A lot of people don’t get John Galt…

March 7, 2009

I’m continuing in my “Atlas Shrugged” vein here for a while. I’m about three-quarters of the way through the audio book.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the stuff I’m reading shows a very imperfect understanding of the themes of the book. An article in the New York Times gives a number of writers’ comments on “going Galt.” Most appear to not have read the book.

I’ll probably do a few posts on these themes.

Here are a few of them: basic lassez-faire capitalism versus socialism; socialism as a means of controlling the populace; the importance of individual freedom; propaganda and memes as tools to control the populace, and the importance of high achievers to the overall well-being of humanity.

First, John Galt is about independence. Not that people must exist in a vacuum – Rand knew that was ridiculous, and talks about the interdependencies of businesses a lot in the book. There’s a whole section about the lack of rail cars making it impossible to move the wheat from Minnesota, causing a cascading set of through the eastern half of the country.

Still, it means that a person should be able to stand on his or her own two feet. To do this, we need to make sure we don’t create obstacles to their progress. That’s about it…and that’s what capitalism and individual freedom are all about. Individual freedom to excel, without being held back, is what has driven this country since its founding. More than any other place in the world the people who came to America did so to do what they wanted to without interference. Now we find ourselves in an increasingly restrictive nanny state, and finally, some people are complaining and refusing to be a part of it. Yes, that’s a “tea party” in concept.

Please remember that the reason some people are now criticizing the book is not because it is flawed or poorly written – it’s because they know it is dangerous to their goals.

To be continued…



  1. i liked the Fountainhead, which I read in high school. I have just read “Atlas” and my only response is: long, juvenile, garbled and imprecise philosophy, overly emotional and … BORING. I have a degree in philosophy and am getting a graduate degree in economics. This book is appallingly naïve. The main reason I dislike it however is that is reeks of the same authoritarian sentiments Ayn Rand is professing to be against. She does not respect the choice of her readers to decide for themselves, does not allow them to think: they either agree with her, or are vicious and weak. I have read the book just because many people think that those who disagree with it have not read it. I think it’s bizarre. I also think that those who agree with it unconditionally are not much better than irrational characters in the book that Rand herself despises.

  2. Now, now…settle down a bit, Jane. I applaud the fact that you read the book before judging it. I have been taken to task here by other responders that it is not overly long or boring…but I tend to agree with you there. I still maintain Rand could have gotten her points across without drawing some scenes out so much. (As I said responding to a previous post, I think Tolkien could have cut down on the description of his heroes’ travels, too, but some folks love those parts.)

    I think we should keep in mind that Rand’s book was written for a late-1950s audience…and that the last 50 years haven’t been exactly uneventful. Also, remember that the spectre of worldwide communism was a concern of many people in the US at the time, not just Rand. As an immigrant from the Soviet Union who saw what communism and totalitarianism was doing to her country, Rand was issuing a warning cry.

    That fundamental premise of the book is still important today – we may not be nose-to-nose with the Soviet communist threat today, but what Mark Levin calls “soft tyranny” is sneaking in everywhere – and is gradually chipping away at our individual liberties.

    No novel, no matter how long, can be completely realistic in portraying a complete economic system. Some facets are exaggerated to make a point, others left out entirely. For example, railroads are still important to the US economy but are no longer the lifeblood they once were…we have a much more extensive fleet of trucks on the roads. Also, she needed a serious McGuffin to make the story work – Galt’s motor that pulled electricity out of the air. Some folks will be able to suspend their disbelief; some will not. I have a harder time with Dagny Taggart’s personality, myself; but Rand said she patterned a lot of Dagny on herself, so maybe she really was that force of nature she portrays Dagny as being.

    I still think we need to use the lessons in the book having to do with power in the hands of the corrupt and how it destroys individual freedom and the country’s growth and progress.

    Thanks for responding!

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