Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, Chapter 6

Chapter 6. The Non-commercial

Characters

Hank Rearden

Lillian Rearden

Wesley Mouch

Dr. Pritchett: head of the Department of Philosophy at Patrick Henry University

Balph Eubank: considered the ‘literary leader of the age’

Mort Liddy: composer, Lillian’s friend, part of the elite crowd

Bertram Scudder:editorial writer for The Future

Betty Pope

Claude Slagenhop: President of Friends of Global Progress

Dagny

Francisco

Hugh Akston: Francisco’s professor

Ragnar Danneskjold: Pirate

Philosophy of the Great Minds

Dr. Pritchett

This chapter is the first time we see and hear what the great thinkers and respected men in society think and believe.  These men include Dr. Pritchett, Balph Eubank, and Bertram Scudder.

“The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any… ” Dr. Pritchett believes that there is no significance in life, that it does not matter if he lives and dies.  To Dr. Pritchett, man is just a sum of chemicals.

“Reason, my dear, is the most naive of all superstitions… You suffer from the popular delusion of believing that things can be understood.  You do not grasp the fact that the universe is a solid contradiction… The duty of thinkers is not to explain, but to demonstrate that nothing can be explained… The purpose of philosophy is not to seek knowledge, but to prove that knowledge is impossible to man.”  Dr. Pritchett

Balph Eubank

When asked what the real essence of life is, Eubank responds, “Suffering… Defeat and suffering.”

When asked what there is to live for, he replies, “Brother-love.”

Scudder and Slagenhop

“Property rights are a superstition.  One holds property only by the courtesy of those who do not seize it.  The people can seize it at any moment. If they can, why shouldn’t they.” Scudder

“They should. They need it.  Need is the only consideration.” Slagenhop

What we Learn

Looking at these comments made by what are considered the greatest minds in society, what do we learn?  We learn that man cannot be held accountable for what he does, that he is insignificant and does not matter.  We learn that reason and knowledge do not exist, or at least not to man.  We learn that everything is a contradiction and logic is useless.  We learn that life is nothing but suffering and defeat, and we live for nothing but brother-love.  We learn that property rights do not exist, that the land and property should be seized by the people or the government.  And, we learn that nothing matters but need.  “Need is the only consideration.”  When hiring someone, their ability and competence do matter.  The job does not go to the most capable man, but to the one with the most need. We see what these men think and know that they influence government policies and public opinion.

The Realization of an Ideal

During the party, Jim confronts Francisco about the San Sebastian Mines.  Francisco replies, “I thought you would consider the San Sebastian Mines as the practical realization of an ideal of the highest moral order… I thought you would be gratified to see me acting in accordance with your principles… I thought you would recognize it as an honest effort to practice what the whole world is preaching.  Doesn’t everyone believe that it is evil to be selfish?  I was totally selfless in regard to the San Sebastian project.  Isn’t it evil to pursue a personal interest? I had no personal interest in it whatever. Isn’t it evil to work for profit? I did not work for profit — I took a loss.  Doesn’t everyone agree that the purpose and justification of an industrial enterprise are not production, but the livelihood of its employees? The San Sebastian Mines were the most eminently successful venture in industrial history: they produced no copper, but they provided a livelihood for thousands of men who could not have achieved in a lifetime, the equivalent of what they got for one day’s work, which they could not do.  Isn’t it generally agreed that an owner is a parasite and an exploiter, that it is the employees who do all the work and make the product possible? I did not exploit anyone.  I did not burden the San Sebastian Mines with my useless presence; I left them in the hands of the men who count.  I did not pass judgement on the value of that property.  I turned it over to a mining specialist.  He was not a very good specialist, but he needed the job very badly.  Isn’t it generally conceded that when you hire a man for a job, it is his need that counts, not his ability?  Doesn’t everyone belie that in order to get the goods, all you have to do is need them?  I have carried out every moral precept of our age.  I expected gratitude and a citation of honor.  I do not understand why I am being damned.”

Earlier in the chapter, Philip damned Rearden, saying, “He didn’t dig that ore single-handed, did he?… He had to employ hundreds of workers.  They did it.  Why does he think he’s so good?”  When a business is successful, the success isn’t the businessman’s, but the workers he employs.  When Francisco’s venture fails, he is to blame.  Francisco followed the beliefs of the day — he gave the jobs to those who needed most, without considering ability, he didn’t seek a profit or any self-interest.  He didn’t worry about the business.  The San Sebastian Mines proved that the theories and beliefs will not sustain a people, they will not be profitable or successful.

Forced to be Free

When asked about the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, Pritchett responds, “I am in favor of it, because I am in favor of a free economy.  A free economy cannot exist without competition.  Therefore, men must be forced to compete.  Therefore, we must control me in order to force them to be free.”

This morning, I discovered that Rousseau first said “forced to be free.”  I’ve never taken a philosophy class and found most of the articles discussing Rousseau to be way over my head.  This one wasn’t.  Quoted from it: “By subjection to the general will, the individual becomes free. In those famously sinister words, “whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than he will be forced to be free.” The general will should not be opposed – those who do so are in effect mistaken about their own best interests.”

I’m still not how to connect Rousseau with what Pritchett said.  Check out the article and see what you think (while reading it, please remember that America is a republic, not a democracy).

Betty Pope: The Average Person?

While she may be a wealthy socialite, Betty Pope represents the average person.  She says, “I don’t see why there’s so much fuss about that Equalization of Opportunity Bill. I don’t see why businessmen object to it.  It’s to their own advantage. If everybody else is poor, they won’t have any market for their goods.  But if they stop being selfish and share the goods they’ve hoarded — they’ll have a chance to work hard and produce some more.”   Betty is thinking about the Bill, but doesn’t grasp the consequences of it.  She also believes, “we don’t know anybody who owns more than one business.”  Just a page later, Betty realizes that Hank owns more than one business.

Betty Pope understands what the Bill does, but doesn’t clearly understand how it will impact the businessmen or anyone else.  She cannot connect the philosophy of the Bill to real life.  She hears what the great minds say and believes what they believe.

I Want to Understand You: Hank and Francisco Meet

This is one of the most important (and possible confusing) part of the chapter.  When Francisco introduces himself, he does so with “a tone of authentic respect.”  Francisco tells Rearden that he wants “to understand you.”  Francisco wants Rearden to admit to everyone that he works for himself, he wants Rearden to stop carrying and supporting all of the people who mooch off of him.

Rearden: There is only one form of human depravity — the man without a purpose.

Francisco: That is true.

Rearden: I can forgive all others, they’re not vicious, they’re merely helpless.  But you — you’re the kind who can’t be forgiven.

Francisco: It is against the sin of forgiveness that I wanted to warn you.

When Francisco parts, Rearden asks, “What did you want to learn to understand about me?”  Francisco tells him that he has learned it.

A Chain and a Bracelet

When Dagny arrives at the party, she is wearing a “diamond band on the wrist of her naked arm” that “gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.”

Dagny hears Lillian say, “Why, no, it’s not from a hardware store, it’s a very special gift from my husband.  Oh, yes, of course it’s hideous.  But don’t you see? It’s supposed to be priceless.  Of course, I’d exchange it for a common diamond bracelet any time, but somehow nobody will offer me one for it, even though it is so very, very valuable.  Why?  My dear, it’s the first thing ever made of Rearden Metal.”  Dagny removes her diamond bracelet and offers it in exchange.  Lillian trades the Rearden Metal bracelet for Dagny’s diamond band.

Dagny “liked the feel of the weight against her skin.  Inexplicably, she felt a touch of feminine vanity, the kind she had never experienced before: the desire to be seen wearing this particular ornament.”

To Lillian, the Rearden Metal Bracelet is a sign of greed and materialism and it chains her to her husband.  To Dagny, the diamond bracelet is a sign of materialism and becomes a chain (to what? society?).  Dagny loves the bracelet of Rearden Metal.  To her, it symbolizes everything Hank wanted it to — human ingenuity, production, ability, progress, prosperity, innovation, and hard work.

Legend of John Galt

This is the first time we hear a story about who John Galt is.  A woman tells the story that John Galt discovered the lost city of Atlantis.  Dagny does not believe it.  Francisco tells her that “The joke is on that fool woman.  She doesn’t know that she was telling you the truth.”

Ragnar

Ragnar is a pirate who seizes relief ships sent to other countries, such as the People’s State of France. The combined navies of the world cannot stop him.

Philosophy of the Great Minds

The following three quotes are from unnamed people at the party, the first two are repeating what they read/heard.  This shows us the influence the great minds have on society and the individual.

“I read an article.  It said that the times of trouble are good for us.  It is good that people are growing poorer.  To accept privations is a moral virtue.”

“We must not worry.  I heard a speech that said it is useless to worry or blame anyone.  Nobody can help what he does, that is the way things made him.  There is nothing we can do about anything.  We must learn to bear it.”

“What’s the use anyway? What is man’s fate?  Hasn’t it always been to hope, but never to achieve?  The wise man is the one who does not attempt to hope.”

Possible Discussion Questions/Journal Entries/Things to Think About

Wow.  This is a long chapter that raises a lot of questions.  Most of these questions cannot be answered — you can only speculate and guess.

1. What is the philosophy of some of the great minds?  How does it influence society and what are the consequences of that type of thinking?

2.  Do you think that Dr. Pritchett and Rousseau are connected? Why (not)?

3. What do you think about what Francisco tells Jim about the mines?

4. Do you believe that Betty Pope represents the average person?  What is her role in this chapter?

5. Reread the conversation between Francisco and Rearden.  What do you think Francisco wanted to understand?

6. If you discussed the bracelet in previous chapters, reevaluate the discussion and add to it.  How has the bracelet changed and what does it mean to each person?

7. What do you think of the John Galt story?  What about what Francisco tells Dagny about it?

8. What about Ragnar?  Why does he rob the relief ships?  What does he do with the goods he seizes?