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    Just when you thought the last vein of unpublished Ayn Rand material had been tapped, along comes Ayn Rand Institute supporter Jonathan Hoenig with Can You Really Love a Dog?:  Leonard Peikoff and Ayn Rand on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Featuring previously unpublished pictures of Ayn Rand with her cats, this absorbing book makes an amusing and thought-provoking compendium on pets from the world’s foremost Objectivists.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.

Ukraine War; Israel; Public Schools; Nationalism Backfires | YBS: News Roundup July 24

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Objectivist Round-up, June-July 2023

1. James Valliant was on the History Valley podcast recently to discuss The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.  While much of it was what you’d expect from Valliant (for example Rand wasn’t jealous contrary to the notes in Valliant’s book), I learned a few things.  First, Rand was not just a great philosopher, but also a great psychologist as well --  she pioneered cognitive behavioral therapy.  Second, Rand was morally perfect.  She made mistakes but never acted contrary to her principles.  I’d say that she largely lived up to her values, but for example denouncing Nathaniel Branden in 1968 as a thief without evidence was quite wrong.  Michael Prescott reminded me of Rand’s praise for murderer and kidnapper William Hickman.  

2. Long-time Objectivist writer Andy Bernstein has a new book on Global Warming (he’s a skeptic).  Bernstein was interviewed recently on the Ayn Rand Fans You Tube channel about his book.

3. Ayn Rand Institute COB Yaron Brook and ARI Chief Philosophy Officer Onkar Ghate critiqued the recent Craig Biddle/Steven Hicks debate on Open versus Closed Objectivism.  It’s two hours long, so I’ll summarize it: (1) Hicks is bad; (2) David Kelley is evil; (3) Biddle is a compromiser; and (4) Leonard Peikoff always gets things right. 

Monday, May 29, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, May 2023

1. The debate on Open versus Closed Objectivism between Biddle and Hicks was posted.  I analyzed it in the post below.  There hasn’t been any discussion of this from the ARI side, but considering that James Valliant likened debating Open Objectivism to debating Holocaust denial or slavery, to discuss this debate would be even worse, I suppose.  

2. Objectivist Conference 2023 will be held next month.  Shoshana Milgram will present a three-part “biographical mini-course” on Rand which utilizes new sources.  According to the program, she’s working on a life of Rand up to 1957.  No word on whether it will be authorized, when it will be published, and whether there will be a part two.  It looks like she is working at a pace of 2.5 years of Rand’s life for every one year spent writing the book.  

3. Following Rand’s death, the Ayn Rand Institute began publishing a number of books using material in Rand’s archives.  As long-time readers of this blog know, Jennifer Burns first revealed in 2009 what many suspected: much of this material has been so heavily edited as to be essentially worthless.  Burns named two books “edited” by Robert Mayhew among them: Ayn Rand Answers and The Art of NonFiction.  Mayhew also edited Ayn Rand’s Marginalia (jottings she wrote in the margins of books she read).  While Burns doesn’t discuss this book, one has to wonder whether the book has been “Mayhewized.”  In any event, this book doesn’t make Rand look good.  She seems intent on misunderstanding what the authors say and her rantings (“God damn bastard,” “cheap driveling non-entity,” etc.) aren’t particularly edifying.  Michael Prescott also notes that Mayhew’s summary of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man is suspect.  In light of the problems in the book, I was somewhat surprised to see the ARI’s publication The New Ideal praising the book recently.  Fortunately, the article links to the Amazon page where one can read the critical reviews of Neil Parille, Greg Nyquist and others.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Neil Parille Breaks Down the Recent Debate Over Closed Versus Open Objectivism

The debate between Craig Biddle and Stephen Hicks concerning Open versus Close Objectivism took place last month in Belgrade, Serbia.  Biddle took the Closed position and Hicks the Open position.  I enjoyed the debate and thought each side presented his position well.  There wasn’t the rancor that one might expect for what has often been a contentious issue.  For background on the Open versus Closed controversy see here.

Biddle took a reasonable approach.  Ayn Rand died in 1982 and the positions she set forth in her books and essays constitutes Objectivism.  He conceded that there are philosophical topics that Rand didn’t discuss – such as propositions and the problem of induction – but what she did discuss constitutes Objectivism. Any extension of Objectivism outside of this is not part of Objectivism no matter how consistent it might be with Objectivism.  He also said that if Objectivism were open, then one would never know what precisely Objectivism is.  Is it Rand’s Objectivism plus Peikoff’s extensions or Objectivism plus Hicks’ extensions?

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Objectivist Round-Up, April 2023

1. The Great Debate on Open versus Close Objectivism took place in mid-April at the Ayn Rand Centre Europe between Craig Biddle and Steven Hicks. I’ve been shaking the trees but can’t find why the video hasn’t been posted.

2. Ayn Rand Institute Objectivists are glad that Tucker Carlson was fired by FOX. See here (James Valliant) and here (Yaron Brook). Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I find it curios that the ARI seems to have an odd dislike of right-wing populists such as Trump and Carlson. They don’t get so worked up over the main stream left wing media.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Why Did Rand Dislike Joseph Conrad?

Ayn Rand, during one of her Q&A’s, made the following remark about Joseph Conrad, the Polish born English novelist:

Joseph Conrad also called himself a Romantic Realist. I don’t like him, but I think he is correct in so labeling himself. He treats his novels realistically, but not naturalistically. So even though my values are quite different from his, I agree with that designation. He expressed his values, and in that sense he was a romantic—only his settings and character are much more realistic than I’d ever select. But he was not a naturalist. [NFW 69]

As far as I know, this is the only recorded instance of Rand mentioning Conrad. She says nothing about him in the Romantic Manifesto and she made no reference to him, as far as anyone knows, in her long interview with Barbara Branden. Now given the fact that (1) Rand regarded herself as a “romantic realist,” and (2) that Conrad the is one of the few authors she also regarded as a “romantic realist,”—why then did Rand make no mention of Conrad when she introduced her theory of Romanticism in the Romantic Manifesto? She mentions other important romantic authors, such as Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Schiller, and Edmond Rostand. Didn’t Conrad at least deserve a mention as well? But no, she ignores him entirely. How do we account for this curious anomaly?

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, March 2023

The big news is that Craig Biddle and Stephen Hicks will be debating Open Objectivism at next month’s Ayn Rand Europe’s Belgrade conference.  Hicks, who is associated with David Kelley’s The Atlas Society, will be taking the Open Objectivism position.  The push-back by the Closed position advocates has been intense, see here and here.  James Valliant was particularly irate, arguing that Open Objectivism is dishonest, an anti-concept, a repudiation of Ayn Rand, etc.  He says that to debate Hicks on the topic is equivalent to debating a Holocaust denier, a flat earther, and an advocate of slavery.  Valliant’s anger toward The Atlas Society apparently goes back to 1986 when Kelley allegedly said that there should be a debate over Barbara Branden’s just-published biography of Rand.  Valliant is upset that when he published The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics in 2005, Kelley refused to debate.  Perhaps Kelley changed his mind in the intervening 29 years or concluded that it wasn’t worth his time to debate the author of a book who considers throwing surprise parties immoral.

For background on the Open Objectivism controversy see here and here.  The debate seems to be mostly about the amount of judgment and condemnation that Objectivists should have toward non-Objectivists (particularly leftist academics) and group rivalries than about the essentials of Rand’s philosophy.  For example, Closed Objectivists don’t get worked up over the Ayn Rand Institute purporting to know what Rand would have thought about Donald Trump.

[Contributed by Niel Parille.]

Monday, March 06, 2023

The mRNA Vaccine Controversy and "Reason"

Ben Bayer, "director of content" over at ARI, wrote an article back in May of 2022 arguing that "vaccine refusers" (i.e., people who refused to take the mRNA vaccines) should not be criticized for being "selfish," that on the contrary, getting vaccinated is very much in the individuals rational self-interest. Bayer of course takes it for granted that the mRNA vaccine's are "safe and effective":

While some people have good medical reasons not to get vaccinated [writes Bayer], others are disproportionately worried about rare side effects. Of these, far too many are irrationally allowing themselves to be taken in by quackery and conspiracism.

Now Bayer believes he has come to this conclusion by the use of his "reason." This means he has evaluated all the relevant facts and, through "logic" and valid concept formation, has arrived at a correct (and "certain") conclusion. But here's the problem. He actually hasn't done any of that. He undoubtedly thinks he has, but he's deluded. His conclusion, far from being based on all the relevant facts and/or logic, is instead derived from an argument from authority (which is technically a logical fallacy). Because the medical and scientific establishments have claimed that the mRNA vaccines are "safe and effective," he has decided that's good enough for him. However, there's a potential contradiction here. How can Bayer be certain that these establishments are in all respects trustworthy? After all, can Bayer truthfully contend that he always accepts the conclusions of the scientific establishment, regardless of what they might be? Would he, for example, accept the scientific establishment's views on climate change and global warming? If not, why not? If he accepts one and not the other, isn't that an example of cherry picking the evidence?

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, February 2023

1.  In 1983 Leonard Peikoff released his long-awaited book The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America. Peikoff argued that the United States was on the same road as Germany during the Weimar Republic's descent into Nazi madness. Two-thirds of the book consisted of a discussion of the rise of Nazism, which Peikoff viewed as caused by irrationalist philosophy, particularly that of Immanuel Kant. The remainder of the book was an overview of American history and thought, arguing that the United States, thanks to its Kantian-influenced philosophers, was on the same path as Germany in the 1920s and 30s.

Libertarian philosopher David Gordon gave the book a scathing review in 1983.  Forty years later he revisits it here.  I’ll make a couple additional points:

i.  At Michael Berliner's suggestion, Peikoff decided to publish the chapters concerning Germany as a stand-alone book in 2013, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany. Based on Peikoff's new introduction, I get the impression that he thinks this is the more important part of The Ominous Parallels and didn't get the attention it deserved. The text of these chapters is identical to the original, with the exception of changing a few sentences that refer to the omitted chapters. That's a problem since The Ominous Parallels contained numerous mistakes in intellectual history. One of the biggest problems is Peikoff's repeated references to Rauschning's Hitler Speaks (aka The Voice of Destruction), a book of largely manufactured discussions with Hitler. While the fraudulent nature of Rauschning's book wasn’t known until after The Ominous Parallels was published, it widely known by 2013.  A friend of mine told me that when he first read The Ominous Parallels, he thought some of the quotes (for example, “the age of reason is over”) were “too good to be true.”

ii.  Peikoff references all number of (in his view) anti-rationalist writers and thinkers such as Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Cassirer, etc. but hardly ever mentions that these people were anti-Nazi.  Of course Peikoff could argue that they didn’t draw the conclusions to Kant’s work that a consistent Kantian would, but an author should take into account possible objections to his thesis.

2.  Timothy Sandefur recently published The Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness.  It’s an account of the friendship of these foundresses of modern libertarianism in the context of the politics of their time.  I have only skimmed it, but it looks outstanding.  I was naturally interested in the sources Sandefur would use for Rand’s life.  He says he relies principally on the late Anne Heller’s 2009, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, while noting that Rand’s followers view this and other (unnamed) biographies differently.  He doesn’t cite Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand (or mention her at all) much less a certain critic of the Branden biography.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, January 2023

Not much happening.  The Ayn Rand Institute just released their 2022 report.  It contains a previously unanthologized essay by Rand about the Spanish painter Jose Manuel Capuletti.  The ARI reports that it is currently digitizing the Ayn Rand Archives.  For those of us who would like to see the unbowlderized Rand Journals and other material, don't expect to see them anytime soon.  It will be a "multi-year project."