Why is Ayn Rand not received well in Academia?

The U.S. has somehow created an amazing space for populists, hucksters, fake gurus, TV evangelists, carpet baggers and narcissistic blowhards to not only generate broad and sustained appeal, but garner actual followers who support them and happily propagate their views. Ever read L.Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics? It’s half-baked pop-psychology mixed with pseudoscience, but Hubbard’s influence somehow still endures in the form of Scientology. In the same vein, Ayn Rand just offers an amateur pseudophilosophy of atomistic materialist individualism, packaged in a fictional narrative that attracts undiscerning adolescents. But pseudoscience is not science, and pseudophilosophy is not philosophy - the basic standards just aren’t being met. Yet manipulating fictional, populist narratives to serve personal or ideological agendas is how these kinds of movements begin in the U.S.

Consider how Milton Friedman (and later the Koch brothers) influenced the “populist libertarian” narrative, shaping a vehicle for spreading neoliberal propaganda and actualizing a crony capitalist agenda; there is very little “libertarian” in what became of the Tea Party movement, but its eager adherents don’t seem to realize that. Also consider how Donal Trump used right-wing conspiracy rhetoric to wrap half the U.S. around his little pinky - again appealing to populist sentiment and playing loose-and-fast with facts. And because the U.S. seems to have a cultural predisposition for elevating these bizarre narratives to celebrity status, they often come to be viewed by a poorly educated mainstream consumer with spotty critical thinking skills as either part of some provable knowledge base - a scientifically validated truth - or part of academia’s intellectual lineage. I suspect this cultural quirk exists at least in part due to a hyper-commercialization of the American psyche, conditioning it to addictions and external dependencies for the sake of profit. But these phenomena are just part of a haphazard spectacle - an illusion that keeps Americans distracted, entertained, and eagerly promoting plutocratic priorities while voting and spending against their self-expressed values and interests.

Now there are folks who are outsiders to academia who have offered some original and in-depth thought in various disciplines - Ken Wilber and Colin Wilson come to mind - who have gradually gained a grudging acceptance in academic discourse. But these rare exceptions have occurred not because of the popular appeal of these thinkers, but because the quality of their thought. And alas, L.Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand simply do not rise to that level.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jack Fogg:

"I would agree that there is very little libertarianism in the Tea Party movement. There is also nothing libertarian about Donald Trump. Ayn Rand opposed libertarianism as well.

Two questions:

1) What is the difference between pseudophilosophy and philosophy? All philosophy is one’s opinion, by definition.

2) Can you name a single argument of Milton Friedman’s supporting crony capitalism?"

Excellent questions, Jack. A competent description of the many ways Friedman enabled and propagated crony capitalism can be found in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. I don’t always agree with how Klein presents her case…but she offers a lot of persuasive and verifiable evidence in her book. That said, you asked for a quote…however, I would steer you instead toward what Friedman actually did in his involvement with different governments over the years. Friedman’s rhetoric was artful…but his actions belied his true intentions. Everything Friedman accomplished (even while he was vociferously speaking out against crony capitalism) enabled corporations to take control of entire countries through their cosy relationship with government - and, in particular, encouraging government repression of opposing voices, ideologies and competing enterprises (i.e. the result of Friedman’s influence first in Latin America, and then via IMF and World Bank “structural adjustment” policies). And how did he accomplish this? Through himself engineering deliberate government actions and policies of course…not through his vaunted free market at all. The hypocrisy of the Chicago School in this regard is truly astounding. Here in the U.S., just look at Friedman’s most enduring legacy among economists and policy makers: monetarism! In other words, government intervention in free markets! But Friedman was a true artist when it came to rhetoric that distracted people away from what he was really engineering…which was an amplification of crony capitalism at almost every turn.

Regarding philosophy: there is a long tradition of critical inquiry into ontology, epistemology and the nature of mind. While each philosopher did indeed contribute their “opinion” (as you point out), they did so within a specific framework of language, established concepts, and an internal and dialogical consistency of thought. To appreciate the continuity of this tradition over time, I would encourage you to research the concept of dialectics. Ayn Rand, on the other hand, simply inserted her opinion into the cultural thought-stream of her time, without really understanding or honoring the tradition behind many of the concepts she was using. For example, she completely misunderstands Aristotle - not just in some nuanced or subtle opinion-aspects, but in a blatant-face-plant that reveals a fairly pronounced ignorance of the Philosopher. She essentially abuses a few quotes from Aristotle to support her positions, positions which completely contradict his broader themes. It’s embarrassing, really. It would be like me saying “quantum physics proves that cigarettes are a Promethean muse,” or “what Jesus said about the poor proves that corporations should rule the world.” It’s just idiotic.

I hope this was helpful info.

Comment from Anton Fahlgren:

"Very interesting. I think many people feel that what you’re saying about american culture being good for tricksters is right, is there more evidence for this than the examples you mentioned? If it is true, is it because the population is more gullible and/or because the culture breeds these over-the-top persuaders?

Donald Trump, a great example of what you speak of, got over 40% of votes, albeit in a two-party system. His rhetorical counterpart in Sweden where I live has around 15–20% of the vote."

I think the reasons are likely many, and could include:

1) The conditioning from corporate commercialism to externalize all solutions, authority and choices

2) The “newness” of the culture itself (in terms of national identity and traditions) and the consequent willingness to explore uncharted or experimental ideas

3) Very poor diets, which impacts both cognitive development and real-time critical thinking skills

4) A multi-generational experience that extraordinary risk-taking (in methods, systems, ideas, objectives, etc.) can in fact lead to amazing leaps forward in innovation and accomplishment

5) A high tolerance for cognitive dissonance among certain segments of the population (mainly conservatives who rely on fear-based reasoning)

6) A pervasive delight in spectacle, and eager willingness to “see what happens next”

7) The “spoiled child” entitlement syndrome: all strata of society believing they deserve to have whatever they want, mainly as a result of that expectation getting positively reinforced over time (i.e. national independence, ample natural resources, hard-working immigrant populations, victories in two World Wars, business accomplishments, technology accomplishments, etc.) without a clear understanding or appreciation of WHY these things happened

There are probably many other contributing factors, but these come to mind as the primary ingredients for what we are witnessing.


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