Atlas Shrugged Chapter 23: Anti-Greed

Quick question: What was Mr. Hyde’s great crime in Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the act that RL Stevenson thought would make his readers recoil in horror and fear at his barbarism? He pushes someone down roughly. Sure, eventually he murders someone, but by then his reputation as a scalliwag has already been set.

I bring this up because Rand’s weapon of terror, Project X, seems a bit modest in the wake of myriad Bond and superhero villains.

Chapter summary: Project X is revealed; it’s a device that uses sound waves to demolish everything within a close radius, including living creatures. Ferris coerces Stadler to praise it. Meanwhile, Dagny returns to New York. Lillian attempts to coerce her into appearing on the radio to announce, despite the rumors, that she’s on board with the Directive and isn’t the government wonderful? Instead, Dagny publicly reveals her affair with Hank and condemns the government. Dagny and Hank meet; Hank pours out his heart and then admits he knows that Dagny loves another, and he’s all right with that.

First off, seriously, Ayn? The scariest you could come up with was effectively a bomb? Sure, the parts about it being unidirectional and not destroying itself in the process–both details left implicit–is cool enough, but really, it’s a fancy schmancy bomb. And the metaphoric bomb, that the government exploits science to its own militaristic ends, was hardly a surprise when Alfred Nobel discovered it more than half a century prior.

Dagny’s radio speech is a classic of Delphic subterfuge, and is in my view the highlight of the chapter. She manages to keep on the air as long as possible by saying that she and Hank are on the same page, they feel the same way about the Directive, and so on; it’s only when she announces that she and Hank have been having an affair, the bit of scandal that Jim and Lillian have been using to blackmail them, that she gets yanked from the radio.

The conversation between Dagny and Hank was, in my opinion, convenient and silly. The bright side, hopefully, is that the affair between them is over now, as is the scandal. The tidy resolution (Hank’s statement that he loves Dagny deeply, but that he knows she loves another and that’s fine with him) immediately following the point at which the affair was no longer a useful political motivator, suggests that my feeling was right from early on that the affair was a mostly a MacGuffin so Rand would have a way of forcing Hank to do certain things, like sign the certificate.

On the other hand, Hank gets about as close as Rand has gotten so far to discussing intrinsic v extrinsic value, in discussing the ideal that one’s actions should always match one’s mind. Those sections of his speech were worthwhile enough.

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