That is probably the most selfish statement that you have ever heard in your life. Selfishness in our society is view as a bad thing. What if someone could perfectly articulate that selfishness, in it’s purest form, could be the best way to live your life? Ayn Rand’s “rational selfishness” is best shown by her two heroes, Howard Roark and John Galt, in the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged respectively. Her philosophy has been read by, and influenced millions of people, including some of the world’s leaders of business.
This selfish though, is not the selfish that you are accustomed to.
Ayn Rand redefines the word selfishness through these two characters, and puts them above the lying, cheating and plundering of the recent plague of corporate scandal. More importantly, her philosophy is about man as a hero, and the triumph of the human spirit in it’s purest, selfish state. Ayn Rand uses Howard Roark, the protagonist in The Fountainhead, to show that the rights of the individual completely outweigh the needs of society as a whole.
First, to establish a basis for her philosophy, Rand must make Roark fit the mold of a hero. What is a hero by today’s standards?
Someone who strives to be above the normal? Someone who has a certain aura about them that they have something more than most? Is this a hero? “His face was closed like the door of a safety vault; things locked in safety vaults are valuable; men do not care to feel that.
He was a cold, disquieting presence in the room; his presence had a strange quality: it made itself felt and yet made them feel that he was not there; or perhaps that he was and they weren’t (Rand, The Fountainhead 62). ” Roark has an uncanny ability to make those around him feel as though he is the only one in the room.
This is a very powerful image when you look at the characterization of Roark. He goes through life with this power, this presence, that makes all others around him insignificant. This power is his ego. Rand makes him above all others, much like a super hero. Essentially though Rand believes that all men can be heroes and the accomplishment, creations, of man should be praised. President Herbert Hoover, before the popularity of Rand, shared the same pride in the accomplishments of men.
Once in a speech regarding one of our national treasures, the dam that bares his name, Hoover expresses his pride in the heroic ability of man. It does give me extraordinary pleasure to see the great dream I have so long held taking form in actual reality of stone and cement…. This dam is the greatest engineering work of its character ever attempted by the hand of man…. The waters of this great river, instead of being wasted in the sea, will now be brought into use by man…. The whole of this will translate itself …. into millions of happy homes…. out under the blue sky of the West (Stockdon 818). ” Roark’s life and the vessel of philosophy that he is are best shown in two events in his life. The first is his expulsion from The Stanton Institute of Technology.
Roark in his history at the school was a genius, in the subjects of math and engineering. In addition to that he was a genius in design, but this is where the university’s problem arose. Roark’s convictions, when it comes to architecture, are unbreakable. The basis for his expulsion is his refusal to reproduce styles that are considered timeless. “I do not understand why you want me to believe that this is great architecture. ” “That,” said the Dean. “is the Parthenon. ” “So it is. ” “I haven’t the time to waste on silly questions. ” “All right then. ” Roark got up, took a very long ruler from the desk and walked to the picture.
Shall I tell you what is rotten about it? ” “It’s the Parthenon! ” said the Dean “Yes, God damn it the Parthenon! ” Then Roark goes on, at length to explain that the reason that the Greeks designed things such as the Parthenon was because, previously to that period of architecture, columns and triglyphs were used to hide joints in wood. The Greeks then took there wooden principles and applied them to marble. Roark simply asks the question why should something that served one purpose as wood, serve the same purpose as marble. Roark is beautifully stubborn, but his stubbornness is justified because he is right, and he knows that he is.
Roark is proud of man and the accomplishes that he has had. That is why he does not think that one should look at the accomplishments of the past only, and not strive to create. The Dean then asks him about his clients. If Roark continues to only design the way that he does, he is surely to not have clients. To Roark though that is a trivial thing. “I could say that I must try to sell him (the client) the best I have and also teach him to know the best. I could say it, but I won’t. Because I don’t intend to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don’t intend to build in order to have clients.
I intend to have clients in order to build. ” Roark’s selfishness is clearly shown by his lack of flexibility when it comes to his ideals. This is another trait that he has that makes him into a hero. I mean Superman is not ever a little bad. Rather, he never sways from being a good guy, never. Roark in the same manner does not sway from what he thinks is right. His righteousness, though, gets him into quite an ordeal. The most concrete testimony of Rand’s philosophy comes out in the Cortland Trial. Roark designed a government housing project on the sole terms that his original plans be left unchanged.
When his plans are altered, he destroys his work by means of dynamite. Why is it so important that his plans be left unchanged? Simply put, Roark lives to see his buildings erected. Just as his buildings come to life, he also breathes life when the plans become reality. In his defense and summation he gives a speech that is unparalleled, except by another of Rand’s heroes. His speech is a retelling of the history of man, and the history of persecution of men that are like him. Roark refers to himself as a creator. His enemy is the second hander. The creators, create the things that the second handers give away.
Charity and self sacrifice are the ideals of the second handers. Roark says: “Men have been taught that it is the highest virtue to give. Yet one cannot give what has not been created. Creation comes before distribution. The need for the creator comes before any possible beneficiary. ” The second handers would not have anything if not for the creators. And yet the altruists want to take everything that he holds as sacred. The altruists want his buildings, which in turn he gives life to, loves, and extends himself into.
Roark holds himself and his work as sacred and the second handers want to give it away before Roark even can create it. They want his individuality and that is what Roark cannot give and his summation explains this, and he is acquitted. Ayn Rand uses Howard Roark to establish her views on the needs of the individual, in contrast to the needs of society, as a whole. Although Howard Roark is essentially the voice of Rand, her philosophy is not fully developed through him. On the other hand, with John Galt, Rand culminates her philosophy by creating the most selfish character in the history of literature.
Rand shifts gears from individual vs. society in The Fountainhead, to capitalism, business and government in her epic, one thousand seventy eight page novel, Atlas Shrugged. This novel describes a world where business men, musician, mathematicians and philosophers are persecuted for living their life to please themselves. John Galt is one of the victims of this society. He invented an engine that draws power from static electricity from the air. This invention would be the safest and most abundant source of energy the world has ever known, but the society wanted to take it from him so that he could not enjoy the fruits of his labor.
So he simply destroyed the machine, his research and all blueprints so that they could not use it. Galt then gathers all of the men around the world that are persecuted like him and colonizes them to a secret location in Colorado. Just before Galt completely removes the men from the world he takes one last opportunity to address the world. In a very Ayn Randian way he gives a 42 page speech which is the heart of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand believes in a system of pure, laissez faire capitalism. In this society the government has no role in the world of business.
In the society that Rand creates in “Shrugged” the government rapes the business man of everything. The capitalist, selfish, business owners are plundered by the socialist system as Galt describes here: “You did not care to allow rewards to be won by successful production; you are now running a race in which rewards are won by successful plunder. You called it selfish and cruel that men should trade value for value; you have now established an unselfish society where they trade extortion for extortion (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 976). ” I think that what Galt is saying here holds some truth.
There are times when I think that the government does not allow business to do as much as they would like. Recently, Bill Gates, an avid reader of Atlas Shrugged, and his corporation Microsoft, came under fire from the American government on grounds of monopolizing software. In the end he ended up compromising and the government essentially won. On the other hand if I were Bill Gates, the second that the government brought charges against me I would have threatened to move my headquarters, currently in Seattle, Washington, 100 miles north into Canada. The government would have backed off pretty quick.
As much as they do not want a monopoly they crave Bill Gates income tax and the taxes collected from the selling of Microsoft stocks on the market. The government wants everyone to have a fair shot but they also want the money generated by this country’s largest corporations. That is essentially what John Galt did. He took away what the government was trying to plunder, the selfish men of the world. You may be asking yourself; “What does Ayn Rand believe, if any, is the role of the government? ” In Atlas Shrugged the government has control of everything and their power is unlimited. In our society, the government plays a pretty large role.
John Galt, speaking for Ayn Rand on page 972, says that: “The only proper functions of the government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; an the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others. ” John Galt and Rand would agree that the government’s role is merely for an individual’s protection from other individuals. They would agree in the minimalization of government as much as possible. This type of political philosophy shows up today in various ways. For example, a hot topic now is privatization of social security.
Personally, I believe that social security should be eliminated entirely, but at least I should be able to take my money out of the hands of the government. The government has bankrupted the social security trust fund by seven trillion dollars. I will never see a dime of social security, yet I am still paying. Rand, Galt, and Roark would agree with me that this concept takes away from the virtue of selfishness that they live by. Galt is the vessel by which Rand professes her philosophy on business, and his extreme selfishness and desire to reap the rewards of his hard work are the ideals at the heart of Rand’s philosophy.
It is when this selfishness is taken out of context that some controversy can arise. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational selfishness has touched the lives of millions of people. In a recent poll of American Book Club members, Atlas Shrugged has been named the second most influential book of all time. Second on to The Bible, Atlas Shrugged has influenced some of the most powerful men and women in the world. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple computers has read the book. As I mentioned before, Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, has read the book.
In addition, the most powerful man in the world, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, not only read the book, but he was a member of Rand’s inner circle. Journalist Michael Lewis wrote that Greenspan “has preserved a hard core of fanaticism, encasting it in a shell of pragmatism, waiting for everyone to realize that extreme laissez faire capitalism is the best system (The American Enterprise). ” In the United States today their is a corporate witch hunt underway and the target is big business. The executives of Enron and Worldcom have lied to, cheated and deceived their shareholders.
The media targets selfishness as the motive for these men and their inexcusable behavior. Because Ayn Rand is an advocate of selfishness, big business, and because these executives have all read Atlas Shrugged, Rand has been found guilty by association and coincidence, of justifying the actions of these execs. The media associates Atlas Shrugged with greed, deception and fraud, which all these executives are guilty of. In contrast though, it is the media who is guilty of selective reading and misquoting the second most influential book of all time.
A recent USA Today article’s headline reads: “Scandals lead execs to ‘Atlas Shrugged;’ 1957 Ayn Rand novel sanctions self interest. ” Just by that association Rand’s novel has been connected to the actions of the executives. The media makes multiple mistakes which make their claim untrue. The first is that Ayn Rand redefined the word selfish in her two epic novels. The media does not apply Rand’s definition of selfishness to the acts of these executives. Of course when you call these men selfish by the definition most widely used they would fit the description.
On the other hand, they neglect to compare these men to the meaning of selfishness described by Ayn Rand. The second mistake that the media has made is that they have selectively read some of the book and have left crucial pieces out to fit their own needs. John Galt in his speech says; “that neither love, nor fame, nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud. ” John Galt, or Ayn Rand essentially, feels that fraud makes your selfishness void. A truly selfish man earns his wealth through his own hard work alone.
These men lied on their annual earnings and fooled their stockholders, while at the time they were frantically cashing in their stock, essentially getting rich. Not only would Ayn Rand condemn these men she would probably spearhead the investigations. This is another example of taking things out of context. When the media leaves crucial things out they are, ideally, doing a great injustice and turning many people off to a great author. When I was a child I used to pretend that I was one of many super heroes. I used to take off all of my clothing, except underwear, tie a towel around my neck, and pretend that I was Superman.
It is this mentality that Ayn Rand attempts to draw out with her philosophy. Not the mentality of a child, but the common desire that we have to be a hero. Her “Supermen,” Howard Roark and John Galt, lead the reader to agree that they can do something great with their lives. Rand’s work has such appeal and will continue to have it, because it appeals to the individual, not the collective. These are the principles, by which, this country was founded and it is the reason why our system is working. Capitalism allows the potential for us all to be heroes.
They don’t call it “living the American dream” for nothing. The words of Howard Roark say it all: “Now observe the results of a country built on the principle of individualism. This, our country. The noblest country in the history of man. The country of greatest achievement, greatest prosperity, greatest freedom. This country was not based on selfless service, sacrifice, renunciation or any precept of altruism. It was based on a man’s right to the pursuit of happiness. His own happiness. Not anyone else’s. A private, personal, selfish motive. Look at the results. Look into your own conscience. “