Atlas Shrugged – Part One, Chapters VII–VIII

Summary—Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited

But what can you do when you have to
deal with people?
(See Important Quotations Explained)

The reconstruction of the Rio Norte Line is plagued with
problems, but Dagny and Rearden manage to keep the project on schedule through
quick and decisive actions. Ellis Wyatt appears at the Rio Norte
construction site, where he has been helping out behind the scenes.
His appreciative tone with Dagny acknowledges that she is as driven
and focused as he is. Dagny is relieved to also find Rearden at
the site. He proposes replacing an old bridge in Colorado with one
made entirely of Rearden Metal. Dagny approves his bold plan.
Back in New York, Dagny orders a cup of coffee
at a diner. A man sitting next to her complains that there is no
human spirit, that men are concerned only with satisfying their
bodies’ needs. Another man shrugs off the importance of morality.
“Who is John Galt?” he says with a sneer. At this, a small, shriveled
tramp declares that he knows. John Galt was a great explorer who found
the fountain of youth.
Dr. Potter, from the State Science Institute, comes to
see Rearden and tells him that society is not ready for Rearden
Metal. He says that Rearden’s company might harm his competitors
by producing too much and asks Rearden to wait a few years before
producing his metal. When Rearden refuses, Potter offers to buy
all rights to his metal, at any price. Rearden refuses. Potter tells
him that there are certain bills pending in the legislature that
make businessmen particularly vulnerable. The threat is clear. Later,
the State Science Institute issues a formal warning about Rearden
Metal. The statement lacks any scientific basis but hints at possible
dangers. In response to the denunciation, Taggart stock crashes;
Ben Nealy, the Taggart contractor, quits; the Brotherhood of Road
and Track Workers forbids its members to work with the metal; and
Jim leaves town.
Visiting the State Science Institute in New
Hampshire, Dagny finds that Dr. Stadler, at one time the greatest
scientist in the country, is completely disillusioned. He agrees
that the metal is a great discovery but says the Institute will
not support it. Despite spending millions, the Institute’s metallurgists
have failed to discover anything as valuable, and they are afraid
to draw attention to the fact that a private citizen succeeded where
a government-funded institution failed.
When Dagny finds Jim, he is desperate. He wants to save
the railroad but has no idea what to do. Dagny tells him she will
finish the line on her own. Because everyone is afraid of Rearden
Metal, she will resign and start her own company. After she proves
that the metal works, she will return to Taggart and bring her line
with her. She will name her company the John Galt Line. Dagny goes
to Francisco d’Anconia for money, but he refuses to help and expresses shock
at her name for the line. Dagny finds the investors she needs among
the industrialists of Colorado. Rearden also invests.
The Legislature passes the Equalization of Opportunity
Bill, which will force Rearden to give up his mines. Wesley Mouch
had not informed Rearden that the bill was being considered, and
he cannot be reached by phone.
Contradictions do not exist. Whenever
you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You
will find that one of them is wrong.
(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary—Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Rearden sells his ore mines to Paul Larkin
and his coal mines to Ken Dannager, a self-made businessman from
Pennsylvania. With the money from these sales, Rearden offers Taggart
a moratorium on its debt to Rearden Steel. He knows that Taggart
is having financial problems, and he wants the company to survive long
enough to be his long-term customers. Rearden still cannot reach
Wesley Mouch. He reads in the papers that Mouch has been appointed
assistant coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National
Resources.
As the date of the line’s opening approaches, public criticism grows
steadily louder. But when Dagny asks for volunteers to run the first
train, every engineer at the company offers. Dagny holds a press
conference in her office in which she proudly states that she expects
to make a huge profit, and many are amazed at her admitted self-interest.
Dagny and Rearden ride together in the engine of the first locomotive
to ride the John Galt Line. The first run is a resounding success,
spreading a mood of optimism and possibility among those who witness
it. People line up all along the route, thrilled to finally have
something to celebrate. Despite dire predictions, the bridge made
of Rearden Metal holds up well. That night, at Ellis Wyatt’s house,
Dagny and Rearden make love for the first time.

Analysis:
Part One, Chapters VII–VIII
Rand’s heroes are bold and decisive, just as their enemies
are soft and wavering. Acting with clarity and self-assurance, Dagny
and Rearden expertly handle the rebuilding of the Rio Norte Line,
even in the face of dramatic setbacks. They rely on facts alone
to make decisions. Dagny agrees to build a bridge made of Rearden
Metal because she knows the the metal’s value will speak for itself.
In contrast, Jim is paralyzed by public opinion. He has no rational
judgment of his own but assumes that if “everyone” thinks something, they
must be right. When Dagny boldly decides to build her own line as
the only way to get it done, she demonstrates the creative power of
the individual against the destructive power of the state. She knows
she is right, and this is all the validation she requires. The second
John Galt story shows him to be bold and heroic as well. Here he
is credited with finding the fountain of youth. But what makes a person
young and vital or old and wasted? In Rand’s work, the physical
descriptions of characters offer some clues. The industrialists,
who use their minds as motive power and find joy in producing, are
described as young, attractive, and vital, while the looters and moochers
are dour, sullen, and formless. The fountain of youth in this context
refers to the vitality of producing.
Rand demonstrates her belief that socialism destroys innovation by
having the State Science Institute denounce Rearden Metal. When
the state controls scientific development, it will be hesitant to allow
private discoveries to come to light if they are seen as competition.
State control of research and development not only slows the pace
of innovation, but throws open the possibility of corruption and
misuse of resources to further the political power of the state. Dr.
Stadler embodies the disillusionment that results when the scientific
mind is given over to the state. As a scientist, he should be devoted
to the truth, but his priority has become political expediency.
Although he knows that the State Science Institute’s smear campaign
against Rearden Metal is fabricated, he will do nothing about it
for fear of risking his clout and the government funding on which
he depends. In one of the classic paradoxes of socialism, a great
scientific mind becomes employed in hindering the progress of science.
In Rand’s view, when the government controls the economy,
corruption and mediocrity are inevitable. Since the state has the
power to grant economic favors, it naturally attracts those who
seek to profit from them. People who cannot succeed in open competition find
ways to rise once competitive barriers are artificially removed. Wesley
Mouch is a significant character only in the sense that he is insignificant,
a nobody able to rise through favors and manipulation instead of
skill and hard work. In contrast, the success of the new John Galt
Line is the triumph of hard work over mediocrity and of individual
ambition over government barriers. Dagny and Rearden’s first sexual
encounter is also a manifestation of triumph. Their shared values
and commitment to quality and truth have made the John Galt Line
possible. Their joy is made physical in a natural, inevitable way.