Rand, Ayn (1905-1982), American novelist and philosopher, whose championing of the gifted individual established her as a controversial figure in 20th-century literary and philosophical debate. Rand upheld individualism over collectivism and egoism over altruism. She staunchly defended reason as the tool that sustains and nourishes the individual against the forces that can weaken it.
Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Rand immigrated to the United States in 1926. She worked sporadically as a screenwriter and script reader in Hollywood, California, until 1943. Her first two novels, We the Living (1936) and Anthem (1938), portray dystopias and dictatorships as warnings against monolithic sociopolitical systems such as Communism and Fascism.
The Fountainhead (1943), perhaps Rand’s best-known novel, portrays Howard Roark, an architect and formidable egoist, who fights against his entire profession for his own artistic vision. The character of Roark embodies Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, which encourages individuals to pursue their rational self-interests. According to Rand, human understanding and acceptance of reality form the basis of judgment and values. She believed that human beings must live for themselves, neither sacrificing any part of their natures or goals to other people, nor bending others’ wills to their own. In this scheme, love is achieved fully only by those individuals who possess the highest self-esteem, which is exhibited in the form of clearly defined and uncompromising values. Rand was also a resolute atheist (see Atheism). Because of the extremity of her views, she was criticized for what some saw as a view of the individual that was too simplistic and inflexible.
Atlas Shrugged (1957), a lengthy and popular novel, depicted five characters in a fictional America moving toward a bizarre form of socialism. The book was criticized for its severe characterizations and raised concerns about the harshness of Rand’s search for the perfect egoist. After the book’s publication, Rand stopped writing fiction. She worked as a public speaker and began to publish a newsletter, first called The Objectivist Newsletter (1962-1965), then The Objectivist (1966-1971), and later The Ayn Rand Letter (1971-1975). Her increasing visibility as a lecturer on objectivism led her to write the nonfiction books The Virtue of Selfishness: A Concept of New Egoism (1964) and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967).