Sunday, April 6, 2008

John A. Allison IV - A Celebration of Freedom

The following is a tribute to a courageous freedom fighter in our time - John A. Allison IV. I delivered this speech to the Fellowship of Reason for its monthly Celebration of Freedom, April 6, 2008.

John A. Allison IV was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1948. He went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Business Administration, and was graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society, a measure of his academic achievements. While at UNC, he discovered articles by Ayn Rand and was profoundly influenced by her philosophy. He went on to receive his MBA from Duke University and then entered the banking industry. His first job came in 1971, at the age of 23, when he went to work for BB&T, a regional bank headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He rose through the ranks to President in 1987 and then to CEO in 1989. He is still the CEO. The bank gained notoriety and romantic appeal when it announced that it would not lend to anyone who gained their property through eminent domain. The bank has grown to the 9th largest financial holding company in the United States with currently reported assets of 131.6 billion dollars. Beyond its headquarters state of North Carolina, it has branches in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

If you go to the webpage of the bank, you learn that the principles of the bank's operation are straight out of Rand’s ethics. The company business is “brazenly stated” to be based on the facts of reality. Psychologizing, "do-gooderism" and excuses do not get play here. An outstanding BB&T employee, the website says, embodies Purpose, Rationality and Self-Esteem, the primary moral values of a Randian hero.

As the company grew it formed the BB&T Charitable Foundation. The kinds of projects that the Charitable Foundation have supported have been various but one kind of project has thrust John Allison and BB&T into the middle of one of, if not the greatest of all cultural battles of our time. He has chosen to offer universities grants if they will teach a course in which Atlas Shrugged is one of the books used.

John Allison - along with many others - have seen that capitalism has won the materialism side of the argument. With the collapse of communist Russia, and the inability of many other socialist societies to produce the basic needs for a society possible in this modern time, and the quick turnaround of countries that have embraced capitalism, such as Ireland, Poland, India, China to the extent it is able to be free, plus the older cases of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, the evidence is in. To the extent a country’s government fails to provide a legal structure that recognizes private property or it economically controls its society it will remain primitive or fail. If it controls the economy completely, it will fail completely. If it mixes control with some free aspects, it will be sluggish to the extent of the mixture.

So. What is capitalism? I quote Allison’s mentor, Ayn Rand:

Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

Rand’s definition makes sense and can be rationally validated. But, morally we, as a culture, cannot whole-heartedly abide it. We, at this point in time, are committed to a different moral base – altruism – where everything has to be justified in terms of the society as a whole or the welfare of another person. To stand up for one’s own life and the right to live it by using the individual faculty of one’s mind and the economic freedom that entails which is the basis of capitalism is impossible to do unless you are MORALLY prepared to do so. (By that I mean that you have developed within yourself moral certainty, which I call a “tap root.”) Mr. Allison’s mission, which he chose to accept, was to establish in the culture the moral basis of capitalism, the weak leg of its foundation. The book which elucidates that foundation most clearly at this point in time is Atlas Shrugged, hence, his requirement that Atlas Shrugged be taught in the course(s) supported by BB&T’s grants.

The grants Mr. Allison offers are voluntary. No university is required to accept the grants. To this point, 27 colleges and universities have chosen to accept BB&T’s gifts and its conditions. In fact, now colleges are seeking out BB&T’s offers.

In some cases, the gifts pay for a professor to teach the moral basis of capitalism. In other cases, BB&T has funded a chair at the university or a separate department. The colleges and universities which have accepted these grants are the following:

Carolina Colleges

Appalachian State University
Campbell University
Clemson University
Duke University
Greensboro College
High Point University
Johnson C. Smith University
North Carolina State University
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
University of South Carolina

Other than the Carolina Colleges

Christopher Newport University (VA)
George Mason University (VA)
Marshall University (WV)
Rockford College (IL)
University of Charleston (WV)
University of Florida
University of Kentucky
University of Texas at Austin
University of Virginia
Virginia Tech
West Virginia University
Western Kentucky University
Wheeling Jesuit University (WV)

As these gifts have been announced, they have kicked up the dust that must arise by confronting the prevalent moral code. Professors have argued that they are being “forced” by these gifts. They are confused between choosing freely and not having a choice. In the context of their original freely chosen selection, they cancelled their right to the “force” argument. What happened that they forget that?

Or, they argue that this undermines academic freedom and the right of the professor to select what he wants to teach. They fail to mention how other gifts have been designed to specialize in a particular area or of government grants that shape research and hence course material. They don’t want opposition to the ideas they profess. If you go online and Google BB&T and the grants, you can find any number of newspaper columns and letters to the editor that argue against the conditions of the grant. Also, there are bloggers who feel they must let us know that they are disgusted by Atlas Shrugged and its advocacy of selfishness as a virtue. Or how boring the book is. Or how long it is. Or how poor a writer Ms. Rand is.

So the battle goes on.

Lest you worry about the complaints leveled at Atlas Shrugged, C. Bradley Thompson, the Executive Director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, says it this way:

“I’ve taught Atlas Shrugged for fifteen years during which time I’ve witnessed many remarkable things. For example, some 95% of my students report that Atlas Shrugged is the best book they’ve ever read. No book that I’ve taught comes remotely close to fostering a more robust exchange of ideas in the classroom. My students typically come to class after pulling an all-nighter debating Atlas with their friends, and then they pepper me with dozens of questions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Ayn Rand’s ideas, few could deny that this is what the college experience is supposed to be like.

“During those few weeks each year when I teach Atlas Shrugged, I’ve seen hundreds of students become intellectually engaged in ways they weren’t before reading this extraordinary book. The comment I hear most often from students goes something like this: 'Atlas Shrugged sums up everything that I’ve always admired and believed but could never put into words.’ Ayn Rand’s novel speaks to many students’ deepest values and aspirations: it appeals to their sense of justice, integrity, honesty, and independence, and it appeals to their desire to live in a world where achievement and heroism are rewarded.

I chose to celebrate John A. Allison IV of BB&T and his courageous commitment to political freedom because it is one of the most crucial, philosophically fundamental, exciting, pro-freedom advances happening in the world today. Now that you know that it is happening, I hope you will join me in my joy of seeing this mighty moral battle unfold. The United States, the only country founded on individual rights is either going to blossom into full flower or fade from the earth.


robert574 said...

Steve, I haven't done a thorough analysis of BB&T's grant giving, but I'd almost bet that the professors who are complaining are not the professors who received the grants.

principlex said...

I'm not taking your bet because in all of my reading on this subject, the professors who are doing the teaching are not the one's complaining. The complainers are other professors or people in the community who know that their enemy is egoism and have a visceral reaction to the assertion of that value.

principlex said...

I thought you might be interested in the response to my remarks. During the Forum portion of the meeting which falls as the last thing before the MC's final remarks and quote, one man said "With remarks
like Mr. Principlex's, he and his wife will be joining the group." That was a
strong public acceptance. Three other people, not them, joined the group at the end of the meeting. I don't think their joining was a direct result of the speech. What I do say is that they had smiles on their faces and my remarks did not dissuade them. The only person that was iffy as far as I could see was the Master of Ceremonies. She said she liked being
charitable and was having a hard time with the word "selfish." (I thought it was
very good that she felt free to say that. The group is committed to working through various points of view via reasoning and the principles upon which it depends.) She closed the meeting with a quote. I don't recall the author; All I remember is that he said the most important thing in the world was "others."

My response to that is "Not if you are thinking."

robert574 said...

My old parish priest would have told her that is a selfish attitude. To enjoy being charitable defeats the purpose of charity according to the altruist view. She should give until it hurts; until she does not enjoy it. Then she will be moral by that view. She'll have to do penance for taking pleasure in giving.

On the other hand, I do enjoy giving when I want to help someone. But I don't feel guilty for not giving...and I cringe to think that my money might be spent wrongly and I only give when I'm sure it is going toward a valid purpose and does not give the other person the impression that effort in life is not necessary. The worst part of "giving to others" is that it establishes the idea that it is a moral imperative to do so and that it is evil if one does not do so. Giving is a choice...but if I give, don't take advantage of me...and don't come back for more. Prove to me you learned from your position of need and we'll be fine. That, to me, is the kindest attitude toward giving. If you pay me back, even better for my opinion of you.

principlex said...

Giving as expression of one's values is fine. Giving in order to gain the approval of others is not fine. If one's motivation is not the latter then another place where one can distinguish that giving is not appropriate is if it requires the sacrifice of a more important value. If one is going to the hospital to freely help the indigent while leaving the husband home alone, a problem could be on the horizon.