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John Galt

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John Galt

John Galt
Atlas Shrugged character
Created by Ayn Rand
Gender Male
Occupation Engineer, inventor, philosopher

John Galt () is a character in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957). Although he is not identified by name until the last third of the novel, he is the object of its often-repeated question "Who is John Galt?" and of the quest to discover the answer.

As the plot unfolds, Galt is acknowledged to be a philosopher and inventor; he believes in the power and glory of the human mind, and the right of the individual to use his/her mind solely for him/herself. He serves as a highly individualist counterpoint to the collectivist social and economic structure depicted in the novel, in which society is based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces mediocrity in the name of egalitarianism, which the novel interprets as the end result of socialistic idealism.

Character biography

The novel unfolds in a progressive retrospective, with Galt, the son of an Ohio garage mechanic, leaving home at age twelve and beginning college at the fictional Patrick Henry University at age sixteen. There he meets Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjöld, who become his two closest friends. Galt takes a double major in physics and philosophy, and after graduating, he becomes an engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, where he designs a revolutionary new motor powered by ambient static electricity. When the company owners decide to run the factory by the collectivist maxim, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", Galt refuses to work there any longer and abandons his motor.

During the main storyline of the book, Galt has secretly organized a strike by the world's creative leaders, including inventors, artists and businessmen, in an effort to "stop the motor of the world" and bring about the collapse of the bureaucratic society. While working incognito as a laborer for Taggart Transcontinental railroad, he travels to visit the key figures that he has not yet recruited, systematically persuading them to join the strike. This strike is not revealed immediately within the story, but forms the backdrop of the novel as a mystery which protagonist Dagny Taggart seeks to uncover, with Galt as her antagonist. The strikers have created their own secret enclave known as "Galt's Gulch", a town secluded in a Colorado mountain valley, based on Ouray, Colorado. While in the valley, Dagny develops a romantic relationship with Galt, although she refuses to join the strike. After she returns home to New York, Galt takes over the airwaves, delivering a lengthy speech that explains what he sees to be the irrationality of collectivism and offers his own philosophy (Ayn Rand's Objectivism) as an alternative. Galt speaks against what he sees as the evil of collectivism and the idea that individuals must be responsible for each other, and says that should be replaced by voluntarily association and adherence to rational self-interest. Seeking Galt after the speech, Dagny accidentally leads the authorities to him, and he is arrested. She and the strikers rescue Galt as the government attempts to torture him. They return to Galt's Gulch and prepare to rebuild the rest of the world, as the collapse of the incompetent government nears.

"Who is John Galt?"

The book's opening line, "Who is John Galt?", becomes an expression of helplessness and despair at the current state of the novel's fictionalized world. The book's protagonist, Dagny Taggart, hears a number of legends of Galt, before finding him. In one legend Galt seeks the lost island of Atlantis, in another he discovers the Fountain of Youth. After eventually joining Galt's cause, Taggart learns that all of the stories have an element of truth to them. She names the Colorado spur of her railroad line the "John Galt Line" which surprises many people. When asked "Who is John Galt?", she replies "We are!"


The Galt character has been compared to various iconic figures from literature and history. In the novel itself, he is compared with Prometheus from the Greek myths.[1] English literature scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein sees similarities to the figures of Arthur and Galahad from the Arthurian legends.[2] Parallels have also been drawn to Captain Nemo, the anti-hero of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, who has likewise turned his back on "civilization" in self-imposed exile with a number of chosen allies, refusing to partake in a society he views as irrenconcilably evil and oppressive.[3]

Galt is not necessarily intended to be a rounded or realistic character; he has been called "more a symbol than a person"[4] and "two-dimensional".[5] Mimi Reisel Gladstein describes Galt as "more icon than character".[6] Rand's own notes indicate that she expected the character to have "[n]o progression" and "no inner conflict" because he was "integrated (indivisible) and perfect".[7]


Literary precursors and origin of name

Literature professor Shoshana Milgram traces the origins of the character to adventure stories that Rand read as a child, including the French novels La Vallée Mystérieuse and Le Petit Roi d'Ys. Rand also owned a copy of a 1940 novel with characters named Jed and John Peter Galt. There was a 19th-century Scottish novelist of the same name, but Milgram says that any connection to the character is "highly unlikely". Milgram also notes that the name Rand originally picked for her character was Iles Galt.[8]

Author Justin Raimondo has found parallels between Atlas Shrugged and The Driver, a 1922 novel by Garet Garrett.[9] Garrett's novel has a main character named Henry M. Galt. This Galt is an entrepreneur who takes over a failing railway, turning it into a productive and profitable asset for the benefit of himself and the rest of the nation. The general population and government turn against him instead of celebrating his success. Raimondo also notes that in The Driver, some characters ask, "Who is Henry M. Galt?", similar to the question "Who is John Galt?" that plays an important role in Atlas Shrugged.[10]

Rand is not the only famous author to invent a character with this name. Pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard, creator of heroes such as Conan the Barbarian, used a villain named John Galt – also a man of mystery missing for a long time and possessed of great wealth, trying to manipulate his world from the background – in the tale "Black Talons" in 1933, more than twenty years before Atlas Shrugged was published.

Real-life prototypes

At least two real people of Rand's acquaintance have been suggested as partial inspirations for Galt. Rand denied any connection to her friend John Gall, a conservative attorney, but did claim some inspiration came from her husband, Frank O'Connor.[11]

Cultural significance

The phrase "Who Is John Galt" is spray-painted on a wall.

"The book's hero, John Galt, also continues to live on", wrote journalist Harriet Rubin in a September 2007 article about the influence of Atlas Shrugged. Rubin mentions John Galt Solutions (a software company) and the John Galt Corporation (a demolition company) as examples of companies named after the character.[12]

The use of Galt as a symbol in the context of political or social protest has taken root in some places. The phrase "going John Galt" or simply "going Galt" has been used by psychologist Helen Smith[13] and others[14][15] to describe productive members of society cutting back on work in response to the projected increase in U.S. marginal tax rates, increased limits on tax deductions, and the use of tax revenues for causes they regard as immoral. "Who is John Galt?" signs were seen at Tea Party protests held in the United States and at banking protests in London in April 2009.[16] Texas Republican congressman Ron Paul's presidential primary campaign of 2008 included a play on the phrase, using "Who is Ron Paul?" on campaign T-shirts; his web site biography uses the same title.[17]

In August 1988, the Louisiana business lobbyist and columnist Edward J. Steimel referred to the United States Congress and the liberal majority elected in 1986 in the last two years of the administration of US President Ronald W. Reagan as "the John Galt Congress". Steimel objected to an increase in the minimum wage, a measure which he said would "wreak havoc with the very individuals it is designed to help most -- new entrants into the work force and new minority workers in particular". Steimel described the public as uninformed people who merely shrug their shoulders and ask "Who is John Galt?" whenever they are questioned about the grip of expanded government on their lives and liberty.[18]

In May 2011, I Am John Galt: Today's Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It, by libertarian columnist and business consultant Donald Luskin and businessman Andrew Greta was published, profiling modern-day examples of Ayn Rand's iconic heroes and villains.[19]

The video game Bioshock and its sequel Bioshock 2 feature a character named Andrew Ryan who was heavily influenced by Galt, both in his championing of Objectivism and in his life goal of gathering like minds to live with him in an ideal society (the undersea city of Rapture) where their accomplishments will be duly rewarded and unfettered by the values of an altruistic or collectivist society.


  1. ^ Minsaas, Kirsti (2007). "Ayn Rand's Recasting of Ancient Myths". In Younkins, Edward W. (ed). Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 133–135.  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ William H. Stoddard (November 17, 2008). "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne". Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ Merrill, Ronald E. (1991). The Ideas of Ayn Rand. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing. p. 74.  
  5. ^ Branden, Barbara (interviewed) (January 1990). "The Liberty Interview: Barbara Branden". Liberty 3 (3). 
  6. ^ Gladstein, Mimi Reisel (2000). Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto of the Mind. Twayne's Masterwork Studies. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 65.  
  7. ^ Rand, Ayn (1997). David Harriman, ed.  
  8. ^ Milgram, Shoshana (2009). "Who Was John Galt? The Creation of Ayn Rand's Ultimate Ideal Man". In Mayhew, Robert (ed). Essays on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. pp. 53–55, 76n.13.  
  9. ^ Garrett, Garet (1922). The Driver. New York:  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Milgram, Shoshana (2009). "Who Was John Galt? The Creation of Ayn Rand's Ultimate Ideal Man". In Mayhew, Robert (ed). Essays on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. pp. 56, 76n.13.  
  12. ^ Rubin, Harriet (September 15, 2007). "Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 
  13. ^ Smith, Helen (October 15, 2008). "Is It Time to Go John Galt?". Pajamas Media. Retrieved June 25, 2009. 
  14. ^ ‘Going Galt’: Everyone’s Doing It!, The New York Times, March 6, 2009
  15. ^ "Going Galt in 2013". FortLiberty. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
  16. ^ "'Who Is John Galt?' Protest Banner", The Guardian, April 1, 2009
  17. ^ "Ron Paul biography". Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. 
  18. ^ "The John Galt Congress", Minden Press-Herald, August 10, 1988, p. 2
  19. ^ "John Wiley & Sons, I Am John Galt: Today's Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It". Retrieved 2014-10-19. 

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