The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

Architect Howard Roark is an exceptional person in many ways. He defies the traditions of architecture to design and construct buildings according to his own unique style that many find offensive not only because his creations are so unapologetically different but also because he is so blatantly indifferent to criticism. Throughout his career, he makes many enemies in highly public ways by getting kicked out of multiple architecture firms and defying client wishes, but also makes a few close friends. Neither enemy nor friend matters to Roark, though, because he is utterly selfish. He acts on his own will to fulfill his own wishes and hardly deigns to acknowledge other people or the impact of his interactions with others because the only thing that matters is the self. Even his longstanding love interest with Dominique falls prey to these rules of social interaction, but because she holds similar views as Roark, they become the perfect match for each other by being the perfect enemy of each other. As public opinion slowly turns toward modern architecture, Roark continues his career and relationships with the same aloof indifference he has always held, yet instead of working as the outsider, his innovation is now accepted as leadership in the field.

“The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand is something else. Originally published in the early 40s and deemed a visionary classic over the decades, Rand uses her novel to expound her philosophy on how the ideal society functions. The characters with the greatest personal and professional success display extreme disconnection from all other characters in the book, neither affected by nor caring about what they do to others or others do to them. The least successful are those that seek to gain power and prestige by bowing to the whims of public opinion. Above all, Rand promotes a selfish capitalism that seeks dominance of the individual man over all other elements, especially in shaping natural resources into skyscrapers that literally and figuratively demonstrate the height of human achievement. She promotes the individual, the exceptional, and the extreme in any and all efforts to gain power and success.

I’ll start with the things I do like about this book. Rand makes a very incisive point about how, in the pursuit of social success, people tend to present themselves as they think others want to see them instead of how they really are, which is only becoming more and more true in the age of social media. I also think she makes a good point about not getting caught up in what other people think about you, but I prefer the Buddhist perspective rather than the extreme capitalistic version she presents in her book. And that’s it. Her characters seek power and domination, and the romantic relationship between Roark and Dominique is predicated on violence and contempt. She makes sweeping (and erroneous) moral judgments about people living in poverty while promoting the idea that anyone can make millions if they just try. She views natural resources as entirely unrelated to human existence except for how men can exploit the Earth for personal gain. It annoys the crap out of me that communication happens on multiple levels: what is said, what is meant, what is left unsaid, what that means,  and everything in between. I’m pretty good at reading between the lines, but I felt like I missed some important points. She is sexist, classist, racist and painfully oblivious to the connections between social problems and the interrelation of social and environmental justice. In short, this book is inimical to everything I believe.

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