The Fountainhead: Horrible Bosses

The Fountainhead: Horrible Bosses March 16, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 10

In June 1929, the Enright House has its ribbon-cutting. (If you thought this date was mentioned to foreshadow the Black Tuesday market crash a few months later that began the Great Depression, it wasn’t. Ayn Rand couldn’t have cared less about that.)

At the opening ceremony, Roger Enright is positively scowling with happiness:

He stood in the middle of the street, looking at the building, then he walked through the lobby, stopping short without reason and resuming his pacing. He said nothing. He frowned fiercely, as if he were about to scream with rage. His friends knew that Roger Enright was happy.

For a Randian protagonist, that’s practically kicking up his heels and dancing for joy. There’s just one higher level of happiness, which is to give a curt nod of satisfaction and light a cigarette.

Rand makes one more try at describing what the building looks like:

The building stood on the shore of the East River, a structure rapt as raised arms. The rock crystal forms mounted in such eloquent steps that the building did not seem stationary, but moving upward in a continuous flow… The walls of pale gray limestone looked silver against the sky, with the clean, dulled luster of metal, but a metal that had become a warm, living substance, carved by the most cutting of all instruments — a purposeful human will.

Nope, sorry, still can’t picture this. I can’t imagine “rock crystal forms” as anything but weird triangular rooms jutting randomly out of the sides of the building. Wouldn’t that be a lot of awkward, unusable and wasted space?

Although Roark is still snubbed by the architectural world (and vice versa), the opening of the Enright House starts to attract some attention. In gossip circles, a few people are heard saying that modern architecture might be more interesting than they’d given it credit for. And Roark starts getting more commissions, including one from a Wall Street financier, Anthony Cord, to build a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.

To accommodate all the work, his firm is expanding:

Roark’s office had grown to four rooms. His staff loved him. They did not realize it and would have been shocked to apply such a term as love to their cold, unapproachable, inhuman boss. These were the words they used to describe Roark, these were the words they had been trained to use by all the standards and conceptions of their past; only, working with him, they knew that he was none of these things, but they could not explain, neither what he was nor what they felt for him.

It’s interesting that Rand describes her protagonist with words like “cold,” “unapproachable” and “inhuman,” even if she hastens to insist that these are the mistaken judgments of the outside world. It shows that she’s not unaware of the way her characters come off.

He did not smile at his employees, he did not take them out for drinks, he never inquired about their families, their love lives or their church attendance. He responded only to the essence of a man: to his creative capacity. In this office one had to be competent. There were no alternatives, no mitigating considerations. But if a man worked well, he needed nothing else to win his employer’s benevolence… It bred an immense feeling of self-respect within every man in that office.

This section is another example of Rand trying to have it both ways. She insists that Roark is bad with people, that he can’t relate to them or their interests, that he lacks the “particular sense” of empathy that allows him to understand what others are thinking or feeling. Yet, somehow, that never matters when it logically should.

We saw how he designed a house for Austen Heller that was magically perfect for his needs, just by contemplating the site chosen to build on, without needing to understand Heller’s interests or picture his daily routine. This chapter has an even more glaring example of the contradiction: Could Roark really be a good boss that his employees look up to and admire? What would it be like to work for him?

Rand’s heroes are nothing if not consistent. To see what standard Roark holds his employees to, all we should have to do is look at the standard he holds himself to. And the answer to that is obvious: he has no hobbies and no personal life, cares about nothing but his work, and in fact, doesn’t understand why anyone should care about anything but work. By all rights, Roark should be one of the classic horrible bosses who doesn’t understand why his employees would ever want or need a life outside their jobs.

After all, he never even bothered to check if he has a family, so why should you want to spend time with your wife and kids? He regularly pulls all-nighters and falls asleep at his desk, so why should you care if he demands that you work 100-hour weeks? Do you think you have something to do that’s more important than being at the office?

And if you requested time off to take a vacation, Roark ought to reject the request as incomprehensible. He thinks that leisure activities are worthless and a waste of time, compared to spending another Saturday at the drafting board. (We saw the same in Atlas Shrugged with Hank Rearden, World’s Worst Boss.)

If you want to know what working for Howard Roark would be like in reality, the Ask a Manager column has an abundance of stories about jaw-droppingly terrible bosses: the one who made an employee leave a letter on a grave in an attempt to reach a coworker who was out on bereavement leave, the one who showed up at a clinic to pester an employee who was having chemotherapy, or the one who crashed an employee’s wedding with work questions, had to be thrown out by a police officer, and then tried to write up the bride. These are the real-life Objectivist Heroes who put into practice the belief that nothing takes precedence over a person’s job.

One boy, a younger sort of Peter Keating, tried to introduce the human in preference to the intellectual in Roark’s office; he did not last two weeks.

SCENE: Howard Roark Inc., Architects’ Office, Day

A group of employees are making small talk around the water cooler.

EMPLOYEE 1: It gives me a feeling of self-respect to develop my creative capacity to its fullest extent.

EMPLOYEE 2: Agreed. Using our purposeful human wills in the service of productivity is the noblest goal to which a man can aspire.

EMPLOYEE 3: Hey, did any of you guys catch the game last night?

HOWARD ROARK (storming in, furious): GET OUT.

Roark made mistakes in choosing his employees occasionally, not often; those whom he kept for a month became his friends for life. They did not call themselves friends; they did not praise him to outsiders; they did not talk about him. They knew only, in a dim way, that it was not loyalty to him, but to the best within themselves.

Again, you can see the paradox that even though Roark claims not to understand people, he’s somehow an excellent judge of character. Even if he makes mistakes (rarely), he can usually tell on sight whether someone agrees with his life philosophy and would be a good fit at his firm. Granted, in Randworld, all those qualities are tied to a person’s aesthetic sense and their physical appearance, so all you really have to do is check whether they have an angular face and think weirdly shaped rock-crystal buildings look cool.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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