Ayn Rand, Justice Thomas, & The Fountainhead

John Aglialoro, the producer of the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 (2011), recently announced that due to bad reviews and poor box office, he is abandoning the plans for parts two and three of the story. As someone who read Ayn Rand’s long book Atlas Shrugged many years ago, I was interested when I heard they were making a movie version. But when I saw the trailer, the movie looked terribly boring, so I am not among the few who have seen it. I might have watched it on DVD when it came out, but now that I know it may leave me hanging without any resolution, maybe not. Yet, some recent reports indicate the second movie still may be coming out next year.

One person who might be disappointed if the sequels are abandoned is Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court. In the book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007), Jeffrey Toobin (p. 119) wrote that Justice Thomas often requires his law clerks to watch the movie, The Fountainhead, which is based upon another book by Ayn Rand and directed by King Vidor. That one sentence in Toobin’s book jumped out, raising questions about the connection between the movie and Justice Thomas’s judicial philosophy, and what it means for America.

Ayn Rand incorporated her philosophy of Objectivism into her novels. The philosophy has several parts, but she described one of the basic tenants this way: “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

One may debate the value of a philosophy of self-interest. A number of conservatives have embraced the philosophy as connected to laissez-faire capitalism, so one might understand why the conservative Justice Thomas admires Ayn Rand’s work. In his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, he wrote about reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and how the books affected him: “Rand preached a philosophy of radical individualism that she called Objectivism. While I didn’t fully accept its tenets, her vision of the world made more sense to me that that of my left-wing friends.” (p. 62) A website devoted to Ayn Rand’s fiction writing, The Atlas Society, has more about Justice Thomas’s connection to Ayn Rand.

Still, The Fountainhead (1949) is an odd movie choice, even though it features excellent actors like Gary Cooper, Raymond Massey, and Patricia Neal. One reviewer summed it up as “one of the strangest and most florid pictures of its time, possibly of all time.” The Fountainhead is about an architect named Howard Roark (Cooper) who has his own vision and does not want to compromise his beliefs and art to popular ideas. When the people who hired him to create a public housing building do not let him do it his way, he blows up the modified building. And he’s the hero of the movie. Okay, I get the idea about not compromising, but isn’t blowing up the building going too far?

One might wonder why Justice Thomas loves this unusual movie so much that he has the recent law school graduates who work for him watch it. And one might speculate what message the new lawyers take from the self-interest theme of the movie regarding one’s lack of compassion for the poor and underprivileged.

Considering Roark’s destruction of the building in the movie, and in today’s atmosphere of terrorism, I hope Justice Thomas has selected another movie. Maybe watching the new Atlas Shrugged will lead him to opt for another movie to show his clerks. And he could even stick with films featuring Republican and anti-Communist Gary Cooper. If Thomas wants an excellent movie that teaches about the importance of the individual and duty, he might select High Noon (1952). Or if he wants to go further, he might choose Cooper in Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) or Meet John Doe (1941), both which would give the new lawyers lessons on the importance of common people and the corrupting influence of power.

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    4 thoughts on “Ayn Rand, Justice Thomas, & The Fountainhead”

    1. Thanks. The article that is linked in the post about reports that the movies will continue also cites to the website. Apparently, although that Part 2 website has been launched as you note, there are no reports on a shooting schedule, cast, etc. So it still seems like it might be up in the air. I do hope they complete the story. If they are reconsidering, maybe they might figure a way to combine Parts 2 and 3 into one movie instead of a trilogy. Thanks for the comment.

    2. One part of the foolishness of the recent debates about Rand is the idea that agreeing with Rand’s prediction and diagnoses in “Atlas Shrugged” – the accuracy of which has been demonstrated in the last few years to a nicety – somehow magically commits one to agreement with her total philosophy. Would this argument be extended to an atheist leftist who recommends Tolstoy or Victor Hugo?

      The other part is a specific misrepresentation of Christianity. Christianity is not a pro-Statism religion; indeed, given who killed their Savior, it tends to the anti-State. (This is something the left has not yet dealt with.) Nowhere in the Bible does it say that wealth should be expropriated and redistributed by the dubious means of government structures; it speaks of personal and *voluntary* charity. One might add, looking at the horrific debt and unfunded liabilities situation that the U.S. is in right now, that the Bible and Jesus were wise in staying away from government panaceas.

      This entire kabuki charade is in bad faith. The Bible does not advocate any Progressive notions of “economic justice.” The progressives who have suddenly discovered religion and its necessary role in politics – after thirty decades and more of stridently and rightly insisting it must be kept out of politics – are not sincere. After this temporary rhetorical bubble is over, they will resume their previous, also ad-hoc, declarations.

      As for the “sociopath” accusation, this is what comes of copying attack website garbage. The whole thing rests upon one author – Michael Prescott’s – highly selective excerpting and chopping up of a private [i.e., thinking out loud without clarifications ] journal written when Rand was barely out of her teens, fresh from the blood bath of 1920s Soviet Russia – and still made it very clear that her read on the personalities of the observers showed that they were not appalled by Hickman’s crime – she said there had been far worse, without the same spectacle of glee – but by his flamboyant and mocking defiance of society. She – who was writing about a *legally innocent man* at the time of the trial – even called him a repulsive and purposeless criminal. Enough with the disinformation and – yes – Satanizing of Ayn Rand.

    3. Thanks Michael for the comment, which touches on a lot of other issues not raised in the post — perhaps because I see you have posted the exact same comment several places on other websites. Although I respect your dedication to Ayn Rand’s defense, if you read what was written here on this website, there is no “sociopath” accusation or anything so extreme. As noted in the post, there are interesting aspects of Objectivism and its focus on the individual, and one may understand why Justice Thomas would be interested in some of its tenets. But it still remains that “The Fountainhead” is an interesting but odd movie because it goes to unusual extremes. And I think if you watched the original “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “Meet John Doe,” you might also agree with some of the messages in those movies too. Thanks again for the interesting points.

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