The Closing of the Academic Mind

by Andrew Stuttaford

If you wanted a good example of the arid, stiflingly conformist atmosphere of the ivory tower, this extract from a piece by Alan Wolfe for The Chronicle of Higher Education takes some beating:

Right-wing think tanks can have Rand (even if she had little use for them). In the academy, she is a nonperson. Her theories are works of fiction. Her works of fiction are theories, and bad ones at that. Should the Republicans actually win in 2012, we might need to study her in the academic world. It would be for the same reason we sometimes need to study creationism.

In the academy, she is a non-person.

That last line is the best: From the pompous, implicitly self-congratulatory opening (“In the academy”) to the smug, somewhat sinister conclusion (“she is a non-person”), it is the perversely proud admission of a hopelessly closed mind.

As for Rand, well, she was what she was (I’d count myself a distinctly qualified admirer) but, whatever you think of her writings, she was undeniably a historical and intellectual phenomenon worthy of some attention, even from those busy souls “in the academy.”

Wolfe, I think, knows that. It not enough for him to say that Rand is largely ignored or some such. He goes further. He proclaims her a “non-person,” a formulation too close for comfort to 1984’s “unperson.” It’s not enough that Rand is overlooked; she must instead be, so to speak, actively forgotten, consigned to the memory hole.

In a way, as Rand would have understood, that’s a compliment.

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