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FReeper Book Club: Introduction to Atlas Shrugged
Part I, Chapter I: The Theme
Part I, Chapter II: The Chain
Part I, Chapter III: The Top and the Bottom
Part I, Chapter IV: The Immovable Movers
Part I, Chapter V: The Climax of the dAnconias
Part I, Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Part I, Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited
Part I, Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Part I, Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane
Part I, Chapter X: Wyatts Torch
Part II, Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Part II, Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Ain't it the truth
"You, who've created abundance where there had been nothing but wastelands and helpless, starving men before you, have been called a robber".
This is exactly what is happening to capitalists today. People who equate more to Jim Taggert and Orren Boyle are held up as examples of "evil CEO's" as if they were the rule instead of the exception. It's easy to demonize all the producers by holding up the few real demons as examples.
Section two, chapter three, or chapter 13 if that association is not overly tender in these days of bankruptcy and abandon. White Blackmail the title is a true oxymoron, incidentally, meaning not just any old contradiction in terms but one deliberately constructed for poetic or descriptive purposes is a chapter of significant conversations: Eddies with his blue-collar friend, Hanks with Francisco, Dr. Ferriss with Hank, and Ken Danaggers with well, with the fellow Dagny has come to think of as The Destroyer, whose calling card is a cigarette butt with a little gold dollar sign. Not of this earth if Dagnys newsstand expert is to be believed. One might find the chapter impossibly static but for a rather violent ending in which Francisco shows, at last, his true colors as a man. More of that when we get to it.
To our story. Hank is at last caught out by Lillian, although she still is too obtuse to recognize in Dagny a successful rival for the lionesss share of Hanks connubial bliss. She refuses divorce in favor of what is clearly important to her: my home, my name, my social position but considers that their relationship is altered. He knows better. In another sort of novel her body would have washed ashore somewhere by now and wed be rooting against the detective.
An author is always entreated write what you know, and I have come to question gently Rands ability to convey in authentic terms the relationship of man to man. In the previous chapter we learn that Francisco has changed his life on the basis of how much one man we now may be fairly certain its John Galt meant to me. In this one we learn that Danagger loves Rearden and that Rearden loves Francisco. Were this another form of literary criticism I might be able to garner some serious academic credibility by proposing this to be an expression of unrequited homosexual desire, proceeding from there to a chance at publication in the journal of the Modern Language Association or even dare I utter it? Vanity Fair. But, in my opinion, its simply a woman placing a mans sentiment into a mans mouth with a womans vocabulary and nothing more. Its evocative enough but it doesnt quite ring true.
These are manly men Im speaking of, naturally, men with stubble and sweat-stained shirts gazing unflinchingly into the maw of a superheated blast furnace, their bulging pectorals glistening stop it.
Argosy magazine is right out too.
But one cadence Rand seems to pick up with frightening fluency is that of evil. Dr. Floyd Ferris is clearly a major power broker now and is chosen by the powers that be to present their case to Rearden.
Now, would you care to be a martyr for an issue of principle, only in circumstances where nobody will know that thats what you are nobody but you and me where you wont be a hero, but a common criminal either you let us have the Metal or you go to jail for ten years and take your friend Danagger along, too.
Rearden said calmly, In my youth this was called blackmail.
Dr. Ferris grinned. Thats what it is, Mr. Rearden. Weve entered a much more realistic age.
It is an echo of what Orren Boyle has revealed to us in the preceding chapter:
but if you get the goods on a man, then youve got him, and theres no higher bidder and you can count on his friendship what the hell! ones got to trade something. If we dont trade money and the age of money is past then we trade men.
And Ferris clearly is in the business of trading men, and has become a man of considerable influence himself in view of what he now offers Rearden:
Dont bother with Jim Taggart, hes nothing want us to step on Orren Boyle for you? to keep Ken Danagger in line? Just let him understand that if he doesnt toe the line hell go to jail but you wont because youve got friends he hasnt got now thats the modern way of doing business.
But after all, I did break one of your laws.
What do you think theyre for?
A pause for a breath here. Because what Ferris says next is Rands central thesis about the relation of law and power in an age of decadence.
We want them broken. Were after power and we mean it. Theres no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there arent enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws now, thats the system, Mr. Rearden, thats the game
That and selective enforcement compose an exercise of power that is the basis for every police state ever devised. It is the ability of those in power arbitrarily to designate a non-cooperative citizen a criminal, to silence, to imprison. It is raw, sanctioned coercion.
Here there are no rights, only privileges, and government attains its aims and maintains itself by granting or denying those privileges. For example, a citizen of California might consider the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to mean that he or she is entitled as much as his or her fellow citizens to bear a concealed firearm. In the real world that is regarded, on the contrary, as a privilege to be conferred by the local police administration, to be withheld by default, to be granted for fame or favor or cold hard cash. As a right it is the basis of society; as a privilege it is the basis of corruption.
The French economist and political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel described this very thing in On Power:
the mounting flood of modern laws does not create Law. What do they mirror, these laws, but the pressure of interests, the fancifulness of opinions, the violence of passions? When they are the work of Power which has become, with its every growth, more enervated by the strife of factions, their confusion makes them ludicrous. When they issue from a Power which is in the grip of one brutal hand, their planned iniquity makes them hateful. The only respect which they either get or deserve is that which force procures them. Being founded on a conception of society which is both false and deadly, they are anti-social. [On Power, Ch. 16, pt 4]
That is law in these days of decay. And so Rearden has his loyal secretary Gwen show Dr. Ferris the door. Something has changed for him. Between what Francisco said and what Ferris said he is beginning to find his way.
He [Rearden] sat in a pose he had never permitted himself before, a pose he had resented as the most vulgar symbol of the businessman he sat leaning back in his chair, with his feet on his desk
I think Im discovering a new continent, Gwen, he answered cheerfully. A continent that should have been discovered along with America, but wasnt.
Eddie Willers appears entirely aware of what is going on, and refers the matter to his confidante in the Taggart cafeteria, the nameless and voiceless track worker to whom Eddie has come to pour out his heart.
I feel that someone is screaming in the middle of the streets but people are passing by and no sound can reach them and its not Hank Rearden or Ken Danagger or I whos screaming, and yet it seems as if its all three of us Rearden and Danagger were indicted this morning. Theyll go on trial next month. No no, Im not shaking, Im all right, Ill be all right in a moment Thats why I havent said a word to her, I was afraid Id explode and I didnt want to make it harder for her its not Hank Rearden that shes afraid for, its Ken Danagger she feels certain that Ken Danagger will be the next one to go hes a marked man she says theres a destroyer, that she wont let him get Ken Danagger
Those might be imprudent words in the wrong ears, perhaps, but then the fellow is only a track worker after all. And yet next we see Dagny cooling her heels in Danaggers office, and when finally she is allowed admittance, hes gone. The strongest pillar supporting her collapsing world. Oh, hes sitting in front of her, but hes gone.
He looked at her bowed head and said gently, Youre a brave person, Miss Taggart. I know what its costing you dont torture yourself. Let me go.
The Destroyer has come and departed, taking Danagger with him. And all hes left behind is a gold-stamped cigarette butt.
I wont say goodbye, he [Danagger] said, because Ill be seeing you again in the not too distant future.
Oh, she said eagerly, holding his hand clasped across the desk, are you going to return?
No. Youre going to join me.
Never! But the pillars of her world are now one fewer. At least she still has Hank Rearden. Oh, but there is a parallel conversation that would make Dagnys hair curl had she known it was going on. It is between Francisco and his new friend Rearden. It is a Destroyer speaking to receptive ears. Are there, then, two of them?
Mr. Rearden, said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders what would you tell him to do?
I dont know. What would you tell him?
We barely get a taste a three-page taste, but by Rands standards its a wet of the whistle of what the Destroyer must say to his victims. It is cut short by an industrial accident the side of a blast furnace has been breached and the white-hot metal is flowing out to consume everything in its path. And Francisco shows himself to have held at least one more honest job in his life he knows how to stem the flood with fire clay. He and Rearden save the day, and Rearden saves his life in doing so. And now Rearden knows what we have known all along Francisco is no playboy, but a player in a game as big as the world on Atlass shoulders.
The chapter ends there, and so, I suppose, should these notes, except for one very special image that has implications as large as the novel itself. Ill explore it in detail once the novel is complete but here is a start, for better or worse. The topic is morality, the voice Franciscos, speaking to Rearden:
Francisco pointed to the mill If you want to see an abstract principle, such as moral action, in material form there it is. Look at it, Mr. Reardon. Every girder of it, every pipe
A girder as a moral statement? Yes. What Francisco meant by it is that the girder is a product that is designed in accordance with the laws of the universe the laws of gravity, of material science, of tensile strength and chemical formulation, of the mathematics of the distribution of forces, and it is the recognition of those laws by men that make the girder possible. They are not opinions, they are not negotiable. They simply are, and to Rand, and to Aristotle, to acknowledge that is the first act of philosophical clarity and to deny it, intellectual death. A Dr. Ferris, for whom no knowledge is possible, could not have made the girder.
It is objective reality, the grudging acknowledgment that the world is not simply the artifact of human perception, that there is something there to be perceived independent of human existence. That is the basis of Aristotles philosophy and Rands view of morality. The girders very existence is an acknowledgment of law.
Whose law? Human law? No, for then it would be subject to the approval of such creatures as Dr. Ferris. The law of the universe? Well, then, who put it there? Are we to believe that it simply is, and that although we may discover it we may not inquire as to its origin? Those laws are the structure of the universe and they do not depend on human approval. Why are they, then?
Whose law? Rand simply cannot bring herself to say Gods but Aristotle did. That is the reason for his unmoved mover. For Aristotle God is simply the unavoidable and logical consequence of his system of modeling the world.
Recall that Rand, along the lines of Nietszche, attempted to relocate godhead into the person of man. Her industrialists are her immovable movers. There is no God. But she hasnt avoided the problem of the origin of the laws of the universe in doing so, and these are the very basis of her own system of moral judgment. What are we to make of this?
Aristotles is not, actually, the proof of the existence of God if it were, Gods existence would be contingent on a system of reason. In my personal view its the other way around reason is the gift of God, God is not the gift of reason. But in order to dispense with God you have to dispense with the logical system under which His existence is a necessary consequence. It can be done, of course. There are any number of non-Aristotlean logical systems from which to choose. But you cant embrace his without acknowledging its consequence, and thats what Rand is trying to do. You cant have it both ways. Either-Or.
This is a rather fundamental philosophical problem, and throughout the rest of the novel well try to see how Rand deals with it, and if she does, whether were satisfied with her solution.
Have a great week, Publius!
Every American needs to read that sentence. Put it on the Good Year Blimp and fly it over every city in America.
Please add me to list. Thanks!
Lillian has accomplished her goal, that of being a victim of an unfaithful husband. A comeuppance for both but having different values for each. Lillian now has a pile of bargaining chips ( or so she thinks ) and Hank begins to understand what medium of exchange Lillian uses.
its time for Rearden to become a team player.
It's an interesting take since Rearden has been a team player all along. He successfully runs his business after all. What is really being asked of him is to change his goal, not his ability to lead his team.
Some of our representatives in Washington (and elsewhere) seem to have the problem of wishing to be known as 'team players' but not understanding that when you join a team, you are committed to accomplishing their goals which may be detrimental to your constituents.
Theres no way to rule innocent men."
In my own observation, this strategy is also effectively employed by the powers that be through the _implied threat_ that one will be prosecuted for an action. Slap suits come to mind as well as unenforceable regulations. Both are designed to coerce the victim through intimidation and the possibility of large legal expenses. How many times have you heard someone say that 'you can't fight city hall?' Thus the ruling of innocent men can occur at even lower levels than Rand implies. This distinction may be splitting hairs but I see a much larger net cast with my interepretation than Rands. Consider the difference if every instance of coercion is considered a vote won or lost !