Government Grants and Scholarships

The fundamental evil of government grants is the fact that men are forced to pay for the support of ideas diametrically opposed to their own. This is a profound violation of an individual’s integrity and conscience. It is viciously wrong to take the money of rational men for the support of B.F. Skinner—or vice versa. The Constitution forbids a governmental establishment of religion, properly regarding it as a violation of individual rights. Since a man’s beliefs are protected from the intrusion of force, the same principle should protect his reasoned convictions and forbid governmental establishments in the field of thought.

How would Washington bureaucrats—or Congressmen, for that matter—know which scientist to encourage, particularly in so controversial a field as social science? The safest method is to choose men who have achieved some sort of reputation. Whether their reputation is deserved or not, whether their achievements are valid or not, whether they rose by merit, pull, publicity or accident, are questions which the awarders do not and cannot consider. When personal judgment is inoperative (or forbidden), men’s first concern is not how to choose, but how to justify their choice. This will necessarily prompt committee members, bureaucrats and politicians to gravitate toward “prestigious names.” The result is to help establish those already established—i.e., to entrench the status quo.

The worst part of it is the fact that this method of selection is not confined to the cowardly or the corrupt, that the honest official is obliged to use it. The method is forced on him by the terms of the situation. To pass an informed, independent judgment on the value of every applicant or project in every field of science, an official would have to be a universal scholar. If he consults “experts” in the field, the dilemma remains: either he has to be a scholar who knows which experts to consult—or he has to surrender his judgment to men trained by the very professors he is supposed to judge. The awarding of grants to famous “leaders,” therefore, appears to him as the only fair policy—on the premise that “somebody made them famous, somebody knows, even if I don’t.”

(If the officials attempted to by-pass the “leaders” and give grants to promising beginners, the injustice and irrationality of the situation would be so much worse that most of them have the good sense not to attempt it. If universal scholarship is required to judge the value of the actual in every field, nothing short of omniscience would be required to judge the value of the potential—as various privately sponsored contests to discover future talent, even in limited fields, have amply demonstrated.)

Furthermore, the terms of the situation actually forbid an honest official to use his own judgment. He is supposed to be “impartial” and “fair”—while considering awards in the social sciences. An official who does not have some knowledge and some convictions in this field, has no moral right to be a public official. Yet the kind of “fairness” demanded of him means that he must suspend, ignore or evade his own convictions (these would be challenged as “prejudices” or “censorship”) and proceed to dispose of large sums of public money, with incalculable consequences for the future of the country—without judging the nature of the recipients’ ideas, i.e., without using any judgment whatever.

The awarders may hide behind the notion that, in choosing recognized “leaders,” they are acting “democratically” and rewarding men chosen by the public. But there is no “democracy” in this field. Science and the mind do not work by vote or by consensus. The best-known is not necessarily the best (nor is the least-known, for that matter). Since no rational standards are applicable, the awarders’ method leads to concern with personalities, not ideas; pull, not merit; “prestige,” not truth. The result is: rule by press agents.

Many students of Objectivism are troubled by a certain kind of moral dilemma confronting them in today’s society. We are frequently asked the questions: “Is it morally proper to accept scholarships, private or public?” and: “Is it morally proper for an advocate of capitalism to accept a government research grant or a government job?”

I shall hasten to answer: “Yes”—then proceed to explain and qualify it. There are many confusions on these issues, created by the influence and implications of the altruist morality.

There is nothing wrong in accepting private scholarships. The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .

The same moral principles and considerations apply to the issue of accepting social security, unemployment insurance or other payments of that kind. It is obvious, in such cases, that a man receives his own money which was taken from him by force, directly and specifically, without his consent, against his own choice. Those who advocated such laws are morally guilty, since they assumed the “right” to force employers and unwilling co-workers. But the victims, who opposed such laws, have a clear right to any refund of their own money—and they would not advance the cause of freedom if they left their money, unclaimed, for the benefit of the welfare-state administration.

The same moral principles and considerations apply to the issue of government research grants.

The growth of the welfare state is approaching the stage where virtually the only money available for scientific research will be government money. (The disastrous effects of this situation and the disgraceful state of government-sponsored science are apparent already, but that is a different subject. We are concerned here only with the moral dilemma of scientists.) Taxation is destroying private resources, while government money is flooding and taking over the field of research.

In these conditions, a scientist is morally justified in accepting government grants—so long as he opposes all forms of welfare statism. As in the case of scholarship-recipients, a scientist does not have to add self-martyrdom to the injustices he suffers.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.