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Trials Of Howard Roarke

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There are some literary beginnings so well-known as immediately to call to mind the books in which they appear: "Call me Ishmael";1 "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times";2 and, increasingly, "Howard Roark laughed."3 So begins the novel, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Published in 1943, The Fountainhead continues to sell 100,000 copies a year.4 For millions it provides the introduction to a philosophical/social movement known as "Objectivism." It has been suggested that Objectivism provided intellectual grounding for the decline of left-liberalism and the expanding influence of a libertarian shift in American culture.5

Yet despite its influence, the book has engendered scant academic attention6 and virtually no attention in the legal academy. In The Fountainhead, as in all of Rand's mature fictional works, the lawÐ'--more specifically, one or more trial scenesÐ'--figures prominently. Indeed, in all of them trials are essential elements of the plot development.7 Although Rand's work is hardly unique in its use of the trial for dramatic purposes,8 it is distinctive in its use of the trial as illustrative of moral or philosophical principles.9 One would expect, therefore, that



at least in the philosophical literature of Objectivism, one would find discussion about the role and meaning of law; but one would be disappointed. Apart from occasional bromides about the importance of objective law, there is precious little, even in Objectivist literature, about law.

Leonard Peikoff, Rand's intellectual heir, has written what is perhaps the most systematic exegesis of Rand's philosophy.10 The index to his book has no independent listing for "law"; it lists law only as a subhead of government, under the rubric "as requiring objective law."11 His discussion consumes just a few pages and is devoted almost entirely to criminal law.12 The couple of paragraphs on civil law are devoted entirely to the law of contracts.13 Moreover, the treatment is incredibly superficial and seems to equate objectivity to particular concretes, as if abstractions could not be objectiveÐ'--a position one would think Rand would find antithetical to her philosophy, which placed a premium on the conceptual level of awareness.14 The other leading book length interpretations of Rand's work also lack so much as an index entry for law.15

This essay is an attempt at filling the void in legal scholarship and Objectivist literature at the intersection of law and Objectivism. I do not attempt a comprehensive examination of the Objectivist view of law. I shall leave for another day any exploration of the Objectivist view of the appropriate content or aim of law. Such a project would require far more than this essay undertakes.

Here I wish to explore the reasons legal trials figure so prominently in Rand's fiction. I believe there are two reasons: First, Rand has often advanced the position that ethical and political change follows intellec-tual change, that it is on the intellectual battlefield that the fight for a culture is waged.16 The courtroom is the modern day intellectual equivalent of the battlefield or the tournament, and so it is an appropri-ate setting for the clash of ideas presented in Rand's work. Second, what is necessary to prevail on the courtroom battlefield are certain method-



ologies of persuasion and understandingÐ'--methodologies shared by Rand's literary presentations and the working out of the law through judicial opinions.

Because The Fountainhead provides for so many the introduction to Rand's thought, it is appropriate to begin with that book. The plot of the novel is quite complex, and so we shall limit our study to those parts of the storyÐ'--the trialsÐ'--that most clearly demonstrate the intellectual conflict at the heart of Rand's work and highlight the comparison between Rand's literary method and legal method.

The Fountainhead features two trials. Both are critical to the development of the story. Indeed, the second trial is the climax of the novel. In each, Howard Roark, Rand's hero, is the defendant. He behaves quite differently in the two trials, and this difference may have much to say about the development of his character. In the next section, I summarize the story to the extent necessary to comprehend Roark's character, the nature of the cultural forces arrayed against him and thus the significance of the two trials. The sections following include an analysis of each of the trials, more specifically of Roark's defenses, the differences between them and the importance of those differences. I conclude with a discussion of the role played by legal trials in Rand's fiction and the similarity of Rand's literary method and that of the judicial opinion.


The novel opens with Roark's expulsion from architectural school. His conversation with the dean shows us his intransigent commitment to the integrity of his vision of architecture. Rather than following the dictates of his teachers to design buildings in various architectural styles, he submitted designs he was prepared to build: "I did them the way I'll build them."17 And the way he would build them owed nothing to historical styles. He would build according to his own best judgment.

Contrasted with Roark is Peter Keating. At the opening of the story, Keating is graduating with honors from the school that expelled Roark. Keating personifies the second hand consciousness: a man with no standards of his own, who adopts the standards and values of others. Keating has been successful at school, completing his assignments by adopting various historical styles, originating nothing. When stumped on design issues, he had sought and received Roark's help on assignments, but did not acknowledge it.



The story recounts Roark's career, its occasional triumphs and more frequent



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