Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand Summary and Analysis Part 3: Chapter 5 - Their Brothers' Keepers

Summary

Taggart Transcontinental doesn't have copper wire for desperately needed repairs. The copper shortage reaches crisis status when Francisco d'Anconia, on the hour and day that his company is to be nationalized, destroys every mine, piece of property, and bank account belonging to d'Anconia Copper. Nothing remains for the looters to expropriate. Francisco and the elite members of his staff disappear.

Philip and the Wet Nurse both ask Rearden for a job. He rejects Philip because of his incompetence. He says that he would hire the Wet Nurse if possible, but the Unification Board won't permit him to do so. The Wet Nurse warns Rearden that his Washington superiors are planning to spring a new restrictive policy on Rearden, although he doesn't know the details. The looters are slipping their men — thugs, not steelworkers — into Rearden's mills.

The collapse of the economy accelerates under the rule of gangsters such as Cuffy Meigs. He sends thousands of freight cars needed for the Minnesota wheat harvest to a soybean project in Louisiana, which is run by the mother of a Washington politician. The Minnesota crops rot, meaning starvation for many in the coming winter.

One night, an emergency calls Dagny to the Taggart Terminal, where she sees John Galt standing in a group of manual laborers. After she gives the group its orders, she walks into the tunnels, knowing that he'll follow. There, alone in the tunnels under the Terminal Building, Dagny and John Galt make love for the first time. He warns her that he'll lose his life if she inadvertently leads the looters to him.

Analysis

Cuffy Meigs and people like him gain prominence. As the country becomes more fully socialistic, thugs like Cuffy Meigs, whose only goal is to plunder, take control. When the government robs the productive, it also attracts criminals to itself. Dagny realizes that it makes no difference if the railroad's storehouses are raided to support the needy or to bloat the gangsters; either way, the producers are expropriated, making the creation of goods and services impossible. Whether motivated by starvation or exploitation, the welfare workers and the criminals are united in the act of robbing the productive.

Cuffy Meigs sends the Minnesota freight cars to Louisiana because he gets a kickback from the politicians funding the soybean project. If Eugene Lawson, the sniveling former banker, were running the railroad, he would send the cars to Louisiana because the starving people of the blighted southern areas desperately need soybeans. Either way, the wheat growers of Minnesota are abandoned, the railroad is transformed into an instrument of bureaucratic whim, and the citizens are left without grain. When altruism is the dominant moral code, the producers are robbed. Every parasite can join the feeding frenzy.

This chapter's title refers to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Ayn Rand shows what the religious injunction to be your brother's keeper looks like in practice. Three instances in this chapter embody this injunction. The first instance occurs when the seed grain and the future existence of the Nebraska farmers is seized to feed the starving populace of Sand Creek, Illinois. In this age of enlightenment, says Eugene Lawson, men realize that they are all their brothers' keepers. The second instance occurs when James Taggart, desperate to hold on to the looters' policies that grant him power, begs Dagny to somehow find a way to make the policies work. "Dagny, I'm your brother," he pleads. Despite his role in Cherryl's death, the endless roadblocks he has placed in Dagny's path, and the literal impossibility of making the policies work, he appeals to sibling obligation, hoping to force Dagny into action. The third instance occurs when Philip Rearden, an irresponsible moocher concerned that his gravy train will end if Rearden retires and vanishes, pleads for a job that he can't successfully perform. His brazen request is possible only because he feels justified in arguing that an obligation to one's brother should supersede all other considerations. In all cases, Ayn Rand shows that the unproductive try to argue that an individual is obligated to help either his literal brother or his figurative brothers — humanity. She insists that the motive behind this injunction is to enslave the productive to the moochers, who feel that they have biblical license to take what they want.

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