The Fountainhead: Objectivist Philosophy

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fountainhead The Fountainhead: Objectivist Philosophy

“Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress” Ayn Ryan presents this unique idea in her philosophically challenging bestseller about a hero and about those who try to destroy him. She utilizes the novel form to communicate her objectivist philosophy, and in this regard employs stark, simple language to portray her characters, so there is no mistaking the good characters from the bad. Born in Bolshevik Russia, Rand rejected collectivism as the antithesis of freedom and fled to the United States where the individual freedom and capitalism she found became her life’s passion. Ayn Rand wrote several plays in the 1930’s. In 1936, she published her first novel We The Living, followed by her 1938 novel Anthem and in 1943 The Fountainhead. The latter was turned into a King Vidor film starring Gary Cooper. Atlas Shrugged was also published in 1957. In the words of Scott McLemee “Ayn Rand was the single most important novelist and philosopher of the 20th century.”

This instant classic is the story of an intransigent young architect, Howard Roark who follows his vision by creating the world’s most beautiful buildings on his own terms without bowing down to others. Rand casts him in the role of the creator, and the reader is forced to judge each character in terms of Roark. Peter Keating is the name given to the first of the four parts of the book. Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand and Howard Roark make the rest of the parts. The protagonist each of these at various stages in his life and then serves to shed light upon Roark’s own characteristics and the way in which exceptional artists are forced by society to suffer. Each individual man portrays a principle. While Roark represents individual strength, inspiration and conviction, the others depict weakness, theft and doubt. Roark does not easily conform and holds strong to his principles even in the face of adversity. The others are gauged as Satanic figures who charm their way into people’s hearts, not by dint of their talent or hard work, but by being manipulative, hypocritical and pretentious. During his violent battle with conventional standards, Roark falls in love with Dominique, a beautiful intelligent woman, who attains intimacy with him not because of necessity or tenderness, which Rand would frown upon, but due to vigorous intellectual engagement.

The Fountainhead is not merely a work of fiction but propounds a strong philosophy of individualism. It emphasizes that man’s own happiness should be the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute. Roark’s independence is the source of his strength. The reader is able see the nature of Roark’s consciousness, as an almost equally intense perception of their own consciousness. We recognize that we can love and be loyal to an individual by giving them complete independence and self-responsibility, as was the case with Roark and Dominique’s relationship. We understand that an individual has a greater opportunity to achieve self-actualization and maximize their potential for growth if we let them use their own free will or inner direction. We acknowledge with the help of Roark that each one of us has that flame that burns inside, the fire that others try to extinguish through words or actions. The premise is that man’s integrity could grow only from following his own truth and ego, serving his own purpose and passion. As rightly said “The need of the individual comes before the need of the society”.

Today, we do face the risk of becoming second-handers, those who live off the approval of others and cannot think for themselves. We are in dire need of that which was Howard Roark’s greatest asset: we need a strong sense of self-worth. We must learn to value ourselves as we are, rather than starving ourselves to look attractive to others, drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol to prove ourselves to others, or eschewing serious study because our peers might call us nerds. We must learn to live for ourselves, not for outside approval. We each must learn to have a self-sufficient ego. Only then will Roark’s prophecy—Ayn Rand’s vision of the future—be fulfilled.

Pragya Goel

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartjones/2264138660/]

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  1. While I’ve often admired the aspiration of the passionate individual who applies them self to realize a vision I have felt, after reading The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, that Ayn Rand and and her philosophy tends toward the schizoid and sociopath in our darker nature. In the end Howard Roark’s dream is never realized, he never really creates anything that lasts. Of course the individual needs to have an intact ego and a sense of self in order to thrive. Ayn Rand’s work was written in the context of opposition to totalitarian oppression particularly represented by Stalin and the Soviet Union. How does the individual contribute to the society they live in? In the U.S. we’ve been living in a culture that has celebrated greed and advocated for the individual over our connection to our communities. While each of us contributes ideas and efforts toward innovation that carry us all forward, it is the communal effort that makes it come together at times in spite of the force of an individuals will.

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