ESR 2 Blog July 2021: Piu-Wai Chan


A footage of Ayn Rand featured in  All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011)

Since Sajid Javid’s surprise comeback as the new Health Minister, I have been thinking that it would be timely to revisit the concept of the Randian Hero.

There is a reason why I often favour following politics ‘news’ over TV drama — from Greensill scandal to ‘Domshell’, the explosive parliamentary enquiry with Dominic Cummings regarding the incompetence of British’s COVID response, but who would have guessed that it took a ‘Kiss Door’ to lead to the resignation of Mark Hancock– one can hardly take a breath in between each dramatic turn. The truth is that all these things hit harder and cruder than any one-liner from Malcolm Tucker. The sheer bizarreness and sleaziness of recent English politics makes The Thick of IT look like a feel-good-coming-of-age teens flick, particularly when the media repeatedly reminded us of the ‘creepy’ obsession Javid has for Ayn Rand,

Just before Christmas, Sajid Javid performed a ritual he has observed twice a year throughout his adult life: he read the courtroom scene in The Fountainhead…As a student, Javid read the passage to his now-wife… “ It’s about the power of the individual,” he says. “About sticking up for your beliefs, against popular opinion. Being that individual that really believes in something and goes for it.” [1]

Javid tried to muzzle the objectivism which was notoriously manifested in that very courtroom speech. Howard Roark, Javid’s Randian Hero, claimed ‘I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life.’ [2]

Objectivism holds that reality is outside of human consciousness, hence objective, and values a rational productivity that is driven by the ‘virtue of selfishness.’ Rand defined an objectivist human as a ‘heroic being’, whose sole purpose is the fulfilment of individual happiness.

It became awfully obvious that Javid was self-actualising into a Randian Hero as he declared that ‘we must learn to live with the virus’ during his first speech as the Health Minister. Given that anti-altruism is a known quality of the Randian Hero, one would find it hardly surprising that Javid, a former Foreign Secretary, stripped British citizenship of Shamima Begum in 2019 which left her stateless.

After watching Adam Curtis’s masterpiece All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011) which narrates how entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley became aspiring Randian Heroes, I found myself reading The Fountainhead. I guess in some way, I was thrilled by the possibility of being wildly disgusted or even being ‘defected’ by it. However, to my disappointment, I was left with a sense of ‘What? That’s it?’ upon reading the book. I was vastly underwhelmed by the dullness of the protagonist, Howard Roark, a truly one-dimensional figure with no character, operating like a frenetic ‘broken record,’ repeating the same ideology over, and over and over… Roark’s absence of self-doubt, self-reflection, his unacceptance of fate (the opposite of hubris/ὕβρις) and lack of compassion for others (most famously demonstrated in The Holy Grail and the downfall of Jason) are familiar from the hero-archetypes of folklore and Greek myths[3]. Hence, Howard Roark is robotic rather than heroic.

With Javid diagnosed with COVID right before the ‘Freedom Day,’ such irony serves well to remind us that we shall remain cautious in a world, where madmen feverishly dream of becoming Randian Robots.

[1] ‘Javid’s Home Truths | The Spectator’. Accessed 9 July 2021.

[2] Murnane, Ben. Ayn Rand and the Posthuman: The Mind-Made Future. Springer, 2018.

[3] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2020.

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