Besides money and pleasure, what does a man want? Power. The desire for power is an innate human drive, an impulse that has throughout history shown itself time and time again to be a formidable factor that has shaped civilization, for both good and bad. In the hands of one, it can turn horribly wrong; the few, it can quickly deteriorate; and the many, it also not exempt from corrupting. Overall, the pursuit of power over others proves a fickle, destructive thing, whereas, say, power over oneself, is thought to be more respectable. But power itself is not a bad thing, only in the hands of men, who, upon achieving it, will succumb to their darkest instincts and show their true selves. To dominate and to control others, is to control the world, a sentiment which has given rise to the notion of ruling the world, or world domination, which, as seen in history, never leads anywhere good. As such, humans are driven by a desire that they cannot escape, but which will lead to their ruin in the long run. In Ayn Rand’s philosophical novel The Fountainhead, Gail Wynand, the owner of a newspaper called the Banner, makes it his sole mission to get power over his peers, to show the world that he is capable of ruling, to prove everyone wrong who doubted him. Unfortunately, by the end of the novel, his rise to power takes a turn for the worst, leading to his personal destruction and the ruin of the only things for which he cared. Rand, who carefully constructed each of her characters, made Wynand’s need for power his weakness, the very thing that would destroy him in his pursuit, eventually. About a century earlier, the 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, in a famous section titled “Lordship and Bondage” of his work Phenomenology of Spirit, explains the process by which a person, or self-consciousness, achieves knowledge of itself through a power struggle with another individual, demonstrating the perils of power in relation to other persons. Therefore, this post will explore how Hegel’s ideas clarify Rand’s cautionary tale of Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead—the second-handed dialectic of power.
In Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel tells the story of the Absolute Spirit and its progression through the course of history. As pure self-consciousness, Spirit must be able to reflect upon itself, to be conscious of itself, if it wants to become complete. It is only through self-recognition that self-consciousness comes to fruition and realizes its place in the world and in the lives of men. Spirit is manifest not only in the world, but in individuals. Every self or person that exists is an individual self-consciousness that partakes in Spirit. Pure self-consciousness is a hard thing to imagine, surely, and it can best be explained using the Law of Identity, used by both Hegel and his predecessor Fichte: A=A. This merely means that self-consciousness is itself—nothing more, nothing less. If you were to have a person, and if you took away all their properties, e.g., physical, intellectual, emotional, etc., then you would have their irreducible, simple self-consciousness, which is itself. Anything that is not self-consciousness is an object for it. For this reason, self-consciousness consists both of the self, the subject, and an object, such as another person, or self-consciousness. It is the subject that thinks about the object. So self-conscious must be able to think about itself as an object, despite its being the one doing the thinking at the same time. Such is the essence of self-consciousness. Without an object, consciousness is not itself.
To achieve contemplation of itself, self-consciousness works through what Hegel calls “desire,” which is the need to dominate external objects; in a word, self-consciousness appropriates, it takes something for itself in order to have it and make it its own. This important idea says that the self comes to know itself through what it is not. Simply put, self-consciousness learns what it is through every object that it is not. The self knows itself from the not-self. In Fichte’s writing, this is called the Anstoß, or “impetus,” the instant in which the self springs back from the world and into itself. The problem is that desire does not lead to knowledge of the self, only of the not-self. Desire, mind you, is only a function of self-consciousness, a means of obtaining consciousness, the by-product of which is a faint idea of reflection. In other words, desire is not self-consciousness itself; desire informs self-consciousness because it is not reflexive; desire does not act like a mirror in which the self can see itself. Further, desire is object-centered (allocentric), rather than self-centered (egocentric). This means desire is not what leads explicitly to self-conscious reflection. Instead, desire for another self is what leads to self-conscious reflection. Now, the self becomes social, and it interacts with other selves, from which it obtains knowledge of itself.
When two people meet, they are separate from each other in that they see the world differently, yet they live in the same world nonetheless. Each self-consciousness exists in itself, disconnected from everyone else. Two persons are like bumper cars: They can drive around and interact with each other, but only by coming into contact with each other violently. Person A seeing person B, a reciprocal process ensues. Person A desires person B—that is, desires to own them; and likewise, person B desires to own person A. There is a mutual recognition between the two, and a mutual resistance. Both realize what the other wants, but they are also resistant to it. Tension builds between the two, for they both want to conquer one another. Asserting themselves, person A will try to establish its dominance in an attempt to bring person B under their control. This subjugation of the other, this literal objectification—turning the other person into an object for oneself—means both persons use the other as a means-to-an-end rather than an end-in-themselves. Neither person A nor B respects the individuality of the other, sees the other as an equal, but immediately assumes a superiority toward them. Recognition, in this sense, is not the friendly kind, as between two friends who see each other and wave, thereby recognizing each other, no; this is a vicious recognition between two enemies who begrudgingly acknowledge each other’s existence. Neither person is respected as a person, but seen as an object for taking.
In our everyday lives, this hardly seems an accurate portrayal of our encounters with other people, yet it was also championed by another philosopher, the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who said that, by looking at another person, they become an object for us, and vice versa. Under our gaze—”the Look,” as Sartre called it—the other ceases to be an independent consciousness, but degenerates from a subject into an object. If two people were to look at each other, then, a battle between the two would follow. Sartre said that the two selves fight to assert their self-consciousness in the face of the other. Going back to Hegel, though, person B serves for person A as a mirror kind of. Unlike desire, which we said is not a mirror, the other person, who is perceived by desire, does become a mirror for us. Self-consciousness requires another self in order to be conscious of itself. “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself… only in being acknowledged,” writes Hegel. He also says at this moment that the two selves “recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.” What this means is that A realizes that it is desiring B, and this must mean that B is doing the same thing. In a strange way, it is basically saying that the two selves feel a kind of empathy toward one another. A wants B, and A and is aware that B wants A at the same time. The same goes for B in terms of A. Children develop at a certain age what is known as a “Theory of Mind” (ToM). Theory of Mind is the ability of a child to reason what another person is thinking. Once the child is able to do this, it is able to think by means of analogy of what is going on in someone’s head. “When I want milk, I cry,” the child says, “and this boy is crying, so he must want milk, too,” he observes. In effect, this is what self-consciousness does when it “mutually recognizes” another self-consciousness. The two are aware of their own thinking, and they attribute it to each other, equally.
Because a subject needs an object, a thinker a thought, A desires to control B as a means-to-an-end. This much we know. We know, further, that in order to control B, A needs to assert itself to gain supremacy. The problem is, when both A and B engage in self-assertion, they risk destroying each other. Should B be wiped into oblivion, A would lack its mirror. Thus, destruction of the other is counterintuitive, and, in a sense, self-destructive. To have A gain control of B without destroying B in the process, thereby preserving the mirror, A forces B not into subjugation, but subordination. A does not destroy B; A must enslave B, must make B lower than itself. A life-or-death struggle involves both parties. Whoever comes out on top, retains their dignity. “It is only through staking one’s life,” Hegel says, “that freedom is won… that [self-consciousness] is only pure being-for-self.” There is no other option, in other words. Engaging in battle, self-consciousness has nothing with which to bargain except for its own life. These two self-consciousnesses, A and B, are like medieval jousters—only, they are not putting their pride and dignity on the line, but their very lives, as that is all they have, being self-conscious individuals, “pure being-for-self.” To assert self-consciousness is to put one’s life at risk. The end of life means the end of conscious experience. For sake of understanding, we can equate “life” with “self-consciousness.” Understandably, putting one’s life at risk reveals the fragility of one’s life. When we consider nothing else besides our life, our self-consciousness, when we confront our bare existence, what are we left with? Pure being. This is very Heideggerian, this speaking of “pure being.” However, what Hegel is implying is that consciousness qua pure being is what one is. One is nothing more than one’s life. You are not your clothes, or your thoughts, or your emotions, or your likes or dislikes—you are a living individual, and when you risk your life, you realize that life is not some sort of solid, empirical object that can withstand such a trial, and so you face your mortality, the threat of non-existence, non-consciousness.
This conception of Hegel’s is summarized by Thomas Melchert: “So being self-consciousness in this strong sense is engaging in an absolute abstraction from all the facts that make you the existing individual that you are, turning every facet of yourself into an object for yourself.” It all boils down to one thing: Self-consciousness. In finally risking one’s life, in finally facing another conscious individual, one confronts one’s finitude, one’s mortality, and then becomes aware of themselves, not as this or that, but as essentially aware, as self-consciousness, pure and simple. Self-consciousness is itself. Such a confrontation with death strips away everything but pure being-as-such—Heidegger would very much agree with this statement. Hegel predates Heidegger even more in the following excerpt:
For this consciousness has been fearful, not of this or that particular thing or just at odd moments, but its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced the fear of death…. But this pure universal moment, absolute melting-away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self….
Indeed, this whole excerpt sounds like it could have been written by a Heideggerian-Sartrean hybrid. Piece by piece, we shall examine it. The first part discusses the experience of existential dread, or anxiety, which has been taken up by authors like Kierkegaard (who hated Hegel), Heidegger, and Sartre. Hegel says that self-consciousness, in staking its life, experiences a fear unlike any other, insofar as it is of nothing in particular. In fact, the essence of dread lies in exactly that—that dread is a fear of Nothing. And dread is not some kind of fading emotion; rather, self-consciousness’ “whole being has been seized,” suggesting that it is a very powerful, moving feeling. It derives explicitly from death. Death is characterized by Nothing. Life is consciousnesses, death the end of consciousness, the experience of Nothing. Contemplating this, the individual feels dread. Through dread, pure self-consciousness arises as its own object, quaking in the face of being-as-such. Because self-consciousness is a subject, something that thinks, and because in facing death self-consciousness acknowledges its mortality, self-consciousness suddenly becomes… self-conscious. Everything but Life and Death themselves disappears, leaving self-consciousness alone with itself. However, risking one’s life in self-assertion requires courage, and only the most courageous soul will emerge from an encounter with death. The battle is over, and when the dust settles, A has won the battle, has faced death, leaving B defeated. B is thus forced into servitude under A. The two self-consciousnesses now take up a new relationship: Person A is the lord/master, B their bondsman/slave. We will now undertake a study of both of these roles and their relationship.
The [master’s] essential nature it to exist only for himself; he is the sheer negative power for whom the thing is nothing. Thus he is the pure, essential action in this relationship, while the action of the bondsman is impure and unessential. But for recognition proper the moment is lacking, that what the lord does to the other he also does to himself, and what the bondsman does to himself he should also do to the other [i.e., mutual reciprocation]. The outcome is a recognition that is one-sided and unequal.
Hegel is saying that the newly emerged master—person A—is now self-sufficient. The master serves no one. He, the master, cares only about his own existence, and he need not bother with the slave’s. Being self-consciousness, his concern lies not with things or the slave, but himself. Taken this way, the master is considered “essential,” as he is the one being served, he is the important one, whereas the slave is “unessential,” expendable, living a lowly existence, the one who serves, the unimportant one. While the master is independent, the slave is dependent. Recall that self-consciousness’ goal is only to gain recognition of itself. This it has done through staking its life against another consciousness, which is now become a slave. However, this creates a problem: If respect is a mutual thing, then so is recognition; recognition is only gotten through two people on equal standing—equals. The master gets work from the slave, who in turn gets nothing out of the relationship. Only the master profits. This, Hegel notes, is “one-sided and unequal.” The balance is tipped to one side, and this means there is no mutual recognition. The slave recognizes the master as his “everything,” recognizes his subservience to him.
And the master? The master recognizes the slave as… well, nothing, nothing at all. Bluntly, the master does not recognize at all, as there is no one, nothing, to recognize. To him, the slave is nothing. Therefore, the master cannot recognize the slave, and this means that, although the slave recognizes the master, the master will never acknowledge this—and this, readers, means that the master lacks the self-awareness he needs. The master no longer recognizes himself, and summarily loses self-consciousness. Reciprocity in the relationship has been compromised. If you have read The Fountainhead before, then you will have already seen some parallels, but for those who have not, now begins our formal comparison between Hegel and Rand. Gail Wynand, talking to his wife Dominique about an upcoming trial, intimates,
Dominique, I know you’ve never been able to understand why I’ve felt no shame in my past. Why I love the Banner. Now you’ll see the answer. Power. I hold a power I’ve never tested. Now you’ll see the test. They’ll [the public will] think what I want them to think. They’ll do as I say. Because it is my city and I do run things around here (Rand, 655).
Here, Wynand explains his position. As the owner of the newspaper the Banner, notorious for its sensationalist, eye-catching stories, Wynand is able to write stories that will spread a specific message. With his control over the people of New York, he can do whatever he wants; he can the people them vote a certain way if he tells them to. This, he says, gives him his feeling of power, a feeling which he enjoys very much, enabling him to take control of his past. Little does he know, though, that in doing this, in “enslaving” the people of New York, depriving them of their power, their self-consciousness, in this context, he is actually depriving himself of the very self-consciousness, the very self-assertion, that he himself desires, to the extent that the people who read his newspapers cannot give him anything in return. He impoverishes himself by mediating himself through the people. The Banner, Wynand’s source of power, makes him a master, an independent person, but it prevents the people from giving anything back, from giving him equal recognition. His belief that he owns the city and that he can direct it blinds him even more from his predicament, for he is blinded by power, such that he cannot realize that, in asserting himself, he will have nothing left to reel in. Wynand has put his entire self out there, into the world, leaving nothing salvageable behind, by risking his life for recognition, which he will now never get. This, we have said, is the position of the master, and Gail Wynand is the representative of it. Hegel further says of the master:
[The lord] is a consciousness existing for itself which is mediated with itself through another consciousness…. And since he is… now at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through another, he is related (a) immediately to both, and (b) mediately to each through the other.
Seeing as the master gets his self-consciousness from the slave, he is “mediated” through the slave, which is to say that he uses the slave as a means of reaching his own agenda. He is not doing it on his own, but through the slave. The slave is not “for itself,” because it is dependent on the master, but the master is “for itself” since it is independent. Based on this, he is himself while maintaining his relationship with his slave, hence the immediate relation, but he is also himself and the master of the slave through the slave, mediately. The master is only a master who recognizes himself through the slave.
Wynand, similarly, walking through the empty streets of New York at night, feeling guilty for having betrayed his closest friend, looks up at the buildings around him, at the ordinary people going about their routine days, admitting his defeat, submitting to each and every one of them, because he realizes that, in trying to gain power, he has become their slaves, rather than their master, and the realization terrifies him, makes him feel worthless. He thinks to himself, “You were a ruler of men. You held a leash.” But then he sees the truth of this: “A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends” (Rand, 691). The significance of this quote is that Wynand thought of himself as a powerful man, the most powerful man in New York, so he had a leash on everyone, to keep them in check; yet in reality, this hold on other people, this ability to manipulate others, kept him in check, too. In enslaving the people, he enslaved himself to them. The masses became his master, he their slave. Wynand, pandering to the masses, was really serving them, not the other way around. Like a dog owner, Wynand held the leash, the tool of power, in his hands, meaning he was able to control where the dog—the people—went. But he forgot that dogs, too, can pull and yank, sometimes stronger than the owner can. When he was not looking, the dog ran at full speed, dragging Wynand with it. Having a noose at both ends, the leash chokes both of them; they are bound to each other, and yet there is no equal recognition, no mutuality. The master depends on objects for desire, not caring about the slave; the slave wants to serve his master in recognition of him, albeit unsuccessfully, since the master refuses to lower himself to the slave’s level.
What of the slave? What becomes of the slave if the master is revealed to be less powerful than he thought? The slave, forced to work for the master, produces. He labors for the master, and he finds himself therein. By this, Hegel means that the slave finds himself through his work, which is a creation of his, a reflection of him. Looking at his craftsmanship, his handiwork, the slave sees the fruits of his labor, sees himself in them, because he has put his effort into them. He differentiates himself from the world, from the objects of his creation. Compare this, again, to the Fichtean Anstoß, the kick-off whereby the slave sees all that is not himself, and therethrough finds what is his. Self-realization comes when the slave compares himself to the master, who is a self-consciousness like himself, against which he can mirror himself, and to his material labor, allowing the slave to achieve reflexive self-consciousness. “[T]he bondsman realizes that it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own,” states Hegel. We see this in The Fountainhead, too, when Wynand reflects further on his fall from power:
I released them all [the public]. I made every one of those who destroyed me. There is a beast on earth, dammed safely by its own impotence. I broke the dam. They would have remained helpless. They produce nothing. I gave them the weapon. I gave them my strength, my energy, my living power. I created a great voice and let them dictate the words. The woman who threw the beet leaves in my face had a right to do it. I made it possible for her.
Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven…. Bot not I. I was not born to be a second-hander (Rand, 694).
Had Wynand not tried to shape public opinion, had he not sought to exert his power over others, had he not underestimated the public by being condescending, then, he says, his fall would not have happened. By letting things go as they had been, everything would have been fine, but he intervened, causing his own downfall. The “beast” he talks about is the mediocrity, the conformity, of the masses, and this very mediocrity and conformity is what held them back from doing anything. Their own standards and artificially made beliefs were precisely what kept them from making their own standards and beliefs. Wynand, however, is the one who “broke the dam.” His vehement articles stressing the urgency of the trial, his pleas to acquit Howard Roark provoked the people, let them make up their minds, form their opinions, gather together in protest. His power struggle released them upon himself. He put his life on the line, his being, and he had won judging by his success in the world, his riches, his art collection, his personal life—he was the master. And in so doing, he surrendered himself to the people, became subordinated to them, paradoxically.
Interestingly, he says, “They produce nothing,” which can be linked to the slave, who produces for the master and finds awareness in it. It is true the masses never produced anything for Wynand; but then again, he never recognized them as they recognized him; he did not give them reciprocal acknowledgement; he desired the objects, instead of his own self-consciousness; but the people, the consumers of the Banner, the mindless readers, the manipulable crowds—they were the true laborers, and Wynand, it is also true, was dependent on them. He could not exist without them, could not have been as successful as he was without them. He needed them; he was dependent on them. He sought power of them. He went so far in pursuit of power, that he could not look back from where he came, and he lost perspective. He lost the ability to recognize the people, who became to him an anonymous, faceless crowd. With great power comes great responsibility, we know from Spiderman. Wynand’s power, symbolized by the “leash,” got him caught up in his own noose, to which he was tethered. The laborers could not give what Wynand demanded of them, and this empowered them through their production, of which he had none, except for the Banner, his form of control, causing the inversion of the master-slave dialectic, so that Wynand was the slave, the people the masters, the collective. Wynand, had he not risked his life in the power struggle, would not have provoked and alienated the people from their labor.
In chapter XI of part 4, Howard Roark and Gail Wynand are sitting on the latter’s yacht, talking about the “beast,” the mediocrity of the masses, which Roark appropriately titles “second-handedness,” or the tendency to live second-hand, vicariously, mediately, through other people. They formulate their principles based on what others before them have said; they follow the latest trends; they do not think for themselves; they seek the approval of their peers; and they depend on others, instead of relying on themselves. Wynand agrees with Roark, who declares that he is happy that Wynand is not a second-hander himself. At this, Wynand smiles. Unbeknownst to Wynand, Roark thinks: “I haven’t mentioned to him the worst second-hander of all—the man who goes after power” (Rand, 636). Secretly, Roark disapproves of Wynand, knowing that his pursuit of power will not end well for him, for it never does; after all, it is second-handed. This moment becomes all the more meaningful when we reread what Wynand says to himself later, about how “Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven…. Bot not I. I was not born to be a second-hander.”
In conclusion, it is human nature to want power, especially over others, yet Gail Wynand from The Fountainhead serves as a warning to us all about the dangers of pursuing power. The master is but a pawn in the grander scheme of things, Hegel thinks, for the dialectic of Spirit continues onward, through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Two self-consciousnesses meet, they fight, one becomes subservient but ends up becoming the master, only to repeat the process infinitely. If one independent consciousness is the thesis, another the antithesis, then the resulting self-consciousness is the synthesis; but now this self-consciousness meets another one, and the cycle continues, as you can see, ad infinitum. The seeking of power, therefore, is futile and never-ending. Recognition is grounded in mutuality and reciprocity, which simply cannot be achieved when narrow-minded, individual power is sought after. Both Gail Wynand and Howard Roark grew up poor, working for the entirety of their childhood, told they were worthless, that they would never amount to anything, yet they both became incredibly successful, Wynand with his newspaper business, Roark with his architecture. They are a rags-to-riches story, full of inspiring individualism and idealism. But Rand wanted to demonstrate that something separated Roark from Wynand. Whereas Wynand goes after power to show others that he can be in charge for once, rising to identify as a master, Roark, it can be argued, is a slave by nature, in the Hegelian sense, of course. He finds himself not in other people, but in his work, his labor. Every draft he draws up, every granite block he touches, and every building he builds—they are all in his image. Roark finds self-recognition, self-assertion, self-consciousness, purpose, meaning, in his passion, which is really his whole life. He is full of dread because he is always risking his life for his work. For months, he goes without any commissions, yet he endures it, because “it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own.” Roark was not born to be a second-hander. The worst second-hander is “the man who goes after power.” Who seeks to become powerful, thereby becomes powerless.
 Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, §178, p. 111
 Id., §184, p. 112
 §187, p. 114
 Melchert, The Great Conversation, p. 410
 Hegel, op. cit., §194, p. 117
 §191, p. 116
 §190, p. 115
 §196, p. 119
For further reading:
A History of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit by G.W.F. Hegel (1977)
The Great Conversation by Norman Melchert (1991)
History of Philosophy by B.A.G. Fuller (1952)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1986)