Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapter 7 - The Moratorium on Brains

Summary

Eddie Willers tells the worker in the Taggart cafeteria that Dagny has resigned and is staying at her lodge in the Berkshires. The worker mentions to Eddie that every year he takes a month off at his own expense to spend with friends.

Hank Rearden moves out of his house and gets an apartment in Philadelphia. Knowing that the looters' knowledge regarding his relationship with Dagny came from Lillian, he instructs his lawyer to do whatever is necessary to obtain a divorce devoid of alimony or property settlement. Walking to his apartment one night from the mills, he is approached by a stranger who wants to give Rearden money in the form of gold bars. The stranger explains that the gold is a partial repayment for the income taxes that Rearden has paid for years. The stranger says that he can't stand the injustice of the looters robbing Rearden of his metal. Rearden is at first appalled to learn that the man is the pirate Ragnar Dannesjköld, yet just moments later, he lies to the police to prevent Dannesjköld's capture.

The Taggart Comet breaks down in the mountains of Colorado, stranding a train full of passengers. Replacement diesel engines aren't available, only a coal burner that isn't safe to navigate through the lengthy tunnel on the Comet's route. Kip Chalmers, a prominent politician riding the Comet on his way to a rally in San Francisco, bullies the railroad employees into bringing the coal-burning engine despite the risks involved. The coal burner is attached, and the worst possible result occurs: Passengers and crew are asphyxiated in the tunnel. An army munitions train, running off its normal schedule, slams into the stalled Comet in the tunnel. Its armament detonates, bringing tons of mountainside down on the Taggart Tunnel.

Analysis

Ragnar Dannesjköld tells Rearden that he's out to destroy Robin Hood, the man who, according to legend, stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Ragnar, by contrast, steals from the poor to give to the rich. To be exact, he steals from the parasites to give goods back to the men who produced them. Ragnar seizes U.S. relief vessels bound for various Peoples' States around the globe and converts the pirated goods into gold for men like Rearden.

Ragnar is a powerful force for justice in the story. He risks his life every day in his battle to ensure that looters don't benefit from the goods they extort and that productive men receive restitution. His character embodies irony; in order to fight for justice, he's compelled to become a criminal. After talking with Ragnar, Rearden starts to understand that when the law is engaged in robbery, people who want to return stolen goods to their rightful owners must become outlaws.

The Taggart Tunnel disaster is brought about by factors much deeper than politics. The best minds — especially Dagny's — have resigned from the railroad because it's impossible to produce under the arbitrary decrees of the looters' regime. Their unswerving commitment to facts, no matter how unpleasant, is what makes minds such as Dagny's the best. However, this rational perspective is exactly what the railroad currently lacks. Under Dagny's watch, the whims of a powerful politician wouldn't warrant consideration above the facts. Dagny would've refused to allow a coal burner to enter the tunnel, and Kip Chalmers would've punished her by using his political influence.

But with Jim Taggart's friends now running the railroad's Operating Department, the situation is different. To Jim's friends, facts are malleable details that can be molded by the caprices of men with political power. The laws of science and nature don't take precedence in their minds; the commands of powerful men do. Opinions — especially the opinions of political leadership — come first. The slogan "perception is reality" captures the essence of minds such as these. Truth is determined by a public opinion poll. Dagny wants to run trains efficiently; Jim's friends wish to curry favor with the politicians. Dagny will avoid tragic accidents; Jim's friend's will avoid blame. To Dagny, the facts required for a safe journey take precedence; to Jim's friends, avoiding the wrath of powerful politicians takes precedence. Dagny's rational mind is desperately missed in this scene. The difference between her method of thinking and the method of those currently in power is the difference between life and death.

Glossary

moratorium any authorized delay or stopping of some specified activity. In this novel, it refers to the rejection of the mind and the rejection of reason that is responsible for the Taggart Tunnel tragedy.

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