Friday, November 08, 2013

Future of Objectivism 3

Danger of Charismatic Leader. In my last post, I explored some of the difficulties which will arise with the weakening of a "legitimate" authority. At some point, no one will be alive who knew Rand personally. No one will be able to say, "I spent X amount of years with Rand; I'm therefore the foremost living expert on Rand's philosophy." Like the Protestant churches on Christendom, there will only be The Word; and whether for good or bad, The Word is not entirely unambiguous. Most of Rand's philosophical writings are broad and abstract, crafted as facile rationalizations for various positions, rather than detailed and exhaustive analysis of specific problems. Many of her more topical essays are clearly dated, and will only become more so as time passes. Worse, Rand's own penchant for rationalizing preconceived conclusions set a bad example for her followers, who have become even worse in this regard, which in turn sets a bad example for future Objectivists. For way too many high ranking Objectivists, philosophy becomes a screen through which personal conflicts are fought and rationalized. Taking the longer, more distant, "objective" view is sneered at among some within the Objectivist community as constituting a false ideal of knowledge. The personal and subjective is conflated with the "objective," and followers of Rand, although ostensibly committed to an "objective" rationality, are in fact merely pursing their private, personal agendas. As long as Peikoff has been around, there existed someone who step in and decide which personal agendas would be regarded as "rational" and "objective," and which as mere whims. When Peikoff is gone, adjudication will require an authority figure (or figures). Since groups are naturally hierarchical (authority being necessary to run any organized effort), the task of leadership and authority would naturally fall to either the ARI board and/or ARI's director. Since committees don't always make good leaders (as individual members of the committee sometimes disagree), ARI's director will be the natural seat of authority, assuming the person occupying that position is a strong, rather than a weak, leader. I would contend that there exist institutional incentives in favor of ARI selecting strong, rather than weak leaders, for the ARI's directorship position. Weak leaders tend to be ineffective. In practical terms, a weak leader at the head of ARI could mean: (1) more unresolvable internal conflicts; (2) loss of fund-raising revenue; and (3) less influence among free market advocacy groups.

There is a danger, however, involved in selecting a strong leader. A strong leader enjoys more authority. The greater the authority, the greater the capacity for that authority to be abused. Even worse for Objectivism, capacity for leadership does not always go hand in hand with conformity to orthodox doctrine. A person who exercises authority becomes accustomed to exercising his will, and sometimes becomes less willing to subject himself, not merely to the will of others, but to a specific doctrine. If such a person, at some distant future date, became head of ARI, could this affect actual doctrine? Could such a person put his own stamp on Rand's philosophy, adapting it to his own vision? In short, could Objectivism be hijacked by a charismatic leader?

Max Weber identified three types of authority: legal, traditional, and charismatic. Essentially, ARI runs primarily on traditional authority. Leonard Peikoff is the (presumed) "intellectual" heir to Ayn Rand; and in that capacity, he exercise authority over ARI. There are also some secondary legal aspects of authority built into the hierarchical structure of ARI itself, mostly centered around the rules governing the board and the selection of ARI's director. Currently, there's not much in the way of charismatic authority at ARI. The most charismatic leader at ARI, Yaron Brook, serves under the authority of Leonard Peikoff and the board of directors. His position would be greatly weakened, if not eliminated, if he alienated either of these two sources of authority.

When Leonard Peikoff passes from the scene, there will exist no more traditional source of authority at ARI. Peikoff will not leave an intellectual heir; and even if he did, it's not clear that that person's inherited authority would be considered "legitimate" by other orthodox followers of Ayn Rand. Authority will revert to the legal type, defined by the rules governing ARI. I suspect it's doubtful that ARI can long flourish if governed solely by legal authority.  The problems caused by failure of an unequivocal source of authority are bound to cause intractable issues among Rand's disciples, particularly if the primary source of authority is a committee of individuals. If ARI is going to move forward, it's going to need a charismatic leader.

To be sure, it is possible that ARI's board of directors may decide to take the safe approach and avoid charismatic authority altogether. It's also possible as well that no charismatic leader will ever be found, even if one were desired. Ideologies have built-in selection processes. They attract only certain types of individuals. It is possible Objectivism will never attract individuals with the capacity for charismatic leadership. The charismatic type often chafes at the bonds of orthodoxy, and may, for that reason, find Objectivism unappealing as an ideology.

Human nature is varied, and while it may be unlikely that a charismatic individual would be drawn to Objectivism, it's not impossible. If such an individual were to become head of ARI, the dynamic of authority could be change dramatically among the Objectivist faithful. Assuming this person really did move things forward in terms of ARI's influence and fund raising activities, he would not only have legitimacy, he would also (and maybe more importantly) have leverage. There would be programs at ARI, possibly overseen by board members, and individual employees, whose future existence would hinge on this leader remaining in control of ARI. If that leader decided, on his own will, to tamper with Objectivism doctrine, he would be placing those under his authority at ARI in a very difficult position. There might be people who would have to choose between a pet project or some vital source of income on the one side and doctrinal purity on the other. These conflicts could feasibly lead to changes in orthodoxy being sanctioned by and within ARI.

Based on what we see currently from ARI, it might seem unlikely that any such shifts in orthodoxy could ever take place. But we have to keep in mind that under the current set-up, we have a traditional form of authority which traces its legitimacy straight to Ayn Rand herself and which has been, for the most part, stringently doctrinaire. Even here, though, we have had some minor departures, at least in the form of new developments. After all, is Peikoff's DIM hypothesis, upon which he based his ravings about the threat of a Republican-based theocracy, fully orthodox, representing "The Word" of Ayn Rand herself? Not exactly. Nor is Harriman book on induction orthodox, yet we all know to what lengths Peikoff went to protect and enforce that questionable elaboration of Randian doctrine. If a man of such implacable orthodoxy as Peikoff can't help introducing elaborations (even if their status as official Objectivism remains shrouded in ambiguity), what's to stop some future Objectivist leader, whose authority is based on charisma, rather than tradition, from issuing even more daring elaborations?

It wouldn't be the first time Objectivism has been hijacked. During Rand's life, a subsection of the Objectivist movement became essentially hijacked for a brief period of time by psycho-therapist Lonnie Leonard. While there is no evidence that Rand herself knew anything about Leonard, he was approved by one of the two co-heirs to her estate, Alan Blumenthal. In fact, Blumenthal referred patients to Leonard. (Obviously, Leonard had not be properly vetted.) On his own initiative, Leonard began setting up his own peculiar version of Objectivism, which involved his right to have sex with female patients. While I don't see ARI being hijacked and turned into some kind of seedy sex cult, the danger of a charismatic leader, even if unlikely, cannot be dismissed entirely out of hand. And such a leader could bring about dramatic changes in orthodoxy.

When I say "dramatic" changes, I'm not suggesting a reversal in actual positions. I don't see ARI supporting theism or socialism or philosophical idealism at any time in the future. I am merely suggesting that it is not entirely impossible that we could see some important modifications in Rand's views of human nature and history, and even reworkings of some of her ethical rationalizations, at some point down the road. These  doctrines constitute serious weaknesses in the Objectivism philosophy, and could be regarded, by some ambitious and charismatic future director of Objectivism, as so much dead weight necessitating removal to keep things moving forward. Obviously any such over-hauling of doctrine would face stiff resistance among the implacably orthodox. But if the principle authority governing ARI finds its legitimacy in charisma, rather than in legality or tradition, orthodoxy may find itself on the losing end of the struggle.


Mark Plus said...

If the real intellectual energy on the right starts to colonize Dark Enlightenment (DE) territory, that poses a problem for an Objectivist leader who wants to stay influential among conservatives. Rand's philosophy incorporates aspects of the old Enlightenment's world view which have become problematic for DE thinkers, namely, a limited embrace of feminism, human biological fungibility, universalism, open borders, cosmopolitanism, an prescientific view of the mind and so forth. Objectivists just don't have a whole lot in common with DE bloggers who question the social aspects of modernity and have empirical science to support their arguments.

Lloyd Flack said...

Your post was the fist that I heard of the Dark Enlightenment. I did an internet search to find what they were about. I was rather unimpressd. They appear to pick thos aspects of science that thaey think support what they want to believe and ignore the rest. I doubt they will ever become very influntial except perhaps as an easy target for the left that they can use as a caricature of the right.

Francois Tremblay said...

"authority being necessary to run any organized effort"

The right-wing fanaticism of this blog pokes its head again, like an errant gopher...

Anonymous said...

Well, Francois, if you're so wise, what do you have for evidence to counter the statement you quoted?

Anonymous said...

"The right-wing fanaticism of this blog pokes its head again, like an errant gopher…"

Lovely. One of the beautiful things about left leaning politics is that it has a tendency to allow people to believe what they wish was true and vilify people for stating pretty basic claims. Well run and effective organizations (not necessarily moral ones) usually have a strong central authority. Ones without it tend not to be all that effective. This is what you will observe if you look into it, but somehow it’s rightwing.

Strong, quick, and fit boxers tend to beat weak, slow and untrained boxers. Fascists.

Samadhir said...

"One of the beautiful things about left leaning politics is that it has a tendency to allow people to believe what they wish was true and vilify people for stating pretty basic claims."

True, but then the same thing is true about right leaning politics...

Anonymous said...

Word. Didn't mean to exclude right leaning politics.

Anonymous said...

Strong, quick, and fit boxers tend to beat weak, slow and untrained boxers. Fascists.

So whom is the fascist in the tortoise and the hare tale?

Jzero said...

"So whom is the fascist in the tortoise and the hare tale?"

I can't tell if you have your sarcasm detector set too low or too high.

John Mc said...

This is based on the assumption of the formal Objectivist organisations being the driving force behind the future of the philosophy. It's way past that.

The vast majority of Randian-approvers in the world today include a bit of Objectivism in their personal perspective without a care in the world about being 'pure' enough to other followers. They also couldn't care less of the politics between the formal ordained organisations and beyond Branden and Piekoff they probably don't even know who the main players are now. And they don't call Ayn Rand "Miss Rand". Yet many of these people will carry Objectivism with them for life.

seymourblogger said...

Needing a leader to lead a "philosophy" is ridiculous. Peikoff has maintained Rand as a closed system - her Nietzschean preference - and that has kept the idiots out of the party. Peikoff has taken a beating for it but he stood strong. Now it hardly matters as Rand's Objectivism has no standing in academics, but her fictional philosophy, her philosophical fiction is alive and breathing fire. She is more radical than she ever dreamed of being. Zizek is on to her and so am I.

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