Monday, January 25, 2010

Who is John Galt?

During the July 4th Tea Party in Indianapolis, I sat quietly next to my homemade sign, crouching under my orange poncho to protect myself from the rain. The sign read, "Who is John Galt?" in bold letters. I had also pasted two pictures on the sign, one of author Ayn Rand and another of the hardcover version of her famous novel Atlas Shrugged.

A young woman walked up to me. “I have that book on my shelf but I haven’t picked it up yet. Can you tell me in one sentence why I should read the book?”

What a challenge. One sentence describing a novel that is over 1000 pages long. I should have expected that such a question would be asked…and by a young person. Atlas Shrugged was written over fifty years ago and has experienced a revival lately because it seemed to predict what would happen in our country once a collectivist government gained power.

The question caused me to pause. Not only was I surprised by it but I also wanted to give an answer that fulfilled her request. I wanted her to read the novel. So after a few seconds, I answered: “It’s a story about a man who discovered that one idea is destroying the world; it tells you what that idea is and how he was able to defeat it.”

I looked at her face to see whether I had lit a spark. “Are you going to read it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said and walked away with her friends.

I first read Atlas Shrugged during a two-week layover in Fort Gordon, Georgia. I had just completed my advanced training as a Radio Teletype Operator in the U.S. Army and was waiting for orders to learn whether I would spend my active duty tour in Vietnam or some other part of the world. During this period, I devoured the book, making sure I took time to digest some of the ideas that I could apply to my own life – ideas, the likes of which I had never encountered in any other book. The person who had recommended Ayn Rand to me some 6 years earlier had told me that Rand challenged the entire Judeo-Christian philosophy (the only philosophy I knew at the time) and that she would change my life.

The central character of the novel is John Galt, a mysterious man hiding in the background throughout most of the novel. The story follows the heroine, Dagny Taggart, as she struggles to learn his identity and why he seems to be destroying the world. While pursuing this “villain” she is also on a quest to find the man she loves, an ideal that seems impossible in the world of her day that is crumbling economically and fast becoming a dictatorship. The slogan, “Who is John Galt?” is on everyone’s lips, a sort of fad that people utter at strange times; in moments of despair mostly, when people are afraid for their future.

The time period portrayed in the novel is one when people are asking questions that don’t seem to have an answer such as “What is wrong with the world?” The answer is another question: “Who is John Galt?” It means, “Who knows?” or “How can anyone know?” Some people think they have the answer: He is a man who “would stop the motor of the world” or he is the man who found the island of Atlantis. Like a grey ghost, John Galt seems to hang over the land, a faceless avenging angel whose curse brings failure and decline. Every government scheme to "make things better" accomplishes the opposite of its intent and few know why society is descending further into malaise.

Needless to say, the book did change my life. It kept me from becoming a 60s radical influenced by Karl Marx and made me into a radical for capitalism. It started a quest for me to understand philosophy, economics, human psychology and the Founding Fathers. I read everything I could that was written by Ayn Rand and other thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, Leonard Peikoff, Henry Hazlitt, Hannah Arendt and Isabel Patterson to name a few. Although Rand stands alone above all other thinkers for me, my quest for knowledge has been well-rewarded.

Fast forward to September 12, 2009; Washington DC, me and my “Who is John Galt?” sign again. Through out the events of that day, I never had so many conversations about Atlas Shrugged. From people who just gave me the thumbs up to people who said they loved the book; to people who were wearing Ayn Rand T-shirts, this day was a spectacular event that made me realize I was not alone in loving freedom and liberty. I saw an old friend from my Florida days, Wendy, who asked me about the novel and I met Robert Tracinski, a great freedom writer whose sign read “Brother, you ain’t my Keeper.” Another young man told me that he had not read a single book since graduating from college and was now reading Atlas Shrugged and loved it.

Two encounters stand out as special in my mind. One took place as we gathered before our walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I was sitting on a bench listening to the speakers and reading the colorful signs all around me. At this point my sign was still out of sight in my plastic bag. A lady sat on the bench next to me and we started talking about various topics that had to do with where we were from and why we were here. We had chatted for about ½ hour when I asked to see her sign. To our amazement, we both had signs that said “Who is John Galt?” Kay, a lawyer from Nebraska, is now a Facebook friend. The second encounter happened, later, on the lawn at the Capitol Building; a lady walked up to me and asked me "Who is John Galt?" and I pointed out to the huge crowd: “They are.”

I’ve had conversations over the years about Ayn Rand’s characters and the most common complaint is that they are too perfect. “No one is like that. Dagny is the greatest woman on earth. Galt is the greatest man on earth.” I think this sort of complaint misses the point that Rand clearly knew. Idealized fictional characters serve as positive role models for readers. They present us with clearly-drawn examples of what people can be. They demonstrate, if they are consistently portrayed, the relationship between thought and action. They are normative in nature and can teach us important lessons. Those who criticize Rand’s characters for being too perfect are betraying their own conviction that they do not want to be morally perfect…or that they can’t be. Rather than find inspiration from a character that pursues reason, they would rather believe that such a person is impossible; that one should instead spend one’s life in pursuit of whims and disconnected actions animated by a lack of purpose.

I believe Ayn Rand’s portrayal of idealized and morally perfect characters is one of the reasons her novels are still popular today, and why after more than 50 years since Atlas Shrugged, people are still debating her ideas. Rand suggests that you should "discover" morality, not return to a philosophy that makes morality impossible. In some respects, Rand is now making her characters into reality. Today, John Galt is a Tea Party protester.

In fact, he started the Tea Parties. He was a man who saw, in the idea of sacrifice, the very principle that is destroying our nation. He vowed to fight against the idea that man should spend the precious moments of his life living for others. Rand would say, instead, pursue happiness; it is not evil, it is the end in itself to which your thoughts and actions should be dedicated. The fact that the government today demands that each person give up his life, time, work and production against his will is the reason why people still ask the question, “Who is John Galt?” It is the reason they started the Tea Parties.

What can we learn from the character of John Galt? John Galt represents a philosophy of success and achievement. If your time is not taken up by hard work and dedication toward high will not achieve the highest possible to you. If you don't hold a passion for high values, your future will be made up of failure and confusion. If you don’t rebel against the idea that man is a sacrificial animal, you deserve the kind of society you get.

If you know that you survive by the use of your mind, if you have taken it upon yourself to be self-reliant, if you know you have a right to keep the rewards of your work and enjoy your success, if you use your own mind and love that use, then you too will shudder at the thought of living in a society that demands “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

John Galt and the American citizen, when faced with the demands of slavery, both said, “Enough!”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tea Party Movement and Education

The original Tea Party was about throwing tea into the Boston harbor in protest of taxation without representation. The goal of that protest was accomplished when the British government gave in. Today, we must conduct a similar Tea Party by protesting the present government’s efforts to tax us without our voices being heard.

Regardless of the political strategies we use, as we approach the 2010 election, our short-term goal must focus on exerting the peoples' responsibility to be the final check against government tyranny. Short-range strategies for the Tea Parties can involve a number of approaches. For instance, we can merely let the Democrats and Republicans fight it out for our support. By refusing to give either party our support until they start advocating Tea Party principles we can move them more quickly into promoting our views in government.

But in considering a long-term strategy, we must recognize that it took decades for the progressives to obtain the control they have today. Their main source of power is the universities and our public educational system where they have been indocrinating our children for over a century. To stop the advance toward a virtual communist dictatorship, we must launch a long-term educational strategy that will bring a new philosophical movement dedicated to freedom, capitalism and the Constitution. We must end the era of progressivism.

Why is Education Important?

The progressives have been running our educational system for decades. In this climate, the idea of citizenship has been joined with the philosophy of self-sacrifice; with the principles and ideas of the Founders totally ignored and/or denigrated. The anti-capitalism of the writers of our textbooks, not to mention their philosophical influences from such thinkers as Hume, Kant and Dewey have served to create a citizenry that is barely able to mount an opposition to the progressive agenda. The progressives have "un-educated" our children and the door is now open for dictatorship. This situation must be corrected.

In order to educate, we need more competent voices for freedom and we need time. We must buy that time by stopping the advance of progressive ideas politically; then implementing a strategy that will ensure the establishment of proper ideas that support freedom. Because the universities and educational establishment are dominated by pragmatists and progressives, it will take time to undo the damage they have done and to begin the philosophical movement that can sweep them out of the universities. As a starting point, we must seek four major goals for education:

1. Educate voting age individuals through discussion of the issues on philosophic grounds – show them that there is a different and credible "other" view that they should consider.
2. Educate our school age youth by teaching them that today's educators don’t always teach the truth and that there is another credible view which they have a responsibility, as aware citizens, to discover.
3. Challenge the Universities in the Universities. This is a long-term approach but it should be waged by our getting university degrees and challenging the monopoly of the left in the universities. We must challenge the idea of tenure, the growth of pseudo-science and the corruption in our peer-review processes.
4. Challenge the ideas taught in the Universities. This, at the present time, must be waged wherever it can such as the media, the Internet, word-of-mouth and more. Later, we must take on progressive thinkers directly in the universities by offering a credible alternative to students.

We can start by educating ourselves about the Founding Fathers, the principles they espoused and why. We can study the history of the Enlightenment and how the ideas that influenced the Founders came about. We must ask the questions about how our rights are defined and discover their philosophical sources; and we must debate among ourselves about that source. This debate strengthens our voices and makes us better presenters of the ideas espoused by the Founders.

We can work with other organizations and individuals seeking to bring a better understanding about freedom and capitalism to the universities. We can work to ensure that science and not pseudo-science is advanced in the technical professions and we can exert the political pressure necessary to open the universities to alternative political persuasions.

We should also educate ourselves about the false arguments of progressives. This so-called “educated” group of progressives thinks that it is superior in intellect to the Tea Party protesters, most of whom merely work for a living. In fact, progressives are quite uneducated in the sense that all of their fundamental ideas are false and harm society. For decades, they have refused to question their own most profound premises and this has caused the economic harm (and the destruction of individual rights) being done today by their proposals. It is progressives ideas that must be challenged by a group of people who know what works: capitalism, and what makes it possible: freedom.

More than this, we must recognize that there is only one way to propagate correct ideas and that is by appealing to reason. Reason is man's means of survival. Reason looks at facts and brings about certainty...and it is certainty and moral conviction that will win the day. We must learn, beyond a doubt, why unalienable rights are unalienable.

It is our responsibility to be right about what we propose for this nation. It is our task to educate our children on why individual rights are superior to the rights-destroying ideas offered by progressives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


If the world releases swelling bombs,
if the world succumbs to whining qualms
about how man should live.

If our nation turns to stone
and rules the freedoms we have sown.
If a Hitler walks the land
and says, "I am peaceful man."

If these things of which I say
come about some cloudy day,
I will have to go,
and shrug my shoulders on my way.

And I'm sure the things I write
will be buried by the trite
who think they know what's best for man,
who think they have the power and
whose heads you'll find among the sand
of an ocean full of lies.

copyright 2010 by Robert Villegas, Jr.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obama versus Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand once famously said through her character Ellsworth Toohey: “It is always safe to denounce the rich.”(1) In my view, this is true because our culture has a bias against the wealthy individual. This hatred of the rich, in my view, is as evil, vicious and as illegal as racism.

This hatred was implicitly put forward by Barack Obama in 2008.

“We reward people a lot for being rich, for being famous, for being cute, for being thin… one of the values I think we need to instill in our country, in our children, is a sense of ‘usefulness’, in other words, are we useful, are we making other peoples’ lives a little bit better?”(2)

I think this quote reveals more than just how Obama thinks we treat the rich. It reveals a bias both about how he sees the rich and what he sees as moral. He believes that social service is a much more important value than self-interest; that moral living involves sacrifice for others while running a business for profit involves theft and evil acts.

The truth is that, in our economy, we decidedly do not reward people for being rich. Because of progressive taxation and other onerous punishments, people who are good at earning money (by means of making other peoples’ lives a lot better) are effectively tied to a whipping post. We certainly don’t wait for them to be rich and then reward them. In fact, the truth is exactly the opposite, when they become rich, we punish them, denigrate them and make their lives harder.

Is it possible that Obama has never understood the difference between hard work and a life of serving others? Has he spent too much time living off of donations rather than from production? Or has he spent too much time writing grant requests for shady real estate developers rather than developing a solid view of what it means to actually earn a living?

I found another example of this attitude when I listened to Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

“…For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent...that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process...that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.”(3)

That Obama called individualism "famous" is the point where the mask drops. For a progressive, individualism is an uncomfortable, dirty idea. It smells of egoism and "can do" rugged selfishness and self-alienation...Obama would feel so uncomfortable around people like that. So he calls it "famous”. Is individualism good? Well, it stands along side another ingredient, the self-sacrifice that “really” makes this country work. You see, you must acknowledge individualism’s "famousness" in order to pander to and fool the yokels into believing that progressives are really just good ole Americans living the American dream. Of course, they understand the value of individualism. E pluribus unum.

Don't be fooled; Obama’s vision of the American dream is at the expense of hard-working Americans. Why should you pay for the reading program of a child on the south side of Chicago when your child has a reading disability - and you have to pay for the remedial program? Why should your employer pay for those prescription drugs when the result is that he lays you off? Don't tell an over-taxed individual that we are connected as one; he will tell you that all this sacrificing is killing him and making him work two or three jobs. Don't tell him that it is the strength of our nation that he works unselfishly when he comes home tired and sore in order not to go on food stamps while Obama builds his stash. When will Obama tell him that he has been "useful" enough and it is time for him to stop sacrificing? When will it finally solve all of our problems? Never?

The truth is that Obama's re-distribution of money is a lie; the money really goes to the "chosen" few; not to the poor, but to those who use the poor as a prop. Obama, as he has now famously made evident, serves those professional parasites who make a living by shaking down businesses and skimming profits from competitors. Don’t expect the honest rich to be included among that “unum”. You have to pay to play.

Progressives like Obama will acknowledge the roots of our nation, sing praises to the power of self-reliance and hard work, call it famous because it is famous to others, not to them. They will, instead, talk more enthusiastically about the freedom to "sacrifice" and the right to "give to others" in a true "bait and switch." Imagine what they would be saying if the ideas of freedom and rugged individualism had never been "famous." I'm sure they'd be talking about the "famous" idea of "to each according to his need, from each according to his ability."

Michelle Obama says:

“[S]omeone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

Now after a full year of the Obama administration; a full year where he has brought forward his views of the rich, we can see that the “individualism” brought forward by the Tea Parties is the last thing the progressives want and the one thing they must prevent. So they will use the language of freedom and patriotism as cover so they can cleverly replace that freedom with a morass of social responsibility and the coercive imposition of sacrifice. That they are uncomfortable with the language of freedom shows how radical they have always been. They are unfit to lead because they have no connection to the practical aspects of leadership and the difficulty of running a profitable business. It is easy for an inexperienced person to attack what he/she doesn't understand (just ask your kids). Instead the unwise, unworldly Obamas, who are so intelligent that they don't even know that Marx has been resoundingly refuted, have been given a platform on the world stage, and insist that we accept their vision of what makes our country work: an oligarchic elite that rules a slave labor camp.

The truth is that none of Obama’s tactics, economic policies or even his alleged hope for a better future, can make the American dream possible. Obama creates nothing, produces nothing and can only use the power of government to manipulate business enterprises into doing the very things that will destroy them: pursing social goals rather than profits.

Politicians like Obama believe the Constitution is flawed because it does not contradict its entire purpose by establishing a mechanism for income redistribution. This view makes Obama an entirely new form of technocrat. He believes it is the role of government to fight against selfishness by redistributing income from the “rich” to his buddies. His rationalization is that government action is the hand of the "general will" and that once they, progressive politicians, gain the levers of power, they will fix that “flaw” in the Constitution. The technocracy, in the name of democratic socialism, becomes the fascist state.

Western culture took a wrong turn when the ancient Greeks established democracy. This, including the practice of voting into exile the most prominent men, created a form of tyranny which today we call the tyranny of the majority. In response, the Founding Fathers of our country identified unalienable rights for individuals that the government could not violate. The very concept of a “right” was intended to keep the majority from imposing cruel and tyrannical treatment upon any individual, even if that individual was rich.

The Founders also, undoubtedly knew about the dangerous views of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who fostered a concept called the “General Will.” He proposed that the General Will was an expression of reason in the group. Although he tried to derive the General Will from the “Sovereignty” of the individual in nature, he assumed that the General Will would always be right. The Founders knew better. They realized that, although Rousseau tried to restrict the "General Will" to "mere" principles, his ideas would lead to the tyranny of the majority and to a destruction of man's natural rights. Rousseau's view of the "General Will" is collectivism – and collectivism always leads to sacrifice of the individual. Once collectivism takes hold, the view of the collectivist leader allows no dissent.

The concept of the "General Will" had the effect of establishing self-sacrifice as a moral ideal and paved the way for the very same tyrannical majority rule for which we still criticize the Greeks. It meant that government could violate the rights of individuals if the majority decided to do so. It started our decline from a free constitutional republic where the government was forbidden to violate individual rights onto the slippery slope of ever widening government power, government forced altruism, government programs, progressive taxation and the resulting economic chaos.

Certainly the Founding Fathers, in the Bill of Rights, wanted to prevent a majority from imposing its will upon the individual. This was not a flaw or an over-sight in the Constitution as Obama contends. It was an intentional consideration (strange that a Constitutional scholar educated at Harvard does not know this). And I submit that a civil society would not consider it right for the majority to impose its will on any individual. Further, a proper society would never accept the idea that the “collective good” which cannot even be defined is, by any stretch of the imagination, a proper goal. Indeed, if there is such thing as a collective good, it cannot be achieved by the subjugation, enslavement or taxation of a minority. In a proper society, if a free man does not want to pay taxes, it is his right to dissent and refuse to participate. If the majority voted that he must pay taxes, that act is a violation of his rights, regardless of what Michelle Obama says. You cannot justify it by invoking the “common good” or saying “we won”.

Contrary to Rousseau, there is no dynamic, mystical or practical principle that can validly assert that a group can only do what is right. In fact, history has shown the opposite to be the case. Collectivist societies have been among our most brutal societies and it can be said that only collectivism leads to brutality. Majorities throughout history have done some of the most abominable things.

If a group of people wants to pay taxes and send money to the government, only those individuals who choose to do so should participate. Those who do not are free to do as they please. No argument about the “need” of the group should be more important than the right of an individual to voluntary association and participation.

The government violates individual rights when it forcibly takes money from one citizen and gives it to another. It is an immoral act. Our government was not intended to be one that redistributed income. Further, the proper functions of government do not require a massive bureaucracy and can be financed by means of use charges and voluntary contributions. Even if we had to fight a major war, the finances for the army would mostly be furnished through the voluntary contributions of the people whose rights are being defended.

To make my final point, I’d like to finish the quote in the first paragraph above by Ayn Rand. She put into Ellsworth Toohey’s mouth the following:

“It is always safe to denounce the rich. Everyone will help you, the rich first.”

And this, unfortunately, is also true. Everywhere, the rich express guilt for being rich and many even give their wealth away in huge quantities rather than investing it in thriving businesses. Until the rich become proud of being rich, until they know that they represent “The Fountainhead” of all that is good about man, until they fight against the confiscation of their property, people like Barack Obama will receive Nobel Prizes and total freedom to loot their production. Until they stop voting for and paying for their own enemies, they will be the problem in our society today.

The answer to Barack Obama and his redistributing friends is also provided by Ayn Rand. Francisco says to industrialist Hank Rearden (and to you) in her novel "Atlas Shrugged":

"You, who would not submit to the hardships of nature, but set out to conquer it and placed it in the service of your joy and your comfort—to what have you submitted at the hands of men? You, who know from your work that one bears punishment only for being wrong—what have you been willing to bear and for what reason? All your life, you have heard yourself denounced, not for your faults, but for your greatest virtues. You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements. You have been scorned for all those qualities of character which are your highest pride. You have been called selfish for the courage of acting on your own judgment and bearing sole responsibility for your own life. You have been called arrogant for your independent mind. You have been called cruel for your unyielding integrity. You have been called antisocial for the vision that made you venture upon undiscovered roads. You have been called ruthless for the strength and self-discipline of your drive to your purpose. You have been called greedy for the magnificence of your power to create wealth. You, who've expended an inconceivable flow of energy, have been called a parasite. You, who've created abundance where there had been nothing but wastelands and helpless, starving men before you, have been called a robber. You, who've kept them all alive, have been called an exploiter. You, the purest and most moral man among them, have been sneered at as a 'vulgar materialist.' Have you stopped to ask them: by what right?—by what code?—by what standard? No, you have borne it all and kept silent. You bowed to their code and you never upheld your own. You knew what exacting morality was needed to produce a single metal nail, but you let them brand you as immoral. You knew that man needs the strictest code of values to deal with nature, but you thought that you needed no such code to deal with men. You left the deadliest weapon in the hands of your enemies, a weapon you never suspected or understood. Their moral code is their weapon. Ask yourself how deeply and in how many terrible ways you have accepted it. Ask yourself what it is that a code of moral values does to a man's life, and why he can't exist without it, and what happens to him if he accepts the wrong standard, by which the evil is the good. Shall I tell you why you're drawn to me, even though you think you ought to damn me? It's because I'm the first man who has given you what the whole world owes you and what you should have demanded of all men before you dealt with them: a moral sanction."(4)

People like Barack Obama take it for granted that the government has a mandate to establish collectivism. We should identify them for what they are; thieves who use force against individuals. The most moral people in our society are those who produce the products and services that make our lives easier and more comfortable. They save us thousands of hours of labor, increase our ability to enjoy our lives and make us all wealthy in the process. It is time they knew it and stood up for themselves. No one else will do it.

Certainly, Obama hates the rich. If they aren't useful to him, “they just don’t get it.” What is it they don’t get? They don’t get that sacrifice of their profits is Obama's goal. He says we "reward" the rich but he never says they deserve their rewards. He just wants them to be useful and concerned with the whole – which would destroy their ability to provide a better life for their employees and customers.

Obama wants businesspeople to be his draft animals, happy and content that after finishing the back breaking work of being useful to others, they'll receive enough grain to eat…maybe. In Obama’s world, there can never be enough sacrifice. How much can the rich take before they say “enough”?

(1) The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
(2) Barack Obama, campaign speech
(3) Barack Obama, speech to Democratic National Convention, Boston, 2004
(4) Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand