The Fountainhead: Castle Doctrine

The Fountainhead: Castle Doctrine May 24, 2019

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 17

Gail Wynand has been forced by popular pressure to denounce his friend Howard Roark. Roark tries to see Wynand several times, to tell him that he’s not angry, that their bromance is intact. But Roark’s calls are refused, his letters are returned unopened. Wynand is holed up in his office, in a self-imposed penance, running the business side of the Banner but refusing to do anything else.

Roark stood at the window of his house in Monadnock Valley. He had rented the house for the summer; he went there when he wanted loneliness and rest. It was a quiet evening. The window opened on a small ledge in a frame of trees, hanging against the sky. A strip of sunset light stretched above the dark treetops. He knew that there were houses below, but they could not be seen. He was as grateful as any other tenant for the way in which he had built this place.

While he’s standing there in the dark, he hears a car approaching. He has an unexpected visitor: it’s Dominique.

She did not look as if she had driven across three states, but as if she were returning from a walk down the hill. He knew that this was to be the solemnity of the moment — that it needed no solemnity; it was not to be stressed and set apart, it was not this particular evening, but the completed meaning of seven years behind them.

Roark immediately knows why she’s come. She confesses that she loves him, she wants to be with him, and that before the Cortlandt trial begins, she wants to take his side in public. (The fact that helping him almost got her killed is never spoken of by either of them.)

Roark makes one attempt to dissuade her, a valiant effort to protect his true love:

“Dominique, wait till he recovers.”

“You know he won’t recover.”

“Have a little pity on him.”

“Don’t speak their language.”

What, haven’t you people ever heard of threesomes?

Dominique spends the night with him, and in the morning, she calmly calls the police to report that a valuable star sapphire ring which Roark gave her was stolen from the nightstand while she was sleeping in his bed. A police officer shows up, accompanied by journalists, and dumbfoundedly takes her statement. After the police and the paparazzi have left:

Dominique said:

“I’m sorry. I know it was terrible for you. But it was the only way to get it into the papers.”

“You should have told me which one of your star sapphires I gave you.”

“I’ve never had any. I don’t like star sapphires.”

In case you missed it, this was supposed to be Dominique’s crowning moment of glory. It proves that she’s ended her quest for spiritual self-destruction, which she attempted by marrying first Peter Keating and then Gail Wynand. By openly declaring that she loves Howard Roark, she’s accepted that her values can win after all. (And yes, she falsely reported a crime to the police, but Rand is OK with dishonesty when one of her heroes does it.)

Unfortunately, this is the extent of Dominique’s agency. Throughout the book, we’ve repeatedly seen that she’s a skilled journalist and an excellent writer, and yet the only freedom that Ayn Rand permits her is choosing which man’s feet she’ll kneel at. Whatever her talents, they’re destined to remain unused so that she can live the life of a subservient housewife. It seems that only soulless socialist women are permitted to be independent or to have their own careers.

Dominique knows that when this story hits the gossip columns, Wynand will divorce her and leave her free to be with Roark. As a bonus, the revelation of her cuckolding him will be a further humiliation, which she views as his deserved punishment for not holding out and defending Roark:

“Now Gail is blasted over to the side where he belongs. So he thinks you’re an ‘unprincipled, antisocial type of man’? Now let him see the Banner smearing me also. Why should he be spared that? Sorry. Howard, I don’t have your sense of mercy. I’ve read that editorial… I didn’t do it for you. I’ve made it worse for you — I’ve added scandal to everything else they’ll throw at you. But, Howard, now we stand together — against all of them.”

Before we get to Roark’s trial, let’s pause for one more issue that this chapter highlights.

We’re told that Roark likes his rented house in Monadnock Valley because he doesn’t have to see or interact with other human beings. That’s an illustration of Randian misanthropy, but it’s also something we see reflected in the real world. America has always had a love affair with isolated houses on huge, sprawling lots – “a man’s home is his castle,” as the proverb goes, reflecting the sense of privacy and security we feel we’re entitled to in our homes.

But the collective result of this individual yearning is an affordability crisis: sprawling suburbs, skyrocketing real-estate values, crippling mortgage debt, and everyone except the elite being priced out of booming urban areas.

The best fix to the affordability crisis is to build more housing, especially more dense housing. But as this article says, existing homeowners often mobilize to block this, because it keeps their property values high when supply is artificially scarce:

Which is best for affordability and the environment: using a big $500,000 lot to provide a single 5000sf custom home, a single 2500sf custom home, or four 1000sf homes that share walls in a fourplex?

We aren’t building fourplexes in low density residential neighborhoods becuase in the US, zoning is local. It’s usually controlled at the city level, and in many US cities, existing homeowners make up a controlling political constituency — sometimes known as the homevoters. Homevoters often fight for zoning that ensures housing density is uniform and low, which ensures housing is scarce and intrinsically expensive… Whether or not it was their original or primary intent, this ends up benefiting existing property owners financially by increasing land values. This is to say, homevoters form cartels, restricting the supply of a valuable commodity which they already own.

This is the NIMBY phenomenon which we discussed before. One way of keeping out newcomers is through zoning laws which control what kinds of buildings can be built. Often, these rules require large lot sizes and wide separation from neighboring properties, as well as restricting how high a building can be.

This kind of anti-density zoning benefits existing homeowners, but hurts everyone else. It prevents people from moving to economically prosperous cities where they can find better-paying jobs, thus entrenching poverty and inequality. Not coincidentally, it’s long been a tool of racial segregation, keeping poorer minorities poor by preventing them from moving to wealthier communities with better jobs. The wealthy Long Island town of Garden City, which I live near, recently lost a federal lawsuit over this issue, with a federal judge finding that the village zoned for town houses rather than multi-family housing with the specific intent of keeping non-white residents out.

Zoning doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s an essential tool to stop wasteful sprawl, as well as to prevent noisy nightclubs, polluting factories, smelly rendering plants, and other nuisances from plopping down next to existing homes and making them unlivable. But it has to be designed so that it encourages residential density rather than inhibiting it.

Japan has long had a more sensible zoning policy than the U.S., but more municipalities are grasping this problem. Minneapolis recently voted to abolish single-family zoning, and we can hope that more cities will follow suit.

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