Ellsworth Toohey on the Foundations of Property Rights

Grant Jones's picture
Submitted by Grant Jones on Sat, 2019-02-23 01:47

The Fountainhead is my favorite Ayn Rand novel. The book includes one of the "best" villains in literature, Ellsworth Toohey. He is completely self-aware of his motives for destroying the good for being the good. He is a remarkable foil for the book's many heroes and near heroes. As self-conscious evil, Rand was able to allow Toohey to articulate the motives and methods of the value destroying altruist. The following comments on an aspect of this point will contain spoilers. If you haven't already read The Fountainhead, get yourself to the nearest bookstore.

One of the greatest scenes from The Fountainhead is Toohey's confrontation with media magnate Gail Wynand. Wynand has just fired Toohey. Toohey is suing for wrongful termination and using the union to pressure Wynand to take him back. At issue is who will have editorial control over the New York Banner. Wynand is the owner and publisher. But, Toohey has infiltrated his creatures into key jobs on the paper. Wynand may own the paper, but Toohey has control of much of its infrastructure. How Toohey does this is a great example on how the "Social Justice Warriors" (SJWs) of today "converge" institutions from private businesses to government bureaucracies to academia.

In their dramatic confrontation, Toohey explains to Wynand his errors that allowed the convergence of the Banner:

"So you were a possessive man, Mr. Wynand, and you loved your sense of property? Did you ever stop to think what it rested upon? Did you stop to secure the foundations? No, because you were a practical man. Practical men deal in bank accounts, real estate, advertising contracts and gilt-edged securities. They leave to the impractical intellectuals, like me, the amusements of putting the gilt edges through chemical analysis to learn a few things about the nature and source of gold. They hang on to Kream-O Pudding, and leave us such trivia as the theater, the movies, the radio, the schools, the book reviews and the criticism of architecture. Just a sop to keep us quiet if we care to waste our time playing with the inconsequentials of life, while you're making money. Money is power. Is it, Mr. Wynand? ... That's why I'll be back. And when I am, I'll run this paper."

Wynand quickly realized he was beat. So, he closed the Banner in order to keep Toohey fired. Wynand is a tragic figure in The Fountainhead. He sought power over men and only too late realized his mistake. Nevertheless, he had far more moral courage than any big businessman today.

The book's famous climax is when the hero, Howard Roark, blows up Cortlandt, a government housing project, nearing completion. Nobody is hurt in the explosion. But, his action results in the destruction of $millions in government property. The fact that the project is government financed complicates the issue, but not by much.

The mediocrity Peter Keating had the contract to design Cortlandt. But, he was too incompetent to meet the specifications. He knew Roark could solve the many design problems and went to him for help. Roark said he would do it only if Keating would guarantee that Cortlandt would be built just as designed. Keating agreed. But, he lost control of the large government building project. Roark's elegant design was vandalized by nihilists seeking an unearned commission and reputation.

Needless to say, Roark had no legal recourse. So, he destroyed the abomination. Roark's defense at trial was that there were more important values than property rights involved. In this case the values of individualism, integrity and intellectual property rights outweighed the destruction of physical property.

I won't attempt to summarize Roark's famous courtroom speech. But, here's a relevant quote:

"He [Peter Keating] had a promise that the structure he offered would be built as designed. The promise was broken. The love a man for the integrity of his work and his right to preserve it are now considered a vague intangible and an inessential. You have heard the prosecutor say that ... To my country, I wish to give the ten years which I will spend in jail if my country exists no longer. I will spend them in memory and in gratitude for what my country has been."

Property rights are a key component of Ayn Rand's political philosophy. She was clear that without property rights (as in a socialist state) all other political rights would disappear. However, in The Fountainhead and elsewhere, she was equally clear that property rights rest on an intellectual and moral foundation. As Toohey said, destroy that foundation and property rights go by the board regardless of parchment laws. The hierarchy of concepts and that valid abstractions are contextual are key elements to Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

There are numerous adherents to Rand's philosophy who do not understand these key points. They're best referred to as "Obleftivists," since there is little to distinguish them for left-libertarians.

A classic example of Obleftivists "thinking" in terms of floating abstractions is their defense of the Jihad Victory Mosque at Ground Zero builders' "property rights." Not only did they display their lack of understanding of the foundation for property rights but also their complete ignorance of Islam and the nature of warfare.

The controversy over the mosque reached such proportions that Leonard Peikoff spoke on it. He tried to clarify the issue and the nature of property rights. Alas, his efforts largely failed among Obleftivists. They are so enamored with their floating abstractions that they would have handed the global jihad a massive propaganda victory. A victory that would have embolden the jihadists and demoralized their victims.

"Let’s start with property rights. Property rights are limited and they are contextual. You cannot do anything you want with property even though it is yours, not if its ramifications objectively entail a threat to the rights of others ...
In any situation where metaphysical survival is at stake all property rights are out. You have no obligation to respect property rights ... Now, let me give you an analogy if it’s not self-evident. Japanese strike pearl Harbor. We declare war. Japan, the Japanese, are then given a large spread of land in Pearl Harbor to build a temple celebrating — I don’t care what. The Japanese superiority or Shinto peacefulness or — I don’t care what. Now, if you can even conceive of that as justified because of “property rights,” then I say you haven’t a clue what property rights, or individualism, or Objectivism is saying. Because what permitting that amounts to is “Roll over. Kick me. Kill me. I have nothing to say.”" Leonard Peikoff, Podcast of June 28, 2010

Obleftivists have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from this episode. A recent and ongoing example is the crisis on the southern border. An analogy is often made by defenders of American sovereignty that securing the border is as necessary as locking one's front door. Obleftivists respond that one's home is private property, unlike a two-thousand mile long border zone. So, they say, this is a bad analogy.

Actually it's an excellent analogy. What's being related is the need for security to enjoy property or any other value - not that the border zone is private property. In other words, security makes property and property rights possible. Many property owners along the border agree. Their property and lives are being destroyed by invaders. Their government has a moral duty to provide that basic security. The government's refusal to do so is an act of treason.

Original article posted here with links: https://militaryreviews.blogsp...

Great article

Bruno's picture

Great article, Grant!! Peikoff had his good moments... A thousand times better than Bwook, that's for sure. But then again, he's the one who chose him, so..

Excellent antidote ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... to Obleftivism by Grant. I'd forgotten Peikoff had made a stand against the Mosque. Said if it got built the govt should blow it up, as I recall. A moment as glorious as his brief outbreak of rationality on the matter of immigration in 2013.

I still can't get my head around the treason of Bwook et al on the matter of the wall, and the stupid apathetic complacency being displayed by Obleftivists observing this treachery.

Home Owners Association example

Doug Bandler The Second's picture

The home owners association is a very good analogy for immigration. The HOA sets up the terms of who can be allowed into the property and under what terms. People agree to this by "buying in" to the complex. In national terms that means choosing to stay a citizen of that nation. The HOA can set terms for what type of people are allowed a short visit (all races), for how long (30 days, etc), and what types of people are allowed to live in that complex (only "white persons of good character").

Objectivists are idiots. But then again what would you expect from a movement dominated by diaspora Jews? Read Kevin MacDonald's work to understand the psychology of the Ashkenazi's who brought us Objectivism and its open borders ideology.

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