Today’s reading is from Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, published in 1943.
Okay, just calm down. Yes, I know, she was crazy. She took some good ideas about freedom and indviduality and took them to absurd degrees. In her novels, characters say things to each other that no human beings have ever said to one another. All true.
But she certainly had her moments! I started reading the novel on a whim, and I was surprised by how gripping and suspenseful I found the story. It’s actually pretty hard to put down, as long as you don’t mind that the action is occasionally interrupted so the characters can hold forth on politics and economics.
Anyway, whatever you think of Rand, just try not to smile as you read the following excerpt. This is being spoken by Ellsworth Toohey, one of the novel’s villains. He is explaining — Screwtape letters style — how to break the spirit of people by crushing individuality, by rewarding mediocrity and punishing achievement, and by urging collectivism. The “you” in what follows refers to the imagined, would-be dictator trying to gain power by preying on people’s weaknesses.
Men have a weapon against you. Reason. So you must be very sure to take it away from them. Cut the props from under it. But be careful. Don’t deny outright. Never deny anything outright, you give your hand away. Don’t say reason is evil — though some have gone that far and with astonishing success. Just say that reason is limited. That there’s something above it. What? You don’t have to be too clear about it either. The field’s inexhaustible. `Instinct’ — `Feeling’ — `Revelation’ — `Divine Intuition’ — `Dialectic Materialism.’ If you get caught at some crucial point and somebody tells you your doctrine doesn’t make sense — you’re ready for him. You tell him there’s something above sense. That here he must not try to think, he must feel. He must believe. Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him. Can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want any thinking men.
That’s pretty good!
Here’s another excerpt that made me smile. The story’s hero, Howard Roark, is a brilliant architect whose buildings are too avant garde for the unwashed masses to appreciate. He was commissioned to design a temple that would celebrate the human spirit. When the finished product was revealed, it was considered blasphemous and obscene. (The whole fiasco was orchestrated by Ellsworth Toohey specifically to discredit Roark, whom he despised as too much of an independent thinker, but we don’t need to go into that.) Roark was sued by the man who commissioned the temple, and the following excerpt takes place during the lead-up to the trial. The “he” refers to Roark. “The Banner” refers to a prominent tabloid newspaper.
He was asked for a statement, and he received a group of reporters in his office. He spoke without anger. He said, “I can’t tell anyone about my building. If I prepared a hash of words to stuff into other people’s brains, it would be an insult to them and to me. But I am glad you came here. I do have something to say. I want to ask every man who is interested in this to go and see the building, to look at it and to use the words of his own mind, if he cares to speak.”
The Banner printed the interview as follows: “Mr. Roark, who seems to be a publicity hound, received reporters with an air of swaggering insolence and stated that the public mind was hash. He did not choose to talk, but he seemed well aware of the advertising angles in the situation. All he cared about, he explained, was to have his building seen by as many people as possible.”
Yep. Sounds about right.