The Invention of Selfishness

The philosophy of Ayn Rand has had a role equal or greater than that of Milton Friedman or F.A. Hayek in shaping the contemporary neo-liberal consensus. Its impact was powerful on architects of Reaganomics such as Alan Greenspan, former Director of the World Bank, and the new breed of American industrialists who developed revolutionary information technologies in Silicon Valley.

But what do we really know of Rand’s philosophy? Is her gospel of selfishness really nothing more than a reiteration of a quintessentially American “rugged individualism”? This book argues that Rand’s philosophy can in fact be traced back to a moment, before World War I, when the work of a now-forgotten German philosopher called Max Stirner possessed an extraordinary appeal for writers and artists across Europe. The influence of Stirnerian Egoism upon that phase of intense creative innovation we now call Modernism was seminal.

The implications for our understanding of Modernism are profound – so too for our grasp of the “cultural logic of late capitalism”. Autarchies presents the reader with a fresh perspective on the Modernist classics, as well as introducing less familiar art and writing only now beginning to attract interest in the West. It arrives at a fresh and compelling re-evaluation of Modernism: revealing its selfish streak.


Autarchies: The Invention of Selfishness was published by Bloomsbury in 2017 and can be purchased here.

Essays relating to this project have also appeared in The Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies and Modernism/Modernity. Links to this material are provided below:

“The Siberia of the Mind: Egoism in the Writings of Wyndham Lewis”

JWLS 5 (2014), 112-33.

“A New Concept of Egoism”: The Late Modernism of Ayn Rand


“David Ashford’s alert chronicle of anarcho-modernism begins with Max Stirner and ends with Ayn Rand. Inverting the old saw (‘What is an egoist? – Someone who does not think of me!’), Ashford proves that the reverse is true: anarcho-modernism, founded on consistently contrarian selfishness, includes unforgettable egoists who matter and relate to us. Dora Marsden and Ayn Rand belong to our history of modernity along with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, the Dadaists and the violent anarchists of the Bonnot gang. Anarcho-modernists of the world, unite!”

– Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, USA

“Ashford is an energetic and resourceful researcher, and a shrewd critic with large intellectual ambitions. He has the makings of a leader in the field.”

– Rod Mengham, Reader in Modern English, University of Cambridge, UK