The Fountainhead

I have just finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It tells the story of Howard Roark, an architect with no care for anything but his work, and of the battles he faces as a pioneering creative in a fickle world of tabloids and power-hungry men.

It is also an allegorical tale to introduce Rand's objectivism, a philosophy that espouses selfish creativity over concern for fellow man. As the book progresses the allegory becomes more obvious until it is finally blatant that all the characters are simply pawns in a scenario contrived to demonstrate the philosophy.

And it is because the book is so focused around Rand's philosophy that I had such a hard time identifying with it.

Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient as one character says, and this seems to be the insurmountable obstacle I have with the books philosophy.

The Fountainhead preaches that concern for others is selfish, altruism is a just another way in which people define themselves by their relationships with others; they build their self-respect on opinions and their desires on those of society. Collectivism is the great evil - the desires of society are averages of everyone's desire, and thus inferior to each. In this mind the only true happiness, the only true virtue, is found by following one's own ambition single-mindedly and with no regard for other's opinions.

And while I can understand and sympathise with some of these points; I agree that it is easy to fall into the trap of basing your opinion of yourself on what others think; I find selfishness being the best way to be monstrous.

And this killed the second half of the book for me - as Howard Roark talks of the Prometheus being torn apart by vultures for stealing fire, I wanted to point out that he was condemned by the gods, not the humans who he helped. Almost every great invention I can think of was created with others in mind. It seems to me that Rand has created a philosophy based on a world that doesn't exist.

I can't help but contrast the quote above with that of Christopher McCandless - the young man who travelled into the wilds of Alaska to escape the mess of the human condition, but whose dying realisation was that Happiness only real when shared.

Perhaps I can't get behind objectivism because I have too little faith in the human race to survive many megalomaniacal egotists, to look after the weak without incentive. Or perhaps it's because I can't see people as individual units, that I believe that the way we define ourselves is not by what we think of ourselves, but how we treat other people.

In any case, The Fountainhead was an interesting introduction to objectivism, but as a novel, flawed by my disagreement with it's philosophy.