Why is Ayn Rand so popular today?

Sunday 19 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Cinema 3, Barbican BoI 2014

It’s often said that when you’re young, you fall in love with Ayn Rand and then, as you get older, you grow out of her individual-oriented philosophies. That, after all, was Republican senator Paul Ryan’s defence two years ago: ‘I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young.’ But now - no doubt older, wiser, and under pressure as a vice-presidential nominee - Ryan rejects Rand’s philosophy. For Jason Hill, writing on Salon, those who blamed their age for turning away from Rand were rejecting their own ideals: ‘What they had done, though, tragically, was to annihilate the capacity to hold steadily to a vision of life’s better possibilities and their ability to be the chief engines of change within their own lives.’

Through a conversation about Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, this session will explore whether Rand really is for the young, or whether she has insights that would be useful for all of us. After all, her novels are exciting, feature strong female characters, incorporate important humanist themes, and ask hard questions about, for example, the responsibilities of the artist and scientist in society.

Yet seemingly the only time her work gets cited today is when middle-aged and middle-class Americans bemoan the amount of tax they pay, and neocon politicians look to reduce the size of government. For many years, ‘individualism’ has been a shorthand for the strong but selfish individual — the banker or expense-claiming politician — and ‘the individual’ stands for the weak and poor that need protecting by the state, by the ‘collective’. But perhaps Rand is right that there can be other models for the individual and individualism, and perhaps they go beyond the bean counting and resource-apportioning that many of Rand’s adherents focus on today.

This discussion will explore whether Rand’s novels really are about selfishness per se, or whether there is something to be said for strong individuals who make up their own mind, holding steadily to ‘life’s better possibilities’.

Listen to the debate:

Dr Yaron Brook
executive director, Ayn Rand Institute; co-author, Equal is Unfair: America's misguided fight against income inequality

Vicky Richardson
writer and curator

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy

Mark Birbeck
internet software and big data consultant

Produced by
Mark Birbeck internet software and big data consultant
Recommended readings
Is Rand Relevant?

Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil.

Yaron Brook, , 14 March 2009

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