Sixty years ago, Ayn Rand anticipated Obama’s “You didn’t build that”—and also provided the perfect response to it.

No matter how weird, false, and hate-filled Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ideology is, it remains the case that as our society keeps becoming more leftist and collectivist, many of the elements in her epic novel Atlas Shrugged keep becoming more relevant and prescient.

Recently I have been re-reading Atlas Shrugged, with the aim of writing a summary of what’s terrific, what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s unreadably bad about it. (The title of the article will be, “Atlas Shrugged: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”) Two nights ago I came upon the following passage, on page 246. In the scene, James Taggart, one of the novel’s principal villains, a man who hates all achievement, has just met an idealistic young woman named Cheryl Brooks and is talking to her about the genius steel industrialist Henry Rearden. After ten years of unremitting effort, Rearden has invented a new metal alloy lighter and stronger than steel called Rearden Metal. Fighting against the massed forces of public opinion and every effort to stop him, he has used the Metal to build a new railway line that will save the country’s economy.

Here is the exchange between Taggart and Cheryl:

“He didn’t invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?”


“Rearden. He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.”

She said, puzzled, “But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?”

Cheryl’s reply is of course the correct and perfect reply to Obama’s “You didn’t build that.”

- end of initial entry -

September 2

Terry Morris writes:

I remember that exchange from the book, but I don’t recall, is that the way it ends? [LA replies: The conversation continues, but on other points.] Taggart didn’t continue to press his point about everyone using everyone else’s work? He didn’t say something like:

“But Cheryl, you’re missing the point. Hank Rearden made the metal because of the hard work of everyone else. Because of everyone else’s labor, he was freed up to think of a way to make a superior steel alloy; because of the work of others methods were available to him to test and retest his theories; because of the work of others he had the education necessary for his mind to become creative; because of the work of others he had a reason to design a better metal; because of the work of others he was afforded the ability to choose a profession that would later inspire him to make a stronger steel. Just because he thought of it, and just because he made it, doesn’t make it his. When you consider everyone who has contributed to the creation of this miracle metal, Hank Rearden’s “achievement” pales in significance.”

Terry Morris writes:

Speaking of Rand’s windiness, I loaned my copy of Atlas Shrugged to a friend, warning that Rand “seems to have had a unique ability to cram into five or six paragraphs what most of us could say in one or two.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 31, 2012 11:03 AM | Send

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