Atlas Blogged #17: Threepwood the Libertarian

September 6, 2010

Part 17 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 17: The Moratorium on Brains

Rearden is going through a teenage existential crisis; the sort of thing one experiences when one is 18 and does something bad for the first time. He’s attempting to rebuild himself because of his mistake in accepting an alternate moral code that went against the moral code he actually believes. He walks alone at night a lot, thinking ‘deep’ thoughts. If I was, say, fifteen, I’d probably be identifying with Rearden right now. As it is, I’m more likely to identify with Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Rearden. A vampire-fighting class clown is significantly more believable than a middle-aged industrialist having a pretend moral crisis.

But anyway. On this particular angsty evening, Rearden encounters a tall blond Nordic chap, who turns out to be Ragnar Danneskjöld, the international pirate. Ragnar is embarked on a scheme to – get this – repay the income tax of industrial titans by raiding aid ships destined for communist countries. He gives Rearden a downpayment of a gold bar, along with a quick rehash of Rand’s gold standard fetishism.

Rand clearly thinks that it’s entirely logical for a substitute police force to arise when state-backed force is being used for ends she doesn’t approve of. It actually reveals something subtle about her philosophy: Ragnar does not seek the consent of those he polices on behalf of, and does so on the self-interested basis that rebuilding civilisation will require competent men such as Rearden to be in possession of significant capital. The message here is that the Government does not require your consent to act unless it is engaging with exchange with you, which is the only legitimate form of engagement in AtlasWorld. You can be policed without your consent as long as you obey the law; democracy doesn’t need to get a look-in. All that’s required is for someone to want to do it. This is an interesting indication of Rand’s dislike of democracy, which is alluded to again later on in the chapter.

The rest of the chapter is a harrowing indictment of what happens when you put a whole bunch of people who refuse to take responsibility in charge of anything; think New Labour. The end result is that a coal-fired locomotive is sent into an unventilated tunnel in the full knowledge of everyone involved, but with none of them willing to take responsibility for not doing so on account of an indignant dignitary on the train. Of course, everyone chokes to death on the fumes, and then a following train carrying explosives crashes into its rear and blows up.

Even though this is a great tragedy caused by even greater incompetence, Rand can’t resist having a dig at the classes of folk she judges to be responsible (collectively?) for the decay of civilisation in Atlas Shrugged. One of them is worth picking out:

“The woman in Roomette 9, Car No. 12, was a housewife who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing, to control giant industries, of which she had no knowledge.”

As I mentioned earlier on, Rand really doesn’t like democracy. And, as I mentioned last time, this means that she has more in common with Plato than she could bear to accept.


One of the amusing things about Ragnar’s little speech is his indictment of Robin Hood as history’s greatest villain, for making a virtue out of robbing the rich to give to the poor. He blames him for mankind’s current ills. This ignores two things: firstly, that Robin Hood robbed the unproductive rich to give to the productive poor, and secondly that the real Randian ‘villain’ is Jesus. You know, that chap who turfed the money lenders out of the temple, claimed it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to get into the kingdom of heaven, and specifically said in Matthew 19:21

“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Sounds like we have the source of our Randian evil right there! I wonder why she didn’t mention it. Can’t be anything to do with her audience being massively religious, of course.

Part 18 is here.


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