"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)." -- Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand (; born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum; — March 6, 1982), was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.
Born and educated in Russia, Rand emigrated to the United States in 1926. She worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in 1935—1936. She first achieved fame in 1943 with her novel The Fountainhead, which in 1957 was followed by her best-known work, the philosophical novel Atlas Shrugged.
Rand's political views, reflected in both her fiction and her theoretical work, emphasize individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by a constitutionally limited government. She was a fierce opponent of all forms of collectivism and statism, including fascism, communism, socialism, and the welfare state, and promoted ethical egoism while rejecting the ethic of altruism. She considered reason to be the only means of acquiring knowledge and the most important aspect of her philosophy, 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."
"A building has integrity just like a man. And just as seldom.""A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.""A desire presupposes the possibility of action to achieve it; action presupposes a goal which is worth achieving.""Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.""Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.""Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves - or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.""Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.""Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.""Do not ever say that the desire to "do good" by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.""Every aspect of Western culture needs a new code of ethics - a rational ethics - as a precondition of rebirth.""Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.""Evil requires the sanction of the victim.""Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.""From the smallest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from one attribute of man - the function of his reasoning mind.""God... a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive.""Government "help" to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.""Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.""I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.""I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.""If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.""Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.""It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.""Just as man can't exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.""Love is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.""Man's unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself.""Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason.""Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.""Money is the barometer of a society's virtue.""Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth, the man who would make his fortune no matter where he started.""People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don't sit looking at it - walk.""Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.""Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.""Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.""So you think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?""The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see.""The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.""The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.""The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.""The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.""The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.""The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.""The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.""The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.""There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.""There can be no such thing, in law or in morality, as actions to an individual, but permitted to a mob.""There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist.""Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.""To achieve, you need thought. You have to know what you are doing and that's real power.""To say "I love you" one must first be able to say the "I."""Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future.""We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.""Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.""When I die, I hope to go to Heaven, whatever the Hell that is.""When man learns to understand and control his own behavior as well as he is learning to understand and control the behavior of crop plants and domestic animals, he may be justified in believing that he has become civilized."
Rand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum () on February 2, 1905, to a bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg. She was the eldest of the three daughters (Alisa, Natasha, and Nora) of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum, largely non-observant Jews. Her father was educated as a chemist and became a successful pharmacist, eventually owning his own pharmacy and the building in which it was located. His success allowed the family to employ a cook, maid, nurse, and governess. Growing up, she was praised by adults for her intelligence, but her intensity and social awkwardness meant she rarely had friends her own age. On one occasion, when a school assignment called for her to write about the joys of childhood, she instead wrote what she later recalled as "a scathing denunciation" of childhood as inferior to the intellectual capacity of adults.
Rand was twelve at the time of the Russian revolution of 1917. Opposed to the Tsar, Rand's sympathies were with Alexander Kerensky. Rand's family life was disrupted by the rise of the Bolshevik party under Vladimir Lenin. Her father's pharmacy was confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and the family fled to the Crimea, which was initially under the control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. She later recalled that while in high school she determined that she was an atheist and that she valued reason and intellect. After graduating from high school in the Crimea she briefly held a job teaching Red Army soldiers to read. She found she enjoyed that work very much, the illiterate soldiers being eager to learn and respectful of her. At sixteen, Rand returned with her family to Saint Petersburg.
Following the Russian Revolution, universities were opened to women, including Jews, allowing Rand to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University, where she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, who would form two of the greatest influences and counter-influences respectively on her thought. A third figure whose philosophical works she studied heavily was Friedrich Nietzsche. Her formal study of philosophy amounted to only a few courses, and outside of these three philosophers, her study of key figures was limited to excerpts and summaries. Of the writers she read at this time, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, Friedrich Schiller, and Fyodor Dostoevsky became her perennial favorites. Along with other non-Communist students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before graduating. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, some of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924. She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For one of her assignments, she wrote an essay about the actress Pola Negri, which became her first published work.
In the fall of 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. As her train pulled away she called out to her family, "By the time I return, I'll be famous!" Leaving Russia on January 17, 1926, Rand arrived in the United States on February 19, entering by ship through New York City. She was so impressed with the skyline of Manhattan upon her arrival that she cried what she later called "tears of splendor". Intent on staying in the United States to become a screenwriter, she lived for a few months with relatives in Chicago, one of whom owned a movie theater and allowed her to watch hundreds of films for free. She then set out for Hollywood, California.
While still in Russia she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand, possibly as a Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname, and she adopted the first name Ayn, either from a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word (ayin, meaning "eye"). Initially, she struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living expenses. A chance meeting with famed director Cecil B. DeMille led to a job as an extra in his film, The King of Kings, and to subsequent work as a junior screenwriter. While working on The King of Kings, she intentionally bumped into an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, who caught her eye. The two were married on April 15, 1929. Rand became an American citizen in 1931. Taking various jobs during the 1930s to support her writing, Rand worked for a time as the head of the costume department at RKO Studios. She made attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to get permission to emigrate.
In the late 1920s, Rand worked on a number of writing projects, including movie scenarios, short stories, and a novel called The Little Street. The hero of The Little Street was described as having "the true, innate psychology of a Superman" and was to be based on an idealized portrait of child killer William Edward Hickman. Rand scholars have interpreted her notes for this book as evidence of her early admiration of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. The novel was never completed and none of the other projects were produced or published during Rand's lifetime.
Rand's first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn to Universal Studios in 1932. Josef Von Sternberg considered it for Marlene Dietrich, but anti-Soviet themes were unpopular at the time, and the project came to nothing. This was followed by the courtroom drama Night of January 16th, first produced in Hollywood in 1934 and then successfully reopened on Broadway in 1935. Each night the "jury" was selected from members of the audience, and one of the two different endings, depending on the jury's "verdict," would then be performed. In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a movie version of the play. Rand did not participate in the production and was highly critical of the result.
Her first novel, the semi-autobiographical We the Living, was published in 1936 by Macmillan. Set in Communist Russia, it focused on the struggle between the individual and the state. In the foreword to the novel, Rand stated that We the Living "is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. It is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual sense. The plot is invented, the background is not..." Without Rand's knowledge or permission, We the Living was made into a pair of Italian films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira, in 1942. Rediscovered in the 1960s, these films were re-edited into a new version which was approved by Rand and re-released as We the Living in 1986.
Her novella Anthem was published in England in 1938 and in America seven years later. It presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that even the word "I" has vanished from the language and from humanity's memory.
The Fountainhead and political activism
During the 1940s, Rand became involved in political activism. Both she and her husband worked full time in volunteer positions for the 1940 Presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. This work led to Rand's first public speaking experiences, including fielding the sometimes hostile questions from New York City audiences who had just viewed pro-Willkie newsreels, an experience she greatly enjoyed. This activity also brought her into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. She became friends with journalist Henry Hazlitt and his wife, and Hazlitt 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. Once von Mises referred to Rand as "the most courageous man in America", a compliment that particularly pleased her because he said 'man' instead of 'woman'. Later, following the publication of Atlas Shrugged, von Mises wrote to her, praising the novel and inviting Rand to attend his seminar as an honored guest, which she did. Rand also developed a friendship with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. Rand questioned the well-informed Paterson about American history and politics long into the night during their numerous meetings and gave Paterson ideas for her only nonfiction book, The God of the Machine.
Rand's first major success as a writer came with The Fountainhead in 1943, a romantic and philosophical novel that she wrote over a period of seven years. 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 self. 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. While completing the novel, Rand began taking the prescription amphetamine Benzedrine to fight fatigue. Her use of the drug enabled her to work long hours to meet her deadline for delivering the finished novel to Bobbs-Merrill, but when the book was done she was so exhausted that her doctor ordered two weeks' rest. Her continued use of it for several decades also may have contributed to volatile mood swings observed by her associates in later years.
The Fountainhead eventually became a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security. In 1943, Rand sold the rights for a film version to Warner Brothers, and she returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Finishing her work on that screenplay, she was hired by producer Hal Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work for Wallis included the Oscar-nominated Love Letters and You Came Along, along with research for a screenplay based on the development of the atomic bomb. This role gave Rand time to work on other projects, including the publication of her first work of nonfiction, an essay titled "The Only Path to Tomorrow", in the January 1944 edition of Reader's Digest magazine. Rand also outlined and took extensive notes for a nonfiction treatment of her philosophy, although the planned book was never completed.
While working in Hollywood, Rand extended her involvement with free-market and anti-Communist activism. She and her husband purchased a house designed by modernist Richard Neutra and an adjoining ranch. There, Rand entertained figures such as Hazlitt, Morrie Ryskind, Albert Mannheimer and Leonard Read. A visit by Paterson to meet with Rand's California associates led to a final falling out between the two when Paterson made comments that Rand saw as rude to valued political allies, and also revealed that she had refused to do a review of The Fountainhead in the newspaper for which she worked. Despite their break, Rand continued to promote Paterson's The God of the Machine.
Rand became involved with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a Hollywood anti-Communist group, and wrote articles on the group's behalf. She also joined the anti-Communist American Writers Association. In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. Her testimony described the disparity between her personal experiences in the Soviet Union and the portrayal of it in the 1944 film Song of Russia. Rand argued that the film grossly misrepresented conditions in the Soviet Union, portraying life there as being much better and happier than it actually was. When asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations after the hearings, Rand described the process as "futile".
After several delays, the movie 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," complaining about its editing, acting and other elements.
Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism
After the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom it had profoundly influenced. 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 Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, a young psychology student named Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara's cousin Leonard Peikoff. At first the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. Later she began allowing them to read the drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the manuscript pages were written. In 1954 Rand's close relationship with the much younger Nathaniel Branden turned into a romantic affair, with the consent of their spouses.
Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was Rand's magnum opus. 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." 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 go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway 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 and science fiction, and it contains Rand's most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction, a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt. Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller, and in an interview with Mike Wallace Rand declared herself "the most creative thinker alive." Rand's last work of fiction, it marked a turning point in her life, ending her career as novelist and beginning her role as a popular philosopher. After the book received many negative reviews, however, Rand fell into a severe depression that may have been aggravated by her use of prescription amphetamines. The first part of a planned film trilogy of Atlas Shrugged is in production for release in 2011.
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 she edited. Rand later published some of these articles in book form. Critics, including some former NBI students and Branden himself, have described the culture of NBI as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand, with some describing NBI or the entire Objectivist movement as a cult or religion. Rand expressed opinions on a wide range of topics, including literature, music, sexuality, even facial hair, and some of her followers mimicked all her preferences, wearing clothes to match characters from her novels and buying furniture like hers. Rand was unimpressed with many of the NBI students and held them to strict standards, often reacting coldly or angrily to those who disagreed with her. However, some former NBI students believe the extent of these behaviors has been exaggerated, with the problem being concentrated among Rand's closest followers in New York.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks, for example at Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Harvard University and MIT. She received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College in 1963. She also began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterwards in her famously spirited form to questions from the audience. During these speeches and Q&A sessions, she often took controversial stances on political and social issues of the day. These included supporting abortion rights, opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft (but condemning draft dodgers as "bums"), supporting Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 as "civilized men fighting savages", saying European colonists had the right to take land from American Indians, and calling homosexuality "immoral" and "disgusting". 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.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, Rand terminated her relationship with both Brandens, which led to the closure of NBI. Rand published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other "irrational behavior in his private life." Branden later responded by apologizing in an interview to "every student of Objectivism" for "perpetuating the Ayn Rand mystique" and for "contributing to that dreadful atmosphere of intellectual repressiveness that pervades the Objectivist movement."
A heavy smoker, Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974. Several more of her closest associates parted company with her, and during the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined, especially after the death of her husband on November 9, 1979. One of her final projects was work on a never-completed television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. She had also planned to write another novel, but did not get far in her notes. Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 at her home in New York City, and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. Rand's funeral was attended by some of her prominent followers, including Alan Greenspan. A six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. In her will, Rand named Leonard Peikoff the heir to her estate.
Rand developed an integrated philosophical system called "Objectivism." Its essence is "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."
As an atheist who rejected faith as antithetical to reason, Rand embraced philosophical realism and opposed all forms of what she regarded as mysticism and supernaturalism, including organized religion. Rand wrote in her journals that Christianity was "the best kindergarten of communism possible." Rand also argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the only proper guiding moral principle. The individual "must exist for his own sake," she wrote in 1962, "neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself."
Rand held that laissez-faire capitalism is the only moral social system. Her political views were strongly individualist, anti-statist and anti-Communist. Rand was strongly opposed to many liberal and conservative politicians of her time, including prominent anti-Communists. She rejected the libertarian movement, although 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. Rand rejected anarcho-capitalism as "a contradiction in terms", a point on which she has been criticized by self-avowed anarchist Objectivists. Philosopher Chandran Kukathas said her "unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism, and her attempts to resolve the difficulty are ill-thought out and unsystematic."
Rand acknowledged Aristotle as a great influence and found early inspiration in Friedrich Nietzsche, although she rejected what she considered his anti-reason stance. Ronald E. Merrill and David Ramsay Steele point out a difference between her early and later views on the subject of sacrificing others. For example, the first edition of We the Living contained language which has been interpreted as advocating ruthless elitism: "What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?"
She remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"...Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. Among the philosophers Rand held in particular disdain was Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as a "monster" and "the most evil man in history". Rand was strongly opposed to the view that reason is unable to know reality "as it is in itself", which she ascribed to Kant, and she considered her philosophy to be the "exact opposite" of Kant's on "every fundamental issue". Objectivist philosophers George Walsh and Fred Seddon both argue that Rand misinterpreted Kant. In particular, Walsh argues that both philosophers adhere to many of the same basic positions, and that Rand exaggerated her differences with Kant. Walsh says that for many critics, Rand's writing on Kant is "ignorant and unworthy of discussion".
Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought, describe her style as "literary, hyperbolic and emotional." Philosopher Jack Wheeler says that despite "the incessant bombast and continuous venting of Randian rage," Rand's ethics is "a most immense achievement, the study of which is vastly more fruitful than any other in contemporary thought." In 1976, she said that her most important contributions to philosophy were her "theory of concepts, [her] ethics, and [her] discovery in politics that evil...the violation of rights...consists of the initiation of force."
When they were first published, Rand's novels were derided by some critics as long and melodramatic. They became bestsellers largely due to word of mouth. The first reviews Rand received were for her play Night of January 16. Reviews of the Broadway production were mixed, and Rand considered even the positive reviews to be embarrassing because of significant changes made to her script by the producer. Rand herself described her first novel, We the Living, as not being widely reviewed, but Michael S. Berliner says "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. Her 1938 novella Anthem received little attention from reviewers, both for its first publication in England and for subsequent re-issues.
Rand's first bestseller, The Fountainhead, received far fewer reviews than We the Living, and reviewers' opinions were mixed. There was a positive review in The New York Times that Rand greatly appreciated. The Times reviewer called Rand "a writer of great power" who writes "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly," and it stated that she had "written a hymn in praise of the individual... you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time." There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed most of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. Some negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, 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."
Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed, and many of the reviews were strongly negative. In the National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly". He described the tone of the book as "shrillness without reprieve" and accused Rand of supporting the same godless system as the Soviets, claiming "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber...go! Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, including praise from the noted book reviewer John Chamberlain, 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 said it was "written out of hate" and showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity." Author Flannery O'Connor wrote in a letter to a friend that "The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky."
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, with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her approach to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union" and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality". Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers.
During Rand's lifetime her work received little attention from academic scholars. When With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand's Philosophy, the first academic book about Rand's philosophy, appeared in 1971, its author William F. O'Neill declared writing about Rand "a treacherous undertaking" that could lead to "guilt by association" for taking her seriously. A few articles about Rand's ideas appeared in academic journals prior to her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist. One of these was "On the Randian Argument" by Harvard University professor Robert Nozick, who argued that her meta-ethical argument is unsound and fails to solve the is—ought problem posed by David Hume. Some responses to Nozick by other academic philosophers were also published in The Personalist. Academic consideration of Rand as a literary figure during her life was even more limited. 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.
On the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth in 2005, 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." In 2007, book critic Leslie Clark described her fiction as "romance novels with a patina of pseudo-philosophy". In 2009, GQ magazine's critic columnist Tom Carson described her books as "capitalism's version of middlebrow religious novels" such as Ben-Hur and the Left Behind series.
Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold as of 2007, and 800,000 more being sold each year according to the Ayn Rand Institute. In addition, the Ayn Rand Institute provides 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels every year for free to Advanced Placement high school programs in the United States. She has also influenced notable people in different fields. Examples include philosophers John Hospers, George H. Smith, Allan Gotthelf and Tara Smith, economists Alan Greenspan, George Reisman and Murray Rothbard, psychologist Edwin A. Locke, historian Robert Hessen, and political writer Charles Murray.
In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club by the Information Analysis System Corporation asked 5,000 Book-of-the-Month 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. Although Atlas Shrugged was not listed on the 1998 Modern Library "100 Best Novels" list, the Internet generated readers poll placed four of her books on the top 100 Novels list, with it taking the top position, while another, The Virtue of Selfishness, topped the Readers list for 100 Best Nonfiction. Books by other authors about Rand and her philosophy also appeared on the nonfiction list. The validity of such lists has been disputed. Freestar Media/Zogby polls conducted in 2007 found that around eight percent of American adults have read Atlas Shrugged. Although Rand's influence has been greatest in the United States, there has been international interest in her work.
Among novelists, Ira Levin was an admirer of Rand's fiction, Robert Heinlein praised Rand in the text of his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and James Clavell called Rand "one of the real, true talents on this earth." Erika Holzer has credited Rand, whom she knew personally, as the leading influence on her fiction writing.
Rand has been cited by numerous other writers, artists and commentators as an influence on their lives and thought. Rand or characters based on her figure prominently in novels by such authors as William F. Buckley, Mary Gaitskill, Matt Ruff, J. Neil Schulman and Kay Nolte Smith. Other authors and artists, such as Steve Ditko, Terry Goodkind, and Neil Peart, have also cited her as an influence. In the business world, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and John P. Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success. Other "avowed Rand fans" include Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. In Hollywood, actors Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Christina Ricci, Rob Lowe and Eva Mendes have all spoken positively about her work. Additionally, Farrah Fawcett, whom Rand hoped would play Dagny Taggart in a 1978 TV version of Atlas Shrugged on NBC, declared the author a "literary genius."
In 2009, commentator and comic Dennis Miller cited Rand as one of his most "fascinating" people, "because I think she's at the front of an Objectivist movement that's coming in this country." Baseball legend Cal Ripken has said that he found Rand's novels an inspiration. Magician and social commentator, Penn Jillette has repeatedly expressed his agreement with and admiration for Rand and Atlas Shrugged.
Rand and her works have been referred to in a variety of media. References to her have appeared on television shows including animated sitcoms, live-action comedies, dramas, and game shows. Two movies have been made about Rand's life. A 1997 documentary film, A Sense of Life, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Passion of Ayn Rand, an independent film about her life, was made in 1999, starring Helen Mirren as Rand and Peter Fonda as her husband. The film was based on the book of the same name by Barbara Branden, and won several awards. Rand's image also appears on a U.S. postage stamp designed by artist Nick Gaetano. The references to Rand in these works are not always positive. Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason, has remarked that "Rand's is a tortured immortality, one in which she's as likely to be a punch line as a protagonist" ... with "jibes at Rand as cold and inhuman, run[ning] through the popular culture." Rand or her works have been referenced on such animated series as Futurama, South Park and The Simpsons, and on talk shows such as The Colbert Report and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Although she rejected the labels "conservative" and "libertarian", Rand has had continuing influence on right-wing politics, especially libertarianism. 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", and biographer Jennifer Burns referred to her as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right." Burns also described differences between Rand and conservatives, noting that "whereas traditional conservatism emphasized duties, responsibilities, and social interconnectedness, at the core of the right-wing ideology that Rand spearheaded was a rejection of moral obligation to others." Despite Rand's untraditionally-Republican stance as a pro-choice atheist, the political figures who cite Rand as an influence are most often conservative or libertarian members of the United States Republican Party. U.S. Congressmen Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Paul Ryan have acknowledged her influence on their lives, as has Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan described himself as an "admirer" of Rand in private correspondence in the 1960s, and John Hospers, the first presidential nominee of the U.S. Libertarian Party, had a personal acquaintance with Rand in the early 1960s. Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wrote a 2009 review for Newsweek where he spoke of how he was "blown away" after first reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, while tying her significance to understanding the 2008 financial crisis.
The financial crisis of 2007—2010 spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis. Conservative talk show hosts such as Glenn Beck, John Stossel, Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh recommended the novel to their audiences, and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel. Signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests, while the Cato Institute's Will Wilkinson quipped that "going Galt" had become the "libertarian-conservative's version of progressives threatening to move to Canada."
During this period there was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming her support of selfishness and free markets for the economic crisis, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, the left-leaning Mother Jones remarked that "Rand's particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed", while The Nation alleged similarities between the "moral syntax of Randianism" and fascism.
Since Rand's death in 1982, interest in her work has gradually increased. Historian Jennifer Burns has identified "three overlapping waves" of scholarly interest in Rand, the most recent of which is "an explosion of scholarship" in the 2000s. However, few universities currently include 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.
Some academic philosophers have criticized Rand for what they consider her lack of rigor and limited understanding of philosophical subject matter. The Philosophical Lexicon, a satirical web site maintained by philosophers Daniel Dennett and Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, defines a 'rand' as: "An angry tirade occasioned by mistaking philosophical disagreement for a personal attack and/or evidence of unspeakable moral corruption." Chris Matthew Sciabarra has called into question the motives of some of Rand's critics because of what he calls the unusual hostility of their criticisms. Sciabarra writes, "The left was infuriated by her anti-communist, pro-capitalist politics, whereas the right was disgusted with her atheism and civil libertarianism."
Academics with an interest in Rand, such as Gladstein, Sciabarra, Allan Gotthelf, Edwin A. Locke and Tara Smith, have taught her work in academic institutions. 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. In 1987 Gotthelf helped found the Ayn Rand Society, and has been active in sponsoring seminars about Rand and her ideas. 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. Rand's ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities. Scholars of English and American literature have largely ignored her work, although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s. In the Literary Encyclopedia entry for Rand written in 2001, John Lewis declared that "Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation". In a 1999 interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra commented, "I know they laugh at Rand," while forecasting a growth of interest in her work in the academic community.
In 1985 Leonard Peikoff established the Ayn Rand Institute, which "works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand's novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience." In 1990 David Kelley founded the Institute for Objectivist Studies, now known as The Atlas Society. In 2001 historian John McCaskey organized the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, which provides grants for scholarly work on Objectivism in academia. The foundation has supported research at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University and other schools.