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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 4 : Either-Or (The Sanction of the Victim) | Summary



It is Thanksgiving; Hank Rearden's trial is the next day. Lillian Rearden thinks her husband's willingness to risk imprisonment for his principles is foolish; it is impossible to know what is right. When his brother, Philip Rearden, calls him guilty and contemptible, Hank reminds him that if he withdraws his charity, Philip will be on the streets. Hank tells his mother he doesn't care what becomes of his family if he's imprisoned.

At his trial, Hank Rearden informs the court he doesn't recognize its authority; to his mind the "principle of the public good" is the same as burglary, but a "burglar does not ask me to sanction his act." Rearden is required to submit a defense for the court's paperwork; he refuses to do so, saying, "Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun." He is fighting for the principle of property rights. He works only for his own profit; if the public good "requires victims," then "the public good be damned!" Rearden's sentence is suspended; the crowd laughs and applauds.

Rearden reflects he has been guilty only of submitting to the looters. He wonders how the public has been sold the lies that make them accept their own self-destruction. Inspired by Rearden's performance, Dagny Taggart says she'll never quit because he's proved "the right ... always wins."

Francisco d'Anconia tells Rearden to read the trial's transcript to see if he is living by his statements "fully and consistently—or not." Francisco becomes emotional, crying, "It's been twelve years and yet I'm still unable to see it indifferently!" Francisco explains he has intentionally created his playboy reputation as "camouflage" for a private purpose Rearden will soon understand.

Rearden tells Francisco he expects a shipment of d'Anconia copper, ordered under another name. Francisco says he told Rearden never to deal with d'Anconia Copper. Francisco pledges his friendship, saying Rearden will damn him soon. Three days later, Ragnar Danneskjöld sinks the shipment. Rearden wants to kill Francisco.


The chapter's title, "The Sanction of the Victim," reflects the idea that looters can victimize only those who consent to their own victimization. Hank Rearden stands up to his family, withdrawing his consent to be victimized by them. He pities them; he doesn't respect their judgments or recognize their authority over him.

He adopts the same strategy at his trial. Rearden wins by doing nothing other than refusing to participate in the court's charade. Both the public and Dagny Taggart are inspired by this clever victory. Dagny feels victory is certain when one has the courage to follow one's principles to the end. After his trial, Rearden realizes the public has accepted its own victimization, just as he had. He wonders what could convince people to do so; he doesn't realize such consent springs from a willingness, born of fear, to submit to an external authority at the expense of one's own reason.

In light of their deepening connection, Francisco d'Anconia makes some confessions to Rearden: he has manipulated the public into believing he is a certain way so he can work on a private mission without scrutiny. He lets slip that this has been going on for 12 years, a number that will reappear later. His reaction to Rearden's copper order indicates he is somehow working with Ragnar Danneskjöld; he seems to have foreknowledge of the shipment's sinking. Rearden is angry because he now won't be able to fulfill his orders; he won't be able to keep his word.

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