Monday, March 10, 2008

Kudos for the Ayn Rand Institute

Anyone who happens to find this blog would probably know that I harbor some criticisms of Objectivism which would automatically disqualify me from being associated with ARI. To modify something Woody Allen said, I won’t belong to an organization that won’t have me. In any case, my first exposure to Ayn Rand was in 1968 as a freshman entering college, the year of the Rand-Branden split. Two of the people I hung out with in college who had been studying Objectivism for about a year originally sided with Rand. (One of them is a staff member of The Atlas Society but I won’t divulge the name in case this person objects.) Years later when Barbara Branden published The Passion of Ayn Rand I had come to the conclusion that there was more to the story about the Branden excommunication than the official version. I also concluded that Branden’s biography probably was a reasonably accurate depiction of Rand’s personality and its affects on the “Inner Circle” as well as those on the periphery.

Over the years my reading expanded beyond the usual Objectivist-approved books to include modern Aristotelians such as John Kekes and David Norton. (Norton’s Personal Destinies is still one of my favorite books.) Within the last 10 years I happened to also read Ken Wilber’s works after Nathaniel Branden referred to Wilber in a Full Context interview. (By the way, I used to write for Full Context.)

In the meantime I’ve subscribed to TAS's The New Individualist but not to any of the ARI-friendly mailing groups because I cannot in good conscience sign their loyalty oath. (Nor, as I said above, do I think they'd accept me.)

Why all of this personal information? To set the context for this post. Diana Hsieh posted a link to a video of ARI’s president Yaron Brook in which he discusses why he is optimistic about the future. He explained how ARI has placed about 1 million of Ayn Rand’s novels into the hands of teachers since 2002. Brook estimates that as many as 5 million kids could be exposed to her novels over the next several years. Visiting the ARI web site I also noticed they have developed lesson plans for teachers to use.

I think this is a clever and potentially successful strategy. Rand often said the route to cultural change was through the universities where kids are exposed to ideas at a time when they’re forming their own views on politics and life in general. The ARI approach of catching ‘em when they’re young and before kids enter college could help build a grassroots movement. Speaking from experience in raising twin girls I know they’re exposed to (politically) liberal, anti-free market ideas in high school but the intensity of this exposure seems to increase in college.

I think ARI folks realize that some percentage of these kids will be influenced enough to pursue Rand’s non-fiction and get heavily into the philosophy. Some percentage will read the books and move on. Others won’t dig into the philosophy but will like her approach. I’ve met several people through work and just recently in my tennis group who are confident and somewhat politically conservative. When they see me carrying a book related to Rand they’d say that they loved her novels. I’m sure over time this affect will spread as Brook predicts. If so, we should give ARI some credit for their role in this.

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