Doug French

This year's release of the movie version of Atlas Shrugged — or at least a third of a shrug — has put Ayn Rand back in the spotlight. The man with the big-budget plan, Rep. Paul Ryan, is said to require that his staff read Rand. There's even a Senator named Rand — although he wasn't named for Rand, he's a Rand fan. There's so much Rand buzz that the Christian Right is now attacking Rand for her atheism.

Many mainstream Rand fans overlook her atheism while being wild for her moral support of capitalism. Rand studied history and philosophy in Russia, but she didn't read widely. Just who was it that provided Rand the education in the glories of free markets that most people identify her with?

"They'd sit up until four or five in the morning — and Ayn would be sitting at the master's feet," Rand's niece remembers.

One night, when they were talking, I went to bed, but I could hear the conversation, and it was if Pat were the guru and teacher — and Ayn didn't do that. Ayn would be asking questions, and Pat would be answering. It was very strange.

Isabel Paterson is the "Pat" Mimi Sutton was referring to — a "radical individualist in both theory and practice," explains Stephen Cox in his extraordinary The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America.

Paterson's The God of the Machine was one of four magisterial libertarian works to be published in the dark days of 1943. Although her book was more well-known than Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, which was released that year, Rose Wilder Lane's The Discovery of Freedom, and especially Rand's The Fountainhead were much more popular.

In the first third of The Fountainhead, economic ideas do not dominate. It was only in the remainder of Rand's first great success that, "after many months of intense discussions with Paterson about political philosophy and American history and institutions, does she develop the political meaning of Roark's experience," Cox explains.

Doug French

Doug French is is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth

Be the first to read Bill Barker’s column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.