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Friday, March 24, 2017

My Farewell To Organized Objectivism

I am inspired by Ayn Rand’s philosophy and literature, but I am now compelled to dissociate myself from the Objectivist movement. I was an enthusiastic supporter of organized Objectivism in the last five years, but now I feel disenchanted and disgusted by the shenanigans of the movement’s top philosophers and acolytes.

The Objectivist movement is in a state of disrepair and it is being led by men of low caliber and integrity. The Objectivist philosophers are insular and authoritarian. They prefer to waste time in petty squabbles instead of creating new articles, books and lectures for expanding the scope of Rand’s philosophy.

Here are the reasons for which I have decided to excommunicate myself from the Objectivist movement:

Open System—Closed System
I find the issue of whether Objectivism is a open system or a closed system, which is dogging the Objectivist movement for almost three decades, quite baffling. In his 1989 article, “Fact and Value,” Dr. Leonard Peikoff claims that Objectivism is a closed system. But his arguments are not convincing.

The podcasts by Dr. Peikoff on the issue of “Open-Closed System” are even worse. In one of the podcasts, he sounds complacent, authoritarian and instead of presenting logical arguments, he is insulting the other side. From the tone in which he speaks, I can only deduce that he is hoping to win support for his position purely by the virtue of “who he is” and “what his association with Rand is.”

Dr. Peikoff wrote "Fact and Value" in response to Dr. David Kelley's proposition that Objectivism is an Open System. Both Dr. Peikoff and Dr. Kelley believe that they are the true followers of Rand's philosophy. I find Dr. Kelley's arguments on the issue, which are contained in the chapter 5 of his book “The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand,”  quite convincing.

As an advocate of Open System, Dr. Kelley is not saying that anyone can be allowed to change the identity of Objectivism. He says that in an Open System there are limits "set by fundamental principles: the system is defined by the essential tenets that distinguish it from other viewpoints."

Dr. Peikoff holds that Objectivism is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded.”

But Dr. Kelley points out that "if Objectivism is to survive and flourish as a system of thought, it must attract philosophers who will build on Ayn Rand’s discoveries, using them as a base for an assault on specific problems in philosophy and drawing out their implications for other disciplines such as economics, psychology, and literary theory."

I think Dr. Kelley's view of Objectivism makes more sense.

The Authority Figure
In the Objectivist circles Dr. Peikoff is regarded as the supreme authority in Objectivism. I accept that Dr. Peikoff is a writer of important books and articles on Objectivist thought but why is he an authority figure? Why does Objectivism need an authority figure? This is the philosophy of reason and everyone is expected to follow the rule of reason and not of any human being.

The Intellectual Heir
On his website, Dr. Peikoff declares that he is Rand’s legal and intellectual heir. I understand the logic of having a legal heir, but why does Objectivism have a so-called intellectual heir? Why? It is ludicrous to think that anyone can inherit philosophical ideas. Also, I am unable to find any communique from Rand stating that she has conferred the title of “intellectual heir” on him.

Where is the evidence that Ayn Rand made Dr. Peikoff an intellectual heir? I think by claiming to be the intellectual heir to Rand, Dr. Peikoff is trying to walk in the footsteps of Nathaniel Branden.

Ayn Rand did a great disservice to Objectivism when she proclaimed in the 1950s that Nathaniel Branden was her intellectual heir. She wrote in the end of Atlas Shrugged: “When I wrote The Fountainhead I was addressing myself to an ideal reader – to as rational and independent a mind as I could conceive of. I found such a reader – through a fan letter he wrote me about The Fountainhead when he was nineteen years old. He is my intellectual heir. His name is Nathaniel Branden.” Branden’s “intellectual heir” status was revoked by Rand after his split in 1968.

Barbara Branden has claimed that Rand told her that she had learned from her bad experience with Nathaniel that it is not a good idea to have an intellectual heir. Rand had learned the right lesson. Objectivism is not a cult—it is not a religion—therefore it can’t have an intellectual heir. It is not as if Rand was akin to the Messiah who re-named Simon, “Peter”, the rock on which the church of Objectivism will be built. It is certain that Dr. Peikoff is not Saint Peter.

A Movement Mired in Schisms
What is the reason for which Rand evicted Nathaniel Branden from the Objectivist movement? I can infer from the articles and books that I have read on this subject that the breakup between Rand and Nathaniel was for personal issues and not on account of philosophical differences. Rand was entitled to remove him from her life but did she have to excommunicate him from Objectivism of which he was a good advocate, despite any personal flaws that he may have had?

After Rand’s demise, Dr. Peikoff became the supreme leader of Objectivism and he started the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). But under his leadership many wonderful thinkers have been shunted out of the Objectivist movement. Dr. David Kelley, George Reisman, Robert Tracinski and John McCaskey are apparently no longer fit to be called Objectivists, even though they are writing articles and books as good as the intellectuals in the ARI.

What is going on at the ARI? Why are good intellectuals being forced to leave the institution? From the books and articles that I have read on these schisms, I can infer that these intellectuals have departed from the ARI for reasons that have very little to do with philosophy.

Objectivism is bleeding talent because the top-level Objectivists have accepted the idea that Dr. Peikoff is the supreme authority and intellectual heir. This has led to a situation where anyone who disagrees with Dr. Peikoff is forced to sever all connection with the ARI. As long as the Objectivist movement remains subservient to one individual and one institute there is no possibility for Objectivist ideas to take root in our culture. Objectivism needs more voices.

The Demonization of the Brandens
In his 1987 talk at the Ford Hall Forum, Dr. Peikoff was asked if he had read Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand. Here’s an excerpt from what he said: “I didn’t, because I discount — you know, the technical term is not lie, which I would regard as inaccurate—I regard her book as non-cognitive. Uh… By this I mean, I do not think that it has reached the realm of cognition to be evaluated as true or as false.”

I have read Barbara’s book. It is certainly not a “non-cognitive” work as Dr. Peikoff claims. I won’t say that everything she has said is the truth. But she has an interesting story to tell and she has made a number of valid points. The book is quite popular. In fact, I fear that Dr. Peikoff's judgement of Barbara’s book has a non-cognitive bias. He has said that he will not read the book. But if he does not read the book, then how does he develop an opinion on its content? Heresy! Premonition!

In the case of Nathaniel Branden’s book My Years with Ayn Rand, we find a similar campaign of disinformation and vilification being launched to persuade the Objectivists that they should not read it. Well, I did read it. I didn’t like this book as much as I liked Barbara's book, but this does not mean that I should start claiming that Nathaniel has written a non-cognitive book. This business of branding books as non-cognitive is extremely ridiculous.

There are many faults in Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, but this does not give anyone a right to demonize them. They have said a lot of wrong things about Rand in their books, but they have also said many right things. Their books are not arbitrary or non-cognitive. They merit scholarly evaluation.

Support for Left-leaning Political Groups
In the time of the 2008 elections, Dr. Peikoff issued his Objectivist fatwa: "In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world."

Apparently, Dr. Peikoff was of the view that the Republicans were overrun by the Evangelical Christians and that voting for them was the same as voting for a theocratic autocracy. Irrespective of the reasons on basis of which Dr. Peikoff reached his political judgment, he had no right to dictate to others who they should vote for and to threaten them, even implicitly, with excommunication for having a different opinion. I think his claim that anyone who votes for Republican or abstains from voting is not fit to be an Objectivist is most amazing.

Then in the 2016 elections many Objectivist thinkers “ordered” the Objectivists to vote for Hillary Clinton. They happily joined hands with the liberal shills in the mainstream media and proclaimed that Donald Trump was a racist, fascist and barbarian warmonger. The worse thing is that they didn't consider it necessary to explain the logic and evidence on basis of which they had reached their political judgement.

The reason for which Dr. Peikoff prefers progressive political groups is, I think, stated in his book The Ominous Parallels. Dr. Peikoff has said in The Ominous Parallels that in a few years the political power in the USA will get usurped by a conservative fascist force. How can his prediction be wrong—after all, he is the intellectual heir to Rand! Since Dr. Peikoff has not predicted the rise of a progressive fascist group in the USA, the Objectivists are not expected to feel threatened by the rise of the welfare state under progressive regimes. Well, such is the post-Rand logic.

Lack of Research on Rand’s Soviet Background
I became aware of the influence that Rand’s education in Soviet Russia had on her after reading Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra. It is surprising that we don’t have any other detailed scholarly study of Rand’s Soviet background. Sciabarra’s work remains the only source on Rand’s education.

The authorized biographies of Rand written by scholars affiliated to the ARI seem to take a minimum cognizance of the fact that she lived in Russia till the age of 21. These biographies do not offer any insight into the teachers and philosophers by whom Rand may have been influenced while she was in Russia. It seems as if Dr. Peikoff, for some reason which is known only to him and his closest associates, is interested in re-writing the history of Rand’s life, and projecting her as a completely American writer.

Well, I will end the article at this point. I think I have covered the key reasons for which I am forced to withdraw from the Objectivist movement. Hasta la vista, dear Objectivists.

*******

I have read a number of books, articles and blogs to develop my view of the current sad state of the Objectivist movement. Here I mention a few of these works:

The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand by Dr. David Kelley
The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden
My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by James S. Valliant
The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: A Symposium on Nathaniel Branden
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Resignation from the Boards of ARI and the Anthem Foundation” by John P. McCaskey (Article)
Anthemgate” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
The 1980s Called, and They Want Their Objectivism Back” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
"Intellectual Inheritance?" by Per-Olof Samuelsson (Article)
Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff's Analysis of Cultural Evolution” by Roger Bissell (Article)
Open Letter to Objectivists” by Lindsay Perigo (Article)
The Vision of Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
“In the Ayn Rand Archive” by Jennifer Burns (Article)
The Rewriting of Ayn Rand's Spoken Answers” by Robert L. Campbell (Article)
Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden

Websites:
http://www.aynrandstudies.com
http://ariwatch.com/index.htm
http://objectivish.blogspot.com/  
http://www.solopassion.com/frontpage
http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com
https://perolofsamuelsson1.wordpress.com/

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