Atlas Shrugged: Part One: Chapter Six: The Non-Commercial

Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial

Poor, henpecked Hank Rearden is being forced to attend his own wedding anniversary party by his awful wife, even though he’s got a bunch of metallic problems to deal with and a recently proposed “Equalization of Opportunity” bill, which would ban any person from owning more than one business, to worry about.  But Hank is so devoted to pretending to give a toss about his wife and her pathetic life that he slaps on a tuxedo and a grimace and goes out to glad hand with her friends.  And of course, these people are a singularly vile bunch of pompous, life-hating weasels, all of them dripping with scorn for Hank’s business prowess and the very notion of success, achievement or basic human decency.  These characters, like the “philosopher” Dr. Pritchett, the literary mountebank Balph (seriously?) Eubank, and the anti-corporate muckracker Bertram Scudder, are walking mouthpieces for every modern philosophical and literary idea that Rand hates.  Well, they’re mouthpieces for a comically distorted versions of said ideas, anyway.   After running this gauntlet of looters, Hank finally meets Francisco d’Aconia, whom he despises for his playboy fecklessness.  Francisco offers some cryptic evidence that his image may be hiding something deeper. He also seems to be assessing Hank’s character and worldview.  Dagny is also at the party, hoping to spend a little quality time bantering with her crush, but Hank is having none of it.  Mrs. Rearden makes a big show of denigrating the Rearden Metal chain Hank has made for her and claims that she would gladly sell it if anyone on earth would want to buy it.  This gets under Dagny’s skin and she trades her diamond bracelet for the Rearden Metal one.  Hank is not pleased.

After the party, Hank spends a few awkward moments in his wife’s bedroom (they sleep in separate rooms) and reflects on his horrible marriage.  He doesn’t know why she married him, given her clear hatred for him, but he does know why he married her: his base, animal need for sex.  Hank has some hang-ups in the bedroom, it seems, and feels like a slave to immoral pleasures of the flesh.  At the same time, “(h)is hatred of his own desire had made him accept the doctrine that women were pure and that a pure woman was one incapable of physical pleasure.”  Yikes.


Chapter Six is basically just a bonfire of straw men.  There’s a bit of plot advancement, what with the introduction of this ominous “Equalization of Opportunity” bill as well as some information about the dread pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, who has been terrorizing the People’s States of Europe.

Ragnar the Pirate, Scourge of the Looters

The main purpose, though, is to give voice and body to all the evil, corrupt intellectual and literary ideologies that have paved the road to serfdom.  As usual, Rand stacks the deck by putting the words of her enemies in the mouth of a collection of lumpy, preening jerkwads, foremost among them the absurdly named Balph Eubank.  At the Rearden’s anniversary party, Eubank endorses the idea of a literary equivalent of the proposed “Equalization of Opportunity” bill, by which authors would be banned from selling more than ten thousand copies of a given book.  He also thinks that the only thing to live for is ‘brother-love.’  It’s difficult to take this chapter seriously as a critique of post-modernism since Rand’s contempt shapes her characterization of these views.  Rand’s Manichean worldview prevents her from even trying to credit her opponents with good faith.  These villains deny the reality of “morality,” but at the same time demand the expropriation of the rich for the good of the poor.  Using what rationale?  None is offered, because Rand doesn’t think such views deserve the kind of scrutiny that would put such views in a meaningful context.  But for the record, we should definitely NOT limit the number of books an author could sell.  Although John Grisham should probably give it a rest already.

From the Devil’s Own Mouth:

“The literature of the past was a shallow fraud.  It whitewashed life in order to please the money tycoons whom it served.  Morality, free will, achievement, happy endings, and man as some sort of heroic being–all that stuff is laughable to us.” –Balph Eubank.  Okay, SOME of that stuff was probably considered passe by the literary lights of the post-war era, but “morality” and a term as nebulous and loaded as “achievement?” Only if your name is Balph.

“Hunger won’t wait.  Ideas are just hot air.  An empty belly is a solid fact.  I’ve said in all my speeches that it’s not necessary to talk too much.  Society is suffering from lack of business opportunities at the moment, so we’ve got the right to seize such opportunities as exist.  Right is what’s good for society.”  –Claude Slagenhop, president of Friends for Global Progress.

Slagenhop? Balph?  This raises a question: who wins in the ridiculous-character-name-off, Rand or Thomas Pynchon?

“Plot is a primitive vulgarity in literature.” –Balph Eubank

“Just as logic is a primitive vulgarity in philosophy.” –Dr. Pritchett

“Just as melody is a primitive vulgarity in music.” — Mort Liddy

Lines like these don’t serve to establish an opposing ethos, they just tell the reader what constitutes a virtue in the Rand-iverse.  These moral and intellectual charlatans hate plot, logic and melody; you know what side Rand (and Objective reality) is on.

  1. July 12, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I found this chapter bizarre because it was both one of the most annoying, but also the one where I started to finally think I understand why some people love this book: people who are of a personality type who concentrate on GETTING THINGS DONE rather than social niceties probably really strongly relate to the characters of Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart. That really shines through here. If you grow up more concerned with things than people (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many a successful scientist, engineer, etc. is of that personality type, and they’re often really great people inside), the whole motif of “I’m sick of everybody laying their EXPECTATIONS on me when I have INTERESTING THINGS TO DO” is probably very, very appealing. Especially if you’re a precocious, intelligent youngster who likes exploring ideas rather than the petty political intrigues and gossip that fill up so many people’s daily lives.

    The problem is that Ayn Rand generalizes so much that it becomes almost a mockery of that: action-oriented, idea-oriented people are often frustrated by other people’s social expectations, but her philosophy takes that to an almost psychotic level.

  1. July 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm

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