Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982)

Ayn Rand (February 2 [O.S.

January 20] 1905- March 6, 1982), born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, was best known for her Philosophy of Objectivism and her novels Atlas Shrugged. Her philosophy and her fiction both emphasize, above all, the concepts of individualism, rational egoism ("rational self-interest"), and Capitalism, which she believed should be implemented fully via Laissez-faire capitalism. Her politics has been described as minarchism and libertarianism, though she never used the first term and detested the second.

Her novels were based upon the projection 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 the express goal of her fiction was to showcase such heroes.

She believed:

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

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 taught 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 cited him as her favorite 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 who embraced egoism and rejected altruism in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Though an early fan of Nietzsche, she eventually became critical, seeing his philosophy as emphasizing emotion over reason. Nevertheless, as Allan Gotthelf points out in book On Ayn Rand, "the influence was real." She did still retain an admiration for some of his ideas, and quoted Nietzsche in the introduction to the 25th aniversary edition of The Fountainhead: "The noble soul has reverence for itself." Her greatest influence by far is Aristotle, especially Organon (Logic). Although Leonard Peikoff, promoter of her ideas, says she is the greatest philosopher who ever lived, she herself considered Aristotle the greatest philosopher ever, and stated that he was the only philosopher who had influenced her (this is probably because, as she has stated, she did not include her own work when analyzing the culture.) 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 Hollywood 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 she began using the name Ayn Rand before the typewriter was first sold. 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, but variations of this name are common in Finnish-speaking regions.

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 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 Anthem (1938). While We the Living met with mixed reviews in the U.S. and positive reviews in the U.K., Anthem received significiant and positive reviews only in England, due in part to its odd publication history. 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, Rand had still not perfected her literary style and these novels cannot be considered 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. They were nearly censored by the Italian government under Benito Mussolini, but they were permitted because the novel upon which they were based was anti-Soviet. The films were successful and the public easily realized that they were as much against Fascism as Communism, and the government banned them 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), which she wrote over a period of seven years. The novel was rejected by twelve publishers, who thought it was too intellectual and opposed to the mainstream of American thought. 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. Eventually, 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 lives 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, especially architecture. All the other characters in the novel demand that he renounce his values, but Roark maintains his integrity. Unlike traditional heroes who launch into long and passionate monologues about their integrity and the unfairness of the world; Roark, in contrast, does it with a disdainful, almost contemptuous 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 its central political theme, 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

In 1950 Rand moved to New York City, where in 1951 she met the young psychology student Nathaniel Branden, 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 Collective, which included some participation by 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. Their spouses were both convinced to accept this affair but it eventually led to the separation and then divorce of Nathaniel Branden from his wife. Although one of Rand's most strident philosophical points was never to bow to societal pressure or norms, Ayn Rand abandoned her own name (see top of page), as did Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal).

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through both her fiction and non-fiction works, and by giving talks at several east-coast universities, largely through the Nathaniel Branden Institute ("the NBI") which Branden 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 Patricia Scott (this later affair did not overlap chronologically with the earlier Branden/Rand affair). Rand refused to have any further dealings with the NBI. She 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.

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 philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment and the 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 downright 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, Self-Reliance do exist. 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 pro-capitalist, anti-statist, and anti-Communist. 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, all of which she believed helped foster a crippling culture of resentment towards individual human happiness and success. Rand detested many prominent liberal and conservative politicians of her time, even including prominent anti-Communist crusaders like Presidents Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan, and Senators Hubert H. Humphrey and Joseph McCarthy (although she argued that McCarthyism was a myth, and that the accusation of McCarthyism was used as an ad hominem argument to discredit anti-Communists).

In 1947, during the Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. 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 near her casket.

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 "A Question of Sanction," in which he defended his choice to speak to non-Objectivist libertarian groups. Kelley stated 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", 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, although there are pockets of interest in Europe and Australia, and her novels are reported to be popular in India and to be gaining an increasingly wider audience in Africa. Her work has had little effect on academic philosophy, for her followers are, with some notable exceptions, drawn from the non-academic world.

Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist with the Canadian progressive rock band Rush, was influenced by Rand philosophy during the early years of the band. The most notable instances of this are the track "Anthem" from the album Fly By Night (1975), and the title track from the album 2112 (1976). In 1978, he was involved in a heated discussion with a British journalist who had accused the band of being crypto-fascists because of their connection with Ayn Rand.


Rand's views are controversial. Religious and socially conservative thinkers have criticized her atheism. Many adherents and practitioners of continental philosophy criticize her celebration of rationality and self-interest. Within the dominant philosophical movement in the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy, Rand's work has been mostly ignored. No leading research university in this tradition considers Rand or Objectivism to be an important philosophical specialty or research area, as is documented by Brian Leiter's report. Some academics, however, are trying to bring Rand's work into the mainstream. For instance, the Ayn Rand Society, founded in 1987, is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association. In 2006, Cambridge University Press will publish a volume on Rand's ethical theory written by ARI-affiliated scholar Tara Smith.

A notable exception to the general lack of attention paid to Rand 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 criticizes her foundational argument in ethics, which claims that one's own life is, for each individual, the only ultimate value because it makes all other values possible. To make this argument sound, Nozick argues that Rand 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 and that her solution to David Hume's famous is-ought problem is unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, Nozick respected 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, these critics claim that Rand's novels are made up of unrealistic and one-dimensional characters. They criticize the portrayal of the Objectivist heroes as incredibly intelligent, unencumbered by doubt, wealthy, and free of flaws, in contrast to the frequent portrayal of the antagonists as weak, pathetic, full of uncertainty, and lacking in imagination and talent.

Defenders of Rand point out counterexamples to these criticisms: neither Eddie Willers nor Cherryl Taggart (both positive characters) 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; Hank Rearden is torn by inner emotional conflict brought on by a philosophical contradiction; and Dagny Taggart thinks that she alone is capable of saving the world. Two of her main protagonists, Howard Roark and John Galt, did not begin life wealthy. Though Rand believed that, under capitalism, valuable contributions will routinely be rewarded by wealth, she certainly did not think that wealth made a person virtuous. In fact, she presents many vicious bureaucrats and waspish elitists who use statism to accumulate money and power. Moreover, Hank Rearden is exploited because of his social naivete. 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 these literary criticisms (and in advance of much of them) with her essay "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.

Rand's views on sex have also led to some controversy. According to her, "For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship, the desire to look up to man." (1968) Some in the BDSM community see her work as relevant and supportive, particularly The Fountainhead.

Another source of controversy is Rand's view that homosexuality is "immoral" and "disgusting", as well as her support for the right of businesses to discriminate on the basis of homosexuality, such as in their hiring practices. Specifically, she stated that "there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality" because "it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises".

On the topic of non-governmental discrimination, Rand's defenders argue that her support for its legality was motivated by holding property rights above civil or human rights (as she did not believe that human rights were distinct from property rights) so it did not constitute an endorsement of the morality of the prejudice itself. In support of this, they site Rand's opposition to some prejudices, though not homophobia, on moral grounds, in essays like 'Racism' and 'Global Balkanization', while still arguing for the right of individuals and businesses to act on such prejudice without government intervention.

Books by Ayn Rand