Sunday, February 04, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, February 2024

1.  There is a new Kindle book, The Rational Edge: Ayn Rand on Nature and Essence by one Andy Randell.  It's a brief overview of Objectivism with some objections and possible responses.  Unless you are completely new to Objectivism or have Kindle Unlimited, I can't recommend it.

2.  Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute interviewed Harry Binswanger on his years with Ayn Rand.  It's somewhat defensive (for example Rand was not a difficult editor) but it does contain interesting anecdotes and observations.   A few of Binswanger's observations:
 i.  Rand was always intense, even when reheating the Borscht her cook made.

 ii.  Binswanger concedes that Rand occasionally got unnecessarily angry at interlocutors because she would judge their motives and premises prematurely.

  iii.  Rand didn't see all the implications of some of her ideas until the 1970s.  That was a new one to me.

  iv.  Rand was a great psychologist, including better than many "respected historical psychologists."  James Valliant made a similar claim recently.

   v.  Binswanger still hates the Brandens ("villains").  Fair enough from his perspective, but he actually claims Rand's excommunication letter in 1968 (To Whom It May Concern) was measured and even Olympian.  It's hard to imagine calling Nathaniel a thief without evidence as being measured.  As Nathaniel said in his memoirs, Rand's attack was so "over the top" that people wondered if he was an alcoholic or a child molester.

   vi.  Maybe not a major point, but Binswanger misrepresents Barbara's Branden's biography (The Passion of Ayn Rand) on Rand's final meeting and phone call with Rand.  As Binswanger says, Rand and Barbara met in Rand's New York apartment in 1981.  According to Barbara, after the meeting, she sent Rand a letter stating that she was writing Rand's biography.  When Rand didn't respond, Barbara called her.  Rand refused to talk.  Barbara says she was certain that this was due to Rand's disapproval of the prospective biography.  Binswanger doesn't mention the letter and says Barbara first mentioned the idea of the biography in the phone call and asked for Rand's assistance.  He says  Barbara claims that this final conversation was of a "I'm sorry that things didn't work out" variety.  This was manifestly not what Branden wrote.  (The existence of the post-meeting letter mentioning a biography is confirmed by Cynthia Peikoff in 100 Voices).  Perhaps Binswanger should have re-read the relevant page in Branden's biography before accusing her of lying.


Monday, January 01, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, January 2024

1.   William O’Neill’s 1971 book With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand was recently re-published.  It was probably the first critique of Rand’s philosophy published.  It’s been years since I read it, but my recollection was that it was hit-or-miss.

[O'Neill's book was the first philosophical critique from an academically trained savant. Albert Ellis had a few years earlier written a book length critique of Objectivism (i.e., Is Objectivism a Religion?) focusing on psychology, politics and economics.]

2.  Carl Barney, the multi-millionaire ex-donor to the Ayn Rand Institute, and head of the Prometheus Foundation, recently posted a curious blog entry, Who Represents Objectivism.  He writes:

“There have been many alleged spokespersons for Objectivism—Mike Berliner, Harry Binswanger, John Ridpath, Peter Schwartz, Yaron Brook—and we’re now told of a “Chief Philosophy Officer,” Onkar Ghate. There’s something we should not forget.”

I’m wondering if there is a back story here.  With the occasional exception of Binswanger, I’m not sure if any of these have ever claimed to be a spokesperson for Objectivism.  Barney then goes on to sing the praises of Leonard Peikoff, who claims to quite literally speak in the name of Ayn Rand.  

This is something I didn’t know:

“Much of Leonard’s clarity and conviction undoubtedly was influenced by his 30-year close relationship with Ms. Rand—thousands of hours of discussion (from which he took careful notes), and the Q&As, and the collaboration undoubtedly enabled him to speak with such clarity and conviction.”

Can the publication of Leonard Peikoff’s Journals and Marginalia be far off?

3.  Long-time Objectivist author Andy Bernstein has a new Kindle book on racism called American Racism: Its Decline, Its Baleful Influence, and Our Looming Race War.

4.   Speaking of Bernstein, Yaron Brook wasn’t pleased to be asked why he isn’t teaching at Ayn Rand University.  Brook claimed not to know.  I certainly don’t know but considering that he writes for Craig Biddle’s The Objective Standard I doubt he will be teaching at ARU any time soon.

5.   Speaking of Brook, he is scheduled to appear on January 12, 2024 in Centennial, Colorado.  For a mere $400 you can sit next to him at the post-speech dinner.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, December 2023

1.    Just when you thought the last vein of unpublished Ayn Rand material had been tapped, along comes Ayn Rand Institute supporter Jonathan Hoenig with Can You Really Love a Dog?:  Leonard Peikoff and Ayn Rand on Pets.  As the Amazon description says:

Featuring previously unpublished pictures of Ayn Rand with her cats, this absorbing book makes an amusing and thought-provoking compendium on pets from the world’s foremost Objectivists. In this collection of essays, stories, and photos, Peikoff delves with insight, humor, and philosophy into the meaning of loving a pet.

From Ayn Rand’s lighter side as a cat owner to Leonard Peikoff’s advice on how to cope with the loss of a beloved canine friend, Can You Really Love a Dog? promises to add value to every moment of your life with a cat or dog. The perfect gift for the pet lover who thinks.

Because I have Kindle unlimited, I was able to rent the book for free.  A few things I noted.  Edwin Locke is quoted as saying that he saw Rand get angry only once - when her husband Frank O'Connor left the window open.  Rand got upset because a cat might fall out.  She later apologized.  Speaking of O'Connor, Harry Binswanger says he had a "quick wit."  Someone confirms that she didn't get her cats neutered since she thought sex was good.  (Her biographers report that her apartment smelled of cat urine. Male cats who are not neutered tend to aggressively spray their territory.)  The book is billed at 78 pages, but there is a fair amount of padding (some pages contain at most two quotes or one picture).

2.   Leonard Peikoff's letter to National Review criticizing Whittaker Chambers' review of Atlas Shrugged was recently found and published.  Granted Chambers' review was a little over the top, but one could say the same thing about Atlas Shrugged.

3.  Recently, Somali-Dutch free speech advocate and critic of Islamic extremism Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced her conversion from atheism to Christianity.  Many Objectivists admired Ali and seem to take her conversion personally.  For example, Yaron Brook unleashed an hour long tirade and was particularly outraged at Ali's appeal to what he called "the Judo Christian tradition."   Brook said there are moral Christians, but they are the ones who don't take their Christianity seriously.  How Brook knows this is curious because not too long ago he admitted that he doesn't know what Christianity teaches.

Here is the video where at 31:30 Brook mentions "the Judo Christian tradition:

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, November 2023

1.  Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, it’s been all war all the time for the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI).  ARI supporter James Valliant even called Leonard Peikoff prophetic for his New York Times advertisement in October 2001 calling for the use of nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia and Iran.  One would have thought that this would have been better left forgotten.

2.  Leonard Peikoff turned 90 this month.  I’ll make a few comments on his legacy.

i.  Peikoff’s production, given his claim to be Rand’s intellectual heir. has been relatively little.  He published The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (which hasn’t aged well); Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (a summary of Rand’s thought with a few Peikovian extensions); and The DIM Hypothesis (which hasn’t made much of a splash in ARI circles).  He did give many lectures over the years, which are gradually being published.

ii.  Peikoff started the ARI and left his rights to most of Rand’s works to it.  This will ensure that Objectivism has a presence for decades to come.  I wonder what Rand would have thought of the ARI.  It’s more focused on day-to-day political and cultural issues than the finer points of Rand’s philosophy.

iii.  Peikoff helped cement the “cultish” side to Objectivism.  Like Rand, he excommunicated lots of people.  Some of his splits seem petty even by Rand’s standards.  Most notably, he broke with philosopher of science John McCaskey because McCaskey refused to endorse a book that Peikoff had a role in (The Logical Leap).  At the time, Peikoff proudly announced that he was not on speaking terms with half the members of the ARI’s board.

iv.  Peikoff allowed, and perhaps directed, the serial rewriting of Rand’s posthumously published material (most notably her Journals) in typical cult of personality style.

v.   When Barbara Branden published her biography of Rand in 1986, Peikoff denounced it as one long arbitrary assertion.  Not only that, but he supported (and perhaps helped edit) a dishonest hit piece on Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.  Contrary to what this book alleges, Rand’s “bad side” has been amply documented by numerous people who knew Rand, many of whom never broke with her.  If the long-anticipated authorized biography of Rand is ever published, it will (if it’s honest) have to concede that Rand’s “critics” essentially got it right.  Combined with number iv (above), I wonder if many ARI supporters will experience the kind of cognitive dissonance that Christian date-setters feel when their predictions go wrong.

vi.  Peikoff set the tone for hard core Objectivists by denouncing Open Objectivism and Libertarianism.  While contemporary ARI supporters have softened their criticism of Libertarianism (ostensibly on the idea that it has become less associated with anarcho-capitalism) their contempt for Open Objectivism remains. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, October 2023

1. The Ayn Rand Institute Press just published Russia to America: A Guide to Ayn Rand Home and Sites.  The book contains photos of places where Rand lived (interior and exterior), photos of places Rand visited, background information and maps.  The book was enjoyable and filled in a few spots in Rand's biography.  I'd mention that the book is $14.95 and while billed at 96 pages contains a fair amount of padding.  The photos and text end at page 79, which are followed by a chronology of Rand's life and four blank pages which are included in the page count.

2. Ayn Rand Institute supporters James Valliant and Robert Nasir had a podcast on moral perfection.  Valliant proudly announced that he and Nasir were "morally perfect."  However, Valliant seems to think that moral perfection is "doing the best you can."  He even said a non-Objectivist could be morally perfect.  Valliant's discussion of the idea of sin and perfection in Christianity, Kant, etc. is, not surprisingly, somewhat caricatured.  I'd recommend John Passmore's book on perfectibility for a more balanced approach.  Perfection didn't play a large role in Rand's ethics, but see here.

3. Scott Schiff and William Swig on the Ayn Rand Fan Club podcast had an insightful discussion of what constitutes the Objectivist movement and whether it is growing.  They focus on Yaron Brook who says interesting and perhaps contradictory things on this.  Brook says that if you consider "small O Objectivism" then the movement is growing and seems pleased about it.  Yet he also thinks the Objectivist movement is too broad.  Brook is happy that Fox News is going to interview him on Objectivism, but isn't happy about the pseudo-Objectivists (presumably David Kelley, et al.).    He says that he doesn't know how to define the Objectivist movement.  I thought this was curious considering that the founder of Objectivism said, if I recall correctly, that definitions were the guardians of rationality.  It's hard to square this with his hostility to Open Objectivism.  He also said that it's hard to define what increasing influence might mean.  But as Will and Scott note, one could just look at the number of academic philosophers and intellectuals in universities, which would appear to be the way Rand measured influence.  By that metric, the Objectivist movement isn't growing and may well be stagnating.  Brook concedes that the growth in his YouTube channel has stalled.

4. A new book, Ayn Rand at the Movies, will be released soon.  It discusses movies that are based on her works, movies about her, and things related to Rand and films in general.  As some have noted, it's interesting that Rand never had great success in the field of movies, which was in some sense her favorite medium.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Objectivist Round up September 2023

1. Someone asked Yaron Brook when an authorized biography of Rand (presumably the long-awaited one by Shoshana Milgram Knapp) will be published.  He said it was completed two years ago and will be coming out eventually but didn’t give a date other than it won’t take ten years.   Milgram was on the New Ideal podcast September 1 with Harry Binswanger to discuss Romantic Art.  The host introduced her and said she has written about Rand but no mention of a biography, authorized or otherwise.  (I listened to most of the podcast and it didn’t come up.)  One can only speculate on the reason for the delay.  Peikoff is up there in years and it’s hard to imagine him getting too interested in a biography at this stage in his life.  On the other hand, Ayn Rand Institute members such as Yaron Brook, Harry Binswanger and Robert “Rewrite” Mayhew have said the Branden accounts and the 2009 biographies by Anne Heller and Jennifer Burns are dishonest.  Any competent biographer will have to admit that the Branden accounts and the 2009 biographies pretty much got things right.

2. Yaron Brook will be debating Bryan Caplan on whether anarcho-capitalism would be a disaster.  The debate should be interesting.  Not too long ago the official ARI view of anarcho-capitalism was that it is nihilistic.  One wonders if those who ridiculed the idea of debating Open Objectivism will be similarly outraged.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, August 2023

1. In the early 1970’s, Leonard Peikoff gave two lecture series on the history of philosophy.  (These are available on the ARI’s site for free [as are many of the other older Peikoff lecture courses, such as "The Philosophy of Objectivism" and "Objective Communication," both of which feature Rand herself during Q&A sessions.]  Now the second of these has been edited and published as Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume.  Greg and I reviewed it on Amazon.  I pointed out Peikoff’s misunderstanding of certain aspects of Christianity and Greg pointed out Peikoff’s eccentric views of various philosophers.  (Shortly thereafter several brief five star reviews appeared.)  Let’s just say that this book’s importance is limited to historians of Objectivism.  I haven’t read any recent histories of Western philosophy, but for those who are interested in video lecture courses, Wondrium (The Great Courses) has many for a reasonable price.

2.    The Ayn Rand Institute will soon be publishing select essays from Robert (“Rewrite”) Mayhew’s  edited volumes on Ayn Rand’s four novels.  I’ve read many of these essays.  While not particularly critical, they are worth reading.  The essays by Shoshana Milgram on the writing of Rand’s novels fill in some details about Rand’s life.  (While I have no reason to distrust these essays, the ARI doesn’t have a good track record matters related to Rand’s life.)

3.    Someone asked Yaron Brook if Leonard Peikoff is morally perfect.  Brook was not amused.

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