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.]
In their refusal to debate anyone they morally disapprove of (which is most of us, BTW), orthodox Objectivists such as Valliant were ahead to their time. Nowadays, that's the default position of many on the "woke" or radical left. They won't debate large swaths of people because they don't want to "platform" people they disapprove of (which is often nearly everyone who disagrees with them). It's hard, however, not to suspect the real reason why they don't want to debate their adversaries is they're afraid they're going to lose!
It's also interesting how the most orthodox, Ayn Rand-centric of Objectivists (like Valliant) are most hostile toward those who's philosophical and ideological convictions come closest to their own. Let's face it: there's very little difference between "closed" and "open" Objectivists on the basic issues. They all believe mostly the same things. Politically, there's not much difference between Objectivists and libertarians, yet Peikoff would always insist that libertarians were "worse than communists." What's going on here? Why are some Objectivists so quick to quarrel with potential allies? My hypothesis is that in terms of actual practical conduct, there are some Objectivist intellectuals who have unconsciously accepted the fact that Rand's philosophy is a dead end (i.e., it will never exerise a significant effect on society), yet who see Objectivism as a path for personal notoriety and perhaps even a few shekels. They want to fence off Objectivism as their own private preserve where they and they alone get to shine as preachers of the Randian gospel. It's therefore primarily jealousy that promotes their hatred of rival forms of Objectivism and libertarianism. Valliant is jealous of Hicks because Hicks has a much larger audience and is far more respected intellectual. So in his envy and malice, he turns Hicks into this immense bogey man. In any case, Valliant's insistence that debating Hicks is equivalent to debating a Holocaust denier is so over-the-top that it's hard to regard it as any more than a feeble rationalization of unacknowledged feelings of envy and resentiment.
Biddle has responded to criticism -
Greg, there's no big mystery about it, and no need to psychologize.
Bluntly put, the ARIan fear is that "open" means "open to corruption." The ARI doesn't want fools putting their own ideas in Rand's mouth and passing them off as hers (as "Ayn Rand" ideas). It is, of course, a legitimately "open" question whether the ARI itself has ever put its ideas in her mouth. There are many people who think it has.
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