Ayn Rand's ideas are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. This essay, by William R Thomas, explores the political theory of Ayn Rand and provides a succinct summary of key aspects of her thought, enabling you to understand and intelligently discuss Rand's ideas with others.
The late twentieth century saw a resurgence in America of a strain of political thought variously called “libertarianism,”“classical liberalism,” and “market liberalism.” Like the liberalism of the nineteenth century, libertarianism envisions a government of limited scope and strictly defined powers, consistently upholding rights to freedom of speech, freedom of contract, and the right to own and use property. It critiques the welfare state and economic regulation as both unjust and inefficient, and endorses laissez-faire capitalism as the economic system that maximizes justice, human well-being, and individual liberty. Libertarianism per se is not a dominant political movement in America, but its themes have been sounded on both the Left and Right, in such causes as concern for privacy rights , opposition to state sponsored racism, and economic deregulation. It is a perspective advanced today by numerous scholars and advocacy organizations, including the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the American Enterprise Institute. Although this renaissance is due to the work of several major and many minor intellectuals, perhaps no single figure figure has been more influential in promoting this view of human liberty than Ayn Rand.
Since the publication of her novel The Fountainhead in 1943, Rand’s works have enjoyed perennially high sales and are widely cited by readers as a source of personal inspiration, appearing ubiquitously on lists of favorite novels or books that the public rates most influential. In 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the second most common response from their sample of readers to the question: “What book has most influenced your life?” (As might be expected, in first place, by far, was the Bible.) A popular memoir of the 1970s libertarian movement was aptly entitled “It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand.” Beyond the arena of strictly libertarian thought, Rand has been a significant contributor to the turn in American culture toward placing individual self-fulfillment and self-esteem at the center of personal and policy concerns.
Rand’s influence on American political thought comes not only from her dramatic advocacy of liberty and opposition to collectivism in her novels, but also from the distinctive arguments she brought to bear on the issues. Those arguments called for and sketched out a new ethical approach to political issues and gave a fresh cast to ideas such as natural rights and limited government. Her viewpoint put her in conflict with both the Left and the Right in twentieth-century America, and, true to her individualism, she did not back down from the challenge of forging and advertising an alternative perspective of her own. Purchase Radical for Capitalism on Amazon.com >