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... Ayn Rand is IN academia

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In general, I've had some great experiences at my school with regard to Ayn Rand & Objectivism that I'd like to share. Most all of the examples I use in this post I've mentioned before on Harry Binswanger's List, but at the risk of being redundant I thought I would mention them again here.

First of all, I posted the following to HBL about 2 1/2 years ago:

The following two recent and very uplifting experiences of mine as a student at the University of Massachusetts deserve mention.

1. Believe it or not, my modern history professor is a pro-capitalist. And I don't mean Republican pseudo-capitalism, either; he explicitly denounces the "mixed economy" of today, and calls for what there has never been: laissez-faire.  And, as if this wasn't enough to draw my attention, my professor has also: appealed to Aristotle while denouncing Plato; poked fun at environmentalism, multiculturalism, and other "anti-civilization" (his words) movements; pointed out that someone having a "right" to food, healthcare, etc., has always meant slavery; and said that each individual should live by reason and pursue their self-interest.  So, by the time he used "greed" and "selfishness" positively, while using "altruism" pejoratively, I was practically on the floor.  (And so was the entire liberal goon squad of the classroom, but obviously for different reasons.)

The only question left was to ask my professor when he had read Ayn Rand, which I did after class.  And he has indeed read her, although I didn't get a chance to ask him which books, because at the sound of her name, he immediately wanted to talk about Dr. Peikoff and The Ominous Parallels.  He said that he has read it four or five times, and regards it as a superb book that is "right on the money."

The only bad thing to say about him is that he is not an atheist, along with some dangerous things that this implies.  Despite his explicitly saying in class that religion is based on senseless faith, he does believe that human rights are god-given.  In fact, he mentioned to me that as much as he likes Ayn Rand, he has never been able to stomach her atheism.  This is supremely unfortunate, and it really undercuts his lectures on the Enlightenment when he talks about some version of watered-down theism as being a precondition for freedom.  And moreover, when he panders to "Christian norms" at the same time that he is advocating selfishness, it gets even more bizarre.

But, it should be noted that the vast majority of class time is spent explaining how reason, selfishness, and capitalism has liberated mankind.  Hence, I'm downright staggered.

2. Last semester, a paper assignment in my English class gave me a chance to write, in part, about Ayn Rand's ideas as pertaining to a couple of philosophical topics.  In doing this, my English professor gleaned that I was a fan of Miss Rand.  At the end of my paper, she commented something to the effect of: "This is interesting.  I've barely heard of Ayn Rand in all my years teaching English, and now all of the sudden, I have all these students that are enthusiasts of her writings." Quite stunned, I later asked her what she meant by this.  She said that she had offhandedly mentioned Ayn Rand's name in one of her other classes, and five or six students (out of no more than 15 or 20) raised their hands to say that they really enjoy Miss Rand's writings.

And, on top of it all, my professor, at the end of this conversation, said something priceless: "You know, if this Ayn Rand trend is going to continue, I should really start reading some of her books.  After all, I do have to keep up with the Joneses."

In other words -- and if I may preempt Betsy Speicher on this one -- you'll know Objectivism is winning when....people read Ayn Rand because they're second-handers.  :-)

And these are only two examples! Just to give one more, which I also recounted on HBL a while ago: I got assigned to read part of Galt's Speech as part of my Intro to Philosophy course, which coincided with us spending more than a whole class on the Objectivist ethics. Granted, the professor did not agree with AR and misrepresented her views to some extent, but after class I spoke to him about his misrepresentations and he was receptive to them. He even semi-corrected himself during the next class, and mentioned that there existed an "Ayn Rand Institute" devoted to promoting her ideas. (I have also recently found out that there is another philosophy professor at my school who teaches Ayn Rand in one of his moral/political philosophy courses.)

If these experiences of mine are at all typical...

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If these experiences of mine are at all typical...

Best news about the state of the culture that I've heard in a long time, thanks for sharing. It would definitely be interesting to know how pervasive Ayn Rand's ideas are becoming in the universities, and in the student body independently of school.

Hmm, there seems to be statistically sampled surveys for nearly every subject, why not some to gauge the knowledge and interest about Ayn Rand/Objectivism? Seems to be a good time for it. Perhaps an ARI project?

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ON C-SPAN's Book Notes, Harvey Mansfield, who is in the Department of Government at Harvard, was asked by a caller what he thought of Ayn Rand. He said, in effect, she's good to begin with but then one must move on to better philosophers.

I'm not surprised that a Harvard professor has a low opinion of Rand. I am surprised that he conceded she has any value at all. He could have dismissed her with some insult such as, "She's not a philosopher, she's a novelist." But he didn't. Why did Mansfield make this concession?

My guess, and this is only a guess, is that he is seeing too many bright young students fired up to study philosophy by Ayn Rand. Maybe he can't insult her because he would be insulting his best recruiter. We know Rand is the best salesman of Objectivism; maybe she has become the best salesman of philosophy in general. It's not like she has much competition. I mean, how many young people want to spend the rest of their lives studying the black hole of post-modernism or the insane wordplay of linguistic analysis?

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It would indeed be great news if the ideas of Ayn Rand were gaining more acceptance and more followers. I cannot say that this is the case in Britain as far as I know, i went to the London School of Economics, (widely regarded as a hotbed of socialism despite the name) and I cannot remember any Ayn Rand lectures, bodies or student groups which was unfortunate.

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It would indeed be great news if the ideas of Ayn Rand were gaining more acceptance and more followers. I cannot say that this is the case in Britain as far as I know, i went to the London School of Economics, (widely regarded as a hotbed of socialism despite the name) and I cannot remember any Ayn Rand lectures, bodies or student groups which was unfortunate.

Just this past month there was an Objectivist conference held in London. You can read the announcement here on THE FORUM in this post .

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That is excellent, i do not go to the LSE anymore but it was full of socialists, communists and social democrats. Really annoyed me as it was an Economics school.

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We know Rand is the best salesman of Objectivism; maybe she has become the best salesman of philosophy in general.
It's not like she has much competition.  I mean, how many young people want to spend the rest of their lives studying the black hole of post-modernism or the insane wordplay of linguistic analysis?

When I used to teach at a university, in one course, I was required to included a unit on Ethics. Since I consider teaching Ethics without a base of Metaphysics and Epistemology to be pointless, I devoted several class periods to these. I started by handing out "Philosophy: Who Needs It?"

Several of my students later told me that they would be taking a Philosophy class, and that they would have never considered doing so before reading the pamphlet and listening to me discuss it. One even told me that before my class, he considered the whole subject to be drivel. I can only hope any class he took did not turn him completely back to his former belief.

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If these experiences of mine are at all typical...

In engineering classes I don't tend to get much philosophical content from teachers outside of the occasional offhand smear.

Our philosophy department at the University of Arizona, though, started an interesting class called "The Philosophy of Freedom" (PHIL 320). The authors covered were Rawls, Nozick, Nietzsche, and Rand (The Fountainhead). I took the pilot version of the course when it was offered my freshman year, and it was excellent. The instructor didn't really mention ARI and we had David Kelley as a guest speaker, but for the most part it was an excellent course. It was particularly nice to have The Fountainhead as the climax of the class, which the teacher clearly agreeing with Objectivism.

I haven't had any professors who espouse Objectivist ideas in unrelated classes, but that one course was more than I expected going into college.

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Our philosophy department at the University of Arizona, though, started an interesting class called "The Philosophy of Freedom" (PHIL 320).  The authors covered were Rawls, Nozick, Nietzsche, and Rand (The Fountainhead).  I took the pilot version of the course when it was offered my freshman year, and it was excellent.

It's hard to imagine finding it interesting spending a lot of time on Nozick in a course. His own lectures tended to be a kind of stream-of-consciousness-analytic-philosophy on random issues of political philosophy. He was bright and clever enough to be very good at that, but even though he strongly advocated limited government, opposed to both statism and anarchy, he had no coherent, hierarchical theory and wandered as if in a complex verbal maze. (So I stopped auditing his course, which was not in my field and not interesting enough to be worth the time).

He told me he liked Ayn Rand's novels but said she was "not a very good philosopher" (you can see why, under his conception of philosophy, there was such a clash!). His essay on the Randian Ethics (first published in the Personalist when it was edited by Hospers), in which he claims to refute AR in a few lines of context dropping analytical rationalism, is enough to make your ears wilt. I found him a great disappointment philosophically even though he was personally very nice, and in a general sort of way had found his way to the right basic conclusion on political philosophy, which he was passionately committed to. We will see who turns out to be acknowledged as the better philosopher.

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