- Thus Spake Howard Roark:Nietzschean Ideas in The Fountainhead
The position I will be taking here will seem very peculiar to many people. I will be treating a novel as a discussion of the work of a philosopher—namely, Friedrich Nietzsche. Worse yet, I will be treating it as a discussion that is philosophically penetrating and deserves to be taken seriously. Still worse, the novel is Ayn Rand's early novel The Fountainhead. I think it is safe to say that her reputation, among academics who discuss the works of philosophers, is very low. If the reader will only bear with me, though, I think I can make a case that Rand opens a line of inquiry about Nietzsche's ideas and values that is not only quite interesting in itself but one that ought to be pursued further by others.
There has always been ample reason to associate Nietzsche with The Fountainhead.1 He is after all, the only philosopher who is more or less directly quoted in the book.2 Beyond that, Rand's novel has many other passages that students of Nietzsche instantly recognize as conscious references to him or deliberate echoes of his style. In addition, she revealed, in an introduction written for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, that the following quotation from Beyond Good and Evil had originally stood at the head of the book when it was still in manuscript:
It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank to—employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning—it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not [End Page 79] to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost—The noble soul has reverence for itself.—3
She said, in the same introduction, that she removed the quotation (evidently, immediately before publication) for philosophical reasons, because of her "profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author." Nietzsche, she says, was fundamentally "a mystic and irrationalist," and even in this quotation, chosen for its content, insinuates a philosophical position that she regards as erroneous (namely, determinism). Even her statement of what she likes about this passage is rather constrained: "as a poet [ie., not as a philosopher], he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms."4
It is of course true enough that Rand does disagree with Nietzsche, and for more or less the reasons that she suggests here, but it is also true that the passage she has quoted expresses some ethical themes—nobility, order of rank, the "pathos of distance," and (most obviously) the idea of self-reverence as a characteristic of the ethically good—which are at least as important in The Fountainhead as they are in Nietzsche's writings. Though Rand's spirited disclaimer serves to remind us of her deep differences with Nietzsche, the quotation itself suggests that there might be an interesting philosophical, not merely literary or emotional, connection between The Fountainhead and Nietzsche's ideas. What I would like to show here is that this connection merits a much closer look than it has ever been given heretofore. Not only is the presence of Nietzschean themes in Rand's novel deep and pervasive, but the book actually contains a very interesting and powerful internal critique of one of Nietzsche's most characteristic ideas, a criticism based in large part on values and assumptions that he shares. Before I can set out this critique, I will need to explore some of the positive thematic and philosophical connections.
One evening, rather late in the novel, Gail Wynand, the corrupt newspaper publisher and financier, surprises his wife, Dominique, with a present: he has had an architect design a house for them. The architect, she realizes with shock as she sees the drawings for the house, is her former lover, Howard Roark, a man with whom she is still in love. None of this is known to her husband, who innocently tells her that [End Page 80] Roark...