Ayn Rand in 1957
|Born||Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum
February 2, 1905
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Died||March 6, 1982
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York, U.S.|
|Pen name||Ayn Rand|
Soviet Union (1922-1931)
United States (1931-1982)
|Alma mater||Petrograd State University|
|Notable work(s)||The Fountainhead
|Notable award(s)||Prometheus Award – Hall of Fame
1983 Atlas Shrugged
(m. April 15, 1929 – November 7, 1979; his death)
Ayn Rand (pron.: / /; born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum; February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. Born and educated in Russia, Rand moved to the United States in 1926. She worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. After two early novels that were initially less successful, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel The Fountainhead.
In 1957, she published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward she turned to nonfiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982. Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism, and rejected ethical altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, instead supporting a minarchist limited government and laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. In art, Rand promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for some Aristotelians and classical liberals.
Rand's fiction was poorly received by many literary critics, and academia generally ignored or rejected her philosophy. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings. She has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.
Rand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (Russian: Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум) on February 2, 1905, to a bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg. She was the eldest of the three daughters of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and his wife, Anna Borisovna (née Kaplan), largely non-observant Jews. Zinovy Rosenbaum was a successful pharmacist, eventually owning a pharmacy and the building in which it was located. Rand found school unchallenging, and said she began writing screenplays at the age of eight and novels at the age of ten. She was twelve at the time of the February Revolution of 1917, during which she favored Alexander Kerensky over Tsar Nicholas II.
The subsequent October Revolution and the rule of the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin disrupted the comfortable life the family had previously enjoyed. Her father’s pharmacy business was confiscated and the family displaced. They fled to the Crimea, which was initially under control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. She later recalled that while in high school she determined that she was an atheist and that she valued reason above any other human virtue. After graduating from high school in the Crimea at 16, Rand returned with her family to Petrograd (the new name for Saint Petersburg), where they faced desperate conditions, on occasion nearly starving.
After the Russian Revolution, universities were opened to women, allowing Rand to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University, where she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, who would be her greatest influence and counter-influence, respectively. A third figure whose philosophical works she studied heavily was Friedrich Nietzsche. Able to read French, German and Russian, Rand also discovered the writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, and Friedrich Schiller, who became her perennial favorites.
Along with many other "bourgeois" students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before graduating. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, many of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924. She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For one of her assignments, she wrote an essay about the Polish actress Pola Negri, which became her first published work.
By this time she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand, possibly as a Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname, and she adopted the first name Ayn, either from a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning "eye").
Arrival in America
In 1925, Rand was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She was so impressed with the skyline of Manhattan upon her arrival in New York Harbor that she cried what she later called "tears of splendor". Intent on staying in the United States to become a screenwriter, she lived for a few months with relatives in Chicago, one of whom owned a movie theater and allowed her to watch dozens of films for free. She then set out for Hollywood, California.
Initially, Rand struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living expenses. A chance meeting with famed director Cecil B. DeMille led to a job as an extra in his film The King of Kings as well as subsequent work as a junior screenwriter. While working on The King of Kings, she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor; the two were married on April 15, 1929. Rand became an American citizen in 1931. Taking various jobs during the 1930s to support her writing, she worked for a time as the head of the costume department at RKO Studios. She made several attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to acquire permission to emigrate.
Rand's first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn to Universal Studios in 1932, although it was never produced. This was followed by the courtroom drama Night of January 16th, first produced by E.E. Clive in Hollywood in 1934 and then successfully reopened on Broadway in 1935. Each night the "jury" was selected from members of the audience, and one of the two different endings, depending on the jury's "verdict", would then be performed. In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a movie version of the play. Rand did not participate in the production and was highly critical of the result.
Rand's first novel, the semi-autobiographical We the Living, was published in 1936. Set in Soviet Russia, it focused on the struggle between the individual and the state. In a 1959 foreword to the novel, Rand stated that We the Living "is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. It is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual sense. The plot is invented, the background is not..." Initial sales were slow and the American publisher let it go out of print, although European editions continued to sell. After the success of her later novels, Rand was able to release a revised version in 1959 that has since sold over three million copies. Without Rand's knowledge or permission, the novel was made into a pair of Italian films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira, in 1942. Rediscovered in the 1960s, these films were re-edited into a new version which was approved by Rand and re-released as We the Living in 1986.
Her novella Anthem was written during a break from the writing of her next major novel, The Fountainhead. It presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which totalitarian collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that even the word 'I' has been forgotten and replaced with 'we'. It was published in England in 1938, but Rand initially could not find an American publisher. As with We the Living, Rand's later success allowed her to get a revised version published in 1946, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies.
The Fountainhead and political activism
During the 1940s, Rand became politically active. Both she and her husband worked full-time in volunteer positions for the 1940 presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. This work led to Rand's first public speaking experiences, including fielding the sometimes hostile questions from New York City audiences who had just viewed pro-Willkie newsreels, an experience she greatly enjoyed. This activity also brought her into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. She became friends with journalist Henry Hazlitt and his wife, and Hazlitt introduced her to the Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises. Despite her philosophical differences with them, Rand strongly endorsed the writings of both men throughout her career, and both of them expressed admiration for her. Once Mises referred to Rand as "the most courageous man in America", a compliment that particularly pleased her because he said "man" instead of "woman". Rand also developed a friendship with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. Rand questioned the well-informed Paterson about American history and politics long into the night during their numerous meetings and gave Paterson ideas for her only nonfiction book, The God of the Machine.
Rand's first major success as a writer came with The Fountainhead in 1943, a romantic and philosophical novel that she wrote over a period of seven years. The novel centers on an uncompromising young architect named Howard Roark and his struggle against what Rand described as "second-handers"—those who attempt to live through others, placing others above self. It was rejected by twelve publishers before finally being accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company on the insistence of editor Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if his employer did not publish it. While completing the novel, Rand was prescribed the amphetamine Benzedrine to fight fatigue. The drug helped her to work long hours to meet her deadline for delivering the finished novel, but when the book was done, she was so exhausted that her doctor ordered two weeks' rest. Her continued use of the drug for approximately three decades may have contributed to what some of her later associates described as volatile mood swings.
The Fountainhead eventually became a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security. In 1943, Rand sold the rights for a film version to Warner Bros., and she returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Finishing her work on that screenplay, she was hired by producer Hal Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work for Wallis included the screenplays for the Oscar-nominated Love Letters and You Came Along. This role gave Rand time to work on other projects, including a planned nonfiction treatment of her philosophy to be called The Moral Basis of Individualism. Although the planned book was never completed, a condensed version was published as an essay titled "The Only Path to Tomorrow", in the January 1944 edition of Reader's Digest magazine.
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While working in Hollywood, Rand extended her involvement with free-market and anti-communist activism. She became involved with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a Hollywood anti-Communist group, and wrote articles on the group's behalf. She also joined the anti-Communist American Writers Association. A visit by Isabel Paterson to meet with Rand's California associates led to a final falling out between the two when Paterson made comments that Rand saw as rude to valued political allies. In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. Her testimony described the disparity between her personal experiences in the Soviet Union and the portrayal of it in the 1944 film Song of Russia. Rand argued that the film grossly misrepresented conditions in the Soviet Union, portraying life there as being much better and happier than it actually was. She wanted to also criticize the lauded 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives for what she interpreted as its negative presentation of the business world, but she was not allowed to testify about it. When asked after the hearings about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations, Rand described the process as "futile".
After several delays, the film version of The Fountainhead was released in 1949. Although it used Rand's screenplay with minimal alterations, she "disliked the movie from beginning to end", complaining about its editing, acting, and other elements.
Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism
In the years following the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom it profoundly influenced. In 1951 Rand moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she gathered a group of these admirers around her. This group (jokingly designated "The Collective") included future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a young psychology student named Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara's cousin Leonard Peikoff. At first the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. Later she began allowing them to read the drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the manuscript pages were written. In 1954 Rand's close relationship with the younger Nathaniel Branden turned into a romantic affair, with the consent of their spouses.
Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was Rand's magnum opus. Rand described the theme of the novel as "the role of the mind in man's existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest." It advocates the core tenets of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. The plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy. The novel's hero and leader of the strike, John Galt, describes the strike as "stopping the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds of the individuals most contributing to the nation's wealth and achievement. With this fictional strike, Rand intended to illustrate that without the efforts of the rational and productive, the economy would collapse and society would fall apart. The novel includes elements of romance, mystery, and science fiction, and it contains Rand's most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction, a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt.
Despite many negative reviews, Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller, and in an interview with Mike Wallace, Rand declared herself "the most creative thinker alive". After completing the novel, Rand fell into a severe depression. Atlas Shrugged was Rand's last completed work of fiction; a turning point in her life, it marked the end of Rand's career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.
In 1958 Nathaniel Branden established Nathaniel Branden Lectures, later incorporated as the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), to promote Rand's philosophy. Collective members gave lectures for NBI and wrote articles for Objectivist periodicals that she edited. Rand later published some of these articles in book form. Critics, including some former NBI students and Branden himself, have described the culture of NBI as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand, with some describing NBI or the Objectivist movement itself as a cult or religion. Rand expressed opinions on a wide range of topics, from literature and music to sexuality and facial hair, and some of her followers mimicked her preferences, wearing clothes to match characters from her novels and buying furniture like hers. Rand was unimpressed with many of the NBI students and held them to strict standards, sometimes reacting coldly or angrily to those who disagreed with her. However, some former NBI students believe the extent of these behaviors has been exaggerated, with the problem being concentrated among Rand's closest followers in New York.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks to students at institutions such as Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and MIT. She received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College in 1963. She also began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterward to questions from the audience. During these speeches and Q&A sessions, she often took controversial stances on political and social issues of the day. These included supporting abortion rights, opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft (but condemning many draft dodgers as "bums"), supporting Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 against Palestinians and Arabs as "civilized men fighting savages", saying European colonists had the right to take land from American Indians, and calling homosexuality "immoral" and "disgusting", while also advocating the repeal of all laws against it. She also endorsed several Republican candidates for President of the United States, most strongly Barry Goldwater in 1964, whose candidacy she promoted in several articles for The Objectivist Newsletter.
In 1964 Nathaniel Branden began an affair with the young actress Patrecia Scott, whom he later married. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden kept the affair hidden from Rand. When she learned of it in 1968, though her romantic relationship with Branden had already ended, Rand terminated her relationship with both Brandens, which led to the closure of NBI. Rand published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other "irrational behavior in his private life". Branden later apologized in an interview to "every student of Objectivism" for "perpetuating the Ayn Rand mystique" and for "contributing to that dreadful atmosphere of intellectual repressiveness that pervades the Objectivist movement." In subsequent years, Rand and several more of her closest associates parted company.
Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974 after decades of heavy smoking. In 1976 she retired from writing her newsletter and, despite her initial objections, was persuaded to allow Evva Pryor, a consultant from her attorney's office, to sign her up for Social Security and Medicare. During the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined, especially after the death of her husband on November 9, 1979. One of her final projects was work on a never-completed television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.
Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982, at her home in New York City, and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. 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 her will, Rand named Leonard Peikoff the heir to her estate.
Rand called her philosophy "Objectivism", describing its essence as "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." She considered Objectivism a systematic philosophy and laid out positions on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy and esthetics.
In metaphysics, Rand supported philosophical realism, and opposed anything she regarded as mysticism or supernaturalism, including all forms of religion. In epistemology, she considered all knowledge to be based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic, and reason, which she described as "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses". She rejected all claims of non-perceptual or a priori knowledge, including "'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing.'" In her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand presented a theory of concept formation and endorsed the rejection of the analytic–synthetic dichotomy.
In ethics, Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral principle. She said the individual should "exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself". She referred to egoism as "the virtue of selfishness" in her book of that title, in which she presented her solution to the is-ought problem by describing a meta-ethical theory that based morality in the needs of "man's survival qua man". She condemned ethical altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness, and held that the initiation of force was evil and irrational, writing in Atlas Shrugged that "Force and mind are opposites".
Rand's political philosophy emphasized individual rights (including property rights), and she considered laissez-faire capitalism the only moral social system because in her view it was the only system based on the protection of those rights. She opposed statism, which she understood to include theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, and dictatorship. Rand believed that rights should be enforced by a constitutionally limited government. Although her political views are often classified as conservative or libertarian, she preferred the term "radical for capitalism". She worked with conservatives on political projects, but disagreed with them over issues such as religion and ethics. She denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism. She rejected anarchism as a naïve theory based in subjectivism that could only lead to collectivism in practice.
Rand's esthetics defined art as a "selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments". According to Rand, art allows philosophical concepts to be presented in a concrete form that can be easily grasped, thereby fulfilling a need of human consciousness. As a writer, the art form Rand focused on most closely was literature, where she considered Romanticism to be the approach that most accurately reflected the existence of human free will. She described her own approach to literature as "romantic realism".
Rand acknowledged Aristotle as her greatest influence and remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. Indeed her debt to Aristotle was so great that in a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, when asked where her philosophy came from, she responded: "Out of my own mind, with the sole acknowledgement of a debt to Aristotle who is the only philosopher who ever influenced me. I devised the rest of my philosophy myself." However, she also found early inspiration in Friedrich Nietzsche, and scholars have found indications of his influence in early notes from Rand's journals, in passages from the first edition of We the Living (which Rand later revised), and in her overall writing style. However, by the time she wrote The Fountainhead, Rand had turned against Nietzsche's ideas, and the extent of his influence on her even during her early years is disputed. Among the philosophers Rand held in particular disdain was Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as a "monster", although philosophers George Walsh and Fred Seddon have argued that she misinterpreted Kant and exaggerated their differences.
Rand said her most important contributions to philosophy were her "theory of concepts, [her] ethics, and [her] discovery in politics that evil—the violation of rights—consists of the initiation of force". She believed epistemology was a foundational branch of philosophy and considered the advocacy of reason to be the single most significant aspect of her philosophy, stating, "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows."
Reception and legacy
During Rand's lifetime, her work evoked both extreme praise and condemnation. Rand's first novel, We the Living, was admired by the literary critic H.L. Mencken, her Broadway play Night of January 16th was both a critical and popular success, and The Fountainhead was hailed by a reviewer in The New York Times as "masterful". Rand's novels were derided by some critics when they were first published as being long and melodramatic. However, they became bestsellers largely through word of mouth.
The first reviews Rand received were for Night of January 16th. Reviews of the production were largely positive, but Rand considered even positive reviews to be embarrassing because of significant changes made to her script by the producer. Rand believed that her first novel, We the Living, was not widely reviewed, but Rand scholar Michael S. Berliner says "it was the most reviewed of any of her works", with approximately 125 different reviews being published in more than 200 publications. Overall these reviews were more positive than the reviews she received for her later work. Her 1938 novella Anthem received little attention from reviewers, both for its first publication in England and for subsequent re-issues.
Rand's first bestseller, The Fountainhead, received far fewer reviews than We the Living, and reviewers' opinions were mixed. There was a positive review in The New York Times that Rand greatly appreciated. The reviewer called Rand "a writer of great power" who wrote "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly", and stated that "you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time". There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed most of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. Some negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing". Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian".
Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed, and many of the reviews were strongly negative. In the National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly". He described the tone of the book as "shrillness without reprieve" and accused Rand of supporting a Godless system (which he related to that of the Soviets), claiming "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber—go!'" Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, including praise from the noted book reviewer John Chamberlain, but Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that "reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs", calling it "execrable claptrap" and "a nightmare"; they said it was "written out of hate" and showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity". Author Flannery O'Connor wrote in a letter to a friend that "The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail."
Rand's nonfiction received far fewer reviews than her novels had. The tenor of the criticism for her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, was similar to that for Atlas Shrugged, with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union", and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality". Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers.
On the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth in 2005, Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times, referred to her fictional writing as quaint utopian "retro fantasy" and programmatic neo-Romanticism of the misunderstood artist, while criticizing her characters' "isolated rejection of democratic society". In 2007, book critic Leslie Clark described her fiction as "romance novels with a patina of pseudo-philosophy". In 2009, GQ's critic columnist Tom Carson described her books as "capitalism's version of middlebrow religious novels" such as Ben-Hur and the Left Behind series.
In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked club members what the most influential book in the respondent's life was. Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible. Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold as of 2007 and another 500,000 sold and 300,000 donated by the Ayn Rand Institute in 2008. Although Rand's influence has been greatest in the United States, there has been international interest in her work. Rand's work continues to be among the top sellers among books in India.
Rand's contemporary admirers included fellow novelists, such as Ira Levin, Kay Nolte Smith and L. Neil Smith, and later writers such as Erika Holzer and Terry Goodkind have been influenced by her. Other artists who have cited Rand as an important influence on their lives and thought include comic book artist Steve Ditko and musician Neil Peart of Rush. Rand provided a positive view of business, and in response business executives and entrepreneurs have admired and promoted her work. John Allison of BB&T and Ed Snider of Comcast Spectacor have funded the promotion of Rand's ideas, while Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and John P. Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, among others, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success.
Rand and her works have been referred to in a variety of media: on television shows including animated sitcoms, live-action comedies, dramas, and game shows, as well as in movies and video games. She, or characters based on her, figure prominently (in positive and negative lights) in literary and science fiction novels by prominent American authors. Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason, has remarked that "Rand's is a tortured immortality, one in which she's as likely to be a punch line as a protagonist..." and that "jibes at Rand as cold and inhuman, run through the popular culture". Two movies have been made about Rand's life. A 1997 documentary film, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The Passion of Ayn Rand, a 1999 television adaptation of the book of the same name, won several awards. Rand's image also appears on a U.S. postage stamp designed by artist Nick Gaetano.
Although she rejected the labels "conservative" and "libertarian", Rand has had continuing influence on right-wing politics and libertarianism. Jim Powell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, considers Rand one of the three most important women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson) of modern American libertarianism, and David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party, stated that "without Ayn Rand, the libertarian movement would not exist". In his history of the libertarian movement, journalist Brian Doherty described her as "the most influential libertarian of the twentieth century to the public at large", and biographer Jennifer Burns referred to her as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right".
She faced intense opposition from William F. Buckley, Jr. and other contributors for the National Review magazine. They published numerous criticisms in the 1950s and 1960s by Whittaker Chambers, Garry Wills, and M. Stanton Evans. Nevertheless, her influence among conservatives forced Buckley and other National Review contributors to reconsider how traditional notions of virtue and Christianity could be integrated with support for capitalism.
The political figures who cite Rand as an influence are usually conservatives (often members of the United States Republican Party), despite Rand taking some positions that are atypical for conservatives, such as being pro-choice and an atheist. A 1987 article in The New York Times referred to her as the Reagan administration's "novelist laureate". Republican Congressmen and conservative pundits have acknowledged her influence on their lives and recommended her novels.
The late-2000s financial crisis spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis, and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel. During this time, signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests. There was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming the economic crisis on her support of selfishness and free markets, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, Mother Jones remarked that "Rand's particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed", while The Nation alleged similarities between the "moral syntax of Randianism" and fascism.
During Rand's lifetime her work received little attention from academic scholars. When the first academic book about Rand's philosophy appeared in 1971, its author declared writing about Rand "a treacherous undertaking" that could lead to "guilt by association" for taking her seriously. A few articles about Rand's ideas appeared in academic journals before her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist. One of these was "On the Randian Argument" by libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who argued that her meta-ethical argument is unsound and fails to solve the is–ought problem posed by David Hume. Some responses to Nozick by other academic philosophers were also published in The Personalist arguing that Nozick misstated Rand's case. Academic consideration of Rand as a literary figure during her life was even more limited. Academic Mimi Gladstein was unable to find any scholarly articles about Rand's novels when she began researching her in 1973, and only three such articles appeared during the rest of the 1970s.
Since Rand's death, interest in her work has gradually increased. Historian Jennifer Burns has identified "three overlapping waves" of scholarly interest in Rand, the most recent of which is "an explosion of scholarship" since the year 2000. However, few universities currently include Rand or Objectivism as a philosophical specialty or research area, with many literature and philosophy departments dismissing her as a pop culture phenomenon rather than a subject for serious study.
Gladstein, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Allan Gotthelf, Edwin A. Locke and Tara Smith have taught her work in academic institutions. Sciabarra co-edits the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a nonpartisan peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of Rand's philosophical and literary work. In 1987 Gotthelf helped found the Ayn Rand Society with George Walsh and David Kelley, and has been active in sponsoring seminars about Rand and her ideas. Smith has written several academic books and papers on Rand's ideas, including Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, a volume on Rand's ethical theory published by Cambridge University Press. Rand's ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities. Scholars of English and American literature have largely ignored her work, although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s.
Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought, describe her style as "literary, hyperbolic and emotional". Philosopher Jack Wheeler says that despite "the incessant bombast and continuous venting of Randian rage", Rand's ethics are "a most immense achievement, the study of which is vastly more fruitful than any other in contemporary thought." In the Literary Encyclopedia entry for Rand written in 2001, John David Lewis declared that "Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation". In a 1999 interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sciabarra commented, "I know they laugh at Rand", while forecasting a growth of interest in her work in the academic community.
Philosopher Michael Huemer has argued that very few people find Rand's ideas convincing, especially her ethics, which he believes is difficult to interpret and may lack logical coherence. He attributes the attention she receives to her being a "compelling writer", especially as a novelist. Thus, Atlas Shrugged outsells not only the works of other philosophers of classical liberalism as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, or Frederic Bastiat, but also Rand's own non-fiction works.
Political scientist Charles Murray, while praising Rand's literary accomplishments, criticizes her claim that her only "philosophical debt" was to Aristotle, instead asserting that her ideas were derivative of previous thinkers such as John Locke and Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Murray, "By insisting that Objectivism had sprung full blown from her own mind, with just a little help from Aristotle, Rand was being childish, as well as out of touch with reality."
Although Rand maintained that Objectivism was an integrated philosophical system, philosopher Robert H. Bass has argued that her central ethical ideas are inconsistent and contradictory to her central political ideas.
In 1985, Rand's heir Leonard Peikoff established the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas and works. In 1990, philosopher David Kelley founded the Institute for Objectivist Studies, now known as The Atlas Society. In 2001 historian John McCaskey organized the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, which provides grants for scholarly work on Objectivism in academia. The charitable foundation of BB&T Corporation has also given grants for teaching Rand's ideas or works. The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pittsburgh, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among the schools that have received grants. In some cases these grants have been controversial due to their requiring research or teaching related to Rand.
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- Branden 1986, p. 71; Gladstein 1999, p. 9
- Den Uyl & Rasmussen 1986, p. x; Sciabarra 1995, pp. 1–2; Kukathas 1998, p. 55; Badhwar & Long 2010.
- Barry 1987, p. 122; Peikoff 1991, pp. 309–314; Sciabarra 1995, p. 298; Gotthelf 2000, p. 91; Gladstein 2009, p. 46
- O'Neill 1977, pp. 18–20; Sciabarra 1995, pp. 12, 118
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