So I was faced with one of the most famous books by one of my favorite authors; a book that was published seventeen years before I was born. Me fear was that my expectations might be too great to live up to. After all, I have listed Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged as one of my all time favorites.
I took some time to select a week where I would have the time to spend with the book. The Fountainhead did not disappoint and it pulled me in from the very beginning. Rand illustrates her belief in selfishness as the fountainhead of human progress through the struggles of Howard Roark, a masterful architect.
You can read The Fountainhead as a novel, but for Ayn Rand fans, you know that she packed more into the book. I am always amazed at how prophetic she was regarding our current society as she addressed concepts that are as topical today as they were in her time. Maybe she was not forward-thinking and we are just struggling with the same issues year after year after year.
I get a sense that the novel’s hero, Howard Roark, is Ayn Rand. In her introduction to the centennial addition she describes her husband as the fuel behind her spirit as she wrote The Fountainhead. She describes this period as “a gray desert of people and events that evoked nothing but contempt and revulsion…neither of us has ever wanted or been tempted to settle for anything less than the world presented in The Fountainhead. We never will.” That is Howard Roark.
The deeper side of the novel effectively illustrates characters that we see everyday doing things that most people accept yet make many of us scratch our heads in what seems like illogical thinking as in this passage from one of the “intellectual elitists” in book;
“the intellectual fallacy that freedom and compulsion are opposites…freedom and compulsion are one. Let me give you a simple example illustration. Traffic lights restrain your freedom to cross a street whenever you wish. But this restraint gives you the freedom from being run over by a truck. If you were assigned to a job and prohibited from leaving it, it would restrain the freedom of your career. But it would give you freedom from the fear of unemployment. Whenever a new compulsion is imposed upon us, we automatically gain a new freedom. The two are inseparable. Only by accepting total compulsion can we achieve total freedom.”
“He had watched the cautious ‘slanting’ of news stories, the half-hints, the vague allusions, the peculiar adjectives peculiarly placed, the stressing of certain themes, the insertion of political conclusions where none was needed. If a story concerned a dispute between employer and employee, the employer was made to appear guilty, simply through wording, no matter what the fact presented. If a sentence referred to the past, it was alway ‘our dark past’ or ‘our dead past.’ If a statement involved someone’s personal motive, it was always ‘goaded by selfishness’ or ‘egged by greed.’ A crossword puzzle gave the definition of ‘obsolescent individuals’ as hte word cam out as ‘capitalist.”
We seem to still be having this assault on capitalism, selfishness, and wealth. It is sad that many disparage these when they are the fuel that have given us our standard of living. The “secondhander” or those who take from the creators and “distribute” are lauded.
“Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution – or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement…man must wish to see others suffer – in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism.”
Unfortunately there are too many examples today of this…
- The evil “big oil” companies that spend billions exploring, removing, transporting, refining, and delivering us gasoline for a 5% return on their investment while we praise the politicians (second-handers) who “charge” us a much higher tax on gasoline to distribute to others.
- The greedy big pharmaceutical companies who spend billions to create, test, and market new drugs that have given us a life expectancy of over 78 years, up from just over 49 years a hundred years ago.
- The unscrupulus doctors who take care of us yet are accused of performing unecessary procedures just to increase their income.
But I digress.
The Fountainhead is now one of my all-time favorite books. It is going to look great on my bookshelf next to Atlas Shrugged.