Sunday, April 5, 2009

Emiliano Zapata and John Galt

Two events yesterday coalesced to give me the idea for this brief essay.

Last night Erika Holzer and I dined with friends who share our political values.

Because of all the current attention being paid to Ayn Rand's magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, our conversation turned to a discussion of the novel.

Our friends know that Erika Holzer and I had been Rand’s friends and lawyers in the Sixties, that we had discovered and restored the Italian version of her novel We the Living (http://www.wetheliving.com/), and that I had used many of her non-fiction political essays while teaching constitutional law at Brooklyn Law School.

So during the conversation they asked me what Rand would say today about how each of us can contribute to slowing down and eventually reversing the Obama-Reid-Pelosi steamroller that is crushing Americans' freedom and destroying our capitalism-based economic system.

Essentially, I told them that we must make our voices heard loudly in opposition to the altruist/collectivist/statist ideology that drives the current administration.

I added, sadly, that unlike in Atlas Shrugged today there are few heroes but many villains in industry, business and the professions, and so we were wasting our time waiting for an avalanche of productive Americans to turn their backs on today’s culture—let alone to take on the politicians and elite classes as Howard Hughes did in the Forties when he refused to be cowed by the crooks and non-entities who sat on a Senate committee.

I suggested that all each of us could do, is whatever each of us could do.

When I returned home, my new email included an essay by Dr. Jack Wheeler entitled "Where Is John Galt"? In it, he makes this point: "Today, the fascist nightmare that is destroying America is hideously similar to that described by Rand over fifty years ago. But if we ask today, not who is John Galt but where is John Galt, the question echoes in the wind with no answer." (Emphasis in original.)

In other words, Wheeler holds that there are no John Galts among us. As he says, today "most all corporate businessmen are not heroic giants but cowardly pussies. Two words should suffice as proof: Rick Wagoner," the late unlamented head of General Motors who rolled over and quit when Barack Osama ordered him to.

Wheeler's contempt for Wagoner is unrestrained, seeing him as a paradigm for virtually all businessmen in the contemporary United States.

Indeed, pulling no punches, Wheeler writes that "[t]oday, when we are facing the greatest fascist onslaught of our freedoms since Woodrow Wilson, there doesn’t seem to be one single major business leader in America who has the guts to tell [President Osama] to go to hell."

So where, then, is John Galt?

Wheeler has a profound, yet obvious, answer—one with which I agree, and one I believe Ayn Rand would agree with.

To quote Dr. Wheeler as to where is John Galt: He's inside you.

According to Wheeler, "you and each of us have the capacity to summon the courage within ourselves to fight government enslavement and tyranny—just as did our forefathers. * * * Thus true patriotism begins with you. It begins with all of us. Ayn Rand was a monumental genius. She saw clearly the consequences of fascist anti-capitalist liberalism in the halcyon days of the 1950s. We are now in 2009 living in the world of Atlas Shrugged—but without John Galt. Unless each of us takes responsibility for our own fate and chooses to be our own John Galt. Look inside yourself. That’s where you’ll find him."

Wheeler is correct. John Galt can be within all of us because he is an idea.

As I write these words, I’m reminded of the last scene in the brilliant film Viva Zapata, whose screenplay was written by John Steinbeck.

The government wants to kill the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who has yet again become a thorn in the establishment's side. The Mexican Army induces him into an ambush and so riddles his body with bullets as to make it unidentifiable. The soldiers then dump the corpse in the town's central plaza, and the following dialogue ensures among the stricken peasants, some of whom had ridden with Zapata for years:

They can't kill him.
They never will.

Can you catch a river, kill the wind?

He's not a river, he's a man!
And still they can't kill him.

Then where is he?

He's in the mountains.
You couldn't find him now.

But if we ever need him again, he'll be back.

Yes. He's in the mountains.

The words Steinbeck gave his peasants made the same point that Jack Wheeler has just made: Even though John Galt is a fictional character and Emiliano Zapata was a real person, the common denominator linking them was that they were the embodiment of an idea. That idea is that tyranny, in Twentieth Century Mexico and Twenty-First Century America, must be fought by each of us in our own way. Zapata took up arms and sparked a civil insurrection. We have not come to that—yet.

In the meantime, by writing, teaching, voting, speaking, arguing, criticizing, and in every other forum open to us, exposing how our Constitution is being shredded, our legislative processes abused, our freedom being subverted, and our liberty being stolen, each of us can be—indeed, now must be—our own John Galt.