This article was originally published on February 2, 2024.
Ayn Rand, born on this day in 1905, is one of the most American people to ever live, despite being Russian born.
Rand not only wrote best-selling novels, but also developed an entire philosophic system based on reason that regards the individual’s “own happiness as the moral purpose of his life.” Her philosophy has impacted my thinking dramatically. One personal example: it helped me reach the life-altering decision to immigrate to America to build a better life.
Rand is best known for Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and numerous other works. She experienced the communist takeover in Russia, and she and her family suffered greatly due to the measures of the brutal Soviet regime (Rand’s novel We the Living is set in Soviet Russia). Recognizing that her ambitious goal of becoming a writer was impossible in Soviet Russia, she decided to escape and come to America.
When I think of Rand, the word that so often comes to mind is: America. That’s mainly because of a lesson I took from studying her works: she helped me truly appreciate this country and inspired me to want to come here.
Rand’s writings helped me understand the radical, moral difference between a collectivistic society, such as the one I grew up in, and an individualistic one, such as America.
Soviet Russia was an exemplar of collectivism: there was no freedom of thought or speech, communists had taken over the universities, government was brutally intertwined with every aspect of people’s lives and dictated their every move. While the USSR was particularly bloody, to varying degrees similar measures have plagued Latin America, where I used to live. What all these countries have in common is their collectivistic regimes.
Collectivism, Rand observed, holds that the individual has “no rights, that his life and work belong to the group.” The individual must be subordinated to the class, the race, the state, society, “the common good.” An individual’s life is valuable only to the extent that it serves the group, which “may sacrifice him at its own whim to its own interests.”
Rand championed the opposite perspective: the principle of individualism. It holds that every person is “an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life.” The individual exists for his own sake, not for the sake of government or society or anyone else. Every person’s life is an end in itself, not a means to support the government, the collective or any other goal. Rand held that every individual’s life is their own, and it doesn’t belong to the collective.
America was unique and moral, Rand explained, because it was the first country to see man as an individual, not as a member of a collective: “America’s founding ideal was the principle of individual rights. Nothing more — and nothing less. The rest — everything that America achieved, everything she became, everything ‘noble and just,’ and heroic, and great, and unprecedented in human history — was the logical consequence of fidelity to that one principle.”
Deviations from that principle are responsible for the injustices in America’s history (such as slavery) and the continual undermining of freedom today.
America’s respect for the individual and the protection of individual freedom are responsible for the prosperity we enjoy and the reason why so many people want to live here. All the wealth, the innovation, the progress that happens on American soil is not a coincidence: it’s a result of a political system that still protects individuals’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'Ayn Rand’s philosophy influenced the biggest and best decisions I ever made — chief among them to uproot my entire life and move to America.' Click To Tweet
Rand’s writings on America influenced my decision to immigrate because they helped me understand — in an acutely personal way — the radical difference between a collectivistic society and an individualistic one.
The country I left behind, though not a dictatorship like the USSR, was becoming increasingly collectivistic and authoritarian, and so it didn’t afford me the freedom and opportunities that I sought to live my best possible life. By contrast America still holds on to individualism to a great extent, and that’s why it affords so much more freedom and opportunity. America’s founding political documents and system of government protect my right to pursue my own happiness and live in freedom. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else after understanding, thanks to Rand, the moral premise underlying that system.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy influenced the biggest and best decisions I ever made — chief among them to uproot my entire life and move to America. Her philosophy of reason has inspired me and improved my life in so many other ways as well. You too can be inspired by Objectivism. Pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, or some of Rand’s nonfiction today.
This article was originally published by the Southern California News Group.
Image credit: Shipulin_photo/Shutterstock.com.