Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Compromising on her philosophy"?

Ayn Rand at Alan Greenspan's inauguration as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, 1974.

Currently the Ayn Rand Institute is enthusiastically issuing denunciations of Alan Greenspan to try to distance Ayn Rand's reputation from the current economic meltdown. However, it seems they doth protest too much. Here's Harry Binswanger from his recent ritual condemnation, Alan Greenspan vs Ayn Rand and Freedom:

"I can't say I knew Alan Greenspan, though, being an associate of Ayn Rand, I met him a few times in the 1960s. But by 1970--almost 40 years ago--I and a couple of other Objectivists in that circle already realized that Greenspan was compromising on her philosophy."

Funny that. The above photo is from 1974 - four years after Binswanger claims to have discovered Greenspan's "compromising" on Rand's philosophy - of Ayn Rand and Frank O'Connor at Alan Greenspan's official inauguration by President Ford as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers". Hardly the way Rand recommended dealing with "compromise." Clearly Rand, despite the "MRI-like" psychological acuity attributed to her by followers such James Valliant and the generally millenial mental capabilities attributed to her by Binswanger and the ARI, had been unable to detect such serious divergences from her principles, despite the fact that she was closely associated with Greenspan (the other woman in attendance there is Greenspan's mother) and Binswanger had only ever met him a few times. Binswanger is saying in effect that he is better able to spot philosophical errors than Rand herself. Either that, or Greenspan's evil is so profound it was able to fool even the greatest genius of the past two thousand years.

I suspect we'll increasingly be hearing the latter narrative. In other words, it's Nathaniel Branden all over again.

(Thanks to Neil Parille for the photograph)

25 comments:

gregnyquist said...

I suspect that Ayn Rand tended to cut Greenspan more slack than the rest of the members of the "collective" because he had actually accomplished something on his own. There was a streak of contempt in Rand's attitude towards admirers of her philosophy who hadn't accomplished anything. While Rand was alive, hardly anyone was allowed to regard themselves as an "Objectivist"—only as "students of Objectivism." In a little note Rand wrote in first issue of Binswanger's Objectivist Forum newsletter, Rand refused to regard even Binswanger as a full-fledged Objectivist, qualifying her endorsement of OF by declaring its editor a mere student of Objectivism. An indication, perhaps, of her real feelings toward Binswanger? Even Peikoff had to be called back from "exile" after then Branden split: allegedly Rand had lost her patience with his limitations. But she seems to always have respected Greenspan, both before he became an Objectivist (when he wasn't even sure he existed!) and even afterward, when he began drifting away from her orbit. Greenspan says in his autobiography that he stopped being an Objectivist in the late sixties, but that didn't stop Rand from being involved in his inauguaration as the third highest ranking economist in government in 1974.

This is one area where Rand is superior to her followers. Once in a while she had the ability to ignore her philosophy on the grounds of personal judgment: in this case, a judgment arising out the common sense notion that someone who has achieved some in the real world, outside the confines of Objectivism, is deserving of respect and therefore should be cut some slack. She seems to have done the same thing in regard to Ludwig von Mises, whom she should've blasted as a Kantian, but whom she refrained from doing so in public because of what Mises had accomplished.

Red Grant said...

Didn't someone say, "For the right price, everyone's a whore"?


Another great post, which I think should be archived with special distinction to be used against "Randoids", or "Randillians".

Anonymous said...

Binswanger is back-dating quite a bit, but there have been doubts and criticisms of Greenspan expressed by Objectivists from at least the time he became Fed chairman. The most famous case was back in 1998 when Peikoff denounced Greenspan on his radio show.

Neil Parille said...

Anon,

Are you saying Binswanger is incorrect in his recollection?

Anonymous said...

His recollections are for a time before the earliest criticisms that I know of. But I wasn't there in 1970, so I can't speak to the accuracy of what he is saying now. On the other hand, I do know that criticism of Greenspan started long before the "current economic meltdown."

Anonymous said...

Also, to build a bit on Greg's comment: It doesn't seem like Rand herself was a big enforcer of ideological conformity in the way that some Objectivists try to be today. When she split up with people, it was usually over some personal betrayal rather than philosophical disagreements. She thought they backstabbed her or insulted her or something like that. If they had an intellectual disagreement, she would argue and say nasty things, but then she would make up with them after.

Neil Parille said...

Anon,

What is your source of information for the splits that Rand had with people?

Andrew said...

"before he became an Objectivist (when he wasn't even sure he existed!)"

Baaah, the damning confines of Empiricism, how will we know? And how will we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values? Well just have to guess!

Binswanger seems to go from the assumption that all regulation is harmful, simply because theres so much of it, ooooh, its so ominous and arbitrary. Have they proved much of the current regulation to be harmful in "preventing the markets from doing their job' ?

How about instead of trying to prove existing regulation to be valid we try and prove it invalid. That makes more sense to me.

Also, maybe lowering the rates then raising them again did help pop the bubble, but the credit bubble was of a giant unknown size thanks to de-regulation.

We work with what we know, not what we think we know.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil to Anon:

"Are you saying Binswanger is incorrect in his recollection?

I remember Harry and others, including others not in Harry's circle of friends, expressing doubts back then.

And I don't think AR ever 100% set aside her doubts re Greenspan. I think that Greg's right about her cutting him more slack on the grounds of his accomplishments.

A question re Leonard Peikoff, though: Greg, where do you get that he was called back from "exile" after the Branden split? I'm not sure of the dates of Leonard's "exile" to Colorado, but I think he was already teaching at Brooklyn Poly before the split. Does anyone know when he started teaching there?

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

There is a section in one of Nathaniel Branden's memoirs in which he quotes Rand being concerned about Greenspan's lack of interest in Objectivism. I believe Rand said, "Do you think Alan is a social climber?"

George Reisman gave a talk a couple years ago at the Von Mises Institute and said that he saw Greenspan only once at Mises' seminary (apparently he came with Rand). Greenspan doesn't mention von Mises or Austrian economics in his three essays in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

JayCross said...

Daniel/any other GNR fan here,

Axl Rose did a live Q&A on a fan forum last night and confirmed that there is, indeed, a to-be-released GNR track called "Atlas Shrugged." Somebody asked if it was as epic as the book and he replied:

"It doesn't really have much to do with the book other than pursuing what you believe in and your shoulders not being wide enough."

gregnyquist said...

Ellen: "Greg, where do you get that he was called back from "exile" after the Branden split?"

The source comes from N. Branden. I don't have Branden's book so I can't quote verbatim. Tibor Machan, who refers to the exile in his own memoir, writes as follows: "Peikoff was out in Denver in the first place only because he was 'on probation' for having committed some gaffe or other with Rand, and had been temporarily exiled to this province." Machan's date for his Peikoff-in-Denver anecdote is 1965, so it's still possible that Peikoff back in New York in time for the split, but I seem to remember one (or both) of the Brandens mentioning that Rand called Peikoff back from Colorado after the split—but perhaps my memory is faulty on this point.

Ellen Stuttle said...

When I get around to it, I'll try to track down when Leonard starting teaching at Brooklyn Poly -- not that it's a detail of importance; I'm just curious. I know he was at Brooklyn Poly by some point in '69. I had lunch with him and Larry (my husband, then-significant other) there.

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

Greg and Ellen,

On pages 340-41 of MYWAR, Branden says Peikoff was back from Denver (and his exile over) by at least August 68. After he mentions this, Branden says that Barbara came to him and said she had to tell Rand the truth about the affair. So this was before the final split.

Anonymous said...

Why is this question, of Rand compromising her philosophy, of such importance?

Anonymous said...

To answer the question from Neil (12/12/2008 05:56:00 PM), I am using the same sources of information that are available to everyone else.

Consider the example of John Hospers. She disagreed with him on philosophical issues for their entire relationship. She started shunning him only after she felt betrayed by him at an academic conference. Or Isabel Patterson, who Rand disagreed with profoundly about religion, but only ditched after she insulted Rand's friends and made an anti-semitic comment. She argued with them both for years, but that wasn't the source of their break-ups. I think both of those cases are discussed in PAR, but I'm going by memory.

In another case (Edith Efron, I think), the break-up was about an insulting comment, with no philosophical disagreement that I know of. And of course the Branden fiasco was not about philosophical disagreement.

By the way, I am not the same anon as the comment at 12/16/2008 02:54:00 PM.

Neil Parille said...

Can't you "Anons" use "handles" such as "Anon97.2", "AnonGNRfan", etc?

Actually, Hospers says in his memoir that the closer one got to Rand, the more she demanded philosophical agreement.

I seriously doubt that if Leonard Peikoff said, "You know Ayn, I agree with most of what you say, but some of this stuff about Kant is a little off base," that Rand would have made him her "intellectual heir."

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil:

Actually, Hospers says in his memoir that the closer one got to Rand, the more she demanded philosophical agreement.

That isn't quite how he put it. The difference is subtle but not non-existent. What he says she "demanded" was "dedication and devotion." In regard to disagreement he says she displayed "indignation, impatience, and anger."

Here's a link to an OL post where I typed in the whole last section of the Hospers Liberty Memoir.

http://tinyurl.com/6fewxs

(Obviously, she wouldn't have made someone her "intellectual heir" who disagreed with her about Kant -- and she didn't make LP her "intellectual heir" anyway. ;-))

Thanks for the reference from MYWAR about Leonard's being in New York already by the time of the split.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

PS to the above post:

In my introductory comments in the linked OL post, I wrote:

"John talks about how he met Ayn Rand (when she gave a talk at Brooklyn College, as it was then called, where he was then teaching)."

I mistakently thought that Brooklyn College was an earlier name of Brooklyn Poly, but it wasn't; they were different schools from the get-go, and Brooklyn College someone informed me is still called Brooklyn College.

Ellen

Anonymous said...

I'm still confused. I don't doubt that it's a very important question - "compromising her philosophy" - it's just not clear why though, at least to me. It is to you lot but I look on the question with askance. Please help me out here.

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

Thanks for the correction. (I did know that Rand didn't name Peikoff her "intellectual heir".)

Ellen Stuttle said...

Anon (which Anon I don't know) writes:

I'm still confused. I don't doubt that it's a very important question - "compromising her philosophy" - it's just not clear why though, at least to me. It is to you lot but I look on the question with askance. Please help me out here.

Um. I'm not sure what you're finding puzzling, but I'll try to explain what I see as having transpired here.

The posted item ridicules Harry Binswanger's saying that he and others saw signs of Greenspan "compromising" on Objectivism in the early '70s.

Daniel more or less said, Ha, ha, and do you suppose Rand would have allowed someone around her who she thought was compromising on Objectivism?

Well, actually, yes, I do suppose she would have -- and I was around then. I don't think she ever did quite set aside her doubts about Greenspan, I think she knew he wasn't 100% Objectivist in his views, and probably she was aware of his getting farther as time progressed. Her attending his inauguration as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers doesn't certify that she believed he was completely in agreement with her philosophy.

Does that help? (Since I'm not sure what you're not understanding, I'm not sure what sort of answer you're looking for.)

Ellen

Michael Prescott said...

Personally, I just find it funny that Branden's book about his years wth Rand has the acronym "My War."

Ellen Stuttle said...

I find the My War funny, too.

I'm not sure if NB even noticed it. Barbara didn't until the not-distant past. There's a post of hers on OL in which she says, "I just realized...."

Ellen

Tommy said...

Anonymous, the point here is that many followers of Ayn Rand hold her to be infallible. Part of Objectivism is the belief in sanction, that any act essentially advocates that activity. By attending that ceremony Ayn Rand was sanctioning Greenspan's role in government and the validity of government's role in financial affairs. This goes against the Objectivist and Libertarian beliefs that government shouldn't be at all involved in the market.

This article by Murray Rothbard has a good discussion of sanction and other issues with the Randian movement: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html