I finished The Fountainhead for a second time.  I was spurred to read it by my disappointment at the Beginning of Infinity community. I sense in many of them the sort of libertarian over-indulgence I found in Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead. I wanted to go back and try to understand how and why Rand came off the rails, to see if perhaps I could sense the same failure in the real-life philosophy of the BoI community.

At one point in the book, Catherine shouts out, “I’m not afraid of you, Uncle Ellsworth!” It was tragic, because it was the last truly independent act Catherine would undertake. Hopefully my title won’t lead me to a similar fate.

I really do love parts of The Fountainhead. OK, the rape scene (really!) is an unnecessary vulgarity and a portent of the further vulgarities to come. But other than that, I really do admire Howard Roark’s sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. Every humanist should read the section on Roark’s Stoddard Temple. This is a place I wish I could visit, and Howard Roark built it.

But now that I’ve read the book a second time, I see Rand’s mistake. The Howard Roark who build the Stoddard Temple never would have worked in secret on the Cortlandt project. The Howard Roark who built the Heller House and the Cord Building and the Enright House would have gone to the committee himself, stated his terms, then walked out when they refused him.

Why doesn’t the Howard Roark (now a much more established architect) of the second part of the book do just this? If he’s interested, he should say so, and say how he would do the work. Maybe (ok, probably) they’d refuse him. But their inability to accept Roark’s conditions are exactly what make Roark’s scheme with Peter Keating untenable. Roark’s experience (we assume the same experience that keeps him from going for Cortlandt in the first place) should have told him that his deal with Keating was doomed to failure.

When Roark saw Cortlandt perverted, he should not have been surprised. Roark’s character fell apart with his secret deal with Peter Keating, not with his illegal dynamiting of a building that wasn’t his. That was Ayn Rand’s mistake. Roark’s dynamiting of Cortlandt was not a necessary consequence of his philosophy. Instead, the whole Cortlandt episode was a failure of Howard Roark to live up to his own ideals.

So there, Ayn Rand. You don’t scare me anymore.

Now back to my regularly scheduled non-fiction.

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