Hank Rearden’s Trial – Atlas Shrugged – Part II

For a month in advance, the people who filled the courtroom had been told by the press that they would see the man who was a greedy enemy of society; but they had come to see the man who had invented Rearden Metal.

 

He stood up, when the judges called upon him to do so. He wore a grey suit, he had pale blue eyes and blond hair; it was not the colours that made his figure seem icily implacable, it was the fact that the suit had an expensive simplicity seldom flaunted these days, that it belonged in the sternly luxurious office of a rich corporation, that his bearing came from a civilised era and clashed with the place around him.

 

The crowd knew from the newspapers that he represented the evil of ruthless wealth; and – as they praised the virtue of chastity, then ran to see any movie that displayed a half-naked female on its posters – so they came to see him; evil, at least, did not have the stale hopelessness of a bromide which none believed and none dared to challenge. They looked at him without admiration – admiration was a feeling they had lost the capacity to experience, long ago; they looked with curiosity and with a dim sense of defiance against those who had told them that it was their duty to hate him.

 

A few years ago, they would have jeered at his air of self-confident wealth. But today, there was a slate-grey sky in the windows of the courtroom, which promised the first snowstorm of a long, hard winter; the last of the country’s oil was vanishing, and the coal mines were not able to keep up with the hysterical scramble for winter supplies. The crowd in the courtroom remembered that this was the case which had cost them the services of Ken Danagger. There were rumours that the output of the Danagger Coal Company had fallen perceptibly within one month; the newspapers said that it was merely a matter of readjustment while Danagger’s cousin was reorganising the company he had taken over. Last week, the front pages had carried the story of a catastrophe on the site of a housing project under construction: defective steel girders had collapsed, killing four workmen; the newspapers had not mentioned, but the crowd knew, that the girders had come from Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel.

 

They sat in the courtroom in heavy silence and they looked at the tall, grey figure, not with hope – they were losing the capacity to hope – but with an impassive neutrality spiked by a faint question mark; the question mark was placed over all the pious slogans they had heard for years.

 

The newspapers had snarled that the cause of the country’s troubles, as this case demonstrated, was the selfish greed of rich industrialists; that it was men like Hank Rearden who were to blame for the shrinking diet, the falling temperature and the cracking roofs in the homes of the nation; that if it had not been for men who broke regulations and hampered the government’s plans, prosperity would have been achieved long ago; and that a man like Hank Rearden was prompted by nothing but the profit motive. This last was stated without explanation or elaboration, as if the words “profit motive” were the self-evident brand of ultimate evil.

 

The crowd remembered that these same newspapers, less than two years ago, had screamed that the production of Rearden Metal should be forbidden, because its producer was endangering people’s lives for the sake of his greed; they remembered that the man in grey had ridden in the cab of the first engine to run over a track of his own Metal; and that he was now on trial for the greedy crime of withholding from the public a load of the Metal which it had been his greedy crime to offer in the public market.

 

According to the procedure established by directives, cases of this kind were not tried by a jury, but by a panel of three judges appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources; the procedure, the directives had stated, was to be informal and democratic. The judge’s bench had been removed from the old Philadelphia courtroom for this occasion, and replaced by a table on a wooden platform; it gave the room an atmosphere suggesting the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.

 

One of the judges, acting as prosecutor, had read the charges.
“You may now offer whatever plea you wish to make in your own defence,” he announced. Facing the platform, his voice inflectionless and peculiarly clear, Hank Rearden answered:
“I have no defence.”
“Do you –” The judge stumbled; he had not expected it to be that easy. “Do you throw yourself upon the mercy of this court?”
“I do not recognise this court’s right to try me.”
“What?”
“I do not recognise this court’s right to try me.”
“But, Mr. Rearden, this is the legally appointed court to try this particular category of crime.”
“I do not recognise my action as a crime.”
“But you have admitted that you have broken our regulations controlling the sale of your Metal.”
“I do not recognise your right to control the sale of my Metal.”
“Is it necessary for me to point out that your recognition was not required?”
“No. I am fully aware of it and I am acting accordingly.”

 

He noted the stillness of the room. By the rules of the complicated pretence which all those people played for one another’s benefit, they should have considered his stand as incomprehensible folly; there should have been rustles of astonishment and derision; there were none; they sat still; they understood.
“Do you mean that you are refusing to obey the law?” asked the judge.
“No. I am complying with the law – to the letter. Your law holds that my life, my work and my property may be disposed of without my consent. Very well, you may now dispose of me without my participation in the matter. I will not play the part of defending myself, where no defence is possible, and I will not simulate the illusion of dealing with a tribunal of justice.”
“But, Mr. Rearden, the law provides specifically that you are to be given an opportunity to present your side of the case and to defend yourself.”
“A prisoner brought to trial can defend himself only if there is an objective principle of justice recognised by his judges, a principle upholding his rights, which they may not violate and which he can invoke. The law, by which you are trying me, holds that there are no principles, that I have no rights and that you may do with me whatever you please. Very well. Do it.” “Mr. Rearden, the law which you are denouncing is based on the highest principle – the principle of the public good.”
“Who is the public? What does it hold as its good? There was a time when men believed that ‘the good’ was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values and that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to e their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it – well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act.”

 

A group of seats at the side of the courtroom was reserved for the prominent visitors who had come from New York to witness the trial. Dagny sat motionless and her face showed nothing but a solemn attention, the attention of listening with the knowledge that the flow of his words would determine the course of her life. Eddie Willers sat beside her. James Taggart had not come. Paul Larkin sat hunched forward, his face thrust out, pointed like an animal’s muzzle, sharpened by a look of fear now turning into malicious hatred. Mr. Mowen, who sat beside him, was a man of greater innocence and smaller understanding; his fear was of a simpler nature; he listened in bewildered indignation and he whispered to Larkin, “Good God, now he’s done it! Now he’ll convince the whole country that all businessmen are enemies of the public good!”

 

“Are we to understand,” asked the judge, “that you hold your own interests above the interests of the public?”
“I hold that such a question can never arise except in a society of cannibals.”
“What … do you mean?”
“I hold that there is no clash of interests among men who do not demand the unearned and do not practice human sacrifices.”
“Are we to understand that if the public deems it necessary to curtail your profits, you do not recognise its right to do so?”
“Why, yes, I do. The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes – by refusing to buy my product.”
“We are speaking of … other methods.”
“Any other method of curtailing profits is the method of looters – and I recognise it as such.”
“Mr. Rearden, this is hardly the way to defend yourself.”
“I said that I would not defend myself.”
“But this is unheard of! Do you realise the gravity of the charge against you?”
“I do not care to consider it.”
“Do you realise the possible consequences of your stand?”
“Fully.”
“It is the opinion of this court that the facts presented by the prosecution seem to warrant no leniency. The penalty which this court has the power to impose on you is extremely severe.”
“Go ahead.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Impose it.”
The three judges looked at one another. Then their spokesman turned back to Rearden. “This is unprecedented,” he said.
“It is completely irregular,” said the second judge. “The law requires you submit to a plea in your own defence. Your only alternative is to state for the record that you throw yourself upon the mercy of the court.”
“I do not.”
“But you have to.”
“Do you mean that what you expect from me is some sort of voluntary action?”
“Yes.”
“I volunteer nothing.”
“But the law demands that the defendant’s side be represented on the record.”
“Do you mean that you need my help to make this procedure legal?”
“Well, no … yes … that is, to complete the form.”
“I will not help you.”
The third and youngest judge, who had acted as prosecutor snapped impatiently, “This is ridiculous and unfair! Do you want to let it look as if a man of your prominence had been railroaded without a –” He cut himself off short. Somebody at the back of the courtroom emitted a long whistle.
“I want,” said Rearden gravely, “to let the nature of this procedure appear exactly for what it is. If you need my help to disguise it – I will not help you.”
“But we are giving you a chance to defend yourself – and it is you who are rejecting it.”
“I will not help you to pretend that I have a chance. I will not help you to preserve an appearance of righteousness where rights are not recognised. I will not help you to preserve an appearance of rationality by entering a debate in which a gun is the final argument. I will not help you to pretend that you are administering justice.”
“But the law compels you to volunteer a defence!”
There was laughter at the back of the courtroom.
That is the flaw in your theory, gentlemen,” said Rearden gravely, “and I will not help you out of it. If you choose to deal with men by means of compulsion, do so. But you will discover that you need the voluntary co-operation of your victims, in many more ways than you can see at present. And your victims should discover that it is their own volition – which you cannot force – that makes you possible. I choose to be consistent and I will obey you in the manner you demand. Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there – I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine – I will not volunteer to pay it. If you believe that you have the right to force me – use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.”
The eldest judge leaned forward across the table and his voice became suavely derisive: “You speak as if you were fighting for some sort of principle, Mr. Rearden, but what you’re actually fighting for is only your property, isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course. I am fighting for my property. Do you know the kind of principle that represents?”
“You pose as a champion of freedom, but it’s only the freedom to make money that you’re after.”
“Yes, of course. All I want is the freedom to make money. Do you know what that freedom implies?”
“Surely, Mr. Rearden, you wouldn’t want your attitude to be misunderstood. You wouldn’t want to give support to the widespread impression that you are a man devoid of social conscience, who feels no concern for the welfare of his fellows and works for nothing but his own profit.”
“I work for nothing but my own profit. I earn it.”

 
There was a gasp, not of indignation, but of astonishment, in the crowd behind him and silence from the judges he faced. He went on calmly:
“No, I do not want my attitude to be misunderstood. I shall be glad to state it for the record. I am in full agreement with the facts of everything said about me in the newspapers – with the facts, but not with the evaluation. I work for nothing but my own profit – which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage – and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner. I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with – voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started, the voluntary consent of those who work for me now, the voluntary consent of those who buy my product. I shall answer all the questions you are afraid to ask me openly. Do I wish to pay my workers more than their services are worth to me? I do not. Do I wish to sell my product for less than my customers are willing to pay me? I do not. Do I wish to sell it at a loss or give it away? I do not. If this is evil, do whatever you please about me, according to whatever standards you hold. These are mine. I am earning my own living, as every honest man must. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and the fact that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people – the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbours and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologise for my ability – I refuse to apologise for my success – I refuse to apologise for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it. If this is what the public finds harmful to its interests, let the public destroy me. This is my code – and I will accept no other. I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow men than you can ever hope to accomplish – but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognise the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life. I will not say that the good of others was the purpose of my work – my own good was my purpose, and I despise the man who surrenders his. I could say to you that you do not serve the public good – that 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 right of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation – as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won’t. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own – I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!”

 

The crowd burst into applause.

 

Rearden whirled around, more startled than his judges. He saw face that laughed in violent excitement, and faces that pleaded for help; he saw their silent despair breaking out into the open; he saw the same anger and indignation as his own, finding release in the wild defiance of their cheering; he saw the looks of admiration and the looks of hope. There were also the face of loose-mouthed young men and maliciously unkempt females, the kind who led the booing in newsreel theatres at any appearance of a businessman of the screen; they did not attempt a counter-demonstration; they were silent.

 

As he looked at the crowd, people saw in his face what the threats of the judges had not been able to evoke: the first sign of emotion. It was a few moments before they heard the furious beating of a gavel upon the table and one of the judges yelling:
” — or I shall have the courtroom cleared!”
As he turned back to the table, Rearden’s eyes moved over the visitor’s section. His glance paused on Dagny, a pause perceptible only to her, as if he were saying: It works. She would have appeared calm except that her eyes seemed to have become too large for her face. Eddie Willers was smiling the kind of smile that is a man’s substitute for breaking into tears. Mr. Mowen looked stupefied. Paul Larkin was staring at the floor. There was no expression on Bertram Scudder’s face – or on his wife, Lillian’s. She sat at the end of a row, her legs crossed, a mink stole slanting from her right shoulder to her left hip; she looked at Rearden, not moving.

 

In the complex violence of all the things he felt, he had time to recognise a touch of regret and longing: there was a face he had hoped to see, had looked for from the start of the session, had wanted to be present more than any other face around him. But Francisco d’Anconia had not come.
“Mr Rearden,” said the eldest judge, smiling affably, reproachfully and spreading his arms, “it is regrettable that you should have misunderstood us so completely. That’s the trouble – that businessmen refuse to approach us in a spirit of trust and friendship. They seem to imagine that we are their enemies. Why do you speak of human sacrifices? What made you go to such an extreme? We have no intention of seizing your property or destroying your life. We do not seek to harm your interests. We are fully aware of your distinguished achievements. Our purpose is only to balance social pressures and do justice to all. This hearing is really intended, not as a trial, but as a friendly discussion aimed at mutual understanding and co-operation.”
“I do not co-operate at the point of a gun.”
“Why speak of guns? This matter is not serious enough to warrant such references. We are fully aware that the guilt in this case lies chiefly with Mr. Kenneth Danagger, who instigated this infringement of the law, who exerted pressure upon you and who confessed his guilt by disappearing his guilt by disappearing in order to escape trial.”
“No. We did it by equal, mutual, voluntary agreement.”
“Mr. Rearden,” said the second judge, “you may not share some of our ideas, but when all is said and done, we’re all working for the same cause. For the good of the people. We realise that you were prompted to disregard legal technicalities by the critical situation of the coal mines and the crucial importance of fuel to the public welfare.”
“No. I was prompted by my own profit and my own interests. What effect it had on the coal mines and the public welfare is for you to estimate. That was not my motive.”
Mr. Mowen stared dazedly about him and whispered to Paul Larkin, “Something’s gone screwy here.”
“Oh, shut up!” snapped Larkin.
“I am sure, Mr. Rearden,” said the eldest judge, “that you do not really believe – nor does the public – that we wish to treat you as a sacrificial victim. If anyone has been laboring under such a misapprehension, we are anxious to prove that it is not true.”

 

The judges retired to consider their verdict. They did not stay out long. They returned to an ominously silent courtroom – and announced that a fine of $5,000 was imposed on Henry Rearden, but that the sentence was suspended. Streaks of jeering laughter ran through the applause that swept the courtroom. The applause was aimed at Rearden, the laughter – at the judges.

 

Rearden stood motionless, not turning to the crowd, barely hearing the applause. He stood looking at the judges. There was no triumph in his face, no elation, only the still intensity of contemplating the enormity of the smallness of the enemy who was destroying the world. He felt as if, after a journey of years through a landscape of devastation, past the ruins of great factories, the wrecks of powerful engines, the bodies of invincible men, he had come upon the despoiler, expecting to find a giant – and had found a rat eager to scurry for cover at the first sound of a human step. If this is what has beaten us, he thought, the guilt is ours.

 

He was jolted back into the courtroom by the people pressing to surround him. He smiled in answer to their smiles, to the frantic tragic eagerness of their faces; there was a touch of sadness in his smile.
“God bless you, Mr. Rearden!” said an old woman with a ragged shawl over her head. “Can’t you save us, Mr. Rearden? They’re eating us alive, and it’s no use fooling anybody about how it’s the rich that they’re after – do you know what’s happening to us?”
“Listen, Mr. Rearden,” said a man who looked like a factory worker, “it’s the rich who’re selling us down the river. Tell those wealthy bastards, who’re so anxious to give everything away, that when they give away their palaces, they’re giving away the skin off our backs.” “I know it,” said Rearden.
The guilt is ours, he thought. If we who were the movers, the providers, the benefactors of mankind, were willing to let the brand of evil be stamped upon us and silently to bear punishment for our virtues – what sort of “good” did we expect to triumph in the world? He looked at the people around him. They had cheered him today; they had cheered him by the side of the track of the John Galt Line. But tomorrow they would clamour for a new directive from Wesley Mouch and a free housing project from Orren Boyle, while Boyle’s girders collapsed upon their heads. They would do it, because they would be told to forget, as a sin, that which had made them cheer Hank Rearden.

 

Why were they ready to renounce their highest moments as a sin? Why were they willing to betray the best within them? What made them believe that this earth was a realm of evil where despair was their natural fate? He could not name the reason, but he know that it had to be named. He felt it as a huge question mark within the courtroom, which it was now his duty to answer.

 

This was the real sentence imposed upon him, he thought – to discover what idea, what simple idea available to the simplest man, had made mankind accept the doctrines that led it to self-destruction.

2 Comments

  1. To regain the rule of law in America, we need to return to proper jury trials. This passage from Atlas Shrugged makes that clear. Please google “Fully Informed Jury Association” to see what you can do to regain proper jury trials, or read “We, The Jury” by Jeffrey Abramson or “Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine” by Clay Conrad.

  2. Pingback: Carlos Slim. ¬°Gracias! « El Blog de Gonzalo

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