Chapter Five: Teleological Theories : Egoism
Section 5.  Egoist Heroes and Heroines : Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead, and the heroes of 9/11

Heroes of Individualism and Capitalism
Ayn Rand -- the most popular and philosophically important egoist this century -- often expresses the egoist conception of morality in terms of "heroism". But her conception of heroism is a decidedly "bourgeois"* one. The hero possesses virtues -- but the one virtue s/he possesses that is most important is the virtue of selfishness.

Does this sound like a legitimate virtue? It makes sense if one believes that one ought to do whatever makes one happy. In The Fountainhead, Rand's first best-seller novel, the hero is named Howard Roark.  He is portrayed as the embodiment of individual strength, and resolve, dedicated to the perfection of his craft -- architecture. His work is his life. Not money. Not fame. Not the love of another. Not helping others. He is inspired by doing creative work, and thereby becoming valuable. His value is not, however, in what he has to offer others -- that is an accidental good. His essential good, as portrayed by the author, is that he is single mindedly devoted to excellence and achievement in architecture. He overcomes the obstacles put in his way by those who would see him fail. He overcomes corporate demands for mediocrity and profit, and for designing to please the masses.

Rourk would never sacrifice his work for the benefit of a group. He would not sacrifice his inspiration for the benefit of society, or for another person. His life's work is his greatest responsibility, his greatest challenge, his greatest desire, and his greatest obligation.

Is Rourk a hero in your eyes? Is he not the American ideal? Does he not stand for the very principles which make this nation great?

Rand also is the trumpet for those who are driven to create for money, or rather, she is the harshest critic of those who would put social, political, and legal limits on others who would be capitalists, entrepreneurs, for the good of "society." Freedom to pursue one's inspiration -- wherever that leads -- is the only obligation that society has to it's members. Those independent and strong enough to survive in the midst of freedom are her great heroes.

Non-capitalist Heroes
How does Rourk compare to other heroes who have most recently captured American interest recently -- the NYC firefighters and police who perished in the collapsing Twin Towers on September 11? Are these people Randian heroes? Are they ideal bourgeois citizens? My question is: do you consider them heroes for the same reason Rand would consider a hero a hero? If not, do you believe that the Randian hero is satisfying? Or are there obligations that humans have which are not expressed -- and even dismissed -- by Rand's hero?

Let's look at an egoist's perspective on the heroes of 9/11 ....

*Bourgeois -- dominated by commercial and industrial interests; pursuit of material comforts and success

FYI: The following are Rand's works:

Atlas Shrugged (1957)
The Fountainhead (1943)
Anthem (1938, 1946)
We the Living (1936, 1959)

Books and Essays
Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982)
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd edn. (1990)
The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964)
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966)
Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1998)
The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (1969)
For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1961)
The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (1988)

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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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