The Woman Who Changed Millions of Lives

In this age of Obamacare, the writings of Ayn Rand are inspiring some doctors to push back. A small, but growing group of doctors want their patients to pay cash. That’s right, cash. Their own cash.

Well, OK, they’ll accept credit cards and debit cards.

To get the service requires membership in a practice called Atlas MD, named after Ms. Rand’s hugely popular best-seller that champions free thought, individualism, and capitalism. Kids pay $10 a month, adults up to age 44 pay $50, and seniors pay $100 for unlimited access to the doctors and any service that can be provided in the office.

Heroic! That sounds like Rand’s free-market Shangri-La — Galt’s Gulch.

And that’s not all. CNNMoney explains that the physicians “negotiated deals for services outside the office. By cutting out the middleman, [family physician Doug] Nunamaker said he can get a cholesterol test done for $3, versus the $90 the lab company he works with once billed to insurance carriers. An MRI can be had for $400, compared with a typical billed rate of $2,000 or more.”

Ayn Rand has had a powerful effect on a number of innovative entrepreneurs and business leaders: BB&T’s John Allison, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, investor Doug Casey, and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales are just a few.

It takes a special woman to inspire the best and brightest to do great things. Special does not begin to describe Rand’s powers and influence. For an inside look at Rand’s life and passion, you must read the story from the man who knew her best, Nathaniel Branden. His book Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand takes you into the living room where Rand’s “Collective” met to discuss philosophy, and into the bedroom where Branden and Rand carried on a torrid affair — with the full knowledge, and reluctant approval, of their respective spouses. In the end, hell hath no fury like a philosopher scorned.

The idea of living truly free and believing you can change the world is a heady experience. Not many people can make you believe it is possible. For me, it was Murray Rothbard. For Nathaniel Branden, it was Ms. Rand. Early in the book, Branden relates a story of Rand cooking beef stroganoff to celebrate her husband’s (Frank O’Connor) 53rd birthday. Branden and his wife Barbara were there.

Rand said, “The thing I want you to understand is that no matter how hard the battle, it can be won. You can break through. So long as a society is semifree, you have a chance. Maybe, when your turn comes, it won’t be as hard for you. And if I can make it any easier, I would like that.”

At that moment, the author “felt drunk with joy.”

A couple months before that dinner, Branden and his wife had started reading a manuscript Rand was working on. Now he felt like he was living it. “I had entered the world of Atlas Shrugged,” he writes.

With Judgment Day, the reader also enters the world of Atlas. As Rand completed the manuscript, she gave it to Branden to read. For Rand fans, it is hard to imagine what this was like, being this close to the creative process that produced the most influential book ever written besides the Bible.

The author tells of discovering Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek through Rand, and he was stunned that Mises had, years before, thoroughly debunked socialism, but virtually no one knew it. “Of course, part of the problem you’re fighting is the current intellectual fashion,” Rand told Branden, “but the problem goes deeper than that. What you’re really fighting, darling, is a thousands-of-years-old tradition that equates morality with self-sacrifice. That means you’re fighting altruism.”

Rand goes on to explain that while capitalism rests on individual rights, altruism means sacrificing for the common good, which takes away individual rights.

“No one spoke more passionately than Hitler about the nobility of the individual sacrificing himself for the tribe — only he called it the ‘race,'” Rand explained.

Soon, it was not just intellectual sparks that started flying between Rand and Branden. One afternoon, they met. After long personal discussion, “We looked at each other through a long, tortured moment of silence. Neither of us was willing to venture further.”

But of course, soon they would. After telling their spouses of their love for one another, it would be another five months before Ayn and Nathaniel consummated their relationship. This was January 1955, and Rand was still toiling away at Atlas.

By spring 1956, she had finally finished John Galt’s speech, which runs 70 pages and took her two years to write. “Galt doesn’t sound like he’s arguing or debating, does he?” Rand asked Branden. “His speech must never convey that, and yet I have to provide the reasons and proofs for all of his statements.”

Reading Judgment Day is like looking over Rand’s shoulder as she writes Atlas. And there’s plenty about famous Collective members, like Alan Greenspan, as well. Greenspan wouldn’t say much, but when he did occasionally gush about a section of Atlas, these outbursts “especially endeared him to Ayn — and to me,” writes Branden.

The author spoke often with Greenspan about the destructive Federal Reserve. Greenspan was for totally free banking back then. Branden writes, “It was an odd sensation to recall those discussions when Alan was appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1987.”

In March 1957, 13 years after she began, Rand finished Atlas Shrugged. She had made a deal with Random House to publish the book. When, as expected, Random House editors wanted to cut down Galt’s speech, Rand said, “Would you cut the Bible?”

When the book appeared, the attacks on Atlas greatly outnumbered the raves. And while advance sales were high, after the reviews appeared, sales plunged. Members of the Collective were heartbroken at the reception. The author wasn’t surprised. Tragically, after spending more than a decade pouring her heart into Atlas each day, with the task complete, Rand sank into a deep depression, crying daily. Her relationship with everyone, including her lover and intellectual confidante, deteriorated.

Rand continues to make an indelible mark on the history of ideas. A year ago, it was reported that just since Obama was elected, 1.5 million copies of Atlas Shrugged had been sold. In 2011 alone, all English editions of Atlas sold 445,000 copies.

If you’ve read Atlas and been inspired like Dr. Nunamaker, you’ll race through Judgment Day and be inspired all over again. If you haven’t been able to bring yourself to commit to reading a 1,000-page book, but want to see what all the fuss is all about, Branden’s memoir is a great place to start.

There is plenty about philosophy, but for the most part, Judgment Day reads like a steamy novel. Branden was embraced by one of the giants of freedom. We are lucky he is a gifted writer who tells a fascinating story in elegant fashion.

It is easy to give up hope, feeling government’s oppression. However, as Rand said, there is still hope even if society is just semifree. In many ways, it is Ms. Rand and her work that continue to keep that hope alive.


Doug French

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