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(Illustration by Michael Daley)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid likes to read the trial scene from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead twice a year — something he has done since discovering the book as a teenager. It could be worse — his other youthful cultural interests were Star Trek and the film Wall Street, although Javid’s reading of the latter was rather different from that of its director, Oliver Stone. To Javid, Gordon Gekko was an untarnished hero.

Falling under the spell of Rand’s mid-20th-century American novel is not unusual, at least not in the United States. In his classic 1987 account of how academia has come to fail us, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom recorded how he liked to ask his first-year students which books had really mattered to them. He was hoping they might mention works by Austen or Dickens, as he himself might have done at their age. Instead, Bloom noted that one student might say the Bible — and university would anyway drum that interest out of them — and that “there is always a girl who mentions Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a book, although hardly literature, which, with its sub-Nietzschean assertiveness, excites somewhat eccentric youngsters to a new way of life”.

Whilst its attractions are hardly limited to girls — I have come across many more males who have been besotted by Rand and all things Randian — The Fountainhead has great appeal to the misfit teenager. The book tells the story of the perfect man, Howard Roark, and the almost perfect woman, Dominique Francon — or at least very close to perfection once she has learnt from Roark that one does not need to appease life’s second-raters. Roark is a genius of a modernist architect: poured concrete and lack of adornment are the markers of his style — Roger Scruton and David Watkin would not approve.

Our hero has never managed to fit in. Everywhere he goes he has been hated, because second-raters and second-handers, Rand’s favourite terms of abuse, cannot bear his greatness. To quote from her other canonical novel, Atlas Shrugged: “Do you know the hallmark of a second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own — they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top.”
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June 10th, 2018
10:06 PM
This does not strike me as a particularly trailblazing opinion. People have been saying Rand is overrated for decades now.

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