Ayn Rand and Objectivism

Existential Politics Russian Women


Ayn Rand, author of the classic novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and founder of the Objectivist movement, was born Alice Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1905. Her genius and love of literature manifested itself early in her childhood -- at age six she taught herself to read, and at age nine decided that she wanted to dedicate her career to writing. She was drawn to authors such as Walter Scott and Victor Hugo.

During her adolescence another influence became clear in her life -- the Bolshevik Revolution and the victory of the Communist Party over Russia. The collectivist culture in the newly formed U.S.S.R. was counter to everything that Rand believed in. In the literature that she loved, Rand read about heroic figures and self-made men; now she was surrounded by those who she would later describe in her novels as "looters" and "moochers". With the nationalization of her father's pharmacy, a symbol of all he had worked for to provide for himself and his family, Rand and her family were plunged into poverty, bordering on the brink of starvation.

The Communist Party continued to erode the freedoms and pleasures that Rand held dear. After she graduated from the University of Petrograd with a degree in history and philosophy, she saw the disintegration of free inquiry and independent thought as the University was taken over. Faced with this sad state of affairs, Rand began to admire the capitalistic society and rugged individuality idealized in the United States. In 1925, Rand obtained permission to visit relatives in the U.S. and never returned to Russia.

In America Rand's luck began to change. Upon arriving in Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter, she was found by Cecil B. DeMille and offered a job as an extra, and then a script reader. After a few years Rand's writing career began to take off. She sold several scripts and screenplays, and although her autobiographical novel We the Living went unpublished, The Fountainhead became a bestseller in 1945. She completed Atlas Shrugged in 1957. These two novels detailed her philosophical views through the heroic characters that she had always loved. Afterwards, she directed all of her efforts towards this philosophy, which she termed Objectivism, writing and lecturing on it until she died in 1982.

Rand described her philosophy 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." When asked if she could present the essence of Objectivism while standing on one foot, she replied that metaphysically, Objectivism believes in objective reality. Epistemologically, it believes in reason. Ethically, it believes in self-interest, and politically, it believes in capitalism. The influence of her early struggles with the Communist takeover is evident in her philosophical ideas. Rand strongly believed in the ideal of the self-made man. She believed that every man and woman must work for their own self-interest, never attempting to gain from the work of others or work for others' gain. Reason and logic are paramount in Objectivist philosophy, and throughout her life Rand denounced mysticism, spirituality, and feeling instead of thinking. With this combination of rationality and honesty, Rand believed, humanity is capable of leading happy and productive lives. As John Galt states in Atlas Shrugged, "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".

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