CRF Blog

As Astonishing as Elvis

by Bill Hayes

In As Astonishing as Elvis for the London Review of Books, reviews Ayn Rand by Jeff Britting.

If you try to find out about the legacy of Ayn Rand, your search engine will probably direct you first to, a website run by the Ayn Rand Institute in California. The ARI was founded in 1985, three years after Rand’s death, by Leonard Peikoff, her friend and heir. It runs a newsletter called Impact and, via the Objectivist Academic Center, undergraduate courses in the Randian world vision.

Objectivism was the name Rand gave to the system of philosophy she developed in a 30,000-word speech that took her two years to write and which forms the centrepiece of her bestselling novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957). It was later elaborated in speeches, lectures and interviews, in the six non-fiction books Rand published in her lifetime, and a further dozen-odd published after her death. Objectivism is also promulgated by the Objectivist Center in Washington DC, until recently run by David Kelley, the author of A Life of One’s Own: Individualism and the Welfare State. Kelley split from the ARI in 1990, ‘dismayed’ by ‘the exploding excesses’ of its ‘official, dogmatic approach’. The Center supports lectures and social events, a journal called the New Individualist (until recently the Navigator), a venture called the Atlas Society and an online Objectivism Store selling T-shirts, bags, hats, badges and inspirational posters such as Morality Made Visible, which features the Manhattan skyline, Twin Towers intact, with a quotation from The Fountainhead, Rand’s bestselling novel of 1943.

Rand is everywhere on the internet: stickers, coasters, car number plates, CDs featuring a Randian ‘Concerto of Deliverance’ at Randians can meet ‘at least’ four thousand others, it is claimed, through the Objectivist dating agency at, which last January carried an ad for an Ayn Rand social evening at a New York City restaurant called Porter’s (the evening was to feature ‘gourmet hors d’oeuvres’ served by ‘uniformed strolling waiters’ and ‘an artistically decorated birthday cake’). Professional philosophers can join the Ayn Rand Society at; people in easy reach of Denver can choose between FROG (Front Range Objectivist Group), FROST (Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks) and FROLIC (Front Range Objectivist Laughter Ideas and Chow). Names pop up from website to website, agreeing and disagreeing, welcoming and banning, calling for papers, publishing books. There’s a whole community of Objectivists out there, with its own structure and hierarchy, controversies and disputes, outcasts, fellow-travellers, stars. A peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, was founded in 1999, and continues to run out of New York University; a paper by Slavoj Žižek is among past highlights. In 2001, the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Research established a $300,000 fellowship in the philosophy department at the University of Texas at Austin. Austin’s current Anthem fellow is the author of, among other things, a paper called ‘Money Can Buy Happiness’. Fellowships have also been established at the University of Pittsburgh and Ashland University in Ohio.

In the US, there’s a 2005 centenary edition of Atlas Shrugged, a 35th-anniversary edition, a school-bound edition, a library-bound edition, but here in Britain, the most recent edition is a mass market paperback published by Signet in 1997. It has the shirking old Titan on the front cover, in a horrible Deco-ish rendition, and Rand herself on the back, cow-eyed and alabaster-browed. The actual text is 1079 tiny-printed pages long.

‘Who is John Galt?’ the novel begins: the question is rhetorical, an expression of despair. The setting is, loosely, America in the 1940s – Washington, Wisconsin, Mexico are mentioned, as are diners, bums, hamburgers, negligees – but film-set-thin and vague and flat. Everything is running down: typewriters break and no one can fix them, mines and smelters lie idle, and out West, in an image experienced as the ultimate horror, a farmer is spotted using a plough. Men of talent, composers, industrialists, financiers, one by one destroy their businesses and disappear. Faceless governments pass progressively more anti-business legislation: the Equalisation of Opportunity Bill; the Anti-Dog Eat Dog Rule. [more]