On February 23, the Objectivists of Stanford hosted a lecture given by Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, Dr. Yaron Brook. Dr. Brook is an advocate of Objectivism, Ayn Rand’s moral and political philosophy that values rational self-interest, laissez-faire capitalism, and individualism.
In his lecture, Dr. Brook argued that no individual should be legally compelled to provide for his or her neighbor. He focused on healthcare, arguing that current government healthcare systems violate one’s natural rights.
“Healthcare is not a right,” Brook argued. He said that healthcare requires money, doctors, and facilities, and therefore cannot be compared with the freedoms of speech or assembly.
Objectivism as a philosophy has grown more popular in recent years, due to both popular backlash against large government initiatives and the rise of the Tea Party. The Tea Party espouses many of the principles for which the Ayn Rand Institute has advocated since its founding in 1985.
The Ayn Rand Institute has actively tried to attract Objectivists on college campuses across the United States. In recent years, it has spent over five million dollars promoting and subsidizing Objectivist clubs and awarding scholarships across the country.
The Review sat down with Dr. Brook to talk about the status of Objectivism on college campuses. He regularly speaks at universities across the country, and offered us his commentary regarding campus activism.
“I think [college Objectivist organizations] vary dramatically, both in activism and in size,” he said. “Generally, I’d like to see the clubs become more active and try to engage with the student population more—try to create a little controversy, and challenge the status quo on college campuses to attract more attention to the ideas…in a respectful and energized way.”
At colleges and universities nation-wide, Objectivism and other right-wing political ideologies are often eclipsed by predominately left-wing culture and political ideologies.
When asked whether or not college campuses tend to be poor incubators for Objectivism, Dr. Brook responded, “It’s a mixture. On one hand, they’re bad incubators because you’re going up against an educational culture that’s very antagonistic towards Objectivism on every level. But on the other hand, it’s very friendly because [there are] a bunch of young people all trying to figure out their views about the world.”
He continued, “If you’re focused on the students, it’s very hospitable; if you’re focused on the faculty, it’s very hostile.”
Objectivism is often attacked for its promotion of “moral selfishness” and for its severe criticism of altruism. The philosophy defines morality in terms of acting to improve one’s own life, not the lives of others.
In this way, Objectivism may be at odds with Stanford’s Fundamental Standard, which reads, “Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens.”
Ayn Rand, on the other hand, stated that “own happiness [is] the moral purpose of his life.”
Dr. Brook commented upon the discrepancy. “It all depends on how you define order, how you define morality,” he said. “You can certainly define them within an Objectivist context, in which it’s not an issue, but if [Stanford] defines morality in terms of selflessness, in terms of self-sacrifice, then, yeah, it’s incompatible.”
Dr. Brook commented that objectivism is not necessarily popular on all college campuses. And he thought the relationship between Stanford’s Fundamental Standard and Objectivist philosophy is “antagonist in intent, at least [with regards to] morality, and Stanford is a private organization, so they can have whatever standard they want,” he said.
While Stanford allows political groups of all sorts to organize on its campus–the Stanford Conservative Society, the Stanford Democrats, the Grand Left Coalition–one is left to wonder if organizations such as the Objectivists of Stanford “fit in” in Stanford’s dynamic political environment.
Ayn Rand believed that “man [is] a heroic being…with productive achievement his noblest activity….” Objectivists tend to be professionals, not academics. The Review asked Dr. Brook if the intellectual and ideological divide between academia and business turn Objectivists toward business and away from academia.
“There’s a pre-selection of who goes into academia, and academia selects itself through the tenure process,” he said. “It’s self-reinforcing so that the type of people who go into academia don’t appreciate productive work. They’re very insulated, very detached from reality and the real economy that makes their jobs possible.”