When Michael Berliner was a grad student in the 1960s, followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest were routinely ridiculed, denounced or shunned.
“If people found out that you were an objectivist, it was like you were some religious cultist,” says Berliner, former director of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, about the philosophy she created.
“No, it was worse than that. Professors would sneer at me in class and make nasty comments on papers when I mentioned her.”
Fast-forward to present-day Stanford University, where Francisco LePort, 19, of Newport Beach, is a Ph.D. student in physics.
When a fellow student recognized the name of the hero of Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” on the license plate of LePort’s 2002 Subaru sedan, he left a note under the windshield wiper, and the two became friends. LePort met his girlfriend at a Rand conference two years ago. And all three of his roommates in the Stanford dorms happened to be Rand fans, much to his surprise.
These days, fans of Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand are no longer alone. That’s right, 100 years after her birth, followers of Rand – the advocate of radical individualism, the”morality of selfishness,”laissez-faire capitalism and atheism – are winning friends and influencing people.
There are dozens of Internet chat rooms devoted to Rand, where fans discuss how her ideas play out in such mainstream Hollywood movies as “The Incredibles” and “The Aviator.” There’s even an online Ayn Rand dating service, the Atlasphere, to match up admirers of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” – her best- known novels – with their soul mates.
“Objectivists date other objectivists. It’s the essential thing,” says Dan Edge, 26, a computer broker and salesperson, from Charlotte, N.C., one of the Web site’s more than 2,000 paying members.
This is a slight misquote; there are over 2,000 members in the dating service, and over 5,000 in the member directory, but not all of our members are paid subscribers.
And the article ends on this note:
While she went on to write serious philosophical works, she didn’t aim to be an academic philosopher.
“Her focus was, as she called it, man in the world, not ideas separated from physical realm,” Berliner says. “When she thought about characters, they were always people who were active and doing things in the world. Her philosophy was consistent with that. She was always much, much more popular with the general run of people than with intellectuals.”
Rand scholars believe that since her death in 1982, her influence has been building for a range of reasons, from the political to the social to the technological.
Joshua Zader, who founded the Atlasphere two years ago after meeting his wife at an Ayn Rand conference in 1999, credited the growth of the Internet.
“It’s a technology and a medium that fosters the spread of ideas. Ayn Rand worshipped ideas and knowledge. The Internet provides a way for people who admire Ayn Rand to share their excitement with each other and others who have never heard of her,” Zader says.
Brook points to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of communism.
“Generally, the global trend is toward more capitalism, and more freedom than we’ve seen. In very collectivist cultures like Japan and China we’re seeing more individualism come out,” he says, adding that new translations of Rand’s novels are due out in both countries.
But he’s not stopping there. He’s looking toward the next 100 years.
“This is just going to be a long process,” he says. “It could be decades. I hope it’s not a century, but it could be before we have a real impact on the culture.”
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