The quote is a paraphrase of dialogue in one of Ayn Rand's novels.
Ayn Rand did not say or write that exact quote.
On 20 March 2017, President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, who owns a branded retail chain, tweeted an image of a quote attributed to novelist Ayn Rand:
— Ivanka Trump HQ (@IvankaTrumpHQ) March 20, 2017
Trump is not the first one to attribute the quote to Rand. In 2013, the young women's clothing line Forever 21 put the quote on a tank top (the company no longer sells the shirt).
The quote is often attributed to Rand, an influential writer and philosopher with a cult following best known for the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. She never said or wrote exactly those words — but there is a similar passage in her 1943 book The Fountainhead, said Onkar Ghate, chief content officer and senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.
In an e-mail, Ghate told us the passage is part of dialogue between the protagonist, Howard Roark, and another character:
That “quote” is actually a paraphrase of what the hero, Howard Roark, says in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead in response to a question.
Roark, a young, unconventional, aspiring architect is in conversation with the Dean of his college; they are discussing Roark’s expulsion from school. Here’s the relevant part of the conversation: ...
[DEAN] “Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?
[DEAN] “My dear fellow, who will let you?”
[ROARK] “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”
Rand founded a school of philosophical thought called Objectivism, which champions individuality and self-reliance. Objectivism has played an influential role in American Libertarian and conservative politics. She is also seen as an intriguing anomaly as a female writer and thinker who become prominent in an era when the field was heavily dominated by men.