Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

Rand was a very short woman — about 5 feet 2 inches — and a fan of simple, boxy, and somewhat genderless clothing. A believer in the power of “idealized images,” many of her publicity photographs are heavily retouched to make her look more young and beautiful.

Why is Ayn Rand famous?

Ayn Rand was one of the most influential American philosophers of all time, and championed libertarian ideas that continue to inspire right-wing thinkers around the world.

When did Ayn Rand live?

Ayn Rand’s birth name was Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, but she changed it to “Ayn Rand” around 1926 for reasons that aren’t fully known. She occasionally went by Ayn Rand O’Connor after marrying Frank O’Connor (1897-1979) in 1929. She was born on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia and died of heart failure at age 77 on March 6, 1982 in New York City.

What did Ayn Rand do?

A refugee from the Soviet Union, Ayn Rand emigrated to the United States at age 21 and moved to California where she worked briefly as a screenwriter and playwright. Achieving modest success in Hollywood, she proceeded to devote the rest of her life to the promotion of her philosophy.

Having suffered under Russia’s Communist dictatorship, Rand was a bitter critic of socialism, collectivism, and charity, which she saw as the roots of tyranny and oppression. The greatest evils in life, she argued, occur when an individual is forced to sacrifice his freedom and wealth for the benefit of someone else, be it the government, the church, or just people of lesser intelligence and talent. A moral individual is thus one who rejects guilt-based obligations, and instead chooses to live life pursuing only his own self-interest. Rand called this philosophy, which championed an embrace of selfishness, individualism, entrepreneurship, and capitalism, “Objectivism,” after the idea of objective truth.

Rand preferred to share her ideas in the form of novels, beginning with the semi-autobiographical We The Living (1936), followed by Anthem (1938) and The Fountainhead (1943). It was Atlas Shrugged (1957), an epic, 1,200-page opus, that proved to be her most influential work, however. Describing an alternate universe where the United States has been so thoroughly corrupted by leftist thinking the most successful, intelligent, and productive Americans are hated and oppressed rather than celebrated, the novel proved inspirational to thousands of readers and turned Ayn into a celebrity.

Rand remained a popular speaker and essayist for the rest of her life, and with the support of an active and dedicated group of followers, she published a few nonfiction books and dozens of newsletters further expanding her philosophy. Today her ideas continue to be spread by the Ayn Rand Institute, which professes to share the “principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism” that made her one of America’s most influential thinkers.

What was Ayn Rand like?

Ayn Rand is usually described as a fierce and humorless woman with a personality as rigid as her stringent philosophy. Convinced of her own brilliance and contemptuous of weakness in others, her self-confidence made her a fiery and charismatic personality, and she was known as a compelling public speaker and ferocious debater. Despite living in America for more than six decades, she never lost her thick Russian accent.

As Objectivism became more popular and institutionalized, Rand’s fame attracted a large circle of groupies, whose extreme loyalty  is often described by critics as being somewhat cult-like. Following the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s entire life began to revolve around Objectivism and she became steadily more dogmatic and judgmental as she aged, causing the breakdown of many friendships. This included a very messy falling out with Nathaniel Branden (b. 1930), the young man who had been both her lover and head of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, the leading Objectivist think-tank of the 1960s and 1970s. Increasingly isolated and suffering from worsening health, Rand was something of a loner in her final years.

Outside of politics, Rand was fond of art, classical music, and architecture, and never lost the fascination with Hollywood that originally brought her to America. Despite her love of “high culture,” she was not a snob, and enjoyed many cheesy television dramas, particularly Charlie’s Angels. Rarely willing to admit personal failings, Rand was a master of creating philosophical justifications for her own character flaws, including her long affair with Branden and a powerful addiction to cigarettes and amphetamines.

Americans That Matter is an ongoing effort to offer concise biographies of Americans who have made a difference in the world — for good or ill — through their ideas, inventions, and achievements.

This site was written and illustrated by J.J. McCullough, a Canadian-born Americanophile. Edited by @NathanTsui.

For questions, comments, or feedback, email him at jjmccullough@gmail.com

To donate to this site via PayPal, click here.