“If you see John Galt on the road”, don’t kill him, just show him: Genesis points to liberty

Wendy McElroy’s articles at http://www.dailybell.com are always thought-provoking. She often dives into difficult areas and parses them. The way she writes is engaging, to me at least. That’s in part due to the topics she takes on being of such interest to myself, I’m sure.

Here’s one of these articles that provoked me to commenting on previous thoughts on the subject:

Here’s a shorter link if that one doesn’t get you there:

She was writing in answer to someone else who had called for libertarians to lessen their advocacy to more pragmatic levels, “the art of the possible”, as opposed to advocating loudly for the end goal of an anarcho-capitalist practice. He wrote “If you meet John Galt on the road, kill him”. Whence the title to her article.

She defended the use of the perfect ideal as a means to getting the more “possible” goals:

There are three other ways to approach idealism which show how practical it is:

I am an anarchist but I never expect to see a perfect voluntary society — that is, one without crime or violence. Anarchy is not utopia but merely the best chance we have to get as close to it as possible. The situation is similar to taking vitamins every day even though I’ll never be perfectly healthy. Having a firm and present ideal means you may be able to approach it some day.

Ideals also serve as a blueprint or intellectual map by which to assess whether a specific action or issue takes you closer or farther away from freedom. The best way to approximate an ideal is to hold it up as a standard against which to measure the world. In this sense, an ideal is like having true North on a compass. It tells you, “Yes, you are going in the correct direction.”

Holding an ideal up against reality is also a check on the accuracy of the ideal itself. Rand was fond of saying that there was no contradiction between the ideal and the practical. If ideals are constantly stumbling over inconvenient facts and cannot be translated into reality, then it may be flawed. It may need to be changed or even abandoned.


A libertarian-minded Christian can understand this better than almost anybody, I should think. In the “ideal”, we are libertarians and practice the non-aggression principle as a logical corollary of the Biblical Christianity. As Christ said, the two greatest commandments are to love God with “all thy mind, all thy heart, and all thy soul”, and secondarily, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

That’s already more than the non-aggression principle, but he expanded more clearly when he commanded his disciples with what we know as the “Golden Rule”:

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

Now that is more than just respecting the N.A.P., and requires one to feed a starving man who begs food in your path. But it is voluntary. God does not command anybody to force you to feed him, and indeed God himself allows the selfish person (ahem!) to refuse. He can refuse. What’s more, God’s Word condemns theft in no uncertain terms. If you’re caught, in one case the laws of Moses command to restore four-fold in fact.

And only the one who believes God is real is the one who might volunteer the food. Indeed, if he really believes God’s Bible, he will if it is within him.

There’s one difference from the John Galt character. Say John Galt slams into an accident of another person’s doing. Or say a natural disaster like the Christmas-season tsunami some years agone. According to what appears to be the strict Ayn-Randian advocacy, John Galt dies because nobody owes him anything. Unless he can convince a passerby he is good for some future promise in exchange for the care. But assume it would take more than he could repay.

John Galt, a real one, in such a fix, most certainly “would that” someone give him care. An Ayn Rand Institute official on John Stossel’s program argued that there was no moral obligation at all to any of the surviving victims of the tsunami. I disagree based on my ideals, but I would agree that all of us have a moral obligation to refrain from force or theft, even with the purpose of helping them. Nobody has a right to rob John Galt to feed the hungry.

There’s a big difference between saying (1) we all have the natural or logical obligation to respect the non-aggression principle, and (2) any personal moral framework, as if we have or don’t have a moral obligation to someone to help them. I believe Walter Block, prolific anarcho-capitalist author, has also recognized the difference.

So for the Aynrandian, and for the libertarian, there is a difference between what can happen right now and what can be done later.


So yes, an ideal is never applicable perfectly in practice. Or at least for us mere humans. This is in fact, the main reason that Christians are such easy targets for accusations of hypocrisy. If you have an ideal and fall short, it’s an open target. The ideal of the “law of love” is absolutely impossible for anybody to measure up

That was one of Jesus Christ’s own points he himself made in some of his teachings and parables.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus asking how to earn eternal life. Jesus asked him point-blank whether he had been faithful to a list of four commandments: shalt not steal, not kill, not commit adultery, keep the Sabbath. He said yes, probably ecstatic he was safely in. Nah. Jesus exposed him on the first and second commandment about loving his neighbor more than himself, and his coveting his own riches.

Nobody fulfills the ideal, only Jesus Christ did, and to fulfill the law of love he also broke “The Law” (of Moses) several times.

(Sidenote: By the way, that’s the why of his expiatory death for sin. All of us come short and need forgiveness for the rest. Not learning how to reach Nirvana, not works for karma, not an Allah giving ten times more weight to good than to the bad to see where we go. Free gift from the cross, and the power over death and hell proven in the Resurrection. The faith based not on ephemeral abstract teachings, do good and so on, but on the historical fact of the cross, burial and resurrection, as much historically verifiable as any ancient history)

Anarcho-capitalists are mostly abolitionists in the same sense as uses Wendy with the example of slavery.

“Abolitionists do not argue with this type of gradualism. They take issue with a more common formulation that goes somewhat as follows. A great many old people depend upon Social Security; therefore, approving a ‘reasonable’ tax for that program is a small injustice compared to depriving the elderly of food. Really? It is not clear if one injustice outmeasures the other or what standard is being used. And, even if one act were objectively less unjust, trying to fit either into a libertarian framework is pounding a square peg into a round hole. The dismal fact is that everyone has money stolen by the government; the goal of libertarianism is to end that process ASAP, not to dilute or redirect it for an undefined period of time.”

Teh moving target of what’s good in the middle, in fact, was the clincher for me when I first made a serious consideration of the issue of copyright specifically, helped a bit by Stephen Kinsella’s writings on the subject, and the mere fact that copyright enforcement requires some body of people who decide where to draw the line (arbitrarily) and where that line permits no other considerations, etc. And history shows that any such “authority” would ever and always get worse anyway. Whence

“Once you admit the principle of subordinating individual rights to a social ‘good,’ there is nowhere to draw the line.”

The closing line was well said:

“If you meet John Galt on the road, do not kill him” … at least, not for expressing an ideal. Kill him, if you must, for being a cardboard character in a novel or for the interminable speech delivered near the end of it. At this strange moment in history, libertarianism is in sad need of ideals. Remember Hayek’s words: “reasonable freedom of trade” or a “relaxation of controls” are not what stir men’s hearts and souls to fight for liberty. “Truth,” “Freedom,” “Justice” – these are the words on the banners under which human beings are willing to fight.

In my opinion, John Galt’s “interminable” monologue eventually gets not only boring, but now I consider it more anti-libertarian than pro. I have used the word “virulently” mostly because of the hate for God that saturated the talk, which in my opinion is an anti-libertarian sentiment in its effects.

There is great confusion in saying God and the State belong on the same side of the liberty equation. This is true most especially for the Christian God, which is the main villain of “mysticism” in John Galt’s speech.

What most self-identified Christians of any of the numerous groupings and categories do not realize is that the Bible is one of the most dangerous books for any kind of government on the earth. In my opinion it is the most dangerous, in fact.

In the Gospels, in fact, Satan himself shows Jesus Christ “all the kingdoms of the world”, that’s “ALL” of them, and says it is all “given” to him.

Jesus knew it was a temporary grant for God’s own purposes, but he didn’t retort with that. He did not use the “utilitarian” or “self-interest” reasoning. He merely quoted the command to worship only the “Lord thy God”.

Next, I’ll share how the Garden of Eden story has not just the more important lessons about “salvation”, but also are pro-libertarian ideas.


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