Ayn Rand (Ayn rhymes with "mine"), born Alissa (Alice) Zinovievna Rosenbaum (February 2, 1905 - March 6, 1982), was a controversial American philosopher and novelist, most famous for her philosophy of Objectivism. Her philosophy and her fiction both emphasize above all the human individual and the genius of which he is capable. Her novels were based upon the Randian hero, a man whose genius leads others to reject him, but who nonetheless perseveres to prove himself. Rand viewed this hero as the "ideal man" and made it the express goal of her literature to show these men.
Ayn Rand was born to Jewish parents in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She studied philosophy and history at the University of Petrograd. In late 1925 she was granted a visa to visit with American relatives. She arrived in the U.S. in February 1926, at the age of 21. After a brief stay with them in Chicago, she resolved never to return to the USSR and set out for Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. She then changed her name to Ayn Rand, partly to avoid Soviet retaliation against her family for her anti-socialist views.
Initially, Rand struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic expenses. While working as a Hollywood extra on Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings she bumped into (on purpose) an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, and married him in 1929.
Her first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn in 1932 to Universal Studios. Rand subsequently wrote the play, The Night of January 16th in 1934 and published two novels, We The Living (1936), and Anthem (1938). Anthem, despite its appearance as a short story, is actually considered by many to be an epic prose poem. We The Living was made into a film six years later, in 1942, by the Italian government under Benito Mussolini, although without Rand's knowledge.
Rand's first major success came with the best-selling novel The Fountainhead (1943). The manuscript for this book was difficult to get into print. It was initially taken from publisher to publisher, collecting rejection slips as it went, before it was picked up by the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house. The book was so successful that the royalties and movie rights made Rand famous and financially secure.
In 1947, as a "friendly witness" for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Rand warned against Communist propagandists in Hollywood. Rand's testimony involved analysis of the 1943 film Song of Russia. Rand testified that the movie grossly misrepresented the socioeconomic conditions in the Soviet Union. She told the committee that the film presented Russia as if it were an amazing paradise of comfort, beauty and plenty for everybody. However, she said, in reality the conditions of the average Russian peasant farmer were appalling. Apparently this 1943 film was intentional wartime propaganda by US patriots. The movie was, at the time, intended to provide comfort to the US public during the American-Soviet alliance during World War II. After the HUAC hearings, when Ayn Rand was asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of their investigations, she described the process as "futile."
Rand's political views were extremely anti-communist, anti-statist, and pro-capitalist. Her writings praised the "heroic" "American values" of egoism and rugged individualism. Her fiction writings often told stories of educated, successful Americans who found their lives unfairly burdened with the hassles of taxation, bureaucracy and other forms of heavy-handed government interference. Rand also had a strong dislike for organized religion and compulsory charity, both of which she believed helped foster a culture of guilt in successful people.
In the early 1950s Rand moved to New York. She gave talks at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (1960), Princeton University, New Jersey (1960), Columbia University, New York (1960, 1962), The University of Wisconsin (1961), Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1961), Harvard University, Cambridge (1962), and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1962).
In 1951 Rand met the young psychology student Nathaniel Branden, who had read her book The Fountainhead at the age of 14. Branden, now 19, enjoyed discussing Rand's emerging Objectivist philosophy with her. Branden's relationship with Rand eventually took on romantic and sexual aspects, though they were both married at the time. This ultimately ended with the destruction of their partnership, noted later, as well as the failure of an institute begun for the advancement of objectivism.
Rand published the book described as her "magnum opus", Atlas Shrugged in 1957. This book, as with The Fountainhead also became a best seller. According to a joint survey conducted in 1991 by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged is recognized as the "second most influential book for Americans today", after The Bible by numerous authors. It is also named as one of the "25 books that have most shaped readers lives" in a 1995–1996 list developed with the theme "Shape Your Future—READ!" Atlas Shrugged is most often seen as Rand's most complete statement of Objectivist philosophy in any of her works of fiction. Along with Branden, Rand launched the Objectivist movement to promote her philosophy, which she termed Objectivism.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through both her fiction and non-fiction works.
Rand's philosophical alliances were few. She acknowledged an intellectual debt to Aristotle and occasionally remarked with approval on specific philosophical positions of e.g. Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Aquinas; she seems also to have respected American rationalist Brand Blanshard. However, she regarded most philosophers (throughout history, not only her contemporaries) as at least incompetent and at most positively evil, singling out Immanuel Kant as the most influential of the latter sort. In general, her treatment of other philosophers is one of the reasons her own nonfiction is sometimes dismissed as pseudophilosophy.
Rand broke with both Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara Branden in 1968. Ayn Rand described the break to be the result of her finding out about behavior incompatible with the tenets of her Objectivist philosophy. The Brandens later said that the final break was triggered by Rand finding out about another romantic relationship of Nathaniel Branden.
Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982 and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.
In 1985, Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's designated legal and “intellectual” heir, established the Ayn Rand Institute, the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism. The Institute has since registered the name Ayn Rand as a trademark, despite Ayn Rand's desire that her name never be used to promote the philosophy she developed. During her life Ayn Rand expressed her wishes to keep her name and the philosophy of Objectivism separate. It is understood that this was in order to assure the continued survival of the philosophy she developed once her own life was over.
In 1989, a schism in the movement occurred. Objectivist David Kelley wrote an article called "A Question of Sanction," in which he defended his choice to speak to non-Objectivist libertarian groups. Kelley said that Objectivism was not a "closed system" and condoned tolerance of and intellectual debate with other philosophies. Peikoff, in an article for The Intellectual Activist called "Fact and Value", said that Objectivism is, in fact, closed and that factual truth and moral goodness are intrinsically related. Peikoff essentially expelled Kelley from the Objectivist movement, and Kelley founded The Institute for Objectivist Studies (now known as The Objectivist Center in Poughkeepsie, New York.