In the summer of 1921, a young Ayn Rand saw Moscow for the first time. “I remember standing on a square,” she would later recall. “And it suddenly struck me. . . . ‘How enormous it is, and how many people, and it’s just one city’ . . . . I suddenly had the concrete sense of how many large cities there were in the world—and I had to address all of them. All of those numbers had to hear of me, and of what I was going to say. And the feeling was marvelously solemn.”
Today, on the 107th anniversary of her birth, it’s hard to doubt that the world has indeed heard of Ayn Rand. Her books—including titles like “The Fountainhead” and “The Virtue of Selfishness”—have sold nearly 30 million copies, with sales of her 1,100-page opus, “Atlas Shrugged,” surpassing a million copies in the last three years alone.
Rand has clearly inspired millions. But a debate has emerged over the question of Rand’s political influence, with many commentators claiming her ideas have played a key role in shaping the political landscape. As former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in 2011, “Ayn Rand has a large and growing influence on American politics.”
But to gauge Rand’s influence, we need to know more about her views than the sound bytes we’re typically offered.