My Favorite Quotes from “Atlas Shrugged”
Started — January 18, 2016 // Finished — September 11, 2016
“He, too, stood looking at her for a moment — and it seemed to her that it was not a look of greeting after an absence, but the look of someone who had thought of her every day of that year.”
“Dagny, there’s nothing of any importance in life — except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard. When you grow up, you’ll know what I mean.”
“I know it now. But . . . Francisco, why are you and I the only ones who seem to know it?”
Her last thought was of the times when she had wanted to express, but found no way to do it, an instant’s knowledge of a feeling greater than happiness, the feeling of one’s blessing upon the whole of the earth, the feeling of being in love with the fact that one exists and in this kind of world;
The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any.
“Dagny,” he asked, his voice low, “what is happening to people? Why did that statement succeed? It’s such an obvious smear-job, so obvious and so rotten. You’d think a decent person would throw it in the gutter. How could” — his voice was breaking in gentle, desperate, rebellious anger — “ how could they accept it? Didn’t they read it? Didn’t they see? Don’t they think? Dagny! What is it in people that lets them do this — and how can we live with it?”
“Quiet, Eddie,” she said, “quiet. Don’t be afraid.”
Since the first time I saw you . . . Nothing but your body, that mouth of yours, and the way your eyes would look at me, if . . . Through every sentence I ever said to you, through every conference you thought so safe, through the importance of all the issues we discussed . . . You trusted me, didn’t you? To recognize your greatness? To think of you as you deserved — as if you were a man? . . . Don’t you suppose I know how much I’ve betrayed? The only bright encounter of my life — the only person I respected — the best businessman I know — my ally — my partner in a desperate battle . . . The lowest of all desires — as my answer to the highest I’ve met . . . Do you know what I am? I thought of it, because it should have been unthinkable. For that degrading need, which should never touch you, I have never wanted anyone but you . . . I hadn’t known what it was like, to want it, until I saw you for the first time. I had thought: Not I, I couldn’t be broken by it . . . Since then . . . for two years . . . with not a moment’s respite . . . Do you know what it’s like, to want it? Would you wish to hear what I thought when I looked at you . . . when I lay awake at night . . . when I heard your voice over a telephone wire . . . when I worked, but could not drive it away? . . . To bring you down to things you can’t conceive — and to know that it’s I who have done it. To reduce you to a body, to teach you an animal’s pleasure, to see you need it, to see you asking me for it, to see your wonderful spirit dependent upon the obscenity of your need. To watch you as you are, as you face the world with your clean, proud strength — then to see you, in my bed, submitting to any infamous whim I may devise, to any act which I’ll perform for the sole purpose of watching your dishonor and to which you’ll submit for the sake of an unspeakable sensation . . . I want you — and may I be damned for it! . . .
This was a longing she had never permitted herself to acknowledge. She faced it now. She thought: If emotion is one’s response to the things the world has to offer, if she loved the rails, the building, and more: if she loved her love for them — there was still one response, the greatest, that she had missed. She thought: To find a feeling that would hold, as their sum, as their final expression, the purpose of all the things she loved on earth . . . To find a consciousness like her own, who would be the meaning of her world, as she would be of his . . . No, not Francisco d’Anconia, not Hank Rearden, not any man she had ever met or admired . . . A man who existed only in her knowledge of her capacity for an emotion she had never felt, but would have given her life to experience . . . She twisted herself in a slow, faint movement, her breasts pressed to the desk; she felt the longing in her muscles, in the nerves of her body. Is that what you want? Is it as simple as that? she thought, but knew that it was not simple. There was some unbreakable link between her love for her work and the desire of her body; as if one gave her the right to the other, the right and the meaning; as if one were the completion of the other — and the desire would never be satisfied, except by a being of equal greatness.
“Whatever I am, she thought, whatever pride of person I may hold, the pride of my courage, of my work, of my mind and my freedom — that is what I offer you for the pleasure of your body, that is what I want you to use in your service — and that you want it to serve you is the greatest reward I can have.”
“They kept asking you questions, too, didn’t they?” He spoke intently, leaning forward.
“And they looked at you with admiration. They looked, as if you stood on a mountain peak and they could only take their hats off to you across the great distance. Didn’t they?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“They looked as if they knew that one may not approach you or speak in your presence or touch a fold of your dress. They knew it and it’s true. They looked at you with respect, didn’t they? They looked up to you?”
He seized her arm, threw her down on her knees, twisting her body against his legs, and bent down to kiss her mouth. She laughed soundlessly, her laughter mocking, but her eyes half-closed, veiled with pleasure.
She could not descend to an existence where her brain would explode under the pressure of forcing itself not to outdistance incompetence. She could not function to the rule of: Pipe down — keep down — slow down — don’t do your best, it is not wanted!
“Good day,” she said. She had turned to go, when he said, his voice jerky and high, “You haven’t any right to despise me.” She stopped to look at him.
“I have expressed no opinion.”
”I am perfectly innocent, since I lost my money, since I lost all of my own money for a good cause. My motives were pure. I wanted nothing for myself. I’ve never sought anything for myself. Miss Taggart, I can proudly say that in all of my life I have never made a profit!”
Her voice was quiet, steady and solemn: “Mr. Lawson, I think I should let you know that of all the statements a man can make, that is the one I consider most despicable.”
She sat, looking out, the blue fur half-slipping off her naked arms and shoulders. He watched her through narrowed eyes, with the satisfaction of a man studying his own workmanship.
“I like giving things to you,” he said, “because you don’t need them.”
“And it’s not that I want you to have them. I want you to have them from me.”
“That is the way I do need them, Hank. From you.”
“Do you understand that it’s nothing but vicious self-indulgence on my part? I’m not doing it for your pleasure, but for mine.”
“Hank!” The cry was involuntary; it held amusement, despair, indignation and pity. “If you’d given me those things just for my pleasure, not yours, I would have thrown them in your face.”
“Yes . . . Yes, then you would — and should.”
“Thought is a primitive superstition. Reason is an irrational idea. The childish notion that we are able to think has been mankind’s costliest error.”
“What you think you think is an illusion created by your glands, your emotions and, in the last analysis, by the content of your stomach.”
“That gray matter you’re so proud of is like a mirror in an amusement park which transmits to you nothing but distorted signals from a reality forever beyond your grasp.” “The more certain you feel of your rational conclusions, the more certain you are to be wrong. Your brain being an instrument of distortion, the more active the brain the greater the distortion.”
“The giants of the intellect, whom you admire so much, once taught you that the earth was flat and that the atom was the smallest particle of matter. The entire history of science is a progression of exploded fallacies, not of achievements.”
“The more we know, the more we learn that we know nothing.”
“Only the crassest ignoramus can still hold to the old-fashioned notion that seeing is believing. That which you see is the first thing to disbelieve.”
“A scientist knows that a stone is not a stone at all. It is, in fact, identical with a feather pillow. Both are only a cloud formation of the same invisible, whirling particles. But, you say, you can’t use a stone for a pillow? Well, that merely proves your helplessness in the face of actual reality.”
“The latest scientific discoveries — such as the tremendous achievements of Dr. Robert Stadler — have demonstrated conclusively that our reason is incapable of dealing with the nature of the universe. These discoveries have led scientists to contradictions which are impossible, according to the human mind, but which exist in reality nonetheless. If you have not yet heard it, my dear old-fashioned friends, it has now been proved that the rational is the insane.”
“Do not expect consistency. Everything is a contradiction of everything else. Nothing exists but contradictions.”
“Do not look for ‘common sense.’ To demand ‘sense’ is the hallmark of nonsense. Nature does not make sense. Nothing makes sense. The only crusaders for ‘sense’ are the studious type of adolescent old maid who can’t find a boy friend, and the old-fashioned shopkeeper who thinks that the universe is as simple as his neat little inventory and beloved cash register.”
“Let us break the chains of the prejudice called Logic. Are we going to be stopped by a syllogism?”
“So you think you’re sure of your opinions? You cannot be sure of anything. Are you going to endanger the harmony of your community, your fellowship with your neighbors, your standing, reputation, good name and financial security — for the sake of an illusion? For the sake of the mirage of thinking that you think? Are you going to run risks and court disasters — at a precarious time like ours — by opposing the existing social order in the name of those imaginary notions of yours which you call your convictions? You say that you’re sure you’re right? Nobody is right, or ever can be. You feel that the world around you is wrong? You have no means to know it. Everything is wrong in human eyes — so why fight it? Don’t argue. Accept. Adjust yourself. Obey.”
“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own — they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal — for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them — while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors — hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom — the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”
“I’ve felt it all my life,” she said. It was an answer she could not refuse him.
“Do you still need proof that I’m always waiting for you?” she asked, leaning obediently back in her chair; her voice was neither tender nor pleading, but bright and mocking.
“Dagny, why is it that most women would never admit that, but you do?”
“Because they’re never sure that they ought to be wanted. I am.”
“I do admire self-confidence.”
“Self-confidence was only one part of what I said, Hank.”
“What’s the whole?”
“Confidence of my value — and yours.”
He glanced at her as if catching the spark of a sudden thought, and she laughed adding, “I wouldn’t be sure of holding a man like Orren Boyle, for instance. He wouldn’t want me at all. You would.”
“Are you saying,” he asked slowly, “that I rose in your estimation when you found that I wanted you?”
“That’s not the reaction of most people of being wanted.”
“Most people feel that they rise in their own eyes, if others want them.”
“I feel that others live up to me, if they want me. And that is the way you feel, too, Hank, about yourself — whether you admit it or not.”
“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against — then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of lawbreakers — and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders — what would you tell him to do?”
“I . . . don’t know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?”
All your life, you have heard yourself denounced, not for your faults, but for your greatest virtues. You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements. You have been scorned for all those qualities of character which are your highest pride. You have been called selfish for the courage of acting on your own judgment and bearing sole responsibility for your own life. You have been called arrogant for your independent mind. You have been called cruel for your unyielding integrity. You have been called antisocial for the vision that made you venture upon undiscovered roads. You have been called ruthless for the strength and self-discipline of your drive to your purpose. You have been called greedy for the magnificence of your power to create wealth. You, who’ve expended an inconceivable flow of energy, have been called a parasite. You, who’ve created abundance where there had been nothing but wastelands and helpless, starving men before you, have been called a robber. You, who’ve kept them all alive, have been called an exploiter. You, the purest and most moral man among them, have been sneered at as a ‘vulgar materialist.’ Have you stopped to ask them: by what right? — by what code? — by what standard? No, you have borne it all and kept silent. You bowed to their code and you never upheld your own. You knew what exacting morality was needed to produce a single metal nail, but you let them brand you as immoral. You knew that man needs the strictest code of values to deal with nature, but you thought that you needed no such code to deal with men. You left the deadliest weapon in the hands of your enemies, a weapon you never suspected or understood. Their moral code is their weapon.
“He saw a girl standing on top of a pile of machinery on a flatcar. She was looking off at the ravine, her head lifted, strands of disordered hair stirring in the wind. Her plain gray suit was like a thin coating of metal over a slender body against the spread of sunflooded space and sky. Her posture had the lightness and unself-conscious precision of an arrogantly pure self-confidence. She was watching the work, her glance intent and purposeful, the glance of competence enjoying its own function. She looked as if this were her place, her moment and her world, she looked as if enjoyment were her natural state, her face was the living form of an active, living intelligence, a young girl’s face with a woman’s mouth, she seemed unaware of her body except as of a taut instrument ready to serve her purpose in any manner she wished.
Had he asked himself a moment earlier whether he carried in his mind an image of what he wanted a woman to look like, he would have answered that he did not; yet, seeing her, he knew that this was the image and that it had been for years. But he was not looking at her as at a woman.
He had forgotten where he was and on what errand, he was held by a child’s sensation of joy in the immediate moment, by the delight of the unexpected and undiscovered, he was held by the astonishment of realizing how seldom he came upon a sight he truly liked, liked in complete acceptance and for its own sake, he was looking up at her with a faint smile, as he would have looked at a statue or a landscape, and what he felt was the sheer pleasure of the sight, the purest esthetic pleasure he had ever experienced.”
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 and do it well. 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 neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability — I refuse to apologize for my success — I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it.
“The men who think that wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the men who think — for the same reason — that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one’s mind, choice or code of values. They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition.
Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.
No matter what corruption he’s taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which he cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyment — just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! — an act which is not possible in self-abasement, only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces him to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and to accept his real ego as his standard of value. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience — or to fake — a sense of self-esteem.
The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer — because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut. He does not seek to gain his value, he seeks to express it. There is no conflict between the standards of his mind and the desires of his body. But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises — because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from the moral code that damns him.
Observe the ugly mess which most men make of their sex lives — and observe the mess of contradictions which they hold as their moral philosophy. One proceeds from the other.
Love is our response to our highest values — and can be nothing else.
Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest love is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values, but in response to flaws — and he will have cut himself in two. His body will not obey him, it will not respond, it will make him impotent toward the woman he professes to love and draw him to the lowest type of whore he can find. His body will always follow the ultimate logic of his deepest convictions; if he believes that flaws are values, he has damned existence as evil and only the evil will attract him. He has damned himself and he will feel that depravity is all he is worthy of enjoying. He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure. Then he will scream that his body has vicious desires of its own which his mind cannot conquer, that sex is sin, that true love is a pure emotion of the spirit. And then he will wonder why love brings him nothing but boredom, and sex — nothing but shame.”
“Their terror had the evasive quality of guilt: it was not the fear that comes from understanding, but from the refusal to understand.”
“I mean that there is no way to disarm any man,” said Dr. Ferris, “except through guilt. Through that which he himself has accepted as guilt. If a man has ever stolen a dime, you can impose on him the punishment intended for a bank robber and he will take it. He’ll bear any form of misery, he’ll feel that he deserves no better. If there’s not enough guilt in the world, we must create it. If we teach a man that it’s evil to look at spring flowers and he believes us and then does it — we’ll be able to do whatever we please with him. He won’t defend himself. He won’t feel he’s worth it. He won’t fight. But save us from the man who lives up to his own standards. Save us from the man of clean conscience. He’s the man who’ll beat us.”
“To love a thing is to know and love its nature.”
“She felt — as she had felt it one spring night, slumped across her desk in the crumbling office of the John Galt Line, by a window facing a dark alley — the sense and vision of her own world, which she would never reach. . . . You — she thought — whoever you are, whom I have always loved and never found, you whom I expected to see at the end of the rails beyond the horizon, you whose presence I had always felt in the streets of the city and whose world I had wanted to build, it is my love for you that had kept me moving, my love and my hope to reach you and my wish to be worthy of you on the day when I would stand before you face to face. Now I know that I shall never find you — that it is not to be reached or lived — but what is left of my life is still yours, and I will go on in your name, even though it is a name I’ll never learn, I will go on serving you, even though I’m never to win, I will go on, to be worthy of you on the day when I would have met you, even though I won’t. . . . She had never accepted hopelessness, but she stood at the window and, addressed to the shape of a fogbound city, it was her self-dedication to unrequited love.”
“H”is face was grave and calm; the look of happiness was gone, but the amusement of the playboy had not returned. He looked as if all masks were down, he looked direct, tightly disciplined, intent upon a purpose, he looked like a man able to know the earnestness of action, as she had once expected him to look — he had never seemed so attractive as he did in this moment — and she noted, in astonishment, her sudden feeling that he was not a man who had deserted her, but a man whom she had deserted.”
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