HomeAyn Rand and Margaret Sanger—Say What?!EducationAtlas University
No items found.
Ayn Rand and Margaret Sanger—Say What?!

Ayn Rand and Margaret Sanger—Say What?!

3 Mins
April 8, 2016
ayn rand margaret sanger pjmedia

A recent piece by John Ellis at PJMedia, Take the Quiz: Who Said It ... Margaret Sanger or Ayn Rand?, catches our attention by the odd juxtaposition of Rand and Sanger. Ellis offers 16 quotations, with the challenge to say which woman is the source. Sanger was an activist for a woman’s right to use contraceptives and obtain abortions; she is the founder of Planned Parenthood. Rand is the individualist philosopher who wrote Atlas Shrugged, among other novels, and developed the philosophy of Objectivism.

So what’s the point of the quiz? Ellis sets it up this way:

One woman [Sanger] is the patron saint of liberal ethics for Planned Parenthood and progressives the country over; the other [Rand] is the ideological darling of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and many who self-identify as tea partiers…. Considering how polar opposite their ideologies are, it should be easy to determine which lady said what. And this is good news, since there is a quiz, of sorts, below.

OK, Sanger is a liberal icon, Rand a conservative one (though she denounced conservatism). Still, the point is? Your guess is as good as mine. I emailed Ellis for an explanation, but he did not respond. Let’s take a look at the questions on our own.

Four of the quotations (1, 2, 3, and 14) are about abortion. Sanger and Rand both held that women should have the right to choose. Is Rand’s belief in that right supposed to shock conservatives? That’s pretty old news.

The really striking thing about the quiz is the number of statements from Sanger expressing her eugenicist outlook. Eugenics was a progressive—i.e., liberal— movement in the early 20th century. It was a left-wing form of social Darwinism, holding that people of “inferior” races or diminished capacities should be prevented from reproducing, in order to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit” (Sanger, #12). Eugenics was an ugly movement, with ugly results, including the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people and immigration laws that were the height of racist injustice.

What does any of this have to do with Rand? In the quiz, there’s #8, to the effect that children should not be exposed to the retarded. I disagree; it’s a matter of circumstance, though I understand her concern not to diminish children’s’ quest to realize their own best selves. But this has nothing to do with eugenics. The latter is inherently collectivist, holding that the race is the unit of value, trumping individual rights. Rand was the arch-individualist who defended such rights and opposed every form of collectivism, including racism: “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” [“Racism,” in The Virtue of Selfishness.] Rand and Sanger were polar opposites on that score.

So, again, what’s the point of the comparative quiz? Despite the polar opposition between Rand’s individualism and Sanger’s collectivism, I wonder whether “elitism” is another intended link. Liberals are supposed to be opposed to elitism, which Sanger clearly favored on racial and ethnic grounds. Although nothing in the quiz (beyond #8) points to elitism on Rand’s part, that is such a common accusation—sometimes inflated into the claim that she was a social Darwinist—that I must refer readers to the refutation of this myth: “Myth: Ayn Rand was an Elitist.”

Indeed, there are so many misconceptions about Rand’s thought that I recommend the book Myths about Ayn Rand. We would be happy to send Mr. Ellis a copy.


Sanger and Rand: Concrete-Bound America

David Kelley


David Kelley

David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.

David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Kelley is a professional philosopher, teacher, and writer. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, he joined the philosophy department of Vassar College, where he taught a wide variety of courses at all levels. He has also taught philosophy at Brandeis University and lectured frequently on other campuses.

Kelley's philosophical writings include original works in ethics, epistemology, and politics, many of them developing Objectivist ideas in new depth and new directions. He is the author of The Evidence of the Senses, a treatise in epistemology; Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, on issues in the Objectivist movement; Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; and The Art of Reasoning, a widely used textbook for introductory logic, now in its 5th edition.

Kelley has lectured and published on a wide range of political and cultural topics. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle, and elsewhere. During the 1980s, he wrote frequently for Barrons Financial and Business Magazine on such issues as egalitarianism, immigration, minimum wage laws, and Social Security.

His book A Life of One’s Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State is a critique of the moral premises of the welfare state and defense of private alternatives that preserve individual autonomy, responsibility, and dignity. His appearance on John Stossel’s ABC/TV special "Greed" in 1998 stirred a national debate on the ethics of capitalism.

An internationally-recognized expert on Objectivism, he has lectured widely on Ayn Rand, her ideas, and her works. He was a consultant to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and editor of Atlas Shrugged: The Novel, the Films, the Philosophy.


Major Work (selected):

Concepts and Natures: A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl),” Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021); This review of a recent book includes a deep dive into the ontology and epistemology of concepts.

The Foundations of Knowledge. Six lectures on the Objectivist epistemology.

The Primacy of Existence” and “The Epistemology of Perception,” The Jefferson School, San Diego, July 1985

Universals and Induction,” two lectures at GKRH conferences, Dallas and Ann Arbor, March 1989

Skepticism,” York University, Toronto, 1987

The Nature of Free Will,” two lectures at The Portland Institute, October 1986

The Party of Modernity,” Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003;and Navigator, Nov 2003; A widely cited article on the cultural divisions among pre-modern, modern (Enlightenment) and postmodern views.

"I Don't Have To" (IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) and “I Can and I Will” (The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011); Companion pieces on making real the control we have over our lives as individuals.

Political Philosophy
Ayn Rand's Ideas and Influence