This past week, my wife and I went to the movies and saw “Atlas Shrugged – Part One” which opened in Mississippi on “tax day”, April 15, 2011. Beverly and I seldom go to the movies anymore, but this was one I did not want to miss. I was not disappointed.
John Galt is the shadowy figure and ultimate hero of the novel, “Atlas Shrugged”, and his name is mentioned, again and again throughout the first part of the book, by numerous characters who ask the rhetorical question: “Who is John Galt?” Published in 1957, “Atlas Shrugged” tells the story of Dagney Taggert, a successful businesswoman who attempts to keep her great railroad company afloat by changing with the times and replacing the old and unsafe rail lines on her railroad system with new steel alloy lines developed by another creative entrepreneur, Hank Rearden, owner of one of the great steel companies in America. In the book and movie, Dagney and Hank demonstrate that Rearden metal is safe for public use, despite fierce opposition from her competitors and warnings of disaster by government regulators. At that point, the future looks bright for the Taggart Railroad Company and Rearden Steel. However, the government steps in and announces that the Taggert-Rearden partnership is “unfair” to other steel producers, and Congress passes a law called the “Equalization of Opportunity Act”, which regulates how many businesses an individual may own. As the story unfolds, Dagney begins to notice that many of her fellow entrepreneurs who are producing useful goods and services begin to disappear, often leaving behind a note saying simply: “Who is John Galt?” She renames her railroad “The John Galt Line”.
In a recent review of “Atlas Shrugged – Part I”, conservative columnist Cal Thomas compared the storyline of the book and the movie to our present-day circumstances: “In an age where overspending, overreaching, wire tapping and over-regulating government increasingly strangles the private sector, robbing us of our liberties and transforms the country into the model of a socialist state, Rand’s story reminds us how far ahead of her time she was and just how dangerous a time we live in now.” Indeed, liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in the newspaper’s April 16, 2011 edition, seemed to partially agree with Thomas when she wrote: “It was Ayn Rand’s nightmare: The president who gave hundreds of billions in hand-outs to homeowners, banks, car executives and various others she would have labeled ‘moochers’ was explaining his vision of why America is great. ‘It’s not the size of our skyscrapers,’ President Obama told cheering fans at a late-night rally Thursday at Chicago’s Navy Pier. ‘It’s not the size of our G.D.P.’ It’s not even just because we’re individuals, he said, adding, ‘We also have this idea that we’re all in this together, that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper.”
Ayn Rand’s philosophy has had great appeal to many of America’s most prominent public figures, including Alan Greenspan, the longtime Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and, more recently, young U. S. Representative Paul Ryan, the author of the recent Republican Congressional budget proposal, who credits Rand as “the reason I got involved in public service.”
In 2010, Ryan directed every member of his staff to read “Atlas Shrugged”. Greenspan describes Rand’s philosophy as “…one that emphasized reason, individualism, and enlightened self-interest. Later she named it objectivism; today, she would be called a libertarian.”
Cal Thomas writes that “Ayn Rand is not for everybody.” It is true that her philosophy of objectivism knows no God and does not adhere to the basic rights espoused by Thomas Jefferson, to which each American is entitled and are “endowed by our creator.” Still, her powerful argument against a collectivist society rings clear to us today. As stated on the cover jacket of the novel in 1957,
“You must be prepared, when you read this novel, to check every premise at the root of your convictions. This is a mystery story, not about the murder of a man’s body, but about the murder – and rebirth – of man’s spirit. It is a philosophical revolution, told in the form of an action thriller of violent events, a ruthlessly brilliant plot structure and an irresistible suspense. Do you say this is impossible? Well, that is the first of your premises to check.”
Who is John Galt? Go see the movie.
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