Does a Leonard Ever Change Its Spots?

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2010-09-06 10:49

On the face of it, I find this very disturbing:

I hasten to say I haven't read Harriman's book. But Leonard's letter seems not to be concerned with the truth of the matter at hand, rather with McCaskey's temerity in criticizing Harriman's account, and by extension, Leonard's endorsement of it—even though the criticism has been made only in private, and in accordance with an agreement among those concerned that they could freely exchange ideas, however half-baked.

Enough to make one tear one's remaining hair out.

Ours is a contest of ideas. Especially in a field as rarefied as physics and induction, there will be a lot of groping and fumbling. Dogmatism and rank-pulling are the last thing we need.

It might be said, "Whoa! We haven't heard Peikoff's side yet." Well, we have. He gave his permission for his letter to be published, so is apparently happy that it represents his "side."

Is this the fatwa all over again? If so, bizarre and depressing.

Of course it'll take a month

Boaz the Boor's picture

I'm also told ARI is going to be explaining its stance to its supporters in about a month. A month??!!

Yes, Debi Ghate has indicated that a month from now the OAC will be providing "guidance" to its students (via teleconference) as to why this is a "private matter."

As for the delay, I can't say I blame them. Personally, if I had to explain to someone that this was a "private matter" and keep a straight face, I would need a lot longer than a month to prepare. I would need to empty the contents of my brain, fill it with scrambled eggs and copulate with an amoeba. That could take a while.

For my money, there won't be too many people on the other end of that call who require instruction on this question. The ones who do might be offered a job, though.

Well said Jason and Olivia

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"... that something has become way to *creepy* for want of a better word, when a question like this even needs to be asked in its circles."

It is completely nuts, but the intellectual integrity of the most prominent and by far the best funded Objectivist think tank depends on the answer to that question. Hopefully the ugly necessity of the question will spawn some honest cultural changes.

Anyone who reads the SOLO Credo can see that changing the culture of Objectivism, as well as of the world in general, was part of the original agenda. It remains so, and clearly needs to be reiterated with some urgency. As already explained, at one point I was persuaded that ARI had made the necessary changes itself. The fatwa should have made me realize that this wasn't so, not so much because of the rush of blood to Leonard's head, but the lock-step lemming-like behaviour of those who sanctioned and actively supported it. Now, Leonard has had another rush of blood to the head. Some of the original lemmings have found this one too much, and reversed direction. Hurrah! But their voice is muted, and some are still too scared to speak up publicly and are timorously awaiting the ARI's Big Announcement On This Matter, which is about a month away(!!!!!), while being contemptibly afraid to try to influence it.

Once and for all, the roar needs to go out: Religious intrinsicism and bigotry are incompatible with a philosophy of reason. Those who preach the latter and practice the former are hypocrites and traitors. They are enemies of independent judgment and the right to get it wrong without being damned to hell. Once and for all this beautiful philosophy needs to be rid of them.

Peikoff, Binswanger, Schwartz, and all your lackeys and echo-chambers ... in the name of Galt, go, and take your strutting, snot-nosed pseudo-superiority with you. You have tried to sacrifice the integrity of Objectivism on the altar of your own vaingloriousness, which Narcissistic perversion you have equated with objective self-esteem. "Objectivism, c'est moi"?? Not to put too fine a point on it, fuck the fuck off. Go, go, go!! Begone!! Get thee to nunneries—nunneries would be far more congenial for your mentalities than the open sunlit field which you have prevented Objectivism from being!! We who remain will honor your great moments (even though you yourselves have honored them more in the breach than in the observance) and strive to bring them to consummation in a way your tawdry prosaic vanities would never allow.

"... that something has

Jason Quintana's picture

"... that something has become way to *creepy* for want of a better word, when a question like this even needs to be asked in its circles."

It is completely nuts, but the intellectual integrity of the most prominent and by far the best funded Objectivist think tank depends on the answer to that question. Hopefully the ugly necessity of the question will spawn some honest cultural changes.

I can't help but feel...

Olivia's picture

"Can two Objectivists disagree about a particular point without one of them being cast out of Objectivist society?"

... that something has become way to *creepy* for want of a better word, when a question like this even needs to be asked in its circles.

Perfect answer ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... by Peikoff in the Podcast. Pity he doesn't put it into practice.

I've just had it suggested to me by someone in the know that Harriman is as much at fault as Leonard in all of this; that LP gets his info filtered by a small group that includes Harriman, and often doesn't know what really is going on. If this is so I still think he owes it to the truth to find out things firsthand if he's going to wade in with definitive moral pronouncements and ultimatums.

I'm also told ARI is going to be explaining its stance to its supporters in about a month. A month??!! Podcast Oct. 4

Jason Quintana's picture

"Can two Objectivists disagree about a particular point without one of them being cast out of Objectivist society?"

Peikoff's response is similar to one I was going to try to dig up from an earlier podcast, which had led to my original comments in this thread.

I am not sure why Dan is surprised

Kenny's picture

I cannot remember crossing swords with Mr Edge. It is at least several months since I posted here so my memory may be faulty.

I am not allied to any "wing" or faction of the Objectivist movement. However, I was pleasantly surprised by two talks, and related discussions, with Yaron Brook. It is clear that the days of non-engagement of non-Objectivists, especially "libertarians", is over.

I must address Blake's point. Yaron Brook also talked about gaps in Objectivist thought and how Objectivism can be developed in future. That to me, was not advocacy of a closed system.

I'm Scum x 2 !!'s picture

In the past week I've been called "scum" (explicitly) by shit-talking ARIan Fred Weiss and (implicitly) by shit-talking NoMan Zantonavitch. I must be doing something right.

--Dan Edge

Hold the Presses!

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Pope Lenny and the ARIans are cultist scumbags, and enemies of Ayn Rand and Objectivism? I'm shocked, shocked...

Well I'm sorry, Dan, if I'm a

Boaz the Boor's picture

Well I'm sorry, Dan, if I'm a bit behind the curve on the pathway to recovery. Apparently there's a three-week process that begins with indignation, proceeds onto grim acceptance and quickly winds its way to reassurance and even renewed optimism. Smiling Some people have experienced it differently: they've seen some of this up close for a few years, become slowly disillusioned (with the organization, mind you, not the ideas) and are now appalled, though not completely shocked or surprised, by this latest iteration.

In any case, I think there are any number of problems with your view, as well as the accommodationist strategy you attribute to ARI (and which you apparently endorse, though you can correct me if I'm wrong).

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that "shut up until LP is dead" is not a morally bankrupt option, the fact is that it's too transparent. Everyone knows. This is a huge PR disaster, and keeping quiet makes it worse! It's already made worse by the fact that people who knew better were in denial for years, and it can hardly inspire newcomers.

ARI is not just another think-tank. At the very least, a lot of prospective talent will be lost. And how long is this supposed to go on for? How many others have had to be sacrificed, and how many more in the future? Hypocrisy on this level is just not sustainable, and the only people who will persist through it are the mediocrities who were willing to mortgage their self-respect in the first place. (And these are not hypothetical mediocrities, but the actually existing timid drones who turn out shitty articles and punctiliously imitate AR's writing style.)

But it doesn't end there. Peikoff will soon be finished with DIM. Will this be the authoritative objectivist theory of cultural change? Apparently so, if the current pattern holds. How long do you think scholars will have to pretend that they believe what they do not believe -- or better yet, walk around eggshells to avoid the appearance of contradicting -- aspects of the theory?

I could go on, but we both know I'm not saying what you've haven't already been thinking. Maybe you've found an answer?

I have no doubt that people will continue to do good work, and my hopes for the culture do not lie in my judgment of ARI's current staff. I am concerned, however, that some people may not get the support they deserve, that others will be harmed directly, and that the harm of pretending this is not an outrage will do even WORSE damage to the movement (and its reputation) than the outrage itself.

Objectivism as a closed system

Blake's picture

This is a disagreement on concrete issues. Granted, Peikoff's approach to the arguement is authoritarian. Objectivism as a philosophy can show us the need for objective evidence, but it can't settle disagreements as to what evidence is objective. Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but I'm new to this forum..

Clearly prestige has no authority over facts. This, for the ARI, will win out in the long run.

If you're let down, depressed, etc, by Leonard's actions, your convictions of Objectivist ideas may be too dependent on "intellectual status" or "authority figures" in general, rather than the confidence in your own conclusions. Rand herself said a fictional hero is much better than a real-life hero, as the real-life hero has free will and has potential to have contradictions. (Heard that on Peikoff's podcast Eye ) I would say an appropriate emotional response would be frustration rather than sadness, personally.

I agree with you there, Dan. The ARI staff could hold the potential devistation to the Objectivist movement from denouncing the ARI founder and Ayn Rand's intellectual heir as more crucial than their temporary loss of integrity on the issue.

Unrelatedly, I don't see how Objectivism would be an "open system". As a philosophy, it adresses all the necessary branches: epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, and morality. Anything beyond this is an application to concretes, which is not "exanding" the philosophy, but applying it.

Kenny and I Agree on Something?!?'s picture

I've seen a number of eulogies for the ARI and the Objectivist movement on discussion boards around the web, and it's given me a happy new perspective on things.

The Objectivist movement is stronger than ever, as is the ARI. Consider how much money they get every year now, how often Objectivism is represented in the media, and how many more Oist professors there are in academia these days. Things are looking up. We now have professional level CEOs and PR guys representing Objectivism to the world. The Peikoff/Schwartz/Ridpath Era is not on the rise -- it's coming to an end. These are that era's last gasps, and everyone knows it. Including the folks at ARI.

You think the people working there don't know, don't acknowledge that some of Peikoff's statements are nuts/rude/poorly stated? Most of them know, and will admit such privately. But would it really be to the benefit of Objectivism for half of the ARI staff to unite in a formal public denunciation of its founder for what amounts to a personality issue? Yeah, that'll happen right after the boards of Microsoft and Apple morally condemn Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The fact is, Peikoff has meant as much or more to the Objectivist movement as either of those CEOs meant to their organizations. And he continues to make contributions in the form of his podcasts, among other things.

It's funny, before I read all these eulogies for the ARI and the Objectivist movement, I was a lot more concerned. Now that I see how ridiculous it sounds to anticipate a death knell for the ARI, I'm not worried at all. Peikoff too shall pass. And I'm certain he will be remembered primarily for his many great and noble deeds, not for things like this.

--Dan Edge

I agree with Jason's

Kenny's picture

I agree with Jason's analysis.

The key people at ARI will remain quiet until after Peikoff dies. ARI cannot afford to stand up to Peikoff because he controls the use of Ayn Rand's name. McCaskey seems to understand this difficulty. His resignation was generous as it removed the need for the other directors to make the choice.

If you read, listen to or watch Yaron Brook's speeches, he has changed ARI's positions on a number of key issues. For example, he implicitly rejects that Objectivism is a closed system by promoting young scholars. He says that they will bring important new thought (i.e. add to) Objectivism so it can't be "closed".

Brook has also changed the position on not speaking to libertarian organisations. He shares platforms with speakers from libertarian organisations, e.g. Cato and FEE. It is no accident that ARI has opened an office in DC. Brook, however, has been clever to placate Schwartz and Binswanger by reserving his scorn for the Rothbardians at the Mises Institute. However, Brook has declared that he is opposed to compulsory taxation in any form, i.e. that he favours the minimum state funded by voluntary contributions or other sources of income.

So Peikoff is albatross round ARI's neck that it has to deal with occasionally. His rants and expulsions are a temporary irritation but they do not mean that the Objectivist movement has committed suicide. There have been no public statements from ARI to attack McCaskey or to back up Peikoff's accusations. They, significantly, just confirm the resignation. The reality is that only Peikoff is committing intellectual and professional suicide. The Objectivist movement will not be affected at all.

Well ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... one can readily see why McCaskey should be boiled in oil. Not.

This is seriously disheartening. It is the 2006 fatwa all over again: if you don't see it my way you don't get Objectivism. (In 2006 the additional component was, if you don't vote as I say you should, or even if you simply abstain from voting, you're immoral.)

This is crap. If the ARI don't repudiate it they deserve to go down. If they don't repudiate it they are unworthy standard-bearers for a philosophy of reason. Thus far we've had generations of this loyalty-to-people-rather-than-the-truth BS. The time for this to stop is long overdue.

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

As it happens I listened to several of Harriman's YouTube videos today. I'm a layman when it comes to physics, but everything he said made glorious sense to me. It's tragic to think of someone like him being dragged down by and into that sad old morass of Objecti-Mormonism.


Michael Moeller's picture

Is a sample of the emails whereby McCaskey's disagreements allegedly "go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue" and for which he was cast to the outer-reaches of hell.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Ah yes!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"Wretched oaf." I'd forgotten that one.

Those were the days. Makes one realize we just don't have decent flame wars any more. One can't find quality abuse any longer. The art of invective has been lost. I blame the absence of Fred Weiss, personally. Eye

Well thanks for that familiar

Boaz the Boor's picture

Well thanks for that familiar warmth, Linz. =-)

Your impersonator is not very observant. He says no one else is saying what he is

I should have specified that by "no one else" I meant those of us who previously vigorously supported ARI and Peikoff during the SOLO wars of 2005-07. There are a number of positions I would still defend from those days, but others are now frankly embarrassing -- including, sadly, the argument that there was never any suppression of dissent.

To some extent I was motivated by what I thought was the overzealous and rather obscene, triumphal, pornographic pleasure that some people took in their hatred of "ARIans" (were we really supposed to miss that subtle allusion to "Aryans"?) Primarily the tribalism directed at Diana and the lack of any benefit of the doubt extended to her or her supporters. And I remember a number of claims at the time which I knew were false, about some Solo participants getting "marching orders" or taking their positions straight from the mouths of higher-ups. (And of course there was that hilarious bit from Campbell about Diana, james, Mike Massa, Casey, and myself coordinating a backstage conspiracy to...tell someone by the name of Regi Firehammer to go fuck himself, for praying for the destruction of mankind. This required lots of planning, you see, telling some wingnut homophobe he should go fuck himself.)

Re Hsiehkovians: I argued in good faith on the knowledge I had -- and I was right about the 2006 election. There was more than DIM to rely on (or less, depending on one's DIM assessment Sticking out tongue ) in advocating a pro-democrat position. Peikoff's argument, if you interpreted him charitably, was a B-. Generally whatever can help defeat the religious right in this country should be done, if it can be done. But whatever: there was no fatwa in that case. Peikoff wasn't using his status or the threat of disassociation against anyone. People had their say, no one was axed (though apparently Peikoff broke with Binswanger over it).

But this latest is a fatwa. He doesn't agree with my theory? We asked for his opinion on the book, and this is how he repays me. Outrageous! To hell with him! Not with Brutus, though, not the lowest level of hell, I mean he's done some good with his millions of dollars. Oh, and I'll let everyone read this embarrassing letter but it's a private affair, you see, and don't you know who I am? (Is that even 20% parody?)

This is a no brainer. I feel sorry for the people who rely on ARI for their career prospects in one way or another, or younger ones who could still benefit from the free education, but surely at some point those people have to remember why they decided to read and write books and teach for a living.

Ok, steam vented. Not even going to get into it over the Mosque, I'd hate to see you angry again, Linz, you wretched oaf. Back to laughing, now. ARI is none of my business.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Someone pretending to be you is criticizing the ARI and Peikoff. You should denounce and repudiate this impostor forthwith lest someone suspect you've succumbed to reasonableness.

Your impersonator is not very observant. He says no one else is saying what he is. He hasn't even read this thread! If I may quote myself downthread:

Objectivism cannot make progress under these circumstances. Peikoff and Binswanger and their lackeys should do the rationally benevolent thing and depart. To paraphrase Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons, 1940: "In the name of Galt, go!" I say this even as one who endorses Peikoff's view on the Mosque 1000%.

They have evaded, strutted, poisoned and intimidated for long enough. The hell with their pathological addictions to loyalty oaths and excommunications and their Dark Aged insistence that none shall come to Objectivism except through them.

Some of the lackeys persuaded me things had changed. They have not. It's all about who aligns with whom, a rush to shun for the sin of non-sycophancy, and then to shun those who fail to shun on demand. Independent thinking my ass. This is religiosity writ large.

The only folk worse are those who say nothing in the face of the prolonged travesty of reason that Tracinski so eloquently describes. Compare the number of reads here with the number of comments.

Come on, Objectivists—reclaim your philosophy, your brains and your testicles!!

Still, it's nice to see even a facsimile of you back here, Boaz the Beautiful. Boor you may have been, the original Hsiekovian you, but bore, never! Eye

Dan mentions the ARI "orbit."

Boaz the Boor's picture

Dan mentions the ARI "orbit." I haven't been part of this orbit for a while, now, either as a student or socially (beyond the objectivist friends I've maintained).

But from what I've gathered, I don't think there is an ARI orbit, not anymore. There might be one again in the future. We'll know soon, I suppose. But for now, after this outrage, there is only the Peikoff Institute (I suppose I should cite Robert Campbell here) and the Leonard Peikoff orbit. Some of them, the warriors, are now busy building their little cyberfortress on Facebook, with moats and everything to keep out the untouchables. The others are telling the flock to keep silent on a private matter. (Private? LOL.) A few years ago I would have been distressed, but now I'm laughing. How small these people are.

The point is, either ARI radically shifts course...or they're finished, and no one worth their salt (least of all the academics) will care what happens next to the organization.

I'm not even sure why I'm commenting on this. The whole thing is so preposterous that it should be laughed out of existence. But not one else is saying it...and as someone who has defended ARI on this forum in the past, I suppose I should make my position clear.

PS: anyone who doesn't agree that Professor McCaskey deserves an apology does not understand Objectivism.

The Good Guys's picture

Several folks in the ARI orbit have spoken out defending McCaskey and/or criticizing Peikoff. Notably, Diana Hsieh and myself. One of my comments on a Facebook discussion (you should be able to figure out the context):


You make good points, but you do not address the pattern of behavior as I described it. Peikoff's pro-Dem arguments in 2006 had a lot of merit, and to this day I lean towards his view that the Republicans were more dangerous than the Democrats. ( Note: I've been studying and thinking and writing and communicating about politics and history my whole life, and I'm *still* not sure if I made the right vote in 2006. It's just a very complex issue.)

But Peikoff's pro-Dem position is not the misbehavior I was referring to. It was his statement that anyone who does not vote straight Democrat is committing a moral crime, and that anyone who disagrees knows nothing about applying Objectivism in general.

These are very serious charges to level, particularly on such a complicated issue. It is this part of Peikoff's statement that upset me and others, this part that his defenders consistently ignore (as you did in your note to me), and this part that is an instance of a pattern. Not to mention that this part of his statement is indefensibly false.

I did not vote straight Democrat in 2006, and I do know *something* about how to apply Objectivism to my life. (You'll have to trust me on that one Laughing out loud) So do many others who disagreed with Peikoff on that particular issue. Note also that Peikoff himself later changed his mind, and one may assume that his doing so did not amount to a moral crime.

Again, with the mosque issue, it was not that Peikoff argued that the mosque should be disallowed. It was that he advocated bombing it and declared it a moral and epistemological crime to disagree. I note that in your reply to me, this part of Peikoff's statement was ignored.

These are not the only instances of this seeming pattern, but they are the clearest and most widely known. Again, I can't see how one can ignore these facts in evaluating this new controversy.

Finally, John, I would like to comment on your closing salvo:

"In my view, it is a misguided charge, by those who disagree with his conclusions on certain issues and are uncomfortable with opposing the most prominent living figure in the Objectivist movement, so they rationalize reasons to have less respect for him in order to feel more comfortable about disagreeing with him. In my view, IF that is the case, then that IS moral cowardice."

This kind of moralistic psychologizing about your intellectual adversary's motivations is unnecessary, unhelpful, and inappropriate. In layman's terms: Don't talk shit to me. I'm a straight up guy, and I try to be polite and to the point, but I don't like trash talk, no matter how high brow.

Other than that, we all good. You're a smart guy, and I'm learning a lot from this discussion. Thanks for that.

--Dan Edge"

No rabat at Ground Zero

nevin's picture


I stand with Peikoff and you against the proposed jehadi victory monument at Ground Zero.

Iranian expatriate Amir Taheri claimed in the New York Post that the proposed structure is not even a mosque, but something even worse, a rabat.



Lindsay Perigo's picture

You write:

It is sad that an otherwise noble creature has been so eaten up with concern for the minutiae of dominance, power plays, and personal loyalty within his tiny empire (and with rationalistic attachment to his own cogitations,) that he has forsaken the grand quest of making the world a better place, which he was uniquely endowed to pursue.

Indeed. That's why I thought the Hamlet quote was apposite.

He was a great teacher, never greater than when unmasking rationalism and intrinsicism, as Tracinski observes. So tragic that he'd end his days exemplifying the very fallacies he'd exposed. He could still put it right, but he doesn't seem to care.

Incidentally, I still support him re the Mosque (where it's his opponents who fall into rationalism/intrinsicism), though I discard the blow-it-up bit since obviously any government that forbade its construction would not wait around for it to be built.

The results won't be as clear

Jason Quintana's picture

The results won't be as clear cut as Tracinski is asking for in this piece. The Objectivist movement will not disolve. The important people in ARI circles will remain quiet, and those that don't will be replaced by people who are waiting in the wings to take their place. After Leonard dies there will be a Khrushchev style repudiation of certain behaviors. Maybe a vague essay about intellectual authority from Yaron Brook or one of the top people at that time. I hope it will look more like a clear cut Objectivist statement than a weird communist party style power transition, but unfortunately it will have to look like that to avoid direct criticism of Leonard. This sort of thing should be avoided at all costs. I admire Leonard, and I wish him well, but he would do everyone a favor by fixing this himself ASAP.

Trancinski does not read his own magazine

Glenn I Heppard's picture

Well it is hard to argue with someone who is the "That's the ticket"(SNL) guy of the Objectivist movement.

Trancinski cherry picks facts to give proof of his subjective conclusions.

He did it in...
"what went right"
his feelings that "were winning in Iraq'
"victory of the serge"
the" study the implementation of counter-insurgency stategy"
and his feelings on the WH press releases on the forward strategy of freedom.

He cant even get the facts right when there in his own magazine.

Go to "The first serious alarm bell..." paragraph.

"Gotthelf's On Ayn Rand, a short overview of Objectivism written for an academic audience."
Condemned by Peikoff because of its bigraphical sketch was too long, positive and a few pasages were unclear.


TIA, March 2000:
"The series was designed to offer BRIEF INTRODUCTIONS to the thought of influential philosophers...with each book in the series
NO more than 100 pages long." "Target audience for the series is primarily college students, but the books should also have a prominent place in the philosophy sections of many general bookstores."

the Peikoff letter to the editor in May 2000:

"Despite its minor errors, the book does not misrepresent Ayn Rand's philosphy. Nor is it cowardly, dogmatic, or antagonistic; on the
contrary, it is forthright, intellectual, and sincerely admiring of Ayn Rand's achievement. The problem lies in the assignment the author has given himself. which unavoidably leads to a confusing and often unintelligtible text." The author was allowed by his publisher merely 100 pages."

"To introduce a philosphy, rather than to cover it in depth, can be a valuable undertaking." But one does not "introduce" ideas in the above manner. This combination of floating abstractions and intense feelings will lead honest readers, lay of professional. not to look into Objectivism further, but to shrug it off as nothing more than "loud emotions of uplift with an unintelligible basis"; in other words, as "just some kind of cult."

So lets see:
written for an academic audience-WRONG
condemned by Peikoff et al.-WRONG
because bio sketch to long, positive-WRONG
"just some kind of cult"-WRONG-the line is in quotes in the letter, not Peikoff saying it
"writing about Objectivism in an overly academic style-WRONG
"ejecting people from the movement"-WRONG McCaskey still presenting papers at Anthem event, and posting on HBL(last time 9-28)
The letter concluded that "this book is a test of ones ability to read Objectively"-WRONG

The Line really says--- "This book is a test of one's ability to read objectivley- to identify what ideas are expressed intelligibly on a page apart from any specialized knowlege in one's own mind. It is a test of one's ability to separate consciousness from existence - ie, what one already knows from what is actually out there on paper. "

Will shut down young minds -WRONG
target a servous presentation by a distrguished academic-WRONG
attempt to paralyze everyones mind -WRONG

Tracinski, "yeah that's ticket!"


Leonard's spots haven't changed in 20 years

nevin's picture

The Leonard's pattern is indeed the same, contrary to those who attribute to senility this latest gaffe on his part. The only difference the decades have wrought is that, previously, he would roar majestically while standing partially concealed behind some jungle foliage, whereas this time he roared while strutting heedlessly upon the open savanna for all to observe.

It is sad that an otherwise noble creature has been so eaten up with concern for the minutiae of dominance, power plays, and personal loyalty within his tiny empire (and with rationalistic attachment to his own cogitations,) that he has forsaken the grand quest of making the world a better place, which he was uniquely endowed to pursue.

I saw the basic pattern during the episode of David Kelley's expulsion, and have avoided having much to do with Peikoff or ARI ever since. I agree with Robert Tracinski's position on this to a 'T', except that the wording of his description of David's organization is overly harsh.

Well-spotted, Linz. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Ironically, Harriman's book has been on my intended reading list since before its publication, and I ordered it from Amazon a couple of weeks ago without knowing of this tempest. So I have it available for a first-hand judgment.


The Silence of the Randroids ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... says it all.

Objectivism cannot make progress under these circumstances. Peikoff and Binswanger and their lackeys should do the rationally benevolent thing and depart. To paraphrase Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons, 1940: "In the name of Galt, go!" I say this even as one who endorses Peikoff's view on the Mosque 1000%.

They have evaded, strutted, poisoned and intimidated for long enough. The hell with their pathological addictions to loyalty oaths and excommunications and their Dark Aged insistence that none shall come to Objectivism except through them.

Some of the lackeys persuaded me things had changed. They have not. It's all about who aligns with whom, a rush to shun for the sin of non-sycophancy, and then to shun those who fail to shun on demand. Independent thinking my ass. This is religiosity writ large.

The only folk worse are those who say nothing in the face of the prolonged travesty of reason that Tracinski so eloquently describes. Compare the number of reads here with the number of comments.

Come on, Objectivists—reclaim your philosophy, your brains and your testicles!!

Ha, Greg!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

It appears Linz you've missed fuck all.

Did you ever doubt it? Must I Peikoff you?! Eye

When James defended the Gary Hull letter, which I think was not long before the thread you link to, I had the sinking realisation then that nothing had really changed.

How true it is. Intrinsicist religiosity vs subjectivist amoralism. Both dead wrong. And how well Tracinski appreciates that the rebellion against the former (ARI) ended up as the latter (IOS/TOC/TAS etc), and just as incapable of tolerating criticism.

Excellent piece

gregster's picture

Wow. There have been signs of Peikoff's dementia. The audio podcast of him misconstruing the message from "ethics of emergencies" to justify the govt bombing the NY mosque was a bit odd. Surely easier just to prohibit preemptively. But that there really is the orthodoxy as described is a killer. Great article by Tracinski. "Intrinsicist religiosity" is probably too generous a term for those implicated at ARI:

"If Objectivism truly means, in a way I hadn't tumbled to hitherto, acquiescence to the mindset of Binswanger, Schwartz and Hull and a commitment to The Virtue of Obnoxiousness as practised by those gentlemen and defended by James then I don't want to be anywhere near it. I should add that I would still wish to be even less near the likes of Babs and Campbell, whom I regard as lower than anyone I've ever encountered.

What I'm certain of is that a theory of reason and emotion that ends up cheerleading for intrinsicist religiosity is just as fucked as one that ends up cheerleading for subjectivist amoralism. Hitherto I thought Rand and Peikoff thought so too, but James has gone to bat so hard for intrinsicist religiosity, with no hint of demur from anyone who speaks for Objectivism (or anyone who doesn't but knows better), I've concluded I must have missed something."

It appears Linz you've missed fuck all.

The stamp of one defect ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth—wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin—
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'erleavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men—
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star—
Their virtues else—be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo—
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of evil
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

-- Hamlet

Important - and very sad!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

This today from Robert Tracinski:

TIA Daily • September 30, 2010



The Objectivist Movement Commits Suicide

by Robert Tracinski

Editor's Note: My apologies for not sending out any issues of TIA Daily since last
Thursday. I realized the urgent necessity of writing and posting the article
below—which took on a larger scope the longer I worked on it. To access the article
below online, go here.
I will resume tomorrow with regular coverage of the news, catching up on everything
that happened while I was working on this project.—RWT

Although TIA Daily is written from the perspective of Ayn Rand's philosophy of
Objectivism, I don't devote much attention to internal disputes within the
Objectivist movement, because I want this publication to stay focused on the wider
world. There is certainly enough going on out there to fully engage our attention.
So I try to limit my criticisms of other Objectivist intellectuals to a few side
comments buried here and there in articles addressed primarily to a wider audience.

But the most recent Objectivist controversy is too big to ignore, paper over, or
address only indirectly. Its implications go too wide and too deep, striking at the
very core of the movement's soul.

Early this month, John McCaskey resigned from the board of directors of the Ayn Rand
Institute and from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, which McCaskey
founded to promote the training and hiring of Objectivists in academia. McCaskey
resigned after his removal was demanded by Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's student and
heir, who does not sit on the board but, through his control of Ayn Rand's name and
intellectual property rights, holds enormous clout over the Institute's actions.

McCaskey has posted on his website an explanation of his resignation and a copy of
the e-mail from Peikoff to the board demanding his removal. This e-mail is
posted—amazingly, considering its content—with Peikoff's permission. For those who
have not yet seen any of this, go to and take a few
minutes to absorb it before reading any farther.

There has been vigorous discussion of this already on the Web, but what has been
written so far only scratches the surface. No one wants to follow the implications
as far as they go, because doing so would lead them in a direction that seems too
horrible to contemplate. It is too horrible to contemplate the time and effort and
the millions of dollars that have been wasted. And most of all, everyone has been
told for decades—particularly at ARI fund-raisers—that the Institute is the only
hope for the future. So if anything endangers ARI, it seems as if all hope has been

Don't worry, I will address that concern below. But in the meantime, there is no
point putting off the horrible implications. It is best to know the worst right
away, so we can plan for what to do about it.

The McCaskey debacle, and particularly the e-mail from Peikoff, reveals in stark
form everything that has been wrong with the Objectivist movement for decades and
which I have personally struggled with for about the past ten years. This scandal is
to Objectivism what the Climategate e-mails were to climate science. They are the
public revelation of what some of us had seen privately and many had merely
suspected: the corruption of a field of rational inquiry by authoritarianism and

Call it Anthemgate.

To understand what is happening and the full context for it will take a long time,
and this will be a very long article. Be prepared to go over the whole picture—going
far beyond the McCaskey case—in unsparing detail, and be prepared to question many
things you may have thought you knew about the Objectivist movement. In what
follows, I will not limit myself to politely indirect criticism. Now is the time to
lay all of the cards on the table.

Let me briefly establish the context and the basic facts of the Anthem scandal. For
at least a decade, the Ayn Rand Institute has provided support for David Harriman, a
physicist, philosophy student, and close associate of Leonard Peikoff, to work on a
book about the history and philosophy of science. Much of the work produced by
Harriman has been excellent and valuable, and some of it has even been published in
TIA. But over the years, Harriman's project became a vehicle for Leonard Peikoff to
develop a solution to the "problem of induction"—an explanation of how it is
possible to reason from observation of specific facts to universal principles. The
idea was to use the history of science to provide a series of case studies, real
examples of valid inductive generalizations, in order to present and support
Peikoff's theory. The result is Harriman's newly published book The Logical Leap:
Induction in Physics, produced under ARI's sponsorship and with an introduction by
Peikoff proclaiming it to be a great, original new contribution to philosophy.

Behind the scenes, however, John McCaskey has been privately voicing objections
about the accuracy of several of the book's key passages on the history of science.
It is those private objections—as expressed in e-mails from McCaskey to Harriman and
in private discussions among Objectivist academics—that prompted Peikoff to demand
McCaskey's removal from ARI's board.

The e-mail posted by McCaskey lays out the irrational, non-objective basis for this
demand. In the Anthemgate e-mail, Peikoff does not cite evidence that McCaskey's
objections are wrong or that he made them in a way that violated some kind of proper
etiquette. Rather, Peikoff objects to the fact that McCaskey offered any criticism
at all. Peikoff complains that McCaskey "attacks Dave's book, and thus, explicitly
or implicitly, my intro praising it as expressing [Ayn Rand's] epistemology, and
also my course on induction, on which the book is based."

Note also that it is not merely the public expression of disagreement that Peikoff
refuses to allow. It is also the private expression of disagreement. Referring to a
small, conversational forum of Objectivist academics in which McCaskey participated,
Peikoff says, "I do not know where else he has voiced these conclusions, but size to
me is irrelevant in this context." One wonders whether it is acceptable for McCaskey
to think these thoughts in his own mind.

Now take a moment to check out the review of the book that McCaskey subsequently
posted to containing the essence of his criticisms. It is not some
vitriolic "attack" or "denunciation," as Peikoff describes it. If anything, McCaskey
is guilty of polite academic understatement, claiming only that Harriman's
"historical accounts...often differ from those given by academic researchers working
on the history of science and often by the scientists themselves." What follows is a
serious, substantive discussion of two important errors in the history of science
that are directly relevant to the theory of induction that Harriman presents. I
won't try to summarize the science—McCaskey is a clear writer, and his review speaks
perfectly well for itself—but for anyone with a background in science, it makes for
interesting reading.

Again, however, I want to emphasize that Peikoff presents no evidence to ARI's
board—and, since he allowed the public distribution of his e-mail, he provides no
evidence to us, the Objectivist "grass roots"—to show that McCaskey's conclusions
were wrong or were expressed in an inappropriate way. He cites only the mere fact of
criticism. And in case we were in any doubt, here is how he presents his ultimatum
to the board:

"When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me—I hope you still
know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism—is denounced by a
member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded, someone has to go, and
someone will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom."
Many people have been shocked that this ultimatum takes the form of asking "Don't
you know who I am?" It is a caricature of the rank-pulling blowhard—more reminiscent
of John Kerry than of John Galt. But the actual key phrase here is "intellectual

The obvious rejoinder is that there is no such thing. There is no "status" in
science or in philosophy, no role for personal loyalty and no deference to authority
figures. Yet this idea of "intellectual status" is actually taken seriously by
Peikoff's defenders. In a very revealing Facebook discussion started by Chip Joyce—a
former classmate of mine at ARI's old Objectivist Graduate Center and someone who is
well-known in Objectivist circles—one of the participants actually asserts that,
given his past accomplishments, "Dr. Peikoff is not obligated to explain himself to
us." But an intellectual is always obligated to explain himself, in any matter
relating to ideas—just as a scientist always needs to show his work. The proper
attitude is expressed by the motto of Britain's premiere scientific association, the
Royal Society: nullius in verba, "on no one's word." Even an Isaac Newton has to
show the data to support his conclusions. And the best scientists, like the best
philosophers, will ask their colleagues to bring on the best counter-arguments and
strongest criticisms, and they will be eager to answer those objections in public.

Respect for an intellectual's past accomplishments is certainly appropriate, but all
it properly earns him is a respectful hearing—not obedience.

Taken on its own, this section of the e-mail is a clear appeal to authority. But it
gets worse. The Anthemgate e-mail is literally a demand that Peikoff be treated as
infallible. He complains: "In essence, [McCaskey's] behavior amounts to: Peikoff is
misguided, Harriman is misguided, [McCaskey] knows Objectivism better than either."
The fallacy here is simple. It is an equivocation between knowledge in general and
knowledge in particular. Certainly, no one knows more about Ayn Rand's philosophy as
a whole than Leonard Peikoff—but that does not mean he is incapable of making an
error on a particular issue or point. In erasing that distinction, Peikoff is
asserting his general expertise on Objectivism as grounds for demanding automatic
agreement with his application of the philosophy to any particular issue. After all,
who are you to think you know Objectivism better than he does?

And note that the issue on which Peikoff is asserting this authority is not even
part of Objectivism proper. Peikoff has long insisted that Objectivism consists only
of the philosophical ideas stated by Ayn Rand herself or personally approved by her.
But she did not develop a theory of scientific induction; this theory is a very
recent invention of Peikoff's. Yet he describes his theory as "expressing Ayn Rand's
epistemology" and suggests that in disagreeing with Peikoff, McCaskey is claiming
that "Objectivism is inadequate."

This fits with a pattern, in recent years, of Peikoff attempting to incorporate his
own new theories into "official Objectivism." He has done it with the so-called "DIM
Hypothesis," declaring in a 2006 letter that anyone who does not endorse the
conclusions in that theory simply "does not understand Objectivism." (I'll have more
to say about that letter below.) He has made several attempts to do the same with
his theory on induction. The consequence is the increasing identification of the
philosophy of Objectivism with his own theories and opinions, including on issues
Ayn Rand never addressed. The message of this e-mail is: Objectivism, c'est moi.

This is the key for understanding what has gone wrong with the Objectivist movement,
how it careened into the Anthemgate crack-up, and the historical roots of this

The history here is crucial to grasp. This is not just about McCaskey or Harriman or
a single e-mail from Peikoff. There is a context for it. Ironically, some have cited
"context" to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions from the AthemGate e-mail, saying
that we do not know what discussions and conflicts may have occurred behind the
scenes. I suspect they cite this context precisely because it is unknown, thereby
justifying a permanent suspension of judgment. But as others have replied, in the
vigorous online discussions on this issue, further context can only add information.
It can't make the content of the Anthemgate e-mail disappear. In what context, after
all, is it acceptable to make an argument from authority? And the really relevant
context is that this is not the first time Peikoff has made such an argument, or
launched an attack against an independent Objectivist intellectual. This is part of
a long-standing pattern.

Here are the top highlights of that history, relying only on things that are
publicly available and that occurred during my own history of involvement in the
Objectivist movement.

The first serious alarm bell I noticed—at least, the first one that I was really
required to get deeply involved in—was a letter submitted to TIA in 2000 by Peikoff
and a circle of his associates that included Dave Harriman. The letter was written
in response to a positive review of Allan Gotthelf's On Ayn Rand, a short overview
of Objectivism written for an academic audience. The book's only flaw, in my view,
was an overly complex and drily technical academic style, but it was condemned by
Peikoff et al. as "harmful to the spread of Objectivism" because its biographical
sketch of Ayn Rand was too long and positive and a few of its passages were
(allegedly) unclear, so all of this would cause readers to dismiss Objectivism as
"just some kind of cult."

Looking back at this in light of today's context, I have to point out the
preposterous irony. Ten years ago, writing about Objectivism in an overly academic
style would make people think it's a cult. But ejecting people from the movement by
appealing to your "intellectual status" and threatening "I hope you still know who I
am"—that won't make Objectivism look like a cult?

The letter concluded that "this book is a test of one's ability to read
objectively"—a mild, early form of a kind of "test" we will see later. In response,
Bob Stubblefield (then-publisher of TIA) and I wrote a polite but firm defense of
Gotthelf's book. Though this did not make it into our response, I thought at the
time that the danger of Peikoff's letter was that it would shut down young minds.
Any young Objectivist who took the letter seriously would be paralyzed from
producing any writing or presentation of his own, for fear that a merely inadequate
presentation of Objectivism would be harmful to the movement. Looking back on it,
however, I realize that the target of that letter was not the over-eager effort of a
young newcomer. It was a serious presentation by a distinguished academic who had
been in the Objectivist movement for forty years. Which means that this was an
attempt to paralyze everyone's mind. In retrospect, this letter was a warning that
the only people allowed to write about Objectivism are Peikoff or those directly
approved by him. It was an assertion of the exclusive privileges of his
"intellectual status."

There was a series of minor skirmishes over the coming years, some of which I will
mention shortly, but the next major crisis was in 2006, in the run-up to that year's
mid-term congressional election. Peikoff released a letter (see the letter and my
response to it here) declaring that it was "immoral" not to vote a straight
Democratic ticket—that it was immoral even to abstain from voting. Yes, that meant a
moral obligation to vote for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Barney Frank and the
whole gang—the very same Democrats who now control Congress, with the results we see
all around us.

But that is not what was most objectionable about Peikoff's election recommendation.
An error can be excused—even, possibly, an error as big as that one—but what cannot
be excused is an attempt to close down rational discussion. Toward the end of
Peikoff's letter, he asserts:

"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."

As I wrote in reply:

This is entirely inappropriate....
Dr. Peikoff's statement amounts to an epistemological Argument from Intimidation, an
ultimatum demanding that the reader vote in a certain way, under threat of being
considered epistemologically unworthy, incapable of understanding Objectivism
"except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world."

One cannot make agreement on such a narrow, concrete, complex topic as an election
into a test of anyone's philosophical understanding.... A respect for the
independence and objectivity of other people's minds requires that such issues be
open to civil discussion and debate.

I am surprised that so few people in the recent online discussions seem to remember
this 2006 letter, because it is a direct parallel and precedent to the Anthemgate
e-mail. It was also the incident that brought me out in direct, open opposition to
Peikoff, for reasons that are now thoroughly vindicated by Anthemgate.

In recent years, I've noticed that Peikoff has been using these tactics more
frequently. In a recent podcast on the Ground Zero Mosque, Peikoff calls for the
government not just to block the mosque but to bomb it (the details are a little
incoherent). I'll have more to say about the reasoning behind his recommendation
below. But notice that he could not help but begin the podcast with the same method:
impugning the character and thinking of any Objectivist who disagrees with him. Here
is how he says it:

Left to my own devices, I would be enraged and spout off all the way through my
answer on the wickedness of the people who believe [that the developers have a right
to build the mosque] or the non-knowledge of the people who agree with them. But I
asked for questions and therefore if I take it, well, nobody forced me, I've got to
be calm, just as if it was any other question. So, do not let my manner deceive you
as to my opinion, my evaluation.

All of these were public warning signs, but the Anthemgate e-mail makes it all very
obvious and explicit. Peikoff's default mode now is to denounce anyone who disagrees
with him, on any issue he regards as personally important, as "wicked" and to be
ostracized by all good Objectivists.

All of this would be destructive enough even if it were done in defense of true
ideas. It would be destructive because the commitment to judge the truth for oneself
is far more important than the truth or falsehood of one's views on any particular
issue. But this method of intellectual bullying has been used to inject a series of
false ideas into the Objectivist debate, giving them the decisive weight of
Peikoff's "intellectual status" and thereby cutting off valid thinking on these

Leonard Peikoff's greatest contribution to Objectivism, in my view, is his
identification of the thinking error of "rationalism," which consists of putting
into practice the philosophical theory that all knowledge is gained by deduction
from abstractions, rather than by induction from observation of reality. Peikoff's
identification of this erroneous view of reason, including detailed analysis of its
symptoms, is an achievement that is experienced by many Objectivists—particularly
young men of an intellectual disposition, who are most prone to rationalism—as a
form of salvation from error. I regard it as his most important achievement because
it is one that people can and do use on a daily basis as a corrective to their

But then, in recent years, Peikoff produced the DIM Hypothesis, a complex
alphanumeric matrix that somewhat artificially seeks to explain history by arranging
ideas and leaders according to whether they are "disintegrated," "integrated," or
"misintegrated" (hence "DIM"). The result is what I regard as a highly rationalistic
deduction of the conclusion that the greatest threat of our era is the impending
prospect of a Christian theocracy imposed by the Republican Party. It is a
conclusion that is largely derived from a general appeal to broad historical
patterns, and from the theoretical construct of the DIM Hypothesis—but with only a
glancing attempt to ground it in actual observations of contemporary journalistic

At the time of Peikoff's 2006 election letter, I and many others responded by citing
mountains of evidence, about the waning historical influence of religion in the
West, about how the War on Terrorism had caused the right to reaffirm its commitment
to free speech and religious freedom, and on and on. At the time, defenders of
Peikoff's position brushed off most of these claims as "concrete-bound"—a curious
way of dismissing the relevance of facts.

I consider subsequent events to be a vindication of our arguments. The left, which
Peikoff described as weak, dispirited, and mostly harmless, has proven to be more
committed and destructive than even I expected. And as for the rank-and-file
conservatives whom Peikoff denounced as the foot-soldiers of theocracy, they are the
very people now saving us from destruction by spontaneously rising up in the Tea
Party movement. Any doubt about their real priorities—whether they cared more about
religious traditionalism or about freedom—has now been erased. These people did not
gather together to march in the streets by the millions to demand theocracy or even
a ban on abortion. They are marching to stop out-of-control government power (much
to the chagrin, as I have noted, of the hard-core religious right). A story from
this year's 9/12 march in Washington, DC, sums it up for me. As we marched past the
Newseum—the mainstream media's impressive mausoleum overlooking Pennsylvania
Avenue—we noticed a giant mural on the side of the building bearing the complete
text of the First Amendment. The Tea Party marchers spontaneously began reading the
words of the First Amendment aloud, in unison and with reverence, as a kind of
display of patriotism. This is not a ready constituency for theocracy.

I would also point out that these are the same conservatives who have almost
unanimously acknowledged that the First Amendment gives Feisal Rauf the right to
build a mosque in Lower Manhattan, much as they might hate the idea. The irony is
that it is Peikoff, who just a few years ago warned about impending theocracy, who
has advocated the suspension of the First Amendment and the denial to Muslims of the
"free exercise" of their religion. It is a disastrous precedent to set if Peikoff
still believes, as he does, that Christian theocracy is the greatest threat to

But what is even worse is his reasoning, which has not been well understood. Many
people who agree with Peikoff about blocking the mosque have defended his position
by inventing their own arguments for it. Hardly anyone has pointed out his own
central argument, expressed in this passage:

"Rights are contextual. In any situation where metaphysical survival is at stake all
property rights are out. You have no obligation to respect property rights. The
obvious, classic example of this is, which I've been asked a hundred times, you swim
to a desert island—you know, you had a shipwreck—and when you get to the shore, the
guy comes to you and says, 'I've got a fence all around this island. I found it.
It's legitimately mine. You can't step onto the beach.' Now, in that situation you
are in a literal position of being metaphysically helpless. Since life is the
standard of rights, if you no longer can survive this way, rights are out. And it
becomes dog-eat-dog or force-against-force."

That is what he sets up as the context for everything that follows and as the basic
justification for banning—or bombing—the mosque. He cites no principle to justify
this suspension of rights, because he has thrown out principles, invoking an
"emergency" to justify resolving the issue through a contest of brute force.

This is an extremely dangerous idea which, if taken seriously and applied elsewhere,
would eliminate the very concept of individual rights from political discussion. And
he has begun to apply it elsewhere. In another podcast, Peikoff has discovered
another supposed emergency that justifies the suspension of rights: illegal
immigration. Reversing his previous support for liberalized immigration, just two
years ago, a new podcast justifies a crackdown on illegal immigration on the same
kind of dog-eat-dog argument.

Peikoff is turning the lesson of Ayn Rand's article "The Ethics of Emergencies" on
its head. The point of that article was that you cannot look at "lifeboat" emergency
situations and draw general principles that apply to morality under normal
circumstances. Yet that is precisely what Peikoff ends up doing—citing what you
would do if you were stranded on a desert island to illuminate what should be done
in the building permit approval process for a religious structure in Manhattan.

Leonard Peikoff sets the example from the very top of the Objectivist movement, and
his methods have trickled down pervasively to others in the movement, something that
has put me in frequent and increasing conflict with the "mainstream" Objectivist
movement centered around the Ayn Rand Institute.

The first real conflict centered around American policy in the War on Terrorism,
coming to a head in 2003–2004. I had seen such a conflict coming, which is one of
the reasons I began phasing out my work for ARI at that time. It was at this point
that Peikoff cut off TIA from the "Box 177" program, which uses the insert cards in
Ayn Rand's novels to generate a mailing list that was shared by ARI and several
other organizations. He also denied permission for us to include the text of his
articles in a digital version of our back issues, on the grounds that he had
philosophical disagreements with TIA. The nature of those philosophical
disagreements was never disclosed to me.

(It was also at about this time, if I recall, that Phil Oliver, an Objectivist who
put in an enormous amount of work to compile a searchable CD-ROM of Ayn Rand's
writings, was denied an extension of his license to produce the CD specifically
because Phil had criticized David Harriman's writings on science in Internet
discussion groups.)

ARI then vigorously supported the creation of a better-funded competitor to TIA, The
Objective Standard, which has reliably served as a de facto "house organ" for ARI,
expressing views on war and politics that are in line with the approved positions

This alternative publication was launched with an article by Yaron Brook, ARI's
executive director, and Alex Epstein, who now works as one of its policy analysts.
The article launched another false idea into the realm of politics: the idea that
the Bush administration's war policies were consistently based on an altruist,
quasi-pacifist version of "just war theory" advocated by a philosopher named Michael
Walzer. This was an idea originated by Leonard Peikoff in a talk at West Point and
then broadcast by way of Brook and Epstein. The only evidence for the influence of
"just war theory" was a heavily re-written history of the run-up to the Iraq War.
The article asserts, for example, that toward the end of 2002, Bush quietly dropped
the case for pre-emption—which is not consistent with "just war theory" and which
Brook and Epstein approve of. But this is merely asserted, because there is no
evidence to back it up. I followed the debate over the war exhaustively, and I can
remember the exact day Bush stopped arguing about pre-emption and the Iraq War: it
was in early 2005, after his re-election, when he finally felt that the American
people had ratified the decision to fight in Iraq.

In that article, there is one smoking gun that indicates how Brook and Epstein
re-wrote the facts. Michael Walzer, who is used throughout the article as the
authority on "just war theory," is quoted describing that theory's restrictions on
the use of pre-emptive force. When I read the article, I thought the quote sounded
familiar, so I looked at an article Alex Epstein had published in TIA in late 2002.
Epstein had argued in favor of the invasion of Iraq by arguing for the pre-emptive
use of force to prevent a hostile regime from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
That earlier article extensively and approvingly quoted Bush administration
officials making the argument for pre-emption, and Epstein included the same quote
from Walzer—but in a longer form. In the longer form, Walzer states his restricted
view of the right to pre-emptive action, but then goes on to say that this is
contradicted by the arguments of the Bush administration. That is the part that is
left out of the same quote when it appears later in Brook and Epstein's "just war
theory" article. The quote is cut short because it contradicts the whole thesis of
the article: the man they take as the authority on "just war theory" states that the
Bush administration is not acting according to its restrictions.

If this sounds like nit-picking, well, there are those who regard McCaskey's factual
objections to Harriman's book as nit-picking. But these problems are every bit as
important in my field, journalism, as Harriman's errors are in McCaskey's field. In
each case, a fact that was directly relevant to a philosophical conclusion was
ignored or airbrushed out when it needed to be addressed.

That article's view of the War on Terrorism quickly became the acceptable view in
Objectivist circles, and those who disagreed could expect a good dose of scorn and
intimidation—and if you don't think so, then brother, you weren't on the other side.
I even had a small handful of people cancel their subscriptions to TIA on the
grounds that we were not really an Objectivist publication any more but had instead
become "neoconservatives"—a smear borrowed from the Left.

But the disapproval directed toward TIA is not the real problem. When you write
about politics, you tend to stir up a lot of hostility, and you get used to it. The
worst consequence of this false theory is that it prevented thinking and learning
about the most important issue of the day. The result, in ARI circles, has been a
stubborn refusal to learn anything about the history and nature of
counter-insurgency war, ignoring whole swathes of military science and history and
instead chalking it all up as altruist philosophy. This has happened while the US
has been engaged in two counter-insurgency wars and was winning one of them. But the
"mainstream" ARI-associated Objectivists refused to study the implementation of
counter-insurgency strategy and to this day they will not even acknowledge the
victory of the "surge" in Iraq.

War is not the only subject on which ARI intellectuals have been wearing
philosophical blinders. Peikoff's insistence about the imminent threat of theocracy
has also caused some Objectivists to tailor the facts to this pre-approved
conclusion, preventing them from being able to process new information. I will cite
one glaring example. About five years ago, a conservative intellectual named Dinesh
D'Souza wrote a book called The Enemy at Home, in which he accused the left of being
responsible for September 11, not because they advocated a weak foreign policy, but
because they are too secular and godless and therefore enrage the sensibilities of
foreign Muslims. In effect, D'Souza advocates the suppression of our liberties in
order to appease Muslim rage.

It was an evil thesis, to which Objectivists were first alerted by Jack Wakeland's
scathing comments in TIA Daily in 2004. When the book came out, TIA Daily offered
extensive coverage of the reaction in conservative circles, which I described as a
test for conservatives of the degree of their sympathy with religious dictatorship.
In our coverage, available here, I extensively documented the conservatives'
rejection of D'Souza's argument.

Which is why I was struck last year when one of ARI's writers, Elan Journo,
published a long series of posts on ARI's new blog addressing the D'Souza
controversy three years after the fact—and getting the story completely wrong. If
Journo had actually been following the controversy, he would have found multiple
conservative arguments against D'Souza, often in quite strong and eloquent terms.
Instead, the only conservative Journo cites as criticizing the book is Andrew
Sullivan. (Virtually no one on the right has considered Sullivan to be a
"conservative" since about 2005, when he flipped against the Iraq War, adopting the
full litany of the Left's complaints.) Journo then goes on to quote the weakest
criticism offered by National Review's Jonah Goldberg—while missing Goldberg's much
stronger comments, in which he essentially declares, of the left, that he may
disagree with everything they say but will fight to the death for their right to say
it. He even quotes Mark Steyn egregiously out of context to make him look like a
squishy appeaser of Muslims. Yes, this is the same Mark Steyn who is an
indefatigable opponent of Islamization and who has personally stood up against
persecution by Muslim radicals in the kangaroo courts of Canada's "human rights"

The whole flavor of this sloppy, selective coverage of the facts is summed up in one
detail. Journo cites, as evidence of conservative sympathy for D'Souza's argument,
that "National Review's website published D'Souza's detailed, four-part reply to his
critics." He neglects to mention that this was followed by NRO's own online
"symposium," whose title was "Rejecting a Thesis"—National Review's writers
rejecting D'Souza's thesis.

Again, the worst damage is that the false idea spread through these methods prevents
the discovery and acknowledgement of true conclusions. Thus, Journo's series
concludes that "The only fire remaining in conservatism today emanates from
religionists like D'Souza." This was written in late August of 2009, when town hall
meetings across the country were exploding with rage against Obama's health care
plan, following giant Tea Party rallies across the country on Tax Day and July 4,
and about three weeks before a million people converged on the mall in Washington to
protest against runaway government spending. To claim, in that context, that
religion is the only issue that can set the right on fire is to live in an
alternative universe.

Again, however, the problem is not just the error. It is the inability to correct
the error. Note that at the end of this series Journo thanks, for their review and
assistance, Yaron Brook, Onkar Ghate, and Tom Bowden—Journo's entire chain of
command at ARI. Yet none of them were capable of offering a correction. They could
not do it, because the idea of a theocratic takeover from the right—"an incremental
'Talibanization' of America," Journo calls it—was a pre-ordained result that could
not be questioned. After all, Leonard Peikoff had already declared that anyone who
doesn't accept this conclusion 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." And how could such a person be permitted to continue working for ARI?

This method of selectively presenting facts to fit a pre-formed philosophical
conclusion is on almost cartoonish display in a Facebook attack on McCaskey by Tore
Boeckmann, an ARI-associated intellectual who has set himself up as a kind of
intellectual enforcer vilifying anyone who challenges Peikoff. (See his previous
effort against Betsy Speicher and the late Stephen Speicher and their independent
Internet bulletin board for Objectivists.) Boeckmann accuses McCaskey's review of
The Logical Leap of being vague and noncommittal, of lacking substance and depending
only on innuendo—which he does by excerpting only McCaskey's polite understatements
and careful academic qualifications, while using ellipses to cut out everything of
actual substance in the review. What is cut out is four paragraphs of detailed
discussion of Galileo's concept of air resistance, including quotes from Galileo's
own notebooks, and another four paragraphs of discussion on the best scholarship
regarding Newton's concept of inertia. In other words, what is cut out is the actual
argument offered in the review.

I had a somewhat disreputable acquaintance in high school whose idea of a clever
trick, in a class debate, was to take a quote from the Founding Fathers and make it
say the opposite of what it really meant. How did he do this? By using ellipses to
remove the word "not." Boeckmann's technique is almost as crude.

Take a long, hard look at these dishonest attacks and put yourself in the place of a
young intellectual looking to make a career in the Objectivist movement. Imagine
what it would be like to realize that this is what is awaiting you if you challenge
any idea approved by Leonard Peikoff and supported by ARI.

And this is the right perspective to take, because those are the people who are
watching this controversy most intently: the young Objectivist intellectual in their
twenties, and particularly the graduate students. These are people who had been
hoping to rely on the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation for dissertation
grants, for teaching jobs, for help in obtaining an academic position. They are now
deeply concerned that if they follow this career path, they will not be allowed to
think independently, that they will constantly have to worry about having
predetermined philosophical conclusions dictated down to them from above.

My message to these young intellectuals is that they are right to be worried,
because in my field it happens all the time. The Anthem scandal serves notice that
it's beginning to happen in their field, too. And when Leonard Peikoff's promised
book on his DIM Hypothesis appears, who knows what other thoughts will have become

If I have cited a large number of examples to prove my point, it is because I am
pulling together a big pattern that has manifested itself on many issues across many
years. And I should stress that I do not expect you to read this overview and
immediately be convinced that what I am saying is true. That is why I have posted
links and references for all of these cases—and at the end of this article, I will
publish a bibliography of links, so you can take time to go to the original sources,
evaluate them, and judge for yourself.

My other reason for citing a large number of detailed examples is because I want to
impress upon the reader how pervasive the problem is, and the fact that it cuts
across all levels of the Objectivist movement, from the rank-and-file, like Chip
Joyce, to the low- and mid-level intellectuals, like Tore Boeckmann and Elan Journo,
to the very top. I'll provide one last example to prove that point.

If there is one Objectivist intellectual whom I have most regarded as a mentor or
role model, it is Harry Binswanger, and his moderated e-mail discussion list, HBL,
has been one of the last forums where different Objectivist factions all
participated and talked with (or at least at) each other. But I have been
increasingly frustrated with what I regard as a non-objective bias in Harry's
moderation of the list, an attempt to stack the intellectual deck against arguments
he doesn't like. The final straw came about a month ago, when I sent in a post
addressing Leonard Peikoff's recent podcasts on immigration and the Ground Zero
Mosque. Harry sent back a note explaining that he would not send it out to the list
because he did not want to post any more criticism of Peikoff, and because my
comments were too "trenchant." Go to a dictionary and look up the word "trenchant."
I did, just to make sure it meant what I thought it meant. It doesn't mean that my
comments were rude, insulting, or ad hominem—you can read them and judge for
yourself. What Harry was objecting to is that my arguments were too convincing. I
have not posted on HBL since, I will not, and as of this writing I have asked Harry
to remove me from his list.

What else can I do—offer only my second-best arguments in order to avoid offending a
higher intellectual authority? Any discussion based on the terms, "offer whatever
arguments you have, so long as they're not too trenchant," is a fraud. It means that
one side is able to post its best arguments and engage in direct criticism—Harry
frequently publishes direct criticism of me and TIA—but the other side is limited to
presenting its arguments in a softened, indirect form. This is not an intellectual
discussion but a mechanism for the enforcement of orthodoxy.

This pattern is too pervasive to be attributed merely to the quirks of one
particular personality. It stems from a single central idea: the establishment of a
system of intellectual authority, with a hierarchy of deference to that authority.

I vividly remember when that system was made clear to me. I believe it was some time
in the last year in a discussion on HBL, when my "What Went Right?" series and some
defenses of it that I offered on HBL were being criticized for showing insufficient
"respect" for Leonard Peikoff. (On that issue, I will simply say that I have enough
respect for Peikoff to treat him like an intellectual and not a pampered celebrity.
And that means treating him as if he is fully capable of answering objections on
their merits, without needing to be shielded from criticism, and without the crutch
of standing on his authority.) I was trying to understand what these critics meant
by "respect" when Jean Moroney Binswanger wrote a long post setting out a whole
hierarchy of "respect," in which the top philosophers are entitled to the most
respect in an intellectual discussion, and then lesser levels of respect are
required for those who are farther down in the philosophical pecking order.
(Unfortunately, due to HBL's rules, I cannot provide a link or a direct quote.) It
struck me then that "respect" was the wrong word, that it was a reputable cover used
to describe what is really expected in the Objectivist movement: deference to
philosophical authority.

The Anthemgate e-mail makes that crystal clear, because it shows in no uncertain
terms that "respect" goes only one way. Peikoff demands it for himself—but does not
grant even a basic level of respect to ARI's board, to McCaskey, or to the average
Objectivist. McCaskey's own story of how his ejection from the board happened is
relevant here. I talked to him recently to get his side of the story and to verify
some details that I had heard "through the grapevine." (He agreed to talk to me, but
he was unaware that I planned to write anything on this, and he has not seen or
approved of what I have written here.) One of the first questions I had for McCaskey
was: how did he get Peikoff's permission to release the e-mail? Here is how he
explained it. He offered to resign from the board on the condition that Peikoff
allow the release of some kind of statement naming Peikoff's problems with
McCaskey—and that e-mail is what was given to him as the statement. He was
surprised, to say the least, that Peikoff was content to let a half-edited e-mail
rant stand as his statement to McCaskey and to the world as the grounds for his
action. Peikoff's decision not to write anything more formal or to offer any other
information on the issue is an expression of contempt for the minds of others. The
message is: you don't deserve anything better.

Why? Because in a hierarchy of philosophical "respect," Leonard Peikoff is way up
there, John McCaskey is way down here, and the rest of us are presumably even
farther down.

All of this—the rewriting of facts to fit a pre-determined philosophical conclusion,
and the hierarchy of intellectual deference—is a massive demonstration of the very
thing I have been responding to in my "What Went Right?" series: the pervasive
premise, in Objectivism, that the propagation of ideas goes from the top down, that
philosophy dictates conclusions down to the special sciences. Whether it's the War
on Terrorism or the influence of religion in American politics or the history of
science, in every field and on every issue where philosophical theory meets the
facts, "one of us has to go," and so the facts go.

To see this assumption in action, consider a reply at to McCaskey's
review of The Logical Leap. This reply is from someone I know to be a longtime and
serious Objectivist, and he complains that "any review of the book should primarily
focus on the theory, recognizing that it is the essential content and context, with
all other issues secondary," but that McCaskey dwells instead on "details of
interpretation of historical development." Note the premise that this individual has
unwittingly bought into: that theory is primary, that it is more important to
address the theory than it is to address the facts that support it.

But if McCaskey's comments are just historical nit-picking, why the condemnation and
the ultimatums? Why not just let him state his objections and answer them clearly—or
better yet, why not make the necessary factual and philosophical corrections, since
McCaskey's arguments have been available to Harriman and Peikoff for some time? Yet
in the Anthemgate e-mail, Peikoff acknowledges that McCaskey's "disagreements are
not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at
issue." And McCaskey's review explains clearly why the factual errors he cites would
require at least a revision of Peikoff's theory. So the attempt to cast McCaskey out
of the Objectivist movement is an attempt to use Peikoff's philosophical authority
to override substantive factual objections.

This is not news to me. My field isn't history or the philosophy of science. Mine is
politics, and what I have seen over the past ten years is the persistent intrusion
of false ideas pushed down from above on Peikoff's philosophical authority. On the
two biggest political issues of our day—the War on Terrorism and the relative merits
of the Republicans (and the right in general) versus the Democrats as the best
protection for our liberties—Peikoff and those following his lead have been
disastrously wrong. But worse, they have been wrong because they have been
contemptuously indifferent to the facts. One jarring juxtaposition should make my
point. At the same time that Peikoff posted his letter on the 2006 election on his
website—the same time that he was saying that the rest of us have "no understanding
of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life"—his site also featured the
following Q&A:

"Q: I am writing to inquire about your sentiments on the current state of America
and the world.
"A: I now read only the front page of the New York Times, dropping each story when
it is necessary to turn the page. That way, what is happening does not become too
real to me."

How is he supposed to have an "understanding of the practical role of philosophy in
man's actual life" if the world's events are not real to him? In 2004, I had a
private conversation with John Lewis, who conveyed to me Peikoff's private
statements that those who advocated the re-election of George Bush—I had not yet
made a public statement of my position, though it was pretty clear what I thought of
John Kerry—showed a "contempt for philosophy." But what about Peikoff's contempt for
the facts?

This is why I have become increasingly skeptical over the years about Peikoff's work
on induction—because I have observed that in my field, he does not practice it.
After all, the first step of induction, its precondition, is an immersion in the
facts. There is no theory of evolution without the voyage of the Beagle, and no
sweeping new theory about the political direction of the country without reading the
newspapers. McCaskey's criticisms—and Peikoff's reaction to them—confirm my
skepticism. Harriman has presented a theory of induction produced by someone who
does not fully believe in it, who believes that his philosophical theory can stand
apart from its basis in the facts.

That attitude was crystallized for me in 2006, when I stood out against Peikoff's
election recommendation and received an e-mail from a board member at ARI who urged
me to reconsider because Peikoff was looking at events on a "higher level," a
rarified philosophical plane which ought to override the mere factual objections of
a journalist. The whole thing smacks of the leftover influence of Platonism, the
idea that deeper truth resides at a greater distance from the facts.

And that give us the key to understand what it is that Peikoff is asserting in the
Anthemgate e-mail. In effect, the "intellectual status" Peikoff is claiming is that
of a Platonic philosopher-king, whose connection to a higher realm of abstractions
entitles him to overrule the conclusions of those who are engaged with the mere
"details" of history, politics, law, and so on.

I took a lot of heat in my "What Went Right?" series for identifying this "top-down"
approach to the influence of philosophy. Many thought I was misrepresenting
Peikoff's views. But is there any better example of the top-down approach than
Peikoff's conflict with McCaskey?

In my original presentation of my series, I chose not to spend a lot of time
demonstrating the pervasiveness of this approach, largely because I wanted to focus
attention on my own positive theory, rather than on my criticisms of other
Objectivists. It turns out this attempt was somewhat naïve; I did not realize that
in the authority-centered system of the Objectivist movement, the most important
issue would not be the evidence I provided for my own theory, but rather my
deviation from the accepted philosophical authorities.

In the current context, therefore, it seems appropriate to return to this issue and
take it head-on. Reluctantly, I have concluded that the error does go back to Ayn
Rand, particularly this analogy from her essay "For the New Intellectual":

"The professional intellectual is the field agent of the army whose
commander-in-chief is the philosopher. The intellectual carries the application of
philosophical principles to every field of human endeavor. He sets a society's
course by transmitting ideas from the "ivory tower" of the philosopher to the
university professor—to the writer—to the artist—to the newspaperman—to the
politician—to the movie maker—to the night-club singer—to the man in the street. The
intellectual's specific professions are in the field of the sciences that study man,
the so-called "humanities," but for that very reason his influence extends to all
other professions. Those who deal with the sciences studying nature have to rely on
the intellectual for philosophical guidance and information: for moral values, for
social theories, for political premises, for psychological tenets and, above all,
for the principles of epistemology, that crucial branch of philosophy which studies
man's means of knowledge and makes all other sciences possible."

Substantively, the wrong premise here—which is expanded upon in the rest of her
essay—is Ayn Rand's idea of the division of labor between the intellectual and his
audience. Yes, there is such a division of labor, and there are incalculable
benefits that come from making it possible for some men to devote their full-time
effort to the study and transmission of ideas. But this is one case where the
division of labor has limits: a man's thinking about the most important issues of
life cannot be outsourced to others or handed down to him on some transmission belt
from the ivory tower. In particular, in the current context, I would note that a
scientist has to be an expert in epistemology in his own right—and historically, the
scientists have been much better epistemologists than the philosophers. In my view,
we would be much better off if the scientists did not rely on the philosophers for
their ideas on epistemology, but rather if the philosophers relied on the
scientists. They could make a good start by studying Galileo and Newton.

Stylistically, the problem with this passage is the comparison of the philosopher to
a general giving orders to his troops. You can see the potential for mischief, and I
think we can now understand how Ayn Rand's successors believe that when they
announce a philosophical conclusion, other intellectuals are supposed to salute
smartly and stick to their marching orders.

But it is also clear that the author of The Fountainhead would never have endorsed
an interpretation of this division of labor that allows for appeals to authority or
for the subordination of the individual's independent judgment. And I should note
that while the top-down premise does appear in Ayn Rand's theory of history, it is
not consistent throughout, and it is very clear that she held an opposite view
implicitly. After all, in her novels, who are the great philosophical innovators who
generate new ideas? An architect, and a physicist working on an engineering project.
And who, after all, was she? Ayn Rand was not an inhabitant of the ivory tower; she
was a former Hollywood screenwriter who developed her philosophy in the process of
writing her novels—with all of the contempt that earned her from the credentialed
academic establishment.

Yet the top-down premise, once it had gained a toe-hold in Objectivism, had a
profound effect on the Objectivist movement. The problem was compounded, I suspect,
by Ayn Rand's unique role. As the creator of Objectivism, she had a legitimate
authority to say what was in it and what wasn't, and so the original structure of
the Objectivist movement did—by necessity—revolve around a single philosopher who
held a unique authority.

All of this has been taken much farther by Ayn Rand's successor. And so Ayn Rand's
idea of the transmission belt from the ivory tower down to the man on the street has
been repeated frequently by Leonard Peikoff. Here is just one example, from an old
interview in the June 30, 1982, edition of TIA. Peikoff was asked what would
constitute winning the battle to change the culture, and here was his answer: "The
teaching of courses on Objectivism at Harvard and Yale. After that, it is just a
matter of more courses in other places. But that is the end of the battle. From that
point on, it's a process of enjoying the triumph and seeing it take hold in art and
in politics."

So there you see the top-down premise in action: the epicenter of the Second
Renaissance, in this view, will be the Harvard Faculty Club lounge. I can't resist
pointing out that we are seeing, with the Tea Party movement, the model for a very
different—and much more effective—way of changing the culture.

More recently, a friend of mine attended an ARI fund-raiser in New York City, where
he heard Tara Smith, one of the most well-established Objectivist academics, give a
presentation about the importance of ARI's efforts in the universities. Everyone,
she told the audience, learns their basic premises and standards from the philosophy
departments—and the good news is that Objectivists are now making inroads and would
be able to take over the role of imparting these premises and standards.

Yet the context of that talk undermines its theme. From which philosophy department
did the millions of Ayn Rand's readers—including those at the fund-raiser—learn the
standards by which they judged that Atlas Shrugged was a great novel and that Ayn
Rand's ideas were true? And from which academic philosophy department did Ayn Rand
get her standards and vision? The existence of Objectivism, both as a philosophy and
as a movement, is a living refutation of the top-down theory. Yet the Ayn Rand
Institute has been built on that theory, and we—who came to Objectivism through our
own independent thought—are increasingly treated as if our premises and standards
are dictated down to us by a philosopher-king.

The respect that Objectivists have for Peikoff, which he is trying to convert into
deference to authority, does have a genuine basis in Peikoff's philosophical
achievements, including his identification of "rationalism" and above all else his
systematic presentation of Objectivism in his book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of
Ayn Rand. So how are we to understand his attempt to set himself up as a
philosophical authority figure? It is helpful, in these cases, to refer to the
characters in Ayn Rand's novels, which serve as a reference that will be immediately
clear to any Objectivist. And the character Peikoff most reminds me of—including his
frequent gloomy assessments of other people and of the state of the world—is Robert
Stadler, the eminent physicist in Atlas Shrugged who is corrupted by the presumption
that his "intellectual status" gives him a right to wield political power. Peikoff
has adopted a lesser version of the same destructive idea—lesser because he seeks
only intellectual influence, not political power. Peikoff seems to be caught up in
the idea that his philosophical achievements give him a right to "intellectual
status" as an authority figure who is exempt from questioning or criticism.

As I have said, this is a long-standing trend. But something is different this time.
By going to the board with an ultimatum, Peikoff has now implicated the Ayn Rand
Institute directly, at the highest level.

I should note that this is what McCaskey was attempting to avoid by his resignation.
Apparently, that was his point in asking for a public statement from Leonard
condemning him. He wanted to make this a conflict between Leonard Peikoff and John
McCaskey, giving ARI's board the option of remaining silent and staying on the

It is an over-generous gesture, but McCaskey can afford to be generous. He is
independent of the Institute both financially (he made a fortune as an Internet
entrepreneur in the 1990s before moving into academia), and professionally (he has a
teaching position at Stanford). So he has the option of making a graceful exit.

Needless to say, this is not the case for the vast majority of intellectuals. Those
who already look to ARI for income or professional advancement—or those who were
hoping to do so—will now have to make the same decision I struggled with five to
seven years ago. It became increasingly clear that a "one of us has to go" letter
was on its way down, sooner or later, and I knew that I couldn't expect anyone to
stick his neck out for me when that happened. So I chose to leave the Institute and
build an independent career elsewhere. That was one of the reasons I launched TIA
Daily—to build my own source of income, my own mailing list, and my own megaphone
for the broadcast of Objectivist ideas. The only difference now is that the dilemma
is even more clear for today's young intellectuals. If the board can't be counted on
to stand up for McCaskey—a major donor to the Institute and the architect of one of
its most successful programs—you can imagine the fate of a lesser-known young

So McCaskey's gesture is futile. There is no way to keep ARI or its board of
directors out of this, because the real conflict is not Peikoff vs. McCaskey. The
conflict is ARI versus any thinker who is too independent. McCaskey told me that he
understood the board's position, because their responsibility is to "do what's best
for the Institute." But he has unwittingly accepted a typical piece of bureaucratic
thinking: that the goal of the organization is to preserve and expand the
organization. In fact, the board's responsibility is to do what's best for the
Institute's mission: the "advancement of Objectivism." And the Institute's
organization is now at odds with its mission. The release of Peikoff's Anthemgate
e-mail has the same effect as posting a big sign over the front door of the
Institute's offices, saying "No man of integrity need apply." It is an announcement
that any work anyone does for or with ARI is provisional on obedience to
intellectual authority.

And that is precisely what I have seen over the years. In my association with ARI, I
saw some of the more independent-minded people that I worked with get chased out of
Institute. I saw people who had done productive work for the organization end up
embittered and no longer wanting anything to do with "official" Objectivism. The
people I knew were not working primarily as intellectuals, and their reasons for
leaving also had to do with the stultifying bureaucracy and petty office politics
that built up as the Institute grew in size, though that was part of the same
"corporate culture." There was a growing sense that the Institute wanted only good
"organization men" who could be relied upon to stick within the system and follow
all the rules. The specific casualty, in my case, was a very effective media program
that I and a few others helped build for ARI in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By
2005, all of the people responsible for that success had left the Institute, and the
media program struggled badly for three or four years, recovering only after the
financial crisis and the recent surge of interest in Ayn Rand.

But that loss is minor compared to the impact of McCaskey's departure. I have no
connection with McCaskey and no particular water to carry for him, though he comes
out of this controversy looking like an honest man. Nor have I been a particular
booster of ARI's and Anthem's academic programs, where I think some of the effort
may have been misplaced. This is not a criticism of McCaskey, but of the
institutions of academia itself. I suspect that too much effort is devoted to taking
truths that were stated with bold clarity by Ayn Rand in plain English and
translating them into the arcane hieroglyphics of academic philosophy. In trying to
conquer academia for Objectivism, I have wondered whether they are actually
conquering Objectivism for academia. But given the Institute's goals, McCaskey was
obviously crucial to their success. Yet he has been kicked out for not being willing
to subject his independent judgment to the demands of an authority figure.

I should note that I am not echoing the various claims, over the years, that
Objectivism has become a religion or a "cult." In my view, the truth is much more
mundane. Organized Objectivism has become an establishment. With ARI as its central
institution, it is a system in which there is a well-marked-out career path for
those who go through proper channels, make their obeisance to the proper
authorities, and don't do too much to rock the boat. This is important to grasp:
that the current crisis is not just about Peikoff. The whole system is out of order.
The new Objectivist establishment has been built on a system of intellectual status
and authority, on the transplanted concept of the philosopher-king.

I do not think that the Ayn Rand Institute can be saved. Peikoff's control of Ayn
Rand's name and copyrights gives him such pervasive influence—by way of the Ayn Rand
Archives, among other programs—that the Institute's leadership cannot refuse his
demands or officially repudiate his actions. Yet they cannot endorse his e-mail,
either. And to stay silent—the position they have adopted by default—is an
abdication of their responsibility. In my view, the Institute would nevertheless
have been better off breaking its relationship with Peikoff—and even changing its
name, if necessary—rather than accepting the rule of intellectual conformity. But on
the other hand, as I have documented, these demands for conformity have been
building for more than a decade, and those who remain in positions of leadership are
those who have already made some kind of accommodation with this system.

To discover that ARI has been fundamentally corrupted will be, for many, a deeply
painful realization, and you will encounter many argument intended to muddle the
issue in your mind. Even now, on Internet discussion groups, there seems to be an
attempt to build a novel new Objectivist theory on the role of intellectual
authorities. As an antidote to that, remember what Ayn Rand said in The Romantic
Manifesto about the role of art:

Many readers of The Fountainhead have told me that the character of Howard Roark
helped them to make a decision when they faced a moral dilemma. They asked
themselves: "What would Roark do in this situation?"—and, faster than their mind
could identify the proper application of all the complex principles involved, the
image of Roark gave them the answer. They sensed, almost instantly, what he would or
would not do—and this helped them to isolate and to identify the reasons, the moral

In contemplating that advice, I have to ask, of ARI's leaders and its board of
directors: what did they expect? From its beginning, the Objectivist movement has
been fed by a steady stream of young people inspired by the vision of the
independent thinker put forward in Ayn Rand's novels. That's especially true since
the Institute began one of its most valuable and successful programs, which
encourages teachers to assign The Fountainhead in high school. But how did ARI
expect to fit all of these young people into a system of intellectual status and
authority? Certainly many of those newcomers, encountering the system, will leave
quietly. But shouldn't we have expected at least one of them to crack his ruler on
the glass and say, "Yes, God damn it, the Parthenon"—which, come to think of it, is
pretty much what I've been doing for some years now. From today's perspective, we
can see that the movement's leaders have built a giant organization on an inherently
unstable foundation. They have temporized and tried to hide the problem and avoid a
crack-up that was inevitable given the nature of the system they created.

If you re-read Peikoff's e-mail to ARI's board, and ask yourself, "What would Howard
Roark do?"—the answer is obvious: he would immediately conclude that he wanted
nothing to do with these people. He would walk away and (this is the hard part) give
them hardly another moment's thought. I suggest you do the same. Do not abandon
Objectivism—far from it! But decide to fight for the cause of reason through your
own independent action backed by your own judgment.

In this connection, I must say a few words about the smaller wing of the Objectivist
movement that is gathered around David Kelley, who split from Peikoff twenty years
ago under the banner of promoting a more "tolerant" version of Objectivism. Though
he was reacting, in part, to the same phenomenon—elements of dogmatism in the
Objectivist movement—I think that Kelley and his followers have gotten the main
issue wrong. In their view, the cause of dogmatism is excessive certainty, and the
solution is a blanket "toleration" of any dissenting view. In practice, this wing of
the movement went out of its way to show just how many disreputable figures they
were willing to tolerate, which has turned away many people who might have been
looking for a reasonable alternative to ARI.

The real alternative, in my view, is not toleration but independence. The answer is
not to loosen one's standards, but to use one's own independent standards.

So if I am asked where I stand in the Objectivist movement, I will take my cue from
Senator Joe Lieberman. When he returned to Congress after the 2006 election, after
losing his party's nomination and winning on an independent ticket, Lieberman was
asked about his party affiliation. He replied that he was an Independent
Democrat—with a capital "I" and a capital "D." I consider myself an Independent
Objectivist—with a capital "I," and a capital "O." And I believe that Independent
Objectivism is what we need.

I suspect this may be the final Objectivist crack-up. I am seeing too many earnest
young idealists who are beginning to see the difference between the ideal they
expected from Ayn Rand's novels, and from the movement's outward publicity, and the
actual reality. (For an example of one such young intellectual, earnest to the point
of naiveté, see here.) There are even a few people who went along with—or even
cheered on—previous attempts to enforce Objectivist orthodoxy, but who seem to have
found this appeal to authority too crudely obvious, too destructive in its
consequences, to support. And finally there is a camp that can only be described as
Peikoff loyalists, who are marching toward the bitter end you can see on Chip
Joyce's Facebook thread, which culminates with a frenzy of disassociation when Chip
starts "blocking" everyone who disagrees with him. That is a very effective method
for fragmenting the rank-and-file of Objectivism into infinitesimal splinters. And I
do not see any way this consequence can be avoided.

There are probably those who will blame me for trying to split the movement or for
diverting our focus from the big threat posed by the Obama administration and its
policies. But I am just the messenger. I have no power to eject anyone from ARI's
board of directors, which is what initiated this most recent crisis, and I was
prompted to drop everything and write this article now—rather than waiting a few
weeks as I originally planned—when I saw a rebellion already brewing among ARI's
donors and young intellectuals. So I am pointing out a crack-up that is already
happening whether I say anything or not. I chose to speak up earlier rather than
later because I think I can offer a fuller picture of its cause and meaning—and also
because I hope to offer advice that will soften the blow and guide us through this
crisis and into the creation of an Objectivist movement built on a more solid

I expect that there will be a long, ugly period of crisis, and it will take years
for "organized Objectivism" to reconstitute itself. But perhaps Objectivism will be
better off remaining unorganized—or at least, remaining without a single, central,
dominant institution. So do not mourn too much the suicide of ARI and the crackup of
"movement" Objectivism. I think the Objectivist movement will be more vibrant and
effective if it is the product of the independent efforts of entrepreneurial
intellectuals, with all of us competing for attention and dollars based on nothing
but the intellectual value we have to offer.

I promised at the beginning to address whether there is any hope for the future if
the organized Objectivist movement goes through this period of crisis and
retrenchment. Of course there is. Observe the rise of the Tea Party
movement—precisely the political movement we needed at precisely the moment we most
desperately needed it—and the related surge of interest in Ayn Rand's books and
ideas. This is a reminder that the Ayn Rand phenomenon is orders of magnitude bigger
than ARI—and that the American people's love of liberty will continue to drive them
to seek out Ayn Rand's ideas, no matter what happens to us.

For those of us who have toiled in the Objectivist cause for decades, the
self-destruction of a major Objectivist organization may seem like a cataclysm. In
the wider context, it is a little story. The much bigger story is the undiminished
power and value of Ayn Rand's ideas, which are such an enormous addition to the sum
of human knowledge that they are already transforming the world around us.

There is no reason why, as Independent Objectivists, we cannot be part of that
impact, make it greater, and enjoy the results.

#olists on Twitter

We talked about this on Twitter Sunday during #OLists Brunch. I too hope there is a bit more context that we are missing. I am disturbed by the fact that neither person spoke directly to the other. Communication 101.


This is depressing if that is

Jason Quintana's picture

This is depressing if that is all there is to this. If the picture painted here is accurate I don't know how the ARI can do its job effectively. After all when there is someone with this kind of "intellectual status" in Objectivism everyone else is on a pragmatic tightrope. Hopefully Piekoff had much more to back this demand then he let on in that email. In his podcasts in recent years he has made statements that led me to believe that he thinks debate on very wide range of topics are open to Objectivists who accept the fundamentals.

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