William Hastings (died 2012), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was a design engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Company. He quit that firm shortly after its founder, Gerald "Jed" Starnes, Senior, died. But not for another year would he actually join the strike of the men of the mind, at the behest of John Galt. It might or might not be significant that he was, in his last year at the Twentieth Century, John Galt's immediate supervisor.
The novel says nothing about Hastings' early life or education. He seems to have gotten a conventional education in mechanical engineering—where he got his degree, the novel does not say. He obviously was among the best available; otherwise Jed Starnes would never have hired him at the Twentieth Century.
The Twentieth Century Motor Company
Hastings joined the Twentieth Century Motor Company as a research engineer in 1989. He stayed at this firm for eighteen years, and eventually became chief design engineer.
In 2004, another young engineer named John Galt joined the firm and began working under his supervision. Galt's résumé was impressive: Master of Science, Physics, Patrick Henry University; Bachelor of Arts in Physics and Philosophy, Patrick Henry University. Hastings asked Galt why he hadn't finished his PhD; Galt didn't want to talk about it then, and Hastings let the subject drop. Hastings probably knew even then that John Galt would make a big mark on the world, and a little matter of why such a bright young man didn't get his PhD was distinctly minor.
In 2007 Galt gave Hastings fresh reason to believe that: he showed off to Hastings his experimental prototype of an electrostatic motor, one that could use static energy from the atmosphere to do useful work. That anyone could solve the mystery of the electrostatic motor was marvelous enough. That one so young (twenty-six years old) could do it, took Hastings' breath away. But it never occurred to Hastings to encourage Galt to seek an academic position, as he almost certainly could have done had he so wished. What Hastings saw instead was an invention to rival Otto's first internal combustion engine, or Rudolf Diesel's variation on Otto's device. With this device, the Twentieth Century might have started a revolution, both in transport applications (especially in railroading but also in long-haul trucking) and stationary applications. Hastings foresaw every factory, office building, and hotel running with its own electrostatic generator, with power to spare for sale to the surrounding community.
But Hastings would see none of this come to pass. A month later, disaster would strike.
In March 2007, Jed Starnes died. His children, Gerald Starnes, Jr., Eric Starnes, and Ivy Starnes, took it over. They then called a meeting of the entire workforce in the main assembly bay, and announced a new "enlightened" plan for paying the workers. That plan followed the precepts of Karl Marx:
|“||From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need.||”|
Hastings was astounded. Naturally he voted against it—but, to his dismay, the plan passed overwhelmingly.
Yet Hastings knew at once that the plan did not make anyone any happier. The workers around him looked ready to fight someone—anyone, that is, who dared argue with them and point out to them what they probably recognized on their own: that this plan was a recipe for disaster, and also the most thoroughly immoral plan that anyone could put forward. Hastings knew then and there that he would leave the factory and move elsewhere. He did not want to stick around for the slow death and inevitable collapse that he foresaw.
But then he saw something that he would never mention to anyone, not even his own wife. John Galt stood up, ramrod straight, and declared that he would not accept the plan, nor did he accept the moral code that formed its basis. Then and there, Galt declarerd,
|“||I will stop the motor of the world.||”|
John Galt not only quit the factory, but wrecked the prototype and took the crucial part of his notes with him. William Hastings did not and could not blame him. He handed in his resignation the next morning.
Hastings moved his wife out of Wisconsin to Brandon, Wyoming. At first he signed on as chief design engineer of Acme Motors, a small but growing concern. Yet for a full year, a tremendous load of doubt consumed him.
The source of that doubt was John Galt. Galt did not go quietly out of Hastings' life after he left Starnesville, Wisconsin. Galt came to see him shortly after he settled in at Brandon and told him how he planned to "stop the motor of the world." He proposed that the "men of the mind" needed to go on strike and force the world to come to terms with certain elementary moral concepts. Galt said that the spectacle that he and Hastings witnessed at the Twentieth Century, would repeat itself again and again. Maybe Acme Motors would appoint a CEO who would propose something quite like the "noble plan" at the Twentieth Century. Or maybe the government itself, even the government of the United States, would impose that system on everyone. Either way, Hastings would do himself no good by continuing to support such a system.
Perhaps Hastings protested that Acme Motors was not the Twentieth Century, and surely such a bizarre plan could never surface again. Galt said that Hastings had no guarantee—and that, in any event, the "Starnes Heir" analogues at other firms, or in politics, would inevitably count on men like Hastings to keep the world going. Mankind would never come to grips with the moral lesson that it needed to learn, until it ran out of victims to loot from, and ran out of people who "went along to get along."
Finally, in March 2008, Hastings made his crucial decision. He resigned from Acme Motors. He and his wife would retire to live on their savings. He told his wife nothing, and merely asked her not to question him. She never did.
John Galt stayed in touch with him. Galt probably told Hastings what became of the Twentieth Century Motor Company: how it died the very slow death that Hastings knew it would, how the end had come, and how a new group calling itself the Amalgamated Service Company had bought the factory, with a loan from the Community National Bank. Galt was angry about one particular part of this story: Amalgamated Service had first applied for a loan from the Mulligan Bank of Chicago, Illinois. Midas Mulligan had rejected the loan, and Amalgamated Service had sued Mulligan to force him to lend the money. The case, tried before Judge Narragansett, ended in a finding for the defense, but was then remanded for retrial when an appellate court found fault with Narragansett's jury charge. Not long after that, Midas Mulligan vanished without a trace, after orchestrating a "controlled run" on his own bank.
In June 2011, Galt invited Hastings to come on a trip with him. They traveled by rail to Melrose, Colorado, that had its own general-aviation field. There, the two men boarded an aircraft that took off and flew into the mountains. Hastings was slightly alarmed to see the aircraft descend into a barren valley littered with rocks—and then that valley disappeared. In its place, Hastings saw a green valley with its own finished airstrip. This was Mulligan's Valley, also known as Galt's Gulch. It was the private retreat of Midas Mulligan. There, Hastings met Mulligan, Judge Narragansett, composer Richard Halley, and philosopher Hugh Akston. Hastings also met two other men with whom Galt had gone to college, two men with highly notorious reputations. One was Francisco d'Anconia, supposedly a playboy. The other was Ragnar Danneskjöld, the privateer and terror of the Atlantic Ocean.
Galt explained that every year, in June, the participants in the strike of the men of the mind were to repair to Mulligan's Valley, to trade their achievements in a place where such trade was possible. Hastings then did something that probably shortened his life. As Galt, d'Anconia, and Danneskjöld had done, he built his own house in the valley, so that he would have a place to stay next year. He probably ought to have hired someone else to do this. He had a heart ailment, of a type that the novel never specifies, that had plagued him for several years.
Hastings survived to make one more trip to Mulligan's Valley the following year. Shortly after he returned to his home in Brandon, he died.
His wife would later tell Dagny Taggart that, though Hastings had worked on several engineering projects in his basement in Brandon, all his models, notes and tools vanished without trace after his death. No doubt he bequeathed these to John Galt, in a will that Judge Narragansett certified. After Hastings died, John Galt sent someone to collect the materials. The novel never mentions them again.
Nor does the novel say what became of Mrs. Hastings after Dagny Taggart had her interview with her. But she would surely have tuned in to hear Mr. Thompson's "report on the world crisis," only to hear John Galt instead. She might not recognize the voice (Hastings never introduced her to Galt or to any other member of his staff). But she would recognize his story, and his description of "a motor that would have made a fortune for [Galt] and [his] employer." Once she made that connection, she would follow any advice he gave.
That would include advice to find an opportunity to vanish into the wilderness herself. So it is logical to suppose that she joined a community of like-minded people, with a militia to guard it. She might never receive an invitation to visit "Atlantis," but she probably would live to see her community sign a trade pact with it.
William Hastings is a type of any person who recognizes that something is wrong with the society in which he lives, takes at least some step to make his own situation better, but then must come to grips with the larger problem: that he cannot simply "get away" from the "bad influence," because it will find him wherever he tries to hide. John Galt eventually convinces him to quit the world, not just one factory that put the worst sort of plan into place.
Hastings also represents the sort of person who, though he
|“||die[s] without reaching full sunlight, [he dies] on a level touched by its rays[.]||”|
During his life, John Galt no doubt tells him that the strike has no time limit in view. Hastings knows, or thinks he knows, that Galt will not win his strike in his own generation. Hastings will never know that, after his death, the world will collapse totally, and rapidly.