The Greatly Ghastly Rand
From the Aug. 30, 2010, issue of NR.


Two other characters will come to life. One is Gail Wynand, the aristocratic newspaper baron who publishes Toohey’s column. Wynand has made a Devil’s bargain and his papers have no soul: They print whatever the public wants, no matter how indecent, dishonest, or ugly, and it is indeed ugly. Wynand tells himself he doesn’t care, because the ugliness pays for his private gallery of the most priceless and exquisite art. But because deep down he is an incomparably noble man, his conscience is tearing him to shreds. He has long attempted to blast it away by recreationally forcing honorable men to betray their integrity. We meet him holding a gun to his temple and deciding not to pull the trigger.

The other is a beautiful young woman named Dominique Francon. Dominique seems not to love anyone or anything, but is secretly possessed by a reverence for beauty. Her hobby is to destroy priceless and exquisite art. We meet her shortly after she has thrown a sculpture down a ventilation shaft. She thinks it is too beautiful to be seen by mankind.

Neither of these two is, properly speaking, realistic, but then neither are Dostoevsky’s characters. Wynand and Dominique remind me of something Robert Nozick writes in The Examined Life: “Some literary characters are . . . ‘realer than life,’ more sharply etched, with few extraneous details that do not fit. In the characteristics they exhibit they are more concentrated centers of psychological organization. . . . They are intensely concentrated portions of reality.” What is intensely concentrated in Wynand and Dominique is a passionate but thwarted idealism. Each is gripped by his conception of the beautiful and the good, but each betrays it without cease, and ironically out of loyalty to it.

Roark gives each a chance to redeem himself. For Dominique, redemption means learning not to worry about those who scorn what she finds beautiful — only when she can overcome her ego’s vulnerability is she able to marry Roark, with whom she has long been in love. For Wynand, redemption means devoting his premier newspaper to Roark’s defense as Roark stands trial for victimlessly dynamiting a building that, in violation of a contract, was not being constructed according to his specifications.

Such is the public fury against Roark that Wynand’s editorials provoke a reader backlash and a strike of his staff. He even seems to be making Roark more hated. But Roark does not care:

“Gail, it doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not counting on public opinion, one way or the other.”

“You want me to give in?”

“I want you to hold out if it takes everything you own.”

Roark wants Wynand to save his soul, you see. Wynand has sinned against the creator’s code. He has spent his life, not bringing forth the best within himself, but debasing it for the worst in his readers. Roark sees that he is “the worst second-hander of all — the man who goes after power.” And now that he wants to yoke this supposed power to his own convictions, it vanishes: He can lay no claim to the minds of others.

I, too, want mightily for Wynand to hold out. He becomes magnificent, awe-inspiring, in the discovery of his integrity. When he does not hold out — when he betrays Roark rather than close his paper — I feel as I do when I dream I have done something unforgivable. When in his final conversation with Roark — whom he feels too guilty ever to see again, even though, as atonement, he has shut down the paper anyway — he commissions the tallest building in New York, a “monument to that spirit which is yours . . . and could have been mine,” I feel the relief of redemption. There is a passage in which Roark does not know that something he has said has given a passing character “the courage to face a lifetime.” Rand’s hymn to integrity might achieve the same effect.

Which makes it all the harder to take Atlas Shrugged.