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The Morality of John Galt

Posted on the 20 January 2014 by Charlescrawford @charlescrawford

And here is a first part of an online discussion I'm having with Frances Coppola about The Morality of Atlas Shrugged:

CC   OK, now we start to disagree! There are of course miserable, over-written passages. But let’s also praise the wonderful writing and insight that are beyond remarkable for someone who did not have English as a native tongue. (An elderly professor of literature saw them on top of a pile in a junk yard, dismantling the carcass of an automobile…”A young man of your position ought to spend his time in libraries absorbing the culture of the world.” “What do you think I’m doing?” asked Francisco.)

More importantly, what is the “dictatorship of the men of mind’? All the various clever industrialists in Atlas Shrugs want to do is to sell their products in a tough competitive marketplace, testing their ideas and inventions against their own skill and wider scientific reality.

That emphasis on free choice and a battle of wits is the exact opposite of any ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (which in practice is the dictatorship of insecure middle-class tyrants). They are thwarted at every turn by corrupt rivals and officials who manipulate the state’s power to steal their work, diminish competition and compel stupid deals.

Things of course decline. John Galt (written as a curiously blank character in many ways) suggests to them that they withdraw their ingenuity so that this decadent society takes responsibility for its own actions. I don’t see that as narcissistic or even objectionable. It’s a healthy exercise in teaching dim or greedy people to think hard about cause and effect.


We do indeed disagree! Plot construction and character delineation, which are my main criticisms of her writing, are not determined by language.

If you consider Rand as a Russian writer, she is not of the calibre of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. If you consider her as an American writer, she is not of the calibre of Steinbeck or Hemingway.  As a female writer, she is not of the calibre of Lessing or Murdoch. And as a political writer she is not of the calibre of Orwell.

But I acknowledge that judgements of literary merit are to some extent a matter of personal taste. I don’t consider her to be a good writer. You do.

The desire of the “men of mind” to control the rewards they receive for their labor. Whether that reward comes as monetary reward or in some non-monetary form, such as kudos, is immaterial. It is essentially the same desire, and the means that they use to achieve their desire are essentially the same too.

If there is one criticism I would level at Ayn Rand’s notion of “trade”, it is that it is not free. Free trade includes the possibility of receiving nothing at all for your ideas or your labour, or even for receiving a negative return. And free trade is impeded by the creation of monopolies and cartels.

In Rand’s novel, John Galt manipulates the market by creating a cartel to restrict supply of ideas. By doing that he creates a supply-side shock so severe that it destroys the political system. He then takes over the government and announces that he will “reorganize the world” according to his beliefs.  In effect, he creates a revolution.

This is no different from the Marxist notion that a workers’ revolution will bring down the capitalist system and set up a new one that gives them the power to control the returns they receive for their labor. Even the weapons they use are the same: the principal weapon of the working class struggle is the strike; John Galt organizes a “strike” of the men of mind.

And the end result would be the same too. John Galt and the government bureaucrats and workers’ representatives he so despises are just different breeds of pig.

What? John Galt just another greedy pig? Come off it

Next installment soon, I hope.

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