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.