Spoiler Alert: Key plot elements of Atlas Shrugged discussed below.
In Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged, a tension builds between Dagny Taggart, partial heir and productive heart of her family’s railroad company, and an enigmatic figure known as John Galt. Both uphold the principle of individual rights, believing that men ought to be free to apply their own judgment to achieve their own values in pursuit of their own happiness. Both believe that men ought to deal with each other through reason, persuasion, and consent. Both oppose evermore egregious encroachments by a state which throttles the productivity of individuals and threatens the general welfare of the nation. The tension between Dagny and Galt arises from a difference not in principle, but in methodology.
Dagny reacts to a rising tide of statist interventions by fighting that much harder to stay atop of it. She produces more, comes up with better ideas, and innovates new ways of defying the system while still working within it. Galt, on the other hand, has resolved to defy the system by withdrawing from it. He removes himself and his productive capacity from society and creates a new community in a hidden gulch. Over time, he and his cohort recruit new residents from among the most productive and intellectually honest capitalists in the nation. As that class begins to disappear from public view, the remaining populace wilts under the predictable consequences of collectivist policies. Dagny, only vaguely aware of Galt’s agenda, views him as “the Destroyer,” an antagonist keeping her from saving the country by steadily removing productive individuals from the economy. Dagny eventually finds herself confronted with the choice to join Galt’s strike or continue to work within a crumbling system.