Friday, October 18, 2013

Future of Objectivism 1

Intro. Having gone through most of the official philosophy of Objectivism, we can now turn our attention to some of the cultural and sociological aspects of the Objectivism movements. There are two major challenges to making prognostications about the future of Objectivism: (1) the future is inherently unpredictable; and (2) lack of sociological data about Objectivism. For these two reasons what is put forth in this series will be highly conjectural. We'll be dealing with possibilities, not facts, questions, not answers.

Throughout I will be operating on several assumptions:

(1) That Objectivism does not exist in a vacuum. What goes on in society and the world will affect the future course of Objectivism. We saw this on a small scale in 2008, with the financial meltdown followed by Obama's election. These events caused sales of Atlas Shrugged to increase. One can imagine scenarios which could potentially decrease interest in Ayn Rand: for example, major attacks on USA involving weapons of mass destruction, catastrophic climate change, collapse of democratic government in America.

(2) That the political allegiances are rarely made based on purely "rational" reasons. Nearly everyone has ingrained biases, some of them rooted in genetics, others in life experiences, which influences political beliefs. Consequently, it is very difficult to get people to change their political beliefs via argumentation. It rarely happens.

(3) That factionalism is a built-in feature of society. The elites of society are involved in a battle for status and pre-eminence. Non-elites will tend to attach themselves to whichever party of elites best furthers their interests and satisfies their sentiments. The competitive nature of society means that people have no choice but to join forces with like-minded individuals. The few mavericks who refuse join one of the major factions remain isolated and powerless, without a voice within the governing factions.

(4) That the Objectivist movement requires an authority figure to settle inevitable disputes. Since Ayn Rand's "reason" is a myth (there's no such method), and since the Objectivist ethics is a bit vague (lacking, as Nathanial Branden has noted, a "technology"), there exists no sure-fire way of settling the inevitable disputes that arise among various Objectivists in a rational, "objective" manner. Only by having an authority respected by all members of the group can meddlesome issues be arbitrated.

At the present time, the Objectivist movement seems to be involved a generational change. A new generation of Objectivists, led by people who never knew Ayn Rand, is coming to the fore. Leonard Peikoff just turned 80. Harry Binswanger is 69. Andrew Bernstein is 64. Edwin Locke is 75. Michael Berliner and Peter Schwartz are hardly spring chickens. The influence of these older men is dwindling, being replaced by a younger generation led by ARI director Yaron Brook, who is 53. While orthodoxy to Rand's views remains the unquestioned standard, under this younger generation we are seeing a change of emphasis. The older generation, while focusing much of their attention on morality and politics, still had time for the more abstruse and/or dubious areas of Rand's philosophy, such as epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, and history. The new generation seems to be focusing almost exclusively on Rand's views on morality and politics. While maintaining a theoretical hostility towards both libertarianism and conservatism, the new generation appears willing and perhaps even eager to find allies and sympathizers among other factions on the right. It's possible that Leonard Peikoff's paranoia about libertarians and conservatives may pass on when he has shuffled off this mortal coil.

If a more pragmatic attitude toward ideological outreach becomes the norm at ARI in the years to come, how will this affect the future of Objectivism. Will ARI become less of an Ayn Rand cult and more of a free market advocacy group, competing with other free market advocacy groups? Supposing this happens, will the change of emphasis increase or decrease ARI's influence? If, in the future, Objectivism becomes more latitudinarian and less doctrinaire, how will this affect the movement itself? Will the purists revolt? Are there more schisms in store? What will happen to the Kelley schism? Will there finally be a grand reconciliation? Or will divisions within Objectivism only deepen over time, leading to even more infighting and bad blood? In this series on the future of Objectivism, we will explore some of these issues.


18 comments:

Mark Plus said...

I find it interesting that Yaron Brook has spoken about the virtues of selfishness at Anthony Dream Johnson's 21 Conventions, which in general feature speakers about seduction, pickup artistry and "game." I wonder what Rand would have thought about that.

Neil Parille said...

Will ARI become less of an Ayn Rand cult and more of a free market advocacy group, competing with other free market advocacy groups? Supposing this happens, will the change of emphasis increase or decrease ARI's influence? If, in the future, Objectivism becomes more latitudinarian and less doctrinaire, how will this affect the movement itself? Will the purists revolt? Are there more schisms in store?

When Peikoff booted McCaskey from the ARI's board he replaced him with Robert "Rewrite" Mayhew, who is something of a cultist.

I think the ARI will stay fairly dogmatic. What economic benefit would there be in the ARI becoming more laditudinarian?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Mark Plus: I find it interesting that Yaron Brook has spoken about the virtues of selfishness at Anthony Dream Johnson's 21 Conventions ...

Well, I have heard Yaron say that he would speak at any forum as long as they spelled Ayn Rand's name correctly. Guess he wasn't kidding.

By the way, I Googled the 21 Convention. Anthony "Dream" Johnson has clearly been drinking the Objectivist Kool-Aid (which explains why he thought of inviting Yaron Brook). Also, he seems to be expanding beyond pickup artistry and into the more general field of teaching men to be "the ideal man."

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Neil Parille: What economic benefit would there be in the ARI becoming more laditudinarian?

Well, ARI is already becoming more latitudinarian, what with John Allison going over to Cato without being denounced. I was somewhat surprised that this didn't cause more of a stir, but I guess it's a case of Allison's money trumping Peikoff's dogmatism. Allison gets a lot of latitude; I remember an OCON some years back where Allison shocked the crowd by asserting that "everyone evades. Even Leonard Peikoff evades." I don't think Peikoff was in the room, but I have to imagine he heard about it. Perhaps we can conclude that McCaskey's mistake was not being rich enough to get away with disagreeing with Peikoff.

Going forward, I can see ARI wanting to swallow up The Atlas Society (or win over their donors). Last I heard, the budgets were something like $7M for ARI and $2M for TAS, so it would be a noticeable increase. But ARI can't move in that direction until the generation that remembers the Kelley schism is gone. That Kelley and his organization are enemies of Objectivism is a core tenet of the ARIan faith, right up next to reason as man's only means of knowledge and selfishness as a virtue.

Neil Parille said...

@Echo Chamber Escapee

Well, ARI is already becoming more latitudinarian, what with John Allison going over to Cato without being denounced. I was somewhat surprised that this didn't cause more of a stir . . .. Perhaps we can conclude that McCaskey's mistake was not being rich enough to get away with disagreeing with Peikoff.

Yes, the idea that you can't associate with anyone who is not an Objectivist seems to be going out the door, but the ideological dogmatism seems as strong as ever. Other than homosexuality, I'm not sure what Objectivists are free to dissent on.

Also, consider that it's been 4 years since Burns first exposed the Peikoff approved (if not directed) rewriting of Rand's material. No prominent Objectivist has criticized this.

Neil Parille said...

Leonard Peikoff's daughter Kira is not a philosopher. I assume that she will be his heir. I don't know of course how much of Rand's stuff she will inherit. Will Peikoff give the royalties of AS to the ARI?

Things will get less stifling to be sure. However, I can see Brook remaining as president but Peikoff ensuring that a philosopher like Mayhew will be the guardian of intellectual purity.

Neil Parille said...

@Greg

The older generation, while focusing much of their attention on morality and politics, still had time for the more abstruse and/or dubious areas of Rand's philosophy, such as epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, and history. The new generation seems to be focusing almost exclusively on Rand's views on morality and politics.

There are a couple younger ARI types (Salmieri and Bayer) who are interested in epistemology.

Gotthelf and Lennox recently edited a book on Rand's take on epistemology and concept formation.

http://www.amazon.com/Concepts-Their-Role-Knowledge-Philosophical/dp/0822944243/ref=sr_1_16?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382292424&sr=1-16

Mark Plus said...

At least Yaron Brook has some sense of current "manosphere" interests, given his willingness to try to make Rand's philosophy sound cool by associating it with pickup culture, paleonutrition and paleofitness.

Ironically Rand, unlike many other cult founders, just didn't seem to have any advice to offer about diet, health and fitness. Her cult followers argue that Rand revolutionized our understanding of epistemology! aesthetics! politics! ethics! psychology! history! economics! the potentials of literature! and even human sexuality! But their self-deception stopped short at portraying her as the source of health wisdom because the people who knew her could see, and smell, that she ate a poor diet, refused to exercise, chain-smoked, seldom bathed and lived in apartments reeking of cat urine. Her Kool-Aid drinkers interested in healthy living have had to go elsewhere for that information.

gregnyquist said...


I think the ARI will stay fairly dogmatic. What economic benefit would there be in the ARI becoming more laditudinarian?


Wider donation base. A few years back, Yaron Brook attempted a "reconciliation" with Kelley's group. Of course, they had no desire to reconcile with Kelley himself; they were after Kelley's doners. But consider: who are Kelley's doners? Aren't they individuals who believe what Kelley believes? So why would Yaron Brook wish to take money from people who are essentially heretics, committed to the "open" version of Objectivism and willing to give money to an organization that pals around with the Brandens?

Back in the nineties, when Peikoff briefly had a radio show on KIEV in Glendale, he boasted, as if it were a point of honor, that he would never speak to a group of libertarians, because, he insisted, "Libertarians are worse than communists." Yet that didn't prevent a board member from becoming the head of a leading libertarian think tank -- and with the blessing of ARI head Yaron Brook in the bargain. We also know all about Peikoff's claims that anyone who voted for a Republican (in 2006, not in 2012) doesn't understand Objectivism. We also know all about the contempt Rand and Peikoff have for conservatives. Yet that hasn't prevented Yaron Brook from hobnobbing with conservatives over at CPAC. Brook and Allison are not like previous Objectivists. Although they have some background in academia, they have stronger backgrounds in business. They're not just intellectuals; they are men of the world. Brook served in the military; Allison has been in business most of his adult life. Brook has more energy and ambition than any prominent Objectivist since Nathaniel Branden. These two want to increase the size, budget, and intellectual clout of ARI. They want to interact with and influence the outside world; and to do this, they are going to be forced to de-emphasize certain elements in Objectivism. All the proper deference will be given those elements within ARI itself, to keep the orthodox base happy. But ARI's public face will tell a somewhat different tale.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Neil Parille: I can see Brook remaining as president but Peikoff ensuring that a philosopher like Mayhew will be the guardian of intellectual purity.

Not impossible, but I think not likely. I remember when "who will Peikoff name as intellectual heir?" used to be a hot topic among rank-and-file ARI supporters. The leading contenders changed almost every year (apparently, Peikoff is not the easiest person to get along with), but the speculation was constant. Peikoff quashed all that by announcing that he is not going to name an intellectual heir. He said Rand was justified in doing so because she died before producing a systematic treatise on her philosophy. Peikoff's task as "intellectual heir" was to produce this treatise (OPAR). That done, he regards himself as having special authority by virtue of his thirty years of study at the feet of Rand herself, but once he's gone, it's every man for himself. The philsophy is out there and it will be up to the individual to understand and apply it. Everyone will be on the same intellectual footing because there won't be anybody left who studied under Rand long enough to be a special authority.

And from what I know of the next generation of ARIan philosophers (Mayhew, Tara Smith, et al.), none of them aspires to be Grand Poobah of Objectivism, so I don't think you'll see anyone self-anointing ... or collecting much of a following if they try.

Also, last I heard, Peikoff is planning to leave Rand's copyrights to ARI. Right now he grants them a very broad license, but he has the right to revoke it. ARI needs those copyrights, and that gives Peikoff enormous leverage. (Smart money says this leverage has a lot more to do with what happened to McCaskey than the majority of the ARI Board actually agreeing with Peikoff on the merits.) If ARI does indeed get the copyrights, I think you will see some loosening of the dogmatism.

Neil Parille said...

When Valliant's book came out, its biggest defenders were people like Diana Hsieh who probably weren't even born at the time of the '68 break. I think the ARI has a great deal to lose, even in terms of donations, if it becomes more "tolerant."

My bet is that there will be some unofficial board of ideological purity that will police things.

That being said, once Leonard Peikoff can no longer threaten to take the Archives, copyrights and what not, I think everyone will breath easier.

Mark Plus said...

How the rest of society, outside of the Objectiverse, treats Ayn Rand's legacy will determine Objectivism's future as well. Lately it seems that the people who write for major liberal and progressive websites and blogs blame her several times a month for political turns of events they don't like. (You can see an example by a prominent progressive here.) Rand probably doesn't deserve that much credit; ordinary self-seeking behavior existed long before she came along and tried to rationalize it philosophically.

Ironically these attacks have a kind of back-handed effect by keeping her name current and raising curiosity about her from people who want to see what the fuss is all about. I draw the analogy to the fact that Christians, not the handfuls of self-styled "Satanists" who pop up every generation, have served as the devil's best publicists. The left's demonizing of Rand can only help to sell more of her books and possibly, though unintentionally, lead to the creation of new Objectivists.

Jzero said...

"Rand probably doesn't deserve that much credit; ordinary self-seeking behavior existed long before she came along and tried to rationalize it philosophically."

I'm sure liberal press doesn't mind playing Rand up, but on the other hand, Rand's name *does* crop up when conservatives list influences, particularly the Tea Partiers. Heck, Senator Rand Paul is named after Rand.

Now, whether Rand's works pushed these people into their mindsets, or just gave them a justification for the ways they already wanted to act, that's another matter for debate.

gregnyquist said...

Lately it seems that the people who write for major liberal and progressive websites and blogs blame her several times a month for political turns of events they don't like.

I've noticed that as well. Weiss' book, in many respects a nice piece of journalism, was along those lines as well. Rand makes for an excellent point of attack for the left because she fits their narrative about the right far better than, say, Burke or Hayek. The left has always sought to paint the right (particularly the economic right) as mean and selfish, lacking compassion for the underdog, etc. etc. Rand, with her unapologetic, aggressive defense of greed and selfishness, fits right in with the left-wing narrative about the right. Hence their desire to highlight her influence, even to the point of exaggerating it.

In reality, all Rand provides Tea Party types are some simplistic rationalizations for a political outlook that is, to be brutally honest about it, somewhat naive and unsophisticated. I doubt there's much influence from Rand going on. It's more of a preaching to the choir sort of thing.

Neil Parille said...

Jzero,

I think Ron Paul has denied that the name "Rand Paul" had something to do with Ayn Rand/

Jzero said...

Neil, after looking it up it seems you're right, though Rand Paul did say he "has a great deal of respect" for her. Wikipedia says he studied her writings as a teen, but is not more specific.

The couple times I saw interviews with him he was espousing positions that were at least very Libertarian, if not fully Objectivist.

seymourblogger said...

For Mark Plus: linked to the "progressives" you mentioned. Mike Lind is like listening to a balloon full of sound bites and Thom Hartmann is not considered an influential progressive in the progressive community. The entire 5 minutes the large type banner stayed front and center reading Ayn Rand was a psychopath with the title reading How Ayn Rand Became a Hero to Right Wing Nerds. This is just tabloidism of the type we see at the supermarket, that's all. It serves to keep her in the eye of listeners of this type. The conflict between Peikoff's ARI and Kelley's group has had the virtue of strengthening "Objectivism" by playing off the schism against each other in a constant cold war.This has been good for Ayn Rand and Peikoff has not entered the fray too much preferring to keep "Objectivism" a closed system. Thank god. All those 35th rate minds didn't start in on it with any authority. My blog on Ayn Rand is read mostly by Eastern Europeans, and it is consistently read by people I don't know and have never heard of. Her thought is very much alive and quite outside these petty turf wars. Her position is firm within the post modern thinkers, which is far more important than these mini wars. Rand is a Nietzschean and reading her mainly through anyone else just tangles you up uselessly. In his The Will to Power Foucault's 1971 opening Lecture at the College de France made an interesting reading of Aristotle in the first chapter. In his Lectures on Biopolitics his references to Hayek are exceptionally perceptive, but then I expect nothing less of Foucault. Well here's where the mess hits the fan I guess.

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