The Treatment of Ayn Rand in Brian Doherty’s “Freewheeling” History of Libertarianism

James S. Valliant's picture
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Mon, 2007-03-26 21:24

We are reminded once again that libertarians are no friends of Ayn Rand.

It will come as no surprise to those who have read my book, THE PASSION OF AYN RAND'S CRITICS, that I have been an avid student of Objectivism since I was a teenager in the 1970s. But, from the beginning, my reading was never confined to what Murray Rothbard called Ayn Rand’s “Index of Permitted Books." For me, it is always strange to have to point this out – usually, to those whose information about Rand comes from Libertarians – since I have yet to meet a single admirer of Rand’s work whose reading list has ever been so constrained.

But such is the state of mythology clouding the history of the Objectivist Movement.

Still a teenager, I interviewed the long-“excommunicated” Nathaniel Branden for a university newspaper. Then, just before I turned 19, I moved to New York to complete my undergraduate work at NYU, where my teachers included Austrians like Israel Kirzner. Through the auspices of the Center for Libertarian Studies – and by sneaking, with his permission, into classes at Brooklyn Polytechnic – I also studied with Murray Rothbard. For a while, I was the weekend sales clerk at LaissezFaire Books in Greenwich Village, where I met a unique variety of libertarians and anarchists.

So, for me, Brian Doherty’s new book, RADICALS FOR CAPITALISM: A FREEWHEELING HISTORY OF THE MODERN AMERICAN LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT (New York, Public Affairs, 2007), was a must read – with a cast of characters whom I have studied all my life or have known personally.

My readers will also not be surprised to learn that my main objection to Doherty’s book is his treatment of Ayn Rand.

Some of his errors are the classic ones often made by libertarians. For example, he writes, “… [Rand] acknowledged intellectual debts to no one but Aristotle.” (p.122)

Of course, this is grossly unfair to the hero-worshipping Rand, who wrote of the influence of Hugo and others on her own work. Wasn't that “philosophical” debts, according to Rand? And, for Rand, didn't this obviously mean “debts” that were “philosophical” in a rather fundamental way – since she would also tell the world of her (highly qualified) admiration for Nietzsche? And, as her readers know, Rand gave at least limited credit to Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, John Locke, the Founding Fathers, etc., in her writings. Doherty himself later refers to Rand’s respect for Aquinas, so he actually knows better.

Of THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Doherty writes, “Rand’s novels have a curious way of subtly – and unintentionally – undercutting their own messages… It’s easy to believe [even at the novel’s end] that Roark will be lucky if he manages to get another commission…” (p.145) Even after designing the tallest building in New York?!

He later writes, “Rand seems to argue in THE FOUNTAINHEAD that what happens to the world at large is insignificant compared to the wonders that creative individuals like Roark… can achieve.” (p.146, emphasis added)

"Seems"? Rand, of course, meant to say exactly this – and does so over and over again. For Roark, that the Stoddard Temple has been mangled and perverted does not matter – even before his final triumph. For Dominique, the idea of people merely hanging their “dirty laundry” in front of it is simply unbearable. Roark explains to her that none of this counts – it stood, it was built, and that’s ALL that matters.

Or, did I read some other book?

Rand's condemnation the conservative's “God, family, tradition swamp” in her speech, "The Sanction of the Victims," is also misquoted by Doherty, who converts it into a “God-family-country swamp.” (p. 190) This may be perfectly accidental, but, on the other hand, I can’t help suspecting that the author’s sympathy for certain anarchists and libertarians may also be at work.

For a short period in the 1940s, Rand helped to advise Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), on the editorial policy of its publication, THE FREEMAN. (Rand didn’t like the organization’s name, focusing as it did on economics alone, but had hopes because of its organizers, Read and Bill Mullendore.) Milton Friedman and George Stigler – the future Nobel laureates – submitted for publication a booklet sized analysis of rent control with, as Doherty himself puts it, “a paragraph suggesting that the authors agreed with the goal of equalizing income” (p.192), and which referred to the private distribution of housing as “rationing." With good cause, therefore, Rand called these authors “two Reds” in a letter to Mullendore.

When Rand argued that the article should not be published in THE FREEMAN, this was the equivalent of “tossing them into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth with all the other evil collectivists for one deviation from Randian purism” (p.193), according to Orval Watts, another working with FEE – and Doherty agrees.

However, wanting the magazine to publish only authors who did not write such junk is hardly a form of excommunication, only editorial discretion. The actual argument in Rand’s letter to Mullendore is simply ignored by Doherty, for whom Rand’s irrational intolerance is obvious. But read the letter for yourselves in THE LETTERS OF AYN RAND (p. 320-327) and be convinced – these guys, whatever their future reputations, were either being cowards or… Reds.

Doherty’s take on ATLAS SHRUGGED?

Well, despite its “soaring” odes to “glory” and “greatness,” for Doherty, this novel “supplies plenty of ammunition to those who accuse it of being written in a spirit of hate.” And, because of its powerful descriptions of evil and world destruction, “ATLAS is to some extent as much a wallowing in a sewer as the worst modern naturalistic literature." (Talk about not “getting it”!) Rand “can’t keep from giving the weak and pathetic more attention than her intellect would grant they deserve." Eddie Willers, you see, is “punished” for lacking “the spark of creative genius” (p. 227) – implicitly, punished by Rand, and not by the looters. According to Doherty, Rand’s vision, still a bit “Nietzschean,” is “only for the Great.” (p. 228)

Would someone please tell me why it is that neither Dickens, nor Hugo, nor Dostoevsky wrote any of their bitter portraits “out of hate” – just Rand?

Doherty, as one might also expect, uses a strong feed of uncritical Branden reliance for information about Rand’s private life, although it must be observed that he avoids repeating many of their worst lies and most bizarre assertions. In this regard, he is far more circumspect than other libertarian writers.

He also does not seem to have gotten Ms. Branden’s allegedly clear message about precisely who Rand “cast out” and who left on their own, saying at one point that Greenspan and Peikoff were “the only two” of the original “Collective” who were “never kicked out of her life.” (p. 232) Again, Doherty seems to know better, as his later descriptions of Rand’s breaks show.

Doherty quotes the list of “implicit premises” Nathaniel Branden claims for the early Objectivist Movement, e.g., that Ayn Rand is “the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral or appropriate to man’s life on earth." In his footnote on PARC, Doherty suggests that I am “naïve in assuming that a strong-willed person can’t make” such demands “very clear even without saying so explicitly.” (fn. 111, p. 678) In his list, Doherty includes the one stipulating that “it is best not to say these things explicitly…” (p. 237) Naïve or not, it will take more than vague references to “strong-willed personalities” – it will take supporting facts – for me to see how such things could be communicated without Mr. Branden’s carefully selected words.

Even in that footnote acknowledging PARC, he nowhere seems to recognize the obvious issues of bias associated with a biographer who selects as her subject a person with whom she had had a nasty falling-out – much less the issues of dishonesty from a biographer who was less than truthful with his subject.

He implies sympathy for Rothbard’s defense to charges that he was using ideas he learned from Rand without properly crediting his own source. Rand’s derivation of free will, you see, is so easily to be found in nothing less than “innumerable rationalistic writers” that his use of Rand’s formulations was simply using a commonplace of “Western Civilization.” (p. 264)

Right.

Doherty will sometimes fly out of control, as when he accuses Rand of “[a]pparently believing that the theory of strictly limited government was her own invention.” (p. 438) Rand, as he knows full well, highly recommended the works of Mises and Paterson, and demonstrated an awareness of writers like Spencer. I’m afraid that a bit more support will be needed for this contention than Doherty provides.

The book covers a lot, and Rand is only a part of the massive subject Doherty takes on. Reading the stories of most "libertarians" certainly provides reason after reason for being glad for Rand's condemnation of them. Nor can the informed read Doherty without feeling that Rand’s fierce criticism particularly smarts. Indeed, it seems to smart the hardest for libertarians who owe so much to Rand.

In all likelihood, it is the libertarians who will be the last to yield to objectivity about Ayn Rand.


( categories: )

Did Linz read my post,?

Kenny's picture

I wrote the website "could contain... links... threads on SOLO". I joined SOLO after the initial furore over PARC but I have read many of the threads that discuss it over the last 18 months.

A dedicated PARC website would promote the book to a wider audience, e.g. those who search for "Ayn Rand", "Objectivism" and the Brandens in Google. At the moment, they would have find SOLO and search through the threads. SOLO itself, does not have a high Google ranking, an issue that could be addressed by Linz and his SOLO team.

BTW, Doherty has set up a website to promote his new book. I think that a good site for PARC would help promote and sell the book.

Catch up, Kenny!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

There are literally thousands of posts on PARC right here already. And if you click on "Archives" you'll find even the Brandroids participating, before they did their version of the Hsiekovian Flounce.

The Book, ugh

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

I just saw a prominently displayed copy of Doherty's book in a local Borders book shop. You'll want to handle this one with antiseptic gloves. The breezy anti-intellectualism and outright cheesiness dominated. What is the deal? Christ on a raft...

Jim

PARC website

Kenny's picture

I suggest that Jim sets up a dedicated PARC website to publicise the book and stimulate further debate. It could contain key passages from the book, links to reviews, threads on SOLO etc. If blog software is used, Objectivists could post comments, further information etc. Somehow I doubt that "certain websites" would link to such a site!

And...

James S. Valliant's picture

Gus van Horn is worth checking out here.

Linz

James S. Valliant's picture

Thanks.

I just don't get why Rand's side of things is consistently ignored -- by those who style themselves "admirers." (Probably to cover-up their own bias issues.)

For example, "expressions of respect" for someone like William F. Buckley -- whose vendetta against Rand began with comparisons to the Nazis (!) and kept going after Rand's death -- are simply callous when made to Ayn Rand in the 1960s. Pretty thoughtless, eh? But, of course, this didn't even result in a "minipurge"... (love that Stalinist lingo, too!)

Let's add that PARC does not even contest the sorts of things mentioned by Doherty's witnesses, making uncritical note of reports of what Hardin calls Peikoff's "minipurge," Rand's anger, and the sheer number of her breaks. (For one thing, they're sourced in witnesses other than the Brandens.)

I'm sure that my readers are dying to know just who exactly ever suffered a "purge" for liking a certain movie...

Hmmmm ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

From Hardin's review:

Doherty interviewed quite a few individuals who, at various critical points, came in and out of Ayn Rand’s life. He chronicles her warm relationships and eventual break-ups with numerous well-known writers and thinkers, from Isabel Paterson to Murray Rothbard to Nathaniel Branden. One striking—and disconcerting--aspect of his book is the realization of just how many of the people who had once been close to her were estranged from her at the end of her life. Aside from the people mentioned above, one could add the names of John Hospers, Edith Efron, Joan and Allan Blumenthal, Kay Nolte Smith, Robert Hessen, Barbara Branden and Henry Mark Holzer. No doubt this list is still a long way from being complete. In the final days leading up to her death in 1982, as Doherty states, “of her old circle of friends and followers, only philosopher Leonard Peikoff was left.” (p. 538).

Although this is scarcely new information, it is a new source for it, and seems to provide objective confirmation of some of the unfortunate aspects of Ayn Rand’s personality that were described by Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden in their biographical and autobiographical works.

As an example, here is one recollection from the late Joan Kennedy Taylor:

“She was much harder and much less respectful to anyone who wanted to be her student…She looked for mistakes and constantly threatened not to speak to them anymore…I remember once I said I could understand why Bill Buckley could be attractive as a candidate for mayor of New York City…Ayn said, ‘If you never want to speak to me again, go ahead and consider voting for him.” (p. 237)

Historian Robert Hessen recalled “that lesser members of her inner circle—including eventual heir Leonard Peikoff—were regular victims of minipurges.” And what were the crimes that prompted her to stop speaking to them? Expressions of respect for people Rand considered her “intellectual enemies” or words of approval for a movie she considered “evil” (p. 238).

Suppose all this to be true—why is this aspect to Rand's personality deemed to be "unfortunate"? She was nothing if not a passionate valuer—why should it be demanded of her that she tolerate folk who affronted her values? Value-affront is a blow to the solar plexus when it comes from people one has previously esteemed—why should it be demanded that she cut them endless slack? Hardin's perspective is that of conventional turn-the-other-cheekism, in which, ironically, even most folk claiming to be Objectivists remain steeped (witness the unabated umbrage about "lemmings," James!! Smiling)—it's more important never to show anger than get legitimately angry over an outrage.

Hardin again:

Despite such evidence, Doherty seems eager to give credence to the recent literary assault on the Brandens by James Valliant in The Passion of the Ayn Rand Critics. In a lengthy footnote (p. 678), Doherty describes Valliant’s book as “a lawyerly brief that reverses the apparent virtues of the Branden’s biographical writings on Rand.”

Doherty writes:

“Valliant’s interpretation of Branden’s affair with Patrecia Wynand and the break with Rand, backed up interestingly with Rand’s contemporaneous diaries, is that Rand was perfectly willing to accept that their sexual relationship might have to be put aside permanently, and even that Branden might want a sexual relationship with a younger woman; it was his continued lying and hiding it for years that drove her to turn on him with such rage. Branden’s keeping the secret, in Valliant’s reading, was not to protect Rand’s feelings, so delicate that she could not handle the truth; it was to protect his own position as her right hand man and the commercial life of NBI..."

“Valliant uses journal excerpts to show that Rand was aware that their romantic relationship was over before the angry break (194); that she did not believe that not being sexually attracted to her would be a moral failing on Branden’s part (196); and that she even suggested he have an affair with someone else to help solve his emotional and sexual problems (199).”

As demonstrated elsewhere by this writer and others, Valliant’s book is a masterpiece of obfuscation. With rare exceptions, he does not present Rand’s diaries in a way that allows the reader to draw his own conclusions. Instead, almost every comment by Rand is bracketed by Valliant’s dubious “interpretations” as to what she “meant.” In addition, the timelines are deliberately blurred in a way that make it virtually impossible to see the context of Rand’s thoughts with respect to the external events of their momentous relationship. ...

It is grossly unfair of Doherty to rely on Branden as a major source for his analysis of Rand, and then use arbitrary assertions by Valliant to imply that Branden is not only an unreliable source, but morally corrupt. He may not have had the time to unravel Valliant’s assertions, but he should have taken the care to see that something was very wrong here and, at the very least, withhold judgment. Valliant’s book is a disgusting display of naked vitriol masquerading as objectivity—and Doherty should have known better than to give it credibility it could never have earned from any thoughtful observer.

I'll leave the stuff I've omitted via ellipsis to you, James, you disgusting purveyor of vitriol masquerading as objectivity, you, but I note that "continued lying and hiding it for years" is not contested. How could it be?

And one consideration weighs heavily on me these days much more than it ever used to—why didn't the Brandens make their allegations while Rand was alive to answer them? They had 14 years, for Galt's sake. The fact that they were too cowardly to do so, or to furnish "An Answer to James Valliant," tells me PARC is right on the money. James, it's good to see folk like Doherty give you the credence you—and Rand's journals—deserve.

Linz

Yup.

Lindsay Perigo's picture

That worked. I'll read it after I've been to the dentist, where I must go right now. That'll put me in the right mood, no doubt! Smiling

Oops

James S. Valliant's picture

Dear me. Try this one.

James V ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I clicked on that link to Frord but got told the page doesn't exist.

Deal with the main argument

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

As many clashes as I've had with Jim V, the Brandens' outright defenders should simply deal with his main argument: that Rand was led along for years in bogus counselling sessions by Nathaniel Branden. If they cannot do so, they should come clean.

Jim

As Expected...

James S. Valliant's picture

Now, with all that is wrong in Doherty's treatment of Ayn Rand, it is the fact that PARC is simply considered by the author which has the good folks at RoR most steamed up. (see http://rebirthofreason.com/Art...)

I would also add that Doherty's uncritical use of writers other than the Brandens also gets him into trouble. (Maybe I need to write another book!) He seems to buy into the assertions of Rothbard and Tuccille -- both of whom are notoriously inaccurate on the subject of Rand. He accepts the speculation in Cox's recent biography of Isabel Paterson that Rand simply did not get the "mordant" humor in Paterson's crack to Rand about not liking "Jewish intellectuals." After reading both books, I still don't get it, either.

I could go on...

None of these things seem to bother the "Libertarian Objectivist" -- an oxymoron of the "Jumbo Shrimp" variety -- just the evidence of Rand's own notes.

Phil agrees that TOC is diluting its Objectivism!

Kenny's picture

I am pleasantly surprised that Phil seems to agree with my views on TOC and hope that Ed Hudgins will take note.

The "libertarian movement" desperately needs to rediscover its philosophical roots. There is too much trimming for my taste. In addition to "Reason", I could add the Cato Institute too - due to the "liberaltarian" nonsense espoused by Brink Lindsay and his sympathisers. "Reason", judging by online articles and blog commentary, seems to have jumped on that bandwagon too.

It is time to put principle and consistency before party politics. The GOP and Dems are enemies of individual rights and capitalism. The LP seems to be selling out. The need for Objectivist outreach has never been greater.

Good to see James H-N posting again

Kenny's picture

I hope that James will be posting regularly again. SOLO is rather quiet since Peikoff's DIM-worshippers went off in the huff.

I agree that Gillespie should take the blame for the decline of Reason magazine. Ron Bailey, and even Radley Balko, seem to be selling out too. Cathy Young is the pits.

?

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Good physicists, such as Richard Feynman, have opposed the philosophical BS that comes from crazy interpretations of quantum mechanics. Do they deserve a philosophical veto as well? Reality is the final arbiter on these questions and they will get sorted out. If Leonard and company want to take on the loonies, more power to them.

Jim

Mistaken

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Peter,

I'm not going to take too much time on TEW. If you want to read a solid refutation, read here:

TEW Refutation

The point is that the theory did not successfully account for some pretty basic experimental results that are directly related to the double slit interference experiment.

I do agree with one aspect of what you said in your post: there are many theories or interpretations floating around in modern physics today that are untestable. Your example of the "Many Worlds" interpretation is one. Given the fact that quantum mechanics is a descriptive theory pinned on empirical observation, you would expect some empirical underpinning to validate the "interpretation" as well. I won't hold my breath Smiling.

BTW, there are all kinds of things in modern physics in addition to QM, especially in the Standard Model, which pose thorny causality conundrums. That doesn't mean we should go plug any Objectivism-friendly theory that comes along and tries to make everything better.

Jim

Mistaken

Peter Cresswell's picture

"The progenitors of quantum theory had some gravely mistaken ideas about philosophy. That does not invalidate their science."

It doesn't invalidate their observations, but as Harriman shows pretty successfully in his 'Philosophic Corruption of Physics' series, it sure as hell does invalidate may of their conclusions.

That TEW did explain the observations pre-Innsbruck pretty successfully hardy makes it "crank." As far as TEW is concerned, Harriman's point was that prior to the Innsbruck experiment, the approach taken by Lewis Little was a reality-based approached to integrating the observations of quantum experiments -- this in contrast to the mis-integrations of mainstream quantum physicists.

"Objectivism qua philosophy should stay out of the science."

Why? You have scientists who know nothing of identity, of causality, of induction, and their lack of knowledge frequently leads to absurdity -- Many Worlds Interpretation for example, which really is a crank theory, but which still receives mainstream support.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

TOC - Dilution or Gradual Persuasion?

PhilipC's picture

> TOC...is diluting the philosophical content of its events and publications just as other libertarian organisations have done. [Kenny]

I have to partially defend and partially criticize TOC on this.

1. On the plus side: It's appropriate to present material -outside- of pure philosophy, for example if there were a lecture series on world history or communication skills. And even to make that be more than half of what you offer, until such time as your audience is ready for the other material.

There are inductive and empirical reasons to learn and teach history first and philosophy second.

And it's sometimes appropriate to discuss a concrete issue, a political issue, an environmental issue like global warming without mentioning the deepest philosophical roots every time. Especially if you can't prove them in that op ed or context or in the length of time you have with the ear of that audience. This is okay, and may be an intelligent, sophisticated way to step by step lead people toward the ideas case by case, inductively, gradually, building on areas where they already agree with you instead of "shock and awe". As long as you don't misrepresent or totally avoid the deeper ideas ultimately. And they -don't- misstate or contradict Objectivism.

2. On the minus side: TOC has diluted the hardcore philosophy in the sense of *time and resources and manpower spent* on it. Too many of the public 'outreach' activities and events (as opposed to summer conference, advanced seminar, LSO) don't seem to move people, either explicitly or even inductively or gradually, toward purely Objectivist ideas as opposed to generally classical liberal ones. In that sense they may seem to be more like a libertarian than an Objectivist orientation.

And we have more than enough libertarian organizations.

3. On the minus side: Who is the audience and what is the focus? There is a sort of straddling or being caught in the middle between several purposes. I might do a separate thread on this. But just for starters: "The New Individualist". Lots of great articles. But some are written for Oists in Oist jargon and some for 'outreach'. And this is where your other excellent point comes in:

[To the extent they become a libertarian rather than an Objectivist organization] "Atlas/TOC will compete with FEE, IHS, Reason and others for the same audience and donors."

And they are just not going to win in that competition...or even do more than barely survive.

?

James S. Valliant's picture

Physicists' "ill-advised forays into philosophy" far outpace any Objectivist encroachments into physics of which I am aware. These neo-mystics have made a whole "science" out of their lame cosmological speculations. This needs to be attacked -- and if by "a priori" you mean "a purely philosophical veto," then that's what "Objectivism has to offer."

The point

JoeM's picture

Render what is physics unto physics and what is philosophy unto philosophy. But fight the corruption of one by the bad ideas of the other.

Oh, well, that's OK then ;)

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Joe,

Objectivists are justified in being angry about physicists' ill-advised forays into philosophy. However, science is dominantly an empirical exercise. If some mathematical pattern shows up again and again in nature and is generalizable and useful for making predictions, scientists use it. Schrodinger never derived his wave equation from first principles, he had an intuition about a mathematical expression that would descibe nature accurately and when people went out and tested it, it did.

The same can be said for things other than QM. There are certain patterns that show up repeatedly in spring mass damper mechanical, RLC electrical and viscoelastic material systems. It turns out all of these different systems can be described by 2nd order differential equations. Because of this we have Linear Time-Invariant Systems theory.

The challenge for Objectivists is to come to terms with the results of science without throwing the empirical baby out with the bathwater. Scientists are justifiably proud of 20th century science, because it has brought us tremendous prosperity and awesome predictive and explanatory power. Objectivists should celebrate this while promulgating the necessary caveats about what the results of this science means for metaphysics and epistemology.

Jim

Oh, well, that's ok then ;)

JoeM's picture

Jim: "I should have qualified my statement. Objectivism qua philosophy should stay out of the science. It should work on informing people about what the science means for philosophy (if it can get the science right), causality etc, i.e. whether it offers a causal theory or not etc.

Ah, ok. Fair enough.

****************************************************************************

Spaceplayer Sight and Sound

Philosophical Interpretations

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

I should have qualified my statement. Objectivism qua philosophy should stay out of the science. It should work on informing people about what the science means for philosophy (if it can get the science right), causality etc, i.e. whether it offers a causal theory or not etc. The progenitors of quantum theory had some gravely mistaken ideas about philosophy. That does not invalidate their science.

Jim

Science is about prediction

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Science is about prediction. Sometimes it puts forth an ironclad causal model, sometimes it does not. Before Newton there was Kepler. Mainstream QM is like Kepler's ellipses, a descriptive theory. The important thing is how accurate your predictions are. Now, would you suggest making computer chips or other solid state devices without QM??

Now, if you are worried about bogus philosophical interpretations of QM, that's another kettle of fish. However, you don't bolster your case by making a priori statements of how nature has to behave. Before jumping into the fray, you have to do your scientific homework or else you end up lending credence to crackpot theories in quantum mechanics like David Harriman did before 2001 on the Theory of Elementary Waves.

Jim

Bull

JoeM's picture

"Objectivism does not need to try to explain things like Special and General Relativity and quantum mechanics. Objectivist scientists could argue for more physicalist theories, but then they would have to put those theories out there and get them peer reviewed and argue for an actual physical mechanism.
Why not simply stay out of the debate in the physical sciences? What does Objectivism have to add?"

WHAT?????

Sorry, I gotta call bullshit on this one. I just finished a book called ART AND PHYSICS by Leonard Shlain, thinking it was going to be about art and physics. It wound up, in the end, being a defense of postmodern art justified by the discoveries in quantum physics, based on Platonic philosophy and dismissive of reason and rationality. And it was written by a physician, of all people. Then you have the nonsense of WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? and THE SECRET. All justified by quantum physics. If Objectivism abandons the sciences, this is what you'll get.

Who is Carl Jung?

****************************************************************************

Spaceplayer Sight and Sound

"What does Objectivism have to add?"

Peter Cresswell's picture

"What does Objectivism have to add?"

Well, off the top of my head, perhaps a philosophical defence of induction? That's pretty important for arguments about scientific certainty, right?

Or an analysis of how corrupt philosophy corrupted quantum physics?

Or offering a philosophical understanding of the status of mathematics, and its relevance to concept formation?

Off the top of my head, I'd say all those things are intensely important, wouldn't you? And what **specifically** about either Harriman or Peikoff would put off scientists, as you say they do?

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Maybe because they are leery

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Maybe because they are leery about philosophically motivated commentary on science. Objectivism does not need to try to explain things like Special and General Relativity and quantum mechanics. Objectivist scientists could argue for more physicalist theories, but then they would have to put those theories out there and get them peer reviewed and argue for an actual physical mechanism.

Why not simply stay out of the debate in the physical sciences? What does Objectivism have to add?

Jim

Huh?

Peter Cresswell's picture

"I can't tell you how many technically oriented libertarians catch a whiff of Peikoff or Harriman and say no thanks."

Why would they say that?

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

Damage

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

ARI historically has alienated people from Objectivism by being ignorant about science. They've recently gotten Travis Norsen who knows what's what, but I can't tell you how many technically oriented libertarians catch a whiff of Peikoff or Harriman and say no thanks.

Out of the 8 or so technically-oriented Objectivists I knew in college, only my brother and I are active with the philosophy in an organized way. My attitude then, although it has since changed was the Heinlein attitude: that people who couldn't do higher mathematics weren't fully human, they were good for making messes about the house and such, but that was about it. I wonder what Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia would say about modern day Objectivists.

Jim

Reason

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

Reason took a whole new direction when Nick Gillespie took over from Virginia Postrel. I went to two Virginia Postrel led Reason Dynamic Visions Conferences in 1999-2000 and they were terrific. We got to hear presentations by Eric Raymond, Bob Zubrin, Greg Stock and Gregory Benford. It's been all downhill for Reason since then.

Jim

Damage

Peter Cresswell's picture

"If it carries on with this strategy, Atlas/TOC will compete with FEE, IHS, Reason and others for the same audience and donors."

I think that is precisely its strategy, Kenny, with all the long-term damage to Objectivism that would imply.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

"Reason" and the libertarian dilemma

Kenny's picture

I have not Docherty's book but Jim's comments on "Reason" and its origins ring true. To me, Reason magazine seems to have abandoned its philosophical libertarianism of the 80s and early 90s. That is very sad.

On libertarians, I would suggest that they share Rand's "politics", i.e. laissez faire capitalism. Philosophically, they have differing metaphyisics, ethics and epistimology. Some are Objectivists (or at least heavily influenced by Rand), some are Christians, some are utilitarians, others are Kantians etc.

The libertarian movement is therefore a political coalition of individuals and organisations with varying philosophical foundations. It is not surprising that most libertarian foundations focus on economic and politics rather than philosophy. It is convenient, and more lucrative, to avoid philosophical disputes amongst staff, donors and supporters.

Rand rejected "libertarians" because their differing philosophies. Branden may have been perplexed because he wanted to influence or educate those who shared Objectivists' politics but not their philosophy.

The ARI maintains Rand's attitude to libertarians. TOC prefers those of Branden. It is diluting the philophical content of its events and publications just as other libertarian organisations have done. It may have short-term benefits but could cause long-term damage. If it carries on with this strategy, Atlas/TOC will compete with FEE, IHS, Reason and others for the same audience and donors.

Funny

James S. Valliant's picture

The ironic tension in Doherty's claims is quite funny when you think about it.

According to Doherty, Rand "apparently" claimed to have invented limited government thinking, when she obviously never made such a claim. Yet, Doherty's own title "Radicals for Capitalism" is cribbed straight from Rand, as is the title of the libertarians' leading magazine, "Reason: Free Minds, Free Markets" (two things John Galt said were "corollaries"). Rand's influence is so omnipresent that even Doherty must acknowledge it -- and it's something she hardly needed to exaggerate -- almost amounting to reluctantly credited plagiarism in their magazine and book titles themselves (!)

Rand was hardly contradicting herself when she both (1.) denounced the libertarians' anarchists, their lack of philosophy, their "foreign policy," as well as (2.) observed the tremendous intellectual debt libertarians owe her. But, for Doherty, this seems to be an inscrutable paradox. Thus, he reports that Rand's "ferocity" on the subject of libertarianism has the Brandens, for example, simply "perplexed." (p.438)

And Doherty doesn't seem to grasp the irony in any of this.

Thanks Jim

Kenny's picture

Most kind!

I will post a blog article (based on bitter personal experience) on why Objectivists should eshew party politics, especially standing for office.

Kenny

James S. Valliant's picture

Well... their loss, our gain.

Peikoff and Conservativism

Kenny's picture

I have only read's Peikoff's "Objectivist Philosophy of Ayn Rand". So I am thinking of enrolling for this year's ARI Summer Conference for the DIM hypothesis lectures. Telluride, Colorado is not most the convenient or cost-effective location for Brits. I now regret not going to last year's conference in Boston.

I take your point on "Conservatives". The Conservative Party in Britain used to embrace libertarians and individualists such as myself. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. I was kicked off the Approved Candidates List after David Cameron was elected as leader. No reason was given at the personal interview that I demanded. They just wanted new faces and mine did not fit anymore, i.e. too radical for the new "modernising" leadership. I have finally "moved on", hence my participation on SOLO.

Kenny

James S. Valliant's picture

I am indeed fortunate in having had such teachers -- Peikoff, being the very best of all. (Even at law school I was blessed with Bernard Siegan.)

However, like Rand, I am not a "conservative" -- and, like her, I think that they are more dangerous than the Left to capitalism in many ways.

Not sure what you mean, Jim

Kenny's picture

When I was a Conservative student activist, Rand's non-fiction was required reading with Hayek and Friedman. My first purchase was "Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal". In those days, I had long hair and wore Levis and t-shirts with slogans like "Make Love and Money". It was only after reading her other non-fiction books that I read "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged".

I envy Jim's opportunity to have studied with Kirzner and Rothbard. I have a large book collection, especially on Austrian economics. I scored 99 out of 100 on the Mises Institute quiz, not bad for an engineering graduate.

Linz

James S. Valliant's picture

No doubt, no doubt -- it's "conservative" that I would hesitate to call an enemy.

What did I say now?! :-)

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Of course he looks sharp. A sharp Conservative candidate. Personally, though, I think a cape and cigarette holder would be very fetching!

Kenny Unmasked

James S. Valliant's picture

Don't be rude, Linz, he looks sharp.

I was supposed to

Kenny's picture

I was supposed to look like a Conservative as I was with colleagues at the time. What did you expect - a black cape and cigarette holder? Smiling

I believe you!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You look just like a Conservative candidate! Smiling

Found a photo on the net

Kenny's picture

I managed to find a photo on the net. It is me on the campaign trail - honest!

There!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Not so painful was it? Smiling

Unmoderated. Just like that! Smiling

Now Kenny

Lindsay Perigo's picture

While I'm enormously impressed by the six-pack and sausage you've added to your profile, and I have no doubt they're yours, we do need to see your face. Don't be a girl. Smiling Moderated.

No photo

Kenny's picture

Bill Bradford was a bit wishy washy at times but was a very decent man. It was so sad that he died so young.

I do not have a digital photo of myself. The Conservative Party took some official ones but they seem to have been deleted from the archives. I guess that I will be moderated for a while. C'est la vie!

Bradford

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Bradford was a Saddamite, if not an anarcho one. Funnily enough, I had a huge row with him over the NZ economic reforms, which he trumpeted as "libertarian" even though their objective was to entrench a more efficient welfare state and even though statism marched relentlessly forward under that government. He eschewed the NIOF principle and went to great lengths to contrive silly scenarios to demonstrate that it couldn't be sustained. And he employed smart-ass pomowankers like Virkkala (sp?) to write sniggering anti-Rand diatribes. I enjoyed his company and hospitality, but our disagreements were profound. And they long pre-dated JARS.

Photo, Kenny, photo!

Linz

Reason and Liberty

Kenny's picture

Reason is not restricted to promoting economic efficiency and growth. It covers non-economic issues, e.g. civil liberties and culture. It is, however, too "KASSless" for my taste. Most of my libertarian friends in the UK and US no longer subscribe. Most libertarians get their intellectual stimulation and debate from the internet.

Linz wrote "Liberty is for anarcho-Saddamite neo-Marxists like Sciabarra". Bill Bradford, Liberty's late editor, was the founder of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I do not wish to re-open old SOLO debates but that may have more to do with Linz's smearing of "Liberty".

BTW, Sciabarra has not written for "Liberty" in recent memory. I cannot remember a pro-dialectics article and I have subscribed for several years. Bill was very critical of the Rothbardians at the Mises Institute and Lew Rockwell.com and was no "anarcho-Saddamite".

"Liberty" continues to have a broad range of articles, admittedly of varying quality. The cartoons are great. I look forward to it dropping through the letterbox every month.

Phil

James S. Valliant's picture

That they published it is some evidence of "where they're coming from," Phil. Wanna take bets about the nature of the review this book gets in REASON -- and what assumptions it will share with Doherty? Obviously, there are all sorts of nuances and variety in their opinions, but the proof is the increasingly rank puddling.

As both Doherty's book and the Times' review of it continue to show, for good or ill, the issues of personal life and world-view seem to be inseparable in some minds.

Please offer some evidence

PhilipC's picture

> REASON...the intellectual leadership thereof is in perfect harmony with the Cathy Young hatchet job they published...that leadership...shares the same contempt for Rand [Jim V]

Jim, how do you know this? Do you mean all of the key editors and publishers? And do you mean contempt for Objectivism as an integrated worldview or do you mean Rand personally?

NY Times

James S. Valliant's picture

Just thought I'd share some choice bits from The New York Times book review of Doherty's book, dated April 1:

"As Brian Doherty writes in 'Radicals for Capitalism,' his history of libertarianism, every member of the group [Rand's] had to subscribe to a series of cultish premises beginning with 'Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived.' Rand and her protégé Nathaniel Branden began an affair in 1954, with scheduled liaisons that their spouses were told to tolerate. Rand later described the group, Doherty writes, as the only 'fully moral, fully happy' people in human history."

And later:

"MOST troubling, Doherty merely catalogs the movement’s failings rather than grappling with them. He relates that Rand 'notoriously testified' before the big-brotherly House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947, when the committee was investigating Hollywood, where Rand had worked as a screenwriter, but the episode receives only two paragraphs. He skates over other questionable matters, too..."

Fortunately, the Times' credibility has never been lower.

Nah, Robert ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You didn't quite get it. Reading Reason makes you a KASSless Hayekian statist pragmatist.

And of course, reading The Free Radical establishes your bona fides as a KASS SOLOist. And the bodies are much better than Playboy's!! Just look at that hottie, the editor emeritus!

Luscious Linz

PS—Why aren't you watching the Hurricanes?!

PPS—MAGNIFICENT Hurricanes victory!!!!!!!!! There's a Galt after all!! In fact, fifteen Galts:-)

PPPS—Then an epic battle between two kiwi teams, the Blues and the Chiefs. Followed by an unbelievable thriller between the Crusaders (NZ) and the Waratahs (Aussie), who performed way better than anyone expected. Just one point in it at the end—in the Crusaders' favour, of course. 34-33. Phew!!!! Robt, better get back here, where the real heroes are. Why stay amongst that flabby bunch of flaccid, sissy Hsiekovian baseball-players?! Smiling

So

Robert's picture

if reading Reason makes you an Anarchist-Libertarian and reading Liberty denotes you as an anarcho-Saddamite neo-Marxist, what if the only magazine you read is Playboy?

A 'friend' of mine wants to know... Smiling

Reason and KASSless, Liberty and Dialecticians

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Reason is like the print arm of The KASSless Society. Its focus is on economic efficiency and growth, and it's relatively indifferent to violations of liberty in the non-economic realm (see Ed Hudgins' Estonia thread). As Sir Robert Jones said of NZ's Business Roundtable, "They'd advocate slavery if they thought it was more efficient."

Liberty is for anarcho-Saddamite neo-Marxists like Sciabarra.

Linz

Kenny

James S. Valliant's picture

REASON is the leading American magazine for libertarians. Let me suggest to you that the intellectual leadership thereof is in perfect harmony with the Cathy Young hatchet job they published. While I agree that most of the rank-and-file who slip into their movement are "better" than their intellectual leaders, and are often Rand-influenced, that leadership (and this matters, right?) shares the same contempt for Rand which Doherty and Young exhibit.

That's a bit harsh on libertarians, Jim

Kenny's picture

Most libertarians that I know, even if they are not Objectivists, have a positive view of Rand, her works and her influence on the libertarian movement. There is, of course, a significant minority that is hostile.

I have not read Doherty's book yet so I cannot comment on it in details. However, I no longer regard "Reason" (of which Doherty is a senior editor) as a libertarian magazine. It is too willing to compromise its founding principles in the search for readers. Nick Gillespie and Ronald Bailey are typical examples. Cathy Young's hatchet job on Rand at the time of her 100th birthday was a disgrace.

That leaves "Liberty" as the main "movement" magazine. I recognise that the association with the "Journal of Ayn Rand Studies" will be regarded as negative by those associated with ARI. In my experience, Rand is genuinely admired by most of its writers and readers.

What response could they

Peter Cresswell's picture

What response could they make except to say "That wasn't real, was it?"

BTW, didn't Edward Hudgins confess to looking at the pictures?

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

The most damning thing ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... is that in all this time—is it two years now?—there's been no "An Answer to James Valliant" from the Brandens.

Linz

Linz

James S. Valliant's picture

Definitely.

Well ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Yes, it seems that he has read PARC. In his half page footnote Doherty even cites a number of specific reasons why Rand's contemporaneous journals cast doubt on the Branden accounts.

That's progress, I would say! Smiling

Linz

James S. Valliant's picture

Yes, it seems that he has read PARC. In his half page footnote Doherty even cites a number of specific reasons why Rand's contemporaneous journals cast doubt on the Branden accounts.

> Stick it all at the end, I

PhilipC's picture

> Stick it all at the end, I say.

Okay, that's a bit crude even for you.

Strange ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... that business of strong-personality-who-expresses himself/herself-forcefully = autocratic tyrant. PC nonsense. But has Doherty actually read PARC?! Does he acknowledge the journal entries?

Linz

PS—I'm not sure what the point of the footnote/endnote debate is, but I think all purveyors of footnotes should be gassed. I used to chide Sciabarra for footnotes that took up more space than the text. Stick it all at the end, I say.

Good piece, Jim

Ross Elliot's picture

Re God of the Machine:

"1. Footnotes, provided they are short and sparse, are better than endnotes. They can be consulted immediately and without effort."

Couldn't agree more. Hell, I don't care if the footnote takes up half a page. I like to read the thing right there and then, and you come to regard them as disconnected parentheticals.

Also, "Culling my readers to a manageable elite since 2002"

Cool

Footnote

James S. Valliant's picture

To repeat what I said on another thread: My friend, Aaron Haspel of God of the Machine, very much worth checking out (for a "heretic," that is), has some interesting thoughts about Doherty's new book, PARC, and the use of footnotes.

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