In 1943, Ayn Rand published her first novel, The Fountainhead; the main character in the novel, Howard Roarke, is an architect who refuses to compromise on the building of a skyscraper in New York. Roarke is the embodiment of Rand’s philosophy that “human beings are alone in the universe and must free themselves from all political and religious control, and must live their lives guided only by their own selfish desires.” In the 1950s, Rand moved to New York and such notable figures as Alan Greenspan were amongst Ayn Rand’s small group of followers; in recent times, Rand’s philosophy has become more current. The Cato Institute and other think tanks and NGOs, such as the Students for Liberty and the Ayn Rand Institute, now use the US Constitution, the libertarian movement, and the free forums on the Internet as instruments to push public policy in a direction that is more aligned with the beliefs of Rand.

Before changing its name to the Cato Institute in 1977, the libertarian think tank was known as the Charles Koch Foundation, since American billionaire Charles Koch was one of the most magnanimous contributors to the institute started by Ed Crane in 1974. When Crane stepped down as the leader of the Cato Institute in 2014, he was replaced by John Allison, a banker who had once endowed college courses on the work of Ayn Rand. Allison’s mission was to use his own profits from his career as a banker to endow colleges with courses on Rand and thereby promote her philosophies through the educational system. [1] The selection of Allison as the new leader of the Cato Institute is a testament to the fact that Cato Institute, which claims “to originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace,” is, in fact, doing no more than promoting the philosophies of Rand.

The activities of Allison, Koch and other affluent members of the Cato Institute has proven effective, since a number of student movements have arisen in support of Rand’s philosophy and, in 2008, a student group called “Students for Liberty” was formed. In its mission statement, it claims that its purpose is to “provide a unified, student-driven forum of support for students and student organizations dedicated to liberty.” [3] Both the Students for Liberty and the Cato Institute consistently use the US Constitution and the uniquely American idea of “freedom and liberty” as instruments to promote the philosophies of Rand. Since its inception, the Cato Institute has been issuing paperback editions of the US Constitution and handing them out for free to their members. On the Students for Liberty Web site, which claims to “promote liberty” and educate students on the US Constitution, there is a page entitled, Who is Ayn Rand?, which unambiguously seeks to educate students, not on the 18th-century US Constitution, but on the very 20th-century philosophies of Rand. The Internet has perhaps been the most helpful to both the Cato Institute and to the Students for Liberty, both of which have a close connection to other institutes dedicated exclusively to Rand, such as The Atlas Society (named after Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged) and the eponymous Ayn Rand Institute.

The Students for Liberty, which is exclusively comprised of college students and can perhaps be understood as the youth movement of the Cato Institute, has been able to promote their seminars and activism on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Dr. Ron Paul, one of the most well-known promoters of Rand’s philosophy, has managed to garner approximately 5 million views on his ten most watched videos on YouTube and, according to KDPaine and Partners, his YouTube videos made up half of the top ten of all candidate videos, and he had the largest overall viewership of any candidate. Paul’s presence on the Internet was so robust during the 2008 election that TIME Magazine called him the “new 2.0 candidate.” [7] In 2011, Ed Crane, the founder of the Cato Institute, wrote an article published in the Wall Street Journal called Why Ron Paul Matters and, in the article, he argues that Ron Paul is integral to pushing public policy in the same direction that the Cato Institute would have it be pushed in. [8]

The Cato Institute and other NGOs that are promoting the philosophy of Ayn Rand understand that the US Constitution can be used as an instrument to promote their movements and to thereby to push public policy in a direction that is complementary to the philosophy of Rand. The funding of college courses and using the Internet to broadcast videos and announce public seminars promoting “liberty and freedom” is something else that the Cato Institute does in order to push public policy in the direction that its founders, Ed Crane and Charles Koch, would prefer. In a Washington Post article entitled, “The Rise of Liberterarians — and What it Means for Politics,” journalist Jaime Fuller reports that “in the annual straw poll that takes place at the Conservative Political Action Committee, Rand Paul took first place, winning 31 percent of the vote despite the fact that there were 24 other people on the ballot.” [9] The popularity of Rand Paul, the son of former Cato Institute member Ron Paul, is a sign that the times are changing and that the Cato Institute has had some success through its advocacy, activism and Internet presence in promoting the philosophy of Rand, of having candidates that are favorable to Ayn Rand’s philosophy infiltrate the Republican party, and of eventually molding public policy in a way that the Cato Institute would like to see it molded.

SOURCES

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/06/ed_crane_leaves_cato_in_a_settlement_to_end_the_think_tank_s_hostile_takeover_by_the_koch_brothers_.html

[2] http://www.cato.org/mission

[3] http://northwesternbusinessreview.org/uchicago-and-students-for-liberty-this-weekend/

[4] http://studentsforliberty.org/blog/2015/02/02/little-guides-to-big-ideas-ayn-rand/

[5] https://www.facebook.com/studentsforliberty

[6] https://www.youtube.com/results?search_sort=video_view_count&search_query=ron+paul

[7] http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/29/idUS15012+29-Nov-2007+MW20071129

[8] http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-ron-paul-matters

[9] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/03/10/here-a-libertarian-there-a-libertarian-but-will-there-be-libertarians-everywhere-soon/

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