Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 - The Egoist
After Galt's speech, the American people show signs of discontent with the looters' regime. Mr. Thompson wants to negotiate a deal with Galt. The looters broadcast repeated messages trying to reach Galt, but he doesn't reply. Thompson tells Dagny that he is worried. The pro-terror faction led by Floyd Ferris doesn't want to negotiate with Galt. That faction wants Galt dead, and Thompson isn't sure that he can prevent the murder. Thompson isn't even certain that Galt is still alive.
Terrified for Galt's safety, Dagny goes to his apartment. The looters follow her. Understanding what will happen as a result of her visit, Galt tells Dagny that she must pretend he is her enemy; otherwise, the looters will torture her to force his surrender. The looters arrest Galt and try to convince him to become the economic dictator of the country, but their pleas have no effect.
The American people don't believe that Galt will collaborate with the looters. Many don't even believe that he is in custody. As more people begin to starve, riots, open civil war in California, and the breakdown of civil authority ensue. One of the warring California factions has seized control of the rail station in San Francisco, so Taggart Transcontinental has no cross-country service. Eddie Willers flies to the West Coast to try to restore it. The looters announce the unveiling of the "John Galt Plan" to save the country's economy. However, when they try to televise their announcement to the country, Galt leans abruptly sideways to expose to the television cameras the gun being held to his ribs. "Get the hell out of my way," says Galt.
Mr. Thompson's willingness to deal with Galt and his belief that a deal is possible are revealing. Thompson is an unprincipled pragmatist. He believes that ideas, theories, and principles have no role in human life. Action is all that matters. It doesn't matter to Thompson that Galt holds ideas regarding the nature of man, rights, society, and government that diametrically oppose the ideas embodied in the looters' system. Thompson believes that the looters will make some concessions to economic freedom, Galt will accept the chance to run the economy, and both sides will strike a deal. Galt will then figure out some way to make the mongrel system of clashing principles work.
Ferris and his faction, which advocates terror, show much greater philosophical understanding than Mr. Thompson. Because the looters, including Mr. Thompson, have no intention of relinquishing power, no possibility of compromise with an advocate of individual rights and political freedom exists. Galt is their deadliest foe. If he succeeds, a place doesn't exist for the looters or their power-lusting policies in the free society to come. Galt, therefore, must be killed. The pro-terror faction is right — there is no middle ground between freedom and dictatorship. Individuals either have rights or they are slaves. Looters either maintain their dictatorship, or Galt's ideas lead to freedom. A compromise between these contradictory alternatives isn't possible.
The events in this chapter make clear one of Ayn Rand's ongoing themes: Humans face a fundamental choice between the intellect and brute force. The men of reason, like Galt and the strikers, understand that the mind functions independently. A human being can only survive by means of his mind, so he must be free to act on his own best judgment. Political freedom is a logical necessity for survival. The men who reject reason, like the looters, have no means to survive. They can't cure diseases, invent airplanes, run a transcontinental railroad, or build the John Galt Line. Conquering the men of the mind is the only way the irrational brutes can survive. The naked tyranny of dictatorship is the logical outcome of rejecting the mind as man's means of survival. Men live by reason, or they attempt to live by force. There is no third alternative. Hence, Rand paints the sad spectacle of the brutes seeking to force the mind to become economic dictator.
egoist a person who believes in the doctrine that self-interest is the proper goal of all human actions. Here, it refers to Galt's recognition that his self-interest lies in refusing to surrender his mind to the demands of the looters.