The theme of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead is: individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul. The story presents the career of Howard Roark, an architect and innovator who breaks with tradition, recognizes no authority but that of his own independent judgment, struggles for the integrity of his creative work against every form of social opposition — and wins. In this passage from a conversation between Roark and his friend Gail Wynand, Roark explains what he has discovered about the psychology of those whose basic motivation is the opposite of his own.
“It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating. . . . I’ve looked at him — at what’s left of him — and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness — in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy — all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego that he’s betrayed and given up. But everybody calls him selfish. . . .
“They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egoists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation — anchored to nothing. That’s the emptiness I couldn’t understand in people. That’s what stopped me whenever I faced a committee. Men without an ego. Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person. It’s everywhere and nowhere and you can’t reason with him. He’s not open to reason. You can’t speak to him — he can’t hear. You’re tried by an empty bench. A blind mass running amuck, to crush you without sense or purpose. . . .”
“Notice how they’ll accept anything except a man who stands alone. They recognize him at once. . . . There’s a special, insidious kind of hatred for him. They forgive criminals. They admire dictators. Crime and violence are a tie. A form of mutual dependence. They need ties. They’ve got to force their miserable little personalities on every single person they meet. The independent man kills them — because they don’t exist within him and that’s the only form of existence they know. Notice the malignant kind of resentment against any idea that propounds independence. Notice the malice toward an independent man. . . . ”