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Atlas Now?

Here is part of a dialogue from “Atlas” between a politician and some railroad workers regarding a train that the former thinks should go through a tunnel somehow even though all of the latter know that this can’t be done without killing everyone on board.

“How long?” the conductor said impassively, in answer to his question.  “Till morning, Mr. Chalmers”

Chalmers stared at him, stupefied.  “We’re going to stand here till morning?”

“Yes, Mr. Chalmers.”



“But I have a rally in San Francisco in the evening!”

The conductor did not answer.

“Why? Why do we have to stand? Why in hell? What happened?”

Slowly, patiently, with contemptuous politeness, the conductor gave him an exact account of the situation.  But years ago, in grammar school, in highschool, in college, Kip Chalmers had been taught that man does not and need not live by reason.

Damn your tunnel!” he screamed.  “Do you think I’m going to let you hold me up because of some miserable tunnel?  Do you want to wreck vital national plans on account of a tunnel?  Tell your engineer that I must be in San Francisco by evening and that he’s got to get me there!”


“That’s your job, not mine!”

“There is no way to do it.”

“Then find a way, God damn you!”

The conductor did not answer.

“Do you think I’ll let your miserable technological problems interfere with crucial social issues?  Do you know who I am?  Tell that engineer to start moving, if he values his job!”

 “The engineer has his orders.”

 “Orders be damned! I give the orders these days!  Tell him to start at once!

“Perhaps you’d better speak to the station agent, Mr. Chalmers.  I have no authority to answer you as I’d like to,” said the conductor, and walked out.

Chalmers leaped to his feet.  “Say, Kip…” said Lester Tuck uneasily, “maybe it’s true…maybe they can’t do it.”

“They can if they have to!” snapped Chalmers, marching resolutely to the door.

Years ago, in college, he had been taught that the only effective means to impel men to action was fear.

Now here is Mr. Thompson trying to convince the captive John Galt to help him save the economy.

Mr Thompson looked thoughtful, then shook his head.  “I don’t think you’re practical,” he said.  “A practical man doesn’t ignore the facts of reality.  He doesn’t waste his time wishing things to be different or trying to change them.  He takes things as they are.  We’re holding you.  It’s a fact.  Whether you like it or not, it’s a fact.  You should act accordingly.”

“I am.”

“What I mean is, you should co-operate.  You should recognize an existing situation, accept it and adjust to it.”

“If you had blood poisoning, would you adjust to it or act to change it?”

“Oh, that’s different! That’s physical!”

“You mean, physical facts are open to correction, but your whims are not?”


“You mean, physical nature can be adjusted to men, but your whims are above the laws of nature, and men must adjust to you?“\

“I mean that I hold the upper hand!”

“With a gun in it?”

“Oh, forget about guns! I–”

“I can’t forget a fact of reality, Mr. Thompson.  That would be impractical.”

“All right, then: I hold a gun.  What are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll act accordingly.  I’ll obey you.”


“I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”

“Do you mean it?”

“I mean it.  Literally.”  He saw the eagerness of mr. Thompson’s face ebb slowly under a look of bewilderment.  “I will perform any motion you order me to perform.  If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I’ll move into it.  If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it.  If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue.”

“Oh, but I don’t know what directives to issue!”

“I don’t, either.”

There was a long pause.

“Well?” said Galt.  “What are your orders?”

“I want you to save the economy of the country!”

“I don’t know how to save it.”

“I want you to find a way!”

“I don’t know how to find it.”

“I want you to think!”

“How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?”

Now read this story and note the quote by the environmentalist at the end: “We’re a talented country, full of brilliant people who can solve these problems in a way that’s a win for the environment and a win for the economy.”  We’ve given control of the country to people who don’t recognize the tradeoffs implied by the laws of nature.  They only understand how to demand things.  They legislate that coal mining be cleaner and they just assume that someone will figure out how to do it at not cost.  They decree that everyone has a right to healthcare as if decreeing it will, by itself, conjure up the resources necessary to give everyone as much healthcare as they want.  Are we going to let this go on until someone is pointing a gun at a minor and saying “produce some coal and do it without causing any pollution” and at a doctor and saying “produce some healthcare and do it for free?”  No doubt this will be quite the socialist utopia with all the coal and healthcare you could ever want with no pollution and you won’t have to work at all, just hold a gun.  Just make sure you’re the one holding the gun.

Categories: Atlas Now?, Uncategorized
  1. April 14, 2010 at 11:18 am

    It’s been some time since I read either of those sections … guess I’ll be dusting off my ‘Atlas’ !! Thanks !

    • Free Radical
      April 15, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      That’s a good idea, it’s looking more and more prophetic to me every day, sadly. Plus it’s a great book.

    • Free Radical
      April 15, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      P.S. It’s looking like the situation with the Polish president’s plane may have been strikingly similar to the scene in which that first excerpt appears. The more I think about that book the more spooky things seem. Also, someone on tv, I think John Stossel or Andrew Nepolitano or someone like that, was taking a poll on who is the real Wesley Mouch. He mentioned some obvious but not very appropriate choices like Barak Obam (who is obviously Mr. Thompson) and Harry Reid but didn’t mention the fact that we actually did just create a “regulatory czar” position and put someone in it that nobody knows named Cass Sunstein who almost pefectly fits the profile.

  2. Free Radical
    April 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    P.P.S. Right now, Glenn Beck is talking about our massive and expanding amounts of foreign aid which, if you recall, was also going on in the book since all the other “people’s republics” were already bankrupt (Greece) and only surviving on what they could loot from America.

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