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Rand and the academy

This story generates a question. Or really, several questions: first, how many colleges or universities have programs that focus on the work of Ayn Rand? Second, what do such programs say or suggest about the institutions that house them?

The argument from the libertarian side seems to be that most departments in the humanities and social sciences marginalize Rand because her ideas are unusually provocative and dangerous to our liberal campus Potemkin villages. We don't teach Rand because we're "afraid" of the truth of her vision. The reality is probably more painful. Rand's work doesn't belong on the syllabus next to Marx, Nietzsche and Freud because it isn’t in the same league. The fact that it is appearing on syllabi outside of the field of economics indicates outside pressure.

If an art history program suddenly announced the creation of a program of Thomas Kinkade studies, or special hire of a Kinkade scholar, we would think something was amiss. Wouldn't we?

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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Confession: whenever someone tells me that they like Ayn Rand's novels I lose a little bit of respect for them. Literature, it ain't.

I guess if an artist whose influence on culture is indisputably major cited Kinkade as a major influence, some colleges of the arts would study Kinkade, at least as a way of understanding the role of Kinkade in shaping the work of the major artist. 

I agree that Rand is a lightweight compared to the other thinkers you list (although Freud and Marx, at least, have to be approached with caution, given how thouroughly certain of their ideas have been proven disasterously erroneous). But then: Alan Greenspan.

John Allison, former CEO of BB&T and professor of business, has been going around for many years trying to bribe schools with donations if they teach Ayn Rand. His general lack of success stems from more than just liberal aversion.

Whittaker Chambers wrote scathing reviews of it in the National Review, and William Buckley called Atlas Shrugged "a thousand pages of ideological fabulism." Chambers and Buckley were quoted in a humorous piece from the Daily Beast in response to an Idaho legislator's call (sort of) to put Ayn Rand in school curriculum.

(I was happy that the Daily Beast called Upton Sinclair's novels "agitprop" that were "Ideologically clumsy, anachronistic, and outdated." I was worried maybe it was just me, and that I should voluntarily give up my membership in the International Feminist Conspiracy and Liberal Agitators Union.)


Ayn Rand's economic and moral system should be taught somewhere in the universities for the simple reason that like it or not she is extremely influential.  The three big functions of a university are 1) to criticize old ideas, 2) to invent new ones, and 3) to teach the yound.  The young have a right to be taught just what it is that is objectionable in her dataless, oversimplified economic systems and her thoroughly selfish moral one.  Not teaching Rand would be like not teaching and criticizing Nazism in Germany universities at the time of Hitler.  (We all know where that lack of criticism  led.)

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