The Fountainhead: Ink by the Barrel

The Fountainhead: Ink by the Barrel February 8, 2019

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 9

Howard Roark has finished the design for the Cortlandt Homes project: “six buildings, fifteen stories high, each made in the shape of an irregular star with arms extending from a central shaft” with pre-fabricated parts that can be swapped in or out and don’t require costly maintenance. When Peter Keating presents the plans as if they were his idea, Ellsworth Toohey laughs and laughs.

For once, Toohey isn’t the only one who notices the obvious:

“You God-damn fool!” said Gail Wynand. “What are you up to?”

He threw to Roark a copy of the Banner, folded at an inside page. The page bore a photograph captioned: “Architects’ drawing of Cortlandt Homes, the $15,000,000 Federal Housing Project to be built in Astoria, L. I., Keating & Dumont, architects.”

Roark glanced at the photograph and asked: “What do you mean?”

“You know damn well what I mean… If Peter Keating designed this, I’ll eat every copy of today’s Banner.”

Roark plays dumb, professing not to understand what Wynand is talking about. When Wynand threatens, half-seriously, to run a story exposing him as the real designer, Roark says he’d sue for defamation.

But their little lovers’ tiff notwithstanding, Roark and Wynand’s relationship is getting deeper and more intense. Wynand is throwing every architectural commission he can get at Roark. What’s more, he’s started using the Banner to promote Roark’s work. For once, the sleaziest tabloid in New York City is being sincere:

The word had come down from his office to every department concerned: Plug Howard Roark. In the art section, the real-estate section, the editorials, the columns, mentions of Roark and his buildings began to appear regularly. There were not many occasions when one could give publicity to an architect, and buildings had little news value, but the Banner managed to throw Roark’s name at the public under every kind of ingenious pretext. Wynand edited every word of it. The material was startling on the pages of the Banner: it was written in good taste. There were no sensational stories, no photographs of Roark at breakfast, no human interest, no attempts to sell a man; only a considered, gracious tribute to the greatness of an artist.

Wynand gloats to Dominique:

“Think of all the politicians, movie stars, visiting grand dukes and sash weight murderers whom the Banner has trumpeted all these years. Think of my great crusades about street-car companies, red-light districts and home-grown vegetables. For once, Dominique, I can say what I believe…. All this power I wanted, reached and never used… Now they’ll see what I can do. I’ll force them to recognize him as he should be recognized. I’ll give him the fame he deserves. Public opinion? Public opinion is what I make it.”

But at the same time, an anti-Wynand protest campaign is gathering strength, led by Toohey’s lackey Gus Webb. Bumper stickers and protest handbills are appearing all over the city, but Wynand is dismissive:

He felt no concern over the “We Don’t Read Wynand” campaign… In the course of his career he had been fought, damned, denounced by the greatest publishers of his time, by the shrewdest coalitions of financial power. He could not summon any apprehension over the activities of somebody named Gus Webb.

He knew that the Banner was losing some of its popularity. “A temporary fad,” he told Scarret, shrugging. He would run a limerick contest, or a series of coupons for victrola records, see a slight spurt of circulation and promptly forget the matter.

This passage foreshadows what we’ll find out later: Gail Wynand’s campaign on Roark’s behalf is doomed. He doesn’t see it yet, but Ellsworth Toohey already has the public in the palm of his hand. Like a socialist version of the octopus from the famous political cartoon, his tentacles stretch to every corner of society, and they’re coiled too tightly around the levers of power to be dislodged.

But how can this be? Remember what we were told about Gail Wynand in the scene where he was introduced:

It was impossible for Wynand not to do a job well. Whatever his aim, his means were superlative. All the drive, the force, the will barred from the pages of his paper went into its making.

Now he’s put that “drive” and “force” into a cause he truly believes in. So why is he no longer able to persuade people?

According to the philosophical schema established in Atlas Shrugged, this should be impossible. That book’s thesis is that looters can only gain power by parasitizing the accomplishments of Objectivist Heroes. That seems to be true here as well, since it was Wynand’s newspaper giving Toohey a platform that helped raise him to greater visibility and prominence. In fact, Toohey has been been steering the paper for some time to manipulate popular opinion, using almost subliminal imagery:

He had known for several years the trend which his paper had embraced gradually, imperceptibly, without any directive from him. He had noticed the cautious “slanting” of news stories, the half-hints, the vague allusions, the peculiar adjectives peculiarly placed, the stressing of certain themes, the insertion of political conclusions where none was needed. If a story concerned a dispute between employer and employee, the employer was made to appear guilty, simply through wording, no matter what the facts presented. If a sentence referred to the past, it was always “our dark past” or “our dead past.” If a statement involved someone’s personal motive, it was always “goaded by selfishness” or “egged by greed.” A crossword puzzle gave the definition of “obsolescent individuals” and the word came out as “capitalists.”

But once an Objectivist Hero is no longer willing to let himself be used, it should be impossible for the bad guys to stop him. They’re supposed to be able to accomplish anything they put their minds to. So why is it, now that Wynand is fully in Roark’s corner, he can’t achieve what he wants to achieve? Why is he less capable than Ellsworth Toohey of swaying public opinion?

This is where Rand’s belief in the omnipotence of her heroes clashes with her Nietzschean contempt for the vast majority of humanity. She seems to treat it as a premise that True Objectivists will always be vanishingly rare and most people will always hate and despise them.

Changing minds seems to be the one thing even her protagonists aren’t capable of, and for the most part, she doesn’t think they should try. In fact, she treats the mere attempt as a sign of evil. It isn’t a coincidence that Atlas Shrugged‘s heroes never win the world over to their point of view. They triumph simply by killing everyone else off, so that only the people who have the same opinions as Ayn Rand are left standing.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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