He had to live
“He had to live, didn’t he? He was no worse than anybody, only smarter. Some get caught at it and some don’t — that’s the only difference…. That’s the only way anybody ever gets rich in this world”– he glanced at the [Rearden’s] black car — “as you ought to know.” …. “What I can’t stand,” said Mayor Bascom, “is people who talk about principles. No principle ever filled anybody’s milk bottle. The only thing that counts in life is solid, material assets….”
Mayor Bascom (and many other people in the novel and today’s world) believe that principles do not matter, that all money is ill-gotten, that all rich men are dirty… This idea makes the everyday person more comfortable in their sins. If the rich man down the street got their through evil means, then it’s okay to be evil. Maybe one day you will be a rich man.
“Then no rightful cause was left, and the pain of anger was turning into the shameful pain of submission. He had no right to condemn anyone — he thought — to denounce anything, to fight and die joyously, claiming the sanction of virtue. The broken promises, the unconfessed desires, the betrayal, the deceit, the lies, the fraud — he was guilty of them all. What form of corruption could he scorn? Degrees do not matter, he thought; one does not bargain about inches of evil…”
Since Hank has been seeing Dagny, he has felt ashamed. Not only that, but he feels he can no longer look at Lillian’s faults. Who is he to cast the first stone? He can no longer claim virtue and it eats him alive.
“The rewards I got were not of a kind that people of your class, Miss Taggart, would appreciate. The who used to sit in front of my desk, at the bank, did not sit as you do, Miss Taggart. They were humble, uncertain, worn with care, afraid to speak. My rewards were the tears of gratitude in their eyes, the trembling voices, the blessings, the woman who kissed my hand when I granted her a loan she had begged for in vain everywhere else.” Eugene Lawson
Earlier, Mayor Bascom said “See that woman, for instance? They used to be solid, respectable folks. Her husband owned the dry-goods store. He worked all his life to provide for her in her old age, and he did, too, by the time he died — only the money was in the Community National Bank.”
Lawson, ‘the banker with a heart,’ lent too much money and the bunk went bust. When it did, the people lost everything they had. Lawson brags about the people he helped. What about the people he ruined?
Birthright and Entitlement
In the chapter 5 post, I discuss the d’Anconcia way — that you are not born one, but expected to become one. This contrasts to Lee Hunsacker’s belief: “We were going to do just as well as they did. Better. We were just as important. Who the hell was Jed Starnes anyway? Nothing but a backwoods garage mechanic — did you know that that’s how he started? — without any background at all. My family once belonged to the New York Four Hundred. My grandfather was a member of the national legislature…. Nobody wanted the place, nobody would bid on it. But there it was, this great factory, with all the equipment, all the machinery, all the things that had made millions for Jed Starnes. That was the kind of setup I wanted, the kind of opportunity I was entitled to.”
Hunsacker believes that his family name entitles him to these things. And, that Starnes — a lowly mechanic — didn’t deserve his factory. Hunsacker believes in the birthright, he shouldn’t have to work for anything, he shouldn’t have to earn it. He’s entitled to it. Somebody else, like Starnes, has the tenacity to build his life, while Hunsacker sits on his behind and claims entitlement.
Hunsacker later says, “We had started right in manufacturing the particular type of motor that had been his [Starnes] biggest moneymaker for years. And then some newcomer nobody ever heard of opened a two-bit factory down in Colorado, by the name of Nielson Motors, nad put out a new motor of the same class as the Starnes model, at half the price! We couldn’t help that, could we? It was all right for Jed Starnes, no destructive competitor happened to come up in his time, but what were we to do? How could we fight this Nielson, when nobody had given us a motor to compete with his.”
The motor that could set the world on fire was sitting in the factory’s research department. But nothing in life is to be given, it’s to be earned through blood, sweat, and tears.
Ivy Starnes summed up their idea for the factory: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need… Rewards were based on need, and the penalties of ability.”
More than hoped
On her quest for the maker of the motor, Dagny runs into Hugh Akston, the old philosopher and professor of Francisco, Danneskjold, and another unnamed student. Dagny asks him who the third student was, and he says, “His name would mean nothing to you. He is not famous.”
She then asks him if he is “proud of the way these three have turned out.” He replies, “More proud than I had ever hoped to be.”
“Ellis Wyatt, stripped of the right of self-defense, left without voice, without weapons, and worse: made to be the tool of his own destruction, the supporter of his destroyers, the provider of their food and of their weapons — Ellis Wyatt being choked, with his own bright energy turned against him as the noose — Ellis Wyatt, who had wanted to tap an unlimited source of shale oil and who spoke of a second Renaissance…”
Dagny thinks Ellis is about to disappear and rushes to Colorado.
“In a break between mountains, lighting the sky, throwing a glow that swayed on the roofs and walls of the station, the hill of Wyatt Oil was a solid sheet of flame… Later, when they told her Ellis Wyatt had vanished, leaving nothing behind but a board he had nailed to a post of the foot of a hill, when she looked at his handwriting on the board, she felt as if she had almost known that these would be the words: ‘I am leaving it as I found it. Take it. It’s yours.'”
Dagny is horrified to see the flames… Ellis is the first man to make a statement before vanishing. All the other people vanished silently.
Discussion Questions/Journal Entries
1. Think about Mayor Bascom’s words. What do they mean? Can you think of any rich people who earned their money an honest way? Can you think of any rich people who got their money by wrong-doing?
2. Reread Eugene Lawson’s words and think about his philosophy. He lends money to those who won’t be able to pay it back because they deserve it. Is this philosophy seen today? Could it be part of why the economy crashed?
3. Akston states that he more proud of his three students than he’d ever hoped to be. Look at what the two students believe and do and at what Akston believes. How could he be proud of them?