Chapter 3 opens with a new kind of scene, comprised of wholly non-heroic characters; James Taggart, Orren Boyle (now officially being seen for the first time), Paul Larkin (which is a bit of a surprise; I’d forgotten that he knew them), and a new character, Wesley Mouch. Gotta love that name, it’s like a crouching mooch, just oozes off the page. Anyway, the four of them are in a bar that, in spite of being at the top of a building, gives the impression of being in a cellar both physically (in terms of architecture, lighting, and so forth) and metaphorically (the service is bad).
The conversation is rather hilarious in that it takes about twice as long as would be expected if the heroes were delivering the same information somehow, with lots of passive tenses (“Disunity seems to be the basic cause of all social problems,” says James) and other weasel phrases (“I think”, “in my opinion”). Orren, who you will remember is the CEO of Amalgamated Steel, is upset that he is losing business to Hank Rearden, and in essence is pushing for support to pass laws that send him a “fair share” of business and raw materials via government intervention. Part of the humor (dark and bitter, if one is paying attention to the implications of what they’re proposing) is that James keeps complaining about how bad his drink is and how the bartender should be fired.
Incidentally, Orren had appeared “from nowhere” five years previously, with a hundred thousand dollars of his own money and a two-hundred million dollar loan from the government, and had been buying up smaller concerns. He’s a variation of the bad-guy capitalist like James, different in that, instead of inheriting his position, he is self-made by financial/political shenanigans (as opposed to actually delivering the goods). It’s worth pointing out (again?) that most of both of the good guys and the bad guys appear to be wealthy capitalist entrepreneurs; in order to tell the difference, you’re expected to judge them by the details of how they got their wealth. This is something that many critics of Ayn Rand get wrong; they seem to think that she blindly glorifies the wealthy, which completely misses her point.
“The only justification of private property,” said Orren Boyle, “is public service.” I’m finding that to be a very interesting statement. For a start, what is private property? What does it mean to own something? Clearly, it can’t really have anything to do with physical, immediate locality, or I could just go out to a parking lot and drive off in any convenient BMW that I liked because I was there. From what I can see, ownership, like freedom, comes down to specifics in the social understanding (i.e., laws) that mean we should be able to expect others in society to defend our ability to act, to use the thing possessed. In other words, I expect my car to be in the parking lot, and if it isn’t, I can call the police and they will work to get it back for me. In essence, this is what government and society are all about.
I do happen to believe in the goal of working to build and maintain a society that maximizes human happiness, or at least the opportunity for seeking it. In a sense, that’s “public service” (although we all know that Orren isn’t really interested in anyone else, he just wants an excuse to grab more for himself). I also believe that private property is likely essential to any such society. Heck, if you consider our own physical ability to act to be a possession, then there really is no difference between private property and freedom, and I certainly believe that freedom to act, at least in certain ways, is essential to human happiness. Aside from the fact that we know that Orren is misrepresenting his true underlying position, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with his statement.
I thought I’d get through the bar scene this time, but as usual, it took longer than I thought, so it will have to wait. Cheers!