Ayn Rand is a polarizing figure. You may love her or hate her but she is hard to ignore. Rand was among the greatest champions of individuality in the 20th century, at a time when it was very much in vogue to believe that individuals count for little and have no rights other than what the elites who have power through pull say that they have. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published in 1957. It has been a best seller ever since and continues to awaken readers to the possibly that most of what they have been taught about freedom, morality, work and their responsibility for charting their own course in life is wrong. The book tells the story of what happens when people who have great ability decide to go on strike, rather than continue to be reviled and even tortured by those whom they carry. While I have personally struggled with some of what Rand taught and think much of what she says about philosophy and history is wrong, I continue to be inspired by her work and to encourage others to read it and make their own judgements.
This message is not an apology for Rand, nor is it a critique of her work. I merely wish to point out that much of what she predicted has in fact come to pass and those who value freedom should think about this, as well as what they should do to protect themselves and those they care about. I believe that these are times that, in Thomas Paine’s words, try men’s souls. As the foremost propagandist of the American Revolution declared:
“I once felt all that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Tories: a noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, “Well! Give me peace in my day.” Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.””
Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged and want to you might want to stop here because I’m going to give away some plot points.
In Rand’s book, one of the main characters appears at first only as a graffito and expletive, much as one might say, ‘WTF?’ at a perplexing bit of news. The question, “Who is John Galt?” generates pure disgust on the part of another protagonist, who sees it as a way for people to deny any responsibility for taking charge of their own lives and doing what they can with what abilities they have and can develop in themselves. Ultimately, she meets John Galt himself and after struggling against his ideas comes to accept that his is the only way: to stop allowing people to suck the life out of her and go where she can be appreciated. In the book, this means joining strikers in a secret community where the corporate/Wall Street/government parasites can’t touch them. This last part is science fiction. What John Galt does before that is not only not fantastical but is in my view the single best thing a person who could do something major, like cure cancer or create limitless free energy, ought to do. He breaks his brilliant invention that the socialists want to take from him and spits on their notion that they can use his pride or greed to force him to work for them. He takes jobs at low pay as an ordinary laborer to make enough to live on and contributes nothing further from his mind to support the exploitative establishment. He encourages others to do the same, knowing all the while that the users and looters will die when they run out of hosts to infest.
I firmly believe that Galt’s answer is the best thing to do with our ideas and best efforts to lead, whether a promised New Jerusalem is possible and waiting for us or not. The reason is simple. Even if there is no bright future for those with something great or small to offer, it is better to be dead than a slave. It’s also better to pass this idea along before it’s too late.