Few names can stir passions, elicit anger, cause smiles, and summon deep interest more than Ayn Rand. Born in 1905, into a wealthy family of Jewish merchants in St. Petersburg, Russia, she grew up as the Tsar’s harsh, sterile rule succumbed to the grueling, hardscrabble tenure of Vladimir Lenin. After communism became the law of the land, Rand’s family lost everything and she was left with little future. In college, Rand read the works of Aristotle and other great Western thinkers. Her scholarship developed in her a burning desire to escape from the Soviet Union. Eventually she got her chance.
On her arrival in the United States in 1926, she is said to have wept at the sight of New York’s skyline. She settled in Hollywood, where she was able to continue her philosophical studies while working as a screenwriter. As time passed, her interest in film waned, and she turned her talents to writing novels, in which she developed and exposed to the world her core political philosophy: Objectivism. In 1943, she published The Fountainhead, a spectacular bestseller which detailed the story of a forward thinking architect frustrated by a persistent stream of small minds, and which gave the world its first widely read taste of Objectivism.
Soon after that success, in an effort to further develop and articulate her Objectivist principles, Rand began to work on the book which was to become her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. Published in 1957, the book outsold The Fountainhead, and was to become one of the most influential 20th century works of American fiction. The dystopian tale of America after the small percentage of its movers and shakers go into hiding, the novel clearly articulates Objectivism’s bedrock principle: rational, non-aggressive individualism. Both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged became so widely read that the Modern Library listed the latter first and former second on its list of the twentieth century’s best novels.
Rand’s literary success allowed her to promote Objectivism full time until her death at the age of 77, in 1982. Boiled down to a single sentence, Objectivism can be described as utilizing reason to achieve maximum personal and professional productivity. One of the few contemporary philosophies solidly rooted in classical principles, it stands as a compelling alternative for many who are disenchanted with other dominant belief structures, such as existentialism and postmodernism. After the dawn of the new millennium, Objectivism gained a considerable amount of mass interest and shows no sign of losing it.
Ayn Rand is frequently called selfish, greedy, sophomoric, and far worse for her strong emphasis on pure reason and enlightened self-interest. However, it is undeniable that she stands as one of the most pivotal authors in the history of American philosophy. Her writings have had great impact on subjects ranging from romance to economics. Few can lay claim such a feat, and her legacy as a steadfast public intellectual is secure.