Ayn Rand (February 2, (January 20 in the Julian calendar) 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a popular yet controversial writer from the latter half of the 20th century, and the creator of Objectivism, a self-proclaimed philosophy which she expressed in her fiction — especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She also wrote the screenplay for the film of The Fountainhead, but wasn't too happy with the final film (citing production design and other issues but mostly resenting the collaborative nature of film-making altogether).
Born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum to middle-class Jewish parents in St Petersburg, she seems to have been a rather lonely child who justified her social isolation by claiming a unique(ly alienating) intellectual superiority over her peers. She studied undergraduate history for free at Petrograd State University, graduated in 1923, went on to study at the State Technicum for Screen Arts, and came up with the name "Ayn Rand". In 1925 she secured an exit Visa for the purposes of visiting her American relatives in 1926, which she seems to have significantly overstayed while applying for American citizenship.
While living with her relatives, she worked on creating a philosophy which justified her loneliness and absolved her of the expectations placed upon her by the investment that her family and the Soviet state had made in her: Objectivism, a worldview which championed absolute selfishness (a term she used to mean the ethical and intellectual betterment of one's self) as the definition of moral goodness. Her early works of philosophical fiction included We the Living (1936) and Anthem (1938), but The Fountainhead (1943) was her first success (given word of mouth in Classical Liberal circles). The success of The Fountainhead led to her penning of Atlas Shrugged (1957), a novel indisputably capable of stopping doorsnote and leading to the creation of the Ayn Rand Society (which still exists).
The 1960s saw a revival of interest in Classical Economics. So-called Neoclassical economics asserted that in theory, structuring the economy to maximise the profits of the upper classes was the best way to create a democratic meritocracy. So-called Austrian economics asserted that an unregulated economy was the only moral alternative to a Communist-style Command-Economy. Whether or not the political economy that resulted was meritocratic, Austrian economics maintained that all alternatives were immoral because of their 'violation' of individual rights beyond what was strictly necessary for a society to exist at all (through taxation, law and order, etc). Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is best understood as a complement to the Austrian school championed by her contemporary Ludwig von Mises, but with a greater socio-political focus.
Objectivism is distinguished not just by its rejection of collective identity including family, gender, race, community, socialism, and communism (but not nationalism, as she came to love the USA as "the only moral country in the history of the world") but by its rejection of Auguste Comte's definition of 'altruism' (sacrifice of an individual to benefit other individuals). note She rejected virtually all historical philosophers save Aristotle and virtually all her contemporaries except Ludvig von Mises, and expressed disdain even for the political movements which embraced her ideas - such as the USA's Libertarian Party, or as she called them, "hippies of the right".
Ayn Rand and Objectivism are both very polarizing subjects on the internet and elsewhere. Internet Backdraft often results from mentions of her work, largely because of her philosophy but also because of the poor quality of the prose demonstrated in "Atlas Shrugged" and elsewhere. Ironically, among academic philosophers her work is one of the few subjects that isn't particularly polarizing - nearly everyone hates it. 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" merely for taking her seriously. Even philosophers like Robert Nozick who agree with most of her conclusions think her arguments for them are incoherent.
Regardless, the socio-economic and political implications of her philosophy mean that it has continued to receive heavy funding and promotion. Think-tanks founded by Objectivism's proponents, such as the Ayn Rand Institute and The Atlas Society, have promoted Objectivist ideas for many decades, and Lobbyists have successfully put her books on the political philosophy courses in several colleges in the USA. That said, Objectivism is not entirely an "Astroturf" ('fake grassroots') movement. There was a genuine upswing in popular interest in Neoliberal and Austrian philosophers including Rand, Friedman, and von Mises in the period between the Savings and Loan Bust of 1986-1995 and the Great Recession of 2008-, and particularly between 1995 and the popping of the Dot Com bubble in 2001.
Unfortunately, Rand as a figure generates intense feelings of either seething hatred or (some say) cultish adoration and as such debates over the content of her ideas have a general tendency to spill over into debates about her as a person. For instance, several Rand critics question her ability to stay true to her own principles. She may have also received government aid after getting lung cancer, but Rand herself argued that if someone had paid taxes to fund these systems then they "have a clear right to any refund of their own money" (see here). These aspects of Rand's character have been criticized by several Objectivists. While Rand's personal eccentricities do not necessarily prove anything about the validity or invalidity of her philosophy, Rand did once point to herself as proof that her philosophy could work in the real world.
Some Americans found her writings especially evocative in the economic climate circa early 2009. Her sales are on the rise and commentators have noted it. Mind you, the sales of Karl Marx's works are also on the rise. There could be other reasons as well. Her pen name is allegedly a contraction of her birth name: "Рзнбаум" (Cyrillic for Rznbaum) resembles "Randayn" when handwritten. Her name is pronounced like the German 'Ein' - rhymes with "mine", though some online detractors use the mnemonic "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ayn Rand". Annoying Objectivists by consistently, repeatedly pronouncing it as if it were merely a creative spelling of "Ann" can also be fun.
Unfortunately, given the polarizing nature of Rand's work, this page can be caught up in an Edit War from time to time. To make it clear, this page is NOT about what your evaluation of Rand, her works or her ideas is. Any contributions should observe the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement.
Though her works have their own pages, it might be worthwhile to note here Ayn Rand's relationship to the Strawman Political trope. Indeed, her villains are very much Strawman Politicals. For example, in Atlas Shrugged, they simply want to feed off of the talent of the gifted. Ayn Rand's personal diaries note that each protagonist is planned to show either why they will succeed because of their adherence to Objectivist principles, or why they will fail because of their non-adherence, or doubt, or acceptance of anti-Objectivist principles such as Comtean altruism. These notes also compare each character to the Ultimate Objectivist Messiah, John Galt. So in essence, even her protagonists can be considered Strawman Politicals.
The above is especially true for Rand's later writing. Comparison of her three novels could indicate a clear deterioration in the quality of characters representing the opposite ideology. Her first novel, "We, The Living" is very harsh on Communism as an ideology and on the Soviet Union as a regime, but it has a major character, Andrei Taganov, who is a Communist, senior member of the Party, and who is very much a Good Guy: heroic, idealistic, generous, in fact a Knight In Shining Armour and his lady's bodyguard - he is deeply in love with the book's female protagonist who returns his love quite a bit and is always torn between him and the other man in her life who is anti-Communist (and Rand admitted in the forward to the book that this character to a considerable degree represents herself!). In her second book, The Fountainhead, the character who represents Roosevelt's New Deal, Ellsworth Toohey, is an unquestioned Bad Guy, a Man You Love to Hate - but he is a brilliant Chess Master, always spinning webs of very clever and complicated Conspiracy, in short a Worthy Opponent with whom the female protagonist has (at least in the early parts of the book) a complicated Love Hate Relationship. There is also Peter Keating, who's basically a sympathetic Anti-Villain with an equally complicated relationship with the main hero, Howard Roark. In "Atlas Shrugged" - which Rand herself considered her best, but not everybody agrees - all characters representing the opposing political and social point of view are miserable, disgusting nothings, who never do or say a single thing deserving of the reader's appreciation.
Works of Ayn Rand on the wiki:
The works of Ayn Rand provide examples of:
- Author Tract: Pretty much the purpose of her entire body of work.
- Author Filibuster: Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are known for this. Famously, the "This is John Galt" speech in Atlas Shrugged is a mind-numbing 33,342 words.
- Capitalism Is Bad: Anything written by Rand will be a deliberate inversion of this trope to attack anti-capitalist ideologies as being absolute conformism and suppressing individual rights. The only time she invokes this trope is when criticizing crony capitalism and corporate welfare, which she considered not to be legitimate forms of capitalism.
- Downer Ending: Rand used this trope only occasionally, to point at the way in which a collectivist society could crush the life out of its citizens. The most glaring example is in We the Living, in which two of the three main characters end up dead (one suicide, one killed by a border guard) and the third gives up his self-respect and becomes a gigolo.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Famously regarded evil as "impotent", only having power that good people allow it to have. As such—with perhaps the sole exception of The Fountainhead's Ellsworth M. Toohey—villains are portrayed in Rand's works as comically pretty inept and clueless.
- For Happiness/The Needs of the Many: Many of the antagonists she writes have a utilitarian point of view, noting that people who try to create a better world or bring happiness to others do so for "selfish" purposes. As mentioned in Objectivism useful notes, she was critical about this trope when discussing about "altruism" (Auguste Comte's version of altruism).
- For her part, Objectivism holds "man's happiness" as a central tenent, and a motivation for one's existence. However, Rand was sure to emphasize that:
- "happiness" is held to be an individual concern, and therefore
- one's happiness cannot be gained at the altruistic expense of others.
- George Lucas Altered Version: We the Living was reissued in a version that rewrote some passages to remove aspects that were inconsistent with the philosophy she later developed.
- A God Am I: Characters in Anthem echo Rand's personal belief that man is a "godlike" being (i.e. able to mold the world as man desires, with his abilities).
- Good Versus Good: Coinciding with her belief that "evil is impotent", she regarded legitimate narrative conflict as coming from between heroes with differing worldviews.
- He Also Did: Dabbled in Hollywood screenwriting, writing the scripts for feature films Love Letters and You Came Along as well as adapting her own novel The Fountainhead for the 1949 movie version.
- Noble Demon: Randian heroes can rationalize any act of kindness or generosity as "selfish." They do use the term in a positive sense, as valuing self-betterment, though...
- No Sense of Humor: Actually subverted. Rand is often accused of humorlessness, in herself and her works. As she often pointed out in her writings on fiction, she had a problem with humor only when it was made at the expense of the heroes and their values. She was a major fan of "benevolent" humor (laughing with the heroes, having them banter, etc.), and despised "malevolent" humor (laughing at them). Interestingly enough, a hero of a story of hers will often be a Deadpan Snarker.
- Not So Different:
- Ayn Rand's Objectivism is very similar to Existentialism as both puts a lot of emphasis in metaphysics, values the reason of existence, and free will. The major difference is that while existentialism emphasizes subjectivity in finding a purpose in life, Objectivism, as the name implies, values objectivity instead. Ayn Rand mentioned that she would have called her philosophical beliefs "existentialism" if the name wasn't taken already.
- Many have noted that Ayn Rand's work is an "inverted" Marxism and that Rand tried to channel a militancy and ideological formulation in her ideas patterned on Bolshevism. Like the Communists, she organized cells, read her literature, and was intolerant of criticism and deviationists. She also co-operated with The Hays Code to ensure a pro-business party line remained in place. Ayn Rand seems to dislike the USSR not for their means but for their ends.
- Propaganda Hero: Howard Roark, John Galt and some would say, Ayn Rand herself, are this in her works and her group.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Rand's Romantic Manifesto actually proposes a reconciliation of sorts: Rand was at once a firm believer in technological progress being a good thing, and a staunch advocate for Romanticism in art (hence the book title). To Rand, the idea that the two concepts are polar opposites comes from the failure of Romantic artists to truly understand the full potential of the movement.
- Übermensch: Most of her protagonists, though Rand herself distanced herself from Nietzsche's ideas later on, calling him a mystic and an irrationalist. Assuredly, Nietzschean inspired writers have said the same things about her, with Rand having no prominent place in any academic school of philosophy.
Works and Creators influenced by Rand:
- Steve Ditko is an Objectivist, and let that seep into such acclaimed comics as The Question, Hawk and Dove, and to a less acclaimed, more tracty extent, in Mr. A. Everybody's favorite sociopath Rorschach from Watchmen is Alan Moore's variant of Mr. A.
- Frank Miller's Martha Washington Goes to War was influenced by Atlas Shrugged.
- L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach has an alternate history wherein Rand was not only a President of the alternate-United States (the North American Confederacy), but was also the first person on the moon.
- One of the creators of the comic book character Anarky, originally conceived as a vehicle for libertarian socialism and anarchism, was philosophically converted to Neo-Tech, an alternative Objectivist off-shoot. Commenting on the work they did for the character at the time, the other co-creator said the character could be classified as an Objectivist during that period. Which is funny if you consider that Rand greatly disliked anarchism.
- At the start and end of Batman: Cacophony, The Joker is seen reading the Fountainhead, though he gets interrupted both times. At the start he calls it a kneeslapper, Deadshot tells him not to mock it, since it's one of his personal favorites.
- Terry Goodkind is a massive fan of Rand's works, and his Sword of Truth series increasingly incorporates Objectivist themes as the series progresses, to the extent that a few critics have described the sixth book in the series, Faith of the Fallen, as "plagiarizing The Fountainhead in a fantasy setting." The author himself has been known to get into very heated arguments regarding Objectivist philosophy on the Internet.
- A hologram of her is a major character in Matt Ruff's novel Sewer, Gas & Electric.
- O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City has many Objectivist themes and it is implied in-universe that the protagonist was inspired by Atlas Shrugged.
- Dr. Frasier Crane notes in one episode that he read The Fountainhead as a child. A bully had given him a hard time about it-which had indirectly led to his pursuit of the field of psychology.
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was himself a fan of Rand, particularly of The Fountainhead and The Romantic Manifesto (legend has it, in fact, that he named Yeoman Janice Rand after her).
- Rand herself was on record as having liked Star Trek: The Original Series. Not surprisingly, her favorite character was Spock.
- Ironically, Spock often expressed his belief that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few", which is Utilitarianism. note Ultimately, he sacrificed his life to save the entire crew in Star Trek II (though the term "sacrifice" is a misnomer, since he would have perished anyway along with the rest of the ship and crew, regardless of whether he acted or not). Then again, this was turned around in Star Trek III, in which the crew (after finding out that they can return Spock to life) sacrifice their careers to save him, because as Kirk says, the needs of the one were were more important than the many (and again, "sacrifice" is a strong word because McCoy is also doomed if they fail to act). Following from this, the revived Spock in Star Trek IV agrees that they must risk their entire mission to save Chekov, because it is the human thing to do (though once again, the "risk" is questionable). So Spock actually grappled with this question at length: whether the needs of the many outweigh those of the few, and how to reconcile the choice with logic and/or emotion. There's an interesting Objectivist column that debates Spock's actions.
- Especially ironically, the Federation is sometimes implied to be rather socialist (particularly with its "money-less" society and tendency to look down on the vehemently capitalist Ferengi) and known for altruism. However, it should also be noted that the franchise's portrayal of the Borg Collective is perhaps the most vehement satire on communism (and "collectivism" in general, actually) in the history of science fiction!
- Rand herself was on record as having liked Star Trek: The Original Series. Not surprisingly, her favorite character was Spock.
- Neil Peart of Rush originally put a lot of Objectivism into the band's lyrics and gave her a thank you credit in the liner notes of 2112, but as of the remaster removed it and has moved away from such vehement support (though when asked he says there are still areas where he agrees with her).
- The philosophy of Objectivism is a strong theme in the FPS BioShock and its success obviously gave those views a fair bit of exposure. Fan opinion is divided on whether the game's setting is meant to showcase the philosophy's flaws, or whether it's meant to show Rapture as an Objectivist utopia destroyed by collectivist villains (parasites/looters, as Rand would call them) and hypocrisy on the part of Andrew Ryan. (In particular, the mutated creatures are indicated to be the handiwork of a Mad Scientist cosmetic surgeon who conducted "artistic works" on patients against their will—something Rand would denounce as monstrously evil.) Word of God says the game's real message is that Humans Are Flawed and Extremism is Bad, allowing the developers to sidestep the pro-Rand/anti-Rand Flame War.
- Not to mention the fact that Ryan is a Spear Counterpart Captain Ersatz for Rand. He's even of Russian origin, just as she was.
- FUN FACT: whether this was intended or not, one can successfully anagram "Andrew Ryan" to say "We R Ayn Rand".
- Many people, both in and out of the video game, think that Ryan only truly crossed the Moral Event Horizon when he started breaking his own principles: declaring martial law, nationalizing rival companies, suppressing and ultimately killing artists who publicly criticized him. Even Ryan gets a My God, What Have I Done? moment near the end, when in one of his audio-diaries late in the game he seems to realize just how far he has strayed.
- The sequel goes on to skewer collectivism, with Sofia Lamb replacing Andrew Ryan. This supports the idea that the real evil is any idea taken to extremes.
- In BioShock Infinite, the game shows the flaws of an extremely religious and patriotic city and the horrors perpetrated by those who rebel against it.
- Francis hates her.
- The Elder God Roark in Lusternia is named after the protagonist of The Fountainhead, and his teachings are suspiciously similar to Rand's. (The administrator who plays Roark freely admits that he's a big fan of Rand.)
- Kreia of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords could be considered the Ayn Rand of Force users, as she believes that the Jedi and the Sith have been over-reliant on the Force and plans to destroy it - and that's not even getting into her opinions about "The Will of the Force".
- Atton Rand might be named for her. Like Kreia, he's got a lot of unflattering opinions about Jedi and a lot to say on the topic of selfishness (whether he means this in the Randian sense is anyone's guess). Contrasting this is his first name, which comes from "Atone," reflecting his conflicting feelings on the issue and his potential redemption in the Light Side path.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Galatea's Mad Scientist "father" gave her books by Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche to read in her brief youth. This gave her an... interesting outlook on life.
- The Chaos Timeline has a rough equivalent with Sophie Stein: Both were born Jewish but later became atheists, had to flee from a leftist dictatorship, changed their name, took radical anti-leftist positions and are very controversial.
- Jay Naylor's works, including Better Days and Original Life contain a lot of Objectivist themes; and even a few direct quotes.
- In The Fountainhead Filibuster: Tales from Objectivist Katanga, Rand is trying to realize Objectivism in Katanga, a secessionist region of the Congo.
- One episode of the Cracked video series "Stuff That Must Have Happened" puts forth the theory that Ayn Rand created Objectivism as an elaborate prank on the general public, after a night of drug-fueled sex with L. Ron Hubbard (with Scientology having a similar origin)...
- An Ayn Rand expy named Alisa Caspar (Author of Wellspring and Nimrod Faltered) shows up in the Webcomic Dresden Codak. She's pleasant at parties.
- Robotic doubles of her available for sale here.
- The AH timeline Literature/Reds have her choosing exile in Canada after the election of a communist government in the US and writing even angrier books. She does become if not influential at least popular in the Franco-British Union, though.
- In the The Simpsons episode Four Great Women And A Manicure retells The Fountainhead in the story Maggie Roark.
- The earlier episode A Streetcar Named Marge had the "Ayn Rand School for Tots" where Maggie is briefly sent. Posters reading "A is A" and "Helping is Futile" are hung inside, with pacifiers banned and confiscated, in hopes to "develop the bottle within." This causes Maggie to lead the other babies in a revolt which parodies both The Great Escape and The Birds.
- According to Officer Barbrady of South Park, Atlas Shrugged was so bad it caused him to give up reading altogether.
- Former Child Star Mara Wilson parodied Rand and the concept of the Sexy Whatever Outfit by posted a photo of her in a "Sexy Ayn Rand◊" costume.