I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.
People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.
Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.
This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.
So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.
Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video: