Sunday, August 12, 2012

Who Is John Galt?

by Rob Clarfeld, contributor to Forbes 

[Lightly edited by FT with emphasis added]

John Galt is the fictional hero of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s epic novel published in 1957.  I first read Atlas Shrugged in high school, and have reread it four or five times since then. For me, no other novel even comes close.

A few months back, while clearing out a closet, I found a long-forgotten “Who is John Galt” coffee mug which also bears one of his quotes:  “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.”  

Ayn Rand in her heyday Grand Central Station behind her

Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, loosely stated, promotes rational self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism.  John Galt epitomizes all that is glorious of capitalism in its purist form — innovation, self-reliance, and freedom from government interference.  

How ironic that, this morning, I noticed that the mug, at its new home on my desk, was sitting on a newspaper whose feature article reported on the riots in Greece following a new round of legislated austerity measures.  

How would my fictional friend view the current state of Greece, the Euro and the EMU’s intervention, or the more activist policies of global central banks?  I have no idea.  My, admittedly, scant knowledge of Objectivism is similar to my view of Ron Paul’s platform:  Some aspects appeal to me, but not at a price that I’d be willing to pay. 

As a fictional character, John Galt isn’t burdened with forming a plan of action to address the realities that define the non-fiction world we live in (as a creation of Rand’s imagination, he also wasn’t burdened with the realities of 1957).  Speculating on his views is nothing more than a Rorschach of our own conflicted and ambivalent, economic views.  

Would John Galt be more disturbed by the plethora of governmental regulations, or the government’s bailout of too-big-to fail institutions?  

Would he have greater disdain for the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, or the “moochers” who “earned” huge bonuses shortly after their banks were bailed out?  

I also suspect that, for both different and similar reasons, he would have very little respect for the realities and stark compromises within both US political parties.  

It’s too bad that the set of solutions to today’s highly complex and intertwined economic challenges aren’t quite as binary as those of the fictional characters we create.  

So “Who is John Galt?”  That’s a question for each of us to answer as we so choose.

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We mentioned the other day at another blog that Steve Forbes, whom I assume is still connected with this publication, has, somehow, been persuaded to make a turn toward the left. Do the tone and seeming ambiguity of this small article bear that out, or is this fence-sitting stance indicative of increasing depth of understanding –– or an admission of a lack thereof? What is happening here in your opinion? Is this equivocation or elucidation?

Is this an outright rejection of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy? It could hardly be called an endorsement, and yet Mr. Clarfeld claims Atlas Shrugged is a piece of writing to which no other “even comes close.” 

Why would he be attracted to Ron Paul’s stated aims, but be “unwilling to pay the price?” Does this means that he -- and possibly Forbes, itself, have given up on on the idea of economic freedom for the individual as the summum bonum (the highest good), because it is A) immoral or B) simply no longer feasible? Or is there something else at work here?

You be the judge.

Some disambiguation is sorely needed. I hope some of our readers may provide it.

~ FreeThinke


  1. Galt is the man who created the motor that runs on static electricity.

    That's about all you need to know

    Or maybe not quite all

  2. Thank you for adding even more the ambiguity, Ducky.

    I also deeply appreciate your gracious good sportsmanship regarding The Boston Beguine.

    In case you didn't notice, this item is not about John Galt as much as it is about the apparent transformation in character that appears to be taking place at Forbes.

    ~ FT

  3. Who REALLY cares about Paul Ryan? I'm a Romney Girl...

  4. Well Freethinker it's either Rand and her science fiction nonsense or the laws of thermodynamics. One has to give.

  5. What is amazing is how much Rand is either admired or reviled. The left particularly has has me scratching my head because as a strong advocate of Aristotelian logic, and a firm advocate of the political ethos of the founding fathers (Classical Liberalism) the left you would think would endorse her.

    The reason they don't of course is because of her fierce individualism, belief in self reliance, L/Z capitalism, limited government, and her correct understanding of what A = A represents. Reality is in fact reality.

    The right THINKS they understand Rand but that is BS. All they see is "free market capitalism" while enthusiastically endorsing and taking advantage of every pull peddling gimmick and place at the government subsidy trough they can belly up to.

    Free Thinker do yourself a favor, read The Fountainhead, Anthem, We the Living, and then pick up her non fiction (there is a lot more of them) and give them a read.

    Call me at RN USA if you want recommendations as to where to start. It will be an interesting journey. One far too few have taken.

    Not all of Rand is palatable to anyone. A lot would be to most if they read to understand rather than listen to some collectivist drivel. Some should be to all, and would if more people would actually tack the quiet time to read (all of Rand, fictional and non fictional)and THINK for themselves.

    Thanks for this post Free Thinker.

    Oh, by the way, I've only read Atlas Shrugged three times. But I've read most all the rest once. Some twice.

  6. I read Atlas and Fountainhead. Objectivism is not. I think that sums up my take on"rational" thinking, uber alles. Just call me a "Romantic". ;)

  7. btw - I think that Nietzsche's Four Errors from Gay Science sum up the "problem" with Objectivism, and why it "isn't".

  8. btw2 - Rand's nemesis, Immanuel Kant, BEST understood the nature of "objectivism". needless to say, Ellsworth Toohey didn't fair too well by Rand in Fountainhead. He deserved "better".

  9. Rational Nation USA other than his own inflated opinion why is Howard Roark the greatest architect that ever lived.

    I find Rand's theory of aesthetics very revealing. In painting she favored Soviet realism (i.e. camp junk) but didn't call it such.

    Freethinker, was it Bach or Beethoven that she called "pre-music". She's a complete hack, surely you and I agree on that.

    She case up with an interesting theory of film. The script writer is the prominent figure. As an advocate of auteur theory I find her lacking.

    She fancied herself an architectural critic but only cared about skyscrapers.

    A real zero.

    However I must strongly recommend getting the film version of The Fountainhead. The old bat was constantly on the set monitoring the script and the great King Vidor managed to produce one of the greatest camp satires ever made. Truly, it's absolutely brilliant, hilarious and a great film.
    The rape scene is done very tastefully.

  10. You are correct about one thing, Rational Nation USA.

    Her aesthetic theory never moved much beyond Aristotle. Even more ironic is that her attitude toward literature was close to the communist Georg Lukacs.

    I know you might think I focus to much on her primitive appreciation of art but FT might well agree with me that she is so lame that it's a valid gauge of just how simplex the rest of her thought was.

  11. Oh, c'mon, Thersites! Ellsworth Toohey is the symbol of Philistinism -- everything stuffy, stodgy, vain, smug, unimaginative, cruelly oppressive and stifling to the human spirit and to creativity, itself. Ellsworth Toohey represents the quintessential spirit of Marxism and of Naziism.

    I'm not a big fan of Ayn Rand, because I remember her from the days when she first burst on the scene and did television interviews. Her character as revealed in her personality was obnoxious.

    However, even though her dialogue sounds stilted, didactic and woefully tendentious to those with an ear for true verbal and literary art, she had something pertinent and enormously valuable to say.

    Her militant atheism is the tarantula in her ointment. It chills and deadens as it attempts to teach principles we need to understand and embrace if we are ever to achieve liberation for the individual.

    ~ FreeThinke

    1. Perhaps her atheism tempered is precisely what is needed to chase the gosts of mysticism that surrounds reality... Attempting to smother ones ability to recognize reality...

  12. While we are grateful to all who came to visit, we are disappointed that no one addressed the questions we posed at the end of Mr. Clarfeld's article.

    ~ FT

  13. Okay, I'll take a stab at a few of the questions posed.

    I think that many capitalists are attracted to Ayn Rand and her philosophy. After all, she is one of THE anti-collectivists.

    However, the selfishness of Objectivism puts some of us off -- as does the militant atheism and the excoriation of Christianity and all faiths.

    Objectivism smacks of looking out for number one and only number one.

    Yet, Ayn Rand herself was nearly all-consumed by sexual passion and very devoted to her husband. I've never figured out how she reconciled Objectivism and such romanticism.

    I am sorry to say this because of how many of my friends feel, but I can't abide the book Atlas Shrugged. I did, however, enjoy The Fountainhead, which I read when I was in my early 20s.

    As for "paying the price," well, I think that the time for pure Objectivism has ended. If you want me to elaborate my reasons so saying so, let me know in a comment in this thread.

  14. Ellsworth Toohey, I've been told by Objectivists, was supposed to be Immanuel Kant personified. Now I've read a little Kant, and Kant would NEVER have done ANY of the the things that Toohey did in the novel.

    Yes, to Kant, DUTY is paramount, but ONLY in subordination to the liberty of the performer himself (not the government).

  15. ...for what is good for the one, must be a good for all (TRUE objectivism, not self-serving RANDIAN Objectivism).

  16. Frethinker, we will always be caught in a tug between the collective and the individual. That is our condition.

    Freaks like Rand camp out on the extreme. Her unyielding materialism, labor theory of value are completely Marxist.

    In fact she is really just a communist proposing a different politburo run out of Galt's Gulch.

    She's a complete waste of time.

  17. Of course I'd appreciate your elaborating on why you think the time for true laissez-faire, free market capitalism is past, AOW.

    Please be my guest.

    ~ FT

  18. Ayn Rand was a Jewish atheist born in the Soviet Russia whose real name was Rosenbaum, as you know, Ducky. Given that background it would be incredible if she were not to have had some of the grossly materialistic, authoritarian, militantly immoral, anti-Bourgeois attitudes she did.

    I understand your reference to Lukacs -- a fellow Jew and member of the infamous Frankfurt School -- who advocated tactics calculated to undermine the Christian morality and common sense Bourgeois domestic ideals on which the best parts of Western Civilization were founded.

    We're not supposed to acknowledge anyone's jewishness in today's politically-correct environment, but failure to mention this potent factor does a great disservice to our understanding of history.

    There is a REASON behind EVERYTHING, except earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tidal waves, and great floods, etc.

    There could be no objectivity in failure to recognize and observe facets of Truth just because they make some people uncomfortable.

    ~ FreeThinke

  19. Rand is hard to read, AOW, because she is first and foremost a polemicist. Her writing is pointedly didactic, tendentious and allegorical. Her characters are SYMBOLS, and, therefore, difficult to identify with as fellow human beings.

    Sermons thinly disguised as fiction is how I would categorize it. Of course like any slogan or aphorism that's woefully simplistic.

    NEVERTHELESS, like it or not, the ideas embedded in much of her work have about them the Ring of Truth.

    ~ FT

  20. " ... we will always be caught in a tug between the collective and the individual ..."

    Yes, of course, Ducky. "No man is an island" and all that. There's a built in dichotomy about our identity. We are at once unique individuals with varying degrees of potential, but we are also integral parts of a whole -- much as individuals cells are part of a body -- choose your own simile.

    Rebecca West put it very well in her marvelous sadly neglected novel The Fountain Overflows. Her central character -- a mother who happens to be a concert pianist raising two daughters destined to follow in their mother's footsteps -- at one point tells her girls:

    "Precisely what and how much does the State owe the individual, and how much does the individual owe the state? That, my children is the question that has baffled and bedeviled us since the beginnings of Civilization. We have yet to find the right answer."

    When you find the answer, please let me know.

    ~ FT

  21. The primary reasons I see, and I'm speaking in terms of as a society:

    1. We have accepted certain forms of socialistic thinking. The public school system is one example; the Social Security system is another.

    2. We have moved away from the idea of individualism as a good thing. Instead, we have accepted the entitlement notion of the Nanny State.

    That's all from me for a while. I'm off to the swimming pool!

  22. L/F capitalism, the ethics of rational self interest, self reliance, individualism, respect for all non aggressive individuals, acceptance that a is a, therefore it cannot be b, and spirituality over religion.

    Please add to list.

  23. [Rand is] a complete waste of time."

    You make some interesting, tenable arguments, Ducky, and then blow yourself out of the water with a silly crack like that.

    Didn't your mother ever teach you never to throw the baby out with the bath water?

    ~ FreeThinke

  24. "Perhaps her atheism tempered is precisely what is needed to chase the gosts of mysticism that surrounds reality... Attempting to smother ones ability to recognize reality."

    That opens up an enormous can of worms, Les. Men have been arguing for millennia over the nature of Reality -- what is and is nit real?

    Are honesty, integrity, intelligence, creativity, loyalty and courage any less "real" than a chair, a table, a desk, an automobile, a lawn, or a pair of boobs?

    It has always seemed to me -- at least since I started to think consciously somewhere around the of age eight or nine -- that intangible qualities that define character, personality, and inspire attraction, repulsion, desire, phobia, etc. are the most important parts of what makes us human.

    When we speak of "religion," it's too broad and diffuse a term to satisfy a need for precision applied to intelligent analysis.

    I would argue that "true" religion (and yes, there's yet-another big can or worms!) is entirely spiritual in essence.

    Spirit is the motivating -- the animating -- force behind all conscious activity.

    We've had this discussion before not too long ago: If you believe in Truth, you believe In God. If you believe in Love, you believe in God -- and so on down the line.

    I would agree that in general organized religion has failed ti keep itself pure and free from venality, cupidity and the rabid pursuit of dictatorial power, which is about as ungodly as it could get.

    That organization purporting to represent Him fail miserable, does nothing to diminish the value and the healing power inherent in His Holy Word.

    How foolish to abandon "religion" altogether because a few priests like to play with little boys' pee pees, some prominent prelates have been unfaithful to their wives, or some TV personalities masquerading as "religious leaders" have bilked a gullible segment of the public out of millions!

    If we abandon "religion" because of things like that, we might just as well abandon the US Government, raze every building in Washington, DC, burn the rubble till it turns to a fine, white, powdery ash, and gleefully watch the wind blow it away to the four corners of the earth.

    Utilitarian Pragmatism must tempered with morality derived from an awareness -- and fear -- of something higher than Personal Ambition, or our endeavors are destined to descend into the maelstrom of cut throat competition, legalized theft and internecine warfare we live with right now.

    ~ FreeThinke

  25. "Spirit is the motivating -- the animating -- force behind all conscious activity."

    I have believed for quite some time that the spirit is the conscious thinking mind of an individual. Therefore to me it is the conscious thinking mind of each individual that determines their spirituality, or in some cases the lack thereof.

    The concept of rational spirituality of course was not in the Ayn Rand Lexicon and her philosophy of Objectivism. So what? As you said to Ducky Free Thinker, one doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which of course is true for the rational.

    As to God, what's to say that God, in the monotheistic world isn't a Goddess in reality. Assuming the monotheistic model of religion IS reality.

  26. I hope that woman is smart like you say. She'd never make it on her looks.




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