Ayn Rand was kind of a crazy bitch. I do not say this to dismiss her, I say it because although I find many of the themes she champions to have a profound resonance for me, I find her sort of personally repugnant.

I read a biography called Goddess of the Market By Jennifer Burns and though it is clear the author is not much in sympathy with Ayn’s views, she turned a fairly dispassionate eye on her life and actions. Ayn was a bit of a megalomaniac, and being one myself, I can relate to that part, but her absolute certainty that her own rationale was the only evidence she needed to support her sometimes outlandish claims flies in the face of sound decision making.

All that being said, The Fountainhead is a truly engaging novel about the ways in which well-meaning people with an overdose of white guilt can undermine the efforts of genius. And also, masochism.

The female lead in this story is utterly unlike any woman I have ever met. I understand she is meant to represent Ayn’s feminine ideal, but it is a truly fascinating experience to read a female character, written by a woman who also happens to be a raging misogynist. I can relate to her feelings; some women are wretches. But her wholesale conviction of the female of the species seems, like many of her views, partially justifiable but wholly overwrought.

Dominique fails to convince as a person, let alone a woman. In almost every instance she behaves in a way the defies reason, let alone natural human feeling. When she realizes she loves our protagonist, she forces herself to marry his rival to punish herself and him, for reasons that really don’t make bunches of sense. Ayn subjects this character to a rape that she romanticizes to the point where rather than feeling violated, Dominique feels freed of her pesky virginity and liberated to abuse herself some more, if that was what her attacker thought was best.

Howard Roark is more of an archetype even than his lady love. But he manages to seem more feasible than her because Ayn invests him with some vulnerability, even if it’s hard to see at first. He truly is a genius, thwarted by circumstance and jealousy, as well as his own unwillingness to compromise.

All of the forces and folks arrayed against the protagonists are caricatures meant to make a point about what Ayn saw as the terrifying slide of our capitalist system toward a socialist/communist nightmare like the one from which she fled in the USSR. Her fear and loathing of the type of  “government” serving as a legitimizing force for the abominations that Stalin enacted on his people is understandable, but her slippery slope mentality was a classic fallacy of logic and unlikely to amount to her dire predictions. 

Now, you might be a little confused so far, as this book is listed as one of my favorites, and thusfar I’ve kinda taken it to pieces. I did this mainly because I like it to be clear that I love it in spite of it’s rather glaring flaws. I am not unaware of them, I just see the entire as worthwhile and rewarding even with all of these things in mind.

Despite the extremity of her position, and the exaggerated tendencies of her characters, Rand manages to point out some rather disturbing undercurrents in American political ans social culture. She mocks the entrenchment of the intellegensia, and their fear of  accepted wisdom being challenged in significant ways; this classically because their position is assured by the conventional wisdom, and where would they be without it? She also points out the fundamentally patronizing and frighteningly persistant attitude that government is somehow better equipped to dictate the structure of it’s citizens lives than they might do themselves. She cunningly illustrates the frightening potential of mob rule, and questions why utilitarianism has become just cause to deprive individuals of their rights and the products of their toil. 

Whatever your political bent may be, her critique of the nanny state has moments of luminous clarity, and is phrased in evocative language which has captured the imagination of generations. And though I do not agree with everything she says, I owe her a debt of gratitude for being a voice that could articulate the dignity of the human spirit in the face of oppression, and explicate the value of a reasoned struggle against political forces that serve to undermine liberty.