4/16/2008

Pimping Ayn Rand At The Free Market Of Ideas

CEOs give millions to get the patron saint of anti-pulbic education taught in public schools.

"Rand could not write her way out of a paper bag."

Harold Bloom
Yale University Professor




April 11 (Bloomberg) -- 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.

The author, who died in 1982, used her self-righteous heroes to promote objectivism, a philosophy that embraces reason and individualism, while rejecting religion. While Rand, an advocate of free markets, would support a university's getting paid to teach her works, the idea riles academic ethicists.

Read more at Bloomberg...

13 comments:

Roadkill said...

Weasel,

I read “The Closing of the American Mind” some years ago, and recall Professor Bloom criticizing Rand’s writing, not her ideas. Bloom felt her work lacked artistry and did not belong in the pantheon of great literature.

Having slogged through both “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” I could not agree more with Bloom’s assessment of its literary quality. It was overbearing and tedious. She attempted too much in trying to “novelize” her philosophy.

But that said, I think many academics object more to Rand’s philosophy than her writing. God knows there are far too many terribly written screeds forced upon college students now-a-days, but if they are sufficiently feminist, anti-capitalist, or anti (US) government, pathetic writing is overlooked in lieu of promoting the message.

There are very few works of literature (other than Rand) that present the values of individualism, capitalism, and/or entrepreneurship in a positive light. That is unfortunate, because it is capitalism that has created the most wealthy and prosperous society in history. But since most academics – certainly those in the social sciences – are of a leftist bent, they probably will not want to teach anything that so profoundly conflicts with their own world view. As such, Rand’s terrible writing is a convenient excuse to exclude her from the syllabus.

Now I don’t mean to defend Rand or her ideas. Not only is her writing excruciatingly bad, but I find her misogyny and atheism repugnant. Yet I do think she offers something of value to young people who have in all likelihood never been exposed to a robust defense of capitalism and individualism. So in the interests of intellectual diversity, I recommend plowing though The Fountainhead at least.

As to the main point of your post, I find the idea of paying schools to teach Rand totally ridiculous. If the profs don’t want to teach it – for whatever reason – that’s their business. Heck, the next thing you know George Soros or some other guilt-racked lefty with too much money will be trying to pay some poor school to teach The Communist Manifesto.

Michael M said...

You might want to check some facts. There are a number of reports on the BB&T offer indicating that to get the money a professor has to request it and no student will be required to take the classes funded.

Curt D. Weasel said...

MM

Facts? What do facts have to do with it? This is an Internet blog.

Nobody saids students were being forced to read Ayn Rand. The point is that it Rand's work was of any social redeeming value, it would be include in college courses currently. One reason Fountain Head or Altas Shrugged aren't used is because they are too large.

The slim books by Saul Bellow get assigned on college campuses. The thicker books get skipped because of the thickness. Certainly you don't think Rand's work compares to the intellectual pinacle of the likes of Bellow?

Michael M said...

Did you know that the slim book tactic is actually a long standing tradition in this country dating back to pre-Civil War times? Back then, the ignorant plantation owners exerted a great effort to make sure their African slaves did not gain access to thick books fearing the slaves might become less ignorant than they themselves were.

Actually, I wish BB&T would not try to insert Rand into academe. I would much prefer it if young honest minds would first read Rand between the ages of 24 and 26. That is the age when they are most vulnerable to the siren song of reason -- no parents, no teachers, no wife and no kids to tether their minds. And that is the time when an encounter with Rand's comprehensive and tightly reasoned philosophy will most contrast with the intellectual vacuum they have just left.

Sunny Badger said...

Roadkill:

Atlas Shrugged and Fountain Head are for sale in the bookstore at the UW-River Falls. Whether or not either is required reading is doubtful.

I would think that students would be "exposed to a robust defense of capitalism" is business and/or economics courses. Thirty years ago, the business and economics department was on of the smallest department on the UW-RF campus. Today it is the largest. The history and philosophy departments have almost vanished. I would think some of the debate and discussion concerning the individuals would take place in these areas. ...as would ethics.

I'm plowing through Atlas Shrugged currently. I find it interesting from the perspectives of operations and business management.

Why would George Soros be pushing the Communist Manifesto? I would hope that the push would be for the reading of Wealth of Nations AND the Communist Manifesto...neither of which where required reading in my course work as an economics major. Despite what the Right preaches, business and economics departments in today's college lean heavily towards the conservative side.

Many people who bow at the altar of Rand's above mention works seem to have only read those two books. Or maybe there the first books they actually read from cover to cover.

Alas, reading is an acquired taste and I personally prefer variety in my reading diet.

Roadkill said...

Sunny,

I studied political science and history at the University of Minnesota back in the mid-1970’s, and those departments were huge. With one exception, all of the professors were very liberal, and they did not hesitate to convey their personal views. I even took a course in Marxism, which was team-taught by professors from several departments (the lead prof was a professor of physics). I got my fill of Marxism-Leninism back then, reading all of the major Communist works from Marx through Marcuse.

I will not challenge your evaluation of the relative sizes of the social sciences and Economics departments at UWRF; you went there and probably know the situation far better than I. But there are many other smaller, liberal arts colleges (Carlton, Hamline, St Olaf/Thomas/Johns/Benedict) where I know that the emphasis is not on business but on the humanities. I had those types of schools in mind when I made my initial commentary.

Hats off to you for trying to wade through Atlas Shrugged. It probably won’t have as much impact on you now as it would have when you were younger (here I agree with Michael M regarding how that book can really hit home with young adults), but at least you can understand what the buzz is all about. But regardless of what you think of Rand’s “philosophy,” I think you will agree that it is tedious and overbearing.

In addition to “Atlas” and “Fountainhead,” I’ve also read Rand’s “Anthem” and a number of her short works from early in her career. They aren’t any better crafted than her later novels.

My comment about Soros and the Manifesto was tongue in cheek. I do think that Adam Smith should be required reading, but I’m not so sure about Marx. Given Communism’s track record over the 20th century, I think its more of a strange curiosity than anything else. Kind of like Mein Kampf.

One book I would highly recommend is “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” by Michael Landes. It discusses how and why some nations have been successful and others have failed over the centuries. He takes into account geography and climate, but also dwells on character and culture. Ever wonder why Spain and Portugal, the richest countries in the world in the 16th and early 17th centuries, flamed out so quickly, whereas Britain and the US remained strong? Want some idea of why the US leapfrogged France and England? Curious about what the future holds for Middle Eastern countries after their oil runs out? Read Landes; he’s brilliant.

Hope Monger said...

Roadkill,

You mentioned Marcuse was part of your "Marxist" indoctrination at the U of M.
Then you are familiar with the concept of "artificial needs" invented to sustain the economy. Maybe you can tell me where Marcuse was wrong about this. How many ringtones do you "need"?

Point 2. I doubt that any of the regular contributors to this blog is going to provide a vigorous defense of Marxist Leninism. What they will do however it remain extremely critical of laissez fair capitalism, the totally unrestricted type that Ayn Rand and our blogging "neighbors" at OTBL constantly promote, the type of capitalism that has no doubt contributed to the current economic debacle brought about by the "conservative" administration and their promotion of laissez fair economics under the guise of the "ownership society".

Michael M said...

Hope,

Please purge your errors: The capitalism of Rand is not unrestricted and not compatible with conservatism. The current economic debacle is the product of corrupting capitalism with generous doses of socialism.

Capitalism has only one primary principle and one mandate: No one may initiate the use of force against another to gain or withhold a value of the other. Rand specifically damned both the left and the right because both feel justified in pointing the government's gun at anyone standing in their way to get something that they could not earn if all transactions were voluntary. They both hate Rand because the success of her philosophical ideas would mean the end of their expedient tyrannies.

In Rand's "ownership society" the only thing anyone can own is their mind and body, their ideas, their actions, and the product of these. If they want to use or own anything else, they have to obtain it in a voluntary exchange of values.

Roadkill said...

Hope,

Being a frugal father of three, including teenage girls, I could not agree more with Marcuse vis-à-vis artificial needs. I not only think the need for unique ringtones is excessive, I question the (teenage, at least) need for cell phones in the first place!

“Artificial Needs” is a problem stemming not from “false consciousness,” but rather from the vast prosperity that capitalism has brought us. I tell my kids that I had great fun playing kick-the-can and hitting rocks over a fence with a stick when I was a boy, and that we had 3 channels on a black and white TV; they tell me that they absolutely have to have a television in their room and a wii for the family TV. I tell my kids I had one pair of sneakers, 2 or three pairs of jeans, and maybe half a dozen shirts when I was a kid; they tell me they need to go shopping for shoes and clothes every other week.

This is not Marcuse’s “false consciousness,” forcing the people to chase wants at the expense of needs. It is rather the fruit of a very successful society that has long satisfied most needs, and has plenty of excess capacity to provide for many wants as well.

The real danger is not that we cannot meet the wants, it is that we can.

This discussion also underscores another problem that is distinct from our original subject, to wit: that too many Americans are having a tough time growing up, facing the world as adults, and making choices that are in line with their income.

As for your second point, I think Michael M answered it pretty well.

Hope Monger said...

Roadkill,

I beg to differ with your assessment of artificial needs. There are so many industries built up around these
"products" that if your and other;s kids across America became as frugal as you'd like them to be, the economy would collapse. The new consolidated media has a strangle hold on the consciousness of most youth who value celebrity and peer popularity above almost ideas and truth. They constantly bombard our senses promoting a lust for needless goods. At the same time real necessities like housing and healthcare are becoming out of reach. If this is not a false collective consciousness I don't know what is? What is it that we "produce" in America these days.
Entertainment? Ringtones, vaporware
all kinds of services that most don't need. Most of what people are employed to do has no substantive value. It's vaporous and largely insignificant. The means of production no longer belong to America but to China and they are going to kick our arses in almost every respect in the not to distant future with their bewildering mix of "communist/capitalism".
As for michael m's response. It is so predictably "objectivist" that I cannot even take it seriously.
"purge my errors", Give me a break!
Of course only an objectivist can so irrefutably recognize the error of everyone else's ways. I'll give objectivists credit for one thing, they are consistent. They consistently parrot the same tired ideas over and over again. Mike M.
please don't waste your breath explaining Rand to me. I've heard enough and totally and emphatically reject her morally bankrupt philosophy. Her "philosophy" is anathema to me. Like roadkill I find her aetheism
repugnant. Selfishness will never be a virtue to me, no matter how "rationally" present it.

Sunny Badger said...

On Marxist indoctrination in 1970s...

Since it sounds like all who are commenting here probably where in college in the 1970s, we probably aren't qualified to speak on what is currently taught on university campuses. That said, I have taught periodically at the university level over the past eight years in the area of operations management. I have required students to read articles from Mother Jones, the Weekly Standard, and the Progressive, the Nation, the National Review and a few other liberal and conservative periodicals. Likewise, there were articles from mainstream business periodicals like Business Week, Fortune and Forbes. The discussion generated among the students was eye opening.

It wasn't surprising to find out that most of the students had never read anything from the liberal or conservative periodicals. However, I was surprised that most had never actually read Forbes, Fortune or Business Week. Of course, they'd heard of these magazines, but actually hadn't read them. Most had read the Wall Street Journal because it was required reading for a class or two.

If you read the Wall Street Journal today, the editorial page reflects much of what is said in the Weekly Standard...most of the same writers appear in both publications. However, the news portion of the WSJ tends to be fairly balanced in its journalist approach. Likewise, Business Week does a good job of covering the pluses and minuses of our capitalist economy.

As Hope Monger pointed out, you really won't find any one on this blog embracing a move to Marxism or Communism. You may see occasional posts that might provoke thought, discussion and perspective on the current state of the economy and how things appear to change but may actually remain the same.

Evidently, the Marxist indoctrinations of the 1970s didn't turn any of us into members of the Communist Party. Maybe it wasn't indoctrination after all. Maybe it was a historical overview of the history of economic thought. I believe the steel is strengthen through a heating and cooling process known a tempering. I would question the quality of any education that didn't provide a glimpse of the opposing views of the subject at had.

I must say the Hope Monger and Roadkill sound like a couple of middle aged fathers complaining about what teenagers think are necessities today that would have been extreme luxuries in their teenage days. Hell, most of that stuff wasn't even available 30 years ago. I suppose you both will be telling us you used to walk 5 miles to school in a blizzard.
As Greg Brown sings, "We're a cross between our parents and hippies in a tent."

Flashy said...

Roady,

Your cognitive dissonance is curable, but your irrational mysticism may require medical treatment.

Roadkill said...

Sunny,

That was 5 miles from home to school, in a blizzard, and uphill both ways.