Jennifer Hsieh, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Galt’s Gulch: Paradise on Earth
The biblical story of the Flood tells of a world so wicked that its Creator chooses to wipe out all life and start anew.
In Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand describes a declining world where the true virtues of men—rationality, productivity, and pride—are denounced as impractical evils.
Once overflowing with living energy, New York City’s streets are now grey and dismal.
John Galt, the man who has uncompromisingly preserved his virtues, sees the state of mankind and refuses to accept it.
He will not wait hopelessly for the fulfillment of empty promises of a better future preached by the mystics and the ‘humanists’; he will not stand by and watch a mindless collective destroy the men he respects.
John Galt acts.
Unlike the biblical Creator, he does not actively wipe out the human race; instead, he cleanses the world by removing its prime movers, knowing that the corrupt, those who live as parasites off of the productive man, will not survive without their hosts.
Dagny Taggart is, as Ellis Wyatt states, “the only one who’s got any brains in this rotten outfit [that is Taggart Transcontinental].” (81) However, she fails to grasp the hopelessness of running Taggart Transcontinental single-handedly.
For a long time she has too much faith in the men she works with and sees the irrationality and incompetence surrounding her as little more than another obstacle to overcome.
Still confident she can save Taggart Transcontinental, she is unable to forsake it.
Francisco d’Anconia, one of Galt’s first followers, tells Dagny early on, “You have a great deal of courage, Dagny.
Some day, you’ll have enough of it.”(126) prompting her to question, “Of what? Courage?” (126) but Francisco does not answer.
In this conversation Francisco hints at the source of his drastic change in character, speaking in riddles Dagny cannot understand.
When she urges him to fight the looters in Mexico, he smiles with the reply, “No, my dear.
It’s you that I have to fight.” (124) Knowing Dagny is not ready to abandon her world, Francisco does not reveal the existence and nature of Galt’s Gulch.
He knows the time will come when she will be torn between staying with Taggart Transcontinental and joining the men of ability with whom she belongs.
He must fight in order to show her that she cannot expect to succeed in an endeavor where her success depends primarily on men incapable of using reason.
“Someday you’ll have enough of it.” What is ‘it’?
Does Francisco really mean courage?
Facing reality and seeing those around her for what they really are would certainly require an immense amount of courage from Dagny.
At the beginning of the novel, her respect for the potential in man is so powerful that she finds it inconceivable for men to value a morality of death a morality governed by fear where destruction is the ultimate goal.
Dagny needs every ounce of courage in her as she gradually comes to accept the depravity of the destroyers.
Then again, ‘it’ might not mean courage at all; ‘it’ could refer to the futility of the world Dagny lives in.
If this is the case, Francisco is saying, “Someday you’ll have enough of it; you’ll realize the parasites’ claims on you mean nothing.
You’ll see that you’re their Atlas and you will choose to shrug.”
Whatever Francisco had in mind, one thing is certain.
He has no hope for the world he left behind.
Knowing Dagny, he is convinced that she will some day learn what he learned years ago.
Her devotion to reality will teach her the truth.
After a long and desperate struggle, she will see that there is no purpose for her to stay and she will be brave enough to abandon the society where suffering governs morality.
Under the guidance of John Galt, Dagny and the other heroes of Atlas Shrugged learn “[. . .] the nature of that moral code [. . .] which they had been too innocently generous to grasp.” (1010)
They realize the irrational doctrines surrounding them are not “errors of knowledge” (1059) but “breaches of morality” (1059)—evil committed in full consciousness.
The heroes see that they, the men of ability, are partially to blame for the exploitation of the moral man.
In the words of Francisco d’ Anconia to Hank Rearden, “You knew what exacting morality was needed to produce a single metal nail, but you let them brand you as immoral.” (454) Accepting unearned guilt is not in keeping with the rational man’s values.
Nothing other than the thinking mind makes survival possible. By submitting to the unjust claims of the looters and beggars, passively becoming their victims, the heroes permit their own destruction. Only the sanction of the producer allows those with nothing to offer him a hold over his most precious value—his life source, the products of his mind.
Born into a world where self-sacrifice is the standard of morality, the men of ability crave the influence of a philosophy that does not conflict with the values driving them to produce. This is a philosophy based on rationality where the human mind is dominant and ability triumphs over need. It would not condemn money as evil, but honor it as the reward of productivity and “the material shape of the principal that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.” (410) It would teach the true meaning of the pursuit of happiness: the search for “a state of non contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt” (1022), the source of this state being contained within the actions of oneself.
John Galt fills this intellectual void for his followers.
He “[gives] them the weapon they had lacked: the knowledge of their own moral value.” (1051)
The heroes have always held Galt’s moral code implicitly, but because they have compromised it to parasites who hold opposite values, they have never realized the potency of living this code to the fullest.
Having discovered the glory of being what a true man should be, Galt declares with perfect confidence in the righteousness of his words, “I am the first man who would not do penance for my virtues or let them be used as the tools of my destruction.” (1050)
By showing his strikers the merit of adhering to his code, Galt shows them the evils of submitting to any other code.
The first man to refuse a mentality of guilt and suffering takes God’s job of purifying the world in his own hands, leading worthy followers in becoming the first race of moral men.
He unites those who live and interact as humans should, giving them an environment where their passion for life will prosper; he offers them the world as it should be. Here each man will live as a creator by the oath that the true standard of morality is the sacredness of man’s life.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Penguin, 1999.