Below is the most memorable passage by far from The Fountainhead. It has changed the way I think. Yes, I know that it is rather verbose.
""What have you been thinking about these past weeks?"
"The principle behind the dean who fired me from Stanton."
"The thing that is destroying the world. The thing you were talking about.
"The ideal which they say does not exist?"
"They're wrong. It does exist--though not in the way they imagine. 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."
"You look at him. I hate his guts."
"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 he's betrayed and given up. But everybody
calls him selfish."
"That's the pattern most people follow."
"Yes! And isn't that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but
precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but
preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others
think he's honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The
man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself
to be mediocre, but he's great in the eyes of others. The frustrated wretch who
professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to
establish his own superiority by comparison. The man whose sole aim is to make
money. Now I don't see anything evil in a desire to make money. But money is
only a means to some end. If a man wants it for a personal purpose--to invest in
his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury--he's completely
moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is
a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to
entertain, to impress others. They're second-handers. Look at our so-called
cultural endeavors. A lecturer who spouts some borrowed rehash of nothing at all
that means nothing at all to him--and the people who listen and don't give a
damn, but sit there in order to tell their friends that they have attended a
lecture by a famous name. All second-handers."
"If I were Ellsworth Toohey, I'd say: aren't you making out a case against
selfishness? Aren't they all acting on a selfish motive--to be noticed, liked,
"--by others. At the price of their own self-respect. In the realm of greatest
importance--the realm of values, of judgment, of spirit, of thought--they place
others above self, in the exact manner which altruism demands. A truly selfish
man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn't need it."
"I think Toohey understands that. That's what helps him spread his vicious
nonsense. Just weakness and cowardice. It's so easy to run to others. It's so
hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You
can't fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is the strictest judge. They run from
it. They spend their lives running. It's easier to donate a few thousand to
charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards
of personal achievement. It's simple to seek substitutes for competence--such
easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for
"That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. 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 egotists. 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.
Steve Mallory couldn't define the monster, but he knew. That's the drooling
beast he fears. The second-hander."
"I think your second-handers understand this, try as they might not to admit it
to themselves. Notice how they'll accept anything except a man who stands alone.
They recognize him at once. By instinct. 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. Look back at your own life, Howard, and at the people you've
met. They know. They're afraid. You're a reproach."
"That's because some sense of dignity always remains in them. They're still
human beings. But they've been taught to seek themselves in others. Yet no man
can achieve the kind of absolute humility that would need no self-esteem in any
form. He wouldn't survive. So after centuries of being pounded with the doctrine
that altruism is the ultimate ideal, men have accepted it in the only way it
could be accepted. By seeking self-esteem through others. By living second-hand.
And it has opened the way for every kind of horror. It has become the dreadful
form of selfishness which a truly selfish man couldn't have conceived. And now,
to cure a world perishing from selflessness, we're asked to destroy the self.
Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You've
wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man
stopped and asked himself whether he's ever held a truly personal desire, he'd
find the answer. He'd see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his
ambitions are motivated by other men. He's not really struggling even for
material wealth, but for the second-hander's delusion--prestige. A stamp of
approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has
succeeded. He can't say about a single thing: 'This is what I wanted because I
wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.' Then he wonders why
he's unhappy. Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are
personal, self-motivated, not to be touched. The things which are sacred or
precious to us are the things we withdraw from promiscuous sharing. But now we
are taught to throw everything within us into public light and common pawing. To
seek joy in meeting halls. We haven't even got a word for the quality I
mean--for the self-sufficiency of man's spirit. It's difficult to call it
selfishness or egotism, the words have been perverted, they've come to mean
Peter Keating. Gail, I think the only cardinal evil on earth is that of placing
your prime concern within other men. I've always demanded a certain quality in
the people I liked. I've always recognized it at once--and it's the only quality
I respect in men. I chose my friends by that. Now I know what it is. A
self-sufficient ego. Nothing else matters."