Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter 6: Miracle Metal


Chapter VI:  Miracle Metal

A gathering of Satan’s minions, or the House subcommittee  on Agriculture? You be the judge!

Summary: Chapter Six opens on a Witch’s Sabbath in Washington.  The high priest of looterdom himself, “Head of State” Mr. Thompson presides over a collection of public and private criminals as they plot the final government takeover of the economy.  There’s Orren Boyle and Jim Taggart and Wesley Mouch and union kingpin Fred Kinnan and the chief propagandist of socialism, Dr. Ferris.  They’ve gathered to prepare for the declaration of Directive Number 10-289.  This set of laws will make it illegal for people to quit or be fired from their jobs, or for companies to go out of business.  All patents will be turned over to the government and all future inventions will be banned (?).  Both manufacturing production and consumer purchasing will be fixed by a “Unification Board.”  Dr. Ferris and James Taggart try to justify the new laws on philosophical and political grounds.  It’s left to the comically vernacular language of the gangster Kinnan to lay out the reality of the situation.  “I know that I’m delivering the poor bastards into slavery, and that’s all there is to it.  And they know it too.  But they know that I’ll have to throw them a crumb once in a while, if I want to keep my racket.”  He’s a tough guy, see?

Jimmy Hoffa ain’t got nuttin’ on Fred Kinnan

Dagny is hard at work at Taggart Transcontinental, rerouting trains and cannibalizing old lines to temporarily fix new ones, when the news comes over the transom about Directive Number 10-289.  She promptly quits and escapes to the Taggart family cabin in the Berkshires.

At the Rearden foundry, all the competent engineers have fled, leaving Hank increasingly alone and beset by government vampires intent on expropriating Rearden Metal.  Dr. Ferris shows up to blackmail Hank’s patent from him: proof of his affair with Dagny, provided by James Taggart, who got it from Lillian Rearden.  Sitting across from Ferris, Hank has an epiphany.  He has treated his affair with Dagny as a sordid, dirty failing instead of the radiant celebration of life it was.  As a result, Hank refuses to punish Dagny by allowing their affair to become public.  He signs over control of Rearden Metal, the product of ten years of arduous work, to the government by way of penance.

Reflections: After spending 500 pages depicting the government as a shadowy cabal of corrupt, power-drunk moochers with vague to opaque motivations, Rand finally puts the puppeteers of the vampire state front and center.  The reader gets to marinate in the hellbroth of cynicism, greed, arrogance and, above all, jealousy that drives the looters.  There’s an interesting tension in the Washington meeting scene between the professed views of the political elite and their true motivations.  Union boss and laughable attempt to represent working class argot Fred Kinnan is completely cynical: he recognizes the essential injustice of the current order but figures that he’s got a better chance to improve his own position and, to a lesser extent, the position of his union brothers, by pissing outside the tent.  Dr. Ferris clearly relishes his role as intellectual architect of the governing ethos, but there’s a degree of sophistry in his bloviating: he embraces radical relativism because it allows him to argue anything. Crooked industrialists like James Taggart are driven by an opportunistic desire to cash in on croney capitalism and a burning jealousy of brilliant producers like his sister and Hank Rearden.  The upshot is that none of the rulers of the new order truly believe that they are bringing happiness or justice to the people of the land.

It’s a good thing for Michael Savage that Ayn Rand didn’t go with her original title.

Once again, Rand refuses to credit her intellectual opponents with good faith.  The truth of Objectivism is so self-evident, so goddamn objective, that the only reason anyone would deny it is their own deformed moral sense. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional view of politics in liberal democracy,  where ideological conflicts are seen as powered by a conflict between interest gropus.  In the Randian universe, there are no interest group conflicts: all humanity should rightly defer to the meritocracy and find their place in a free labor marketplace.  “Interest groups” are the product of market distortions created by the government and the demagoguery of venal opportunists.  This view is strongly reminiscent of the holistic view of politics found in fascism.  It’s enough to make you tremble for the fate of any mediocre individual who tastes the fruit of Randian utopia and finds it bitter.

Would Rand have been cool with the Nazis if Hitler had been a better painter?

Quotes:

“Mr. Thompson, the Head of State, was a man who possessed the quality of never being noticed.”  This sentence has never applied to a single American president…except maybe Gerald Ford.

“There’s been enough invented already–enough for everybody’s comfort–why should they be allowed to go on inventing?  Why should we permit them to blast the ground from under our feet every few steps?  Why should we be kept on the go in eternal uncertainty?  Just because of a few restless, ambitious adventurers?  Should we sacrifice the contentment of of the whole of mankind to the greed of a few non-conformists?” –James Taggart.  When Rand DOES go to the trouble of articulating an opposing thought, she doesn’t bother with providing even a patina of coherence.  Yes, yes, Ayn, anyone who disagrees with you is, by definition, irrational and/or idiotic. I bet they smell bad, too.

“There’s my resignation, Jim. I won’t work as a slave or a slave-driver.” –Dagny Taggart.

“But I damned my body’s capacity to express what I felt, I damned, as an affront to her, the highest tribute I could give her just as they damn my ability to translate the work of my mind into Rearden Metal, just as they damn me for the power to transform matter to serve my needs.” –the internal monologue of Hank Rearden.  Gotta love a unified field theory.

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  1. Walter Foddis
    September 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    You wrote:

    In the Randian universe, there are no interest group conflicts: all humanity should rightly defer to the meritocracy and find their place in a free labor marketplace. ”Interest groups” are the product of market distortions created by the government and the demagoguery of venal opportunists. This view is strongly reminiscent of the holistic view of politics found in fascism. It’s enough to make you tremble for the fate of any mediocre individual who tastes the fruit of Randian utopia and finds it bitter.”

    What do you mean by “defer to the meritocracy”? Also, why must someone “tremble” for the “mediocre individual” (if you can define this, I would appreciate it) in a “Randian “utopia”? Actually, what do you view as a Randian utopia? I presume you mean a libertarian society with a limited government. Why should individuals–regardless of their talent or ability–be afraid of a society in which the individual rights of person and property are its cornerstones?

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