A Must-Read Book for Fans of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand and the Objectivist Philosophy
Everyone has heard dark whispers about the philosophy of Objectivism. People read Ayn Rand’s novels and fall in love with her ideas, only to collapse into one of two inevitable fates: (1) eventually give up on the ideas as childish and selfish, often complaining that the philosophy is a cult, or (2) develop a religious, zealous fanaticism, obeying the tenets of the philosophy in an obsessive, robotic, mindless manner.
But what is the truth about Objectivism? What is it in Rand’s novels that makes a light turn on in the minds of her readers, and why does that light always flare and then burn out, leaving behind either anger or mindless obedience? This book argues that Objectivism has been turned into a shallow, two-dimensional cartoon caricature of what the philosophy really is, by both Objectivism’s foes and its followers. The philosophy’s enemies fight against, and its followers worship, a misinterpretation, not the ideas that are actually in the novels. Rand’s novels present a vision of reality that is both heroic in its idealism and useful for real people in its practicality, with integrity as its highest moral value, but people forget that vision, and eventually the vision fades into the paper-thin cartoon that people think of when they hear the name Ayn Rand.
This groundbreaking, innovative book looks at Objectivism in a new light, and offers an analysis, rooted in quotes from the texts of Rand’s novels, that presents Objectivism as a deep, serious, thoughtful philosophy, with emotional depth and shades of gray, a philosophy of the mind designed for smart people to heighten their intellectual freedom, not merely a cult of robots or a cartoonish Right-wing extremist defense of rich businessmen.
If you want to know the truth about Objectivism then read this book.
Chapter One: The Truth About Objectivism
Both Objectivism’s advocates and its critics treat Objectivism as some sort of right-wing extremist conservative philosophy, as if it is merely a defense of capitalism, and nothing more. Objectivism’s contributions to the theories of reason, logic, morality, and atheism are entirely missing from the narratives of the philosophy’s foes and friends alike. The advocates of Objectivism and its enemies then argue over free market economics. But they are both arguing about a straw man, a scarecrow. They have taken a deep, thoughtful, detailed philosophy, and thinned it down to a shallow paper-thin cartoon. The followers of Objectivism then loudly proclaim that they are in favor of this two-dimension cartoon, while its enemies attack the cartoon as being a cartoon.
One of my central positions is that people come to Objectivism by reading Rand’s novels and find her commitment to rationality, reality, and intellectually honest analyses of philosophy and ethics to be like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant, festering, stinking world of fakeness and evasion, but then, as this initial interest draws a reader deeper into the movement, these ideas, Objectivism’s appeal, are used as lure, as bait, to line the person up along traditional partisan political lines, exploiting Objectivism’s politics like a crass, crooked ward heeler lining up votes for his candidate through lies and scams. There are two Objectivism, the one in the ideas, which people see in the novels, and the one in the movement, which is also what the world at large thinks about the philosophy, and why many view it with cynicism, disappointment and bitterness.
Most Objectivists begin their path in the philosophy for one reason and one reason only, because they found something special and unique by reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which they believe in after reading John Galt’s speech, and now want to study it and make use of it, although they can’t really define exactly what that “it” is. As we should all know by now, Objectivists tend to reach the end of their time with Rand’s philosophy in one of three positions: (1) hating it, for having let them down in its honest commitment to open-minded rationality and having been a mere cult of fakes disguised as rationality; (2) as an obedient Randroid robot, proudly cultist, with no mind of their own, who thoughtlessly obeys the philosophy as a closed-minded dogma and is a conformist of the worst sort; or, (3) far more rarely, the people like me, who defy dogmatism but refuse to abandon the philosophy, instead seeking to revive the ray of light that made it noble, hopeful, and optimistic to begin with.
My approach is, in a sense, “do as Rand did, not as Rand said”: she was a visionary philosopher who challenged the dominant traditions of her era, of both the corrupt liberals and the hypocritical conservatives, and I, for my part, seek to do much the same, taking on the hypocritical Randroids while at the same time opposing Objectivism’s leftist critics as a bunch of stubborn idiots. I seek to take that breath of fresh air, that nugget of gold, the thing that readers find in Rand’s books but cannot name and then proceed to lose, and try to save it, and define it, and promote it. This could be articulated in more detail: “Do as Rand did as a thinker, and do as Rand said in her novels, but don’t do as Rand did or said when she ordered her followers to obey her, in her historical movement of the 1960’s.”
What is the “real” Objectivism? Only an examination of Objectivism at the source can show that. Here I will undertake a serious analysis of Objectivism, by examining what I see as its two key texts, the two most famous novels of Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
In The Fountainhead, Dominique, after spending a period of time living in a poor neighborhood of New York City for investigative journalism for a newspaper, writes “articles on life in the slums,” a “merciless, brilliant account. . . .’” She then attends a dinner part of the rich, and says:
“The house you own on East Twelfth Street, Mrs. Palmer,” she said , her hand circling lazily from under the cuff of an emerald bracelet too broad and heavy for her thin wrist . . . “has a sewer that gets clogged every other day and runs over, all through the courtyard. It looks blue and purple in the sun, like a rainbow.” “The block you control for the Claridge estate, Mr. Brooks, has the most attractive stalactites growing on all the ceilings.”
Soon after telling the rich slumlords that their treatment of the poor is horrible, she speaks at “ a meeting of social workers,” to speak about the residents of the slums, and says “The family on the first floor rear do not bother to pay their rent, and the children cannot go to school for lack of clothes. The father has a charge account at a corner speak-easy. He is in good health and has a good job. . . . The couple on the second floor have just purchased a radio for sixty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents cash. In the fourth floor front, the father of the family has not done a whole day’s work in his life, and does not intend to. There are nine children, supported by the local parish. There is a tenth on its way.”
Pages 139-140, Signet paperback edition.
In sum, Dominique tells the rich about the plight of the poor and how horrible the rich treat them, while telling the poor that they are a bunch of lazy deadbeats.
The statements against the rich here come, not from the novel’s socialist villain, but from one of the novel’s heroes. What is Rand doing here? Let me observe two things. First, there is depth here, and complexity, that requires thought, and not merely a paper-thin dogma.
Second, what Rand is doing through Dominique is pointing out the hypocrisy of both the champions of the rich and the champions of the poor, and declaring that she will call all hypocrites out as such. I point this out because it goes to the heart of The Fountainhead, where one of Rand’s main arguments is that the idealism she articulates as individualism is an idealism that an idealist can really believe, that it has integrity, whereas collectivism, widely regarded as the impractical idealism to believe in, is just a bunch of sell-outs pragmatically copying other people and selling their souls for power, just as Keating sells his soul to Toohey.
This role reversal, the opposition to people who are fake and phony and to sell-outs, like Keating, and the offering up as integrity and idealism and being true to your own artistic vision as selfishness and individualism, is one of the hallmarks of The Fountainhead. Rand’s innovation was to take the traditional narrative, that people sell-out for money, and keep their ideals for the sake of the poor, hence selling out is pro-capitalist and having ideals is socialist, and reverse them, showing that Keating, who sells his soul for career success, is actually a second-hander conformist who obeys the other and has the soul of the principle of socialism, whereas Roark, the artist with integrity, is selfish in staying true to his vision of his self, and as such has the soul of the principle of capitalism. This is a total and unexpected reversal of the roles as tradition had understood them prior to Rand’s writings.
Let us consider the case of Dominique. She loves Roark and hates Keating and Wynand, yet spends much of the novel trying to destroy Roark’s career while marrying Keating and, later, Wynand. Let me, again, make two observations.
First, Dominique’s behavior is not inexplicable, but it is a deep, realistic, deeply human psychology that motivates her. This is a far cry from the simpleton robots, otherwise known as Randroids, who believe that Rand calls upon us to be robots programmed by logic, and simplistic logic at that, executing the directive of “capitalism good, leftism bad” without too much deep thought. Dominque is a deep, human, realistic character, one who real people can relate to, although they may not consciously understand why she does what she does.
Second, why does Dominique seek to destroy Roark? Simply put, she believes in his greatness, and also believes that greatness cannot succeed and will inevitably be destroyed in a society of “second-handers,” the conformists and sell-outs, therefore decides to put Roark out of his misery, almost like a mercy killing, to spare herself the horror of watching him, the man she loves, be destroyed by society and seeing him be crushed or sell out to the architectural conformist mediocrity. Then, when he succeeds and triumphs at the end of the novel, her pessimism about the ability of greatness to succeed is destroyed, and she can marry him without reservation.
Hers is a deep, conflicted, confused, and complicated character, yet she is one of the main heroes of Rand’s central novels. In that sense, to obey the tenets of Rand’s written work, one must conclude that it is acceptable human behavior to have complicated feelings, and to be wrong at times, and to have depth and shades of gray to one’s behavior, as all of these things describe Dominique. A superficial reading of the novel would not notice this, yet many of both Objectivism’s friends and foes seem to be reading the books superficially.
The complexity and depth of Dominique’s character is not the only instance of a deep, complex humanity in Rand’s fiction. For example, in Atlas Shrugged, which I discuss below, the heroes Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden are deeply conflicted throughout most of the novel, to the point where the main hero, John Galt, is fighting a battle against these other heroes, not against the book’s villains, during much of the novel. That is a complicated and deep story, not a shallow and superficial tale of “good rich people” against “evil looting moocher poor people”, as many Objectivists view Atlas Shrugged.
The heroes in Atlas Shrugged–at least, Dagny and Rearden–have emotions and face inner conflicts, they are not blind, perfectly built robots who obey dogma that is programmed into them, although, from a psychological point of view, the main hero John Galt is, essentially, completely perfect and, to that extent, is less humanly realistic and more of just a metaphor for the philosophy itself, although a lot of Objectivists get into trouble by taking Galt as a literal human being and seeking to emulate his robotically perfect behavior. Many Objectivists seek to become mere Randroid robots programmed by the philosophy, and thereby repress and deny their human emotions and inner conflicts, and then either succeed and become blind stupid idiots, or fail and leave Objectivism behind as an unnatural and impractical system. They do this because they seek to model themselves on John Galt, and take him as a literal realistic human role model instead of as a metaphor and a presentation of ideas, whereas Dagny and Rearden are the more human heroes that real people can relate to, but are still heroes in the novel, just as much as Galt is.
There are plenty of other deeply human, realistic characters in Rand’s novels, who struggle with inner conflicts and lack perfection. Cherryl, the working class girl who is deceived into entering into an abusive marriage to James Taggart and then commits suicide, and Gail Wynand, a man who had the mind and potential to be an Objectivist hero but lacked the conviction to withstand the pressure that society brought to bear against him to conform, and also Steven Mallory, the depressed, tortured artist who tries to assassinate Toohey. It is characters such as these that the reader relates to, who draw the reader into an emotional involvement with the stories in the books.
But then, at the end, while graduating from the novels to the ideas of Objectivism as a philosophy, the reader is subjected to a “bait-and-switch”: instead of being offered as role models those characters, that the reader could relate to as human beings, and taking John Galt as the representation of the ideas that one should apply, the reader is instead told to take John Galt literally, as a human being, and become mentally identical to him–when, as I see it, Galt is not a realistic human being, he is robotic and unrealistic in his character, not because “perfection is impossible,” but because the details of Galt’s behavior and depiction are just not those of a real person, they are (and I think this obvious if one really reads the book) a metaphor for the defining spirit of the philosophy itself, a metaphor for innovation, thought, courage, etc.
If one took John Galt literally as an ideal for humans to use as a role model, not even Rand herself nor Aristotle would be anywhere near being a truly good person on a realistic scale, as even the super-geniuses of philosophy were not genius physicists and inventors who developed earth-shattering new inventions at the same time, like Galt’s static electricity motor. If Rand, the Objectivist super-genius, is a failure by comparison to Galt as a real person, just imagine what normal humans would feel like compared to him, and what robots they might become on their quest to emulate him. Objectivists do not give Rand even the basic decency that every reader should give to a novelist, that a college English major would be required to give to James Joyce or William Shakespeare, or even to Victor Hugo or Ibsen–namely, to read a work of fiction looking for symbolism and metaphors of the meanings that the novelist is expressing. As soon as one does this, John Galt as symbolism and metaphor becomes abundantly apparent, and we can look to the other characters, who have inner conflicts and struggles but overcome them, as our literal role models. It would be interesting to undertake a literary analysis of the symbolism of John Galt’s motor, in the context of Rand’s catchphrase for the novel that John Galt is “the man who said he would stop the motor of the world, and did,” but such an exploration would be impossible for those Objectivists who take Galt literally.
An astute Objectivist might object that, yes, Dagny and Hank face great inner conflict and operate in a moral gray area when they fight to oppose John Galt by saving society from his strike, but this conflict comes from their accepting the looters’ moral code, and, at the end of the novel, when they accept Galt’s morality, they magically become perfect and cease to have inner conflicts or deep emotional feelings. Upon a close, careful reading, this is incorrect. Yes, Hank does suffer because he accepts the morality of death, especially in relation to his marriage to his wife, and he does achieve something of a deliverance once he accepts the morality of life. Yes, too, Dagny finds exaltation when she joins Galt’s strike at the end of the novel. But these are the same people that they were throughout the novel. They do not magically become completely different people, people with no problems, for whom the emotional and ethical issues of life are simple and easy and black and white with no shades of gray. Indeed, I do not think that Dagny ever truly accepted the morality of death; what made her oppose Galt was that she did not believe that the looters themselves were committed to the morality of death, instead, she believed that society could be saved, and would be saved if she and Hank could make enough money to keep everyone from starving to death. This idea that our society can be saved, and that enough good people exist for that to happen, is not an implausible idea. As such, for real people, for real Objectivists, the moral dilemma and inner conflict faced by Dagny is one that can and will exist, and one can find a great role model for overcoming life’s deep, complicated ethical challenges in her determination to triumph over adversity.
So, having mentioned that novel, next let me turn to Atlas Shrugged, the great Randian novel that sings the praises of businessmen and shows that businessmen are heroes. Or does it? Let’s take a closer look at the text.
In the novel, one of the heroes, Hank Rearden, has a widely publicized court battle against the American government, and, by unapologetically standing up for capitalism, wins. Let’s listen to some of the quotes:
“God bless you, Mr. Rearden!” said an old woman with a ragged shawl over her head. “Can’t you save us, Mr. Rearden? They’re eating us alive, and it’s no use fooling anybody about how it’s the rich they’re after--do you know what’s happening to us?”
“Listen, Mr. Rearden,” said a man who looked like a factory worker. “it’s the rich who’re selling us down the river. Tell those wealthy bastards, who’re so anxious to give everything away, that when they give away their palaces, they’re giving away the skin off our banks.”
The businessmen he met seemed to wish to evade the subject of his trial. Some made no comment at all, but turned away, their faces showing a peculiar resentment under the effort to appear noncommittal as if they feared that the mere act of looking at him would be interpreted as taking a stand. Others ventured to comment: “In my opinion, Rearden, it was extremely unwise of you. . . . It seems to me that this is hardly the time to make enemies. . . . We can’t afford to around resentment.”
“I don’t think the government will like it.”
“You saw the consequences of that.”
“Well, I don’t know . . . The public won’t take it, there’s bound to be a lot of indignation.”
“You saw how the public took it.”
“Well, I don’t know . . . We’ve been trying hard not to give any grounds for all those accusations about selfish greed–and you’ve given ammunition to the enemy.”
“Would you rather agree with the enemy that you have no right to your profits and your property?”
“Oh, no, no, certainly not–but why go to extremes? There’s always a middle ground.”
“A middle ground between you and your murderers?”
“Now why use such words?” . . .
“It’s no time to boast about being rich–when the populace is starving. It’s just goading them on to seize everything.”
“But telling them that you have no right to your wealth, while they have–is what’s going to restrain them?” . . .
“I don’t like the things you said at your trial,” said another man. “In my opinion, I don’t agree with you at all. Personally I’m proud to believe that I am working for the public good, not just for my own profit. I like to think that I have some higher goal than just earning my three meals a day and my Hammond limousine.”. . .
“I am sorry, gentlemen,” Rearden said, “that I will be obliged to save your goddamn necks along with mine.”
Pages 449-451, Signet paperback edition.
But surely, the right-wing Objectivist will object, this can be interpreted in such a way that it is not a criticism of the businessman as such? Surely Rand is only referring to rich liberal businessmen, whereas a right-wing or conservative businessman would not count? Let’s read on.
In the novel, the evil statist government passes Directive 10-289, the villainous, depraved law that abolishes the free market and puts the economy under the total control of the government. This is a scene where several of the villains in the novel are plotting how to get the Directive passed into law:
“It will give security to the people,” said Eugene Lawson, his mouth slithering into a smile. “Security–that’s what the people want. If they want it, why shouldn’t they have it? Just because a handful of the rich will object?”
“It’s not the rich who’ll object,” said Dr. Ferris lazily. “The rich drool for security more than any other sort of animal–haven’t you discovered that yet?”
“Well, who’ll object?” snapped Lawson.
Dr. Ferris smiled pointedly, and did not answer.
Lawson looked away. “To hell with them! Why should we worry about them? We’ve got to run the world for the sake of the little people.”
Who is the “them” to whom Rand refers? By this point it should be clear on the basis of the quotes that there is a specific type of person Rand is seeking to advocate for, a type of person whom these villains hate and seek to destroy, and, in what should be crystal clear from these quotes, businessmen are not this person. But who is? Who is “them”? That passage in the novel continues in this way:
“It’s intelligence that’s caused all the troubles of humanity. Man’s mind is the root of all evil. This is the day of the heart. It’s the weak, the meek, the sick and the humble that must be the only objects of our concern.” . . .
“Genius is a superstition, . . . ” said Dr. Ferris slowly, with an odd kind of emphasis, as if knowing that he was naming the unnamed in all their minds. “There is no such thing as the intellect. A man’s brain is a social product. A sum of influences that he’s picked up from those around him. Nobody invents anything, he merely reflects what’s floating in the social atmosphere. A genius is an intellectual scavenger and a greedy hoarder of ideas which rightfully belong to society, from which he stole them. All thought is theft. If we do away with private fortunes, we’ll have a fairer distribution of wealth. If we do away with genius, we’ll have a fairer distribution of ideas.”
Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, makes a point of stating repeatedly that the intellectual cowards never name their premises, and that to give voice to something, to name it openly, is to define it and articulate it and bring it into the realm of reason and rationality and critical reflection, so that, to openly name a massive con or scam, is to expose it and thereby destroy its ability to fool rational people. The novel itself then becomes Rand’s effort to name the unnamed, to name the scam whereby the morality of altruism makes the productive accept guilt and thereby enslaves them to looters. (Rand’s analysis of morality is, perhaps, an evolution of Nietzsche’s account of slave morality vs. master morality, but we need not answer that question decisively to continue.)
So, I will take the lead from Rand, and name the unnamed, which the conservative Right and the Objectivist movement knows at some level, having read her books, but fears and hides from and pretends is not the truth. Namely, that the type of person who is the glorious hero of Atlas Shrugged is John Galt, and the John Galts of the world are what Rand referred to as “men of ability” or “geniuses” or “men of the mind”, people who really think and use an incredible capacity of vision to see reality as it really and to see through lies and masks and clouds of smoke and all wishful thinking and self-delusion, and make brilliant decisions, and use the powerful capabilities of their mind to think thoughts at an extremely high level of intellect and make amazing leaps of logical inference to draw conclusions from evidence and experience. These “men of the mind” are certainly not the same thing as the businessmen as such, or the rich as such.
Objectivism is a defense of capitalism because it gives the productive genius the freedom to create, not because it gives the businessman the freedom from paying higher taxes, although the latter is a small detail that is necessarily also contained in the former. There are, in reality, certain men who have been productive geniuses of the caliber of John Galt: one thinks of Thomas Edison, the great inventor, or Steve Jobs of Apple, or Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Larry Page of Google, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon, the self-made Silicon Valley billionaires, for example.
But such men are few, and these are not the ones whom the army of Objectivists is up in arms to praise and defend. The Right, the conservatives, the alt right, the Republican Party, whatever you want to call it, has coopted and corrupted Objectivism, devolving it from a philosophy of reason, into a philosophy of the rich and big business, whose only stated purpose is to serve as propaganda for cutting taxes on the rich. Reason, and the mind, are the things which these people have forgotten about the novel. This can be seen, for example, in such people’s Christianity. For Rand, rationality demands atheism, as well as no internal contradictions, so a person cannot be a Christian and an Objectivist, hence the Right and Objectivism are natural enemies just as much as the Left is an enemy.
Rand, in her own words of the above quotes, did not really give a damn about “the rich” or “the businessmen,” she cared about the individualist, the innovator, the thinker, the man of ability, the John Galt. John Galt-like people are rare, and the ranks of the rich and the businessmen do not contain many of them. In the above quotes, Rand contrasts the John Galt-type, Hank Rearden-type hero, to the masses of the rich and the masses of the businessmen in the Atlas Shrugged world as such, who criticize Rearden and do not oppose the evil law that puts the economy under government control.
The villainous businessmen in the novel have all bought into altruist Judeo-Christian morality, and thereby support the corrupt statist looters, so the Right can say that the evil businessmen in the novel are really liberal leftist businessmen, not real conservative rich people. Guess what? Most of the Right in the USA, and most of the rich in the USA, and most of the businessmen in the USA, are Christian, and so, as a matter of logic, Rand would condemn them for having bought into evil irrational anti-freedom morality, just as she condemned the evil rich businessmen who are portrayed in Atlas Shrugged.
Looking back at The Fountainhead, another John Galt-like hero, Howard Roark, is brought to years of poverty and career failure when he rebels against the conformity of the architectural industry and is then punished by the industry for his rebellion. It is even plausible that, along a certain trajectory, not only is not every John Galt rich, but society will tend to make the real John Galts poor. Yet, in practice, the Right holds up Rand as a champion and defender of “the rich” and “the businessman”, who, in practical reality, tends to be conservative and Republican (and Christian), while the Left attacks Rand as if that the Right’s fantasy were true.
Both sides, it seems, did not give her the dignity of actually reading the words she wrote, and instead base their positions off a general feeling or abstract impressive given off by John Galt’s speech that “oh, this book defends capitalism, it must be on the Right and be propaganda for the rich and big business.” Rand herself, as we have seen from her own words, was smarter than that. As an author of those novels and those quotes, she was not the person both the Left and the Right seem to think she was.
The conservative Objectivist will say that I am some sort of leftist liberal socialist because, unlike him, I actually read the words in the novels instead of just believing what everyone else believes about Objectivism, that I don’t “get” the “real” Ayn Rand.
That is a plausible position that can be defended, although I disagree with it. There are vast segments of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, especially in the big speeches, that do defend the rich, and businessmen, and seem right-wing in their defense of capitalism. The rightist Rand is plausible, I do not deny it.
But are my arguments wrong? No. Do the previous quotes exist? Yes. Can Objectivists pretend that they don’t exist, that reality is not what it really is, and still be Objectivists? No.
I will also concede that Rand, in her later nonfiction, took a far more conservative and right-wing approach, and, at times, she wrote nonfiction where she did in fact defend the rich from higher taxes as such, and praise the businessman as such. Her nonfiction contains essays where she said that men are superior to women, that she disapproved of homosexuality, and such, which is bread and butter to conservatives. However, even in her nonfiction, she also advocated for abortion and atheism, and she was never the right-wing icon that the conservatives dressed her up to be. She also had some famous nonfiction essays where she attacked conservatives as such and even wrote that she hoped conservatism would die.
But people do not come to Objectivism because of Rand’s nonfiction. People come to Objectivism because of the ideas in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, most Objectivists read the novels and feel that there is something right and noble and true about those ideas and then discover the philosophy after reading the ideas in the novels. What those ideas are is what should define Objectivism. My above quotes tell a story about the novels that is true, and as undeniable as reality itself, but nobody else will tell you the truth about Rand’s novels. The key ideas in Rand’s novels are being smart, having a mind, thinking for yourself, being intellectually honest and open-minded and intellectually independent. These qualities, or what is perhaps really all one attribute, is what the “men of the mind” have, that their enemies lack. Objectivism, as such, is a philosophy of reason and rationality, not of capitalism, and defends capitalism only as the political precondition of free thought. But this fact, which exists in objective reality, is inconvenient for both the religious right and the robotic cultist Randroids.
Consider this quote, where Hank Rearden is talking to his steel mill foreman, the representative of the rank and file working class workers whom he employs. The foreman is a man named Tom Colby, who says this to Rearden:
“They’ve been telling us for years that it’s you against me, Mr. Rearden. But it isn’t. It’s Orren Boyle and Fred Kinnan against you and me.”
“I know it.”
Page 515. (the final sentence is said by Rearden back to Colby.)
Boyle is the corrupt rich steel mill owner who competes against Rearden by bribing politicians for government favors, and Kinnan is the corrupt crooked labor union boss who represents the working class.
If it’s not the workers against the rich, with Rand siding with the rich–and, according to this quote, she rejects that alignment–then what is it? What do Hank Rearden and Tom Colby have in common, that Kinnan and Boyle lack, for Rearden and Colby to be opposed to Boyle and Kinnan? There must be some quality, that both productive geniuses and working class employees can have, that would group them together on opposite sides of whatever this conflict between these two types of people is.
In John Galt’s speech at the end of the novel, Galt makes clear that productive genius of the caliber to invent a world-changing new type of electrical motor is the pinnacle of reason and rationality, but there can be a man of reason, with an open mind, intellectual honesty, and a commitment to rationality and actually looking at reality and thinking about reality, in varying and lesser levels of inherent talent and sheer productive capability. These people would be the normal people, the working class people, who are Objectivists.
The example given through the novel of such a man, a normal man who is not a “man of ability” as such but is still a good man and who is rational and productive at a job of lesser responsibility, is Eddie Willers, the heroine Dagny Taggart’s personal assistant. Willers is a good man, and a hero, and thinks, and sees, and reasons, and plays an important role in the novel as a conduit of information about Dagny Taggart for John Galt, but he lacks the revolutionary genius of John Galt or Hank Rearden or Dagny Taggart herself.
Thus, it seems to me that this is true: there is something, that could be called thinking, or looking at reality, or reason and rationality, or intellectual honesty, or Objectivist ethics, for which, if a person adheres to this behavior and these values, he is the man whom Atlas Shrugged praises, regardless of whether he is rich or poor, businessman or employee, and, if a person lacks these virtues, being intellectually dishonest and corrupt and irrational and defocusing one’s mind and blanking out reality to hide from the negative consequences of irrational beliefs and behaviors, and choosing to get through life on shortcuts and taking the easy way out which someone else pays for, this person would bear the mark of villainy, and be evil according to Objectivism–whether he was a poor liberal or a rich conservative.
Colby and Rearden are both the former, despite the fact that Rearden is a productive super-genius and Colby is just a normal man, and, ostensibly, a member of the working class in a factory. Boyle, who is incredibly rich and powerful, and Kinnan, who is too but represents the working class masses, are both the latter. This explains the above quote, and is the most plausible explanation of it.