PREVIOUSLY: The core trio of nihilist villains spent a dark night of the soul torturing John Galt for his refusal to save them from their own suicidal impulses. In the face of Galt’s principled calm, Jim Taggart finally had the complete mental breakdown we’ve all been waiting for, and the existentially-shattered bad guys ran away for good.
And so here we are, ladies and gentlemen. The very last chapter of Atlas Shrugged. What a long, strange trip it’s been. One that’s perfectly encapsulated by the fact that this chapter is titled “In the Name of the Best Among Us” and begins with the heroine committing murder.
Yes, quite fitting really, that the narrative climax and moral nadir of the novel are one and the same. This is how it goes down:
Dagny has arrived at the ominous bunker housing Project F where John Galt is being tortured. There is a guard standing outside and Dagny approaches him, announcing that she’s been sent by President Thompson himself and she needs to get inside ASAP.
The guard is confused. Flummoxed, even. Dr. Ferris told him NOT to let anyone in. Now he’s facing CONTRADICTORY ORDERS! OH NO. Whatsoever is he to do? What if she’s lying? What if she isn’t? Somebody’s going to be mad at him!
Dagny draws a gun and aims it point blank at his heart. She tells him that he has two options. He can let her in, or he can get kill’t right and proper. “Gosh, golly, gee whiz miss! I dunno what’s right! I’m ever so simple ‘n all, and I only knows how to obey what’s I been told. You gotsed me all a-foggied up in my mindbrain!”
Dagny says, “I’m going to count to three and then I’m gonna cap your ass like an ice-cold thug.”
“Heavens to Betsy, I’m just a humble country boy what’s never aimed for no higher, how’s ever did I come to this? Lord have mercy, I’ll be wit’ you soon Jesus!” And then Dagny finishes counting and this idiot gets got.
Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.
Sympathy for animals during the callous murder of a human, Dags? How very Tony Soprano of you.
And then Francisco, Hank Rearden, and the Dread Pirate Ragbeard all come out of the shadows, having disposed of the other three guards surrounding the building, which is to say, they bound and gagged them. Which leaves them decidedly alive.
TIME OUT. So, okay, let’s review this little morality play, shall we? Of the four heroes who needed to take out mindless guards, only Dagny killed a person. And never mind that she could have, say, shot him in the hand and taken his weapon, or snuck up behind him and cold-cocked him. Even once she’s pulled the gun and aimed to kill, there are still, clearly, three other people backing her up who are eminently capable of coming up from behind and detaining a goon without resorting to homicide! In short, there is NO EXCUSE for this.
Which means that the entire scene is no more and no less than Ayn Rand’s carefully included, specifically plotted, and consciously intended justification for taking a life above and beyond self-defense, a.k.a. MURDER. This, despite her absolute and uncompromising declaration during Galt’s Speech that such an action represents the vilest most nihilistic form of anti-life. The End, Game Over, Full Stop: Ayn Rand is a loathsome, self-contradicting, literally psychopathic bitchmonster BY HER OWN DEFINITION. Proof, from The Speech:
Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive.
To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.
Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no ‘right’ to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.
To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality.
Q. E. Motherfuckin’ D.
“But wait!” you might say, “These people are torturing Galt, so they initiated force first!” But let’s remember that we believe in individual responsibility on this blog, and this guy hasn’t initiated any force himself, doesn’t even know what he’s guarding, and absolutely does not need to die for Dagny to accomplish her mission of ending the use of force against Galt. This is on her. Objection overruled.
“But WAIT!” you might say, “Ayn gives herself an out! She rationalizes this scene in The Speech only two paragraphs after the excerpt you just quoted!” You would be referring to this:
If there are degrees of evil, it is hard to say who is the more contemptible: the brute who assumes the right to force the mind of others or the moral degenerate who grants to others the right to force his mind.
But considering the extremity of Rand’s convictions about good and evil, this is basically like Ayn saying, “It’s never okay to rape somebody… but if she was asking for it, well, that’s on her.” Like, you know, an illegitimate rape.
So actually, that weird equivocation makes perfect sense. Ayn is trying to create a category of “illegitimate” murder! That’s ballsy, Rand, I’ll give you that. Trying to hide your flagrant contradictions in plain sight? As Bill Clinton once said, “It takes some brass to accuse a guy of doing what you did.”
At the end of my commentary on Galt’s speech, in teasing out the implications of the Objectivist worldview, I gave Ayn the credit of not endorsing terrorism. But as my friend Max pointed out in the comments, she TOTALLY DOES! This scene is nothing if it isn’t a rationale for killing innocents in the name of your cause because they’re ignorant of and thereby complicit in the corruption of a society gone mad. There is LITERALLY no point here beyond rationalizing politically-motivated violence through moral absolutism. That “Rand the Father” willed this scene into being exposes as a fraud the gospel preached by “Galt the Son.” I don’t know how many more ways I can restate this. There’s no way of getting around it. It’s unforgivable.
Dagny and the Objectivists (free band name for some prog rockers who are really into ambient mechanical noises) storm into the Project F building and find another guard inside who is apparently too insipid to, you know, guard the place.
In confused awe at the air of authority these intruders carry, the guard asks ‘Who are you? What are you doing here? Why did Rusty let you in?” Francisco says Rusty must have had his reasons. The guard replies, “Well he wasn’t supposed to.”
Francisco replies, “Somebody has changed your suppositions,” which for full effect should be read aloud in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1994 right before he unleashes a hail of subautomatic machine gun rounds on the audience for this amazingly terrible one liner.
But Francisco does NOT unleash a hail of bullets. He shoots the guard in the hand and then Rearden & Ragbeard tie him up, further emphasizing the needless nature of Dagny’s earlier ass-capping.
The gang interrogates the guard about the layout of the structure, how many other stooges are loitering around the place, etc. He says Ferris is gone, but Ferris’ prisoner is still there. The remaining sentries are upstairs in the laboratory playing poker.
It’s Rearden who walks brazenly into the poker game, once again relying on nothing more than charisma and the body language of authority. He insists they hand the prisoner over to him on orders of the President. The chief guard is suspicious but when he picks up the phone he realizes the lines have been cut.
At this he turns on Rearden and draws his gun. Rearden warns him that he’s not alone. The other guards try to cool the chief down. They recognize Rearden and realize that these people are not to be fucked with. But the chief knows only one way to handle this:
The Chief fires on Rearden, hitting him in the shoulder. Francisco, who snuck into the room from the fire exit on the opposite side (the SHITTIEST guards) fires his silenced pistol at The Chief, shattering the man’s hand at the wrist. Seriously, every time Francisco’s ace marksmanship disables a gunman, Dagny’s killing of the first guard becomes more and more apalling and out of line.
Speaking of Dagny, she joins the other two in the room and the slacker guards around the poker table are even more dumbstruck. Understandably so — this is basically the equivalent of being randomly burlged by Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Marissa Mayer.
This team of covert CEO spies instructs the guards to lay down their arms. They don’t know who they’re holding, why, or what they’re fighting for. They’re dupes. The Objectivist team does know what they’re doing, why, and what for, and that alone should be reason enough for the guards to defect.
One of the guards does, and The Chief can’t abide it so he dives for his gun with his other hand and kills the defector in one shot. One of the other guards kills The Chief in retaliation. And then the Dread Pirate Ragbeard enters by smashing through the window from a swinging rope. Like you do.
Actually, hold on. Let me get this straight. After they gained entrance to this building through a door, and after all three of his compatriots surrounded this room through its doors, and after the gunfight that inflicted a wound on one of his allies was already over… then Ragbeard runs around outside the building, rigs up an Indiana Jones rope swing and theatrically flies in through a window? What? What kind of useless bullshit is that? God, Ragbeard, you are the DUMBEST character. The DUMBEST. Idiot!
So they tie up the remaining poker players and then have one of them lead the way to Ferris’ office, where there is a secret stone staircase down to the Project F torture chamber. A secret stone staircase? Looks like the good guys aren’t the only ones with a flair for the needlessly theatrical.
Speaking of which, Francisco asks Rearden if he needs any medical attention for the expanding pool of blood staining his shirt, and Rearden is like “Nah bro, blood off my shoulder.” Because as Nietzsche once said, ubermenschen are bulletproof. Oh no, sorry, I’m thinking of Superman.
Anyway, the guards to the torture room don’t put up nearly as much of a fight. They did, after all, see Ferris and Mouch leave in a panic with a catatonic James Taggart in tow. They’re just itching for an excuse to leave. And so leave they do.
Left with no more obstacles, the team of rescuers rush into the torture chamber and find Galt lying calmly on the rack. Dagny runs over to him, crying, and they embrace. “We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?” Galt asks her, and laughing through her tears she says that no, they did not.
And you know what? As far as narrative closure goes, that pretty accurately sums up how I’ve come to feel about this whole damn book.
NEXT WEEK: The conclusive denouement of Atlas Shrugged, and the thrilling climax of Atlas ‘Clubbed.