Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.
Rearden vanishes, sending Dagny a note that says only, “I have met him. I don’t blame you.” Without him, the output of the steel industry shrinks. The country is panicky, and violent gangs gain control. Newspapers tell conflicting stories, mostly in the form of denials, but everywhere the collapse of society is obvious.
In an attempt to calm the public, the government announces that Mr. Thompson, the Head of State, will give a speech on all stations to address the crisis. The date and time are announced repeatedly for a week. At the moment the speech is to begin, the airwaves are taken over, and John Galt addresses the public instead. Galt delivers a long, detailed speech about the state of the nation and the strike of the mind and its reasons.
He denounces the mystics who claim God as the highest moral authority, and the socialists, who claim one’s neighbors as the highest moral authority. He argues that morality is not an arbitrary system imposed from the outside, but an integral part of man himself. Man’s reason, Galt says, is his moral faculty. Serving himself is the highest goal of the moral man. He describes the principles under which every man must live: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. These principles, he declares, imply and require all of man’s virtues: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. He calls for a general strike, asking those with any shred of reason left to withdraw their sanction and stop supporting their own destroyers. He urges people to accept reality and to stop shrinking from knowledge, but accept it and reclaim the concept of an objective reality.
After the speech, Mr. Thompson and the other Washington men are terrified and desperate. Dr. Stadler suggests coldly that they should kill Galt. Mr. Thompson thinks that Galt is a man of action, precisely what the nation needs, and that he can get the retired industrialists back. Thompson wants to negotiate with him.
After the broadcast, Eddie tells Dagny that he knows John Galt, that for years he has talked to him at the Taggart cafeteria. He wonders if he was helping to save or to destroy the railroad. Dagny asks him to keep his knowledge of Galt’s employment secret, because the government is desperate to find him.
The country falls deeper into chaos. The government searches for Galt, while a steady flow of broadcasts announce that John Galt will solve the country’s problems. Thompson asks Dagny if she knows where to find Galt. He hints that the situation is now desperate. He can no longer control the government’s dangerous faction, and if they were to find Galt first, they might kill him. She tells Thompson that she does not know where Galt is. After her conversation with Mr. Thompson, Dagny is so afraid for Galt that she rushes to his apartment. When she reaches him, he tells her that she was followed by government agents, and in a short time they will storm the apartment. He tells her that she must pretend to be against him. If they realize the nature of Galt and Dagny’s relationship, they will use her to torture him. When the agents appear to arrest him, she pretends he is her enemy.
The looters hold Galt prisoner while they try to convince him to become the country’s economic dictator, but he refuses. Since he is literally at gunpoint, he agrees to perform any task they tell him to do, but he refuses to think for them. His mind cannot be compelled. Several men attempt to convince him, appealing to his sense of pity, greed, or fear, but Galt is unbreakable. He asks to see Dr. Stadler, who is deeply shaken by the encounter. Meanwhile, the newspapers declare that Galt has decided to help the government and that he is currently conferring with the nation’s leaders. No one on the street believes the articles, and most do not believe that Galt has been found at all. To reassure the people, the looters announce the unveiling of the John Galt Plan for the economy, but at a television appearance to announce it, Galt reveals to the cameras a hidden gun pointing at him. He says to the cameras, “Get the hell out of my way!”
Civil war breaks out in California, and the Comet is stranded. Eddie leaves to try to restore Taggart’s transcontinental service. Dagny receives a letter from Francisco telling her to contact him if Galt is in danger.
The John Galt speech, like Roark’s speech in Rand’s other major novel, The Fountainhead, forms the philosophical heart of the novel and the basis for much of Rand’s philosophy. The central tenet is that reason, not faith or emotion, forms the basis of human prosperity. Men must choose the rational over the irrational and accept objective reality, since, as Galt says, existence exists (“A is A”). Furthermore, men must live for their own self-interest, pursuing their own values, and not for others. To do so, they must be free of any interference from the government or other institutions that might seek to enslave the mind. The mind, as the motive power of the world, must be free. Most of the ideas presented in the speech have appeared before, in pieces of conversations, but here they are integrated into a single, comprehensive statement. Galt’s speech is an ultimatum for the men in power and a call to arms for their victims.
In believing Galt will negotiate with the government, the looters seriously miscalculate. Thompson assumes Galt can be tempted by power for its own sake. He imagines Galt will compromise his ideals in exchange for a role in the government. Dr. Ferris and Cuffy Meigs, meanwhile, understand that Galt is their enemy and that his position is not negotiable. If he is put in charge, the looters will no longer be able to exist. They see killing him as their only means of self-preservation, though they may be wrong to assume they will survive at all in the spiraling chaos that engulfs the country. Dr. Stadler agrees that Galt threatens his existence, and his meeting with Galt destroys what little remains of his self-worth. He has worked hard to avoid objective reality, and Galt makes the avoidance impossible. Stadler must confront what he has become and the world he is in, and this is more than he can bear. Where men like Stadler and Jim remain dark and unknown to themselves, Galt possesses the light of self-knowledge, which cannot help but illuminate everything. In the world of Rand’s philosophy, nothing is more deadly to a creature of illusion and obscurity than light and clarity.
The clash between Galt and the looters is the battle of mind versus muscle. The looters have only brute force as a tool, while Galt has his mind. Although the looters can use force to command him physically, they are powerless to coerce his mind. The notion that they can compel him to think for them, in fact to want to think for them, is preposterous. Yet they cannot imagine a man so completely immune to compulsion and corruption that he would refuse to accept the power they offer him, even at gunpoint.