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Atlas Shrugged

Summary

Part Three, Chapters VII–VIII

Summary Part Three, Chapters VII–VIII

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.

Analysis: Part Three, Chapters VII–VIII

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.