Ayn Rand

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Novelist and philosopher, best known for her philosophy of Objectivism
Novelist and philosopher, best known for her philosophy of Objectivism

Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905March 6, 1982; first name pronounced (IPA) /aɪn/ (rhymes with 'mine')), born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, was best known for her philosophy of Objectivism and her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Her philosophy and her fiction both emphasize, above all, her concepts of individualism, rational egoism ("rational self-interest"), and capitalism. Believing government has a legitimate but relatively minimal role in a free society, she was not an anarchist, but a minarchist (though she did not use the term "minarchist"). Her novels were based upon the archetype of the Randian hero, a man whose ability and independence causes conflict with the masses, but who perseveres nevertheless to achieve his values. Rand viewed this hero as the ideal and made it the express goal of her literature to showcase such heroes. She believed:

  1. That man must choose his values and actions by reason;
  2. That the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor others to self; and
  3. That no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force, or impose ideas on others by physical force.



Early life

Rand was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was the eldest of three daughters of a Jewish family. Her parents were agnostic and largely non-observant. From an early age, she displayed a strong interest in literature and films. She started writing screenplays and novels from the age of seven. Her mother undertook to teach her French and subscribed to a magazine featuring stories for boys, where Rand found her first childhood hero: Cyrus Paltons, an Indian army officer in a Rudyard Kipling-style story called "The Mysterious Valley". Throughout her youth, she read the novels of Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas and other Romantic writers, and expressed a passionate enthusiasm toward the Romantic movement as a whole. She discovered Victor Hugo at the age of thirteen, and fell deeply in love with his novels. Later, she would cite him as her favourite novelist and the greatest novelist of world literature. She studied philosophy and history at the University of Petrograd. Her major literary discoveries in university were the works of Edmond Rostand, Friedrich Schiller and Fyodor Dostoevsky. She admired Rostand for his richly romantic imagination and Schiller for his grand, heroic scale. She admired Dostoevsky for his sense of drama and his intense moral judgments, but was deeply against his philosophy and his sense of life. She continued to write short stories and screenplays and wrote sporadically in her diary, which contained intensely anti-Soviet ideas. She also encountered the philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, and loved his exaltation of the heroic and independent individual in Thus Spoke Zarathustra; nevertheless she was strongly critical of his philosophy, going so far as to attack it in the introductions of her novels. Her greatest influence by far is Aristotle, especially his work Organon (Logic). She considered him the greatest philosopher ever. She then entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts in 1924 to study screenwriting; in late 1925, however, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She arrived in the United States in February 1926, at the age of twenty-one. After a brief stay with her relatives in Chicago, she resolved never to return to the Soviet Union, and set out for Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. She then changed her name to "Ayn Rand". There is a story told that she named herself after the Remington Rand typewriter, but recent evidence has proved that this is not the case. She stated that her first name, 'Ayn', was an adaptation of the name of a Finnish writer. This may have been the Finnish-Estonian author Aino Kallas.

Major works

Initially, Rand struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living expenses. While working as an extra on Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings, she intentionally bumped into an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, who caught her eye. The two were married in 1929. In 1931, Rand became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Her first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn in 1932 to Universal Studios. Rand then wrote the play The Night of January 16th in 1934, which was highly successful, and published two novels, We the Living (1936), and Anthem (1938). The two novels failed to gain any significant financial/critical success. She was up against the Red Decade in America, and Anthem did not even find a publisher in the United States; it was first published in England. Besides that, Rand had still not perfected her literary style and the novels cannot be considered to be fully representative.

Without Rand's knowledge or permission, We The Living was made into a pair of films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira in 1942 by Scalara Films, Rome. The films were nearly censored by the Italian government under Benito Mussolini, but they were allowed to be featured because the novel they were based upon was ostensibly anti-Soviet. The films were successful and the public easily realised that it was as much against Fascism as it was against Communism, and the government banned it quickly thereafter. These films were re-edited into a new version which was approved by Rand and re-released as We the Living in 1986.

Rand's first major professional success came with her best-selling novel The Fountainhead (1943). She took seven years to write it. The novel was rejected by twelve publishers, who thought it was too intellectual and opposed to the mainstream of American thought, and that there would be no public for it. It was finally accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house, thanks mainly to a member of the editorial board, Archibald Ogden, who praised the book in the highest terms and finally prevailed. Despite these initial struggles The Fountainhead was a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security.

The theme of The Fountainhead is "individualism and collectivism in man's soul". It features the life of five main characters. The hero, Howard Roark, is Rand's ideal, a noble soul par excellence, an architect who is firmly and serenely devoted to his own ideals and believes that no man should copy the style of another in any field, and especially in architecture. All the other characters in the novel demand the renunciation of his values with varying degrees of intensity, but Roark maintains his integrity. A most interesting feature of Roark is that he does this unlike traditional heroes who launch into long and passionate monologues about their integrity and the unfairness of the world; Roark, by contrast, does it with a disdainful, almost contemptous taciturnity and laconicism.

Rand's magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published in 1957, becoming an international bestseller. Atlas Shrugged is often seen as Rand's most complete statement of the Objectivist philosophy in any of her works of fiction. In its appendix, she offered this summary:

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

The theme of Atlas Shrugged is "The role of man's mind in society". Rand upheld the industrialist as one of the most admirable members of any society and fiercely opposed the popular resentment accorded to industrialists. This led her to envision a novel wherein the industrialists of America go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway. The American economy and its society in general slowly start to collapse. The government responds by increasing the already stifling controls on industrial concerns. The novel, despite having a political theme at its centre, deals with issues as complex and divergent as sex, music, medicine, and human ability.

Along with Nathaniel Branden, his wife Barbara, and others including Alan Greenspan and Leonard Peikoff, (jokingly designated "The Collective"), Rand launched the Objectivist movement to promote her philosophy.

The Objectivist movement

Main article: The Objectivist movement

In 1950 Rand moved to New York City, where in 1951 she met the young psychology student Nathaniel Branden [1], who had read her book The Fountainhead at the age of 14. Branden, then 19, enjoyed discussing Rand's emerging Objectivist philosophy with her. Together, Branden and some of his other friends formed a group that they dubbed the Ayn Rand Collective, which included future Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. After several years, Rand and Branden's friendly relationship blossomed into a romantic affair despite the fact that both were married at the time. This affair was cleared with their spouses but led to the separation and then divorce of Nathaniel Branden from his wife.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through both her fiction [2] and non-fiction [3] works, and by giving talks at several east-coast universities, largely through the Nathaniel Branden Institute ("the NBI") which Branden had established to promote her philosophy.

After a convoluted series of separations, Rand abruptly ended her relationship with both Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara Branden in 1968 when she learned of Nathaniel Branden's affair with Patrecia Scott (this later affair did not overlap chronologically with the earlier Branden/Rand affair). Rand refused to have any further dealings with the NBI. Rand then published a letter in "The Objectivist" announcing her repudiation of Branden for various reasons, including dishonesty, but did not mention their affair or her role in the schism. The two never reconciled, and Branden remained a persona non grata in the Objectivist movement.

1999 U.S. postage stamp honoring Rand.
1999 U.S. postage stamp honoring Rand.

Barbara Branden presented an account of the breakup of the affair in her book, The Passion of Ayn Rand. She describes the encounter between Nathaniel and Rand, saying that Rand slapped him numerous times, and denounced him in these words: "If you have an ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health — you'll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve any potency, you'll know it's a sign of still worse moral degradation!"

Conflicts continued in the wake of the break with Branden and the subsequent collapse of the NBI. Many of her closest "Collective" friends began to part ways, and during the late 70's her activities within the formal Objectivist movement began to decline, a situation which increased after the death of her husband in 1979. One of her final projects was work on a television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.

Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 in New York City, years after having successfully battled cancer, and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

Philosophical influences

Rand rejected virtually all other philosophical schools. She acknowledged a shared intellectual lineage with Aristotle and John Locke, and more generally with the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment and Age of Reason. She occasionally remarked with approval on specific philosophical positions of, e.g., Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Aquinas. She seems also to have respected the American rationalist Brand Blanshard. However, she regarded most philosophers as at best incompetent and at worst positively evil. She singled out Immanuel Kant as the most influential of the latter sort.

Nonetheless, there are connections between Rand's views and those of other philosophers. She acknowledged that she had been influenced at an early age by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Though she later repudiated his thought, and reprinted her first novel, We The Living, with some wording changes in 1959, her own thought grew out of critical interaction with it. Generally, her political thought is in the tradition of classical liberalism. She expressed qualified enthusiasm for the economic thought of Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt. Later Objectivists, such as Richard Salsman, have claimed that Rand's economic theories are implicitly more supportive of the doctrines of Jean-Baptiste Say, though Rand herself was likely not acquainted with his work.

Politics and House Committee on Un-American Activities testimony

Rand's political views were radically anti-communist, anti-statist, and pro-capitalist. Her writings praised above all the human individual and the creative genius of which one is capable. She exalted what she saw as the heroic American values of egoism and individualism. Rand also had a strong dislike for mysticism, religion, and compulsory charity (forced extraction), all of which she believed helped foster a crippling culture of resentment towards individual human happiness and success.

In 1947, during the infamous Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. [4]. Rand's testimony involved analysis of the 1943 film Song of Russia. While many believe that Ayn Rand disclosed the names of members of the Communist Party in the U.S., thus exposing them to blacklisting, her testimony consisted entirely of comments regarding the disparity between her experiences in the Soviet Union and the fanciful portrayal of it in the film.

Rand argued that the movie grossly misrepresented the socioeconomic conditions in the Soviet Union. She told the committee that the film presented life in the USSR as being much better than it actually was. Apparently this 1943 film was intentional wartime propaganda by U.S. patriots, trying to put their Soviet allies in World War II under the best possible light. After the HUAC hearings, when Ayn Rand was asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of their investigations, she described the process as "futile."


Rand's funeral was attended by some of her prominent followers, including Alan Greenspan. A six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed on her casket. [5]

In 1985, Leonard Peikoff, a surviving member of "The Collective" and Ayn Rand's designated heir, established "The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism". The Institute has since registered the name Ayn Rand as a trademark, despite Rand's desire that her name never be used to promote the philosophy she developed. Rand expressed her wish to keep her name and the philosophy of Objectivism separate to ensure the survival of her ideas.

Another schism in the movement occurred in 1989, when Objectivist David Kelley wrote an article called "A Question of Sanction," [6] in which he defended his choice to speak to non-Objectivist libertarian groups. Kelley wrote that Objectivism was not a "closed system" and should engage with other philosophies. Peikoff, in an article for The Intellectual Activist called "Fact and Value" [7], argued that Objectivism is, indeed, a closed system, and that truth and moral goodness are intrinsically related. Peikoff expelled Kelley from his movement, whereupon Kelley founded The Institute for Objectivist Studies (now known as "The Objectivist Center").

Rand and Objectivism are less well known outside North America, though there are pockets of interest in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and her novels are reported to be very popular in India ([8]). Her work has had little effect on academic philosophy, for her followers are mostly (with some notable exceptions) drawn from the non-academic world.


Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism have been subject to various criticisms. In the realm of analytic philosophy, however, it is more accurate to say that Rand's work has been mostly ignored. University departments considered leaders in the field of analytic philosophy pay scant attention to her work. For example, a study of well-regarded departments in both the analytic and Continental philosophy traditions[9], produced by Brian Leiter, reveals not one department that considers an acquaintance with Rand's work a prerequisite for the Ph.D. Some academics, however, are bringing her work into the mainstream. One sign of this is the existence of the Ayn Rand Society [10], founded in 1987, an organization of academic philosophers that is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association.

A notable exception to the general lack of attention paid to Rand in the analytic philosophy community is the essay "On the Randian Argument" by Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick, which appears in his collection Socratic Puzzles. Nozick's own libertarian political conclusions are similar to Rand's, but his essay is critical of her argument, and he accuses her of inadequately handling several important issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. For example, he argues that her solution to David Hume's famous is-ought problem is unsatisfactory. Rand holds that preserving one's own life is objectively the highest value because it makes all other values possible. Nozick says that to make this argument sound, she still needs to explain why someone could not rationally prefer the state of eventually dying and having no values. Thus, he argues, her attempt to deduce the morality of selfishness is essentially an instance of assuming the conclusion or begging the question. Nevertheless, Nozick did respect Rand as an author and noted that he found her books enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Rand has sometimes been viewed with suspicion for her practice of presenting her philosophy in fiction and non-fiction books aimed at a general audience rather than publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Rand's defenders note that she is part of a long tradition of authors who wrote philosophically rich fiction — including Dante, John Milton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Albert Camus, and that other philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre presented their philosophies in both fictional and non-fictional forms.

Other critics argue that Rand’s idealistic philosophy and her Romantic literary style are not applicable to the inhabited world. In particular, those critics have claimed that Rand's novels are made up of one-dimensional characters. They dislike that most of the Objectivist heroes are incredibly intelligent and unencumbered by doubt. Some of the heroes are very rich. Others seem to have no shortcomings at all — especially Howard Roark, the hero of The Fountainhead . The antagonists are often weak, pathetic, full of uncertainty, and lacking in imagination and talent.

Defenders of Rand respond with counterexamples from her novels to show her range of characterization: Neither Eddie Willers nor Cherryl Taggart is especially gifted or intelligent, but both are characters of dignity and respect; Leo Kovalensky suffers enormously due to his inability to cope with the brutality and banality of communism; Andrei Taganov dies after realizing his philosophical errors; Dominique Francon is initially bitterly unhappy because she believes evil is powerful; and Dagny Taggart thinks that she is capable of saving the world alone. Nor are all of her heroes rich: Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, and John Galt started out poor. Moreover, Hank Rearden is exploited because of his social naïveté. As for the purportedly weak and pathetic villains, Rand's defenders point out that Ellsworth Toohey is represented as being a great strategist and communicator from an early age, and Dr. Robert Stadler is a brilliant scientist.

Rand herself replied to the criticism (and in advance of much of it) with her essay "The Goal of My Writing" (1963). There, and in other essays collected in her book The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (2nd rev. ed. 1975), Rand makes it clear that her goal is to project her vision of an ideal man: not man as he is, but man as he might and ought to be.



Posthumous fiction

  • Three Plays (2005)


Posthumous nonfiction


In addition to Rand's own works (listed above), the following references discuss Rand's life and/or literary work. References that discuss her philosophy can be found in the bibliography of work on Objectivism.

External links

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General information

Organizations promoting Ayn Rand's philosophy


Articles critical of Ayn Rand

Rand's associates

Online groups and blogs

Rand's writing and speeches

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