We cannot say we were not warned. Decades ago, in an article perhaps long forgotten, novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand gave an ominous warning on the state of American education at all levels, especially the ideologies and philosophies that were beginning to become pervasive within its university system. Whatever one may think of Rand’s novels or personal character, an objective analysis of her work on educationspecifically displays her thoughts as unquestionably prescient.
If one believes the infestation within universities and public classrooms of Critical Theory and other like minded disciplines is a recent phenomenon, brought to their attention by pushback and defunding from President Trump, one is mistaken. In her article “Cashing In: The Students Rebellion,” Rand points out that universities in the 1960s began to become training centers for “activists,” much like Marxist in the 1930s, who learned they could utilize legitimate current issues in order to manipulate the masses into cooperation, oblivious to the incoherent, illogical ideologies that compromised professors had effectively forced students to accept (Rand, 9). These activists would later plant themselves in education, media, and politics, or even serve as muscle on the streets to work toward indoctrinated ideological objectives.
Rand continues to explain why 1960s students chose U.C. Berkeley president Clark Kerr as their target, given his liberal record. Ironically, Rand notes, “it is clear that the revels chose Kerr as their first target, not in spite of his record, but because of it” (25). In other words, a person poorly intellectually trained who is only versed in how to “play ball” or “go along to get along” knows how to do only what he himself did in university: avoid conflict and compromise. With whom? With anyone who seems to pose a threat or spouts the “correct” platitudes. Berkeley’s “student rebellion” of 1964 engaged in violation of property and physical assaults, even of police, justifying itself by hiding behind a false mantle of civil rights, smearing opposition as racist, all the while receiving outside money and resources to help achieve its goal: the seizure of power.
For cities such as Portland and Seattle, this abjection of leadership may ring a bell. These cities, apparent natural allies of the organizations that have been destroying them, actually make the best targets because they will offer no intellectual push-back (and perhaps even sanction) and no physical protection against the forceful nature that such ideologies incorporate.
Many high school and college students recognize the situation during their time on campus. In order to “get the grade,” they will sit through the echo chambers, teeth clenched or tuned out, regurgitate the answers professors want to hear, then take their “real beliefs” with them into the real world. While this may seem like the only way to go, it actually becomes increasingly destructive because 1) it’s simply time wasted at best; 2) it’s time being spent indoctrinating more agreeable minds who want, genuinely, to do something “good” in the world; and 3) it sets a weird precedent of a philosophy that has been defeated intellectually, politically, and economically in every way, to be able to endure as if it actually hasn’t at the price of repression of knowledge that exposes it quite easily
Rand wisely states that “the uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow” and that “the battle consists, above all, of providing the country with ideological answers … to enlighten the vast, helpless, bewildered majority in the universities — and in the country at large — who are struggling to find answers or those who, having heard nothing but collectivist sophistries for years, have withdrawn in revulsion and given up” (36–39). If students are fearful of speaking up in class due to grade punishment, it simply becomes the assumption that these ideas must irrevocably be correct to those who have no prior knowledge to begin with. If, further, the bromides of such disciplines are widely distributed by media, and opposing notions buried, then the average mind is already primed to believe whatever it is being told in class.
In the 20th century, the American public education system was heavily influenced by Progressive philosopher John Dewey. In Dewey’s own words in his My Pedagogic Creed, he lays out his ultimate vision and goal for American education. He states:
I believe that the social life of the child is the basis of concentration in all of his training or growth[.] … I believe, therefore, that the true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social act. I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life … the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. (Pestritto & Atto, 129–134).
In other words, he simply wants to train 1) social activists aligned with his ideology and 2) masses of people, not knowing any better, who feel compelled to go along. If this is going to be the case, then a rigorous, factual study of the disciplines becomes increasingly impossible, as they offer a different perspective from the “approved narrative” of the “proper” social reformer. If that information cannot be denounced on its merit, it must then become “racist,” “problematic,” or whatever else to delegitimize it and prevent it from even being mentioned.
In his Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, philosopher Stephen Hicks traces the history of the breakdown and collapse of the discipline of philosophy and its impact on other disciplines. Hicks posits that fields within the humanities at large, not just subfields such as Critical Theory, the grievance studies, Postmodernism, etc., have always intertwined themselves with the various flavors of socialism. They’ve striven to find theoretical methods to become an intellectual ruling class who could properly reform and organize society. Their problem, however, became that socialism failed on every level: economically, it has irrefutably proven its drastic inferiority to capitalist ideas and usually results in creating vast conditions of poverty. Politically, it has produced horrific tyranny, from modern Venezuela to the former Soviet Union. Intellectually, it has not been able to justify itself, given its numerous inherent contradictions and denial of individual rights.
Hicks concludes that today, a notion of resentment has accordingly taken over both the intellectual and political movement. He states, “Socialism is the historical loser, and if socialist know that, they will hate that fact, they will hate the winners for having won, and they will hate themselves for having picked the losing side. Hate as a chronic condition leads to the urge to destroy[.] … Postmodern thinkers hold that not just politics as failed — everything has failed” (Hicks, 194). In other words, if you can’t win, then destroy becomes the motto of such ideologies. The target for that urge to destroy is at first honest students, then those virtuous people who resist, then the national history, and finally the cities and the governmental system itself.
As Rand explains, “Young people do seek a comprehensive view of life, i.e., a philosophy, they do seek meaning, purpose, ideals — and most of them take what they get[.] … [T]he majority are open to the voice of philosophy for a few brief years. These last are the permanent, if not innocent, victims of modern philosophy” (19).