Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Villains

From a literary standpoint, one thing that Atlas Shrugged lacks is interesting villains.  The most interesting villain, such as he is, is James Taggert, the brother of our heroine.  Rand's obsessive need to degrade anyone not espousing the party line keeps him from being actually interesting, but you can see some hints nonetheless.  In many ways Taggert is a more real businessman and capitalist than her heroes.  Her heroes prosper by various feats of magic - conjuring electricity from the air, oil from a stone, and high temperature alloys from mixture of copper and iron - but Taggert's art is the art of the deal, made to look as disgusting and disreputable as possible, but still recognizably closer to what many businessmen spend their efforts on.

For those who, unlike Rand, prefer not to fake their reality to fit the religion of the cult, this kind of deal making is a more fundamental aspect of human nature than the kind of "make the trains run on time" activity she celebrates.  There is empirical evidence to indicate that facilitating all kinds of cooperative activities was what drove the evolution of the human brain and its elaborate social machinery.

Perhaps the number two villain in the piece is Dr. Robert Stadler, a theoretical physicist who sells out in almost every way.  Implausibly, Rand claimed to base him on her interviews of Robert Oppenheimer.  For anyone with any knowledge of the real Oppenheimer, this identification is preposterous, but it certainly tells us far more about Rand than Oppenheimer. 

Every piece of reality that passes through her twisted mind gets twisted too, like light passing through a chiral medium.  For an intricate and complex mind like Oppenheimer's, the distortion is so complete that nothing recognizable remains.