There are some weapons which are beyond the physical realm. They have the capacity to impact people on a civilization-scale. These weapons do not exist in tangible forms. They are embedded someplace inside every society’s culture, history or people in the name of ‘moral principles’, principles which are crammed into the minds of men from their childhood, principles that are supposedly unquestionable. Only a few people are capable of understanding the seamless power of these seemingly harmless theories. And Rearden knew it well.
Henry Rearden. The inventor of Rearden Steel. That character in Atlas Shrugged who rose from rags to riches. A person who is proud of his life’s journey and imagines a neon sign reading “Rearden Life” over his memories. At his trial, he declares before a packed court –“The public good be damned. I shall have no part of it.” What did he mean by that statement?
He means that he refuses to have any share from the so called public good, and he refuses to contribute anything towards it. He refuses to take the unearned, the product of the sacrifices of other men, for himself. He damns such a concept whereby a person is asked to give up his desires and accept himself as a sacrificial animal for the sake of ‘public good’. He rejects their claim on his invention, the Rearden Metal, or on any part of his property which he has rightfully earned. He condemns the proclaimers of public good for being unaware that no such thing exists.
Hank Rearden broke out when he was asked to yield to the highest moral principle. The principle that states that the moral premise of any action should be the good of ‘public’ as a whole. The principle that is so powerful a weapon that it is rotting humanity from endless times. It is “The Principle of Public Good”.
Ayn Rand explains beautifully that if we apply our reason and logic and analyse, there is no such entity as a ‘public’. There are individuals, there are collection of individuals, but there is no ‘public’ which has some definite characteristics and thought process of its own. There is no such thing as a public mind. And thus, there is no such thing as a common moral premise. What is good for one may not be good for another. What is morally correct as per someone may not be so according to the judgement of some other person. It all depends upon the values that a person holds. The greatest flaw in the principle of public good is that its subject is imaginary. And throughout Atlas Shrugged, this is one of the predominant theme that Rand portrays.
If we analyze how the principle of public good is practically implemented, we discover a complicated system of brutal injustice. Let us take a simple example. Imagine a small society which consists of varied kind of people who democratically elect a government. The government does what most governments claim to do today. Its purpose is to collect taxes from its people and spend it for increasing the ‘public good’. Now, the government must spend the money so collected somewhere. Suppose the government decides to build an airport. It would improve the public transport system and hence the public good. Consider the situation of 2 persons. One is an ultra-rich real estate tycoon. He has his own air strip and always travels by his own helicopters and jets. Does the airport benefit him in any way? Does it lead to ‘his good’? No. Does the airport benefit a low earning person who can never afford air travel? No. Where is the public good?
Now the preachers of public good will contend that the government works for the ‘public’ good and not for ‘individual good’. This is again a trap. How can anything be called ‘good’ for the public, unless it is good for the individuals consisting that ‘public’. This is portrayed well in the answer of Hank Rearden when he is questioned by the judge in his trial –“Are we to understand … that you hold your own interests above the interests of the public.” To this Rearden answers
–“I hold that such a question can never arise except in a society of cannibals.”(Around Pg. 444, Atlas Shrugged)
It has been well depicted in Atlas shrugged, how few people sitting at a table, with their respective selfish motives, issue ‘directives’ in pursuance of the ‘public good’. They request men to bear the hardships and restrictions on their freedom for the common good, to sacrifice for their fellow countrymen while they decide the beneficiaries. And all the public good is then confined to one thing. The good of the aristocracy of pull.
Besides the USSR, India, the country in which I live, is a real example to depict it. India gained independence from the British rule in the year 1947. The first prime minister of the country was Jawaharlal Nehru. He was a socialist at heart and believed that government policy should be driven with public good at its helm. He and his successors have ruled India for more than half a century ever since, with the same principle as their ideal to change India. Has any ‘good’ resulted from it? The result is that, while Nehru put in place a system of election campaigning that ensured the sustenance of his sons and daughters, the country consisting of a huge population of entrepreneurial youth has grown ever slowly and far less than its capacity.
Public Good, in its truest sense, can only be achieved in a social system which allows complete individual freedom to act and the right to enjoy the fruits of the action. It can only be achieved in a system which has ‘justice’ as its guiding principle. A society where men are free to make their own decisions. A society which has a system to prevent the usage of violence by any man or group of men.
Rearden knows that the pursuit of Public Good is being made by an almost opposite means. It is proclaimed that ‘individual’ freedom is unimportant in front of ‘public’ good. The guiding principle upheld is that of ‘sacrifice’ for the common good. The intellectuals of today talk about the ‘fair redistribution of wealth’ by the government, which essentially means that someone else enjoys the benefit of someone else’s produce. Virtually, ‘theft’ is being proclaimed a virtue. It is not an irony that Directive 10-289, the most gruesome of all laws, starts with the words—“In the name of the general welfare….” This is the public good which Hank Rearden damns.
The overall theme of Atlas shrugged is, how such an evil but self-righteous system that emerges from the principle of public good, a system that punishes the able and the competent, a system that makes them slaves of the incompetent, forces John Galt to conspire, Ragnar Danneskjold to become an outlaw, and people such as Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart and others to sacrifice their life’s work and join him in their abode called the ‘Galt’s Gulch’ to start afresh and anew.
At his trial, Rearden challenges not the law or the system that allowed the government to put him on trial, but their moral premise. Because that is a moral premise that requires the people of ability to feel guilty of being able. He refuses to feel guilty for his ability. It is a moral premise that calls for sacrifices from its followers, to which Rearden bluntly says-“…nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices…that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction.”(Around Pg. 446, Atlas Shrugged)
The system motivates Francisco to destroy d’Anconia Copper deliberately and consciously, forces Dagny Taggart to give up her eternal quest of trying to save Taggart Transcontinental, and compels Rearden to sacrifice his precious metal, the Rearden Steel. It is a system that converts New York from a bustling metropolitan to a dilapidated city, where people compete not to prove their ability but to show how they are the most pitiable of all.
But there comes a stage where this system runs out of its fuel, its victims. John Galt had sworn to stop the motor of the world, and so did he. All the men of mind went on strike, disappearing one by one, leaving behind their empires in worthless conditions, not to let the looters use them. All the desperate attempts of Wesley Mouch to stabilise the economy fail. The great country of America, which was envisioned to attain even greater glory following the principle of public good, crumbles into its final collapse. And this collapse denoted the victory of the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch, and the beginning of a new era.
This write-up was sent by me to the “Ayn Rand Institute” as an entry for the 2015 Atlas Shrugged Essay Competition, but it failed to win me a prize. Nevertheless, this essay is one of the gems of all the writings that came out of my head, and I will cherish it.
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