Heroic Individualism: Ayn Rand’s Objectivism

The second of two autumn 2018 ‘Tetley Talks’ on the themes of ‘Freedom and the Individual’

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American writer and philosopher, best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing her philosophical system of Objectivism. For Rand, the essence of Objectivism is “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”.

Rand was a radical individualist, who extolled laissez-faire capitalism and “rational selfishness”, and fiercely opposed any form of statism or collectivism. As such, she has long been popular among parts of conservative and libertarian circles, inspiring many political, public and business figures, including Uber’s co-founder Peter Kalanick, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as prominent UK Conservatives, such as Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

However, Rand has also been widely criticised, and even reviled. Her novels have been described as “vulgar and unbelievable” and “pseudo-philosophy”. Gore Vidal considered her viewpoint “nearly perfect in its immorality”. Academia ignores her. And the Left loves to hate her. Yet, today, her influence seems stronger than ever – even the children’s animated superhero movie, The Incredibles, has been criticised for promoting Randian philosophy.

So, who was Ayn Rand and why does she remain so influential and controversial?



Saturday 1 December 2018


3pm to 4:45pm




useful reading:

The new age of Ayn Rand, Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, 10 April 2017

Ayn Rand’s Revenge, Adam Kirsch, The New York Times, 29 October 2009

Ayn Rand and the invincible cult of selfishness on the American right, Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, 14 September 2009.

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The Tetley is a centre for contemporary art and learning, located in the former headquarters of the world-famous Tetley Brewery on Hunslet Road. Visit their website at: www.thetetley.org/