Adam Smith... who?

Adam Smith... who?

Who wants Adam Smith and liberty?  American colleges prefer Karl Marx and big government.

Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto is apparently the 3rd most-assigned book in American colleges. Marx is joined by many other communists, socialists and authoritarians on the list. Enlightened thinkers that promote freedom, however, are in alarmingly short supply.

The data comes from the Open Syllabus Project, which has amassed a collection of "around 1.1 million syllabi, drawing predominantly from the past decade of teaching in the US." So while this data set may not be perfectly complete, it is both large and very recent.  It represents an unprecedented window into American collegiate political studies.

Of the political discourses in the top 20, the majority are rather unwholesome, philosophically speaking:

  • 2. The Republic, by Plato (who was a communist before the label existed), which ultimately advocates for rule by a class of nobles.
  • 3. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx, a popular and innovative recipe for national self-destruction.
  • 7. Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, which explains the necessity for powerful, unaccountable government.
  • 8. The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli, the timeless manual for monarchial tyranny.

At 19 is the first enlightened work: On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill, in which Mill praises individual freedom, criticizes unjust restraints on freedom by society, and attacks tyrannical government. At 21 is Mill's Utilitarianism, and at 32 is Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy In America. At 37 finally comes the book widely regarded as the enlightened thinker's Manifesto: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Admittedly, Wealth of Nations is big enough to scare most people toward the CliffsNotes version. But should mankind's most successful treatise on political economics really be 34 places behind the intellectual cul-de-sac represented by The Communist Manifesto?  Given the latter's incredibly high ranking, maybe we should be glad that Wealth of Nations gets a place at all.

Just when it looks like enlightened thought is finding some footing on this list, it's back into the quagmire.  At 44 is Capital, by Karl Marx. It turns out Marx has TWO places on this list before the Declaration of Independence (56), Common Sense (79), or the Second Treatise on Government (92). Yes - the father of the most oppressive (and least successful) political ideology in history beat out the world's most iconic statements of human rights and liberty. TWICE.

Chris Ingraham analyzed the results for Ivy League schools and, unsurprisingly, found a much stronger showing for enlightened thinking. Marx is gone from the top ten, de Tocqueville comes in at 6, and Mill (On Liberty) at 9.  It seems an Ivy League education is still better than the rest.

Getting back to the list for "All schools," it's also notable that all 3 economics textbooks that appear in the top 200 are written by "Keynsians." That is, they're written by big government, pro-bailout interventionists:

  • 86. Economics, by Paul Krugman
  • 104. Macroeconomics, by Gregory Mankiw
  • 187. Economics, by John Taylor

The Open Syllabus Project "is an effort to make the intellectual judgment embedded in syllabi relevant to broader explorations of teaching, publishing, and intellectual history." The Project seems to be raising the simple question, "What intellectual judgment?" Our colleges and universities seem to be teaching a distinctly un-American political philosophy. The political reading they're assigning largely promotes big government, social engineering, authoritarianism and oppression.

Americans often complain that universities aren't doing a good job of teaching anymore. If Karl Marx is really what they're teaching instead of Adam Smith, we can be glad if that's true.