Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who is John Galt?

Written by: on November 8, 2012

Who is John Galt? This saying permeates Ayn Rand’s novel called Atlas Shrugged. I became aware of this book recently at a pastors luncheon. One pastor said it was prophetic about the U.S. He bemoaned that the “prophecy” in the book was coming true in America. The book was written in 1957 and is seeing something of a revival. This was the last of Rand’s novels that were intended to be a political satire. I was curious, I had never heard of this book. Since the book is 1200 pages long, I did the next best thing. I saw the movie. Then a watched a documentary that was very much in favor of her ideas.

As I watched something was disturbing to me. It was not her warning of intrusive government control; it was the premise of her philosophy. It was that to be moral is to live selfishly. The masses are living off the hard work of capitalism. To live altruistically is immoral. She was challenging the government’s role and the role of the individual. Doing a little research, I found out that she was an atheist and social Darwinian. This was noted in our discussion as pastors, but her ideas still seemed to be embraced. Why this is disturbing it that I hear this theme in some of the rhetoric of politics. How much of government regulation is for the common good? There is a fear that drives it all. It is this fear of the government’s controlling influence that Ayn Rand shared.

Ayn Rand hoped her book would influence Americans. Her writings were created to change public policy. However in her lifetime it had little effect. Now with government spending out of control it appeals to those who are looking for a simplistic answer. The culture is ripe for her message. Those who see evidence of her warnings in government today are listening.

How does one evaluate the media and its influence? Understanding how media does work will help us understand business, politics and religion. One must understand both the background and culture that shaped it. The media is not created by some evil conspiracy. It both reflects culture and affects culture. If we want to understand movements, we need to know how the media is shaped and shaping power.

The book A Social History of the Media traces how media, political and culture progress over time. Briggs and Burke have given a fair and clear view of the cultural interaction media has had. Media has been used is to warn of the danger of power throughout history. It has been used from Martin Luther’s 95 Theses nailed to a church door to negative political ads. One example was the development of the railway system. It was a sign of progress in the world. Progress in the US and the world was heralded as technological advances shaped the world. But some had concerns. Regulations were implemented, but not always with the public interest in mind. (p.123) Novelists had both positive and negative things to say about it (p. 122-123).

To understand the reaction to progress one must know the background of the people’s motivation. The social theories of the Frankfurt school were concerned about the darker side of modern progress. In the 1940’s Adorno and Hortheimer, reacting to Fascism, warned that unchecked progress could be destructive to humanity. It is destructive to freedom not an enhancement of it. (p. 49 Elliott) Sociologist also warned that the spread of railways were a “power that forced itself upon its iron way”. (Briggs p. 122-123). These voices did shaped the culture far more than Ayn Rand’s libertarian ideals at the time. But now, with the country changing, her suspicion of government rings true for many people.

Rand was reacting to what she saw as a misuse of government controls. Ayn Rand in her novel used the railway system as a metaphor for progress and distress. Her concern was about the increase of government control, government spending and government regulation. To evaluate her message, one must know here traumatic experience of communism. She feared that the US was becoming like communist Russia. She saw first hand how government could take property and life. Her message was shaped from her cultural experience.

What is evident is that media can be catalyst for social change for good or for ill. But it is not created in a vacuum. Media is not an outside voice but part of the social changes we see. In an age full of media images created to change our thinking, one must be wise. One must weigh both the motivation of the messengers and the cultural influences that created them.

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, Netflix, Retrieved November 3th, 2012 from the original April 2011.

Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged, Netflix, Retrieved November 5th, 2012 from the original August 2011.

A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, Third Edition, by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009.

Contemporary Social Theory, by Anthony Elliot, New York: Routledge, 2009.

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