Ayn Rand and “The Fountainhead”

Ever since I created the Heroes category for my articles, I have felt the need to write one about my ultimate hero: Ayn Rand. The problem has been, as any of my readers know, my reverence for this great human being is evident throughout this blog. Finally, I realized that an expansion upon what inspired that reverence in the first place was in order. And that was her book The Fountainhead.

In my Opening Rant article, I described the book as “the story of a man [Howard Roark] who stood against the merciless tide of collective humanity out to destroy him for his unwavering stance in favor of his individual right to live as a free man – by his own standards and at his own expense.” That statement remains accurate, and yet leaves so much unsaid. To help fill that gap, I want to discuss what I think was a glaring error in the making of the movie version of the story. Now I know that others who love the book will be quick to point out that saying the movie had one error is a gross understatement, but I think all would agree the other mistakes pale in comparison to this one: Leaving out the part of the story that is most essential to understanding Rand’s message – even to understanding the story’s title – the fountainhead itself!

In my paperback copy, the book’s teaser says that “man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.” One point of story is to show that, in the real world, men like the character Ellsworth Toohey seek power over men through the destruction of their egos. Howard Roark, the architect, is the ultimate symbol of what a pure and unbridled human ego can accomplish, so he must be destroyed if Toohey’s plan for the conquest of man is to be achieved. To that end, Toohey browbeats simpleton rich-guy Hopton Stoddard into hiring Roark to design the Stoddard Temple of the Human Spirit – all the while planning to make a mockery of the temple using the power of the press to influence the masses who are unwilling to think for themselves.

But Howard Roark convinces Steven Mallory to sculpt the temple’s fountainhead statue using Dominique Francon as the model. Steven Mallory had tried to kill Ellsworth Toohey because, on an unconscious level, he recognizes the absolute evil that he represents. Roark chose him however, not because of his history with Toohey, but because he was the only artist equal to the task assigned to him by Roark’s vision. And Dominique Francon, in mentality, appearance, and stature – if not faith, was the living embodiment of what the temple was designed to pay homage to. Neither Francon or Mallory could hide the fact that they lived in dreadful fear of the power they thought Toohey had to destroy Roark. But in spite of their trepidations, the greatness of his vision was too much for them to resist.

The most important thing to understand about Roark, you see, is that in all the world he is the only one to recognize that, ultimately, Toohey is as insignificant as a bug on the windscreen of the vehicle of man’s forward-moving spirit. Even after Toohey’s media blitz caused the temple to be all but demolished and the reputations of everyone involved to be covered in slime, he remains unfazed. Even after those who loved him turned away in shame for having participated in what they thought of as his destruction, his only emotion was disappointment at their lack of faith.

As it did in the book, having that back story in place in the movie would have added so much to what I think is quite possibly the most memorable scene in the story: when broke and temporarily unable to find work, Roark is approached by Toohey one night while wandering the streets looking at projects under construction by other builders.

After starting with the usual Toohey-speak designed to induce fearfully-respectful babbling from most, Toohey finally asks: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear you.”

In response, Roark’s answer is both short and sweet: “But I don’t think of you.”

I want ice water.

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4 thoughts on “Ayn Rand and “The Fountainhead”

  1. Many unpleasant things have been said about Ayn Rand and her “Objectivist” cult; almost all of them deserved: Nietzsche for the semi-literate with a dash of Plato thrown-in for extra dickishness. Let us put aside her loquacious driveling and ham-handed, overbearing prose for a moment. She was a woman who surrounded herself with sycophants, even holding “trials” for her followers who disagreed with her publicly on any topic from politics to art; that or the unforgivable crimes of not adequately defending her from criticism or associating with those who offered any.

    It is important to remember who her supporters were and are, folks like Ronald Regan and Alan Greenspan (Alan was actually a member of her inner circle), the architects of the greed-driven “Masters of the Universe” economy that has brought the entire world to the brink of ruin. Look at who praises her now: The likes of Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and Anne Coulter, barely sane wannabe demagogues who preach the suppression of all liberty but the freedom to exploit.

    Her arguments universally fall under the “strawman” heading, railing against some nebulous “liberal” that exists only in her mind. From one side of her mouth she denounced violence but still never failed to exalt robber barons like Andrew Carnegie who hired men to butcher good, hard working people so they couldn’t benefit from their own labors. Two standards based on the money you’re born with. One is “violence” and “horrid,” the other is “business” and “necessary.”

    A man makes money and becomes rich. He then raises his children to think they are a superior breed and should do anything possible to keep all wealth within their own class, casting all others as “looters” and “moochers” to justify it. You end up with an aristocracy that is made up of privilege by birth, not “men of the mind.” We don’t need a Hilton family to have hotels. Indeed, if we didn’t have them, those hotels would all be there and owned by dozens of people who could advance through their work, not to mention treat their people FAR better.

    Those who do the ACTUAL WORK are completely cut out of the profits of that work with no meaningful way to advance. Now, you might point to this one or that one who has “overcome” poverty but in a country of 300,000,000 people, a certain percentage are going to be struck by lightning, eaten by sharks, hit by meteors, and become rich; Doesn’t mean anything. And I would bet most of those people tell you their success (even if well deserved) had more to do with dumb luck then any hard work on their part.

    My real problem with Rand and her ilk is this: All the arguments you might make about how something like communism doesn’t work can be made about capitalism with equal accuracy: It only works on paper.


    • Wow! I hardly know where to begin! Perhaps I should first point out that my praise of Ms. Rand refers to the ideas expressed in her writing and to the impact those ideas have had on my life. Regardless of the life she actually led, or the people who surrounded her, I stand by the praise I have given to her work.

      As far as the people who surrounded her are concerned, as well as those who have used her name to advance their own causes, may I point out that Ms. Rand made it quite clear that she thought the so-called “defenders of capitalism” – the Republicans and their like – were even more to blame that anyone else for the fact that this country has failed to manifest the dream of being a truly free country. I’m sure that she must have been very hopeful when those she thought could begin to set things right, i.e. Reagan and Greenspan, finally came to power. The way things actually turned out was, IMHO, enough to drive anyone mad. I refer you to my The Real Reagan Legacy article.

      To touch on the other things you said, I should remind you of two more points: First and above all, Ms. Rand taught that people should think and act as individuals. While I can’t pretend to understand the crazy goings on within the ranks of the “Randians,” I am certainly not surprised that she would feel contempt towards the kind of mindless hoard I envision when I read the word “sycophants.” And lastly, as far as your references to inherited wealth and power are concerned, I think Ms. Rand’s writing made it quite clear that she detested any form of unearned wealth. This was made abundantly clear in the back-story of Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged.

      The bottom line is that none of us are “saints,” and I am deeply saddened by the fact that we live in a society where we give so much weight to the attacks on an individual’s personal life that their true message becomes lost in the chaos. Each of us has personally known people whom we think of as truly descent. Why is it that we don’t seem to wonder why they aren’t the ones we see on the opinion shows, running big businesses, or holding elected office? Could it be because “we the people” have become (or perhaps always were) a mindless hoard of “sycophants” who don’t deserve any better?

      There’s a reason why I’ve named my blog I Want Ice Water.


      • Okay, some fair points. However, Mdm. Rand was very clear about her desire for a “pure capitalist system.” What EXACTLY does that mean? No regulation of any kind? We’ve more or less had that they last three decades and we can see where it leads. And it’s not just the Republicans; Clinton was at least as bad as George II on this count. Really, the Democrats today are basically the Republicans of twenty years ago. The Republicans today are essentially the “Bund Party” of the late 30’s.

        It’s easy to talk about hard work and determination when you start out already on top. And how can unregulated control of capital by those at the top result in anything but a merchant aristocracy? And also, do you honesty buy her argument (made EXHAUSTIVELY over the last 60 pages of “Atlas Shrugged”) that if the CEO’s all went away the rest of us would die-out?


        • Thank you, for recognizing that I have a brain and that I actually use it. ;).

          As far as what Rand meant by a “pure capitalist system,” I can only refer you to her work. Might I suggest Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. I can speak only for myself. While I’ve written quite a lot about my opinions, how about taking a look at my Opening Rant article?

          Personally, I’ve been juggling “Republicrats” and “Demoplicans” as possible ways to accurately refer to today’s politicians. You know, two sides of the same ugly coin. 😉 Even “outsiders” such as the Libertarians have begun to sound crazy. I guess that comes from decades of trying to find the correct “formula” to appeal to the mindless hoard. :mrgreen:

          I don’t know about the “CEO’s,” but I do believe that, historically, those who have actually contributed the most towards human advancement represent only a microscopic percentage of those who have actually lived and benefited from their labors.

          The sad fact is that when we tell our children that they are “the hope for the future,” what we are really doing is challenging them to be exceptionally brilliant in an environment were they can expect nothing but “cash” as their reward. Who, in their right mind, would want to be viewed the way “rich people” are viewed in today’s world? Our kids aren’t stupid. They know how those who would dare to challenge the “status quo” have been treated in the past. In the end, they think that their only choices are: be a nobody with nothing?, or be a filthy rich but monstrous devil?

          In her writing at least, I believe that Ayn Rand was trying to show that those aren’t valid choices. That there is a very fundamental connection between rewards and morality that must be enforced by anyone who wants to be free. I think she saw that the “hands off” (I can’t remember how to spell the French) form of Capitalism was the political / economic system that allowed for the connection between morality and reward to be recognized for the high virtue it is.

          But she also knew that the people we could look to as living examples of this high virtue were few and far between. Which is why she sought to represent that kind of person in her fiction. She herself said that she realized early on that the “philosophy of life” that such people would be guided by had been poorly described at best. Which is what led her to invent – the true definition of that word, not as a “prop” for her fiction – her philosophy of Objectivism. I firmly believe that developing Objectivism was her greatest achievement, and clearly stands amongst the greatest achievements in human history.

          However, neither she, nor I, have ever said that living by it would be easy. The articles in my blog show very clearly how difficult it continues to be for me. But history is also a clear demonstration of what we get when we look for “easy” solutions to our problems.


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