One of the themes of Atlas Shrugged, and of the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand is the idea of all rights are individual rights. Growing up in the Soviet Union, she witnessed first-hand the evils of collectivism, the negation of the self. She believed in the rights of minorities, and the smallest minority was the individual. Through John Galt’s speech, she ties the idea that one owns oneself with the idea that free will is one’s chief possession.
“That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.”
Galt here, refutes the notion that anyone but him has a right to his life and happiness:
“Just as I support my life, neither by robbery nor alms, but by my own effort, so I do not seek to derive my happiness from the injury or the favor of others, but earn it by my own achievement. Just as I do not consider the pleasure of others as the goal of my life, so I do not consider my pleasure as the goal of the lives of others. Just as there are no contradictions in my values and no conflicts among my desires-so there are no victims and no conflicts of interest among rational men, men who do not desire the unearned and do not view one another with a cannibal’s lust, men who neither make sacrifice nor accept them.”
Again, Galt asserts he owes no one his life and happiness, nor does anybody owe him theirs. He chides those who voluntarily make themselves subservient to others. He justifies morality of acting in one’s own self-interest with the notion that one must reciprocate that same right to others. Rather than accept natural obligation to others, he follows an ethos of mutual non-obligation, except as a voluntary act of self-interest on the part of all parties.
“Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None-except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and their demands: by means of reason. I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice. It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don’t, I enter no relationship; I let dissenters go their way and I do not swerve from mine. I win by means of nothing but logic and I surrender to nothing but logic. I do not surrender my reason or deal with men who surrender theirs. I have nothing to gain from fools or cowards; I have no benefits to seek from human vices: from stupidity, dishonesty or fear. The only value men can offer me is the work of their mind. When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.”
Galt’s speech ends with what one could call the Objectivist Creed ….
“You will win when you are ready to pronounce the oath I have taken at the start of my battle-and for those who wish to know the day of my return, I shall now repeat it to the hearing of the world:
“I swear-by my life and my love of it-that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine. –Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged