Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1943.


Rereleased in 1999 as “Fountainhead: an American novel”, always one of the best selling classics on Amazon.com, and now structuring the backbone of the new neo-conservative party, Fountainhead is an interesting, didactic, lucid and entertaining exegesis on “man as he should be”. Her conception of this modern man is similar to Nietzsche’s ubermenschen, if not the exact same. The kind of man who does not remember the wrongs made against him, but simply reacts and moves toward the future, a man of vision who does not seek other for validation, appreciation, application, faculty, manipulation, or even consent. He, in this case Howard Roark, is set up to see people as ends to themselves, rather than the means to an end.

Like in much of sci-fi, these characters are supposed to be taken as concepts, as a vision of what man could become, not what man is–so obviously they’re not going to be “realistic” in the way most novels would perceive of them.

This book is also about architecture.

I disagree with almost all of Rand’s philosophy, but I’ve felt that getting a sense for her ethics is extremely useful for tracing the vigorous transformations and cultural input Rand has had on modern neo-conservatism as well as neoliberalism. This book is her ethical treatise, and it takes a some genuine mind of integrity to envision it with finesse. Rand is taboo among many intelligentsia, for good reason, though the blame doesn’t lie completely on Rand’s side. Her conceptions of “egotism” and “altruism” are certainly stark concepts, and yet, since this book is not commonly taken seriously, many of the intelligentsia don’t know how to properly reject her claims, or the claims of contemporary neo-liberal thought.

Egotism is blatant self-interest, with the ethical boundary that everyone is devoted to the same self-interest. To be egotistical is to know what lies behind the “I” when saying, “I will do X” or “I will buy X”. Self-interest in a person capable of creativity, of vision, self-respect and integrity.

The problem with Rand’s approach is a just and accurate problem, though again, I doubt most people who critique Rand have read this book. The problem is the black/white fallacy, she presents altruism and egotism as two extremes that one must choose from. After reading the book, this “problem” doesn’t seem that valid. Of course, the “visionary” ubermenschen is extremely an egotist, while the “villian” is extremely “altruistic,” but the entire point of the book is that these terms are mere ideological constructions, since no character in the book is altruistic at all, but merely uses the guise of altruism for their own “egotistical” means. This is egotism in the traditional sense. In the Randian sense, the true egotist could never wear a guise. He respects himself too much to sell his own integrity. “egotism” in the Randian sense, seems more similar to “self-respect” than selfishness.


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