Atlas Shrugged Chapter 30: In the Name of the Best Within Us

Let’s go to a movie where everybody fights
But in the end there’s dancing, songs, and smiles
You need lots of smiles
— Boomtown Rats, “Wind Chill Factor Minus Zero”

It is finished.
— Jesus of Nazareth

Chapter summary: The Scooby Gang (except for Velma, who drowned in the East River) release Galt from the bondage, and they fly triumphantly back to Atlantis in an aeronautic scene that begs for a Hollywood treatment. Eddie Willers gets the Comet back up and running, but it breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A wagon train comes by to tell them the bridge has been destroyed, there is no more New York, and anyone what’s coming should join the wagon train. Everyone but Eddie leaves. Eddie curls up in a fetal position next to the train he swore to never abandon and cries himself to sleep and, presumably, to death. The Scooby Gang are now situated comfortably back at home, rocking to the beat of Halley and planning the halcyon future now that all the meanies are out of power.

This irreverent summary has been brought to you by my annoyance at the extremely convenient and utterly predictable ending. As I’ve said for several chapters now, it feels like Rand just plain gave up trying to end this, like a pitcher with an 8-0 lead going into the ninth who calls in the last three outs.

Back to the serious commentary:

Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade. — Judge Narragansett’s Constitutional Amendment

Ayn Rand was right about a lot of things throughout this book. This is one place where Ayn Rand is wrong. BP’s oil spill has shown us that. The Three Mile Island accident has shown us that. The Exxon Valdez has shown us that. The tobacco industry’s collusive lying about the effects of cigarette smoke (which, incidentally, impacted Rand herself) has shown us that.

Just as we have to have some restrictions on free speech to protect the safety of people–such as, for instance, laws against shouting “fire” in a crowded theater–we have to have some restrictions on free trade. Some companies, left unfettered, will indeed behave in a responsible way; many others will not. If we are to treat companies as individuals (as so many conservatives appear to want), then we must do that in the negative as well as the positive: We must not merely grant companies the rights, but also the responsibilities, that go with being an individual in a free society. Most notably: The responsibility not to use force or cause undue harm to others.

I do think Rand has been grossly misunderstood, but I also think that Rand herself came to incorrect conclusions based on valid premises.

I plan to revisit this, particularly John Galt’s speech, but first I want to re-read Brave New World, for the sake of comparison.

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