Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America argues that the core commitments of the nihilist movement of the 1860’s made their way to 20th century America via the thought of Ayn Rand. While mid-nineteenth-century Russian nihilism has generally been seen as part of a radical tradition that culminated in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the author argues that nihilism’s intellectual trajectory was in fact quite different. Analysis of such sources as Nikolai Chernyshevskii’s What is to Be Done? (1863) and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957), archival research in Rand’s papers, and broad attention to late-nineteenth century Russian intellectual history all lead the author to conclude that nihilism’s legacy is deeply implicated in one of America’s most widely-read philosophers of capitalism and libertarian freedom.
Aaron Weinacht is professor of history at the University of Montana Western.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Establishing the Nihilist Axiom: Rational Egoism in Chernyshevskii, Pisarev, and Rand
Chapter 2: Heroism and Creativity as a Nihilist Tradition
Chapter 3: Youth, Suffering, and the Man-God Problem
Chapter 4: Love, Sex, and Relationships
Conclusion: The Nihilist Self in Context
Aaron Weinacht’s book is a needed corrective to the public misperception of Ayn Rand as radical capitalist.... Lovers of literature might find new insights into literary analysis in reading the book, and it can be useful for anyone with proclivities toward nineteenth century Russian literature.... Philosophers and theologians may find the work helpful in tracing the intellectual currents and debates that influenced Russian thinkers and writers in the nineteenth century and beyond. Historians may also find the book useful in offering a new and concise overview of the complexities of Russian nihilism, its origins and key tenets, and its debates with the currents of Russian intellectual life in the mid-nineteenth century.
Aaron Weinacht furthers the important project of exploring the Russian roots of Ayn Rand’s thought. In this superb study of the influence of the Russian nihilist tradition—especially the works of Nikolai Chernyshevskii—on Rand, Weinacht presents a provocative reinterpretation of the context that shaped her literary and intellectual legacy. This is a profoundly significant contribution to the scholarly literature on one of the most misunderstood thinkers of the twentieth century.
Weinacht's study of Ayn Rand's Russian antecedents opens an exciting new dimension into the life of one the twentieth century's most controversial thinkers.
This elegantly written and rather surprising intellectual history reveals the unexpectedly close relationship between 19th century Russian radical thinkers and the 20th Century anti-communist objectivism of Ayn Rand. Aaron Weinacht demonstrates that Rand was profoundly influenced by Nikolai Chernyshevskii and came to nihilist conclusions about egoism, heroism, human suffering, human creativity, the role of religion and the nature of sexuality. Weinacht's sophisticated analysis shows that Rand was both participant in and product of Russian revolutionary philosophical debates, and that the Russian Revolution of 1917 and American libertarian capitalism today share the same philosophical roots.