Trying to change the way America thinks
At a few conservative companies across America, workers are finding something extra stuffed in their paychecks: pamphlets with such provocative titles as ''Capitalist Pig,'' ''Social Insecurity,'' ''Why Work?'' and ''Minimum Wage - Maximum Folly.''Skip to next paragraph
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They also see posters on the company bulletin board which scoff at federal regulation -picturing a football team in black-and-white striped jerseys with the caption, ''Government used to be the referee. Now it's the other team!'' Another touts the virtues of capitalism -A woebegone figure selling apples in front of a locked gate with an out-of-business sign is admonished, ''If you think profits are badnews . . . think of the alternative.''
These are examples of a battle of ideas being waged by conservatives at the Shavano Institute for National Leadership, a newly formed organization aimed at educating the nation's business leaders in certain elements of classical political and economic thought.
Shavano Institute represents an attempt to consciously mold a new value system along the traditionally conservative lines of ''freedom, limited government, and the dignity of the individual,'' as P. Joseph Gillette, director of public affairs, puts it.
''Eighty percent of the voting population are employees, and of these most have deficient educations in pocketbook economics,'' says Michael Rosen, vice-president for education.
So in order to ''economically educate'' this vast population, the first audience Shavano seeks is sympathetic businessmen.
''There have not been very many courageous business people who are confident enough to stand up and fight for what they believe in,'' explains Hugh Fowler, the institute's vice-president for television.
Shavano seeks out opinion leaders in the business community, fortifying their conservative positions by providing them with a strong philosophical base, and trying to motivate them to return to their communities and actively support the values they share.
The new organization is producing a series of television documentaries called ''Counterpoint,'' which will be aired over Ted Turner's cable-satellite system, beginning Aug. 4. Advocates for the liberal and conservative sides of important issues will be given film crews, and each is allowed to supervise the production of a 15-minute film to document his views. The program will air these segments and follow with a live debate between the two spokesmen.
The first show is entitled ''Repairing the Ladder from Poverty to Plenty,'' and pits black economist Walter Williams against socialist author Michael Harrington. The second program will deal with the nuclear disarmament movement and features Winston Churchill II vs. William Sloane Coffin.
Shavano staff members say that when Americans are exposed equally to both sides of the liberal-conservative debate, they will be won over to the conservative view.
Affiliated with Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, Shavano is somewhat of a conservative cousin to the 33-year-old Aspen Institute, which is tied to the University of Chicago. Both organizations are located in the alpine setting of the Rocky Mountains.
But while Aspen Institute frequently acts as a forum for ''progressive ideas'' and often advocates business-government cooperation, Shavano rejects most modern intellectual thought, calling for a return to classical concepts of individual freedom and Judeo-Christian values.
If George C. Roche III - president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, Ronald Reagan's controversial new choice for chairman of the National Council on Educational Research, and director of the new institute - is correct, this new organization will be instrumental in shaping America's thinking and way of life for decades to come.
For the last 80 years the United States has been in the grip of a ''collectivist myth'' which had its origin in European thought around the turn of the century, Dr. Roche told 50 prominent business people from around the US who took part in Shavano's first ''leadership seminar'' recently.
Collectivist concepts, as Dr. Roche explains them, include the necessity of a planned society, a collective view of man;,and the relativity of values. What started with a few ''men of letters'' has seeped through American society and dominated the thought and behavior of American academics and intellectuals, educators, the media, the arts, government bureaucrats, corporate boards, and both political parties, he says.
''In parallel with this increasing collectivism of American life has come the most socially and economically disruptive period in history,'' Roche declares.
The election of Ronald Reagan is a sign that the American people have finally had enough of the collective mystique, he says.
Shavano's current seminar began with an upbeat economic analysis by Robert Bleiberg, editorial director of Barron's financial magazine. It then moved into a ''battle of ideas'' featuring New York liberal-turned-conservative Midge Dector, executive director of the Committee for the Free World, and American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Novak whose book, ''The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,'' explores the ethical bases of free enterprise. The session concluded with Mr. Reagan's former assistant, Lyn Nofziger, discussing the current political realities facing conservatives.
Next fall Shavano will begin holding one- day seminars around the country. Like the current meeting, these will be aimed at the business community and will be sponsored by local chambers of commerce and similar groups.