In Jean-Paul Sartre’s epistolary novel Nausea, the novel’s misanthropic protagonist Roquentin regards the existence around him in the French ville where he lives. Sitting under a chestnut tree, he becomes enraged at the “monstrous lumps of gross, absurd being” that surround him. “Filth!” he shouts. “What rotten filth!”
In a certain sense I identify with Roquentin. Well, kind of. I happen to find his (and Sartre’s) existentialist musings to be overwrought and exhausting. But I can certainly relate to Roquentin’s rage at the existence of what he perceives to be useless.
I’m perfectly sated with my own and other’s existence; instead my qualm is academic. In my past four years of study I have been privileged to come across many great thinkers, people who have legitimately added to the richness of human existence.
Like Galileo Galilei: it’s impossible not to feel a fierce gust of admiration as he defiantly tells Pope Paul V: “Holy writ is intended to tell men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” Or Baruch Spinoza, who was socially ostracised, the price he willingly paid for his enlightened philosophy.
But for every Galileo or Spinoza I have come across some idiots. Well, to be fair, I use the word “idiots” out of frustration. These people aren’t idiots, of course. But they are short-sighted and impractical academic man-children.
For me, academia is a public service. It is an epistemological quest; it should be constructive, humane, and beneficial across the board. And yet, universities and institutes keep employing and entertaining scholars and ideas which are not only totally unrealistic and unattainable, but also plainly vindictive.
Step up, Murray Rothbard. Rothbard is one of the most influential Libertarian thinkers of the 20th century. An economist of the Austrian school, he was a self-termed “anarcho-capitalist”.
Rothbard detested egalitarianism, and in his dream world even public goods – like schools and roads – should be funded at the behest of those who can afford it. I can just picture some wealthy baron nodding in concurrence while reading Rothbard’s effluence.
Ol’ Murray even had the bright idea in his book The Ethics of Liberty that parents shouldn’t be obligated to care for their children. Instead there should be a free market where unwanted children could be bought or sold. Oh, and did you know that racial and gender equality upset the natural order of things? Hoo-whee! Come for the child abuse, stay for the social Darwinism. The eminent academic Noam Chomsky once quipped that Rothbard’s vision is a "world so full of hate that no human being would want to live in it".
You might be wondering: Who is this man? Is he some hobo? Did he write these things on toilet paper and leave them in bus station waiting rooms? No. He was a tenured university professor. He was a joke among other academics and his writing was, at best, meretricious.
Now I ask myself what the point was of gainfully employing this man. What did he add to the complex conversation that is the field of economics? The short answer is: nothing; his wrongness wasn’t even net positive. And worse, he wrote all his free market, Ayn Randian nonsense from the comfort of his bourgeois existence. I doubt ol’ Murray would be so keen for a winner-takes-all society if he was a single mother or a blue-collar worker.
In the end, academia needs to purge itself of academics like these. It should be adding to our lives, improving it, not injecting hateful and unrealistic tripe into the already raging maelstrom. We don’t need people like Rothbard in a world of limited intellectual real estate.
Try as I might, however, people like Rothbard still exist. So I sit under my chestnut tree like Roquentin and watch all the useless and asinine bloviating and blustering.
“Filth!” I shout. “What rotten filth!”