I said this to a friend once, but told her to keep it quiet as I couldn't back it up as I haven't read any of her works, nor even a solid introduction. I formed my snap judgement on the basis of a synopsis of 'Atlas Shrugged', one of her novels. Is my judgement a fair characterisation or am I making a philosophical faux-pas?
I think I can contribute some points even though I have to admit limited knowledge about Nietzsches philosophy.
What I do know from biographical information ("Godess of the market" by Jennifer Burns) is that she was familiar and quite sympathetic to Nietzsche in her younger years.
From that biography I also have the following quotation:
[...]as when she wondered, if perhaps "the rational faculty is the dominant characteristic of the better species, the Superman."
(The text before the double quotes is by Burns and she gives the sources as Journals, 291, 281 and 285.)
As someone who is extremely appreciative of Rand and at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche I venture to guess that they indeed both understood by that the same (and to me rather obvious) idea: That only very few people achieve great things while a majority likes telenovelas.
A more well-known connection to Nietzsche can be found in the foreword of "The Fountainhead", where Rand admits to have considered putting the following quotation in her novel:
It is not the works, but the BELIEF which is here decisive and determines the order of rank--to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning--it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.--THE NOBLE SOUL HAS REVERENCE FOR ITSELF.
(From beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche.)
Rand tells us that she decided against using the quotation because it "proclaims psychological determinism" - something she abhorred.
I believe that the quotation might be a key commonality between Nietzsche and Rand in contrast to most philosophers and intellectuals: To give one's own life importance rather than sacrifice it to something or someone else.
In the foreword she goes on to say about the quotation:
This view of man has rarely been expressed in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which—in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion—the best of mankind’s youth start out in life. It is not even a view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important, that great achievements are within one’s capacity, and that great things lie ahead.
This view might be one of the crucial intersection of Nietzsche with Rand and thus give the impression of her being a blend of Nietzsche with something else.
These points of contact nonwithstanding, the claim of Rand's philosophy being a blend of Nietzsche with American individualism is wrong. Since American individualism isn't an actual philosophy, it suffices to show philosophical work that has no precedence in Nietzsche.
I've picked three articles that together spread over a range of fields in philosophy and should be comprehensible and intriguing. They should show that there are numerous gems of ideas in Rand's philosophical work - gems that (to my knowledge) are not of Nietzschean origin.
I also made sure to pick unusual ones (as opposed to writings dealing with selfishness, capitalism and reason, which are the usual suspects when it comes to Rand).
- 'The anatomy of compromise' in 'Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal'
- 'Art and moral treason' in 'The Romantic Manifesto'
- 'The establishing of an establishment' in 'Philosophy, who needs it?'
I strongly recommend reading these articles.
No, it would be wrong to interpret Objectivism as a blending of Nietzsche's Übermensch because Objectivism covers several areas of philosophy. (I'll leave aside American individualism because that's too vague a concept for my point.) Even if Objectivist ethics were¹ identical to Nietzsche's Übermensch's, Objectivism covers metaphysics, epistemology and politics too. In other words, these are not comparable simply because of the difference in the breadth of concepts covered under each. "Ayn Rand" and "Friedrich Nietzsche" are comparable in that they are both concepts of equal breadth, but it makes no sense to contrast Ayn Rand's views on music and the entire body of Postmodernism.
Some philosophers have seen a similarity between Ayn Rand's individualism and that of Nietzsche. I quote the article The Transformation of Nietzschean Ideas in The Fountainhead by Lester H. Hunt:
Though Rand's spirited disclaimer serves to remind us of her deep differences with Nietzsche, the quotation itself suggests that there might be an interesting philosophical, not merely literary or emotional, connection between The Fountainhead and Nietzsche's ideas. What I would like to show here is that this connection merits a much closer look than it has ever been given heretofore. Not only is the presence of Nietzschean themes in Rand's novel deep and pervasive, but the book actually contains a very interesting and powerful internal critique of one of Nietzsche's most characteristic ideas, a criticism based in large part on values and assumptions that he shares.
For a detailed contrast of Rand's and Nietzsche's views on individualism, I refer you to the aforementioned article by Prof. Hunt's that, humorously, treats The Fountainhead as a critique of the work of Nietzsche.
¹ - it isn't.
Obviously you are making assumptions from a small amount of information and know it. You need to read her original material, but no its not a blending, it is a unique philosophy. Nietchze still believed in sacrafice in reverse, sacrificing others to yourself.
Ayn Rand in brief: Every value has to be produced. If you are not producing values, you are not rationally selfish. Therefore a thief is not selfish and a beggar is not selfish. Goods come from working. It doesn't support violating rights.
It is influenced by the American founding fathers whom didn't express such a philosophy explicity. In Ayn Rand's opinion America failed because of this, because it didn't have its own philosophy and instead fell under the influence of European philosophy. Individual rights were forgotten, and the Constitution continually misunderstood.
It is clear from Rand's writing and recorded talks (as well as bibliographic works about her) that she was influenced by Nietzsche in her youth, and had a detailed knowledge of his philosophy and works. However, it is incorrect to regard her philosophy as a blending of his work with individualist philosophy. Though Rand was clearly influenced by Nietzsche in certain respects, her philosophy is contrary to his on all major points in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Rand addressed the differences between her own philosophy of Objectivism, and the philosophy of Nietzsche, in detail in a recorded talk in 1967 at Columbia University. She speaks in detail on Nietzsche's views in these fields, and the divergence of his views from her own.
Like Nietzsche (and perhaps partly due to his influence), Rand rejected the moral philosophy of altruism as evil. She uses similar terminology to Nietzsche here, referring to it as the "philosophy of death" and explaining her rejection of altruism in a way that is reminiscent of the way Nietzsche wrote about it. (In her talk in the link she makes the point that Nietzsche has some very wise quotes on these matters, and so it appears that she has been influenced by him at least stylistically, in the manner in which she portrays altruism as evil.) Although Rand agrees with Nietzsche that this is a false and evil moral philosophy, and she adopts certain stylistic similarities to him, they disagree profoundly on what the correct moral philosophy is. Nietzsche regards it as good for man to evolve into the "overman" by pursuing the will to power, whereas Rand argues that man should pursue rational egoism, under which man does not sacrifice himself to others or others to himself (for a more details comparison, see e.g., Hicks 2000).
Here is some of what Rand says about Nietzsche in the linked talk:
The idea that reality consists of a "will" contradicts everything about Objectivist epistemology and the Objectivist method. That is, you do not start with wide undefined floating abstractions devoid of any rationally defensible or demonstrable meaning. The idea of a will representing reality is just as bad and of the same order as the idea of any philosophical idealist who claims that reality consists of an "idea"; not somebody's idea, but just an idea. ... This is why I regard Nietzsche, philosophically, as a mystic. Because reality to him is not real; he does not recognise the objectivity of reality. He is a subjectivist to that extent... If the ultimate reality is a will then it means the subjective will, or in fact whim, of any particular individual. (3:50-4:56 minutes)
In Nietzschean philosophy is this mystical undefined concept of "will" without any definition of what that will is, nor what it is to achieve. It is a mystical package-deal. Incidentally, this is why existentialists, which are the living mystical philosophy of today, classify Nietzsche as one of their ancestors.... They are right in doing that; he does belong in their category. They also advocate commitment to some kind of values for no reason but an arbitrary choice of the individual. (16:00-16:46 minutes)
Hick, S.R.C. (2000) Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10(2), pp. 249-291.
Ayn Rand was not a Philosopher. If you look through some college philosophy department listings, you will not find 'Objectivism.' In the course of getting my B.A. in Philosophy, the only time I heard her name mentioned was in crude jokes. She failed philosophy classes as a student. She is not qualified to speak about Nietzsche, and it is clear from her writing that she did not understand whatever it is that she read. American Individualism has always included responsibilities and social justice to go along with rights, but Rand refutes this.