No Tributes to Caesar: Good or Evil in Atlas Shrugged (MP3 download)
By Tara Smith
Why does Galt declare that "man's reason is his moral faculty?" What does it mean—and what does it take—for a man to truly love his life? What does it mean to accept the death premise? By tracing pivotal elements in Hank's and Dagny's progressive understanding of the essential nature of their alternatives, Dr. Smith shows why Francisco is right in claiming that a man's existence permits "no tributes to Caesar." The lecture also explains how the heroes' deeper knowledge of the fundamental, either-or character of their alternatives makes sense of several of their actions that disturb some readers as unduly harsh (such as Dagny's killing the guard). More broadly, the lecture makes clear how the mutually exclusive, do-or-die character of the alternative between good and evil dictates the absolutism of Ayn Rand's moral code.
This lecture examines the mutually exclusive nature of the life or death alternative as presented in Atlas Shrugged. By probing what it takes to truly love one’s life and what it means to accept the death premise, it validates Francisco’s claim that a man’s existence permits “no tributes to Caesar.” This explains the heroes’ seemingly “harsh” actions, as well as the “extreme” do-or-die necessity of absolutism in ethics.
Atlas Shrugged vividly dramatizes the inescapability—and the stakes—of value choices. This lecture demonstrates how the either-or nature of the alternative between life and death (and correlatively, between good and evil), illuminates both the action of the novel and the “extremism” of Ayn Rand’s moral code.
Note: This lecture is adapted from an essay in Essays on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”
This lecture was recorded at the 2009 Objectivist Summer Conference in Boston, MA.