Ayn Rand 1905–1982
Russian-born American novelist, nonfiction writer, dramatist, scriptwriter, and editor.
Rand is chiefly remembered for her controversial novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), which promote her philosophy of "objectivism." This extreme form of individualism has been defined by Rand as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Rand came to the United States in 1926, having witnessed the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia. Each of her four novels is a celebration of the individual versus collective society. We the Living (1936) is viewed as a polemic against totalitarianism and its disregard of the individual. Anthem (1938) is a science fiction novelette of a future primitive society in which the word "I" is forbidden. Rand's point in this work is that the individualism which had built a complex technological civilization has been smothered by collectivism.
These first two novels are considered lesser efforts than The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In these novels, Rand dramatizes her philosophy of objectivism in lengthy works designed to glorify characters who fulfill her ideals. Howard Roark of The Fountainhead is an architectural genius who refuses to bend to bureaucratic pressure. John Galt, Rand's spokesperson in Atlas Shrugged, leads a strike of society's most effective and creative producers in an effort to collapse the collectivist social system of the present to prepare the way for a new society based on Rand's ideals. In the closing sentence of a long oration, Galt presents the credo of objectivists: "I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Critical and reader response to Rand's work has been sharply divided, with much of the disagreement focused on her philosophy. Inherent in her concept of the ego as the moving force behind all creative human endeavors is an unwavering advocacy of self-centeredness and its concomitant opposition to the altruism so important to Christian ethics. While some critics have praised Rand for writing novels of ideas, calling her a thoughtful spokesperson for laissez-faire capitalism, many others have found her work too simplistic and didactic. The arguments about her ideas continue today, although her influence has lessened since the 1960s and earlier, when her writings had a strong cult following. After writing Atlas Shrugged, Rand devoted her time to lecturing about her philosophy and defending it in several collections of essays. She also edited the Objectivist Newsletter, later renamed The Ayn Rand Letter.
(See also CLC, Vol. 3 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed., Vol. 105 [obituary].)