Atlas Shrugged

by: Ayn Rand

Part Two, Chapters I–II

Summary Part Two, Chapters I–II

Analysis: Part Two, Chapters I–II

Dr. Stadler sees science as the abstract realm of pure thought, but for Dagny, science serves the practical needs of life. Humans are fundamentally irrational in Stadler’s thinking, so any application of science to human life is equally irrational. In response to the motor, he wonders why any mind so purely brilliant could be interested in the mundane, practical application of his discoveries. Dagny, on the other hand, assumes that the inventor created a practical tool because he liked life and “belonged on Earth.” The inventor, like Dagny, understood the role of thought in man’s happiness on Earth. He did not believe in the separation of thought and action or mind and body, but believed in their integration. This integration is a critical feature of Rand’s philosophy, which holds that rational thought cannot be separated from the things it creates or the world it powers.

The Wet Nurse embodies the collectivist world in which he was trained. Although he has a degree in metallurgy, he has no practical skills. He merely repeats things he has been told and uses words cleverly so as not to say anything clearly. He is taken aback by Rearden’s insistence on calling things exactly what they are. His job is to determine Rearden’s output so that it is in compliance with the laws. But without the laws, there would be no need for his job in the first place. Rand, a strong proponent of unfettered capitalism, uses him to demonstrate the absurd ways in which bureaucracy fuels its own growth and the waste and foolishness required to keep an artificial system running. In a capitalist system, Rearden would be free to produce as much steel as his customers require, and they would be free to buy it or to go elsewhere if he could not give them what they wanted. For Rand, the simplicity of free markets stands in obvious contrast to the complex bureaucratic structures seen here.

Jim’s wedding offers more insight into the back-door intrigue that runs the looters’ world. Everyone at the party falls into one of two categories: those who have come as a favor to Jim and those who have come in fear of his hostility. The first group consists mostly of Washington men, the second mostly of businessmen. The sum of the two groups is an estimation of Jim’s power. Their complicated web of influence is based solely on each man’s connection to the ultimate power in the decaying nation: physical force. Though everyone knows this, no one is willing to admit it. The bare, ugly truth of their power hides behind a mask of words and euphemisms. Francisco reveals the fragility of this illusion when he asks if any of them realize that to destroy their entire complex structure, it would only take someone naming the exact nature of what they are doing. This line offers a useful piece of foreshadowing.

Francisco’s “money speech” lays out some critical elements of Rand’s philosophy. In it, he puts forth the idea that rather than being the root of evil, money is the manifestation of creativity and good. Money is exchanged for and represents the products and services created by man. Creative production makes survival and prosperity possible and is therefore the highest good. If a man’s ability to be productive is represented by his ability to make money, then money is a moral tool and an indicator of the value of man. Another key element of Rand’s philosophy demonstrated here is the necessity of accepting and stating what is real. For Rand, as for Francisco, the only evil is the refusal to think. The looters’ success depends on their victims refusing to see or confront what is happening. But the heroes—Dagny, Rearden, and Francisco—will not go along. They insist on clarity and straight speaking, which rattles the looters, who are themselves in denial.

Finally, the altercation between Dagny and Lillian marks a growing change in Rearden. He has already begun to understand that he cannot be victimized without giving his sanction to his victimizers. When he tells the representative from the State Science Institute that he will not pretend to be a willing seller but will force them act as the thieves they really are, he understands his own power in his business affairs. When Dagny refuses to go along with Lillian’s vague accusations but forces her to be specific, Rearden sees that Lillian also requires the sanction of her victim. He stands by Dagny now, just as he stood by Lillian previously. He has begun, slowly, to integrate his public and private selves and understand his power. Meanwhile, Francisco continues to counsel him and arm him with moral clarity.