Though she died in 1982, huge numbers of people still come to Ayn Rand through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – and their lives are changed as a result. No wonder. These novels assert the nobility of using your mind to reach your full potential. They make self-belief cool.
Rand’s heroes are individualists who live by their own creative talents—existing for no one else, nor asking others to exist for them. They are rebels against the establishment and its ways. They do not conform to social norms, but stand by their own vision and truth: a vision built on their own values and a truth built on fact and reason, not on the false authority of others. They are the creative minds who discover new knowledge, who innovate, drive progress and consequently benefit all humanity.
But minds cannot be forced to think. Creativity, and therefore human progress, depends on people being free to think and act in pursuit of their own values. That is a powerful case for liberty, values, mind, reason, creativity, entrepreneurship, capitalism, achievement, heroism, happiness, self-esteem and pride. And against the life-destroying consequences of coercion, extortion, regulation, self-sacrifice, altruism, wishful thinking and refusing to use one’s mind.
Nowhere do Rand’s ideas change more lives than in her adopted United States, where her novels tap into the American ideals of self-reliance and individualism. In the early 1990s, a decade after her death, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club rated Atlas Shrugged as the most influential book after the Bible. Today, Rand’s ideas are taught in colleges across America and discussed in academic and popular journals. Institutes and groups have been set up to promote her ideas.
Her ideas are accelerating in other English-speaking countries too, such as the UK (where 20,000 Rand books are sold each year), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, where English is widely spoken. Even Indian footballers and Bollywood stars acknowledge her influence on their lives.
Beyond the English-speaking countries, Sweden, a country of just 9.5m people, leads the world in Google searches for ‘Ayn Rand’. About 25,000 copies are bought each year in Rand’s native Russia, another 13,000 a year in Brazil, 6,000 in Spain and 1,000 each in Japan and Bulgaria. Even in China, some 15,000 Rand books are bought each year—a number which, given that country’s economic and intellectual awakening, can only increase.
All this gives Rand a significant impact on the political debate. In the United States, many of those she inspired rose into public office. Former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan (1926-) was an early member of Rand’s inner circle. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (1948-) shows his new clerks The Fountainhead movie. Politicians such as former Congressman Ron Paul (1935-), his son, Senator Rand Paul (1965-) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (1970-) cite Rand as an influence. Even President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) described himself as “an admirer of Ayn Rand.”
Nor is this only a US phenomenon. Annie Lööf (1983-), leader of Sweden’s Center Party and former Enterprise Minister, helped launch the Swedish translation of The Fountainhead, calling Rand “one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century.” Rand’s ideas were praised by the reformist Prime Minister of Estonia, Mart Laar (1960-), and influenced Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), along with many other past or current political leaders.
What other novels have had such an impact on events, more than half a century after their publication? And what other novelist?