Sunday Spotlight: The Fountainhead

2018-03-12 11.09.35

A few days ago, I was talking to someone about The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and how it was bound to be appealing to men even though it has been written by a woman. The book is widely considered groundbreaking and presents a new philosophy called Objectivism, which while panned by academic philosophers, is still followed by a faithful group.

The Fountainhead itself is a book that is more likely to be read by a younger audience, during college years, and early career, when it seems like the ideal text to follow. As they grow older and become more worldly, this idealism seems to fade from the minds of these readers. It is not so easy to read this book once you have left behind your student life. The text is too long and too slow, and the theories too idealist for the real world.

The book traces the life of Howard Roark, architect extraordinaire, and an egoist to boot. He is reviled for his ideas and integrity, and the world in general seems to be baffled by his genius. From humble beginnings, he becomes an architect known for being forward looking, while at the same time he is persecuted by the society for being rigid and unyielding on his principles.

Roark is wired in such a way that he believes that in order to do the most good, a person needs to be the most selfish. This selfishness is the only way to achieve happiness and contentment in life. For him, selfishness is giving precedent to his happiness and not what others think of him. A person wants fame and money because of an unnatural need to be validated in front of the world. According to him, if he changes his work to make others happy, then he is not being true to himself, and if everyone tried to make themselves happy instead of listening to others, the world would be a better place for it.

The Fountainhead presents the ultimate hero, one who is not willing to compromise, even if it means paying hefty fines, going to jail, or losing the one true love of his life to his biggest enemy. We have seen many versions of this hero over the years, both in books and movies; the man who is not afraid to take on the world for the sake of his principles. The only difference is, that these other heroes are all eventually revealed to be altruistic and philanthropic, redeeming themselves in the eyes of society and mankind.

The Fountainhead puts forth the philosophy that an ideal heroic man is one whose purpose in life is to keep himself happy, and his nobility lies, not in doing good for others, but in being productive and useful to himself. It presupposes all humans as rational beings capable of sound reasoning.

On paper, this sounds like the perfect world, more so to the younger reader who immediately casts himself or herself in the role of Howard Roark, standing up for what is right and just in their eyes. What it doesn’t account for, and what these young men and women learn as they grow older, is that it is next to impossible to keep their emotions separate from their reason.

So, while Roark looks like the ultimate hero, who sacrifices his only love for the sake of his principles, it remains subjective which principles to uphold; because every individual has a different moral compass. What is sacred to one man may not be important for another.The drawback of going against collectivism is that it refutes all laws and regulations. By the same token, if everyone started standing up, and there was no compromise in the world, there would ultimately be chaos.

So, it could be that while Howard Roark has some principles that he will fight for till death, why should his principles be important for any other individual, who wants to succeed in his own field? In the real world, this philosophy seems too good to be true, for the simple reason that not all individuals are strong in character. In the book, however, Howard Roark remains the ideal man, a man willing to go to any lengths to uphold his beliefs and not surrendering his convictions in the face of adversity.

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