Atlas Shrugged (Section 2, Chapter 6)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedHappy Valentine’s Day, ya’ll! Here’s some more Atlas Shrugged for you.

In previous chapters, Rand dismissively called characters “college boys,” which I had figured was her shorthand for young adults who were long on theory and short on practice. This chapter, however, really brings out all the anti-intellectualism in force with quotes like:

“Walter Mouch came from a family that had known neither poverty nor wealth nor distinction for many generations; it had clung, however, to a tradition of its own: that of being college-bread and, therefore, despising men who were in business.”

and, “I know what I’m talking about. That’s because I never went to college.”

So, the intellectuals (and one ‘working joe’—head of the unions—to play devil’s advocate) meet to decide how to fix the economy and they establish an eight-point plan, which I normally wouldn’t enumerate, but it is so ridiculous that I have to share it:

  1. All workers are now confined to their current jobs and cannot quit or be fired.
  2. All companies must stay in business and cannot close or be sold.
  3. All patents and copyrights must be handed over to the government to dispense across the board.
  4. Nothing new can be researched or invented.
  5. All businesses must make exactly the same amount of product as they made in the previous year.
  6. Every individual must spend the same amount of money as they did in the previous year.
  7. All wages must also be frozen to what they were in the previous year.
  8. All issues pertaining to these points will be settled by the newly established Unification Board.

It reminds me a bit of Catch-22, but that novel did a better job of tying the satire to reality. This is just totally bizarre.

Upon hearing the new policy, Dagny Taggert promptly quits and retires to an old and little-used family hunting cabin. Hank Rearden is approached by one of the board members to turn over his patent for Rearden Metal. He is threatened that if he does not, they will publicize his affair with Dagny, revealed to the board by Lillian for exactly this purpose.

Hank then enters a sort of fugue state that is very tiresome to read about, where he remembers the first time he ever saw Dagny, overseeing one of her construction sites, and how he wanted to have sex with her right then and there. He had felt so ashamed of those feelings until Dagny taught him the true virtue of personal gratification, and his reflections come very close to Victorian Era abstract thinking, ‘ministering angel’ and all that.

Hank decides that while he doesn’t care who knows of his affair, he cannot expose Dagny to the sheer torture that her life would become if people thought she was no better than she should be.  He signs over his patent, and I am very disappointed in him. If he truly believes his epiphany that guilt cannot be used against someone who feels no guilt, and if he truly respects Dagny as an equal (he doesn’t), then he would have known that she was more than capable of facing the scandal. (Rebecca and I have a bet going on whether Dagny will be mad at him; I’m betting she will at most have a token statement of anger before making violent love.)

Next is Chapter 7, which I’m actually looking forward to, because it has the best name ever: THE MORATORIUM ON BRAINS!

—Anna

2 comments on “Atlas Shrugged (Section 2, Chapter 6)

  1. Rebecca says:

    I WANT TO CUT REARDEN LIKE A BITCH!!!! The sheer lack of respect that he displays by knowingly going against Dagny’s principals in order to “protect” her from a mass of people who he has already decided don’t matter and that she has no contact with is the worst kind of “chivalry.” He thinks preserving a false image of her in the public eye is more important than following the business guidelines that she has sacrificed so much for. If he wanted to do something nice for her, he would have done what she wanted. But no. I will scream. And if Dagny doesn’t gut him, I will find a way into that book and gut him myself!

    Also, that whole bit about how the patents have to be “voluntarily” signed over is such a ludicrous and stupid plot point. Mouch says: “We don’t actually have the legal power to seize the patents.” But intellectual property is not a natural right. Congress has the right to give industrialists patents, but it can choose to refrain from allowing patents or copyright and thus the intellectual property would immediately enter the public domain. It is written into the bloody U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 8. In real life.

    I realize it’s important to the plot that the government need something such that they have to blackmail Rearden into doing it, but this way is just stupid. She could have just made it a more focused attack on Rearden metal specifically, in which case they didn’t want to nationalize all patents, just Rearden’s. That might have required some blackmail.

    • Anna says:

      That was the first passage of the book in which I felt some semblance of invested dread; as soon as they pulled out the Dagny angle on Hank, I just knew he was going to sign over the patent, and it is so blatantly the wrong decision that it negates any sort of stand he took against the government. Truly thinking it over, I don’t see any way that public knowledge of the affair could have hurt or even inconvenienced Dagny in any way (just about every single scene with Dagny emphasizes how little she cares about the opinions of anyone around her).

      Also, the tables have turned! You didn’t find the anti-socialism rhetoric as difficult to swallow as I did, but now we are on to intellectual property and your time has come!

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