Skye C Cleary in Aeon:
Philosophers love to hate Ayn Rand. It’s trendy to scoff at any mention of her. One philosopher told me that: ‘No one needs to be exposed to that monster.’ Many propose that she’s not a philosopher at all and should not be taken seriously. The problem is that people are taking her seriously. In some cases, very seriously.
A Russian-born writer who moved to the United States in 1926, Rand promoted a philosophy of egoism that she called Objectivism. Her philosophy, she wrote in the novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), is ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute’. With ideals of happiness, hard work and heroic individualism – beside a 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal based on her novel The Fountainhead (1943) – it’s perhaps no wonder that she caught the attention and imagination of the US.
Founded three years after her death in 1982, the Ayn Rand Institute in California reports that her books have sold more than 30 million copies. By early 2018, the institute planned to have given away 4 million copies of Rand’s novels to North American schools. The institute has also actively donated to colleges, with the funding often tied to requirements to offer courses taught by professors who have ‘a positive interest in and [are] well-versed in Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand’ – with Atlas Shrugged as required reading.
Rand’s books are becoming increasingly popular. The Amazon Author Rank lists her alongside William Shakespeare and J D Salinger. While these rankings fluctuate and don’t reflect all sales, the company her name keeps is telling enough.