You do wonder, though, what kind of mindset you’d need to choose The Fountainhead as your all-time favourite book. For a start, there’s Rand’s prose style — poetic and quite Hemingway-like in small doses; prolix, monumental, portentous in larger ones. Then there’s her political philosophy Objectivism, to which all else is subordinate. Instead of dialogue, her characters talk to one another like Gladstone to Queen Victoria — as if addressing a public meeting. They have no inner life and, like the strained plots, serve little purpose other than to reveal what Rand seems to think is the great division in the world — between uncompromising individualists like Roark and parasitical, mediocrity-fostering ‘second-handers’ such as the vile Ellsworth Toohey.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not worth reading. Hell no. Not if you’re conservative, at any rate. As I’ve grumbled before, one of the unfortunate facts of life is that most works of art are created by pinkos. So when you come upon a book where all the baddies are liberal-lefties and, better still, shown to be bad precisely because they are liberal-lefties, it feels as deliciously naughty and verboten and exciting as some pervy new sex act you’ve only just discovered your girlfriend is prepared to let you do.
This, I’m sure, is the real reason why Ayn Rand strikes such a chord with conservatives. It’s not so much that we love her heroes — not when, as Daniels points out, they have ‘all the human warmth of a praying mantis’ — as that we get so much pleasure loathing characters like her scheming collectivist Ellsworth Toohey.
Toohey, whose philosophy is ‘Don’t set out to raze all shrines — you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed’, is by far the book’s most successful creation because he’s drawn with such intensely loving hatred and such ice-clear understanding of how the liberal-left operates. He’s a monster not because he’s so nasty but because he’s so seemingly nice. He has that slippery plausibility and benign reasonableness you find in, say, Ken Livingstone. It’s that quality conservatives find most terrifying about liberals: the affable shamelessness with which they are capable of advocating a creed whose core aim is to force everyone to act in such a way that they will end up poorer, less free, less fulfilled and less happy.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"Deliciously anti-statist, but her philosophy is borderline Nazi"
James Delingpole of the Spectator reviews Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead: