Originally published in The Business Standard, June 3, 2010:
Here is my second-favourite Ayn Rand story. Challenged by a journalist to present her philosophy while standing on one foot, the philosopher, novelist and all-round provocateur stuck her foot in the air and stated her creed: “Metaphysics: Objective Reality. Epistemology: Reason. Ethics: Self-interest. Politics: Capitalism.”
The longer version of these principles is also well-known, and forms, to this day, a Canticle of Rand for true believers: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” “Man is an end in himself.” “Give me liberty or give me death.”
My favourite Ayn Rand story, unlike the first, is not in the canon of twice-told Rand tales. Born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, to a Russian Jewish family, Alissa/Alice Rosenbaum chose a new name for herself when she came to New York. She had various explanations for the “Ayn”: it was a Finnish female name, she had made it up. “The real explanation,” writes Anne Heller, “may be more sentimental — and more ethnic — than the creator of a philosophy based on the self-made soul would be likely to admit.” Perhaps Ayn came from “Ayin”, an affectionate Jewish diminutive meaning “bright eyes” — her mother called her “Ayinotchka” as a child. The idea that Ayn Rand would step into her new, American life casting off the past while still secretively holding on to a tiny sliver of it is seductive.