Atlas Shrugged: The Heroic Sociopath

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VII

There’s one more part from Dagny’s interview with Dr. Stadler that will be important later, so I’ll mention it briefly. Before she leaves, he unloads some reminiscences on her:

“When I was at the Patrick Henry University,” he said, “I had three pupils… Theirs was the kind of intelligence one expects to see, in the future, changing the course of the world.” [p.181]

We’re told that these three students all chose to major in both physics and philosophy, and that Stadler had a friendly rivalry with Hugh Akston, head of the philosophy department, over which one of them would be their mentor.

He turned and looked at her. The bitter lines of age were visible now, cutting across his cheeks. He said, “When I endorsed the establishment of this Institute, one of these three damned me. I have not seen him since…

“These three men, these three who held all the hope which the gift of intelligence ever proffered, these three from whom we expected such a magnificent future – one of them was Francisco d’Anconia, who became a depraved playboy. Another was Ragnar Danneskjold, who became a plain bandit. So much for the future of the human mind.”

“Who was the third one?” she asked.

He shrugged. “The third one did not achieve even that sort of meritorious distinction. He vanished without a trace – into the great unknown of mediocrity. He is probably a second assistant bookkeeper somewhere.” [p.182]

OK, hold on a minute here. We’re told that in Rand’s world, the mysterious phrase “Who is John Galt?” is on everyone’s lips, that it means something like, “Why ask questions that can’t be answered?”

Obviously, John Galt was the third student, and he’s the one who started the meme. Even if Stadler doesn’t know that there’s a connection, I found it just a little too convenient that after spending so much time telling Dagny about his three students that he remembers so fondly, he never manages to mention the third one’s name. (It would have made a big difference later on if he had.) He never even says something like, “You know, here’s a funny coincidence for you to chuckle at…”

When she gets back to New York, the construction of the Rio Norte Line is at a standstill, and Jim Taggart is panicking:

“We’re caught. We can’t give up that branch and we can’t complete it. We can’t stop or go on. We have no money. Nobody will touch us with a ten-foot pole! What have we got left without the Rio Norte Line? But we can’t finish it. We’d be boycotted. We’d be blacklisted. That union of track workers would sue us. They would, there’s a law about it. We can’t complete that Line!” [p.183]

Because… unions are adamantly opposed to new projects that would mean jobs for their members? In a world where the economy is crumbling and poverty is rampant? In any plausible scenario, the union ought to be the biggest backer of completing that line. If anything, it would be more realistic for them to demand side branches and spurs while Dagny fights them to keep the cost down.

While Jim moans that all is lost, Dagny cuts him off and delivers an ultimatum:

“I am going to complete the construction of the Rio Norte Line. I personally, not Taggart Transcontinental. I will take a leave of absence from the job of Vice-President. I will form a company in my own name. Your Board will turn the Rio Norte Line over to me… After you have seen how the Rearden Metal rails can take it, I will transfer the Line back to Taggart Transcontinental and return to my job. That is all.” [p.183]

Jim goes along with this scheme, but forces her to agree that Taggart Transcontinental won’t help or support her in any way, that she’ll never return to her vice-presidential job there if she fails, and that she’ll sell them the controlling interest in the Rio Norte Line at cost if she succeeds, earning no reward for saving the company.

I don’t think that we’re meant to draw the conclusion, “Boy, that Jim Taggart is a crafty businessman who drives a hard bargain!” – but that kind of seems inescapable to me. I mean, isn’t the whole point of Objectivism that self-interest reigns above all else, and if you can make someone agree to a deal on very favorable terms, then good for you? Surely Ayn Rand isn’t asking us to believe that Jim must be a bad person because these conditions he’s placed on Dagny are unfair to her?

Once the deal is made, Jim asks what she’s going to call her new company. Naturally, her first choice is the Dagny Taggart Line, but he points out that that could be viewed as clashing with Taggart Transcontinental’s trademark (again, shrewd businessman!):

“Well, what do you want me to call it?” she snapped, worn down to anger. “The Miss Nobody? The Madam X? The John Galt?” She stopped. She smiled suddenly, a cold, bright, dangerous smile. “That’s what I’m going to call it: the John Galt Line.” [p.185]

Dagny thinks this is a grand joke, but when Jim mentions how she might have to apply for various permissions, she is most definitely unamused:

“Listen, Jim,” she said; he had never heard that tone in any human voice. “There is one thing you can do as your part of the deal and you’d better do it: keep your Washington boys off. See to it that they give me all the permissions, authorizations, charters and other waste paper that their laws require… Jim, people say that our ancestor, Nat Taggart, killed a politician who tried to refuse him a permission he should never have had to ask. I don’t know whether Nat Taggart did it or not. But I’ll tell you this: I know how he felt, if he did. If he didn’t – I might do the job for him, to complete the family legend. I mean it, Jim.” [p.186]

Such noble courage! Such indomitable spirit! It’s so inspiring the way Dagny threatens to murder anyone who makes her ask permission for anything she wants to do… wait, what?

Confirming that the story of Nat Taggart was no fluke or authorial misstep, Rand reinforces it by depicting Dagny, her protagonist, as a heroic sociopath perfectly capable of committing deadly violence on people who try to stop her from making money. Remember, even when you’re building a major piece of infrastructure across several state lines, any law or document saying you need any kind of permission is just so much worthless “waste paper”.

This seems like a good time to bring up one of the more startling episodes of Rand’s life: her admiration of an infamous murderer named William Hickman. In 1927, Hickman kidnapped a 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker, demanded a ransom from her father, but strangled her anyway – and then dismembered her and threw her body out of the car in front of her father’s horrified eyes. He was later caught and hanged.

In 1928, Rand made notes for a never-finished novel called The Little Street, whose protagonist was, no joke, modeled on Hickman. According to Anne Heller’s biography Ayn Rand and the World She Made:

Of the protagonist in her story, a murderer, she wrote, “He doesn’t understand, because thankfully he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning or importance of other people.” [NB: Rand meant this as praise.]

As to the actual Hickman… she spends pages describing his admirable qualities, including his “disdainful countenance,” “his immense, explicit egoism,” and the fact that he is, in her estimation, “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” [p.70].

It seems almost too bizarre and loathsome to be true, and yet it is. (See Michael Prescott’s article Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer for more on Rand’s infatuation with Hickman.)

Although Rand never did write a novel starring a heroic child-murdering protagonist, it’s hard not to think that some of these ideas filtered through into the books she did write. What else can you conclude, when she implies that the heroes of Atlas could cold-bloodedly murder someone under the right circumstances, and that they’d be justified in doing so?

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • busterggi

    “I am going to complete the construction of the Rio Norte Line. I personally, not Taggart Transcontinental. I will take a leave of absence from the job of Vice-President. I will form a company in my own name. Your Board will turn the Rio Norte Line over to me… After you have seen how the Rearden Metal rails can take it, I will transfer the Line back to Taggart Transcontinental and return to my job. That is all.” [p.183]
    Wait – if she has no money or resources as an existing company where does she get these for her new company?

  • arensb

    The power of the free market! Unfettered capitalism! Freedom! Argle-bargle!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    She raises money from the businesses in Colorado that need the line built. That, at least, makes some amount of sense.

  • busterggi

    Wouldn’t these companies be even more willing to lend cash to the already established company? The sense level drops just the same.

  • tyler

    well of course they have no problem dropping wads of cash on her, she’s Dagny Taggart! even if she weren’t well known, real businessmen just have that seventh sense for investments that will definitely return.

  • nfq

    “This seems like a good time to bring up one of the more startling
    episodes of Rand’s life: her admiration of an infamous murderer named William Hickman.”

    What. WHAT.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I don’t know if she ever explicitly says this, but Rand seems to believe in a pretty extreme version of social contract theory — if the government violates someone’s rights in anyway whatsoever (buerocratic red tape) then all bets are off (Dagney can go around murdering people).

    It’s similar to her justification for claiming Social Security and Medicare benefits — her money had already been “stolen” (through taxation) so, again, morality is already off the table. She’s just reclaiming what’s rightfully hers.

    Stadler’s pretty funny when he calls Ragnar a “plain bandit.” He may be a bandit, but he’s sure not plain. In fact, he’s a melodramatic, colorful, attention seeking bandit.

  • ZMiles

    There’s a common theme in the book that the Good Capitalists, when they make deals, are still ‘nicer’ to each other than the cruel and evil socialists. We’ll see this, for instance, at a point when an incompetent employee gets a railway job; it’s mentioned that Taggert had to give him the job as a favor to Mouch, since the two “always get as much as they can” when they deal with each other. We’ll also see a guy who lost his factory to one of the good industrialists and then was hired by him; we’re told he makes “more money in fewer hours” than he had when he ran his own business, even though there’s no practical reason why he needs to be paid that much and the industrialist could save money by paying him less.

    Rand is trying to have her cake and eat it too; she wants her heros to do whatever they want to others, but she also wants them to be sympathetic, so it turns out that they’re actually very supportive of each other, in a way that for some reason is not mooching.

  • Michael R. Brown

    The debunked nonsense about Hickman … again? Internet hoaxes die hard. She called Hickman a depraved monster and – worse yet for this meme – purposeless. Does anyone seriously think Ayn Rand would admire someone who was purposeless? (It’s also worth noting that at the time she saw Hickman at the trial, he was legally innocent.)

  • Michael R. Brown

    Dagny says “might” – it’s a (gasp) emotive moment for her. Notice that she doesn’t do it – ever. The guard she kills toward the end of the book was carrying a gun and holding an innocent man by force in a torture chamber. Morality was not off the table re. Social Security – she was recouping what had been taken from her (including capital gains and use of the money that was rightfully hers). Rand was very far from sociopathic – look up the stories (not all from admirers) in the “100 Voices” oral history – time and time again one sees tales of highly considerate, empathic behavior from her. One example is that she went to a diner with some people, one of whom had an arm in a sling. He ordered coffee, and everyone else was talking obliviously – but Rand noticed and silently got some cream over to him, since she noticed he wouldn’t be able to with his broken or whatever arm. This is not a a sociopath. If you want to be all twisty, consider that a really sophisticated (whether true or not) neo-Nietzschean analysis of Rand would have it that she had an overdeveloped sense of empathy and she fought against it.

  • Michael R. Brown

    Because you’re typing on a government computer, am I right?

  • Science Avenger

    That’s exactly correct. Rand doesn’t believe its OK to murder anyone who stands in the way of you making money – she believes it only if they are standing in your way for what Rand believed were invalid reasons. She was pretty explicit in her belief in the reciprocity of rights: you deserve them only if you respect them in others.

  • Science Avenger

    Even if Stadler doesn’t know that there’s a connection, I found it just a little too convenient that after spending so much time telling Dagny about his three students that he remembers so fondly, he never manages to mention the third one’s name.

    I always considered this one of the weakest aspects of Rand’s writing. There are several instances in the book where any normal person would mention Galt’s name, but they don’t, and for no reason at all. This is true not only true within the given plot, but for the justification of the plot itself. There’s no good reason why he can’t be named. It might even have added to the suspence…hmmm, Stadler’s third star pupil is unaccounted for, and there’s a destroyer out there, as well as a brilliant physicist. Whom might he be?

    Seems like this is yet another example of Rand fixating on something that was really unnecessary, and bending reality to conform to it.

  • Science Avenger

    Surely Ayn Rand isn’t asking us to believe that Jim must be a bad person because these conditions he’s placed on Dagny are unfair to her?

    No, she’s asking us to see Jim as a coward for never wanting to take risk, or confront the “evil” forces standing in Dagny’s way.

  • Azkyroth

    Apparently Rand thinks Protagonist-Centered Morality works in real life.

  • Science Avenger

    Because… unions are adamantly opposed to new projects that would mean jobs for their members?

    Because unions in Rand’s world are overly concerned about their members’ safety, and they fear that Rearden metal will somehow harm them.

    As an aside, “Rearden metal”? Really? How totally lame. She couldn’t think of a cooler name than that? Maybe “Reardian”? I mean come on, what if Rearden invented another metal? What would he call it? “Rearden Metal too”?

  • Azkyroth

    Rand doesn’t believe its OK to murder anyone who stands in the way of you making money – she believes it only if they are standing in your way for what Rand believed were invalid reasons.

    This is what a distinction without a difference wants to be when it grows up.

    Or maybe it aspires to rise to become a distinction without a difference someday.

  • Science Avenger

    It’s been my experience with libertarians/Objectivists that they are not nearly as heartless as they expect governments to be. I’ve seen them argue one minute that the government should let people stupid enough to not buy sufficient health insurance die in the streets, then go out of their way at great cost and expense to help complete strangers trapped on a mountain pass with a broken down car and no supplies the next.

    I’ve heard it suggested that libertarians don’t understand that the entire world is not as reasonable as they are, and that’s why their positions are so unworkable.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    I just went into the relevant section of the book that’s the source for the Hickman claim, and she explicitly says, among other things, “I admire Hickman.”

  • Science Avenger

    It’s standard Ingroup behavior, not too implausible at all. See my post above, I’ve seen this behavior consistently among libs/objectivists. It doesn’t justify it – I’m sure there are plenty of Klansmen who were kind to other whites too.

    As for the mooching/giving, there are several instances where Rand’s characters grossly violate this standard, so gross that its hard to believe she could be unaware of it. Spoiler Alert: When they reach the valley, immediately after being told the one forbidden word there – give – one character borrows a cane, for free, from another. I can only guess that Rand was making some point here, perhaps that even her protagonists are not totally anal assholes about everything, but I can’t be sure.

  • Science Avenger

    How so? We all believe it is OK to kill under certain circumstances. Rand simply added a few, invalid ones IMO, but they aren’t substanceless.

  • smrnda

    I’m posting on the internet, which emerged from a government funded DARPA probject :-)

  • smrnda

    Wow, getting coffee for a guy with a sling. So generous, when she inspired her mindless Randoid followers to believe that the disabled should just be screwed if they couldn’t fend for themselves or beg well enough. The welfare state goes more good than private charity or individual generosity ever did for most people, and by opposing that, she does more harm than good. Ever read what she wrote about the disabled?

    On the notion of property, it’s a social construct, and there’s no real way to decide what the proper role of government is other than open debate. Libertarians and objectivists want to forcibly limit it regardless of the will of the people or what’s socially beneficial. I just feel that everybody getting enough to live in trumps property rights.

  • smrnda

    I guess my issue here is that those actions perpetuate the myth that private generosity can solve problems, and that in the end, it’s the L/Os doing the less effective and less important means of helping others. Paying your taxes to support SNAP is better than not having SNAP and donating to a food bank.

  • smrnda

    So I don’t think it’s an issue of reason, just a miscalculation as to what the problems are. I’m sure many libertarians and objectivists *think* there would be some non-government solution to disabled people needing medical care, but they simply don’t realize the scope of the problem and how individual solutions will likely be inadequate. Part of this could be their assumption that what’s normal for them is normal for everyone – I don’t meet many objectivists with chronic health conditions, so they may underestimate the severity of those problems and the need for help.

    So in the end, it’s a combination of faulty cost/benefit analysis and a romanticized view of ‘individualized’ actions.

  • smrnda

    An overdeveloped sense of empathy is bad HOW?

  • Laughing Giraffe

    What tends to baffle me about libertarians is how many of them are anti-union, when in fact unions are a *free market solution* to the problem of the imbalance between workers and employers. At least on paper, we have two entities who both make use of the resources at their disposal (on one hand, their money; on the other, the threat of a strike) to maximize their advantage. In real life, of course, there are plenty of ways in which this doesn’t play out, but not being sufficiently grounded in reality doesn’t seem to stop most Objectivists…

  • Nancy McClernan

    Here is Ayn Rand demonstrating her vast overdeveloped sense of empathy. When Rand had an ongoing affair with Nathaniel Branden, Branden’s wife Barbara – who had agreed to allow the affair – began to have panic attacks:

    Barbara called Rand’s apartment from a pay phone, choking with anxiety and pleading to come over for a little while… In a rage Rand took the phone and railed: “Do you think only of yourself? Am I completely invisible to you?” The older woman refused to let her join them, pointing out that no one had helped her in times of trouble.* “Why should I be victimized for Barbara’s problems?” she said to Branden afterward.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And note Rand’s standard claim that no one ever helped her, which she also says in the Afterward of Atlas Shrugged. It’s laughably absurd, when she had plenty of documented help from everyone from Cecil B. DeMille to the Bolsheviks.

  • Nancy McClernan

    “Kill” is not the same as “murder.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    It’s not an Internet hoax. There’s plenty of evidence that Rand admired Hickman – the only questions are how much she admired him, and for which reasons. Your calling it a hoax doesn’t erase the evidence, unfortunately for you and your hero-worship.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Public displays of kindness do not rule out sociopathy. Sociopaths are very aware of social etiquette, which is why they seem so creepy – they know what empathy is supposed to look like, even if they don’t feel it.

    I’m not convinced that Rand was a sociopath – she generally didn’t attempt to abide by social conventions in order to appear nice, whereas sociopaths often do – but based on every biography and memoir about Rand I’ve read so far, she wasn’t overflowing with empathy either.

  • Nancy McClernan

    If Dagny had had a normal relationship with her first boyfriend Francisco d’Anconia she would have known the name John Galt, since Galt and d’Anconia were BFFs. But when they aren’t having the standard Randian rage-sex they are talking about smelting metal and rerouting trains. I don’t know if that marks them as sociopaths but it certainly indicates their unusual lack of interest in other people’s emotional lives.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yes, but Rand has a very broad view of what constitutes “invalid reasons”. Basically, anyone who isn’t a consistent Objectivist isn’t acting for valid reasons, and Rand was famously strict as to who did and didn’t count as a consistent Objectivist, disowning people for trivial choices of mannerism or esthetic preference.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I don’t meet many objectivists with chronic health conditions…

    I can’t think why that might be. </snark>

  • Jason Wexler

    I am an amputee from birth and have a serious arrhythmia condition, but was an ardent Randian from the ages of 13 to 17, right up until the point it was forcefully explained to me the Objectivism and socialism weren’t compatible.

  • smrnda

    I find some argue that unions forcing people to pay dues (the ‘union shop’ ) is coercive (like working and agreeing to company terms is not?) which is where the argument for ‘right to work’ states comes from. I suspect it’s really just a bias against any sort of working-class collectivism.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Hmm, perhaps. On the other hand, one of the conditions Jim places on her is that she has to sell the completed line back to Taggart Transcontinental at cost, rather than squeeze them for a profit as she could otherwise have done. Rand says that Dagny shows a “stab of shock” at this, but bows her head and accepts it as, apparently, one more injustice.

  • Donalbain

    No. We don’t all believe that.

  • J-D

    You can tell what the text of the book endorses, approves, or advocates from the text itself, without knowing anything about Rand’s own life. Information about Rand’s own life is interesting, but it doesn’t change the text.

  • J-D

    I wonder: if Dagny Taggart returned from a business trip to discover that in her absence somebody had arranged to have her home demolished in order to build a new railway line across the land, what would she do?

  • sealiagh

    The Dread Pirate Robert perhaps?

  • J_JamesM

    For some reason this reminds me of a Simpsons gag: “FOX NEWS: NOT RACIST, BUT #1 WITH RACISTS!”

    Similarly, it seems that not all Objectivists are sociopaths but objectivism is #1 with sociopaths.

  • Azkyroth

    Having reviewed her published opinion and her history as told by the people who knew her, do you seriously believe that Rand would ever, under any circumstances, regard someone’s reasons for not letting her have her way as valid?

  • Azkyroth

    What.

  • Azkyroth

    [Citation needed.]

  • J-D

    What what?

    If you read a book that says something frightful like, I don’t know, say, ‘Let the weak go to the wall and the devil take the hindmost!’, and you say, ‘That’s frightful!’, and somebody else says, ‘Oh, but the writer was a sweetheart in real life and always helped old people across the road’–well, what the book says is still just as frightful and doesn’t become any less frightful no matter how the writer’s life was lived.

    So what _Atlas Shrugged_ says is what it is–that is, mostly frightful–regardless of how Ayn Rand may have happened to live her life. For all I know Michael R Brown may be right about what a charmer Ayn Rand was personally–or then again, maybe not, but it makes no difference either way to an evaluation of the book.

    Somebody who wants to defend what’s in the book against an attack mounted on it can only validly do so by defending what’s actually in the book, not by dragging in information from Ayn Rand’s biography. That’s strictly irrelevant to the point at issue.

    Is that clear now? Did I really do such a bad job of explaining it the first time?

  • GCT

    Dagny says “might” – it’s a (gasp) emotive moment for her. Notice that she doesn’t do it – ever.

    So, it’s OK to make threats as long as you don’t follow through? Not according to the law it isn’t, nor do I find it particularly praiseworthy.

  • Science Avenger

    No shit. “Murder” is “killing” the law says is illegal. That’s why the frequent dodge of Ten Commandments defenders when confronted with Yahweh’s frequent killing, “it doesn’t say ‘do not kill’, it says ‘do not murder’” is a complete dodge, and another example of the TC moral emptiness.

  • Science Avenger

    OK, somewhere out in the wilderness, there is a solitary figure who doesn’t believe anyone should kill ever, not as a soldier in war, not to defend one’s child from an attacker, not if Stalin was standing right in front of them ripe for the taking. But for the 99.99% of the humanity, my statement holds. It’s OK to kill in some circumstances, we just disagree sometimes on the details. And since Rand saw no distinction between the government arbitrarily taking your property, and an individual doing so, she thought the appropriate response was the same.

  • Science Avenger

    It’s irrelevant, as JD points out above. The discussion topic is Atlas Shrugged, not Ayn Rand’s personal foibles. And in AS, the standards for what constitutes proper and impropert behavior in the aforementioned situations are pretty clearly laid out. The problems with them isn’t that they are vague, its that they are poorly derived.

  • Science Avenger

    Understood, but again its irrelevant to the question at hand, which was whether the philosophy in AS considered it invalid to stand in someone’s way of making money no matter what, and that clearly isn’t the case. Hell, each of her competitors openly declares so when they claim to be trying to ruin each other. I can’t think of a mere extreme example of “standing in their way of making money”, and it receives complete approval.

    When confronted with a morality that is sufficiently different from their own, its important to not fall into the trap of seeing it as no morality at all. Rand’s writings frequently have that effect on people. Sure, Rand herself was an inconsistent self-indulgent mess. But the philosophy she espoused wasn’t, and the simple proof is the ability of most Objectivists to get along with each other just fine. That’s not possible with a philosophy of “whatever I personally want is OK”.

  • Science Avenger

    IANAL, but aren’t there laws on the books that help unions function, like making it illegal to fire people for trying to start one, or allowing unions to force new employees to pay dues and be a member whether they want to or not? It’s that sort of thing that makes libertarians anti-union, because its the government forcing the business to allow it, rather than just letting happen in a completely free environment.. They can’t be bothered with the practical necessity of such laws, or the inherently tilted negotiating table between the individual workers and The Man.

  • Science Avenger

    It’s a bias against collectivism period. Objectivism is so steadfastly opposed to collectivist action, that while Rand believed there should be a government with a monopoly on the use of force to maintain Objectivist principles, she completely punted how this entity was to be financed if taxation is to be considered theft. The only concrete solution she suggested was a national lottery, which is funny beyond measure – an objectively rational moral state depended on funding from those who act irrationally.

  • Donalbain

    No. It is not a solitary figure. Pacifists exist. Lots of pacifists exist.

  • Science Avenger

    What would Dagny would do? Defend her property with her life against the “initiation of force” of course. But I’m sure you knew that, and were alluding to what others here have pointed out: the notion of building a railroad across any lengthy stretch of land without having to deal with legitimate (even by Objectivist standards) government concerns and private property problems is ludicrous. Rand simply ignored this, just like she took a pass on having any tangible reason why no one who knew Galt mentions his name.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes well you were the one who said:

    Rand doesn’t believe it’s OK to murder anyone who stands in the way of you making money – she believes it only if they are standing in your way for what Rand believed were invalid reasons.

    And then followed up with:

    We all believe it is OK to kill under certain circumstances.

    If you agree there is a difference between kill and murder then your point that “we all believe it is OK to kill” is not a valid comparison to Rand believing it’s OK to murder under certain circumstances.
    Believing it’s OK to murder a competitor for getting in your way is different from killing in self-defense. Most of us agree it’s OK to kill in self-defense.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Objectivism absolutely is an inconsistent self-indulgent mess. And it’s an exact representation of Rand’s personality, since Objectivism is nothing more than a collection of the personal preferences of that eccentric hack novelist. The fact that one can’t enjoy Beethoven and be a true Objectivist is just one of the many examples of what is wrong with this ridiculous “philosophy.”

    The “ability of most Objectivists to get along with each other fine” is not only unsupported but not a valid defense of Objectivism.

    Probably the purest expression of Rand’s logic fail is what she does to the myth of Prometheus a little later in Atlas Shrugged. Not only does she get the basic facts of the myth wrong in d’Anconia’s comparision of John Galt to Prometheus, she gets them wrong in a way that makes no coherent sense whatsoever.

    I expect that if she had allowed the editors at Random House to do their jobs this might have been corrected – but since she didn’t, we get to see exactly what an illogical thinker she really was, in spite of her belief that she was the exemplar of perfect rationality.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Rand wouldn’t agree with you – in one of her biographies she was participating in a discussion of Atlas Shrugged and somebody protested that people like the protagonists in Atlas Shrugged did not exist. Rand’s response: “Don’t I exist?”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I agree that Rand would say that it’s OK for good capitalists to destroy each other through honest competition. But you may notice (and I’m planning to write a post about this later) that she never depicts this as actually happening in the world of the book.

    Instead, she arranges her plot so that her protagonists are all in different industries and never have to compete with each other. The closest she comes is Dagny’s rivalry with the Phoenix-Durango, but Dan Conway is conveniently put out of business by the looters before that conflict ever comes to a head. It makes you wonder if she lost her nerve a little bit when describing the impact of her own philosophy.

  • Azkyroth

    Excuse me, but your temperature is not absolute zero, therefore your temperature must be infinity. How can you not melt your computer?

  • Azkyroth

    You’re hamhandedly applying rules for handling syllogistic, deductive reasoning to a real-life situation. Don’t do that.

    The arguments made by her fans rely to a significant degree on the perception of Rand as an authoritative figure. In short, they have an implicit premise of “If Ayn Rand said it, it’s probably trustworthy, because she’d only have reason to say it if it were true,” and/or “Ayn Rand is an admirable person, so we should weigh her words more heavily.” Refuting those premises is relevant to refuting those arguments as actually made, any sentence containing the words “strictly speaking” notwithstanding.

  • Azkyroth

    Even ignoring the “authority” issue, Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s personal foibles dressed up in a bottomless word-salad bowl. Her beliefs are relevant because she projects them onto her characters and rearranges the fictional universe to “justify” them, and I think it’s clear that she applies to them the same narcissistic expectations she had for the way people would treat her.

  • Hawker40

    I did meet one, once. He collected Social Security Disability, and used Medicaid, claiming he had ‘earned’ every dollar he was paid because of the taxes he had paid before his motorcycle accident.
    Given the accident occurred while he was in college (attending on a academic scholarship to a state run institution), I wonder how much he thought he had paid in taxes.
    (Note: My anecdote is not data. Your reality might be different.)

  • J-D

    I failed to make myself clear. What I meant was, what would Dagny Taggart do if she returned from a business trip to discover that her house had already been demolished? (in order to make way for a new railway line across the land). It would be too late then to resist the use of force, since that use of force would already have been completed.

  • J-D

    Perhaps I am ham-handed; I leave that for others to judge. However, I made no invocation of rules for handling syllogisms.

    I don’t need to be told that Ayn Rand’s fans rely on their perceptions of her as an individual to justify their acceptance of what she wrote, because I was responding to somebody who’d done just that. But just because Ayn Rand’s fans do that doesn’t mean they’re right to do that. That was my point.

  • Pacal

    Against Collectivism, except the collectivism that exists in companies and corporations, both of which are collective enterprises much of the time.

  • James Yakura

    I recall that in a lot of cases, union shops and so on gain things like requiring all employees to pay dues… by using collective bargaining to get the employer to agree to do that.

  • James Yakura

    Sarcasm, I suspect.

  • A Real Libertarian

    It’s the same with solar net-metering.

    “How dare you coerce me into paying for the benefits I take! Only a socialist would prevent me from mooching off of others!”

  • A Real Libertarian

    “just like she took a pass on having any tangible reason why no one who knew Galt mentions his name.”

    Considering he’s fighting a totalitarian regime he’d obviously change his name.

    But that would take a whole paragraph to explain, which would cut Galts’ big speech down to a measly 59.8 pages, so it’s clear which is more important.


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