Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter VIII
Francisco asks Dagny what she thinks about the men who quit their jobs and vanished, and she says she can’t blame them anymore, that she now feels the same way even if it’s psychological torture for her to walk off the job. He says that he’s been through this same struggle himself, that it’s the way he felt when he gave up his company:
“But you didn’t give it up,” she said. “You didn’t quit. You’re still the President of d’Anconia Copper, only it means nothing to you now.”
“It means as much to me now as it did that night.”
“Then how can you let it go to pieces?”
“Dagny, you’re more fortunate than I. Taggart Transcontinental is a delicate piece of precision machinery. It will not last long without you. It cannot be run by slave labor. They will mercifully destroy it for you and you won’t have to see it serving the looters. But copper mining is a simpler job. D’Anconia Copper could have lasted for generations of looters and slaves. Crudely, miserably, ineptly — but it could have lasted and helped them to last. I had to destroy it myself.”
“You — what?”
“I am destroying d’Anconia Copper, consciously, deliberately, by plan and by my own hand. I have to plan it as carefully and work as hard as if I were producing a fortune — in order not to let them notice it and stop me, in order not to let them seize the mines until it is too late… I shall destroy every last bit of it and every last penny of my fortune and every ounce of copper that could feed the looters. I shall not leave it as I found it — I shall leave it as Sebastian d’Anconia found it — then let them try to exist without him or me!”
The purpose of the capitalists going on strike is to prove that the world needs them and can’t exist without them. This belief is contrasted to that of the villainous looters, who believe that anyone can run a factory or a mine equally well if given the opportunity (remember the doomed economics professor who taught that “man’s mind is conditioned by material tools… and it’s only a matter of seizing the machinery”). Rand’s protagonists want to disprove this by showing that they’re the only ones who know how to make good decisions, and without their minds, all the tools and machines in the world won’t help the bad guys to survive.
But this is cheating. Francisco isn’t just passively withdrawing his mind from society: he’s actively working to sabotage anything that might have helped society survive without him. In so doing, he inadvertently admits that Randian super-capitalists aren’t the only ones who can run a business, and that even without them, the rest of humanity might have been able to muddle along. Francisco says it himself: “It could have lasted and helped them to last.”
Nor is this the only act of sabotage he’s committing. As we saw earlier, he’s also defrauding his investors on a grand scale, by encouraging them to invest in his company while he’s deliberately making bad decisions and concealing them from his stockholders. Again, this isn’t just a passive withdrawal of effort, this is an elaborate plan to cause chaos. The same goes for Ellis Wyatt, who didn’t just abandon his oil-drilling business but set the entire installation ablaze, and Ragnar Danneskjold, who’s robbing and destroying supply ships carrying food and fuel aid.
It’s funnier if you imagine this video depicts heroic capitalists going Galt and fleeing from socialist government officials.
“Francisco… of all the guesses I tried to make about you… I never thought of it… I never thought that you were one of those men who had quit…”
“I was one of the first of them.”
“I thought that they always vanished…”
“Well, hadn’t I? Wasn’t it the worst of what I did to you — that I left you looking at a cheap playboy who was not the Francisco d’Anconia you had known?”
While Francisco’s idiot-playboy disguise creates the drama Rand wanted, it raises some weird questions. For example, why didn’t all the vanished capitalists have to put on the same play-act? Ken Danagger didn’t sabotage his coal mines before disappearing; he even offered to turn them over to Dagny. Is copper a more important commodity than coal?
This raises, again, the question of what Rand’s heroes wouldn’t believe they were justified in doing in the cause of opposing the looters’ regime. If Francisco can sabotage his own company, why not sabotage a competitor’s? If Ellis Wyatt can blow up an oil field, why not also blow up a road or a bridge?
Your first thought might be that these business owners are merely exercising their right to dispose of their own property as they wish, but that’s not the whole story. Remember that in Rand’s eyes, any public property built up by taxation, or any property obtained by a private citizen with any kind of government loan or other assistance, is de facto illegitimate. (That’s why Danneskjold feels no compunction about sinking relief ships – and that’s also why Rand spitefully puts “a businessman who had acquired his business… with the help of a government loan” on her death train.) And if all or most of the good guys have already joined John Galt’s strike, it should follow that just about everyone who’s still left in the outside world is a valid target.
This goes to show, again, that Objectivism isn’t a non-violent ideology, far from it. Its premises lead, step by step, to the conclusion that True Capitalists are justified in waging a campaign of terrorism against society to force it to conform to their ideals. And Ayn Rand is adamant that every moral lesson in this book is transferrable to the real world.
Other posts in this series: