Friday, January 15, 2021

Anne Heller, as long ago as 2009, published her biography of Ayn Rand. I have finally gotten around to reading it and will at some point make a post or two commenting upon it. In this post I want to turn to another issue --- namely, one of the two organizations tasked with the propagation of Rand's ideas, The Atlas Society. I had not realized the extent to which Heller had used TAS in research for her book. It is notorious that ARI refused Heller access to their archives until long after her book was finished. But it appears Heller didn't need ARI because she had TAS and David Kelley, who explained Rand's philosophy to Heller. It wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration to call Ayn Rand and the World She Made the official Rand biography of the Atlas Society --- although technically that's not true.

Now in recent years, as interest in Objectivism has seemed to wane, one would think that the Atlas Society would at some point disappear. Is there really a need for two organizations devoted to the advancement of Rand's ideas? Yet the years go by and TAS stubbornly remains among us.  David Kelley, the founder of the Atlas Society, retired in 2016. In his place as CEO of TAS is the redoubtable Jennifer Grossman, formerly a speechwriter for the elder Bush, Director of Education at the Cato Institute, Senior Vice President at the Dole Food Company, and Health Editor at Laura Ingraham's website, LifeZette. That's quite a resume. Notice that it has virtually nothing to do with Rand. Grossman is not a philosopher or a professor or Rand expert. Her experience is primarily as an executive. Curiously enough, she worked closely with the late philanthropist Theodore J. Forstmann to launch something called the Children's Scholarship Fund. Try to image Rand involved in such a venture and you have imagined something that's grossly implausible. 

In her videos, Grossman comes of as likeable and non-threatening. She certainly cuts a more attractive figure than Yaron Brook. But it is difficult to understand what exactly the broader appeal of this more reasonable (if not altogether convincing) version of Rand's thought is supposed to be. By portraying Rand's thought as primarily advocating rationality in the pursuit of objective knowledge and selfishness in the pursuit of benevolence, what have the denizens of TAS in fact achieved? Is this really a philosophy of life, or is just a series of platitudinous cliches laced with Randian memes?

In a broader sense, what we are witnessing is the institutionalization of Objectivism. Organizations dedicated to the spread of Rand's ideas are no longer run by philosophers, professors, and/or Rand nerds. They are now run by professionals. But for what purpose? The professionals are there to increase funding, which means: find and secure donors. But isn't there a danger, when the very life blood of these organizations rests on bringing as much money in as possbile, that a few wealthy donors could effectively take over the Objectivist movement and fashion it to their inclinations? And isn't it rather odd that less than forty years after Rand's passing, those charged with the advocacy of her philosophy are neither philosophers nor experts in her thought?



Anonymous said...

There's a point at which any organization can turn from being dedicated to promoting a type of thought or an ideal into merely being interested in keeping the organization financially viable and paying everyone their salaries.

Anonymous said...

Heller said recently that she did eventually get access to the Archives and nothing she found there changed her conclusions.

It's too bad that certain ARI types keep claiming that the Branden books are dishonest.

Anonymous said...

I think the difficulty is how do you make Rands ideas popular?

Does our society make Rands ideas more attractive? I doubt it, as she is virtually unknown outside of the US. The BBC held a poll on whom the public thought were the 100 most popular philosophers ever. Surprise, surprise she didn't make it.

I did ask Objectivists in the UK what the plan was. It no longer is relying on John Galts to stop the motor of the World. Their plan was to objectivist philosophers and economists employed into UK universities. They then would teach students objectivists philosophy and economics and therefor that would then lead to change. The only problem was they didn't have any! Candidates for these positions I mean. Another problem was would be they would have to teach a curriculum that has no place for Ayn Rand. Even if you can get over these two hurdles you are then faced with the old adage, you lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. You could teach me 40 hours a week for a year about Objectivism, what are they chances I'll turn into an objectivist?

but I do feel that one people will be fed up paying their monthly subs. If you pay $20 a month and $19.50 is for salaries. Then you might as well just but copies of her books and hand them out for free on street corners.

Albionic American said...

It's funny that you allude to Rand's hostility towards children, because I keep trolling Objectivists about that. They talk a lot lately about "human flourishing," like Alex Epstein, a 40-year-old childless bachelor who lives in a California beach house, a lifestyle he can apparently afford because of his grift about arguing for the morality of using fossil fuels. But human flourishing in the most literal sense means a culture where young men and women pair up in marriage and start families. This idea is alien to Rand's world view, and it sheds light on why Objectivism as a social phenomenon has failed to thrive: Objectivists refuse to fight the war of the cradle because women's natural functions, apart from sterile recreational sex, apparently grossed out their cult's founder.

ironically many American Marxists back in the 1940's and 1950's, when Rand wrote her big novels, were marrying and giving birth to "red diaper babies." I know a guy in his 70's who claims that he came from one of those families. Those Marxists were flourishing by objective standards better than most of Rand's followers.

Konstantin Xablonski said...

Anonymous #1 said:

"any organization can turn from being dedicated to promoting a type of thought or an ideal into merely being interested in keeping the organization financially viable and paying everyone their salaries"

Currently no one exposes the corruption and grifting of the ARI, in my opinion, better than the proprietor of does.

Aaron Kyereh-Mireku said...

"Subs"? Do they really use that term? In the Trotskyist cult I was a part of we used a similar term...

Anonymous said...

Well I can't imagine they'd use the term "donation", as that would have connotations of charity!