This chapter opens with a freight train (with some passengers) passing Rearden Steel in the early dawn; I find the descriptions poetic. The passengers had some comments which I’ll come back to in a minute. Meanwhile, the first heat for the first order of the wonderful Rearden Metal is being poured. We see Hank Rearden for the first time: “Ever since he could remember, he had been told that his face was ugly, because it was unyielding and cruel, because it was expressionless.” We will learn that Rearden is only cruel in the same way and to the same extent that Dagny Taggart is cruel; and whether and how they are, or not, is an interesting question — but for another time.
“A worker saw him [Rearden] and grinned […] Rearden smiled in answer: it was the only salute he had received. Then he started back for his office, once again a figure with an expressionless face.” Clearly, Rearden has feelings, but he just doesn’t show them. Rearden has been working on his formula for his new steel for ten years, and it represents a personal and professional triumph.
That night, Hank leaves his office with a bracelet, a chain made of Rearden metal. It’s a gift for his wife, but that poignant scene, one of the more striking ones for me in the book, should probably wait.
For now, back to the passengers on that passing freight train: ‘A passenger, who was a professor of economics, remarked to his companion: “Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?” Another, who was a journalist, made a note for future use in his column: “Hank Rearden is the kind of man who sticks his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Hank Rearden.”‘
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I agree that models regarding the unimportance of individuals in history are flawed; individuals and their decisions can make an enormous difference. I also think that it’s appropriate to take pride in what you do and accomplish. That said, when someone lays sole claim to something by putting their name on it, there’s an element of exclusion there that may be unjustified, a dramatic oversimplification of the result of an extremely complex web of interactions that well could be dismissing the efforts and work of a lot of other people. Let’s imagine, for example, that Orren Boyle (the “bad guy” steel producer) put his name on his company, too — Boyle Steel instead of Associated Steel. Now we know full well, given Rand’s style, that Boyle didn’t create his company or add any value to it, even though we haven’t read any details about it yet in the book. This makes the name “Boyle Steel” an affront to those in the company trying to work hard to make it work legitimately. It would be the equivalent of James Taggart renaming his company “James Taggart Transcontinental”, when it’s Dagny Taggart, and people like Eddie Willers and Owen Kellogg (until recently) that make it work.
It really feels like there must be a way to distinguish between taking honest pride in what one does of value, and essentially laying claim to things that were accomplished with the help of others but not giving them credit. In real life, it seems like most of the people who name things after themselves are just assholes, and I have trouble reconciling this with Rand’s implied position. Perhaps this discussion, like so many others, has to wait until she actually lays out her position explicitly.