Who Is He?

Today would have been Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday.

I think it’s fair to say that she was one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. She was certainly one of the major influences of mine.

Cox & Forkum have posted a very nice tribute with some good links for those who are interested in learning more about her. I thought I’d just jot down some of my thoughts, starting with how I was first exposed to her work.

When I entered college, I hadn’t heard of her at all, but that didn’t last very long.

In the first quarter, I had to take a humanities class called “Utopia”, which was basically a survey of various utopian (and dystopian) writings as a way to get us to think about politics. The first assignment was to, before doing any of the reading, write our own description of our vision of the perfect society. This was intended to help us contrast our thinking with “the greats” and to see how our ideas change throughout the class.

I had never been very explicitly political in high-school. But, I was one of the few students who didn’t nod in stupid agreement as the teacher extolled the virtues of the European-style cradle-to-grave welfare state. I understood enough economics to know that most economic regulations did more harm than good, and that markets tended to work very well without them. I also was appalled by the idea of “victimless crimes” and the military draft, and thought that people should generally be free to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

So, my paper was basically a description of a Jeffersonian minimal state, with laissez-faire capitalism. I don’t even remember very much of what I wrote (but I’m sure it was good). What I do remember is the professor’s comment. When I got my paper back, I could see that he had written in large, angry, red letters:

YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY READ A LOT OF AYN RAND!!

I also remember my immediate thought:
Who is He???

So, I went to the library that same afternoon to check out (literally) this Rand fellow’s work. When I saw her books on the shelf, I figured I’d start with the shortest one: Anthem. It was a marvelous little statement about individualism vs. collevectism, told in a simple but powerful way. I really liked it, and was eager to move on to the book that seemed to be her masterpiece: Atlas Shrugged.

The next few days, I had my head stuck in Atlas Shrugged and my studies and sleep definitely suffered. It was amazing. Here were characters saying and thinking what I had been thinking, but doing it much more eloquently than I could have managed. And all from an immigrant, no less! I loved it.

I eventually read the rest of the available fiction, and non-fiction. I won’t get into the details of her books and philosophy, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I agree with every word, but I think that everyone should eventually read her works, particularly Atlas Shrugged.

As Michael S. Berliner wrote in an article quoted in the link above:

Ayn Rand left a legacy in defense of reason and freedom that serves as a guidepost for the American spirit — especially pertinent today when America and what it stands for are under assault.

UPDATE: Check out these Rand Day links: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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