A novel that completely changed how I thought about the world the first time I read it. The characters are a little flat, true, but it's a highly motivating look at what can happen when we stop appreciating our own and others' ability to change the world.
I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers, and how viciously it treats them. And I show it on a hypothetical case—what happens to the world without them.
James Taggart sat at his desk. He looked like a man approaching fifty, who had crossed into age from adolescence, without the intermediate stage of youth. He had a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead. His posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness, as if in defiance of his tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat, but transformed into the gawkiness of a lout. The flesh of his face was pale and soft. His eyes were pale and veiled, with a glance that moved slowly, never quite stopping, gliding off and past things in eternal resentment of their existence. He looked obstinate and drained. He was thirty-nine years old.
A few steps away, at the end of the car, a brakeman was adjusting the controls of the air-conditioner. He was blond and young. He was whistling the theme of the symphony. She realized that he had been whistling it for some time and that this was all she had heard.
He stopped. He shrugged and smiled—he was alive for a moment and it was the strangest smile she had ever seen: it held secret amusement, and heartbreak, and an infinite bitterness. He answered: “Who is John Galt?”
She took it as a regrettable accident, to be borne patiently for a while, that she happened to be imprisoned among people who were dull.
She was twelve years old when she told Eddie Willers that she would run the railroad when they grew up. She was fifteen when it occurred to her for the first time that women did not run railroads and that people might object. To hell with that, she thought—and never worried about it again.
Many stories were whispered about him. It was said that in the wilderness of the Middle West, he murdered a state legislator who attempted to revoke a charter granted to him, to revoke it when his rail was laid halfway across the state; some legislators had planned to make a fortune on Taggart stock—by selling it short. Nat Taggart was indicted for the murder, but the charge could never be proved. He had no trouble with legislators from then on.
“I don’t know. But I’ve watched them here for twenty years and I’ve seen the change. They used to rush through here, and it was wonderful to watch, it was the hurry of men who knew where they were going and were eager to get there. Now they’re hurrying because they are afraid. It’s not a purpose that drives them, it’s fear. They’re not going anywhere, they’re escaping. And I don’t think they know what it is that they want to escape. They don’t look at one another. They jerk when brushed against. They smile too much, but it’s an ugly kind of smiling: it’s not joy, it’s pleading. I don’t know what it is that’s happening to the world.” He shrugged. “Oh, well, who is John Galt?”
The men sat around the long table, listening. They did not think of what they would have to do, but of what they would have to say to the men they represented.
There was no flattered pleasure in his voice, and no modesty. This, she knew, was a tribute to her, the rarest one person could pay another: the tribute of feeling free to acknowledge one’s own greatness, knowing that it is understood.
Francisco could do anything he undertook, he could do it better than anyone else, and he did it without effort. There was no boasting in his manner and consciousness, no thought of comparison. His attitude was not: “I can do it better than you,” but simply: “I can do it.” What he meant by doing was doing superlatively.
“Francisco, what’s the most depraved type of human being?” “The man without a purpose.”
“Dagny, there’s nothing of any importance in life—except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard.
In the many months of his absence, she never wondered whether he was true to her or not; she knew he was. She knew, even though she was too young to know the reason, that indiscriminate desire and unselective indulgence were possible only to those who regarded sex and themselves as evil.
“It would work very simply,” said Balph Eubank. “There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books.”
Only those whose motive is not moneymaking should be allowed to write.”
“I have observed that Mrs. Rearden has been trying to avoid the necessity of presenting me to you, and I can guess the reason. Would you prefer that I leave your house?” The action of naming an issue instead of evading it, was so unlike the usual behavior of all the men he knew, it was such a sudden, startling relief, that Rearden remained silent for a moment, studying d’Anconia’s face. Francisco had said it very simply, neither as a reproach nor a plea, but in a manner which, strangely, acknowledged Rearden’s dignity and his own. “No,” said Rearden, “whatever else you guessed, I did not say that.”
To me, there’s only one form of human depravity—the man without a purpose.”
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.”
He told himself that he deserved the torture, because he had wished never to touch her again and was unable to maintain his decision. He despised himself for that. He despised a need which now held no shred of joy or meaning, which had become the mere need of a woman’s body, an anonymous body that belonged to a woman whom he had to forget while he held it. He became convinced that the need was depravity.
“I’ve hired you to do a job, not to do your best—whatever that is.”
“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 the 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?” she asked. “Because he found that it couldn’t be brought down.”
“Miss Taggart,” he said gaily, “I’m curious about you. I’m curious whenever anything upsets a precedent. As a rule, visitors are a painful duty to me. I’m frankly astonished that I should feel such a simple pleasure in seeing you here. Do you know what it’s like to feel suddenly that one can talk without the strain of trying to force some sort of understanding out of a vacuum?”
Men are not open to truth or reason. They cannot be reached by a rational argument. The mind is powerless against them. Yet we have to deal with them. If we want to accomplish anything, we have to deceive them into letting us accomplish it. Or force them. They understand nothing else. We cannot expect their support for any endeavor of the intellect, for any goal of the spirit.
“These three men, these three who held all the hope which the gift of intelligence ever proffered, these three from whom we expected such a magnificent future—one of them was Francisco d’Anconia, who became a depraved playboy. Another was Ragnar Danneskjöld, who became a plain bandit. So much for the promise of the human mind.” “Who was the third one?” she asked. He shrugged. “The third one did not achieve even that sort of notorious distinction. He vanished without a trace—into the great unknown of mediocrity. He is probably a second assistant bookkeeper somewhere.”
Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
“That’s your cruelty, that’s what’s mean and selfish about you. If you loved your brother, you’d give him a job he didn’t deserve, precisely because he didn’t deserve it—that would be true love and kindness and brotherhood. Else what’s love for? If a man deserves a job, there’s no virtue in giving it to him. Virtue is the giving of the undeserved.”
“Eddie, what do we care about people like him? We’re driving an express, and they’re riding on the roof, making a lot of noise about being leaders. Why should we care? We have enough power to carry them along—haven’t we?”
The reporters who came to the press conference in the office of the John Galt Line were young men who had been trained to think that their job consisted of concealing from the world the nature of its events.
“Do the two of you realize you’re talking for publication?” asked the man with the sneer. “But, Mr. Hopkins,” said Dagny, in polite astonishment, “is there any reason why we would talk to you, if it weren’t for publication?”
Whatever I am, she thought, whatever pride of person I may hold, the pride of my courage, of my work, of my mind and my freedom—that is what I offer you for the pleasure of your body, that is what I want you to use in your service—and that you want it to serve you is the greatest reward I can have.
“I’ll tell you . . . I’ll tell you something . . . unhappiness is the hallmark of virtue. If a man is unhappy, really, truly unhappy, it means that he is a superior sort of person.”
The hint of desire that he felt was no more than a sense of physical discomfort. The sharpest impulse in his mind, nagging him to action, was not the thought of the girl, but of all the men who would not pass up an opportunity of this kind.
Hank, do you understand? Those men, long ago, tried to invent a motor that would draw static electricity from the atmosphere, convert it and create its own power as it went along. They couldn’t do it. They gave it up.” She pointed at the broken shape. “But there it is.”
“Dr. Akston, I . . . it’s inconceivable, it’s . . . You’re . . . you’re a philosopher . . . the greatest philosopher living . . . an immortal name . . . why would you do this?” “Because I am a philosopher, Miss Taggart.”
The secret you are trying to solve involves something greater—much greater—than the invention of a motor run by atmospheric electricity. There is only one helpful suggestion that I can give you: By the essence and nature of existence, contradictions cannot exist. If you find it inconceivable that an invention of genius should be abandoned among ruins, and that a philosopher should wish to work as a cook in a diner—check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
Later, when they told her that Ellis Wyatt had vanished, leaving nothing behind but a board he had nailed to a post at the foot of the hill, when she looked at his handwriting on the board, she felt as if she had almost known that these would be the words: “I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.”
“The latest scientific discoveries—such as the tremendous achievements of Dr. Robert Stadler—have demonstrated conclusively that our reason is incapable of dealing with the nature of the universe. These discoveries have led scientists to contradictions which are impossible, according to the human mind, but which exist in reality nonetheless. If you have not yet heard it, my dear old-fashioned friends, it has now been proved that the rational is the insane.”
“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal—for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors—hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom—the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”
“There’s something I want you to know,” said Cherryl, her voice taut and harsh, “so that there won’t be any pretending about it. I’m not going to put on the sweet relative act. I know what you’ve done to Jim and how you’ve made him miserable all his life. I’m going to protect him against you. I’ll put you in your place. I’m Mrs. Taggart. I’m the woman in this family now.” “That’s quite all right,” said Dagny. “I’m the man.”
So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.
Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability—and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?
Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth—the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started.
Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.
So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another—their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.
Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.
“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns—or dollars. Take your choice—there is no other—and your time is running out.”
“Oh, I can’t answer you. I don’t have any answers, my mind doesn’t work that way, but I don’t feel that you’re right, so I know that you’re wrong.”
“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders—what would you tell him to do?” “I . . . don’t know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?” “To shrug.”
But what was the code on which she acted? What sort of code permitted the concept of a punishment that required the victim’s own virtue as the fuel to make it work? A code—he thought—which would destroy only those who tried to observe it; a punishment, from which only the honest would suffer, while the dishonest would escape unhurt.
If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it—well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act.”
The public may curtail my profits any time it wishes—by refusing to buy my product.” “We are speaking of . . . other methods.” “Any other method of curtailing profits is the method of looters—and I recognize it as such.”
If you choose to deal with men by means of compulsion, do so. But you will discover that you need the voluntary co-operation of your victims, in many more ways than you can see at present. And your victims should discover that it is their own volition—which you cannot force—that makes you possible. I choose to be consistent and I will obey you in the manner you demand. Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there—I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine—I will not volunteer to pay it. If you believe that you have the right to force me—use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.”
I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and the fact that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it and do it well. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people—the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability—I refuse to apologize for my success—I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it.
I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow men than you can ever hope to accomplish—but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognize the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life.
If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own—I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist.
The judges retired to consider their verdict. They did not stay out long. They returned to an ominously silent courtroom—and announced that a fine of $5,000 was imposed on Henry Rearden, but that the sentence was suspended.
He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience—or to fake—a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer—because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.
But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises—because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from the moral code that damns him.
Love is our response to our highest values—and can be nothing else. Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest love is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values, but in response to flaws—and he will have cut himself in two.
“Dagny,” he said, looking at the city as it moved past their taxi window, “think of the first man who thought of making a steel girder. He knew what he saw, what he thought and what he wanted. He did not say, ‘It seems to me,’ and he did not take orders from those who say, ‘In my opinion.’
“John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.”
“He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich—or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”
“What was it they’d always told us about the vicious competition of the profit system, where men had to compete for who’d do a better job than his fellows? Vicious, wasn’t it? Well, they should have seen what it was like when we all had to compete
But when I hear them repeating that question, I feel afraid. I think of the man who said that he would stop the motor of the world. You see, his name was John Galt.”
He sat looking at her for a moment, studying her face, as if deliberately letting her see the amusement in his. “Miss Taggart,” he said, “we have no laws in this valley, no rules, no formal organization of any kind. We come here because we want to rest. But we have certain customs, which we all observe, because they pertain to the things we need to rest from. So I’ll warn you now that there is one word which is forbidden in this valley: the word ‘give.’” “I’m sorry,” she said.
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.
“Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves—or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.”
“I have never felt guilty of my ability. I have never felt guilty of my mind. I have never felt guilty of being a man. I accepted no unearned guilt, and thus was free to earn and to know my own value. Ever since I can remember, I had felt that I would kill the man who’d claim that I exist for the sake of his need—and I had known that this was the highest moral feeling.
“We had no rules of any kind.” said Galt, “except one. When a man took our oath, it meant a single commitment: not to work in his own profession, not to give to the world the benefit of his mind. Each of us carried it out in any manner he chose. Those who had money, retired to live on their savings. Those who had to work, took the lowest jobs they could find. Some of us had been famous; others—like that young brakeman of yours, whom Halley discovered—were stopped by us before they had set out to get tortured. But we did not give up our minds or the work we loved. Each of us continued in his real profession, in whatever manner and spare time he could manage—but he did it secretly, for his own sole benefit, giving nothing to men, sharing nothing.
They were majoring in two subjects: physics and philosophy. Their choice amazed everybody but me: modern thinkers considered it unnecessary to perceive reality, and modern physicists considered it unnecessary to think. I knew better; what amazed me was that these children knew it, too. . . .
There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another—if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t.
“I had cut myself in two, as the mystics preached, and I ran my business by one code of rules, but my own life by another. I rebelled against the looters’ attempt to set the price and value of my steel—but I let them set the moral values of my life. I rebelled against demands for an unearned wealth—but I thought it was my duty to grant an unearned love to a wife I despised, an unearned respect to a mother who hated me, an unearned support to a brother who plotted for my destruction. I rebelled against undeserved financial injury—but I accepted a life of undeserved pain. I rebelled against the doctrine that my productive ability was guilt—but I accepted, as guilt, my capacity for happiness. I rebelled against the creed that virtue is some disembodied unknowable of the spirit—but I damned you, you, my dearest one, for the desire of your body and mine.
“Yes!” Her voice was half-gasp, half-scream, as under a physical blow, the shock as her only awareness. “Hank!—how did you know it?” He smiled and pointed at the radio. “My darling, you used nothing but the past tense.” “Oh . . . !” Her voice was now half-gasp, half-moan, and she closed her eyes.
If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.
She had learned, in the slums of her childhood, that honest people were never touchy about the matter of being trusted.
“Whenever anyone accuses some person of being ‘unfeeling,’ he means that that person is just. He means that that person has no causeless emotions and will not grant him a feeling which he does not deserve. He means that ‘to feel’ is to go against reason, against moral values, against reality.
“Dagny, how did you do it? How did you manage to remain unmangled?” “By holding to just one rule.” “Which?” “To place nothing—nothing—above the verdict of my own mind.” “You’ve taken some terrible beatings . . . maybe worse than I did . . . worse than any of us. . . . What held you through it?” “The knowledge that my life is the highest of values, too high to give up without a fight.”
Afterward, it did not disappoint him that what he had possessed was an inanimate body without resistance or response. It was not a woman that he had wanted to possess. It was not an act in celebration of life that he had wanted to perform—but an act in celebration of the triumph of impotence.
It was not the pressure of a hand that made her tremble, but the instantaneous sum of its meaning, the knowledge that it was his hand, that it moved as if her flesh were his possession, that its movement was his signature of acceptance under the whole of that achievement which was herself—it was only a sensation of physical pleasure, but it contained her worship of him, of everything that was his person and his life—from the night of the mass meeting in a factory in Wisconsin, to the Atlantis of a valley hidden in the Rocky Mountains, to the triumphant mockery of the green eyes of the superlative intelligence above a worker’s figure at the foot of the tower—it contained her pride in herself and that it should be she whom he had chosen as his mirror, that it should be her body which was now giving him the sum of his existence, as his body was giving her the sum of hers.
“Dagny, it’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering, I know that pain is to be fought and thrown aside, not to be accepted as part of one’s soul and as a permanent scar across one’s view of existence. Don’t feel sorry for me. It was gone right then.”
“Our Plan is really very simple,” said Tinky Holloway, striving to prove it by the gaily bouncing simplicity of his voice. “We’ll lift all restrictions from the production of steel and every company will produce all it can, according to its ability. But to avoid the waste and danger of dog-eat-dog competition, all the companies will deposit their gross earnings into a common pool, to be known as the Steel Unification Pool, in charge of a special Board. At the end of the year, the Board will distribute these earnings by totaling the nation’s steel output and dividing it by the number of open-hearth furnaces in existence, thus arriving at an average which will be fair to all—and every company will be paid according to its need.
“For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. I am the man who has deprived you of victims and thus has destroyed your world, and if you wish to know why you are perishing—you who dread knowledge—I am the man who will now tell you.”
You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty.
“For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.
“Man’s life, as required by his nature, is not the life of a mindless brute, of a looting thug or a mooching mystic, but the life of a thinking being—not life by means of force or fraud, but life by means of achievement—not survival at any price, since there’s only one price that pays for man’s survival: reason.
“To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. 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.
A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.
“Man cannot survive except by gaining knowledge, and reason is his only means to gain it. Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. The task of his senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason; his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind.
No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. It is only with your own knowledge that you can deal. It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider. Your mind is your only judge of truth—and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal. Nothing but a man’s mind can perform that complex, delicate, crucial process of identification which is thinking. Nothing can direct the process but his own judgment. Nothing can direct his judgment but his moral integrity.
“Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is.’
“My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living.
—that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human—
to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay—
that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.
The only value men can offer me is the work of their mind. When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.
I do not enter discussions with neighbors who think they can forbid me to think. I do not place my moral sanction upon a murderer’s wish to kill me. When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him—by force.
“If you wonder by what means they propose to do it, walk into any college classroom and you will hear your professors teaching your children that man can be certain of nothing, that his consciousness has no validity whatever, that he can learn no facts and no laws of existence, that he’s incapable of knowing an objective reality. What, then, is his standard of knowledge and truth? Whatever others believe, is their answer. There is no knowledge, they teach, there’s only faith: your belief that you exist is an act of faith, no more valid than another’s faith in his right to kill
An inventor is a man who asks ‘Why?’ of the universe and lets nothing stand between the answer and his mind.
I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was ‘No.’
I ask yourself how many independent conclusions you have reached in the course of your life and how much of your time was spent on performing the actions you learned from others—ask yourself whether you would be able to discover how to till the soil and grow your food, whether you would be able to invent a wheel, a lever, an induction coil, a generator, an electronic tube—then decide whether men of ability are exploiters who live by the fruit of your labor and rob you of the wealth that you produce, and whether you dare to believe that you possess the power to enslave them.
“Whoever you are—you who are alone with my words in this moment, with nothing but your honesty to help you understand—the choice is still open to be a human being, but the price is to start from scratch, to stand naked in the face of reality and, reversing a costly historical error, to declare: ‘I am, therefore I’ll think.’
Accept, as your moral ideal, the task of becoming a man.
“Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness—not pain or mindless self-indulgence—is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.
“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.
Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules.
“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.
On the site of what had once been Project X, nothing remained alive among the ruins—except, for some endless minutes longer, a huddle of torn flesh and screaming pain that had once been a great mind.
“He had quit the Twentieth Century. He was living in a garret in a slum neighborhood. He stepped to the window and pointed at the skyscrapers of the city. He said that we had to extinguish the lights of the world, and when we would see the lights of New York go out, we would know that our job was done.”
He stepped to the front of the engine and looked up at the letters TT. Then he collapsed across the rail and lay sobbing at the foot of the engine, with the beam of a motionless headlight above him going off into a limitless night.
Then consider joining the 19,000 other people getting the Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.