Rand To The Rescue
April 14, 2008 - 5:06pm ET
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Ayn Rand's novels of headstrong entrepreneurs' battles against convention enjoy a devoted following in business circles. While academia has failed to embrace Rand, calling her philosophy simplistic, schools have agreed to teach her works in exchange for a donation.
The charitable arm of BB&T Corp., a banking company, pledged $1 million to the University of North Carolina Charlotte in 2005 and obtained an agreement that Rand's novel ``Atlas Shrugged'' would become required reading for students. Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, say they also took grants and agreed to teach Rand.
I have written about the pernicious effect of Rand before, and noted that the Ayn Rand Institute provides nearly half a million free copies to American high schools to indoctrinate teen-agers into romantic selfishness (thus validating their natural adolescent tendencies as being acceptable adult behavior.) But this is truly beyond the pale.
Corporations, which have very good reasons to train young people into an ethos that extols the alleged virtues of heroic captains of industry and their lonely fight to retain freedom in the face of left wing collectivism, should not be buying academic curriculum of any kind. The very idea of academic freedom is that the academics decide what to teach, not the government or the community or especially some company who wants to promulgate a puerile political philosophy designed to make people believe that selfishness is a virtue. That it's in the form of a very bad romance novel makes it even worse. (To those romance novel aficionados out there, please note that I said "bad" romance novel. It's not a slam at the whole genre.)
The Ayn Rand Institute, ever creative, has come up with a new marketing scheme to promote the book. Sensing a change in the zeitgeist, and seeking to take advantage of what they perceive as this opening in academe, they are pushing the anti-religious side of objectivism.
Yaron Brook, the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization in Irvine, California, that promotes objectivism, said some professors are re-evaluating Rand.
``We're definitely seeing more of an interest in the academic world,'' Brook said. He said he senses a softening of opposition from academics and sees more conferences and articles about Rand.
``Ayn Rand has a kind of absolutist ethics,'' Brook said. ``She believes in right or wrong, good and evil, but based on secular principles, not religious principles, and I think there's an appeal for that now.''
Very, very clever. As for its moral dimension, objectivism simply holds that it's moral to be completely selfish and rapacious. Indeed, it is immoral not to be. That would seem to be something of a difficult sell in an age of greedy sub-prime mortgage brokers and billionaire hedge fund operators, but you have to give them credit for perseverance in the face of abject philosophical failure. It's hard to believe that any academic worth his or her salt would take this line of argument seriously, but apparently the lure of big money is enough to make them consider it:
Allison's BB&T, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in March pledged $2 million to establish the first U.S. chair in the study of objectivism, at the University of Texas at Austin.
That school and 27 others have accepted an aggregate $30 million from the bank's foundation in the last decade.
``These gifts are really about the study of capitalism from a moral perspective and all we want is to make Rand part of the dialogue,'' said Bob Denham, a spokesman for BB&T, the parent of Branch Banking & Trust Co.
The BB&T Charitable Foundation made a five-year, $1 million commitment to the University of North Carolina Charlotte in January 2005 after a dinner meeting between Allison and Claude Lilly, then dean of UNC Charlotte's business school.
The grant agreement described ``Atlas Shrugged'' as ``required reading'' in a course about the fundamentals of capitalism.
This is the real agenda. It's not about literature or about philosophy. The point of this is to indoctrinate young business majors into the Rand philosophy, which is a perverted and radical form of capitalism that bears no relationship to the way the world really works. (In fact, it's real agenda may be to indoctrinate young people into believing that overpaid executives actually deserve to make hundreds of times the average worker's pay while driving the company into the ground.)
This book has gotten a powerful hold on enough young minds that I think it has made a difference in our politics over the last generation or so. The question is what to do about it? I suspect that we will get nowhere with protests. But no self-respecting university wants to be accused of propagandizing its students purely because some big corporation with an agenda gave them some money, right? What if there were a concerted effort to pressure these universities to offer a competing view?
If so, what book should progressives push to counteract the Randian propaganda?
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