Sticking to the Moral Values Attracts Success
Which man ultimately prospers: the man of integrity, or the hypocritical, unethical man? In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand questions the relationship between the moral and the practical. Many people in real life – as well as Gail Wynand and Dominique Francon in the novel – believe that practical success requires the individual to betray his or her moral principles. Some say that one must “play the game,” or conform to the principles of one’s company or profession if such conformity will lead to practical success. However in The Fountainhead, Rand builds a convincing argument that this cynical view is wrong. The character of Howard Roark is the author’s argument against the idea that moral bankruptcy allows for practical success and that there is an inversely proportional relationship to the two realms. He is ultimately successful because he adheres to his morality and refuses to compromise the integrity of his buildings or the conception of his designs in the face of harsh consequences such as destitution and jail. The character of Peter Keating is the author’s argument that moral bankruptcy only leads to destruction, and Gail Wynand, who has the ability to think autonomously and build values, is also destroyed by betraying his own principles. The novel demonstrates that through the development of characters and plot that the only way for man to achieve happiness and practical success is to be moral.
Howard is an independent, creative genius with a clear sense of self and the potential to gain insight into mankind without abdicating autonomous thought. Rand shows that he is both moral and practical through the development of the plot. When the board of the Manhattan Bank Building wants to alter his design, Roark rejects the proposal for the new design, calling his behavior “the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do.” Despite the consequences of destitution, he gives up a lucrative, publicity-generating commission in order to stand by the integrity of his design-and he calls this “selfish.” Howard adheres to his values throughout the course of the novel, and because he does not abdicate his values and free will, he succeeds in putting his thoughts and values into practice. The integrity of the design is far more important to him than the money or recognition that will accrue from the commission. In remaining true to his values and judgment, Roark is true to the deepest core of his self. This is selfishness in its highest and best sense. He symbolizes courage and strength, is fully committed to the artistic integrity of every one of his designs, and he prefers to take a laborer’s job in a granite quarry rather than compromise on the smallest detail of his building. He is also practical, and as a demonstration of his practicality, Roark – above all other characters in the novel – is a can-do giant of supreme competence, excelling at every aspect of building. By the novel’s end, he has achieved significant commercial success and, on his own terms, becomes established in architecture. Roark’s buildings, his ultimate commercial success, and his happiness are a result of living by his own thinking. To attain practical success, one cannot betray his or her mind. Rand suggests that moral virtue is a requirement of practical success, not a hindrance to it.
Peter Keating, on the other hand, is a conformist. He abdicates his judgment, and lets other people define his actions and life. In this regard, he is Roark’s foil. While Howard may end the section “Peter Keating” morally strong and financially bankrupt, Peter ends up financially strong and morally bankrupt. However, by the end of the section “Howard Roark,” Howard is morally strong, and consequently, practically and financially strong, while Peter Keating is both morally and practically bankrupt. In all the important decisions of his life, Keating gives in to the coercion of an antagonistic society, as he lacks the strength of character necessary to stand on his own judgment. Keating desires prestige above all else, and while he and his ambitions would be deemed as selfish in the conventional sense, Ayn Rand demonstrates how he has a selfless nature of a status-seeker. He sacrifices and surrenders any and all desires and values to have status, and relinquishes autonomous thought almost completely. A selfish man, Ayn Rand argues, must be true to his values and the thinking he does to form them.
Gail Wynand publishes vulgar tabloids that oppose Roark’s principles, but also loves man’s noblest achievements and owns a private art gallery. His private life is a product of his choices, while his professional life is dependent upon the worst of public opinion. Gail Wynand is a man with the mind, talent, and initiative to do great things, but he brings disaster on himself by means of his own errors. Under naturalist premises, Wynand erroneously chooses to believe that a man can either dominate or be dominated. He believes that the majority of human beings are corrupt and mindless, and as an intelligent, competent man he can only survive by attaining society’s conceptions of power, money, influence, and a readership. But in the process, he, like Keating, betrays his own mind. Wynand is a man of contradictory thinking and actions, which ultimately leads to his downfall. When he defends Roark in The Banner, he fails to understand that vulgar people cannot appreciate morality, and faces the fact that his concept of control was dangerous speculation. He crashes about as fast as the Stock Market did in 1929, because he betrays his self to such a degree that he decidedly gives in to coercion and cannot redeem his principles beyond Howard’s conception of the Wynand Building. The novel suggests that the only power a man should seek is that of his own mind and body, of his spirit and his heart, and that seeking it through others will have dire consequences. Because Wynand did not express his morals to those who could seriously appreciate morality in journalism, he was defeated by society. Not appreciating Howard’s statement, “Don’t give in,” Wynand subjected his own will to that of the masses.
Dominique Francon believes that the majority of men have no interest in living up to man’s highest nature, and that this unthinking majority has all the power in society. She behaves as a philosophical pessimist, holding that the good have no chance in this world. She significantly exemplifies Ayn Rand’s malevolent universe premise: that the world is closed to the aspirations of good men and that only evil holds power. She is one who believes the conventional view, and although she loves Howard and his genius, she sees no hope for his survival. She allies with Toohey to destroy him before society can, in her acts of mercy killing. “Let us say we are moles and we object to mountain peaks,” she admonishes the court and gallery at the Stoddard trial, stating that the temple must be torn down in order to save it from the world, not the world from it. Because of Dominique’s fear that an antagonistic world will snub out any trace of noble men and creative works and positive goal-seeking, she refuses to pursue either values or goals.
Because of her capacity for autonomous thought, she will be able to see the error of her pessimistic philosophy, and accept Howard’s benevolent universe premise as true. She observes the lives of Howard Roark, Gail Wynand, Peter Keating, and Ellsworth Toohey. She sees that despite every obstacle that society places in Roark’s path, it cannot stop him. She witnesses the life of Gail Wynand, observing that, ultimately, Wynand’s pandering brings him destruction, not joyous success. She sees that Keating’s career does not merely collapse, but does so because of his lying, manipulative nature, which leads to his public exposure as a fraud. She notes that Toohey’s power-seeking is utterly defeated in the two major attempts of his life: He can neither gain control of Wynand’s Banner nor prevent Roark’s artistic and commercial success. Dominique observes that the facts of these men’s lives contradict her belief that the good will inevitably fail and the evil triumph. Based on the facts, she changes her mind, realizing that Roark’s benevolent assessment of life’s possibilities is true and her own malevolent view is mistaken.
The implication of The Fountainhead is that man must let his own judgment and values serve as his compass, since this is the sole means to attain happiness. Howard Roark commits to autonomous thinking, his principles and judgments, and then he creates revolutionary designs which he will not let be adulterated and compromised by others. He is not convicted for dynamiting Cortland, because that would condemn self-preservation and the right to one’s own work. Those who possess second-hand ambitions, becoming morally betraying and bankrupt, Toohey, Keating, and Wynand, are destroyed and impotent compared to the heroic Howard Roark. Howard is a moral giant, with enduring success and happiness in all avenues of his life, he is absolutely selfish, but in a good way, he is the tallest of men, standing on the tallest of buildings. The author convinces individuals that thinking independently, building values, setting goals that adhere to those values, and demonstrating integrity are the means to being successful in life. First an individual must be able to see a favorable outcome, and then by following his or her values he or she can attain it. Happiness is the result of successfully adhering to and fulfilling one’s principles. “Great men” like Howard Roark understand the value of morality, and that in itself is a valuable moral the novel promotes. Be true to reason and the self; be happy.
Selfishness and Selflessness in the Fountainhead
The impact literature can impose on society remains striking even to this day. Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead contains themes that resonated so significantly with readers that it triggered a political movement, and assisted in forming the Libertarian party. The Fountainhead often referred to as “a novel of ideas,” brings some illuminating claims surrounding selfishness and selflessness to surface. The novel provides unique definitions for selfishness and selflessness, supporting Rand’s central theme of celebrating and encouraging individualism and freedom of speech. Rand explains her beliefs regarding selfish and selfless actions through each main character in the novel, exposing the nature in admirable characters versus malicious characters. Rand uses the often negative connotation associated with the word ‘selfish’ and the positive perception of the word ‘selfless’ to her advantage by reversing the roles for the theme of the novel.
In The Fountainhead being selfish is the virtue, while being selfless is a fault. Rand argues that you must identify yourself as an individualist and not continue to live life depending on other people’s judgments. An example of this is stated by self-proclaimed selfish (and proud) character Howard Roark in the following passage: “The thing that is destroying the world. The thing you were talking about. Actual selflessness.” “The ideal which they say does not exist?” “They’re wrong. It does exist—though not in the way they imagine. It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating” (Rand 633). Although being selfish continues to have a negative connotation attached to it, Rand suggests selfishness is simply the act of putting your own desires and opinions first, instead of seeking approval or advice from others. The only way to maintain the pursuit of happiness and ultimately achieve your goals is to put yourself and your wants first.
The theme of selflessness is also an important component to understanding Rand’s beliefs toward selfishness. Rand believes a selfless person is an unfulfilled person with zero sense of self or identity. In the quote above, Rand even goes as far to say that selflessness is “the thing destroying the world.” Selflessness in “The Fountainhead” means the lack of self and identity, rather than a selfless action (done for another) that commonly receive such high acclaim. Rand also goes on to state that despite evil being typically related to selfishness, the more accurate conclusion is that the most “despicable action” is due to the lack of one’s self. This notion is evident though character Ellsworth M. Toohey throughout the novel, but especially for being the “ultimate collector of souls.” This notion is also evident through Peter Keating’s malicious climb to the top of the architectural industry, and inevitable fall back to his mother’s house. Rand further commends selfishness when she introduces the idea that a person cannot be selfish (despite selfish actions) if they have no sense of self or individualism. Rand defines a selfish character as one who acts solely for their personal wants, while a selfless character acts only for the approval and admiration of others. Peter Keating is representations of this idea through the development of his character. Once a famous, successful, and praised architect, Keating is left at the end of the novel empty and almost lifeless. Rand uses Keating’s rise and fall tale to expose that true success and happiness does not come from what people think about you.
According to Rand, success is measured by a confident individual with an establish sense of self. Rand’s definition of selflessness directly ties to a person’s indecision. More often that not, people allow the opinions of others to influence their own decisions. Rand argues that a person should not seek the advice of others regarding important, life-changing decisions. An instance of this is demonstrated on page 22 when Howard Roark states, “If you want my advice Peter,” he said at last, “you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?” (Rand 22). This clearly demonstrates indecision as a problematic selfless action and should only be dealt with by finding one’s sense of self. Rand is stating her dissatisfaction with indecision while encouraging each individual to think for him or herself, and act based on what they desire.
Through The Fountainhead, Rand expresses the importance of identity, individualism, and thinking for one’s self. By expanding on such abstract subjects like selfishness and selflessness, Rand presents numerous ideas through one central theme. These words already had presumptions tied to them, but by not conforming to general beliefs Rand creates a complex and interesting outcome. The idea of selfishness is looked at as a virtue and admirable trait for expressing individualism, self-worth, and opinions. Moreover, the notion of selflessness is looked at as a fault, because of the absence of identity and the disgraceful actions that stem from its nonexistence. Rand also presents the notion that a person cannot be selfish without having a sense of identity or self. Or in other words, a person cannot act for oneself (selfishly) if he does not know him or herself. Lastly, selflessness inevitably ends up crawling in bed with indecision, a crippling problem creating the “cult of incompetence” within our society. Rand’s message is clear; think for yourself, be who you are, follow your dreams, and continue onto the pursuit of happiness with your freedom.
Works Cited Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Penguin Group, 1943.
How Ayn Rand Pushes Philosophy Over Altruism in Her Novel, ‘the Fountainhead’
A Balancing Act: How Ayn Rand Pushes Her Philosophy Objectivism over Altruism
In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the author uses her protagonist, Howard Roark, to represent the ideal man. Roark is characterized as static, passionate about architecture, and indifferent towards others. If he displays benevolence, it is because it benefits him and does not detract from his identity. Rand’s philosophy depicts selfishness as the way, but while promoting it, she discredits altruism. However, both are important. A balance can be found through recognizing altruism’s place in society.
Selfishness is seen as immoral. Time spent on one’s self can be spent helping others. However, there are different forms of selfishness that Ayn Rand does not expand on. There is one-sided selfishness, neutral selfishness, and two-sided selfishness. Acts such as robbery or murder can be considered one-sided selfishness. These are iniquitous because they are beneficial to no one while also harming others. The criminal gets what they want but the repercussions, such as jail or guilt, outweigh the positive. Neutral selfishness is something that has no negative effects. Spending extra time in the mirror because one wants to be attractive does not hurt anyone. Two-sided selfishness is when both parties benefit. Swapping lunches can suffice as an example. In The Fountainhead, Roark displays neutral selfishness when he says, “My work done my way. A private, personal, selfish, egotistical motivation. That’s the only way I function. That’s all I am” (Rand, 580). This is what Rand lauds. Selfishness is a part of Objectivism. Each person should be treated as an individual, not a whole, and reason trumps religion. People need to think for themselves and put themselves before others. There is no “for the greater good” in Objectivism. Roark shows this through his career. He says, “I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build” (Rand, 26). He continually squanders opportunities because he lives by this belief system. Eventually, it pays off, but only as modernism rises and people learn to accept his work and the conditions that come with hiring him. In Roark’s testimony, he shows that selfishness is what caused progress and everyone else are just parasites, living off of the creators while simultaneously persecuting them. He says, “He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had opened the roads of the world…The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won” (Rand, 737). This shows that egotists are to be thanked for all inventions because they came to be through one person’s ideas; they “served nothing and no one.” Roark attributes creation to selfishness because “only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.” Why is it bad to be selfish? Because people said so. They have come to believe that the whole is greater than the individual without realizing that the whole is built off of individuals and it is each person’s unique abilities that allow society to function successfully. Objectivism can definitely be favorable, but as the saying goes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The creators had amazing ideas, but they created for themselves. The “parasites” are what allowed society to advance because they shared the ideas of the creators. Selfishness alone is not ideal.
The antagonist of this story is Ellsworth Toohey. Toohey represents society- he works for the whole, not the individual. His belief system is run by altruism, the practice of selflessness. Rand shows this as a negative idea through a conversation Toohey has with Peter Keating. He says, “Tell men altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it” (Rand, 635). Toohey is explaining to Keating how he controls people. To be selfless is not a part of their nature, but man likes to think he is invincible. To break the soul is to break the man, and the soul is broken by giving him something impossible to achieve. People are born selfish. It is “a law of survival.” Throughout time, though, selflessness became praised as men were “taught that their first concern is to relieve the suffering of others. […] To make that the highest test of virtue is to make suffering the most important part of life” (Rand, 680). Soldiers say no man left behind. Religions preach that people give to the poor. Sports display cooperation and teamwork, but what constitutes one thing as being profane versus another being righteous? Typically, gain. Someone helps someone else because that person may return the favor in the future. People feel as if they are upright when they volunteer. They are helping others, yet there is personal gain involved because mentally it sits right with them. Katie, for instance, becomes a social worker because she enjoys helping others and she believes it is right due to the ideology Toohey preaches. So can these acts really be considered selfless? To be selfless is to be concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own. The best example of a selfless person is a mother. Their job is to nurture and to care. There are so many stories of mothers who give up their lives for their children. Selflessness is a charitable idea. The main negative factor is that it is hard to achieve, but society could definitely use more selfless people. Katie was not jocund because she tried to be something that she was not. She lost a part of herself in following her uncle. Becoming a social worker was not truly a selfless act due to the reasoning behind her becoming one. Altruism is admirable because it helps others. Rand assumes that one would loses themselves when putting others first, but this not always the case. The whole is equally important to the individual.
Some may argue that it is one or the other. However, Rand fails because she tries too hard to make Roark the champion when the ideal person knows how to be an individual and conform when it is needed. Selfishness is not the epochal, but neither is selflessness. The world is all about balance. It needs both. Not good, not bad. While it would be optimal to not have nefarious people, action is only taken and flaws are only noticed after something has happened. Change is a reaction. Wrongdoings are needed to serve as an example. They are needed to be the defining line between right and wrong because “we cannot know what will be right or wrong in a selfless society, nor what we’ll feel, nor in what manner. We must destroy the ego first. That is why the mind is so unreliable. We must not think. We must believe.” Nonetheless, too many selfless people are not desriable. After all, no betterment would come if all mothers died for their children. There would be far too many orphans. On the other hand, if everyone was selfish, then society would not have been allowed to come as far as it has. People tend to work well together. Even the best inventions became better once someone improved upon them. Cell phones are a great example of that. One idea became better as it was shared with the world and more people put their own spin on it. The Fountainhead pushes Objectivism over altruism. It is not one or the other, though. They both serve a purpose.
Selflessness and selfishness are both important parts of our world. Rand was a failure not because she argued for selfishness but because she argued against selflessness. Life is short. People should be allowed to live their lives without judgement. It is up to the individual to decide what philosophy, if any, they wish to live by.
Main Ideas In Atlas Shrugged Novel
In Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, Ragner Danneskjold embodies the anti-Robin Hood spirit. In Danneskjold’s eyes, Robin Hood represents the justification for stealing from the rich to fulfill the needs of the poor. The legendary hero was charitable, but not with his own resources. He freely dispensed the wealth of his superiors, and lavished it upon those in need. Danneskjold compares this medieval legend to his contemporary times where he raises opposition against the systems which, in his view, extorts from the rich’s profits through (il)legal taxation etc. Danneskjold’s aim is to sabotage all humanitarian relief and aid targeted to help the poor, and refill the coffers of the wealthy whose property was taken. His belief is embedded in the principle that poverty does not invest one with the right to steal nor does necessity undermine morality – even when the end justifies the means. Under the guise of philanthropy, Robin Hood robs. Robin Hood is lauded as a provider to the poor and the defender of the poor’s rights to survival on the strength of the profitability of the rich. In this case, one observes that Danneskjold stands for meritocracy in its strictest sense. (expand). In the broader aspect, one understands that man will always have needs to be satisfied – but having them met while transgressing the laws of justice, only debases him to a selfish, indiscriminate creature. The idealized Robin Hood defies and braves. Danneskjold is against the lawless attempt at equal distribution of wealth which Robin Hood sought to achieve.
Another of Ayn Rand’s main philosophies is Reason which theme is highlighted in the conflict between the Dark Ages versus the Enlightenment. The legend of Robin Hood arises from medieval Anglo-Saxon lore where the moral, spiritual, and intellectual darkness enveloped Europe. The Renascence had not yet emerged therefore invention, naval exploration, philosophy, and science which characterize modernity were not yet pronounced. Danneskjold is as against the Dark Ages as he is against Robin Hood. The Dark Ages urged religion and faith, while the Age of Reason promoted atheism, and rationalism. By destroying Robin Hood, Danneskjold effectively repudiates all that the Dark Ages represents while embracing The Enlightenment. In this same passage, he also makes allusion to the French Revolution which stemmed from the Age of Reason, and ran in concurrence with The Enlightenment. The philosophes believed in the power of human progress through the mental exertion and in arriving at rational solutions rather than religious or sentimental ones. The chapter, “The Moratorium on Brains”, explains cerebral inactivity/inaction – where the mind is not engaged, or alive. Danneskjold militates against the moratorium on brains and urges rational thought and makes a close connection between the French Revolution and the Robin Hood spirit. As the French Revolution saw the triumph of the common peasants when they guillotined the aristocracy, in the same way, Dannneskjold perceived what he discerned as the guillotining of the rich producers by the unproductive parasitical poor who drained resources from the rich. Class conflict is nothing new and as there was class conflict in Robin Hood’s era in England, and Revolutionary France, so in Danneskjold’s contemporary world, the war rages between the lower classed looters and rich entrepreneurs. It is class conflict which sets the stage for the controversy…
The predominant values which prevailed during the Age of Reason are liberalism, laissez faire capitalism, and anti welfare state. Liberalism validated the superior right and freedom of the individual over society’s collectivism. Collectivism asserts that the greater good of the majority supercedes individual will. In Medieval England, Robin Hood exploited the wealth of few rich to ensure that the mass poor gained/benefited, hence he embodied this collectivist policy/school of thought. Those in the upper echelles had no right to their resources because of the pressing need of the (majority). Similarly, during the period of the French Revolution, the spirit of Robin Hood was manifested when the wealth and property of those in the upper estates were seized, looted, and shared among the mass peasantry. Laissez-faire (F. let do) capitalism, sees governmental intervention in the financial affairs of individuals as an interference which transgresses individual right. Danneskjold says that he kills Robin Hood by intercepting government relief ships, subsidy ships, loan ships, and gift ships. The State enforces the policy of redistribution of wealth and gains these resources through heavy taxation of the rich and hands it down to the needy. Robin Hood’s aim was to even out the wealth and balance the nation’s economy by stealing from the rich to bestow it to the poor. This humanitarian redistribution of wealth mirrors the principle of the welfare state. In this system, the State provides needy, poor citizens with ‘alms’ therefore the well-off must donate to help those who are less fortunate, while the State, like Robin Hood, channels these funds to the needy.
In Danneskjold’s self-assertion as an antagonist of Robin Hood, he ironically transforms into a type/form of Robin Hood. As the saying goes that “it takes a thief to catch a thief”, Danneskjold becomes an outlaw himself as he attempt to reverse what Robin Hood has wrought by recouping what the wealthy lost by stealing from the thieving poor. As Robin Hood epitomizes outlawed virtue, similarly, Danneskjold has his own virtue which was illegal since his actions worked against the government and the established authorities.
Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophizes that “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.” Her statement encapsulates her beliefs in individualism, rational egoism, liberalism, human progress and reason. Danneskjold forwards the argument that the spirit of Robin Hood promotes the cult of mediocrity among the poor. High achievers must suffer because under-performers suffer. Unearned resources are distributed and feeds the desire for gain as the poor subsists from stealing from the rich. Indeed, the myth of Robin Hood states that Robin Hood and his Merry Men got their livelihood not on their own sweat and toil, but by another’s meat. Mediocrity stagnates production and hampers the economy by atrophying the weak – suffered because of the lack of utility. The dependency of the mass population upon the resources of the rich (acquired comforts) delude them in a false sense of stability and complaisance.
Directive 10-289 is the policy which dictated/decreed that deprived citizens of economic freedom by stripping certain rights. Point three of the Directive 10-289 says that all patents, copyrights…devices, inventions, formulas, processes and works of any nature, shall be turned over to the nation as a patriotic emergency gify by means of Gift Certificates etc. Under this section of the directive, the law wrests the legal titular right of ownership from the producers/inventors and redistributes evenly among the rest of society their patents. By this measure, one observes the tradition of Robin Hood being perpetuated through this policy for it snatches from the rich to benefit the mass poor and have-nots. Individual/privatized property by force become public possession hence one sees the transition from private hands to public domain, from the wealthy to the poor. The directive is drafted “in the name of the general welfare” (497), because “the people need it (and) need comes first” (491). The end is beneficial to society as a whole and for the public good and reflects the humanitarian heart of Robin Hood. Danneskjold deliberately flouts the directive 10-289 because he does not believe in its precepts/tenets that resemble the qualities of the legendary hero so he sets about to destroy Robin Hood by reversing/ counteracting/ neutralizing his acts. Bent on returning to the producers of wealth what was stolen from them through the directive, Danneskjold stands as the nemesis of Robin Hood, and must ironically pursue his enemy’s same steps…
The Conflict In Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged skillfully effectively introduces us to a setting where actions and values are placed on a scale and compared to each other. Although the author also deals with many side struggles, her primary conflict is that with human action. Rand is able to add dramatic effects to her writing as she integrates the theme of “the role of the mind in human existence.” Atlas Shrugged focuses on the concerns of values and issues that are then further expressed with actions. Rand does an amazing job at interpreting actions using wide abstract principles that can be seen throughout the conflict which unravels through the conflict. Atlas Shrugged introduces us to the plot-theme from the beginning as it centers its attention on getting the audience to understand how the theme and the main conflict are linked back to the action that takes place in human existence. Going more into depth, Rand specifies that the abstract theme is focused around “men of the mind going on strike against an altruist-collectivist society.” This truly comes to prove that Rand’s hope for the book was to give attention to the highly important situation we have at hand which she expressed through her abstract theme of how the mind plays an enormous role in our lives and how every action results in a reaction.
The main conflict of Atlas Shrugged is presented indirectly by Rand as she states it in terms of action. This creates a smooth transition throughout the reading which slowly prepares the reader for the moment when the conflict arises. She is able to transmit the theme and thus introduce the conflict through her efficient use of strong characters in this case the creators and looters. They play a detrimental role in Atlas Shrugged because they are in fact in moral conflict with each other. Rand actually uses this conflict to express how the characters action play into the overall theme. On the other hand, the creators, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, are portrayed by the author as extremely against the looters both willingly and morally. However, in a way she contradicts herself for they support them in action. Rand does this again further in the reading as Dagny and Rearden oppose Galt and the strikers in action, but agree with them morally. This comes to show how actions and morals are separated in the story which adds on to Rand’s argument that actions are the drive of human’s existence.
Throughout the story Rand portrayed the heroes as the source of the success. In the story it was them that had the power to control the world and carry the burdens that came with it on their shoulders. She gives special emphasis to Dagny and Hank for they are shown to take initiative and matters into their own hands resulting in their own happiness. Although they are mesmerized, some of the characters such as the producers are dramatized as only taking initiative whenever the situation deals with matter having to do with themselves. The author’s heroes are portrayed to be extraordinary people that are above others. The most crucial events in Atlas Shrugged are clearly dramatized. These events actually occur before the eyes of the readers as Rand uses literary devices such as flashbacks in order to convey the importance of key events relating back to the central theme and thus the cause of the conflict of the story.
In addition, Rand introduces the conflict with society which is mainly derived by position and level. Dagny is placed under public scrutiny and is criticized for what she stands for as a person as was done with James. Dagny’s personality is portrayed as cold, but in her own mind she sees her actions as good. Also, it can be seen that it is difficult for her to make decisions on the capitalism when she feels like she’s being pressured. The society expresses that they want to be made a part of the current economic system, but when she attempts to open their eyes she faces backlash. It is evident that humans are resistant to change even if this means that they continue to stay in the dark on important matters of the world although this can be affecting their own society. Change forces humans to step out of their comfort zone and can be uncomfortable at times because it is difficult to do something that others might see as strange. It is shown in Atlas Shrugged that they are stubborn and against change. . Atlas Shrugged depicts how opposition and conflicts from society oppose what’s good morally and physically in action. Throughout the book, the embodiment of honesty is differentiated from the embodiment of corruption. At the end it is clear that the solution to the conflict at hand is that despite the looter efforts to hurt the mind, Galt finds a way to be successful through intellect. Showing that intellect has the power to change lives.
Concept of Universal Ethical Egoism in Ayn Rand’s Novel Anthem
Self-Interest in Morality
Egoism is an idea in ethics in which people will act in the interest of themselves or of others depending on their ideas of how they should live their lives. In theory, people should always act in his or her own self-interest, regardless of the interest of others, unless their interests also serve his or hers. In terms of egoism, acting in one’s own self interest is seen as selfishness and going against the idea of actions benefitting a large-scale group rather than just a few; this view is known as universal ethical egoism.
“Universal ethical egoism is the version of the theory most commonly presented by egoists” (Thiroux & Krasemann), with universal ethical egoism being the ethical theory of a person acting in their own self-interest and doing only that. Acting in self-interest preserves one’s independence and allows for more freedoms that ordinarily would not be had if one were to act in the interest of others continuously. This ideal “encourages individual freedom and responsibility for [our] actions” (Thiroux & Krasemann). While one does what they feel is necessary to continue their own life without issues, they are responsible for any consequences that come from their actions. While these potential consequences have no harmful effects for the actor, but there are others that these consequences effect negatively; the only thing that matters is universal ethical egoism is what happens to the person taking care of themselves. So long as the intended individual benefits, their action “is morally right” (Blank).
Overall, there are multiple takes on ethical egoism that encompass the idea of acting in self-interest, including the ideas of Ayn Rand. In her novel Anthem, Rand explores the idea of a couple defecting from their altruistic society and acting in their own self interests. When the man of the couple comes to the realization that there is no need to work in benefit of a group, but rather work for himself, the character says, “I am done with the monster of ‘We’, the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame” (Rand). The society that Rand portrayed in Anthem was an almost completely accurate depiction of our current society. Our society now is entirely co-dependent on one another to ensure that the needs of the many are met before the needs of the individual; the society portrayed in Anthem was intended to be more of a socialist type of community that was centered directly on the idea of altruism. The main way for egoism to work properly would be if we “[lived] in self-sufficient communities” however “we live… in increasingly crowded communities where… moral interdependence is a fact of life” (Thiroux and Krasemann). Our interdependence on one another is the primary reason why universal ethical egoism would not work very well. Essentially, universal ethical egoism “is really not a moral system at all” (Thiroux & Krasemann) and only poses the question to people of why they need to be moral.
Even with the negative aspects known with universal ethical egoism, there are in fact some potential advantages to it. A primary advantage is that it becomes “much easier for individuals to know their own interests” (Thiroux & Krasemann). In knowing what we as individuals need allows for us to have a better position in judgment making based on what we personally need or want rather than what another person would need for themselves.
There is a chance that universal ethical egoism could work properly, but it would involve people living mostly in isolation. This slight isolation would allow for people to be independent up until the point of two or more individuals coming closer together and their interests conflicting with one another. Once again, this is where the ideas of Rand come back into play. With Rand’s idea of rational egoism stating that the individual self-interests would never conflict, it holds so ideals of universal ethical egoism, but to a further extent in which no one will ever stop to think about the needs of others once coming into contact with them. Based on how our society works, there is no true way for someone to be able to act completely independent from other people in their actions unless “they don’t tell people what they are doing” (Thiroux & Krasemann) as far as trying to follow universal ethical egoism completely.
While it has been acknowledged that, in theory, universal ethical egoism is the potential best actions that we as humans can take to benefit ourselves and potentially others, it is nearly impossible to completely achieve. It can only be hoped that we develop society to be more interdependent to allow universal ethical egoism to come to fruition and to one day allow we as members of society to act more selfishly without having to worry about the good of others first and foremost. For now, we need to think of being ethical in other ways outside of trying to fin a way to what is best only for ourselves, while occasionally doing what is best for others at the same time.
Different Perspectives on Social Tragedies Through the Prism of Ayn Rand’s Novel Anthem
A Different Perspective
An Essay on Rand’s Anthem
Ayn Rand is correct in her philosophy, which claims that collectivism hinders societal advancement and through Anthem she provides evidence that the individual always conquers to advance society, which can also be exemplified in many real-world historical events. Collectivism puts emphasis on society as a whole rather than the individual living within a society. The comparatives in this essay will be the Holocaust, North Korea and The Underground Railroad to Canada using various pieces of evidence that directly correlate with Rand’s Anthem.
The type of society described in Anthem can be directly compared with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Although a dictatorship and not a collectivist society, Hitler’s ultimate goal for unity in society can be compared to the society presented in Anthem. Hitler felt the Jews were outliers and needed them to be eliminated. In Anthem, the citizens refusing to cooperate with the laws were sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention where punishments would take place, in the story Equality 7-2521 was beaten because he refused to tell the higher authority figures where he was; “Take our brother Equality 7-2521 to the Palace of Corrective Detention. Lash them until they tell” (Rand, Part 6)
Nazi Germany occurred between 1933 and 1945 under Adolf Hitler’s reign. Hitler changed society with the ultimate goal of eliminating all political competition. This can be directly related to a collectivist society because people no longer obtained individual control or freedom as everything was micromanaged by a higher power (i.e., the government.) Hitler was eventually overthrown by the individuals who disagreed with his philosophy which resulted in the end of WWII. The collectivist society in Anthem becomes threatened when Equality 7-2521 attempts to share his invention of the light bulb. He becomes shunned by society and moves to the uncharted area with another societal member after she follows him. These two characters makes plans to start their own race that believes in individuality: “I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters. And I shall choose only such as please me, and them I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey. And we shall join our hands when we wish, or walk alone when we so desire. For in the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Then let him join hands with others if he wishes, but only beyond his holy threshold.” (Rand, Part 9)
This foreshadows a potential downfall and conquer over the World Council. When individuals used their free will and power standing up to Adolf Hitler his dictatorship failed ending the Holocaust and ultimately advanced society. This fundamentally parallels Anthem when Equality 7-2521 stands up to the council by leaving and claiming he is going to start his own society.
In Anthem, the citizens are not permitted to choose a spouse, their sexual partner was assigned to them and everyone functioned as a “unit,” hence why their names are attached to units with corresponding numbers. These individuals are not allowed to have friends and they are told that they must love their brothers/sisters all the same, disobeying any of the prior is punishable by law. Equality 7-2521 makes a remark on the lack of individual freedom within society;
“And as we all undress at night, in the dim light of the candles, our brothers are silent, for they dare not speak the thoughts of their minds. For all must agree with all, and they cannot know if their thoughts are the thoughts of all, and so they fear to speak” (chapter 2)
In this society everyone must agree with each other without conflict, unfortunately eliminating creativity which is required for a successful advancing society. Equality 7-2521 is not able to discuss or tell anyone about his creative invention, the infamous light bulb. “We had touched no flint, made no fire. Yet here was light, light that came from nowhere, light from the heart of metal” (Rand, Part 5) This lack of freedom and free speech can be directly correlated to North Korea under the reign of Kim Jung-un. North Korea operates with all of it’s facilities state-run (farms, hospitals, schools) and is therefore regulated by the government. Anthem is a collectivist society, which differs slightly from North Korea as there is not a direct leader but a central government consisting of different councils. In Anthem the individual rises above and disobeys societal laws which can be linked to the protests that occur in North Korea as people disagree with Kim Jong-un and his regime. The societies depicted in both the novel and North Korea are restricted in their creativity.
The Underground to Canada is a strong comparative due to the fact that there was many slaves who were under the power of plantation owners. In the case of Anthem, the slaves are the citizens and the plantation owner is combined effort of a government found in Anthem. The Uncharted forest is similar to the Railroad as it was for Equality 7-2521 to escape the society found in Part 9. When Black slaves freed themselves from many Americans they were able to create a new stable life in Canada, which was advancement for black individuals. In Anthem Equality 7-2521 leaves society in order to create a new advanced society that will provide stability to its members.
The real-world examples above mirror many events in Rand’s novel Anthem and provide evidence to her philosophy that ultimately claims that collectivist societies will fail as individual freedom and power will always conquer in order for societal advancement.