The “Grandfather of Atlas Shrugged.” Ayn Rand’s Untold Precursor to Her Famous Novel

Today in 1946, Ayn Rand began writing what has become perhaps the most important novel ever written: Atlas Shrugged.

As many of her readers know, the book went on to become an international best seller and remains so today. What most people might not know however, is that Ayn Rand first began thinking of the plot and themes that would form the novel when she was only 18.

Excerpted below is a passage from The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden. As a disclaimer, I want to say that I am aware of the criticisms of Ms. Branden’s book. Having read it, I can say I agree with the majority of them. Errors of memory can be forgiven but the armchair psychologizing which often takes a nasty tone and the unfair treatment and interoperation of certain events cannot.

That being said, I’ve found the following short passage from the book to be incredibly interesting and believe that it is true in essentials:

“As Alice later described the story (she was hesitant to describe it at all: “It’s so primitive,” she said, laughing) of the “grandfather of Atlas Shrugged,” the leader of the strike was a woman of so astonishing a beauty that any man who saw her had to follow her, and join her for the rest of his life. “It is not just physical beauty,” Alice would explain, “but also its spiritual meaning. Her beauty is symbolic; lesser men would be perfectly indifferent to her, but if a man were an unusual soul, he would not be able to resist her.”

The story opens as men of achievement from all over Europe— statesmen, inventors, scientists, artists— begin to vanish, and friends can gather only that the night before each disappearance, the man was seen with an exquisitely beautiful woman.

One by one, Europe’s men of ability are disappearing.

The reader learns that the heroine has not told the men the nature of her goal, she has asked only that they follow her. When she has drawn out the leading brains of Europe, she explains her purpose to them: to take them to the United States, to break all ties with an increasingly collectivist Europe, and to allow Europe to collapse.

Before they can leave, however, one new figure arises. He is the hero, a great French inventor named Francis; 6 he is the last genius left and Europe’s one remaining intellectual weapon.

He resents the woman, whom he has never seen, because he thinks she is attempting to rule the world. He gives a public test of an airplane he has invented that flies faster than any plane yet devised.

When he lands, the heroine sees him— and she falls in love. “That night, in his laboratory,” Alice would recount, “Francis gets a private wireless message from her. She wires: ‘I need your services. I will buy you. I offer one million dollars.’

He wires back his answer: ‘I don’t need your services. I will buy you. I offer two million dollars.’ A few moments later, he sits in his laboratory shaken, emotionally reached for the first time in his life, because the answer has come back: ‘I accept.’ He replies that he will expect her in his laboratory on this exact day and time next year. “

A year has passed. He is in his laboratory again. At the exact hour and minute of the woman’s original message, there is a knock on his door. She enters, wearing a black cape and veiled. He puts two million dollars on the table between them. She takes off her veil and cape; she is naked.

“The next morning, the newspaper headlines announce that the inventor has disappeared. He becomes the leader of America; she has merely been the spirit of the strike. They declare war on Europe, which they conquer easily because all the machinery, the inventions and the brains are on their side. The book ends on a free world and on their triumph.

Ayn Rand’s Little Known “Screen Guide for Americans”

In 1947, The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Idealswhich included such members as Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan, hired Ayn Rand to create a guide for moviemakers to use in identifying the attempts of collectivists to infiltrate their films and smuggle in the ideas of communism to the American people.

“The influence of Communists in Hollywood is due, not to their own power, but to the unthinking carelessness of those who profess to oppose them. Red propaganda has been put over in some films produced by innocent men, often by loyal Americans who deplore the spread of Communism throughout the world and wonder why it is spreading.”

In a little known paper that would be called the “Screen Guide for Americans,” Rand argued that it was the responsibility of the film industry to oppose completely the introduction of Communist ideas into American films.

“It is the avowed purpose of the Communists to insert propaganda into movies. Therefore, there are only two possible courses of action open to you, if you want to keep your pictures clean of subversive propaganda:

1. If you have no time or inclination to study political ideas — then do not hire Reds to work on your pictures.

2. If you wish to employ Reds, but intend to keep their ideas out of your movies — then study political ideas and learn how to recognize the propaganda when you see it.

But to hire Communists on the theory that “the won’t put over any politics on me”…is an attitude for which there can be no excuse.”

Rand lays out 13 guidelines “for all those who do not wish to help the advance of Communism” in film, but I think they can be applied to all spheres of artistic action:

  1. Do not take politics lightly.
  2. Don’t smear the free enterprise system.
  3. Don’t smear industrialists.
  4. Don’t smear wealth.
  5. Dont’ smear the profit motive.
  6. Don’t smear success.
  7. Don’t glorify failure.
  8. Don’t glorify depravity.
  9. Don’t deify “the common man.”
  10. Don’t glorify the collective.
  11. Don’t smear an independent man.
  12. Don’t use current events carelessly.
  13. Don’t smear American political institutions.

While the guide is one of Rand’s lesser known works, it stands out as both a fascinating piece of Objectivist intellectual development and history of American cinema. It is also remarkable to consider what might have happened if her guide had been taken seriously by the leaders of the industry.

Rand ends her paper with a call to action and a reminder to her audience that free speech does mean freedom of association:

“Let the Communists preach what they wish (as long as it remains mere talking) at the expense of those and in the employ of those who share their ideas. Let them create their own motion picture studios, if they can. But let us put an end to their use of our pictures, out studies, and our money for the purpose of preaching our expropriation, enslavement, and destruction. Freedom of speech does not imply that it is our duty to provide a knife for the murderer who wants to cut our throat.”

Since the paper has all but disappeared to a few obscure website, I’ve attached the entirety of the Screen Guide for Americans here so that you can read it for yourself.

Ayn Rand Delivers Her Lecture: “Philosophy Who Needs It” at West Point in 1974

Ayn Rand, one of the most significant novelist of the 20th century (and the person from whom this website takes its name), was also one of the 20th century’s most significant philosophers. Those who have only read her fiction works are missing out on a wealth of nonfiction writings and recordings that form the base for her philosophy of Objectivism.

In this recording of her address to the (1974) graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Ayn Rand delivers one of her most important lectures on the philosophy of philosophy. Unlike most philosophers before and after her, Ayn Rand offers a clear definition of philosophy and a compelling case for it’s profound importance to every person who cares to live on earth as a man. Philosophy, according to Rand, is not a game or a discipline relegated to ivory tower academics. It’s not a luxury, or as one Facebook “friend” told me recently, a “privilege,” but an existential necessity for man. Man’s choice is not whether he will use philosophy, but whether he will determine that philosophy for himself or let others do it for him.

This lecture is found in a book titled by the same name, one of the most significant books in my own intellectual development, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and while it should be read as well, the audio recording is significant because it captures the generally positive reception of Rand by the audience. Note the philosophical literacy, the laughter, and the good naturedness of these men in comparison to our day. 

“Philosophy would not tell you, for instance, whether you are in New York City or in Zanzibar (though it would give you the means to find out). But here is what it would tell you: Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute — and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real — or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer — or are they created by the observer? Are they the object or the subject of man’s consciousness? Are they what they are — or can they be changed by a mere act of your consciousness, such as a wish?” — Ayn Rand

“You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational conviction — or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.” — Ayn Rand

“The best way to study philosophy is to approach it as one approaches a detective story: follow every trail, clue and implication, in order to discover who is a murderer and who is a hero. The criterion of detection is two questions: Why? and How? If a given tenet seems to be true — why? If another tenet seems to be false — why? and how is it being put over? You will not find all the answers immediately, but you will acquire an invaluable characteristic: the ability to think in terms of essentials.” — Ayn Rand

Philosophy: Who Needs It is an excellent introduction to Ayn Rand’s nonfiction. Readers who are looking for where to go next should refer to The Virtue of Selfishness by Rand or Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff.

Capitalism vs Socialism: The 1984 Leonard Peikoff Debate

Today, we take a look at a multi-part public debate that took place in Canada in 1984 between Objectivists (Leonard Peikoff and John Ridpath) representing the capitalist view and “Democratic” Socialists (Gerald Caplan and Jill Vickers) representing the socialist view.

I’ve selected here only the three main segments from Peikoff — opening, response and closing arguments, which offer together what might be the best public, philosophical defense of capitalism ever given.

I don’t say this lightly.

Peikoff is an intellectual giant. In roughly 25 minutes he unapologetically outlines in entirety the philosophical case for a laissez-faire capitalist society and swats away the socialist arguments with an ease indicative of a man who (to paraphrase Philosophy: Who Needs It?) has achieved the fullest understanding of his beliefs, the fullest confidence in his knowledge and his ability to express them, and the fullest certainty of the moral rightness of both.

And if you want to know why free market capitalism today is being assaulted on all fronts, it’s because its supposed advocates cannot and will not claim that same understanding, confidence, and moral authority.

Libertarians who criticize him because of a certain interview with Bill O’Reily (which will warrant another post) that he participated in would do well to watch this debate and reevaluate their position on a man who deserves nothing but to be held in the highest regard as a defender of freedom and a champion for human life. 

He’s a man who can be a education to us all — so watch the debate if you want…

  • A wildly entertaining intellectual beatdown against two people who can only be described as sophists and who increasingly resort to emotional pleas and ad hominens (they refer to him as Play-Cough and Pie-Cough) when they realize they’re opponents have done their homework.
  • To see an example of how one can properly explain and defend the moral case for capitalism.
  • To learn more about morality, human nature and intellectual history. (Yes, there was once a time when men like Peikoff existed and were taken seriously, and it can happen again)

Opening Statements:

“What creates all human values is thought. That’s point one: morality means thinking, reasoning, exercising and living by one’s mind. Point two: life requites selflessness. A living organism has to be the beneficiary of its own actions. It has to pursue specific objects for its own sake and survival. Life requires the gaining of values, not their loss. Achievement, not renunciation. Self preservation, which is selfish, not self sacrifice. If life is the standard of value than morality cannot consist of sacrifice. The ethics of social service, the ethics of self sacrifice, is what is destroying the world today.” — Leonard Peikoff

Response to the Socialists:

“With regard to the term that we’re concerned with property rather than people, we deny such a dichotomy. People cannot exist without property, they’re not ghosts. A system which preserves human freedom has to preserve the right to the physical goods that you yourself have produced. Otherwise you can be free in heaven but on this earth you have to take orders from the government…Any communal ownership of property necessarily means the negation of all rights.” — Leonard Peikoff

Closing Statements:

“I regard the welfare state as an abomination, as morally evil. I do not base morality on the Sermon of the Mount, and I do not put forth a moral case in terms of the lame, the halt and the blind…you have to first say “what does the healthy, unafflicted individual require?” You cannot shackle those who are able to function, allegedly in the name of helping the weak, because then you will wipe out the whole human race. If compassion for those who cannot survive on their own is your value, the first thing you should do is take the shackles off of the people who are able to think, and produce and create the wealth that everyone requires to survive including the weak.” — Leonard Peikoff

You can watch the entirety of the debate here, which is well worth it, both for Dr. Ridpath’s segments, which are arguably as brilliant as Peikoff’s, and for the socialist segments, which are, as one might expect, devoid of foundation, bankrupt in morals and childish in delivery.

21 Quotes from The Fountainhead that Matter

Yesterday a certain libertarian academic referred to Ayn Rand as a “second rate novelist” and a “sloppy philosopher.” I thought, why not make our first post a collection of some of the best passages from her novel, The Fountainhead?

But before I start on the first of what will surely be many listicles, one has to speculate why this professor, and loads of other libertarians, find it so easy to take shots at Rand, a woman who, for better or worse, did more for the libertarian movement than any of them.

I have some guesses…

  • They haven’t read her books.
  • They disagree but they can’t prove her wrong, so they attack her ability as a writer rather than the substance of her ideas.
  • They’re chronically guilty Peter Keating-types who care more about the opinions of others than upholding a consistent ethical system.
  • They’re not really libertarian. (Here’s a hint, most aren’t)

Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but the point I really want to make is this: if they’re’re going to criticize her writing, provide some damn examples! If they’re going to call her a sloppy philosopher, explain why!


This post isn’t really for them.


1. “Who will let you? That’s not the point. The point is who will stop me.”


2. “…But you see, I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards.


3.“Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”


4. “To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”


5. “During his first week at school the teacher called on Gail Wynand constantly – it was sheer pleasure to her, because he always knew the answers. When he trusted his superiors and their purpose, he obeyed like a Spartan…But the force of his will was wasted: within a week he saw that he needed no effort to be first in the class. After a month the teacher stopped noticing his presence; it seemed pointless, he always knew his lesson and she had to concentrate on the slower, duller children. He sat, unflinching, through hours that dragged like chains, while the teacher repeated and chewed and rechewed, sweating to force some spark of intellect from vacant eyes and mumbling voices.”


6. “Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”


7. “But Keating could never be the same when he had an audience, any audience. Something was gone. He did not know it, but he felt Roark knew; Roark’s eyes made him uncomfortable and that made him angry.”


8. Henry Cameron: Why did you’d decide to become an architect?
Howard Roark: I didn’t know it then. But it’s because I’ve never believed in God.
Henry Cameron: Come on, talk sense.
Howard Roark: Because I love this earth. That’s all I love. I don’t like the shape of things on this earth. I want to change them.
Henry Cameron: For whom?
Howard Roark: For myself.”


9. “Rules? Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose.”


10. “I could die for you. But I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, live for you.”


11. “It’s easy to run to others. It’s so hard to stand on one’s own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence–such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.”


12. “He tried to explain and to convince. He knew, while he spoke, that it was useless, because his words sounded if they were hitting a vacuum. There was no such person as Mrs. Wayne Wilmot; there was only a shell containing the opinions of her friends. the picture post cards she had seen, the novels of country squires she had read; it was this that he had to address, this immateriality which could not hear him or answer, deaf and impersonal like a wad of cotton.”


13. “Mrs. Sanborn was the president of many charity organizations and this had given her an addiction to autocracy such as no other avocation could develop.”


14. “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window – no, I don’t feel how small I am – but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.”


15. “As a matter of fact, the person who loves everybody and feels at home everywhere is the true hater of mankind….I mean the person who has the filthy insolence to claim that he loves equally the man who made that statue of you and the man who makes a Mickey Mouse balloon to sell on the street corners.”


16. Peter: “Well, I don’t know why I should come to you, but — Howard, I’ve never said it before, but you see, I’d rather have your opinion on things than the Dean’s — I’d probably follow the Dean’s, but it’s just that yours means more to me myself, I don’t know why.

Howard: If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know? How can you let others decide for you?”


17. “He wondered whether he really liked his mother. But she was his mother and this fact was recognized by everybody as meaning automatically that he loved her, and so he took for granted that whatever he felt for her was love. He did not know whether there was any reason why he should respect her judgement. She was his mother and that was supposed to take the place of reasons.


18. “It doesn’t say much. Only ‘Howard Roark, Architect.” But it’s like those mottos men carved over the entrance of a castle and died for. It’s a challenge in the face of something so vast and so dark, that all the pain on earth — and do you know how much suffering there is on earth? — all the pain comes from that thing you are going to face…I know that if you carry these words through to the end, it will be a victory, Howard, not just for you, but for something that should win, that moves the world — and that never wins acknowledgement.”


19. Toohey: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? IN any words you wish. Nobody will ever hear us.

Howard: But I don’t think of you.”


20. “It’s doing something horrible to me. I’m beginning to hate people, Uncle Ellsworth. I’m beginning to be cruel and mean and petty in a way I’ve never been before. I expect people to be grateful to me. I…I demand gratitude. I find myself pleased when slum people bow and scrape and fawn over me. I find myself liking only those who are servile.”


21. “The Temple was to be a small building of gray limestone. Its lines were horizontal, n to the lines reaching to heaven, but the lines of the earth. It seemed to spread over the ground like arms outstretched at shoulder-height, palms down, in great, silent acceptance. It did not cling to the soil and it did not crouch under the sky. It seemed to lift the earth, and its few vertical shafts pulled the sky down. It was scaled to human high in such a manner that it did not dwarf man, but stood as a setting that made his figure the only absolute, the gauge of perfection by which all dimensions were to be judged. When a man entered the temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exhalation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory.


I know for a fact that I’m missing hundreds other important quotes and passages, but these are the ones that came to me at the time and I don’t want to give everything away.

Derek Magill  is the cofounder of Howard Laughed, a college dropout, and a strategist and business consultant for companies in the ecommerce, manufacturing, education, tech and real estate space. He is the Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing for Praxis. Find him on YouTube or Twitter.