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Columbia University Protests: Ayn Rand from 1968 to Today

“Reason and morality are the only weapons that determine the course of history.”

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In a case of history repeating itself, student rebels at Columbia University (and many other college campuses across the country) recently engaged in violent protests much as they did in the late 1960s. 

In 1968, Ayn Rand took to the airwaves to denounce the hostilities and provide insight into the causes, meaning, and consequences of the student unrest. In a recently released broadcast — available now in full on the Ayn Rand Institute’s YouTube channel— she delivers an analysis that is just as relevant today. With clarity and precision, she identifies the philosophical corruption that led to the moral vacuum that made this unrest possible. Rand illuminates what is necessary to combat such irrationality: a new moral code holding reason as an absolute.

In the broadcast, Rand favorably comments on a series of articles published in the New York Times, characterizing the militant student rebellions as “hoodlumism.” She explains why universities’ appeasement of the protesters would only encourage further takeovers. Highlighting the only voice of reason at the time speaking up on the Columbia campus, the Committee for the Defense of Property Rights, she names the moral issue at the heart of the conflict: the evil of brute force vs. rational persuasion.

Rand ominously predicts that if the trend of tolerance for brute force isn’t reversed at root, the result could be authoritarianism as it was in the twentieth century.

Rand also references an article that she wrote on student protests earlier in the 1960s (“The Cashing-In: The Student Rebellion”). At the end of this piece (in a passage ARI excerpted in a shorter video highlighting the essence of her broadcast), she issues an inspiring call for new intellectuals to take a principled stand against the nihilistic trends dominating America’s academic culture: “. . . reason and morality are the only weapons that determine the course of history. The collectivists dropped them, because they had no right to carry them. Pick them up; you have.”

Image credit: Newsday LLC/Newsday via Getty Images.


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Ibis Slade

Ibis Slade is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and a content creator. He focuses on American intellectual and moral history.

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