Inspiration from Ayn Rand
By David Henderson
Some of the commenters on my post on Ayn Rand didn’t like the fact that the book I discussed revealed some of the pretty-negative parts of Ayn Rand’s character. One commenter, Brianna, wrote:
What matters in the end are her books and her philosophy.
I think lots of things matter. For me, the reason Anne Heller’s book matters is three-fold:
(1) It explains a lot of things that are otherwise a mystery, like some of Ayn Rand’s intense denunciations of people who disagreed with her.
(2) As I said in the above post, and which no one commented on, it illustrates the importance of being willing to admit mistakes, and
(3) As I mentioned in the post, it shows the bigger world Rand acted in and how seriously she was taken.
Putting all that together, imagine someone with Ayn Rand’s intellect and clarity who had Milton Friedman’s spiritual generosity and warmth. Both were awesome people. The combination would have been incredible. I admit that it might also have been impossible. The drugs Ayn Rand took helped her with her clarity but also, probably, contributed to her nastiness. Still the combination is worth contemplating because she could have traded off differently.
Nevertheless, like some of the commenters, I too took huge inspiration from Ayn Rand. I think it’s a fairly safe statement that I did three major things in my life I would not have done had I not read The Fountainhead:
(1) Become a libertarian.
(2) Become an economist.
(3) Immigrated to the United States.
Indeed, Barbara Branden, in her book, The Passion of Ayn Rand, quoted from an unpublished obituary of Rand that I had sent to Barbara. Here’s the quote:
Ayn Rand got me thinking about what kind of political system is proper for an autonomous human being to live in, and my thinking about that led me to become an economist. She helped me, perhaps more than anyone else, to live my life.
So here are two of my favorite inspirational sections from The Fountainhead that really have helped me life my life. Every so often I go back to them.
The scene where the Dean kicks Howard Roark out of architecture school.
“Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”
“My dear fellow, who will let you?”
“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”
The scene where Dominique visits Roark in an Ohio city after he has left New York, where he has built skyscrapers and is now building a 5-story department store. Incidentally, I quoted this in a graduation speech I gave in 1981 at the high school from which I had graduated in 1967:
“Roark, its the quarry again.”
He smiled. “If you wish. Only it isn’t.”
“After the Enright House? After the Cord Building?”
“I don’t think of it that way.”
“How do you think of it?”
“I love doing it. Every building is like a person. Single and unrepeatable.”
He was looking across the street. He had not changed. There was the old sense of lightness in him, of ease in motion, in action, in thought. She said, her sentence without beginning or end:
“. . . doing five-story buildings for the rest of your life . . .”
“If necessary. But I don’t think it will be like that.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“I’m not waiting.”
Finally, I think it was Steve Cox who wrote somewhere that one of the under-appreciated parts of Rand’s work is her sharp sense of humor. Here’s one of my favorite humorous passages. It’s her description of the architecture school from which Roark was expelled:
It looked like a medieval fortress, with a Gothic cathedral grafted to its belly. The fortress was eminently suited to its purpose, with stout, brick walls, a few slits wide enough for sentries, ramparts behind which defending archers could hide, and corner turrets from which boiling oil could be poured upon the attacker–should such an emergency arise in an institute of learning.