Ayn Rand


Ayn Rand : biography

February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982

The late-2000s financial crisis spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis,; ; and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel.; During this time, signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests. There was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming the economic crisis on her support of selfishness and free markets, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, Mother Jones remarked that "Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed", while The Nation alleged similarities between the "moral syntax of Randianism" and fascism.

Academic reaction

During Rand’s lifetime her work received little attention from academic scholars. When the first academic book about Rand’s philosophy appeared in 1971, its author declared writing about Rand "a treacherous undertaking" that could lead to "guilt by association" for taking her seriously. A few articles about Rand’s ideas appeared in academic journals before her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist. One of these was "On the Randian Argument" by libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who argued that her meta-ethical argument is unsound and fails to solve the is–ought problem posed by David Hume. Some responses to Nozick by other academic philosophers were also published in The Personalist arguing that Nozick misstated Rand’s case. Academic consideration of Rand as a literary figure during her life was even more limited. Academic Mimi Gladstein was unable to find any scholarly articles about Rand’s novels when she began researching her in 1973, and only three such articles appeared during the rest of the 1970s.

Since Rand’s death, interest in her work has gradually increased.; ; Historian Jennifer Burns has identified "three overlapping waves" of scholarly interest in Rand, the most recent of which is "an explosion of scholarship" since the year 2000. However, few universities currently include Rand or Objectivism as a philosophical specialty or research area, with many literature and philosophy departments dismissing her as a pop culture phenomenon rather than a subject for serious study.

Gladstein, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Allan Gotthelf, Edwin A. Locke and Tara Smith have taught her work in academic institutions. Sciabarra co-edits the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a nonpartisan peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of Rand’s philosophical and literary work. In 1987 Gotthelf helped found the Ayn Rand Society with George Walsh and David Kelley, and has been active in sponsoring seminars about Rand and her ideas.; Smith has written several academic books and papers on Rand’s ideas, including Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, a volume on Rand’s ethical theory published by Cambridge University Press. Rand’s ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities. Scholars of English and American literature have largely ignored her work, although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s.

Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought, describe her style as "literary, hyperbolic and emotional". Philosopher Jack Wheeler says that despite "the incessant bombast and continuous venting of Randian rage", Rand’s ethics are "a most immense achievement, the study of which is vastly more fruitful than any other in contemporary thought."Wheeler, Jack. "Rand and Aristotle". In In the Literary Encyclopedia entry for Rand written in 2001, John David Lewis declared that "Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation". In a 1999 interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sciabarra commented, "I know they laugh at Rand", while forecasting a growth of interest in her work in the academic community.