Atlas Shrugged: Things That Don’t Exist in Randworld

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VIII

At the start of this chapter, Dagny is back in New York, working until well after midnight (of course) in the rotting tenement that’s the official corporate headquarters of the John Galt Line:

Her new headquarters were two rooms on the ground floor of a half-collapsed structure. The structure still stood, but its upper stories were boarded off as unsafe for occupancy. Such tenants as it sheltered were half-bankrupt, existing, as it did, on the inertia of the momentum of the past.

She liked her new place: it saved money. [p.205]

She returned from Colorado to search for Dwight Sanders, a brilliant young engineer who was in charge of the company that was going to make diesel locomotives for the John Galt Line, but who inexplicably retired and disappeared just days after inking the contract. Of course, by the time Dagny arrives there’s no trace of him. She’s planning to return to the airport for her flight back, when her attention is caught by a mysterious midnight visitor:

On the pavement of the alley, outside her window, she saw the shadow of a man who stood at the door of her office.

…He was so close to the door, like a man about to enter, that she waited to hear him knock. Instead, she saw the shadow jerk abruptly, as if he were jolted backward, then he turned and walked away. [p.207]

Suddenly consumed by a desire to know who this stranger was and what he wanted, she runs to the door and looks out, but: “The alley was empty. The pavement went tapering off into the distance, like a band of wet mirror under a few spaced lights. There was no one in sight.”

This scene brings up an important question: Has Dagny read the dust jacket of the book she’s in?

We know that the great industrialists are disappearing because John Galt is recruiting them, convincing them to stop supporting the parasitic socialists and to go away with him to his secret capitalist utopia in the mountains. But Dagny shouldn’t know that. From her point of view, the men who are devoted to capitalism are mysteriously vanishing, leaving no note or word of explanation. Isn’t it a reasonable assumption that it’s not by choice, that someone has kidnapped them or worse, and that she might be next? You’d think she’d be more paranoid about her personal safety. How did she know the dark stranger at the door wasn’t deciding whether to rob or kill her?

There’s only one reason for her to be so unconcerned, which is that in Randworld, crime doesn’t exist. Or, rather, the only kind of crime that exists is government thugs seizing property from helpless businessmen. Even in the midst of full-blown economic collapse, no one ever seems to commit robbery or random violence out of despair or desperation. Obviously, if Rand acknowledged that as a possibility, it might undermine her position that there should be no social safety net. Educating people tends to be cheaper than incarcerating them.

In the next scene, Hank Rearden is being forced to sell off his mines by the Equalization of Opportunity law:

Paul Larkin reached for the papers hesitantly; he looked ingratiatingly helpless. “It’s only a legal technicality, Hank,” he said. “You know that I’ll always consider these ore mines as yours.”

Rearden shook his head slowly; it was just a movement of his neck muscles; his face looked immovable, as if he were speaking to a stranger. “No,” he said. “Either I own a property or I don’t.” [p.208]

He’s found a good person to take over his coal mines, a Pennsylvania coal titan named Ken Danagger, but somehow there’s no one to run his ore business besides his family’s looter friend Paul Larkin. It’s not clear why Hank doesn’t just hire a team of high-powered lawyers to argue that mining and refining are all “one business” and can’t be separated from each other. You’d think he could delay the regulations for years at the very least, just as large corporations routinely do in reality. Possibly the whole byzantine framework of corporate law is something else that doesn’t exist in the world of this book?

Rearden knew what the boy he had been would have felt: a desire to step on the obscene thing which was Larkin and grind every wet bit of it out of existence.

He had never experienced an emotion of this kind. It took him a few moments to realize that this was what men called hatred. [p.210]

Oh, come on. Hank is an ascetic businessman, not an android. It’s not even slightly believable that this has never happened before – that in his decades of scaling the corporate ladder, he’s never felt hatred for anyone: not a coworker, a
boss, or a rival. Certainly later in this chapter when he has sex with Dagny, he doesn’t launch into a What Is This Thing You Humans Call Love monologue.

Meanwhile, in spite of all these impediments, the John Galt Line is growing, racing the clock toward completion, while the looters stand by and cluck their tongues:

“Hank Rearden is a greedy monster,” people said. “Look at the fortune he’s made. Has he ever given anything in return? Has he ever known any sign of social conscience? Money, that’s all he’s after. He’ll do anything for money. What does he care if people lose their lives when the bridge collapses?” [p.214]

How disgusting! How cowardly! What a despicable accusation for the looters to make against our noble, incorruptible heroes! It, um, also happens to be completely true in the case of Francisco d’Anconia, who built a shoddy housing complex knowing that it might come crashing down in ruin while there were people living there, but that doesn’t count, I guess?

We’re also told that Orren Boyle gives an interview in which he says, “One should not, it seems to me, use human beings as guinea pigs in the launching of a new product,” and Bertram Scudder writes an article which says of Hank and Dagny, “These two, apparently, are willing to stake the lives of their fellow men on their own conceited notions about their powers of judgment, against the overwhelming majority opinion of recognized experts.”

It’s not completely clear whether Rand expects us to take these statements as true, but she certainly never contradicts them. We debated earlier whether Rearden Metal had gone through any kind of safety tests or pilot projects before Hank and Dagny started using it on an industrial scale, and this seems to be the closest thing to an answer we’re going to get. Evidence-based decision-making, too, is another thing that seems not to exist in Rand’s world: there’s only the assertions of businessmen, whom we should trust based not on their scientific knowledge or training, but on the depth of their devotion to a free market.

Other posts in this series:

Some Thoughts on Trigger Warnings
Atlas Shrugged: The Craft of Not Acting
Atlas Shrugged: The Rapture of the Capitalists
Atlas Shrugged: Bring Me a New Black Guy
About Adam Lee

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


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