Familiar Ideas in The Fountainhead And 1984 Novels
Big Brother in the Big Apple
“Do you know the proper antonym for Ego? Bromide, Peter. The rule of the bromide.”
Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead
Earning purpose in life entails pursuing ideals that can be considered ends in themselves. Socratic thinkers view the quest for virtue to be the rationale for existence and, for them, living out the meaning of such virtues endorses their lives with purpose. However, it is possible to choose wrongly. Twist some concept into an ideal, forcibly enshrine and pursue it, place fulfillment of it above all else—then you have false purpose. In The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey is the archetypal embodiment of evil, one who pursues the ideal of power above all else and manipulates the Banner to that end.
At its time of publication in 1943, The Fountainhead, was considered a controversial and idealistic book. But, in the years since, the book also has proven to provide a disturbingly accurate portrayal of a worldview that is frighteningly prevalent today, showing the threat to society when men like Ellsworth Toohey conceal their thirst for power with proclamations of their altruism. Indeed, Rand’s vision may have inspired Orwell, an author of a different political bent who shared her contempt for collectivist government. In his book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell creates a chilling picture of one possible outcome of Toohey’s socialist vision. O’Brien, a party member who deceives the main character, Winston Smith, speaks words that describe the fundamental motive of the party and evoke the ethos of Toohey: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power…We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end.” (Orwell 153). The organization’s pursuit of power comes at the price of all other absolutes, destroying personal freedom among other self-contained, ideals. Power is predatory, unsustainable, the opposite of self-sufficient, and therefore not an absolute; the party, then at the height of its authority, needs subjects to deceive and subjugate just as a lion needs the flesh of its prey to live.
Ellsworth Toohey, on the other hand, is a figure at an earlier stage of power-acquisition. While O’Brien’s party primarily wears the mask of bromide, indoctrinating its subjects with maxims such as “War is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength,” Toohey wears the mask of altruism and the mask of the Banner, knowing both to be perfect vehicles of his mission. Manipulative and subtle, Ellsworth crusades, hell-bent, to seize control of the Banner because he is ravenous for power and knows the newspaper, thanks to its widespread readership and well-established consumer base, is the tool he must harness to amplify the reach of his ultimate objective: to impose his ideologies of altruism and collectivism upon the masses, to control them like one colossal, swaying, preternatural puppet, and stamp out the selfish and individualistic nature of people like Howard Roark, because he believes there is no alternative to his way the world must operate.
To Toohey, the Banner is a conduit through which the people of New York receive the propaganda of his socialist vision. He seeks to make men feel weak, humbled, commanded by the newspaper and the seemingly omniscient men behind it, those immortalized by the guise of their printed voice. He woos them with lofty language, proselytizing to those dimmer minds of the common man, albeit allegorically: he writes under cover of the subject of architecture, appealing to the collective subconscious by connecting the nature of buildings with the nature of man. In one speech he gives before a congregation of strike sympathizers, Toohey mesmerizes listeners, including Peter Keating: “Keating stood, his mouth open. He did not hear what [Toohey’s] voice was saying. He heard the beauty of the sounds without meaning. He felt no need to know the meaning; he could accept anything, he would be led blindly anywhere” (Rand 90). Here, Toohey’s speech is one of hypnotizing execution, but little actual substance; the man emanates authority and through his stately and authoritative manner, he attracts blind followers such as Keating.
In his job as a columnist, Toohey writes about the creations of others; rather than inventing anything himself, he elevates himself by praising and, in certain cases, vehemently condemning the handiwork of his betters. The man’s livelihood, his very purpose and identity is dependent on those who create, therefore he is, as Rand puts it in For the New Intellectual, nothing but a dastardly “second-hander.” In an early column, Ellsworth reviews the Melton Building, speaking of the stringcourses and ornamentation as if they are direct insults to man’s ego: “There is no freak exhibitionism here, no perverted striving for novelty, no orgy of unbridled egotism” (Rand, The Fountainhead 51). Toohey grants approval of the Melton edifice by acknowledging that which, in his tainted opinion, spoils a given building—“freak exhibitionism” and “unbridled egotism.” To him, people like Howard Roark indulge in such “orgies.” They erect structures that are insolent in their individualism. He sees these buildings to evince a terrible and masturbatory motive of making unique statements to the world; however, to assert individualism, he contends, is to insult the opinions of those who outnumber you. A structure, Toohey purports, belongs to the public; even a lonely street urchin meandering through the city should be able to turn his head to the sky and see a grand building, full in the glory of its stringcourses and superfluous ornamentation, and be comforted in his inadequacy because in admiring the building, the world stands with him, artfully made manifest in the brick and mortar at his side.
Just as a building constructed in the style of the collective preference of its time can humble a man, shape his idea of what a good building should look like, so can the words of a newspaper impregnate minds with preconceived notions, ideas specially crafted to control. Guy Francon likens Toohey’s tongue to an “icepick;” that is, his words have the power to lobotomize men, destroy their ability to think for themselves (Rand, The Fountainhead 51). During a transorbital lobotomy, the icepick enters the brain above the eye with a few simple taps of a rubber mallet; similarly, Toohey’s words insidiously penetrate the weak minds of the multitudes ensnared at shops and newspaper stands, where they purchase Wynand’s papers. The Banner is this man’s megaphone, his soapbox.
If Howard Roark is a paragon of the rationally independent, creative man, then Ellsworth Toohey is his antithesis. Power is Toohey’s God, and reason—the golden calf. Toohey may not have much against reason itself, but in his scheme of deceit and control, it has no place. He says: “Men have a very powerful weapon against you. Reason. So you must be very careful to take it away from them…can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want thinking men” (Rand, The Fountainhead 637).
Toohey has witnessed how no one can rule Howard Roark, learning that the man’s sense of reason informs all his value judgments. A truly rational man does not allow himself to be ruled, therefore Toohey destroys his subjects’ sense of self-worth before they realize any potential to become a thinking man. In a monologue to Peter Keating he says: “Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness.” (Rand, For the New Intellectual 71).
Selflessness and altruism both strengthen a man’s sense of unworthiness, and a man who is already weak yearns for some sort of external force to give him strength. What people do not realize is that fortitude comes from within; the only way to bolster self worth is to rely on the self, not on some external entity. Christians would insist on becoming closer to God through arbitrary prayer, supplication to a mystical force supposedly up in the sky to provide guidance. Followers of Jesus put “faith” in “their Lord and Savior,” place certainty outside themselves, saying things like: “The Lord is my rock.” Confidence in the self is invaluable because it removes the ridiculous notions of meaningless faith, indiscriminate love, and emotional decision-making, replacing them with reason, Toohey’s ultimate adversary, the only way through which man can properly come to terms with his world and acquire knowledge.
The Fountainhead is the unintentional crusade of an individual against the forces of collectivism. Roark’s actions are not contingent upon anything outside himself; the only thing that compels him to action is himself, therefore his provocation of Toohey and other collectivists is unintentional, and the crusade he wages is merely a product of him being himself. While The Fountainhead is a story of triumph, the heroism of the intransigence of Howard Roark, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a story of loss and futility, the dark prospect of Ellsworth Toohey’s future fully realized.
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