Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IV
Rearden is winning plaudits for the innovative “la la la, I’m not listening to you” defense strategy he deployed at his trial. Even the government overseer at his mills, the boy Rand nicknames the Wet Nurse, is coming to admire him:
The Wet Nurse asked him at the mills, “Mr. Rearden, what’s a moral premise?”
“What you’re going to have a lot of trouble with.”
The boy frowned, then shrugged and said, laughing, “God, that was a wonderful show! What a beating you gave them, Mr. Rearden!”
But there’s one person whose opinion he cares about more than anyone else’s. Francisco hasn’t gotten in touch, but Rearden is desperately curious to hear what he thinks:
He had caught himself, in the past few weeks, wasting time in the lobby whenever he entered the hotel or left it, loitering unnecessarily at the mail counter or the newsstand, watching the hurried currents of people, hoping to see Francisco d’Anconia among them. He had caught himself eating solitary dinners in the restaurant of the Wayne-Falkland, with his eyes on the curtains of the entrance doorway.
Finally, after all this indecision (“like a woman who waits for a telephone call and fights against the temptation to end the torture by making the first move”), he gives in and goes up to Francisco’s suite himself.
Francisco greets him cheerfully, as if he’d been expecting the visit. He heard Rearden’s trial speech on the radio and has nothing but praise for it:
“It was great, Mr. Rearden – and about three generations too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“If one single businessman had had the courage, then, to say that he worked for nothing but his own profit – and to say it proudly – he would have saved the world.”
“I haven’t given up the world as lost.”
“It isn’t. It can never be. But oh God! – what he would have spared us!”
Since Atlas Shrugged is deliberately vague about the time period, it’s difficult to guess what “three generations” might be referring to. Given Rand’s background, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 seems like a possibility. But is this really a claim that the rise of the USSR could have been prevented by a speech? Say what you will about the Communists, but they weren’t motivated by confusion over whether or not businessmen worked for their own profit!
Rearden tells Francisco that something’s still puzzling him: “you are the man of the highest mind I have ever met”, he says, so “how can you find any pleasure in spending a life as valuable as yours on running after cheap women and on an imbecile’s idea of diversions?”
“I’ve spent a lot of money on the most ostentatiously vulgar parties I could think of, and a miserable amount of time on being seen with the appropriate sort of women. As for the rest—” He stopped, then said, “I have some friends who know this, but you are the first person to whom I am confiding it against my own rules: I have never slept with any of those women. I have never touched one of them.”
“What is more incredible than that, is that I believe you.”
Francisco says that each of the women he’s been with thinks that she was the only one who failed to bed him, so they’re all too embarrassed to compare notes. It’s all part of his irresponsible-playboy disguise, he says, which he’s adopted for a purpose he still won’t reveal. Instead, he has another Randian monologue to offer, this time on love and sex:
“[Only] the man who despises himself tries to gain self-esteem from sexual adventures – which can’t be done, because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man’s sense of his own value.”
“You’d better explain that.”
“Did it ever occur to you that it’s the same issue? The men who think that wealth comes from material resources… think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you – just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition. Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life.”
Francisco says that sex is “the most profoundly selfish of all acts… just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity!” (What’s wrong with offering sex because your partner wants to and you value their pleasure? There must be a lot of Objectivists in frustrated, unhappy relationships.)
Because sex is selfish, in this view, the man who is “certain of his own value” will love and want to sleep with the woman he most admires, “a heroine… the hardest to conquer”, because that’s what will give him the greatest sense of achievement. That’s not entirely wrong, I suppose, but in what way was Dagny “the hardest to conquer”? She wanted Hank as much as he wanted her, even though he couldn’t have cared less about her consent.
Take a look at what Rand’s proposing: the bizarre notion that ideological compatibility is the same as sexual compatibility, and that falling in love is essentially a conscious choice. Again, it’s not entirely wrong to say that people who have more in common are more likely to get along, but clearly that’s neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a successful relationship. Rand’s conception of human nature forced her to believe that human beings have no drives, instincts or impulses which are separate from their conscious, reasoning mind – an obviously absurd belief that would end up haunting her in her personal life.
Francisco goes on to say that a proper Objectivist isn’t just morally obligated to fall in love with the best capitalist around, but to follow through:
“You’re the man who’s spent his life shaping matter to the purpose of his mind. You’re the man who would know that just as an idea unexpressed in physical action is contemptible hypocrisy, so is platonic love – and just as physical action unguided by an idea is a fool’s self-fraud, so is sex when cut off from one’s code of values.”
Anticipating the sexists who rage about the “friend zone“, Rand declares that Platonic love is hypocrisy. (Not surprising, since she detested Plato.) If you truly value yourself, she argues, you’ll inevitably want to have sex with the people who best mirror your own ideals.
Fine, let’s accept this for the sake of argument. Now I have a question: Why doesn’t it apply to same-sex relationships?
All the ingredients are there. We know that Rearden thinks of Francisco as the “one single man whom I can trust, respect and admire” and that he possesses “the highest mind I have ever met”. Having sex with him would certainly be a great conquest that would confer a sense of achievement. So, why aren’t all Objectivists bisexual? Why would this principle hold true for a man sleeping with a woman, but not a man sleeping with a man?
Even if Rand didn’t intend this (and she didn’t; she called homosexuality “disgusting“), the subtext implies it seemingly in spite of her. We’re told that Rearden has been acting very much like a person with a crush, shadowing places Francisco frequents in the hope of “accidentally” bumping into him. She explicitly compares his behavior to a woman hoping to be asked out on a date. She points out that Francisco has been dating women, but not sleeping with them (nudge nudge, wink wink). And hey, the two of them are alone in a hotel suite late at night. If that’s not the starting point for some steamy slash fiction, I don’t know what is.
But alas, the scene ends up where Atlas always ends up – in the minutiae of industrial contracts. Rearden informs Francisco that he’s placed an order of copper with his company to use in the manufacture of Rearden Metal:
“An order of d’Anconia copper is being shipped to me right now. It left San Juan on December fifth.”
It was a scream of plain shock. Francisco had shot to his feet, past any attempt to hide anything. “On December fifth?”
“Yes,” said Rearden, stupefied.
Francisco leaped to the telephone. “I told you not to deal with d’Anconia Copper!”
…The memory of Francisco’s face as it looked in that moment, came back to Rearden three days later, through a blinding shock of loss and hatred – it came back, even though, standing by the radio in his office, he thought that he must now keep away from the Wayne-Falkland or he would kill Francisco d’Anconia on sight… he was hearing that three ships of d’Anconia copper, bound from San Juan to New York, had been attacked by Ragnar Danneskjold and sent to the bottom of the ocean – it kept coming back, even though he knew that much more than the copper had gone down for him with those ships.
Well, so much for the honeymoon phase.
But what provoked this lovers’ quarrel? The copper wasn’t lost because of some incompetence on Francisco’s part – it was stolen by a pirate! Rearden can hardly hold Francisco responsible for that. Perhaps what this scene really represents is an illustration that romantic relationships and business should never mix.
Other posts in this series: