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Saturday, October 5, 2019

On John Galt’s “Arrested Mind”

John Galt, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged, is a man of “arrested mind.” When he makes an appearance in the novel, he is at the peak of his intellectual abilities. In the novel there is not a single instance of him learning anything new; Rand portrays him as a man who knows everything that is worth knowing—he never changes his mind; he never introspects and never has a doubt. He never confronts a contradiction; every sentence that he speaks is perfect; every choice that he makes is the right one. He represents Rand’s notion of the ideal man.

Rand modeled Galt’s character after her own personality. She had turned into a person of “arrested mind” in the years when she was working on Atlas Shrugged. She was not always like this. During the early phase of her writing career, she learned a lot from a wide variety of resources. A close study of the chaotic and contradictory viewpoints that we find in her early writing (especially in her journals), makes it clear that she did in fact pass through a phase of intense intellectual development. But in the 1950s, her mind stopped growing—she became convinced that she had attained intellectual perfection and there was nothing new that she needed to learn.

It was in a state of “arrested mind” that Rand conceived of John Galt, and after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, along with a band of youngsters whose only qualification was that they worshipped her as the only perfect genius in the history of mankind, she founded a movement called “objectivism” in 1958. This movement, which was a cult from the very beginning, is not an outcome of her literary genius, but of her psychological problems and her failure to emerge from the fictional world of Atlas Shrugged that she had herself created.

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