By his own estimation, John Galt’s podcast and its monopoly on all media streams worldwide has been going on for about two hours now. He has outlined the following philosophy:
1) The true human spirit is the spirit of ambition, achievement, intelligence, and self-reliance. It is impossible to embody this spirit if one does not believe in the unlimited power of one’s intellect and will.
2) The false human spirit, practiced by most of the world wittingly or unwittingly, is the spirit of cowardice, neediness, humility, complacency, and self-evasion. By lowering the bar for the definition of human nature, these moral/spiritual/economic/political weaklings are implicitly enabling, even promoting, a culture of death and dissolution.
And you know what? Putting aside differences among people about which other people should fit into which category, this rubric seems like something a lot of us buy into to some degree or another. A cynical degree perhaps, but if we’re being honest we all struggle with pessimism about the quality of human beings when regarded en masse. There is something deeply relatable here.
With this paradigm in mind, John Galt is echoing the call to action of ’60s liberal activist Mario Savio:
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
Galt inverts Savio’s imagery, though, seeing the human spirit in the machinery itself. He wants to remove the levers and gears and wheels of the meritocratic elite, to save them from the corrosive effects of the commodity being processed — namely the other, inferior human beings. Doesn’t the quality of the product of the machine say something about the quality of the machine itself? Also, aren’t the inferiors the owners/runners of the machine too, in this version? It’s all a little confusing. Let’s just say that in John Galt’s worldview any metaphor for global society as a dehumanizing machine is bound to get a little convoluted.
And maybe that’s why the details of his views are so reductive — he has no other choice. His argument is getting really weird and tangled up in itself. He hails certain people throughout history as his intellectual and moral predecessors, and who are they? The people who sacrificed their own potential, who “function at a fraction of their capacity” because they’re bitter about the world and characterized by their “revulsion.”
But aren’t these the most despicable people of all? People who abandon their value, their hope? Aren’t they the walking dead, the implicit zero-worshippers? Doesn’t their attitude betray Galt’s core value of proving one’s moral worth through realizing one’s potential? And yet he pities them, valorizes them for vilifying the world…
Galt finally makes the following explicit: he is calling for massive civil disobedience, just like every idealistic left-wing college activist you’ve ever met. He is opting out of a broken system, and because he and his ilk are the most powerful and competent citizens, the system is inevitably breaking down faster and faster. The only way to save yourself is to likewise opt out. To put your skills and intelligence to use from the ground up and for you and your loved ones only.
Populism is now creeping in at the edges. The common people, too, should go on strike! This is the purpose of broadcasting his philosophy to the world at large, to empower the masses. By virtue of their self-sufficiency, the worthy will prove their worth, and the unworthy will perish. This man, who hails civilization and rationality, who speaks of naturalists as savages, is suggesting that the true measure of a man’s moral value is determined by the law of the jungle.
I’m reminded of a quote by the great American philosopher Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said he enjoyed paying his taxes because they “bought him civilization.”
Now Galt turns to directly address those listeners (like me) who have ambivalent feelings about all this.
He accuses me of trying to avoid reality when I say I don’t have to make an extreme and radical choice. He scathingly rebukes basically everything I articulated as my philosophy, my choice to value conservative judiciousness, to aspire to the virtue of adaptability to any circumstance. And then he says this:
There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.
And this is when my ambivalence dissolves, and I know that I am right and John Galt is wrong. Because the middle is not always evil. And quite often it is vital to consider more than two facets of an issue to decide well between right and wrong.
Galt and his authorial God, they believe that to admit the possibility of non-absolutes is to reject the reality of all absolutes. This is irrational. The Rand-God of the Objectiverse, and Galt by extension, has built her house on a logical fallacy.
So I hold this truth to be self-evident: that not all ideas are created equal, and Ayn Rand’s were born defective and degenerate, and this is why she spends 1100 pages aborting her own universe.
As I said in articulating my philosophy, though I value flexibility, sometimes certainty and stubbornness are called for. Now is one of those times.
John Galt rails against my false moral code as preventing me from “casting the first stone,” mere pages after he asserted the absolute wrongness of initiating force.
Galt spends several pages more telling us fence-sitters what we believe, and why it is damnably wrong. He urges us to embrace his philosophy, for all alternatives are evil, and “no man can survive the moment of pronouncing himself irredeemably evil; should he do it, his next moment is insanity or suicide.”
You must believe in yourself, believe in your goodness, Galt declares inspirationally, his attitude toward his audience getting increasingly bipolar.
Galt describes the innocence of children as a form of pure rationality — and there the Ayn-God goes again, proving herself incapable of dealing with the reality of human development. Galt preaches that one should never lose touch with one’s inner child, and I really do think it sad, all this common sense, all this age-old wisdom and good advice, mangled and chained by all thse perverse and self-defeating conditions.
So in the name of a superior flexibility and openness, let us appreciate the inspirational parts once more. Galt addresses us all again, tells us we have the choice to embrace life and love existence, to cherish our minds and our ability to make something of ourselves. “Accept, as your moral ideal, the task of becoming a man.” Accept that “man is an end in himself.”
And I love that! I love that sentence. Of my own philosophy I wrote, “it is a paradigm for living life as an art form … it’s about being your best self as an end in itself.” And I would be so happy to work with Rand and Galt, to share this common ground and agree to disagree on the rest. To compromise for mutual benefit.
But they will not admit of disagreement, they will brook no compromise. For them, it is all or nothing. Literally.
And this is why they must get nothing. Why Rand’s bastardized heirs in the real life Republican Party must be denied power and reduced to powerlessness. If you, John Galt, Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand by any name — if you insist on all or nothing, insist that the time has come for a principled stand, then I, the compromiser, the accomodator, the non-absolutist… I will take all, and you can have the nothing.
For nothing is the measure of the logic of your code, and nothing is therefore what you deserve. We the People will give you what you want, Randians, what you secretly desire and seek to deny through evading true self-knowledge: nothing.
Galt says “only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience,” and yet Galt’s vision of rational thought is this very standard. He claims logic and reason are the fundamental code of reality, and thus that rationality is omniscient. He declares rationality intrinsic and pure in childre, that it is automatic. And in reality, that reality which he so seeks to deny, indeed to destroy, this omniscience and this automaticity is, yes, impossible.
Galt’s absolutism, his belief in human perfectibility, is based on a mystic misattribution. He blanks himself out. He is what he condemns. He has removed himself from the world by his own admission. It is his defining decision. He has zeroed himself. He does not need to worship zero, for he is a zero.
I see it now! I see it in the litany of conditions he places on our redemption, in these final pages of his speech, in the dictums he proclaims which have turned out to be so disastrous for the real world, for the real America, for our real politics.
I see the plea for help, and I see the cannibalism, in his equating a plea for help with cannibalism. I see his cowardice in his immediate qualification and conditioning of that statement, his defense of helping someone if you deem the person in need of help to be virtuous — a statement itself qualified to depend entirely on the qualities he subjectively categorizes as virtuous. Look at how he compromises his own absolutes in absolute contradiction of his own absolute against compromising absolutes. Absolutely contradictory!
I see the insecurity in his insistence that the standard of perfection is not impossible. It is, and just as he claims, he is the proof. His strength is so fragile, so brittle, and afraid. His self-defeat, his self-negation, his subconscious nihilism… it’s so clear, and so obvious, to anybody who dares to think, who dares to be a man.
Galt approaches his whimpering conclusion. He outlines the framework of a minimal libertarian state, as if he has proved its necessity and history has not proved its inadequacy. He declares all other social structure to operate by a code of conduct by which “you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your gang is bigger than his,” as if this dynamic is not a danger when “bank account” is substituted for “gang.”
He grants one more moment of praise for the immeasurable value of a great idea or innovation. One more insight about the retarding effect of economic and legislative uncertainty on growth. And then one more fist, furiously shaken in the direction of janitors and menial laborers for not earning their paychecks and their livelihoods by intellect. You were so close, John! But no, his disregard for dignity is undignified, his disgust disgusting.
His final rallying cry: all men and women of heroism, break the back of the system with us! Abandon the villains in your midst, live alone, or in like-minded communities, and when global civilization collapses, we will find each other and rebuild the world anew!
This rabid dog of reason, this hollow braggart and bully of rhetoric, he dares preach the value of the human spirit while he warns those who retain sympathy for their fellow man that they must sever the bonds of affection with their kin. Give up on life so that you may live! he commands. Join me in my historically horrific desire to purge and purify, like a Jacobin or a Bolshevik! Join me in my cradle of obfuscation and denial of my own truth! Reclaim your individuality… by being just like me.
Galt directs this last plea surreptitiously at Dagny. And then back to the broader audience, to you and me, he recites his mantra, that one should not live for others nor others for you. He signs off, leaving us to digest his poisonous message.
And you know what? He was right about one thing — he has made the truth about himself clear, and his philosophy naked and plain. It is ugly.
REFLECTIONS ON THE SPEECH — John Galt & Ayn Rand versus Reality: Compare and Contrast