Atlas Shrugged Quotes
Ayn Rand’s heroes are willing to ask and answer clear questions, but her villains aren’t.
“I don’t give a damn about your opinion. I am not going to argue with you, with your Board or with your professors. You have a choice to make and you’re going to make it now. Just say yes or no.”
“That’s a preposterous, high-handed, arbitrary way of-—”
“Yes or no?”
“That’s the trouble with you. You always make it ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Things are never absolute like that. Nothing is absolute.”
“Metal rails are. Whether we get them or not, is.”
She waited. He did not answer.
“Are you asking me to help him stage a fraud of that kind?”
“You don’t have to put it that way.”
“Is it a fraud—or isn’t it?”
“That’s why I can’t talk to you—because you’re not human. You have no pity, no feeling for your brother, no compassion for his feelings.”
“Is it a fraud or not?”
“You have no mercy for anybody.”
“Do you think that a fraud of this kind would be just?”
“You’re the most immoral man living—you think of nothing but justice! You don’t feel any love at all!”
“A middle ground between you and your murderers?”
“Now why use such words?”
“What I said at the trial, was it true or not?”
“It’s going to be misquoted and misunderstood.”
“Was it true or not?”
“The public is too dumb to grapple with such issues.”
“Was it true or not?”
“Look,” said Rearden. “Now I’ll ask you a question: did your scientists decide that Rearden Metal is not what I claim it is?”
“We have not committed ourselves as to that.”
“Did they decide it’s no good?”
“It is the social impact of a product that must be considered. We are thinking in terms of the country as a whole, we are concerned with the public welfare and the terrible crisis of the present moment, which—”
“Is Rearden Metal good or not?”
“If we view the picture from the angle of the alarming growth of unemployment, which at present—”
“Is Rearden Metal good?”
“At a time of desperate steel shortage, we cannot afford to permit the expansion of a steel company which produces too much, because it might throw out of business the companies which produce too little, thus creating an unbalanced economy which—”
“Are you going to answer my question?”
“The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world. Reality is an absolute, existence is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is a human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. Whether you have a piece of bread or not, is an absolute. Whether you eat your bread or see it vanish into a looter’s stomach, is an absolute.
“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice.
But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube.
Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue.
“This, in every hour and every issue, is your basic moral choice: thinking or non-thinking, existence or non-existence, A or non-A, entity or zero.
“But I can’t decide! Why me?”
“Because it’s your body that’s barring my way.”
“But I can’t decide! I’m not supposed to decide!”
“I’ll count to three,” she said. “Then I’ll shoot.”
“Wait! Wait! I haven’t said yes or no!” he cried, cringing tighter against the door, as if immobility of mind and body were his best protection, “One—” she counted; she could see his eyes staring at her in terror —”Two—” she could see that the gun held less terror for him than the alternative she offered—”Three.”
Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.
A process of reason is a process of constant choice in answer to the question: True or False?—Right or Wrong? Is a seed to be planted in soil in order to grow—right or wrong? Is a man’s wound to be disinfected in order to save his life—right or wrong? Does the nature of atmospheric electricity permit it to be converted into kinetic power—right or wrong? It is the answers to such questions that gave you everything you have—and the answers came from a man’s mind, a mind of intransigent devotion to that which is right.
The Fountainhead Quotes
Ayn Rand uses the phrase “yes or no” four times in The Fountainhead. It’s a major plot point every time. Yes or no decisions add clarity to key moments.
Howard Roark declines a commission that would require compromising his architectural principles. This decision leads directly to Roark taking a manual labor job in a stone quarry:
“You understand the situation, Mr. Roark?”
“Yes,” said Roark. His eyes were lowered. He was looking down at the drawings.
Roark did not answer.
“Yes or no, Mr. Roark?”
Roark’s head leaned back. He closed his eyes.
“No,” said Roark.
To advance his career, Peter Keating blackmails Lucius Heyer. Heyer has a stroke instead of answering:
“I …” Heyer choked. “I …”
“Shut up! You’ve got nothing to say, except yes or no. Think fast now. I’m not here to argue with you.”
Peter Keating agrees to marry Dominique Francon:
“You don’t want me to say anything now, except yes or no?”
He sat looking up at her for a long time. Her glance was on his eyes, but it had no more reality than the glance of a portrait. He felt alone in the room. She stood, patient, waiting, granting him nothing, not even the kindness of prompting him to hurry.
“All right, Dominique. Yes,” he said at last.
Gail Wynand gives in:
“Quiet, gentlemen, quiet! Wynand, this is final: we switch policy on Cortlandt, we take Harding, Allen and Falk back, and we save the wreck. Yes or no?”
There was no answer.
“Wynand, you know it’s that—or you have to close the Banner. You can’t keep this up, even if you bought us all out. Give in or close the Banner. You had better give in.”
Wynand heard that. He had heard it through all the speeches. He had heard it for days before the meeting. He knew it better than any man present. Close the Banner.
He saw a single picture: the new masthead rising over the door of the Gazette.
“You had better give in.”
He made a step back. It was not a wall behind him. It was only the side of his chair.
He thought of the moment in his bedroom when he had almost pulled a trigger. He knew he was pulling it now.
“All right,” he said.