"We are on strike," said John Galt. ... "Why should this seem so startling? There is only one kind of men who have never been on strike in human history. Every other kind and class have stopped, when they so wished, and have presented demands to the world, claiming to be indispensable -- except the men who have carried the world on their shoulders, have kept it alive, have endured torture as sole payment, but have never walked out on the human race. Well, their turn has come. Let the world discover who they are, what they do and what happens when they refuse to function. This is the strike of the men of the mind, Miss Taggart. This is the mind on strike."
She did not move, except for the fingers of one hand that moved slowly up her cheek to her temple.
"Through all the ages," he said, "the mind has been regarded as evil, and every form of insult: from heretic to materialist to exploiter -- every form of iniquity: from exile to disfranchisement to expropriation -- every form of torture: from sneers to rack to firing squad -- have been brought down upon those who assumed the responsibility of looking at the world through the eyes of a living consciousness and performing the crucial act of a rational connection. Yet only to the extent to which -- in chains, in dungeons, in hidden corners, in the cells of philosophers, in the shops of traders -- some men continued to think, only to that extent was humanity able to survive. Through all the centuries of the worship of the mindless, whatever stagnation humanity chose to endure, whatever brutality to practice -- it was only by the grace of the men who perceived that wheat must have water in order to grow, that stones laid in a curve will form an arch, that two and two make four, that love is not served by torture and life is not fed by destruction -- only by the grace of those men did the rest of them learn to experience moments when they caught the spark of being human, and only the sum of such moments permitted them to continue to exist. It was the man of the mind who taught them to bake their bread, to heal their wounds, to forge their weapons and to build the jails into which they threw him. He was the man of extravagant energy -- and reckless generosity -- who knew that stagnation is not man's fate, that impotence is not his nature, that the ingenuity of his mind is his noblest and most joyous power -- and in service to that love of existence he was alone to feel, he went on working, working at any price, working for his despoilers, for his jailers, for his torturers, paying with his life for the privilege of saving theirs. This was his glory and his guilt -- that he let them teach him to feel guilty of his glory, to accept the part of a sacrificial animal and, in punishment for the sin of intelligence, to perish on the altars of the brutes. The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined. It was always the animal's attributes, not man's, that humanity worshipped: the idol of instinct and the idol of force -- the mystics and the kings -- the mystics, who longed for an irresponsible consciousness and ruled by means of the claim that their dark emotions were superior to reason, that knowledge came in blind, causeless fits, blindly to be followed, not doubted -- and the kings, who ruled by means of claws and muscles, with conquest as their method and looting as their aim, with a club or a gun as sole sanction of their power. The defenders of man's soul were concerned with his feelings, and the defenders of man's body were concerned with his stomach -- but both were united against his mind. Yet no one, not the lowest of humans, is ever able fully to renounce his brain. No one has ever believed in the irrational; what they do believe in is the unjust. Whenever a man denounces the mind, it is because his goal is of a nature the mind would not permit him to confess. When he preaches contradictions, he does so in the knowledge that someone will accept the burden of the impossible, someone will make it work for him at the price of his own suffering or life; destruction is the price of his own suffering or life; destruction is the price of any contradiction. It is the victims who made injustice possible. It is the men of reason who made it possible for the rule of the brute to work. The despoiling of reason has been the motive of every anti-reason creed on earth. The despoiling of ability has been the purpose of every creed that preached self-sacrifice. The despoilers have always known it. We haven't. The time has come for us to see. What we are now asked to worship, what had once been dressed as God or king, is the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human Incompetent. This is the new ideal, the goal to aim at, for the purpose to live for, and all men are to be rewarded according to how close they approach it. This is the age of the common man, they tell us -- a title which any man may claim to the extent of such distinction as he has managed not to achieve. He will rise to a rank of nobility by means of the effort he has failed to make, he will be honored for such virtue as he has not displayed, and he will be paid for the goods which he did not produce. But we -- we, who must atone for the guilt of ability -- we will work to support him as he orders, with his pleasure as our only reward. Since we have the most to contribute, we will have the least to say. Since we have the better capacity to think, we will not be permitted a thought of our own. Since we have the judgment to act, we will not be permitted an action of our choice. We will work under directives and controls, issued by those who are incapable of working. They will dispose of our energy, because they have none to offer, and of our product, because they can't produce. Do you say that this is impossible, that it cannot be made to work? They know it, but it is you who don't -- and they are counting on you not to know it. They are counting on you to go on, to work to the limit of the inhuman and to feed them while you last -- and when you collapse, there will be another victim starting out and feeding them, while struggling to survive -- and the span of each succeeding victim will be shorter, and while you'll die to leave them a railroad, your last descendant-in-spirit will die to leave them a loaf of bread. This does not worry the looters of the moment. Their plan -- like all the plans of all the royal looters of the past -- is only that the loot shall last their lifetime. It has always lasted before, because in one generation they could not run out of victims. But this time -- it will not last. The victims are on strike. We are on strike against martyrdom -- and against the moral code that demands it. We are on strike against those who believe that one man must exist for the sake of another. We are on strike against the morality of cannibals, be it practiced in body or in spirit. We will not deal with men on any terms but ours -- and our terms are a moral code which holds that man is an end in himself and not the means to any end of others. We do not seek to force our code upon them. They are free to believe what they please. But, for once, they will have to believe it and exist -- without our help. And, once and for all, they will learn the meaning of their creed. That creed has lasted for centuries solely by the sanction of the victims -- by means of the victims' acceptance of punishment for breaking a code impossible to practice. But that code was intended to be broken. It is a code that thrives not on those who observe it, but on those who don't, a morality kept in existence not by virtue of its saints, but by the grace of its sinners. We have decided not to be sinners any longer. We have ceased breaking that moral code. We shall blast it out of existence forever by the one method that it can't withstand: by obeying it. We are obeying it. We are complying. In dealing with our fellow men, we are observing their code of values to the letter and sparing them all the evils they denounce. The mind is evil? We have withdrawn the works of our minds from society, and not a single idea of ours is to be known or used by men. Ability is a selfish evil that leaves no chance to those who are less able? We have withdrawn from the competition and left all chances open to incompetents. The pursuit of wealth is greed, the root of all evil? We do not seek to make fortunes any longer. It is evil to earn more than one's bare sustenance? We take nothing but the lowliest jobs and we produce, by the effort of our muscles, no more than we consume for our immediate needs -- with not a penny nor an inventive thought left over to harm the world. It is evil to succeed, since success is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? We have ceased burdening the weak with our ambition and have left them free to prosper without us. It is evil to be an employer? We have no employment to offer. It is evil to own property? We own nothing. It is evil to enjoy one's existence in this world? There is no form of enjoyment that we seek from their world, and -- this was hardest for us to attain -- what we now feel for their world is that emotion which they preach as an ideal: indifference -- the blank -- the zero -- the mark of death... We are giving men everything they've professed to want and to seek as virtue for centuries. Now let them see whether they want it."
"It was you who started this strike?" she asked.
"I did." He got up, he stood, hands in pockets, his face in the light -- and she saw him smile with the easy, effortless, implacable amusement of certainty.
"We've heard so much about strikes," he said, "and about the dependence of the uncommon man upon the common. We've heard it shouted that the industrialist is a parasite, that his workers support him, create his wealth, make his luxury possible -- and what would happen to him if they walked out? Very well. I propose to show to the world who depends on whom, who supports whom, who is the source of wealth, who makes whose livelihood possible and what happens to whom when who walks out."
"I quit and joined him and went on strike," said Hugh Akston, "because I could not share my profession with men who claim that the qualification of an intellectual consists of denying the existence of the intellect. People would not employ a plumber who'd attempt to prove his professional excellence by asserting that there's no such thing as plumbing -- but, apparently, the same standards of caution are not considered necessary in regard to philosophers. I learned from my own pupil, however, that it was I who made this possible. When thinkers accept those who deny the existence of thinking, as fellow thinkers of a different school of thought -- it is they who achieve the destruction of the mind. They grant the enemy's basic premise, thus granting the sanction of reason to formal dementia. A basic premise is an absolute that permits no cooperation with its antithesis and tolerates no tolerance. In the same manner and for the same reason as a banker may not accept and pass counterfeit money, granting it the sanction, honor and prestige of his bank, just as he may not grant the counterfeiter's demand for tolerance of a mere difference of opinion -- so I may not grant the title of philosopher to Dr. Simon Pritchett or compete with him for the minds of men. Dr. Pritchett has nothing to deposit to the account of philosophy to purchase the enslavement of thought. But that prestige is an account which can exist only so long as I am there to sign the checks. Let him do it without me. Let him -- and those who entrust to him their children's minds -- have exactly that which they demand: a world of intellectuals without intellect and of thinkers who proclaim that they cannot think. I am conceding it. I am complying. And when they see the absolute reality of their non-absolute world, I will not be there and it will not be I who will pay the price of their contradictions."
"Dr. Akston quit on the principle of sound banking," said Midas Mulligan. "I quit on the principle of love. Love is the ultimate form of recognition one grants to superlative values. It was the Hunsacker case that made me quit -- that case when a court of law ordered that I honor, as first right to my depositors' funds, the demand of those who would offer proof that they had no right to demand it. I was ordered to hand out money earned by men, to a worthless rotter whose only claim consisted of his inability to earn it. I was born on a farm. I knew the meaning of money. I had dealt with many men in my life. I had watched them grow. I had made my fortune by being able to spot a certain kind of man. The kind who never asked you for faith, hope and charity, but offered you facts, proof and profit. Did you know that I invested in Hank Rearden's business at the time when he was rising, when he had just beaten his way out of Minnesota to buy the steel mills in Pennsylvania? Well, when I looked at that court order on my desk, I had a vision. I saw a picture, and I saw it so clearly that it changed the looks of everything for me. I saw the bright face and the eyes of young Rearden, as he'd been when I'd met him first. I saw him lying at the foot of an altar, with his blood running down into the earth -- and what stood on that altar was Lee Hunsacker, with the mucus-filled eyes, whining that he'd never had a chance... It's strange how simple things become, once you see them clearly. It wasn't hard for me to close the bank ang go: I kept seeing, for the first time in my life, what it was that I had lived for and loved."
She looked at Judge Narragansett. "You quit over the same case, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Judge Narragansett. "I quit when the court of appeals reversed my ruling. The purpose for which I had chosen my work, was my resolve to be a guardian of justice. But the laws they asked me to enforce made me the executor of the vilest injustice conceivable. I was asked to use force to violate the rights of disarmed men, who came before me to seek my protection for their rights. Litigants obey the verdict of a tribunal solely on the premise that there is an objective rule of conduct, which they both accept. Now I saw that one man was to be bound by it, but the other was not, one was to obey a rule, the other was to assert an arbitrary wish -- his need -- and the law was to stand on the side of the wish. Justice was to consist of upholding the unjustifiable. I quit -- because I could not have borne to hear the words 'Your Honor' addressed to me by an honest man."
Her eyes moved slowly to Richard Halley, as if she were both pleading and afraid to hear his story. He smiled.
"I would have forgiven men for my struggle," said Richard Halley. "It was their view of my success that I could not forgive. I had felt no hatred in all the years when they rejected me. If my work was new, I had to give them time to learn, if I took pride in being first to break a trail to a height of my own, I had no right to complain if others were slow to follow. That was what I had told myself through all those years -- except on some nights, when I could neither wait nor believe any longer, when I cried 'why?' but found no answer. Then, on the night when they chose to cheer me, I stood before them on the stage of a theater, thinking that this was the moment I had struggled to reach, wishing to feel it, but feeling nothing. I was seeing all the other nights behind me, hearing the 'why?' which still had no answer -- and their cheers seemed as empty as their snubs. If they had said, 'Sorry to be so late, thank you for waiting' -- I would have asked for nothing else and they could have had anything I had to give them. But what I saw in their faces, and in the way they spoke when they crowded to praise me, was the thing I had heard being preached to artists -- only I had never believed that anyone human could mean it. They seemed to say that they owed me nothing, that their deafness had provided me with a moral goal, that it had been my duty to struggle, to suffer, to bear -- for their sake -- whatever sneers, contempt, injustice, torture they chose to inflict upon me, to bear it in order to teach them to enjoy my work, that this was their rightful due and my proper purpose. And then I understood the nature of the looter-in-spirit, a thing I had never been able to conceive. I saw them reaching into my soul, just as they reach into Mulligan's pocket, reaching to expropriate the value of my person, just as they reach to expropriate his wealth -- I saw the impertinent malice of mediocrity boastfully holding up its own emptiness as an abyss to be filled by the bodies of its betters -- I saw them seeking, just as they seek to feed on Mulligan's money, to feed on those hours when I wrote my music and on that which made me write it, seeking to gnaw their way to self-esteem by extorting from me the admission that they were the goal of my music, so that precisely by reason of my achievement, it would not be they who'd acknowledge my value, but I who would bow to theirs... It was that night that I took the oath never to let them hear another note of mine. The streets were empty when I left that theater, I was the last one to leave -- and I saw a man whom I had never seen before, waiting for me in the light of a lamppost. He did not have to tell me much. But the concerto I dedicated to him is called the Concerto of Deliverance."
She looked at the others. "Please tell me your reasons," she said, with a faint stress of firmness in her voice, as if she were taking a beating, but wished to take it to the end.
"I quit when medicine was placed under State control, some years ago," said Dr. Hendricks. "Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything -- except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the 'welfare' of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrevelant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only 'to serve'. That a man who's willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards -- never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind -- yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it -- and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn't."
"I quit," said Ellis Wyatt, "because I didn't wish to serve as the cannibals' meal and to do the cooking, besides."
"I discovered," said Ken Danagger, "that the men I was fighting were impotent. The shiftless, the purposeless, the irresponsible, the irrational -- it was not I who needed them, it was not theirs to dictate terms to me, it was not mine to obey demands. I quit, to let them discover it, too."
"I quit," said Quentin Daniels, "because, if there are degrees of damnation, the scientist who places his mind in the service of brute force is the longest-range murderer on earth."
They were silent. She turned to Galt. "And you?" she asked. "You were first. What made you come to it?"
He chuckled. "My refusal to be born with any original sin."
"What do you mean?"
"I have never felt guilty of my ability. I have never felt guilty of my mind. I have never felt guilty of being a man. I accepted no unearned guilt, and thus was free to earn and to know my own value. Ever since I can remember, I had felt that I would kill the man who'd claim that I exist for the sake of his need -- and I had known that this was the highest moral feeling. That night, at the Twentieth Century meeting, when I heard an unspeakable evil being spoken in a tone of moral righteousness, I saw the root of the world's tragedy, the key to it and the solution. I saw what had to be done. I went out to do it."
"And the motor?" she asked. "Why did you abandon it? Why did you leave it to the Starnes heirs?"
"It was their father's property. He paid me for it. It was made on his time. But I knew that it would be of no benefit to them and that no one would ever hear of it again. It was my first experimental model. Nobody but me or my equivalent could have been able to complete it or even to grasp what it was. And I knew that no equivalent of mine would come near that factory from then on."
"You knew the kind of achievement your motor represented?"
"And you knew you were leaving it to perish?"
"Yes." He looked off into the darkness beyond the windows and chuckled softly, but it was not a sound of amusement. "I looked at my motor for the last time, before I left. I thought of the men who claim that wealth is a matter of natural resources -- and of the men who claim that wealth is a matter of seizing the factories -- and of the men who claim that machines condition their brains. Well, there was the motor to condition them, and there it remained as just exactly what it is without man's mind -- as a pile of metal scraps and wires, going to rust. You have been thinking of the great service which that motor could have rendered to mankind, if it had been put into production. I think that on the day when men understand the meaning of its fate in that factory's junk heap -- it will have rendered a greater one."
"Did you expect to see that day, when you left it?"
"Did you expect a chance to rebuild it elsewhere?"
"And you were willing to let it remain in a junk heap?"
"For the sake of what that motor meant to me," he said slowly, "I had to be willing to let it crumble and vanish forever" -- he looked straight at her and she heard the steady, unhesitant, uninflected ruthlessness of his voice -- "just as you will have to be willing to let the rail of Taggart Transcontinental crumble and vanish."
She held his eyes, her head was lifted, and she said softly, in the tone of a proudly open plea, "Don't make me answer you now."
"I won't. We'll tell you whatever you wish to know. We won't urge you to make a decision." He added, and she was shocked by the sudden gentleness of his voice, "I said that that kind of indifference toward a world which should have been ours was the hardest thing to attain. I know. We've all gone through it."