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Ayn Rand
Photo of Ayn Rand
Rand in 1943
Native name
Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум
Born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum
(1905-02-02)February 2, 1905
Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Governorate, Russian Empire
Died March 6, 1982(1982-03-06) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
Pen name Ayn Rand
Occupation Writer
Language English
  • Russia (1905–1931)
  • United States (1931–1982)
Alma mater Leningrad State University
Period 1934–1982
Notable works
Frank O'Connor
(m. 1929; died 1979)

Signature Ayn Rand

Alice O'Connor (born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum; February 2 [O.S. January 20], 1905 – March 6, 1982), better known by her pen name Ayn Rand (/n/), was a Russian-born American writer and philosopher. 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. After two early novels that were initially unsuccessful and two Broadway plays, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. In 1957, Rand published her best-selling work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, until her death in 1982, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own periodicals and releasing several collections of essays.

Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge; she rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism as opposed to altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism, statism, and anarchism. Instead, she supported laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights, including private property rights. Although Rand opposed libertarianism, which she viewed as anarchism, she is often associated with the modern libertarian movement in the United States. 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.

Rand's books have sold over 37 million copies. Her fiction received mixed reviews from literary critics, with reviews becoming more negative for her later work. Although academic interest in her ideas has grown since her death, academic philosophers have generally ignored or rejected her philosophy because of her polemical approach and lack of methodological rigor. Her writings have politically influenced some right-libertarians and conservatives. The Objectivist movement circulates her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings.


Early life

Rand was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, to a Russian-Jewish bourgeois family living in Saint Petersburg. She was the eldest of three daughters of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum, a pharmacist, and Anna Borisovna (née Kaplan). She was twelve when the October Revolution and the rule of the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin disrupted the life the family had enjoyed previously. Her father's business was seized, and the family fled to the city of Yevpatoria in Crimea, which was initially under the control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. After graduating high school there in June 1921, she returned with her family to Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg was then named), where they faced desperate conditions, occasionally nearly starving.

Pola Negri by Ayn Rand cover
Rand's first published work was a monograph in Russian about actress Pola Negri.

When Russian universities were opened to women after the revolution, Rand was among the first to enroll at Petrograd State University. At 16, she began her studies in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. 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 reinstated in the university. Rand was among these reinstated students and she completed her studies at the renamed Leningrad State University in October 1924. She then studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For an assignment, Rand wrote an essay about the Polish actress Pola Negri; it became her first published work. By this time, she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand, and she adopted the first name Ayn (pronounced /n/).

In late 1925, Rand was granted a visa to visit relatives in Chicago. She departed on January 17, 1926, and arrived in New York City on February 19, 1926. Intent on staying in the United States to become a screenwriter, she lived for a few months with her relatives learning English before leaving for Hollywood, California.

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. While working on The King of Kings, she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor; the two married on April 15, 1929. She became a permanent American resident in July 1929 and an American citizen on March 3, 1931. She made several attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to obtain permission to emigrate.

Early fiction

Night of January 16th jury flyer front
Rand's play Night of January 16th opened on Broadway in 1935.

Rand's first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn to Universal Studios in 1932, although it was never produced. Her courtroom drama Night of January 16th, first staged in Hollywood in 1934, reopened successfully on Broadway in 1935. Each night, a jury was selected from members of the audience; based on its vote, one of two different endings would be performed. Rand and O'Connor moved to New York City in December 1934 so she could handle revisions for the Broadway production.

Her first 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, although European editions continued to sell. She adapted the story as a stage play, but the Broadway production was a failure and closed in less than a week. 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.

Rand started her next major novel, The Fountainhead, in December 1935, but took a break from it in 1937 to write her novella Anthem. The novella presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which totalitarian collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that the word I has been forgotten and replaced with we. It was published in England in 1938, but Rand could not find an American publisher at that time. As with We the Living, Rand's later success allowed her to get a revised version published in 1946, and this sold over 3.5 million copies.

The Fountainhead and political activism

During the 1940s, Rand became politically active. She and her husband were full-time volunteers for Republican Wendell Willkie's 1940 presidential campaign. This work 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 philosophical differences with them, Rand strongly endorsed the writings of both men throughout her career, and they expressed admiration for her. Mises once referred to her as "the most courageous man in America", a compliment that particularly pleased her because he said "man" instead of "woman". Rand became friends with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. Rand questioned her 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.

The Fountain Head (1943 1st ed) - Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead was Rand's first bestseller.

Rand's first major success as a writer came in 1943 with The Fountainhead, a novel about 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. Twelve publishers rejected it before Bobbs-Merrill Company accepted it at the insistence of editor Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if his employer did not publish it.

The success of The Fountainhead brought Rand fame and financial security. In 1943, she sold the film rights to Warner Bros. and returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Producer Hal B. Wallis hired her afterwards as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work for him included the screenplays for Love Letters and You Came Along. Her contract with Wallis also allowed time for other projects, including a never-completed nonfiction treatment of her philosophy to be called The Moral Basis of Individualism.

While working in Hollywood, Rand 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. In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee 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. She also wanted to criticize the lauded 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives for what she interpreted as its negative presentation of the business world, but was not allowed to do so. When asked after the hearings about her feelings on the investigations' effectiveness, Rand described the process as "futile".

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, the acting and other elements.

Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism

Following the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received many letters from readers, some of whom the book had influenced profoundly. In 1951, Rand moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she gathered a group of these admirers that 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 at her apartment on weekends to discuss philosophy. Later, Rand began allowing them to read the manuscript drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged is considered Rand's magnum opus. She described the novel's theme 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 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 it as stopping "the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds of the individuals contributing most to the nation's wealth and achievements. The novel contains an exposition of Objectivism in a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt.

Despite many negative reviews, Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller, but the reaction of intellectuals to the novel discouraged and depressed Rand. Atlas Shrugged was her last completed work of fiction, marking the end of her career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.

In 1958, Nathaniel Branden established the Nathaniel Branden Lectures, later incorporated as the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), to promote Rand's philosophy through public lectures. He and Rand co-founded The Objectivist Newsletter (later renamed The Objectivist) in 1962 to circulate articles about her ideas; she later republished some of these articles in book form. Rand was unimpressed by many of the NBI students and held them to strict standards, sometimes reacting coldly or angrily to those who disagreed with her. Critics, including some former NBI students and Branden himself, later described the culture of the NBI as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand. Some described the NBI or the Objectivist movement as a cult or religion. Rand expressed opinions on a wide range of topics, from literature and music to facial hair. Some of her followers mimicked her preferences, wearing clothes to match characters from her novels and buying furniture like hers. 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.

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 colleges and universities. She began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding to questions from the audience. During these appearances, she often took controversial stances on the political and social issues of the day. These included: opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft (but condemning many draft dodgers as "bums"), supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 against a coalition of Arab nations as "civilized men fighting savages", claiming European colonists had the right to invade and take land inhabited by American Indians, and calling homosexuality "immoral" and "disgusting", despite advocating the repeal of all laws concerning it. She 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.

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

In 1968, Rand ended her relationship with both Brandens, and the NBI was closed. She published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other "irrational behavior in his private life". In subsequent years, Rand and several more of her closest associates parted company.

Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974. In 1976, she retired from writing her newsletter and, after her initial objections, allowed a social worker employed by her attorney to enroll her in Social Security and Medicare. 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.

On March 6, 1982, Rand died of heart failure at her home in New York City. At her funeral, a 6-foot (1.8 m) floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. In her will, Rand named Peikoff as her heir.

Literary approach and influences

Rand described her approach to literature as "romantic realism". She wanted her fiction to present the world "as it could be and should be", rather than as it was. This approach led her to create highly stylized situations and characters. Her fiction typically has protagonists who are heroic individualists, depicted as fit and attractive. Her villains support duty and collectivist moral ideals. Rand often describes them as unattractive, and some have names that suggest negative traits, such as Wesley Mouch in Atlas Shrugged.

Rand considered plot a critical element of literature, and her stories typically have what biographer Anne Heller described as "tight, elaborate, fast-paced plotting". Romantic triangles are a common plot element in Rand's fiction; in most of her novels and plays, the main female character is romantically involved with at least two men.


Victor Hugo by Étienne Carjat 1876 - full
Rand admired the novels of Victor Hugo.

In school Rand read works by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, and Friedrich Schiller, who became her favorites. She considered them to be among the "top rank" of Romantic writers because of their focus on moral themes and their skill at constructing plots. Hugo was an important influence on her writing, especially her approach to plotting. In the introduction she wrote for an English-language edition of his novel Ninety-Three, Rand called him "the greatest novelist in world literature".

Although Rand disliked most Russian literature, her depictions of her heroes show the influence of the Russian Symbolists and other nineteenth-century Russian writing, most notably the 1863 novel What Is to Be Done? by Nikolay Chernyshevsky. Rand's experience of the Russian Revolution and early Communist Russia influenced the portrayal of her villains. Beyond We the Living, which is set in Russia, this influence can be seen in the ideas and rhetoric of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead, and in the destruction of the economy in Atlas Shrugged.

Rand's descriptive style echoes her early career writing scenarios and scripts for movies; her novels have many narrative descriptions that resemble early Hollywood movie scenarios. They often follow common film editing conventions, such as having a broad establishing shot description of a scene followed by close-up details, and her descriptions of women characters often take a "male gaze" perspective.


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

Metaphysics and epistemology

In metaphysics, Rand supported philosophical realism and opposed anything she regarded as mysticism or supernaturalism, including all forms of religion. Rand believed in free will as a form of agent causation and rejected determinism.

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 grasped easily, thereby fulfilling a need of human consciousness. As a writer, the art form Rand focused on most closely was literature. She considered romanticism to be the approach that most accurately reflected the existence of human free will.

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

Commentators, including Hazel Barnes, Nathaniel Branden, and Albert Ellis, have criticized Rand's focus on the importance of reason. Barnes and Ellis said Rand was too dismissive of emotion and failed to recognize its importance in human life. Branden said Rand's emphasis on reason led her to denigrate emotions and create unrealistic expectations of how consistently rational human beings should be.

Ethics and politics

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". Rand referred to egoism as "the virtue of selfishness" in her book of that title. In it, 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". She condemned ethical altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness, and held the initiation of force was evil and irrational, writing in Atlas Shrugged that, "Force and mind are opposites".

Rand's ethics and politics are the most criticized areas of her philosophy. Several authors, including Robert Nozick and William F. O'Neill in two of the earliest academic critiques of her ideas, said she failed in her attempt to solve the is–ought problem. Critics have called her definitions of egoism and altruism biased and inconsistent with normal usage. Critics from religious traditions oppose her atheism and her rejection of altruism.

Rand's political philosophy emphasized individual rights, including property rights. She considered laissez-faire capitalism the only moral social system because in her view it was the only system based on protecting those rights. Rand opposed collectivism and statism, which she considered to include many specific forms of government, such as communism, fascism, socialism, theocracy, and the welfare state. Her preferred form of government was a constitutional republic that is limited to the protection of individual rights. Although her political views are often classified as conservative or libertarian, Rand preferred the term "radical for capitalism". She worked with conservatives on political projects, but disagreed with them over issues such as religion and ethics. Rand denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism. She rejected anarchism as a naive theory based in subjectivism that would lead to collectivism in practice.

Several critics, including Nozick, have said her attempt to justify individual rights based on egoism fails. Others, like libertarian philosopher Michael Huemer, have gone further, saying that her support of egoism and her support of individual rights are inconsistent positions. Some critics, like Roy Childs, have said that her opposition to the initiation of force should lead to support of anarchism, rather than limited government.

Relationship to other philosophers

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

Except for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and classical liberals, Rand was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her. Acknowledging Aristotle as her greatest influence, Rand remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. 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."

In an article for the Claremont Review of Books, political scientist Charles Murray criticized Rand's claim that her only "philosophical debt" was to Aristotle. He asserted her ideas were derivative of previous thinkers such as John Locke and Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand took early inspiration from Nietzsche, and scholars have found indications of this in Rand's private journals. In 1928, she alluded to his idea of the "superman" in notes for an unwritten novel whose protagonist was inspired by the murderer William Edward Hickman. There are other indications of Nietzsche's influence in passages from the first edition of We the Living (which Rand later revised), and in her overall writing style. By the time she wrote The Fountainhead, Rand had turned against Nietzsche's ideas, and the extent of his influence on her even during her early years is disputed.

Rand considered her philosophical opposite to be Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as "the most evil man in mankind's history"; she believed his epistemology undermined reason and his ethics opposed self-interest. Philosophers George Walsh and Fred Seddon have argued she misinterpreted Kant and exaggerated their differences. She was also critical of Plato, and viewed his differences with Aristotle on questions of metaphysics and epistemology as the primary conflict in the history of philosophy.

Rand's relationship with contemporary philosophers was mostly antagonistic. She was not an academic and did not participate in academic discourse. She was dismissive of critics and wrote about ideas she disagreed with in a polemical manner without in-depth analysis. She was in turn viewed very negatively by many academic philosophers, who dismissed her as an unimportant figure who need not be given serious consideration.

Selected works

Fiction and drama:

  • Night of January 16th (performed 1934, published 1968)
  • We the Living (1936, revised 1959)
  • Anthem (1938, revised 1946)
  • The Unconquered (performed 1940, published 2014)
  • The Fountainhead (1943)
  • Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • The Early Ayn Rand (1984)
  • Ideal (2015)


  • For the New Intellectual (1961)
  • The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966, expanded 1967)
  • The Romantic Manifesto (1969, expanded 1975)
  • 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

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