Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Power

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Motive power – thought Dagny, looking up at the Taggart Building in the twilight – was its first need; motive power, to keep that building standing; movement, to keep it immovable. (

Motive power is a running theme throughout the book. The idea of motors symbolizes Galt's strike and his value system, which proposes that the mind propels the world.

The sounds of torture became defiance, the statement of agony became a hymn to a distant vision for whose sake anything was worth enduring, even this. It was the song of rebellion – and of a desperate quest. (

Halley's Fourth Concerto seems to rebel against the world of the looters, expressing power by refusing to submit quietly. This concept of rebellion is important in the book: many of our heroes are trapped in bad situations with limited resources.

"Dan," she said through her teeth, "fight it."

He raised his head. His eyes were empty. "No," he said, "it would be wrong. I'm just selfish."

"Oh, damn that rotten tripe! You know better than that!"

"I don't know . . ." His voice was very tired. (

Dan has taken in the looters' ideas to such an extent that he can't see a way around them, even though he knows they are wrong. He doesn't realize his own power to fight back here and instead is beaten down and defeated.

There was no action she could take against the men of undefined thought, of unnamed motives, of unstated purposes, of unspecified morality. There was nothing she could say to them – nothing would be heard or answered. What were the weapons, she thought, in a realm where reason was not a weapon any longer? (

This concept of "undefined thought" is a crucial one: it describes how the looters operate, with denial and evasions, and is at the root of much of the fear in the book. For Dagny, it's frightening not knowing what's going on and feeling that her traditional weapons, like reason, are useless. In a way this is why Galt's strike started: reason stopped being effective, so Galt set out to prove his point nonverbally, through tangible consequences.

"They need some sort of sanction from us. I don't know the nature of that sanction – but, Dagny, I know that if we value our lives we must not give it to them." (

The "sanction of the victim" is one of the book's most important recurring phrases and ideas. Galt's strike is about refusing to give the looters a "sanction," or a go-ahead.

"The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes create a nation of lawbreakers – and then you cash in on guilt." (

Ferris's idea of power is based on fear and psychological control. It's interesting that he uses the term "cash in on guilt." Looters don't like money, but they use something that resembles a money system in the way they "trade" favors and "cash in" on people.

"We won't have to decide. Nobody will be permitted to decide anything. It will be decided once and for all." (

James is always wanting to avoid having to make a choice. Here he sketches out his idea of a utopia, where the government will use its power to decide everything "once and for all" so that no one will ever have to decide anything again.

One could prove nothing to a tribunal that had no stated policy, no defined procedure, no rules of evidence, no binding principles – a tribunal, such as the Unification Board, that pronounced men guilty or innocent as it saw fit, with no standards of guilt or innocence. (

We get a view of how oppressive the government is getting here. Washington is powerful enough to get away with pretty much anything without having to answer for it.

"I will put an end to this once and for all," he said. His voice was clear and without any feeling.... "I will stop the motor of the world." (

Galt makes one of the book's most decisive statements about power and rebellion here. If motors represent power, then how much power must Galt have to stop them all?

"Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions...." (

It's interesting that Galt links dictators with "mystics," or people who rule through fear instead of reason. This idea appears in a lot of political theory. For instance, scholars have noted that dictators like Stalin and Mao had "cults of personality," meaning that they built up myths around themselves and demanded that people trust, love, and obey them completely.

"And it was discovered," said Dr. Ferris, "that there are certain frequencies of sound vibration which no structure, organic or inorganic, can withstand." (

Ferris's description of Project X serves as a metaphor for the way the looters operate. The "sound vibrations" of their words and ideas are essentially destroying the country, much as Project X destroys those poor goats.

"Eddie, what do we care about people like him? We're driving an express, and they're riding on the roof, making a lot of noise about being leaders. Why should we care? We have enough power to carry them along – haven't we?" (

Hank assumes that he and his friends can just ignore the looters and to go about their business. But he discovers that "carrying them along" grants them a sanction, which gives them power.

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