Thursday, September 16, 2010

The McCaskey Objectischism

Neil Parille gives us the lowdown on the latest bustup in Randland.

The latest Objectischism is underway. Schisms, excommunications, denunciations and sometimes even recantations are prominent features of Objectivist life and form an entertaining Kremlinology to those of us interested in the Objectivist microverse. While not as cosmic an event as the David Kelley excommunication in the 1980s - thus far only John McCaskey has been excommunicated from the movement - this one seems to be a sign of growing Objectivist frustration with Leonard Peikoff and the tone of orthodox Objectivism.

John McCaskey is a well credentialled Objectivist scholar. He holds a doctorate from Stanford University in the history of science, where he currently teaches. He was, until recently, on the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute. He has written for the Objective Standard, the house organ of the ARI. He has spoken at Objectivist Conferences. McCaskey appears to be tight with orthodox Objectivist figureheads such as Allan Gotthelf and Harry Binswanger, but has “rarely spoken” to Peikoff.

McCaskey founded The Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship in 2001. The Foundation, which was so closely tied to the ARI that it was absorbed by it in 2008, may be the most interesting “special ops” of the ARI. The Foundation sponsors Objectivist professors (always orthodox) at universities through the United States. Intentionally or not it gives the illusion of greater Objectivist penetration in the academic world than it probably has. The Foundation received national attention in 2007 when Texas State University at San Marcos turned down a Foundation grant because of the dogmatic nature and intolerance of orthodox Objectivism.
The roots of this latest schism go back a ways. According to orthodox Objectivism, Rand solved the problem of universals in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. The biggest remaining problem in philosophy was the problem of induction, a thorny question which, by common consent, no completely satisfactory solution has been given. Peikoff, Rand’s self-proclaimed “intellectual heir,” teamed up with physicist David Harriman to solve the problem and show how induction worked in science. The result was Peikoff’s 1999 lecture course Induction in Physics and Philosophy which “present[s], for the first time, the solution to the problem of induction—and thereby complete[s], in every essential respect, the validation of reason.” The solution apparently built on Rand’s theory of concepts and, if true, would be a significant extension of Objectivism.

Peikoff and Harriman were for a time collaborating on a book on induction; however Peikoff dropped out of the project deciding to spend more time on his “DIM Hypothesis” book (which, like some other Peikoff book projects, hasn’t appeared). In July 2010, Harriman’s book – The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics – was finally published. The book contains an introduction by Peikoff, who calls it “the first mayor application of Ayn Rand’s philosophy to a field other than philosophy.” Harriman states that theory of induction and concept formation in the book is Peikoff’s. He also acknowledges that the book was funded by the ARI. The history of science isn’t my strong suit, but the Harriman book follows the general Objectivist view of intellectual history: good guys with good (i.e., proto-Objectivist) ideas, bad guys with bad ideas, good ideas leading to good results, bad ideas leading to failure. All contrary evidence is ignored or explained away, as when Harriman claims that Galileo’s notes in his journals that suggested he was a rationalist who used “thought experiments” don’t accurately convey what Galileo was doing. (Harriman, as we will see, is apparently an expert when it comes to what people really mean in their journals.)

Harriman is controversial in Objectivist circles for his (at least partial) opposition to relativity theory and quantum mechanics. He also thinks the big bang theory is a “creation myth” (duly noting that it was developed by Catholic priest). He edited The Journals of Ayn Rand which, according to Jennifer Burns, he rewrote in the process to make it conform to Objectivist orthodoxy. As summarized by Laissez Faire Book’s review:
Burns writes, “On nearly every page of the published journals an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand’s original writing. In the book’s foreword the editor, David Harriman, defends his practice of eliminating Rand’s words and inserting his own as necessary for greater clarity. In many case, however, his editing serves to significantly alter Rand’s meaning.” She says that sentences are “rewritten to sound stronger and more definite” and that the editing “obscures important shifts and changes in Rand’s thought.” She finds “more alarming” the case that “sentences and proper names present in Rand’s original …have vanished entirely, without any ellipses or brackets to indicate a change.”
The result of this unacknowledged editing is that “they add up to a different Rand. In her original notebooks she is more tentative, historically bounded, and contradictory. The edited diaries have transformed her private space, the hidden realm in which she did her thinking, reaching, and groping, replacing it with a slick manufactured world in which all of her ideas are definite, well formulated, and clear.” She concludes that Rand’s Journals, as released by ARI, “are thus best understood as an interpretation of Rand rather than her own writing. Scholars must use these materials with extreme caution.”

In 2000 he ganged up with Leonard Peikoff to attack Allan Gotthelf’s incredibly fawning On Ayn Rand for its overly academic style. Harriman holds masters degrees in philosophy and physics. He would be a second-tier figure in the Objectivist world if it weren’t for his association with Peikoff.

Orthodox Objectivism has well credentialed physicists such as Keith Lockith (Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin) and Travis Norsen (Ph.D. from the University of Washington). Both have lectured at Objectivist Conferences and have lectures sold by the ARI’s bookstore. Although Rand didn’t write anything on the philosophy of science, oral tradition has it that she was skeptical of what little she knew of modern physics. Peikoff doesn’t appear to know much about physics and what little he knows is from Harriman. (In Peikoff’s 2006 DIM lectures Peikoff said he had never heard of Richard Feynman, probably one of the few household names in physics in recent years.) It’s been rumored that there is discontent with the preeminent position Harriman and Peikoff have when it comes to physics.

The first sign a schism was on July 25, when Norsen’s review of The Logical Leap appeared on Amazon. He called it “valuable but disappointing” and gave it three starts (out of five). The review is lengthy, and takes aim specifically at chapter 1 (which is Peikoff’s contribution):
To begin with, I think the three key ideas presented in chapter 1 are important and correct. There *are* first-level generalizations which support and make possible the higher-level sorts of generalizations that scientists are (and unfortunately most philosophers concerned with induction have been) primarily concerned with. And as a matter of epistemological methodology, it is right to focus on these simplest, foundational cases to construct a theory to guide us in the more complex cases. I also think it is profoundly true that causal connections are sometimes perceivable, and Harriman is absolutely right to stress this as the fundamental answer to the skeptical views that emerge ultimately from a Humean, sensationalist account of perception. I would even go so far as to say that this idea (which, however, is not novel -- see for example the important book "Causal Powers" by Madden and Harre) is the key to solving the problem of induction. And second, the idea that generalizations are formed -- i.e., propositions are rendered general -- via the application of (open-ended) concepts to particular causal instances, strikes me as very interesting and pregnant.

However, even at the level of dealing with examples like "balls roll," I find that the book does not go far enough in clarifying and developing these ideas. I see rather large gaps in the account of first-level inductions presented in chapter 1, and these gaps seriously undermine the project of showing, through the subsequent history-of-science case studies, how induction works in physics.
Something must have been “going down” because on August 11 and August 23 Gotthelf and Binswanger - a pair practically Pynchonesquese in their reclusiveness - posted brief five-star reviews on Amazon praising Harriman’s book. Prior to these reviews Gotthelf and Binswanger had a combined eleven reviews on Amazon going back to 2000.

It now turns out that McCaskey had for some time been critical of The Logical Leap, although he never discussed his concerns with Peikoff. Peikoff however got wind of McCaksey’s criticism and took it as a personal attack on him. In an incredible email dated August 30 from Peikoff to ARI legal counsel Arline Mann (and cc’d to ARI director Yaron Brook) Peikoff made it clear that someone had to go and it wasn’t going to be him:
When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me – I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism – is denounced by a member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded someone has to go and will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom.
I do understand how much money M has brought to ARI, and how many college appointments he has gotten and is still getting. As Ayn would have put it, that raises him one rung in Hell, but it does not convert Objectivism into pragmatism.

Three days later McCaskey resigned from the ARI and the Foundation he started.
The day after that McCaskey reviewed The Logical Leap on Amazon, giving it three stars. The money quotes:
Readers of the book should be aware that the historical accounts presented here often differ from those given by academic researchers working on the history of science and often by the scientists themselves.

Generally, scholars who try to recreate the development of scientific concepts in the minds of great scientists are struck by how successful these scientists are in making propositional generalizations while still forming--and often themselves never fully forming--the concepts that constitute the generalizations. The narrative these scholars present (using Harriman's metaphor, not theirs) is not that a fully formed concept comes into the mind of the scientist who then uses it as a green light to an inductive propositional generalization, but that a partly formed concept serves as a flickering greenish light to a partial generalization, which acts as a less flickering, somewhat greener light to a better concept, which in turn improves the generalization, which then improves the concept, and so on, until well-defined concepts and associated propositional generalizations emerge fully formed together (at which point, the subjectivist says, "See, it's all just a matter of definitions.") Most scholars find the process of scientific progress less linear than Harriman indicates and much more iterative and spiral.

I cannot say that the conventional narratives (or my own) are all correct and Harriman's all wrong--certainly they are not--nor do I want to say how any inaccuracies would affect the theory of induction presented in The Logical Leap. I merely want to alert readers unfamiliar with the field that Harriman's narratives are often not the ones accepted by other scholars who research the conceptual development of great scientists and often not the ones that the scientists themselves give.

The theory of induction proposed here is potentially seminal; a theory that grounds inductive inference in concept-formation is welcome indeed. But the theory is still inchoate. If it is to be widely adopted, it will need to be better reconciled with the historical record as the theory gets fleshed out and refined.

What to make of this latest schism? It’s never easy to determine what is really happening in the noumenal realm of orthodox Objectivism. Even long-time Objectivism watchers with degrees in Kremlinology are having a hard time here. But let’s make some guesses:

1. Now that Harriman’s book is out and Peikoff has given the imprimatur to Harrimanesque physics, orthodox ARI physicists have decided that they aren’t going to let a philosopher with little knowledge of physics dictate how their work is done.

2. Objectivists are getting tired of Peikoff’s reign. With Peikoff’s retirement from the daily affairs of the ARI and his age they think can get along just fine without him.

3. Peikoff’s behavior has become increasingly erratic. In 2006 he issued a fatwa against anyone who was considering not voting Democratic, going so far as to claim that they didn’t understand Objectivism. He recently made a similar statement concerning Objectivists who believe that Moslems have a legal right to build a Mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York City. He has called for a nuclear attack on Iran. When he speaks at an Objectivist Conference a disclaimer is published that his attendance doesn’t mean he agrees with everything other people say.

4. Peikoff, for whatever contributions he has made to Objectivism, has actually hurt Rand’s reputation. For example, in 2005 he sponsored James Valliant’s cracked The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, a book which, far from rescuing Rand, made her look worse. He has permitted people like Harriman to rewrite the published version of Rand’s posthumous material in classic cult of personality fashion. Peikoff said in 1987 that Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand was “arbitrary” and would eventually be countered by an authorized biography. No such biography has appeared, but two independent biographies were published in 2009 both generally supportive of Branden’s. It must be increasingly obvious to younger Objectivists that the Peikoff line that Rand’s only character flaw was occasionally blowing her top was dishonest.
In 1968, Rand kicked out Nathaniel Branden (a psychologist). In 1976 she so harangued Alan Blumenthal (a psychiatrist) that he quit. Shortly before her death she booted out Robert Hessen (a historian). Leonard Peikoff has excommunicated not only David Kelly but George Reisman (an economist) and his wife Edith Packer (a psychologist).

The McCaskey Objectischism continues a trend of Rand and Peikoff breaking with independent thinkers who for ideological or personal reasons don’t toe the party line.
- Neil Parille


Anonymous said...

I've always wondered what to make of an "individualism" that demands total conformity to a certain way of thinking.

This shows why Objectivism has made so little inroads in academic thought. It can't abide criticism, and can't stand people who have thoughts of their own.

And now it's alienated the one guy who was getting Objectivist professors into universities.

- Chris

Anonymous said...

One question: is Rand's philosophy (or philosophizing) inductive or deductive?

I find this confusing: the claim made seems to be that it is inductive (from observation to hypothesis to theory). But the practice seems to be the reverse (theory to hypothesis to observation).

So many objectivist texts assume conditions before the fact, and then look for things that prove them (deduction). Rand's whole career seems to bear this out: concoct a theory in the realm of fiction, and then move towards writing about its application in the real world.

This flap over quantum mechanics being wrong seems wholly from the perspective of deduction: objectivists assuming that the scientists' observations can't be right, b/c it doesn't square with objectivist premises. That's deductive, isn't it?

- Chris

Dragonfly said...

Neil: "In 2006 he issued a fatwa against anyone who was considering voting Democratic, going so far as to claim that they didn’t understand Objectivism."

Correction: the fatwa was against anyone who was considering NOT to vote Democratic." BTW, recently the pragmatic fellow reversed his fatwa. I suppose now nobody understands Objectivism any longer.

Anonymous said...


Thanks. I had caught that but forgot to telll Dan.


gregnyquist said...

Excellent post. This Objectischism may end up being rather significant, because it indicates unhappiness among the rank and file with how ARI is being run and with LP. There were some hints of this in Jennifer Burn's book. She reports that the Objectivists running the archives sympathetic with Burn's annoyance at Harriman's tamperings. There is also a hint of dissatisfaction reflected in Peikoff's rather nasty email to Arline Mann. When Peikoff notes "I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism," he is obviously being provactively sarcastic. Of course Ms. Mann would know who Peikoff is. His reminding her in that fashion is a way of both intimidating her and setting her straight, as if to say: "How dare you question my authority. Have you forgot that I'm Rand's intellectual heir? Know your place." Why does Peikoff feel the need to do this? Because he sensed a challenge from her (and perhaps other ARI staffers who might feel like she does). This suggests that some key staff members of ARI are getting restless and there's some doubt as to where they might stand on this issue. Peikoff's later threat ("someone has to go, someone will go") is meant to persuade these wafflers to toe the Peikoffian line. Note that Peikoff doesn't specify who is to go. This is clearly a veiled threat to Ms. Mann and any possible allies she might have with ARI. Since Ms. Mann was probably the one responsible for leaking Peikoff's email (so that it wound up in Mr. McKaskey's hands), this further suggests resistance and unhappiness on her part.

Above all, what this demonstrates is the vapidity of the claims Peikoff and other orthodox Objectivists make about "reason" and rationality. ARI is not run according to "reason" or any coherent standard of rationality. It's run at the whim of Peikoff and his inner circle (Binswanger, Schwartz, etc.) through brute intimidation.

Daniel Barnes said...

DF:Correction: the fatwa was against anyone who was considering NOT to vote Democratic.

Corrected thanks guys.

Anonymous said...

Chris wrote: "objectivists assuming that the scientists' observations can't be right, b/c it doesn't square with objectivist premises. That's deductive, isn't it?"

I suppose that's one word for it, although the first word that came to my mind was "cult". However, my semantic associations may have been biased by the activities described in the rest of the article, especially the part about the editing of the diary.

Neil Parille said...


Glad you liked it.

I think Burns also said on her blog that ARI scholars using the materials (I assume non-archivists) were also upset.

On the other hand, have any ARI supporters publicly acknowledged the problems with the published material? This must have been known for years.

It's still better to be LP's friend than his enemy. And I doubt McCaskey was even Peikoff's enemy.

-Neil Parille

Neil Parille said...

There may be another schism brewing.

The Objective Standard decided not to print Ed Cline's review of Heller's new biography.

But it will be publishing a review of an out of print book . . . PARC!

On November 2, the Archives publish 100 Voices, an oral history of Rand. Based on how this book is used in the Burns and Heller biographies I don't think it will be pro-Peikoff and Valliant.

I report, you decide.

Anon69 said...

The Objectischism has gotten worse:

It almost seems like a seige mentality has set in now. Where will the purges stop?

Anon69 said...

What's most striking to me is that Peikoff is the one who seems to think that Objectivism is "inadequate" (for its want of a validated theory of induction, which he and ARI must now supply in earnest) - so much so that filling that perceived gap is essential to the spread of Objectivism - that that is what makes The Logical Leap necessarily a "major" project of ARI, worth throwing people under the bus over. Objectivism, sayeth Dr. Peikoff in effect, has its fly unzipped, and the most crucial project now is to remedy that embarrassing defect. "This is, truly, what Objectivism should have been" is the implication, which, more thank anything, explains his desire to treat The Logical Leap as if it were Rand's own, and to give it the same imprimatur, and to treat its critics accordingly.

Dragonfly said...

Peikoff is obviously decompensating. He no longer even attempts to pretend that his action against McCaskey is rational. In his famous email he wrote that McCaskey's work and the money he brought to ARI might raise him "one rung in hell", which prompted Randroids to argue that this was just a figure of speech, etc. But in his recent reaction Peikoff drops all pretense, here he writes about McCaskey: "I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual". In the same reaction he also writes: "a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other."

So much hate and frustration! Peikoff reminds me here of James Taggart with his impotent rage.

I think it's fairly clear what has happened. Peikoff has the delusion that he has some original and good ideas, like a definitive theory of induction. First he'd tried to learn some physics from Harriman, but he must finally have realized that he's out of his depth in this department, so he entered some kind of partnership with Harriman, in which Harriman would take care of the physical part and Peikoff of the philosophical principles.

This resulted in a folie à deux of two quacks, as became clear in the recording of the "DIM" lectures (see ). You can find a proof of my predictive powers here:

This is not to brag about my great insight, but more about the fact that Objectivists were so completely blind to what was happening. Those two fools were convinced that they were revolutionizing the philosophy of science, and none of the Objectivist ass-kissers made objections, as they were too busy admiring The Great Man. Well, until McCaskey suggested in private sessions that there were some flaws in Harriman's book, destroying the soap bubble that Peikoff and Harriman were blowing. McCaskey didn't at all say that the emperor was naked, he only pointed out a few stains on the emperor's clothes. But that was enough to destroy the fragile self-esteem of Harriman and Peikoff, with the results that we now can observe.

Dragonfly said...

The story of the sycophant Hsieh is also amusing. Years ago she still had some thoughts of her own. It's always funny to dig up some of her statements from that time:

Then came her conversion to the True Faith, whereby all her criticisms of Peikoff disappeared like snow in the sun. Everything he said and wrote was suddenly wonderful. Of course she also supported his "fatwa". But then with the case of the mosque at Ground Zero she spoke a bit too soon, it turned out that Peikoff completely disagreed with her viewpoint. Ouch! That was embarrassing, and she had to walk on eggs to limit the damage.

But with the McCaskey affair it has become clear that all her plotting and scheming were in vain: it's obvious that Peikoff only has contempt for her, so much for all her ass-kissing. Now she's got her knickers in a twist and is seeing which way the wind is blowing, with frantic admonishments to remain polite (Peikoff was far from polite, but of course quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi) and even suggesting a time-out (be careful, you might offend the wrong person!). The fact that people on her site were allowed to be slightly critical of Peikoff was of course a mortal sin. Nevertheless there are still a lot of Objectidiots on that site who still try to defend Peikoff and rationalize his obvious kooky cult behavior away (like saying that it is just a private matter, ha ha ha!) Cult members are probably the last persons on earth to realize that they are cult members.

Daniel Barnes said...

What Dragonfly said. I greatly regret that I haven't had time in the past few months to think about things Objectivish, as this is such a classic, entirely predictable debacle in so many ways. I have a couple of thoughts I'll briefly post tomorrow.

Michael Prescott said...

Dragonfly wrote, "This resulted in a folie à deux of two quacks ..."

The same kind of thing cropped up in Rand's life. In Jeff Walker's book "The Ayn Rand Cult," we're told how Rand boasted that she and an aspiring screenwriter were working "on the definition of the nature of human intelligence" and had developed "some most startling ideas and discoveries on the subject." As Walker points out, Rand's later work with Nathaniel Branden was of the same dilettantish character. (p. 254)

That's not to say that amateurs can't make useful contributions in technical fields, but they need to acquaint themselves with the details and subject their work to the scrutiny of professionals, neither of which Rand (or Peikoff) was (or is) inclined to do.

Xtra Laj said...

That's not to say that amateurs can't make useful contributions in technical fields, but they need to acquaint themselves with the details and subject their work to the scrutiny of professionals, neither of which Rand (or Peikoff) was (or is) inclined to do.

I'll add that it's not just about inclination - it is also about ability and talent, especially mathematical talent in this case. It takes a good amount of humility and self-acceptance to admit one's limitations in a way that shows real self-awareness. Objectivism doesn't promote such humility, but I'm speaking to the choir here.

Feynmann used to claim that one needed to be able to explain things in layman terms to really understand physics. I take the opposite view - that physics is bound up with mathematics and that to claim to understand physics without understanding the underlying mathematics is ultimately a false understanding. There is grey area here, but I think Feynmann later made some admissions that he was being overly optimistic that the understanding of complicated physics could be simplified without mathematics. Whenever I see a physics book for the popular audience without math, I feel that someone is getting hoodwinked.

Neil Parille said...


Thanks for posting the link about Hsieh's comments pre-conversion. I used it in part 2 which I just sent to Dan.

One of the interesting thigs about this schism is that it is getting the rank and file involved, which probably couldn't have happened prior to the internet.

The older schisms were generally with Objectivist intellectuals Peikoff had a falling out with (Kelley and the Reismans for example). Now Biddle and others are upset and there is enough information to make a decision rather than just taking it on Peikoff's say-so. I read somewhere that Betsey Speicher even supported Biddle.

-Neil Parille

Neil Parille said...


It looks like the ARI has/had three people who know about physics and the history of science (McCaskey, Norsen and Lockith). Two of the three have come out against the book.

How this must gall Peikoff. The Logical Leap, along with the DIM book, were supposed to be his lasting contributions to Objectivism. I think Peikoff is bitter over his lack of academic success.

Apparently Binswanger's book should be out soon. What happens if Peikoff doesn't like it? I'd like to think that Peikoff can't excommunicate everyone, but who knows.

-Neil Parille

gregnyquist said...

But in his recent reaction Peikoff drops all pretense, here he writes about McCaskey: "I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual". In the same reaction he also writes: "a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other."

Those are extraordinary admissions. Now I know there are some people out there who will accept anything Peikoff says, no matter how bizarre. But that's of little importance. What is critical, and which ARI apologists are incapable of understanding or accepting, is the large amount of people that will be turned off by this sort of display. Peikoff makes a lot of virtuous noise about spreading Objectivism, and uses that as a pretext for his conduct in relation to McCaskey, yet Peikoff's own conduct, as exemplified in the notorious email and in his posting on his website are far more damaging to Objectivism's credibility. They reinforce precisely what those of us who are critics of ARI have been saying for years.

Peikoff: "But given my opinion of [McCaskey], intellectual discussion was impossible to me."

So we can only have discussion with people we like? What kind of principle is that? Either McCaskey is rational or he isn't. If he is rational, discussion would be useful. If he isn't rational, then what is he doing on the board of ARI? Why wasn't he asked to leave years earlier (along with the other board members Peikoff doesn't like)? If he is not irrational, what possible objections can Peikoff have to engaging in discussion with him? Peikoff can't have both ways.

Neil Parille said...


If McCaskey is such a bad guy and might not even be an Objectivist, then what was he doing on the Board in the first place?

Peikoff is tone deaf. Does he really think the greater Objectivist world will consider it a badge of courage that that he has "enmity" with 40% of the Board?

Yaron Brook is more polished than Peikoff, but I can't imagine him believing that people will take his press release seriously.

-Neil Parille

Dragonfly said...

Peikoff & Harriman remind me of Stalin & Lysenko. Now you might say that Peikoff still doesn't execute Harriman's dissenters, but I'm not sure that he wouldn't want to do just that!

In the meantime Hsieh has closed all the comments on this subject. The sorcerer's apprentice is probably afraid that she can no longer control all those brooms. Imagine that some of them might say something unflattering about Peikoff or about ARI and that she doesn't remove such contributions quickly enough!

Neil Parille said...

I suspect Hsieh will try to find a way to backtrack, but it is probably too late.

-Neil Parille

Michael Prescott said...

"a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other."

This doesn't surprise me at all. In 1984 I had some brief business dealings with Peikoff, which ended badly. At the time I was astonished by the vitriol he spewed. He clearly has never learned that it's possible to disagree without rancor. (More precisely, he seems to believe it's a moral failing to disagree without rancor.)

I actually feel a little sorry for him. For all his bluster and bravado, he strikes me as a deeply insecure person. He lashes out to protect his ego, which must be exceedingly fragile. To borrow a Biblical phrase, he's a man who has built his house on sand.

Anonymous said...

Michael, there is something rotten in objectivism and I think it is the authoritarianism and the moralising that are at the core of the philosophy. That coupled with these personalities that seem to populate the movement would appear to limit it's appeal. It goes far beyond an "I'm right and your wrong" smugness. Which although rankles you can get round if you truly believe in what they are offering or can be shrugged off in political opponents.

I don't believe that objectivism is a vaible prospect, there is just too much stacked against it to make it feasible alternative in any society. But you have to wonder, would they have made greater inroads if they told the old fool to stand down. But having seen the other personnel there, they seem if anything worse. For example you have someone called Bernstien who considers Atlas Shrugged to be the greatest book ever written and seems to be unaware that even sane people who enjoy it know it's a long way from that. Or Yaroon Brook who claims he had to leave Isreal due to death threats and has to wear a bullet proof vest. As H.G Wells never said "no mouth but their own could condemn them more"

Steven Johnston

Neil Parille said...


The problem is that most Objectivists want to be Mini Me's of Ayn Rand; you know, the reason and passion business.

Since none has the talent Rand had, they just overcompensate with the anger ("being a passionate valuer).

Mr. A said...

Excellent work, Mr. Parille. I was particularaly startled by hearing about the journal doctering: "In the book’s foreword the editor, David Harriman, defends his practice of eliminating Rand’s words and inserting his own as necessary for greater clarity. In many case, however, his editing serves to significantly alter Rand’s meaning."

Literaly something right out of 1984!

I am interested in sorting through Rand's followers in order to know who has worthwhile things to say about Objectivism and who is just a cultist. So here's my 5 point cultist scale, which may be helpfull in seperating the serious thinkers from the nuts:

5-Completely nuts Randroid. These are the people who praise Rand to the heavens and don't even have a good understanding of her philosophy. Thankfully no one like this at the ARI; mostly just fools on the internet.

4-Classic cultist; Peikoff and Bernstein come to mind here. Know Objectivism inside and out and love it completely- and turn sour on people who criticize even minor points. Not necessarily bad people (Dr. Bernstein, as I said before, is completely harmless and even likeable), but they really aren't doing the movement any favors. And these are the types who complain that Objectivism is only just now being accepted in academia!

3-Closed Objectivist. Genuinely intelligent people who don't worship Rand but still buy into the philosophy amost 100%; the 4's are a bad influence on them. I certainly used to be here. Worth trying to reason with, as they are dedicated to reason, and have just been duped by the 4's into thinking just about everything Rand said was reasonable. Craig Biddle may belong somewhere around here-he seems like a sensible person, but he still goes around giving lectures like "Altruism vs. America:Ayn Rand Solves the Problem" and appears in borderline worhip ceremonies like the Clemson conference.

2-Open Objectivists, such as David Kelly. Seriously open to competing ideas, and differ enough from the 4's to risk excommunication. May be former 3's who are studying the criticisms for the first time-I'd put myself there.

1-Non-Objectivists, like those who run this blog. Know Objectivism inside and out-and reject it. May like to poke fun at the 5's and 4's, which may turn off the 3's until they learn how valid their criticism really is.

0-People who mock Rand who don't really understand Objectivism, such as those who try to equate it with social Darwinism. Too much exposure to these types can turn a 2 into a 3 or 4.

Some grey era is needed here; for instance, an open Objectivist can still be a great admirer of Rand and could be a 2.4, while another can like about a third of what she says and be a 1.6.

I hope this scale is helpfull and welcome alternative measures of cultiness (I just remembered that there is something like this on the blog's homepage too).