Archive for April, 2012
PREVIOUSLY: With the global economy trapped in a death spiral of exhausted resources, governments everywhere have taken the opportunity to expand their power and radically restrict individual freedom in the name of preserving society from collapse. It’s going poorly.
In the shadow of the Washington Monument, everyone’s favorite evil cabal of corporatists and politicians have met to conspire some more. Besides the usual triumvirate of Taggart Boyle and Mouch, there are three notable attendees: Dr. Ferris, shameless sociopath of the State Science Institute; Fred Kinnan, head of America’s largest labor union; and POTUS himself, a man named Thompson, a complete political chameleon whose greatest electoral asset is his Generic Anglo-Saxon Face*cough*Romney*cough*.
Anyway the current item on the agenda is a drastic measure they have clearly all been anticipating with some trepidation. It is a proposal to stop the economic contraction by freezing growth at 0%. Prices and wages will be fixed at their current levels indefinitely; strict quotas will be placed on all production and consumption to match prior year amounts; any and all hiring and firing decisions must be approved by the state.
POTUS Not-Romney authorizes Mouch to write the executive order, then ducks out before the horse-trading can commence, presumably for plausible deniability reasons.
The order will be carried out by a new, all-powerful Unification Board. Kinnan the Labor Guy forces Mouch stack it with his men. He also proposes a jobs bill where the government just forces companies to increase the number of people on their payroll to 133% of current employment. Orren Boyle is like “That makes no sense.” Kinnon is like “None of this makes sense, so shut up and deal with it.” Fuck this is so stupid. I’ll give Kinnan this though, he’s not a bullshitter. He’s a cynic who knows these guys are poking more holes in a sinking ship, and he intends to hoard as many lifeboats for his people as he can, but he has no illusions about this being in the public good.
Taggart Boyle & Mouch, on the other hand, the three who set this whole chain of dominoes in motion, are panicky wrecks by contrast. They drank their own Kool-Aid and now they seem kind of appalled that it’s come to this. They shriek about how it isn’t their fault and they have no choice, and Kinnan finds it darkly amusing and the comfortably amoral Ferris is just smug.
Mouch reviews the list of policies they’re about to enact. On top of the economic controls mentioned above, all new inventions will be outlawed; R&D will be conducted by State Science only. No new writing shall be published, and all patents and copyrights will be signed over to the government by the holders through ‘voluntary Gift Certificates.’ This last bullet point strikes them as the most unrealistic and legally dicey of all the things on this list, even though patents and copyrights are government-issued to begin with and literally every other thing they mentioned is utterly insane.
The conspirators nonetheless believe they can get all the remaining patent-holders to relinquish their rights without much of a fight, as long as they can get Rearden to surrender rMetal to them. Jim mentions that he has some dirt on Rearden that should make this objective achievable. In exchange he extracts from Mouch a legal rate hike for Transcon trains. Thank god the real halls of power don’t run on shady quid pro quos, right?
The power players all feel the weight of the moment in solitary shame, and Jim lowers the blinds so they don’t have to look at the Washington Monument taunting them from the window as they sign away all of America’s founding freedoms.
One morning some weeks later, Dagny wakes up on the couch in her office and orders her secretary to get her a newspaper while she gets back to her paperwork. Everybody is walking on eggshells and she doesn’t know why, until Average Eddie Willers brings her the Times and she sees the news about America’s shiny new communist government, which was announced today, don’tcha know.
Her body drains of feeling and without conscious thought she marches to Jim’s office, throws the paper in his face and calls it her resignation letter. She tells Eddie she intends to get her Ron Swanson on and will shortly leave for a remote cabin in the Berkshires that’s been in the family for some generations. Nobody should be allowed to contact her, she tells Eddie, except for Hank Rearden.
Speaking of whom, she calls Hank and lets him know what’s what. Hank has adopted a pretty Zen, resigned attitude to this whole situation by now, and with two weeks letft until the patent-surrender certificates are due, he intends to see things through to the end. Go down with the ship, as it were, like a true captain (of industry).
To that end, one morning, two weeks later, Hank awaits the arrival of the feds at his office to coerce a signature from him. But it is Dr. Ferris, all by his lonesome, who shows up relishing the opportunity to corner Hank after his last failed attempt. They establish once again that Ferris is a self-aware villain who takes pride in his venal, relativistic philosophy, thinks it’s the way of the future.
Ferris bluntly explains that he is blackmailing Rearden with lots of photos and hotel room records proving his now two-year long affair with Dagny. He got them from Jim, who got them from Lillian. Hank realizes that his godforsaken wife has taken advantage of even the slightest pity he showed for her, that she and these totalitarian thugs share a standard operating procedure of exploiting the virtuous to sustain the vicious. And though Hank long ago gave up feeling guilty about his sham marriage and satisfyingly adulterous sex life, he realizes it would be unjust of him to make a self-righteous stand here if all the cost will be borne by Dagny, whose reputation will be ruined.
So he reflects on the very first time he met Dagny, and how they both sensed their chemistry, and how guilty and repressed he was about it at the time, and how clearly he can see the moral landscape now, and without a moment’s hesitation or regret he signs all his rights to rMetal away. It is henceforth to be called OurMetal and its production will be managed by
Big Brother the Unification Board.
Welcome, Ferris’ smile seems to say, to the Fascistic States of America.
“Already we have far too much of this insipidity — masses of people … letting slip whatever native culture they had, … substituting for it only the most rudimentary American culture of the cheap newspaper, the “movies,” popular song, the ubiquitous automobile.” –Randolph Bourne in The Atlantic, 1916
This blog has touched on the end of the Gilded Age and rise of the Progressive Era before, albeit tangentially. As we begin to tackle how best to fuse liberalism and libertarianism here in the 21st century, it is worthwhile to revisit it, and to that end I’ll be drawing on Louis Menand’s excellent history of the period, The Metaphysical Club.
Menand chronicles how the rise of industrial capitalism radically intensified the disorienting aspects of modern life borne of relentless change and innovation. Politically, this turmoil manifested in the rise of progressivism as it sought to provide a necessary counter-weight to the opressively concentrated wealth of laissez-faire economics. Culturally — as illustrated by the quote above — it manifested as concerns about the corrosive effects of the new mass-produced consumer culture. And philosophically it manifested in the creed of pragmatism, as developed most famously in the writings of William James and John Dewey.
Cut to Ayn Rand, writing from the 1950s, valorizing the Gilded Age laissez-faire society and condemning the rise of progressive politics as the death knell of actual progress. Like the thinkers of the time, Rand expresses concerns about vapid consumer culture — even though industrial capitalism is what made mass pop culture viable — while on the philosophical level, Rand’s Objectivism is a radical departure from the approach taken by that era’s great American minds.
What was their thinking? The school of pragmatism evolved as a response to intense mid-19th century debates about metaphysics, provoked by the rise of Darwinism and the attendant rise of material determinism.
Pragmatism took its name from the idea that as a philosophy it should be more than an intellectually satisfying theory, it should be a practical system of thought useful for people in authoring their lives. To that end, it adopted a stance of metaphysical agnosticism. For example, pragmatists assumed free will exists, not as a claim about the metaphysical truth but for the simple reason that people experience situations involving decision-making all the time, so any philosophy that discards free will is void of practical application.
Ayn Rand also believes in free will (to put it mildly), but she asserts this as a given metaphysical truth, just like her claims about the moral nature of money are metaphysical claims not supported by logic.
In fact her broadest and most problematic metaphysical claim is her ontology of logic, which we have already exposed as faulty here. The truth is that Aristotle’s First Law of Thought, that “A is A,” isn’t making a claim to metaphysical truth per se, which is how Rand wields it; it is claiming that for anybody to meaningfully communicate thoughts with anybody else, they must first agree on the meaning of the terms and symbols they employ in their language. It is a metaphysically modest claim grounded in pragmatic utility — the laws of thought are not irrefutable truths about the nature of reality (that would make them the laws of reality), they are the rules regarding form that a human must follow to successfully convey content.
The man who founded the pragmatist ethos, Charles Pierce, said of logic’s role in human affairs,
[Reasoning] inexorably requires that our interests … must not stop at our own fate, but must embrace the whole community. He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world is, as it seems to me, illogical in all his inferences collectively. Logic is rooted in the social principle.
Pierce’s premise here is that the collected observations and inferences of any one individual are inevitably insufficient for a comprehensive or verifiably accurate account of reality. A body of objective knowledge can only be built and sustained by a society dedicated to that common pursuit within and between generations.
Here we see that pragmatism, unlike Objectivism, is concerned with both liberty in the form of aiding man in the exercise of free will, and with the legitimacy of society as a whole. At the time pragmatism became ascendant, laissez-faire capitalism had reached a turning point. The economic right to freedom of contract had begun to violate the contract of freedom — the social contract.
Historical evidence of the dictatorial power of private parties to govern the lives of the masses during the Gilded Age includes JP Morgan’s centralized economic management as handled through the corporatization & conglomeration of formerly entrepreneurial and individualistic industry. But another key example is the Pullman strike, the national crisis that launched Eugene Debs to fame and first brought serious momentum to the labor and socialism movements in America.
In 1894, Illinois was the lynchpin of the nation’s railroad system, and the workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company all lived in the company town of Pullman. Facing a drop in revenues during a recession, Pullman cut their wages. But he didn’t lower their rent or the cost of goods in Pullman, all of which he obviously controlled. So it was very clear to the laborers that they were getting screwed, bearing the costs of the macroeconomy while those with enough power to better influence that economy simply preserved its benefits for themselves.
As with Morgan, the Pullman dynamic is ironically akin to the excess authority and impossible demands of Rand’s government planners. Not only that, but the strike was eventually broken by the government acting on the side of management, because the disruption of rail service itself threatened the macroeconomy. All of which is starkly opposed to Rand’s fictional government — not to mention her fictional 19th century.
Clearly the huddled masses couldn’t directly engage in fair negotiation with their corporate overlords. If they wanted real opportunities to exercise economic liberty, they would have to work through democratic institutions to petition for a renewal of the social contract.
The moral here is that while Rand’s view of anarcho-capitalism (as expressed by Rearden in 2:4) prizes economic liberty as an inviolate moral ideal, such fidelity produces blind spots — in this case that a social order emerging from the bottom up through privately-negotiated contracts can still produce despotic, top-down governing bodies as a practical reality. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Sure it works in theory, Marge. Communism works in theory.”
Another pragmatist quote, this time by the more well-known American philosopher John Dewey:
The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, … and in favor of the eternal forces of truth … underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top.
One could find support for Rand’s fears of dystopian statism in this quote about bigness, but one could also read into it a progressive’s suspicions towards dystopian capitalism. After all, both of these anxieties are rooted in the dangers of excessively concentrated power, and they both feel the need to support Davids over Goliaths in response. The schism is over what institutional arrangements best to mitigate this problem.
Pragmatism, of course, prefers whichever arrangement produces real experiential liberty for the most people. Since pragmatism is so, well, pragmatic, it is better suited to deal with the muddy compromises of reality than the theoretically pure forms of either libertarian capitalism or socialist democracy. As we see in the quote up top, in an era of eugenics and scientific racism, the Dewey-taught Randolph Bourne argues for a multi-cultural America with each race and ethnic group sustaining age-old traditions as a bulwark against spiritually empty consumerism. This is not dissimilar to the Deist founding fathers encouraging a religious populace for the sake of social cohesion. As always, the argument is a practical and metaphysically humble one.
But this adaptability to circumstances leaves pragmatism open to charges of moral relativism, which is not entirely an accident. The thinkers who developed pragmatism came of age during the Civil War and its aftermath, and the lesson they took was that moral absolutism led to immense human suffering. Yet after the meaningless slaughter of World War I, this philosophy fell out of favor to make way for ideologies more proactive about asserting moral values once again. Nonetheless, I believe the pragmatists’ metaphysical agnosticism — which is to say their epistemic skepticism — was immensely valuable. Certainly the dogmatic ideologies that took hold in the 20s and 30s only contributed to greater atrocities, atrocities by design even, in World War II.
So as much as Rand idolizes the period out of which pragmatism grew, she has discarded the lessons learned by those who lived through it. This is self-evident in her fables about Nat Taggart, in which she portrays the era with willful inaccuracy. And to end this quote-heavy essay on a famous one by George Santayana, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
PREVIOUSLY: The earth has been exhausted, humanity has been consumed. Our workaholic heroes are determined to keep the lights on, but all their friends are giving up and it’s making them very cranky.
In the wake of the latest wave of pirate attacks, the economy has collapsed… again… some more. That’s been going on for 500 pages already, but whatever. Ayn makes sure to recap all of the specific new industry failures in excruciating and unnecessary detail.
But the only one we care about is Transcon. Dagny is sitting in on a board meeting, biting her tongue while all the inept directors and spineless managers talk around the subject at hand, which is that they’re going to have to dismantle the Galt Line and use the rMetal on it to reinforce their backbone transcontinental track. Some anonymous G-Man is there and Jim appeals to him to pull some strings, but it’s clear the Taggart name no longer carries the weight in Washington that it did before.
Dagny calls them out for being pathetic cowards who won’t talk straight about what they’re doing, which is cannibalizing her life’s work right in front of her. The board is like, “Oh thank God, somebody finally said it. Shall we vote on Ms. Taggart’s proposal to cannibalize her life’s work? And the ‘ayes’ I have it!”
Utterly crushed, Dagny leaves the building that night to find Francisco waiting for her outside. As always, she is distrustful but finds his presence compelling and comforting. In fact, he explicitly claims that he’s there to comfort her, and she relents to be wined and dined.
So over some very expensive wine and, presumably, a bottomless basket of garlic bread, they reflect on and idealize their illustrious ancestors. Dagny recounts an insanely ahistorical legend about her great-grandfather Nat, who single-handedly built a railroad bridge across the Mississip’ in defiance of the law, because everybody knows how skeptical the 19th century U.S. government was about expanding railroad infrastructure.
In turn, Frankie reflects on his ancestor Sebastian who had to abandon his true love in the Old World, but rebuilt his fortune in the New World and then reclaimed her after fifteen years.
Dagny can’t really handle the subtext of that anecdote and turns the conversation back to the John Galt Line. Francisco had warned her that she’d regret building it, and now she does. Now that apathetic meme, “Oh well, who is John Galt?” rings in her ears more than ever.
Francisco offers another mythic metaphor for who Galt is, describing him as “Prometheus who changed his mind.” How’s that, you ask? Well apparently Prometheus eventually got tired of being disemboweled every day. He broke free of his chains and then took fire back from mankind, because… they tortured him? Jesus, Ayn doesn’t even know how this myth goes.
The gods tortured Prometheus. Mankind thought he was pretty cool. They wrote a play about it. So why would Prometheus take fire back from the people, Ayn? Sounds like a real dick move. I think the moral of this version of the myth is that John Galt’s morals make for a shitty version of this myth.
Anyway Dagny thanks Francisco for being kind to her in her darkest hour, and he’s a real gentleman about it, because Francisco is CLASSY.
Cut to an entirely pointless scene in Colorado. Dags and Hank Rearden are doing some bargain-hunting, buying up all the industrial equipment they can find from all the failing businesses. It seems like only ten chapter ago this state was a booming hub of vitality. But now, they see abandoned buildings and machines and feel heartbroken. They also see ghost towns full of starving people and feel disgusted. And fuck both of you.
The Transcon station is a mob scene as everybody in the area wants to get out of Dodge on the last train to ever run on the Galt Line. Luckily for Dagny, Hank shoves aside the diseased rabble and they get in their private car.
Back in New York City, the team of Taggart & Rearden, Evil Edition, meets for dinner. Lillian Rearden is coy and Jim Taggart is smarmy, and underneath the fakery, Jim is asking Lillian for help. He’s lost favor in Washington, but everybody thinks that he and Hank are best buds because Hank showed up at his wedding (thanks to Lily). If Lily can convince Hank to ally with Jim politically, they could pull some weight and help save rMetal & Transcon from the circling vultures of nationalization.
Lillian, infatuated with the idea of being the one holding the power for once, accepts the challenge. She goes back to her hotel room to lounge and luxuriate while planning how she will manipulate Hank into agreeing, but gets thrown for a loop when she discovers that Hank’s deviated from his official schedule and realizes he must be with his mistressright now.
So she books it to Taggart Terminal with the intention of catching a glimpse of The Other Woman. Hank is surprised to see her, and she’s throwing herself a pity party about how selfless she is, when Dagny strides out of her car and the reality of the affair hits Lillian like a ton of bricks.
When the Reardens arrive back at their usual New York hotel suite, the marital facade crumbles immediately. Lily talks mad shit about Dags, lashes out at Hank, demands he end it with her.
But Hank has finally cut himself completely free of this toxic relationship. He’s like, “I would rather see you dead than quit Dagny,” and “You can get a divorce whenever you want, just say the word.” But Lil can’t stand that she has so little power left over him, no way to hurt him, and again declares that she will never grant him a divorce.
She storms off and Hank sighs in relief. He understands now that having it all out on the table is a good thing, an immense catharsis. Like a great shit.
PREVIOUSLY: The feds charged Hank Rearden and Ken Dannager with black market trading. Dagny rightly intuited that the shadow faction of missing elites would pull Dannager off the grid, but she was too late to stop it. Francisco visited Rearden and was possibly recruiting Hank to the shadow faction too, but then Hank saved his life in a freak factory explosion and he backed off his agenda.
It’s Thanksigiving dinner at the Rearden’s! And in spite of all the luxury they have to be thankful for, they are even more passive-aggressive and hostile than your family. Tomorrow is Hank’s trial (two months from charge to trial? Awfully efficient for the government, no?). Lillian cites moral relativism as a reason for him to plea bargain or buy someone off. His harpy mother asks how could he put them through this. His brother outright says he’s guilty and should face a harsh sentence.
Hank is all about done with these people, thank you, and tells brother Buster to get the fuck out and never return. Everyone freezes and Buster immediately tries to walk it back, but Hank has had a moment of clarity. He sees now that his family uses guilt as a weapon, shaming him for his virtues so that he feels like he owes them something. Their entire value system is warped, he realizes, and Francisco’s speech about Atlas shrugging is ringing in his ears.
Throwing in the towel (or, napkin, I guess), Hank stands and announces he’s leaving for New York. Lillian, who has been overdosing on schadenfreude ever since she confronted Hank about his adultery, feels her grip on his conscience fading and commands him to stay. He does not. And now I bet the turkey’s cold, too.
On his drive to New York he mulls over how pervasive this sort of moral vampirism is. He figures his family is a lost cause, but he remembers that impressionable collegiate regulator that the state assigned to him. The kid turned a blind eye to Rearden’s black market arrangements with Dannager, even at the cost of his own career prospects. How selfless! There may be hope for the world yet… I mean, wait, no, selflessness means the world is doomed. Right? I think Ayn’s starting to lose the thread.
When Hank arrives in Manhattan he meets Dagny at her office, where she and Eddie are working late to minimize the damage from a terrible accident on the Transcon main line. Everything is falling apart in this country! On that score Hank tells Dagny that the next steel order for Taggart Transcon will be secretly doubled and full of rMetal. He has realized that their political enemies, just like his family, have no leverage if the likes of he and Dagny don’t subordinate their virtue in service to their vices.
Dagny is thrilled at Hank’s newfound enthusiasm for spiting the masses and takes out a bottle of lube to celebrate. Eddie is confused because he doesn’t know they’re diddling. Don’t worry Eddie, you’ll understand one day, when you’re all grown up.
JUDTJUT! That was the Law & Order noise, because we are at The Trial. The room is packed. There is no jury, just a panel of three judges at a card table or something equally unceremonious. The room suggests ‘the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.’ Is that even a comparison to anything? I think Ayn just called you a scam artist. Or a retard. Either way, she’s not even trying anymore.
They ask Hank if he would like to make a statement in his own defense. Hank says NO, he will not make a statement in his own defense. BUT — and I know this might come as a shock — his version of “NO” is a lengthy, overwrought monologue praising anarcho-capitalism and condemning the court as a sham.
But he must be onto something because the jurists don’t hold him in contempt of court for, uh, ranting about his contempt for the court in great detail. They do not even recognize that he has waived his right to a defense. They are basically flummoxed by his bold “I will not defend myself, aside from this endless speech defending myself” approach, and they are cowed by his successful riling of the crowd. They let him off with a small fine. God this scene is just so dumb. Did David E. Kelley write this? I guess he was only one when the book came out, so… if the shoe fits.
Several weeks later. The dead of winter. Rearden is drinking alone in his hotel suite. He was popular for a minute there, after the trial. People remembered that he invented rMetal and built the Galt Line and told those lousy bureaucrats to fuck off. But the lamestream media got them back on talking points and all his fellow businessmen started asking him to cool his jets. He’s giving entrepreneurs a bad name, don’t you know. Don’t want to rile up more populist anger at the 1%.
This unthinking cowardice really pisses Hank off. Human emotion in general pisses Hank off, but whatever. The only person he really wants to see is Francisco D’Anconia, to thank him for inspiring his courtroom testimony. And Hank’s courage is liquid enough that he decides to show up at Francisco’s room unannounced.
But of course Frankie welcomes him when he shows up, and they both clearly revel in their new, unspoken bond of friendship. They shoot the shit for a minute and Frank congratulates Hank for his court performance. Hank gives him all the credit, but admits he still doesn’t get Francisco’s angle. Between you me and the recapper, he wonders, what’s the deal?
Francisco weighs his options and decides to throw Hank a bone: he admits that his public persona is an elaborate ruse. He has gone to great lengths to convince the world that he is a spendthrift playboy, but really he’s never slept with any of the women he has been associated with in the papers. In fact, he’s loved only one woman his whole life. Hank is thinking like, “Me too! This guy so gets me,” except neither of them knows they love the same woman. I smell awkward revelations coming! Does this mean we have to split into ‘shipper Teams now?
Anyway Frisco justifies his celibacy with — yes, that’s right — a long speech. The gist is that people with self-respect will only sleep with other people they respect, while people who feel worthless will seek sex to boost their esteem and will fail because the sex will be hollow and demeaning. Truly groundbreaking stuff. The takeaway is that sex and desire and pleasure are therefore not sins, are in fact sacred, unless their life-affirming potential is perverted by self-destructive motives.
Hank has mad respect for this outlook, since he’s been such a tangle of contradictory impulses when it comes to his sex life (thanks, Catholic upbringing!). As repayment for Frankie’s wisdom, he confesses to Frisco that he already came to trust him before hearing this admission of his true beliefs. He explains his plan to produce an rMetal surplus and sell it on the black market to Dagny, and pointedly adds that he ordered all the raw metals for this project from D’Anconia Copper, as a testament to their trust and friendship.
Francisco’s face falls ashen. He shakes Hank violently by the shoulders. “You fucking idiot! What behavior of mine could have possibly made that seem like a good idea? You know nothing of my work!”
Hank is completely lost. Frank kicks him out, telling Hank that he likes him but this was a huge mistake. But the sudden about-face makes no sense to Rearden until a few days later, when he learns that his shipments of D’Anconia ore have been sunk to the bottom of the sea by the dread pirate Ragbeard.
Yeah Hank, I’m mad too — your author is being a real cocktease about this pirate plotline.
The primary side effect of this tactic is that Rand backs herself into a philosophical corner and the novel itself becomes unbearably pedantic. By treating most of the history of human intellectual achievement as a nihilistic parody, and then defining Objectivism as the direct opposite and negation of it, Objectivism itself becomes a parody, a caricature of itself. Rand doesn’t just reduce her most-loathed views to the absurd; she reduces her own to the absurd, too. That’s why Francisco, my favorite character, has so far spent Part Two making questionable sermons in praise of illogical ideals.
Take Ayn’s belief in the moral incorruptibility of money, for example, which she forces into Francisco’s mouth in the “greed is good” speech from Chapter 2:2. S/he claims that “To trade by means of money is the code of men of good will.” But the code of men of good will is, obviously, to act by good will. Trade can be mutually beneficial without money as long as both parties negotiate in good faith. Money can make those transactions more efficient, but the moral character of the deal is decided by the parties and not the medium of exchange.
What Rand is really trying to do, then, is outline the code of morals by which ‘the moral law’ — or, for those of us who don’t categorically dismiss eastern philosophy, ‘karma’ — operates. Treating money as a spiritual totem and objective measure of karma is a totally unnecessary addition to this project. It is certainly not arrived at by deductive reasoning — the premise of an objective moral law that rewards honor, integrity, and hard work does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that those rewards come in a directly proportional pecuniary form. Furthermore, in an attempt to make the sanctification of money fit the experiential evidence, Rand admits her conclusion cannot be arrived at by inductive reasoning either.
Specifically, Francisco hedges that ‘money is only a tool’ whose karmic effects are only visible ‘in the long run.’ He claims that the only person fit to inherit a fortune is the one who would earn one anyway — which does not preclude people from inheriting undeserved fortunes — and that anyone with a fortune they don’t work to maintain will lose it.
This last qualification flies in the face of reality — anybody with sufficient funds can live off the interest and pay others to manage their investments, thereby purchasing more responsible financial management than they themselves could provide and thereby divorcing their net worth from their competency and merit, a.k.a. their moral worth.
Furthermore, fortunes can be created in bad faith and by exploitation, which Rand denies, and they can be used to oppress the less wealthy and accumulate unearned privilege, which Rand implicitly admits in her portrayal of Francisco’s corrupt ‘crony capitalist’ investors and their use of money to purchase laws squelching the liberties of the masses. Wealth does not by nature punish entitlement and laziness and can in fact be used to enable those same vices.
And since the idolatry of money cannot be arrived at as a necessary part of a moral code of honor, personal integrity, and hard work by deductive or inductive reasoning, Rand is ultimately making a faith-based claim about nature, a claim that describes the noumenal qualities of money as a Platonic ideal, rather than as a phenomenal reality. And faith-based claims, not to mention Platonism, are anathema to Rand’s stated beliefs. She is essentially preaching a prosperity gospel here.
This all follows from the fact that Ayn can’t just reject the Biblical wisdom that “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) — a verse which demonstrates that the prosperity gospel of the real world is itself a contradiction. No, Ayn must embrace the opposite stance, that money must be the root of all good. Yet this “either/or” choice is, again, a logical fallacy. Money doesn’t have to be the root of anything. Both positions are absolutist caricatures of a nuanced and multivalent reality.
Another example of Rand’s faulty invocation of the law of the excluded middle is in Francisco’s 2:3 speech to Rearden, when he’s declaring that the mythic Atlas should shrug if the world he supports is about to break his back. Whereas the former speech illustrated how Rand’s worship of money is literally unreasonable, this latter one exposes her irrational damning of humanity.
Early in the 2:3 conversation, Francisco tells Rearden that there are three kinds of people. There are Rearden’s equals, ‘giants of productive energy.’ There are Eddie Willers types, ‘men who could not equal the power of your mind, but who would equal your moral integrity.’ And then there are ‘whining rotters who … drift from failure to failure and expect you to pay their bills.’
Now even if you think that’s too reductive, it at least includes a “middle ground” option in the loyal, true, competent-not-excellent Eddie Willers. That’s more than one can say for most of Rand’s assessments of the world’s possibilities, except that Rand’s worldview as exemplified in the Randverse ignores even this middle ground that she herself provides. To wit —
After laying out the three categories of man, Francisco asks Rearden which type of person is riding the rMetal rails he and Dagny built, and Rearden admits it is the ‘whining rotters.’ But even with all Rearden’s equals going off the grid, where did all the Eddie Willers’ of the world go? Eddie is the book’s everyman character, the average Joe, and yet the character of the Randverse’s average man implied by her portrayal of the general populace, the “public at large,” is an intellectually insufficient and morally suspect character, a moocher. Not exactly our pal Eddie. Dare I say Ayn’s attitudes towards humanity are… contradictory?
Suffice it to say, that suffices to say. I don’t intend to spend all of Part Two picking apart the many reductively absurd arguments Rand makes. Having spent Part One roughly delineating the ways in which I think the Randverse is relevant and/or irrelevant to our ‘verse, I now consider Rand’s erroneous delineation of same as mostly an obstacle to appreciating what actually works in this book. This dissonance will only get worse throughout Part Two’s remaining chapters.
So going forward I’m going to focus these analytic posts on articulating a stronger left-libertarian alternative to Rand’s over-the-top vision. If I spent Part One considering Rand’s thesis (the effective parallels to real 21st century issues, the shout-outs to Hayek and the attendant fealty to negative liberty), my Part Two will consider a reasonable antithesis.
That will come in handy in Part Three, when the Randverse delivers resolutions and conclusions to the issues it’s raised. There, I will seek a satisfying synthesis — in contrast to Ayn, who doesn’t so much synthesize her theories as bludgeon her antithesis to death with a mallet.
PREVIOUSLY: Francisco drove the world’s oldest, most profitable company into the ground, the better to tank the fortunes of all his tax-evading, insider-trading, political-string-pulling billionaire investors. At Jim Taggart’s wedding the word got out, as Frisco intended. Panic ensued.
Lillian Rearden is still freaking out about Francisco’s ‘irresponsibility’ as she and Hank return to his hotel suite. Hank is all “Yeah yeah yeah, shut up.” She wants to go home to Pennsylvania but he wants to stay in New York, so he drops her off at Taggart Terminal and then retreats to his very own Taggart terminal — Dagny’s apartment.
There, he apologizes for putting Dags in an awkward spot at the wedding, and she’s like “Dirt off my shoulder, bro. Your wife doesn’t enter into my personal equation. You do you, I’ll do me, and as long as we want to do each other, ‘s all good. You gotta chill out and enjoy yourself more.”
Hank is like, “That’s funny, Francisco D’Anconia told me the same thing once.” Dagny feels awkward for a hot second, what with having fucked Francisco for years and Hank not knowing, but Hank moves right along to speculation about what Frankie’s deal is. As much as his behavior often verges on outright evil, he’s full of life and one of the only exciting and interesting people they can still find in this hopeless, crumbling world.
The next morning Rearden returns to the hotel as the news about the D’Anconia crash breaks to the public. Upon his return he discovers that Lillian didn’t go home after all. She’s waiting for him in a robe, with a cold breakfast on the table and a look of spiteful triumph on her face. Finally, proof he’s been lying to her about his nightlife.
Hank gets real stoic and tells Lillian to say what she has to say. She goes on a hateful, bitter tirade, just spewing years and years of bile at him. She scoffs that she was wrong to think he was sleeping with Dagny Taggart; no doubt he’s slumming it with whores in the Bronx or what have you. And by the way, she knew he didn’t love her from like year one of the marriage.
He genuinely asks why she stayed with him then, and she snipes that he has no right to ask that now. Not anymore. He realizes that it was because she loved him. Is… is that a character nuance I see? Quick, kill it!
Lillian proceeds to tell Hank that she will never, ever grant him a divorce. She won’t give up the life she’s accustomed to just because he betrayed her, and she specifically wants him to feel like a hypocrite every day of his life from now on — a private shame of a punishment. Her love, sadly, has curdled into hate forever.
Hank just stands there and takes it, a spring of coiled rage. He tells her to leave the city and actually go home this time, and she does. Then he gives himself a pat on the back for not, you know, murdering her. Way to set the bar high, buddy.
Next scene! A month later. Hank is in his office enduring a meeting. His guest is Dr. Ferris, the shamelessly cynical politico from the State Science Institute.
Ferris is following up on his order for rMetal — the order labeled Project X — that Rearden still refuses to fill. As far as Hank is concerned, there’s nothing more to discuss. But Ferris merrily tells Hank that he knows about the black market deals he’s been making with Ken Dannager to sustain his coal supply.
“You see,” Ferris explains, “you want to keep a secret, and State Science want to keep Project X a secret… so why don’t you just play ball and we can all get what we want.”
“Oh, you mean, blackmail?” Hank presses, and Ferris is hilariously like “Yes! Thank you! Glad we’re on the same page finally. So, you in?”
Hank is utterly apalled and balks. Ferris gets frustrated, like he simply doesn’t understand what bothers Rearden about this. “Look, you do this for us, and we can do some shit for you. You wanna fuck over Orren Boyle? He’s been swinging his dick around a little too much, come on board and we’ll take him down.”
But Henry Goddamn Rearden ain’t for sale, and he tells Ferris to go ahead and bring charges. Put him and Dannager on trial, whatever. Now Ferris is apalled. He gets ugly and hisses that they aren’t bluffing and they will totally ruin him. Hank has him escorted out.
Next! Let’s check in with good ol’ Everyman Eddie Willers, who is in the Taggart Transcon cafeteria again, talking to his anonymous proletarian grease monkey friend again. Again. He’s fretting about the Rearden/Dannager indictment that has just hit the newspapers.
Eddie exposits to the prole that this latest development has Dagny convinced Dannager will be the next titan of industry to disappear, and for once she thinks she can reach out to the victim before the shadow faction pulls him off the grid. Whatever mysterious cabal is sucking the lifeblood from society, she has taken to calling it The Destroyer and has made it her mission to defeat it.
Cut to: Dagny waiting in the lobby of Ken Dannager’s office. Based on the butts in the ashtray, she’s been here quite some time. The secretary feels bad about it, but Mr. Dannager specifically instructed her that he and his previous guest were not to be interrupted under any circumstances. “How long have they been in there?” Dagny asks, and the secretary admits it’s been hours.
Finally Dannager buzzes her in, and as Dagny enters she sees the private exit swinging shut behind him. As soon as she sees his face she knows she’s too late. He looks way too calm and relaxed for a dude under so much pressure and stress. He’s given up on the world. He’s getting out of the game; mentally checked out already.
And he knows she knows, calmly — even happily — dismissing her pleas that he stay and fight the good fight. He chuckles, all “Darlin’ if you knew what I knew, you’d leave with me. Oh, but just to be clear, I will not tell you anything even remotely useful, vis a vis, whatever it is I’m talking about.”
Dagny accepts this as totally reasonable for some stupid reason, maybe because she’s distracted by Dannager’s ash tray, in which lies the ashy remnant of a dollar-sign $tamped cigarette. By Jove a clue! She awkwardly asks to take it, and Dannager doesn’t care, possibly about anything anymore, so she does. Guess the meeting wasn’t a total loss.
Last! It’s night and Rearden is wistfully watching his mills from the office window, as he is wont to do, when who should saunter into his office but Francisco D’Anconia himself.
Francisco just thought Rearden might want some company, what with all the bad news lately, and Hank welcomes him in, lamenting Ken Dannager’s disappearance. Frisco is sympathetic but clearly doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.
As they discuss it, the conversation quickly descends into a torpid philosophical dialogue, which is like the third one in this chapter alone. I swear to God, Ayn, you started out as a screenwriter, did you never hear the phrase “show don’t tell”? You managed to break that rule in a novel. For fuck’s sake.
Francisco encourages Hank to articulate his worldview, and hints at his own. He’s clearly leading the conversation down a particular road, trying to make Hank really Get It.
Frank takes out a $tamped cigarette* and lights it as he leans in. He asks Hank what he would say if he saw the mythic Atlas, buckling and straining, desperately trying to hold up the world even as his back is about to break. Hank doesn’t know. Francisco: “Shrug.”
*He doesn’t, actually, but he would if Ayn was a better writer.
But Hank refuses to cut himself any slack or give his bureaucratic enemies the satisfaction of seeing him quit, and Francisco is like, “Don’t you get it? They don’t want you to quit! They rely on you to do all the work that keeps their sick society functioning! How can you–”
And then there’s an explosion at the mills and an alarm bell goes off. Without hesitation the two men sprint to the scene of the accident and selflessly join rescue efforts in the inferno, sealing off the leak, Hank even saving Francisco from dying in a pool of molten steel at one point. Sorry Ayn but one industrial fire does not make up for forty pages of stilted dialogue.
Well, it does for Hank; the adrenaline rush has left him with a sort of ecstatic, even religious after-glow. He and Francisco lock eyes with renewed appreciation and mutual understanding. They’re Bros 4 Life now. Hank is like, “What were you about to say, in my office?” And Francisco, with a painful smile, puts his agenda aside. “Never mind,” he sighs.
Then they kiss.
NEXT — 2:4 The Sanction of the Victim, “Saint Francis” / “Moral Vampires”
PREVIOUSLY: At Jim & Cheryl Taggart’s wedding reception, all the guests schmoozed for nakedly self-interested purposes of political networking, all while disingenuously praising Jim for his selfless progressive beliefs. Then Francisco D’Anconia showed up to stir the pot.
Upon Frankie’s entrance Jim gets all flustered and antagonistic, asking what Frisco is doing there a little too disdainfully. Francisco ignores it, insists on meeting the bride and chiding Jim’s manners. He treats Cheryl with extreme etiquette and deference, which is theoretically admirable, although he also seems motivated by the chance to humiliate Jim. So, two birds.
Francisco continues acting all facetiously chummy, thanking Jim for becoming his largest stockholder this past year. Jim is taken aback that he knows, since he invested under a number of shell companies and dummy corporations. But Francisco has kept close track of his stockholders and noticed that pretty much all of Washington’s most powerful people and the nation’s biggest political donors have been discreetly concentrating their capital in D’Anconia copper. After all, as the world’s oldest multinational it has been the safest bet in a global marketplace that’s been rocked by energy shortages and political interference.
So basically because Francisco was already at the very top of the 1%, he has become the primary beneficiary of the crony capitalism that Jim and his ilk love to practice through no effort of his own. For this, Frank promises Jim that his investment in D’Anconia will pay off handsomely, and then leaves to flirt wistfully with Dagny.
While Francisco’s arrival has momentarily lifted Dagny’s sour mood, her conscious efforts to wall herself off from him emotionally come rushing back when he invites her to gloat about the success of her innovative rMetal railroad. She tells him she is simply hurt that he’s sunk so low as to ‘despise achievement.’
Meanwhile, Rearden watches Francisco as he makes the rounds and feels his man-crush growing. Nobody can resist the charms of Frankie D!
Some social dilletante asks Frank what he thinks will happen to the world as industrial civilization consumes itself to exhaustion. Francisco says the world will get exactly what it deserves. If Ayn didn’t loathe mysticism I’d almost describe this faith in moral law as karmic. In fact I just did.
But this assessment upsets the guests, who mostly wanted to hear that everything’s going to be okay. Somebody says not to take Francisco seriously — money is the root of all evil and Francisco is ‘the typical product of money.’
At this dismissal, Francisco lets his frivolous facade lapse more than we have ever seen and launches into a passionate defense of money as the root of all good, and Fuck You for thinking otherwise. This, by the way, is the perfect example of Ayn’s abuse of the Law of the Excluded Middle.
What Francisco is really defending here is a moral code. Money just happens to be its totem. He praises aspiration and perspiration as good in themselves. He praises the voluntary exchange of value for value as the proper ideal for human relationships. He praises honesty in negotiation as the foundation of civilized interaction. All of which is persuasive enough. Then he claims that money by its very nature incentivizes mankind to live up to this honorable morality, which is a significantly more dubious claim to say the least.
Oh, he also throws in a little goldbuggery for whatever nonsense reason. Besides coming off as tangential at best, it’s stupidly anachronistic, like being nostalgic for mercantilism or something. You’re getting incoherent here Aynie and I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it through the mouth of the best character. ‘Kay thanks bye.
Anyway, yes, Francisco is basically saying that your bank account is like a karmic scorecard, with the caveat that it isn’t that money bestows virtue upon its possessor. Rather, it is a tool that demands of its owner a certain standard of virtue. It is made by those who earn it, kept by those who deserve it, and lost by those who fail it. Which, again… let’s put it this way. In the words of Ernie Hemingway, “isn’t it pretty to think so?”
This sermon on mammonism ends on the grandiose note that since over the long term money is an accurate measure of karmic justice, any society that vilifies money will inevitably crumble, for that society vilifies its own ‘life-blood,’ and the bank accounts and investment portfolios of that society will eventually retain only the balances that reflect their owners’ true moral worth.
The assembled audience is deeply unsettled by Francisco’s speech. Probably from all the apocalyptic, ‘righteous vengeance’ overtones. Someone scoffs that this is a wildly inappropriate conversation to have at a wedding. Which it is.
But Rearden is eating it all up like a capitalist pig at a nutritionally dubious trough. He finds Francisco at the nearest opportunity and confesses his bromantic intentions with uncomfortably earnest hetero-flirting.
“Remember when we first met you expressed gratitude to me?” Hank says. “Well I want you to know that now I’m grateful to you. I’ve been waiting to hear a speech like that my entire life.” But, as always, his respect for Francisco’s brilliance only makes Francisco’s wasteful lifestyle all the more apalling. Rearden asks Frankie how he can live with his own hypocrisy.
Francisco says he isn’t a hypocrite. He actually exemplifies his own point — he has been a worthless playboy for years, and unbeknowst to all of his inside-trading investors the consequences of that behavior are about to be revealed. You see, Frank has finally returned to day-to-day management, but ‘apparently’ his expertise has ‘atrophied’ in the last decade. As a result, vast swaths of D’Anconia Copper’s holdings are about to break down or go belly up.
This news will hit the press and the markets tomorrow morning, by the way, and all of the corrupt, money-laundering guests at this wedding will wake up with their fortunes decimated because of his supposed incompetence.
Rearden cracks up laughing, even as he feels disturbed by his own giddy adrenaline rush at the news. Holy shit, this guy is some kind of insane evil genius! he realizes. D’Anconia must be some kind of economic terrorist, like Ellis Wyatt. And Hank is equal parts repulsed and compelled by this growing radicalism.
Yet Francisco made sure to stay subtle and subtextual with his admission that he deliberately plotted this impending economic disaster, such that Hank realizes it but all those who are inevitably eavesdropping on their banter only catch wind that Francisco fucked up and the stock of D’Anconia Copper is about to crater… just like Francisco wanted.
The scuttlebutt ripples throughout the reception hall and Rearden can see it manifest physically in the chaotic shifts of people’s body language. In a matter of minutes the crowd has become an undignified mob racing to
reach the payphones find cell reception, the better to call their brokers and command them to sell, sell, sell everything!
The trigger pulled on his latest financial suicide-bomb, Francisco scans the room. Only he, Dagny, and Rearden are left, all exchanging looks. Frank himself is grimly satisfied. Dagny is nonplussed. Rearden is conflicted.
“So, look, I’m just throwing this out there,” he says. “What are your guys’ thoughts on menage a trois?”
NEXT — 2:3 White Blackmail, “Shrug, Atlas, Shrug”
It’s the night of Jim Taggart’s wedding! What the shit, you say? Yes, that’s right — in the months between Part One and Part Two, Jim has pitched his sketchy-ass woo at Poor Poor Cheryl (two different kinds of ‘poor’), and things have escalated rapidly.
Stuck in neutral, however, is Dagny’s quest to salvage the world-saving motor. She’s currently in her office going over the latest report from Quentin Daniels, her latest covert reverse-engineer (who shall henceforth be known as Q. Obviously). According to
me Q, the motor is basically an Ion Drive, like spaceships use, and it’s pretty busted.
Dagny has also asked her cigarette-collecting friend the Friendly Shopkeep to track down the manufacturer of the mysterious dollar-sign cigarette, but he has found nothing. Though she is more certain than ever that some esoteric force is undermining society from the shadows, there is nothing else for her to do but go to her brother’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden has just concluded a business meeting with Ken Dannager, the country’s top remaining coal producer. The meeting was illegal because it wasn’t attended by the state Planning Bureau, but they’ve agreed to supply each other on the black market to keep the lights on and the trains running. Literally. Now alone in his hotel room, Hank fondles himself to thoughts of going to Dagny’s — yet who should bust in but his miserable wife Lillian.
See, she wanted to surprise him on one of his many, many New York trips. And maybe even catch him with a hooker or something, because she’s pretty sure he’s sleeping around on her at this point. But aaanyway, he’s coming to Jim Taggart’s wedding with her and there’s no two ways about it. It should be a spectacle if nothing else; the bride is some ill-bred shopgirl nobody. My, how absurd! she tuts while fanning herself.
And though Hank has given up feeling guilty for keeping Dags on the side, he can’t quite bring himself to blow up his own spot yet, so he consents to attend. Yay, tradition!
Cut to: Poor Poor Cheryl, standing before the mirror in her bare, slummy apartment, studying herself in her wedding dress and trying to figure out how she got here. It’s been such a whirlwind courtship, full of dazzling highs and morally unsettling lows. Cheryl recalls all the times Jim would show up at her place an emotional wreck, cuddle up beside her and vent his spleen about how vile and corrupt his colleagues are, and about how his behavior is different, right? Because it’s selfless, right?
Poor Poor Cheryl thinks back also to those times when she had to meet all of his social peers, and how terribly dismissive and condescending they were to her. How he seemed to relish rubbing her background in their faces, seemed almost disappointed if things didn’t get awkward.
Oh yes, and most of all she remembers the night he proposed to her, drunk, in the trash-strewn alley outside her apartment door.
I just want to say Cheryl, for Christ’s sake, wake up, get the fuck out, he’s going to make a coat out of your skin. But Cheryl is an idiot. She is so unbearably naive, and admires Jim because she thinks he’s responsible for the rMetal railroad, so she ignores all of the warning signs and departs for the ceremony.
Cut to: after the ceremony! Thank God we skipped that. The reception’s the good part anyhow. Jim is hobnobbing with all his cronies — Boyle, Larkin, Balph Eubanks, etc. He’s trying to discretely scan the room for Welsey Mouch but Mouch doesn’t seem to be there. Boyle can tell what he’s doing and needles him for it.
“Worried your pull in the capital is waning?” Boyle teases him. They have a pissing contest about who has stronger connections and who’s making the right moves to see their agenda enacted. It’s like a Varys/Littlefinger scene from Game of Thrones.
Meanwhile, Poor Poor Cheryl is wandering around in a PTSD haze and ignoring all the people at the party who are insinuating which political favors they’d like her to ask her new husband about. She sees Dagny and takes the moment to confront her. “Hey bitch, Jim tells me all the time about how you make his life a living hell, so you best step off because I’m the woman of this family now.”
Aw, Cheryl’s so cute. This just amuses Dagny, who replies, ‘That’s quite all right. I’m the man.’ Cheryl just Doesn’t Get It. Points for moxie though.
Hank, worn down to a dickless nub by having to stand next to his wife all night, has retreated to a corner. He observes Dagny’s awesome cattiness toward Cheryl with proud desire. Her sheer badassery makes him want to simply announce their liaison to the room and then nail her on the dance floor.
Jim has likewise retreated to the corner to alleviate the pressure of shitty social obligations, and Lil Rearden approaches to congratulate him. She slyly hints that her gift to him is making Hank come with her — Rearden’s presence boosts Jim’s networking cache with the other guests and helps his appearance of influence. Jim is genuinely impressed at the way she works the angles and tells her she’s wonderful. She is pleased, and they realize for perhaps the first time that they see eye to shifty eye.
As Lillian leaves Jim’s side, she passes Dags and notices that Our Gal Dagny is wearing the rMetal bracelet that she took from Lil at the last big party they both attended. Giving in even further to her lashing-out-hate-spiral, Lillian steps up to D and all sickly sweet goes, “Oh, did you know Hank and I would be here tonight?”
Dagny’s like, “Uh, no. I could give two shits about this wedding.” Lillian’s detached facade is straining. “Well then why exactly are you wearing that bracelet? Is that not like a gag?” And Dagny proudly says she wears it all the time.
That’s Lillian’s last straw. She demands it back. Dagny refuses. Hank comes over but doesn’t break things up like last time. Lillian insists Dagny take off the rMetal. Doesn’t she know what people will think?
Dagny just whips out her enormous lady-dick. “Are you accusing me of fucking your husband?” Oh shit, son! Bald-faced. Lillian’s eyes panic and she immediately backs down, “No no no, never.” But Hank ups the stakes even more, and demands that Lillian apologize to Dagny for sullying Ms. Taggart’s good name. Wow kids. This is some pretty twisted gaslighting by our heroes.
Back at the center of attention, one of Jim’s sleazebag friends toasts the groom for being so selfless and progressive, a real moral paragon. It is a shame more businessmen can’t be like him. Jim takes the kudos and declares that he hopes to continue setting an example for his peers by which the ‘aristocracy of money’ can be replaced by —
‘The aristocracy of pull,’ chapter-name-drops Francisco D’Anconia as he walks into the reception unannounced, like he do. Awww this party just got started y’all.
NEXT — 2:2 cont’d, “Chasing Paper”