Toohey Is Pretty Honest But People Can’t Think

(This was adapted from a post on the Fallible Ideas list)

Someone on FI list said that they thought Rand treated socialism as a conspiracy theory in The Fountainhead. The commenter focused on Toohey specifically in arguing their “conspiracy” claim.

But Toohey doesn’t really lie or try to hide what he’s after. And he does public writing! In which he puts his bad ideas out there, except that people don’t have the philosophical skill to see how bad they are.

BTW I think Toohey’s bad ideas are not just “socialist.” I don’t think that’s quite the right framing. Toohey isn’t just an economist or something. He comments on a range of issues, and has a pretty comprehensive worldview that’s thoroughly collectivist.

In the dialogue between Keating and Toohey near the end of the book, Toohey’s not really ranting about the means of production or anything like that. He’s talking about wanting to destroy individuality as such and replace it with his control.

So I think individualist vs collectivist is the better frame for understanding the conflict between Toohey and Roark’s ideas.

In a single selection from a newspaper article in The Fountainhead, Toohey says or implies that:

  1. egotism is evil
  2. originality is bad
  3. collectivism is good, and those who oppose collectivism should be restrained and held in check (implication is by force)
  4. nobody should strive for better than what can be immediately appreciated by the man on the street
  5. being humble and subordinating yourself is good
  6. conformity to tradition is good for its own sake
  7. monotony is good in art
  8. dogma is good
  9. obeying dogma makes originality possible (?!)

I’ll go through the Toohey article from The Fountainhead to show what I mean:

Keating read from an article entitled “Marble and Mortar,” by Ellsworth M. Toohey:
“… And now we come to another notable achievement of the metropolitan skyline.

Note Toohey here leads with his conclusion (that it’s a “notable achievement”, which is actually kinda flat praise). He’s helping the second-handed reader, who can now cite Toohey’s overall opinion at a dinner party conversation without even having to read much further:

A: “Did you see the latest Toohey article?”
B: “Ah yes, the one about the Melton Building! A ‘notable achievement” indeed!”
A: “Quite so, quite so!”

We call the attention of the discriminating

flattering reader.

to the new Melton Building by Francon & Heyer. It stands in white serenity as an eloquent witness to the triumph of Classical purity and common sense.

People like common sense and think its accessible. It’s not something they have to struggle to understand. Toohey’s trying to say you can appreciate the building without having to try too hard or get out of your comfort zone or learn something new.

The discipline of an immortal tradition

Toohey doesn’t like people who do new stuff (like Roark) and wants them to obey tradition.

has served here as a cohesive factor in evolving a structure

Notice that the “tradition … served … in evolving a structure.” Where’s the architect in this story?? Toohey thinks individuals like architects don’t really matter.

whose beauty can reach, simply and lucidly, the heart of every man in the street.

We go from common sense to the common man on the street.

There is no freak exhibitionism here, no perverted striving for novelty,

Notice how negatively Toohey frames originality!

no orgy of unbridled egotism.

I think this bit is pretty clear…

Guy Francon, its designer, has known how to subordinate himself

see? Toohey hates the individual, likes submission and obedience.

to the mandatory canons

mandatory?! why?

which generations of craftsmen behind him have proved inviolate,

How did they prove these canons inviolate? What counts as proof of inviolateness? What’s the craftmen’s answer to Roark?

Toohey’s not starting a conversation and asking for criticism here. He’s offering solemn pronouncements as an authoritah. He doesn’t want people to ask or think about such questions. He just wants them to nod their heads and obey.

and at the same time how to display his own creative originality, not in spite of, but precisely because of the classical dogma he has accepted with the humility of a true artist.

How do u display originality by obediently and humbly accepting mandatory dogma?

It may be worth mentioning, in passing, that dogmatic discipline is the only thing which makes true originality possible….

Toohey’s passing off straight contradictions in his writing and people read it and feel flattered instead of insulted. Odd case!

“More important, however, is the symbolic significance of a building such as this rising in our imperial city. As one stands before its southern façade, one is stricken with the realization that the stringcourses, repeated with deliberate and gracious monotony

lol @ a “praise” article calling something monotonous….

from the third to the eighteenth story, these long, straight, horizontal lines are the moderating, leveling principle, the lines of equality. They seem to bring the towering structure down to the humble level of the observer.

As he indicated earlier, Toohey wants to bring greatness down. He doesn’t want anything challenging or threatening to the lowest common denominator. He doesn’t want people to be reminded of what greatness could be like or what men might be able to achieve.

They are the lines of the earth, of the people, of the great masses. They seem to tell us that none may rise too high above the restraint of the common human level, that all is held and shall be checked, even as this proud edifice, by the stringcourses of men’s brotherhood….”

read that last part again:

none may rise too high above the restraint of the common human level, that all is held and shall be checked, even as this proud edifice, by the stringcourses of men’s brotherhood…

“restraint” and “all is held and shall be checked” are of particular note here imho.

this is pure naked evil. this is an ode to a mob using force to tear down great people and keep them down.

So yeah, Toohey’s bragging about what his values are, in print, in a major paper, in an article with his byline, which is read by top people in the society.

Toohey’s public writings are about as clear regarding his ideas about individualism vs collectivism as Hitler was about his anti-semitism in Mein Kampf, and people are just too bad at thinking to notice.

There was more. Keating read it all, then raised his head. “Gee!” he said, awed.
Francon smiled happily.


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