Ayn Rand and the Politics of Property



It wasn’t too long ago that Ayn Rand, despite her enormous and ongoing popularity, was all but invisible in the criticism and history of twentieth-century American fiction, although that has begun to change. Sharon Stockton and Michael Szalay have recently demonstrated Rand’s engagement with conceptions of brainwork central to the Depression era in which she wrote her first bestselling novel, The Fountainhead (1943).2 In what follows I use Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged to argue that she plays an even more central and active role in discussions of mental labor following World War II, when such labor became central to both the US economy and the work of the American middle class. Atlas Shrugged, like Rand’s oeuvre more generally, participates in the voluminous postwar discourse dedicated to describing and criticizing the transformation of the American middle class from “independent entrepreneurs” to “managers and white-collar workers.“3 This process was already well under way during the first half of the twentieth century, but it became a central focus of American social criticism during the 1950s. Atlas Shrugged, published just one year after white-collar workers surpassed blue-collar workers as the largest segment of the non-farm workforce,4 shares many of the preoccupations of such non-fiction works as William H. Whyte’s 1956 The Organization Man. Whyte’s book, like other works of postwar social criticism, argues that white-collar work for large organizations has caused the middle class to abandon its forebears’ individuality and creativity in exchange for a disempowering emphasis on consensus in the workplace.5


Intellectual Property Middle Class Cultural Capital Personal Brand Railroad Industry 
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© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

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