Atlas Shrugged: Can People Like James Taggart Exist?

James Taggart is one of the most fun characters to read about. The heroes are great and interesting, but at times, they seem a bit too infallible and characters like James are a nice change of scenery. He’s a villain and ruins everyone’s day, but he’s also pathetic and kind of pitiable. He’s jealous of people who are capable and proud of it, and wishes to destroy them. Yet even when he succeeds at this, he’s never really happy.

James Taggart’s Motivation

At first, I thought he’s simply feeling inferior and is trying to win the game of life by bringing people down. That is plausible. Even when Dagny, Francisco and James were children, James was jealous of them. While it’s not clear why he’s jealous and unfriendly, it could be because they were more talented than him and he could never measure up. The desire to win using dishonest means is certainly plausible when one thinks honest means will not work.

However, I think Rand means for us to think that James is actually motivated by destruction of good productive people, unbeknownst to himself. He’s not just some guy with an inferiority complex, who is tired of losing to his talented sibling and childhood friend. He doesn’t just want to win all the money and fame for himself. He wants to bring everybody down, but can’t admit that to himself.

Towards the end of the novel, he is walking around after a party, and realizes he wouldn’t care if he became a beggar tomorrow. The only thing that makes him feel real gratification is ruining people like Francisco, by making sure his copper mines get nationalized and taken away. However, he doesn’t allow himself to get too close to this realization, and prefers to never define what he wants. Knowing his real motivation would be unbearable and cause a mental breakdown:

“This is the way he had lived all his life – keeping his eyes stubbornly, safely on the immediate pavement before him, craftily avoiding the sight of his road, of corners, of distances, of pinnacles. He had never intended going anywhere, he had wanted to be free of progression, free of the yoke of a straight line, he has never wanted his years to add up to any sum – what had summed them up? – why had he reached some unchosen destination where one could no longer stand still or retreat?”

His real motivation also shows itself in his choice of wife. He gets married to a poor shop girl Cherryl Brooks, despite being rich and powerful. Cherryl is the type of girl who deeply admires heroes, and mistakenly believes James to be one (the famous and controversial John Galt train track was actually built by his sister). The marriage doesn’t work out, because James is never happy with anything Cherryl does, and refuses to explain what she’s doing wrong. He condescendingly tells her “If you have to ask what you did wrong, it’s useless to explain”. In the end, he’s so annoyed by her questions that he does explain what he wants, to the best of his knowledge anyway (remember, he doesn’t know he’s actually motivated by destruction of good people). He says he just wants to be loved for himself – not his money, looks, achievements, thoughts or actions. He wants love to be totally unearned, or else it’s just a cold, soulless transaction. Essentially, he married low-hanging fruit so she’d appreciate him and they could both give the finger to self-improvement, and be their rotten selves around each other. Cherryl sees through Jim’s real motivation:

“You’re lying, Jim.”

His answer was only a startled glance of astonishment.

“Those girls that you used to buy for the price of a meal, they would have been glad to let their real selves become a gutter, they would have taken your alms and never tried to rise, but you would not marry one of them. You married me, because you knew that I did not accept the gutter, inside or out, that I was struggling to rise and would go on struggling – didn’t you?”

“Yes!” he cried”

And this is when we find out that he married a girl just to punish her for hero-worship, and thus indirectly harm the heroes. Again. How can someone be so venomous? Is it possible in real life?

Real People Who Were Similar

1.James kind of reminds me of my mom’s second husband. He was a high earner, but was constantly worried that his money was being taken. He stole forks at restaurants and often traveled without a bus ticket, and was pretty amused by it. He knew he was marrying a woman with a child, yet he did so anyway and was soon very unhappy that we needed clothes and food. He was always saying I eat too much, even though I weighed about 50 kg in my teens and even dieted. To his friends, he lied about how much he really spent on specific things. He was negative and stressed us out, yet I also often felt sorry for him. For a while, I really did feel like I was causing him harm, and tried to avoid it as much as possible. My efforts weren’t really working though, so eventually I gave up and got hostile, too.

I’m still confused about why a man so scared for his money would marry a foreign woman with a teenage daughter. This was his third marriage. He complained how his second wife received some of his furniture in divorce, and we likewise received some furniture. What was his motivation? Could it have been similar to James’? I’ll probably never know.

2.Some people really are motivated by destruction. But I think this only happens when a person has no hope of achieving any positive goals. They could be lonely. Perhaps an incel. Or unemployed, stuck in a dead end job and disgruntled. However, that motivation to destroy would dissipate the moment such a person got love, friends, a better job or realistic hope that things are on their way up. I don’t think either James or my mom’s second husband were one of these people.

What do you think? Have you met anyone like James Taggart? Do you think he could exist?

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9 Responses to Atlas Shrugged: Can People Like James Taggart Exist?

  1. theasdgamer says:

    Ne’er do wells with no confidence. I’ve seen a few.

    • What did they do? I’d be curious to hear about them, if you care to tell 🙂

      • theasdgamer says:

        One was a guy who never had a plan to get a higher standard of living and never had a gf.

        Another was a guy who had been divorced and never had a decent job after that.

      • Sounds more sad than scary. IMO, people like James are both sad and scary. There is a funny description in the book, something like “It’s as if he’s trying to embrace you to gain comfort and emotional support, while at the same time trying to plunge a knife in your back”.

      • theasdgamer says:

        The first guy I mentioned was always taking offense where no offense was intended. The second guy was bitter about his ex, but I got along with him fine.

  2. Liz says:

    I’m sure I’ve known many people like this, but I try to forget them.
    I’m sure more women than men act this way (I’m thinking of every woman who seems to hate men and simultaneously uses sex and the state as a weapon against them, while engaging in active self-sabotage). But I’ll stick to one guy I can think of.
    He was a friend of ours in college and seemed to self sabotage as a lifestyle choice. His one goal in life was to be a General and he might actually do that (he made Colonel recently). Those types can often thrive in the military officer ranks.
    He hated pilots (the guy had lost his pilot slot because he didn’t do well enough in college, nor did he pick a smart enough major…everyone but engineers with high honors were cut). His next goal was to be a Combat Controller which was a difficult and high profile job. One you’d expect he would train for. Well, he was in good shape months before the tryouts and then proceeded to sit on his ass and gain flab up until about a week before tryouts. THEN he drove himself into the ground trying to get back in shape that last week. He didn’t make the cut, but he had two more chances and did exactly the same thing again and again. He was very bitter.
    He wanted to marry a girl in college desperately and she cheated on him repeatedly while they were dating. After they broke up all he did was simultaneously pine for her while also saying he was better off without her and what a “cunt” she was and so forth. Well, they got back together eventually and married. I am absolutely certain after seeing their interaction that the only reason he married her is because he hated her so much he wanted to punish her the rest of her life. It was painful to watch.
    Every time we hear from him he tells Mike he’s his “best friend” and waxes poetic on and on about how very important their relationship is to him. But we only hear from him when he either needs something or wants to gloat about a promotion (about once every two years). He is also obsessed with money. All he did was talk about how much money his mother owed him (not from borrowed or earned money, I’m not sure why he felt he was owed this money). He had very very flamboyant spending habits at the time, and it was all on credit. Something like 50k in debt, which was a hella lot of money for a guy graduating from college without any student loans to have in the early 90s (this is before the internet and massive use of credit cards, Emma).
    Anyway, his mom died and she was rich, and he an only child. He probably held a party. I’m sure he’s also probably broke again, and still hates everyone better than he is.

  3. Eric says:

    Emma:
    The US seems to be in a class all by itself for breeding this personality type. I’ve known lots of guys like James Taggert. I can imagine that they probably suffer depression and guilt if they go more than a few days without ruining somebody better and more worthy than themselves.

    I think what drives these types of people is an overweening sense of entitlement, combined with a general contempt for humanity and extreme narcissism.

    Government, Academia, and the US legal system seem to be the professions to which most of these types gravitate, though there’s a big scattering of them in business of all sizes. And over here, it’s not just confined to the rich and powerful; out here on the West Coast the bums and street vermin are just as bad.

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