139 East 35th Street
New York City
August 16, 1943
Mr. Archibald G. Ogden
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
468 Fourth Avenue
New York City
Dear Mr. Ogden:
I am now working on a short non-fiction book which I should like to have Bobbs-Merrill publish. Its provisional title is “THE MORAL BASIS OF INDIVIDUALISM”. We might find a better one, but this title will give you an exact idea of the book’s theme and purpose.
The book will present, in simple, concrete terms, the thesis of “The Fountainhead”—the statement of man’s essential integrity and self-sufficiency, the exposition of altruism as a fallacy and a moral evil, the definition of a proper moral law which is to be found neither in self-sacrifice for others nor in domination over others but in spiritual independence. And (which is not in “The Fountainhead” except by implication) an outline of the proper social, political and economic system deduced from and based on man’s moral nature—the capitalist system, its meaning, principles and actual working as the only moral system of society.
Capitalism has never found the moral principle on which it must stand. We have stood on it in fact, we have built our entire civilization upon it—but what we have preached and believed has been its exact opposite. The results are now destroying the world. There is no other explanation for the confusion, the helplessness, the intellectual silliness, the total insanity of mankind at present.
Contrary to the vulgar belief that men are motivated primarily by materialistic considerations, we now see the capitalist system being discredited and destroyed all over the world, even though this system has given men the greatest material comforts and benefits ever achieved on earth. The reason is that men “do not live by bread alone” and that the capitalist system has stood in their eyes for nothing but bread. They have been taught to consider it as a practical, realistic system, but not an ethical one. A system without an ideal. Every defender of capitalism, so far, has found nothing better to say than, in effect,
“Men are imperfect, so they’ll never work for anything but money, so capitalism is best, isn’t this sad?—communism is really the moral ideal, but human nature can never live up to it, etc. etc.” Say that to men—and they will kill themselves and others and destroy the world in order to reach the ideal. Look at them. They are doing a thorough job of it at this moment.
I find—in the horror of the present time and in the horror of man’s past history—not a proof of man’s essential evil, but a great and tragic proof of his essential morality, that is, his determination to act according to what he considers as right. Altruism (the conception of living for others as a virtue) has been preached as mankind’s moral ideal for centuries. And all the great horrors of history have been committed in the name of an altruistic purpose. After each disaster men have said: “The ideal was right, but Robespierre was the wrong man to put it into practice,” (or Torquemada, or Cromwell, or Lenin, or Hitler, or Stalin) and have gone on to try it again. At the price of incredible suffering and rivers of blood, mankind has stuck to the pursuit of its alleged moral ideal—surely a demonstration of men’s moral instinct. But we look on and say: “This noble ideal is beyond human nature, because men are imperfect and evil.”
Isn’t it time to stop and to question that noble ideal instead?
America has been living on a kind of double-standard, a terrible basic contradiction. We have functioned, in economics, on the principle of individualism—and achieved miracles. We have held, in spirit, a collectivist ideal—and achieved world disaster. Altruism is collectivism by definition. (You must live for others. Others are the State, the class, the race or whatever. You must live for the collective. You must live for the State.) We could go on with this contradiction for a while, but since man is a moral being the consequences were bound to catch up with us. They have.
Men grew prosperous, happy, successful under our system of individualism. But since they held as virtue the ideal of living for others, their own success gave them a feeling of guilt. The richer they grew, the guiltier they felt. They could not find the proper spiritual pride, peace and sense of fulfillment—which an act of virtue gives us—in their own achievement. Achievement was not a moral act. Self-sacrifice was. The more they achieved, the more they felt a need to apologize and atone for it
in some way. Their own success drove them to their own destruction.
We must define, understand and accept Individualism as a moral law, and Capitalism as its practical and proper expression. If we don’t—capitalism cannot be saved. If it is not saved—we’re finished, all of us, America and the world and every man, woman and child in it. Then nothing will be left but the cave and the club.
Look at the tempo of destruction around us. An idea is responsible for that—a fatally erroneous idea. An idea can stop it—a true one. How fast or how well will depend on the quality of the men who understand it and on what they do about it. But humanity cannot start to recover until the idea and direction of recovery become clear to them. Men do live through their minds. Everything we are and have comes from men’s thinking. Only an idea can save us.
This, briefly, will be the content and purpose of my book.
It will be a short book, actually a booklet, the kind that would sell for a dollar, I suppose. About fifty thousand words or less. The idea of “The Fountainhead” must be stated in non-fiction form—to stand on its own as an idea—more completely than it could be stated in a novel, without the distraction of a story and a plot. It will not, of course, interfere with “The Fountainhead” in any way. In fact, I think it would help the sale of “The Fountainhead.” Take notice of the reviewers who said that “The Fountainhead” could “change the life of anyone who read it.” I am now getting fan letters to that effect—readers speak of the difference “The Fountainhead” has made in their entire view of life. But the idea must be given the complete statement—particularly as applied to the sociological and economic realm—which most readers cannot make for themselves. And those who have not read “The Fountainhead” might be prompted to read it once they hear and understand the idea on which it is based. They might be baffled by the conception of a non-altruistic man as a noble, virtuous and heroic being. They might not be able to visualize him for themselves. Well—let them read about Howard Roark. In this way the novel and the booklet will complement each other.
Two years ago, I wrote a thirty-two page article called “The Individualist Manifesto.” It was not written for publication, but as an appeal to all individualists to unite for the preservation of our capitalist system. It stated briefly the ideas outlined above. I sent a few typewritten copies to prominent men. The response amazed me. Everyone who read it asked my permission to
make copies and circulate it. I received two offers to have it published—from conservative political organizations. I refused at the time, because the “Manifesto” was not written in a form proper for publication, it was an appeal, not a book. I intended to rewrite it, but have not done so, because just then Bobbs-Merrill “came into my life” with the contract for “The Fountainhead” and plunged me into a year and a half of the kind of work that made it impossible to attend to anything else. All this time I have been receiving inquiries about and requests for the “Manifesto.” So now that “The Fountainhead” is done, I decided to undertake the task of rewriting the “Manifesto” for publication.
I could have it published as a pamphlet by one of the organizations that are interested in it, but I would prefer, of course, to have it done by Bobbs-Merrill. The organizations concerned will give us a ready-made field of distribution and will more than cover the cost of publication, apart from the sale to the general public. I have not discussed the matter with them—I believe Bobbs-Merrill would have to discuss it and make the proper arrangements—but I know that these organizations would act as distributing agents for the booklet. Specifically, The Committee for Constitutional Government makes it a practice to buy in quantity such non-fiction books on the subject of capitalism as agree with their own viewpoint and to distribute them at large. They are doing it at present with “The Spirit of Enterprise” by Edgar M. Queeny, published by Scribners.
I am enclosing a letter I received from them recently. I have spoken to them and told them that I could not grant permission for reprints and quotations until the “Manifesto” itself had been published. They asked me to submit its full version to them for publication. But I think it would suit their purposes if we let them distribute the booklet published by Bobbs-Merrill—and they will then give us all the free publicity and plugging we might need.
Others with whom similar arrangements can be made are:
DeWitt M. Emery, President of the National Small Business Men’s Association.
Mervin K. Hart, President of the National Economic Council.
Joseph P. Kamp, President of the Constitutional Educational League.
The National Association of Manufacturers.
I am going on a lecture tour this fall and winter, to speak on the ideas of this booklet and of “The Fountainhead”.
I believe it will help the sale of both.[*]
I should like to sign a contract for the publication of the booklet now, in order to be free to refuse other offers. I shall have the booklet written in about a month. I am interested in a quick publication and would like to see it out this fall.
I would appreciate it if you would give this your serious consideration and let me know your answer as promptly as you find it possible.
*Although AR signed a contract with Charles Pearson Lectures, her work schedule prevented her from going on a lecture tour.