Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why did Ayn Rand dump Kant for Spinoza?

Immanuel Kant initially had a favorable treatment in Ayn Rand’s We The Living (1936). But in the novel’s 1959 edition, Rand removed all references to Kant and his ideas.  In one instance, she went to the extent of replacing Kant with Spinoza.

Robert Mayhew has talked about the changes that Rand made in 1959 edition of We The Living in his book Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. Here’s an excerpt from Mayhew’s book:
The most interesting name change comes in the passage [from We The Living] describing the young Leo. One line in the original reads:  
“When his young friends related, in whispers, the latest French stories, Leo quoted Kant and Nietzsche.”

In the ’59 edition, “Kant” is changed to “Spinoza”. Rand had a mild respect for Spinoza’s egoism; but more important, in her mature philosophical writings she makes it clear that she regards Kant as the most evil philosopher in history, a view she did not hold in Russia or when she first got to the United States. (Later in the novel, when Leo is arrested, the ’36 edition has him uttering an arguably Kantian line to Andrei: “A tendency for transcendental thinking is apt to obscure our perception of reality.” The line was cut.) 
Mayhew’s explanation is unsatisfactory. He does not answer the critical question: How did Rand decide in 1959 that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history?

Obviously Rand didn’t regard Kant as the most evil philosopher in history when she was writing We The Living in the 1930s—that is why she placed Kant and Nietzsche in the same sentence. Why did her views on Kant change so dramatically in the 1950s? Rand has said that she didn’t read Kant’s original works, but then how did she decide that he is the most evil philosopher! What is the evidence on basis of which she has passed her judgement on Kant?

In her book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns makes a striking claim—she suggests that Leonard Peikoff and Isabel Paterson filled Rand’s mind with the idea that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history.

Here’s an excerpt from Page 186 of Burns’s book:
Rand’s attack on modern philosophy was inspired by Leonard Peikoff, who for years had been telling her it was still the age of “pre-reason.” This was not a message she wanted to hear while toiling on her rationalist novel. After its publication, however, Peikoff seemed to have a point. He identified Kant as the source of all error in modern thought, an opinion Isabel Paterson had also held. To Peikoff, Kant’s argument that the means of perception structured humans’ sense of reality undermined objective reality, reason and all absolutes. Kant’s idea had opened the philosophical gates to destructive ideas like relativism and existentialism, which created the atmosphere that greeted Atlas Shrugged. Rand began to listen more seriously to Peikoff’s opinions about philosophy.
On page 112, Burns says:
As she began to educate herself about philosophy Rand turned to Paterson for a durable frame of reference. In New York Paterson had ranted against Kant, Hegel, and Marx, quoting instead Aristotle and the dictum “A is A.” 
However, Burns does not cite any source to establish that Peikoff and Paterson are the original architects of the Objectivist doctrine on Kant. When Nathaniel Branden was asked to comment on Burns’s claim, he rejected the idea that Peikoff could have anything to do with Rand’s views on Kant. Branden said: “Rand was a grand master at determining who were the good and evil people in history; she didn’t require any pipsqueak assistance.”

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