Note: this item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on March 15, 2009
One of the odder phenomena of contemporary public life is the enthusiasm of conservative gabbers and even elected officials for the idea of “Going Galt:” the suggestion that the oppressed wealthy of America withdraw their vast contributions to the commonweal in protest against the supposedly confiscatory taxes and redistribution of income to the morally depraved underway at the behest of the Obama administration. The allusion is to John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, that massive tome that represented the Summa of her rigorously capitalist, atheist, and anti-altruist philosophy of “Objectivism,” which has captured a vast number of adolescents and an impressive number of adults over the last several decades.
I’ve written about this in the context of U.S. Rep. John Campbell’s (R-CA) claim that “we’re living through the scenario” laid out in Atlas Shrugged, wherein the industrial leaders of the West, sick of subsidizing “parasites” and “looters,” drop out, take to the Rockies, and finally, through Galt’s voice–a radio address that took up 90 solid pages in the novel–chastise an economically helpless nation.
But Campbell was just surfing the right-wing zeitgeist, where excited talk about “going Galt” has spread like kudzu. It’s merged, in fact, with the Rick-Santelli-spawned Tea Party “movement” of “productive” people fed up with the poor-and-minority scum who cause the financial collapse by living beyond their means, and who now refuse to shuffle off into the ranks of the homeless and instead are instituting a socialist tyranny.
I don’t need to summarize the “going Galt” literature; that’s already been done quite well by David Weigel of the Washington Independent and Roy Edroso of the Village Voice (the more Galt-sympathetic Stephen Gordon of The Liberty Papers also has a long list of relevant links from various points of view). I also don’t need to analyze the absurdity of well-heeled, not-going-anywhere conservative bloggers and pundits like Michelle Malkin or Helen Smith to encourage others to “go Galt,” or of the self-congratulatory people who think it’s a license to cheat on their taxes, lay off a few underlings, or stop tipping (no, seriously!). Hilzoy has succinctly demolished the clownish and entirely un-Randian nature of these latter-day Galtists.
What I’d like to do as a public service is simply to remind folks tempted to “go Gault” or to gush ignorantly about the subject in blogs or on Fox that they are flirting with a philosophy that is profoundly and expressly hostile to anything that could remotely be described as “conservative.” And before anyone even thinks of offering the “you-don’t-have-to-be-a-fascist-to-love-Ezra-Pound’s-poetry” defense, it’s important to understand that John Galt, Atlas Shrugged, and their creator Ayn Rand represent a remorselessly unified and logical world-view that can’t be sliced and diced into bite-sized portions you can take or leave. Galt’s speech, in particular, which is the supposed inspiration for all this excited Tea Party chatter, was a painstakingly wrought distillation of Rand’s all-encompassing philosophy of Objectivism, which few “conservatives” could stomach, much less endorse. And Rand, if she were alive, would be the first to object to promiscuous use of her words and character, especially by political “conservatives,” whom she largely despised as life-hating slaves to an imaginary God, or as unprincipled demagogues little better in practice than all the other “collectivists.”
The following are a sprinkling of quotes from Rand’s work that ought to make any self-conscious conservative think twice about scribbing “Who is John Galt?” on the nearest whiteboard.
The sources I offer are generally from books and interviews, with links to the general source, not to specific pages (the Rand estate has an internally consistent but frustrating reluctance to offer much of anything she said without payment of a fee), though many can be found in the online compendium, the “Ayn Rand Lexicon”
, a product of the Ayn Rand Institute.
Rand on “Conservatism” and “Libertarianism”
Objectivists are not “conservatives.” We are radicals for capitalism; we are fighting for that philosophical base which capitalism did not have and without which it was doomed to perish . .
–“Choose Your Issues,” The Objectivist Newsletter, Jan. 1962
Capitalism is what the “conservatives” dare not advocate or defend. They are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism . . . Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society.
–Conservatism: An Obituary” from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
I consider National Review the worst and most dangerous magazine in America…[b]ecause it ties capitalism to religion. The ideological position of National Review amounts, in effect, to the following: In order to accept freedom and capitalism, one has to believe in God or in some form of religion, some form of supernatural mysticism.”
–1964 Playboy Interview
Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to ‘do something.’ By ‘ideological’ (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the ‘libertarian’ hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.”
–“What Can One Do?” from Philosophy: Who Needs It, an address to the graduating class at West Point, 1974
Neither I nor “Atlas Shrugged” nor my philosophy has any connection with the so-called “Libertarian” movement. I hold that politics without a consistent philosophical base leads to disaster. The “Libertarian” movement is a random movement of emotional hippies-of-the-right who play at politics without philosophy or consistency.
–Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, August 11, 1976 (subscription only)
Rand On Religion:
Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.
–1964 Playboy interview.
[T]here are two kinds of teachers of the Morality of Death: the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, whom you call the spiritualists and the materialists, those who believe in consciousness without existence and those who believe in existence without consciousness. Both demand the surrender of your mind, one to their revelations, the other to their reflexes. No matter how loudly they posture in the roles of irreconcilable antagonists, their moral codes are alike, and so are their aims: in matter—the enslavement of man’s body, in spirit—the destruction of his mind.
–Galt’s Speech, Atlas Shrugged
Rand on ” Family Values”:
If they [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”
–1964 Playboy interview
Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.
–Francisco D’Anconia’s speech, Atlas Shrugged
Rand on Abortion:
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered.
—-“Of Living Death,” The Objectivist, 1968
I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object…Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life.
–“The Age of Mediocrity,” The Objectivist Forum, 1981
Rand On Joe Sixpack
The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong
–Galt’s Speech, Atlas Shrugged
[T]he average man does not possess the genius’s power of self-confident resistance, and will break much faster; he will give up his mind, in hopeless bewilderment, under the first touch of pressure.
–“Requiem for Man,” from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
The new ‘theory of justice’ [of John Rawls] demands that men counteract the ‘injustice’ of nature by instituting the most obscenely unthinkable injustice among men: deprive “those favored by nature” (i.e., the talented, the intelligent, the creative) of the right to the rewards they produce (i.e., the right to life)—and grant to the incompetent, the stupid, the slothful a right to the effortless enjoyment of the rewards they could not produce, could not imagine, and would not know what to do with.
–“Philosophy: Who Needs It”
Rand on Democracy:
Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom.
–“How to Read (and Not to Write)”, The Ayn Rand Letter, 1971
Rand on Ronald Reagan:
I am profoundly opposed to Ronald Reagan. Since he denies the right to abortion, he cannot be a defender of any rights. Since he has no program or ideology to offer, his likeliest motive for entering a Presidential race is power-lust.
–Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, August 11, 1976 (subscription only)
These quotes are simply a sampling of the relentless ideology that Ayn Rand promoted in all her fiction and nonfiction books, her lecutures and her interviews and essays. It’s not an ideology you can toy with, use to assuage yourself for your stock losses or tax balances, or deploy as a tactical weapon against “liberals.” It’s all in or all out, as reflected in Rand’s own statement in her definitive nonfiction work, The Virtue of Selfishness: “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”
As the conservative icon Whittaker Chambers observed in his review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review just after its publication:
Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”
So make up your minds, conservatives: check out of your jobs and take to the hills, leaving God, the Republican Party, family values, and everything else behind but your sovereign self. If you’re not ready to do all of these things, then please, for the love of Rand, stop talking about “Going Galt.” You’re just embarrassing yourself.