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The Defense of Capitalism in: The Trial of Hank Rearden from ' Atlas Shrugged ' by Ayn Rand

Posted Wednesday, December 5, 2012, at 7:54 AM

Edited for size, but not content.

For a month in advance, the people who filled the courtroom had been told by the press that they would see the man who was a greedy enemy of society; but they had come to see the man who had invented Rearden Metal. The crowd knew from the newspapers that he represented the evil of ruthless wealth. They looked at him with curiosity and with a dim sense of defiance against those who had told them that it was their duty to hate him.

The newspapers snarled that the cause of the country's troubles, as this case demonstrated, was the selfish greed of rich industrialists; that it was men like Hank Rearden who were to blame for the shrinking diet, the cooling of the Earth, and the cracking roofs people's homes. That if it had not been for men who broke regulations and hampered the government's plans, prosperity would have been achieved long ago. That a man like Hank Rearden was prompted by nothing but the profit motive. This last was stated without explanation or elaboration, as if the words "profit motive" were the self-evident brand of ultimate evil ...

Cases of this kind were not tried by a jury, but by a panel of three judges appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources; the procedure was to be informal and democratic. One of the judges, acting as prosecutor, read out loud the charges.

"You may now offer whatever plea you wish to make in your own defense," he announced.

Hank Rearden answered: "I have no defense."

"Do you mean that you are refusing to obey the law?" asked the judge.

"No. I am complying with the law - to the letter. Your law holds that my life, my work and my property may be disposed of without my consent. Very well, you may now dispose of me without my participation in the matter. I will not play the part of defending myself, where no defense is possible, and I will not simulate the illusion of dealing with a tribunal of justice."

"But, Mr. Rearden, the law provides specifically that you are to be given an opportunity to present your side of the case and to defend yourself."

"The law, by which you are trying me, holds that there are no principles, that I have no rights and that you may do with me whatever you please. Very well. Do it."

"Mr. Rearden, the law which you are denouncing is based on the highest principle - the principle of the public good."

"Who is the public? What does it hold as its good? There was a time when men believed that 'the good' was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values and that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it - well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act."

"Are we to understand that if the public deems it necessary to curtail your profits, you do not recognize its right to do so?"

"Why, yes, I do. The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes by refusing to buy my product."

"We are speaking of ... other methods."

"Any other method of curtailing profits is the method of looters and I recognize it as such."

"Mr. Rearden, this is hardly the way to defend yourself."

"I said that I would not defend myself."

"It is the opinion of this court that the facts presented by the prosecution seem to warrant no leniency. The penalty which this court has the power to impose on you is extremely severe."

"Go ahead."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Impose it."

The three judges looked at one another. Then their spokesman turned back to Rearden. "This is unprecedented," he said.

"The third and youngest judge, who had acted as prosecutor snapped impatiently, "This is ridiculous and unfair! Do you want to let it look as if a man of your prominence had been railroaded without a --"

He cut himself off short. Somebody at the back of the courtroom emitted a long whistle.

"I want," said Rearden gravely, "to let the nature of this procedure appear exactly for what it is. If you need my help to disguise it - I will not help you."

"But the law compels you to volunteer a defense!"

There was laughter at the back of the courtroom.

"If you choose to deal with men by means of compulsion, do so. Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there. I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine. I will not volunteer to pay it. If you believe that you have the right to force me, use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action."

The eldest judge leaned forward across the table. His voice now suavely derisive: "You speak as if you were fighting for some sort of principle, Mr. Rearden, but what you're actually fighting for is only your property, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course. I am fighting for my property. Do you know the kind of principle that represents?"

"You pose as a champion of freedom, but it's only the freedom to make money that you're after."

"Yes, of course. All I want is the freedom to make money. Do you know what that freedom implies?"

"Surely, Mr. Rearden, you wouldn't want your attitude to be misunderstood. You wouldn't want to give support to the widespread impression that you are a man devoid of social conscience, who feels no concern for the welfare of his fellows and works for nothing but his own profit."

"I work for nothing but my own profit. I earn it."

There was a gasp, not of indignation, but of astonishment, in the crowd behind him and silence from the judges he faced. He went on calmly:

"No, I do not want my attitude to be misunderstood. I shall be glad to state it for the record. I am in full agreement with the facts of everything said about me in the newspapers. The facts, not the evaluation. I work for nothing but my own profit which I make by selling a product people need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at my expense. They do not buy it for my benefit at their expense. We deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage and I am proud of every penny I have earned.

"I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with. The voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started. The voluntary consent of those who work for me now. The voluntary consent of those who buy my product.

"Mr. Rearden," said the eldest judge, smiling affably, reproachfully and spreading his arms, "it is regrettable that you should have misunderstood us so completely. That's the trouble; businessmen refuse to approach us in a spirit of trust and friendship. They seem to imagine that we are their enemies. We have no intention of seizing your property or destroying your life. We do not seek to harm your interests. We are fully aware of your distinguished achievements. Our purpose is only to balance social pressures and do justice to all. This hearing is really intended, not as a trial, but as a friendly discussion aimed at mutual understanding and co-operation."

"I do not co-operate at the point of a gun."

"Why speak of guns? This matter is not serious enough to warrant such references.

"Mr. Rearden," said the second judge, "you may not share some of our ideas, but when all is said and done, we're all working for the same cause. For the good of the people.

"No. I was prompted by my own profit and my own interests.

The judges retired to consider their verdict. They did not stay out long. They returned to an ominously silent courtroom. The judges announced that a fine of $5,000 was imposed on Henry Rearden, but that the sentence was suspended.

Streaks of jeering laughter ran through the applause that swept the courtroom. The applause was aimed at Rearden, the laughter at the judges.



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