In one of the climatic scenes in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, the philosopher/scientist who is a prisoner of the government, is taken to a televised banquet in an upscale New York hotel, arranged by the government to show the world its new savior and to hear how he plans to save it. He is prodded, with a gun stuck into his ribs through his tuxedo jacket, to make a speech about how he would go about doing it. After all, his captors believe that because he is a brilliant man, his brilliance can save their lives and the nation. All he need do is think and issue orders.*
The camera moved to Galt. He remained still for a moment. Then, with so swift and expert a movement that his secretary’s hand was unable to match it, he rose to his feet, leaning sidewise, leaving the pointed gun momentarily exposed to the sight of the world – then, standing straight, facing the cameras, looking at all his invisible viewers, he said:
“Get the hell out of my way!”
Galt was expected, urged, and begged to become the nation’s economic dictator. He refuses. His mind cannot be forced to solve a problem he does not wish to solve. Only he has solved this particular one: The world can be saved – and the world can save itself – by allowing him the freedom to think and to act, with no penalties, obstructions, regulations, or force. He does not want to be a dictator. He does not think that he needs anyone’s or any government’s permission to act in freedom. He wants to be left alone to live his own life. What his captors do not understand is that a mind cannot be forced to think. They do not understand that he would not accept an impossible task, such as being Chairman of the Federal Reserve, or Secretary of the Treasury, or an “economic czar” with the power to order, force, or defraud a nation’s citizens to act this way or that way. He refuses out of self-respect and respect for his fellow men.
That is the light side of this column.
On the dark side, we have “Head of State” Barack Hussein Obama, whose snarling leitmotif throughout his whole administration, on the campaign trail and over the last four years, has been another kind of “Get the hell out of my way!”
This is the demand, order, and wish of a tyrant, or of a wannabe dictator. He has his own “plan” to save the nation, to save the world. Reality gets in his way. Private citizens get in his way. He wants reality and those citizens to get out of it. He throws tantrums when he does not get his way, or is asked questions he cannot answer without lying, or when Congress or some “old” thing like an article of the Constitution frustrates his plans. He gloats and smirks when he does get his way with all the panache of street thug who has “proven” to his ilk that he is an Alpha Male not to be “messed with.”
John Galt, as the novel reveals, is a scientist, inventor, and creator. Barack Obama is a non-entity who has created nothing. Literally. John Galt is a life-giver. Obama is a nihilist and life-taker. Literally.
In truth, Obama has no “plan,” except to impose an authoritarian or totalitarian régime on the country – somehow. He is a nihilist of the pragmatic stripe. Some things he has gotten away with, some he has not. It is too soon to impose complete, one-man rule. He knows that much. But, like all seekers after power, his intelligence is feral, predatory, cunning, and non-conceptual. He is the heir-apparent of a “progressive” disintegration of the rule of law.
Obama can only work from a “feel” for his enemies’ weaknesses, and seek to exploit them. He is a collectivist ideologue who has no idea of how to impose his will on the country, except to cajole it through rhetoric and from a literal “bully pulpit,” with the emphasis on bully. Or force. He has thrashed around for four years experimenting with various kinds of statist policies, largely at the country’s expense, hoping that they would work and prove the efficacy of that force. He has exhibited an affinity for and an empathy with contemporary tyrants, such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
That force, after all, according to the altruist code of ethics, was intended to “do good.”
It is appropriate that his practical ideological mentor was not Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, or even Adolf Hitler, but a man who honed his “community organizing” skills and methodology by hanging out with Chicago gangsters, that patron saint of intimidation and isolating and targeting, Saul Alinsky.
He was successful in flattering himself (his characterization) into the Capone organization and became a trusted fellow traveler for “two years” according to his estimate. In fact, the influence of the Capone gang on Alinsky is substantial and lasted for more than two years.
“He introduced me to Frank Nitti, known as the Enforcer, Capone’s number-two man, and actually in de facto control of the mob because of Al’s income-tax rap. Nitti took me under his wing. I called him the Professor and I became his student. Nitti’s boys took me everywhere, showed me all the mob’s operations, from gin mills and whorehouses and bookie joints to the legitimate businesses they were beginning to take over. Within a few months, I got to know the workings of the Capone mob inside out.” Alinsky’s self-identification of Frank Nitti the mobster killer as his “professor” is important. In retrospect one can speculate that Alinsky learned a great deal about pressure and intimidation from his friends in the Chicago mob.
But even more enlightening is that the mob killer Nitti is the anti-thesis of what America is about; amorality and criminality were what Alinsky apparently found so fascinating about Nitti and his gang- they beat “the system” which Alinsky saw as just as corrupt or equally so to the Capone/Nitti gangsters.
This is not a minor, incidental, or arbitrarily juxtaposed point. I stress it because, as criminals and criminal gangs employ force to impose their will on their victims, so do statist governments. The Prohibition or Volstead Act of 1918, for example, sired the creation and growth of large-scale gangs dedicated to violating the ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. These gangs also intended to “do good” by supplying the nation with alcohol, as well as exploiting other prohibited or regulated realms such as gambling and prostitution (the gangs would later expand into drugs). In every enterprise of these gangs, force, extortion, blackmail, and fraud were their governing “ethics.”
The crucial symbiosis, in means and in ends, between government and “private” force is all too apparent. Differing only in scale, they have ever complemented each other throughout human history.
And, Obama has to his credit several instances of speech that comports with his thuggish leitmotif, among them, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” and, “Argue with neighbors, get in their face.”
In Atlas Shrugged, the statists bypass – and for all practical purposes, suspend – the Constitution (never actually mentioned in the novel) by enacting Directive 10-289, which freezes all creative and productive activity and expropriates property and wealth for the duration of an “emergency” whose cause is government interventionist policies. I discuss the ramifications of the National Defense Authorization Act in a Capitalism Magazine article from March of this year. Ostensibly, the NDAA simply details how federal expenditures will be distributed. However, a few brief, innocuous, but buried paragraphs in the NDAA grant the government, Congress, and especially the executive branch, dictatorial powers over the entire nation in the name of an undefined “emergency,” and effectively suspend the writ of habeas corpus, the right to a trial, and sanctions indefinite detention – of American citizens.
The most notable precedent for this is when Hitler got the Reichstag to suspend the Weimar Constitution.
After the Reichstag fire of 28 February 1933, clauses of the Weimar Constitution guaranteeing personal liberty and freedom of speech, of the press, of association and assembly, were suspended…The Reich President was authorized, “if public safety and order in the German Reich are considerably disturbed or endangered,” to take steps to suspend “the Fundamental Rights…”
This was the lead-up to Hitler’s much-sought-after “Enabling Law” that would grant him unlimited executive powers.
On 28 February 1933, the Nazi conspirators, taking as their excuse a fire which had just destroyed the Reichstag building, caused to be promulgated a Decree of the Reich President suspending the constitutional guarantee of freedom. This decree, which purported to be an exercise of the powers of the Reich President under Article 48 (2) of the Constitution, and which was signed by the Reich President, Hindenburg, the Reich Chancellor, Hitler, the Reich Minister of the Interior, Frick, and the Reich- Minister of Justice, Guertner, provided in part:
“Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, and warrants for house-searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”
As Leonard Peikoff has noted, “An executive with unlimited power is the definition of a totalitarian leader.” When everything is permissible by edict, executive order, or legislative fiat, then nothing can or will restrain the employment of government force.
John Galt’s “Get the hell out of my way” is the expression of a man who knows he owns his own life and warns his obstructers and enslavers that they will get nothing from him if they continue their policies of force, sacrifice and destruction. Obama’s “Get the hell out of my way” is the expression of a tyrant and sociopath who wants his wishes and whims realized without reality and men getting in his way. It is the John Galts of the world from whom he demands respect, deference, dependence, and obedience.
And it is the John Galts of the world who will not submit and who will not sanction the Obamas of the world the right to one second of his life.
The question for Americans, now that they face four more years of Obama, is: Are they John Galts, or are they craven submitters counting on being rewarded whatever messes of pottage their masters deign to dole out?
*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. p. 1125. Dutton/New American Library, 1992. 35th Anniversary Edition.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.