Magazine article The Spectator

Ayn Rand's Books Are Deliciously Anti-Statist, but Her Philosophy Is Borderline Nazi

Magazine article The Spectator

Ayn Rand's Books Are Deliciously Anti-Statist, but Her Philosophy Is Borderline Nazi

Article excerpt

'I am Howard Roark in a world of Ellsworth Tooheys. . .' I tweeted in a fit of depression the other day, though I rather wish I hadn't. I'm not an architect - and if I were I definitely wouldn't be a humourless monomaniac into concrete and influenced by Le Corbusier; I don't have hair 'the exact color of ripe orange rind' (does anyone? ); I'm not a rapist; and, to be honest, I'm not even sure I like the novel that much anyway.

It's called The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, and if you haven't read it that's quite understandable as the Russian-born novelist and philosopher Rand (nee Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in 1905) is much bigger in the US than she is over here. Though she's now better known for Atlas Shrugged (1957) - currently enjoying a massive revival in the US as part of the Obama backlash - it was The Fountainhead (1943) that made her name and has since sold around 6.5 million copies.

The thing that drew me to it was that it was Sir Michael Caine's Desert Island Discs book and I've got a bit of a thing about Michael Caine. I love the fact that, during his National Service in the Korean war, his recce platoon was completely surrounded by Chinese and they thought they were going to die. As a last desperate measure, the platoon leader ordered them to charge through the Chinese lines and hope for the best. It worked. Caine has never feared anything since.

You do wonder, though, what kind of mindset you'd need to choose The Fountainhead as your all-time favourite book. For a start, there's Rand's prose style - poetic and quite Hemingway-like in small doses; prolix, monumental, portentous in larger ones. Then there's her political philosophy Objectivism, to which all else is subordinate. Instead of dialogue, her characters talk to one another like Gladstone to Queen Victoria - as if addressing a public meeting. They have no inner life and, like the strained plots, serve little purpose other than to reveal what Rand seems to think is the great division in the world - between uncompromising individualists like Roark and parasitical, mediocrity-fostering 'second-handers' such as the vile Ellsworth Toohey.

Take the book's rich, beautiful heroine Dominique Francon. She sees Roark as her ideal man - even more so, bizarrely enough, after he has raped her - but spends much of the book slagging off his architecture in her influential newspaper column, denying him work, and engaging in two marriages to men she doesn't love. Why? Er, something to do with this weird notion she has that if society cannot be persuaded to accept Roark's genius then she will viciously spite herself and the whole ignorant world by playing society's conventions while secretly mocking their hypocrisy.

To create a character like that and believe that she works on any level you need to be one sick puppy. This is the view of the great Anthony Daniels in his recent demolition of Rand in New Criterion:

Rand believed all people to be possessed of equal rights, but she found relations of equality with others insupportable. Though she could be charming, it was not something she could keep up for long. She was deeply ungrateful to those who had helped her and many of her friendships ended in acrimony.

Her biographer tells us that she sometimes told jokes, but, in the absence of any supportive evidence, I treat reports of her sense of humor much as I treat reports of sightings of the Loch Ness Monster: apocryphal at best.

Like Daniels, what I find most off-putting about Rand is her hardness of heart. She has a Nietzschean (indeed, borderline Nazi) contempt for human frailty and a total lack of sympathy for the underdog. …

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