10000 Tampa Avenue
July 9, 1946
Mrs. J. F. Austin
Sandy Valley Road
Dear Mrs. Austin:
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate the honesty and seriousness of your inquiry—and particularly the last paragraph of your letter. It would take a whole philosophical volume to answer your questions properly, but I shall try to indicate a few brief answers.
You say that “Roark is like a portrait of Jesus”. This statement can mean many different things. In a very general sense, if you mean that both Roark and Jesus are held as embodiments of the perfect man, of a moral ideal—then you are right, but there the comparison must end. The moral ideal represented by Roark is not the one represented by Jesus.
There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism—the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means—one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one’s soul—(this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one’s soul?)—Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one’s soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one’s soul to the souls of others.
This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is why men have never succeeded in applying Christianity in practice, while they have preached it in theory for two thousand years. The reason of their failure was not men’s natural depravity or hypocrisy, which is the superficial (and vicious) explanation usually given. The reason is that a contradiction cannot be made to work. That is why the history of Christianity has been a continuous civil war—both literally (between sects
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and nations), and spiritually (within each man’s soul).
The solution? We have a choice. Either we accept the basic principle of Jesus—the pre-eminence of one’s own soul—and define a new code of ethics consistent with it (a code of Individualism). Or we accept altruism and the basic principle which it implies—the conception of man as a sacrificial animal, whose purpose is service to others, to the herd (which is what you may see in Europe right now—and which is certainly not what Jesus intended).
You ask: “Do you think it would demean man to think that he was the child of the Creator of the earth, stars, etc.? Don’t you think it would make his noble dreams and acts even more noble to think that he has a divine heritage?” To your first question I would answer: No, not necessarily. Perhaps a philosophical statement could be made defining God and man’s relation to God in a way which would not be demeaning to man and to his life on earth. But I do not know of such a statement among the popular conceptions of God.
The second question contains a most grievous demeaning of man, right in the question. It implies that man, even at his best, even after he has reached the highest perfection possible to him, is not noble or not noble enough. It implies that he needs something superhuman in order to make him nobler. It implies that that which is noble in him is divine, not human; and that the merely human is ignoble. This is what neither Roark nor I would ever accept.
You say: “Jesus said we were to love one another, and to bear each other’s burdens.” “To bear each other’s burdens”—is the purest statement of collectivism and altruism, the very thing to which Roark’s whole philosophy said “NO”.
As for “loving one another” (this means, I presume, indiscriminately), it is a precept which I do not understand. It has no actual meaning and no possible application in practice. Love is the recognition one grants to value or virtue. Since all men are not virtuous, to love them for their vices would be a monstrous conception and a vicious injustice. One can not love such men as Stalin or Hitler. One can not love both a man like Roark and a man like Toohey.
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If one says one does, it merely means that one does not love at all. To love the ideal and also those who betray it, is only to betray the ideal.
You say: “It would seem to me that Jesus loved people in a way that you would approve.” No, I do not approve of what you describe as that way. You say that “Jesus loved the dream of goodness He saw in every man.” I do not see a “dream of goodness” in every man, nor do I see any inborn evil or original sin in him. I see man as, above all, a creature of free will. This means that it is up to him, and to him alone, to decide whether he will be good or evil. Then one judges him on his own record, and one loves or hates him according to what he has deserved. I do not approve of loving anyone for a potentiality, particularly when his every action is a denial of that potentiality, is its exact opposite.
As to Roark, in relation to the kind of love for others which you describe, it is the whole point of Roark and of my philosophy that he was not concerned with other men. Yes, his goal was perfection, but not the perfection of the world or of others; only the perfection of that which lay within his power—of himself and his work. He did not set himself up as the power who should or could bring out the potential perfection in others. First, because he knew he could not do it; second, because he would not want to do it, if he could. Others did not interest him enough to become his concern. If he made it his goal to perfect them, it would mean that he had made them his concern, and he would then become the kind of second-hander whom he denounced most clearly and specifically.
Roark did better than to love men—he respected them. He granted to each of them the same right which he did not let them infringe in him—the right of an independent entity whose fate, life and perfection are in his own hands, not anyone else’s and certainly not Roark’s.
As to your sentence, “I should think that that kind of God would be the real one that your Howard Roark would love and serve”,—that is the only sentence in your letter which was offensive to me. The word “Roark” and the word “serve” are opposites—the two antagonists who will never meet and must not be connected. There is no such conception as “service” in Roark’s consciousness nor in the kind of universe to which he belongs and which he represents. Roark would
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not “serve” God nor anyone nor anything. He would never even use such a word in relation to himself. He would never think of “serving himself” or “serving his art”. Roark is a man who does not serve—that is his whole meaning. Roark is man as an end in himself. That which is an end in itself does not serve anything. That which serves is the means to something else which is the end.
I would venture to guess the nature of the basic question in your mind which prompted your inquiry. It seems to me that you are trying to define the relation of the philosophy presented in THE FOUNTAINHEAD to religion. Perhaps I can help you. If by religion you mean a system of philosophy which tells man how to reach his highest perfection, then THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a religious book (and in that sense I am a religious person). But my philosophy is a code of ethics based on man’s nature such as we observe him on this earth, and arrived at by means of man’s rational faculty. The question of God in the religious sense is outside the problems of my book or of my philosophy.
One may approach my philosophy from either one of two angles. If we assume that man was created by God, then man must live on earth according to his nature and to the rational faculty which God gave him as his distinguishing attribute and his only means of survival. Therefore, accepting an Individualist code of ethics, one would carry out God’s will and be a truly religious and moral person. Or we may assume that there is no God, that all we know is that we are men, we are here on earth, and it is up to us to enjoy it or to destroy ourselves. Then we still must live according to our nature and our rational faculty, and accept the highest perfection of man (defined by our reason) as our standard of morality. My code of ethics will apply and will hold in either case.
I am enclosing a printed letter about THE FOUNTAINHEAD and myself, which might interest you.