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Is James Taggart the opposite of Jahn Galt or the opposite of his sister, Dagny? On SparkNotes.com, in the Analysis of Major Characters section, the paragraph refers to him as a nihilist. It describes him as the antithesis of the strikers. This is why I am confused. I thought James Taggart was the chief altruist in the novel...the flagship villain who takes the morality of selflessness very seriously. Is James Taggart struggling between being a selfless man and a businessman seeking profits? The definition of nihilism essentially rejects all morality…even altruism. I understand that he wants to destroy everything and become a "zero" in a world full of stagnation. I also don't understand which premises this comes from. Is it the idea that the less I make, the larger a claim I have on the fruits of somebody else's labor? I'm terribly ashamed to say that I'm still not 100% knowledgable about the philosophy of the villains of Atlas Shrugged. I'm well aware of what Ayn Rand was trying to say…I just do not fully understand what James Taggart encompasses.

Also, what does Ayn Rand mean when she refers to a character's desire to become a "zero"? What is a "zero"?

As I've stated before, I am currently re-reading A.S. for the second time to catch things I may have missed. I have the Centennial Edition, and am on page 904, right where Cheryl is arguing with James about their marriage. She recently discovered that it was Dagny who was really running Taggart Transcontinental, not Jim. I already know she's going to die in a few pages. It's vague how she dies. Does she accidentally fall into a river and drown or does she consciously commit suicide in an attempt to escape from Jim and the moochers?

I know this is a work of Romanticism, but a person like James Taggart--or the traits of his character--are applicable in real life and are expressed in real people; people in real life are often morally ambiguous, containing elements of both good and bad. In the Centennial Edition on the very bottom of page 892, he destroys a very expensive, centuries old Venetian vase out of spite towards all of it previous owners. What would you call an act like that?

asked Dec 29 '13 at 01:57

Collin1's gravatar image


edited Dec 29 '13 at 17:23

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I see three different issues mixed up together in this question:

  • A person's conscious, explicit moral principles, insofar as he has any; and

  • The actual meaning and effect of those principles; and

  • A person's deeper motivation for whatever he does.

In actual meaning and effect, Taggart is a nihilist, just as the SparkNotes.com description explains. (There is also a considerably longer explanation in the older CliffNotes analysis. According to Wikipedia, CliffNotes and SparkNotes.com are now both owned by Barnes and Noble, and publication of CliffNotes has been discontinued.)

Explicit appeals to altruism are Taggart's principal means of enacting his underlying nihilism. Nihilism is also the logical end result and climax of altruism, i.e., of sacrifice regarded as a moral ideal. Refer to "Kant, Immanuel" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. He advocated sacrifice as an end in itself, which means the destruction of all values.

As for Taggart's personal motivation, Ayn Rand provides a major clue at the end of the subsection describing Taggart's sexual embrace with Lillian. (Part III, Chapter IV, subsection immediately preceding the subsection that begins, "Cherryl unlocked the door and slipped in quietly....") That subsection ends with three simple words: "triumph of impotence." Taggart was impotent throughout his whole life, yet he sought to triumph over others nonetheless. He did it by following what today has come to be succinctly expressed in the form of a bumper sticker: "My kid didn't make the honor roll, but he can beat up any kid who did."

The question also asks about "zero." Ayn Rand uses that term to denote emptiness. For Taggart, it means mental impotence. (I haven't heard of Ayn Rand describing a character as desiring to be a zero. In my understanding, "zero" is something that Ayn Rand's villains are or become while working to evade the self-awareness that they are striving for nothing.

Regarding Cherryl's demise, I don't see how anyone can read that scene carefully and doubt whether she knew she was heading for the river and very intentionally threw herself into it. It was her particular way of going on "strike," like all the other "men of the mind" in the story. It was the only way she could envision, in the emotional heat of the moment, to escape from an unbearable world that she had only just begun to understand more clearly, a world (or universe) extending pervasively far beyond James Taggart and his ilk.

[Taggart] destroys a very expensive, centuries old Venetian vase out of spite towards all of it[s] previous owners. What would you call an act like that?

It would be called nihilism. It fits perfectly with the whole characterization of James Taggart.

answered Dec 29 '13 at 20:12

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I get upset because I cannot figure this out on my own. The novel doesn't explicitly state that James is a nihilist. So, you're saying that altruism leads to nihilism?

(Dec 29 '13 at 22:31) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

His refusal to think for himself stems from the horror of the truth he evades...the fact that his ideas don't work and are leading him to peril.

(Dec 29 '13 at 22:33) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

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Asked: Dec 29 '13 at 01:57

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Last updated: Dec 29 '13 at 22:33