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Understanding Ayn Rand - Galt's Speech

This is the 3rd of a 6-part series designed to explain several important aspects of Ayn Rand’s influential Atlas Shrugged, or at least correct widespread misconceptions regarding Atlas Shrugged that disastrously influence modern culture. You can pick up the start of this series here.

In the previous post we introduced Galt’s Gulch, Ayn Rand’s fictionalized utopia based on her philosophy of Objectivism, together with critical scholarship showing her utopia is neither realistic nor sustainable. Even so, we uncovered and now point you to insights within Objectivism that steer us away from plantation economics (any form of economic exploitation) and toward Partnership Economics. Those insights are found in John Galt’s nationwide radio speech, the fifty-six-page summary of Objectivism set toward the end of Atlas Shrugged.

Image Credit: Proud Producers

Galt’s speech opens with a fiery introduction that lays his fictional world’s social and economic collapse at the feet of its failed moral code. He asserts that moral code failed and caused the story’s present calamity because it was founded on a misguided faith, buttressed by force, that specifically rejects humankind’s abilities to think and reason. Galt then begins his argument to replace that failed moral code for his own (Rand’s Objectivism), a code that anchors in and springs from the human ability to think and reason.

We can be quick to agree with Galt’s reasons and reasoning for humans to live according to a substantially consistent moral code. Those include the human mind and ability to think as the basic tool of survival, that thinking is a purposeful choice, and that people are creatures of what Galt terms “volitional consciousness.” As creatures of volitional consciousness with no automatic course of behavior, Galt argues, humans need a code of values to guide our actions. After making the case that humankind has no automatic code of survival but can determine such a code through the rational process of decision-making between choices, Galt asserts, “[a] code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”

Galt emphasizes the issue of choice by underscoring the nature of a moral code as being chosen, not forced; and as being understood, not merely obeyed. Indeed, as if to ensure his audience does not confuse his criticism of their failed moral code with the absolute need of a sustainable moral code, he states, “It is for the purpose of self-preservation that [humankind] needs a code of morality.” Again, we agree. (Which leads to a question to file and ponder in your free time: As regards our current construct of capitalism, are you good with our current code of morality or would you like to see us all choose another that doesn’t cause such stark inequities?)

With the old moral code dismissed and the need for a moral code clearly established, Galt quickly transitions to presenting his remedy. Explaining the structure of his code of morality, Galt begins with his three supreme and ruling values of life: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. These values imply and require seven virtues, he asserts, virtues that he introduces and briefly explains. A value, Galt explains, is that which one acts to gain and keep, while a virtue is the action by which one gains and keeps that value.

Reasonable minds may differ over the values and virtues by which to frame a code of morality, and we certainly find places to differ with Galt. Rather than fight over any differences, however, we point to important common ground. For example, honesty. Galt describes honesty, one of the seven virtues that frame his code of morality, with a paragraph-long single sentence that argues “neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud . . . [and] . . . that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice . . .” To be honest with oneself and to be honest with the other is supported by the weight of scholarship and of tradition that we point to in our book Better Capitalism and these posts. Those include Hebrew scriptures, Jesus, Adam Smith, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Bogle, and more.

Image Credit: Northpoint Recovery

Honesty, which is the gateway to transparency and the ethic of mutuality for which we advocate, is a threshold virtue that moves us from plantation systems to Partnership Economics. Where do you see honesty and transparency in our current form of capitalism? If you don’t, remember that we – individually and collectively – have choices to make, just as John Galt rightly argues. Indeed, we can start with choosing to instill and insist on the virtue of honesty in our business dealings and a better form of capitalism. In fact, you can start this minute in both your business and personal dealings!

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