Atlas Shrugged: Pound the Table

Atlas Shrugged: Pound the Table August 22, 2014


Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IV

The date of Hank Rearden’s trial has arrived, so it’s time for the obligatory Dramatic Courtroom Scene.

The first thing we learn, as spectators file in, is that the Constitution has apparently been revoked, because there’s no longer a right to trial by jury (which is guaranteed in Article 3 – it’s more fundamental than even the Bill of Rights). When and how this happened, we aren’t told. You might think this is a much bigger deal than the Equalization of Opportunity Bill or the Fair Share Law, but Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to share that opinion.

According to the procedure established by directives, cases of this kind were not tried by a jury, but by a panel of three judges appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources…

The judge’s bench had been removed from the old Philadelphia courtroom for this occasion, and replaced by a table on a wooden platform; it gave the room an atmosphere suggesting the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.

I wasn’t aware that that was a specific category of meeting.

One of the judges, acting as prosecutor, had read the charges. “You may now offer whatever plea you wish to make in your own defense,” he announced.

Facing the platform, his voice inflectionless and peculiarly clear, Hank Rearden answered: “I have no defense.”

“Do you—” The judge stumbled; he had not expected it to be that easy. “Do you throw yourself upon the mercy of this court?”

“I do not recognize this court’s right to try me.”

Because that’s always a brilliant legal stratagem: start out by announcing that you don’t recognize the authority of the court. Ask all those imprisoned “sovereign citizens” how well that worked for them.

Having stated that he won’t offer a defense, Rearden then launches into a defense, in the form of a Randian MonologueTM about how laws that restrict business owners are an offense to capitalism and how he has the absolute right to run his company any way he likes. Naturally, the judges permit him to ramble rather than cutting his speech off as irrelevant or threatening to hold him in contempt, as any real court would do:

“Are we to understand that if the public deems it necessary to curtail your profits, you do not recognize its right to do so?”

“Why, yes, I do. The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes — by refusing to buy my product.”

“We are speaking of… other methods.”

“Any other method of curtailing profits is the method of looters — and I recognize it as such.”

“Mr. Rearden, this is hardly the way to defend yourself.”

“I said that I would not defend myself.”

Note: any method of curtailing a company’s profits, besides not buying from them, is the method of looters. If a food producer, for example, was selling cantaloupes contaminated with Listeria, or beef harboring E. coli, it would be intolerable for the FDA to order a recall. If an industrial plant was pumping smog onto a downwind community, it would be unacceptable for the EPA to make them install filters. If OSHA orders the installation of safety equipment, that’s a sure sign of evil.

Inexplicably, the judges are flummoxed by Rearden’s refusal to cooperate:

The three judges looked at one another. Then their spokesman turned back to Rearden. “This is unprecedented,” he said.

“It is completely irregular,” said the second judge. “The law requires you to submit a plea in your own defense. Your only alternative is to state for the record that you throw yourself upon the mercy of the court.”

“I do not.”

“But you have to.”

“Do you mean that what you expect from me is some sort of voluntary action?”


“I volunteer nothing.”

“But the law demands that the defendant’s side be represented on the record.”

“Do you mean that you need my help to make this procedure legal?”

“Well, no… yes… that is, to complete the form.”

“I will not help you.”

OK, look: the legal system doesn’t work that way.*

When creationist clown and tax-protester Kent Hovind was brought up on tax evasion charges, he tried to offer a plea of “subornation of false muster“, which is, legally speaking, blithering nonsense. But Hovind’s refusal to cooperate didn’t bring the judicial system to a screeching halt; the judge simply threatened to enter a plea for him if he wouldn’t enter one himself. And defendants in the U.S. legal system have always had the right to choose not to put forth a defense.

Rand writes this scene as if a trial can only happen with the participation of the defendant, which is absurd. There are many uncooperative defendants in real life, and the judicial system is perfectly capable of dealing with their antics. If these judges act bewildered, it’s only because Rand is pulling their strings. Her theology decrees that the looters’ system can only exist with the tacit consent of the capitalists, and if they withdraw that consent and refuse to cooperate, the bad guys will be helpless – even in cases, like this one, where that doesn’t make any sense.

Having insisted that he wouldn’t defend himself, Rearden continues defending himself, speechifying about how he earns his own profit and refuses to apologize for his ability, and that he won’t willingly be a “sacrificial animal” to people who don’t recognize his “right to exist”. In true Hollywood-cliche style, the courtroom bursts into applause, and the bad guys back down:

The judges retired to consider their verdict. They did not stay out long. They returned to an ominously silent courtroom — and announced that a fine of $5,000 was imposed on Henry Rearden, but that the sentence was suspended.

No, no, no. You’re doing this villain thing all wrong.

The proper evil-tyrant protocol for show trials is to announce that the defendant is guilty and that the crime merits a very harsh sentence – say, twenty years’ imprisonment with hard labor. Then you add, as a show of how generous and merciful you are, that you’re suspending the sentence. This makes people both fear and love you. As a bonus, the threat of reimposing the sentence would be a useful sword of Damocles to hold over Hank’s head, something that will become very important two chapters from now. Really, what do they teach at supervillain school these days?

* As Morbo from Futurama might have put it.

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  • FoLokinix

    This has led me to believe that Atlas Shrugged would be immensely more entertaining to read if Morbo was added to several key scenes every chapter.

  • Guest

    double post deleted

  • BeaverTales

    They returned to an ominously silent courtroom — and announced that a fine of $5,000 was imposed on Henry Rearden, but that the sentence was suspended.

    Was $5,000 a lot of money in 1957? An average American house cost about $22,000 in 1955, so if today’s average house is ~$250,000, that’s equivalent to a fine of well over $50,000 in today’s dollars (assuming as some do that the Case-Shiller Index of housing prices is a more realistic index of inflation than CPI over the long term)..

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ayn Rand thought that was probably a huge fine for a steel industrialist. These days it would be laughable and wouldn’t even cover the attorney’s fees. The oil companies and banks have been fined billions for their corporate malfeasance, for instance… billions they can earn in a few weeks of fracking or high-frequency trading.

    It would be hilarious in today’s world to see the head of Countrywide Financial or the head of Conoco/BP say that a court had no right to try them, when their customers can just stop buying their products and let them fade out of existence while the CEOs move to the Caymans with the profits. It would also be hilarious in 2014 to see the government actually even prosecute one of these companies. More and more companies operate with impunity in this country.

  • Shawn

    Fun procedural history – at one point under the common law it really was the case that a defendant had to either plead guilty or not guilty before a criminal trial could begin. However, the court would then order the prisoner to be tortured until they either pled or died, so this was by no means a get-out-of-jail free card. The doctrine of “peine forte et dure” was changed in the 1770s so that refusal to plead was taken as a guilty plea – and changed again in the 1820s so that refusal to plead was taken as a not guilty plea, which is how things stand today. One famous application was Giles Corey, accused of witchcraft in Salem, who died rather than enter a plea which might have caused his estate to be seized by the state as a felon. As far as I know, no criminal defendant has ever managed to avoid being tried by grandstanding as to jurisdiction.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    “Her theology decrees that the looters’ system can only exist with the tacit consent of the capitalists, and if they withdraw that consent and refuse to cooperate, the bad guys will be helpless.”

    I believe this is what she calls the “sanction of the victim.” It’s never made much sense to me, but this trial shows how silly the whole thing is.

  • Jeff

    It’s bizarre how so many hundreds of thousands of people in various positions of authority, domestically and internationally, can be so utterly inept yet so completely restructure society. These people are *judges*, and they are totally stymied by a glorified temper tantrum (the phrase “you’re not the boss of me” would fit in pretty well in Hank’s (non-)defense speech, as would a scene where he sticks his fingers in his ears and starts saying la-la-la-la-la when the judges speak to him).

    Just more strawman villains, I guess. Between all these strawmen and Rand’s weird obsession with cigarettes, it’s a wonder the whole thing hasn’t caught fire yet.

  • Even worse is the trial in The Fountainhead. There Howard Roark is allowed to argue for jury nullification at length (not surprising)-that is, he really did blow up the apartment building, but it was okay because they violated his artistic integrity (what happened to property rights, I wonder?). In reality, no judge would permit this-he would be ordered to stick to the facts presented, and held in contempt if refusing to comply.

  • Al Petterson

    “Applause in the courtroom” is another thing that’s weird. I think we are supposed to imagine that in Randworld, what happened was that all these changes to how we run society were done at the behest of voters; that is, if they were (in Randview) ill-advised, they were nevertheless popular.

    Yet when he speechifies, everyone in the courtroom applauds because they agree with him? Which I suppose is some sort of nod to vox populi – the “elite” judges enforce unpopular, destructive mandates, but the People are ready for the hero’s vision to triumph… except they’re obviously not.

    So the applause would appear to be Rand congratulating herself for how persuasive she imagines she is.

    Yet … if these speeches are so persuasive, why didn’t any of these doofuses give their speeches before the laws were changed? If these speeches are all it takes to change minds, surely this could all have been avoided.

    Basic logical inconsistencies in worldbuilding, it seems to me. Either that, or destruction of society was the goal of the guys who go on to form Galtron from the beginning. Make everyone dependent on them, then take their ball and go home. The heroes are more and more like Bond villains the more I learn about this story.

  • it gave the room an atmosphere suggesting the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.
    So a quick jab at the mentally-ill, way to keep it classy Rand.

  • Doug Langley

    As I recall, elsewhere in Atlas Shrugged, businessmen go ballistic, rend garments, and blow up their companies in protest against the unspeakable 2% taxes.

  • Doug Langley

    As I recall, there were two trials in Fountainhead. At the first, all he did was show photos of his buildings and that was supposed to be his defense – “See how awesome I am?” Still found guilty – go figure. At the second, all he did was give a speech where he lectured the jury that if it weren’t for geniuses like himself, they would all starve to death (foreshadowing Atlas Shrugged). Incredibly, he’s acquitted.

    And don’t get me started on the fact that Roark spend years training as a duper architect but with no experience whatsoever is suddenly a Clarence Darrow.

  • Doug Langley

    Good point about the Constitution somehow vanishing in this world. There’s no President of the United States, no Congress, no Supreme Court, no trial by jury . . . and weirdly, no one notices. Not one character says, “What happened to my First Amendment rights?” or such.

    You’d think Rand had never heard of the thing – but suddenly, on the last page of the book, there it is, with one of the heroes editing ONE of the clauses and thinking that solves everything. No one says, “But how do we get people to follow it this time?”

  • David Simon


  • Al Petterson

    Well, that’s again a cultural difference of the past half-century. Anybody from 1957 would breeze right by it; it just wasn’t on the radar that saying something like that was hurtful.

  • Al Petterson

    You see this over and over in demagoguery – their enemies must have *every* vice; they must be both evil geniuses and total nincompoops.

    You can see it in how the US imagined Communists in the Cold War (their spies were devious and everywhere, about to destroy our democracy – but you could catch them by making them recite the Pledge of Allegiance, because they couldn’t say “under God”); you can see it in how we imagine terrorists having sufficient superpowers to escape from SuperMax prisons yet also unable to light their own shoes on fire; you can see it in how the current opposition to the current president alternately paints him either as having the terrifying ability to fundamentally transform our society or else completely unable to perform the basic duties of the office and speak without reciting a prepared script.

    It’s what demagogues do. “My opponents are prideful and envious, greedy and slothful, wrathful and lustful – all at the same time!”

  • Al Petterson

    Yeah … it’s hard to know whether she means to paint $5000 as a victory or a defeat – though the suspended sentence is obviously a conditional victory. But even in 1957, if you run a steel mill, $5000 is at most an inconvenience.

  • Fair enough, though it’s also a by product of Rand’s worldview whereby intelligence is akin to morality. Hence her preference for brilliant heros and dullard villains (which doesn’t often make for interesting stories, as an aside.)

  • they must be both evil geniuses and total nincompoops


  • The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes — by refusing to buy my product.

    It makes you wonder why Rearden bothered to patent anything, since he presumably wouldn’t sue anyone for using his designs and formulas.

  • Tommykey69

    Kind of like how Obama is weak and indecisive and yet he is ever on the brink of imposing on us the worst despotism in the history of the world.

  • Jeff

    There are occasional references to “the Legislature,” but that was never really a commonly-used term for US Congress. State congresses, sure, but not the federal one. Not that it’s the wrong word to use, just that it’s an uncommon and fairly unique choice.

  • Tige Gibson

    Followers would somehow come to the notion that Morbo is a looter icon rather than a mockery of them.

  • Cerebus36

    Just prior to this trial, Rand portrayed Hank as being unconcerned with the whole thing as if he had this really great blockbuster tactic he was going to pull to get his ass out of trouble and save the day. It was going to be a maneuver that would be so awesome it would blow the readers’ minds away. And the tactic? Hank Rearden continues to be childishly petulant and sullen. Awesomeballs, Ayn!

  • That was apparently a deliberate choice on Rand’s part. There’s no Congress, just a “Legislature”, and there’s no President, but there is a “Head of State”.

    It’s weird, because in every other respect her story is set in (what she imagines to be) the real-world United States of America. I know she didn’t want to tie her story down to a specific time frame, but I don’t know what point she wanted to make by changing the terminology.

  • Anna

    “The proper evil-tyrant protocol for show trials is to announce that the defendant is guilty and that the crime merits a very harsh sentence – say, twenty years’ imprisonment with hard labor. Then you add, as a show of how generous and merciful you are, that you’re suspending the sentence.”
    But I thought the point of show trials was to declare someone guilty with made-up evidence and send them to Siberia or what-not? I think that’s what’s usually meant by “show trial.”

  • Cerebus36

    “Yet … if these speeches are so persuasive, why didn’t any of these doofuses give their speeches before the laws were changed? If these speeches are all it takes to change minds, surely this could all have been avoided.”

    That was something that really bugged me while reading this book. In Real Life, any such anti-capitalist laws that exist in Atlasworld, would be fought tooth and nail by the Koch Brothers, Warren Buffet, etc. Lawmakers left and right would be bribed, er, lobbied, to keep it from passing. Yet, Hank, Dagny, Hammond, etc. are so blindly caught up in being Super Capitalist Creators they somehow don’t notice what’s going on or for some damned reason are too stupid to see the implications of the laws being enacted and do nothing to prevent them. Wha?

    (Spoiler alert) Worse, later in the book, we sort of kind of learn the whole thing starts when *one* company adopts the socialist business model. All earnings are pooled together and everyone is paid according to his needs. Unfortunately, this ends up with the result that the reputation of the business is ruined forever, their products go from being among the best in the industry to being the worst and they are unreliable. The business is soon shut down and the neighboring town dies out. Yet, this remarkably bad business model is miraculously adopted by virtually all other businesses in Atlasworld. Despite the fact that realistically, a business model that disastrous would be scorned and avoided by ALL other businesses. Even Ben and Jerry’s would reject it.

  • Anna

    Or perhaps “the sentence is suspended” is supposed to imply they can put it back whenever they want.


    The most frightening thing about Ayn Rand is the way politicians like Paul Ryan would impose her fantasy world ‘solutions’ to the real world, even though those ideas have never been shown to work in any world. Rand’s success is predicated on her appeal to the worst aspects of human nature, and the way she helps profoundly awful people feel better about themselves.


    Everything about Rand is silly, except for the people who take her seriously.

  • KennethJohnTaylor

    Really, Atlas Shrugged is a lot more fun to read if you pretend it’s all satire.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    That’s how the masterminds of most conspiracy theories are as well; vastly competent with unlimited resources to pull off schemes that require massive amounts of logistical planning and means, are able to carry out their intrigues in total secrecy over the course of decades if not centuries, yet they are completely exposed by some Joe Blow in his living room that has it all figured out*.

    * Except all those thing he hasn’t figured out but that’s all part of the conspiracy.

  • KennethJohnTaylor

    It’s one of the primary dualisms of ultranationalism/fascism. Believe in your enemy’s overwhelming might and desire to destroy you, but simultaneously believe in your own power to ultimately triumph over him. It’s modern doublethink at its very best. GOP does it all the time with Obama, Terrorism, or anyone they perceive as a threat.

    It can’t be both ways. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force.

  • Doug Langley

    I’m trying to remember how that last page goes. I don’t recall that she refers to the document by name, so we can’t really prove it’s the Constitution. But the judge inserts a clause “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade” – something like that. At which point, she refers to Congress by name.

  • Doug Langley

    It’s meant as a victory. The crowd cheers, and Dagny gushes with praise. The striking heroes, though, have a more nuanced view.

  • Doug Langley

    When you choose to write a dystopia with a happy ending, it’s really an uphill battle to make it believable. Rand was working out all her resentments, but she believed in happy endings. The result is revenge porn as Dagny watches her man blow up everyone who had been mean to her.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand’s argument is that philosophy is the trump card defeating good business practice or even self-preservation. When people are convinced that altruism and collective activity are morally good, they have no choice but to march like lemmings off the cliff.

  • Doug Langley

    Three judges but no jury?

    I really have to wonder if Rand based this off some Russian trial she once saw.

    Fun fact: Rand wrote a courtroom drama which did feature an American style jury before writing Atlas Shrugged. So it certainly wasn’t out of ignorance.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The answer is in her journals. She wrote that she wanted to “avoid the honorable connotations attached to such a title as ‘President of the United States’ by another era and a different principle of government.” (Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 454).

    Of course, the curious reader will wonder about it: when did these titles get dropped and the rest of the Constitution obliterated?

  • Doug Langley

    And why at the end of Atlas Shrugged was it accepted so casually that the Constitution would come roaring back?

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The Fountainhead had a jury too, for its climactic courtroom scene in which the heroic defendant’s argument from individualism sways the jury into nullifying the applicable law. I wonder if she was trying to avoid retreading her previous literary steps,

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Not really the same thing. Rand defined “profit” as something you gain by free and honest trade of something you came by honestly. Financial gain by patent infringement would be a species of theft, and patent suits are therefore fine and dandy. In fact, Rand wrote an entire essay devoted to morally justifying patents and copyrights.

    Of course, in Rearden’s case, he’s the guy with all the ideas, so any patent infringement suit against him would be baseless and immoral.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    There are two ways to interpret this scene. One is that the judges go easy on Hank because his passionate defense of his right to make money wins them over. Since they’re portrayed as looter types, however, this interpretation seems fairly unlikely. Also, if they were persuaded, wouldn’t they acquit him outright?

    The other is that Hank has successfully called the looters’ bluff and scared them into inaction. Early on, he warns them:

    Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there—I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine—Iwill not volunteer to pay it. If you believe you have the right to force me—use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.

    Based on the judges’ response, it would seem we are to understand that these judges (and maybe the government more generally) don’t believe they have the right to enforce their laws. They fear that any show of force will expose the “true nature” of their action to the public, and that would be bad … because apparently the looters count on the public not knowing that the government can and will use force to enforce its laws.

    Huh? Doesn’t everybody already know that, and even expect it? Would the public prefer to know that its government will back down every time a lawbreaker refused to voluntarily go to jail?

  • Cerebus36

    Not many people voluntarily will go to jail. They pretty often have to be taken there by the point of a gun. Really all Hank’s doing is describing how the law normally deals with criminals. Or was it that at one time in Atlasworld, criminals were just like, “Well, Honey, I broke the law. I guess I’ll just have to go over to the jail and get me a room and do my sentence. I’ll see you when I get out” or “No, no, Your Honor. That’s perfectly alright. I’ll just walk over to the jail myself and step behind the bars. I’m sure these fine young officers have better things to do than put me in prison. I’ll do it myself”?

  • Cerebus36

    I’m sure this goes without saying, but in the real world, altruism and collective activity will never interfere with a business man earning a buck. Nor would philosophy ever trump good business practices and/or self-preservation. If the philosophy is bad for business, it won’t be followed.

  • UnsaltedSinner

    I have to say that Reardens’ defense sounded more impressive in the original German:

    “The army which we have formed grows from day to day; it grows more rapidly from hour to hour. Even now I have the proud hope that one day the hour will come when these untrained [wild] bands will grow to battalions, the battalions to regiments and the regiments to divisions, when the old cockade will be raised from the mire, when the old banners will once again wave before us: and the reconciliation will come in that eternal last Court of Judgment, the Court of God, before which we are ready to take our stand. Then from our bones, from our graves, will sound the voice of that tribunal which alone has the right to sit in judgment upon us. For, gentlemen, it is not you who pronounce judgment upon us, it is the external Court of History which will make its pronouncement upon the charge which is brought against us. The verdict that you will pass I know. But that Court will not ask of us, ‘Did you commit high treason or did you not?’ That Court will judge us as Germans who wanted the best for their people and their fatherland, who wished to fight and to die. You may pronounce us guilty a thousand times, but the Goddess who presides over the Eternal Court of History will with a smile tear in pieces the charge of the Public Prosecutor and the verdict of this court. For she acquits us.”

    There was apparently loud applause in the courtroom. And then he went to jail (though, sadly, not for long — but that’s another story).

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    She also said, in a Q&A in 1981, that “The retarded should not be allowed to come near children, who cannot—and should not have to—deal with the spectacle of a handicapped human being.” (Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 124-125.)

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Rearden does make one foray into politics: when the story opens, he’s hired Wesley Mouch to lobby against anti-business legislation. Of course, Mouch takes Rearden’s money and uses it to lobby for the Equalization of Opportunity bill … all because Taggart promises him a job running the Bureau of Looting Economic Planning and National Resources. And somewhere along the way, someone tells Rearden that one is either good at producing things or good at running to Washington, can’t be both.

    Apparently, the intellectual skills needed to run a business are mutually exclusive with the skills needed to be, or even to hire, a successful lobbyist. Who knew?

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    This is basically identically to a trial scene from Rand’s other novel, Anthem, providing I’m remembering Anthem correctly. Rand seems incapable of understanding how any legal system other than a tribunal legal system works.

    Edit: Come to think of it, don’t all of Rand’s protagonists run afoul the law in some way or another? Rand seems to think that the law is used as a tool by the looters to punish capitalists, which is a really dangerous philosophy to take.

  • Cerebus36

    “Apparently, the intellectual skills needed to run a business are
    mutually exclusive with the skills needed to be, or even to hire, a
    successful lobbyist. Who knew?”

    Certainly not the Real World.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I don’t remember a trial scene in Anthem. He gets caught being out late and punished for that, but there’s no trial, just “you were late, so we’re going to beat you senseless.” The hero then voluntarily goes to show his great invention to the scholars … and they threaten to destroy it and punish him, whereupon the hero flees into the forest. Again, it isn’t really a trial.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Come to think of it, the only “crime” in Atlasworld is the bureaucrats’ legalized theft from the producers. So maybe the general public there doesn’t know how jail works.

  • Yet … if these speeches are so persuasive, why didn’t any of these doofuses give their speeches before the laws were changed? If these speeches are all it takes to change minds, surely this could all have been avoided.

    Actually, Ayn Rand says the same thing. In the final scene of this chapter (which will be the subject of next week’s post), Francisco tells Hank that if his courtroom speech had been given three generations ago, it would have “saved the world”. But why didn’t anyone say these things earlier? Rand clearly states that there have been supercapitalist geniuses in every era of history, after all.

    It goes back, again, to the point that we readers enter this story in the middle of the action, and never find out what preceded that.

  • There’s nothing that can’t be improved by adding more Morbo.

  • She wrote that she wanted to “avoid the honorable connotations attached to such a title as ‘President of the United States’ by another era and a different principle of government.” (Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 454).

    Thanks – that’s interesting. But then, one wonders, why is this story still set in the United States of America, since she also idolizes the USA itself (as shown in Francisco’s wedding-toast speech)?

    If I were writing this, I’d have started out by saying that there was a communist takeover in the interim, and that the country was now called the “Socialist States of America” or something. It’d neatly explain what happened to the Constitution.

  • Cerebus36

    That leads to the question of why didn’t somebody else give that speech (or one similar to it) three generations ago? And “three generations”? If I’m not mistaken, Rand portrays the mechanisms of the Looters class as going for centuries. That this is something that has been going since forever. Moreover, the closest Rand gets to explaining how the Atlasworld got to the point it has, is when she describes one company (I’m purposefully not naming the company to avoid spoilers) adopting the socialist practices that the moochers and looters now use. Did that happen three generations ago? Is John Galt that old?

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    It sounds like it’s just my confusion, then. It’s been a while since I read Anthem. It didn’t strike me as particularly remarkable.

    I’m pretty sure there was a trial scene in Fountainhead though, wasn’t there?

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Yep. There are comments on it below.

  • anna

    “as if a trial can only happen with the participation of the defendant, which is absurd.”
    I think this is to show the incompetence and dependency of the looters, that they supposedly can’t do anything without the great businessmen of the world, even sentence those same businessmen.

  • Jeff

    “Apparently, the intellectual skills needed to run a business are mutually exclusive with the skills needed to be, or even to hire, a successful lobbyist. Who knew?”

    A fine point; up until now the heroes have been good at everything they try. Hank, with no apparent formal training in engineering, was able to look at a blueprint for a railroad bridge and *know* that it was a solid design. He’s also the apparent head of R&D at his metalworks AND the president/CEO. Francisco is a freakin’ demigod, and John Galt is just a full-out *god* (he invented an infinite energy machine, after all). Yet when it comes to lobbying congress, a perfectly legitimate and morality-neutral act, they’re totally helpless. They can’t even use their impeccable sense of character to fine a talented and upstanding lobbyist to do this for them.

  • Al Petterson

    I’m guessing here – but there’s the implication that he’ll have to be dragged and won’t walk. And she’s counting on the visual of a well-dressed man being dragged off to jail being shocking to the conscience, or something, instead of just looking like a petulant child willing to hurt himself rather than behave in basic socialized ways – which is why most people do, in fact, walk once cuffed. They know they can’t, ultimately, avoid the destination, and they’ll just hurt themselves if they have to be dragged.

    So it’s the exact equivalent of “I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue”.

  • Al Petterson

    That one’s easy. All the people who wouldn’t accept the Randroid version of the Constitution were dead.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    They didn’t say these things earlier because they didn’t know them.

    Rearden’s defense here is explicitly a moral one, not a practical one. He points out that he is not asserting, as the reason the looters should leave him alone, that doing so would serve the public good. His position is that, even if it could be shown that “immolating” him would serve the public good, he would not cooperate because he has a moral right to exist. (Yes, this implies that restricting the terms of a business transaction is the moral equivalent of setting fire to the businessman … but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

    Later, John Galt will declare himself to be the first man in history to understand this moral issue. So presumably, prior generations of supercapitalists were hamstrung by their acceptance of the wrong moral code. Rearden is learning the right moral code from Francisco, who learned it from Galt.

    That’s Rand’s logic anyway.

  • I confess my knowledge of the book comes from other accounts. Did he get a retrial after the first or what? In Rand world, presumably the supermen are not just “beyond good and evil”, as Nietzsche put it, but beyond the law as well. Superpowers as the plot demands would just be a small part of their greatness.

  • If you have a suspended sentence, that means it will be reinstated if certain circumstances occur, usually the defendant committing another crime.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Since Adam mentioned that he’s moving onto the next scene next week, I think it would be useful to offer a synopsis of Rearden’s actual, umm, argument, for the benefit of those not reading along at home. Here is one:

    I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it well. … I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow men than you could ever hope to accomplish—but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognize the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life. … It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own—I would refuse. … I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. … If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their mood requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!

    Yes, this really is it. What I elided was just more similar rhetoric, not additional evidence or reasoned explanation.

    As a defense to a charge of illegally selling Rearden Metal, this only makes an ounce of sense if one assumes that business regulation is morally equivalent to setting businessmen on fire.

  • Doug Langley

    At the first trial, he’s found guilty and has to pay a fine. And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him. It’s been a few years since I got rid of all my Rand books, so I’m going straight off memory. Someone else who still has the books can give a more specific answer.

  • Al Petterson

    So … you’re saying Rearden only knows this because he’s regurgitating what Fd’A said. That makes some amount of sense, I guess. So just as America invented making money, John Galt invented selfishness.

  • Doug Langley

    Remember, Rand defined “altruism” and other words completely out of recognition. So our altruism is compatible with profit, but Rand’s altruism means dictatorships and destitution.

  • Al Petterson

    This does imply we could solve a lot of problems by simply getting together all the Objectivists who think they’re being oppressed by regulations, and setting them all on fire – it would apparently be no less moral by their lights, and it is possible it would even shut them up.

  • Doug Langley

    It is really mind boggling to see the duper competent Reardon lurch around in a haze – “Mouch? Oh yes . . . did I hire him? Umm . . . what does he do again? Gosh, that sounds awfully unpleasant . . . I hope he does a good job . . .”

  • Doug Langley

    Which is exactly why there are so many scenes of Francisco with Rearden. We’re not supposed to guess it just yet, but Francisco is feeding Reardon everything he needs to put his actions on a moral foundation.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand said that early in her construction of the story, she considered making the strike a multi-generational process. She then tightened it down to a number of years.

    Hmm . . . trivia question here. Has anyone actually computed the exact amount of time that elapses in the story?

  • Doug Langley

    You mean the “People’s States of America”. Remember, all the other countries in the world are People’s States. I guess communism destroys peoples’ originality.

    OK, I’ll buy a generic communist version . . . but seriously, “Head of State”?? That sounds like something a 6 year old would say.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand once wrote a newsletter commenting on the real-life story of Russian protesters brought before a local court. She gushed on their courage, their integrity – and indeed, it certainly took guts to stand before the judge boasting that they had indeed broken the law and would do so again. Their speeches would have done a Rand fiction character proud. Stuff like, “For 10 minutes, I was free. I will gladly take your 20 years for that.”

    Unfortunately, they were all sentenced. Oh well, life doesn’t always have a happy ending.

  • Doug Langley

    I’ll concede that are a number of stories with messages of the proud individual defying the suffocating state. At first glance, Hank’s speech certainly inspires.

    The problem, of course, is how the Atlas characters carry this out. An industrialist who never pollutes, never exposes workers to hazardous conditions, never sells to the government, never uses unfair tactics – uh huh.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The two trials in the Fountainhead are for two unrelated incidents, several years apart.

    Trial #1 is a civil trial for “breach of contract and malpractice,” involving a commission to build something called a “temple of the human spirit.” Roark submits the photos expecting that the jury will see that what he built was, in fact, a temple to the human spirit. Res ipsa loquitur, as the lawyers say.

    Trial #2 is a criminal trial for blowing up a building. Roark’s speech is an extended argument to the effect that he was within his rights to blow up the building in question.

  • Jeff

    “Judge Naragansett… sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on top of the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…”

  • Doug Langley

    Re: trial #2: Roark can’t get the job directly. Peter Keating can – but he’s not competent enough to do the job. Roark agrees to design in secret and Keating gets the credit. Roark just wants the challenge of doing something no one else can do. He draws up a contract with Keating stating, among other things, it is to be built exactly as designed. You guessed it – it turns into a fiasco where everyone and his brother have a hand in it and it looks horrible. So Roark dynamites it.

    Randroids argue that it’s a case of broken contract, so Roark was within his rights. But it was a secret contract drawn up by an amateur and not filed with any legal company. On planet Earth, that sort of thing would just bring a good laugh to the judge.

  • Jeff

    If we could somehow make a profit from this, they wouldn’t have the right to object.

  • Doug Langley

    You know, my long-term memory is really starting to scare me . . .

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Yes. Objectivists have built complete timelines, including backstory. See here for an example: (Caution: Spoilers, also flipping the bird.)

    It’s three and a half years from the opening scene to the final plane-flight scene. It’s not clear how much time goes by between that final plane flight and the closing scene in Galt’s Gulch. The linked timeline assumes (as do most Objectivists) that it’s just a few weeks after the plane-flight scene but it could just as easily be a year later, or five years later … Rand does not tell us.

  • Doug Langley

    Reminds me of something Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “If you hang around with cripples, pretty soon you learn how to limp.”

    Now there’s a real Rand hero.

  • Martin Penwald

    What if we put Objectivists on a island with a flamethrower for each one, and a prize for the last one standing ?
    We can call it « Battle Randyal » .

  • Doug Langley

    Now that would be a REAL “Survivor.”

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I think she left it as the “United States” rather than a People’s State, despite her idolization of the USA, because she wanted readers to understand that her fictional U.S. is not communist yet (i.e., not everything is run by the state), although it’s clearly heading that way.

    It’s clear that the Constitution has been abrogated, although Rand wasn’t sufficiently interested in world building to sort out how or even when it happened. One could make something up based on Francisco’s “three generations ago” comment, but there’s no reason to think Rand intended any such implication.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    By the way, Adam, if you were writing this, it would probably make a lot more sense! :-)

  • Doug Langley

    Even so . . . there’s all the heroes in Galt’s Gulch, laying out their plans for rail/steel/oil/you name it, and they’re thinking “The Constitution? Oh yeah, I’m sure Naragansett will do a fine job, no worry.”

    As opposed to the sturm und drang getting the original drawn up.

    (Um . . . what about other countries?)

  • Doug Langley

    I believe they go easy on Hank because they need him to keep producing. It’s explained over and over that there’s nobody else as good as him and if he goes away, it’s curtains.

    So they want break his spirit and make him work on their terms.

    There’s a kind of civil war between the villains who want to enslave people like Rearden and those who just want to destroy them.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Rereading this has really brought something home to me. All of these rich folks in real life who claim Atlas as a touchstone — they’re nothing like Hank Reardon. By Objectivist lights, they’re all like Orren Boyle. Sure, they’re sucessful business people, but they got there through grants, subsidies, sweetheart deals, and so on. I guess the computer folks working in their parents’ garage comes close, but even they had to have parents who had a garage and enough money to support their tinkering children in the first place

    To channel Lloyd Bentson, what I’d really like to say to Paul Ryan and his ilk is “you, sir, are no Hank Reardon.”

  • David Andrew Kearney

    The term “Head of State” is used, and it has a specific meaning, as opposed to “Leader of Government.” For example, in the UK, the Queen is the Head of State, while the Prime Minister is Leader of Government. In Germany, the President is the HoS, while the Chancellor is the LoG. That distinction doesn’t come up in the US, since the President serves both functions.

    It is odd that Rand would use HoS, since where it exists it’s a chiefly ceremonial position.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    That reminds me of that scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Brady admits that, since the sun hadn’t been invented yet, there’s no way to tell how long the first day was — it could have been millions of years!

  • Cafeeine

    I think you mean “Inherit the Wind”

  • David Andrew Kearney

    That’s a really interesting point — how does Objectivism account for the success of Ben and Jerry’s?

  • Cerebus36

    I got through it by accepting it as a work of surrealism.

  • arensb

    The one where Spencer Tracy says that the law against teaching evolution is bogus, and the butler says “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

  • arensb


  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Yes but the flamethrowers should have varying amounts of fuel in them. Only one is completely full and one is completely empty and the rest or like 1/4 or 1/3 or 6/8 full. If they are true Randian Heroes this shouldn’t present a problem for them, not even the empty one.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I got through it by plotting revenge on the librarian who suggested I read it.

  • Al Petterson

    Ah. *That* closes the loop. He’s the radiation-accident superhero. He’s so good no one else can even imitate him.

    Well, it’s not like Rand understood technology, mass-production or anything else. The graveyards have ever been full of indispensable men.

  • Al Petterson

    Why would he give knowledge away for free? I don’t understand.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Ha! You’re right, thanks for the correction. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my day, but this one’s a doozy.

  • I take it the jury was less than impressed with his “temple of the human spirit” which is pretty vague anyway. Since he was sued, presumably that person who hired him had different ideas as well. Again, this seems to undermine the property rights so strongly advocated by Ayn Rand-if one is hired to build something by a client, shouldn’t it be as *they* wanted it? His artistic vision is something to be fulfilled on his own time, I’d think.

  • Doug Langley

    One percent of the flamethrowers are fully fueled. All the others are empty or almost empty. That would represent real life very nicely.

  • Doug Langley

    I ran across (forgive the pun) an interesting video recently. It’s been on You Tube a while:

  • sealiagh

    If I remember correctly the building Roark destroyed was owned by the municipality – so I guess in Randworld it is okay to destroy public property.

    The other thing that always bugged me was that Roark seemed to completely misunderstand his own profession. Architects work for others, for clients. And it is ultimately the client’s vision and needs that matter. Any architect who misses that (or who is not good at persuading clients to accept his artistic vision) is not going to be successful. Another example of how Rand is pretty clueless about how the real world works.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I wonder if she knew this and chose it for that reason. Rand will tell us that the man who holds that title “was a product of chance and knew it and aspired to nothing else.” Also, most of what he does in the story is to put in an appearance here or there. At one point he’s supposed to give a speech, but that gets preempted. His function does seem to be mostly ceremonial.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Because Objectivism isn’t all about money (something Rand’s critics often forget). Objectivists, like Francisco, do things for free when they think they will gain a value that makes up for the time and effort they’ll spend doing it. The value doesn’t have to be monetary.

    In this case, the value Francisco seeks is the success of the strike, as that will allow him to live in what he thinks will be a better, happier world. He knows the strike won’t succeed without Rearden. And he knows that Rearden will join if and only if he understands why the strike is morally right. So that’s the trade: Francisco expends effort teaching Rearden the correct moral code, in return for which he will eventually get Rearden to join his cause.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Except that the whole thing is a setup by Roark’s nemesis, Ellsworth Tooohey, to discredit him. Some rich old geezer named Hopton Stoddard for some reason wants to build a Temple of the Human Spirit. He hires Roark on the recommendation of Toohey. Also on Toohey’s recommendation, Stoddard signs the contract and takes off on some year-long worldwide spiritual quest; the contract says that Roark is to go ahead and design and build the temple without input from Stoddard. The parties had absolutely no discussion at all of what the structure should look like or even what Stoddard (or Roark for that matter) thinks the “human spirit’ is. Roark, as instructed, proceeds to design and build according to his view of the human spirit. Stoddard returns and, coached by Toohey, concludes the building does not express an acceptable view of the human spirit. Hence the lawsuit.

    In reality, I think a court would have a lot of trouble finding a breach of contract on these facts. It’s pretty clear that Stoddard left the difficult task of defining “Temple of the Human Spirit” entirely to Roark’s discretion. Roark built accordingly.

    But of course, in reality, who would hire an architect to design something as ill-defined as a “temple of the human spirit” and then not review the design?

    As a postscript, I knew an Objectivist architect who had (maybe still has) a grand dream to build a Temple of the Human Spirit. It was going to be on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, facing SF.

  • Al Petterson

    But – that completely negates the entire book and the entire philosophy, doesn’t it? “Doing things for a better, happier world” is what we all do. It is what altruism is. It’s what “the public good” is. It is the opposite of selfishness. It is what her characters proudly say they do not ever do, or consider.

    Or am I still missing something? I mean, I am deliberately unfamiliar with the novel itself, but this makes no sense to me. (I agree with you completely that it’s the implications of Francisco’s actions, which is why I asked the question, but it’s at odds with his professed ideology.)

  • Ah, I see. Well in that case he should have been able to win on summary judgment, let alone at trial. However then we’d miss the drama.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I think the real difference is in what constitutes a “better, happier world.” You’re probably thinking something along the line of a world where people in general are healthier, more financially secure, more able to do things that give their lives meaning … freedom from want, freedom from fear, that kind of thing.

    For Objectivists, it means a world that operates according to Ayn Rand’s principles of absolute respect by everyone for everyone’s rights (particularly property rights), with government strictly limited to protection of rights. Whether these principles would actually result in everyone, or even anyone, being healthier, more financially secure, or any of the other kinds of “better” you may have thought of, is not a fundamental concern—although Objectivists do tend to assume it will have that result, at least for morally upstanding people such as themselves.

  • Pierre Cloutier

    This reads like a collection of non-sequiturs. Of course Hank Reardon does not in the slightest believe in a human being’s “right to exist”. After all if someone is a “looter” they apparently have no right to exist. Perhaps “looters” aren’t really human. In the world of Ayn Rand’s politics there can be no abstract “right to exist” given her ideology of total self responsibility. You are responsible in this view for your own existence and for maintaining yourself. Should you be unable to do so then the logical fallout is that you “must” die because otherwise you are a “looter”. Of course “superior” people may lower themselves to help you, (Although this would violate Randian morality.), but they have no obligation to help you whatsoever because bluntly you do not have a “right to exist”.
    If someone has a “right” then it can be enforced, potentially at least, if not then the right does not exist. If the “right to exist” does not mean a enforceable right then it is no right at all. One can’t say human’s have a “right to exist” and then explicitly and implicitly deny it is enforceable in any way.
    In Rand’s world view it seems to be that the right to accumulate and dispose of property has you see fit is in fact the fundamental right, not any abstract “right to exist”.

  • Doug Langley

    Bear in mind that Roark didn’t get a lawyer, but represented himself (very bad idea in real life) and put up the worst defense you can imagine. The courtroom scene consisted entirely of Roark being accused of one thing after another while he just sits there like a rock. Finally, Roark shows pictures of the temple he designed and says, “The defense rests.” Even in a Rand novel, that couldn’t win.

  • Pierre Cloutier


  • Doug Langley

    Remember, the goal of the strikers is to get all the other industrialists – the “men of the mind” – to join them on the strike. That’s exactly what Fransisco is doing with Rearden. But since Rand is writing this as a mystery, we’re not supposed to guess the true motive just yet.

  • Is $5k supposed to be a lot of money, though? I mean I realize in 1950 it was quite a bit of cash for an ordinary person but for a Captain of Industry type?

  • Cerebus36

    Rand certainly redefined a lot of things: Thanksgiving, going on strike, etc.

  • Omnicrom

    An important thing to remember is that the Randian definition of Altruism bears absolutely no relation to the actual definition of Altruism. Randian Altruism is a mad philosophy that you see in every Tea Partier rambling about Welfare Queens. Randian Altruism is this strange thing that believes that everyone should be unsuccessful and impoverished and poor. It’s not Altruism for Francisco to tell Rearden all this because it will lead him to the Right Philosophy of Objectivism ™ and make him properly Selfish and therefore successful.

    Remember that Rand’s novel is both badly written and Manichean. Selfish and Capitalist and Objectivist is automatically correct, and the automatically correct are always all these things. Anything else is Altruistic.

  • Cactus_Wren

    According to the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $5000 in 1957 has the same buying power as $42,393.24 today.

  • Donalbain

    Characterisation, plotting, readability.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Altruism becomes Rand’s strawman, while “enlightened self interest” or whatever she called it becomes so vauge and elastic as to become whatever is convenient at the moment.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I’m not sure I’d say philosophy would *never* trump good business practices. I need to brush up on my early Soviet history, but I’m pretty sure that the period during and imediately following the Russian Civil War wasn’t so great for business or profit seeking

    I’m not trying to be nitpicky — I think emerging from that cultural milieu might explain Rand’s paranoia about state action of any kind.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Actually, she’s closer to the definition of “Altruism” than people who use game theory to justify it: doing something that benefits others and not yourself, or at least doing it not because it benefits you but because it benefits others. Doing things primarily because it benefits you is selfish. Thus, Francisco does this because he believes that it is better for him to live in a Randian world than a non-Randian one, and so he makes others succeed so that he can use that and benefit from that.

    As I said, this reasoning is pretty much identical to the social contract type of reasoning that insists that we give to others or provide rights because it’s better for us to leave in a world where that happens, but that’s not altruistic, but selfish.

  • Doug Langley

    But in Randworld, Roark is the super-genius and his clients are morons who want crap. Either he says, “You’re stupid, I’ll do it this way instead”, or he just goes through with their lunatic demands and presumably fights high blood pressure.

    There should be a note on the book cover: “WARNING: acting on this philosophy may be hazardous to your career.”

    Incidentally, there were a lot of Roark’s buildings for private clients that were disfigured but he did nothing. Then comes the government housing project – and THAT get blown to smithereens.

  • Doug Langley

    Not nitpicky at all. The problem with discussing Rand’s views is that she was stuck in a fantasy world and everyone else is referring to planet Earth.

    If you’re not familiar with Rand’s life in Russia, it’s a lulu. Her father was a businessman running a chemist (pharmacy). The Bolsheviks seized it and the family dropped into poverty. Rand described burning hunger pains through that time. It had to affect her writing.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand takes the standard definition of “benefits others and not yourself” and extrapolates it to the notion of sacrifice. She declares that altruism is the intentional sacrificing of self – and she then declares that it is intentional because you can only sacrifice the good. You can’t make the inept give to the productive, by definition. But you can make the productive give to the inept. Thus, only good can be sacrificed. Thus, altruism is evil, because it intends to destroy the good, not help others.

  • Doug Langley

    On the subject of Rand’s world building, some random musings . . .

    Rand suffered greatly in Russia. To the rest of her life, she reserved her most scathing criticism for the Soviets. But later in her newsletters she started referring to Soviet Russia as Europe, as if it had spread across the continent.

    She wrote about the UK, I believe government health care, and that immediately damned the area as socialistic.

    She mentioned in Atlas Shrugged about the religion in Asia, which automatically made the entire area irrational.

    So pretty much the whole world was lacking in her eyes.

    By the time she started writing Atlas Shrugged, the United States and other countries had ground through 10 years of the worst depression ever, and were now embroiled in the deadliest war ever.

    So maybe she simply believed the world was already going down the tubes and Atlas wasn’t much of a stretch.

  • Oh, I assumed as much when I wrote my tongue-in-cheek comment. I expected Rand to justify exceptions to Rearden’s unconditional assertions by defining words to suit her purpose.

    I haven’t read Ayn Rand, but I’ve read enough ideologues to recognize the pattern.

  • Ah well if it’s owned by the city, yeah, I imagine she’d care much less about that. You’re right, it seemed that she knew very little of how actual architects work.

  • Christopher R Weiss

    Absurd legal theories are constantly emerging, and people still go to prison when they break the law. The most recent flavor of the month is the “sovereign citizen” scam, which has been used as an excuse to commit fraud by many people. In the 1980s it was all kinds of extreme arguments about the income tax being unconstitutional in spite of the sixteenth amendment. Hovind made all sorts of bizarre arguments, but the taped phone calls of him attempting to continue his income tax evasion scam while he was under arrest pretty much did him in.

    A fraudster is still a fraudster….

  • Azkyroth

    At the point where you’re declaring “building the kind of world you’d like to live in, for everyone” to be a “selfish” motivation, you’ve twisted the term “selfish” beyond utility or meaning.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Interesting indeed.

    And, as you know, Objectivists deny that any of the awful stuff depicted in this video matters. They don’t say it doesn’t exist, just that it doesn’t really hold anyone back, at least not in the 21st century. We are all self-made … or so they tell themselves as they glide along on their conveyor lane of privilege.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Yes, on any normal definition of “right to exist,” Rand believes in no such thing. But Rand redefines “right to exist” to mean just what you said: the right to sustain your own life by your own effort … not the right to succeed in sustaining your life, just the right to try. And she’d more or less agree that “the right to accumulate and dispose of property has you see fit is in fact the fundamental right” because how else can you sustain your life if you don’t get to keep the product of your efforts? Somewhere or other she wrote a rant about all those evil evaders/looters/moochers who want to distinguish between “human rights” and “property rights.”

    And yes, when we get to Part III, she’ll tell us that looters are sub-human and have no rights whatsoever. Stay tuned.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    She did an interview with Mike Wallace in 1958, shortly after Atlas Shrugged was published, in which she warned of impending doom:

    Mike Wallace: How do you feel about the political trends of the United States, the Western world?

    Ayn Rand: The way everybody feels except more consciously. I feel that it is terrible, that you see destruction all around you, and that you are moving toward disaster, until, and unless, all those welfare state conceptions have been reversed and rejected. It is precisely these trends which are bringing the world to disaster, because we are now moving towards complete collectivism or socialism. A system under which everybody is enslaved to everybody, and we are moving that way only because of our altruist morality. [emphasis added]

    Full interview is on YouTube:

    A transcript is here:

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I was told many years ago that Rand never invested in anything other than T-bills, because she was convinced the economy would go down the toilet and she’d lose everything. The Goddess of the Market put all her money on the government.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Actually, she’s closer to the definition of “Altruism” than people who use game theory to justify it

    My understanding is that she is indeed closer to Comte’s original definition of the term (early 19th century?). However, by the time Atlas Shrugged was written, I believe the term was already commonly used to encompass the “game-theory” version as well.

    This creates a problem, because when Rand goes to attack “altruists,” she tries to hold people who mean “altruism” in the latter sense to the original meaning, which is not at all what they intend. The result is a lot of straw-manning.

    As I said, this reasoning is pretty much identical to the social contract type of reasoning that insists that we give to others or provide rights because it’s better for us to leave in a world where that happens, but that’s not altruistic, but selfish.

    FWIW, Rand was emphatically opposed to the notion of a “social contract” because it implies that rights are negotiable, to be balanced against other considerations. In her view, “man’s rights” (as she defined them) are absolute and inalienable, and you have no obligation whatsoever to anyone else except one: don’t initiate force against them. If you want to label that a “social contract,” I guess you can, but it doesn’t sound like one to me.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    Wow. That is… wow.

    In case anyone doesn’t understand what this means, US government T-bills are considered the safest investment on Earth because the federal government has never failed to pay their terms, not once. Investing in T-bills is essentially an act of faith that this impeccable record cannot and will not be interrupted (in spite of recent Republican threats to throw the country into default if their vague demands for raising the debt limit weren’t met). An investment in T-bills of whatever sovereign is not just an investment in a government, it’s a declaration that the government in question is sound and responsible, at least once you discount the interest rate (US debt currently trades for something equal to or possibly less than inflation, meaning that the market considers it to be super-duper-safe).

    Every time I’m shocked by Rand’s hypocrisy, it turns out that I was insufficiently cynical.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Clever, but in all fairness to Rearden, I don’t think he’d be much interested in leading an army, andI don’t think he’d awknowledge a Court of History any more than the “looters” court.

  • Pierre Cloutier

    Thank you for the clarification. What you said makes sense. So when Ayn Rand says “right to exist” she meant “:right to try to exist”. So why didn’t she say that? I would hazard a guess that “right to try to exist” just doesn’t sound so good so she fudged it. A bit of rhetorical manipulation / deception here it seems.
    Why am I starting to feel like Ayn Rand was engaged in creating her own Newspeak.

  • Doug Langley

    The only thing missing from the video is the winner declaring, “And I owe it all to my hard work!”

  • Doug Langley

    “It is precisely these trends which are bringing the world to disaster . . .”

    Hmm, I wonder exactly what disaster she saw? America had won the war, the country had reversed the Great Depression and was going through unprecedented prosperity. Her books were selling and making her rich.

    I wasn’t aware of this specific interview, but I did know she was awfully pessimistic.

  • Doug Langley

    Wow, where did you hear that? Amazing.

    Totally contradicts her position that the welfare state government was on its last legs and private industries were the last bastion of security.

  • Cerebus36

    “…but I’m pretty sure that the period during and imediately following the
    Russian Civil War wasn’t so great for business or profit seeking”

    But wasn’t that a matter of the government imposing the Communist/Socialist philosophy on businesses? That’s different from what I’m talking about and seems to be different from how Ayn Rand portrays things in “Atlas Shrugged”. Again, it appears that the United States became a socialist state because *one* company adopted a socialist business model – one that failed miserably, spectacularly. Not only did that model destroy the business, it ruined an entire town. A philosophy shown to have such disastrous results would not be followed by any other businesses, nor would the government, no matter how stupid, inept or evil you may think it is impose such a philosophy on businesses. It would be one thing if the U.S. government imposed that socialist policy on businesses in Atlasworld. But that doesn’t seem to be how it happened. The way Rand hints it happens, it never would have occurred.

  • Cerebus36

    I love how the author of that timeline described Ayn Rand’s writing as “logical”. Uh, no, dude. Seriously. No.

  • Doug Langley

    Well, consider that her heroes are so mighty they don’t have to “try” to exist, they exist great – so much that they pull millions of others along with them. So when they’re free to act, their existence is guaranteed. Except that they can “try” to exist. Except they don’t have to try. Oh, dear.

    And you shouldn’t feel Rand was creating her own Newspeak – she WAS doing that, no opinion to it.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I heard this back in the 1990s. An up-and-coming Objectivist gave an investment seminar, during which he presented a graph showing stock market performance versus government bonds over the last half-century or some such time frame. Rand’s heir, Leonard Peikoff, was in attendance and could not resist commenting that Rand’s estate would have been worth a lot more if she’d been in stocks rather than T-bills.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I wonder what Rand would have done had gold been an investment option in her day. That would have given her a real opportunity to put her money where her mouth was. (Before 1975, the US prohibited private ownership of more than token amounts of gold. By the time investing in gold became legal, Rand was already battling lung cancer, dealing with her husband’s dementia, and probably not concerned with long-term investment strategy.)

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    “Hmm, I wonder exactly what disaster she saw?”

    Imminent Communist takeover of the US government, of course. Any facts you could name about prosperity, progress, etc., were irrelevant distractions from the “essential” character of America. Unless we got the fundamentals (particularly ethics) right, we were DOOOMED!!! She seriously believed it was only a matter of time before the government started nationalizing industries, seizing private property, herding people into forced-labor camps … and whatever other horribles she remembered from her youth in Russia.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The causal agent in the novel is supposed to be the general public’s unquestioning acceptance of what Rand calls the altruist/collectivist moral code. According to Rand, if you accept this moral code, you will end up embracing socialism/communism as a political philosophy, even if the result is unmitigated disaster, because it’s better to be miserable than to be evil. Thus, the spectacular failure of that one company (which is a symptom, not the cause) doesn’t serve as a deterrent to anything, nor does the abject misery that’s engulfing the People’s States of Everywhere Else. Nobody in the novel ever says “hey, look at all this data indicating that these communist economic policies doesn’t work! Maybe we should rethink some things?”

    Rand’s (unstated) assumption is that everyone is more concerned about doing what’s morally right (according to whatever moral code they’ve adopted) than about practical results. So as long as the majority believes that altruism/collectivism is morally right, they will embrace collectivist social and economic policies … even if the practical results are disastrous.

  • Verbose Stoic

    But that is indeed what all meaningful altruism is. Any altruistic action must be a case where you could take action A that benefits you the most from any rational perspective, and where you know that A is the action that benefits you the most, and yet you take action B that benefits you less but others more. Whether intentional or not, that is indeed always sacrificing your interests for those of others,

  • Verbose Stoic

    I think there are two problems here. First, you’re doing what Rand explicitly criticizes in her work and defining selfishness as something that’s inherently negative, and from there working out the forms of self-interest that are negative, and then using altruistic as everything else. Second, you are conflating an empathy-based idea with a self-interested one, when you add “for everyone” onto the end of the sentence above.

    On the first point, I think a reasonable definition of “selfish” is: “Act in a way to maximize your own self-interest without consideration of the self-interest of others”. Many people naively limit this to taking actions that hurt others in order to bring about your own self-interest, but by this it’s clearly reasonable to consider actions that help others and even satisfy their own self-interests more than yours, as long as it maximizes your own self-interest. So that is, indeed, selfish behaviour. Now, you can criticize someone who wants to maintain the negative impression of selfishness while acknowledging the forms of selfishness that help others, but Rand is not one of those; she explicitly wants the negative impression of selfishness and the idea that a selfish person can only be a brute gone.

    Which leads to the second point. There are two arguments about making the world the kind of world you want to live in that are potentially related but also separate. The first is the argument from empathy, which is the idea that I know what sort of world would make me happy, I know what sort of world, therefore, that would make other people happy, I have no argument for why I should consider my own happiness as more important than that of others, and so therefore I should try to create a world that makes everyone happy. Since this isn’t based on self-interest AND may not produce the most benefits for the person, this ISN’T a selfish argument, and likely counts as altruistic, and I don’t criticize that on the basis that it is just as selfish as Egoistic philosophies. I criticize it for being unable to justify the claim that I shouldn’t consider my own happiness as more important than the happiness of others, which is an argument that Egoists will make but is also a non-Egoistic counter against Utilitarianism, asking if it’s every all right to put my own happiness over that of everyone else.

    And defending that principle against the Egoists often leads to the second argument: that a world where everyone can seek out their maximum happiness is a better world for ME than a world where they can’t, so I should do that. And that is indeed a selfish motivation, and I criticize people who make that argument for trying to claim that they aren’t being “bad selfish” or Egoists when their base motivation is their own self-interest. I also criticize it because it definitely implies the selfish motive that if it turned out in specific instances that not playing the game would benefit them more than playing it, they ought to not play the game, which is not what people who make that argument usually want.

    Thus “building the sort of world that you’d want to live in, which happens to include everyone living the sort of world they want to live in” is selfish, while “building the sort of world you’d want to live in for everyone to live in” is not. And we still have a meaningful and useful definition of selfish there, if we drop the insistence that selfishness must be a bad thing.

  • Verbose Stoic

    My understanding is that she is indeed closer to Comte’s original definition of the term (early 19th century?). However, by the time Atlas Shrugged was written, I believe the term was already commonly used to encompass the “game-theory” version as well.

    Philosophically and even in folk culture, that’s a VERY recent usage. Most people will still indeed be confused by the idea that you can be acting altruistically while the outcome benefits you as much or more than others, let alone that you’re doing it because it benefits you the most of the available options. The “Co-operative” notion in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, for example, is not considered altruistic by most people. And I’d argue that it isn’t.

    This creates a problem, because when Rand goes to attack “altruists,” she tries to hold people who mean “altruism” in the latter sense to the original meaning, which is not at all what they intend. The result is a lot of straw-manning.

    I suspect that in her case she means what I generally mean: things like “reciprocal altruism” AREN’T altruism at all, no matter what you try to lump into it, which is a criticism, not a strawman,

    FWIW, Rand was emphatically opposed to the notion of a “social contract” because it implies that rights are negotiable, to be balanced against other considerations. In her view, “man’s rights” (as she defined them) are absolute and inalienable, and you have no obligation whatsoever to anyone else except one: don’t initiate force against them. If you want to label that a “social contract,” I guess you can, but it doesn’t sound like one to me.

    I think my statement of “rights” confused you here, because clearly what she considers rights and what these specific social contract theorists consider rights aren’t the same, but my point was that the underlying reasoning applies. Rand thinks that we’ll have a functioning society because people will realize it’s in their self-interest to have one, and so will justify it that way, while their notion of rights and helping others is, ultimately, justified with the exact same reasoning,

  • Doug Langley

    Peikoff casually admitted that?? Excuse me while I put my eyes back in my head.

    Hmm, the 1990s. That was the big tech bubble. The stock market was coming up roses. Alan Greenspan and his other free marketers were gloating that we didn’t need no stinkin’ regulations, the free market was proving itself. A couple of years later, it settled out. And further on in 2008 – well, we remember what happened then.

    I wonder if Peikoff thought stocks were a great investment then.

  • Doug Langley

    Speaking of sports, there’s a remarkable analogue to the world of business and wealth. Top athletes also have a great deal given to them. Yes, they work hard, but have one in a million genetics which allows the hard work to blossom.

    From my own experience in weight training, there’s a huge range of response to training. Some people can pump iron for years, yet look like they’ve never smelled a gym. Others just look at a barbell and grow like a weed.

    And guess how many of these champs recognize sheer luck as their main factor? Damn few. The vast majority cry, “It was all due to my hard work, and if you can’t do it, you just don’t want it hard enough!”

  • Azkyroth

    First, you’re doing what Rand explicitly criticizes in her work and defining selfishness as something that’s inherently negative

    Because the word has that connotation here in the real world.

    Second, you are conflating an empathy-based idea with a self-interested one, when you add “for everyone” onto the end of the sentence above.

    You are doing the same thing Rand reportedly criticizes in her work and interpreting “For” in the way normal people use it. It would be more precise to say “from which others are not barred or disinvited” but aside from arguing for the sake of arguing I think my meaning was clear.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    It’s amazing what Peikoff will admit. Unfortunatly, I can’t find the link, but I remember him being opposed to the Ground Zero Mosque because “property rights in time of war are always contextual” or some such nonsense. I hope he actually said that, and that it’s not a product of some fever-dream I had.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I don’t think anyone knew what actually happened to that company and town. Dagny, afterall, has to go all the way down to the bayou to find out the whole story.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I teach Psychological Warfare and Advanced Improvised Combat Techniques. Currently, we’re working on fruit, though it’s not always easy. The British in particular are known for their defense training against bananas.

    Hey, don’t blame me for Rand not doing well in her courses at Supervillain School.

  • Doug Langley

    Peikoff and his partners in crime, such as Peter Schwartz, wrote stuff so over the top as to make Rand look like Miss Manners.

  • Doug Langley

    “To defend yourself against the banana wielding assailant, you . . . take out a gun and shoot him!” BLAMMMM! “Then you eat the banana to disarm him.”
    “You . . . you shot Mr Harris!!”
    “You killed him!”
    “I had to! He was coming at me with a loaded banana!”

  • Cerebus36

    Much later in the book, the story is told. I think it’s told in Galt’s Gulch, actually.

  • Cerebus36

    I think that’s one more thing Rand got wrong. Altruism, if it leads to abject poverty, is something I suspect people will abandon in a heartbeat. At least altruism as depicted in “Atlas Shrugged”.

  • Doug Langley

    No, it’s the “bum on the train” scene.

  • Yeah, the problem with her thinking Reardon’s trial is analogous to this is that those people went into it knowing they would be seriously punished. They knew there was a possibility they would be killed for their actions. Reardon’s not worried at all; he knows perfectly well he’s not going to be sent off for reeducation through being worked to death, nor is he going to be executed or even just imprisoned for the rest of his life. He’s worried about a fine.

    Also, their speeches tended to be shorter and more coherent. I guess because there’s only so far you can draw out the polite version of “fuck Stalin, fuck this court and fuck you”.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    “Peikoff casually admitted that?? Excuse me while I put my eyes back in my head.”

    I think he didn’t see it as an admission of any sort of moral failing on Rand’s part. Objectivists have no problem with benefitting from programs they don’t think should exist, as long as they continue to speak out against them. (Rand wrote about this in the context of accepting government scholarships.) And collecting interest on government bonds, to them, is basically a way to get some of their tax money back, so they see nothing hypocritical about it.

    Objectivists who have heard about this generally infer that Rand’s investment decisions were driven by her risk assessment: theory is that she believed the probability of government default was lower than the probability of the government nationalizing corporations. This seems credible to me even now; a lot of what Rand said and did was driven by her deep-seated fear that something like her experience in Russia could happen to her again.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Yep, he actually said that (and some even more bizarre things), in his podcast. (Yep, he has a podcast, in which he answers listener-submitted questions.)

    An unofficial transcript (with a link to the podcast) is here:

    tl;dr version: The Ground Zero Mosque represents a dire threat to America’s “metaphysical survival” (because Islam), so in order for America to protect itself (so that it can continue to protect everyone’s rights), the property rights of the Muslim organization must give way. Therefore, the government can and should do whatever it takes to get rid of that mosque, including blowing it up without compensation to the owners. (The podcast concludes with a disclaimer clarifying that Peikoff “in no way suggests or condones private action on this issue.”)

    It was a hotly controversial position, even within orthodox Objectivist circles (where controversy is, to say the least, rare). I remember it well, in part because recognizing this entire “argument” as nothing but a paranoid Islamophobic rant dressed up in Randian jargon was one step on my path out of Objectivism.

  • Cerebus36

    Oh, yeah. That’s right. Thanks for the reminder, Doug. (I only recently finished it and parts of it are now starting to fade from my memory. That’s bad when trying to participate in a discussion like this. But otherwise….)

  • Doug Langley

    Fading from memory is very understandable . . .

  • Doug Langley

    I would have a great deal of sympathy for someone who was reacting to a traumatic experience. I just wish she didn’t try to fit everything to a dogma and then rationalize her decisions that seemed to go against it.

  • Doug Langley

    This real-life trial occurred after she finished Atlas Shrugged. But good comparison.

  • Psycho Gecko

    “Oooh, pepperoni pizza, my favorite. But I don’t have any money hidden in this nightie I’m wearing. How will I ever pay you?”


  • Verbose Stoic

    Because the word has that connotation here in the real world.

    The term “atheist” also has a negative connotation in the real world, but I very much doubt you’ll except that as an argument for what it really means. It is always an invalid argument to insist that any instances of selfishness that aren’t harmful aren’t actually selfishness because they aren’t negative. You’d have to deal with what the definition of “selfish” really is … which I did, and you didn’t address.

    You are doing the same thing Rand reportedly criticizes in her work and interpreting “For” in the way normal people use it.

    That people think a word means something doesn’t mean that they are right. Again I direct your attention to the word “atheist”.

    It would be more precise to say “from which others are not barred or
    disinvited” but aside from arguing for the sake of arguing I think my
    meaning was clear.

    By this, I can only presume that you don’t mean the empathy-based definition of making the world a better place, but the one that I argued was selfish. Then, if you agree with me on what notion we were talking about, then you should have addressed my comments on why calling that “selfish” was still meaningful and useful. Although I suspect that you didn’t bother reading past the first paragraph …