PragerU: Understanding Ayn Rand

By  PragerU
Gloria Alvarez

In a new video for PragerU, the Objective Standard Institute’s Gloria Alvarez explains why Ayn Rand’s literary and philosophical works continue to resonate decades later. 

“Born in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 2, 1905, Rand became one the most celebrated authors and philosophers of the 20th century,” Alvarez begins. “Her most famous novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, still sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year around the world.”

“Rand lived through the early years of the Russian Revolution, saw her father’s pharmacy business confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and experienced the horrors of communism firsthand,” Alvarez continues. “She longed to emigrate to America. In 1926, she did — and never looked back.”

Alvarez then explains that the United States represented freedom to Rand, and that she saw the Founding Fathers as heroes who had created a country based on individual rights.

“Man’s right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness,” Rand said, which means that every individual has a “right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself” — nor to the government.

Rand argued that the practical results of the American system could be seen in the skyline of New York City.

“America’s skyscrapers,” Rand noted, “were not built by public funds nor for a public purpose: they were built by the energy, initiative, and wealth of private individuals for personal profit. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers, as they rose higher and higher, kept raising the people’s standard of living.”

“Rand advocated pure capitalism, which she described as a system in which ‘the government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights.’ No bailouts, no special favors for big business, no government intervention into the economy,” Alvarez continues. “When people are free to produce and trade, and when the government is limited to protecting rights, everyone benefits. Individuals thrive. Societies prosper.”

As evidence of this, Alvarez then asks us to “Compare freer, more capitalist societies to less free, more statist ones.”

“In Rand’s day — America compared to the Soviet Union. West Germany to East Germany,” Alvarez says. “More recently, South Korea to North Korea. Colombia to Venezuela.”

“Such differences were painfully obvious to Rand,” Alvarez continues. “So were their causes.”

“In Atlas Shrugged, she showed how easily a free society can collapse into a dictatorship. The heroine, Dagny Taggart, works tirelessly and brilliantly to save her family’s railroad business, while ever-increasing government interventions destroy businesses and crush the economy,” Alvarez says. “Meanwhile, one by one, the top producers across various industries mysteriously disappear. No one knows where they have gone. The only clue is a question they leave behind: Who is John Galt? As the economy crumbles, how do politicians, bureaucrats, and academics react? They blame ‘the greedy businessman’ and decry the profit motive and free markets. Their solution: more government intervention which, of course, only makes the problem worse.”

In addition to being a cautionary tale about pursuing equality over excellence, through state control over free markets, Alvarez then adds that Atlas Shrugged is also about “the power of the individual and the power of reason.”

“The individual’s reasoning mind, Rand argued, is his tool of knowledge — his only means of understanding what is true or false, how the world works, what is good or bad for his life,” Alvarez continues. “This is the theme of Rand’s work more broadly: In order to thrive, to achieve happiness, the individual must think for himself and live by the judgment of his own mind. To do this people must be free — free to voluntarily exchange ideas, goods, and services for mutual benefit; free to speak their minds without fear. For this, she regarded capitalism not only as the best, but as the only moral social system.”

Rand argued that “Capitalism does not tell men to suffer, but to pursue enjoyment and achievement,” and that “Capitalism does not preach passivity, humility, resignation, but independence, self-confidence, self-reliance.” Above all, Rand emphasized, capitalism does not permit anyone to expect or demand the unearned. 

“Is this the system America lives under now? No, said Rand. She called capitalism the ‘unknown ideal’ because it has never been fully implemented, even in America,” Alvarez concludes. “Ayn Rand’s ideas on capitalism, individualism, and reason have attracted millions of people to her novels, essays and lectures. And still do.”

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