Assault from the Ivory Tower: The Professors’ War Against America

by Leonard Peikoff
From The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought
The Voice of Reason
Buy the Book: The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought
All Editions
What does all this mean? Well, first of all, it means that the universe has become unintelligible. . . . Secondly, scientists themselves have become humble and admit that science may never be able to observe reality. . . . Thirdly, the physical world of Einstein has become something that even the most educated layman finds difficult to understand . . . He in short finds it incomprehensible and irrational.13Lecture by Thomas Judd; date and course title unknown.

In other words, if the college student runs to science as an escape from the humanities and the social sciences, he is learning there, too, that the mind is impotent.

Philosophy sets the standards for every school and department within a university. When philosophy goes bad, corrupt manifestations turn up everywhere. Visit Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, for instance, and audit a course titled “Creativity in Business” offered to MBA candidates. I quote the San Francisco Chronicle:

The students [in this course] learn meditation and chanting, analyze dreams, paint pictures, study I Ching and tarot cards. . . . The course reading includes I am That by Swami Muktananda . . . Precision Nirvana . . . Yoga Aphorisms. . . . One woman who had been a Moonie earlier in her life was fearful after a couple of sessions that she was getting into the same sort of thing, said [the professor]. It’s nothing of the kind, he added, but the heavy emphasis on developing the intuitive side of a student’s mind, where creativity is expressed, can sometimes leave that impression.

There are, this professor teaches his students, two main blocks to creativity. One is fear; the other is: “the endless chattering of the mind.”14Jerry Carroll, “Over-Achievers Swarm to This Exotic Class,” Feb. 17, 1983, p. 46. If mysticism is the fashion among scientists, why not among our future business leaders, too?

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Moonies and the Hare Krishnas have become a problem to the colleges. “Many administrators . . . agree that religious cults have found college campuses to be among their more profitable recruiting grounds in recent years.”15Lawrence Biemiller, “Campuses Trying to Control Religious Cults,” April 6, 1983. This is hardly a mystery. The colleges, by means of what they are teaching, are systematically setting the students up to be taken over. The Reverend Moon or his equivalent will be the ultimate profiteer of today’s trends if these are not stopped.

Now let us switch fields and turn to the area of sex education. I suggest you read a text widely used in junior high and high schools, cited by the American Library Association as one of the “Best Books for Young Adults in 1978.” The book claims, to impressionable teenagers, that anything in the realm of sex is acceptable as long as those who do it feel no guilt. Among other practices, the book explicitly endorses transvestism, prostitution, open marriage, sado-masochism, and bestiality. In regard to this latter, however, the book cautions the youngsters to avoid “poor hygiene, injury by the animal or to the animal, or guilt on the part of the human.”16Quoted by Diane Ravitch, “The New Right and the Schools,” American Educator, Fall 1982, p. 13. Professor Ravitch does not give the book’s title.

If you want still more, turn to art — for instance, poetry — as it is taught today in our colleges. For an eloquent example, read the widely used Norton’s Introduction to Poetry, and see what modern poems are offered to students alongside the recognized classics of the past as equally deserving of study, analysis, respect. One typical entry, which immediately precedes a poem by Blake, is entitled “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane.” The poem begins: “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no shit / From nobody’ . . .” and continues in similar vein throughout. This item can be topped only by the volume’s editor, who discusses the poem reverently, explaining that it has a profound social message: “the despair of the hopeless.”17Ed. by J. Paul Hunter, 2nd ed. (Norton: 1981). Just as history is what historians say, so art today is supposed to be whatever the art world endorses, and this is the kind of stuff it is endorsing. After all, the modernists shrug, who is to say what’s really good in art? Aren’t Hard Rock’s feelings just as good as Tennyson’s or Milton’s?

Now I want to discuss the cash value of the trends we have been considering. The base of philosophy is metaphysics and epistemology, i.e., a view of reality and of reason. The first major result of this base, its most important practical consequence, is ethics or morality, i.e., a code of values.

The founding fathers held a definite view of morality. Although they were not consistent, their distinctive ethical principle was: a man’s right to the pursuit of happiness, his own happiness, to be achieved by his own thought and effort — which means: not an ethics of self-sacrifice, but of self-reliance and self-fulfillment — in other words, an ethics of egoism, or what Ayn Rand called “the virtue of selfishness.” The founding fathers built this country on a twofold philosophical basis: first, on the championship of reason; then, as a result, on the principle of egoism, in the sense just indicated. The product of this combination was the idea: let us have a political system in which the individual is free to function by his own mind and for his own sake or profit. Such was the grounding of capitalism in America.

Just as our modern colleges have declared war on the first of these ideas (on reason), so they have declared war on the second. Here again they are following Kant. Kant was the greatest champion of self-sacrifice in the history of thought. He held that total selflessness is man’s duty, that suffering is man’s destiny in life, and that any egoistic motive, any quest for personal joy and any form of self-love, is the antonym of morality.

The Dean of Arts and Sciences at Colgate University expressed a similar viewpoint clearly in some convocation remarks he offered in 1981, attacking what he saw as an epidemic of egoism on campus. Egoism, the dean claimed, necessarily means whim-worship. Here is his definition of egoism: “serving the self, or taking care of number one . . . mindless hedonism and a concern for me, me now.” Where did he get this definition? Why can’t an egoist be enlightened, rational, long-range? No answer was given. The proper path for us to follow, the dean went on, was indicated by the “socially concerned” students of the sixties, with their “emphasis on duty to others” and on “the ascetic mode.” We may leave aside here the actual moral character of those violent, drug-addicted rebels of the sixties so admired by the dean. The point is the choice he offers: mindless hedonism versus asceticism — note the word — i.e., utter self-abnegation, renunciation, sacrifice. Today’s students, the dean said disapprovingly, attend college for reasons such as “to get a better job and to make more money.” This, he said, is wrong. “It is . . . my hope for you that you will recognize that there is life outside the self, that we live in a world that cries out for those with visions of a community founded upon just principles. . . . and [I] wish that preoccupation with self will give way to concern for others.”18Founders Day Convocation remarks, Sept. 8, 1981, reprinted in Colgate Scene, Oct. 1981, pp. 1–2.

Professors sometimes take sides in a controversy, but deans, to my knowledge, never do. When a dean makes an ideological statement, you can be sure that it is a universally accepted bromide on campus.

Our colleges are allegedly open to all ideas, yet on the fundamental issues of philosophy we hear everywhere the same rigid, dogmatic viewpoint, just as though the faculties were living and teaching under government censorship. I visited Columbia’s graduation exercises last year, and the priest who delivered the invocation declared to the assembled graduates: “The age of individual achievement has passed. When you come to Columbia, you are not to be motivated by the desire for money, or personal ambition, or success; you are here to learn to serve. And my prayer for you today is that at the end of your life you will be able to say, ‘Lord, I have been an unworthy servant.’“ If that priest had come out with a plug for the Communist party, it would have caused a stir; if he had upheld the superiority of Catholicism, ditto. But to state as self-evident the moral code common to both caused not a murmur of protest.

A social psychologist from Harvard, who also regards that code as self-evident, has devised a test to measure a person’s level of moral reasoning. This test is the basis of many of the new courses in morality now being offered in schools around the country. The testers give the student a hypothetical situation and several possible responses to it. He then chooses the response that best fits his own attitude. Here is a typical example. “Your spouse is dying from a rare cancer, and doctors believe a drug recently discovered by the town pharmacist may provide a cure. The pharmacist, however, charges $2,000 for the drug (which costs only $200 to make). You can’t afford the drug and can’t raise the money.”

Before we proceed to the answers, observe what moral lessons a student would absorb from the statement of the problem alone. Morality does not pertain to normal situations, it is not concerned with how to live, he learns, but with how to meet disaster, death, terminal cancer. The obstacle to his values, he learns, is greed, the greed of the pharmacist who is trying to exploit him by charging ten times the cost of the product. There is no mention of any effort the pharmacist might have exerted to discover the drug, no mention of any research or thought or study required of him in order to have discovered an unprecedented cure for cancer, no mention of any other costs he might have incurred, no question of any gratitude to the man who alone has created the power to save the spouse, no mention of any reason why that pharmacist, counter to every principle of self-interest, would overcharge for the drug when he would make more money in the long run by selling it in greater quantity at a lower price, as the whole history of mass production shows. All of this — in an exercise designed to teach moral reasoning — is omitted as irrelevant. Nor is there any explanation of why the student cannot raise money — no reference to banks, or savings, or insurance, or relatives. The case is simple: senseless greed on the part of a callous inventor, and what do you do about it?

About the Author
Leonard Peikoff
Leonard Peikoff
Leonard Peikoff, author of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, is the foremost authority on Rand’s philosophy. Learn more at his website.
  • Principles of Nature (New York: 1801); excerpted in Ideas in America, ed. by G.N. Grob and R. N. Beck (Free Press: 1970), pp. 81–84.
  • W.J. Brandt, R. Beloof, L. Nathan, and C.E. Selph (Prentice Hall: 1969), p. 23.
  • Philip J. Hilts, “Caught Between Faith and Fact,” Sept. 26, 1982, p. H1.
  • College Composition I, F1101 Y:01, Spring 1980. In cases such as this, to protect the privacy of students, I am citing only the course number and/or year (when known to me).
  • Fall 1969.
  • B9706, sec. 101, Spring 1982.
  • William S. Ray, The Science of Psychology (Macmillan: 1964), p. 5.
  • Course number H300, cross-listed as History K492, sec. 2856; date unknown.
  • “Women Approach History Differently — and Men Must Understand the Difference,” Stanford Observer, Oct., 1982, p. 2; reprinted from Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 15, 1982. Emphasis added.
  • 10 Edwin McDowell, “New Samoa Book Challenges Margaret Mead’s Conclusions,” Jan. 31, 1983, p. C21.
  • 11 Ben Gerson, “Professors for the Revolution,” Aug. 23, 1982, p. 10.
  • 12 J. McKim Malville (Seabury Press: 1981), pp. 44, 18.
  • 13 Lecture by Thomas Judd; date and course title unknown.
  • 14 Jerry Carroll, “Over-Achievers Swarm to This Exotic Class,” Feb. 17, 1983, p. 46.
  • 15 Lawrence Biemiller, “Campuses Trying to Control Religious Cults,” April 6, 1983.
  • 16 Quoted by Diane Ravitch, “The New Right and the Schools,” American Educator, Fall 1982, p. 13. Professor Ravitch does not give the book’s title.
  • 17 Ed. by J. Paul Hunter, 2nd ed. (Norton: 1981).
  • 18 Founders Day Convocation remarks, Sept. 8, 1981, reprinted in Colgate Scene, Oct. 1981, pp. 1–2.
  • 19 The wording of the situation and responses is from Christy Hudgins, “Teaching Morality: A Test for the 1970s,” Minneapolis Star, Mar. 26, 1979, p. 3B. The author of the six-stage morality scale is Lawrence Kohlberg.
  • 20 “Medical Schools May Stress Compassion, Practical Experience,” Nov.–Dec. 1982.
  • 21 Course no. A5 267–80, Spring 1979.
  • 22 Philosophy V83.0083, 1981–82.
  • 23 Course no. H200, cross-listed as Education F200; date unknown.
  • 24 Richard Rorty, “The Fate of Philosophy,” New Republic, Oct. 18, 1982, p. 33.