Sunday, May 08, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, May 2022

1. A Companion to Ayn Rand (2018) is now out in a more reasonably priced paperback edition. Although all the contributors are associated with the ARI, the essays are in general valuable, albeit not particularly critical. What I found most interesting is that Greg Salmieri acknowledged that the editing of Rand’s posthumously published writings (such as her Journals and Question and Answers) leaves something to be desired.

2. The ARI’s recent “Of Schisms” essays has received criticism from two of its targets, Robert Tracisnki and Craig Biddle They challenge the essay’s description of their schisms.

3. William Swig and Scott Schiff have started the Ayn Rand Fan Club You Tube channel. It comes at Objectivism from a non-ARI perspective. They have interviewed a number of people associated with the movement such as David Kelley. Kelley talks about his break with Peikoff and says that his refusal to condemn Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand was a factor in his excommunication. He relates a conversion with Leonard Peikoff who said it was possible that Barbara made up the account of the Branden/Rand affair and that the claim of an affair constituted an "arbitrary assertion."

Addendum by Greg Nyquist: this roundup was assembled by Neil Parille. I simply wanted to add a comment on Robert Tracinski's article on schisms. Tracinski argues that the ARI type of Objectivism was in error because it sought to center the movement entirely around one person (i.e., Leonard Peikoff). What they should have done instead is foster "a movement of independent intellectuals in many different fields," which would enable admirers of Rand philosophy "to increase the extent to which [they] reach out and cooperate without being held back by divisions between factions or by old loyalties and grudges." Now there's a problem with this rather optimistic outlook --- and I don't just have in mind the difficulty of solving "moral differences" with "reason," which of course is impossible. The larger problem involves hierarchy. An organized Objectivist movement (which is what essentially ARI, the Atlas Society, and the Prometheus Foundation aspire to be) involves hierarchy and leadership. In the end somebody, whether the CEO or some board or another, has to make the decisions as to how to go about promoting Rand's philosophy. Now there's likely a great many Objectivists who would like to be making these decisions, but these decisions can often only be determined by a very few, sometimes just one person (especially if a broader consensus proves difficult, as it often does). So essentially you have a small elite at the top of the movement who determine how to use the money raised to spread Rand's philosophy and then you have a larger group of Objectivists who occupy positions directly beneath the elite --- a sort of sub-elite. Many of these sub-elites would like to become full-elites. They may even believe they can do a better job of running the movement and spreading the message than those currently running the movement. After all, it's not as if Objectivism is  making much headway in the culture. It's very tempting for the sub-elites to blame Objectivism's lack of success on on poor leadership at the top. Of course, it's not necessarily true that Objectivism's failure to spread Rand's philosophy is due to elite mismanagement. Objectivism has a limited appeal: there exists a very low ceiling beyond which it cannot hope to grow. But Objectivists elites and sub-elites don't know this, and so out of the rivalries that emerge in the competition for status and influence within the Objectivist movement, there will always be those who are convinced they could do better of running the movement and that they therefore ought be in charge. Schisms therefore become almost impossible to prevent, despite the rather confined dimensions of the movement itself. Given how little appeal Objectivism shows as an explicit philosophy (Rand's novels, which can be interpreted in many different ways, have much broader appeal), it's extraordinary that there exists three reasonably well-funded organizations dedicated to the advancement of Rand's philosophy. 


Albionic American said...

Fundamentally Objectivism isn't going to get any traction in the culture, beyond the "very low ceiling" Nyquist mentions, because the Objectivists' model of "human flourishing" doesn't work. Consider what human flourishing means in the most iteral and tangible sense: A state of affairs where young men pair up with young women in marriage to make babies and start families. Yet this ordinary reality is alien to Rand's world view, and many of her followers have mindlessly followed her example of sterility.

Though not necessarily her example of sexual hedonism, because Objectivism won't help a young man attract girlfriends if he is not able to do so in his default state, without this arbitrary ideology.

By contrast, to me it's ironic that Rand's main philosophical nemesis, other than Immanuel Kant, namely Karl Marx himself, married and a started a family. Apparently Marx and his wife, nee Jenny von Westphalen, have a few living descendants now. And American Marxists were flourishing to some extent in the 1940's and 1950's, when Rand was writing her last two novels. I know a guy in his 70's who claims that he was a "Red Diaper Baby," namely, the child of an American couple who were members of the Communist Party.

Anonymous said...

I guess if by "human" you refer to the spreading of the species and not some benefit of/to the individual, making babies would qualify as a measure of "flourishing". Otherwise, I can't see that starting families is automatically "flourishing". Does a family under the poverty line "flourish"? Do dysfunctional or abusive family situations qualify as "flourishing" so long as they reproduce sufficiently?

In fact, if you just enter "human flourishing" into Google, the definition you're likely to glean is some state where one person's life is in all ways good - which, of course, may not mean a family at all, depending on one's viewpoint.

Granted, not conceiving and then rearing/indoctrinating a significant quantity of little Objectivists doesn't help the *philosophy* flourish, but that's a separate matter from human flourishing, I think.

Albionic American said...

' Does a family under the poverty line "flourish"?

I come from a long line of poor white Southerners, and I'd say yes. Flourishing involves more than material conditions, but also on "spiritual" conditions which depend on belonging to functional families and tribes which value their members and look out for their interests. You don't have to believe in religious woo-woo to see that calling a population materially poor but spiritually rich, or at least spiritually adequate, actually makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Well, okay then, but that essentially just buttresses what I said. Simply having a family isn't sufficient to flourish, they have to value and look out for their members.

One could argue that Rand herself flourished, after a fashion, and for a time. (Ultimately all people stop flourishing.) She was, if not immensely wealthy, at least well-to-do, she had a social network of supporters that respected and fawned upon her, she was able to have an affair with a younger man and yet keep her marriage, and perhaps she didn't raise any descendants to carry on her legacy (leaving that to acolytes), but then she therefore couldn't wind up disappointed if any of them became "moochers".

It all depends on what one values in life, and while traditionalists might well see family as some universal marker for goodness, we can't expect all persons to share such a view. A serial killer who repeatedly kills and doesn't get caught or prevented might well be living their best life, at least as they see it, regardless of how it impacts or horrifies others.

Anonymous said...

Some people like their phenotypes better than their genotypes!

Uncle Dementor said...

What happened to Edward Cline?

max said...

"Objectivism has a limited appeal" not only them all parties which to not promise presents do not have chance:

Leonard E. Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946, used to say that Americans live in a country in which various levels of government extract over 40% of their productivity, yet they call this system freedom. “They don’t know the difference between freedom and coercion.”

Pareto law apply to freedom -- 80% of people want safety not freedom, they want "free" goodies and salvation by new god --nation state.

Suffrage Debate, N.Y. Constitutional Convention of 1821
Chancellor James Kent
The tendency of universal suffrage, is to jeopardize the rights of property, and the principles of liberty.

The notion that every man that works a day on the road, or serves an idle hour in the militia, is entitled as of right to an equal participation in the whole power of the government, is most unreasonable, and has no foundation in justice.

the individual who contributes only one cent to the common stock, ought not to have the same power and influence in directing the property concerns of the partnership, as he who contributes his thousands.

Karl Marx concluded much the same, except that he favored the abolition of the property qualification for voting, precisely because it would destroy private property: “. . . the state as a state abolishes private property (i.e., man decrees by political means the abolition of private property) when it abolishes the property qualification for electors and representatives. . . . Is not private property ideally abolished when the non-owner comes to legislate for the owner of property? The property qualification is the last political form in which property is recognized.”