Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jane Mayer on the Coming 'Church of Rand' at Cato

She writes, today, in New Yorker:

As [Bruce] Bartlett put it, “It’s clear to me that the Kochs have abandoned libertarianism and essentially thrown in totally with the G.O.P. They are putting in place a structure that will gradually erode Cato’s independence and move it closer to the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.”...

Allison is an ardent devotee of Ayn Rand, the philosopher and writer who counted human greed as a virtue. That’s not so unusual for a libertarian, but so intense is Allison’s devotion to Rand’s work that he has waged a campaign to make college students read it, using the power of the BB&T Charitable Foundation and millions of dollars in donations to schools to achieve his goal. Randians tend to hew closely to the Kochs’ line. They focus on the glories of unbridled capitalism, rather than on the civil-liberties issues that Cato had taken up under Crane. Further, many Randians, as opposed to a significant number of those working at Crane’s Cato, are hawks on foreign policy. In a post on his blog, Jeremy Lott, a former Cato employee, makes this point, but notes, “In his opening remarks to Cato scholars, Allison said that he did not want Cato’s foreign policy to be the Republican Party’s foreign policy. That’s all to the good but this bears watching because the foreign policy work Cato does is important.”

Up until now, Allison’s mission has been to spread Rand’s ideas. He’s done so by directing grants to schools that agree to teach her works, a practice that has stirred controversy in some schools, where faculty members have objected. In 2006, for instance, faculty at Meredith College, in Raleigh, North Carolina, forced the school’s president to relinquish a four-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-dollar grant from the BB&T Charitable Foundation rather than accept the strings attached to the gift: a requirement that they teach “Atlas Shrugged.” But many strapped schools have complied with Allison’s wishes. When Guilford College, a Quaker school in Greensboro, North Carolina, took a five-hundred-thousand-dollar grant from BB&T’s foundation to teach a class called “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” in which students majoring in business or economics would, upon beginning their junior year, be given a free copy of “Atlas Shrugged,” a professor of psychology, Richard Zweigenhaft, wrote that “This deal with BB&T was simply an egregious case of the college administration deciding to sell a chunk of the curriculum.” Despite scattered protests, Allison’s spreading of Rand’s work through America’s financially hard-pressed system of higher education has been almost as successful as the spread of BB&T’s bank branches.

By 2008, BB&T’s foundation had, according to the Charlotte Observer, given twenty-eight million dollars to twenty-seven different colleges, in order to, in the Observers words, “support the study of capitalism from a moral perspective.” Seventeen of those colleges promised to make “Atlas Shrugged” required reading in a class. In several instances, Allison and the Kochs have supported pro-free-market curricula at the same schools, such as Florida Gulf Coast, a public university in Fort Myers, Florida, and Clemson, a public university in South Carolina.

What these programs and their donors share seems to be a view of society’s haves as not just lucky and talented but also as virtuous, and the have-nots as letting others carry their load. Government, meanwhile, is described as immorally aiding and abetting society’s losers at the expense of its winners. While many libertarians are fans of Rand, they are less ardent about her than Allison. Lott points out that the difference may be in degree of fervor. The current leaders at Cato, he writes,
Are not associated with any of the at-times cultish organizations that serve as keepers of the flame. Allison is. If he brings a mass of Randians with him into Cato, that could pose a problem for those who do not buy all of what the famous novelist espoused, or the stridency with which she espoused it.
Ironically, while many libertarians embrace Rand, the admiration was not mutual. In fact, Rand herself was scathing about the libertarian movement. As Noah Kristula-Green wrote at the Daily Beast, in 1971 Rand described libertarians as “The scum of the intellectual world of the left, which has given them up.”


  1. It used to usually begin with Ayn Rand. Now it usually begins with Ron Paul. That's what I call progress.

  2. "...Ayn Rand, the philosopher and writer who counted human greed as a virtue."

    Rand didn't consider greed a virtue. In fact, she makes it abundantly clear in her works, fiction and non-fiction, that greed has nothing to do with what she considers to be the virtue of rational self-interest.

  3. anonymous nonDevilJuly 3, 2012 at 6:17 PM

    This is short leap for CATO. Not a great loss.