John Galt is designed in Rand's novel to represent the creative and enterprising system that will not be denied by the collectivist vision being offered in the novel. He is to represent that greatnss of human beings, the power of individual will, and the embodiment of the heights to which a human being can achieve if they are not to face external and entrenched social or political institutions that support the "herd" over the individual. In today's political system, the term "John Galt" has picked up a newer connotation. Given the recent economic crisis and the increasing sense of populism that is arising, many feel that the isolation of increasing taxes for those who are over the $200,000 bracket is another example of punishing "greatness" in the name of the "herd." Just as Galt proposed going on strike to bring the system to its needs by denying its intellectual talent, some are proposing much of the same. The term "Going John Galt" is designed to indicate people of an upper economic bracket who are going to decrease their workload so that they make as much as possible without having to pay the extra taxes that are being proposed. Many blogs and political statements of this group, including the recent Tea Bag Protests, are using John Galt as a political symbol against the the encroaching "herd." I have enclosed some of these sites. Some are linking Ron Paul to a political manifestation of John Galt, as his beliefs against encroachment are much the same. As the Right of center individuals and the Republicans are searching for a rallying cry, John Galt's name has been invoked as a way to bring together the vision of individuals achieving greatness, and breaking from the apparent shackles of "collective mediocrity."
John Galt is the man who refused to, in "Atlas Shrugged", play by the rules that the politicians were playing by. In this novel--which has a highly biased slant against collectivism and socialism, so this post will reflect those views--the politicians were pushing the ideologies of collectivism, socialism, putting aside personal ambition or success for the greater good of others. They hampered people from succeeding by giving the successes they had earned to people who didn't earn them, enacted laws and mandates limiting the success of corporations, and used blackmail, manipulation and ideological phrasing to push forth their agendas. They asserted that mankind is a selfish, mean creation, and that attempting to succeed, or to enhance your talents, was an evil pursuit. No man should succeed; success is greedy and evil. They stifled productivity in the name of equality.
John Galt refused to play by those rules. He quit the public scene--a man who was a genius and who had created an engine that would have revolutionized engines across the world--and left it all behind. He gathered like-minded individuals who didn't want their successes taken from their hands and given to "moochers" as Ayn Rand called them (people who just mooched off of other people's success and initiative, while doing nothing themselves). He believed that the individual is a beautiful creation, that man's intelligence and initiative are the sole reason that America became what it is today--a leader of nations filled with comforts and technological advances that benefited all people. He felt that pursuing one's passion was the ultimate call to bettering mankind because it produced products and inventions and benefits for all. Eventually, people used the phrase, "Who is John Galt?" to refer to anything that didn't make any sense whatsoever, just as John Galt felt that the politics of the day didn't make any sense.
So, how does that fit into today's political scene? That's quite a charged question. Do you see the government taking over industries so that they can more fairly handle and distribute them? Do you see laws and mandates being passed that take away people's agency and ability to decide for themselves how they want to use their energy and their money? Do you hear phrasings like "fairness," "equality," and "spread the wealth" behind a lot of the political banter that is being used to support legislation that is being passed? Are current politics swinging towards some of the ideals spoken of above? That is one possible way that it is relevant in today's society. I'm sure that others will have other opinions to offer, but that is one way that Ayn Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged" remains relevant today, and is surging in popularity again--because some of the issues that she presented are so evident in current politics.