When I started reading this book two thing became apparent immediately: Ayn rand is not a great writer but she is a very powerful writer. What I am trying to say here is that a good novel leaves a impression on your mind of the time period it was written for, the protagonists it portrays .Let me give two examples. If you have read ‘Gone with the wind ‘, you can literally gleam through the pre and post war period when northern and southern states fought over slavery and you live through the character of scarlet o’ harra, you identify with her emotions, struggles, the conflicts playing in her mind. Another example is Tagore’s ‘Gora’ that takes you through Arya Samaj dominated Kolkata post sepoy mutiny. This main protagonist ‘Gora’ and his struggles towards self discovery .In both the cases you are taken on a journey of the time period the book is set but it’s not the case with ‘Fountain Head ‘. If you read through the lines it’s just a tool used by Rand to propagate her philosophy of ‘Objectivism’. Writing is pretty average though very persuasive in the same way modern day spiritual gurus are. Instead of formal sermon novel is being used as the medium here.
If we agree that this book is very persuasive then next question why so? This has sold million of copies. Ayn rand is most popular with young people. What is in it that attracts so many? Her work represents a glorification not only of the human potential but also of the possibilities of life on earth. It talks about champions individualism and capitalism over collectivism and socialism. This has a immediate attraction to youth. Youth starved of a vision that upholds positive possibilities of life .Ayn rand gives them that .she tells them to fight for their own lives and for their own integrity and for their own ambitions. She provides a powerful affirmation of the immense possibilities of human life on this earth .I believe it’s the same reason why you and other friends of mine are attracted to her writing.
The essence of her objectivism philosophy in her own words is – “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”. If we put it down above statement to bullet points -
(1) Reality is objective .It rejects faith, love, feeling, emotions, instinct, intuition etc. .
(2) One should always follow reason and never think or act contrary to reason.
(3) Moral principles are also objective and can be known through reason.
(4) Every person should always be selfish.
(5) Capitalism is the only just social system.
Can you see my problem with the Philosophy above? Ok, let me start one by one.
Rand’s own word – “Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others – misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement – failure is not a mortgage on success – suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence – man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone’s altar nor for anyone’s cause – life is not one huge hospital”.
Per Rand just because some one is little weak, poor or need help, it does not mean that you should stop your work of achieving your rational self interest and help him. That’s what objectivism tells. Problem with this is that it ignores ‘collective self interest’ where we pay tax or form rules or donate money etc. because there is every chance that misfortune may befall us some day and we may need help.
Rand talks about an economy theory where there is no government interference whatsoever. Per Rand it should only come in when any one breaks the law. But she does not tell what are these laws and who can set those. We had the rand’s ideal world during early days of industrial revolution when young kids worked 18 hours a day in inhuman conditions and died before adulthood. In those days government had no control over industries and did not set any laws for it.
Any form of extremism is bad .Ayn Rand’s objectivism theory is one such instance. Neither a extreme welfare state or extreme communism would work which have been proved in last one century .So also the fact that extreme capitalism don’t work. It would lead to anarchism ,a small section of society usurping all the opportunities and resources while rest of mass watch it helplessly . Infact is not it somewhat true even now .
Having said that I do believe that there are many facets of objectivism, which should be applied in moderation in life.Any thing that talks about individuals working towards achieving their true and maximum potential without fear and interference is welcome .But i do believe individual do have to sacrifice self-interest for common greater good or collective self interest. The tricky part is it’s not always clear when it should happen .
In the end will leave you with a of the interview clippings of Ayn Rand. She looks like cold, stiff and awkward Russian housewife. Just the way I had pictured her while reading the book.