Building Up to John Galt’s Speech in Atlas Shrugged
John Galt’s Speech
John Galt’s speech is a philosophical treatise in Atlas Shrugged of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. John Galt is the man who stopped the world’s motor. He’s an urban legend. He is the man who set out to find the Fountain of Youth, found it, and did not return to share the news. In Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, John Galt’s name has become common slang. “Who is John Galt?” means something akin to “Why ask pointless questions that can’t be answered?”.
His name symbolized hopelessness, apathy, and slothful thinking. It’s a great intentional irony. In truth, John Galt is the most brilliant mind, the most purposeful force, and the greatest philosopher alive.
In his twenties, he single-handedly developed a new technology to harness static electricity from the Earth’s atmosphere. He discovered universal free energy. He build a motor that could power an entire city for 1/1000 the cost of a modern power plant while employed by Twentieth Century Motors – an automobile manufacturer.
The founder of that company was a great man. His heirs were rotten and incompetent; they introduced wealth redistribution policies into the company and destroyed it in a few short years.
John Galt left. He understood what happened at that company was a microcosm of a greater evil – socialism.
He became determined to stop such evils from spreading in the world. He decided that in order to destroy the evil of parasitical socialists, he’d have to remove their source of fuel. Socialism is fueled by productive capitalists who bear the burden of being taxed on the wealth they produce in the name of “serving the greater good”.
John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged is over 50 pages long. In this post, I’ll simply cover the lead-up and Galt’s introduction in his speech.
Disappearing Industrialists and the Economy
John Galt has spent 12 years of his life recruiting the brightest minds and most productive industrialists of America to join his secret society and breakaway civilization at “Galt’s Gulch” – a valley deep in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, over 100 miles from civilization and hidden from aerial surveillance by means of a light wave manipulation technology which Galt invented himself. One by one, the nation’s last great industrialists have disappeared without warning, without leaving any notice behind, and in some cases, after intentionally destroying the bulk of their enterprise before disappearing.
This leaves the nation in ever-greater difficulty. The most competent are gone. Their inferior competitors who rely on government favors and handouts, who can’t produce a fraction of what the self-made millionaires could, are whom the nation’s fate is forced to depend on. They do not deliver. Shortages of goods and transportation ensue. “Blighted areas” emerge across the country where nobody bothers to ship goods to because local economies are in ruin.
As the economy quickly crumbles, and men of integrity and intelligence leave the business world, only those with shrewd cunning and “Washington Ability” survive. The nation’s railroad schedule ceases to be dictated by law of supply and demand. Those in greatest need of transportation are no longer those who are able to pay the highest premium for it; they are those with friends in Washington. Their needs are met. Rather than delivering steel to the entire east coast, a train full of Grapefruits take priority. Rather than the nation’s crop of wheat being delivered on-time to prevent a mass starvation, a government-directive-born crop of soy is transported. The soy harvest was made too early; the soy is moldy; tables remain empty.
In this stage of the book, the economy is in shambles. All hope is lost. Millions of people are set to die, very soon. There is no reason to be hopeful for a brighter future because the society is set up such that only greater death and theft and depravity are possible.
The U.S. Government
Atlas Shrugged portrays the remaining government officials in a manner that is logically consistent with a world of disappearing minds, increasing calls for the “nationalization” (government theft) of industry, and great moral depravity – the government is run by contemptible, mentally weak, ruthless sociopaths who disguise their sociopathy as social concern, for the “public good”. The government is run by merchants of blackmail and influence.
Everyone is trapped by their own sins; everybody’s head holds a price; everybody is immersed in a special kind of hell: the hell that ensues when a man’s character isn’t currency that buys a ticket to the top, but his willingness to sabotage another man’s character is.
Leading up to the speech, Head of State (U.S. President) Thompson is in dire straits. As the last remnants of the industrial east crumble into dilapidation and ruin, as transportation nationwide dwindles and ceases, and as the morale of the citizenry completely vanishes under ever-increasingly evil and restrictive government “emergency directives“, violence begins to break out. Large swaths of the country fall out of federal control. The country is in utter crisis; newspapers decry claims to the contrary as unpatriotic treason.
(Ayn Rand predicted this phenomenon before the National Emergencies Act was ever introduced to Congress.)
Thompson’s solution is simple: give a rousing speech for the nation to buy another month of peace; demand more sacrifice; demand more patriotism; demand more obedience to the government; avoid the reality of their corrupt system crashing down and obliterating civilized society; say whatever is necessary to manipulate the populace; buy just one more month of time to steal, loot, manipulate and regroup. This is the short-term, consume your own seed crop to survive one winter, eat your own cubs to survive another day mentality that the greatest nation on earth is reduced to.
The propaganda arm of the U.S. Government (newspapers, radio, television – just like today) go into full swing marketing the speech. September 22, 8:00 PM EST the world is commanded to tune in to Thompson’s broadcast. They succeed in marketing the speech. In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, media exists to project the opinion the rulers wish the masses to adopt. They are agents of deception, not truth. They are owned by the likes of Wesley Mouch – an unimpressive and incompetent influence peddler.
Unfortunately for them, John Galt catches wind of their plans. He sees an opportunity to seize the attention of the world. And so he does.
John Galt’s Speech Begins
At 7:58 PM on September 22, the lead station engineer notifies Mr. Thompson that they’re unable to on-air. He says that something unfathomable is happening: a previously undiscovered kind of radio frequency is being broadcast at a previously impossible amplitude worldwide; nothing can be done to penetrate the wall of waves; nothing can be done to stop it.
In exasperated futility, Thompson orders the engineer to “do something” about it. He can not. Mr. Thompson’s last words echo the contemptible bankruptcy of his own morality: “Isn’t there anybody to obey an order? Isn’t there a brain left in this country?“
At 8:00 PM, John Galt’s speech begins:
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Thompson will not speak with you tonight. His time is up. I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the world crisis. That is what you are going to hear.”
Read Part 2: John Galt’s Introduction