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Ellsworth Toohey

Ellsworth Toohey is a central character in The Fountainhead, a bestselling 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It was Rand's first major literary success and its royalties and movie rights brought her fame and financial security. More than 5 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide and the work has been translated in several languages.

The Fountainhead's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. The book follows his battle to practice modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. How others in the novel relate to Roark demonstrates Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, the author's ideal man of independent-mindedness and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers." The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allow the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work.

By Rand's own admission, Roark is the embodiment of the human spirit and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism. Ellsworth Toohey, a columnist for The New York Banner (a yellow press-style newspaper owned by Gail Wynand) and author of the popular column One Small Voice, is an outspoken socialist, who is covertly rising to power by shaping public opinion through his column and his circle of influential associates, and whose quite openly proclaimed designs are not understood or taken seriously. Toohey sets out to destroy Roark through a smear campaign he spearheads at the Banner.

As the first step, Toohey convinces a weak-minded businessman named Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark as the designer for a temple dedicated to the human spirit and gives Roark carte blanche to design it as he sees fit. Roark designs the temple, with a naked statue of Dominique, which creates the first public outcry against Howard and Stoddard is (with Toohey's encouragement) appalled at what Roark has built.

Toohey further manipulates Stoddard into suing Roark for general incompetence and fraud. At Roark’s trial, every prominent architect in New York (including Keating) testifies that Roark’s style is unorthodox and illegitimate. Dominique defends Roark, but Stoddard wins the case and Roark loses his business again Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, who writes a popular art criticism column, is Roark's antagonist. Toohey is an unabashed collectivist and Rand's personification of evil (when speaking freely, he explicitly compares himself to Goethe's Mephisto, who tempted Faust to destruction).

Toohey represents the stifling, decadent forces of Communalism and Socialism. His biggest threat is the strength of the individual spirit enshrined in Howard Roark. He falsely styles himself as representative of the will of the masses. Aiming at a society that shall be "an average drawn upon zeroes," he knows exactly why he corrupts Peter Keating, his boss, and explains his methods to the ruined young man in a passage that is a pyrotechnical display of the fascist mind at its best and its worst; the use of the ideal of altruism to destroy personal integrity, the use of humor and tolerance to destroy all standards, the use of sacrifice to enslave. Having no true genius, Toohey's mission is to destroy excellence and promote altruism as the ultimate social ideal. This is put forward in one of his most memorable quotes: "Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed.

"Rand used her memory of the British democratic socialist Harold Laski to help her imagine what he would do in a given situation. Lewis Mumford was also an initial inspiration. In the biography of Toohey, it is mentioned that in his younger age he aspired to become a clergyman, but abandoned religion after discovering Socialism and considering that it better served his purposes. (There is no explicit mention of what denomination the young Toohey belonged to, but a later reference by his niece Catherine to the time when she used to "go to confession in church" seems to indicate a Roman Catholic background).

In that, Toohey's early career parallels that of Stalin, who had also trained for the priesthood in his young age - though Toohey's methods are much more subtle than those of the Soviet dictator, and he builds up a formidable power structure without resorting to an outright seizure of power or establishing a secret police apparatus. Indeed, even when frankly describing the nightmare world which is his ultimate aim ("A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of his neighbor (...) Men will not work for money, but for prestige, the approval of their fellows - not judgment, but public polls")

Toohey makes no mention of any overt dictatorship or coercive apparatus. Rather, Toohey's methods throughout the book suggest that such a regime might be able to retain the forms of democracy, multi-party elections and a free press, with actual power held by Toohey-like "informal advisers". As described in his biography, Toohey had already in early childhood developed a talent for subtly manipulating his parents and elementary school class-mates in order to gain power over them.

The adult Toohey - who "never sees men, only forces" (Book II, Ch. 6) - is a master schemer and manipulator who, like a chess master, can devise a gambit and predict many moves in advance. For example, Toohey sets Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark for the construction of his temple - and without having ever spoken to Roark, just by having seen Roark's buildings, Toohey is able to give his proxy Stoddard the arguments which would induce Roark to undertake the job: "It doesn't matter if you don't believe in God, Mr. Roark; you are a profoundly religious man, in your own way. I can see it in your buildings". Having seen Roark's buildings, Toohey has a good idea what kind of temple Roark would construct - and even before Roark ever heard of Stoddard and his temple, Toohey already planned how he would attack the temple once built, get it destroyed and Roark discredited, and transform it into an "institute for subnormal children".

Roark's and Toohey's being the precise antithesis of each other is emphasized by a similarity in the way that Roark's buildings are first introduced in the book ("They were the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him") and the way that Toohey's public speaking is introduced ("The voice spoke English words, but the resonant clarity of each syllable made it sound like a new language spoken for the first time"). Toohey in fact very much wants Roark's recognition, claiming in effect that his perception of the significance of Roark's work and then destroying it makes him the equal of its creator — a claim which Roark rebuffs in their only face-to-face encounter in the entire book (excluding Roark's trials): "Why don't you tell me what you think of me, Mr. Roark?" Roark replies, "But I don't think of you." Roark's retort is one of the most well-known lines in the book (as in the film made on its basis) As noted by Rand herself in the introduction to the 1968 edition, it was inspired by words actually said by her husband Frank O'Connor "to a different type of person, in a somewhat similar kind of context". “


Toohey’s five strategies of altruism

Stephan Hicks Phd.

The ethics of altruism holds that others are 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.In 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 case of 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.

Fight the doctrine which slaughters the individual with a doctrine which slaughters the individual." Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead, p. 669, Centennial edition. How to rule Souls In a famous speech from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, arch-villain Ellsworth Toohey explains to Peter Keating one way to seize power over an entire country:


"What do you want Ellsworth ?"

"Power, Petey. I want to rule. Like my spiritual predecessors. But I’m luckier than they were. I inherited the fruit of their efforts and I shall be the one who’ll see the great dream made real. I see it all around me today. I recognise it. I don’t like it. I didn’t expect to like it. Enjoyment is not my destiny. I shall find such satisfaction as my capacity permits. I shall rule."


"You. The world. 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. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse – and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself. Want to know how it’s done? See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t heard all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine.

There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an idol in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against himself. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one has ever reached it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish ? Man realises 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. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one can’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey – because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. That’s one way.

Here’s another. Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognise greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rare, the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept – and you stop the impetus to effort in men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. Laugh at Roark and hold Peter Keating as a great architect. You’ve destroyed architecture. Build Lois Cook and you’ve destroyed literature. Hail Ike and you’ve destroyed the theatre. Glorify Lancelot Clankey and you’ve destroyed the press. Don’t set out to raze all shrines – you’ll frighten men, Enshrine mediocrity - and the shrines are razed.

Then there’s another way. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It’s simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humour is an unlimited virtue. Don't let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul – and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle. He’ll obey and he’ll set no limits to obedience – anything goes – nothing is too serious.

Here’s another way. This is most important. Don't allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you. Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. Take away from them what they want. Make them think that the mere thought of a personal desire is evil. Bring them to a state where saying ‘I want’ is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission. Altruism is of great help in this. Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for support, for escape. Nature allows no vacuum. Empty man’s soul – and the space is yours to fill.

I don’t see why you should look so shocked, Peter. This is the oldest one of all. Look back at history. Look at any great system of ethics, from the Orient up. Didn’t they all preach the sacrifice of personal joy ? Under all the complications of verbiage, haven’t they all had a single leitmotif: sacrifice, renunciation, self-denial ? Haven’t you been able to catch their theme song – ‘Give up, give up, give up, give up’ ? Look at the moral atmosphere of today. Everything enjoyable, from cigarettes to sex to ambition to the profit motive, is considered depraved or sinful. Just prove that a thing makes men happy and you’ve damned it. That’s how far we’ve come. We’ve tied happiness to guilt. And we’ve got mankind by the throat.

Throw your first born into a sacrificial furnace – lie on a bed of nails – go into the desert to mortify the flesh – don’t dance – don't go to the movies on Sunday – don't try to get rich – don’t smoke – don’t drink. It’s all the same line. The great line. Fools don’t think that taboos of this nature are just nonsense. Something left over, old-fashioned. But there’s always a purpose in nonsense. Don’t bother to examine a folly – ask yourself only what it accomplishes. Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men.

Of course, you must dress them up. You must tell people they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’ – ‘Eternal Spirit’ – ‘Divine Purpose’ – ‘Nirvana’ - ‘Paradise’ – ‘Racial Supremacy’ – ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ Internal corruption, Peter. That’s the oldest one of all. The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it.

Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice – run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master. But if you ever hear a man telling you that you must be happy, that it’s your natural right, that your first duty is to yourself – that will be the man who has nothing to gain from you. But let him come and you’ll scream your empty heads off, howling that he’s a selfish monster. So the racket is safe for many, many centuries.

But here you might have noticed something. I said, ‘It stands to reason’. Do you see ? Men have a weapon against you. Reason. So you must be very sure to take it away from them. Cut the props from under it. But be careful. Don’t deny outright. Never deny anything outright, you give your hand away. Don’t say reason is evil – though some have gone that far and with astonishing success. Just say that reason is limited. That there’s something above it. What ? You don’t have to be too clear about it either. The field’s inexhaustible. ‘Instinct’ – ‘Feeling’ – ‘Revelation’ – ‘Divine Intuition’ – ‘Dialectic Materialism’. If you get caught at some crucial point and somebody tells you that your doctrine doesn’t make sense – you’re ready for him. You tell him there’s something above sense. That here he must not try to think, he must feel. He must believe. Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him. Can you rule a thinking man ? We don’t want any thinking men."

Keating had sat down on the floor, by the side of the dresser. He did not want to abandon the dresser; he felt safer, leaning against it.

Peter, you’ve heard all this. You’ve seen me practising it for ten years. You see it being practised all over the world. Why are you disgusted ? You have no right to sit there and stare at me with the virtuous superiority of being shocked. You’re in on it. You’ve taken your share and you’ve got to go along. You’re afraid to see where it’s leading. I’m not. I’ll tell you.

The world of the future. The world I want. A world of obedience and of unity. A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of the next neighbour who’ll have no thought – and so on, Peter, around the globe. Since all must agree with all. A world where no man will hold a desire for himself, but will direct all his efforts to satisfy the desires of his neighbour who’ll have no desires except to satisfy the desires of the next neighbour, who’ll have no desires – around the globe, Peter. Since all must serve all. A world in which man will not work for so innocent an incentive as money, but for that headless monster – prestige. The approval of his fellows – their good opinion – the opinion of men who’ll be allowed to hold no opinion. An octopus, all tentacles and no brain.

Judgement, Peter ! Not judgement, but public polls. An average drawn upon zeroes – since no individuality will be permitted. A world with its motor cut off and a single heart, pumped by hand. My hand – and the hands of a few, a very few other men like me. Those who know what makes you tick – you great, wonderful average, you who have not risen in fury when we called you the average, the little, the common, you who’ve liked and accepted these names. You’ll sit enthroned and enshrined, you, the little people, the absolute ruler to make all past rulers squirm with envy, the absolute, the unlimited, God and Prophet and King combined. Vox populi. The average, the common, the general.

Do you know the proper antonym for Ego ? Bromide, Peter. The rule of the bromide. But even the trite has to be organised by someone at some time. We’ll do the organising. Vox dei. We’ll enjoy unlimited submission – from men who’ve learned nothing except to submit. We’ll call it ‘to serve’. We’ll give out medals for service. You’ll fall over one another in a scramble to see who can submit better and more. There will be no other distinction to seek. No other form of personal achievement.

Can you see Howard Roark in this picture ? No ? Then don’t waste time on foolish questions. Everything that can’t be ruled, must go. And if freaks persist in being born occasionally, they will not survive beyond their twelfth year. When their brain begins to function, it will feel the pressure and it will explode. The pressure gauged to a vacuum. Do you know the fate of deep-sea creatures brought out to sunlight? So much for future Roarks. The rest of you will smile and obey. Have you noticed that the imbecile always smiles ? Man’s first frown is the first touch of God on his forehead. The touch of thought. But we’ll have neither God nor thought. Only voting by smiles. Automatic levers – all saying yes...

Now if you were a little more intelligent, you’d ask: What of us, the rulers ? What of me, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey ? And I’d say, Yes, you’re right. I’ll achieve no more than you will. I’ll have no purpose save to keep you contended. To lie, to flatter you, to praise you, to inflate your vanity. To make speeches about the people and the common good. Peter, my poor old friend, I’m the most selfless man you’ve ever known. I have less independence than you, whom I just forced to sell your soul. You’ve used people at least for the sake of what you could get from them for yourself. I want nothing for myself. I use people for the sake of what I can do to them. It’s my only function and satisfaction. I have no private purpose. I want power. I want my world of the future. Let all live for all. Let all sacrifice and none profit. Let all suffer and none enjoy. Let progress stop. Let all stagnate. There’s equality in stagnation. All subjugated to the will of all. Universal slavery – without even the dignity of a master. Slavery to slavery. A great circle – and a total equality. The world of the future."

"Ellsworth... you’re..."

"Insane ? Afraid to say it ? There you sit and the world’s written all over you, your last hope. Insane ? Look around you. Pick up any newspaper and read the headlines. Isn’t it coming ? Isn’t it here ? Every single thing I told you ? Isn’t Europe swallowed already and we’re stumbling on to follow ? Everything I said is contained in a single word – collectivism. And isn’t that the god of our century. To act together. To think – together. To feel – together. To unite, to agree, to obey. To obey, to serve, to sacrifice. Divide and conquer – first. But then, unite and rule. We’ve discovered that one last. Remember the Roman Emperor who said he wished humanity had a single neck so he could cut it ? People have laughed at him for centuries. But we’ll have the last laugh. We’ve accomplished what he couldn’t accomplish. We’ve taught men to unite. This makes one neck ready for one leash. We found the magic word. Collectivism.

Look at Europe, you fool. Can’t you see past the guff and recognise the essence ? One country is dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the collective is all. The individual held as evil, the mass – as God. No motive and no virtue permitted – except that of service to the proletariat.
That’s one version. Here’s another. A country dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the State is all. The individual held as evil, the race – as God. No motive and no virtue permitted – except that of service to the race. Am I raving or is this the harsh reality of two continents already ? If you’re sick of one version, we push you in the other. We’ve fixed the coin. Heads – collectivism. Tails – collectivism. Give up your soul to a council – or give it up to a leader. But give it up, give it up, give it up. Offer poison as food and poison as antidote. Go fancy on the trimmings, but hang on to the main objective. Give the fools a chance, let them have their fun – but don’t forget the only purpose you have to accomplish. Kill the individual. Kill man’s soul. The rest will follow automatically."  (Ellsworth Toohey, speaking to Peter Keating in "The Fountainhead")