Who is John Galt?

My job was in the data processing center at a hospital, working crazy hours — on-site around the clock from Friday night until Monday morning, and then a four-day weekend every week. There wasn’t much work to my work, though. The primitive computers needed to be tended every few hours, but mostly I sat on my shiny hiney unless there was an error message or malfunction, or a tech support call from one of the nurses' stations. 

Radio and TV reception was crap because of all the ginormous old-style electronics — this was the 1970s — so I always brought a book, or a couple of books. 

One Friday afternoon, I had nothing to read for my weekend at work, so I stopped at a new bookstore down the street from my apartment. The sign only said "Eclectic Books," but to my surprise, inside it was almost all porn. Nothing wrong with that (I made a mental note to come back later), but I couldn’t bring porn to work, and my shift was starting in half an hour.

Luckily, behind a curtain of shame in the back corner, they had literature, too — some current bestsellers, and a few classics like Twain and Ulysses. Hey, here’s a book that's really long, and might last all weekend... Never heard of it before, and never heard of the author, but the blurbs on the back were all raves, and the first few paragraphs held my attention, so I bought Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

I just wanted a book to read, that’s all, but five minutes in that porn store changed the trajectory of my stupid life.

The opening line of Atlas Shrugged is, "Who is John Galt?" Turn away now if you want no spoilers, because I'm going to answer that question. 

In the novel, John Galt is the first of many millionaires and high-powered business-people who go on strike — they refuse to do their 'millionaire and high-powered business-people' work.

Galt and the other big-money titans in Ayn Rand's world think like this: You dare to regulate my business? You expect me to pay taxes? Why then, to hell with you — I shall take my magnificence to some remote place beyond the reach of your puny government, and leave you sniveling fools to fend for yourselves. Bwa-ha-ha!

I read the book over the weekend at work, and loved it. It’s full of arguments where the good guys are all basically Ayn Rand, and everyone who opposes Rand is an idiot, so she wins every argument. She certainly won me over. I was alienated, lonely, and politically a blank slate, so Atlas Shrugged made me a libertarian.

“Libertarianism” is what Rand always advocated — freedom for all, but especially freedom for the rich and powerful. Who wouldn't want to be rich and powerful and free?

I became active in the local Libertarian Party, carrying placards at protests against taxation, writing libertarian pamphlets and zines, and sitting on the planning committee for the big Libertarian convention. I squeed like a fanboy when I met libertarian big shots like Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. I bought a cassette of libertarian pop music, and played it until the tape wore down and snapped, and then I bought another copy.

Libertarianism was the answer to everything, I thought, though my core beliefs never went much further than the basics — pot and prostitution should be legal.

That’s the starter kit, and it’s certainly appealing. Pot should be legal, libertarians say, because it’s your body, and your choice what you put in it. Prostitution should be legal, too, for much the same reason. I believed that then, and still believe it now. Beyond that, though, libertarian theory gets thorny, difficult to explain and tricky to justify.

Many libertarians argue for legalization of all drugs — cocaine, heroin, PCP, and whatever concoctions you cook and sell. They should all be on the shelf at 7-Eleven, alongside any and all prescription drugs, because what’s a ‘prescription’, really, except someone telling you what you can (and can’t) imbibe? That’s an affront to freedom.

Many libertarians believe there should be no driver’s licenses, no marriage licenses, no fishing licenses, and no requirements for a license to practice medicine or law, fly a plane, pull or fill teeth, build houses, embalm corpses, etc. Whatever you want to do for a hobby or for a living, you should be free to do it. By what right does anyone tell you you can’t perform open-heart surgery?

The Civil Rights Act was a mistake, according to many libertarians. A motel’s owner should decide who they will and won't welcome, and a restaurant should be free to refuse service to anyone for any reason. If states choose to enact a poll tax, or require voters to first pass a stringent test, what’s wrong with that? States’ rights are more important than any black person’s right to vote. Or so the libertarians say.

“Taxation is theft” was an everpresent theme, and always available as a bumper sticker or t-shirt. Libertarian thinking was and is, you never signed a contract agreeing to pay taxes, so you don’t owe taxes.

You’re hungry and have no money? Tough shit. People who don’t have money should work harder. Food stamps, Medicare, Social Security, and other aid programs should be dissolved. Whatever need anyone has for such services can be met by charity, not by government, since, after all, government only gets its funds by stealing them. Taxation is theft, remember.

Greed and selfishness are good, because they motivate people to create more and new and better goods and services and products and inventions. Selflessness, kindness, or anything that doesn’t earn a profit — like a fire department, or aid programs — are simply parasitic. Such services shouldn’t exist unless they’re 100% privately funded, and even if they are, don’t expect a donation from a libertarian.

All businesses should be completely deregulated, many libertarians say. Nobody should inspect a bank’s bookkeeping, a car company's safety record, a restaurant’s kitchen, or a factory’s machinery or working conditions. Muh freedom!

The nonsense never ends. I don’t remember any libertarian acquaintances who advocated that businesses should turn away black customers, should refuse to hire women, should require that employees profess Christian faith, or that parents should abandon their children, that fucking a corpse should be perfectly legal, that age-of-consent laws should be repealed, that you should sell yourself into slavery, or you should kill your neighbor if he plays music too loud — but I clearly remember libertarians discussing such concepts ‘academically’. Basically, “I wouldn't do such things, goodness no, but you should be free to, if you wish.” That’s the libertarian ideal.

I’ve always been a slow learner, and I hung out with libertarians for years, maybe because most of them were alienated and lonely like me. We had each other — a bunch of alienated lonely people in the same room — and amplified each others’ nuttiness. 

Curiously, in all my time with the libertarians, I never met a rich person at any of our meetings. Hmmm.

There was no dramatic moment of leaving the libertarians, but gradually I understood that their fetish for freedom wouldn't, shouldn't, and literally couldn't work in reality. Much older and a little wiser, I’d now say:

Taxation is a fair way to provide for the public good. 

Capitalism without regulation is serfdom with suits. 

Being rich doesn't mean you deserve to be rich. It probably means you were lucky, not that you're better or smarter than anyone else. 

"Work harder" is not a viable solution for everyone who’s having tough times.

Some people need a helping hand, and that’s the job of a good government.

Someone ought to protect ‘little people’ from the power of ‘big people’ and giant corporations.

Maybe giant corporations shouldn’t exist. 

By all means, let the pot-smokers out of prison and the hookers out of jail. Beyond that, libertarian ideals are a celebration of cruelty and the opposite of a society. We ought to be better than that.

I read and re-read Atlas Shrugged a dozen times, but the last time I tried — perhaps 20 years ago — it seemed so ignorant of what humans are, I couldn’t take it seriously.

“Who is John Galt?” He’s a fictional bastard who believes he’s more important than his entire society, nation, and world. If he can’t have everything his way, then to blazes with everyone and everything. John Galt doesn't exist, but if he did he'd be just another Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Mark Zuckerberg. Such men aren't the heroes of any book worth reading, and their 'philosophy' ain't mine and ought to not be yours.



← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. This is not original, and I have to assume that you came acrossit on Reddit at some point :

    I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.

    “Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”

    “What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”

    “Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”

    The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

    “Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

    “Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”

    He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”

    “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”

    I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.

    “Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.

    “Now, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?” No one spoke up.

    “Come on,” I said. “Don’t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?”

    It didn’t seem like they did.

    “Seriously, guys. Without a strong economic motivator, I’m just going to stand here and not solve this case. Cash is fine, but I prefer being paid in gold bullion or autographed Penn Jillette posters.”

    Nothing. These people were stonewalling me. It almost seemed like they didn’t care that a fortune in computer money invented to buy drugs was missing.

    I figured I could wait them out. I lit several cigarettes indoors. A pregnant lady coughed, and I told her that secondhand smoke is a myth. Just then, a man in glasses made a break for it.

    “Subway™ Eat Fresh and Freeze, Scumbag!®” I yelled.

    Too late. He was already out the front door. I went after him.

    “Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.

    I was losing him. “Listen, I’ll pay you to stop!” I yelled. “What would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? I’ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn ‘Bob Barr ‘08’ extra-large long-sleeved men’s T-shirt!”

    He turned. In his hand was a revolver that the Constitution said he had every right to own. He fired at me and missed. I pulled my own gun, put a quarter in it, and fired back. The bullet lodged in a U.S.P.S. mailbox less than a foot from his head. I shot the mailbox again, on purpose.

    “All right, all right!” the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. “I give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.”

    “Why’d you do it?” I asked, as I slapped a pair of Oikos™ Greek Yogurt Presents Handcuffs® on the guy.

    “Because I was afraid.”


    “Afraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,” he said. “I’m a central banker.”

    I wanted to coldcock the guy. Years ago, a central banker killed my partner. Instead, I shook my head.

    “Let this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,” I said. “No matter how many bitcoins you steal, you’ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.”

    He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.

    1. No sir, never saw that before, and I started giggling halfway through.

      There was a series of sci-fi books about a detective working in a libertarian universe. Actually, I think the books were instrumental in showing me the way out.

  2. In a sense John Galt is the fucker who killed my father's brain. Fax News is full of these assholoes.

  3. It's fitting that you were introduced to Ayn Rand in a porno shop. She probably worked there or owned the place.

  4. When I read John Galt I thought you meant the Scottish writer, who's obscure novel, The Provost, was a hidden gem that I stumbled upon in a used book store. I've only read one Rand, and saw the Gary Cooper movie about the architect. Her life was as wild as her books. And I agree with your assessment.

    1. Her *life* was wild indeed, and as implausible as her fiction. She was a Russian immigrant, and English was her second language. Say whatever about her nutty politics (and I'll say plenty) but writing novels in your second language is impressive.


🚨🚨 BY THE WAY... 🚨🚨
The site's software sometimes swallows comments. If it eats yours, send an email and I'll get it posted.