Toohey’s five strategies of altruism

The ethics of altruism holds that others are the standard of value. One is good to the extent one puts the interests of other first, acts to achieve their interests, and, when necessary, sacrifices one’s interests for their sake.

fountainhead-50x83In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey is the major strategist of altruism, and in my reading he uses five distinct variants of altruism to achieve his ends:

(1) Altruism as a policy of collectivism for the purpose of mutual self support;

(2) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to protect themselves against the strong;

(3) Altruism as a tactic of the weak to get support from the strong;

(4) Altruism as a strategy of the weak to get power over the strong in order to rule them; and

(5) Altruism as a strategy by the weak to destroy the strong out of envy, hatred, or revenge.

History provides many examples of Type 1 altruism, in, for example, religious communities that isolate themselves and live communally. The key organizing concepts of such communities are collective assets, solidarity, and conformity.

In The Fountainhead, Type 1 is combined with Type 2 in the official philosophy Ellsworth Toohey uses when preaching to the masses — for example in his speech to the strikers of the building-trades union (I:9). The key concepts in Toohey’s speech are unity and brotherhood for its own sake, on the one hand; and on the other the aggression of the owners and the consequent role of unions as a self-protection agency to fight back.

Type 3 altruism appears less in The Fountainhead, e.g., in the tactics Keating’s mother uses to live vicariously, both psychologically and — later in the novel — materially, through him. (It is much more developed in Atlas Shrugged, e.g., in the strategy that Rearden’s mother and brother pursue to ensure that he will continue to support them.)

Type 4 altruism is the altruism of power-lust. One sub-plot of The Fountainhead is the battle between Gail Wynand and Toohey. Wynand pursues the common “master” power strategy of physical wealth and intimidation (e.g., of his business competitors), while Toohey’s strategy is to use psychological power. An example from late in the novel when Toohey explains his philosophy to Peter Keating, who is now an empty shell of a man:

“It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken” (4:14).

Toohey’s particular tactics to achieve the strategy are designed to make the strong doubt themselves. Toohey elaborates in detail:

“There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. . . . Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue — and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness” (4:14).

Guilty individuals are weakened and much easier to manipulate and rule.

Type 5 altruism is the most disturbing case of altruism. Type 4 altruism is about achieving power in order to rule, but ruling is still a positive goal. Type 5 is about getting power as a means purely to destroy. Rand clearly sees it operative, but many readers wonder whether she exaggerates her enemies’ positions.

Rand provides many examples of Type 5 altruism in Atlas, especially in the characters Lillian Rearden and James Taggart. But it was first made explicit by Toohey when he explained to Keating the real purpose behind his communal organizing, his writings critical of individuality, and his promotion of mediocrities. When Keating whinily asks him what he really wants, Toohey snaps: “Howard Roark’s neck” — and then elaborates: “I don’t want to kill him. I want him in jail. You understand? In jail. In a cell. Behind bars. Locked, stopped, strapped — and alive” (4:13). Toohey has no positive goal: he only wants to destroy an outstanding man.

Toohey is a fictional character, so his words alone don’t have much evidentiary status. But plenty of real-life individuals give us the evidence we need to see Rand’s point:

augustine-50x68St. Augustine included the spectacle of Hell as one of the viewing pleasures for those in Heaven: “the good go out to see the punishment of the wicked . . . so as to witness the torments of the wicked in their bodily presence” (“The Saints’ Knowledge of the Punishment of the Wicked,” 426 CE).

Church father Tertullian exulted over his imagined destruction of the world and the torments of kings, philosophers, poets, and athletes in Hell:

tertullian-50x63“that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? Which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more ‘dissolute’ in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows …” (De Spectaculis, written 197–200 CE).

aquinas50x69St. Thomas Aquinas echoed Augustine: “In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned” (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 94, Articles 1 and 3; written 1265–1274 CE).

And American “Great Awakening” leader, Jonathan Edwards gave a 1739 sermon entitled “The Eternity of Hell Torments” with the following disturbing affirmation:

edwards-jonathan-50x57“The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.” And: “Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife be happy in Heaven with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than decrease their bliss.”

So Toohey is in “good” company, so to speak.

In a forthcoming journal article, “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand,” I discuss these five strategies from The Fountainhead in fuller detail, Rand’s use of them in Atlas Shrugged, and I make connections and contrasts to Friedrich Nietzsche’s earlier harsh critique of altruism. The article is to be published in the next issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 10, Number 2).

[Update: “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” [pdf] was published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10:2, Spring 2009, 249-291.]

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