(I've lately been reading Atlas Shrugged in my spare time. It's an enormous novel and much of it is philosophical discourse. It's wildly didactic and I'm constantly wary of it's claims. And yet, their is a power and a majesty to it that comes from absolute sincerity. I may not agree with her, but I can't not hear Ayn Rand's voice, shouting through these pages with prophetic intensity. Regardless of it's particular ideology, it is a keen and acerbic look into human nature and it is fascinating. There are certain novels which, when you read them, you find that they perfectly articulate many of your own unarticulated and only hinted at thoughts. This is one of the novels for me. This except is a crucial scene between Henry Rearden, one of America's leading and most persecuted industrialist, and Francisco d'Anconia, a supposed playboy and a philosopher of the highest order and a man trying to save Rearden's soul. Enjoy.)
"You take pride in setting no limit to your endurance, Mr. Rearden, because you think that you are doing right. What if you aren't? What if you're placing your virtue in the service of evil and letting it become a tool for the destruction of everything you love, respect and admire? Why don't you uphold your own code of values among men as you do among iron smelters? You who won't allow once per cent of impurity into an alloy of metal - what have you allowed into your moral code?"
Rearden sat very still; the words in his mind were like the beat of steps down the trail he had been seeking: the words were the sanction of the victim.
"You, who would not submit to the hardships of nature, but set out to conquer it and placed it in the service of your joy and your comfort - to what have you submitted at the hands of men? You, who know from your work that one bears punishment only for being wrong - what have you been willing to bear and for what reason? All your life, you have heard yourself denounced, not for your faults, but for your greatest virtues. You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements. You have been scorned for all those qualities of character which are your highest pride. You have been called selfish for the courage of acting on your own judgment and bearing sole responsibility for your own life. You have been called arrogant for your independent mind. You have been called cruel for your unyielding integrity. You have been called antisocial for the vision that made you venture upon undiscovered roads. You have been called ruthless for the strength and self-discipline of your drive to your purpose. You have been called greedy for the magnificence of your power to create wealth. You, who've expanded an inconceivable flow of energy, have been called a parasite. You, who've created abundance where there had been nothing but wastelands and helpless, starving men before you, have been called a robber. You, who've kept them all alive, have been called an exploiter. You, the purest and more moral man among them, have been sneered at as a 'vulgar materialist.' Have you stopped to ask them: by what right? - by what code? - by what standard? No, you have borne it all and kept silent. You bowed to their code and you never upheld your own. You knew what exacting morality was needed to produce a single metal nail, but you let them brand you as immoral. You knew that man needs the strictest code of values to deal with nature, but you left the deadliest weapon in the hands of your enemies, a weapon you never suspected or understood. Their moral code is their weapon. Ask yourself what it is that a code of moral values does to a man's life, and why he can't exist without it, and what happens to him if he accepts the wrong standard, by which the evil is the good. Shall I tell you why you're drawn to me, even though you think you ought to damn me? It's because I'm the first man who has given you what the whole world owes you and what you should have demanded of all men before you dealt with them: a moral sanction."
Rearden whirled to him, then remained still, with a stillness like a gasp. Francisco leaned forward, as if he were reaching the landing of a dangerous flight; and his eyes were steady, but their glance seemed to tremble with intensity.
"You're guilty of a great sin, Mr. Rearden, much guiltier than they tell you, but not in the way they preach. The worst guilt is to accept an undeserved guilt - and that is what you have been doing all your life. You have been paying blackmail, not for your vices, but for your virtues. You have been willing to carry the load of an unearned punishment - and to let it grow heavier the greater the virtues you practiced. But your virtues were those which keep men alive. Your own moral code - the one you lived by, but never stated, acknowledged or defended - was the code that preserves man's existence. If you were punished for it, what was the nature of those who punished you? Yours was the code of life. What, then, is theirs? What standard of values lies at its root? What is its ultimate purpose? Do you think that what you're facing is merely a conspiracy to seize your wealth? You, who know the source of wealth, should know it's much more and much worse than that. Did you ask me to name man's motive power? Man's motive power is his moral code. Ask yourself where their code is leading you and what it offers you as your final goal. A viler evil than to murder a man, is to sell him suicide as an act of virtue. A viler evil than to throw a man into a sacrificial furnace, is to demand that he leap in, of his own will, and that be build the furnace, besides. By their own statement, it is they who need you and have nothing to offer you in return. By their own statement, you must support them because they cannot survive without you. Consider the obscenity of offering their impotence and their need - their need of you - as a justification for your torture. Are you willing to accept it? Do you care to purchase - at the price of your great endurance, at the price of your agony - the satisfaction of the needs of your own destroyers?"
"Mr. Rearden," said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, "if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders - what would you tell him to do?"
"I... don't know. What... could he do? What would you tell him?"
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York, NY: Signet, 2007. 420-22.