10000 Tampa Avenue
March 4, 1945
Mr. O. W. Kracht
75 Cliff Street
New York City
Dear Mr. Kracht:
Thank you for your interesting letter. I really don’t think that an author should explain her book—a book must speak for itself. But since you were interested enough to write out your analysis in detail and to ask me how near you came to the truth, I feel I must answer you.
Your analysis comes close to the truth on some points and goes very far wrong on others. It is curious that the aspects you have covered correctly are legitimate deductions from the material of my book, they are contained in the book—but they are only secondary aspects of my theme, secondary consequences, and therefore they are correct only in the sense of a partial truth. The truth, but not the whole truth. You did not state the basic thesis of “The Fountainhead.” As I shall explain.
To take up your analysis point by point: I do not understand your comparison of “The Fountainhead” to Plato’s “Republic.” I presume you meant it only in a general way, in regard to my method—and even then it’s not correct. I hope you meant no comparison in philosophical content—since Plato’s “Republic” is the exact opposite of everything I and “The Fountainhead” stand for. Plato’s “Republic” is the archtype and grand-daddy of all the collectivist schemes that have plagued mankind since; as Plato is the ancestor of all collectivist thinkers and the spiritual father of Ellsworth Toohey. If you must classify me in relation to the ancient philosophers, count me in with Aristotle, the father of logic.
No, my characters are not symbols. They are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings. They are personifications of spiritual forces, if you wish—four basic types of the human soul. But, above all, as characters in a story, they are men, persons, people. They are most definitely “meant to be human beings”—though not “parodies of other living men in the public limelight,” not any actual public figures. Don’t tell me that there are no such people in real life. If there aren’t, it’s God’s fault, not mine. But, as a matter of fact, there are.
You are correct in assuming that the four men whose names head the four parts of the book [crossed out by AR in pencil]
You are correct in assuming that the four men whose names head the four parts of the book are the four pillars of my theme. But your definition of them is not correct, because you seem to have looked at the theme only in its secondary aspects.
The thesis of “The Fountainhead” is the statement of a new—and proper—code of ethics. Altruism (living for others), which has always been mankind’s moral ideal, is actually the most vicious principle ever stated, the source of all evil, the principle of slavery, dependence and degradation. The proper moral ideal is independence—spiritual independence—which means absolute egoism in the sense represented by Howard Roark.
If you want the key sentence to “The Fountainhead”—it’s in Roark’s speech. “I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.” Everything that “The Fountainhead” is about is right there, in that sentence. All the rest of the book is a detailed illustration of the various aspects of this statement, a picture of how the abstract principles of egoism and altruism work out in people and in the events of concrete reality.
The general theme of “The Fountainhead” is the conflict between good and evil—in a new definition. More specifically, it is the conflict between Individualism and Collectivism. Not in politics, but in man’s soul.
This, I think, is where you missed the point. Since all theories about “historical necessity” or “historical determinism” are so much tripe invented by the Tooheys of the world for the sole purpose of enslaving humanity—the field of politics is a secondary one, an effect, not a cause, a result, not a reason. Men make politics, not politics—men. Political events are determined by political theories—not by any sort of “economic necessity”—and political theories are determined by men’s thinking. To understand Individualism and Collectivism in their political consequences, we must begin at the beginning—by understanding what these two principles actually mean in application to men, to men’s minds, characters and behavior, how these two principles work, what are the roots, the reasons and the motives behind them, what kind of human spirit produces an individualist or a collectivist.
So, you see, “The Fountainhead” is a political book only in a secondary sense—only in the sense that politics are determined by the kind of moral philosophy men have accepted. Primarily, “The Fountainhead” is a book on ethics.
Now, to be more specific, the question of Individualism and Collectivism is a question of man’s relation to other men. The relation of the EGO to society. Therefore, every character in my book, down to the most minor ones, represents one of the many possible aspects of that relation.
My four key men are the four basic forms of the relation of the self to others. Here is where your analysis shocked me: the antagonists of my story are not Wynand and Toohey, but ROARK and TOOHEY. They are the two poles of good and evil. Everybody else stands somewhere between them. Roark—the complete individualist. Toohey—the complete collectivist. Roark—the ideal. Toohey—the absolute evil.
Roark is the prime mover, the originator, the totally self-sufficient man, for whom other people do not exist in any primary, important sense. The man who lives only for himself. The man who lives by, for and through himself. The absolute egotist.
Toohey is literally the selfless man—the man without personal content or meaning—the parasite who can exist only through others, through his power over them—the complete, real and consistent altruist. The man who—knowing his own viciousness—wants a world built on viciousness.
Keating is the parasite who tries to fool himself by moral justifications in order to escape the realization of his own mediocrity—the unthinking cannon fodder of collectivism.
Wynand is a prime mover who has gone wrong by making one crucial mistake, the mistake made by so many great men—that of placing his goal within others, of seeking greatness in power over others (which is a form of spiritual collectivism). A man who should have been a Roark, Wynand destroyed himself by living his life as a second-hander. Wynand is the man who makes the Tooheys possible—since the Tooheys are impotent by themselves.
(Wynand is not the opposite of Toohey—Roark is. Wynand is not an individualist—he certainly did not live as one. He should have been one, but he wasn’t. That is his unforgiveable sin.)
If you start with the principle that independence is the keystone of human greatness, that the absolute individualist is the moral man, the perfect man, the great man—here is how my four key characters stand in relation to that principle:
Keating—who could not be great and didn’t know it.
Toohey—who could not be and knew it.
Wynand—who could have been.
Roark—who could and was.
Now, to come back to your analysis: you have described Toohey and Keating fairly accurately. You’re completely wrong on Wynand. Wynand is not the symbol of free enterprise—Roark is. (If you wish to call it a symbol.) Free enterprise was not made by those who catered to the masses, as Wynand did, but by the originators and innovators who went against the masses, against all public opinion, against all “trends” and “currents.” Wynand—if you want to look at him in one of his lesser aspects, in the narrow, “journalistic” sense of contemporary events—represents the men who are destroying free enterprise today—the industrialists and capitalists who are digging their own graves and cutting their own throats by fostering, feeding, employing and supporting their own murderers. As witness any so-called conservative newspaper or any other business enterprise today.
You are frightfully wrong in your definition of Roark. He is not “the symbol of man’s conscience.” He is the symbol of man. He is man as god, the perfect human being, the absolute human ideal.
When you say that Roark “cannot possibly be a human being,” you are using the word “human” as Toohey would use it—that is, to mean something weak, small, cowardly, uncertain and depraved. To mean a Peter Keating. That’s just another form of our present-day corruption of thought and language. It implies the idea that vices are human, but virtues are not. I grant you that this is the way everybody uses the word “human” nowadays. The Tooheys of the world saw to the spreading of that habit. Its purpose is simple. It tells us in effect: “Don’t try to have integrity, to be strong, brave, honest, intelligent, great—it isn’t human. Be satisfied with your rottenness and your sweet little drooling weaknesses—be small—that’s human.”
Roark is the only one in the book who is completely human—man as he should be. Keating is sub-human. If Keating were the typical representative of humanity, we would never have risen out of the swamp and the cave. It was not the Keatings who got us out. Never mind about there being more Keatings than Roarks. It’s the Roarks who count.
And—oh hell!—(excuse me, but this point does make me angry)—you’re wrong when you speak of Roark “building the symbol of a dying era.” What dying era? Individualism is not dying, but it will die if those who
defend it do not stop talking about “dying eras.” That’s pure Ellsworth Toohey party line. True, at the moment, the world is headed toward the chaos, horror and depravity of collectivism—but the world does not have to go that way. There are no “waves of the future” and no “historical materialism.” Any trend can be stopped. Any step can be retraced—if men understand where they’re going. Collectivism cannot win. It can only destroy. Toohey did not gain control of the Banner—he merely destroyed the Banner. Toohey did not destroy Wynand—Wynand destroyed himself. Who won? Roark.
Free enterprise as a system may be wiped out for a while by fools, cowards and second-handers—but its spirit (Individualism, which means Man’s spirit) cannot be destroyed, it will go on and win in the end, even if it takes centuries, as it has always won in the past. Because individualism is the only thing that works or can work.
You have not understood my book at all if you really thought that I wrote some sort of dirge to a “dying era.” But I take it you merely used that expression carelessly, since one hears it so often nowadays. NO, Roark did not build any kind of memorial to the grave of free enterprise. He built a monument to the spirit of Man, which is invincible and indestructible.
Didn’t you understand how completely Toohey was defeated in the book? True, Toohey will go on—the Tooheys will always go on—but they can never win. What could possibly have led you to the conclusion that the Wynand Building was a symbol of the end of capitalism, which would mean a symbol of Toohey’s victory? How could anyone read that into my book? Didn’t you understand the last three pages?
Now as to Dominique, she is not the symbol of anything. She is merely the kind of woman who would be worthy of Roark. She is not “the symbol of woman’s soul”—I wouldn’t know what that means. When you say that she is “expected to share and understand, to partake, enjoy and forgive” all men—you forget that she is the most unbending and unforgiving character in the book, much more unforgiving than Roark.
Now that I’ve written you a whole treatise—(and here I thought that 754 pages on a subject were really enough)—will you answer a question for me? This baffles me a little. How—if you were interested in my book enough to give it thought and descussion—did you miss the three places where I present my whole thesis as clearly, specifically and completely as one would do in a non-fiction article? I mean: 1. The conversation
of Roark and Wynand aboard the yacht. 2. Toohey’s speech to Keating. 3. Roark’s speech at his trial. Particularly this last. I see no reference in your analysis to the ideas presented in these passages; no reference to moral philosophy. Yet every character and event in the book is a direct, specific illustration of the statements made in these three passages. And I cannot quite understand how there can really be any question about the theme or meaning of “The Fountainhead” when Roark’s speech is in the book. No other author ever wrote a summary of his theme within his book as explicitly as I did. Everything I said in this letter is in that speech. If you can answer this question, please do. I’d like to know.
As to my title—well, isn’t it implicit in my theme? Man is the source of every achievement, of everything high, noble and great on earth. Man, not men. Man, not society. Man, not the collective. Man’s EGO is the source, the dynamo, the prime mover—THE FOUNTAINHEAD.
The first half of Kracht’s March 9, 1945, response is missing, but in the second half he admits his misunderstandings and ends with “You see, I am not a Roark…but you have opened my eyes and for this I am grateful.”