In times of great peril, danger, or distress we often look to someone or something to give us comfort and a feeling of safety. When our ideas are attacked we look to someone who shares our ideas. This is quite evident of the recent rise in references to Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged and its title character, John Galt.
References to John Galt, it seems, are everywhere nowadays. Doing an Internet news search for John Galt brings back almost 400 articles, news stories, and opinion pieces on the man. But who is John Galt?
John Galt is a pivotal character in the nearly 1,200 page Atlas Shrugged written by Russian expatriate Ayn Rand that praises individual liberty and capitalism. Published in 1957 this novel fictionalizes a dystopic American future where government intervention into the economy has wrought further economic turndown that extends and deepens the depression.
In looking for someone to blame for their ills, the leaders of the country and those who are suffering begin to blame the rich. They chastise them for their ideas, their high profits, and their wealth. These attacks prompt these people, led by John Galt, to go on strike – to stop producing and stop manufacturing new ideas and new products. They still work, but instead of inventing new medicines or new inventions, they work shoveling coal or as a brakemen on railroads.
Many conservatives and capitalist minded individuals see parallels between the plot of the novel and what is happening today. These people believe the government has gotten us into this current economic crisis through their meddling and is making it worse by attacking prosperity, increasing those dependent on government, and increased regulations and bad decisions.
At the Rick Santelli-inspired “tea parties,” you often see signs held by glum protesters proclaiming, “Atlas will shrug,” “Atlas has shrugged,” or just the ubiquitous “Who is John Galt?”
There are even online stores such as John Galt Gifts where you can buy your pro capitalist John Galt accessories. These range from items asking who John Galt is, to more inside jokes such as a shirt that simply says “A=A,” and my favorite “My other ride is the John Galt Line.”
This movement is part of a national zeitgeist building in many circles against what is believed to be an attack against the basic systems that have made this country great. It is also a protest against the current President and I think a little more grown up and intellectual than many of the similar protests we saw against former President George W. Bush.
Whether you agree with the doomsday predictors who think Atlas will shrug or believe that John Galt walks among us, I suggest you read Atlas Shrugged. It does make some wonderful defenses of Capitalism and does a good job of attacking Marxism. T
hose who believe that we are headed to Marxism will be comforted by the tome and its themes. Those who agree with Marxism will at least know where the other side is coming from. Those in the middle will at least get a good story out of it and may indeed be able to recognize John Galt if you ran into him at your local train station.