In Atlas Shrugged , the hero, John Galt, makes a radio speech to the nation revealing the strike of the producers and explaining its rationale. The speech resolves the philosophical mystery of the plot: Why are the most productive people leaving their work and disappearing from society?
As such, it provides a comprehensive introduction to Ayn Rand 's philosophy, though one that is tailored to the events and characters of the novel. In later works, Rand presented specific elements of her philosophy in nonfiction terms.
Ayn Rand regarded Galt's speech as the shortest summary of her philosophy, which she called Objectivism . "I knew it was going to be the hardest chapter in the book," she told an interviewer in 1961. "I underestimated. I thought, with a feeling of dread, that it would take at least three months. Well, it took two years." Rand began outlining the speech on July 29, 1953; it was not completed until October 13, 1955.
Her biggest challenge was not the speech's philosophical content but its literary requirements. In a novel, she could not present her ideas in the form of a dry, systematic treatise; she had to state them dramatically, in the form of a revolutionary leader's manifesto and challenge to a corrupt society.
"I started by making an outline of the issues to be covered," Rand explained. "I originally began the theoretical presentation with metaphysics, starting with existence exists, going from metaphysics to epistemology, then planning to go to morality. After writing quite a few pages, I had to stop because I knew it was absolutely wrong. That is the logical order in non-fiction, but you can't do it in fiction. The speech had to start by presenting the morality, which is the real theme of the book, and where Galt would have to begin his explanation to the world. So I had to rewrite the whole thing."
Though the speech is written as a single, continuous presentation, it can be divided into three sections. In the first, Galt presents the moral code of reason and individualism (The Morality of Life) that the producers embrace. In the second, he explains and attacks the opposite moral code of mysticism, sacrifice, and collectivism (The Morality of Death), showing how it has always been used to exploit the producers. In the third section, he explains the strategy of the strike -- the withdrawal of "the sanction of the victim" -- and urges his listeners to reexamine their moral assumptions. This section also presents the political ideals that follow from the moral code of rational individualism.
I have prepared this Outline as an aid to those who wish to understand the speech, whether as a statement of Rand's philosophical ideas or as a literary element in her novel. The Outline breaks the three sections into subsections where each main point that Galt makes is stated in essential terms and in such a way as to indicate the logical flow of his speech. Reading this Outline is no substitute for reading the speech itself, but it will help you keep the full context in mind as you study each element.
Galt's speech can be found in part III, chapter VII of Atlas Shrugged ("This is John Galt Speaking"). It was also reproduced in Ayn Rand 's For the New Intellectual. To connect this Outline with the text of the speech, I have begun each subsection of the Outline with the opening words, in italics, of the first paragraph it relates to in the text. (Page numbers could not be used for this purpose since they vary among the many printings of these books.)
I wish to thank Jason Raibley for his invaluable assistance in the preparation and editing of this Outline.
This is an age of moral crisis, brought about by the doctrine of sacrifice.
Galt has led a strike to protest that doctrine and to remove the men of justice, independence, reason, wealth, and
self-esteem -- the men of the mind.
The crisis demands the discovery of a proper morality.
The essence of previous moral codes is to demand that you surrender your mind and your life to the whims of God or society.
The mind is man's basic means of survival.
Because thinking is volitional, man needs a conscious code of values.
For any living organism, its life is its fundamental value, since existence or non-existence is its fundamental alternative.
To maintain its life, any organism must act in accordance with its means of survival. For man, this means living by the exercise of his mind.
Man's life -- the life of man qua rational being -- is the proper standard of value. Your own life -- and happiness as its emotional concomitant -- is the purpose of morality.
You can choose not to live, you can choose not to think, but you cannot avoid the consequences of such choices -- except by trying to make others pay for your default.
The nature of reason ("We, the men of the mind, are now on strike against you...."):
All thinking rests on the axioms that reality exists, that we are aware of it, and that things are what they are. A is A.
Reason is the faculty that integrates the material provided by man's senses, in accordance with logic.
The individual must initiate and direct his own capacity for reason and act on the basis of his own rational judgment.
A rational process is thus a moral process. Our free will consists in the choice to think or not to think. Thinking is the basic moral virtue; evasion is the basic vice.
The morality of reason follows from the axiom that existence exists and the choice to live.
Reason, purpose, and self-esteem are cardinal values.
These values imply and require the virtues of rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.But virtue is not its own reward. Life is the reward of virtue, and happiness is the goal and the reward of life.
Pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, are the emotional forms in which we experience values. But emotions are governed by what we choose to value.
True happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy, and is thus possible only to those who pursue rational values.
There are no conflicts of interest among rational men.
The proper means of interaction with others is trade.
The initiation of physical force is evil; force and mind are opposites. Force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who start its use.
The producers will no longer work under threat of coercion.
The producers are motivated by positive values -- life, happiness, achievement. Their exploiters are motivated by negatives -- death, misery, destruction.
Opposed to the Morality of Life is the Morality of Death, which demands that man atone for the guilt of being human by sacrificing his mind, values, and happiness.
The motive of the doctrine is to instill guilt and thus nullify man's right to question moral commands.
That which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. In holding that man is innately evil, the Doctrine of Original Sin negates morality, nature, justice, and reason.
The doctrine says that man is evil because he possesses reason, knowledge, morality, productiveness, creativity, the capacity for sexual pleasure, and the capacity for joy -- all the cardinal values of his existence.
The dichotomy holds that soul and body have incompatible natures, needs, and aims, and that the good of the soul requires the negation of the body.
The dichotomy presupposes the negation of reason, leaving man to choose between guidance by physical instincts or by mystic emotions.
The mystics of spirit substitute revelation for reason; they demand that the individual surrender his mind and self-interest to the will of God.
The mystics of muscle substitute reflexes for reason; they demand that the individual surrender his mind and self-interest to the will of Society.
Both varieties of mystics preach the same moral doctrine: self-sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the surrender of value -- of a higher value to a lower one, or of the good to the evil.
The code is impossible to practice because it would lead to death, and thus moral perfection is impossible to man.
The Doctrine of Sacrifice cannot provide man with an interest in being good.
Since man is in fact an indivisible unity of matter and consciousness, the sacrifice of "merely" material values necessarily means the sacrifice of spiritual ones.
The self is the mind, and the most selfish act is the exercise of one's independent judgment. In attacking selfishness, the Doctrine of Sacrifice seeks to make you surrender your mind.
The Doctrine of Sacrifice commands that you act for the good of others but provides no standard of the good. And it requires only that you intend to benefit others, not that you succeed.
The Doctrine of Sacrifice makes you the servant and others your masters --and adds insult to injury by saying you should find happiness through sacrifice.
If you must act to benefit others, why is it acceptable for others to accept such benefits? Because they did not earn them. At its core, the Doctrine of Sacrifice is a doctrine that seeks the unearned.
Lack of value gives one a claim upon those who possess value. The doctrine elevates failure, weakness, need, incompetence, suffering, vice, and irrationality and regards them as moral claims on success, strength, wealth, ability, joy, virtue, and rationality.
On this inversion of values, one sacrifices morality and self-esteem, and becomes both victim and parasite, with no standard of how much sacrifice is enough.
In the spiritual realm, the Doctrine of the Unearned commands unconditional love, love based on need rather than value, love for those who do not deserve it -- because they do not deserve it.
The mystics exploit your fear of relying on your mind by positing a higher form of knowledge: supernatural (the mystics of the spirit) or skeptical (the mystics of muscle).
They claim to perceive a reality exempt from the law of identity, in order to make their wishes -- their whims -- absolutes.
There is no honest revolt against reason. The motive is always to indulge one's emotions, and the effect is always to subvert one's ability to grasp reality.
The mystics seek to evade the law of causality -- which is the law of identity applied to action -- in order to gain values without effort and justify their demand for unearned love, admiration, wealth.
Since there is no actual escape from identity and causality, from the need to think and produce in order to create values, the producers are expected to pay for the default of the irrational.
The modern mystics of muscle attack reason through skepticism, denying the validity of the axioms of reason.
Axioms are statements that identify the bases of knowledge. These bases include or imply that things exist and are what they are, that they act according to their natures, that facts are absolute, that sense-perception is valid.
In denying these truths, the mystics of muscle would reduce man's consciousness to the level of a baby or a primitive tribe.
While the mystics of spirit claim that faith is superior to reason, the mystics of muscle claim that reason is merely faith, and substitute collective opinion for objective knowledge. They even deny the existence of the mind.
Their motive is to reverse cause and effect, to demand goods without producing them, to control the producers and to redistribute their wealth.
The mystics of muscle and of spirit have had the same motive throughout history: to undercut your mind and to rule you by force.
Having surrendered their own judgment to avoid clashes with others, they regard the judgments of others as a power superior to reason, believing that others have a mysterious link with reality.
To control reality, they must therefore control others, seeking obedience at all costs. Their goal is to control the consciousness of others as a means of getting control over reality.
Death is the only state that satisfies the mystics' desire for exemption from identity and causality. Poverty, suffering, destruction, and death are the consequences of their moral code -- and the real motive of the code. Mystics have defaulted on the responsibility to think, act, and produce; they feel envious hatred toward, and wish to destroy, those who have not defaulted.
Galt describes how he grasped the nature of the Morality of Death -- and what to do about it.
Since evil is irrational, it can succeed only with the consent and aid of the rational. The Morality of Death is perpetuated by the sanction of its victims -- the men of reason and ability. The strike is the withdrawal of that sanction.
The Morality of Death counts on the producers to think and produce, while denying them the honor they deserve or the freedom they require. Its strategy is to induce moral guilt in the men of reason and ability. The strikers refuse to accept guilt for their ability.
Galt is doing by conscious design what men of ability had done throughout the ages: withdrawing their talents from the world. He is teaching the producers their own value.
Without the victims whom Galt has withdrawn, the Morality of Death and those who embrace it will collapse of their own irrationality.
If you retain the wish to live, you must examine your values and your life in order to avert self-destruction.
Altruism creates a clash between the moral and the practical by setting the standards of morality in opposition to the requirements of living. It thus deprives you of practical guidance, moral certainty, and the capacity for happiness, dignity, and self-esteem.
There are moral absolutes, and moral judgment is a necessity. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute.
It is absurd to believe, as political conservatives do, that collectivism is based on reason and science while freedom, production, and trade must be accepted on faith. This absurdity is a rationalization to avoid questioning the moral code of self-sacrifice.
People refuse to question that code because their self-esteem is tied to it. As a being with free will, man, by nature, needs self-esteem and moral self-approval; but men have tied their self-esteem to a morality that undercuts it.
Their fear and guilt spring from the awareness of having willfully abandoned reason and having refused to think for themselves.
The myths of paradise reflect the spirit of childhood: the joyous, fearless, independence of a rational consciousness facing an open universe. It is not too late to begin again:
Accept the fact that your mind works by choice, not automatically, and that your life depends on choosing to think.
Learn to trust your mind and to act by your own independent reason, not on the basis of authority.
Seek moral perfection in the unbreached exercise of rationality.
Learn to distinguish errors of knowledge from moral evil.
Choose happiness as your moral purpose and give it your full commitment.
Learn to value yourself by rejecting humility as a virtue and seeking pride.
Give help to others when deserved, but not on the basis of need alone, or when demanded as a right.
In betraying these requirements of life and happiness, you have sacrificed your virtues to your vices within your soul. In society, you have sacrificed the best men to the worst.
But now the best men have refused to submit to the rule of force and brutality. The strikers are avenging the spirit of America.
America was founded on reason and individualism, on the inviolate supremacy of man's right to exist and achieve. It cannot survive on an altruist moral basis.
The strike will end only when the morality of sacrifice is abandoned and the country can be rebuilt on the moral premise that each individual is an end in himself.
Individual rights are not gifts from God or society. They are conditions required by man's nature for his proper survival.
Without property rights, individuals could not translate their other rights into reality. All property and wealth are created by man's mind and labor, and they would cease to exist without the due recognition of their source: individual intelligence.
The only proper purpose of government is to protect rights; a government's only proper functions are: the police; the armed forces; and the courts, to settle disputes by objective law. Government must not initiate force against people.
Productive men cannot function long-range if they are subject to the capricious edicts of rulers.
In a society of trade, there is no conflict of interests among men at different levels in the pyramid of ability. The most talented people, who make new discoveries and invent new products and technologies, contribute the most to others; while those at the bottom, who are engaged in mere physical labor, benefit the most.
Producers require freedom to act on their minds, take risks, trade with others, earn and keep their profits.
In rejecting this demand as unfair, you have created instead a society of brutality and plunder, in which gangs battle for control of the government and the power to extort wealth.
Stop supporting your own destroyers through the sanction you give them. Do not try to live on your enemies' terms or to win a game when they're setting the rules. Do not help them fake reality.
Do not contribute your achievements to them. When they force you, obey but do not volunteer anything. Do not help criminals pretend that they are your benefactors.
In your own mind and life, practice the Morality of Life. You have no chance to win on the Morality of Death.
When the looters' state collapses, the producers will return, and those who wish to live by our code can rejoin us.
Our political system will be based on the moral premise that no one may obtain values by physical force. Each must live by his own rational judgment.
In that world you may live without fear, and live with people who are responsible and reliable. It will be a just world, where your virtues will be rewarded, and mutual respect among people is possible.
Fight for this world, in the name of the best within you. You will win when you are ready to pronounce this oath: "I swear -- by my life and my love of it -- that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.
David Kelley founded The Atlas Society in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.
Kelley is a professional philosopher, teacher, and writer. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, he joined the philosophy department of Vassar College, where he taught a wide variety of courses at all levels. He has also taught philosophy at Brandeis University and lectured frequently on other campuses.
Kelley's philosophical writings include original works in ethics, epistemology, and politics, many of them developing Objectivist ideas in new depth and new directions. He is the author of The Evidence of the Senses, a treatise in epistemology; Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, on issues in the Objectivist movement; Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; and The Art of Reasoning, a widely used textbook for introductory logic, now in its 5th edition.
Kelley has lectured and published on a wide range of political and cultural topics. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle, and elsewhere. During the 1980s, he wrote frequently for Barrons Financial and Business Magazine on such issues as egalitarianism, immigration, minimum wage laws, and Social Security.
His book A Life of One’s Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State is a critique of the moral premises of the welfare state and defense of private alternatives that preserve individual autonomy, responsibility, and dignity. His appearance on John Stossel’s ABC/TV special "Greed" in 1998 stirred a national debate on the ethics of capitalism.
An internationally-recognized expert on Objectivism, he has lectured widely on Ayn Rand, her ideas, and her works. He was a consultant to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and editor of Atlas Shrugged: The Novel, the Films, the Philosophy.
“Concepts and Natures: A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl),” Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021); This review of a recent book includes a deep dive into the ontology and epistemology of concepts.
The Foundations of Knowledge. Six lectures on the Objectivist epistemology.
“Universals and Induction,” two lectures at GKRH conferences, Dallas and Ann Arbor, March 1989
“Skepticism,” York University, Toronto, 1987
“The Nature of Free Will,” two lectures at The Portland Institute, October 1986
“The Party of Modernity,” Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003;and Navigator, Nov 2003; A widely cited article on the cultural divisions among pre-modern, modern (Enlightenment) and postmodern views.
"I Don't Have To" (IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) and “I Can and I Will” (The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011); Companion pieces on making real the control we have over our lives as individuals.