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.
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.