Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982) was born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum in Russia and emigrated to the United States to become an outspoken champion of capitalism. She 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 the concepts of individualism and rational egoism ("rational self-interest") within a framework of free trade between actors motivated solely by value enhancement, unfettered by political or religious constraint.
Her novels were based upon the projection of the Randian hero, a man or woman whose ability and independent creative and responsible action causes conflict with individuals and systems that exploit through appeals for charity ("mooching") and the use of coercion and power ("looting") under the guise of government and religion. Rand viewed this hero as the personification of reason. The express goal of her fiction was to delineate in stark relief these principles by which, she believed, the world functions. Her literary work and personal charisma generated institutes, university lecture tours, plays, films, television adaptations and Objectivist periodicals. Her vivid depictions of the individualistic, capitalistic ideal and the world, would influence generations of readers, in particular American college students. At the same time, Rand ran her passions to extremes, generating what have been called cultish characteristics in her following and a degree of conflict, division and moral corruption in her inner circle. Rand is clearly a philosophical genius and charismatic thinker, but her idolatry of reason, replacing the transcendent well-spring of divine compassion with the coldness of reason and the hubris of humanism led to the implicit cynicism and darkness of her thought, and the dysfunction of how her influence ultimately plays out.
Rand was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia of a Jewish family. Her parents were agnostic and largely non-observant. Her father was a pharmacist whose living along with the family's lifestyle was destroyed by the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent communist regime.
From an early age, Rand 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 exposed her to heroic youth literature, including cartoons. As a youth she read the novels of Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and other Romantic writers. She studied philosophy and history at the University of Petrograd, where she discovered Edmond Rostand, Friedrich Schiller and Fyodor Dostoevsky. She also was captivated by the history of the United States. She continued to write short stories and screenplays and wrote sporadically in her diary, which contained intensely anti-Soviet ideas. She was influenced by Aristotle, especially Organon (Logic), and John Locke, and more generally with the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Generally, her political thought is in the tradition of classical liberalism. She loved Nietzsche's exaltation of the heroic and independent individual who embraced egoism and rejected altruism in Thus Sprach Zarathustra.
She later expressed qualified enthusiasm for the economic thought of Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt. Parallels exist between her works and Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self-Reliance and the writings of Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say.
She entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts in 1924 to study screen writing; in late 1925, however, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. With no intention of returning to Russia, 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 set out for Hollywood to become a screenwriter. She then changed her name to Ayn Rand.
In Hollywood, Rand took jobs in the movie industry, including working as an extra on Cecil B. DeMille's movie The King of Kings, where she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor. Their 1929 marriage lasted fifty years and ended with his death in 1979; the couple chose not to have children. In 1931, Rand became a naturalized citizen of the United States. She spent the rest of her life between Los Angeles and New York City, where she died in 1982.
Her first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn in 1932 to Universal Studios. Rand then wrote the highly successful play The Night of January 16th in 1934. She then published two novels, We the Living (1936) and Anthem (1938). In 1942, without Rand's knowledge, Scalara Films, Rome made We The Living into a pair of films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira. The films were successful and the public easily realized that they were as much against Fascism as Communism. 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 novel The Fountainhead (1943). The novel was rejected by twelve publishers, but was finally accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company and was a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security.
The theme of The Fountainhead is "individualism and collectivism in man's soul." The hero, Howard Roark, is an architect who is firmly and serenely devoted to his own ideals and believes that no man should copy the style of another. All the characters in the novel demand that he renounce his creative values, while at the same time stealing them or in other ways shaping their lives around them. With Herculean inflexibility, Ruark remains true to his vision, willing to endure ignominy and poverty as the price, and is vindicated in the end.
Rand published her great work, Atlas Shrugged in 1957. It became an international bestseller and continues to sell briskly; Rand's books sell at a pace of 300,000 annually. In its appendix, she offered this summary:
Atlas Shrugged is the grandest exposition of Rand's philosophy that man must choose his values and actions by reason, that reason put into action shapes nature in a way that fulfills the individual's self-purpose and maximizes social benefit, that the person has a right and responsibility to express his or her authentic individuality, and that no one has the right to seek value from others or impose ideas on others by physical force or priestly manipulation. Atlas Shrugged recounts the impact of the creative and independent individual upon a society creeping toward socialism. The book fleshes out Rand's perception of popular resentment against and exploitation of ground-breaking inventors, entrepreneurs, authentic artists, decisive and visionary corporate leaders and industrialists. The tale unfolds as such leaders of America are convinced to "stop the engine of the world" by withdrawing from society. The economy and society in general starts to fray around the edges and finally experiences a total collapse. The government responds by increasing the controls on the marketplace. The story is an allegory, a morality play with its characters exemplifying conflicting ideas and values. It climaxes with the politicians and unionists inflicting life-threatening torture on the hero until he will agree to be their leader.
The novel, despite its central political and economic theme, deals with issues as complex and divergent as man-woman relations, music, leadership, religion, the state, science and education, arguing that each reach their apotheosis in the context of reason-based freedom of production and exchange. Rand exalts money, the medium of exchange, that presupposes law and shared values, as the greatest force for good and exalted America as the supreme nation because it is the "nation of money." She exalted what she saw as the heroic American values of self-celebration (with echoes of Walt Whitman) and individualism, which in its true manifestation benefits the public. The story also showcases Rand's strong dislike for mysticism, religion, and compulsory charity, all of which she believed help foster a culture of resentment toward individual happiness and success.
Along with Nathaniel Branden, his wife Barbara, and Leonard Peikoff, Rand launched the Objectivist movement to promote her philosophy.
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. Together with Rand, Branden, then 19, and some of his 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 Barbara .
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").
Rand abruptly ended her relationship with both Nathaniel Branden and his wife in 1968 when she learned of Branden's affair with Patrecia Scott, a Canadian model and actress. Rand refused to have any further dealings with the NBI. This period was one of personal conflicts with her inner circle. This led to the collapse of the NBI. Many of her closest "Collective" friends began to part ways, and during the late 70s, her activities within the formal Objectivist movement began to decline.
After a long battle with cancer—Rand was a voracious smoker—Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 in New York City and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.
In 1985, Leonard Peikoff, a surviving member of "The Ayn Rand Collective" and Ayn Rand's designated heir, established "The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism". In 1989, Objectivist David Kelley split from the Ayn Rand Institute to found his own Institute for Objectivist Studies (now known as "The Objectivist Center"). Another focus for Randian activities is "The Atlas Society and its Objectivist Center." Followers debate, with some vehemence, as to whether her ideas are so absolute that disagreement is immoral, or honest disagreement is possible.
Rand's views are controversial. Religious and socially conservative thinkers have criticized her atheism. Many adherents of continental philosophy criticize her celebration of rationality and self-interest. 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 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 serious essay "On the Randian Argument" by Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick, appears in his collection Socratic Puzzles.
Critics argue that Rand’s idealistic philosophy and Romantic literary style are not applicable to the real world. These critics claim that Rand's novels are made up of unrealistic and one-dimensional characters. Defenders of Rand point out numerous counterexamples. Rand herself replied to these literary criticisms with her essay "The Goal of My Writing" (1963). There 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). At the same time, Dagny Taggert is more than the equal of the lovers in her life, Randian icons all. And her integration of an ideal of man-woman love within a philosophy of value exchange in the context of individual freedom, is a noble attempt that falls short. Rand despised the practice of homosexuality.
Flamboyant, self-centered, lacking perspective, intoxicated with her own ideas—Rand is an easy target for liberal critics. She is a rare bird, a utopian of the right, the anti-type of a Marxist ideologue. She abjured ambiguous reality and chose to let ideas dictate events in literary form. Her books are a "let's pretend" that individuals can perfectly instantiate ideas, and that through them the reason that binds ideas into history can manifest with happy endings. In her, American idealism, Russian rationalism and Hollywood romance combine. But the final, unpredictable, complicating trace of divinity that lies in each person is sacrificed at the altar of ideology. For those who allow the "what if" with respect to individual perfection, for those who are ready to imagine the effortless liberation of humankind through our honestly being who we are without compromise, Rand is thrilling.
All links retrieved December 8, 2016.
Organizations promoting Ayn Rand's philosophy
Articles critical of Ayn Rand
Rand's writing and speeches
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