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.