Radical for Capitalism:An Introduction to the PoliticalThought of Ayn Rand
I. Rand’s Significance
The late twentieth century saw a resurgence in America of a strainof political thought variously called “libertarianism,” “classical liberal-ism,” and “market liberalism.” Like the liberalism of the nineteenth cen-tury, libertarianism envisions a government of limited scope and strictlydefined powers, consistently upholding rights to freedom of speech, free-dom of contract, and the right to own and use property. It critiques thewelfare state and economic regulation as both unjust and inefficient, andendorses laissez-faire capitalism as the economic system that maximizes justice, human well-being, and individual liberty.Libertarianism
is not a dominant political movement inAmerica, but its themes have been sounded on both the Left and Right, insuch causes as concern for privacy rights, opposition to state-sponsoredracism, and economic deregulation. It is a perspective advanced today bynumerous scholars and advocacy organizations, including the Cato Insti-tute, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the American Enter- prise Institute.Although this renaissance is due to the work of several major andmany minor intellectuals, perhaps no single figure has been more influen-tial in promoting this view of human liberty than Ayn Rand.
Since the publication of her novel
in 1943, Rand’s works haveenjoyed perennially high sales and are widely cited by readers as a sourceof personal inspiration, appearing ubiquitously on lists of favorite novelsor books that the public rates most influential. In 1991, a survey by theLibrary of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that Rand’s
was the second most common response from their sampleof readers to the question: “What book has most influenced your life?” (Asmight be expected, in first place, by far, was the Bible.) A popular memoir of the 1970s libertarian movement was aptly entitled “It Usually BeginswithAyn Rand.”
Beyond the arena of strictly libertarian thought, Randhas been a significant contributor to the turn in American culture toward placing individual self-fulfillment and self-esteem at the center of personaland policy concerns.Rand’s influence on American political thought comes not onlyfrom her dramatic advocacy of liberty and opposition to collectivism in