One of the most problematic changes at Wake Forest is the BB&T Center’s new Eudaimonia Institute that emerged officially on Sept. 10 in the “Winston-Salem Journal.”
There, James Otteson explains: “The pursuit of eudaimonia is one of the most important goals for humankind … There is no shortage of research institutes that look at happiness in various ways, but the niche we are serving brings together multiple disciplines and perspectives.”
I would argue that having an institute to study eudamonia misunderstands the word and there are other problems. For starters, Otteson’s work is devoted to the study of capitalism, as he told us in 2013: “With the BB&T Center’s mission to encourage the study of capitalism in all its facets, I am interested in exploring the institutions that enable human flourishing. We want to know how a society of free and responsible persons can live together peacefully, and we want to examine the political, economic, moral and cultural institutions that encourage prosperity and humanity.”
Although Otteson claims that “We will want to examine [capitalism] disinterestedly, understanding and exposing both the good and the bad, and then promoting the former and discouraging the latter,” the buzzwords reveal that libertarian principles take priority. Producing a “society of free and responsible persons” is fine, but this really means “encouraging” those who make use of government assistance to give up that support. Free and responsible persons make their way in the world without government help. The center thus promotes a narrow version of capitalism that excludes those who can’t fend for themselves.
The Eudaimonia Institute is funded by the Koch Foundation, which is committed to fostering open markets and free and responsible citizens, as noted in a “New Yorker” piece where Jane Mayer reports, “The Koch network … needed to present its free-market ideology as an apolitical and altruistic reform movement to enhance the quality of life — as ‘a movement for well-being.’ The network should make the case that free markets forged a path to happiness, whereas big government led to tyranny, fascism and even Nazism.”
Otteson declared at a Koch summit that “using the term ‘well-being’ would be a game changer.” He added that he was setting up an institute devoted to well-being at Wake Forest to promulgate these free-market theories by linking them to things U.S. citizens actually wanted like “‘peace and security,’ ‘health’ and ‘environment.’” He exclaimed to his audience: “‘Who can be against well-being?’”
In short, the Eudaimonia Institute is a Trojan Horse the Kochs invented to provide “disinterested” explorations of capitalism that are devoted to showing how the proper path to well- being is free-market capitalism, that they have seeded institutes at other universities only makes their moves more insidious, that they pretend to examine without bias things they don’t understand in order to foster their own economic creed is even worse, that our administration has willingly invited them to Wake Forest without meaningful input from the faculty at large is a disgrace.
Dr. Jim Hans
Professor of English