Way back sometime in 1964 in our bachelorhood days in Alms House, my friend and neighbor Umesh Thakur handed me Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read the book, a Magnus opus, and  remained numb and helpless for the next week or so, until I realized that unlike the holy scriptures I could debate over its contents without offending anyone. I did have discussions with a few friends including Umesh and felt better. Yet to date I continue to ask “Who is John Galt?”

The book’s opening line “Who is John Galt?” becomes an expression of helplessness and despair at the current state of the novel’s fictionalized world. As the plot unfolds, Galt is acknowledged to be a creator, philosopher, and inventor who symbolize the power and glory of the human mind. He serves as a principled counterpoint to the collectivist social and economic structure depicted in the novel. The depiction portrays a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism, which the novel associates with socialistic idealism.

In his long speech towards the end of the book John Galt says “For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. I am the man who has deprived you of victims and thus has destroyed your world, and if you wish to know why you are perishing-you who dread knowledge-I am the man who will now tell you.”

“You have heard it said that this is an age of moral crisis. You have said it yourself, half in fear, half in hope that the words had no meaning. You have cried that man’s sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded. Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster. In the name of a return to morality, you have sacrificed all those evils which you held as the cause of your plight. You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty.”

Looking around here in our country and elsewhere the novel’s fictionalized world has indeed been a reality over the ages. We have been in a state helplessness and in despair with the systems and continue to be. Even with that fiercely propounded by Ayn Rand, laissez faire, the capitalistic mantra.

The stifling of creativity and the seizure of work product is not the exclusive prerogative of communism. It happens every day in capitalism. Corporate monopolies act to break the will of competition. Corporations stifle creativity with things like planned obsolescence and the withholding of known solutions from markets in all fields. Corporations buy legislation, passing the cost on to consumers. Corrupt bureaucracy can be found at Infosys as easily as the Politburo.

Laissez-faire capitalism breeds mega-corporations that are immune to public influence. Corporations now rival the power of government and are in the process of owning it outright.  The forces of communism and the extremes of capitalism have continued to exploit over a century and the result is evident.

There could be a moderating factor, in the form and content of Progressive thought. Communism suppresses deviation from the will of the state. Capitalism suppresses deviation from the will of the corporation. Progressivism is only an oppressor to those that would oppress. The Constitution was written by Progressives of their era.

No socioeconomic system is inherently evil. Most people are not inherently evil either. But there are enough evil people to chronically endanger the world under any socioeconomic system.

The question remains, “Who is Bhura Singh?”