My question requires some context – please bear with me.

In Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, industrialist Hank Rearden violates the so-called 'fair share' law by doing business with another character. As far as I can tell, that business is consensual and harms no one. But Rearden gets caught and is brought to trial.

When the court asks how he pleads, Rearden responds (p. 476 ff.; full source information below):

“I have no defense.”

He then says that he doesn't recognize the court's right to try him because he doesn't think his action is a crime. The judge then asks him:

“Is it necessary for me to point out that your recognition was not required?”

That's what Rearden wants to expose. His response:

“No. I am fully aware of it and I am acting accordingly.”

He expands on why he doesn't recognize the court's right to try him – it's because the court is not referring to objective principles of justice:

“A prisoner brought to trial can defend himself only if there is an objective principle of justice recognized 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.”

The judge is befuddled, explaining a bit later on that the law requires Rearden to submit a plea. Rearden's response:

“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.”

Rearden's goal is "to let the nature of this procedure appear exactly for what it is." And: "I will not help you to preserve an appearance of rationality by entering a debate in which a gun is the final argument. I will not help you to pretend that you are administering justice."

When the court responds, the self-contradictory nature of its proceedings becomes evident:

“But the law compels you to volunteer a defense!”

Rearden explains once more that he does not cooperate at the point of a gun. The court, having been exposed, gets self-conscious because it doesn't want to be seen as a violent institution. It lets him off with a slap on the wrist.

In other words, Rearden defends himself by pointing out the court's violent nature. I'm not an expert on objectivism, but I believe the core concept that is being invoked here is that of the sanction of the victim. Unjust laws rely on this sanction to work, and so not giving one's sanction renders them impotent. The 'fair share' law for which Rearden is being tried is one such unjust law.

Has this defense ever been tried in real life? My guess is it would be laughed out of court. The closest I have seen is a clip of a so-called 'sovereign citizen' who was on trial, stating, like Rearden, that he doesn't recognize the court's right to try him. However, I don't think he referenced the concept of the sanction of the victim so it's not the same – either way, the judge didn't care and was merely annoyed, not self-conscious or in any way worried about being 'exposed'. If force was required, the judge seemed happy to administer it.

I do think our society has unjust laws. We can disagree about what those are, but you probably agree that some unjust laws exist. The question is whether a defense like Rearden's has been tried and whether it works. If it doesn't, as I suspect it wouldn't, it would mean that Rand is wrong in her characterization of the American court system.

PS: If this question is better suited for the law stack exchange, I'll be happy to move it there.

(The full source generated by my Kindle desktop app is "Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.")

  • 1
    Questions about procedure belong on Law SE. The question would be improved by specifying that this refers to the American legal system in the title. IANAL but I believe that the one-sentence answer is that No Plea is recorded and a plea of Not Guilty is assigned by the judge.
    – g s
    Sep 11, 2023 at 16:38
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    Not a question about procedure but history. References to trials outside of the US are welcome, too. Sep 11, 2023 at 16:42
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    I’m voting to close this question because whether a particular legal case exists is 1000% about Law, not Philosophy (although whether such a question is on topic for the law site is not a question I can answer),
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 11, 2023 at 20:27
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    This sounds like a sovereign citizen kind of argument. You can look it up on YouTube to find plenty of people who tried it and got either fined, jailed or tazed. So, was it tried? Yes. Did it ever work? Hell no! Does it make sense? Absolutely not. (Also "Rand is wrong" is a basic truth of the universe)
    – armand
    Sep 11, 2023 at 22:46
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    @armand For the reason I gave, I don't think Rearden is comparable to sovereign citizens. Interestingly, however, the Wikipedia article you linked references the 'redemption movement', which sounds right up character Ragnar Danneskjöld's alley (albeit not as a fraud) since he gives Rearden "a bar of gold as compensation for the income taxes [Rearden] has paid over the last several years". Disagree with your sweeping generalization about Rand. Sep 12, 2023 at 11:12

2 Answers 2


It's not a U.S. example but maybe those:


It's essentially a German conspiracy movement which argues that the federal republic of Germany is not actually a state, but just a limited company and that pretend that the German Empire still exist and who thus reject courts, officials, print their own licenses and set up shadow organizations and so on. It ranges somewhere where between wackos and neonazis...

KRR adherents have also on occasion refused to pay taxes or fines, arguing that the laws providing for such sanctions have no constitutional basis. In the ensuing judicial proceedings, they refuse to recognize the courts as legitimate

On the contrary they even send out bogus fines and complaints to the officials.

Apparently the official doctrine is to keep the communication to the bare minimum as you can't win against a lunatic within their own lunacy, reject any unofficial attempts to complain and so on. So they are not really succesfull with that, but they are nonetheless a major nuisance to courts and officials who have to sort through the real and the bogus complaints.

Apparently in some cases the officials snatched their drivers licenses after repeating nonsense arguing that people who are obviously delirious and live in their own world, have to prove their physical and mental capability to maneuver dangerous vehicles or give up their drivers license.

In general I'd not expect that defense to be very successful, your more likely to be charged with other crimes on top of what you're charged with anyway.

There is a political tactic though where you commit a crime just to force the courts to set a precedent. So by being charged with that crime, you're gaining a platform to challenge the law itself, you can go through the institutions and potentially force the supreme court to uphold or reject the legality of the law.

Though it's not necessarily a defense once you've already committed the crime, but you'd usually make that public to begin with, so it's really more of a political stunt from beginning to end and it might as well backfire.

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    Something that we see relatively often: an individual A is arrested and tried for a crime; the people feel that A's actions shouldn't be a crime and A shouldn't be sentenced; protests are set up in front of the tribunal where many, many protesters commit the exact same crime and carry signs "release A, or arrest us all". For instance this summer in France a woman was arrested and tried for being topless in public; during her trial there was a crowd of topless protesters in front of the tribunal.
    – Stef
    Sep 12, 2023 at 8:51
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    @Stef hadn't heard of the topless story :-) it's even more funny considering on some beaches in France a woman can be fined for not wearing a revealing enough swimsuit...(anti burkini municipal decrees)
    – armand
    Sep 12, 2023 at 9:27
  • The core element of Rearden's defense is the referenced concept of the sanction of the victim (or repudiation thereof), which Reichsbürger don't seem to invoke. Sep 12, 2023 at 11:17

Refusal to recognise the authority of a court (on various bases) happens from time-to-time and sometimes leads to action for contempt of court. In Australia there was a case about eight years ago where a man charged with attempted murder (but apparently given bail) refused to attend court and refused to face the judge when in attendance at court (see this news article). The man refused to recognise any authority other than Islamic law and thus denied the authority of the Australian courts. This led to questions over whether he should be charged with contempt of court.

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