This Day In History: March 6

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On March 6, 1982, bestselling writer and philosopher Alice O’Connor—known mostly by her pen name, Ayn Randdies at age 77. Two days later, at the funeral home visitation, a floral arrangement shaped like a six-foot dollar sign stood next to her casket. It aptly symbolized her passionate belief in a philosophy she called “Objectivism,” which espoused “rational selfishness,” unfettered individualism and unregulated free markets.

That philosophy would make Rand one of the most deeply divisive figures of the 20th century.

Rand, who was born and educated in Russia, moved to the U.S. at the age of 21, hoping to become a screenwriter. She lived in Chicago and then Los Angeles, working in the movie industry, before settling in New York City.

In her most influential and best-selling novels—The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957)—Rand crafted protagonists who embodied her philosophical ideals. In an appendix to Atlas Shrugged, Rand made the connection explicit: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

In addition to novels, she also wrote plays, screenplays and nonfiction, including her essay collections The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966). Rand served as editor of The Objectivist from 1962 to 1971, a periodical platform for her intellectual musings.

Rand drew both cultish admiration and stinging rebukes for her philosophy, which touted selfishness as a virtue and altruism as a vice. Her passionate defense of laissez-faire capitalism endeared her to many political conservatives, libertarians and CEOs. (Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a big fan.) But critics decried her elevation of reason at the expense of human emotion—and her focus on extreme individualism with no concern for the greater good—as misguided and toxic.