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Ayn Rand


Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905March 6, 1982; first name pronounced (IPA) (rhymes with 'mine')), born Alissa "Alice" Zinovievna Rosenbaum, was a popular and controversial American novelist and philosopher, best known for her philosophy of Objectivism, and her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Her philosophy and her fiction both emphasize, above all, her concept of individualism, egoism, "rational self-interest," and capitalism. Her novels were based upon the archetype of the Randian hero, a man whose ability and independence leads others to reject him, but who perseveres nevertheless to achieve his values. Rand viewed this hero as the ideal and made it the express goal of her literature to showcase such heroes. She believed:

  1. That man must choose his values and actions by reason;
  2. That the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor others to self; and
  3. That no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force, or impose ideas on others by physical force.
Contents

Biography

Early life

Rand was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was the eldest of three daughters of a Jewish family. She studied philosophy and history at the University of Petrograd. In late 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She arrived in the United States in February 1926, at the age of twenty-one. After a brief stay with them in Chicago, she resolved never to return to the Soviet Union 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 political views (she assumed her name would appear in the credits of films with an anti-Communist message, attracting the attention of Soviet officials). There is a story told that she named herself after the Remington Rand typewriter, but recent evidence has proved that this is not the case. [1] In Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand's first name is said to have come from the name of a Finnish writer whom she had not read, but whose name she liked and adopted. The book also has a quote from Ayn's cousin in which she claims to have been present when Ayn chose the name Rand from a typewriter.

Major works

Initially, Rand struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living-expenses. While working as an extra on Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings, she intentionally bumped into an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, who caught her eye. The two were married in 1929. In 1931, Rand became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Her first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay Red Pawn in 1932 to Universal Studios. Rand then wrote the play, The Night of January 16th in 1934 and published two novels, We The Living (1936), and Anthem (1938).

Without Rand's permission, We The Living was made into a pair of films, Noi vivi and Addio, Kira in 1942 by Scalara Films, Rome, despite resistance from the Italian government under Benito Mussolini. These films were re-edited into a new version which was approved by Rand and re-released as We the Living in 1986.

Rand's first major professional success came with her best-selling novel The Fountainhead (1943). The novel was rejected by many publishers before finally being accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house. Despite these initial struggles The Fountainhead was successful, bringing Rand fame, notoriety, and financial security.

Rand published the book described as her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, in 1957. This book, just as The Fountainhead had, became a bestseller. Atlas Shrugged is often seen as Rand's most complete statement of Objectivist philosophy in any of her works of fiction. Along with Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara, as well as a handful of others including Alan Greenspan and Leonard Peikoff (jokingly designated "The Collective"), Rand launched the Objectivist movement to promote her philosophy.

Politics and House Committee on Un-American Activities testimony

Rand's political views were radically anti-communist, anti-statist, and pro-capitalist. Her writings praised above all the human individual and the creative genius of which he is capable. She exalted what she saw as the heroic American values of egoism and individualism. Rand also had a strong dislike for mysticism, religion, and compulsory charity, all of which she believed helped foster a crippling culture of resentment towards individual human happiness, flourishment, and success.

In 1947, during the infamous Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. [2]. Rand's testimony involved analysis of the 1943 film Song of Russia . Rand argued that the movie grossly misrepresented the socioeconomic conditions in the Soviet Union. She told the committee that the film presented life in the USSR as being much better than it actually was. Apparently this 1943 film was intentional wartime propaganda by U.S. patriots, trying to put their Soviet allies in World War II under the best possible light. After the HUAC hearings, when Ayn Rand was asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of their investigations, she described the process as "futile."

The Objectivist Movement

In 1950 Rand moved to New York City, where in 1951 she met the young psychology student Nathaniel Branden [3], who had read her book The Fountainhead at the age of 14. Branden, then 19, enjoyed discussing Rand's emerging Objectivist philosophy with her. Together, Branden and some of his other friends formed a group that they dubbed the Ayn Rand Collective. After several years, Rand and Branden's friendly relationship blossomed into a romantic affair despite the fact that both were married at the time. This affair was cleared with their spouses but led to the separation and then divorce of Nathaniel Branden from his wife.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through both her fiction [4] and non-fiction [5] works, and by giving talks at several east-coast universities, largely through the Nathaniel Branden Institute ("the NBI") which Branden had established to promote her philosophy.

After a convoluted series of separations and additional affairs, Rand abruptly ended her relationship with both Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara Branden in 1968 when she learned of Nathaniel Branden's affair with Patrecia Scott (this later affair did not overlap chronologically with the earlier Branden/Rand affair). Rand refused to have any further dealings with the NBI. Rand then published a letter in "The Objectivist" announcing her repudiation of Branden for various reasons, including dishonesty, but did not mention their affair or her role in the schism. The two never reconciled, and Branden remained a persona non grata in the Objectivist movement.

 U.S. honoring Rand.
1999 U.S. postage stamp honoring Rand.

Conflicts continued in the wake of the break with Branden and the subsequent collapse of the NBI. Many of her closest "Collective" friends began to part ways, and during the late 70's her activities within the formal Objectivist movement began to decline, a situation which increased after the death of her husband in 1979. One of her final projects was work on a television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.

Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

Philosophical influences

Rand rejected virtually all other philosophical schools. 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 the American rationalist Brand Blanshard. However, she regarded most philosophers as at best incompetent and at worst positively evil. She singled out Immanuel Kant as the most influential of the latter sort, but today many of her followers acknowledge some individualist Kantian concepts could be misunderstood by her.

Nonetheless, there are connections between Rand's views and those of other philosophers. She acknowledged that she had been influenced at an early age by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Though she later repudiated his thought, and reprinted her early novels with revisions in 1959, her own thought grew out of critical interaction with it. It has been suggested that she was also influenced by dialectical thinkers such as Karl Marx in this way. Strong similarities can be detected between her ethical views and the doctrines of Epicurus and the Stoics, and between her views on government and those of John Locke. More generally, her political thought can be seen as fitting in the tradition of classical liberalism that includes William Graham Sumner, Herbert Spencer, Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, and Rose Wilder Lane. She expressed qualified enthusiasm for the economic thought of Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt.

Legacy

In 1985, Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's 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 Rand's desire that her name never be used to promote the philosophy she developed. Rand expressed her wish to keep her name and the philosophy of Objectivism separate to ensure the survival of her ideas.

Another schism in the movement occurred in 1989, when Objectivist David Kelley wrote an article called "A Question of Sanction," [6] in which he defended his choice to speak to non-Objectivist libertarian groups. Kelley wrote that Objectivism was not a "closed system" and should engage with other philosophies. Peikoff, in an article for The Intellectual Activist called "Fact and Value" [7], argued that Objectivism is, indeed, a closed system, and that truth and moral goodness are intrinsically related. Peikoff expelled Kelley from his movement, whereupon Kelley founded The Institute for Objectivist Studies (now known as "The Objectivist Center").

Rand and Objectivism are largely unknown outside North America, though there are pockets of interest here and there, and her novels are said to be very popular in India ([8]). Her work has had no discernible effect on philosophy in general, even in North America, for her followers are mostly (with some notable exceptions) drawn from the non-academic world. The term “objectivism” can in fact cause confusion in philosophical circles, where it is mainly used to refer to a meta-ethical position also known as “moderate realism”, associated with the work of philosophers such as John McDowell.

Controversy

Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism have been the subject of a great deal of criticism from various groups. Many academic philosophers criticize Rand not only for her sweeping denouncements of academic philosophers, but also for her practice of explicating her philosophy in popular fiction, rather than publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Opinions on why she did this vary. Her supporters argue that Rand was so critical of modern philosophers that she was unwilling to pay attention to them. Her critics reply that Rand knew her work would not stand up to serious scrutiny by trained thinkers.

One of the most stated criticisms is that her thought depends on her own life and cultural background. Thus, the nationalization of his father's shop in Soviet Russia led her to the untouchable property rights, and so she became a pure defender of laissez-faire. Another typical example is that all of her three novels were constructed on a very dominant unique female figure's existing who adjudicates the most "Randian" one among the males and has a relation with him, though it always requires cheating. The notable similarity is that of her own known long time affair with her 25 years younger editor and scholar, Nathaniel Branden, though she never divorced from her husband actor Frank O'Connor, who was aware of the relationship. Or that she secularized her mindly internalized Jewish roots and so it justified her support to subjects like "abortion rights" etc. or faciliated her widely written hatred of Immanuel Kant, who is in most cases misrepresented by her and a great individualist and moral rights defender actually, but an anti-semite also. Because the critics on biography-based interpretations improved after her death, the accusations could not be answered by herself.

It has also been claimed that Rand's novels, in which she laid out Objectivism's heroic "Randian man", are made up of very two-dimensional characters. The Objectivist heroes are all intelligent and unencumbered by doubt. Some are very rich (although Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, and John Galt started out poor). Some of them seem to have no shortcomings at all, at least from an Objectivist view (Hank Rearden, however, is taken advantage of because of his social na´vetÚ). The antagonists are usually weak, pathetic, full of uncertainty, and lacking in imagination and talent. In addition, the novels are alleged to contain errors or omissions in terms of the reality of social interactions, economics, technology, and history. Rand replied to such criticism (and in advance of much of it) with her essay "The Goal of My Writing" (1963). There, and in other essays collected in her book The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (2nd rev. ed. 1975), Rand makes it clear that her goal is to project her vision of an ideal man, that is, not man as he is, but man as he might be and ought to be.

Bibliography

Posthumous works

References

  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, 1943. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, ISBN 0451191153.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957. New York: Random House, ISBN 0451191145.
  • The Unlikeliest Cult In History by Michael Shermer, The Skeptic Magazine vol 2, #2. [9]
  • The Ayn Rand Cult by Jeff Walker, 1998. Open Court Publishing Company.
  • The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics by James S. Valliant, 2005, ISBN 1930754671

External links

Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:32:19
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