Is it time to “go Galt”? No
A lot of people are asking that question, which is inspired by Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. (Ayn Rand didn’t originate the phrase, however. As best I can tell, it was originated by conservative fans of the novel sometime in the last few months. Full disclosure: I don’t particularly care for it.)
To “go Galt,” the way the phrase is being used, is to protest our mounting tax burden by ratcheting down our productivity. We’ll work less, so the government can take less. A sort of partial strike. This is supposed to be in homage to the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, and the strike he leads against collectivist oppression.
But this notion of “going Galt” misses the point of Galt’s strike, and reveals a sadly superficial understanding of the novel. Galt’s strike was not merely a tax revolt, but something much more radical.
Galt explains it this way:
We are on strike, we, the men of the mind. We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.
Galt’s strike, in other words, was a moral revolt. He was protesting, not high taxes, but the moral code that said his life–including his wealth–was others’ to dispose of. More important, Galt does not just go on strike in protest against these false moral notions, but in the name of a new moral code–what he calls the “morality of life.”
That’s a far cry from making your own life worse off in order to stick it to the government.
In 1961 Ayn Rand was asked a question that amounted to: “Is it time to ‘go Galt’?” The questioner suggested it was time to “leave society and start over” like the characters in Atlas Shrugged, to which Rand said in part:
In Atlas Shrugged, I do show how to deal with collectivism. But take things literally only when they apply literally. What do I mean? In Atlas Shrugged, I show the men of intelligence and ability go on strike against collectivist slavery, the world left without them perishes, and the men of the mind are free to start rebuilding the world. Now, the state of collectivism we have reached today is not yet as bad as what I present in Atlas Shrugged. . . . So long as there isn’t censorship, one doesn’t have to leave a society the way the characters did in Atlas Shrugged.
One does not yet have to break relationships with society. But what one must do is break relationships with the culture: Withdraw your sanction from those people, groups, schools, or theories that preach the ideas that are destroying you. In Atlas Shrugged I describe the sanction of the victim–when the good people help their own destroyers–and show in how many ways men are guilty of it, through generosity or ignorance. Anyone serious about saving the world today must first discard the dominant philosophy of the culture. Stand on your own as much as if you moved to a separate valley, like in Atlas Shrugged. Check your premises; define your convictions rationally. Do not take anything on faith; do not believe that your elders know what they’re doing, because they don’t. That’s the sense in which Atlas Shrugged is applicable to our period.
There’s a lot more, and I encourage anyone interested to look it up in Ayn Rand Answers (pages 54-56). You can also listen to a recording of her unedited answer here (click on the Q&A link, and it’s the first question).
If one really wants to “go Galt,” i.e., to fight today’s chaos, the thing to do is not parrot Galt’s actions, but to understand and fight for Galt’s ideas.