Sunday, January 21, 2007

National Review on The Fountainhead

Whittaker Chambers was a writer who spied for the USSR, then flipped and fingered Alger Hiss. Friends with William F. Buckley, Jr., he wrote a review of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead for National Review. He's not a great fan of the book, decrying its simplistic worldview and lack of art:
...the book's dictatorial much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!"
My favorite part is the "consistently mistakes raw force for strength" bit. The book pretty consistently looks at people who are successful capitalists and declares them morally superior to all others, and assumes that in the absence of these people, that society would crumble. It's as if being successful both acts as an accurate indicator of their abilities versus all others and assumes that all they do is productive and good. Just because you're rich and powerful doesn't make you a good person, or even a person who greatly benefits society. It's this awe in the face of power that I find distasteful.

update! Turns out the review is of Atlas Shrugged, not The Fountainhead. How I could confuse one thousand plus page tome of pseudophilosophical ranting with another is beyond me...


Anonymous said...

Um... the review is of Atlas Shrugged, not The Fountainhead. Did you actually read the review, or either of the books?

Fishfrog said...

Whether the review is of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, Rand's arrogance pervades. Whilst the review is of Atlas Shrugged, the characterizations of Rand and the accompanying philosophy are applicable to any and all of her works. Also, seeing as how a paragraph from the review is quoted in the post, it seems quite evident that the blogger read the review.

Matt said...

I read the review a couple of times. I've never read Atlas Shrugged, but I did suffer through The Fountainhead. That's the one where the hero's a rapist, right?

The thing about Rand's writing is that she only really writes as a vehicle for her ideas, and a compelling narrative with intriguing, fleshed-out characters takes backseat to the great ode to capitalism.

So I goofed. Thing is, the argument I cited and made applies to either book.

warm fuzzy said...

"hero rapist" - yeah, I think I'll pass on that one.