Ayn Rand: The Controversial Writer and Philosopher Who Championed Individualism
Ayn Rand was a Russian-born American writer and philosopher who is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which promote the ideals of individualism, rationality, and laissez-faire capitalism. She also developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, which rejects altruism, collectivism, and mysticism, and advocates ethical egoism, political freedom, and laissez-faire capitalism.
In this article, we will explore the life and work of Ayn Rand, her influences and legacy, and the main themes and ideas of her novels and philosophy.
Life and Work of Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was the eldest of three children of a prosperous Jewish pharmacist and his wife. She witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent rise of communism, which she deeply resented. She experienced the confiscation of her father’s shop, the shortage of food and goods, and the censorship of education and literature.
She developed an early interest in literature and philosophy, especially the works of Plato and Aristotle. She graduated from Leningrad State University in 1924 with a degree in history. She then enrolled in the State Institute for Cinematography, where she studied screenwriting.
In 1926, she obtained a visa to visit relatives in Chicago, using the pretext of gaining expertise for the Soviet film industry. She arrived in the United States with a new name: Ayn Rand. She chose the first name from a Finnish writer (whose identity she never revealed) and the surname as an abbreviation of Rosenbaum. She never returned to Russia.
She moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a movie extra and a screenwriter. She met her future husband, Frank O’Connor, an actor, on a movie set. They married in 1929 and remained together until his death in 1979.
She wrote her first novel, We the Living, in 1934. It was a semi-autobiographical story of a young woman’s struggle against the Soviet regime. It was published in 1936 but received little attention. Her second novel, Anthem, was a dystopian novella about a future society where individuality is forbidden. It was published in England in 1938 but rejected by American publishers until 1946.
Her breakthrough came with her third novel, The Fountainhead, which she wrote over seven years. It was published in 1943 after being rejected by 12 publishers. It tells the story of Howard Roark, an uncompromising architect who battles against the conformist society that rejects his innovative designs. The novel was a bestseller and was adapted into a movie in 1949 starring Gary Cooper.
Her magnum opus was Atlas Shrugged, which she wrote over 12 years. It was published in 1957 and became an instant bestseller. It depicts a dystopian America where productive individuals go on strike against a collectivist government that exploits their talents. The novel introduces her full-fledged philosophy of Objectivism.
After Atlas Shrugged, Rand turned to non-fiction writing to promote her philosophy. She published several collections of essays on various topics such as ethics, politics, art, epistemology, and culture. Some of her notable works include The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Romantic Manifesto, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.
She also founded several organizations to spread her ideas, such as The Objectivist Newsletter (later The Objectivist), The Nathaniel Branden Institute (later The Ayn Rand Institute), and The Objectivist Forum.
She died of heart failure on March 6, 1982, in New York City. She was 77 years old.