Going “Galt”: Is It Really Possible?

Submitted by ARL contributor Harry Tuttle

All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man” – Henry David Thoreau.

Who Is John Galt?

Under the right circumstances, even a “semi-libertarian”, such as myself, can become enamoured with the idea of “Goin’ Galt”.  In fact, I suspect that, never before  in our nation’s history has John Galt been more popular. (Get your t-shirts and commuter mugs here.)

“Who is John Galt?”  Yes, well that is the question, or was at least, throughout Ayn Rand’s magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged“, a book that, for more than 50 years, has continued to reminded many of us that there is, perhaps, an alternative to merely knuckling under to the unabated growth of collectivist interference in our lives.

For the uninitiated, the Galt character in Rand’s novel, is a prototypical individualistic capitalist.  In the face of such collectivist pressure, Galt encourages society’s most productive citizens to simply disappear, effectively “shrugging” off the burdens imposed on them by the state.  Naturally enough, “the system” breaks down, leading to vindication of Galt’s (and Rand’s) objectivist philosophy of “enlightened self-interest“, a point of view that shares a similarity to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand“, tenets still cherished by modern libertarians.

In Rand’s words, “Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”  Indeed.

The Problem With Libertarians….

However, for me at least, one of the primary failings of “full-on” libertarianism is it’s persistent habit of bandying about moral and ethical concepts without quite ever paying heed to the author of morality, namely our Creator.   That said, however, it does not then follow that any actual “good” results from the sort of coerced “charity” that collectivists insist upon.  (Note:  “Insist” is, perhaps, an overly polite description of what those who are addicted to coercion actually do.)

Alas, in this particular battle of nitwits, I will err on the side of the libertarians, who – inadvertently perhaps – defend the proposition of independent moral agency.  To wit:  without liberty, there is no moral agency and, thus, no “good”.  This is the essence of our “inalienable rights”.

Are You Your Brothers Keeper?

To those packing up for a move to “Galt’s Gulch“, I sympathize, really I do.  In fact, I might be following close behind.  But first, I recommend a brief pause for thought on the question of our (freely chosen) obligations to serve others.   If you need any motivation here, you might remember that others have done it for you first.

Now, on the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” (Matt 18:9).  So, if your cushy suburban life is sucking you into a sort of slavery, you might be better off opting out.

On the other hand, we must be mindful of our obligation to “with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men”, (Ephesians 6:7).  Only you can (and should) decide which of these constitutes “enlightened self-interest”.

Are You Pulling the Wagon or Just Riding?

To be sure, the work stoppages occurring in Greece (and elsewhere) these days, or perhaps, the enticing notion that we’d “be fools to keep pulling the collective wagon when all about us are climbing into the back”, probably don’t qualify  as “enlightened self-interest”.   Oh, you could (as I’ve heard others do) try to make that argument.  But, I’m not buying it.  This decision shouldn’t be about revenge or, alternatively, making sure you’re getting more than you’re giving.

Galt made his decision based on Rand’s personal brand of “enlightened self-interest” and, to my mind, it wasn’t all that different than the tripple-dipping civil servant on welfare.  The “use or abuse” of the system is, very possible, just as selfish as merely going on strike because you feel no obligation to your fellow man.

The Middle Path

There may be, however, a reasonable alternative, a “middle path” if you will.  While some may want their band-aid ripped off quickly and others more gently, you can still move towards a more independent and self-sufficient life.  You can, as quickly or slowly as seems possible, learn to opt out of dependence one step at a time.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start growing more of your own food and/or buying from local farms.  This does provide much better food and, very possibly, more reliable sources than you’re used to.  But it’s a great way to reap the benefits of a superior product and, many times, at a equal or better price.
  2. Learn the “Art of Deferred Gratification”.  Aside from saving you money, this enhances your real enjoyment of everything you have or will ever get.  Just does.  Try it and see.  Remember too, it’s been easier for most of us to get new stuff than to get rid of the old stuff.  Buy the right stuff once and you won’t need to worry about it any more.
  3. Start a side project or hobby and foster your passions.  Aside from the “happiness factor”, you may well be preparing for the day when you actually “have to work doing what I love”, however tragic that might seem to you.
  4. Get out of debt.  I know it’s hard; haven’t quite got there yet myself, but it’s a primary goal.  You might not be able to do much right now about the mortgage, but you can revamp your spending habits, eliminate your credit cards, and sell the expensive car.  These debts, especially the short-term ones, represent real limits to your liberty.  Less debt, like less “stuff”, will free you in ways you can’t imagine.
  5. Learn to enjoy things beyond the TV, the power grid, and the computer.  My stand-bys include: the acoustic guitar, reading (actual books).  My wife likes games and walks, go figure.  Find out what you’ve been missing.
  6. Consider moving to the country.  Aside from “opting out” of the traditional labor trap, “Going Galt” is partly about a return to Thoreau’s “living deliberately”, which is just a bit less possible in the city.  Not that you can’t do it in the city, I’m sure you can, but most of the personal and practical advantages are just more easily accomplished without the interference and distraction that city living typically imposes.

In the end, “Going Galt”, like so many worthwhile goals, may not be a destination, so much as it’s a process.  It must be balanced with intelligent and meaningful consideration of your obligations in this world along.  Approached with the right attitude, however, you may find that liberation from the obligations placed on you by society may, in fact, be the most effective way for you to meet your obligations.

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