The Fountainhead: Workers of the World, Unite

The Fountainhead: Workers of the World, Unite December 28, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 6

There’s one more line worth noting from the scene where The Fountainhead‘s villains get together for a chat:

“Something’s got to be done about the masses,” Mitchell Layton declared. “They’ve got to be led. They don’t know what’s good for them. What I mean is, I can’t understand why people of culture and position like us understand the great ideal of collectivism so well and are willing to sacrifice our personal advantages, while the working man who has everything to gain from it remains so stupidly indifferent. I can’t understand why the workers in this country have so little sympathy with collectivism.”

“Can’t you?” said Ellsworth Toohey.

Toohey’s amused, contemptuous reaction implies that this is a problem whose answer should be obvious. I assume Ayn Rand was implying that rugged American laborers love capitalism because they value hard work and know it’s a path to prosperity, whereas rich bluebloods like Mitchell Layton never had to work for their money and therefore don’t understand its value the way they should. This is obvious to evil mastermind Toohey even if his henchmen can’t see it.

As I mentioned last week, this seems to be a theme in The Fountainhead. People who inherit vast wealth are easy prey for socialism, as opposed to heroes like Howard Roark and Gail Wynand, who started out with nothing and built fortunes and reputations for themselves. Yes, Rand was apparently claiming that the idle rich are the biggest supporters of wealth redistribution – which is of a piece with her claiming that muckraking journalists set sweatshops on fire so they have something to write about and coal mines are only dangerous when meddling government safety inspectors get involved.

Those absurdities aside, there’s something conspicuous that’s missing from this chapter. Reread the paragraph I quoted above. Do you notice what isn’t there?

I’ve pointed out how Rand was indifferent to the era in which she set her story. In some cases, this is defensible. This book isn’t about Prohibition or the Jazz Age, so arguably it makes sense that they’re ignored. And the Great Depression is at least mentioned, even if she didn’t treat it with the importance it seems to deserve.

But this section has a particularly baffling – and thematically inexplicable – omission. Where is the New Deal in this universe?

The last time that a date was mentioned in the text, it was 1936. By this point in the real world, FDR had been president for three years and the New Deal was well underway. Roosevelt had declared a nationwide bank holiday. He had issued Executive Order 6102, which criminalized the hoarding of gold. He had created the SEC, the Public Works Administration, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to leave some of their land idle in order to create scarcity and drive up crop prices. He had created Social Security and the National Labor Relations Board.

Forced bank closures, the suspension of the gold standard, widespread government regulation of the markets, a social safety net that pays people who don’t work – these measures are antithetical to Objectivism’s vision of capitalism. Rand had a burning hatred for the New Deal (even though she personally benefited from it by selling performance rights for one of her plays to the Works Progress Administration).

But even if she hated it, there’s no way she should have been able to ignore it. The success of the New Deal is extremely relevant to her assessment of whether the U.S. populace was falling under the sway of collectivism!

Rand could easily have written it into the story, citing the New Deal’s popularity as proof that Toohey’s campaign of subversion was succeeding and socialism was making inroads. This would have worked well since FDR was personally wealthy and came from an aristocratic family – a classic class traitor. She could have used him as another example of a wealthy heir ignorantly working against his own interests. (How hard would it have been to give Toohey a line like, “Even the President is on our side”?)

But it never happens. Other than a few throwaway lines about how Gail Wynand has congressmen in his pocket, The Fountainhead never references U.S. politics in any way. More than simple neglect, it acts as if FDR’s presidency and the restructuring of the economy never even happened.

This could be because the popularity of the New Deal runs counter to the point Rand wants to make in this section, that the red-blooded working classes are opposed to collectivism. But I tend to think that it was a deliberate stylistic choice – that Rand was so resentful of FDR that she didn’t want to dignify him with a rebuttal, and instead chose to erase him from her universe. That would explain why the New Deal was also absent in Atlas Shrugged‘s alternate history.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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