Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"An Air of Intellectualism"

Former Objectivist Lee Stranahan over at The Huffington Post skewers  Objectivism as not just "wrong or misguided" but "destructive and dangerous":
For decades now, Rand's work has given comfort and ammunition to brazen bozos like Rush Limbaugh and McCain economic advisor Phil "Don't Worry Be Happy" Gramm. Its defense of selfishness and unrestricted capitalism provided an air of intellectualism to bad behavior and horrible policy.
Update: This triggered a predictable response from Ayn Rand Institute follower Jim May over at something called The New Clarion, where May amusingly equates Stranahan with those other supposedly evil, Rand-hating opportunists...you guessed it...Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and David Kelley...

17 comments:

A said...

Is his comment regarding Rand's dislike of homosexuality correct? Can someone link to a source for this?
A.

Anonymous said...


Is his comment regarding Rand's dislike of homosexuality correct? Can someone link to a source for this?
A.


A,

I'll let the experts link to a source on this, but I got a confirmation on this in email from an economist who was once very high up in the Objectivist community who knew Rand very well.

Laj

JayCross said...

From the article:

The ultimate horrible truth is that most of Rand's 'philosophy of the real world' has worked out very badly in the real world. It's a collection of ideas that haven't been tested or just don't work but its adherents still have a Bush-like unshakable faith in it because...well, it's just RIGHT and reality be damned.

How can ideas "work out very badly" or be "pretty directly responsible for economic destruction", while simultaneously not being tested?

Like so many, this person seems to be conflating Ayn Rand the person with Objectivism, the philosophy. While the two obviously can't be entirely separate, the fact that Rand wasn't the greatest human being in the world doesn't mean her philosophy caused the financial meltdown.

Michael Prescott said...

The article is an entertaining read, but Stranahan dropped the ball by not explaining how Rand's ideas allegedly led to our current financial plight. He needs to do more than just assert this claim; he needs to back it up with specifics.

The closest he comes is this sentence: "Its defense of selfishness and unrestricted capitalism provided an air of intellectualism to bad behavior and horrible policy."

But that won't get it done. First, the bad behavior and horrible policy would probably have gone forward even without an air of intellectualism. People who see a chance to make oodles of money aren't going to worry overmuch about intellectual justifications.

Second, I doubt Rand's ideas - or even her name - were invoked very often in boardrooms or on Capitol Hill. People seeking an intellectual defense of free-market polices were (and are) more likely to appeal to Friedman, Hayek, Mises, etc.

Even so, I enjoyed Stranahan's takedown of the "Fauxjectivists" and his line about "pubescent pontificating Penn Jillettes." (I guess I'm not the only one who finds the talkative half of Penn & Teller to be a bloated, bullying jerk.)

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi A,

The Wikipedia entry appears reasonably accurate:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism,_Ayn_Rand,_and_homosexuality

Chris Sciabarra wrote a small book on the subject Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Freedom, which prompted a response The Hijacking of A Philosophy: Homosexuals vs Ayn Rand's Objectivism from one Reginald Firehammer.

The orthodox Objectivist position is highly ambivalent. For example, ortho-Objectivist Diana Hsieh describes homosexuality in a disctinctly weasel worded way as "unfortunate and suboptimal", but not immoral. She also denies its innateness. A lot of this softening has taken place after Rand's death however.

Just anecdotally, I've noticed over the years Rand has a pretty big gay following, so no doubt something had to change. She also has a lot of former hardcore Christians, who I think her work has been helpful to.

gregnyquist said...

Daniel: "The orthodox Objectivist position [on homosexuality] is highly ambivalent."

Indeed, that is the truth of the matter. When Peikoff was asked about homosexuality on his 90s radio show, he merely said he knew Objectivists who disliked it and thought it immoral and other Objectivists who had no problems with it. As for himself, he expressed no opinion whatsoever, which is unusual for LP, who usually has strong opinions on most everything.

"Just anecdotally, I've noticed over the years Rand has [former hardcore Christian] following."

Rand also has (and this is very bizarre) a following made up of current hardcore Christians (or at least people who have a strong verbal commitment to Christian doctrines). These are people who claim to agree with Rand on everything exceptChristianity. They are Christians who seem to think very highly of Rand's defense of capitalism. Human beings are very strange animals.

Michael Prescott said...

There's also a proto-movement called Buddhjectivism, which attempts to combine Objectivism and Buddhism.

Michael Prescott said...

Oh, and let's not forget the few, the proud ... the Satanist Objectivists!

Googling "Satanist" + "Objectivist" yields some amusing results:

"I read The Fountainhead first before AS, but TF really changed my life initially, and as I worked my way through her novels and nonfiction, I eventually decided to be an Objectivist, not a Satanist like I was for many years." (source)

"I am also a Satanist/Objectivist, and I'm planning to let this fact leak a little into the public during my High School experience." (source)

"Let me conclude this brief overview by adding that Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy." (source)

"For more information on my person political/economic views as a Satanist I suggest you check out Ayn Rand's political, Objectivist philosophy. I share her political agenda ..." (source, in comments)

Of course, Rand was no Satanist, but it amuses me to see how the Randian worldview attracts some Satanists. It's almost enough to make one suspect that there's something fundamentally screwy about Rand's philosophy.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Rand also has (and this is very bizarre) a following made up of current hardcore Christians (or at least people who have a strong verbal commitment to Christian doctrines). - Greg
___________________________________





Indeed, personally, one particular individual I have known for the last 20 years is exactly one of them.

Neil Parille said...

Rand said that homosexuality was "immoral." I believe there is an essay by Branden in one of her books where he implies that it is a psychological malady. I also recall that Peikoff takes a jab at homosexuals in The Ominious Parallels.

Incidentally, on a Peikoff podcast from a few months ago he was asked about homosexuality. If I recall correctly, he said that if that's you inclination it's ok. He answered the question in such a way that the listener would never know that he and Rand had opposed it.

Michael Prescott said...

Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult covers the issue of Objectivist views on homosexuality on pp. 118-120. If you look it up on Amazon.com, you can probably use the "Search Inside" feature to read the relevant passages. (Search for the term "homosexual" using Search Inside.)

Walker, p. 119: At her Ford Hall appearance in 1971 Rand was asked whether she considered homosexuality immoral and, if so, why. She blurted, "Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral.... It's proper among consenting adults ... legally. Morally, it is immoral. And more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it's disgusting."

Walker, p. 120: In 1983 [Leonard Peikoff] did have [Objectivist psychiatrist] Edith Packer with him for a seminar, and they jointly concluded that "homosexuality is not a rational option" ... In recent years Objectivist lecturers have been more reticent ... But even as late as the mid-1990s, Peikoff was still placing qualifiers on the morality of gay sexuality per se. "I've said many times that I think gays are abnormal and that in many cases it's incurable." But "let's say he's tried to solve the problem, he's gone to experts, he's tried for years and he can't." At some point he is justified in saying, "It's my life, maybe I've made some terrible mistakes somewhere, but I can't seem to get out of them." Once again, though, "I don't think it's an optional lifestyle ... I think it's a tragic situation."

If any Rand fans who are gay happen to be reading this, I hope you will not take Rand's and Peikoff's views too seriously. On this issue they appear simply to be a product of their times. As Walker says, "Peikoff has yet to take his leave of the 1950s."

David said...

The Satanist-Objectivist combo isn't strange at all. Anton LaVay (founder of the Church of Satan) described his religion as "just Ayn Rand’s philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added." He also claimed that there was no "supernatural inspiration" for his religion.

Michael Thompson said...

Interesting site!
Thanks for the thought everyone
I didn't relize that many Christians are intrested in Rand.
I have a friend whos blog I read that has written some notes on Atlas from a christian perspective.
he believes Atlas is really spritual and is about heaven and God.
I know objectivists probably think hes a heretic, many christians do to, but it is an interesting and unique perspective, check it out.

http://modeletics.blogspot.com/2007/04/atlas-shrugged-outline.html

Adam said...

Thanks for your replies folks. My opinion of Rand is pretty much as low as it could get anyway, so in a way I'm not surprised that she would be homophobic, but I would have thought that it wouldn't really square with the whole pseudo-rational-logical premise (mind you, nor would her views on evolution, or, come to think of it, her views in general).

A.

Anonymous said...

Stranahan made no valid points whatsoever. It was one big piece of
psychobabble ad hominems and it was well refuted by the other posters. You people here have the same dismal record both in regard to content and in the constant use of ad hominems. The really valid criticism of Rand is that she did not consistently practice Objectivism. She supported statist causes like Israel, the US State's Moon program, compulsory jury duty
and was indifferent to gun control. Probably several others I
momentarily can't remember. ARI functions as a branch of the Likudniks over here. ALL their foreign policy stuff is worthless. A guy like Yaron Brook and 80% of the ARI speakers & contributors makes one wish there had been a "holocaust." That tale is a lie unto its very name and that they have to imprison dissenters proves
its falsity.
Peikoff has said that homosexuality is an abnormality and of course that is true.But he's
not for outlawing it.
If you people would check out the last several months of the anti-Rand site, lewrockwell.com, you would know that Greenspan has not been an advocate of laissez-faire
capitalism and that it is the Fed
policies promoted by him and Bernanke which have caused this great depression. Contrary to the Barnes arse we are not living in any period of laissez-faire and the degree of statism has intensified greatly since Reagan.
See Murray Rothbard's 1989 obituary of the Great Miscommunicator. Access it on rockwell site. Government is now more of the GDP than at any time since WW2. Everything from the intensified anti-smoking legal campaign to bank reporting deposits of over 10K cash to the
Feds to the anti-drug war to the latest Bush & Obama nationalizations make Atlas Shrugged seem like a great understatement much as we now know McCarthy understated Communist infiltration into the US Government during the New Deal and Truman-Ike eras. Newsweek's recent cover "We Are All Socialists Now" sums up the intellectual-political-cultural atmosphere.
How wrong and stupid you have been, Danny Boy.
I do agree that the Hollyhood elders of zion should not make Atlas, everything they do turns to shit.
But a time limited two year TV series if properly done would be great.
Everything she predicted is coming true and then some.
But you'd never know it reading reading tenth rate Popperian turds of the ilk that run this pathetic site.
Nyquist has thrown away whatever little credibility he had by associating with a very mediocre businessman of severely limited intellect from the cultural hand me downs of the British colonies.
Stagnant pragmatism and pretentiousness from a clown like Barnes is all we can expect. Your
Randzapper spin-off site has laid a bomb even exceeding the very lightly read works of Messr. Prescott.
PHEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWW!
You people stink, I have to shower every time after I read you.
Any village sophist can refute that
2004 Modern Age piece you cited.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ahh, Michael Hardesty Trolls Again!

BTW, we here at ARCHNblog have no idea who runs the sporadic Randzapper site, a fact that predictably is lost on our sock-puppeteering, Holocaust denying, Objectivist love/hating, uber-conspiracy-theorizing, widely banned dispenser of unparalleled trollery...;-)

Red Grant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.