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'Atlas Shrugged': With America on the brink, should you 'go Galt' and strike?

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Rand was asked these very questions in her own lifetime. Her answers might surprise you. In the 1970s, America was in a deep financial crisis (a new word, stagflation, had to be coined), urban violence was rampant, and power-seeking politicians like President Nixon instituted wage and price controls that led to, among other things, gas stations with no gas. How, people wondered, could Rand have foreseen all this? Was she a prophet? No, she answered. She had simply identified the basic cause of why the country was veering from crisis to new crisis.

Was the solution to “go Galt” and quit society? No, Rand again answered. The solution was simultaneously much easier and much harder. “So long as we have not yet reached the state of censorship of ideas,” she once said, “one does not have to leave a society in the way the characters did in Atlas Shrugged.... But you know what one does have to do? One has to break relationships with the culture.... [D]iscard all the ideas – the entire cultural philosophy which is dominant today.”

Now, if you’ve only seen the movie, the fact that "Atlas Shrugged" is not a political novel might surprise you. But the book’s point is that our plight is caused not by corrupt politicians (who are only a symptom) or some alleged flaw in human nature. It’s caused by the philosophic ideas and moral ideals most of us embrace.

“You have cried that man’s sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded,” novel hero John Galt declares to a country in crisis. “Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster.”

He elaborates: “You have sacrificed justice to mercy.” (For example, calls to make homeownership “accessible” to those who could not afford it and then bailouts and foreclosure freezes to spare them when they couldn’t pay.)

“You have sacrificed reason to faith.” (For example, attempts to prevent stem cell research on Biblical grounds or blind faith that Mr. Obama’s deliberately empty rhetoric about hope and change will magically produce prosperity.)

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