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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 7 : A Is A ("This Is John Galt Speaking") | Summary



Hank Rearden sends Dagny Taggart word he is in Colorado with John Galt. The country descends into violence; the papers are silent.

Moments before Mr. Thompson, the head of state, is scheduled to address the nation on the radio, radio stations go down nationwide. A panic ensues; Galt comes on the radio and speaks for three hours.

Galt introduces himself and claims responsibility for the present chaos. He has stopped the world's motor by organizing a strike against the prevailing morality that insists "virtue ... consists of sacrifice." He proceeds to explain the Morality of Life and the Morality of Death and to argue for the former.

The good is what supports rational life; evil is what destroys rational life. Man acts, using his virtues, to attain what he values. Thought and act being choices, man can choose to destroy himself. Therefore, he needs a code of morality to guide his actions so he achieves happiness, the highest purpose in life.

The Morality of Life is based on the idea "existence exists," and consciousness perceives existence. This is the law of identity, expressed as "A is A." The only way to know reality is to use reason to make logical conclusions based on sensory information. Thinking is man's primary virtue; man's primary vice, "the refusal to think," is a rejection of reality. The other virtues are reason, purpose, self-esteem, rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. Their outcome, happiness, is "a joy without penalty or guilt ... that does not clash with any of your values." Its source is rational action, not action motivated by emotion. Man's only obligation is to use reason. A "trader" "does not give or take the undeserved" and therefore leads a moral life. Physical force is immoral; it demands people act against their own rational self-interest.

The Morality of Death defines man as evil; good is, therefore, unattainable. God or society, not reason, is the authority. Selfishness is the primary vice, and sacrifice the primary virtue. The most virtuous actions bring no reward to their actor. This morality promises its rewards after the individual's death. In this morality the needy have an automatic claim on the competent. The weak are rewarded but suffer from guilt at receiving that which they haven't earned; the productive are penalized by an obligation to provide for the weak out of brotherly love. This morality claims "to love a man for his virtues is paltry ... to love him for his flaws is divine."

The "mystics of spirit" claim God as the authority, and the "mystics of muscle" locate authority in society. Having rejected reason for wishes and emotions, they can't perceive reality. They are like "savages ... crawling ... in fear and worship" through an unknowable world. All mystics seek power; the public, having abandoned its reason, consents to the mystics' control. By rejecting reason, the mystics and the public reject existence itself; they delight in the suffering of others, which distracts them from their own self-hatred. The outcome of this morality is destruction, suffering, and death.

Galt's motor would have benefited humanity tremendously; he asks his audience to consider the barbarity of life without technology. By explaining the Morality of Life to the "men of the mind," Galt has organized the strike, which has "foreshortened the usual course of history." The mystics and looters will die; "the men of reason will survive" and return to "rebuild this country" when the era of the Morality of Death ends.

The maxim "I am, therefore I'll think," grants man a life in the paradise all have lost and seek. The law of identity grants man the right to "life, his freedom, his happiness," and property. A government's only purpose is to protect rights; it should consist of a police force, a military, and a court system.

Galt urges his listeners to reject the Morality of Death and join the strike. Together they can build a future defined by justice, respect, and happiness, where a man's rational judgment is the sole determiner of his fate. "Do you hear me ... my love?" he asks, before concluding with the oath of the Morality of Life: "I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."


Ayn Rand spent two years writing John Galt's speech, which she regarded as the most complete expression of her own philosophy, Objectivism. Galt, as the hero of Rand's story, is the mouthpiece for this philosophy as well as the one who sets in motion the novel's events. The speech he now gives the nation is the same one he gave every industrialist prior to their disappearance. He directs his appeal to all who are willing to listen, but it is specifically and primarily aimed at Dagny Taggart, whom he addresses as "my love."

Galt prevents the head of state from addressing the nation on the crisis before them. Because Mr. Thompson lacks an understanding of the strike underlying the crisis, his speech would not be an explanation but a justification. By taking over his broadcast and providing a complete explanation, Galt demonstrates he has more technical and spiritual power than any of the looters in power.

Galt presents a clear choice between the Morality of Life and the Morality of Death. There is no overlap between the two codes; they are clear opposites, built on opposing premises and values and delivering opposite results. Galt's love of life prompts him to fight the Morality of Death; those who still retain a love of life are likely to be persuaded by his words. Those who hate themselves and existence are likely to experience only confusion, misunderstanding Galt's message.

Galt has "foreshortened the usual course of history" merely by explaining these two moral codes to the industrialists who support society. Without his strike, the Morality of Death would result in eventual societal collapse, but it would destroy the "men of the mind" along with everything and everyone else, leaving no one left to rebuild. Galt lets such a total loss occur because he values himself and those like him, and indeed all that is good in man. He is the savior who saves by hastening destruction.

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