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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2: Either-Or | Summary

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Summary

Next May, Dr. Robert Stadler is angry because Dr. Floyd Ferris has published a book claiming Stadler's discoveries prove the worthlessness of reason. Ferris defends the book: it sanctions the public's aversion to thinking, so the public will want to support the institute with funding. Stadler is too cowardly to publicly denounce the book.

After Ellis Wyatt disappeared, oil prices skyrocketed, causing bankruptcies and the disappearance of more industrialists. Andrew Stockton's sister tells Dagny Taggart a stranger visited her brother prior to his disappearance and "they talked late into the night."

Dagny continues her search for the motor's inventor; she consults Dr. Stadler about the motor, which excites him tremendously. When he wonders why its creator would waste his time as a commercial inventor, Dagny replies, "Perhaps because he liked living on this earth." He recommends Dagny hire Quentin Daniels, a physicist in Utah, to work on it. Stadler says he once knew a John Galt, but he must be dead; otherwise "the whole world would have been talking of him by now."

Hank Rearden refuses to sell Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute, saying, "If you want that Metal, you have the guns to seize it." The recently passed Fair Share Law limits total production as well as amounts sold to each customer. Washington sends a bureaucrat to oversee Rearden's factory; Rearden calls him Wet Nurse.

Rearden feels he is being "shown the muzzle of a gun" by the government. Their regulations prevent him from innovating. He feels numb and indifferent. As Dagny tells him about her meeting with Stadler, Rearden's motivation returns. They vow not to submit: "Let them destroy your railroad and my mills, but don't give it to them ... That's our only chance."

Analysis

The title of this section refers to Aristotle's law of excluded middle. This law is derived from the law of noncontradiction, the title of the book's first section. The law of excluded middle states that a given proposition is either true or false but not both. Part 2 traces the protagonists' incremental realizations that the contradictions that troubled them in Part 1 are illusory. Throughout Part 2, the characters begin to resolve the contradictions in their own moral code, thus achieving greater understanding and agency in the difficult situations they must face.

As a pure scientist, Dr. Robert Stadler doesn't consider possible practical applications of his work. Although Stadler is Dr. Floyd Ferris's boss, he is really Ferris's pawn. Ferris is a scheming man of action, eager to manipulate the public. Fear of losing his job prevents Stadler from standing up for himself. Stadler's flaw is not an inability to think, but an unwillingness to act according to his principles. It is no wonder his three pupils at Patrick Henry University severed the relationship.

Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart now see that if they don't consent to the government's demands, the government will seize and destroy rather than let them continue working. Wesley Mouch's new dictatorial powers are likely to hasten the collapse they see ahead. Rearden realizes their only option is to withhold their consent and to be willing to sacrifice their mills and railroads in the fight. The important thing is to not give up and to not let the looters loot their minds—as has been done to Stadler.

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