Northwestern English professor Bill Savage, who taught me plenty about noir and Chicago literature (not at the same time) in classes at the Newberry Library, is apparently enduring a steady stream of Ayn Rand enthusiasts walking through his office door. Two years ago, he agitated in the blog of Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger (edited by his sex-columnist brother Dan) that such students require quick correction: “I will teach them that any philosophy which cannot differentiate between Hitler or Stalin and Mother Theresa or Jane Addams is not just a system of thought in need of tweaking and elaboration, it’s objectively in need of ridicule, rejection and righteous anger,” he wrote.
That rant earned Savage a Rand poster for his office, but apparently it’s done little to diminish the number of teaching moments. Last week he returned to the blog to chastise the new batch of undergrad Randians: “The young readers who buy into Rand’s nonsense share two features in common: immense narcissism and utter cluelessness. They see themselves as heroic inviolate individuals, owing nothing to anyone, since everything they’ve achieved is due to their own genius and hard work.”
Fine by me—much like J.D. Salinger, Ayn Rand is rite-of-passage reading, a philosophy to get excited about in your teens and then quickly get over. Though Salinger was more nuanced, and unlike with Rand, nobody is paying universities money to preach Salinger’s gospel to students.