Sunday, May 10, 2020

Slouching Toward the Next Schism

There are the makings of a potential schism at ARI. Since 1985, Carl Barney, whose made millions in the education industry, was ARI's largest donor. In 2019, Barney left ARI's board and devoted his resources to Craig Biddle's The Objective Standard periodical and to Barney's own Prometheus Foundation. Then, on May 1, 2020, Barney made the following announcement:

“Dr. Peikoff has given me (Prometheus Foundation ...) permission to publicize and deliver worldwide his courses and lectures.”
...
“He has also granted me permission to use his trademark, “Ayn Rand,” as well as excerpts from his and Ayn Rand’s works, which will aid me in marketing. With these assets and my considerable resources, I am eager and ready to ensure that Dr. Peikoff’s courses and lectures reach and continue to reach minds throughout the world. ... 
“I do not intend to start another ARI or to compete with ARI. I don’t intend to establish a new organization of any kind. I intend only to support and fund other organizations and individuals who promote Ayn Rand and advance Objectivism.”
Of course, Barney has to insist he is not competing with ARI; and perhaps his insistence is sincere. But this clearly lays the foundation for trouble in the future. What has happened in the world of orthodox Objectivism is that, with the retirement of Peikoff, there exists no authority figure to adjudicate the inevitable disputes that arise among the Objectivist faithful, particularly among ambitious types jostling for status and influence in the movement itself. Theoretically, these disputes should be adjudicated by "reason." But what goes by "reason" in Objectivism is largely imaginary; and many of the issues which divide people in real life are too complex to be resolved by some "objective" standard of rationality in any case.

While Ayn Rand was alive, she was the ultimate adjudicator for the Objectivist movement. After her death, Peikoff filled this role, claiming to be Rand's "intellectual heir" and the foremost authority on her philosophy. But now Peikoff, being retired and in poor health, cannot play that role any more. How then is it to be filled? Since Peikoff is not, as far as anyone knows, going to name a successor, the ultimate adjudicator has become, by default, an institution (i.e., ARI), which means: those who control ARI (i.e., Yaron Brook and his cronies). Essentially this means that Yaron Brook is the most powerful orthodox Objectivist in the world, which may seem rather odd at first blush, because Brook hardly seems qualified, in terms of his limited command of Rand's philosophy, to have attained such a position. Here we have an example of the practical fruits of ideological dogmatism. Adherence to a strict dogma can only persist long-term in an institutionalized environment—in short, in a bureaucracy governed by bureaucratic principles. Brook is the leading Objectivist, not through charisma or expertise in Objectivism, but because he is the best bureaucratic manager and fund raiser to have emerged in the last twenty years. Under Brook's leadership, ARI's budget rose by a factor of nearly two and half. Since many people at ARI owe their living to Brook (and Brook's hand-picked successor, Tal Tsfany), he becomes the de facto adjudicator of disputes.

Alas for Brook, two can play that game. Carl Barney, with millions of dollars at his beck and call, has managed to out-flank Brook. Since its founding, ARI has enjoyed the monopoly on the "Ayn Rand" trademark and on Peikoff's lectures and courses. No longer. Now of course, Peikoff could take those things back. But Peikoff is in his mid eighties and it's not clear how much of a role he can play in events going forward. At some point he will no longer be on the scene and who knows how this all shakes out at that juncture.

One curious wrinkle in all this is the person who, seemingly, would gain the most out of this arrangement: and that is Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard and the executive director of Barney's Prometheus Institute. Biddle has been at odds with ARI before. During the McCaskey scandal, Biddle criticized Peikoff, and by implication ARI, for driving McCaskey out of the fold. A few years later, after joining forces with Barney, Biddle quietly removed this criticism from his website and, it would seem, fences were mended. But whether they were mended permanently remains to be seen. As long as Peikoff is still alive, we can anticipate that ARI and the Prometheus Institute will play nice. But when Peikoff goes on to meet his reward, who knows what kind rifts and animosities may emerge among the Objectivist faithful!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

This seems like the biggest schism yet. When Rand booted out the Brandens in '68 no one doubted that Objectivism=Ayn Rand. After Rand died there were schisms, but no one doubt ARI=Rand=Peikoff.

But with trademarks, Rand's papers, archives, etc. I wonder what to make of all this. My guess is that there is buyer's remorse with Brook. Sure, he raised a lot of money, but is the influence of the ARI what you'd expect it to be with its funding? What has all the Brook you tube videos, paying Jordan Peterson, paying David Pakman, etc. done for Objectivism as a philosophical movement?

-Neil P

Albionic American said...

Ayn Rand's popularity might have been authentic at one time. But in the last 30 or so years, the Ayn Rand Institute has astroturfed Rand's influence through central planning by buying and then giving away over 4 million copies of Rand's novels to high school and college students, whether these youngsters wanted to read them or not. Carl Barney is just moving the astroturfing of Rand's philosophy over to his own organization because he has the financial wherewithal to do so.

Not only does the practice of buy mass quantities of Rand's novels send bad price signals through the market about the value of her work; but it also misallocates scarce resources and contributes to economic chaos. It's like Directive 10-289 in Atlas Shrugged created a "Balph Eubank Institute" to keep the incompetent novelist Eubank's novels in print and force people to read them.

By contrast, notice that the renewed popularity of Stoicism, a time-tested philosophy for adults, is happening in Hayekian fashion, namely, spontaneously, organically, across the society and without central planning to make it happen. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing like a "Marcus Aurelius Institute" which interferes into the market for books by printing and giving away mass quantities of Stoic literature.

Albionic American said...

So are there any wealthy people from younger generations who are stepping forward to keep organized Rand cults in business? If not, these organizations are just going to collapse once the money dries up when the older financiers like Carl Barney die, retire or just change their priorities, though I suppose it's possible that some of them could set up trusts to park some of their estate assets and pay these organizations incomes from invested wealth. Not that these financial arrangement would make much difference, given the weakness of the source material Rand left us. From hindsight people will wonder what all that astroturfing to try to keep Rand relevant really accomplished in the long run.

gregnyquist said...

What has all the Brook you tube videos, paying Jordan Peterson, paying David Pakman, etc. done for Objectivism as a philosophical movement?

While I wouldn't be surprised if Jordan Peterson received a speaker's fee for his OCON appearance, I am surprised that Brook would pay Pakman. Didn't Brook merely debate Pakman? Was the payment was for?

It's hard to believe that such a payments would have been tolerated when Rand was alive or even in the early years of ARI when Peikoff et al were freaked out about the Branden's books on Rand. But are there still Objectivists who are uptight about this kind of stuff. Is there really buyers remorse about Brook? What would they prefer him to do? He's kind of between a rock and a hard place. If he's paying Peterson and Pakman to talk them, that's only because he's trying to reach a wider audience. Brook's own YouTube videos rarely are seen by more than 10,000 people, but if he's talking to Peterson, that video will be seen and heard by potentially millions of people.

Part of the problem is that Rand's philosophy is becoming increasingly dated and it just doesn't, nor will it ever, appeal to a wide audience. She believes in things (e.g., blank slate, history is determined by philosophy) that simply aren't scientifically or rationally credible.

gregnyquist said...

So are there any wealthy people from younger generations who are stepping forward to keep organized Rand cults in business?

If donations dry up for organizations like ARI, what that does is it places the handful of persisting Objectivist stalwarts increasingly vulnerable to predatory wealth. In the future we could see a time when just about any eccentric multi-millionaire/billionaire who's taken a fancy of Ayn Rand (via her novels) could come forward and essentially make ARI his private preserve. He could start out with promises of orthodoxy, but his eccentricity will lead him to change to suit whatever passions may be sweeping through his soul.

I'm skeptical that long-term the dwindling faction of Objectivist purists can keep the Randian flame pure. The philosophy just doesn't work — it doesn't deliver on its promises to create a society based on Objectivist premises. As a matter of fact, the course of social change is not determined by a philosophical duel between Plato and Kant on one side and Aristotle and Rand on the other. That's just wishful thinking and fatuous nonsense. At some point the inability to exercise any appreciable influence whatsoever on the political and economic world will fatigue ARI's followers and raise questions as to whether Rand was right about the philosophy of history contentions. When this happens, there may be desperate attempts to come up with alternate strategies — all to no good purpose because most people don't want to live in an Objectivist world and that's just the way things are.

Albionic American said...

"most people don't want to live in an Objectivist world and that's just the way things are."

There is some effort to rebrand Objectivism as a philosophy of "human flourishing," coming from Craig Biddle and Alex Epstein. Perhaps they are doing this in response to Steven Pinker's strategy for defending the Enlightenment in a modern context, despite Pinker's dismissive comments about Rand in his book Enlightenment Now.

But that's not going to work, again given the weakness of Rand's source material. Human flourishing in the most literal sense means procreating and rearing healthy children in families, but you simply can't derive that interpretation from Rand's novels, given their hostile portrayal of motherhood and family life, contrasted with Rand's feminine ideal of the sterile, sexually liberated single career woman, Dagny Taggart. If Rand were really serious and thoughtful about winning what she saw as a culture war, she should have considered the low time preference strategy of fighting the war of the cradle as a key component of that.

Instead Rand left us with a kind of high time preference nihilism which leaves its adherents with nothing to show for their lives as the generations turn over. When the partisans of human flourishing try to recruit Rand for their side, they don't need enemies.

Anonymous said...

Yaron Brook and Tal Tsfany announced the establishment of a new program and a new subcenter at the McCombs Business School of the University of Texas, Austin. The Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship is partnering with The Center for Enterprise and Policy Analytics (CEPA) to launch: The Program for Objectivity in Knowledge, Action, and Enterprise. The CEPA Center is headed by professor of statistics, Carlos Carvalho. The Objectivity Program will include a Center for Objectivists Studies to be headed by philosopher Gregory Salmieri.

Dr. Salmieri and his family will be moving to Austin, and he expects to be teaching courses in the (highly regarded) philosophy department at U. of T.—where Tara Smith is a tenured professor. Dr. Salmieri's appointment begins June 1st.

The main financial supporter of the new Program and Center is Bud Brigham, a longtime Objectivist and successful businessman, who is both a resident of Austin and an alumnus of U. of T. (Yaron Brook is also an alumnus).

Huggy Bear

Anonymous said...

"I suppose it's possible that some of them could set up trusts to park some of their estate assets and pay these organizations incomes from invested wealth."

In the late 1990s, the ARI was hitting up donors to leave bequests in their wills.

Albionic American said...

"Dr. Salmieri and his family will be moving to Austin"

What kind of "family" does Dr. Salmieri have? He speaks with a lisp and projects effeminate mannerisms.

Albionic American said...

Also it's hard to visualize what a functional Objectivist family would look like, given the way Rand portrays family relationships in her novels. Human flourishing in the most literal sense is a wholesome family life oriented around bringing up future generations, but you simply can't find where Rand has anything good to say about that in her writings.

Anonymous said...

Salmieri is married to a fairly attractive woman. He posted a while ago that she was pregnant.

Huggy Bear

Anonymous said...

It looks like Craig Biddle is creating a rival organization to the ARI:

https://objectivestandard.org/blog/why-we-created-osi?fbclid=IwAR3rTPfoUVRYw44qAwUxnwCgJ-bJrGN9Kqj1ofhOrF2lqnmzNIgy7nSZK4Y

gregnyquist said...

Dr. Salmieri and his family will be moving to Austin, and he expects to be teaching courses in the (highly regarded) philosophy department at U. of T.—where Tara Smith is a tenured professor.

Salmieri and Smith, as far as I can see, are intellectually the best figures in the orthodox Objectivist movement, at least in terms of core philosophy (rather than commentary on current events). They both are now receiving the bulk of their income from a non-ARI source, which makes them somewhat independent. If in the future it's primarily money that's going to keep leading Objectivist intellectuals in line, that won't necessarily work with Smith and Salmieri (although Salmieiri may be beholden to this Bud Bringham, who's supporting the venture)

There is some effort to rebrand Objectivism as a philosophy of "human flourishing," coming from Craig Biddle and Alex Epstein. Perhaps they are doing this in response to Steven Pinker's strategy for defending the Enlightenment in a modern context, despite Pinker's dismissive comments about Rand in his book Enlightenment Now.

This seems a bit of a nod to David Kelley who, although he didn't exactly rebrand Objectivism as a philosophy of flourishing, tended to emphasize as a part of the ethics (along with "survival").

It looks like Craig Biddle is creating a rival organization to the ARI.

Well, at least the groundwork is being laid. Even if Biddle is not thinking of striking out on his own, the fact that he is not setting up his organization under the ARI umbrella suggest to me he really doesn't want to be accountable to any of the power-brokers over at ARI — which already suggest some level of friction/disagreement.

I wouldn't be shocked if we see more of this kind of decentralization. Perhaps all the craziness about the Brandens, which dominated ARI in its early years, was a good thing for orthodox Objectivism. It gave the faithful a common enemy — something to rally around and weed out dissenters. Where's Objectivism's common enemy now? Are they going to continue demonizing libertarians and conservatives? How has that worked out for them? Are they going to make the radical left the enemy? Well then get in line. But that's becoming a rather long line and Objectivists will have to content themselves with being at the very back of it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of any of the people associated with the new venture (outside of Biddle). I think they will need to get a philosopher of some importance to be credible as an ARI-alternative.

Having the rights to use Rand's name and Leonard's 30 year old philosophy courses is helpful but I don't think it's exciting.

Albionic American said...

I'd like to know where, exactly, astroturfed Objectivism differs from elite leftism these days. Objectivists promote open borders, indiscriminate immigration, sexual freedom (Biddle has published at least one article in his magazine about the wonders of male homosexuality), pushing girls to compete with boys in areas where girls generally show less competency, pseudoscience about the importance of self-esteem, hostility towards traditional Christian belief and letting billionaires do pretty much whatever they want.

By contrast, I doubt that any leftist has lost sleep over Rand's theory of concepts or her badly thought out speculations about art and literature. If anything, many of the early communists, starting with the well-read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, could have said more interesting things about literature off the tops of their heads than what Rand had to offer.

Leftist elites certainly don't feel threatened by the Objectivists' advocacy of Austrian economics. You can criticize fiat money, central banking and modern monetary theory from an Austrian perspective all you want, and no one in power will try to retaliate against you to make you shut up.

Anonymous said...

I think it's worth mentioning that at least a few of the things you list aren't exactly singularly leftist traits. "Self esteem" is quite common on the right as well, just WHICH people deserve it and are given a pass to use it may differ. Plus the right isn't exactly known for placing a lot of onerous shackles on those poor, oppressed billionaires.

(Some wag could also point out that much of conservative Christianity itself is markedly hostile towards the actual traditional values espoused by Jesus the supposed Christ in the Bible itself, as opposed to the values supposedly favored by some idealized 1950s-era view of church and country.)

Albionic American said...

Billionaires run both political parties in the United States; they just operate in different sectors of the economy. The Republicans' billionaires base their wealth on material production like fossil fuels, agribusiness and military hardware, and they depend on the Pentagon as their ally in the government. The Democrats' billionaires made their fortunes in the immaterial economy of Wall Street, Hollywood, the media and Silicon Valley, and they depend on the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department in the government to do their bidding.

The Democrats' billionaires clearly control their party from the fact that they shut down Bernie Sanders's campaigns twice in a row, despite the fact that Sanders tapped into popular misgivings about how the super-rich have misruled the country. They have apparently astroturfed "leftism" into a form which doesn't threaten their power. Objectivists who haven't kept up with events sound increasingly disconnected from reality when they go around claiming that some mysterious ethics of "altruism" has run rampant in the country, and that it threatens to cause people to rise up, rob and murder the country's billionaires.

Albionic American said...

Speaking of human flourishing, what Rand shows about a lot of things in Atlas Shrugged conflicts with what she says, despite her fans' claims about her masterful integration of plot with philosophy.

Specifically, she shows that John Galt and his colleagues go out of their way to demolish America's economy so that tens of millions of Americans who don't meet their arbitrary philosophical standard will starve to death and not impede their rebuilding projects. And they don't just let this collapse happen passively; they actively push for it by destroying industrial capital: Ellis Wyatt sets his own oil field on fire, Ragnar the pirate shells Orren Boyle's steel mill on the coast of Maine, Francisco sabotages his own mines. If eco-terrorists in the real world went around reversing industrial progress like this, Alex Epstein and other Objectivists would denounce them in no uncertain terms. But because Rand's heroes destroy industrial production for the "right" philosophical reasons, that makes their actions heroic and even romantic, even though you get the same result either way.

Yet somehow, according to the Kool-Aid drinkers, this means that Atlas Shrugged shows a philosophy of "human flourishing" at work, even though the characters who win at the end of the novel have no children to inherit what they intend to accomplish. What Rand really shows here conflicts with what she wants to say, at least according to the current Rand hermeneutics, namely, a high time preference nihilism, not "human flourishing."

gregnyquist said...

I'd like to know where, exactly, astroturfed Objectivism differs from elite leftism these days.

Well, Objectivism is hardly "elite" -- that is to say, no Objectivist has access to elite circles, whether in culture or politics. The would-be sages of Objectivism must content themselves with crying in the wilderness, for there is very little interest for what they have to offer among the denizens of civilized society. But I get the point: there is a leftist strain running through Objectivism -- a sort of vague radicalism which hopes for a transformed human nature (through "reason" and "ideas," rather than through social coercion) leading to a transformed society. The real world, meanwhile, does its own thing and cares little for the anathemas of ARI and company.