Ayn Rand, née Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum
*February 2, 1905 (St. Petersburg, Russia)
†March 6, 1982(New York, U.S.)
Ayn Rand was a major intellectual of the twentieth century. Born in Russia in 1905, she emigrated to the United States after graduating from university. Upon establishing herself as a writer of fiction, she became well-known as an advocate of Objectivist philosophy.
Rand’s philosophy is Aristotelian, with its emphasis upon naturalism, empirical reason, and self-realization. Her politics are classically liberal, with connections John Locke’s emphasis upon individualism, the constitutional protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property, and limited government. She wrote popular and technical philosophy and presented it in fictional and non-fictional forms.
Rand’s first novel was We the Living (1936), followed by The Fountainhead (1943), and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged (1957). These philosophical novels embody themes she subsequently developed in the 1960s and 1970s in non-fiction essays and books ranging over concept-formation in epistemology, meta-ethics and virtue theory, political and economic rights, and aesthetics.
Her views were controversial in her lifetime and continue to be so. “Right conservatives” (defined broadly) criticize her (a) metaphysical naturalism for undermining religion, (b) emphasis upon empirical rationality for undermining faith and tradition, and (c) egoism for undermining duty and selflessness.
“Left progressives” (again taken broadly) criticize her (a) individualism on the ground that it isolates human from their social needs, (b) free-market capitalism on the ground that that it leads to exploitation of the weak by the strong, and by postmodernists favorable to the left (c) her naturalism and advocacy of reason that they judge to be untenable.
Rand and those influenced by her naturally engage and the debates continue. In the 1990s a survey conducted by the Library of Congress asked readers to identify the book that had most influenced them: Atlas Shrugged was second to the Bible.
She died in her New York City apartment in 1982.
Hicks, Stephen (Rockford University)