Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?
There is in Rand an undeniable and passionate quest, a hunger for truth, for the ideal, for morality, for a just ordering of the world. She is indeed frequently adolescent in this quest, yet this may be just what appeals to so many idealistic young people who read her before reading the Tradition in depth.
One of the most famous opening lines in literature is the question she poses and uses as a device throughout Atlas, a question now on display at Tea Party rallies: "Who is John Galt?" The answer is not immediately given in the book; it (he) remains mysterious throughout much of the novel. Yet it inexorably emerges: Galt is for Rand the ideal man—the Man of the Mind (the logos); the One upon whom the world and its creative capacity depend. He is, in a real sense for Rand, the God-Man.
As the plot unfolds, it might be said that Galt "comes unto his own and his own receives him not." In fact, the world despises him, not because he is evil, but because he is good, and the leaders of the people set out to kill him because of his goodness and because those in darkness hate the light, their deeds being evil and contradictory. When the final confrontation with evil comes, Galt falls "into the hands of evil men" who seek to destroy him—these were the high priests of their day—and who have a certain fear of him because the people resonate with his message (all encapsulated in a speech anything but the length of the Beatitudes).
At the final inquisition he remains virtually silent, until they proceed to strip him and fasten him to a torture device. Placing electrodes on his wrists, ankles, hips, and shoulders, they come to discover their dependency upon him even in this. It is only by his leave and knowledge that they can operate the machinery. His suffering has dignity, and his disciples, chief of whom is a female figure, bear him away to a place he has prepared for them—somewhere safe and far removed from the chaotic consequence that is the result of rejecting the Source of intelligibility in the world.
As an Armageddon ensues and the world descends into the chaos of its own rejection of order and reason, while in the company of those whom he chose out of the world, Galt pronounces a benediction as he traces the Sign of the Dollar over the world as it implodes. He then promises a new world dawning at the close of Atlas Shrugged.
Can all this be mere coincidence? No pope would be capable of issuing a more firm or irrevocable anathema than Rand were she to have heard my admittedly speculative comparison.
But I think it not so farfetched to imagine that a bright, young Alissa, first forming her own understanding of the world at a monumentally epic moment in history—Leningrad already awash in titanic conflict between the inestimable value of the individual human person vs. the Collective Man, between the competing icons of the Hammer and Sickle vs. Christ Pantocrator; the renowned Aristotelian N. O. Lossky, Alissa's first philosophy professor at the Petrograd University, introducing her to Aristotle and himself returning to Russian Orthodoxy at the time she would have been his student—that bright, imaginative, precocious, arrogant, frightened, and angry little girl—could have emerged into Ayn Rand. It is not hard to see the adult still retaining that swirl of ideas, iconographic images, memories, hopes, and despair, and nursing one hell of a grudge against the system (and anything to her mind like it) that destroyed her childhood world, her society, her culture, and her family.