born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, was best known for her philosophy
of Objectivism and her novels We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead,
and 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
have been described as minarchism and libertarianism, though she
never used the first term and detested the second.
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.
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, Zinovny Zacharovich
Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum, 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".
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.
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.
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."
greatest influence by far is Aristotle, especially Organon (Logic);
she considered Aristotle the greatest philosopher ever, and stated
that he was the only philosopher who had influenced her. She 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.
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
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
Red Pawn in 1932 to Universal Studios.
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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published in 1957, becoming an
international bestseller. Atlas Shrugged is often seen as Rand's
most extensive statement of the Objectivist philosophy in any
of her works of fiction. In its appendix, she offered this summary:
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."
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 deals with
issues as complex and divergent as sex, music, medicine, politics,
and human ability.
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
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.
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).
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.
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. 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.
Art by Nick Gaetano.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!"
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
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.
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.
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.
expressed qualified enthusiasm for the economic thought of Ludwig
von Mises and Henry Hazlitt. Though not mentioned as an influence
by her specifically, parallels between her works and Ralph Waldo
Emerson's essay 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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"
(ARI). 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.
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 directly related. Peikoff expelled
Kelley from his movement, whereupon Kelley founded The Institute
for Objectivist Studies (now known as "The Objectivist Center").
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.
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).
influenced by Rand were John Stossel, Adam Vinatieri, Martina
Navratilova, Chris Evert, Ronald Reagan and Clarence Thomas.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
herself replied to these literary criticisms (and in advance of
much of them) 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.
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
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".
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 cite 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.