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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Fountainhead

I remember reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged at the height of my libertarian fervor.  I never thought it was that good, but it's been about a decade, so my memory probably isn't perfect.  From what I remember, the book posits a black and white view of the world where you have the productive people, who are uniformly attractive hardworking geniuses, and everyone else, who are ugly viscous people who just want to destroy the productive people.  Underscoring all of that is an utterly inhuman story of romance where people are immediately in love with the most productive person of the opposite gender they meet but completely understanding of that love not being returned because there's a more productive option.  The productive people are also completely aware of and in agreement on their relative ranking.  Now I've read The Fountainhead, where the people are slightly less black and white but the relationships are somehow remarkably less healthy.

Image result for the fountainhead

In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is a brilliant architect and the only one that realizes that every style that draws on old concepts (basically everything that isn't modernism) is stupid and should be done away with.  He has an uncompromising spirit that gets him kicked out of school and generally prevents him from getting jobs.  When he meets the love of his life, he proceeds to rape her.  That's okay though, because apparently that's the only way she could enjoy it.  She loves him as well.  You can tell because she spends the next year or so trying to destroy his career.  Any time she makes a particularly effective move to prevent him from getting a job he'd love, she stops by and they have sex.  These people make the relationships from Twilight seem healthy by comparison.

Like Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead serves as a soapbox for Ayn Rand's libertarian views.  It's odd, then, that the obstacles facing the protagonist do not generally come from government regulation.  She actually just hand waves him getting a license without a degree.  The only other two obstacles that involve government intervention are two trials.  In the first, Roark is sued for the design of a building he built and instead of presenting and kind of defense he puts up pictures and assumes his self righteousness will carry the day.  It seems clear that the reader is meant to take this as an indictment of our society rather than Roark's ego.  In the second trial Roark should definitely not succeed if one believes in any kind of personal property rights, but he gives an insanely long speech and, because it makes the author happy, he wins, despite the fact the very premise of the book is that these plebeians are too stupid to possibly understand this glorious philosophy.

Ayn Rand's conception of the world reminds me of the Captain Planet cartoons.  In that show, the evil character pollute the world not as a side effect of pursuing some other objective like making money, but because they really hate dolphins or the rain forest.  In the same way, the bad guys here don't thwart innovative hardworking Americans by taxing them so they can feed poor people or fund some other social program.  Instead, the true villain of the book engages in a vast and insanely complicated conspiracy to prevent anyone who is truly talented in their field from being successful in their field.  Perhaps this is me taking too much from the novel as her views, but there's a ridiculous paranoia on display here.

Now that I've made clear the many things that I didn't like about the novel, it definitely doesn't rate among the books I've read that I hate the most.  Despite its length (about 750 pages), it felt like a relatively quick read.  The story kept me relatively engaged, even though I found many of its elements ridiculous.  I will wouldn't really recommend it, since you can get what it offers in books that are way less preachy.

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