Ayn Rand and the Educational Values of Objectivism

Anouk Zuurmond

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


    With her dystopian novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), the American philosopher Ayn Rand painted a bleak picture of what the United States would look like if the idea of capitalism would give way to socialism. Rand intended her novels to be more than just fiction: she wrote them as a literary presentation of her philosophy of ‘Objectivism’, which can be summarized as a defense of a political philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism and a moral philosophy of egoism. Despite the many pages of her novels, featuring flat characters merely serving as mouthpieces for Rand’s philosophy, both books are still selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the US. A survey conducted in the 1990’s by the Library of Congress named Atlas Shrugged as the most influential book in the US, after the Bible. In 2009, sales spiked as the economic crisis raised questions on government interference in the markets.
    Whilst it has been observed that Rand and the followers of Objectivism have had strong convictions on educational issues as well (e.g. Carson 2005, Reid 2013), recent publications hardly refer to these novels that are key sources for understanding her ideas. In this paper, I propose to read Rand’s fictional work through an educational lens, which allows me to systematically analyze the main values that come to the fore in Objectivists’ understanding of teaching and schooling: individualism, rationalism and critical thinking, (parental) autonomy, and (market-based) competition. Rand’s values in education and critique of academia in many ways still resonate in popular 21st century discussions, and are especially important in understanding current-day prevailing neoliberal discourses on education – not only in the US, but also in Europe. Yet, a close reading of her novels also reveals how tensions and contradictions exist in the Objectivist approach to educational issues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2019
    EventEthics and Education - University of Warschaw, Warschaw, Poland
    Duration: 28-Nov-201930-Nov-2019


    ConferenceEthics and Education

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