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Ayn Rand was a great one for setting up ‘straw man’ imagined futures, as a way of showing how terrible things would be if her precepts were not followed.  The 57-minute lecture she delivered at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston in November 1970, demonstrated that. It seems fair enough, therefore, to play that same game with her imagined future, as presented in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and imagine what happened next. But a little back-tracking into the last few pages of the book is needed first.

The scene is set when Eddie Willers and the Taggart Comet, stranded on the wrong side of the Mississippi, are astonished to see a line of covered wagons moving slowly along the road alongside the rail track. The leader of the group explained what they were doing:

“Just going, brother! Just looking for some place to stop . . . somewhere. We’re from Imperial Valley, California. The ‘People’s Party’ crowd grabbed the crops and any food we had in the cellars. Hoarding, they called it. So we just packed up and went. Got to travel by night, on account of the Washington crowd. . . . We’re just looking for some place to live. . . . You’re welcome to come along, buddy, if you’ve got no home— or else we can drop you off closer to some town or another.”

It was not a prospect the Willers viewed with any enthusiasm. The men, he thought, looked too mean-minded to become the founders of a secret, free settlement, and not mean-minded enough to become a gang of raiders. That, it seems, was the choice that Rand thought would be faced by the citizens of a United Sates that had self-destructed.

Meanwhile, the instigators of that destruction had returned to the haven of Galt’s Gulch, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and were planning the new United States. Judge Narragansett was in his library, busy adding a new Amendment to the US constitution, which would begin with the words Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade . . .  Midas Mulligan was at his desk, with a map and a column of figures before him, listing his assets and considering his next round of investments. Francisco d’Anconia was stretched on the floor in his cabin in the midst of a forest, busying himself with designs for a new smelter, while Hank Rearden and Ellis Wyatt sat by the fireplace, planning the industrial base for the entire continent. Galt and Dagny Taggart should have been there as well, because the plans involved them too, but they were preoccupied with other matters. Galt …

…… stood looking, not at the valley below, but at the darkness of the world beyond its walls. Dagny ‘s hand rested on his shoulder, and the wind blew her hair to blend with his. She knew why he had wanted to walk through the mountains tonight and what he had stopped to consider. She knew what words were his to speak and that she would be first to hear them.

Meanwhile, Ragnar Danneskjold lay stretched on a couch, reading a volume of the works of Aristotle. In his mind he was trying to adjust to the end of the life of action and violence that he had lived for so long, and was finding it hard. It was, in any case, wasted effort. His special talents would soon be needed.

Leap forward thirty years.

The brief attempt to move the capital to New York had been a failure. The damage it had sustained during what had come to be known as ‘the Great Reset’ had, in the end, proved too serious for reconstruction to be worthwhile. None of the new ‘rational’ companies had been able to think of a way of making a profit out of it.

Washington, however, has been rebuilt. and many of the old landmarks are still recognisable. There are, however, also major changes. Abe Lincoln has gone from what had been his memorial, on which an extract from his Gettysburg Address was once engraved. A different text, taken from John Galt’s first address to the nation, has taken its place:.

The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.

Where Lincoln once sat, there is now a golden statue of Galt, standing erect, his gaze fixed on the Wahington Monument, the setting for the almost daily executions of those among the ‘non-rational men’ who are deemed by the judicial computers to be sufficiently important to be dealt with in public The Supreme Court building can be seen in the distance beyond, because there is no Capitol building to get in the way. That had been demolished twenty years before, because, with a government reduced to an army, a police force and a judiciary, it had lost its function. The White House remains. It is the official, and fortified, residence of the ‘Chief’, the Commander-in-Chief of both the police and the army.

How had things reached this state?

Trekking aimlessly through the wilderness, the caravan of the mean-minded that Eddie Willers had declined to join arrived eventually at the borders of Galt’s Gulch and, seeing at last an island of prosperity, had demanded admission. It was, of course, refused. Standing at the edge of a field of ripe maize, its leader pleaded with Galt, who had arrived in person to deal with the intruders.

‘We have no need of your labour’ he explained ‘we have machines to bring in the harvest. Go somewhere else, and sow for yourselves’.

‘Some corn, at least’, the man whined, ‘give us that, to see us on our way’. A brief spasm disturbed Galt’s normally imperturbable features. ‘Give!’, he said ‘that word is forbidden in this valley’.

‘In that case’, said the man, ‘I’ll take’, and seized the nearest plant.

Galt shot him dead.

Terrified, the migrants fled, but during their flight they encountered another group of wanderers, and these were made of sterner stuff. Days later, they came in the early morning, and attacked the houses scattered in the cornfields along the vulnerable border of the Gulch. With those reduced to smoking ruin, they took what they could carry from the fields and set fire to the rest. By the time Ragnar Danneskold had gathered together enough of his former crew to respond, they were gone. Among the dead was Midas Mulligan, found lying on a pile of gold bars. His secretary, who had remained hidden, told the relief force that he had tried to use the gold to buy off the attackers. That almost useless metal had not, it seemed, been considered worth taking away.

That evening, Danneskold went to Galt, to discuss the formation of a standing army. He found him sitting alone, a shrunken figure playing, over and over again a recording of his own most famous speech

“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter, a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes. We will act as the rallying centre for such hidden outposts as you’ll build. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol— the sign of free trade and free minds— we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendour. Those who choose to join us, will join us; those who don’t, will not have the power to stop us; hordes of savages have never been an obstacle to men who carried the banner of the mind.”

In the figure before him Danneskold recognised, for the first time, the psychological effects of the torture Galt had suffered just before the Great Reset. The man was in tears.

“it’s not working, Ragnar”, he said.

“Don’t worry, John. I’ll see that it does”