Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905-March 6, 1982; first name rhymes with “mine”), born Alissa “Alice” Zinovievna Rosenbaum, was a controversial American novelist and philosopher, 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 notions of individualism, egoism, “rational self-interest,” and capitalism. Her novels were based upon the archetype of the “Randian hero,” a man whose genius leads others to reject him, but who perseveres nevertheless to prove himself superior. Rand viewed this hero as the “ideal man” and made it the express goal of her literature to showcase such men.
Ayn Rand was born to Jewish parents in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She studied philosophy and history at the University of Petrograd. In late 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She arrived in the United States in February 1926, at the age of 21. After a brief stay with them 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,” partly to avoid Soviet retaliation against her family for her political views (she assumed her name would appear in the credits of films with an anti-Communist message, attracting the attention of Soviet officials). There is a story told that she named herself after the Remington Rand typewriter, but recent evidence suggests this is not the case.
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.
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 and published two novels, We The Living (1936), and Anthem (1938).
Without Rand’s permission, We The Living was made into a pair of films, Noi viva and Addio, Kira in 1942 by Scalara Films, Rome, despite resistance from the Italian government under Benito Mussolini. 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 novelThe Fountainhead (1943). The novel was rejected by many publishers before finally being accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house. Despite these initial struggles The Fountainhead was successful, bringing Rand notoriety and financial security.
In 1947, during the infamous 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 . 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 political views were extremely anti-communist, anti-statist, and pro-capitalist. Her writings praised above all the human individual and the creative genius of which he is capable. She exalted what she saw as the heroic American values of egoism and individualism. Rand also had a strong dislike for mysticism, organized religion, and compulsory charity, both of which she believed helped foster a crippling culture of resentment towards individual human happiness, flourishment, and success.
In the early 1950s Rand moved to New York. She gave talks at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (1960), Princeton University, New Jersey (1960), Columbia University, New York (1960, 1962), TheUniversity of Wisconsin (1961), Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1961), Harvard University, Cambridge (1962), and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1962).
In 1951 Rand met the young psychology student Nathaniel Branden , who had read her book The Fountainhead at the age of 14. Branden, by then 19, enjoyed discussing Rand’s emerging Objectivist philosophy with her. After several years, Rand and Branden’s friendly relationship blossomed into a romantic affair (despite the fact that both were married at the time). After a convoluted series of separations and additional affairs, 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 Branden/Rand affair). Rand refused to have any further dealings with 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.
Rand published the book described as her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged in 1957. This book, just as The Fountainhead had, also became a bestseller. Atlas Shrugged is often seen as Rand’s most complete statement of Objectivist philosophy in any of her works of fiction. Along with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden as well as a hand full of others (known as “The Collective”), Rand launched the Objectivist movement to promote her philosophy, which she termed Objectivism.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through both her fiction and non-fiction works.
Rand rejected virtually all other philosophical schools. She acknowledged an intellectual debt to Aristotle and occasionally remarkedwith 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. Her rejection of other philosophers may have contributed to acadamia’s labeling of her own nonfiction work as pseudophilosophy.
Nonetheless, there are connections between Rand’s views and those of other philosophers. She admitted that she had been influenced at an early age by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Though she later repudiated his thought, her own thought grew out of critical interaction with it. It has been suggested that she was also influenced by dialectical thinkers such as Karl Marx in this way. Strong similarities can be detected between her ethical views and the doctrines of Epicurus and the Stoics, and between her views on government and those of John Locke. More generally, her political thought can be seen as fitting in the tradition of classical liberalism that includes William Graham Sumner, Herbert Spencer, Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson , and Rose Wilder Lane. She expressed qualified enthusiasm for the economic thought of Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt. In metaphysics and epistemology, she was (again like John Locke) an empiricist realist: she tried to navigate a way between the Humean and positivist empiricisms of her day (e.g., as developed by Rudolf Carnap) and Platonic rationalism (as exhibited in the writings of Gottlob Frege and G. E. Moore).
Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982 and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.