We have been exploring the most original ideas and insights contained in Ayn Rand’s cult-classic Atlas Shrugged, such as the depiction of Robin Hood as an anti-hero and the comparison between trademarks and coats of arms. But to us, the single-most original and surprising idea by far in this epic story occurs on pp. 453-455 (Part Two, Ch. 4) of Atlas Shrugged, during a conversation between two of the leading protagonists of the story, the incorruptible North American industrialist Henry “Hank” Rearden and the mysterious Argentinian copper heir Francisco d’Anconia, who both are in love with the same woman, the heroine Dagny Taggart. (As an aside, check out the different Dagny Taggart visualizations below.) During this dramatic meeting in Francisco d’Anconia’s suite in the Wayne-Falkland Hotel–their second careo or face-to-face encounter in the story–, d’Anconia explains to Rearden the close connection between sex and ethics:
“‘But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. *** The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer–because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.’”
Along these lines, d’Anconia goes on to tell Rearden: “‘Observe the ugly mess which most men make of their sex lives— and observe the mess of contradictions which they hold as their moral philosophy. One proceeds from the other.’” In other words, who you have sex with or make love to is the most bona fide expression of your deepest moral values. We found this idea so intriguing and original because we have always associated sex (or “mate choice” in the jargon of science) more with aesthetics (i.e., what do you find beautiful or attractive?) than with moral values (how do you draw the line between right and wrong?). Either way, although we have no idea how one could go about testing the truth value of d’Anconia’s claims, this idea (the idea that sex is the best test of one’s moral values) blew our minds. If this claim is correct, it takes sex out of the material realms of pleasure and procreation and into the normative domains of values and ethics!