The Little Guide to Ayn Rand

Writer and philosopher Ayn Rand

SFL Staff

Each post is written to give liberty-minded students a starting point to learn from the great movers and shakers who have contributed to the ideas of liberty. The entire Little Guide to Big Ideas series can be foundhere.

Who: Ayn Rand, writer, philosopher, screenwriter, was born Feb 2, 1905 in Russia. At 12, the Bolsheviks seized her family’s chemist shop, driving Rand’s fierce dedication to capitalist principles. Rand lived in the Soviet Union long enough to graduate from Petrograd University with a degree in history and philosophy. At 21 years old, she emigrated to the United States, which she extolled as a beacon of freedom, never to return to the Communist state she vilified so ardently.

Rand moved to Hollywood after six months in America, where she met two fateful people: director Cecil B. DeMille, who catalyzed her short career as a screenwriter; and Frank O’Connor, an actor who would later become her husband of 50 years. During her stint in Hollywood, Rand wrote two screenplays that were the foundations for major works: We the Living, her autobiographical fiction set in Soviet Russia, and The Fountainhead, which would be her rocket to fame in 1943.

Her final novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is her magnum opus. It delineates Objectivist principles and has been deemed the second-most influential book of all time (behind the Bible) by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month club. More than seven million copies have been sold.

By her death in 1982, Rand had written four novels and six non-fiction collections that lay out her fully-fledged philosophy. The Ayn Rand Institute succeeded her death, operating today in Irvine, CA to research, evolve, and educate about Objectivist ideas.

Why she matters: Rand is one of the most controversial thinkers of our age, and the first to appropriate a philosophy that holds man’s reason as his highest faculty. Her works give voice to capitalism as a principle-based value structure that necessarily opposes collectivist ideas and protects individual rights so you can do what you want. Objectivism holds human achievement and capability as the highest ideals.

Objectivist ethics are a basis for many Conservative, Libertarian and Tea Party principles. Major figures like Alan Greenspan, Ron/Rand Paul, and Jimmy Wales have self-identified as Objectivists. The following is growing. Objectivist book sales have historically increased during every US financial crisis since Atlas’ publication.

If you only read one thing: Everyone has their own story about how they found Rand. Many pick up Atlas Shrugged, which outlines the genius’ “philosophy for living on earth.” If you’re intimidated by 1200-page novels, however, I suggest The Objectivist Ethics, an essay printed in The Virtue of Selfishness that one can swallow neatly in one sitting.

Prudent Advice for the Burgeoning Objectivist: Like life itself, Objectivism is diverse. You will encounter a variety of viewpoints on the subject. Objectivism is like anything: everyone has an opinion, and everyone responds differently. Keep your head about you when people denounce your values. Try not to let Internet comment sections rob you of your sleep.

Be prepared for the various responses from the:

Pro-Randians

You can often identify these people easily by their “Who is John Galt?” buttons, Republican/Tea Party/Libertarian political affiliations, and a voracious desire to debate philosophy. Feel free to use Objectivism as a jump-off point for in-depth discussions of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, the  constitutional right to criticize your public school education, or your pent-up frustration over disillusioned politicians who tarnish the good name of “self-interest.”

I-don’t-know-Rand-ians, who break off into:

  1. Secondary learners who quote hearsay

    These guys haven’t read Rand, but have read people who have presumably read Rand. Respect their right not to listen to your views. They’re not wrong to believe what they believe, and neither are you. Lead by example and listen to their arguments; often, if you respect someone’s right to a viewpoint, one will award you the courtesy to express your own. Give someone the space to adjust his or her viewpoints accordingly, and try not to get frustrated when you’re not extolled for your reason.

    Sometimes, though, you meet bigots. Go with your gut here and be prepared to disengage.

  1. Innocent ignorants whom Objectivism intrigues

    The Objectivism lexicon is vast, and people are busy. Not all readers of Atlas read more than that, nor have mastered its ideas. Keep up the conversation with people who are willing to learn more. Forward them info from the Ayn Rand Institute, press a book into their hands, or invite them to an Objectivist conference (or ISFLC!)

Unidentified Objectivists with capitalist ideals

For me, these are the Physics-class geniuses; the brilliant artists who grab the depth of your soul and apologize for nothing; Your Mother (not my mother in particular, but the mother figure Alain de Botton, TED: A kinder, gentler philosophy), who has faith in you no matter how badly you and others believe you’ve done); and the billions of people like Eddie Willers who feel a quiet pride over a paycheck and the privilege to feed the Hungry (whoever they choose is their responsibility). They may not know Rand, libertarianism, or philosophy, and that’s alright. Recognize their unconscious contributions towards a capitalist utopia, and let them know there is a word for who they are. You may empower someone.

Favorite quote: “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”

Available online:

Interviews with Ayn Rand

-Various resources at www.AynRandInstitute.org, including online classes, essays and blog post by leading Objectivists, and a Q&A with Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s intellectual heir.

Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged, a documentary currently available on Netflix

Major works:

**–**Atlas Shrugged (1957), the behemoth crowning glory of Objectivist philosophy

-The Fountainhead (1943), Rand’s first major literary success and a 1948 feature-length film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neale (screenplay by Rand)

-The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), a series of essays by Rand and Nathaniel Branden detailing Objectivism’s attitudes towards topics like racism, the government’s role, and irrational society

-Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) focuses on the moral nature of laissez-faire capitalism

Fun fact:Rand has a Kevin Bacon score of 3.