Rand notes further that many of society's "parasites" recognize the moral damage done to them as recipients of unearned "altruism." Even so, they are not motivated to reject it, since they no longer link their sense of self-esteem to their own achievement, but find it instead in cooperation with the collective will. That conformity makes it easy for those who exercise power in the state to maintain control of the masses. Their domination is made even more secure by the state's successful promotion of the idea that trust in the individual mind rests not on reason, but on "faith." In buying into this idea, the masses readily accept the corollary notion that it is collective opinion alone that is scientific and capable of objective knowledge.
The autonomy of the individual is further undermined by agents Rand identifies as the "mystics" of religious faith. Like the enforcers of state power, the "mystics" also posit a more reliable source of knowledge than the mind: in their case, the providence of an unseen "God." Rand rejects this idea on its face, since it defies her "law of identity." This is the notion that the mind can only reason from data it amasses through the senses. Since the senses can only perceive things in the objective, physical world, nothing outside that world lends itself to comprehension.
Rand also inveighs against the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, which demands adherence to a pernicious "doctrine of sacrifice" that requires individuals to surrender the independence of their own mind (which is identical to the "self," in Rand's framework of ideas). In complying with this doctrine, individuals give up their right to the action society deems the most "selfish": namely, the pursuit of personal achievement and happiness, as it is guided by one's own judgment.
Rand argues that it is quickly obvious, however, that the "doctrine of sacrifice," which she also dubs the "morality of death" (i.e. to the individual mind), creates an insoluble paradox. Society's non-producers, held in dependency by the state and brainwashed by the doctrines of the church, in fact have no "independence of mind" to sacrifice. Instead, they must rely for what life they have on the sacrifice of those rational few who do continue to seek achievement and happiness by producing things of value. This is true, also, of the irrational "musclemen" of the state and the "mystics" of religion, who can only retain their own position and power through the continued consent and aid of the men of reason and ability.
What is especially galling to John Galt in his speech, and to Rand as his creator, is that both the people and their rulers, even in their abject dependency, deny the producers the respect they deserve and the freedom they require to fully realize their goals and reap the rewards they have earned. In Rand's view as expressed through John Galt, the ultimate objective of the "morality of death" is to extend the moral guilt already accepted by the masses to the relatively few men and women motivated by reason, ability, and the desire for achievement. The producers recognize, however, that if they themselves were to give up the pursuit of their own achievement and happiness, that self-denial would also deprive the undeserving of the very wealth and products of value they require to meet their needs. It is in recognition of this reality that John Galt has called a strike of the producers of the world. They will demonstrate to the "parasites" and government "looters" of the collective order that it is they whose values must change if the "World Motor" is not to be disabled. Only if the producers are allowed to create value through an unhindered pursuit of their rational self-interest will the world continue to function.
The Response of a Political Progressive:
Surely, we can agree with Ayn Rand that American society needs, and should encourage, individuals who are willing to invest their energies and risk their security to pursue personal goals of creativity and achievement. Such "producers" -- as Rand illustrates with John Galt -- help move the world forward and create constructive work for others that provides them both with income and the means to satisfy their own need for self-esteem and happiness.
Most progressives recognize, however, that a good society rests on more than the freedom to build a business or make a living. To reference one of Ayn Rand's own defining terms, any "objective" view of society must surely include the many people who do not, or cannot, find either success or material security in America's system of free enterprise. They include not only those who, for a variety of reasons, fail to live their lives responsibly, but the millions who do and still come up short.
Would current "entitlement" programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid exist in America if they weren't essential? These programs are in fact needed to provide support to millions of deserving citizens whose retirement, job loss, illness, or old-age dependency render them unable to meet their needs on their own. Because the programs also help maintain the social order, they have found a lasting place in American society, despite the rigid opposition of political forces upholding traditional economic individualism.
The federal government also assumes responsibility for public projects in the common interest. As society's only entity with the necessary breadth of perspective and investment capital, it initiates and provides seed money, loans, or full funding for projects designed to create an economic and social infrastructure in which private enterprise can flourish and the people can thrive. Representative activities include the building and repair of roads, bridges, dams, and schools, research and development of advanced technology and renewable energy sources, and maintenance of a national park system.
In addition, the federal government funds a broad spectrum of "discretionary" programs intended to provide a floor of economic opportunity under all segments of society. Examples include Pell Grants and low-interest loans for college tuition, training for "jobs of the future," and food, housing, and health benefits. Ayn Rand describes such programs as "altruism," which she perceives as invariably pernicious. To the liberal or "progressive" mind, however, they are more likely to reflect "common decency." They arise from a call to conscience that should move any representative government in command of great resources and powers of enforcement to help those of its citizens who have little or none of either.
There can be little argument that government programs ranging from the G.I. Bill to food stamps have increased both economic opportunity and personal security for millions of Americans. Yet, Rand sees in these programs only the potential for havoc. In the John Galt speech, she takes the extreme view -- in the context of the very modest scope of "welfare" in America -- that both the public's expectation of "altruism" and the government's delivery of it impose tax and cost burdens on the nation's producers that threaten to annihilate their entrepreneurial freedom, resources, and motivation for innovation and growth. She clearly believes that government investment and private enterprise relate to each other inversely, each side growing or declining as the other declines or grows.
As evidence against this notion, however, one can point to the fact that American enterprise continued to flourish and its leaders to prosper for more than seven decades after the institution of Roosevelt's New Deal -- before it was constrained by the overreaching of the high rollers of the financial industry in 2008. It is of course true that if all income were taxed at 100% to pay for government investments, no one would create a business or work for one; but it is also true that if there were no taxes at all, modern society as we know it would collapse. Most unbiased Americans will surely agree that every society needs both entrepreneurial growth and public investment to remain prosperous and provide a decent foundation of opportunity and security for all its citizens. The trick is to find the proper balance between them.
In further rebuttal to Rand's representations in the John Galt speech, I think it can also be argued that no evidence exists to suggest that the great majority of Americans, despite government "altruism," have ever preferred to live off the industry of others rather than by their own hands and mind. In no other people in the world, in fact, are self-reliance and "rugged individualism" more deeply ingrained, and those traits continue to motivate Americans to the present day -- even when, for many, opportunities to validate them have become increasingly scarce.
The profound frustration ensuing from the disappointed will to work may, in fact, well explain the emergence of the Tea Party and the extreme anti-government sentiments expressed by many other Americans. It is interesting to note that much of this hostility is caused not by the fear of government domination, but by government's failure to help ordinary people. It is widely reported, for example, that many Americans, both liberal and conservative, are especially angry with the government for its actions following the 2008 financial meltdown. At that critical juncture, it bestowed upwards of a trillion -- and, by some reports, trillions -- of taxpayer dollars on the Wall Street banks responsible for the calamity, while failing to do anything meaningful to help ordinary Americans withstand the loss of homes, retirement income, and jobs.
The government's failure to help the many millions of Americans hurt or crushed by the Wall Street crash makes it clear that it does not have, as Rand suggests in the Galt speech, any "vocation" to rule the masses by reducing them to complete dependence. Neither, of course, has the government ever made any effort, as Rand suggests it might, to persuade its citizens that, in direct contradiction of both experience and conventional belief, trust in the evidence of the individual mind rests not on reason, but on "faith"; nor has it ever preached that only collective opinion is scientific and capable of objective knowledge.