John Galt saw the moral law of selflessness for what it was – a rotten irrational philosophy that had claimed the lives of individuals for centuries. Hence, he declared that he would bring an end to this injustice once and for all. He would stop the motor of the world.
Thereafter, whenever the generators stopped, the lights of factories went out, the roads grew empty or the conveyor belts stood still, it was John Galt avenging the creators of the world. He was setting them free from the second-handers; setting the individual free from the collective.
Second-handers are men without egos. They live through others, through the approval and moral sanction of others. Whether the second-hander is a cheat, liar, fraud or a murderer, he survives with his conscience buried away, as long as others approve of the mask he puts on. His own self is scattered within every other person.
The collective is the only kind of existence the second-handers know so that they feel threatened by an individual. Hence, they seek to destroy the individual by crushing his ego and assimilating him into the collective.
The ultimate attempt to sacrifice and enslave the individual to the collective takes the form of Directive 10-289. This directive puts into practice, on a national scale, what the Starnes heirs had put into practice at Starnesville.
This was a world where the majority existed in a collective state of unthinking slumber and the individual was lost in its maddening irrationality.
As per Ayn Rand’s notes, John Galt is “the proper integration of a complete human being, […], an abstract philosopher and a practical inventor, the thinker and the man of action together” (7). As such he could not and would not live in the world as it was, he saw the world as it ought to be and acted towards it.
Prometheus, for bringing fire to men, was chained and preyed on by vultures. John Galt withdrew his fire from men till they withdrew their vultures. Atlas buckled and bled under the weight of a parasitic world but continued holding it up. John Galt shrugged.
Why is altruism the moral good, he asks and sees that it is not. Its basic premise is that self-immolation is the ultimate virtue and self-interest the ultimate evil. Hence to pursue one’s own happiness, to live, is evil. The result of accepting this anti-ego, anti-life philosophy is a complete lack of self-esteem and a malevolent view of existence, a view of life as hell on earth.
To succeed, altruism requires the moral sanction of the victim.
This is what John Galt must destroy, the sanction of the creator upon whom the second-hander mooches. Hence, he begins the strike of the creators.
Out of all the creators, Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart remained chained to the collapsing, parasitic world the longest. Rearden believed that evil was impotent and would defeat itself. That a thing such as the Equalization of Opportunity Bill could not possibly succeed in a rational world.
He believed that moochers like James were merely children clamouring for a ride. He believed that he had the energy to carry them, without it making any difference to him or without needing any appreciation from them.
Dagny believed that she could run Taggart Transcontinental all by herself, even when all the independent men of ability had quit. She believed that if she could bear the responsibility for them all, she could have the incompetent parasites do the jobs she required done. Despite their lack of independent thought and action, merely by barking out instructions at them.
Their error was overconfidence in thinking that they could hold the weight of an unjust, parasitic world on their shoulders. They thought they could do this single-handedly, on account of the overabundance of their energy and ability.
They hoped that if they could keep the world from collapsing long enough it would recover. This hope kept them tied to and supporting the parasitic world until the very end.
It was their energy and productive abilities that the moochers exploited to serve their own whims. Hence, they were the greatest obstacles in John Galt’s quest to free the individual from the collective.
In this sense, they were his greatest adversaries until he convinced them to shrug and let the parasitic world face the consequences of its evil philosophy. Once they had shrugged, they were his greatest prizes.
Dagny had called John Galt the destroyer, “the most evil creature that’s ever existed, the man who’s draining the brains of the world” (407).
However, when she understands his motive, she realizes that he was not out to destroy the world but to save it. He was out to destroy the chains which held the creator captive while the second-handers mooched off him. Chains forged out of unearned pain, fear and guilt because the man of ego, the individual failed at upholding the irrational principles of altruism.
John Galt exposed the evil nature of altruism and presented the individual with the choice to live by another morality. A morality based on the premise that Man’s Life is the standard of good. That the pursuit of one’s own happiness is life’s moral purpose. By doing so he gave the individual a moral weapon to take back his life and live it.
Then, all the individual had to do to break free of his undeserved shackles was to blast away the false premises which had placed altruism on a pedestal.
And so John Galt was the beacon of light who delivered the individual from a world where the measure of virtue was self-sacrifice for the alleviation of other’s pain and suffering. Into a world where the measure and reward of virtue was one’s own life and happiness. A world built on the premise that the universe is benevolent.
A world where the ideal man is a man with “a face that bore no mark of pain or fear or guilt” (643) because he never surrendered, never let pain or fear or guilt touch the sum of his life or that of his view of existence.
This is the world that Dagny had expected to see at the end of the rails beyond the horizon. She saw it personified in John Galt, the paragon of Man’s Ego.