Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum was born in 1905, in St. Petersburg. She later described her earliest approach to life as being an “enormous series” of questions aimed at understanding the things around her, and this curiosity blossomed throughout her childhood. By the time she was 12, she had begun asking why she liked what she did, and had begun integrating her ideas into wider generalizations. She recorded her views in a diary and analyzed why they were important and on what evidence they were based. She covered some of the traditional problems of philosophy: freedom, individualism, relationship between reason and freedom, and the value of freedom for the individual. The Russian Revolution was her first confrontation with the ethics of altruism, a concept she rejected.
When she was thirteen, she wrote in her journal: “Today I decided to be an atheist”. She reasoned that if “God is perfect and man can never be that perfect, the idea necessarily makes man low and imperfect and places something above him”, and thus degrades men. This foreshadows a theme of Rand’s mature thought: the issue of reason versus mysticism and the connection of the issue to human values. To her, commitment to atheism was a consequence of an overall commitment to reason: “if something cannot be proved by reason, then it’s nonsense”.
She attended Petrograd State University as a history major, and also studied philosophy. She was quick to reject anything with the merest hint of obscurity and mysticism, and favoured Aristotle and Nietzsche, embracing the latter’s exaltation of the exceptional individual.
After university, she visited relatives in America in 1925, and soon emigrated there permanently, changing her name to Ayn Rand. She took odd jobs (screenwriter, costume designer) to pay for her basic living expenses, but her passion was writing. Her first major success was her novel The Fountainhead, the main character of which embodies the theme of individualism over collectivism – a theme that developed from her condemnation of Communism during the Russian Revolution.
Rand’s major work was Atlas Shrugged, in which she introduces her new philosophy of Objectivism. There were four main ideas that Objectivism dealt with: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. She said that reality exists as an objective absolute (facts are facts, no matter what), and that reason is man’s only way of understanding reality. I quite agree with this – it certainly simplifies the question of reality – a fact of life that should just be accepted as existing. She held that man must exist for his own sake, and the pursuit of his own interests and happiness was his highest purpose in life. I like this idea too – I agree with it whole-heartedly (call me a selfish being). In politics, her philosophy held that laissez-faire capitalism was the only way to go. I don’t agree with this – to me, laissez-faire government isn’t a smart idea – but I do agree with some of her other opinions though – that abortion should be legal, that involuntary military conscription shouldn’t be put into action, and that censorship should not be implemented, to name a few.