How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon

Ayn Rand is one of America’s great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that “the masses”—her readers—were “lice” and “parasites” who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is “evil” and selfishness is “the only virtue,” she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

Two new biographies of Rand—Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller—try to puzzle out this question, showing how her arguments found an echo in the darkest corners of American political life.* But the books work best, for me, on a level I didn’t expect. They are thrilling psychological portraits of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion.

Slate: How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon

(via Cat Vincent)

The author of this pieces identifies her philosophy with Nietzsche, but Max Stirner was probably a more important influence.

See also: Ayn Rand’s Revenge (Thanks to Bill)


  1. I’ve read We the Living (1936) Anthem (1938) The Fountainhead (1943) Atlas Shrugged (1957) For the New Intellectual (1961) The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971) and Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982). Some of these more than once.

    Figuring out why Rand is mistaken in her epistemology is demanding and fruitful. Once you get that, the rest falls away too. But what’s left is okay. It’s like listening to music at a physically damaging volume: it doesn’t do you any long-term good, but it sure feels like nothing else.

    And sometimes she was right on the money!

    If she’d tried for less she would have achieved more.

  2. Klint Finley
    What is your point in linking that thing?

    Trevor Blake,
    Please provide your refutation of Objectivist epistemology.

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