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Ayn Rand (1905-1982) - original name Alice (in some sources Alissa) Rosenbaum

 

Russian-born American writer, whose works combined science fiction with philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism, social Darwinism, and Nietzschean individualism familiar from the Marvel Comics. Rand became a highly visible advocate for the inviolate supremacy of individual rights with her novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). "The genius must have his freedom and his independence," she once wrote. Rand rejected Communism and fascism and fiercy defended a system in which economics have to fit man, not the other way round.

"Great men can't be ruled." (from the Fountainhead)

Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, the daughter of Zinovy Rosenbaum, a chemist, and his wife Anna, the daughter of a successful tailor. She witnessed the Russian Revolution and the social upheaval, during which his father's chemistry shop was closed by Bolshevik soldiers. In the following he found work only in a Soviet store. At the age of 21 Rand graduated from the University of Petrograd in history with highest honors. After the family's shop was confiscated, they went to Odessa. In 1926 Rand moved to the United States, and took her surname from the typewriter she used, a Remington-Rand.

Rand worked as a junior screenwriter and movie extra for Hollywood between the years 1926 and 1932. Starting as a filing clerk, she became an office head in wardrobe department. Rand wrote screenplays for Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. One of her scenarios, 'The Skyscraper', based on a story by Dudley Murphy, told about an architect, named Howard Kane, who breaks through all obstacles on his mission to complete his monumental task.

In 1934-35 in New York Rand was a free-lance script reader for RKO Pictures, then for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While in Hollywood she met Frank O'Connor, an actor, whom she married in 1929 and applied for citizenship as Mrs. Frank O'Connor. Rand's first novel, We The Living came out in 1936, but her breakthrough work was courtroom play Night of the January 16th (1934), where the audience was asked to determine the verdict. While collecting material for The Fountainhed Rand worked without pay as a typist for Eli Jacques Kahn, and architect in New York City. With Hal Wallis Productions Rand had a special contract which committed her to work only six months of each year. During the other six months she pursued her own writing.

Rand remained in Hollywood until 1949, when she became a full-time writer and lecturer. When HUAC (the House Committee on Un-American Activities) launched in 1947 its investigation on the film industry, it put on a host of friendly witnessess, whose testimony it knew in advance. Among those were Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, and Gary Cooper. In the early 1950s Rand moved to New York. She was a visiting lecturer at Yale Univeristy, New Haven, Connecticut (1960), Princeton University, New Jersey (1960), Columbia University, New York (1960, 1962), University of Wisconsin (1961), Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1961), Harvard University, Cambridge (1962), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1962).

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." (from The Fountainhead)

Rand's best-selling novel The Fountainhead was adapted into screen in 1949. The romantic tale of an idealistic architect, Howard Roar, who clashes with the compromises of society, gained a huge popularity. Many critics consider that the central character was modelled after Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Rand tried unsuccessfully interview. During the writing process, Rand became addicted to Dexamyl, a diet pill, which contained amphetamine.

In 1949 Rand received a letter from a college student named Natham Blumenthal. Unhappy in California, she moved to New York, where Blumenthal served as an active memeber of her discussion group, 'The Class of '43' that met to critique Rand's works in progress. In 1954 Rand and Blumenthal (then known as Nathaniel Branden) declared that they had fallen in love. Rand's next novel, Atlas Shrugged, was dedicated jointly to O'Connor and Branden. Rand expected that the philosophy of the tale would make a great impact on the public discussion but was disappointed in the cautious reception. In National Review Whittaker Chambers stated that one could hear the echo of the gas chamber in Rand's books. Rand's relationship with Branden cooled after he began an affair with an actress, Patrecia Gullison; they later married. Branden established an institute to advocate her ideas. Soon its branches had spread all over the U.S.

Atlas Shrugged, an enormous work, 1 168 pages long, portrayed what Rand considered to be the inevitable result of the unselfish concern for the welfare of others – socialism or anarchy. This book is mentioned in many American reader surveys as one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. In the story the US government becomes increasingly socialist and violates individual rights and human reason in protecting the public good. John Galt, Ayn Rand's mouthpiece, and his Objectivist colleagues retreat to the mountains. Galt claims, that it is irrational to sacrifice the self for the good of society. As civilization crumbles they are prepared to return only when they will be able to rebuilt along the lines of Objectivist philosophy. Galt's Gulch, a capitalist utopia, is born to promote free enterprise without government controls.

In the 1950s Rand's Objectivist philosophy was especially well received by college students, who were attracted by her instructions to heed one's self-interest, and to maxime the superman potential without social conscience. Rand published her manifestoes in The Objectivist Newsletter in the early 1960s and became a permanent guest on television talk shows. In the 1974 she ceased publishing the Newsletter, but after the collapse of the Soviet Communism her essays gained a new audience in Moscow. Rand died on March 6, 1982. Her books have been sold over 20 million copies in the Unites States, where they have never been out of print. For decades, Rand has been the favorite philosopher of investment bankers and corporate managers. Among her early devotees and members of 'The Class of '43' was Alan Greenspan, a noted economist and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He married Leisha Gullison, whose identical twin Patrecia, a model, had a romance with Braden.

"Rand was passionately patriotic about her adopted country. There are many things about America, though, that she never understood, and the pervasiveness of religion in this country was certainly one of them. She imagined America as she imagined capitalism, and her success is evidence of the fact that her own fantasies coincided with those of others – and probably that her own simplicities met the need of others for one simple, all-embracing explanation of everything. This makes for a movement, but it doesn't make for good philosophy or viable politics." (Peter L. Berger, in The New York Times, July 6, 1986)

Ayn Rand called her philosophy "Objectivism" because it is based on the premise that reality is an objective absolute. One must perceive and understand reality to survive. One's highest value should be one's ability to reason. This also manifested in the way Rand viewed her own life, not through feelings but through her interest in ideas and her thinking: "I do not regard any particular day of my childhood as especially memorable. What I regard as significant are certain trends and intellectual developments in my childhood, but not single days or events" (from a letter to Gene Shalit, in Letters of Ayn Rand, 1995). In the novella Anthem (1937) Rand studied a future society, where the collective mind have suppressed individual thoughts. We the Living reflected Rand's deep antipathy of communist ideology. The story follows the struggle of a young Russian girl, Kira Argounova, who wants to live her own life in a society where "man must live for the state."

For further reading: It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand by J. Tucille (1972); Who is Ayn Rand? by N. Branden (1977); The Ayn Rand Companion, ed. by M.R. Gladstein (1984); The Philosophical Thought of Ayn Rand, ed. by Douglas J. Den Uyl (1984); The Ayn Rand Lexicon, ed. by Harry Binswanger (1986); The Passion of Ayn Rand by B. Branden (1986); Judgment Day by Nathaniel Branden (1989); Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskell (1991, a caricature of Ayn Rand and her work); Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller (2009); Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns (2009) - See also: Friedrich Nietzsche and his concept of the 'Herrenmensch

Selected works:

  • We the Living, 1933 (Noi vivi & Addio Kira!, film adaptations in 1942 (Italy), prod. Era Film, dir. by Goffredo Alessandrini, starring Alida Valli, Fosco Giachetti, Rossano Brazzi, Emilio Cigoli. We the Living, a revised and abridged version of the Italian film in 1986, prod. Duncan Scott Productions Inc.)
  • Night of January 16th, 1934 (play; film adaptation in 1941, dir. by William Clemens, starring Nils Asther, Robert Preston, Ellen Drew.)
  • Anthem, 1937
  • The Unconquered, 1940 (adaptation of We the Living, prod. on Broadway.)
  • The Fountainhead, 1943 (film 1949, dir. by King Vidor, starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas.)
  • You Came Along, 1945 (screenplay, with Robert Smith, dir. by John Farrow, starring Robert Cummings, Lizabedth Scott, Don DeFore, Charles Drake, Julie Bishop.)
  • Love Letters, 1945 (screenplay, film dir. by William Dieterle, starring Joseph Cotten, Jennofer Jones, Ann Richards.)
  • Textbook of Americanism, 1946
  • The Fountainhead, 1949 (screenplay)
  • Atlas Shrugged, 1957
  • Notes on the History of American Free Enterprise , 1959
  • For the New Intellectual, 1961
  • The Objectivist Ethics, 1961
  • Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World, 1961
  • Conservatism: An Obituary, 1962 (lecture)
  • America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business, 1962
  • The Fascist New Frontier, 1963
  • The Virtue of Selfishness, 1964
  •  Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966
  • Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 1967
  • The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, 1970
  • The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 1971
  • Philosophy: Who Needs It?, 1982
  • The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection from Her Unpublished Fiction, 1984
  • The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, 1989
  • The Ayn Rand Column: Written for the Los Angeles Times, 1991
  • Letters of Ayn Rand, 1995 (edited by Michael S. Berliner)
  • Journals of Ayn Rand, 1997 (edited by David Harriman)

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