Book review: Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”

I had read this book many decades ago when I was a teenager.  My late dad brought “The Fountainhead” home from some fellow he knew, a fellow who loaned it to him.  Dad said then, that the fellow wanted him to read this book.  Well, I read it through first.  I asked to read it, and was finished with it in a matter of days.  It is this book that lingered in my thoughts over a good many years.  Unlike “Atlas Shrugged,” which I hoped would be just as engrossing, and sadly, proved not to be.  In my novel which I will soon complete, “Atlas Shrugged” became the novel I did not read to completion.  But “The Fountainhead” became the basis for arguing why Ms. Rand was ignorant and very naive.  I continue to stand by that.  So quite recently, I supplied myself with a 50 year anniversary copy of “The Fountainhead.”  I reread the book entirely through, to refresh my memory of it.  And so, I must ask the questions that Ayn Rand was probably never asked in her lifetime.

First, why wade through a lot of wasted space of a novel, trying to fill it in with philosophy?  Do married couples blather philosophy to one another?  Does an architect blather the philosophy of why he creates something?  Would actual architectural schools truly argue, that anyone who builds a building of any kind, does so in “service to others?”  People who enter this field, or any other field for that matter, do have one interest in mind:  making money.  Through their money they make a name for themselves.  What they create is intended for purchase, by being purchased they achieve material wealth and a brand name.  Especially if what they produce functions as it is advertised.  Ms. Rand’s philosophizing on the “nature of capitalism,” took the whole concept off the rails.  She would have done much better to simply discuss the failures of man, which are legion.  And further, those failures were well displayed throughout the book.

Second, her tortured questions of “altruism.”  I will agree to some extent that what “men might think” is “altruism,” truly isn’t altruism at all.  But, not in the way she wished to portray it.  The man who learned to build a fire wasn’t “burned at the stake” for it.  If anyone “altruistically” feared the man for the fire, they would have not allowed another one to exist.  The same thing being just as true as any other invention since.  So what is factual altruism?  I’d suggest that true altruism is to give help when needed and seeking no material reward.  Because suffering is factual, then bring comfort.  If you are “bringing comfort” out of some material acclamation to yourself, don’t bother.  Nor is the desire to control others “altruism.”  Ayn Rand’s Ellsburg Twohey wasn’t “altruistic.”  He desired power and control over others.  He could label it in any way, shape, or form as he desired to; in the manner that Ms. Rand chose to twist and turn it. In history, a Thomas Cromwell could have talked much like Mr. Twohey.  He could even give alms as required of him by his faith.  He also destroyed many people’s lives because they chose not to toe the political and religious line that he drew for them.  But I don’t guess that Ms. Rand knew too much of this sort of history.  Certainly what she said, had been said before, and even better.  Proven very well by example:  the crusades, the witch hunts, wars as much over religion as over land, economics, and politics.  But they weren’t fought for “altruistic” reasons.  Instead, by naked ambition.  Apparently, ambition isn’t a word in Ms. Rand’s vocabulary; as ambition is a product of ego.  Ambition wrongly directed causes great suffering and harm.  Ambition that is rightly directed gives us a U.S. Constitution, the arts, technology, medical science.  That is the nature of good and evil.  Obviously, because humanity truly is a social creature, his individual actions can cause harm or good.  It is inevitable that this will happen.  There can be no solitary creature untouched by others or failing to touch others.  I am sure that Ms. Rand’s hatred of what had occurred in the Soviet Union, would be a major plea that this can not happen again.  Well, then it would be lost as a message to her strongest devotees.  Only because “we” wish to control what other people think, or believe, or even how they wish to live; doesn’t present an argument from an “altruistic” position.  Call it what it is, the foundation of tyranny.  Altruism can only come from the individual, on the behalf of other individuals.  No one is “forced” to act on the behalf of others; they act of their own free will.  Ms. Rand’s opinion of “altruism,” it takes an Ellsburg Twohey to “force” you into something that you would otherwise not be inclined to do.  How about, the capacity of people toward decency?  A true desire to simply respect their fellow man?

I wouldn’t know what Ms. Rand meant by “unfettered” capitalism; but she did demonstrate countless times, how otherwise fettered it often proved to be.  So, what is “independent” to “dependent?”  Howard Roark’s long speech at his second trial was particularly tortured.  I can get the parasite, that is, if this person borrows without accreditation from others, and claims the “credit” for something that wasn’t his to start with.  But if you hand it over, willfully, to someone else; regardless of any “contracts” that have no legal authority between “partners,” there is no guarantee that it won’t be modified.  So factually, in a real world courtroom; Roark would have gone to jail for dynamiting a building, that he had no further interest in.  He handed “his share of the interest” over to others, when he handed the plans to Peter Keating.  That is likely how a true District Attorney would have seen it.  And accordingly, there is no argument that Roark could have made to legally counter it.  Yeah, a “substitute world” all right.  Because Ms. Rand couldn’t seem to deal with the real one.  Then I will answer this “independent/dependent,” question myself.  Why would we technologically advance?  Generally because there is money to be made from it.  Or because “that newfangled device” will help us win a major conflict.  Or, it actually stops a major and truly lethal influenza epidemic.  Why do people “choose” to turn on anyone who comes out with a bright and shiny new toy?  Actually, they don’t.  If they did, we’d still be living in the stone age.  Instead, “we turn on” anyone with the wrong ideas.  The bible, Old Testament to New, shows the many ways in which “we don’t like that other people’s ideas” and wage bloody warfare as a result.  Religious ideas, political ideas;  not the first guy who creates the first spear, to take out his first warring opponent.  We aren’t going to cause a landslide to bury a cave dweller and his family, in the cave where they sought shelter.  We are more likely to ask, if we can join them.  Of course jealousy and covetousness can exist in people.  It would have to be that not so altruistic argument, which would indeed argue toward “burning a fellow at the stake,” because he discovered how to light a fire.  But jealousy and covetousness isn’t in Ms. Rand’s vocabulary either.  Why? Because they are also part of man’s ego.  Otherwise, where we see the usefulness of fire, we are more inclined to thank the person who invented it.  We don’t “walk away in a huff,” and freeze to death soon afterwards.  Give most people the capacity for common sense.  We should have some acceptable level of dependence: if Microsoft helps us link to the rest of the world, without having to leave our own homes.  Even further, to find a store that features a used and cheap book of Ms. Rand’s, order it, and have it shipped to the mailbox for personal perusal.  That’s part of capitalism.  Apple produces an Ipod, later an Iphone, then an Ipad.  However, Apple is dependent upon the willingness of investors to finance this shiny new gadget, any of these shiny new gadgets.  The Apple board of directors are dependent upon a workforce that develops these shiny new gadgets.  Finally, Apple is dependent upon the paying customer to finally purchase the shiny new gadget.  Howard Roark is the mouthpiece for Ms. Rand’s clumsy explanation of capitalism, that I think she couldn’t quite get.  Actual dependency of hatching an idea, materially producing it, and finally putting it up for sale; is not the “dependency of living through others” discussed in her book.  Apple would have to be dependent upon customers to both welcome and use the shiny new gadget.  That is the only real world dependency that fits in a capitalist society. The technological idea can be hatched independently, but capitalism is dependent on many other factors.

So what is “socialism?”  I have some historical experience from reading such books as “1861  The Civil War Awakening,” by Adam Goodheart, that actual socialism was about the equality of individuals within society both economically and socially.  What Ellsburg Twohey proclaimed, had no relationship to that at all.  Without question, it would have related to Lenin, Stalin, and others of their ilk.  The use of a label to justify total control of others.  Considering that when and where Karl Marx began writing his original treatises on socialism; it was against tyranny; the symbiotic relationship of church to a tyrannical state; as he saw it at the time.  Which would also have meant, that actual socialists would have been opposed to the material exploitation of the “lesser people.”  And yes, as the Civil War in this country began, that would have put them on the side of the abolitionists.  When the labor struggles began, that would have put them on the side of worker’s rights, women’s rights, the rights of children.  Ellsburg wasn’t a socialist, he was an exploiter.  So, now that we know Ms. Rand is totally in opposition to exploitation of any sort, where does that put her on the political plain?  Something to think about.


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