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62 In 1945, Rand wrote: When I am questioned about myself, I am tempted to say, paraphrasing Roark [the protagonist of The Fountainhead]: “Don’t ask me about my family, my childhood, my friends or my feelings. Ask me about the things I think.” It is the content of a person’s brain, not the accidental details of his life, that determines his character. My own character is in the pages of The Fountainhead. For anyone who wishes to know me, that is essential. The specific events of my private life are of no importance whatever. I have never had any private life in the usual sense of the word. My writing is my life.1 In this passage, Rand suggests that she is “tempted” to adopt an “­ essence-accident” distinction in the definition of her own life. The essential Rand is the thinking Rand. What she has written and what she thinks are what she considers most fundamental to answering the question, “Who is Ayn Rand?” The events and life experiences that shaped her thought are “accidental details” and “of no importance whatever” in grasping the significance of her character. Although I perforce distinguish the philosophy from the philosopher, I believe that Rand’s self-portrait here verges on the reification of her intellect as a disembodied abstraction. One cannot focus exclusively on the philosopher ’s character or, more important, on the philosopher’s body of work as if either were generated and developed in a vacuum. Rand herself often paid educating alissa educating alissa  63 close attention to context and history in the analysis of philosophical and cultural trends. And yet she paints an oddly flat portrait of her own being. By concentrating on her ideas to the exclusion of her developmental psychology , social interactions, and experiences, she achieves a one-sidedness that is in stark contrast to the richness and complexity of her own mode of analysis. What Rand wished to emphasize was that ideas mattered. She never would have completely discounted the influence of social relationships on a person’s thinking. Nor was she apt to create a dichotomy between a person’s thought and emotions. But at times, she did exhibit a problematic tendency to view ideas as the sole means for understanding human behavior or for judging an individual’s moral worth. In her novels, characters often serve as embodiments of ideas; they are one-sided expressions of specific philosophic principles . In her theory of history, this tendency to emphasize the importance of ideas could translate into a crude form of philosophical determinism. But within the present context, I cannot accept Rand’s self-evaluation. Her ideas cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of their historical context. That context includes some of her most important life experiences . Certainly Rand’s ideas are not knee-jerk, emotional responses to personal trauma. But an assessment of her philosophy and her place in intellectual history cannot be complete without a contextual and developmental foundation. Rand would be the first to admit that “the content of a person’s brain” derives from experiential, objective reality.2 One can no more divorce experience from thought than one can separate body and mind. The two are inseparably linked. Emphasizing Rand’s ideas to the exclusion of her life experiences or, alternatively, Rand’s private life to the exclusion of her ideas, leads to a predictably distorted view of her historical significance. Here I attempt to fill some of the major gaps in our knowledge of Rand’s formative years of development, perhaps to discover an experiential link between Objectivist philosophy and its Russian antecedents. There is not much information available on Rand’s education in Russia. I have been obliged to combine significant factual evidence with a certain degree of reasonable speculation. the early years In an early biographical essay, Barbara Branden portrays Ayn Rand the child exhibiting a desire to integrate facts and values. Echoing the yearning for synthesis ever-present in the Russian psyche, the young Alissa ­ Rosenbaum learned to reject “any such inner dichotomy.”3 Though ­ Branden’s characterization was garnered from her subject’s mature self-reflections, it is 64 ayn rand clear that the integration of traditional polarities was the leitmotif of Rand’s lifelong philosophical project. Rand argued that she had always held the same basic philosophic convictions from the time of childhood, and that it was only her applications and knowledge which expanded over time.4 But as the young Alissa Rosenbaum...


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