OCALA, Fla., March 20, 2014 — Ayn Rand meant many things to a great many people during her storied life. Taking this into account, it should come as no surprise that her legacy remains the subject of immense controversy.
Despite this, very few actually know much about the hugely influential philosopher. It is easier to blindly criticize or follow her ideas rather than reach an understanding about who she actually was.
Rand was born into a family of wealthy Jewish merchants in St. Petersburg, Russia during 1905. She grew up as the Tsar’s harsh, sterile rule succumbed to the grueling, hardscrabble tenure of Vladimir Lenin.
After communism became the law of the land, Rand’s family lost everything and she was left with little future. In college, Rand read the works of Aristotle and other great Western thinkers. Her scholarship developed in her a burning desire to escape from the Soviet Union.
Eventually she got her chance.
On her arrival in the United States in 1926, she is said to have wept at the sight of New York’s skyline. She settled in Hollywood, where she was able to continue her philosophical studies while working as a screenwriter. As time passed, her interest in film waned. She turned her talents toward writing novels, in which she developed and publicized her now-famous philosophy: Objectivism.
In 1943, The Fountainhead was published. Its plot revolved around a forward thinking architect frustrated by a persistent stream of small minds. The book became a runaway bestseller and gave the world its first widely read taste of Objectivism.
Soon after that success, in an effort to further articulate her Objectivist principles, Rand began working on what would become her magnum opus. Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged outsold The Fountainhead, and found its place among the 20th century’s most influential works of American fiction.
The dystopian tale of America after the small percentage of its movers and shakers go into hiding, Atlas Shrugged communicates Objectivism’s bedrock concept: rational, non-aggressive individualism. Both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged became so widely read that the Modern Library listed the latter first and former second on its list of the twentieth century’s best novels.
Rand’s literary success allowed her to promote Objectivism full time until her death at the age of 77, in 1982. Boiled down to a single sentence, Objectivism can be described as utilizing reason to achieve maximum personal and professional productivity.
One of the few contemporary philosophies solidly rooted in classical principles, it stands as a compelling alternative for many who are disenchanted with other dominant belief structures, such as existentialism and postmodernism. After the dawn of the new millennium, Objectivism gained a considerable amount of mass interest and shows no sign of losing it.
Rand is frequently called selfish, greedy, sophomoric, and far worse for her strong emphasis on pure reason and enlightened self-interest. However, it is undeniable that she stands as one of the most pivotal figures in the history of American philosophy. Insofar as contemporary literature is concerned, she simply has no parallel.
Not all of Rand’s admirers believe her to be infallible, though. As a matter of fact, when it comes to unregulated international trade, her views can only be described as sophomoric at best, and disastrous at worst.
Nonetheless, she adhered to her principles when it was easy to abandon them. She stood up for Western Civilization at a time when much of academia thought it to be repugnant. She persevered in the face of too many hardships to mention, and did so with the utmost integrity. In short, Ayn Rand lived the American Dream in the most comprehensive sense imaginable.
For all of this, no matter how strongly one detests her politics, she ought to be revered.
Much of this article was first published as Ayn Rand, Intellectual Powerhouse: An American Story: in Blogcritics Magazine.