32 Quotes from The Fountainhead that Matter

Today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, the novel I’ve recommended more than any other. I first read it in high school (teachers warned me against it) while I was in England and its plot, theme, characters and the philosophy Rand integrates through it all has been the guiding influence in my life since.

Every decision I’ve made since, from the choice to leave college to my involvement in the Bitcoin Cash industry have their roots in The Fountainhead. And it’s all been for the best.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Rand “painted a picture of what was possible for the individual man that I desperately needed at that age of my life and which I still need today.” Having read Anthem, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and a good deal of her nonfiction essays first, I came into The Fountainhead expecting a great read but nothing truly new to me. I was wrong.

The novel dramatized a staggering number of philosophical, aesthetic, ethical and psychological issues for me that I could not have fully grasped through non-fiction alone. Things about my life and the people in it that didn’t make sense suddenly became clear. I learned to see in people the characters of Roark, Keating, and Toohey as well as dozens of the minor characters and to understand the conscious and subconscious premises they’ve accepted that guide their day-to-day actions. For a novel, it taught me more about the world than most nonfiction books I’ve read.

This post was originally intended to be a look at ALL of my highlights in my beaten paperback copy, but it turned out to be over 8,000 words, which is not a particularly reader friendly length for a quote roundup. In the future, I may do a giant roundup for fun, but for now, below are 32 of my favorite quotes from the novel that I’ve highlighted over the years under the broad categories of individualism, second-handedness, and creation.

I hope they inspire and enlighten you as they have done for me.

On Individualism

Dean: “Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”
Howard Roark: “Yes.”
Dean: “My dear fellow, who will let you?”
Howard Roark: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean

“‘Look,’ Roark said evenly, and pointed at the window. ‘Can you see the campus and the town? Do you see how many men are walking and living down there? Well, I don’t give a damn what any or all of them think about architecture — or about anything else, for that matter. Why should I consider what their grandfathers thought of it?”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean

“Rules?” said Roark. “Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn’t borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn’t borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway to express it.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean

“Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important—what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right—so long as it’s not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic—and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don’t know. I’ve never known it. I’d like to understand.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean

“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean

“If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
Chapter II, p. 28 ; Howard Roark to Peter Keating

“Heller, the fighter against compulsion, was baffled by Roark, a man so impervious to compulsion that he became a kind of compulsion himself, an ultimatum against things Heller could not define. Within a week, Heller knew that he had found the best friend he would ever have; and he knew that the friendship came from Roark’s fundamental indifference. In the deeper reality of Roark’s existence there was no consciousness of Heller, no need for Heller, no demand.”
Chapter XI, pp. 135 ; Austin Heller and Howard Roark

“A house can have integrity, just like a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom…Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive for your house is in the house. The determining motive for others is in the audience.”
Chapter XI, pp. 136 ; Austin Heller and Howard Roark

“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”
Chapter VIII, Part 4, pp. 576; Crony businessman

“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 743 ; Howard Roark

“No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 738 ; Howard Roark

“After a while Mallory sat up. He looked at Roark and saw the calmest, kindest face — a face without a hint of pity. It did not look like the countenance of men who watch the agony of another with a secret pleasure, uplifted by the sight of a beggar who needs their compassion; it did not bear the cast of the hungry soul that feeds upon another’s humiliation.”
Chapter XI, Part 2, pp. 329 ; Howard Roark and Stephen Mallory

“Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn’t done for others. There is no substitute for personal dignity. There is no standard of personal dignity except independence.”
Chapter XVIII, p. 740 ; Howard Roark

On Second-handeness

“He’s an egomaniac devoid of all moral sense” –
– said the society woman dressing for a charity bazaar, who dared not contemplate what means of self-expression would be left to her and how she would impose her ostentation on her friends, if charity were not the all-excusing virtue –
– said the social worker who had found no aim in life and could generate no aim from within the sterility of his soul, but basked in virtue and held an unearned respect from all, by grace of his fingers on the wounds of others –
– said the novelist who had nothing to say if the subject of service and sacrifice were to be taken away from him, who sobbed in the hearing of attentive thousands that he loved them and loved them and would they please love him a little in return –
— said the lady columnist who had just bought a country mansion because she wrote so tenderly about the little people —
— said all the little people who wanted to hear of love, the great love, the unfastidious love, the love that embraced everything, forgave everything, and permitted everything—
— said every second-hander who could not exist except as a leech on the souls of others.”
Chapter X, Part 4, pp. 622; Howard Roark and the public

“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….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 peoples’ 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 everyone calls him selfish. That’s the pattern of most people.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 605; Howard Roark on Peter Keating

“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.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 607; Howard Roark

“But Keating could never be the same when he had an audience, any audience. Something was gone. He did not know it, but he felt that Roark knew; Roark’s eyes made him uncomfortable and that made him angry.”
Chapter II, p. 34 ; Peter Keating and Howard Roark

“He wondered whether he really liked his mother. But she was his mother and this fact was recognized by everybody as meaning automatically that he loved her, and so he took for granted that whatever he felt for her was love. He did not know whether there was any reason why he should respect her judgement. She was his mother; this was supposed to take the place of reasons.”
Chapter II, p. 35 ; Peter Keating

“Mrs. Sanborn was the president of many charity organizations and this had given her an addiction to autocracy such as no other avocation could develop.”
Chapter XIII, pp. 167 ; Mrs. Sanborn

“I was thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but for his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. There’s a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or ‘universal goal,’ who don’t know what to live for, who moan that they must ‘find themselves.’ You hear it all around us. That seems to be the official bromide of our century. Every book you open. Every drooling self-confession. It seems to be the noble thing to confess. I’d think it would be the most shameful one.”
Chapter IV, Part 4, pp. 551; Howard Roark

“Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution—or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, p. 739 ; Howard Roark

“No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.”
Chapter XVIII, p. 738 ; Howard Roark

“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.”
Chapter XVIII, P. 738 ; Howard Roark

“He tried to explain and to convince. He knew, while he spoke, that it was useless, because his words sounded if they were hitting a vacuum. There was no such person as Mrs. Wayne Wilmot; there was only a shell containing the opinions of her friends. the picture post cards she had seen, the novels of country squires she had read; it was this that he had to address, this immateriality which could not hear him or answer, deaf and impersonal like a wad of cotton.”
Chapter XIII, pp. 162 ; Howard Roark and Mrs. Wayne Wilmot

On Creation and Production

“People meant very little to Mike, but their performance a great deal. He worshipped expertness of any kind. He loved his work passionately and had no tolerance for anything save for other single – track devotions. He was a master in his own field and felt no sympathy except for mastery. His view of the world was simple: there were the able and there were the incompetent; he was not concerned with the latter. He loved buildings. He despised, however, all architects.”
Chapter VII, p. 93 ; Mike Donnigan

“Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable—and unimportant?”
Chapter VII, p. 88 ; Peter Keating and Howard Roark

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The first airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, pp. 736-737 ; Howard Roark

Henry Cameron: “Why did you’d decide to become an architect?”
Howard Roark: “I didn’t know it then. But it’s because I’ve never believed in God.”
Henry Cameron: “Come on, talk sense.”
Howard Roark: “Because I love this earth. That’s all I love. I don’t like the shape of things on this earth. I want to change them.”
Henry Cameron: “For whom?”
Howard Roark: “For myself.”
Chapter III, p. 49 ; Henry Cameron and Howard Roark

“The creators were not selfless. It is the whole secret of their power—that it was self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated. A first cause, a fount of energy, a life force, a Prime Mover. The creator served nothing and no one. He had lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the
nature of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 737 ;Howard Roark

“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window – no, I don’t feel how small I am – but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.”
Chapter IV, Part 3, pp. 446 ; Howard Roark

“The house on the sketches had been designed not by Roark, but by the cliff on which it stood. It was as if the cliff had grown and completed itself and proclaimed the purpose for which it had been waiting.”
Chapter IX, p. 124 ; Howard Roark

“They were the sketches of building such as had never stood on the face of the earth. They were as the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him. There was nothing to be said of them, except that each structure was inevitably what it had to be. It was not as if the draftsman had sat over them, pondering laboriously, pricing together doors, windows and columns, as his whim dictated and as the books prescribed. It was as if the buildings had sprung from the earth and from some living force, complete, unalterably right. The hand that had made the sharp pencil lines still had much to learn. But not a line seemed superfluous, not a needed plane was missing. The structures were austere and simple, until one looked t them and realized what work, what complexity of method, what tension of thought had achieved the simplicity. No laws had dictated a single detail. The buildings were not Classical, they were not Gothic, they were not Renaissance. They were only Howard Roark.”
Chapter IX, p. 124 ; Howard Roark

The Fountainhead is one of those rare novels that gets better and better each time you read it. Even looking through my highlights, I discovered other passages that were highlight-worthy. I’ve read it four times and plan to do it again soon. If you haven’t read it yet, I guarantee it’s worth it.

Read it once through without taking notes —  just enjoy the plot. Then come back to it in a few months with a pen. You’ll find something interesting on almost every page.