Paul and I are home early from our trip to Vegas, so I should be able to do a bit of blogging this weekend on various philosophical matters.
I have been thinking a great deal about the requirements of integrity lately, particularly Gail Wynand’s very serious game of ruining men of integrity in The Fountainhead:
It began with the case of Dwight Carson. Dwight Carson was a talented young writer who had achieved the spotless reputation of a man passionately devoted to his convictions. He upheld the cause of the individual against the masses. He wrote for magazines of great prestige and small circulation, which were no threat to Wynand. Wynand bought Dwight Carson. He forced Carson to write a column in the Banner, dedicated to preaching the superiority of the masses over the man of genius. It was a bad column, dull and unconvincing; it made many people angry. It was a waste of space and of a big salary. Wynand insisted on continuing it.
Even Alvah Scarret was shocked by Carson’s apostasy. “Anybody else, Gail,” he said, “but, honest, I didn’t expect it of Carson.” Wynand laughed; he laughed too long, as if he could not stop it; his laughter had an edge of hysteria. Scarret frowned; he did not like the sight of Wynand being unable to control an emotion; it contradicted everything he knew of Wynand; it gave Scarret a funny feeling of apprehension, like the sight of a tiny crack in a solid wall; the crack could not possibly endanger the wall–except that it had no business being there.
A few months later Wynand bought a young writer from a radical magazine, a man known for his honesty, and put him to work on a series of articles glorifying exceptional men and damning the masses. That, too, made a great many of his readers angry. He continued it. He seemed not to care any longer about the delicate signs of effect on circulation.
He hired a sensitive poet to cover baseball games. He hired an art expert to handle financial news. He got a socialist to defend factory owners and a conservative to champion labor. He forced an atheist to write on the glories of religion. He made a disciplined scientist proclaim the superiority of mystical intuition over the scientific method. He gave a great symphony conductor a munificent yearly income, for no work at all, on the sole condition that he never conduct an orchestra again.
Some of these men had refused, at first. But they surrendered when they found themselves on the edge of bankruptcy through a series of untraceable circumstances within a few years. Some of the men were famous, others obscure. Wynand showed no interest in the previous standing of his prey. He showed no interest in men of glittering success who had commercialized their careers and held no particular beliefs of any kind. His victims had a single attribute in common: their immaculate integrity.
Once they were broken, Wynand continued to pay them scrupulously. But he felt no further concern for them and no desire to see them again. Dwight Carson became a dipsomaniac. Two men became drug addicts. One committed suicide. This last was too much for Scarret. “Isn’t it going too far, Gail?” he asked. “That was practically murder.”
“Not at all,” said Wynand, “I was merely an outside circumstance. The cause was in him. If lightning strikes a rotten tree and it collapses, it’s not the fault of the lightning.”
“But what do you call a healthy tree?” “They don’t exist, Alvah,” said Wynand cheerfully, “they don’t exist.”
In the novel, only Roark, the genuinely healthy tree, is impervious to Wynand’s attempts to break him:
When Roark entered the office, Wynand said: “How do you do, Mr. Roark,” his voice gracious and formal. No memory of intimacy remained on his blank, courteous face.
Roark handed him the plans of the house and a large perspective drawing. Wynand studied each sheet. He held the drawing for a long time. Then he looked up.
“I am very much impressed, Mr. Roark.” The voice was offensively correct. “I have been quite impressed by you from the first. I have thought it over and I want to make a special deal with you.”
His glance was directed at Roark with a soft emphasis, almost with tenderness; as if he were showing that he wished to treat Roark cautiously, to spare him intact for a purpose of his own.
He lifted the sketch and held it up between two fingers, letting all the light hit it straight on; the white sheet glowed as a reflector for a moment, pushing the black pencil lines eloquently forward.
“You want to see this house erected?” Wynand asked softly.
“You want it very much?”
“Yes,” said Roark.
Wynand did not move his hand, only parted his fingers and let the cardboard drop face down on the desk.
“It will be erected, Mr. Roark. Just as you designed it. Just as it stands on this sketch. On one condition.”
Roark sat leaning back, his hands in his pockets, attentive, waiting.
“You don’t want to ask me what condition, Mr. Roark? Very well, I’ll tell you. I shall accept this house on condition that you accept the deal I offer you. I wish to sign a contract whereby you will be sole architect for any building I undertake to erect in the future. As you realize, this would be quite an assignment. I venture to say I control more structural work than any other single person in the country. Every man in your profession has wanted to be known as my exclusive architect. I am offering it to you. In exchange, you will have to submit yourself to certain conditions. Before I name them, I’d like to point out some of the consequences, should you refuse. As you may have heard, I do not like to be refused. The power I hold can work two ways. It would be easy for me to arrange that no commission be available to you anywhere in this country. You have a small following of your own, but no prospective employer can withstand the kind of pressure I am in a position to exert. You have gone through wasted periods of your life before. They were nothing, compared to the blockade I can impose. You might have to go back to a granite quarry–oh yes, I know about that, summer of 1928, the Francon quarry in Connecticut–how?–private detectives, Mr. Roark–you might have to go back to a granite quarry, only I shall see to it that the quarries also will be closed to you. Now I’ll tell you what I want of you.”
In all the gossip about Gail Wynand, no one had ever mentioned the expression of his face as it was in this moment. The few men who had seen it did not talk about it. Of these men, Dwight Carson had been the first. Wynand’s lips were parted, his eyes brilliant. It was an expression of sensual pleasure derived from agony–the agony of his victim or his own, or both.
“I want you to design all my future commercial structures–as the public wishes commercial structures to be designed. You’ll build Colonial houses, Rococo hotels and semi-Grecian office buildings. You’ll exercise your matchless ingenuity within forms chosen by the taste of the people–and you’ll make money for me. You’ll take your spectacular talent and make it obedient. Originality and subservience together. They call it harmony. You’ll create in your sphere what the Banner is in mine. Do you think it took no talent to create the Banner? Such will be your future career. But the house you’ve designed for me shall be erected as you designed it. It will be the last Roark building to rise on earth. Nobody will have one after mine. You’ve read about ancient rulers who put to death the architect of their palace, that no others might equal the glory he had given them. They killed the architect or cut his eyes out. Modern methods are different. For the rest of your life you’ll obey the will of the majority. I shan’t attempt to offer you any arguments. I am merely stating an alternative. You’re the kind of man who can understand plain language. You have a simple choice: if you refuse, you’ll never build anything again; if you accept, you’ll build this house which you want so much to see erected, and a great many other houses which you won’t like, but which will make money for both of us. For the rest of your life you’ll design rental developments, such as Stoneridge. That is what I want.”
He leaned forward, waiting for one of the reactions he knew well and enjoyed: a look of anger, or indignation, or ferocious pride.
“Why, of course,” said Roark gaily. “I’ll be glad to do it. That’s easy.”
He reached over, took a pencil and the first piece of paper he saw on Wynand’s desk–a letter with an imposing letterhead. He drew rapidly on the back of the letter. The motion of his hand was smooth and confident. Wynand looked at his face bent over the paper; he saw the unwrinkled forehead, the straight line of the eyebrows, attentive, but untroubled by effort.
Roark raised his head and threw the paper to Wynand across the desk.
“Is this what you want?”
Wynand’s house stood drawn on the paper–with Colonial porches, a gambrel roof, two massive chimneys, a few little pilasters, a few porthole windows. It was not a parody, it was a serious job of adaptation in what any professor would have called excellent taste.
“Good God, no!” The gasp was instinctive and immediate.
“Then shut up,” said Roark, “and don’t ever let me hear any architectural suggestions.”
Wynand slumped down in his chair and laughed. He laughed for a long time, unable to stop. It was not a happy sound.
Roark shook his head wearily. “You knew better than that. And it’s such an old one to me. My antisocial stubbornness is so well known that I didn’t think anyone would waste time trying to tempt me again.”
“Howard. I meant it. Until I saw this.”
I knew you meant it. I didn’t think you could be such a fool.”
“You knew you were taking a terrible kind of chance?”
“None at all. I had an ally I could trust.”
“What? Your integrity?”
Wynand sat looking down at the surface of his desk. After a while he said:
“You’re wrong about that.”
“I don’t think so.”
Gail Wynand’s failure to break Roark is not simply a matter of Roark having something to offer Wynand. The basic issue is that Roark cannot be bought and sold because knows that to never build again would be preferable to building contrary to his artistic integrity. We discover this fact in the story of the Manhattan Bank building, below. To set the scene, we know from earlier in the chapter that Roark is desperate for the Manhattan Bank commission. If he does not get it, he will have to shut down his office. He has been waiting to hear for weeks and finally does.
The telephone rang late on Monday afternoon.
“Well, Mr. Roark, the commission’s yours,” said Weidler.
Roark bowed. It was best not to trust his voice for a few minutes.
The chairman smiled amiably, inviting him to sit down. Roark sat down by the side of the table that supported his drawings. His hand rested on the table. The polished mahogany felt warm and living under his fingers; it was almost as if he were pressing his hand against the foundations of his building; his greatest building, fifty stories to rise in the center of Manhattan.
“I must tell you,” the chairman was saying, “that we’ve had a hell of a fight over that building of yours. Thank God it’s over. Some of our members just couldn’t swallow your radical innovations. You know how stupidly conservative some people are. But we’ve found a way to please them, and we got their consent. Mr. Weidler here was really magnificently convincing on your behalf.”
A great deal more was said by the three men. Roark barely heard it. He was thinking of the first bite of machine into earth that begins an excavation. Then he heard the chairman saying: “… and so it’s yours, on one minor condition.” He heard that and looked at the chairman.
“It’s a small compromise, and when you agree to it we can sign the contract. It’s only an inconsequential matter of the building’s appearance. I understand that you modernists attach no great importance to a mere facade, it’s the plan that counts with you, quite rightly, and we wouldn’t think of altering your plan in any way, it’s the logic of the plan that sold us on the building. So I’m sure you won’t mind.”
“What do you want?”
“It’s only a matter of a slight alteration in the facade. I’ll show you. Our Mr. Parker’s son is studying architecture and we had him draw us up a sketch, just a rough sketch to illustrate what we had in mind and to show the members of the board, because they couldn’t have visualized the compromise we offered. Here it is.”
He pulled a sketch from under the drawings on the table and handed it to Roark.
It was Roark’s building on the sketch, very neatly drawn. It was his building, but it had a simplified Doric portico in front, a cornice on top, and his ornament was replaced by a stylized Greek ornament.
Roark got up. He had to stand. He concentrated on the effort of standing. It made the rest easier. He leaned on one straight arm, his hand closed over the edge of the table, the tendons showing under the skin of his wrist.
“You see the point?” said the chairman soothingly. “Our conservatives simply refused to accept a queer stark building like yours. And they claim that the public won’t accept it either. So we hit upon a middle course. In this way, though it’s not traditional architecture of course, it will give the public the impression of what they’re accustomed to. It adds a certain air of sound, stable dignity–and that’s what we want in a bank, isn’t it? It does seem to he an unwritten law that a bank must have a Classic portico–and a bank is not exactly the right institution to parade law-breaking and rebellion. Undermines that intangible feeling of confidence, you know. People don’t trust novelty. But this is the scheme that pleased everybody. Personally, I wouldn’t insist on it, but I really don’t see that it spoils anything. And that’s what the board has decided. Of course, we don’t mean that we want you to follow this sketch. But it gives you our general idea and you’ll work it out yourself, make your own adaptation of the Classic motive to the facade.”
Then Roark answered. The men could not classify the tone of his voice; they could not decide whether it was too great a calm or too great an emotion. They concluded that it was calm, because the voice moved forward evenly, without stress, without color, each syllable spaced as by a machine; only the air in the room was not the air that vibrates to a calm voice.
They concluded that there was nothing abnormal in the manner of the man who was speaking, except the fact that his right hand would not leave the edge of the table, and when he had to move the drawings, he did it with his left hand, like a man with one arm paralyzed.
He spoke for a long time. He explained why this structure could not have a Classic motive on its facade. He explained why an honest building, like an honest man, had to he of one piece and one faith; what constituted the life source, the idea in any existing thing or creature, and why–if one smallest part committed treason to that idea–the thing or the creature was dead; and why the good, the high and the noble on earth was only that which kept its integrity.
The chairman interrupted him:
“Mr. Roark, I agree with you. There’s no answer to what you’re saying. But unfortunately, in practical life, one can’t always he so flawlessly consistent. There’s always the incalculable human element of emotion. We can’t fight that with cold logic. This discussion is actually superfluous. I can agree with you, but I can’t help you. The matter is closed. It was the board’s final decision–after more than usually prolonged consideration, as you know.”
“Will you let me appear before the board and speak to them?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Roark, but the board will not re-open the question for further debate. It was final. I can only ask you to state whether you agree to accept the commission on our terms or not. I must admit that the board has considered the possibility of your refusal. In which case, the name of another architect, one Gordon L. Prescott, has been mentioned most favorably as an alternative. But I told the board that I felt certain you would accept.” He waited. Roark said nothing.
“You understand the situation, Mr. Roark?”
“Yes,” said Roark. His eyes were lowered. He was looking down at the drawings.
Roark did not answer. “Yes or no, Mr. Roark?”
Roark’s head leaned back. He closed his eyes. “No,” said Roark.
After a while the chairman asked: “Do you realize what you’re doing?”
“Quite,” said Roark.
“Good God!” Weidler cried suddenly. “Don’t you know how big a commission this is? You’re a young man, you won’t get another chance like this. And… all right, damn it all, I’ll say it! You need this! I know how badly you need it!”
Roark gathered the drawings from the table, rolled them together and put them under his arm.
“It’s sheer insanity!” Weidler moaned. “I want you. We want your building. You need the commission. Do you have to be quite so fanatical and selfless about it?”
“What?” Roark asked incredulously.
“Fanatical and selfless.”
Roark smiled. He looked down at his drawings. His elbow moved a little, pressing them to his body. He said:
“That was the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do.” He walked back to his office. He gathered his drawing instruments and the few things he had there. It made one package and he carded it under his arm. He locked the door and gave the key to the rental agent. He told the agent that he was closing his office. He walked home and left the package there. Then he went to Mike’s Donnigan’s house.
Some Objectivists occasionally wonder whether such “extreme” action was really necessary for Roark. I say: Yes, absolutely positively without a doubt, YES! Roark would have been a broken man, a pale shadow of an architect, if he had been willing to sell his vision for the sake of a particular commission. He would have lost the right to insist upon his moral vision with other clients. His artistic integrity would have been revealed as a sham for all the world to see. He would have been as bad off as Dwight Carson, if not worse.
Of course, we all need not care about architecture so much. But we ought to care deeply and passionately about our work and values, whatever that may be. Thus a physician ought never recommend unnecessary procedures for the sake of greater reimbursement, even if such would help fund his development of a cancer treatment. A programmer should never create programs that don’t work so as to create more business down the road. A salesman should never lie about a product’s benefits in order to make a sale now. Such actions are simply beyond the pale, in the same way that a Classical facade on proposed building is for Roark.
In short, the point of Roark’s declining the Manhattan Bank building is not to show us the evils of Classical facades or the glories of modern architecture. The point is a broader, moral one about the need for a deep and inviolate integrityabout our values — if we are to have lives worth living at all.
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