good and what are the conditions it requires” (790).

And it is out of love for the good that Galt chooses to return to the world: he will not give up that which he loves to the looters. He is certain Dagny is wrong and that her quest will fail, but knows that she must grasp the reason herself. She must not, however, commit Stadler’s sin and accept the contradiction that the ideal is the unreachable. “If you fail,” Galt tells her, “as men have failed in their quest for a vision that should have been possible, yet has remained forever beyond their reach—if, like them, you come to think that one’s highest values are not to be attained and one’s greatest vision is not to be made real—don’t damn this earth, as they did, don’t damn existence. You have seen the Atlantis they were seeking, it is here, it exists—but one must enter it naked and alone, with no rags from the falsehoods of centuries, with the purest clarity of mind” (812–13).

Chapter III: Anti-Greed

Dagny leaves the utopia of greed with one premise left to check: that the men of the world love their lives. And with the world near full collapse, and the looters desperate, their motivation surfaces. In this chapter, Dagny begins to see it.

Lillian tries to blackmail Dagny to appear on Scudder’s radio program. Lillian boasts that for once Dagny will act as Lillian must act, by obeying a will other than her own. There is nothing Dagny can offer to prevent the blackmail, Lillian tells her, because “I’m devoid of greed. . . . I am doing it without gain. Without gain. Do you understand me?” (849). With an almost pleading tone in her voice, Lillian tells Dagny that it was she who took Rearden Metal from Hank. Dagny is beginning to see what moves them, although it “was not within the power of Dagny’s consciousness ever to understand that plea or to know what response Lillian had hoped to find” (849). Lillian is seeking Dagny’s acknowledgement and respect, as if Lillian’s act of destroying a supreme value elevated her act into the realm of the important, as if the greatness of the value Lillian destroyed somehow made her act the greater one.

Jim too, Dagny thinks, is “going to pieces . . . the jerky impatience, the shrillness, the aura of panic were new” (839). Not even Jim’s incompetent mind could believe that the new Railroad Unification Plan—a plan which purports to save the railroads by pooling all resources and revenues and then distributing the income based on need—could save Taggart Transcontinental. Jim frantically pretends the plan is practical, but his panic is palpable. “This,” Dagny thinks to herself, “did not have even the rationality of a looter” (842). Dagny is beginning to realize that Jim’s fundamental motivation is not wealth, even if looted wealth. “I see,” she says quietly to Jim, and he seems to shake “with terror at that which the quiet ‘I see’ had acknowledged seeing” (842). She senses that the sanction Jim and his gang needs has to come from her, the victim—that in order for them to pretend that they belong in her shining realm, not their sewer of an existence, it is she who must concede this fact. She wonders what level of “inner degradation” these men must reach in order to require this level of self-deception (846).

This same form of inner degradation and self-deception is certainly present in Stadler. He is a man devoid of greed—of the selfishness of soul necessary to make the ideal, real. He does not want to have to bother with the effort and struggle to bring material form to his spiritual vision, to his noble pursuit of “pure” truth. Yet he still requires a laboratory and funding—how is he to get them? By seizing them. But how can he justify this? By rationalizing his action. The creation of material goods requires no thought and no intellect, he constantly tells himself; they are the products of irrational, money-chasing brutes; these products exist to be seized and this seizure is not an act directed against the mind. Nor is it even Stadler’s responsibility to ensure that the work of his mind is put to the use of good and not evil, since ideals are unachievable in this world of irrational men. Over and over he tells himself, “like a voodoo formula which one recites when it is needed and beyond which one must not look: What can you do when you have to deal with people?” (818).

Stadler comes to need a world of irrational men ruled by force—because an opposite world would topple his rationalizations. This is the meaning of his sanctioning of Project X, an instrument of brute force intended to rule a mindless population. Stadler cannot face the fact that there are men who are not irrational, that another form of existence among men is possible, that men like Hank, Dagny, Francisco, and the inventor of the motor are exponents of the mind—because then he could not justify looting them. He must declare such men impractical—then evade their existence—then seek their elimination. He begins by labeling Galt an impractical idealist; he will end by demanding that Galt be killed.

Stadler’s drawn-out suicide begins as he walks to the speaker’s scaffold to deliver the speech extolling Project X that Ferris has prepared for him: “the crowd was about to witness an act of destruction more terrible than the destruction of the farm” (830). A young reporter cries to Stadler to tell the country the truth about Project X. The reporter’s face is the only one in the crowd that exhibits a spark of ability, but Stadler denounces the man as a disloyal punk with treasonable motives; the reporter’s was a young face, possessing hazel eyes with “a tinge of green” (831).

Who is Stadler’s heir? Cuffy Meigs, whom Dagny discovers is the Director of Unification. He is a man the world considers the exemplar of greed: a thug who seizes whatever he can get his hands on, without concern for causes or consequences. “In the long run,” he tells Dagny—stating what Jim and Jim’s teachers have been saying forever, but stating it as almost self-evident fact, in light of which Meigs will simply act accordingly—“we’ll all be dead” (843). He is a man devoid of thought and so of greed: he has no values, no capacity to value, no desire to give material form to any spiritual vision, no inkling of where the loot he seizes comes from.

But in this chapter, in contrast to the inner degradation and self-deception of the looters, we also see the souls of Dagny and Hank. On Scudder’s radio program Dagny openly and proudly tells the world that she and Hank “are those who do not disconnect the values of their minds from the actions of their bodies,” those who are driven by greed for spiritual values given material form, “those who make steel, railroads and happiness” (853). Afterward, Hank tells her he has discovered the source of his life’s pain: his acceptance of “the one tenet by which they destroy a man before he’s started, the killer-tenet: the breach between his mind and body” (857–58). To win back that which was rightfully his and redeem their relationship, here at its end, Hank declares his love for her and the source of that love. Despite what he has lost—both Rearden Metal and Dagny—he knows he is richer than he was because his capacity to value, his mind, is now whole.

Chapter IV: Anti-Life

To be anti-greed, we learn in this chapter, is to be anti-life. What Dagny must come to understand about Jim and his gang is what Cherryl discovers here—the sight of which drives her to suicide.

Jim has just helped plan d’Anconia Copper’s nationalization and wants to celebrate his existence. But what is that existence? This is what he has spent his life evading—and the question is now haunting him. Tonight he wants the pleasure to be himself. “To be himself—he thought, in the drugged, precarious state of floating past the deadliest of his blind alleys, the one that led to the question of what was himself” (873).

Jim realizes he’s indifferent to the money he’ll seize by the nationalization; “in full truth,” he realizes with a shudder of dread, “he had never cared for money” (867). “What do you want?” his enemy pursuer keeps asking (867). He boasts to Cherryl that men like Hank spend their lives “grubbing for their fortunes penny by penny” whereas he can acquire his at the snap of his fingers (869). But when she, who gives concrete form to his enemy pursuer, asks him why he hates Hank, he screams “I don’t hate him!” (878). He then boasts to her that whatever such men do, “‘I can undo it. Let them build a track—I can come and break it, just like that!’ He snapped his fingers. ‘Just like breaking a spine!’” You want to break spines?—she asks. “I haven’t said that!” Jim screams at Cherryl (879).

But Jim does want to break their spines. It is the only way he can hope to demonstrate his superiority—the superiority of his non-ability to their ability, of his nonthought to their reasoning, of his noneffort to their work, of his impotency to their power to create. He is, as Cherryl identifies, a looter of the spirit. The only way he can demonstrate the superiority of his spirit is by killing those who choose to be and to live. The celebration Jim was seeking, he senses before he sleeps with Lillian, is the admiration she exhibits for his power to destroy. But he dare not name this fact. “I can’t bring men down to their knees in admiration,” Lillian tells him, “but I can bring them to their knees” (899). “Shut up!” Jim screams in terror. But this is precisely what he experiences, when he sleeps with her in order to try to wound Hank. “It was not an act in celebration of life that he had wanted to perform—but an act in celebration of the triumph of impotence” (900).

It is this, Jim’s fundamental motivation, that Cherryl struggles to see and succeeds in seeing, knowing that the sight will destroy her.

Her marriage has been an orchestrated torture. Jim wants to be admired and loved, but without possessing any attribute worthy of admiration or love. In the end, the admiration and love must come from his victims, because only they can confirm the superiority of his impotence to their living power. He wants Cherryl to remain a hero-worshipping shop girl and “an incongruous freak” who is unable to make her way in the world (868). This would make her as abjectly dependent on him as he is on her—“two beggars chained to each other” as Cherryl describes it (903). It is she, the truly noble and spiritual person, who must give him his sense of spiritual superiority, while he acts to destroy all that she values and all that she is.

And it is Jim’s soul that rules the world. Cherryl can see no way to fight it or live with it. She does not have Dagny’s greater knowledge and certainty, and it is too late for her to learn from Dagny the absolutes she must hold fast to: to stand on her own judgment and, against Jim’s whole world, acknowledge that what is, is. Had Cherryl grown up around Dagny—as Eddie Willers did—Cherryl could have learned the things that Willers did: the possibility and principles of another kind of existence. But Cherryl makes the tragic mistake of thinking Jim is Dagny, and his anti-life soul destroys hers. It is another demonstration of the life-giving power of the men of the mind—and the consequence of their absence.

Chapter V: Their Brothers’ Keepers

In this chapter the results of the morality geared to those who are antilife—the morality that teaches men to sacrifice because they are their brothers’ keepers—are being felt across the nation.

The people of Nebraska, to take one of many examples, are sacrificed to those of Illinois, who consume the former’s stock seed. The same process is occurring at Taggart Transcontinental. Meigs is looting the last of Taggart Transcontinental’s supplies, with Dagny bearing the burden of trying to prevent a full collapse. As Taggart Transcontinental disintegrates, she must shift the burden of carrying it to the shoulders of the stronger, more vital parts that remain. A copper wire breaks in California and Dagny orders that Montana’s spare copper be sent there; a copper wire breaks in Montana and Dagny orders that Minnesota’s spare copper be sent there; a copper wire breaks in Minnesota and Dagny orders that the Taggart Terminal’s spare copper be sent there. Yet she only delays the inevitable: California descends into civil war, Montana’s copper mines are nationalized, and Minnesota’s harvest cannot be shipped—there is no transportation because the pull-peddlers have diverted the trains. When a copper wire breaks in the Taggart Terminal, there is nothing left for Dagny to do but to try to return to the time of manual switches—to move backward—to move closer to the grave.

“There was no way to tell which devastation had been accomplished by the humanitarians and which by undisguised gangsters,” Dagny thinks to herself.

There was no way to tell which acts of plunder had been prompted by the charity-lust of the Lawsons and which by the gluttony of Cuffy Meigs. . . . Did it matter? . . . Both held the immolation of men as proper and both were achieving it. There wasn’t even any way to tell who were the cannibals and who the victims—the communities that accepted as their rightful due the confiscated clothing or fuel of a town to the east of them, found, next week, their granaries confiscated to feed a town to the west. . . . Men had been pushed into a pit where, shouting that man is his brother’s keeper, each was devouring his neighbor and was being devoured by his neighbor’s brother. (914)

When Philip pleads with Hank for a job because he’s Hank’s brother—in sharp contrast to how the Wet Nurse at once eagerly and humbly asks Hank for a real job—Hank learns something more about the looters’ creed of brotherly love. The enemy are men who worship pain. “I’m twisted by suffering, I’m made of undiluted suffering, that’s my purity, that’s my virtue,” they declare—and “you the untwisted one,” Hank thinks, “you the uncomplaining, yours is to relieve me of my pain” (931). Are such men human?

Dagny too learns from her encounter with her brother. More than ever, she senses that Jim both needs her and hates her, “as if, while clinging to her for support and protection against some nameless terror, his arms were sliding to embrace her and to plunge a knife into her back” (912). He pleads with her that he’s her brother, that it’s her duty to make him happy and that it is her sin if he suffers. She sees the kind of world he wants, a world where wishes rule, but she still cannot understand what could bring men to such a state of depravity. She attends the dinner Jim and his gang have invited her to, hoping that it is “the first step of their surrender. . . . But as she sat in the candlelight of the dining room, she felt certain that she had no chance; she felt restlessly unable to accept that certainty, since she could not grasp its reason, yet lethargically reluctant to pursue any inquiry” (944).

It is not that Dagny and Hank have no feelings for their true brothers—it is the vision of some brothers in spirit still remaining in the world that keeps them at work. It is for any men of the mind still left that Dagny is keeping the trains running—but when the terminal goes dark she realizes that there is not a single mind left on Taggart Transcontinental. The same is true for Hank. He is bored to death, forced by the looters’ system to run his business as any criminal would. The only thing that still holds his attention are the farmers in Minnesota, “tenacious producers” who’ve somehow managed to survive and to produce a plentiful crop, and who need transportation. As he describes their plight to Dagny, there “was a look of intensity on his face, as if he were contemplating a rare, forgotten sight: a vision of men—and she knew what motive was still holding him to his job” (923). But the producers of Minnesota are soon sacrificed. Hank is almost through with the world. He laughs when he reads Francisco’s message to the world. He was my friend, Hank thinks to himself, my comrade in arms, but having betrayed their brotherhood, Hank believes he has no right to seek out Francisco.

It is the world’s code of brotherly love that Francisco blasts when he blows up his businesses on the day of d’Anconia Copper’s nationalization. “Brother, you asked for it!” (925).

In full contrast to the world’s code, there exists a man who lives by another code. In tunnels of the Taggart Terminal, Galt and Dagny sleep together. The moment is theirs. Galt will not give his mind to his brothers or their world, but he will take from them what he wants, what is his. Dagny too will not relinquish the question “what’s in it for you?” or the quest for her own happiness (949). They want this moment and their joy—and they seize it. But as always, Galt will pay the cost to reach that which he desires, and in this case he knows the cost may be his life.

Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance

In this chapter, Hank’s family and the looters in Washington make a last, frantic attempt to—in Hank’s words—“eat my mills and have them, too” (984). The attempt fails. Hank finally grasps their full natures and what they have been counting on, and when he does, he recaptures the vision of a world he had seen in his youth: a world of joy and unlimited action. He goes on strike.

When, at the request of his mother, Hank returns to his family’s home for the last time, he finds that they are afraid he will quit—they recognize that out of self-preservation he should. But they don’t know what to do if Hank is no longer there to exploit, and they fear the wrath of Washington if Hank deserts. But his sense of justice, which had once been their weapon against him, is now their implacable enemy. He would give them the benefit of every doubt when he could not understand their actions, their words, their feelings or their standards—thinking that, somehow, they must be like him and wish him well, as he once wished them well. “But he was through with granting respect to any terms other than his own” (971). He “would forgive miles of innocent errors of knowledge” but “would not forgive a single step taken in conscious evil” (972).

And theirs is conscious evil, driven by a monstrous motive, which he finally is able to identify: a hatred for values, for himself, for life. They don’t want to live, they want to see him suffer and die. This, he finally understands, is why Lillian had married him, to destroy him by undercutting his moral integrity and his self-esteem. “For the same purpose and motive, for the same satisfaction, as others weave complex systems of philosophy to destroy generations, or establish dictatorships to destroy a country, so she, possessing no weapons except femininity, had made it her goal to destroy one man” (975). Hank’s indifference toward her pleas forces Lillian to confront the motive that has governed her life, and the sight destroys her. Hank sees the irrationality of the looters’ entire desperate scheme—the idea that Lillian could sully his moral purity by sleeping with Jim, as though “the moral stature of one is at the mercy of the action of another,” and the idea that Washington could chain him to his job by threatening to hold Lillian and the rest of his family hostage (976).

But what makes these people think they can get away with this level of irrationality? This is the question that Hank faces as he sits across from the looters and hears them proposing the Steel Unification Plan. The plan will so obviously fail, yet the look in their faces says they believe they can get away with it. Why? Why do they think this? “You’ll always produce,” Ferris tells him, as if Hank, like all producers, is an absolute of nature, without conditions, requirements, standards, or needs, who will continue to produce no matter what (984). The first tumbler unlocking the answer falls into place. If Hank protests that under their plan he cannot continue to run his mills, they think it is he, not they, who is evading reality. “Well, after all,” Lawson tells him, “you businessmen have kept predicting disasters for years, you’ve cried catastrophe at every progressive measure and told us that we’ll perish—but we haven’t” (985). The second tumbler falls into place. But how can even they think this plan will work, in which Rearden Steel must produce according to its ability but the rewards are to be distributed according to others’ need? “Oh, you’ll do something,” Jim cries (986). The final tumbler falls into place. Hank has given the looters more than a moral sanction: he has given them a metaphysical sanction.

He has sanctioned their entire view of existence. “Were they illogical in believing that they existed in an irrational universe? He had made it for them, he had provided it. . . . They, the impotent mystics, struggling to escape the responsibility of reason, had known that he, the rationalist, had undertaken to serve their whims. They had known that he had given them a blank check on reality—his was not to ask why?—theirs was not to ask how?” (986). (It is this sanction, above all, that Galt has refused to grant: Hank has protected the looters from their own irrationality; Galt ensures that they experience its full effects.) Without Hank Rearden, the view of existence on which the looters’ code of death rests would not be possible.

Hank realizes that he now loves his mills more than ever, seeing for the first time their full meaning as products of his own spirit and vision of existence. But that meaning is gone in the irrational existence that is the looters’ world, and the mills must be abandoned, “not as an act of treason, but as an act of loyalty to their actual meaning” (988). Rearden is ready to meet the avenger working for his deliverance—and Francisco comes to claim Hank as one of the strikers’ own.

The courageous struggle that Hank undertakes to win his freedom is the same struggle, in a different form, that the Wet Nurse has to undertake. But the Wet Nurse, less knowledgeable and able than Hank, more crippled by the world’s teachings, pays for his deliverance with his life. The boy tells Hank that he now knows that “it’s crap, all those things they taught us”—that there are in reality absolutes that must never be faked—and that by sticking his neck out for the mills he’s “just discovered . . . tonight, what it means, really to be alive” (991–92). These are the very things that Rearden has also had to discover. The way the boy looks at Hank’s face—“the image of that which he had not known to be his values”—is the way Rearden now looks at his mills, finally seeing their full value and meaning (994). When the boy dies, Hank experiences the desire to kill the boy’s teachers, who had destroyed the boy’s hold on reason and convinced the boy that he lives in an irrational world. Unknowingly, the view of existence that had destroyed the boy is the view Hank had sanctioned. In the name of everything Hank loves, he is now through with aiding evil.

Chapter VII: “This Is John Galt Speaking”

The country learns that Hank Rearden has quit. It descends into greater chaos, violence erupting in many states. Newspapers try to negate the nature of what is happening by refusing to name it, all the while echoing the same moral slogans as always, declaring to the people that greed is the cause of their problems and love, self-denial, and self-sacrifice are the solution. Mr. Thompson, however, is to broadcast a “full report” identifying the nature of the world crisis and the path to renewal (1004). But he discovers that something is interfering with the radio broadcast signal; he orders his subordinates to solve the problem, but they can’t. “Isn’t there anybody around to obey an order?” he cries. “Isn’t there a brain left in this country?” (1009). There isn’t. Mr. Thompson’s time is up. In this chapter, we find out why.

John Galt tells the world that he has withdrawn the men of the mind. The identity of the man behind all the mysterious events taking place in the world in the past twelve years is revealed. And Galt gives full identity to that which everyone has been struggling not to see.

This is a moral crisis, he tells the people of the world, but not in the way they are pretending. The destruction they see around them is not a product of man’s depraved nature or his willingness to sin; it is a product of them practicing their virtues and morality fully, with no one left to shield them from the consequences. There is no one left, because the men of the mind are on strike.

Your ideal had an implacable enemy, which your code of morality was designed to destroy. I have withdrawn that enemy. . . . I have removed the source of all those evils you were sacrificing one by one. . . . Men do not live by the mind, you say? I have withdrawn those who do. The mind is impotent, you say? I have withdrawn those whose mind isn’t. There are values higher than the mind, you say? I have withdrawn those for whom there aren’t. . . . We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt. (1010)

Galt states the standards and terms of the strikers—which he identified for them for the first time—and why they will accept no substitute. Galt states their view of existence—of a universe ruled by the law of identity and graspable only by the mind, a realm of absolutes whose price of admission is reason, a world in which all man’s values are achievable if only he is moved by the spirit of logic. And Galt explains what this view of existence demands: a new moral code, the morality of life.

But this is not the world’s moral code. Its code endures because people dare not face its true meaning. Galt names it. He shows why the code of sacrifice is the morality of death. And he explains the motive, the warped view of existence, of the preachers of that code, who turned the gift of existence and the virtues of thought, of ability, of intelligence, of reason, of competence, of production—into sins to be atoned for.

There can be no compromise or halfway between life and death, Galt tells the world, or between the morality of life and the morality of death. It is either-or—and the individuals remaining in the world must make a choice.

To those of you who still retain a remnant of the dignity and will to love one’s life, I am offering the chance to make a choice. Choose whether you wish to perish for a morality you have never believed or practiced. Pause on the brink of self-destruction and examine your values and your life. You had known how to take an inventory of your wealth. Now take an inventory of your mind. (1052)

To make the proper choice, they must identify how the morality of death has distorted their conception of morality—how it has turned their nascent self-esteem against themselves and how it has led them to conclude that morality is a necessary evil, that compromise is always desirable, and that the men of the mind are their exploiters and enemies.

And when they identify these facts and choose to ally themselves with the morality of reason and life, they must stop supporting evil: they should go on strike and be ready to join Galt and the rest of the men of the mind when Galt decides it is time to return to the world.

Chapter VIII: The Egoist

As the looters’ world crumbles, the better men remaining in that world heed Galt’s call to strike: some refuse promotions, others stop showing up for work altogether, and still others retreat into their own minds. They’ve been armed with the necessary knowledge and courage by the man whose likes the world had never before seen: a true egoist. “Do you realize what sort of egoist you are?” Jim cries at Galt. “‘Do you?’ asked Galt, looking straight at him” (1113). This is the meaning of the chapter.

Galt said in his speech that he does not accept the unearned in guilt or in values. Here, in action, we see the meaning of that statement and the kind of egoist Galt is. He loves Dagny and wants to be with her, but he readily acknowledges the price: she is not yet ready to quit. When she comes to his apartment, his is “a smile of radiant greeting” (1089). He expected her to break and to need to see him, he welcomes her, he is at ease, even though he knows that what he predicted has come to pass. If his enemies were to find him, it was Dagny who would have to lead them to him.

Mr. Thompson and the other looters are paralyzed after Galt’s speech, unable to determine what to do. It is Dagny who tells them: give up. “Let those who can, take over. He knows what to do. You don’t. He is able to create the means of human survival. You aren’t” (1073). Mr. Thompson thanks her—she doesn’t understand why. “She might have something there,” he says to Mouch. “He knows what to do” (1074). This is the origin of their plan to force Galt to support them, to harness his mind to live for them, to make him the nation’s Economic Dictator. But first they must find him. They don’t have the capacity to recognize him: Mouch passes over Galt’s name, the name of an “unskilled railroad laborer,” when they are looking for Galt (1082). But Stadler—who still has enough of a mind left to remember the homeland he has betrayed—tells them that “she’s one of his kind,” she has the capacity to recognize Galt, and so Mr. Thompson orders her followed (1075).

Galt foresaw all this and accepts it. “Gather your strength,” he tells Dagny. “It will happen. Don’t regret it. I won’t. You haven’t seen the nature of our enemies. You’ll see it now. If I have to be the pawn in the demonstration that will convince you, I’m willing to be—and to win you from them, once and for all. You didn’t want to wait any longer? Oh, Dagny, Dagny, neither did I!” (1091–92).

The looters capture Galt, but he proves to be the “toughest bastard” they’ve ever faced (1107). He is what they feared most: a man who loves his life so much that he is not open to dealing with them. He knows that they have nothing to offer him. “What I’ve got to offer you is your life,” Mr. Thompson tells him.

“It’s not yours to offer, Mr. Thompson,” said Galt softly. . . . “do you see what I meant when I said [on the radio] that a zero can’t hold a mortgage over life. It’s I who’d have to grant you that kind of mortgage—and I don’t. The removal of a threat is not a payment, the negation of a negative is not a reward, the withdrawal of your armed hoodlums is not an incentive, the offer not to murder me is not a value.” (1102)

Mr. Thompson, the man who can’t be bothered with ideas, orders Galt to think. “How will your guns make me do that, Mr. Thompson?” (1103).

In identifying and exposing the unadulterated meaning of the morality of death, Galt, the true egoist, forces them to confront their deepest motivation. The result is inner terror. “I’ll tell you more,” Galt says to Mr. Thompson, “I know that I want to live much more intensely than you do. I know that that’s what you’re counting on. I know that you, in fact, do not want to live at all. I want it. And because I want it so much, I will accept no substitute.” “That’s not true!” Mr. Thompson cries, leaping to his feet (1104).

You are the man who has to be destroyed!” Stadler concludes as he tries to justify his life to Galt (1119). In that moment Stadler realizes that he is the antiegoist, the man who dedicated his life to the destruction of that which he valued most.

And through Galt being the pawn in the demonstration, Dagny too finally sees the nature of the looters. She first witnesses Stadler’s savage hatred for Galt; her glance at Stadler, which “began as a shock of astonishment,” ends “as an obituary” (1073). But at that point she still thinks the others will give in, and that there won’t be a “looters’ government within ten days” (1078). Yet that government drags on, its calls to negotiate with John Galt pour out, and the nation’s misery continues. The looters capture Galt, and the contrast between him and them—and all the people who accept the world’s code—forces Dagny to confront the question: do they want to live? (1109, 1111).

And she must now determine her highest value: Galt or the world of Taggart Transcontinental? Galt has told her no middle is possible, and now she sees it. Mr. Thompson asks her if she thinks Galt will ever surrender: “The needle within her wavered for a moment, burning its oscillating way between two courses: should she say that he would not, and see them kill him?—should she say he would, and see them hold onto their power till they destroyed the world? ‘He will,’ she said firmly” (1110). Willers later tells her that Taggart’s transcontinental rail traffic has stopped because trains are being held for ransom in San Francisco; but Dagny will not leave New York.

When the looters decide to parade Galt before the television cameras, and she sees how the faces in the crowd watch Galt with hatred, she understands: “They hate him for being himself—she thought, feeling a touch of cold horror, as the nature of their souls became real to her—they hate him for his capacity to live. Do they want to live—she thought in self-mockery. Through the stunned numbness of her mind, she remembered the sound of his sentence: ‘The desire not to be anything, is the desire not to be’” (1124).

Chapter IX: The Generator

John Galt is the generator of life. As the foremost man of the mind, he is the source of all the values, spiritual and material, that lead to life. In this, the climactic chapter of the story, in which Galt serves as the pawn in the demonstration for Dagny, he makes this fact clear for all to see.

The looters had always known, somewhere in the recesses of their minds, hidden by the mental fog they themselves induced, that they depend for their lives on men like Francisco, Wyatt, Dagny, and Hank. But as reward, they always visited tortures upon these men. In the cellar below the State Science Institute, the distilled essence of their policy is revealed. They all know what Mouch screams: “If he dies, we die!” (1142). They hear Galt’s heartbeat, knowing that it is their own as well. Yet they torture Galt nevertheless.

Even in committing this act, however, they must face their utter dependence on the mind. Just as the looters needed Hank to create Rearden Metal so that they could torture him with its confiscation—just as they needed Dagny to create the John Galt Line so that they could torture her with its destruction—just as they needed Francisco to build d’Anconia Copper so they could torture him with its nationalization—just as they needed Hank’s own sense of justice to torture him with his family’s accusations of injustice—just as they needed Dagny’s own dedication to life to torture her with all the death-dealing obstacles placed in front of her living rails—so they need Galt’s mind in order to torture him. Without Galt, the looters cannot create or even fix the generator. When Galt explains to the mechanic how to repair it, even this mindless drone “was able to recognize the nature of the sparkle in the dark green eyes: it was a sparkle of contemptuous mockery” (1144).

The looters had always felt safe evading their policies and their own identities, because some man of the mind would always be there to deflect the consequences and shoulder them himself. Galt, by refusing to bear this burden, makes them see themselves for what they are. Facing the fact that they need Galt even to torture him, and wanting to continue even if it means their deaths, Jim glimpses his own impotence and the motive of his entire life: “he was seeing his face as the face of a killer whom all men should rightfully loathe, who destroyed values for being values, who killed in order not to discover his own irredeemable evil” (1145). Jim collapses, and Ferris and Mouch know that they must never look for the cause, “under peril of sharing the same fate. . . . For the moment, their only certainty was that they had to escape from that cellar—the cellar where the living generator was left tied by the side of the dead one” (1146).

Galt has made Stadler confront this same fact about his own soul. Stadler felt safe in his evasion that people are irrational. Galt, by revealing another form of existence among men, has exploded Stadler’s evasions. “I’ll show him that there is no other way to live on earth!” is the wordless thought driving Stadler to the site of Project X. But by destroying the rational—looting men like Francisco and Hank—and sanctioning the irrational—the State Science Institute and Floyd Ferris—what other world did Stadler expect to generate but one ruled by irrationality? This is the terror that Stadler faces, when he discovers that Cuffy Meigs is in charge of Project X, the terror “that he was looking at his final product, that this was his spiritual son” (1132). As the two fight over the privilege to rule the mindless, they destroy each other.

But most of all, what Galt makes possible is for Dagny to see the earth as it could and ought to be, as it has always been in her vision of Atlantis. Seeing the looters for what they are, she is free of them and their worship of death, which never had to be taken seriously. She is now ready to strike. “With the greatest effort ever demanded of her”—the Taggart bridge has been cut in half by the explosion at Project X—she gives up Taggart Transcontinental and takes John Galt’s oath (1138).

Chapter X: In the Name of the Best Within Us

Dagny—Eddie Willers heard himself crying soundlessly, as he tried to start the Taggart Transcontinental train—

Dagny, in the name of the best within us! . . . He was jerking at futile levers and at a throttle that had nothing to move. . . . Dagny!—he was crying to a twelve-year-old girl in a sunlit clearing of the woods—in the name of the best within us, I must now start this train! . . . Dagny, that is what it was . . . and you knew it, then, but I didn’t . . . you knew it when you turned to look at the rails. . . . I said, ‘not business or earning a living’ . . . but, Dagny, business and earning a living and that in man which makes it possible—that is the best within us, that was the thing to defend. (1166)

This is what Willers cannot let go of—as he watches people all around him letting go, as he sees the passengers of the Taggart train abandon it to travel by horse and buggy—this, the best within himself, is what no man should let go.

We’ve come back to the theme as described in the first chapter, but this time with full understanding of that which men have let go of—and with full understanding of the spiritual and moral meaning of “business and earning a living and that in man which makes it possible.”

The only reason man has ascended from cave and foot to skyscrapers and locomotives is that there have been individuals like Dagny, who knew what the best within them was and who never let it go—and now these individuals know the meaning and the glory of that which they had been dedicated to. We hear again Halley’s Fifth Concerto, with new understanding.

And it is in the name of their dedication to the best within themselves—and to the man who taught them the glory of it—that Dagny, Hank, Francisco, and Danneskjöld, along with half the male population of the valley, risk their lives to save Galt. It is their last fight against men who want to exist without having to rely on their own minds. “‘It had to be me,’” a just-rescued Galt tells Francisco and the three others, “‘if they were to try their last, and they’ve tried and’—he moved his hand, sweeping the room—and the meaning of those who had made it—into the wastelands of the past—‘and that’s that’” (1155).

Galt and the strikers have now cleared the path to do what they love—Danneskjöld goes back to reading Aristotle, Francisco to his new smelter designs, Hank to planning another business empire—they have cleared the path to live—they have cleared the path to achieving the best within themselves.

Image credit: BrAt82/Shutterstock.com

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.

Do you have a comment or question?

Share this article:

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.

Welcome to New Ideal!

If you like what you’re reading, be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter! You’ll also receive a FREE copy of our book, Illuminating Ayn Rand.