In 1951 (the year I started college) Ayn Rand moved to New York City, where she gathered a group of admirers around her. Jokingly designated “The Collective”, it included future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a young student, Nathaniel Branden, his wife Barbara and Barbara’s cousin, Leonard Peikoff. They met at Rand’s apartment to discuss philosophy. Later she allowed them to read drafts of her new novel, ATLAS SHRUGGED. By 1954 Rand and Nathaniel Branden became lovers, with the consent of their spouses.
ATLAS SHRUGGED was published in 1957. Rand described the novel’s theme as “the role of the mind in man’s existence and the demonstration of the morality of self-interest”. The novel’s hero, John Galt, leads a strike by the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists in a mountainous retreat where they build an independent free economic state. With this fictional strike, Rand puts forth the idea that without the efforts of the rational , and productive, the US economy and society would fall apart.
ATLAS SHRUGGED became an international best seller and Rand declared herself “the most creative thinker alive.”
She fell into a deep depression and ended her career as a novelist, but began her role as a popular philosopher.
To promote Rand’s philosophy, her lover, Nathaniel Branden set up the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). Members have described the NBI culture as one of intellectual conformity and excessive reverence for Rand…almost like a cult. Rand expressed opinions on everything from literature to sexuality. She once boasted….”Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life”.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks to students at Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, and other universities. Lewis and Clark College bestowed an honorary doctorate on her in 1963. She also delivered annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum (the oldest free lecture series located in Boston). She took controversial stances, including supporting abortion rights, opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft, supporting Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, said European colonists had the right to take the land from the American Indians, and called homosexuality “immoral” and “disgusting”. She endorsed several Republican candidates for US President, most strongly Barry Goldwater in 1964.
After decades of heavy smoking Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974. (She was signed up for Social Security and Medicare by her lawyer, although she was not happy about it.) After her husband’s death in 1979 her public involvement declined.
Ayn Rand died of heart failure in 1982 and was buried with her husband in Valhalla, New York.
More tomorrow in Part 3…