Who is John Galt?

by Jason Stotts

With the recent popularity of the term “going Galt” and the misunderstanding that I am sure is happening, I thought that I’d take some time to look into this question and see if I can’t help shed some light on who is John Galt. In order to truly understand John Galt, you have to read and understand Atlas Shrugged, however, you can learn a lot about the man from the legends of him in Atlas.

Legend 1: Atlantis (AS, 153)

“Do you know the legend of Atlantis, Miss Taggart?”

“What?”

“Atlantis.”

“Why…vaguely.”

“The Isles of the Blessed. That is what the Greeks called it, thousands of years ago. They said Atlantis was a place where hero-spirits lived in happiness unknown to the rest of the earth. A place which only the spirits of heroes could enter, and they reached it without dying, because they carried the secret of life within them. Atlantis was lost to mankind, even then. But the Greeks knew it had existed. They tried to find it. Some of them said it was underground, hidden in the heart of the earth. But most of them said it was an island. A radiant island in the Western Ocean. Perhaps what they were thinking of was America. They never found it. For centuries afterward, men said it was only a legend. They did not believe it, but they never stopped looking for it, because they knew that that was what they had to find.”

“Well, what about John Galt?”

“He found it.”

Dagny’s interest was gone. “Who was he?”

“John Galt was a millionaire, a man of inestimable wealth. He was sailing his yacht one night, in mid-Atlantic, fighting the worst storm ever wreaked upon the world, when he found it. He saw it in the depth, where it had sunk to escape the reach of men. He saw the towers of Atlantis shining on the bottom of the ocean. It was a sight of such kind that when one had seen it, one could no longer wish to look at the rest of the earth. John Galt sank his ship and went down with his entire crew. They all chose to do it.”

Legend 2: The Fountain of Youth (AS, 178)

“I know who is John Galt,” said the tramp. “It’s a secret, but I know it.”

“Who?” [Dagny] asked without interest.

“An explorer,” said the tramp. “The greatest explorer that ever lived. The man who found the fountain of youth.”

“John Galt spent years looking for it. He crossed oceans, and he crossed deserts, and he went down into forgotten mines, miles under the earth. But he found it on top of a mountain. It took him ten years to climb that mountain. It broke every bone in his body, it tore the skin off his hands, it made him lose his home, his name, his love. But he climbed it. He found the fountain of youth, which he wanted to bring down to men. Only he never came back.”

“Why didn’t he?” [Dagny] asked.

“Because he found that it couldn’t be brought back down.”

This is John Galt Speaking

What was the secret key to Atlantis that allowed the Greek heroes to enter, while barring all others, that John Galt found? What was this fountain of youth that John Galt found, but was unable to bring down to men?

The answer is really quite simple. John Galt was the man who discovered the nobility of man and the path to achieve it. In his own words:

Observe the persistence, in mankind’s mythologies, of the legend about a paradise that men had once possessed, the city of Atlantis or the Garden of Eden os some kingdom of perfection, always behind us. The root of that legend exists, not in the past of the race, but in the past of every man. You still retain a sense—not as firm as a memory, but diffused like the pain of hopeless longing—that somewhere in the starting years of your childhood, before you had learned to submit, to absorb the terror of unreason and to doubt the value of your mind, you had known the independence of a rational consciousness facing an open universe. That is the paradise which you have lost, which you seek—which is yours for the taking.”

“Some of you will never know who is John Galt. But those of you who have known a single moment of love for existence and of pride in being its worthy lover, a moment of looking as this earth and letting your glance be its sanction, have known the state of being a man, and I—I am only the man who knew that that state is not to be betrayed. I am the man who knew what made it possible and who chose consistently to practice and to be what you had practiced in that one moment.

The key John Galt found can be summed up in his oath:

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

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