Ayn Rand: An introduction


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This book guides the reader through the highly original, but controversial, ideas of the Russian–American writer and thinker Ayn Rand (1905–82) – best known for her ‘Objectivist’ worldview and her novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Rand’s thinking still has profound influence, particularly on those who come to it through her novels, attracted by their core messages of individualism, self-worth, and the right to live your life without others imposing on you. The hunger for this vision seems limitless. Atlas Shrugged sells almost a quarter of a million copies annually – quite remarkable for a book of 1,200 pages, published more than half a century ago – with sales of The Fountainhead not far behind. Their popularity has made Rand the top recruiter for the individualist movement. In the famous words of one libertarian activist, ‘It usually begins with Ayn Rand.’

This has made her a major influence on many of the world’s leading legislators, policy advisers, and economists. Entrepreneurs and investors too, particularly those leading the knowledge industries (such as Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel), have been inspired by her robust account of the morality of free-market capitalism, and of the crucial role of creative minds in driving human progress. More widely, though, Rand’s ideas remain highly controversial – or deeply unfashionable. Academics largely ignore her thoughts on art, literature, and philosophy. Traditionalists find her attacks on altruism and religion shocking. Progressives scorn her view of state intervention as a destroyer of value, spirit and life itself.

Public intellectuals dismiss her as a crazy extremist whose work fuels the worst vices of greed, self-absorption, indifference, and callousness. Such reactions should come as no surprise. Rand herself radically and intensely opposed almost every strand of mainstream thinking on human nature, morality, politics, economics, art, literature, education, and even reality itself. Yet her positions were all part of a consistent and comprehensive view of life and the universe. It is a view that should be taken seriously, no matter how unorthodox and shocking it might seem. Even if you disagree with Ayn Rand, she certainly makes you think.

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