It is difficult at the moment to avoid the US presidential election. By this time, in late November, it should have been done and dusted, but it was entirely predictable that if Trump lost he would cry foul and contest the result. He predicted it himself. As I write, he is still refusing to acknowledge defeat in Georgia, despite a hand recount that still left him the loser. He will, no doubt, make great play of the fact that his deficit decreased slightly at the second attempt, and make no mention at all of the statement from Georgia’s secretary of state, who before the election made no secret of the fact that he hoped Georgia would be a Trump win, that there was no evidence of rigging or widespread fraud.
The one saving grace of a Trump onslaught is that his preferred medium has been Twitter, which limits him to just a few words at a time. Ayn Rand’s heroes acknowledged no such limitation. Howard Roark’s defence of himself in court ran to three thousand seven hundred words, but was dwarfed by the fifty-seven pages occupied (in my edition of Atlas Shrugged) by the rant delivered by John Galt after he had taken over all the broadcast networks of the United States (how The Donald must envy him that ability). Like Trump, both Roark and Galt are characters totally lacking in self-doubt, and incapable of admitting their own mistakes. Roark was outraged when he returned after a long holiday to find that the plans he had left behind for a building to be constructed in his absence had been somewhat modified. In this he, or, since he is a fiction, his creator, Ayn Rand, demonstrates a truly staggering naivety. In the real world any sensible person who prepared plans for anything that they were not going to carry out themselves, be it a building or (as it would be in my case) a geophysical survey, would at least keep a continuing eye on what is going on. They would also be available to answer any queries there might be, and advise on any of the inevitable problems that would arise. They would not, as Roark did, render themselves incommunicado by disappearing on an extended vacation with a very rich friend on his private yacht. And Roark could not say that he hadn’t been warned. As that very rich friend told him “I warn you, we’ll be away for months”. Ayn Rand worshipped architects, engineers and the like, but she had no conception of what professionalism actually involved.
And John Galt? His ambition was much greater than Roark’s. He was not going to stop at blowing up an apartment block, he was going to blow up the world, and then rule what was left of it. He didn’t quite put it that way, but it was his contention that the world should be run by rational men. And, as the most rational man he knew, that meant it should be run exactly as he thought it should be run.
However, there was a snag. He had to admit that not all men are rational; indeed he devoted those fifty-seven pages to telling the citizens of the US that almost none of them were rational beings or could be trusted to think for themselves. So, much as he despised governments, he had to have one. It would, of course, not do anything FOR, anybody – that would be a most un-Randian. It would not provide roads, or education, or medical services, or ensure water supplies or dispose of sewage. It would consist purely of an army, a police force and a judiciary. It would be purely coercive.
Who, then, would control these instruments of coercion? All of these three institutions, in all the social systems that have ever existed or ever will exist, have been deeply hierarchical, and hierarchies have to have someone, or some people, at the top. Who, or what will that be? In Rand’s Utopia there is, of course, no doubt. It would be John Galt. But even Galt would be mortal.
Who would replace him? And, perhaps even more importantly, how could that be decided?
By inheritance? That is how Francisco and Dagny became rich, but also how James Taggart got control of the railway. Not a good precedent.
By the next John Galt, setting about destroying the world that the first John Galt had created? Unthinkable.
By following the North Korean practice and appointing Galt not merely President-for-Life but President-for-Eternity? Ludicrous.
By election? As Churchill is supposed to have said of democracy, the worst system imaginable – apart, of course, from all the other systems that have ever been tried, or imagined.