Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggert and Their Differences in Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged [Spoiler Alert]

"Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won." -Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
"Ayn Rand? Oh yeah, I've read Ayn Rand. She's got some interesting ideas, but after awhile I'm like, 'Okay, I get it! You don't have to keep bashing me over the head with it.'" -Every person ever when Ayn Rand comes up in conversation, usually while mispronouncing her name and just before articulating a facile, if not mis- understanding of her novels. They do say attention spans are getting shorter these days. Maybe Rand should have just posted a little meme with a sarcastic caption on it to her Tumblr.
Spoiler alert! If you have not read The Fountainhead and/or Atlas Shrugged and don't want the story plots spoiled, do not read on!

In the latest update to The Humble Libertarian, I left you with something to ponder:
"The question to ponder meanwhile, is the difference between Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggert.

I suppose by even writing this I have assented to the belief that I live in Dominique's circumstances rather than Dagny's, but the matter, like so many, seems unsettled in my mind..."

Here's the difference (and please let me know if this is something others have noted because I'd love to get more thoughts on this):

Actually, before the differences, let's review the similarities. Each is the main character in her respective story, a strong female protagonist who must discover that one of her premises is flawed to adjust her life and actions accordingly.

You object that Howard Roark is the main character in The Fountainhead? I bet you thought William Wallace was the main character in Braveheart.

No, Roark is part of the terrain in the Fountainhead, fixed and unmoving, already fully-realized and self-actualized, sprung fully-formed from the head of Ayn Rand-- already immortal-- from the very first pages of the book, wherein he lectures his academic "superior" about the regressive and unimaginative malaise that plagues art and architecture in their day. As stated in the similarities between Dagny and Dominique above, it is Dominique that has to realize something new in order to grow as a person. It is Dominique with a conflict to resolve. The Fountainhead is the story of Dominique Francon. (Extra credit then, to the first commenter to correctly identify the real main character in Braveheart.)

The difference (which I was shocked to realize finally and after embarrassingly-too-many long years obsessing over their stories) between Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggert is that they each share the exact opposite premise and must each discover by novel's end that their premise is incorrect.

Dominique begins The Fountainhead bewildered by the absurdity and evil of the world. When she discovers a genius so great as Howard Roark, her instant reaction is a violent hatred and desire to destroy all of his buildings because she cannot bear the thought of him giving such great wonders to a world that cannot appreciate them. She despises him for giving what is holy to dogs, for casting the pearls of his genius before swine.

Why continue to feed the looters? Why give the parasites more wonders of the human spirit to leech dry, to appropriate for their own vulgar purposes, to gaze on with their own undiscerning eyes, to hold up and insult by saying, "Yes, what great genuis! Much like [insert bland mediocrity here]." Why should Howard Roark hold the weight of so many such small people up on his giant shoulders? Why not just shrug?

You see? Dominique wants to do at the beginning of the novel, what Dagny must learn to do by the end of her novel. But Dominique learns by the end not to be afraid of the world and not to run away from it and go on strike (as she actually proposes to Howard Roark, who gently and compassionately refuses while firmly correcting her error, saying it would kill his spirit and even her love for him).

Isn't it strange? This is the exact opposite of Ayn Rand's message in her following and last novel, her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. At the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny is like Howard Roark. She believes that the world's evil is so much infinitely smaller than her goodness, than the greatness of her productive power, that she can outmatch the looters. They'll tax her more? Whatever, she'll produce more. They'll stand in her way? She'll find another way around them. She'll let nothing stand between her and her goals. In the meantime she'll give the dogs the crumbs from her table and shrug it off as a cost of doing business.

In The Fountainhead, Roark's abiding goodness is untouchable by the world. All the pain of suffering its injustices can only go down to a certain point. Underneath that is an untouchable core of gold.

But by the end of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny must learn the opposite lesson: that she is allowing evil to continue and offering it her sanction by feeding the mouth that bites her, by filling the stomach that rages against her, by giving the gift of her mind to people who don't deserve it, didn't earn it, could have never created it themselves, and rather than gratefully accepting it from her as their spiritual better, extort it from her at gunpoint and clamor for her acknowledgment that such a state of affairs is moral, is called love.

Dominique learns not to run from the world, but to live in it and ignore it. To keep her eyes focused on that beatific vision, which is more real than all the shadows crowding to block it out, which is triumphant already merely because it exists and is good.

Dagny learns she must leave the world and not offer her vision to it, lest she continue to help her own destroyers. She must refuse to create. She must refuse to let them have her soul. She must secede from society and let the blind lead each other right off the cliff of their own refusal to be fully human and use their own damned eyes.

After so many weeks of silence on this website, unprecedented since its inception in Autumn of 2008, a few speculated that I had "gone Galt." I confess, that I've thought about it. Seriously considered it. My good, to bad, to worse experience as the editor in chief of another news website left a bad taste in my mouth. That on top of so many other things has left me so cynical. Developments in politics have made me so sick at heart. Making the same arguments over and over again to correct the same uninformed, perhaps willfully ignorant absurdities unthinkingly mouthed by so many every day held little appeal for me.

Ever watch Groundhog Day? Every time a new shooting happened and the same exact misleading statistics and non sequitur arguments followed from the mouths of gun grabbers; every time a new executive order cemented unchecked power in the hands of the White House and most Americans didn't even notice; every time Old Media and Big Government got together for yet another attempt to put their grimy, greedy little hands on the free and open Internet; every time someone thought Mitt Romney was a true conservative-- it just felt like:



Sick at heart, infuriated, indignant? Maybe I could have handled it. Pile on with "bored" because I felt like this fight had become my own personal Groundhog Day hell, and moving to Colorado like the Prometheans of Atlas Shrugged to enjoy the remainder of my life in quiet, happy solitude skiing the Rockies, reading my favorite books by a warm fire, and smoking the now legal Hobbit's weed started looking pretty tempting. I wanted to shrug. I wanted to go on strike. I wanted to apologize to every radical agorist, anarchist, and off-beat Free State hippie I'd ever abused for choosing not to even bother fighting the freakshow. Actually, I wanted to be even more radical than any of them, because I didn't even want to talk about it anymore, lest Groundhog Day drive me to madness.



But there's a way out of hell. The truth is, after pondering for many long hours, I just don't believe the story in Atlas Shrugged. I believe the one in The Fountainhead. And in a following post soon, I will explain why. In the meantime, I welcome your discussion in the comment thread. Which of these books is correct? And why do they contradict? Why is Ayn Rand's message in Atlas Shrugged the precise opposite of her message in The Fountainhead? What can we make of it?

And feel free to share your own stories of political burnout and / or how you deal with it! I wonder how big a problem this is among the world's true patriots and lovers of liberty.