The Fountainhead: Soul-Searching

The Fountainhead: Soul-Searching September 14, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 3, chapter 7

Dominique returns from Reno after getting her divorce, and Gail Wynand is waiting to meet her. He wants to have a small, private ceremony with just a judge presiding, but she refuses. She wants a huge, expensive public spectacle with all the trimmings, the kind of wedding a tycoon like Gail Wynand is supposed to have: “I want it at the most ostentatious hotel in town. I want engraved invitations, guests, mobs of guests, celebrities, flowers, flash bulbs and newsreel cameras.”

Wynand is amused, but does as she requests. He books a hotel ballroom, invites six hundred guests, sets up flowers, a buffet, a receiving line, a battery of reporters and cameras:

The background she had wished was set so perfectly that it became its own caricature, not a specific society wedding, but an impersonal prototype of lavish, exquisite vulgarity. He had understood her wish and obeyed scrupulously; he had refused himself the relief of exaggeration, he had not staged the event crudely, but made it beautiful in the exact manner Gail Wynand, the publisher, would have chosen had he wished to be married in public. But Gail Wynand did not wish to be married in public.

…She watched him intently. She wanted to see him take pleasure in all this, if only for a moment. Let him accept and join, just once, she thought, let him show the soul of the New York Banner in its proper element. She saw no acceptance. She saw a hint of pain, at times; but even the pain did not reach him completely. And she thought of the only other man she knew who had spoken about suffering that went down only to a certain point.

Once again, Dominique is being intentionally perverse. Just as she made Peter Keating’s life miserable by playing the role of an obedient Stepford wife, she’s trying to do the same thing to Gail Wynand by demanding an expensive, showy wedding.

Although she genuinely likes Wynand, she believes people should live consistently with the ideals they profess. And since pandering to popular prejudice is what he’s chosen to do with his life, she wants him to have the kind of wedding the public expects him to have, rather than the kind of wedding he wants for himself.

However, unlike Peter Keating, Wynand has the soul of a Randian Superman, so her attempt to torture him doesn’t exactly succeed. As we’ve seen earlier, true Randian Supermen can never genuinely suffer, doubt or despair, because that would make them insufficiently manly in their author’s eyes. The depravity of the world can make them furrow their brows and tighten their rugged jaws, but that’s the only effect it has on them.

Wynand proves to be a Superman in another way, as Dominique finds out on their wedding night:

She lay in his bed and she pressed her palms to the cold, smooth sheet at her sides, not to let her arms move and touch him. But her rigid indifference did not drive him to helpless anger. He understood. He laughed. She heard him say — his voice rough, without consideration, amused — “It won’t do, Dominique.” And she knew that this barrier would not be held between them, that she had no power to hold it. She felt the answer in her body, an answer of hunger, of acceptance, of pleasure. She thought that it was not a matter of desire, not even a matter of the sexual act, but only that man was the life force and woman could respond to nothing else; that this man had the will of life, the prime power, and this act was only its simplest statement, and she was responding not to the act nor to the man, but to that force within him.

OK, I apologize in advance for this, but I can’t resist: So Dominique has an Objectivist-detecting vagina?

With Peter, she was a cold fish in bed, not necessarily because he’s an inconsiderate lover but because his soul is weak and small. This makes him mediocre at everything, whether it’s designing buildings or having sex. But Gail Wynand is an Objectivist Hero, albeit a flawed one; and Objectivist Heroes instinctively recognize each other as such, so Dominique can’t help but yield to him.

Rand’s assumption is that second-handers are bad at everything they do and Objectivist Heroes are good at everything they do. But this is a case where I’d argue that the reverse should be true. After all, the defining traits of a second-hander are that they want to be liked and respected and they’re deeply concerned about what others think of them. It seems to me that those are the exact qualities you’d want to have in a partner!

By definition, a second-hander wants others to think well of them, so they’d care about their partners’ pleasure and ensure that everyone was having a good time. As Dan Savage would say, they ought to be GGG. The last thing you want in a sex partner is someone who only cares about satisfying their own desires and is indifferent or hostile to others’ needs. Yet somehow, this novel tells us that the individualists are better at sex. This is the same paradox as with Roark’s houses: he boasts of not understanding people, but builds houses that are magically perfect for the needs of the people who live in them.

I can imagine that this kind of writing probably led a lot of male Objectivists to think they were better at sex than they really were, and not just because Rand’s idea of a good time involves violent assault. Rather, it’s because her philosophy insists that being a thoughtful, considerate or generous lover isn’t necessary. Like Howard Roark, John Galt and all the other ideal men, all they have to do is love capitalism enough and women will be putty in their hands.

When the news of Wynand’s wedding becomes public, the Banner starts getting angry letters. Some are people railing against his lack of morals for marrying a divorcee (remember when that was a thing?). But there’s something that’s new in the criticism, something disconcerting. The editor-in-chief Alvah Scarret commiserates with Ellsworth Toohey, who doesn’t seem surprised to hear about it:

“I don’t like it. It was all right when people took cracks at his yachts and women and a few municipal election scandals — which were never proved,” he added hastily. “But I don’t like it when it’s that new intelligentsia slang that people seem to be going for nowadays: Gail Wynand, the exploiter, Gail Wynand, the pirate of capitalism, Gail Wynand, the disease of an era. It’s still crap, Ellsworth, only there’s dynamite in that kind of crap.”

To be clear, Gail Wynand is intended to be a flawed character. Although he has the strength of will to be an Objectivist Hero, his ultimate desire is to gain power over other human beings, which Rand considers a moral error.

However, one thing he does have in common with true-blue pure Objectivists is his supervillain morality. He doesn’t mind being hated for his wealth; he doesn’t even mind being accused – truthfully, it seems – of rigging elections. But when the common people begin to object to the system that makes Gail Wynand possible, the political and economic framework that makes some people prosperous while others suffer deprivation and exploitation, that’s a shocking and disturbing development that needs to be nipped in the bud.

In other words, Wynand is used to a little envy, as long as everyone accepts it as the natural state of the world that some people are inherently better than others and deserve to do whatever they want. But when people begin to question this social Darwinism, to insist that no one should have to be exploited or that vast inequality shouldn’t be tolerated by society, that’s the sign of an evil tide creeping up on them.

Toohey reassures Scarret not to worry, as he’s seen to it that the Banner will get a fresh infusion of cash to counter any decline in circulation:

“Well, if it will set your mind at rest, I’ll tell you something you haven’t heard. It’s not supposed to be known — it was done through a lot of proxies. Did you know that I just got Mitchell Layton to buy a nice fat chunk of the Banner?”

… “Isn’t he the little boy who couldn’t digest grandpaw’s money?”

“Grandpaw left him an awful lot of money.”

“Yeah, but he’s a crackpot. He’s the one who’s been a Yogi, then a vegetarian, then a Unitarian, then a nudist — and now he’s gone to build a palace of the proletariat in Moscow.”

“So what?”

“But Jesus! — a Red among our stockholders?”

“Mitch isn’t a Red. How can one be a Red with a quarter of a billion dollars? He’s just a pale tea-rose. Mostly yellow. But a nice kid at heart.”

Obviously, this is Toohey moving another of his limitless supply of pawns into position. He’s helped the Banner, but at the price of putting an ideological ally on its board of directors.

But notice how we immediately know that Mitchell Layton is evil. We’ve seen it with Peter Keating, with Hopton Stoddard, and now this: the idea of a person changing their mind, trying out different philosophies and ideas, is a sure sign that they have no soul or backbone and can be molded by communist evildoers like Ellsworth Toohey.

It’s a cliche of our society that each of us has to go on a quest to find ourselves, exploring different cultures and life philosophies to find the one that resonates with us. In Ayn Rand’s mind, all of that is a waste of time. If you don’t know – from your earliest childhood memories – exactly what you value and what you want to do with your life, that proves your failure as a human being. Somehow, you’re supposed to know what you want from the world without exploring it, without even considering how other people have approached the problem or what answers they’ve found.

But this begs the question: if you don’t drink deeply from what the world has to offer, if you don’t make mistakes that you can learn from, then where does that knowledge of purpose come from? Some kind of atheistic revelation? Oracular knowledge? Instinct (which Rand doesn’t believe we have)? For a worldview that claims to be based in reason and empiricism, this is a huge gap to leave open.

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