Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, Anti-Greed
Posted on 06/20/2009 7:51:34 AM PDT by Publius
As Dr. Robert Stadler sits in a grandstand in Iowa on a hot day, he complains to Dr. Floyd Ferris about being dragged halfway across the continent for what? Ferris treats him with slight deference barely concealing contempt. This day will usher in a new era, and the business of today is government. Stadler glances with some trepidation at a building that looks like a giant mushroom. He is proud to be in the best section of seats until he finds he is sitting near Dr. Simon Pritchett. Ferris conducts the press to Stadler explaining that its his work that has made today possible. Stadler discovers from a journalist that this is all about Project X. Not knowing what to say, he settles for some vanilla verbiage for the Mainstream Media.
Head of State Thompson arrives with his entourage, which includes Wesley Mouch who takes the microphone while Stadler observes a ruined farm in the distance with a herd of goats. Nearby is a steel trestle that goes nowhere. The mushroom-shaped building is the lab for Project Xylophone, named because this project is about the use of sound as a weapon. A two mile area has been cleared for the test, but Xylophone in its present incarnation can handle a distance of one hundred miles. This weapon will now be known as the Thompson Harmonizer in honor of the Head of State. As the weapon is activated, the goats go into convulsions and die, the farmhouse collapses and the trestle disintegrates.
Stadler is horrified, especially when Ferris tells him that he is the inventor by way of theoretical work he had done long ago. Ferris explains that no one will attack any nation that possesses such a weapon. Stadler points out that America has no external enemies, but Ferris says it will save the nation from internal enemies. Only the government, freed from the profit motive, could have invented such a perfect peacekeeper. The State Science Institute has finally come up with something useful, and the government was happy to fund it.
Thompson and Mouch speak, followed by Pritchett; all praise Stadler as the inventor of the Harmonizer. Ferris hands Stadler his speech, and he is both horrified and paralyzed. Other speakers condemn a lack of faith among Americans and speak of peace and love. As the full import of what he has done hits Stadler, he excoriates Ferris: In a civilized century! He is told by Ferris that he has to give this speech and that truth has nothing to do with it; its about power. As Stadler mounts the podium, a journalist begs him to tell the truth about the men ruling America and how they intend to use the Harmonizer. Ferris pulls the journalists press pass and work permit, effectively sentencing him to death by starvation. Stadler gives the speech as written.
Dagny arrives in Manhattan by way of the airport bus. She had been dropped off near Watsonville, Nebraska, and had taken a train and plane back to New York. Reading the newspaper, she had seen her brothers statement that she had died in a plane crash, not deserted. She had identified herself to a reporter at the airport to report that she was still alive.
At her apartment she tries to reach Hank at the mill but reaches Gwen Ives instead. Hank is in Colorado, and Dagny calls him at his hotel. He is relieved that Dagny is alive, and she is somewhat evasive in telling Hank what happened. Hank will fly back and see her in the evening. Dagny goes to work.
Dagny finds Cuffy Meigs, an armed paramilitary from the Unification Board, running the operations side of Taggart Transcontinental in accordance with the Railroad Unification Plan; Clem Weatherby is apparently out of the loop. Meigs gives orders to Eddie, countermanded by Dagny, then re-countermanded by Meigs. Dagny tells Eddie as much as she can without breaking her oath to John Galt. Eddie explains that Meigs is rerouting motive power so that the Smather brothers in Arizona can get their grapefruit hauled; they had pull in Washington. There is a pretense that trains are given their priorities for reasons of public welfare, but everybody knows that Meigs, the Unificator, makes his decisions based on pull. The Winston tunnel has been abandoned, as has the plan for rebuilding the old route through the Rockies.
Jim sits down with Meigs, Dagny and Eddie in her office. She is still the Vice President of Operations, she is told. She invents a story for the press at Jims insistence but refuses a press conference. Jim explains the Railroad Unification Plan: all railroads have pooled their resources with their gross revenue managed by the Railroad Pool Board in Washington. Revenue is parceled out by the board according to need, by the mileage of track it owns and maintains. Taggart Transcontinental is now using the tracks of the Atlantic Southern for transcontinental traffic. Dagny now understands: Taggart has the largest amount of trackage in the country, thus earning revenue for non-producing track, while Taggart gets to use the Atlantic Southerns track for free. The board determines how many trains will be run and where. The president of the Atlantic Southern has killed himself. Jim begs for understanding from Dagny, and she realizes there is nothing to be gained from using reason with Jim and Meigs. Meigs gets up and leaves, ordering Dagny to do something about all those train wrecks.
Jim tells Dagny that she is booked on Bertram Scudders radio show that evening for a morale-building speech; this has been mandated by Thompson and Mouch. She recognizes the telltale sign of the sanction of the victim, and she refuses to cooperate. Dagny orders Jim out of her office.
Lillian Rearden drops in on Dagny to tell her that she will appear on Scudders show. Lillian explains to Dagny why Hank signed the Gift Certificate: Hanks fear of hurting Dagny by exposing their affair. Lillian explains that it was she who informed the authorities and took Rearden Metal away from Hank. Dagny agrees to appear on the show.
On the Bertram Scudder Show, Dagny tells the nation that she has been Hank Reardens mistress for the past two years and is proud of it. As Jim, Lillian and Scudder sit paralyzed, Dagny explains that it was blackmail concerning this relationship that caused Hank to sign over Rearden Metal, blackmail emanating from the national government. Scudder terminates the broadcast as Dagny laughs; the air goes dead.
Dagny returns to her apartment to find Hank already there. Dagny falls into his arms and sobs. Hank speaks of his love for her and how he cut himself in two, with one set of principles for his business and another for his life. Hank stuns Dagny when he says he knows she has met the final love of her life. Dagny admits that she has met him, but may never see him again. Hank takes his replacement in Dagnys heart well enough. Without breaking her oath, Dagny explains that there is truly a John Galt, inventor of the motor, and she has spent the past month at his secret location. Hank surmises that John Galt is The Destroyer. Dagny asks if Hank can give up Rearden Steel, and he cant just yet. Hank now perceives the stakes and the requirements for admission to Galts Gulch. Dagny vows they will continue to fight the looters of the world.
The American Experiment With Railroad Nationalization
The US entry into World War I in 1917 found Americas railroads unable to keep up with the war effort. This was primarily due to over-regulation by the Interstate Commerce Commission, whose refusal to grant rate hikes deprived railroads of necessary capital. Another problem was overexpansion, which had pushed a number of railroads into bankruptcy on the eve of the war. Added to this toxic brew was labor strife, which was averted only when Woodrow Wilson pushed an eight-hour day on the railroads, thus adding to labor costs.
The railroads did their best to coordinate during the war, but competition still reigned. The government began asking for priority shipping, with each government agency chivvying the other out of freight capacity on the rails. The result was congestion everywhere; some heavily used rail lines saw freight trains stacked up one behind another for weeks.
In late 1917 the ICC recommended that Congress nationalize the operations of the railroads, so Congress created the United States Railroad Administration in early 1918. Competition was curtailed as duplicate passenger operations were cut, uniform ticketing processes created, and terminal and shop facilities shared. Standardized locomotives were ordered as designed by a government committee and paid for by government.
The USRA was moderately successful, and a number of high end infrastructure improvements came out of the exercise, all paid for by government. This influx of taxpayer money, and equipment and infrastructure paid for by it, permitted the nations railroads to go into the Twenties with their balance sheets restored.
While the experiment worked, it was horribly expensive, in the long run being a corporate welfare exercise. When World War II broke out, the experiment wasnt repeated, and the railroads performed in an exemplary manner.
Ping! The thread is up.
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
Part II, Chapter III: White Blackmail
Part II, Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Part II, Chapter V: Account Overdrawn
Part II, Chapter VI: Miracle Metal
Part II, Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Part II, Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Part II, Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt
Part II, Chapter X: The Sign of the Dollar
Part III, Chapter I: Atlantis
Part III, Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed
Wow, I didn't know that! That explains a lot about the liberal pathology for big spending. If they really were for "the people", they would follow a "save for future generations" philosophy. Yes this does smack of nihilism; or extreme self-hatred ("I'll be dead and who cares about anybody else").
Sad ;but true.
The antithesis of our Christian foundations.
Why do we never learn? The youth believe what they are taught as children and in education.
God help us in our day! Amen.
Yes, but don’t you love how they will then turn around and promote this global warming/green crap (or any other pet spending project) for the sake of the children?
Of course they will use "the children" when they need them. It's all about getting power to decide how their neighbors live... and if they have to tell lies to get that power... it's all for the greater good so it's ok.
I'm not sure there's much to discuss there. That just seems like a very basic, indisputable postulate.
By the way, I passed on my copy of Shrugged to a young man I work with. He's been reading it during lunch for the last few months.
He was at one time a cautious Obamacan but it's been like watching the sun rise and the light is starting to get bright now. He is about 800 pages into the book now and he see's what is really happening around us and to us.
I think you may be stretching here a little. Realizing that you have been an idiot and that your actions are coming back to haunt you is not confined to a religious context. It might happen more often to religious people and less often to nonreligious people, but that does not support a direct link between the two.
Chapter 23 now, Anti-Greed, wherein we learn that the opposite of greed, (which we saw in the previous chapter was anything but), is anti-greed, or what Rand terms altruism, which is, symmetrically, anything but. Anti-greed in this case is a monstrous act justified by the claim that its motives are other than profit. That isnt, actually, all that difficult inasmuch as there are so many human motivations more sordid than profit. Were going to encounter them in this chapter.
Rand is back in full stride here in her characterizations of her villains, and there is a subtle shift in this chapter. They have always been manipulative, whining, contemptible, but here one feels the full impact of malice and realizes that these are genuinely dangerous people. The economy is in a steep downward spiral, the surplus on which they feed is dwindling, and they are desperate enough to do anything. Except for the Taggart Tunnel disaster the story has been remarkably bloodless so far. Even there we simply saw a train disappear and a mountain collapse, and even that in retrospect. Death was distant, unreal. It isnt likely to stay that way.
Dr. Stadler has been summoned to a demonstration of a new technology based on some theoretical work he accomplished while taking the looters coin at the State Science Institute. Dr. Ferris is in charge, present are luminaries such as Simon Pritchett, Wesley Mouch, and yes, even the Head of State, Mr. Thompson himself. Stadler hangs his head in shame at being associated with that group he knows full well what they are, but they support him, and he comforts himself with his personal rationalization:
What can you do when you have to deal with people?
Project X, or Xylophone, is a sound weapon, a weapon of mass destruction, and if once again we cringe a little at Rands invocation of sound rays, at least something of the sort is imaginable even if certain laws of physics might have to be suspended a bit in order for it to have the effects described. The ones demonstrated are to blow a house off its foundations and liquefy the internal organs of a small herd of sacrificial goats.
Dr. Stadler leaned back a little and asked, Who invented that ghastly thing?
His theoretical work and that of whom Ferris mocks Stadler for referring to as third-raters. They were certainly good enough to produce a particularly nasty weapon and place it into the hands of particularly nasty people.
What is the practical purpose of this invention?
It is an invaluable instrument of public security. No enemy would attack the possessor of such a weapon it will promote peace, stability, and harmony. It will eliminate all danger of war.
What war? With the whole world starving and all those Peoples States barely subsisting on handouts from this country where do you see any danger of war? Do you expect those ragged savages to attack you?
We chuckle a little at Stadlers naivete.
Dr. Ferris looked straight into his eyes. Internal enemies can be as great a danger to the people as external ones, he answered. Perhaps greater.
And yet it is a purely virtuous sort of mass-murdering device. It was, after all, produced without the idea of making a penny of profit. What we have demonstrated for us here is the malevolent power of the collective when it expropriates and concentrates the surplus given it by the productive individuals within it.
Dr. Ferris smiled. No private businessman or greedy industrialist would have financed Project X, he said softly. Its an enormous investment with no prospect of material gain.
It took a good deal of convincing the powers that be to get them to invest in such a thing, and Dr. Stadlers reputation was the clincher. And he will grant its use, or else.
Ferris spoke again It would be unfortunate if anything were to happen to jeopardize the State Science Institute or if any one of us were to be forced to leave it. Where would we go? Are you thinking, perhaps of universities? They are in the same position. If anyone wished to oppose a government policy, how would he make himself heard? Through these gentlemen of the press, Dr. Stadler? Is there an independent newspaper left in the country? An uncontrolled radio station?
Fortunately this is only fiction. The bulwark of freedom in the United States is a fearless press that is not beholden to the government, respects truth above all, and does not attempt to become a tool of party for the manipulation of public opinion. Unfortunately, that is fiction as well.
There is a dissenting voice, of course Rand places it into a young newsmans mouth:
Dr. Stadler! Tell them you had nothing to do with it! Tell them what sort of infernal machine it is and for what purpose its intended to be used! Tell the country what sort of people are trying to rule it! Tell them the truth! Save us! Youre the only one who can!
Dr. Ferris whirled upon the young man and snapped, his face out of control, distorted by rage Give me your press card and your work permit!
So much for a press that has sold its soul for the trappings of power. It has earned the yoke it bears. But what does Ferris mean? The Unification Board controls the ability of an individual to find employment Rand saw this in Russia before she fled, her own father having had his business establishments twice expropriated by the State and what is unified in this sense is very real work, and the ability to find it. And the power to withhold it. The young man has just been sentenced to slow starvation. As the State progresses, there will be ration cards and the starvation even quicker.
That is now the threat held over Stadlers head, and it is unanswerable. Greed profit employs no one in the scientific community anymore, and thats a problem because where there is no competition there are no alternatives.
A man like Rearden would have fought for us. Would a man like Orren Boyle?
The answer to that is a lifeless lump of fur that once was a goat, lying in a field. That could have been Stadler and it will unless he obeys his masters. His worth to them now is his name, not his mind. His thirst, like that of the composer Halley, is for the praise of those capable of appreciating his achievements. He has lost his soul but praise he has. Not, alas, on that basis; the praise is hollow, and he is now a hollow man.
The scene shifts suddenly, and we are once again in the company of Dagny Taggart, who has been deposited in Nebraska by Galts airplane and makes her way back to New York. There she is greeted by Eddie Willers, who has managed somehow to hold Taggart Transcontinental together for the last two months, and her brother James, who explains to her that all of the railroads in the country are now to be consolidated under a Railroad Unification Board. Its perfectly all right Taggart being the largest, it has the right to anyone elses track, and the lions share of the proceeds not profits, of course, that would be greed.
[Dagny] We run our trains without charge for the use of the [Atlantic Southern] track? Has anybody calculated how long the Atlantic Southern is expected to be able to remain in business?
Thats no skin off your started [Cuffy] Meigs.
The president of the Atlantic Southern, said Eddie impassively, has committed suicide.
As well he might, given that his line and Dagnys, all of the lines, are now relieved from the necessity of competition by the simple virtue of being owned by the same entity. Not The People, not even The State except in the persons of that ruling class that has assumed power over them both. And those persons have their own agenda.
[Dagny] Just tell me whether I understood that Unificator correctly: he wants you to cancel the Comet for two days in order to give her engines to a grapefruit special in Arizona?
The grapefruit special is for the Smather brothers. The Smather brothers have friends in Washington. He paused, then added, the Director of Unification is sole judge of the public welfare and has sole authority over the allocation of any motive power and rolling stock on any railroad anywhere in the United States.
As always, the good of the people turns out to be the good of a very small and influential subset. The rest need merely be placated by soothing and inspiring propaganda campaigns, such as the one to which Dr. Stadler found his name lent. Such as the one Dagnys name is to be lent.
Like Stadler, she is to be forced in front of a microphone to promote confidence in a failing government, this in the company of her old nemesis Bertram Scudder. She balks, naturally, and in walks Lillian Rearden to inform her that she will appear for the same reasons that Hank signed over the ownership of Rearden Metal pure, cold-blooded blackmail. Although Dagny must have guessed, this is confirmation for the first time that Hank had given over his lifes achievement in order to shield her from public opprobrium. Shell have none of that, and to everyones shock declares their affair over the air in frank and shameless terms. And there is no opprobrium they need her too much to have their press destroy her in a smear campaign that would be depressingly familiar to us today.
Hank hears that broadcast and with remarkable perception realizes that she is referring to their affair in the past tense. She has found a new love. And, just as noble as Francisco was under the identical circumstances, he is actually happy for her. Rands male heroes are apparently incapable of the jealousy that Dagny herself has felt, and capable of a sacrifice of their own feelings that seems entirely contrary to Rands philosophy. This, one is tempted to conclude, may be the sort of contradiction that should impel Rand to check her own premises concerning human relationships.
She can tell him nothing of Atlantis, of Galts Gulch. He cant help himself from pressing her.
Couldnt you trace your way back to it?
I wont try.
And the man?
I wont look for him.
He remained there?
I dont know.
Why did you leave him?
I cant tell you.
Who is he?
Her chuckle of desperate amusement was involuntary. Who is John Galt?
Hank is not fooled by this dissimulation.
So there is a John Galt? he asked slowly.
Oh yes! Theres one thing I can tell you about him, because I discovered it earlier, without promise of secrecy: he is the man who invented the motor we found.
Oh! He smiled, as if he should have known it. Then he said softly, with a glance that was almost compassion, Hes the destroyer, isnt he? He saw her look of shock, and added, No, dont answer me, if you cant. I think I know where you were Good God, Dagny! does such a place really exist? Are they all alive? Is there ? Im sorry. Dont answer.
She smiled. It does exist.
He remained silent for a long time.
Hank, could you give up Rearden Steel?
No! The answer was fiercely immediate, but he added, with the first sound of hopelessness in his voice, Not yet.
Nor Dagny her Taggart Transcontinental, not yet. Not yet.
Have a great week, Publius!
Agreed. As an example, it is not necessary to be religious, or even a theist, as I am not, to observe the existence of self-awareness, and from that a conscience, as separating humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. The Garden of Eden and the Fruit of the Tree are simply pretty allegories presented to describe the supposed origin of that fact.
Sometimes I think we try too hard to find cracks in Rand's atheism, by showing her use of allegories similar to those of the Bible and the New Testament. If we accept those, as I do, as instructional arguments, why should we be surprised when another writer uses the same techniques?
Bill, I am almost never inclined to find fault with your conclusions, but here I must suggest an alternative explanation of these characters' actions. Not that there are NO inconsistencies in AS, but here I think she is consistent. Thus:
Both Francisco and Hank are passionately in love with Dagny, and both for the same reasons; she represents the best to be found in human beings, by their own standards.
But they are both supremely rational men, who do not subordinate their reason to their emotions, and both reasonably recognize that the ultimate decision as to who will win Dagny is completely in her hands, and she has made that decision. Thus there is no alternative for either, from a rational standpoint, than to accept that reality, and keep that which is theirs to keep, namely the love and good-will of all the other parties to this particular love quadrangle. To do otherwise would produce the lose-lose situation described in Galt's Gulch, by Francisco, I believe, and found in too many acrimonious divorces today. I'm reminded of the similar situation involving Wyoming Knott in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", though her reasons were not as well-founded.
“Is Rand, even without intent, embracing a religious theme?”
It’s inescapable for any of us. Religion is all-encompassing and has been with man in one form or another since time began. Whether one chooses to accept religion or be a denier is their free will, but it is ingrained in us, and not without reason. Hope of something better in this life or beyond is the only thing that keeps some folks afloat.
“This implies that the bonds of popular sovereignty have been severed completely, no doubt in the name of a national emergency. Where do we see hints of this today?”
Well, the 9/11 conspiracy folks would DEFINITELY see it (and most likely still do!) in the aftermath of 9/11. Jeeze, Louise, all the talk about us all losing our rights because we wanted the ‘cops’ to catch the bad guys!
And, of course, 0bama has become a Master at exploiting an ‘emergency’, whether real or manufactured, to meet his end game of pure Socialism.
’In the long run, well all be dead.’ Does this not reek of nihilism? What are the imports of both the statement and the economics behind it?”
‘Fiddle-Dee-Dee! I’ll worry about that tomorrow! Let’s not ruin the partay because of this silly old war!’ ~ Scarlet 0’bama
“He was at one time a cautious Obamacan but it’s been like watching the sun rise and the light is starting to get bright now.”
God Bless You!
I always keep ‘interesting’ books on my desk at work. We had a stock boy that I thought was kind of a dolt; head in the clouds, couldn’t get to work on time, etc.
He saw Thomas Sowell’s ‘Basic Economics’ on my desk, raved about it, said it was required reading for one of his college classes and we had one of the BEST conversations I’ve ever had with a 21 year old.
But, then, I also leave my ‘North American Hunter’ magazines in the breakroom to annoy the LibTards, LOL!
My work will never be done with them. :)
Now THAT was fun! What a great brain stretch.
Thanks for adding me to the Ping List, ‘Teach!’ ;)
But here's a couple of things to consider: first, that until the end of this chapter Dagny hadn't (yet) actually expressed a preference to anybody; she hinted at it (finally) to Rearden but took considerable trouble not to disabuse Francisco's erroneous conclusion that it was Rearden. Felt guilty about it, too. In the absence of that I don't see either of these men making a rational conclusion that it was Galt. A hypothesis, maybe, to use Rand's terminology.
Second, these are hypercompetitive men (and women) who would cut one another's throat - ethically, of course - for the next contract, the next train route, the next bridge. This sort of supine acceptance doesn't strike me as in character.
Third, Rearden likes to take Dagny by force (and Dagny likes that as well) - he has rape fantasies, risks his marriage, slaps his friend. All of a sudden a switch is pulled, he says "oh, well, she likes somebody else," and off he is to commiserate with Francisco over a beer? Well, maybe, but I wouldn't bet that way.
What that requires is for these men to cease behaving like men; that is, to cease to compete for the woman. It certainly isn't impossible to imagine, but it strikes me as very atypical, even peculiar, behavior. I could suspend disbelief long enough to accept it as fiction, but Rand appears to put it forward as a model of real-world behavior, and that one, in view of all that I've seen of the real mating behavior of my fellow men and women, is a hoot.
I'm not saying you're wrong, though, and I am saying you fully understand Rand's point of view on the matter and express it well. Call me Scrooge... ;-)
Thanks for the kind words, Bill. Especially appreciated coming from you.
As I see it, most of what might be termed "civilized" behavior, at least on the part of men, runs contrary to our natural instincts. And yet, because we are a peculiar mix of the instinctive overlaid with the rational, we are able to put aside such things as jealousy, or at least mellow it, in the name of civilization, because we rationalize the necessity. I grant that these men are very masculine, even macho, men, but I think they are able to control their feelings, without denying them, when they see the need. On a parallel note, look at the emotional cost Francisco obviously accepted when he damaged Hank by destroying D'Anconia Copper, while recognizing the necessity. And hyper-competitiveness does not cause one to forgo recognizing and accepting the possibility of losing. The competition is valuable by itself.
Always happy to have another member.
Well, Francisco certainly is! Look what he's been doing for 12 years. Making himself an undeserved pariah to those he cares about and not even getting any sex out of it that we can see, all in service of an ideal.
So in the long run, after you are dead, someone else will be left paying for your excesses and the compounded interest that goes along with it. This is better known as the Selfishness of the Left. It allows the looter to selfishly loot for the moment with no consideration of the long-term effects of his actions.
Another statement by Keynes that hits closer to home in our current situation is this:
"Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security but [also] at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become "profiteers," who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.
Nature is pure war, with every man against another. Fear of death is the only way to keep peace; so man is civilized by the restraint of violence against him for transgressions upon his neighbor.
Rand plays with the idea of a state that is willing to slaughter its people to maintain power, but she drops it almost immediately. There are two kinds of people who run such states. One kind understands that if he starves the masses, he'll get food riots, so he makes sure they can at least eat. The other is willing to kill the rioters. Joseph Zdugashvili and Mao Tse Tung were two of the latter group.
Rand avoided the obvious implications of the state she imagined. She wrote extensively about the deaths of the passengers on the Comet when it crashed with the arms train in the Taggart Tunnel. The incident filled twenty pages and introduced several characters, all of whom were portrayed as worthy of their fate. There are also hints of violence prior to this point. Dagny Taggart mentions raiders on the frozen train, but nothing about their actual methods.
Rand portrayed the ideological battle between self love and self hate, not a contest of arms between factions of different stripes. Her method argues that the reader should appreciate himself and not view himself as worthless when compared to society. Another interesting view of a society gone mad “for the common good” is offered in Harlan Ellison's A boy and His Dog.
In the film adaptation of that story, the Topeka Council is the absolute authority in a post apocalypse city. Anyone who defies the council is immediately killed and the death attributed to a farm accident or some other benign circumstance, with the council blithely adding, “Oh, and may the Lord have mercy on his soul,” after they order the murder. In Soviet Russia, the order might be a profane tirade from Papa Joe, followed by the disappearance of the victim, and the state's effort to remove that person from the historical record. Why bother to lie about his death when refusing to admit that he ever lived eliminates the need to answer difficult questions?
Rand's collectivist state sabotaged a wheat harvest so that politically connected traders could ship grapefruits. Such a state has to use force. People find out why they're starving, why their friends and relatives are starving, and they're not nice when they find out who did it. But Rand never mentions the state taking action against the violators of Directive 10-289. The penalty for violation is death, but no one gets executed. This is perhaps a reflection of The Fountainhead, which portrayed the conflict between socialism and liberty as an ideological battle. Perhaps enough people did not understand what The Fountainhead was truly about and Rand changed her theme to make it more clear.
But Project X is clearly designed to keep internal order by killing a lot of people at once, and so I think your observation about regimes willing to do that is precisely accurate. One of the nomenklatura - Mouch? - blandly recommended murder in that conversation about Directive 10-289 and Kinnan put his foot down. The union thugs won't stand for it at the moment but later they will. Maybe it's just that they won't stand for people other than themselves doing it.
Rand's written violence has a fairyland-like quality to it that may have been a product both of her times (although Raymond Chandler was putting out some pretty graphic stuff) and her antecedents - as we'll see later, she writes about a gunfight like a philosopher, not a gunfighter.
I'd love to know how much she really knew about the starvation campaign in the Ukraine - at the time the novel was published Krushchev had only just made his secret speech, so a lot of Stalin's abuses were still pretty much papered over, but Rand did have relatives in the old country at the time who occasionally wrote to her. I have to wonder, though, if she had stuck that stuff into AS - would anyone have believed it?
Not Mouch. Ferris is the one who always pushes for death.
I don’t think it was Ferris and I’m not sure if it was Mouch. Rand’s style puzzles me. She dances around two dark truths, which are the use of force in a totalitarian state and the effects of incempetence in an industrial society.
Project X is demonstrated but never used. Rand’s leaders, though obviously despicable, are afraid to use physical force. Imagine a world that issues death threats then kowtows to a union leader who says they can’t threaten to kill the union men. Or else what? They’re evil enough to starve the world through stupidity and political favors, but not evil enough to actually pull the trigger.
Rand mentions a couple of plane crashes and industrial accidents as if they were headlines flashed on the New York Times headline scroll in Manhattan. The train wreck is the only detailed description. It’s reminscent of a scene in The Fountainhead. Dominique Francon meets with a bunch of wealthy do gooders in New York to discuss the plight of the poor. We would refer to this audience as limousine liberals and/or morons. Dominique tells them about the poor people she studied, how they had brand new radios (written in the 1930s) but didn’t pay the rent, spent their days drinking and ignoring their children, etc. Both scenes are described with clinical detachment. They’re not meant to make the reader sad or angry.
Those incidents have consequences, though, which are shockingly real and accurately foretold. We’re familiar with the welfare moochers of the 1980s and fools with heavy machinery were a staple of the Soviet Union. I assume she wanted to appeal to the readers’ sense of logic, rather than emotion. But anger and sorrow are natural when confronted by deadly acts of stupidity. If we didn’t get angry about them, they would happen more often.
Sheesh. Good thing the unity board won't let them fire me.
Actually, it does in fact get used, but I don't want to post a spoiler.
Late to the party, I’ve been out of town.
Consider, though, that Rand found it necessary to have the State create a weapon that is designed, primarily, to keep internal order.
Again, remarkably prescient. Ruby Ridge and the botched military style raid against Randy Weaver. Elian Gonzalez and the government sanctioned thugs that seized him, unnecessarily, at the point of a gun.
And, the most grotesque violation by the government against citizens, in recent memory, Waco.
Rand implies the US has become a country willing to use deadly force against its own citizens.
I suggest recent history shows our government has no problem with the idea of violence against its own citizens.
And, the people who are involved in these raids always use the “I was just doing my job” excuse to justify their actions.
She omitted much of the obvious consequences of violence that would not be shocking to her intended audience. But her discussions of Dagny Taggart and her lovers are borderline explicit for 1957. Her novels repeatedly trashed collectivism, but also offered discussions of sexuality a bit more frankly than the prudish nature of the era. The two characters in Anthem run off to live together outside of the mainstream without the benefit of marriage. Howard Roarke rapes Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead. Dagny Taggart’s sexual adventures are discussed in more detail than any aspect of Atlas Shrugged except for objectivism. I wonder how much of Rand's ideal was against the sexual mores of the era.
Kay Ludlow is another insight into this. She tells Dagny that she quit movies because all the roles it offered were home-wreckers and such (sluts) instead of independent women who could do whatever they wanted, such as marry a philosopher turned pirate. Some comedian cracked wise about women and pirates when he asked, "How many women fantasize about being ravaged by an English professor wearing a turtleneck?"
No, I think it was Ferris. Ferris is always wanting to kill people. He mentions it in the first person there, and his attitude is referred to by others elsewhere as well.
The wuss. ;-)
It's too bad actually. If Mouch DID try to kill somebody, he's such a moron he'd probably end up shooting himself, and everybody'd be better off.
Ann Coulter once commented that the only way for an actress to win an Oscar was to portray a whore at some point in her career.
Ann then proceeded to list Oscar winners that won for their portrayal of a prostitute or had “played a prostitute” on their screen resume.
The list is pretty impressive:
Nicole Kidman (she won after Ann made her comment)
There are others, however, their names escape me at the moment.
Rand does mention what happens to the violators of the Directive: they go rogue, become villains, form gangs that roam the wilderness. That is the only course I could see. Screw starving to death, take what you need, and if you have to kill a few “authorities” to get it, so what? Even if they eventually kill you (I think that is why the military is moving around so much in the novel, hunting gangs/raiders), it’s better that going out like a wimp.
The plan executed by Galt, D’Anconia, and Danneskjold is to bring the world to its knees by being as stupid as society claims to desire. When John Galt says he plans to return to New York, they try to talk him out of it by describing some of what they expect to happen. The story mentions gangs of raiders only a few times. None of the characters ever encounter such types. Hank Rearden will encounter something like them later (I'll avoid the spoiler details) but the antagonists are not a raider gang. They had other motives.
Part of this is Rand playing black and white. Individuals are good, collectivist government busybodies are bad. It's difficult to portray the rugged individualist as the good archetype when some of the rugged individualists resort to armed crime for survival. But Danneskjold does the same thing and Rand uses him as irony; the brilliant philosopher turned pirate because society would accept nothing else from him. Mr. Spock was hardly the first person to realize that, “In an insane society, a sane man must appear insane.”
Rand could have explored this and added some interesting characters and subplots to the story. In all honesty, I wanted to murder James Taggart around page 100. I didn't need to read about the fiftieth time he used influence peddling to stick it to somebody he didn't like, which was anybody. The reality of the world coming down on people's heads is gripping drama. Think of the description of the wreck in the Taggart Tunnel. It's one of the most captivating parts of the book. The collectivist mindset kills people. Imagine if Rand knew about Soviet adventures with nuclear submarines and power plants.
And not all of the black market in such a world is evil. In a world where boot-licking is the most marketable skill, some will be better at it than others. In any economy, some people will hoard the benefits they receive and some people will share them. Cheryl could have been such a character. It would have been interesting to see how bureaucratic inertia frustrated her efforts. This theme was played out in The Fountainhead. Catherine, Ellsworth Toohey’s niece and abandoned bride of Peter Keating, becomes a miserable social worker, of the type that enjoys knowing that others suffer, and feeds on making them suffer some more. But she didn't start out that way.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that are there other, and equal, themes to Atlas Shrugged besides the stupidity of Karl Marx. Rand lived that lifestyle herself. IMO, the best part of AS is quoted in my profile.
The plan executed by Galt, DAnconia, and Danneskjold is to bring the world to its knees by being as stupid as society claims to desire.
It's the very core of Atlas Shrugged. The only thing I'd change is ...by
being appearing as stupid as society claims to desire...
It's difficult to get an intelligent adult to 'dumb down' (think Orwell's 1984). The lefties know this, and are aggressive in getting to your children while they are young.
Also the gulchers all need and have an outlet for their creativity.
An observation that I think is relevant - There have been documented instances in colonial America where, captured Europeans had feigned feeble mindedness in order to escape their captors wrath. Of course, this doesn't make them stupid, it is just another form of self defense.