Thus Spoke Howard Roark
The Transformation of Nietzschean Ideas
in The Fountainhead


Essay by
Lester H. Hunt


July 2005

These are the notes for —
Thus Spoke Howard Roark:
The Transformation of Nietzschean Ideas in The Fountainhead

  1. I will speak in what follows of reasons that are in one sense or another internal to the text. There is in addition a well known external reason. The author later told a biographer that she read Friedrich Nietzsche intensively when she was a young student in Russia, and regarded him as her first adult intellectual ally. Years later, when she emigrated to America (a little more than a decade before beginning work on The Fountainhead), the first book she purchased in this country was an English translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. She read it many times, underlining her favorite passages. Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand (New York: Doubleday, 1987), p. 45. Return to text
  2. The relevant passage is one that Rand puts into the words of the villain of the piece, Ellsworth Toohey: "It is not our function — paraphrasing a philosopher whom we do not like — to be a fly-swatter." Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943), p. 360. Toohey is referring to the passage in the chapter "The Flies of the Market-Place," in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which in the only English translation then available, read, "Raise no longer an arm against them! Innumerable as they are, it is not thy lot to be a fly-flap!" Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent citations to The Fountainhead will be by page number in the first (1943) edition. Return to text
  3. Rand is here quoting from the Helen Zimmern translation. All subsequent quotations from Friedrich Nietzsche will be from the translations by Walter Kaufmann, and will be identified by section number enclosed in parentheses in the text, together with the following code to indicate the title of the work:
    1. Thus Spoke Zarathustra = Z
    2. On the Genealogy of Morals = GM
    3. Beyond Good and Evil = BGE
    4. Twilight of the Idols = T
    5. Antichrist = A
    6. Ecce Homo = EH
    7. The Will to Power = WP Return to text
  4. The Fountainhead (New York: New American Library, 1968), "Introduction," pp. xi. Return to text
  5. The rationale behind this use of "hegemonic" is I hope obvious enough. My choice of "dynamic" for the other term of this distinction was prompted by Aristotle's notion of dynamis (traditionally translated "potency" or "potentiality"). Return to text
  6. For a more elaborate discussion of Nietzsche's conception of power, see my Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), pp 72-77. Return to text
  7. On the other hand, there is almost no sense of conflict between any of the positive characters and any of the villainous characters that contrast with them. Return to text
  8. Whether we should see the controversial "rape" scene as actually depicting a rape is debatable. Wendy McElroy, a self-described "individualist feminist" sympathetic to Rand, argues that such scenes in Rand depict "rough sex" with "no real connection to actual rape." See her "Looking Through a Paradigm Darkly" in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, ed. by Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 157-71. For contrasting views, see the contributions by Barbara Harrison and Mimi Gladstein to the same volume. Return to text
  9. See "The Yes and Amen Song" (Z III 16), as well as the "yes and amen" refrain of "Before Sunrise" (Z III 4). Return to text
  10. I discuss this last idea a little more elaborately in Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue, pp. 166-67. Return to text
  11. My account of these ideas will be brief and as uncontroversial as I can make them. In other words, I will strive to avoid saying anything that cannot be found in existing accounts. A helpful recent account of these ideas is Brian Leiter's Nietzsche on Morality (New York: Routledge, 2001). Return to text
  12. Here I am eliding some interesting and difficult issues in interpreting Nietzsche. The main one is that of why Nietzsche thinks that the hegemonic aspect of power is necessary and sufficient (for such does seem to be his view) for spontaneity. As far as I know, he never discusses this in his published works. He writes as if he finds the truth on this point too obvious to call for further explanation or justification. It is conceivable that one might be able to cobble together an argument or justification from the Nachlass, the body of manuscript notes he left behind when his career as a writer abruptly came to an end in the early days of 1889. As far as I know, this has never been done. Return to text
  13. This is a view that Nietzsche often appears to hold. See, for instance, the discussion of "the sovereign individual" in GM II 2. Return to text
  14. These are the four characters after whom the four numbered parts of the novel are named. Dominique is the only major character who does not have an eponymous section of the book, and she is the only one who is not saliently interested in possessing power of any sort. (Rather curiously, she is the one character whose name obviously means "powerful.") Return to text
  15. In the case of Toohey, the contrast with Roark is signaled by the fact that his philosophical statements are (unlike those of Wynand) consistently the opposite of Roark's. In the case of Peter Keating, the architect who serves in some sense as Roark's rival, yet another signaling device is used; namely, plot structure. His career begins at the same time as Roark's, and mirrors it, with major events in one reflecting the other in reverse: for instance, Roark is forced by circumstances to leave New York to work in a quarry (possibly abandoning his career for good) on the same day that Keating celebrates becoming a partner in the city's leading firm, and the scandalous dynamiting and subsequent trial that result in Roark's final triumph simultaneously (if indirectly) bring about Keating's complete destruction. Return to text
  16. This idea was the thesis of a very persuasive philosophical fiction that Miguel de Unamuno wrote in 1930, called San Manuel Bueno, Mártir. As far as I know, the issue of Unamuno's possible influence on Rand is unexplored. Return to text
  17. Like these two, the other three examples are ones that obviously represent ways of life that are quite different from that of Wynand:
    1. "the man who takes credit for an achievement that is not his own",
    2. "the man whose sole aim is to make money" (the reasoning being that here the real ultimate aim is really "to show, to stun, to entertain, to impress others"), and
    3. the people who attend a lecture solely to be able to say "they have attended a lecture by a famous name," together with the lecturer whose sole motive is to make it possible for them to say that. (568) Return to text
  18. For one of many relevant passages in Nietzsche, see Z "Prologue" 9. Return to text
  19. Compare Zarathustra's language in the "The Way of the Creator" (Z I 17):
    "Do you seek the way to yourself? ... Then show me your right and your strength to do so. Are you a new strength and a new right? A first movement? A self-propelled wheel?" Return to text
  20. One possible strategy to develop an alternative interpretation of Nietzsche would be to look to the "anti-political" side of his thinking. Nietzsche states flatly that the state flourishes at the expense of culture, and vice versa. Obviously, he sides with culture in this zero-sum relationship. See T VIII 4. Since the state is an instance of hegemony, while culture is arguably a pure case of dynamic power, this could indicate that he recognized some sort of distinction between the two sorts of power and was developing some principled reason for ranking one above the other. Return to text
  21. "The Way of the Creator," quoted above in fn. 19, is about creators of new values. The notion that the ideal of "the creator" would also be embodied by a creator of things, or of new kinds of things, is one that Nietzsche never seems to entertain. Return to text
  22. Perhaps we can get an idea of the direction in which Nietzsche would have looked for a response to this challenge from a late, unpublished note (WP 751) in which he maintains that the greatest power-seekers, Napoleon, Caesar, and Alexander, were actually "despisers of honor." This suggests that his psychological portrait of the sort of power-seeker he admires might depict an extremely rare person, very different from the "masters" of antiquity. Return to text
  23. I would like to thank Imtiaz Moosa for discussing an earlier draft of this paper with me, and for pointing out to me the passages cited in fns. 20 and 22 above. Return to text


© 2005 Lester H. Hunt

Thus Spoke Howard Roark:
The Transformation of Nietzschean Ideas in The Fountainhead
by L.H. Hunt

Lester Hunt teaches philosophy at
the University of Wisconsin at Madison
and blogs at
"E pur si muove!"

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