Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters VII and VIII


In “This is John Galt Speaking”, Chapter VII of the third part of the novel, Hank Rearden, perhaps prompted by the panic of his family and by the riot at his mills, retires from Rearden Steel. Since Hank ran the only reliable producer of industrial metal in the country, when he leaves the nation panics. There are riots and violence, and raiders roam the country causing havoc. People aren’t safe, industry and business is paralyzed, and there is little hope for the future. Dagny is told about Hank’s defection by her brother, and that Hank has left without deeds to property or the money in his bank accounts. He has taken the contents of his safe, which Dagny does not know contains the bar of gold which was given to him by Ragnar Danneskjold. Dagny has exulted that Hank has converted to the strikers and he is now beyond the reach of the looters. A week after his disappearance she receives a short note from him postmarked in Colorado: “I have met him. I don’t blame you. H.R.” She knows that he has reached the secret valley.

Dagny hasn’t seen John since their one night together, and she doesn’t even know if he is still working for Taggart Transcontinental. Knowing that he might be working just floors below her is maddening, but she is not willing to break their pact by trying to see him.

With the world in complete crisis, the media outlets scream that on November 22nd an important radio address will come from New York by the head of State, Mr. Thompson. Jim tells Dagny that she is required to be at the address at the broadcasting studio, and Dagny, fearing the worst, decides to bring Eddie Willers along with her. When the head of state is about to make his address, he is informed that “all radio stations went off the air at seven-fifty one” (1008). Someone has hijacked the airwaves of the United States. On the dot of 8:00 John Galt comes on the air, telling the world that Mr. Thompson’s time is up and he, John Galt, will speak to the country on the national crisis.

John’s speech goes on for sixty pages, with him ending with his motto “I swear -- by my life and my love of it – that I will never live my life for the sake of another, nor ask another man to live for mine” (1069). The content of his speech is this; that there is objective reality, that man does live by his mind, and that humanity and its desires are good. “Every period [of history] ruled by mystics was a period of stagnation and want” (1051) and it is time that the world is ruled by the rational conclusions of human minds. John details the work he, Francisco, and the others have done to stop the motor of the world, the movement which he calls “the strike”. When he and the others perceived that the policies of government and the ideas of culture were moving toward a relativistic mysticism the only way to fight this decline was to remove the products of their minds from society to show how society cannot function without it. Their strike has succeeded, and the country is reduced to a state of poverty that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Galt also reminds the people that a government that compels its citizens by the muzzle of a gun is not legitimate or just.

An important tenet of John’s speech is atheism. He rejects any kind of religion, and that the world was created by any being. He also explains that human beings have the capacity of rationalism, but they are not necessarily rational by nature. It is a choice to be rational, and, through rational thought and action to become happy and just. But the supremacy of humanity’s choice is important; no higher being has commanded it or anything, and every human being must make the choice for him - or herself. This makes humanity’s life and choices, and its highest power, rational thought, the most important value in the universe.

Self interest, or the “virtue of selfishness,” is the only principle which can effectively motivate people, Galt says. Having lived through the disastrous policies of being each others’ keepers, the people of America are ready to hear this particular message. They no longer want to be told that it is virtuous to starve when other human beings take the fruits of their labor. The populist power of Galt’s name, too, from the phrase “Who is John Galt” helps win listeners over to him. Galt tells the people that there should be no contradiction between rational human desires and ability to attain them justly. No longer do people have to subvert their own reasonable desires in order to adhere to some relativistic principle.

Chapter VIII has Mr. Thompson compromising somewhat after his bluster against John Galt’s hijacking of his radio broadcast. At first he couldn’t believe that the long address actually happened, for denying reality is his specialty. But he is shrewd enough to know that Galt has captured the minds of at least part of the population. He wants to make a deal with Galt to work for the government.

Eddie is afraid that Dagny will quit, but she cannot wait the short time it will take the looter government to fall and for Cuffy Meigs to cannibalize the last assets of the railway. She says to herself, as she walks through the tunnels of the Taggart Terminal "this is my railroad." She, Nat Taggart's heir, is still unable to give up her fight. She resolves to stay.

Dagny now knows where John lives, but she is afraid of the raiders and Floyd Ferris’s goons following her. There is now a national manhunt and a reward offered for John Galt. She goes to his apartment to warn him, but the government spies follow her. Galt tells her she must act like she is fighting him or they will arrest her, too. She plays along, as John tells her, and later she receives a five thousand dollar check from Mr. Thompson as reward for turning in John Galt.

They take Galt and try to make him run the economics of the United States. When the government tries to communicate this to the people by means of televising John Galt accepting economic authority, he shows the American people that he is being compelled to do so at the point of a gun. The country has dissolved into civil war in several areas of the country, and there is little hope of subduing the unrest.


Hank’s note means that he has met John Galt, and that he understands why Dagny has chosen John over him. Hank had a long way to come to the values that John and Francisco hold, and meeting the man who had engendered them in so many people, and carried out such a daring and successful plan in accordance with those values, has humbled him.

The innocuous and unobtrusive Mr. Thompson, whose first name is never revealed, is an example of the faceless evil of the authoritarian state. Since there are no moral truths held by the looter government, there is no reason for officials not to duck responsibility or to fob off blame. Mr. Thompson is the epitome of this incompetence and evil, and he inspires no confidence in his people with his upcoming radio address. Mr. Thompson will prove later to understand very little about how to run a country, and will make a grave mistake in regard to John Galt.

John’s manifesto of objectivism, for that is what it is, explains some of the more philosophical underpinnings of the striker’s reasons for their beliefs. One of the most important of these is the “primacy of existence” (Smith 198), or Rand’s first principle of ontology. This part of Rand’s philosophy treats with the indisputability of the existence of the external world. Unlike Rene Descartes, who began with his own consciousness as the first principle, Rand begins with the world and works toward the consciousness. If consciousness is something that exists in an objective reality, it makes sense to Rand that objective reality must exist in order for the consciousness to perceive it.

This sort of ontological hair-splitting may seem strange in political or social philosophy, but the first principles of any philosophy determine all its subsequent claims. If the objective reality that Rand describes does exist, it is the only thing that the rational mind can prove exists at all – no God, no spirituality, no received set of values can enter into reality because it cannot be proved empirically. And since this is the case all values must stem from the two things that can be proved to exist – human beings and the external world. And since man only has reality and his life as things that are real and knowable, it stands to reason, for Rand, that those should be his chief values. From this point Rand builds her philosophy of self-interest as the cornerstone of human happiness.

The speech is a momentous surprise to Dagny, and she, Robert Stadler, and Eddie Willers each recognize the voice as a different person they have known. Robert Stadler remembers his prize physics pupil from university, whom he thought probably dead; Eddie recognizes his mysterious railway-worker friend from the cafeteria, and Dagny knows him as John Galt, the originator of the strike and her lover. In the moment Robert Stadler hears John’s voice he knows he chose the wrong side when he decided to throw in his lot with the looter government. It seems a foregone conclusion now that the strikers will win.

Dagny’s courage is reaching a breaking point when she receives the note from Francisco telling her to hold on. She needs help at a time like this, when John is being held and she knows that she is the one who has brought him into custody. When John exposes the looters’ compulsion of him on national television, however, she now knows that this will become part of John’s plan to win the American public to the strikers’ way of thinking. This powerful image of John Galt, the man the American public thinks may be their savior, being held at gunpoint converts more people than hours of speeches could.