Ever since Spanish Conquistadors began returning to Spain from their quests for “glory, God, and gold” in the New World, legends flowed back to Europe about these newfound riches. Incensed by the tales of Hernán Cortés’s conquest of the Aztec and their capital of Tenochtitlan and Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca and their capital of Cuzco, fellow conquistadors (including Pizarro himself) began to circulate stories of a mystical city – a city built by gods out of solid gold: El Dorado.
Given the Spanish name of a real tribal leader of the Muisca Indians in what is now present-day Colombia, El Dorado was first conceived as a city, then a kingdom, and then an entire empire so as to match the imagined luxury of this now mythical chieftain. Though several claimed to have seen it, and many more spent their lives in search of it, no evidence of any lost City of Gold was ever found.
Though I fail to remember exactly what sparked my interest in the myth of El Dorado several days ago, I have since been fascinated by its implications. Ignoring the mystic altruism prevalent across all cultures during the Age of Exploration (with no exceptions that I can think of), El Dorado almost immediately reminded me of another fictional city – Galt’s Gulch from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – and, by extension, the present state of our world today. With regards to its metaphorical relationship to Galt’s Gulch, the similarities are really uncanny: a city of unimaginable wealth, safe from all those who seek to exploit it, enjoyed only by the select few who are worthy of it, and that could have been built by no one less than gods. Undoubtedly, these two cities strike at the very essence of man’s dreams, and these two cities should be the home to which all men aspire (Galt’s Gulch even moreso than El Dorado, as the lowest day laborer in Galt’s Gulch, or in America itself, possesses an exponentially higher standard of living than the richest Indian emperor, real or imagined, during the Age of Exploration).
True, one will never simply stumble across a modern El Dorado any more than the Spanish conquistadors would have serendipitously run into their own City of Gold, but this is because El Dorado cannot be found to begin with. It cannot be enjoyed by someone simply because they desire it. It must first be earned. It must first be built.
But only gods can build such a place, you say? The gods are among us: Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs – all the great innovators, thinkers, and movers of this world necessary to construct such a place are as real as any one of us. And, for a time, these men were free to build that City of Gold nearly uninhibited, pursuing their own self-interests and, in doing so, expanding the quality of life for millions of people they never knew by simply doing that which they do best: producing. Since the Industrial Revolution, the old vestiges of altruism returned with a vengeance in the Progressive Era and in subsequent governmental policies (the “Square Deal,” the “New Freedom,” the “New Deal,” the “Great Society,” etc.) which again shackled the men of the mind in a system that rewards someone because of who they know, not what they produce. (It should be unsurprising that arguably the greatest improvements in man’s life over the past few decades have come from communication and computer technology, a relatively unregulated sector of the American economy.) Finally in 1971, the gold itself, both the literal building blocks of everything that exists in the mythical El Dorado and the symbolic building block of economic objectivity on which the society in Galt’s Gulch rests, was stolen overnight by the stroke of President Nixon’s pen. No longer was El Dorado made from gold – now, its foundations rest upon nothing more than green dye and cotton thread.
Every penny that these men earned, and in the case of living industrialists, will earn, belonged or belongs to them. It was produced by their initiative, their adherence to the laws that govern reality, and their productive abilities. Only in a system which recognizes the fundamental right that a man has to his own life and the products of his labor – a capitalist system – can the great industrialists of the world, both present and future, be free to pursue their rational self-interests without inhibition. Even now, the interference with man’s ability to pursue his rational self-interests in accordance with the dictates of reality pervades through every facet of American society, from the richest tycoon to the poorest janitor.
Man’s rights are absolutes. They can never be infringed upon lest the violator forfeit his own. At present, our government acts under a spoils system – a mixed economy – in which the rights of some men are violated for the benefit of others. Even in a democratic system of governance, there are simply some things that the majority cannot regulate. 51% of the population is not at liberty to abnegate the liberty of the other 49%. Nevertheless, the government continues to restrict the rights of many for the benefit of the few – it enslaves neighbor to neighbor, all in the name of the “common good.” This system rejects not only the notion of “rational self-interest,” but also the entire concept of “self” in the first place. Man’s mind cannot operate under such conditions, and his potential standard of living – not to mention his right to his own life – suffers as a consequence, as does the potential standard of living of anyone who might have benefitted from his achievements.
What is worse is that those committing these offenses attempt to portray themselves as the good: those who claim to be humanitarians restrict man’s standard of living, those who claim to defend the average laborer addict him to government programs and constrain his liberty, and those that claim to support minority rights reject the rights of the smallest minority of all: the individual.
It should be our prerogative as individuals to achieve a capitalist system in America and to revere success and ingenuity rather than fear and ostracize them. El Dorado is within our grasp – the internet has led to an unprecedented expansion of human knowledge previously considered impossible, so imagine what all that knowledge could do when unleashed from the regulations that currently restrain it in other industries. In order to attain Rand’s vision of Galt’s Gulch, we must push for a system that adequately respects the individual rights of all men to pursue their own self-interests. Unlike the Spanish conquistadors of centuries past, however, we are not on a quest to discover El Dorado. We know what we must do. Instead, we are on a quest to, for the first time in human history, build El Dorado. We are the gods of our own time – let us shape the world as it can and ought to be.