According to the procedure established by directives, cases of this kind were not tried by a jury, but by a panel of three judges appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources; the procedure, the directives had stated, was to be informal and democratic. The judge's bench had been removed from the old Philadelphia courtroom for this occasion, and replaced by a table on a wooden platform; it gave the room an atmosphere suggesting the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.
One of the judges, acting as prosecutor, had read the charges.
"You may now offer whatever plea you wish to make in your own defence," he announced. Facing the platform, his voice inflectionless and peculiarly clear, Hank Rearden answered:
"I have no defence."
"Do you --" The judge stumbled; he had not expected it to be that easy. "Do you throw yourself upon the mercy of this court?"
"I do not recognise this court's right to try me."
"I do not recognise this court's right to try me."
"But, Mr. Rearden, this is the legally appointed court to try this particular category of crime."
"I do not recognise my action as a crime."
"But you have admitted that you have broken our regulations controlling the sale of your Metal."
"I do not recognise your right to control the sale of my Metal."
"Is it necessary for me to point out that your recognition was not required?"
"No. I am fully aware of it and I am acting accordingly."
He noted the stillness of the room. By the rules of the complicated pretence which all those people played for one another's benefit, they should have considered his stand as incomprehensible folly; there should have been rustles of astonishment and derision; there were none; they sat still; they understood.
"Do you mean that you are refusing to obey the law?" asked the judge.
"No. I am complying with the law - to the letter. Your law holds that my life, my work and my property may be disposed of without my consent. Very well, you may now dispose of me without my participation in the matter. I will not play the part of defending myself, where no defence is possible, and I will not simulate the illusion of dealing with a tribunal of justice."
"But, Mr. Rearden, the law provides specifically that you are to be given an opportunity to present your side of the case and to defend yourself."
"A prisoner brought to trial can defend himself only if there is an objective principle of justice recognised by his judges, a principle upholding his rights, which they may not violate and which he can invoke. The law, by which you are trying me, holds that there are no principles, that I have no rights and that you may do with me whatever you please. Very well. Do it." "Mr. Rearden, the law which you are denouncing is based on the highest principle - the principle of the public good."
"Who is the public? What does it hold as its good? There was a time when men believed that 'the good' was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values and that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to e their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it - well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act."
"Are we to understand," asked the judge, "that you hold your own interests above the interests of the public?"
"I hold that such a question can never arise except in a society of cannibals."
"What ... do you mean?"
"I hold that there is no clash of interests among men who do not demand the unearned and do not practice human sacrifices."
"Are we to understand that if the public deems it necessary to curtail your profits, you do not recognise its right to do so?"
"Why, yes, I do. The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes - by refusing to buy my product."
"We are speaking of ... other methods."
"Any other method of curtailing profits is the method of looters - and I recognise it as such."
"Mr. Rearden, this is hardly the way to defend yourself."
"I said that I would not defend myself."
"But this is unheard of! Do you realise the gravity of the charge against you?"
"I do not care to consider it."
"Do you realise the possible consequences of your stand?"
"It is the opinion of this court that the facts presented by the prosecution seem to warrant no leniency. The penalty which this court has the power to impose on you is extremely severe."
"I beg your pardon?"
The three judges looked at one another. Then their spokesman turned back to Rearden. "This is unprecedented," he said.
"It is completely irregular," said the second judge. "The law requires you submit to a plea in your own defence. Your only alternative is to state for the record that you throw yourself upon the mercy of the court."
"I do not."
"But you have to."
"Do you mean that what you expect from me is some sort of voluntary action?"
"I volunteer nothing."
"But the law demands that the defendant's side be represented on the record."
"Do you mean that you need my help to make this procedure legal?"
"Well, no ... yes ... that is, to complete the form."
"I will not help you."
"You pose as a champion of freedom, but it's only the freedom to make money that you're after."
"Yes, of course. All I want is the freedom to make money. Do you know what that freedom implies?"
"Surely, Mr. Rearden, you wouldn't want your attitude to be misunderstood. You wouldn't want to give support to the widespread impression that you are a man devoid of social conscience, who feels no concern for the welfare of his fellows and works for nothing but his own profit."
"I work for nothing but my own profit. I earn it."
There was a gasp, not of indignation, but of astonishment, in the crowd behind him and silence from the judges he faced.