Monday, March 2, 2009

Who is John Galt?

It's the question that opens the novel, Atlas Shrugged. And I wish I could tell you that I know for sure who John Galt is…but I haven’t finished the book yet. So, the identity of the infamous John Galt remains a mystery. But I have a pretty good guess. I think John Galt is the guy who invented the engine that Dagny and Hank find in the abandoned factory. And I think he disappeared in an act of defiance to make a statement: that he would not stand by while the product of his own creativity, his own industriousness, his own genius was given freely to those who had not earned it or worked for it—that he would rather not produce anything than produce something by force only to be stripped of any right to the fruit of his own labor.

Interesting, isn’t it? Especially considering what’s happening in our own country?

I've had variations of this conversation with multiple people in the last few months. The most recent went like this:

Him: "Oh, you're an Ayn Rand fan?"

Me: "Yep."

Him: "How do you reconcile Ayn Rand's views with your religious beliefs as a Christian?"

Me: "How do you not?"

Him: Speechless. Eyes wide, head pulls back almost involuntarily in shocked disbelief.

Okay, so I kind of said it just for the amusement I knew I would get from the reaction, but it's true.

I know, right? How could you possibly subscribe to the philosophies of an atheist capitalist who places the rights of the individual above the many and claim to be a practicing Christian? It's unthinkable! I had to clarify, of course. Yes, Rand's ideals are built on a religion-less foundation, so you have to recognize that and take it into account. But the principle of agency is a fairly prominent one in Christian theology, and that is the core of Rand's philosophy—that the individual should have the right to his property and the right to do with it what he will. While we may disagree with someone's choices from a moral perspective, the individual ought to be allowed to be selfish and concern himself only with himself, if he so chooses. And in the end, the market as a whole will benefit from this, because people will have a reason to keep pushing and striving and reaching for bigger and better. If the laborer has no motivation to seek for new and innovative methods, if the inventor has no incentive to invent, if the doctor has no promise of reward for the discovery of new cures, none of it will happen. Competition in the marketplace has to exist for progress to be made. And let’s face it. Competition requires a lot of focus on Numero Uno.

Unfortunately, I see the fiction in Rand's story becoming the reality of our society and it scares me senseless. Government is getting too big, taking a role where it has no role. Obama spoke of freedom, equality, and opportunity in his inauguration address and it made me ill. Not because I don't want those things myself, but because I don't want them as he defines them. Many have tried to wake us up to the dangerous notion that equality of opportunity is synonymous with equality of outcome. It is not, nor should we try to make it be. Making everyone's outcome equal removes competition and halts progress. In his address to Congress last week Obama said, "As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by Presidents Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets, not because I believe in bigger government—I don't—not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited—I am." Mr. Obama, I don't believe you. Not one whit. You can say it until you're blue in the face. But talk is cheap. If you genuinely did not believe in bigger government, you would be asking for solutions that would look very different from what we've got.

Someone very close to me just the other day confessed that she has actually caught herself thinking, "How can we make less money this year so we don't have to give the government more?" Isn't it obvious what the negative effects of the socialist tendencies sprouting up in our government will be? Don't people understand that to redistribute wealth makes the productive members of society want to stop producing? That's great. The already unproductive will remain unproductive, and the productive will be driven to stop striving, competing, producing…because there is no reward. Obama is bringing change, alright. But not the sort of change that inspires me.

Who is John Galt? I think we're about to find out.


JC said...

Thanks for sharing your clear thinking and articulating these principles for all of us. I just read this last night - from another clear thinker:

"The principle behind this American philosophy can be reduced to a rather simple formula:

1. Economic security for all is impossible without widespread abundance.

2. Abundance is impossible without industrious and efficient production.

3. Such production is impossible without energetic, willing and eager labor.

4. This is not possible without incentive.

5. Of all forms of incentive – the freedom to attain a reward for one’s labor is the most sustaining for most people. Sometimes called THE PROFIT MOTIVE, it is simply the right to plan and to earn and to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

6. This profit motive DIMINISHES as government controls, regulations and taxes INCREASE to deny the fruits of success to those who produce.

7. Therefore, any attempt THROUGH GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION to redistribute the material rewards of labor can only result in the eventual destruction of the productive base of society, without which real abundance and security for more than the ruling elite is quite impossible."

(Ezra Taft Benson, "The Proper Role of Government"

Whitney said...

Well said! Reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a perfectly capable and gainfully employed guy who is thinking about quitting his job and taking unemployment for a while just because he's fed up with his boss and thinks he's entitled to take advantage of the welfare system into which he has paid so much tax money. The more money you take from us, the more we feel taken advantage of, and the more we want to stop being productive and just abuse the system like so many others.

Bill Hastings said...

Loved "Atlas Shrugged" when I read it eons ago. I'll pass along a hint I received and took: Skip John Galt's speech when you get there, and you won't miss much (other than 150 pages or so). (I'm Whitney's dad -- picked up your blog from the Marine video she forwarded to the fam.)

Mrs. Merrell said...

funny. i've been carrying Atlas Shrugged along with me for a while now too.... let's race.

logan said...

Maybe my favorite book.

So we need to see you--I know time's running out. Just got your invitation--I think you can count us in. We just need to find a babysitter.