Atlas Blogged #19: A Theocracy of Talent

September 9, 2010

Part 19 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 19: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt

Another filler chapter, the main point of which appears to be that Rearden discovers that d’Anconia used to be Dagny’s lover and gets angry about it, even though it was, like, twelve years ago dude, and you’re still married to someone else. Rearden was still mad at d’Anconia in any case, as he feels d’Anconia betrayed him by allowing a shipment of copper he purchased from him to be sunk by pirates, even though d’Anconia specifically told him not to deal with his company as he was running it into the ground.

This chapter reminds us once again that Rearden has the emotional maturity of a fourteen-year-old.

The remainder of the chapter sees Dagny rushing to Colorado to talk to the scientist she employed to work on the static energy motor, in order to stop the ‘destroyer’ convincing him to jack it in. This could’ve happened a hundred pages ago, but it’s not really important, as this chapter serves to demonstrate something about Rand’s philosophy that’s been tickling at the back of my mind for ages.

Consider the following paragraphs, firstly an internal monologue from Dagny:

‘You – she thought – whoever you are, whom I have always loved and never found, you whom I expected to see at the end of the rails beyond the horizon, you whose presence I had always felt in the streets of the city and whose world I had wanted to build, it is my love for you that had kept me moving, my love and my hope to reach you and my wish to be worthy of you on the day when I would stand before you face to face. Now I know that I shall never find you-that it is not to be reached or lived-but what is left of my life is still yours, and I will go on in your name, even though it is a name I’ll never learn, I will go on serving you, even though I’m never to win, I will go on, to be worth of you on the day when I would have met you, even though I won’t…’

Now an argument between Dagny and d’Anconia:

“Franciso! … You do understand it, you know what I mean by that kind of man, you see him, too!”

“Oh yes,” he said simply, casually, looking at some point in space within the room, almost as if he were seeing a real person. He added, “Why should you be astonished? You said that we were of his kind once, you and I. We still are. But one of us has betrayed him.”

“You know, Dagny, we were taught that some things belong to God and others to Caesar. Perhaps their God would permit it. But the man you say we’re serving – he does not permit it.”

“There’s to be a second renaissance in the world. I’ll wait for it.”

Anyone who’s even cursorily studied Plato will be clapping their hands at this point. Both Dagny and d’Anconia are paying obeisance to no single man, but rather the Form of the Man of Talent. They worship not the iteration of the form in mankind, but rather the idealisation of it in itself, beyond the world of men. Similarly, anyone familiar with the works of Jesus Christ and his fans will recognise the unmistakeably biblical undertones in the quotes above – a second renaissance after a final conflict between good and evil? A man who takes the place of God as an object of worship?

This explains the bizarre characters of AtlasWorld – the titans, looters and moochers are so divided because they’re iterations of the Forms of Talent, Looting and Mooching; unlike in the real world where such qualities are all present in every person, in AtlasWorld people are divided by their adherence to Forms. It explains Rand’s antipathy towards Kant: Randian ethics are based on something out there in the world (or beyond it in the case of the Forms), which Kant demonstrates is unknowable in itself. Kant’s philosophy gives man the capability of determining what is moral without reference to anything external, based purely upon the way in which he encounters the world. Rand relies upon an external notion of morality, based on a concept of talent that lies out in the world and is iterated in man. It is worshipped by the titans of Atlas Shrugged and personified in the messiah-like figure of Dagny’s ‘destroyer’, whom we’ll meet shortly.

For this reason, my earlier description of Rand’s ideal society as an aristocracy of talent was incorrect. Rather, it is a theocracy of talent – a society in which talent is worshipped and before which all men must prostrate themselves. Like Plato’s Guardians, the rulers of Rand’s utopia are those who approach closest to the Form of Talent. It is therefore Rand who is the heir of Plato – not Kant. Rand has confused a rationalist theory of knowledge with rationality itself; distorted reason in the name of her false God.

For a man to be free, judgement of his actions must come from within himself and not pay service to an external standard, for the only judge of standards is man, and interpretation of standards will always lie in the hands of other men. Rand’s philosophy aims to deliver mankind into religious bondage to the rich, who are the arbiters of the market and hence the arbiters of talent. Liberalism has nothing to do with a society dominated by the high priests of commerce.

I do not know how far this Platonic disease infects other forms of libertarianism, but I would suspect many. It is, however, clear that Rand is the enemy of true liberty, and that her followers aim to set up a society in which the most fundamental liberty of all – the right of a man to make his own moral judgements – is to be suppressed in the name of the God of Talent.

Part 20 is here.

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2 Responses to “Atlas Blogged #19: A Theocracy of Talent”

  1. Ron Beadle said

    Well spotted,

    Rand’s elitism creates problems for her moral philosophy and particularly for her evaluation of moral worth. I wrote a paper in ‘The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies’ on this a few years back. If you’re interested – and once you’ve finished the book – drop me an e-mail and I’ll send you a copy.

    Dr Ron Beadle (Lib Dem Councillor for Low Fell, Gateshead)

    • declineofthelogos said

      Many thanks Ron – I’d be very interested to read it. Hopefully the remaining third of the book won’t take me too long!

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