The virtue of selfishness


This morning I finished reading Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’, allergist a 1943 novel about the battle between individualism and collectivism. I bought the second edition (1947) of the book three weeks ago in a second-hand bookshop. A sticker showed that the book had been sitting on a shelve since July 2001.

The story is compelling, illness although the dialogues are sometimes a bit artificial, cure particularly when Rand is pushing the philosophical (and ideological) aspects of her thought. For example, Ellsworth Toohey’s final conversation with Peter Keating reminded me of a villain confessing his abject plans to Batman: a long and detailed explanation, although Keating is no Batman but a beaten man.

Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Rand’s diagnostic: second-handers have condemned creators, and their ideals for centuries. As Howard Roark (the protagonist) puts it in his trial:

No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.

Men have been taught that the ego is synonym of evil, and selflessness the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egotist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge or act. These are functions of the self.

A man thinks and works alone. A man cannot rob, exploit or rule — alone. Robbery, exploitation and ruling presuppose victims. They imply dependence. They are the province of the second-hander.

I did enjoy the book and will go back to the second-hand bookshop to look for Atlas shrugged. By the way, the title of this post comes from a book of essays I am reading at the moment. As with any philosophy, I will treat Ayn Rand’s objectivism with a pinch of salt: it has valuable ideas, but it is not the ‘one size fits all’ solution for all the problems of the world.

Filed in books, language, politics

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  1. 30/03/2009This time is Calvino - Quantum Forest say:

    [...] From ‘Uncle Tom’s cabin’§ when I was nine, to ‘The Fountainhead’§ when I was a teenager, to ‘The literature machine’ seven years ago. Most likely there [...]

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