Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-born writer and philosopher who immigrated to the United States as a young woman. She is best known for her two philosophical novels, ''The Fountainhead'' and ''Atlas Shrugged,'' both of which sold successfully and were adapted into films. Later, she published essays and other nonfiction works to advance her philosophy, a set of beliefs called objectivism. According to this doctrine, all reality is objective, existing outside the mind, and human beings gain knowledge only by perceiving the world objectively and interpreting it through reason. Objectivism was the foundation of Rand's views, including her political beliefs.
Rand's political ideology is based on objectivist philosophy and the belief in rational self-interest. She thought that every individual should have the right to liberty, freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness. She also believed in the right to pursue goals for personal fulfillment and the right to own private property. With these individual rights in mind, Rand's political ideology can be considered libertarian, although she distanced herself from the Libertarian Party and any libertarian platform. Because of Rand's support for individual rights, limited government and capitalism, her political dogma has been embraced by a number of right-wing Republicans and conservatives. Rand, however, rejected American conservatism, did not belong to either the Republican or Democratic Party and challenged the left-right political spectrum.
Policy on Governance
Although she was not an anarchist, Rand believed in a fully free society with minimal government. She thought that government and public officials should have no authority, except in the restricted role of enforcing objectively defined laws. Rand understood the need for governmental services, such as the armed forces, police and court system. But she held that public services should exist only to enforce laws, protect individual citizens and defend their interests. Individuals should pay directly and voluntarily for such services, just as they buy insurance. Rand did not support the idea of mandatory taxation to pay for government.
Capitalism, according to Rand, is the only socioeconomic system that fits with objectivist philosophy and the rational nature of human beings. Rand's economic philosophy is known historically as laissez-faire capitalism, a principle that advocates a free market economy. She believed that financial markets should be as uncontrolled by government regulation as possible. She held that government control leads to the corruption of both state and financial institutions. Consequently, she believed in the separation of economy and state, just as she believed in the separation of church and state.
Influence on American Politics
Rand's influence on American politics was not immediately clear but developed over time. For much of her life, Rand enjoyed a cult figure status. It was not until the 1970s, with the emergence of the Libertarian Party, that her ideas began taking root in American politics. A decade later, with the election of President Ronald Reagan and the rise of conservatism, her views achieved broader appeal. Both libertarians and conservatives, however, looked at Rand's ideas selectively. For example, right-wing Republican conservatives championed her economic philosophy but did not like her atheism or pro-choice stance. Meanwhile, libertarians praised her political theories but did not appreciate her objectivist philosophy. By the time of her death in 1982, Rand could no longer preserve her ideas as a package deal. Consequently, libertarians and conservatives appropriated what they liked and ignored the rest. With the advent of the Tea Party in 2008, Rand’s philosophy has reappeared, yet still in a selective way.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images