Chapter 24: Anti-Life
The chapter begins with Taggart finding himself bereft of the care to live or die. He recalls being disgusted at a party held by Senor Gonzales and his wife. Gonzales has become the new "rich and powerful," which in contrast to the "old wealth" that Taggart and Weatherby (and Lillian) are a part of, is a class populated by muscle-men, like those of Cuffy Meig's like. He had left because he felt like he should celebrate--nay, he wanted to celebrate, but he could not admit the purpose to which he wanted to celebrate. He feels a danger in finding the truth of self, and thus he suspends judgment on the premise that danger would remain unreal by the sovereign power of the wish to not see it. The party marked the inevitable nationalization of d'Anconia Copper to come in less than a month on September 2, and because it was Taggart who had machinated it, he felt he ought to celebrate.
He returns home to Cherryl, but he becomes irritated when she questions him on the great business deal he pulled off today. That her look of admiration--which he needed--would wan when he goes past the superficial bromides and describes the nature of the event. He is irked that she is a trader and expects him to be one, too. That she would not take unearned love, would attempt to live up to Mrs. James Taggart in return for the kindness he had shown her, and that she had envisioned him to be like Hank Rearden, and she had loved him because she had faultfully mistaken him to be like him. Taggart wants from Cherryl the admission of fgreatness without any specific consent to his greatness, wanting her to see in him the spirit of a producer--so that he might loot that spirit, have unearned love, be Rearden without the necessity of being anything, of being. He had thought that by giving Cherryl wealth that she could never have earned, he would be able to tie her to him, and he is disgusted by the fact that she would want to try to live up to it. If analogized to the Starnes heirs, Taggart is akin to both Eric and Gerald.
Thinking she merely needs a walk outside away from the house, Cherryl leaves Taggart. She ventures to Dagny's office, and she apologizes to Dagny for what she had said to her on her wedding night--she had mistaken Dagny for the real Taggart and vice versa. Cherryl is direct and open, stating that apologizing will not nullify her actions and she is presumptuous in her action to apologize, but she can only ask for a favor, that Dagny hears her apology. Dagny reveals to her the secret of the accusation that one is "unfeeling"--it means that the person is just, that she possesses no causeless emotions and will not grant the accuser the feeling he doesn't deserve: will not go against reason, moral values and reality. Justice is the opposite of charity. Those who grant sympathy to evil don't grant sympathy to guilt, none to innocence. Dagny reveals to Cherryl that she manages "to stay unmangled" by placing nothing above the verdict of her own mind--the highest, noblest and only good on earth. Cherryl admits that she once believed in that, but it seems the world would hurt her for it and that she must hide that innate innocence in her. Dagny is worried about Cherryl, but Cherryl assures Dagny that she is okay, not knowing the extent of her injuries.
In the third section, Lillian comes crawling to Taggart for help. She has delivered Rearden and now she would like her favors remembered; but, the problem is, the nature of this evil trading is that one must have further favors to grant, and she is bankrupt of favors. Taggart, though, claims that he would like to help her, but he isn't powerful enough, that Rearden is too powerful an adversary (implying that, from the freedom of guilt Rearden now flaunts, any further antagonization against him would very well tip him over beyond the looters' domain of leech).
Despite Lillian's dispicable appearance and behavior, Taggart finds himself enjoying her presence. In their world, damnation has become a value, and when he tells Lillian of the scheme he machinated to nationalize d'Anconia Copper--and Lillian points that d'Anconia was his friend, but yet he managed to beat him, use him, overpower him, her tone is that of admiration of a great deed. What the villains hold as accomplishments is destruction. Lillian drawls on that she can't lay tracks, erect bridges, or build mills, but she can destroy them; she can't produce metal, but she can take it away from him; she can't bring men to knees in admiration, but she can bring men to knees... Taggart tells her to shut up because this is cuts too close to the truth about himself, and he would rather live the lie of his self-abdication. However, he has sex with her because she is still Mrs. Rearden. It is an act that to them is the triumph of impotence, that the worthless husks that they are would be able to best Rearden, that Taggart would disgrace Mrs. Rearden, that Taggart had the power to do so, to defile Rearden's name embodied in a wife who would openly let Taggart rape her... They perform this action without feeling, with only the self-deception that it would hurt Rearden, in some way, because the act derides him, even if only in their perspectives.
When Cherryl returns, it seems Taggart has found his surrogate to harm in lieu of Rearden. He tells Cherryl that the woman he was with in her absence was Mrs. Henry Rearden--as if breaking Cherryl would break Rearden, because Taggart realizes that Cherryl, like Rearden, is one of those who would always work and struggle to rise. When Cherryl questions him, he admits that he wanted her to owe him gratefulness that could not be earned for loving her flaws, so that she would love him even though he is worthless, that they would be beggeres chained to each other. Cherryl realizes that Taggart could find this kind of lover in any woman, and she is perceptive enough to get from Taggart the truth that he married her because she wouldn't be that sort of woman. But then, she realizes that it is because she is not depraved, that he wants to destroy her, to chain her to him. Her revelation: that Taggart is a killer for the sake of killing.
Cherryl escapes the house, yet again the same night. This time, however, she feels it useless to visit Dagny. She feels the burden of the hopeless tragedy the good are all involved in, that by their nature, they would work, and thus the looters would be safe and they have no choice. When she kills herself, it is due to the conscious decision to not help the looters anymore. It is due to the conclusion that, in this world, we all die. Like the secret of the Railroad Unification Board, the company that runs no trains survives--and those who are good and who produce will be drained, to die. She destroys herself because she does not wished to be leeched anymore. In this, she represents the myriad suicides of the various industrialists checkmated by the Directives.
The significance of Cherryl's conscious suicide has to do with a) the thought process she reveals to the reader in making up her conclusion that it was either die or be used, drained to death slowly and b) Dagny's growing certainty that by helping the looter government, she would be helping the anti-life. The latter would be revealed later on in the novel.