Was Ayn Rand Related to Paul Rand?

Despite the similarity of their surnames, Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum)  was not related to Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum).

I learned about Ayn before I even heard of Paul. When I was a young teen, I was taken by my best friend’s mom to The Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) in NYC (the real life “Simpson’s Ayn Rand School for Tots”), where Rand’s “Objectivist” philosophy was preached daily.

Objectivism, which prominently permeates Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, holds that reality “exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism.”

This concept, which attracted many a maleable 60s teenager, dubiously proposed that art existed to “transform man’s widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form.” This was illustrated throughout Rand’s turgid novel The Fountainhead, which introduced the ideological individualist architect Howard Roark and proffered modernism as a symbol of capitalist aesthetics to the world. Even as a teen, I was not impressed.

[Image above from The Simpsons; the stylish Ayn Rand below]

19 thoughts on “Was Ayn Rand Related to Paul Rand?

  1. Joseph

    RWordplay – Thank you. Your comments have been informed, informative, and succinct. I couldn’t have stated your comments better.
    Personally, I found both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged empowering and uplifting.

  2. David Dayco

    Hi Steven, I read Altlus Shrugged several years ago, I found the logic flawed and I felt the story was told from someone with an elitist perspective on humanity, however I think Ayn Rand’s work is at least though provoking. Sometimes a extreme view point can bring clarity to an issue, where truth can be found by examining the flaws of an argument. Thanks for the article.

  3. Gretchen

    Steve, no this was not meant to be a trick question.  It is just something I was thinking about during election season and was reminded of when I read your article. Is Ron Paul a fan of modernist graphic design or is it just a coincidence? 

  4. Rhys

    During high school I thought Ayn Rand was impressive. After reading some real philosophy in college, I quickly realized she was not particularly good or convincing. I still can’t believe the ego of this woman. She referred to herself as “The greatest philosopher in the 20th century”. I guess that would hold true if one never read any other philosophy from the 20th century. 

  5. Mike

    It is curious that so many, shall we presume, right of center people come out when anyone, other than a right of center person, writes about a hero/voice/fanatic of the right of center. It seems any discussion is off limits for those in the pantheon of their gods.
    Luckily, there is no famous designer named Reagan, or is there?
    Steve, are there any historical figures in design related to other notable figures in history or politics? Sean Adams is from the Adams of Massachusetts. But Sean is a young one. It seems like most children of graphic designers become something other than a designer.

  6. RWordplay

    Thank you for your response, Steven, I’m gratified to hear you acknowledge in Rand, “and an extremely interesting character who was shaped by her times and molded by her socio-psychological experiences. ”
    The interesting thing about charismatic figures is how they become “cult” figures or false prophets, etc. As I wrote above, I never found Rand interesting enough to read in depth, but I do find fascinating that she remains a figure of fascination and disgust.  All of which suggests to me that the answers she sought and found were sufficiently meaningful to attract some and repel others.  
    As for your own family history, while fascinating was less compelling, in the sense less unique among the Jewish experience in America.  From a socio-historical perspective Rand’ family, as unique, entrepreneurial/bourgeois were victims of political persecution that sought to eliminate them not as Jew, but as a representative kind of individual. The kind of people she would idealized. In the case of your own family, they were the victim of a different kind of persecution attacked not for their individual but collective beliefs or identity.
    In coming to America  both Rand and your Ancestors would have sought different ways to regain what they lost while conceiving different strategies to hold on to the things they acquired.
    “Social consciousness” may originate in the heart, or it it may just be very good strategy to protect oneself, as one accumulates wealth, status and power, i.e., see George Soros or Warren Buffet, or any number of so-called socially conscious, charitable individuals.

  7. Steven Heller Post author

    Just out of curiosity, why does every argument about capitalism versus socialism turn to “perhaps you should relocate to . . .”
    I was writing about the Rands. This was not a critique of capitalism as an institution or economic system. Frankly, I’m quite fond of capitalism (when the economy is good). I’m also quite fond of social welfare. But as Pooh would say, “Oh bother. . .” or did he mean “Oh brother. . .”?

  8. L. Frances

    In response to your continual criticism of capitalism, perhaps you should relocate to Cuba where people risk their lives on a daily basis to escape the oppression and inhumanity of socialism in exchange for the free market shores of America. Count your blessings Mr. Heller that you live in a country where you can both follow your dreams and reject individual freedom as millions around the world do not have the same opportunity. Merry Christmas!  

  9. RWordplay

    I’m surprised by the vehemence of  John’s remark “Ayn Rand was a bitter, delusional immigrant…”
    Especially in-so-far as she offered proof of the reality of the American Dream as dreamt by the majority of Americans, across the political spectrum. I’m not surprised that the man turns to Paul Krugman, someone who has spent the majority of his adult life in deeply protected and priviledged environments including Yale, MIT, Princeton and the offices of The New York Times corporation. Krugman is certainly a bright fellow but he has his own demons and entertains his own delusions.
    Also as Krugman is the grandson of Jewish immigrants, John might apply his description, with slight refinement, to Mr. Krugman, who seems to be increasing, bitter and, as his bitterness increases, more delusional. In closing, it’s fitting that the high point of Krugman’s career is not his Nobel Prize but his cameo appearance in the movie “Get Him to the Greek.” It seems in the end, it’s one’s relationship to Hollywood that defines success in America. 

  10. Steven Heller Post author

    Wordplay, you write:
    Well, perhaps had you been born in Russia and and came of age Bolshevik revolution and saw your father’s business confiscated and your family forced into exile…

    My grandparents came from Russia on one side and Austro-Hungary on the other. Both sides shared a sense of social justice and social welfare. My Russian grandfather was persecuted in a pogrom. My Galician grandmother was persecuted by ultra Orthodox Jews for not being Orthodox enough. Sadly, her remaining family, including my great grandfather, was marched into a Ghetto and then to Auschwitz.

    None of my family were Communist, or even considered themselves Left (and survived the Black List), but almost all were socially concerned and charitable in many ways. Objectivism, which I flirted with back then, was anathema to their thinking. They believed in the “individual,” but refused to sacrifice common humanity to individualism as an ethos or religion.

    Ayn Rand took self-interest to an extreme. When my grandfather learned I attended “meetings” he asked me to tell him all about them. Then he said, “don’t you see anything wrong with complete subservience to the ego” (though not exactly in those words).

    I find Rand an extremely interesting character who was shaped by her times and molded by her socio-psychological experiences. I know she was a cultish figure to many then, and perhaps now. But for me, sorry to say, she just never had the answer I needed to hear.

  11. John

    Ayn Rand was a bitter, delusional immigrant will little grasp of human reality–beyond her own. That her work is still read and her warped “philosophy” given credence is, unfortunately, telling. Especially today, when we have seen how destructive is the armiture of laissez faire “fundamentalism.”  Economist Paul Krugman probably describes this vision, rooted in Randian writings, best: “When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.”

  12. Kate

    Jas, I’m in the same boat.
    I loved that book so much, that in the years since first picking it up — I’ve never finished it, in fear of ever ‘being done’ with it. I was so concentrated on that idea of the designer as the hero, as the one who stood for reason…that I was oblivious to the politics of it all.
    So I suppose I still love Ayn for what she was to me (while at the same time, she scares the bahjesus out of me).

  13. RWordplay

    “Even as a teen, I was not impressed.”
    Well, perhaps had you been born in Russia and and came of age Bolshevik revolution and saw your  father’s business confiscated and your family forced into exile…of course this is an old story. The fact is that Ms. Rand proclaimed herself fully modern, from self-professed atheism, to her involvement the emerging media film, to her purchase of a house designed by Richard Neutra, her life for better or worse embodied a philosophy she lived to the best of her ability. Of course, it is easy today to mock, particularly in light of her followers shortcomings, but what I find particularly interesting is that those who look at her work and select aspects of her life tend to ignore the context and history that shaped it.  “Objectivism” is a marvel of invention when one considers at the time the American left and much of its privileged “artist” class was celebrating the virtues of Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist philosophies, beliefs that made the Soviet Union, the marvel of human rights and artistic achievement it achieved.
    I have no idea of what did impress you as a young person and you don’t offer an explanation for your successful resistance to Objectivism. Saying this, one may have problems with Rand, as a stylist or her imperious lifestyle, but to reject Ayn Rand—and I’m not a follower and as an  impressionable teen, she never entered my mind—but to reject, as “quaint and wrong” objectivism, from our privileged condition, and, our easy hypocrisy, we accept as natural both Bedford and Bed-Stuy, Trinity School and Hunter College High School and The Academy of Collaborative Education and any of the other “persistently dangerous” Schools in Manhattan.  
     
    In closing, the curious coincident of both Rand and Rand having their origin in Rosenbaum, is a fine punchline to a skirt on John Stewart (born Libowitz) I expect from you a more critical approach to the concept of self invention, especially in the face of cultures that would judge and deny a person their rights on the basis of their names, as much as the color of their skin.
    I’m a big fan Steve, but I found this article as superfluous as it was sad.

  14. Jack

    A friend loaned Atlas Shrugged to me several years ago. I think I managed to get past about 100 pages before I said, “This is ridiculously boring” and gave up.
    Some time later, I decided to put some effort into learning about her philosophy (he loaned the book to me because he thought I’d enjoy and agree with the Objectivist point of view). I was unimpressed there, as well. In my opinion, her philosophy is naive at best and garbage at worst.
    But what do I know? My idea of a good read typically involves Carl Jung.

  15. Sujit Patwardhan

    Thank you for your frank assessment of Ayn Rand. She seems to impress a lot of teenagers and many of my friends were complete converts to her philosophy and some continue to be so. However I too like you wasn’t really impressed by her.

  16. Jas

    When I read Foutainhead I loved it, because the designer was the hero. I didn’t pay attention to all the messaging, I read it for the story of it. I guess I’m maleable. Do you know any (other) good designer-as-the-hero fiction novels?

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