I finally read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged earlier this year. It had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, but I had already read The Fountainhead and I wasn’t really in the mood for another preachy Rand testament. I don’t really like Ayn Rand’s writing style, and I do not agree with all of her ideas, but conversations with certain people eventually led me to take the book off the shelf.
My copy of the novel has 1069 pages. John Galt’s radio speech, which appears towards the end of the book, takes up 56 of those pages. So when I reached the speech, I skipped over it so that I could just finish the story. But then certain people insisted that I go back and read the speech, so I did. The day after I had finished reading the speech, I wrote this:
…last night I finally finished the John Galt speech. Very good, actually, but hardly belongs within the story in a novel. That’s why I couldn’t read it until after I had finished the story. I wanted to know what was going to happen next and how the story would end, and not be interrupted by s 56-page philosophical treatise.
…The way I read it, instead of rushing through to get to the end of John Galt’s speech and back to the story, I was able to make my way through the speech slowly, to savour the words and ideas, to digest. It took me days to read the whole thing and I am certain that I got a lot more out of it that way.
Weeks later, I went through the speech again and made notes, but only on the points that actually spoke to me. This post is a brief summary of some of those points. While John Galt is a fictional character who represents Ayn Rand’s own philosophy, I refer to Galt rather than to Rand because Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction.
John Galt places the highest value on the mind; other things he holds important are justice, independence, reason, wealth and self-esteem. In reaction to the socialists and to the government that has been increasingly seizing industry for the benefit of the state, Galt makes it clear that he places no value on need, stating that need is not a valid claim.
“We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.”
To John Galt, everything comes back to the mind and self-determination. To be is to think. Knowledge, reason and logic are the essential human elements. “Thinking is man’s only basic virtue.”
John Galt also recognises the fundamental rights of men and women, and that rights are not something to be bestowed by a god or given by a government.
“…man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others, that man’s life, his freedom, his happiness are his by inalienable right.
“…Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work.”
John Galt makes it clear that also property rights are essential to liberty, that human rights cannot exist without property rights. He emphasises that property and wealth are produced by an individual’s mind and his or her labour. Taking the products of an individual’s mind in any manner other than in trade and with consent is criminal.
There was more: Galt/Rand’s view of the role of government (Rand was a minarchist) and the premise for a political system, as well as advice on how to live up to what Galt/Rand preaches. But enough is enough.
I will end with the oath taken by John Galt and those who joined him (because a certain person asked me for it) –
“I swear – by my life and my love of it – that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”