The Ayn Rand Phenomenon

Posted by Elizabeth on April 28, 2009
I've only read one Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead, but it certainly captivated my attention. The archetypal characters were blissfully black and white, and painted a strong case for Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. However, I have many good friends who can't stand her work.

So, I took notice when I read in CNN that the current political climate in the United States has sparked a fury of Ayn Rand book sales.

I'd be interested to know if Goodreads members think her books are newly relevant or not.


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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)


It is great to know that people are reading and re-reading Ayn Rand's books. These books have not only a relevant but also an essential place in the philosophical, ethical, and moral discussions of American life today. I just began the audio book version of Ayn Rand's book "The Virtue of Selfishness" which could have been called Selfishness vs. Altruism. Ms. Rand explains the misconception of basing morality on what you do for others which makes a thief morally equal to the owner of a company because they both are interested in obtaining money for themselves. (Sound familiar?) The virtue of altruism has transformed into the view that it is morally repugnant to want to earn a profit. Rand's writings have elegantly predicted the current situation in our country. Ms. Rand witnessed the Russian revolution at age 12. In the book, We the Living, Rand provides a wake-up call to what good intentions of socialism can reap. I have also read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead which are almost scary in their accurate depiction of life in 2009.


message 2: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Elizabeth, I do think Ayn Rand has become remarkably relevant. One has to live in a heavily socialist society, as Ayn Rand has, (and as I have), to truly understand the problems behind today's Pollyanna political approach. I wrote an article about Ayn Rand and her salience here:

message 3: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Very interesting food for thought!

message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter Objectivism, like its offspring Libertarianism, is a philosophy which attempts to morally justify selfishness. The Ayn Rand books are relevant today because there are a lot of people out there who are genuinely selfish and who are feeling bad about it. Not because they realize what unfettered greed gets you (Predatory lending followed by economic collapse) but because the rest of the US has so roundly dismissed them by electing our current President. Like watching FOX News, reading Rand presents a reinforcement of firmly held beliefs.

That said, Newly Relevant does not equal Newly Good. The philosophy behind Atlas Shrugged is ludicrously naive, the world is NOT blank and white. See Fancis' argument of the thief vs. the CEO. A thief provides nothing, but a CEO does at least provide jobs, and in the case of someone like a Bill Gates, much more (through his foundation). Yes, Gates is not 100% Altruistic, he is in it for himself to a certain extent. Neither could he be considered Selfish. He, like all of us, exists in the gray world where the more money he makes, the more he can do for others. Rand would argue that the more money you make, the more money you SHOULD make, because you're obviously right or else you wouldn't be making money. And if you have no money, well then you deserve none. If you did, the free-market would reward you for it.

All of this ignores the history of oppression that the US is founded on. The overtones of racism/sexism/classism should be something we've overcome by this point, but unfortunately these things are still seen as a "good" thing by a vocal minority. I have money and an education and all of the privileges that come with being a white mid-30s male in the US. Turn on the Libertarian machine tomorrow and I'll be doing just fine (Except all the National Parks I enjoy will be sold for strip-mines). Women, ethnic minorities, the poor, the handicapped...Your huddled masses yearning to breath free...would all suffer much more gravely.

message 5: by Brian (new)

Brian Peter wrote: "The Ayn Rand books are relevant today because there are a lot of people out there who are genuinely selfish and who are feeling bad about it...Like watching FOX News, reading Rand presents a reinforcement of firmly held beliefs. "

Thats a great insight Peter. As much as we know about the demographics of Fox News viewers, it would be interesting to know what the readership of this newfound interest in Rand looks like. Also, to put this in context of what other trends look like in popular books, the #1 best-selling non-fiction paperback now is "Three Cups of Tea" about altruism and doing social good at great risk to oneself. So I think it swings both ways. Anecdotally speaking, I've had way more conversations with people talking about service, community work and social justice issues than EVER before. The readers circles in my community libraries and churches certainly reflect this interest much more than any real interest in a libertarian social movement.

message 6: by ZaBeth (last edited Jun 01, 2009 10:27PM) (new)

ZaBeth  Marsh Great Question Elizabeth! And awesome discussion points everyone. I found this very exciting discussion.

I think that today people are finding hope in "Atlas Shrugged". Our world seems to falling apart with unemployment. But out there forgotten somewhere is a guy who maybe made the perfect motor; he might be able to save us; change our world.

Today we hear over and over about electric cars.
- Where did they all go?
- Did the big boys put the stop to the electric car years ago when they thought they would hurt their profits?

Could the mystery of Ayn's perfect motor really be today's mystery about viable electric cars? Is there one out there somewhere that someone put away in a warehouse only to be forgotten? Could today's desire to do something good, really be a desire to save our society through innovation and business competition (both within the U.S. and abroad).

Oh, I know everyone talks about all the libertarian and objectivism of Ayn's books but really, I think if you let go of all the academic mumbo/jumbo the basic story is if "you work hard, your work pays off."

*That* is what I think the American people are looking for today!
- Pride in the products they produce.
- Courage to produce them.
- Recognition from their peers that we are all working hard at our chosen tasks.

We all are trying to make the world a "better place". And yes, if we do it well, we will make money, be able to support ourselves, our families, our charities, our churches, etc. If you aren't going to help us, just get out of the way and let us be. We are ready to make a greener world now.

I think that what Barbara Oakley was talking about in her post may be true. (

Ayn was crazy. And her craziness helped her ignore obstacles that might have stopped other writers from succeeding. Similarly, I think today (especially in times of crisis) everyone wishes that they had a bit of that unwavering confidence in themselves. Atlas Shrugged convinces you could do that. Just never bend. Never step down. Never stop believing in your dream/goal. For your reward is out there if you just work hard enough.

Seriously, if you were just crazy confident in yourself what is the worst that might happen ... you'd succeed?!

I love "Atlas Shrugged". I have no clue about libertarian social movements or objectivism. And I don't care. I just know that my Dad worked hard to build his own small construction business (and he never finished high school). His business was only as strong as his hands and his back. But his goal was to put his four kids through college. He succeeded; and we're all successful in our chosen fields today because he never gave up. He never thought that he couldn't provide for us if he just worked a little harder. He taught me I could do anything I want to do. Why? Because I was his daughter. Period. That was how my family operated.

Oh and I'm a woman handicapped in a wheelchair. I've NEVER "huddled" in my life and I don't plan to start now. Thankfully I'm an American. I can do anything I want; like hold down a professional management position at a Fortune 1000 company because my Dad (and Ayn) gave me the confidence that I could. Someone is going to have to pry my job out of my cold dead hands before they get me to believe I can't do what I want.

Maybe Ayn and I have a little something in common that way.

I get hope & courage from Ayn.

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