Skylar Burris's Reviews > The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
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Dec 29, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy, libertarian
Read in January, 2001

The Fountainhead is a tale of both defeat and triumph. It is depressing and exalting, inviting and repugnant. And its philosophy, like all great lies, is more than three-quarters true.

In this lengthy novel, Ayn Rand presents her ideal man and her philosophy of objectivism. The philosophy rejects mercy, altruism, charity, sacrifice, and service. These proclaimed virtues are portrayed as either weaknesses or as tools of subjugation. Her philosophy is a sort of extreme capitalism applied to every aspect of life; as with Adam Smith’s invisible hand, if men pursue their own selfish interests, mankind will ultimately benefit. Altruism, Rand argues, forces men to keep others subservient, so that they may make themselves righteous; it has been the root of the greatest evils in the world (Communism, Nazism, etc.); but egoism has resulted in creations that have alleviated the sufferings of man for generations to come.

Her philosophy is most succinctly expressed by her architect hero Howard Roark, who says, “All that which proceeds form man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil.” Rand's philosophy stands in stark contrast to the collectivism which was then sweeping the world in an ocean of blood. Collectivism "has reached,” says Roark, “a scale of horror without precedent. It has poisoned every mind. It has swallowed most of Europe. It is engulfing our country.”

Roark aruges that “only by living for himself” can man “achieve the things which are the glory of mankind” and that “no man can live for another . . . The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” And yet Roark is himself the quintessential intellectual, who shares the same failing of the intellectuals who created Communism, Nazism, and the other “altruistic evils”; that is, he is capable of loving man in the abstract but incapable of loving him in the particular: “One can’t love man without hating most of the creatures who pretend to bear his name.”

The Fountainhead expresses an individualism that is uniquely American, and it is therefore surprising that The Fountainhead, as far as I know, has never been in the running for the title of “The Great American Novel.” Of course, although it emphasizes that individualism has made our nation great (and it has), it must of necessity ignore and dismisses another progressive force in our nation’s history: American Christianity.

So what about the story? Despite the copious philosophical dialogue, the story is not sacrificed to create an ethical treatise. The characters are fascinating, very well-developed, and the story is at times gripping. However, the relationship between our hero and heroine is never fully convincing to me, and I find it highly disturbing that Rand felt it necessary to make rape an essential and even positive element of their union. The story drew me in at first, and then began to lose me for several chapters, as Rand breaks one of the rules of good structure and does not begin developing a main character until over half way through the novel.

I give it such a high rating because I like novels that truly make me think and reconsider my assumptions, whether I maintain or reject them as a consquence. I am glad I did not read Rand when I was a teenager and not yet a Christian, as I'm afraid her Objectivism might have taken a cultish hold of me; she has a way of speaking to (and perhaps luring?) the independent-minded student who feels the pressure of intellectual conformity. I give it four stars also because I read it at a time when I found fiction difficult, and it brought back my love of reading.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Ilyn Ross Hello Skylar,

How are you? I revere Ayn Rand.

When you have the time, please visit the "To the Glory of Man" group, the "Happy & Brainy" group, and the author giveaways (my novel, Reason Reigns, is listed). Could I add you as my friend?


Warmest regards,

Ilyn


Charissa Great review.


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