February 2, 2013
“A nation’s productive—and moral, and intellectual—top is the middle class. It is a broad reservoir of energy, it is a country’s motor and lifeblood, which feeds the rest. The common denominator of its members, on their various levels of ability, is: independence. The upper classes are merely a nation’s past; the middle class is its future.” – Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand published three novels, a play and a novella between 1934 (“Night of January 16th”) and 1957 (“Atlas Shrugged”), before turning to publishing treatises on a philosophy she called “objectivism.” Her name, and the attendant interpretations of her philosophy, has become polarizing shorthand in American political and cultural debate.
On Feb. 2, 1905, Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Her father was a successful pharmacist. His business and property were confiscated during the 1917 October Revolution, and the family fled Saint Petersburg. They returned to the city, which had been renamed Petrograd, in 1921. Alisa attended Petrograd State University as one of the first women allowed to enroll, where she studied social pedagogy, history, and philosophy, graduating in 1924. She studied screen writing in Leningrad and adopted the pen name Ayn Rand for what she hoped would be her career.
She came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 1925 to visit relatives, and fell in love with America, and, within a few months, Hollywood. She headed west and worked odd jobs; until in 1927, after being rejected in a job interview at DeMille Studios, she met Cecil B. DeMille in the studio’s parking lot, where they struck up a conversation. He hired her an extra on his “The King of Kings.” She worked her way into a junior screenwriter position, and married Frank O’Connor on Apr. 15, 1929.
But she had continued her own writing, and sold her first screenplay “Red Pawn” in 1932. It was never produced. Her second script, the courtroom drama “Night of January 16th,” was produced on stage in Los Angeles in 1934 and on Broadway in 1935. The Broadway production included a “jury” selected from the audience that determined which “verdict” would be performed each evening.
While writing “The Fountainhead,” Rand also wrote and published a novella, “Anthem,” in 1938. She did not finish Fountainhead until 1943. Though rejected by 12 publishers, the story of architect Howard Roark captured editor Archibald Ogden’s imagination – he threatened to quit Bobbs-Merrill if they refused to publish it. The book was successful, and Warner Bros. bought the film rights, hiring Rand to write a screenplay.
She began writing “Atlas Shrugged” in 1946; she moved back to New York in 1951 to work on the book fulltime. On weekends her “groupies” would gather to debate and discuss at the Rand apartment; one of the participants was future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. The discussion group eventually was invited to read the evolving versions of Rand’s “opus.” Another member of the weekend group was psychology student Nathaniel Branden with whom Rand had affair (with the consent of Branden’s wife, also a participant in the weekend discussions, and O’Connor).
With the publication of “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957, Rand was through with fiction; she mostly wrote essays, and published a newsletter promoting the objectivist philosophy for the remainder of her career.
Rand called objectivism “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Critics see the philosophy as self-centered and anti-social.
Rand did not steer away from controversy, and perhaps her most important contribution is the continued debate about philosophy in modern life.
O’Connor died on Nov. 7, 1979, and Rand died on Mar. 6, 1982.