The noble soul

[P]erhaps the best way to communicate The Fountainhead‘s sense of life is by means of the quotation which had stood at the head of my manuscript, but which I removed from the final, published book. With this opportunity to explain it, I am glad to bring it back.

I removed it, because of my profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophically, Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat “Byronic” and mystically “malevolent” universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to “will,” or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man’s greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms.

This is especially true of the quotation I had chosen. I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet—psychological determinism. But if one takes it as a poetic projection of an emotional experience (and if, intellectually, one substitutes the concept of an acquired “basic premise” for the concept of an innate “fundamental certainty”), then that quotation communicates the inner state of an exalted self-esteem—and sums up the emotional consequences for which The Fountainhead provides the rational, philosophical base:

“It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank—to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning,—it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.—The noble soul has reverence for itself.—” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.)

This view of man has rarely been expressed in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which—in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion—the best of mankind’s youth start out in life. It is not even a view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important, that great achievements are within one’s capacity, and that great things lie ahead.

It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption, whose rapidity differs from man to man. Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of their elders who tell them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning one’s mind; security, of abandoning one’s values; practicality, of losing self-esteem. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.

There are very few guideposts to find. The Fountainhead is one of them.

This is one of the cardinal reasons of The Fountainhead‘s lasting appeal: it is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man’s glory, showing how much is possible.

It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man’s proper stature—and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning—and it is those few that I have always sought to address. The rest are no concern of mine; it is not me or The Fountainhead that they will betray: it is their own souls.

Ayn Rand, Introduction to The Fountainhead

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  • Varuna  On April 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I have not read Nietzsche. But his idea of “the will to power” came across most powerfully to me in a book by Paul Kriwaczek (“In Search of Zarathustra”). Kriwaczek writes that Darwin’s “On the origin of species…” was published in 1859 when Nietzsche was a young man. About its influence on Nietzsche and “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, he writes:

    “God is dead. Religious belief is a comforting but debilitating self-delusion.A Christian God can no longer express the highest ideals of Western civilization. Belief in God is now a burden on the individual and on society. A system of ethics and morality founded on faith is no longer valid; the time has come for a new set of values to take its place, beyond good and evil as religion has until now defined them.

    “Values are the creation of human beings. One person’s good is another’s evil. Nonetheless, we are all responsible for creating values for ourselves and for then living up to them. And the highest of all values is the duty to transcend ourselves, to struggle for the next step in our personal evolution: to leave behind the animal-natured “blond beast” and strive for the “super-human”, to become a “super-human”. Though most will never achieve it, this self-overcoming, this “will to power”, is the proper task of all human beings. Anything that supports this goal is good and anything that undermines it is evil:”

    He then quotes Nietzsche:

    “What is good? Everything that heightens the power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness.”

    This sounds very much like Rand. My problem with Rand is that she has a tendency to be shrill and inflexible. There is a hardness in her writing: a lack of “poetry”. Her insistence on black and white and no shades of grey I also find hard to accept. As for her characters, they seem highly romanticised to me, cold and unreal, yet not at all like the superman that Nietzsche talks of, the kind of being we should all aspire to. I read Rand’s novels 30 years ago, yet somehow this is how i remember them.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On April 7, 2009 at 8:16 pm

      I haven’t read Nietzsche in the original either. But you are right about the feeling that his ideas generate – the imagery, the exaltation of man – the idea of man as he should be. And his idea of the superman, as well as his identification of the master and slave moralities are very important indeed. It should be noted however, that Nietzsche derived his “will to power” from Schopenhauer’s “will to live.”

      As for the similarities of some of Nietzsche’s thoughts and those of Rand, it is because she went through a “Nietzschean phase.” In fact, just like Atlas Shrugged‘s three parts make a reference to Aristotle’s three laws of thought, Ayn Rand is supposed to have “toyed with the idea of opening every section of [The Fountainhead] with passages from Nietzsche’s work.” I have written about the Rand-Nietzsche relation here.

      Her writing, let me put it this way – she believed very strongly in herself and her ideas – and decided that there is no point beating around the bush. The “lack of ‘poetry'” I think I can grant. She is no poet, but she is a brilliant writer.

      Her insistence on black and white, I have to agree with. She gives the reasons for her position in some of her non-fiction, particularly “The Virtue of Selfishness.” People can, if they really decide to do it, lead a life that is completely “white.” The “there is no black and white, but only gray” position is a symptom of wanting to eat one’s cake and have it too. In the realm of ideas, gray doesn’t exist – wrong positions can, misunderstandings can, but not “gray,” not contradictions.

      Her characters are romanticized (and so are her stories – the ending of The Fountainhead particularly; in the real world, Roark would go to jail) because of her views on aesthetics – she said that “romantic realism” was the best kind of art. The “cold and unreal” doesn’t apply to everybody – a Dagny, or a Hank, or a Francisco are real characters because they are “flawed” like most men are.

      Roark and Galt seem unreal because Rand’s aim was “the projection of an ideal man” – a kind of superman if you will. They are unreal because such men don’t exist, yet (if they do, I don’t know any). But they don’t sound like the Nietzschean superman – perhaps you are referring to a joyous Zarathustra – because her stories have no place for them – except perhaps some parts of The Fountainhead. Roark could have fun, not Galt – he had to stop the motor of the world, after all.

  • Jim Baker  On July 15, 2009 at 11:08 am

    The title “Aristotle the Geek” is revealing; no one who understands or appreciates human greatness down to their deepest core would refer to Aristotle in such a manner. Your comments reveal a mind that may in some way understand human greatness intellectually but you don’t seem to to have the capacity to take that thought to its fullest meaning- no one who takes ideas seriously refers to Aristotle as a Geek.
    You do Aristotle, and Ayn Rand a great disservice– but most importantly you do a great disservice to yourself.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On July 15, 2009 at 1:01 pm

      # “The title ‘Aristotle the Geek’ is revealing…”
      It is.

      # “no one who understands or appreciates human greatness…”
      You are assuming that I am referring to Aristotle himself, and also that “geek” is a pejorative. It isn’t, not to me.

      # “you don’t seem to to have the capacity to take that thought to its fullest meaning…great disservice to yourself.”
      I am not a big fan of psychoanalysis, but then you are entitled to your opinion.

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