Ayn Rand

Alice O'Connor (born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum;[lower-alpha 2] February 2, [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982), known by her pen name Ayn Rand (/n/),[1] was a Russian-American writer and philosopher.[2][3] She is known for her fiction and for developing a philosophical system she named Objectivism. Born and educated in Russia, she moved to the United States in 1926. She had a play that opened on Broadway in 1935. After two early novels that were initially unsuccessful, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. In 1957, Rand published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own periodicals and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.

Ayn Rand
Rand in 1943
Native name
Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум
BornAlisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum
(1905-02-02)February 2, 1905
St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
DiedMarch 6, 1982(1982-03-06) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeKensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York, United States
Pen nameAyn Rand
Alma materPetrograd State University (diploma in history, 1924)
Notable works
Notable awardsPrometheus Award – Hall of Fame
1983 Atlas Shrugged
1987 Anthem
Frank O'Connor
(m. 1929; died 1979)


Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism and rejected altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral[4][5] and opposed collectivism, statism, as well as anarchism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights, including property rights.[6] Although she was opposed to libertarianism, seeing the ideology as anarchism, she is often associated with the modern libertarian movement.[7] In art, Rand promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and classical liberals.[8][9]

Literary critics received Rand's fiction with mixed reviews.[10] Although there was some growth of academic interest in her ideas in the early 2000s,[11] academic philosophers have generally ignored or rejected her philosophy due to her polemical approach and lack of methodological rigor.[3] The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings.[12] She has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.[13][14]


Early life

Rand was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, to a Russian-Jewish bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg.[15] She was the eldest of three daughters of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum, a pharmacist, and Anna Borisovna (née Kaplan).[16] Rand later said she found school unchallenging and began writing screenplays at the age of eight and novels at the age of ten.[17] At the prestigious Stoiunina Gymnasium, her closest friend was Vladimir Nabokov's younger sister, Olga; the two girls shared an intense interest in politics.[18][19]

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 life the family had previously enjoyed. Her father's business was confiscated, and the family fled to the Crimean Peninsula, which was initially under control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. While in high school there, she concluded that she was an atheist and valued reason above any other virtue. After graduating in June 1921, she returned with her family to Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg was renamed at that time), where they faced desperate conditions, on occasion nearly starving.[20][21]

Rand completed a three-year program at Petrograd State University.

After the Russian Revolution, universities were opened to women, allowing her to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University.[22] At the age of 16, she began her studies in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history.[23] At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato;[24] she came to see their differing views on reality and knowledge as the primary conflict within philosophy.[25] She also studied the philosophical works of Friedrich Nietzsche.[26] Able to read French, German and Russian, she also discovered the writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, and Friedrich Schiller, who became her perennial favorites.[27]

Along with many other bourgeois students, she was purged from the university shortly before graduating. After complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, many of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate,[28][29] which she did in October 1924.[30] She then studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For an assignment, she wrote an essay about the Polish actress Pola Negri, which became her first published work.[31]

By this time, she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand,[32] possibly because it is graphically similar to a vowelless excerpt Рзнб of her birth surname in Cyrillic handwriting,[33][34] and she adopted the first name Ayn.[lower-alpha 3]

Arrival in the United States

Cover of Rand's first published work, a 2,500-word monograph on actress Pola Negri published in 1925[31]

In late 1925, Rand was granted a visa to visit relatives in Chicago.[38] She departed on January 17, 1926.[39] When she arrived in New York City on February 19, 1926, she was so impressed with the skyline of Manhattan that she cried what she later called "tears of splendor".[40] Intent on staying in the United States to become a screenwriter, she lived for a few months with her relatives, one of whom owned a movie theater and allowed her to watch dozens of films free of charge. She then left for Hollywood, California.[41]

In Hollywood, a chance meeting with famed director Cecil B. DeMille led to work as an extra in his film The King of Kings and a subsequent job as a junior screenwriter.[42] While working on The King of Kings, she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor; the two were married on April 15, 1929. She became a permanent American resident in July 1929 and an American citizen on March 3, 1931.[43][44][lower-alpha 4] She made several attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to acquire permission to emigrate.[47][48]

Early fiction

Rand's first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn to Universal Studios in 1932, although it was never produced.[49] 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 a jury was selected from members of the audience; based on the jury's vote, one of two different endings would be performed.[50][lower-alpha 5]

Rand's first published 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. Initial sales were slow and the American publisher let it go out of print,[53] although European editions continued to sell.[54] She adapted the story as a stage play, but producer George Abbott's Broadway production was a failure that closed in less than a week.[55][lower-alpha 6] 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.[57] In a foreword to the 1959 edition, Rand stated that We the Living "is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. ... The plot is invented, the background is not ..."[58]

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'.[59][60] 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.[61] During these early years of her career, Rand wrote other plays and short stories that were not produced or published during her lifetime, many of which were later published in The Early Ayn Rand.[62]

The Fountainhead and political activism

During the 1940s, Rand became politically active. She and her husband worked as full-time volunteers for the 1940 presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. This work led to Rand's first public speaking experiences; she enjoyed fielding sometimes hostile questions from New York City audiences who had viewed pro-Willkie newsreels.[63] This activity brought her into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. She became friends with journalist Henry Hazlitt, who 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. Mises once referred to Rand as "the most courageous man in America", a compliment that particularly pleased her because he said "man" instead of "woman".[64][65] Rand also became friends with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. Rand questioned Paterson about American history and politics long into the night during their many meetings and gave Paterson ideas for her only non-fiction book, The God of the Machine.[66]

The Fountainhead, first edition

Rand's first major success as a writer came in 1943 with The Fountainhead, a romantic and philosophical novel that she wrote over a period of seven years.[67] 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 themselves. 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.[68] While completing the novel, Rand was prescribed the amphetamine Benzedrine to fight fatigue.[69] The drug helped her to work long hours to meet her deadline for delivering the novel, but afterwards she was so exhausted that her doctor ordered two weeks' rest.[70] Her use of the drug for approximately three decades may have contributed to what some of her later associates described as volatile mood swings.[71][72]

The Fountainhead became a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security.[73] In 1943, Rand sold the film rights to Warner Bros. and she returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Afterwards she was hired by producer Hal B. Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work for Wallis included the screenplays for the Oscar-nominated Love Letters and You Came Along.[74] Rand also worked on other projects, including a never-completed nonfiction treatment of her philosophy to be called The Moral Basis of Individualism.[75][76][lower-alpha 7]

Rand extended her involvement with free-market and anti-communist activism while working in Hollywood. She became involved with the anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and wrote articles on the group's behalf. She also joined the anti-Communist American Writers Association.[77] A visit by Paterson to meet with Rand's California associates led to a falling out between the two when Paterson made comments, which Rand considered rude, to valued political allies.[78][79] In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. Rand testified that the 1944 film Song of Russia grossly misrepresented conditions in the Soviet Union, portraying life there as much better and happier than it was.[80] 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.[81] When asked after the hearings about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations, Rand described the process as "futile".[82]

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", and complained about its editing, acting, and other elements.[83]

Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism

Rand's novella Anthem was reprinted in the June 1953 issue of the pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

Following the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom the book profoundly influenced.[84] 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 Chair of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, a young psychology student named Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara's cousin Leonard Peikoff. Initially the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. She later began allowing them to read the drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the manuscript was written.[85] In 1954, Rand's close relationship with Nathaniel Branden turned into a romantic affair, with the knowledge of their spouses.[86]

Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was considered Rand's magnum opus.[87][88] 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".[89] 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 respond to a welfare state government by going on strike and retreating to a hidden valley 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 mystery, romance, and science fiction,[90][91] and it contains an extended exposition of Objectivism in a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt.[92]

Despite many negative reviews, Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller.[93] However, Rand was discouraged and depressed by the reaction of intellectuals to the novel.[71][94] Atlas Shrugged was Rand's last completed work of fiction; it marked the end of her career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.[95][96]

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 Rand edited. She later published some of these articles in book form. Rand was unimpressed with many of the NBI students[97] and held them to strict standards, sometimes reacting coldly or angrily to those who disagreed with her.[98][99][100] Critics, including some former NBI students and Branden himself, later described the culture of NBI as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand. Some described NBI or the Objectivist movement generally as a cult or religion.[101][102] 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.[103] However, some former NBI students believed the extent of these behaviors was exaggerated, and the problem was concentrated among Rand's closest followers in New York.[100][104]

Later years

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,[105] Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[106] She also began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterward to questions from the audience.[107] During these appearances, she often took controversial stances on political and social issues of the day. These included supporting abortion rights,[108] opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft (but condemning many draft dodgers as "bums"),[109][110] supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 against a coalition of Arab nations as "civilized men fighting savages",[111][112] saying European colonists had the right to develop land taken from American Indians,[112][113] and calling homosexuality "immoral" and "disgusting", while also advocating the repeal of all laws about it.[114] 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.[115][116]

Grave marker for Rand and her husband at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York

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,[117] Rand terminated her relationship with both Brandens, and NBI was closed.[118] Rand published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other "irrational behavior in his private life".[119] In subsequent years, Rand and several more of her closest associates parted company.[120]

Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974 after decades of heavy smoking.[121] In 1976, she retired from writing her newsletter and, after her initial objections, she allowed an employee of her attorney to enroll her in Social Security and Medicare.[122][123] During the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined, especially after the death of her husband on November 9, 1979.[124] One of her final projects was work on a never-completed television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.[125]

Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982, at her home in New York City,[126] and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.[127] At her funeral, a 6-foot (1.8 m) floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket.[128] In her will, Rand named Peikoff to inherit her estate.[129]


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".[130] She considered Objectivism a systematic philosophy and laid out positions on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.[131]

In metaphysics, Rand supported philosophical realism, and opposed anything she regarded as mysticism or supernaturalism, including all forms of religion.[132]

In epistemology, she considered all knowledge to be based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic,[133][134] and reason, which she described as "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses".[135] She rejected all claims of non-perceptual or a priori knowledge, including "'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing'".[136] In her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand presented a theory of concept formation and rejected the analytic–synthetic dichotomy.[137][138]

In ethics, Rand argued for rational and ethical 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".[139] She referred to egoism as "the virtue of selfishness" in her book of that title,[2] 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".[3][140] She condemned ethical altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness,[3] and held that the initiation of force was evil and irrational, writing in Atlas Shrugged that "Force and mind are opposites."[141][142]

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.[6] She opposed statism, which she understood to include theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, and dictatorship.[143] Rand believed that natural rights should be protected by a constitutionally limited government.[144] 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.[145][146] She denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism.[7][147] She rejected anarchism as a naïve theory based in subjectivism that could only lead to collectivism in practice.[148]

In aesthetics, Rand defined art as a "selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments". According to her, art allows philosophical concepts to be presented in a concrete form that can be easily grasped, thereby fulfilling a need of human consciousness.[149] 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.[150] She described her own approach to literature as "romantic realism".[151]

Rand said her most important contributions to philosophy were her "theory of concepts, ethics, and discovery in politics that evil—the violation of rights—consists of the initiation of force".[152] 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,[153] 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."[154]

Relationship to other philosophers

Rand claimed Aristotle (left) as her primary philosophical influence, and strongly criticized Immanuel Kant (right).

Rand was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and classical liberals.[8][9] She acknowledged Aristotle as her greatest influence[93] and remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand.[155] 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, the only philosopher who ever influenced me. I devised the rest of my philosophy myself."[156]

In an article for the Claremont Review of Books, political scientist Charles Murray 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.[157] Rand did find early inspiration from Nietzsche,[158][159][160] and scholars have found indications of his influence in early notes from Rand's journals,[161][162] in passages from the first edition of We the Living (which Rand later revised),[163][164] and in her overall writing style.[3][165] However, by the time she wrote The Fountainhead, Rand had turned against Nietzsche's ideas,[158][166] and the extent of his influence on her even during her early years is disputed.[167][168][169]

Russian literature professor Adam Weiner claims that Rand's egoism was also influenced by the 1863 novel What Is to Be Done? by Russian author Nikolay Chernyshevsky.[170]

Rand considered her philosophical opposite to be Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as "the most evil man in mankind's history";[171] she believed his epistemology undermined reason and his ethics opposed self-interest.[172] Philosophers George Walsh[173] and Fred Seddon[174] have argued that she misinterpreted Kant and exaggerated their differences.

Reception and legacy

Critical reception

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,[175][176] her Broadway play Night of January 16th was both a critical and popular success,[177] and The Fountainhead was hailed by The New York Times reviewer Lorine Pruette as "masterful".[178] Rand's novels were derided by some critics when they were first published as being long and melodramatic.[10] However, they became bestsellers largely through word of mouth.[179]

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.[177] Rand believed that her first novel, We the Living, was not widely reviewed, but Rand scholar Michael S. Berliner writes "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.[180] Her 1938 novella Anthem received little attention from reviewers, both for its first publication in England and for subsequent re-issues.[181]

Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged received many negative reviews.

Rand's first bestseller, The Fountainhead, received far fewer reviews than We the Living, and reviewers' opinions were mixed.[182] Lorine Pruette's positive review in The New York Times was one that Rand greatly appreciated.[183] Pruette 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".[178] There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed most of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications.[182] Some negative reviews focused on the length of the novel,[10] 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".[182]

Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed and many of the reviews were strongly negative.[10][184] In National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly".[185] 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!'".[186] Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, including praise from the noted book reviewer John Chamberlain,[184] 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 also said it was "written out of hate" and showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity".[10]

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,[187][188] with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union",[189] and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality".[190] Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers.[187]

In 2005, on the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth, 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".[191] In 2019, Lisa Duggan described Rand's fiction as popular and influential on many readers, despite being easy to criticize for "her cartoonish characters and melodramatic plots, her rigid moralizing, her middle- to lowbrow aesthetic preferences ... and philosophical strivings".[192]

A quote from The Fountainhead on the wall across from the entrance to The American Adventure rotunda at Walt Disney World's Epcot

Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with over 30 million copies sold as of 2015 (including 3.6 million purchased for free distribution to schools by the Ayn Rand Institute).[193] 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.[194] Although Rand's influence has been greatest in the United States, there has been international interest in her work.[195][196]

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.[197] Other artists who have cited Rand as an important influence on their lives and thought include comic book artist Steve Ditko[198] and musician Neil Peart of Rush,[199] although he later distanced himself. Rand provided a positive view of business and subsequently many business executives and entrepreneurs have admired and promoted her work.[200] John Allison of BB&T and Ed Snider of Comcast Spectacor have funded the promotion of Rand's ideas,[201][202] while Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) as well as John P. Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) among others have said they consider Rand crucial to their success.[203]

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,[204] as well as in movies and video games.[205] She, or a character based on her, figures prominently (in positive and negative lights) in literary and science fiction novels by prominent American authors.[206] Nick Gillespie, former editor in chief of Reason, remarked that "Rand's is a tortured immortality, one in which she's as likely to be a punch line as a protagonist. Jibes at Rand as cold and inhuman run through the popular culture."[207] 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 Best Documentary Feature.[208] The Passion of Ayn Rand, a 1999 television adaptation of the book of the same name, won several awards.[209] Rand's image also appears on a 1999 U.S. postage stamp illustrated by artist Nick Gaetano.[210]

Political influence

Although she rejected the labels "conservative" and "libertarian",[211][212] Rand has had continuing influence on right-wing politics and libertarianism.[13][14] 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,[213] and David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party, stated that "without Ayn Rand, the libertarian movement would not exist".[214] 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"[194] and historian Jennifer Burns referred to her as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right".[13]

A protester's sign at a 2009 Tea Party rally refers to John Galt, the hero of Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The political figures who cite Rand as an influence are usually conservatives (often members of the Republican Party),[215] despite Rand taking some positions that are atypical for conservatives, such as being pro-choice and an atheist.[216] She faced intense opposition from William F. Buckley Jr. and other contributors for the conservative National Review magazine, which published numerous criticisms of her writings and ideas.[217] Nevertheless, a 1987 article in The New York Times referred to her as the Reagan administration's "novelist laureate".[218] Republican Congressmen and conservative pundits have acknowledged her influence on their lives and have recommended her novels.[219][220][221][222] She has also influenced some conservative politicians outside the US, such as Ayelet Shaked, Israel's former Minister of Justice and co-founder of the New Right party.[223][224]

The financial crisis of 2007–2008 spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis.[225][226][227] Opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel.[215][227] Signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests.[226] 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.[222] In 2015, Adam Weiner said that through Greenspan, "Rand had effectively chucked a ticking time bomb into the boiler room of the US economy".[228] Lisa Duggan said that Rand's novels had "incalculable impact" in encouraging the spread of neoliberal political ideas.[229] In 2021, Cass Sunstein said Rand's ideas could be seen in the tax and regulatory policies of the Trump administration, which he attributed to "Rand's enduring influence ... from her fiction".[230]

Scholarly reception during Rand's lifetime

During Rand's lifetime, her work received little attention from academic scholars.[12] 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.[231] A few articles about Rand's ideas appeared in academic journals before her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist.[232] 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.[233] Other philosophers, writing in the same publication, argued that Nozick misstated Rand's case.[232] 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.[234]

Posthumous overall assessments

Since Rand's death, interest in her work has gradually increased.[235][236] In 2009, historian Jennifer Burns identified "three overlapping waves" of scholarly interest in Rand, including "an explosion of scholarship" since the year 2000.[237] However, as of that same year, few universities included 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.[238] The Fall 2020 update to the entry about Rand in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that "only a few professional philosophers have taken her work seriously".[3] Scholars of English and American literature have also largely ignored her work,[239] although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s.[240]

Writing in the 1998 edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, political theorist Chandran Kukathas summarizes the mainstream philosophical reception to her work in two parts. Her ethical argument, he says, is viewed by most commentators as an unconvincing variant of Aristotle's ethics. Her political theory, he says, "is of little interest", marred by an "ill-thought out and unsystematic" effort to reconcile her hostility to the state with her rejection of anarchism.[2] Libertarian philosopher Michael Huemer argues that very few people find Rand's ideas convincing, especially her ethics,[241] which he believes are difficult to interpret and lack logical coherence.[242] He attributes the attention she receives to her being a "compelling writer", especially as a novelist, noting that Atlas Shrugged outsells Rand's non-fiction works as well as the works of other philosophers of classical liberalism such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, or Frederic Bastiat.[241] 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".[243] In 2020, media critic Eric Burns said that "Rand is surely the most engaging philosopher of my lifetime", [244] but "nobody in the academe pays any attention to her, neither as an author nor a philosopher".[245]

Rand-specific scholarship

Some scholars focus specifically on Rand's work. Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought in a 1984 collection of academic articles about her ideas, describe her style as "literary, hyperbolic and emotional".[246] In that same volume, political writer and Rand scholar Jack Wheeler writes 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".[247]

In 1987 Allan Gotthelf, George Walsh and David Kelley co-founded the Ayn Rand Society, a group affiliated with the American Philosophical Association.[248][249] In 2012, the University of Pittsburgh Press launched an "Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies" series based on the proceedings of the Society.[250]

Gladstein, Gotthelf, Harry Binswanger, John Hospers, Edwin A. Locke, Wallace Matson, Leonard Peikoff, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Tara Smith have taught her work in academic institutions. Rand's ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities.[251] 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.[252]

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 in 2006. Although Rand maintained that Objectivism was an integrated philosophical system, philosopher Robert H. Bass argues in a 2006 journal article that her central ethical ideas are inconsistent and contradictory to her central political ideas.[253]

Objectivist movement

In 1985, Peikoff established the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas and works. In 1990, after an ideological disagreement with Peikoff, philosopher David Kelley founded the Institute for Objectivist Studies, now known as The Atlas Society.[254][255] In 2001, historian John McCaskey organized the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, which provides grants for scholarly work on Objectivism in academia.[256] From 2002 to 2012, the charitable foundation of BB&T Corporation gave grants to more than 60 colleges and universities for teaching Rand's ideas or works. In some cases, these grants were controversial due to their requiring research or teaching related to Rand.[257][258]

Selected works

Fiction and drama:


  • For the New Intellectual (1961)
  • The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966, expanded 1967)
  • The Romantic Manifesto (1969)
  • The New Left (1971, expanded 1975)
  • Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979, expanded 1990)
  • Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982)
  • Letters of Ayn Rand (1995)
  • Journals of Ayn Rand (1997)

See also

  • Murder of Marion Parker
  • A Theory of Justice: The Musical!


  1. Rand left the Soviet Union in 1926.
  2. Russian: Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум, [aˈlʲɪsa zʲɪˈnovʲɪvnə rəzʲɪnˈbaʊm]
  3. Rand said Ayn was adapted from a Finnic name.[35] Some biographical sources question this, suggesting it may come from a nickname based on the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning "eye").[36] Letters from Rand's family do not use such a nickname for her.[37]
  4. Rand's immigration papers gave her first name as "Alice",[40] so her legal married name became "Alice O'Connor", but she did not use that name in public or with friends.[45][46]
  5. In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a movie loosely based on the play. Rand did not participate in the production and was highly critical of the result.[51][52]
  6. In 1942, the novel was adapted without Rand's permission into a pair of Italian films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira. After Rand's post-war legal claims over the piracy were settled, her attorney purchased the negatives. The films were re-edited with Rand's approval and released as We the Living in 1986.[56]
  7. A condensed version of the unfinished book was published as an essay titled "The Only Path to Tomorrow" in the January 1944 issue of Reader's Digest.


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