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Ayn Rand's Renaissance
By Dr. Yaron Brook,
Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Institute

The U.S. economy is in shambles. Government intervention into the economy is increasing by the day. Americans are alarmed and desperate for answers: What caused the crisis? What is the solution? That might sound like a description of today's world, but in fact it's sketch of the world of Ayn Rand's 1957 classic novel Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history.

There's a reason. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand tells the story of the U.S. economy crumbling under the weight of crushing government interventions and regulations. Meanwhile, blaming greed and the free market, Washington responds with more controls that only deepen the crisis. Sound familiar?

The novel's eerily prophetic nature is no coincidence. "If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society," Rand wrote elsewhere in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, "you can predict its course." Economic crises and runaway government power grabs don't just happen by themselves; they are the product of the philosophical ideas prevalent in a society -- particularly its dominant moral ideas.

Why do we accept the budget-busting costs of a welfare state? Because it implements the moral ideal of self-sacrifice to the needy. Why do so few protest the endless regulatory burdens placed on businessmen? Because businessmen are pursuing their self-interest, which we have been taught is dangerous and immoral. Why did the government go on a crusade to promote "affordable housing," which meant forcing banks to make loans to unqualified home buyers? Because we believe people need to be homeowners, whether or not they can afford to pay for houses.

The message is always the same: "Selfishness is evil; sacrifice for the needs of others is good." But Rand said this message is wrong -- selfishness, rather than being evil, is a virtue. By this she did not mean exploiting others à la Bernie Madoff. Selfishness -- that is, concern with one's genuine, long-range interest -- she wrote, required a man to think, to produce, and to prosper by trading with others voluntarily to mutual benefit.

Atlas Shrugged argues that ideas shape society. A society that values reason, the individual, and freedom creates the United States of America. A society that denounces the mind, preaches self-sacrifice, and worships the collective creates Nazi Germany. What Atlas shows is how our culture's ideas -- particularly its ideas about morality -- are moving us step by step away from the Founding Fathers' ideal.

Rand also noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.

Rand offered us a way out -- to fight for a morality of rational self-interest, and for capitalism, the system which is its expression. And that is the source of her relevance today.

©2009 The Ayn Rand Institute

Author Bio
Dr. Yaron Brook
is president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Irvine, California, works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand's novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience. The Institute is named for novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), who is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. ARI has a distinguished Board of Directors and a staff of about 35 employees.

For more information about ARI, please visit http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index

Ayn Rand's first novel, We the Living, was published in 1936, followed by Anthem. With the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943, she achieved a spectacular and enduring success. Rand's unique philosophy, Objectivism, has gained a worldwide audience. The fundamentals of her philosophy are set forth in such books as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and The Romantic Manifesto. Ayn Rand died in 1982.