Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: The Surprise Party From Hell

Both Brandens relate a surprise party that was thrown for Rand to celebrate the publication of Atlas Shrugged. Barbara writes that it was thrown by “the collective.” (PAR, p. 295.) Nathaniel says that he and Barbara decided to have the party. For some reason, Valliant twice says that Random House (Atlas’ publisher) threw the party. (PARC, pp. 48-49.) The Brandens report that Rand was unhappy and made it clear that she didn’t like surprise parties. She was rather gloomy for most of the party, but eventually Bennett Cerf (who doesn’t discuss the incident in his memoirs) was able to cheer Rand up. Both Brandens engage in a bit of psychologizing relative to Rand’s reaction to the party.

Granted, one might find this psychologizing excessive. But Valliant’s claim that Nathaniel is claiming some sort of “special (i.e, unverifiable)” knowledge is off the mark. Branden knew Rand quite well and his (and Barbara’s) analysis of Rand is entitled to some deference. Particularly strange is Valliant’s claim that the party represented an attempt to control Rand’s “context through deception.” (PARC, pp. 49-50.) In any event, if Random House did in fact throw the party as Valliant contends, that makes the Brandens somewhat less culpable. Interestingly, Frank O’Connor (Rand’s husband) was part of the “deception”; but if Rand’s husband didn’t think she would get upset, I don’t see how the Brandens can be blamed.

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Cash for Trash?

Valliant mentions Nathaniel Branden’s claim that Leonard Peikoff has personally profited from publishing “Rand’s private journals.” Attempting to make Branden out to be stupid or disingenuous, Valliant thunders: “the publishing of notes of literary figures is quite common . . . .” (PARC, p. 11.) I’m sure Branden knows this. What he said was “[f]or example, he [Peikoff] published highly personal notes of Ayn’s, taken from her journals, that were never meant to be shared with the world.” (MYWAR, p. 364.) Branden is not objecting to the publication of Rand’s journals, but only certain portions of them (the personal parts). Valliant does make a valid point: virtually all the journal material published (up to his book of course) is of a non-personal nature, so Branden should have provided some examples.

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Only You, Lu

On page 43 of PARC, Valliant discusses Rand’s comments that she wrote about Ludwig von Mises in the margins of his books that she read, as well as Nathaniel Branden’s reactions to them. Rand was on friendly terms with the great Austrian economist and free market liberal. She recommended his books in her magazine. Von Mises, it should be remembered, was a Kantian in epistemology and a utilitarian in ethics, two positions with which Rand sharply disagreed, much as she agreed with his economics. In spite of these differences, Nathaniel Branden relates that he (Branden) was “shocked” when Rand showed him her comments in which she referred to von Mises as a “bastard.” Valliant contends that Branden considered Rand a “hypocrite” to be nice in public to von Mises, but so critical in private. Valliant considers this “small” and “petty.” Indeed, criticizing Rand for her marginal notes is a “new low” for Branden. (PARC, p. 43.)

As usual, Branden’s version is a bit more complex. Branden points out that Rand was polite to von Mises. When Rand showed him her marginal notes, he was surprised that they were so harsh. He asked her if she considered him a “bastard,” (note, not a “goddamned fool” as Valliant has it) and she said “As a total person, no, I suppose I don’t. But if I focus on that aspect of him, where he goes irrational, yes, I do.” He says that it didn’t occur to him to consider Rand a “hypocrite” (whether he does now isn’t stated). (MYWAR, p. 116.) This is the context of Branden’s comments. Branden doesn’t say that Rand shouldn’t be “passionate about ideas,” not does he deny that Rand legitimately believed that Capitalism needed a different foundation from that provided by Mises. It’s the tone that she uses and what Branden thinks it means that bothers him. Even if Branden is a bit harsh on Rand, this is a good example of a purported piece of evidence that does nothing to undermine the accuracy of his memoirs.

Incidentally, in the published version of the marginalia I can’t find Rand calling von Mises a “bastard.” Many people who have read the published version of Rand’s “marginalia” consider it unfair. See the critique by Michael Prescott here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism

I'm turning my posts on The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics into a lengthy essay tentatively entitled "The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism." It will contain lots of new material. If anyone wants a draft, please email me at objectiblog (at thing)

If anyone knows how I can link to a Microsoft Word file using blogger, then please let me know so I can make this contribution available to all.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

FDR: Objectivist Hero?

John Lewis, in an article entitled "No Substitute for Victory," compares the US war against Japan from 1941-1945 to the US war against "Totalitarian Islam." He calls for the invasion and supression of Islam in Iran and every other totalitarian Islamic state (which would include at least Saudi Arabia and maybe Egypt, Pakistan, Southern Lebanon, Sudan and Indonesia).

Franklin Rosevelt is held up as a hero for calling for the unconditional surrender of Japan and setting in place a policy of the supression of Shintoism as a political force.

It strikes me that there are quite a few "disanalogies" between these two situations. First, Japan was a modern industrial country, unlike Iran. Second, Islam is an ideology that is spread over multiple countries. Attacking Iran will create a backlash in Moslem nations, likely radicalizing them, particularly if the US goes nuclear (which Lewis appears to want). Third, an attack on Iran will be seen by the world as an offensive, beligerent act.

How the US can occupy Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries without a massive increase in taxes and imposing the draft isn't explained by Mr. Lewis.

But I find it most intersting that, as I point out below, Leonard Peikoff in 1982 opposed US involvement in World War II and even implied that FDR lied to get the US into war with Japan. He stated that US involvment in WWII was a factor in leading to increased control of the economy. The Ominous Parallels was, I gather, vetted by Rand.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will The Real Leonard Peikoff Please Stand Up

In the final lecture of his DIM series, Leonard Peikoff rails against George Bush I and II, Christianity, and the Republican Party. LP says that Bush I and II are the worst presidents in history. Concerning Bush I, Peikoff's complaint is that Bush didn't do enough about the Ayatollah's fatwa against Rushdie.

Peikoff says that all the really bad things start with the Republicans, and gives the Sherman Antitrust Act and Herbert Hoover's founding of the New Deal as examples. No mention was made of the Democrats Wilson and Roosevelt getting the US into World War I and II.

Yet in The Ominous Parallels, LP saw US involvement in the wars as the culmination of progressivism and appeared to support an isolationist position:

"But a group of determined intellectuals, religious leaders, and politicians did wish it [US involvement in WW I]. This group, which prevailed over an antiwar public, included in time almost all the leading Progressives." (P. 265.)

"Once again, a period of rising statism in the West was climaxed by a world war. Once again, the American public, which was strongly 'isolationist,' was manipulated by a pro-war administration into joining an 'idealistic crusade.'" (P. 272.)

Does Peikoff stand by his previous isolationism? If so, is he really of the opinion that Bush I's actions surrounding the Rushdie affairs are worse than Wilson and Roosevelt manipulating the US into these two wars?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

There He Goes Again (VI)

Peikoff continues his attack on Christianity in lecture 13 of DIM. He argues that the early Christians opposed science because it was the "lust of the eyes." Peikoff makes a similar attack on Augustine in OPAR saying that Augustine would have opposed blood tests as the "lust of the eyes." He doesn't given any citations or sources for these statements.

It doesn't appear that Augustine was a huge fan of science. At the same time, he didn't oppose it either. In fact, he believed that a literal reading of Genesis might have to be corrected based on the findings of astronomy.

Fred Seddon has an interesting discussion of Augustine in his Ayn Rand, Objectivists, and the History of Philosophy. He points out that Augustine developed the "stolen concept fallacy" long before Rand (or Branden).

Friday, November 24, 2006

There He Goes Again (V)

In lecture 13 of DIM, Peikoff discusses history. As one might expect, Peikoff doesn't like Christianity.

1. He claims that Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in 315. Apparently, Peikoff is referring to the Edict of Milan (which was in 313). According to most historians, this edict fell short of making Christianity the official religion, which didn't happen until Emperor Theodosius (347-395).

2. He claims that Christians attempted to obliterate pagan culture. Actually, the Christians tended to admire pagan culture and one of the points of the Protestant reformation was that the early Christians had embraced too much pagan thought. For example, here is Lactantius (c. 240-320).

"Lactantius, in a spirit not unlike that of Constantine himself, cites indiscriminately texts from Holy Writ and from pagan seers, poets, and philosopher; utterances of Orpheus, the Sibyl, Hermes Trismegistus, Vergil and Ovid, Thales, Aristotle and Cicero being quoted alongside pasages from the Hebrew Scriptures in support of the belief." [C. N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, p. 211.]

As another example, the greatest early Christian poet Prudentius (348- c. 405) imitated the pagan hymns of Horace.

Monday, November 20, 2006

There He Goes Again (IV)

In session 9 of his 2004 DIM lectures, Leonard Peikoff concedes that many of his listeners will be surprised to learn that Kant supported the US in its war for independence against England. However, LP (as he is known) claims that Kant's opposition was merely an example of nihilism. According to LP, Kant supported the US only because it was opposed to the leading power of the time, England.

I've employed all the internet search techniques I know, but can't find any information on the reason for Kant's support of the US. Does anyone have any information on this?

There He Goes Again (III)

In session 9, Peikoff has a rather convoluted discussion of Robert Bork's originalism, abortion, the founding fathers and religion. During the question and answer session, someone named Tara (I assume Tara Smith) refers to Bork's view of the ninth amendment as expressed in his 1987 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony. Peikoff asks Smith if Bork is "religious". She responds that he is. Peikoff says "it doesn't surprise me." Although Bork converted to Catholicism in 2003, he wasn't, by his own admission, particularly religious in 1987 or when he developed his theory of constitutional interpretation. But if Peikoff doesn't like you, he just knows you are religious.

There He Goes Again (II)

In session 9, Peikoff claims that it was the Jesuits who coined the phrase "the end justifies the means." This sounds like an urban legend to me. I've done a search on this and while many sources point out that it is often attributed to the Jesuits, no one seems to have found a Jesuit source for this. One reference work claims that protestants made up the claim that it originated with the the Jesuits.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

There He Goes Again

In his review of The Ominous Parallels, Dr. David Gordon points out that Leonard Peikoff is not reliable when it comes to intellectual history. Gordon reviewed OPAR and commenting on the mistakes in that book said "The author of The Ominous Parallels has not lost his technique." One of these mistakes was the attribution of the famous phrase "we are all socialists now" to J.S. Mill.

Well, I'm up to session 9 of the DIM lectures and what does Peikoff say? You guessed it. "Mill said we are all socialists now."

Friday, November 17, 2006

The DIM Hypothesis

Leonard Peikoff is a controversial figure in Objectivist circles. Some don’t like the way he claims to speak for Objectivism, as he did most recently in his comments on the 2006 election. As an Objectivist intellectual, I’d say he is something of a mixed bag. OPAR is a pretty good book, given the limitations of space. The Ominous Parallels is a disaster. On the other hand, I’ve heard only good things about his tape series (in particular Understanding Objectivism).

Peikoff is working on a book presenting his “DIM hypothesis.” DIM stands for disintegration, integration, and misintegration. According to Peikoff, societies and disciplines can be analyzed in terms of this triad. Peikoff first presented this theory in 2004. For a limited time, this course is available for free from the Ayn Rand Institute.

Peikoff is an effective lecturer. Through the use vivid examples and well-chosen historical and philosophical vignettes, he presents what appears to be an effective case for his methodology. Unfortunately, he tends to be highly selective in his presentation of evidence.

The most obvious example is religion. Peikoff doesn’t like religion (or “mysticism” as he calls any and all religious belief). All well and good, but with Peikoff it tends to be the motivating factor in his analysis. A couple of examples:

1. He exaggerates the secularism of the Ancient Greeks. He claims that Thales wasn’t religious. But what about Thales’ famous statement that “the world is full of gods”? Granted it isn’t easy to interpret, but claiming that Thales was irreligious goes beyond the evidence.

2. He claims that Descartes wasn’t religious. This overlooks a great deal of evidence indicating that Descartes was a devout Catholic. For example he made a thousand mile pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Loretto. He received last rites in Sweden. [Jaki, Angels, Apes, and Men, p. 13.] Gilson quotes Descartes as saying that he believed in his proofs for God more strongly than in his geometrical proofs. [Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience.]

However, Kant is made out to be religious. As I’ve pointed out before, Kant wasn’t religious in the traditional sense. It doesn’t appear that he prayed or went to church. He thought religious teaching should be followed only when consistent with reason.

I was particularly disappointed with session 7, on historiography. Peikoff attacks Toynbee’s A Study of History as a “meaningless” collection of events without any epistemological purpose. This is a complete misrepresentation of Toynbee, particularly of the later volumes of the work. Toynbee has often been compared to Hegel as a creator of an idealist system.

Nor is Peikoff correct that Augustine was the founder of historiography. Peikoff wouldn’t have made these mistakes about Toynbee and Augustine if he had studied the source he recommends, Ernst Breisach’s Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

In spite of my problems with this course, on average it is valuable if you want to understand how Objectivists analyze philosophical and cultural trends.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Objectivism and Original Sin

A debate between Christian philosopher Steve Hays and Objectivist Don Watkins. Unfortunately I can't find Watkins' original post

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Leonard Peikoff's DIM-Witted Hypothesis

Leonard Peikoff is urging Objectivists to vote Democratic. Actually, urging isn't the right word. If you consider voting Republican or abstaining from voting, you don't understand Objectivism and may well be "immoral." I guess he doesn't call himself Rand's "intellectual heir" for nothing.

Peikoff is so worried about the influence of the Religious Right (RR) on the Republican Party that he thinks voting Democratic is the only way to stop it.

A few comments:

First, whether to vote for the Democrats to stop the Republicans is obviously a question of strategy and it assumes something that Peikoff hasn't shown (that the Religious Right is incredibly influential). An Objectivist might plausibly argue that even if Peikoff is correct, we are better off with a Democratic house and a Republican Senate.

Second, Peikoff is wrong about the influence of the RR. Outside the South, the Midwest and parts of the West, the RR isn't particularly influential. And in the two largest states, New York and California, the RR has next to no influence (particularly in New York). In virtually all parts of the US, the influence of religion is less now than in the 1950's. If people weren't complaining about the threat of a theocracy in 1956, why are they in 2006?

Third, that some Republicans may be bad doesn't mean people shouldn't vote for "good" Republicans. In local and state elections, there is every reason to vote for the best candidate even if one accepts Peikoff's view about the influence of the RR.

Fourth, this article is typical Peikoff. As David Ramsay Steele once put it, if Peikoff has seriously wrestled with a philosophical question since graduate school, it doesn't show.

Fifth, if an Objectivist can in good conscience vote for a socialist running as a Democrat, by what principle does it become immoral to vote libertarian or not to vote?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Then Athena Said - Chapter 1

I've started a close reading of Kathleen Touchstone's new book Then Athena Said: Unilateral Transfers and the Transformation of Objectivist Ethics.

Chapter one is called "The Basis for Objectivist Ethics" (although the chapter header on the top of each page says "The Basics for Objectivist Ethics").

This chapter is all of seven pages. Touchstone leaps into a discussion of Objectivist ethics and gives brief discussions of probability theory, drug addiction and mortality tables along the way.

Touchstone says that there are two approaches which have been attributed to Rand in attempting to understand the basis for her ethics: the "general species approach" and the "long-run probability approach."

By way of necessary background (which Touchstone doesn't give) Randian ethics have a problem when it comes to what might be called rational parasitism. If life is the standard of value and life requires reason and productivity, what about a person who lives as a parasite on others? People who survive by looting, fraud or mooching off others appear to contradict the premises of Rand's ethics.

Touchstone explains that the general species approach employs the concept of "man qua man." This approach looks to human nature as determinative and "universalizes" ethical requirements. Human beings can't survive unless they use reason and are productive. So to the extent that an individual succeeds as a parasite, he is acting contrary to the requirements of human nature. His behavior is immoral even if it acts to extend his life.

On the other hand, there is the "long-run probability approach." If a person attempts to live as a parasite, the odds of him succeeding are minimal. People who lie ultimately get caught; people who commit crimes ultimately wind up in jail.

Incidentally, I don't think the secondary literature indicates that there are two approaches. Generally speaking, those who try to "get around" the rational parasite problem by universalizing man's ethical requirements concede that Rand didn't take this approach. Touchstone references Eric Mack's essay from the 1986 collection The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, but I don't think Mack sees this is a valid interpretation of Rand. Mack rejects this approach in a more recent article in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. [JARS, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 39-40.]

Fortunately, I've read a fair amount in Objectivist ethics so I was able to more or less understand this chapter. But Touchstone so quickly leaps into secondary questions without explaining why it all matters for Rand's ethics.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Then Athena Said

My copy of The Athena Said: Unilateral Transfers and the Transformation of Objectivist Ethics arrived. I've just started it and, while I don't know yet if it's worth $49.95, it appears quite interesting. Author Kathleen Touchstone tends to jump into issues and assumes a fair amount of knowledge both of Rand's work and of secondary literature.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics"

Prof. Michael Huemer has an excellent piece entitled Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics." Many of the points he makes can be found in the critiques of J. Charles King, Steven Parrish, and Eric Mack, but it is nonetheless well done.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Test Your Knowledge, Number 3

Identify the following:

1. John Calvin

2. John Wesley

3. Martin Luther

4. Joseph Smith


A. The founder of the religious movement variously known as Puritanism, Presbyertianism and Reformed Christinity.

B. The founder of the religious movement known as Mormonism

C. The founder of the religious movement known as Methodism

D. The founder of the religious movement known as Lutheranism

Test Your Knowledge, Number 2

Identify the following:

1. Bill Anderson

2. John Anderson

3. Jon Anderson

4. Lynn Anderson


1. Lead singer of Yes

2. Country singer with hits such as "Swingin'"

3. Known as "Whisperin' . . ."

4. Sang "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden."

Test Your Knowledge, Number 1

Identify the following:

1. The Third Man

2. The Thin Man

3. The Man Who Knew Too Much

4. The Man Who Knew Too Much


A. 1956 movie by Alfred Hitchcock (not related to the book)

B. 1934 movie based on novel by Dashiel Hammett

C. 1949 movie based on novel by Graham Greene

D. 1922 collection of short stories by G.K. Chesterton (not related to the movie)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ayn Rand and Evolution

I while ago, Diana Hsieh and Don Watkins attacked my article on Ayn Rand and evolution. Apparently the possibility that there is the least bit "tension" in Rand's thought is too much for certain people to take. Professor Robert Campbell came to my (partial) defense.

In any event, here is an article by skeptic Michael Shermer on evolution and why conservatives should support it. He lists six reasons, at least three of which (3, 4 & 5) lend support to my claim that certain well-known implications of evolution likely raised concern for Rand about the compatability of Objectivism and evolution.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Roderick Long on the Collective Action Problem

Many Objectivists, in supporting the use of weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, make the claim that relatively few civilians are truly innocent. For example, Diana Hsieh wrote:

"No government -- no matter how repressive -- can possibly maintain its grip on power when actively, seriously opposed by a majority -- or even a dedicated minority. The fact that people in Iran might grumble about the concrete policies of their government does not mean that they oppose it in principle. Sure, a few do that -- but the sputtered-out student revolts of a few years ago indicate that they were nothing more than a small minority."

As Roderick Long notes, such arguments ignore the problem of collective action:

"In any case, the claim that refusing to rise up against a tyrant counts as de facto consent to the tyranny embodies a collectivist fallacy: confusing the individual with the group. It’s quite true, as La Boétie and Hume famously pointed out, that tyrannical governments cannot survive without the acquiescence of their subject populace. But to suppose this means that the individual members of this acquiescing populace have consented in some straightforward and unproblematic fashion ignores the collective action problem (see here and here) involved. If we all resist the tyrant, the tyranny will fail; but if I resist the tyrant first, without sufficient support, I’ll just be martyring myself for nothing. Coordinating simultaneous and effective resistance is, notoriously, no easy task. "

"In an article in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (or The Return of the Primitive, as her heirs have chosen to rename it), expressing empathy for some dissidents on trial in the Soviet Union, Rand wrote: 'I do not mean that I would have been one of the accused in that Soviet courtroom: I knew enough, in my college days, to know that it was useless to attempt political protests in Soviet Russia.' Doesn’t that make Rand herself one of those Soviet citizens who made no 'significant protest' against the regime and so are allegedly morally culpable? A reductio ad absurdum, surely.

New Blog

There is a new blog discussing Objectivism which is associated with Greg Nyquist, author of Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Saturday, September 16, 2006

James Valliant, Ayn Rand and Libertarianism

On pages 69-70 of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, James Valliant discusses Rand’s disapproval of libertarianism and the Libertarian Party (LP). According to Valliant “[t]he Brandens, along with many others, believe that Rand was intolerant and ‘close-minded’ because she denounced the Libertarian Party.” (PARC, p. 70.) In support of his claim that both Brandens and “others” disagree with Rand’s denunciation of the LP Valliant cites to PAR once and to Peter Schwartz’s article on libertarianism once.

Valliant proceeds to discuss Rand’s perceived need for “systematic honesty in forming political and intellectually alliances.” He mentions those libertarians who are anarchists and believe in unilateral disarmament. He then claims that the differences between Rand and the libertarians were “not so trivial as the critics suppose.” (PARC, p. 70.) It isn’t clear who Valliant claims the “critics” are -- Nathaniel Branden, Barabara Branden, LP officials, all of them, some of them?

Mr. Valliant would better make his case if he actually cited Barbara Branden’s view of Rand’s relationship with the LP and libertarianism. According to PAR’s index, the LP is mentioned on three pages and the libertarian movement on one page.

Barbara Branden notes that the LP has been divided by those who advocate limited government and strong defense on one hand and anarcho-capitalists on the other. Branden’s conclusion is: “In the opinion of many people, the anarchist wing has deeply undermined the effectiveness of the Libertarian Party in recent years. That wing was the particular source of Ayn Rand’s indignation repudiation of the party that had been formed in the image of her political philosophy.” (PAR, p. 413.) This quote doesn’t indicate to me that Branden believes that Rand’s repudiation of the LP was “intolerant” or “close-minded.” Nor does it indicate that Branden thinks Rand was wrong to disassociate herself from the LP due to the presence of anarcho-capitalists and advocates of unilateral disarmament. If Valliant is basing his contention on something Branden said someplace else, then he should cite it.

Valliant does quote Branden’s claim on page 391 that Rand exhibited “despair” and “pessimism” because she was wary about younger writers who wrote about her philosophy. (PARC, p. 70.) Branden references M. Gladstein’s The Ayn Rand Companion and D. Rasmussen’s The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. According to Branden, Rand had letters sent to them threatening lawsuits. (PAR, p. 391.) The libertarianism of these authors (if they are both indeed libertarians) isn’t mentioned.

Nathaniel Branden in Judgment Day discusses Rand's position vis-a-vis the LP and doesn't criticize her for it (p. 231).

Valliant’s discussion of Rand and libertarianism is yet another example where he fails to present evidence to support his claim.

Incidentally, the Ayn Rand Institute has a collection of Rand’s statements concerning libertarianism and the LP. The reader is free to decide for himself if Rand’s statements are intolerant or close-minded.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Then Athena Said

Then Athena Said is a new book by one Kathleen Touchstone. According to the publisher:

"According to Objectivist David Kelley, financier Michael Milken has done more for mankind than humanitarian Mother Teresa. Working from this statement, Then Athena Said examines Objectivism, a philosophy founded by Ayn Rand, and ultimately concludes, in opposition to essential claims of Objectivism, that other people are a fundamental part of reality. In making this claim, Then Athena Said reconsiders Objectivism's central social tenet, the Trader Principle, which dictates the bilateral exchange of value for value between independent equals; elevates 'reproductivity' to be on par with productivity, Objectivism's central virtue; and derives a 'heuristic' for charitable giving. Relying, in part, upon economic theory, decision theory under uncertainty, and game theory, Then Athena Said examines unilateral transfers—including charity, childrearing, bequests, retribution, gifts, favors, forgiveness, and various infringements against persons or property—within the Objectivist framework."

Someone had to plunk down $49.95 for this book and I just did. I'll have some posts once I receive it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rand Sighting

Jeff Tucker and David Gordon of the Ludwig von Mises Institute briefly discuss Rand and Leonard Peikoff.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

James Valliant on Ayn Rand and the Blumenthals

On pages 74-75 of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (“PARC”) James Valliant discusses Rand’s breaks with Henry Holzer and Allan Blumenthal as related by Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand (“PAR”).

Valliant says “one would never have guessed it from reading Ms. Branden’s book, but it was they who left Rand.” (PARC, p. 75.)

But let’s look at Ms. Branden’s book. With respect to Holzer, she says that Rand “broke” with him. (PAR, p. 385.) With respect to Allan (and Joan) Blumenthal, Branden explicitly says that it was the Blumenthals who broke with Rand. She quotes Allan Blumenthal: “I telephoned Ayn and said we no longer wished to see her.” (PAR, p. 388.) Valliant has mischaracterized PAR with respect to the Blumenthals.

Incredibly, Mr. Valliant doesn’t even cite PAR concerning Rand’s breaks with the Holzers and the Blumenthals. His source is Jeff Walker’s book The Ayn Rand Cult (“TARC”). What does Walker say? Concerning the Holzers, he implies that Rand broke with them, but “she explicitly left the door open.” (TARC, p. 35.) On page 37, Walker quotes the Holzers as saying that it was hard to walk away. Taken as a whole, I don’t think the account in TARC contradicts Branden’s account. And it doesn’t support Valliant’s claim that the Holzers broke with Rand.

Valliant also implies that Branden contends that Rand’s break with the Holzers and the Blumenthals constituted an “excommunication.” (PARC, p. 75.) But that certainly is incorrect as far as the Blumenthals go, and Branden doesn’t claim that Rand “excommunicated” the Holzers.

I’ve discussed Rand’s break with Mark Holzer, so I’ll confine my comments to the Blumenthals.

You wouldn’t know it from reading Valliant’s book, but Branden quotes the Blumenthals extensively.

Branden quotes Allan Blumenthal: "She [Rand] was relentless in her pursuit of so-called psychological errors [concerning judgments on art]. If an issue were once raised, she would never drop it; after and evening's conversation, she'd telephone the next day to ask what we had concluded about it overnight . . . It was becoming a nightmare." (PAR, p. 387.)She quotes Joan: "but, often, she would seem deliberately to insult and antagonize us." (Id.)

When I asked Valliant about the Blumenthals, he said that PARC doesn’t dispute that Branden has accurately quoted the Blumenthals or their version of events. He says we should be cautious since we haven’t heard the other side of the story, and I agree.

Although Valliant didn’t have space to mention what the Blumenthals told Branden, he does quote what Allan Blumenthal told Walker, viz, that he believes that Objectivism was created by Rand as self-therapy. Now, Walker doesn’t indicate when Blumenthal came to this conclusion. Even if we assume that Rand had good reasons for breaking intellectually with the Blumenthals (because, for example, she believed they were drifting away from Objectivism) does that make Rand’s conduct any less unfortunate? And PAR’s discussion indicates that, regardless of whatever differences existed between Rand and the Blumenthals, the Blumenthals wanted to remain friends.

I got the impression from reading PARC the first time that Valliant questions most the stories about Rand that her former associates related. He describes the Branden’s “biographical efforts” as “useless to the serious historian.” (PARC, pp. 85-86.) If the Blumenthals and others are telling the truth about their interactions with Rand, then I think it’s fair to say that Barbara Branden’s biography is not useless.

Interestingly, Valliant says a great deal about the people who broke with Rand, and questions their commitment to Objectivism and the like, but virtually never relates the rather substantial difficulties they had in getting along with Rand.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

On Breaking With Rand

I have been discussing some of the people who broke with Rand, including Murray Rothbard, Henry Mark Holzer and John Hospers.

Barbara Branden says that starting with the publication of Atlas Shrugged many people entered Rand’s orbit. “Some of her new friends circled her orbit for a few weeks, some remained for months, some remained for years; but with very few exceptions, the relationships were ruptured in anger as Ayn felt her friends to have failed reason, morality and herself.” (PAR, p. 311-12.) I don’t read PAR as alleging that Rand never had good reason to split with people, or that the split was always Rand’s fault, or that every split ended in some sort of excommunication. So I don’t think it undermines Branden’s biography to point out that Rand had good reason to sever her relationship with John Hospers.

It is also true that many of this who split with Rand have confirmed the accuracy of parts of Branden’s biography. In the current issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Robert Hessen states:

“As an eyewitness to many such outbursts [Rand’s interactions with questioners], I can verify that Ms. Branden’s claim was accurate and not exaggerated.”

Justin Raimondo, in his biography of Rothbard, quotes a 1954 letter from Rothbard to Richard Cornuelle. Rothbard writes:

“[George Reisman] found himself under a typical vitriolic Randian barrage, according to which anyone who is not now or soon will be a one-hundred percent Randian Rationalist is an ‘enemy’ and an ‘objective believer in death and destruction’ as well as crazy.” (An Enemy of the State, p. 110.)

Interestingly, some who broke with Rand are, as Valliant acknowledges, no fans of the Brandens.

Unfortunately, it seems that almost all we have to go on is people’s recollections. I don’t know of many recordings, documents or journals that shed much light on the issue.

James Valliant on Ayn Rand, John Hospers and the Brandens

Barbara Branden's discussion of Rand's relationship with philosophy professor John Hospers is four paragraphs on pages 323-324 of PAR.

In paragraph 1, Branden talks of their first meeting. Hospers said that Rand had a "tremendously powerful intellect." (p. 323.)

In paragraph 2, Branden says that they soon became friends and had many lengthy philosophical conversations. They agreed on moral and political philosophy, but not epistemology. Hospers recalled that their arguments became heated at times and that Rand easily grew angry. Hospers describes her "sudden anger" as "bewildering." (p. 323-324.)

In paragraph 3, Branden says that Rand "broke" with Hospers. In 1962 Hospers invited Rand to speak at an academic symposium and Hospers criticized some of Rand's presentation. "Ayn took violent exception to his criticisms--and he never saw her again." (p. 324.)

In paragraph 4, Branden writes that Rand's relationship with a professional philosopher "made her eager to write a nonfiction work on epistemology." (p. 324.)

Here is Valliant: "Professor John Hospers, according to the Brandens, was taken to task for certain 'sarcastic' and 'professorial' criticisms of Rand in an academic setting, although, once again, neither of the Brandens chooses to relate the specifics." (PARC, p. 71.) Valliant drops a footnote and references both PAR and Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day. Nathaniel Branden says Hospers "challenged her viewpoint with the kind of gentle sarcasm professors take for granted." Barbara Branden does not use similar words to describe Hospers' comments. Valliant should not present the two accounts as if they were one.

In any event, Nathaniel Branden appears to believe that Hospers' tone was liable to be misunderstood. (Judgment Day, p. 307-8.) Barabara Branden appears to think that Hospers' comments were appropriate to the forum and Rand overreacted. There is a minor discrepancy over Hospers' tone, but other than that what is the big dispute here? Although neither is happy that there was a break, they both concede that epistemology was an area of dispute between the two philosophers and neither states (contra Valliant's implication) that philosophical disagreements shouldn't be cause for "moral indignation." And even if they do believe this (which they don't express in the context of this break) I don't see how it lessens their credibility.

According to Nathaniel Branden, Rand directed him to read the "riot act" to Hospers. Valliant is upset that there is no description by either Hospers or Nathaniel Branden of what the "riot act" consisted of. He ends his discussion with a claim that there are "missing details." Personally, I am satisfied that after the passage of roughly 25 years (from the time of the event until the two books) that we know basically what happened.

Incidentally, neither of the Brandens describes the split as an "excommunication" as Valliant calls it or indicates that Rand demanded philosophical loyalty from Hospers.

James Valliant on the Passion of Ayn Rand

My copy of the Donahue tape hasn’t arrived from the ARI, so I’ll have to discuss a couple points in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) that have been mentioned before, but this time with the emphasis on how James Valliant represents arguments made in The Passion of Ayn Rand (PAR).

More on the Name Change

On page 12 of PARC, Valliant says:

“’Ms. Branden also tells us: 'Ayn Rand never told her family in Russia her new name . . . they never knew she became Ayn Rand.’ Ms. Branden may be trying to insinuate that Rand was being neurotically secretive, perhaps even turning her back on her family. This is the sort of vague impression we will see the Brandens persistently attempt to create. Ms. Branden certainly claims that this was an important reason why Rand lost contact with her family shortly before World War II—they did not know her name.” [Ellipses in the original PARC.]

What Branden said in full is:

“Ayn never told her family in Russia the new name she had chosen. She had no doubt that she would one day be famous, and she feared that if it were known in Russia that she was Alice Rosenbaum, daughter of Fronz and Anna, her family’s safety, even their lives, would be endangered by their relationship to a vocal anti-Communist. Through all the years that she corresponded with her family, until just before World War II, Russia refused entry to mail from the United States and she lost track of them—they never knew she had become ‘Ayn Rand.’” (PAR, 71-72.)

Valliant creates a totally different impression of what Branden is writing through the use of the ellipses. He omits Branden’s assertion that Rand (allegedly) did not tell her family in Russia that here new name was “Ayn Rand” for concern for their safety. Had this been true (which it apparently wasn’t) it would have been a perfectly reasonably concern on Rand’s part. So while Branden may be mistaken on the name issue, nothing she says implies that she considers Rand to have been “neurotically secretive” much less “turning her back” on her family in Russia. In fact, Branden is saying the opposite. Rand corresponded with them often and would have continued had it not been for a change in Soviet policy shortly before World War II. Had Valliant included the material in the ellipses this would have been clear. Finally, although a minor point, I don’t read Branden as claiming that the new name resulted in her family in Russia losing track with her. I think “they never knew she had become ‘Ayn Rand’” refers back to the opening statement of the sentence about the correspondence (as Valliant appears to read it in his first sentence quoted).

More on We the Living

On page 44 of PARC, Valliant claims that Branden alleges that Rand’s statements concerning the changes in the revised We the Living were the product of “self-delusion.” Branden, while noting that Rand claims she did change the content of the book, says she removed the Nietzscheian element from the book. Branden says Rand “evidently considered it a defect” and decided to “ignore” the reason for the changes rather than explain it to her readers. (PAR, 114-15.)

Say what you want about Branden’s analysis of the content of the changes, she is not accusing Rand of being self-delusional. Branden accuses Rand of deliberately refusing to admit the extent (and the reason for) the changes. Perhaps it isn't too strong to say that Branden is accusing Rand of lying, but doesn’t want to come out and say it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Commerce and Culture

Paul Cantor's seminar on Commerce and Culture is up on the site. I've listened only to his lecture on the serialized novel in the ninetheenth century and it's fascinating. Much of what we find in movie promotion today (such as tie-ins and even product placement) goes back to Dickens' time. For example, there were action figures for the characters in The Pickwick Papers and a Guinness Stout beer strategically place in a print for the book.

The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics

I plan on reducing the posts on this topic to one a week (probably some sort of "weekend exclusive"). My next topic is Rand's anger. I can't discuss this until I receive my copy of the first Donanhue interview, which I just ordered from the ARI. Since Branden's alleged misrepresentation of this incident has been cited by at least a couple of people in their "conversion" to skepticism vis-a-vis The Passion of Ayn Rand, this should be interesting.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Robert Bass on Tibor Machan

A review of his 2000 book on Rand. I dusted off my old copy and didn't find egregious errors on almost every page, but there were lots of sentences that could have been clearer or better written.

I think Prof. Bass is correct that we need a good 200-300 page introduction to Rand's life and thought.

Friday, July 28, 2006

James Valliant on the Brandens

James Valliant and I have been engaging in a friendly discussion about his book on Ayn Rand and the biographies/memoires of Rand's former associates, Nathaniel and Barabara Branden.

Now, as I see it, Mr. Valliant is making the following claim (I paraphrase):

"There are so many significant mistakes, ommissions, contradictions (within and among the books and with the known facts), excessive psychologizing, failure to name sources and self-serving allegations in the Brandens' works that the only explanation is that their works are deliberately dishonest."

There is nothing wrong with this approach. It's the way we normally judge credibility and juries find people guilty every day using this methodology. If I say that I was born in Salt Lake City, my father is the president of the Mormon Church, and I read the Book of Mormon every day then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that I am lying (or insane).

But this requires an analysis of the various errors and a determination of whether there are innocent explanations. At times a narrow view if required (is it a literal contradiction?) and some times a broad view (is what the Brandens say consistent with those undisputed things we know about Rand?). My reading thus far of PARC indicates that Mr. Valliant has not shown that there are deliberate fabrications. (Which isn't to say that I consider these books the last word on Rand, or even reliable.)

For example, I think that there is an innocent explantion for the mistakes about Rand's name. I suspect that Rand said something that lent credence to the Remington Rand story. I do find it interesting that Gotthelf believed this story until at least 2000. And even if he relied on Branden, one gets the impression that there was uncertainty on this issue. (Incidentally, Gotthelf says that he received comments from Harry Binswanger on "each chapter." Did the draft that Dr. Binswanger reviewed contain a discussion of the name?) Of course, I don't know what Rand told Branden on this issue and whether Branden may have misunderstood it. But Mr. Valliant doesn't know either. (If this were the only mistake in Branden's book, is the evidence so strong that the only inference to be drawn is that Branden is fabricating the origin of the name or the reason for it?)

Likewise, Branden's views on Rand's intellectual influences and the changes in We the Living do not demonstrate that she has deliberately misrepresented Rand's philosophical development. People other than Branden have said the same thing about these topics and is Mr. Valliant accusing them of lying?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

James Valliant on We the Living

In 1936 Rand published We the Living. In 1959, Rand prepared a revised version and made some changes. Some of the changes concerned areas with philosophical content. According to Valliant, Branden and some critics have argued that Rand deliberately toned down certain allegedly Nietzschian aspects of the work. Rand however denied that she made any changes affecting the “content of the novel.” (page 44.)

According to Valliant, this speculation is baseless and Branden’s claim is tantamount to accusing Rand of “self delusion.” He argues that Rand’s Journals (which were of course published after Branden’s biography) show that she had rejected important parts of Nietzsche’s system by 1934.

Again, how this demonstrates that Branden is engaged in an attack on Rand or deliberately misrepresenting the content or the changes to We the Living is not clear. And since writers in addition to Branden have made similar claims, what’s the big deal?

Incidentally, David Ramsay Steele sees Branden's discussion of the changes in We the Living as an attempt to downplay the changes (thus defending Rand).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

James Valliant on Henry Holzer

We are still in chapter 3, where Valliant discusses the claim that Rand was an authoritarian. One of the people Rand "broke" with was her attorney Henry Mark Holzer. Valliant suggests that Rand's splits with people (to the extent they were splits as opposed to just drifting apart) concerned ideological disagreements. He says it is "clear" that philosophical splits were emerging with people, even if it is "not entirely clear" that these differences were the "proximate cause" of the split.

Turing to Mr. Holzer, Valliant suggests that their split might have had something to do with Holzer's belief in strict construction of the constitution. Rand, Valliant tells us, had a more flexible approach to constitutional interpretation. (page 74.)

That's about all that Valliant says. There are two footnotes to the paragraph in question (numbers 52 & 53).

Footnote 52 refererences Holzer's book Sweet Land of Liberty? where Valliant notes that Holzer didn't agree with the "right to privacy" underlying such decisions as Roe v. Wade.

Footnote 53 references:

1. Rand's Marginalia at pages 203-205;

2. An article by Harry Binswanger concerning the Bowers v. Hardwick decision (a 1986 Supreme Court case in which the court uplheld a state's right to criminalize sodomy); and

3. Stephen Macedo's 1986 book The New Right v. the Constitution.

I don't have Holzer's and Macedo's books, but from their titles I doubt they contain information on the Rand/Holzer relationship. Certainly Rand's Marginalia and Binswanger's article don't.

In fairness to Mr. Valliant, he doesn't claim to know the reason for the split, but he leaves the impression that philosophy was an issue. Based on these footnotes it isn't "clear" to me that Holzer's judicial philosophy was a factor.

Monday, July 24, 2006

James Valliant on Murray Rothbard

I am posting a series on James Valliant's book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics which was published in 2005. Since this book has prompted some people to reevaluate their view of Ayn Rand and the Brandens, I think it is appropriate to discuss the book's scholarship. Incidentally, I do not claim to be an expert on the life of Ayn Rand, nor am I a supporter of the Brandens. I have never met either and my only contact with them consists of a brief email exchange with Nathaniel Branden on an unrelated issue some years back. I have never contributed to The Objectivist Center and have never attended its conferences.

I'm now on chapter three, entitled "Mullah Rand?" Here Mr. Valliant discusses the claim that Rand was an authoritarian who demanded complete allegiance, thus provoking several followers such as Murray Rothbard, Edith Efron, the Blumenthals, the Holzers, and the Smiths to "split" with her.

I'll turn first to Murray Rothbard. Rothbard and Rand broke in 1958. Mr. Valliant repeats the claim that Rothbard "plagiarized" Rand. Here is Mr. Valliant:

"Murray Rothbard (43), apart from being an anarchist, was clearly using ideas he got from Rand in scholarly articles without crediting his own source for the material, and he continued to do so throughout his career. (44)".

He adds that when Rothbard discussed something that Rand also discussed, "[his] own first source for the point was invariably (and quite obviously) Rand." (pages 70-71.) He accuses Rothbard of "plagiarism" and "intellectual larceny."

Rothbard met Rand in the early 1950s and died in 1995, writing until the end. Mr. Valliant apparently contends that Rothbard had been stealing from Rand's for approximately 40 years without attribution. In footnote 44, Mr. Valliant gives his only examples: a work called "Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences" (particularly on the "validation of free will") and also chapter one of Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty, particular the phrase "the fusion of matter and spirit" in production. Mr. Valliant does not give any sentences from Rothbard's works that were allegedly lifted from Rand's writings.

The claim that Rothbard plagiarized Rand's ideas has been raised before, but generally revolves around Rothbard's 1958 essay "The Mantle of Science" and a claim this essay borrowed from Rand's ideas generally and Barbara Branden's master's thesis on free will specifically.

Mr. Valliant appears to be confused here. There is no essay by Rothbard entitled “Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences.” Cato however did publish a booklet entitled Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences which contains “Mantle” and an essay called “Praxeology as the Method of the Social Sciences.” In any event, Mr. Valliant seems to be referring to the discussion of free will in “Mantle” but neglects to mention that Miss Branden was the alleged principle victim of Rothbard's supposed plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a strong claim. It does not mean using a few ideas without attribution but literally stealing words. So Mr. Valliant should present the evidence that Rothbard copied material from Rand if he is going to make this allegation.

PARC came out in May 2005. Mr. Valliant did not have the benefit of hearing George Reisman's August 2005 speech at the Ludwig von Mises institute in which he discussed this incident. Reisman was on friendly terms with both Rand and Rothbard at the time. According to Reisman, Rothbard did not plagiarize from Rand or Branden, but should have mentioned that he first heard certain ideas from Rand. However, by the time PARC came out, Joseph Stromberg's discussion of the plagiarism allegation was available on the web and also Justin Raimondo's 2000 biography of Rothbard entitled An Enemy of the State which has the most extensive discussion I'm aware of Rothbard's relationship with Rand and the Brandens. Unfortunately, neither is mentioned.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

James Valliant on Rand's Intellectual Debts

James Valliant, in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics makes the following criticism of Barbara Branden.

“Ms. Branden alleges that dishonest grandiosity is apparent in Rand’s claim that ‘the only thinker in history from whom she had anything to learn’ was Aristotle. This is something for which ‘Rand should have been challenged,’ according to Ms. Branden, who also claims that Rand ‘dismissed’ as worthless if not immoral, the whole ‘history of philosophy, with the sole significant exceptions of Aristotle and aspects of Thomas Aquinas. . .’ (99)”

“It is simply a fact that Rand was influenced by very few thinkers when it came to philosophical fundamentals. Does Ms. Branden wish to imply that Rand should have been more influenced by others?” (Page 46.)

I think it’s clear what Branden is saying. First, that Rand (like any philosopher) inevitably absorbed ideas from other thinkers. So while Rand may have said that her sole philosophical debt was to Aristotle, she was likely influenced unconsciously by other thinkers, even if she didn’t remember exactly who and when. Second, Rand had an excessively negative view of the history of philosophers and, contrary to what she thought, could have learned from other philosophers’ ideas and perhaps incorporated some into Objectivism.

Now, say what you want about Branden’s point, this is her opinion about the enterprise of learning and how it likely worked in Rand’s case. Nothing that Valliant says in the several paragraphs that follow proves Branden wrong, much less shows that she is lying.

This is typical of Vallient’s methodology. It might be called “overanalysis.” Statements made by the Brandens or a critic of Rand’s are interpreted in such a way as to create a contradiction.

James Valliant on Rand and the Remington Rand Typewriter Story

James Valliant, in his book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, practically begins his attack on the Brandens with Barabara Branden's claim that Rand took her name from the Remington-Rand typewriter. He quotes Allan Gotthelf as discovering that it wasn't until 1927 that Remington-Rand typwriters began to be produced. He says that Gotthelf, in a future edition of his 2000 work On Ayn Rand will discuss the results of his research.

What did Gotthelf say in 2000?

". . . she probably first spotted 'Rand' on a Remington Rand typewriter in Russia." (p. 19.)

Not only that, he states at the beginning of the chapter:

"In this paragraph and in what follows in this and the next chapter . . . I draw on . . . other material housed in the Ayn Rand Archives at the Ayn Rand Institute . . . ." (p. 17.)

And in the book's introduction:

"Michael Berliner, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, kindly supervised the checking of biographical information for me in the Institute's Ayn Rand Archives."

Why does a mistake that was believed as recently as 2000 by Allan Gotthelf and (apparently) by the ARI become proof of Barbara Branden's dishonesty?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ayn Rand and Bruce Goldberg

In the 1960s, libertarian philosopher Bruce Goldberg wrote a sharp critique of Rand's For the New Intellectual in the The New Individualist Review.

Goldberg's piece came to Rand's attention. According to Rand's archives (go to page 21), she placed it in a folder marked "B.S.".

Curiously, the archives describe the New Individualist Review as "right wing" even though it concedes that two of its advisors were Hayek and Friedman.

I'll have to dig out my old copy of The New Indivualist Review. I recall that Nathaniel Branden wrote a response that was published. The archives don't mention this, however.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Roderick Long on Culture and Liberty

Prof. Long's lecture on liberty and culture given at the recent Mises conference proposes an approach in between Rand's and Walter Block's.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Foundations of Libertarian Ethics

I haven't started listening to this series by Roderick Long yet, but it sounds excellent.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Martin Luther

Objectivists and others often criticize Martin Luther for his attacks on reason. (There is a quote from Luther heading Douglas Rasmussen's articles in the lastest issue of JARS.) Luther is known, for example, for referring to "that whore reason." One thing to consider about Luther is that he had a peasant's sense of humor and exaggeration, which explains some of his outrageous statements.

Some of Luther's diatribes at reason were directed at what he felt was an over-confident Scholastic belief in reason. This is discussed in R.C. Sproul's book Classical Apologetics.

Here is an article that discusses Luther's view of science.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ayn Rand and Judaism

Don't know what to make of this critique.

Are Supporters of the ARI Open Minded?

Supporters of the Ayn Rand Institute ("ARIans") often claim that allegations of closed-mindedness are inaccurate. Here are the reasons that are given --

1. ARIans associate with the Ayn Rand Society.

2. ARIans publish in Reason Papers, which is broadly libertarian.

3. ARIans have publicly debated socialists and communists.

4. Peikoff criticized Gotthelf's book On Ayn Rand.

Some comments:

1. ARIans are correct about the ARS. I should note that this seems to be the only exception to the unwritten rule about associating with non-ARI Objectivists and people influenced by Rand.

2. True, although other than Tara Smith I'm not sure which ARIan has contributed to Reason Papers.

3. True, but that isn't the point.

4. True, but I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Has anyone said that Peikoff approves of everything that an ARIan has written?

Why Is Ayn Rand Ignored By Professional Philosophers?

Here is a discussion of this question by professional philosophers Edward Feser and William Vallicella. It looks like the link to the article by Keith Burgess-Jackson that started the debate is dead.

I would add another reason -- professionals dislike nonspecialists, particularly those of the "interdisciplinary" type. In this respect Rand reminds me of her fellow Russian Jew Immanuel Velikovsky. Velikovsky was a psychiatrist who had the audacity to write about mythology, ancient history, astronomy and other stuff.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Objectivism and Libertarianism

Official Objectivists often claim they aren't libertarians. The idea seems to be that libertarianism claims that one can have any (or no) foundation for a theory of rights. As someone said, this is like arguing that Objectivists aren't atheists because atheists disagree on the basis of their atheism.

Consider also the types of people who call themselves "individualists":

1. Objectivists

2. John Dewey (pragmatist and socialist)

3. Milton Friedman (positivist and free market advocate)

4. Ludwig von Mises (utilitarian and laissez-faire advocate)

5. Murray Rothbard (Aristotelian and anarcho-capitalist)

A fairly diverse lot, both in terms of ethical commitments and politics.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Ayn Rand, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment

Rand had a very negative view of the history of philosophy. She did praise the Renaissance, but other than making a few general claims about it, never discussed any Renaissance thinkers in detail (or even at all from what I can tell).

Starting with Leonard Peikoff, Objectivists have argued that the Enlightenment was actually the West's rebirth of reason. Some even argue that it was "essentially Aristotelian." If you consult The Ayn Rand Lexicon, all of the entries for "Enlightenment" are from Peikoff's Ominous Parallels.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ayn Rand and Richard Weaver

In the course of a review of Scott Ryan's book on Rand, Greg Nyquist makes an interesting suggestion that Rand's view of "the problems of universals" may have originated with Richard Weaver. I quote in part:

Rand's decision to regard the problem of universals as central to philosophy and Western Civilizations remains, even at this late date, twenty years after her death, a bit of mystery. Given that she had no clear understanding of its historical background, it is odd that she should have considered it the main source of modernity's problems. Where did she ever come up with such a notion?
My guess is that she got it, second or third hand, from Richard Weaver, the great conservative philosopher and literary critic. In 1948, Weaver published what is still probably the most important contribution to conservative philosophy in America, a slender volume entitled Ideas Have Consequences. In the book, Weaver argues that the "dissolution of the West" is the consequence of "the fateful doctrine of nominalism." "Like MacBeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions," wrote Weaver. "It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence." [2-3]
Weaver regarded William of Occam as the prime culprit in the nefarious attack on universals. "It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. . . . The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism." [3]
In the late forties and early fifties, Rand still traveled in conservative circles. She probably heard about Weaver's book from her conservative acquaintances; and although she would have violently disagreed with Weaver's platonist interpretation of the issue, the suggestion that the crisis of the West stemmed from the old scholastic controversy between those who regarded universals as "real" and those who did not appears to have borne fruit in Rand's own philosophy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ayn Rand and Averroës

An article suggesting a link (scroll down).

Monday, May 29, 2006


On an unrelated issue, I find it particularly annoying how the media uses "cutesy" expressions such as "Brangelina." It is almost as annoying as "diva" being used for female celebrities, when the term refers to female opera singers.

Books on Liberty

David Gordon has an excellent list of Books on Liberty. He puts Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead on the list because of the "sense of life" advocated in these books, but not Rand's non-fiction. I've always been a bigger fan of Rand's non-fiction than her fiction.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Spring 2006 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

Has been published. The articles on Rand's ethics look particularly intersting. Robert Campell's discussion of altruism in Comte looks interesting as well.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reason Papers

Reason Papers is now on-line. This journal contains many articles of interest to Objectivists. For example, there is a defense of Rand's ethics against J. Charles King's critique in The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A (Review by Roger Donway)

A good review by Mr. Roger Donway. He draws attention to Rand's claim about raising people's IQs. (It jumped out at me when I read the book as well.)

"I'd prefer that people raise their IQ from 110 to 150. It can be done."

Rand was rather anti-egalitarian, but on this issue she seems to have have a very optimistic view of human nature common to the Left.

As Mr. Donway also notes, Robert Mayhew incorrectly attributed the essay "Counterfeit Individualism" to Rand rather than Nathaniel Branden. It appears that Prof. Mayhew isn't always the most careful writer (see here and here).

The New Individualist, January - February 2006

Is on-line. Looks like there are some interesting articles.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

John Robbins: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand Refuted

I'm not a big fan of John Robbins' books on Ayn Rand, but given that there isn't much free audio concerning Rand on the web, I will link to this lecture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Search Tara Smith's New Book


Walter Block's Reply to Peter Schwartz's Critique of Libertarianism

Walter Block's reply to Peter Schwartz's critique of libertarianism in on the web. I can't understand why Schwarz's piece is held in such high esteem by Objectivists.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises & Kant

Ayn Rand is often villified for her belief that Kant was "the most evil man in history." Interestingly, Ludwig von Mises (a Kantian of sorts) said the following about Kant's ethics --

"Engels called the German Labour Movement the heir to the German classical philosophy. It would be more correct to say that German (not only Marxian) Socialism represents the decadence of the school of idealist philosophy. Socialism owes the dominion it won over the German mind to the idea of society as conceived by the great German thinkers. Out of Kant's mysticism of duty and Hegel's deification of the State it is easy to trace the development of socialist thought; Fichte is already a socialist."

"In recent decades the revival of Kantian criticism, that much praised achievement of German philosophy, has benefited Socialism also. The Neo-Kantians, especially Friedrich Albert Lange and Hermann Cohen, have declared themselves socialists. Simultaneously Marxians have tried to reconcile Marxism with the New Criticism. Ever since the philosophical foundations of Marxism have shown signs of cracking, attempts to find in critical philosophy support for socialist ideas have multiplied."

"The weakest part of Kant's system is his ethics. Although they are vitalized by his mighty intellect, the grandeur of individual concepts does not blind us to the fact that his starting-point is unfortunately chosen and his fundamental conception a mistaken one. His desperate attempt to uproot Eudaemonism has failed. In ethics, Bentham, Mill, and Feuerbach triumph over Kant. The social philosophy of his contemporaries, Ferguson and Adam Smith, left him untouched. Economics remained foreign to him. All his perception of social problems suffers from these deficiencies."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ayn Rand and the Curse of Kant

A good discussion of the Objectivist view of history by David Ramsay Steele. I think an Objectivist might plausibly argue that it may take a long time for certain ideas to work themselves out in history, so the turn to free market economics doesn't necessarily contradict the claim that philosophical ideas in the long run are determinent.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ayn Rand and Immigration

Does anyone know what Ayn Rand's views on immigration were? ARI type Objectivists are generally supportive of open borders (see the editorials of Tracinski and Binswanger). On the other hand, Rand would speak of "national self interest," which might justify restrictions on immigration.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ayn Rand

A summary of her life and work by Stephen R.C. Hicks.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Only Path to Tomorrow

A 1944 article by Ayn Rand in Readers Digest.

Monday, May 01, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, R.I.P.

Apparently it isn't only Austrian economists who live to an old age. Tibor Machan reminds us that Galbraith was a socialist.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Quote of the Week

"It is the men who will be content with nothing but the best whom we have to thank for every serious advance which man and society have actually made towards even a moderately 'better'. If the merely 'relatively better' were enough to content us, it would not be apparent why we should take even the first steps."

A. E. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, Vol I., p. 139

New Book by Edward Younkins

Professor Edward Younkins has edited an excellent collection of essays on Rand, Mises and Menger entitled Philosophers of Capitalism. Don't miss Neil Parille's review.

New Book by Tara Smith

ARI-associated scholar Tara Smith has a new book coming out, published by Cambridge University Press, called Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist.

Atlas Shrugged Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You?

Will Atlas Shrugged by made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?

New Book by Stephen Cox

Stephen Cox, an editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, has a new book: The New Testament and Literature.

Eric Mack: Problematic Arguments in Randian Ethics I

Professor Eric Mack in the Fall 2002 The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies wrote perhaps the most comprehensive critique of Objectivst ethics. The next issue of JARS will contain a discussion of this article. I'd like to see how an Objectivist might respond to some of Mack's arguments.

He identifies several problematic arguments. I'll start with this one -- "rational parasitism." As Mack notes, there are entire species that live as parasites on others. With respect to human beings, certain people live quite well as parasites. Fidel Castro recently turned 80 and, while the Cubans are suffering under him, he hasn't done too poorly.

Objectivism in the Mises Review

David Gordon has reviews of two books by Objectivists in the Fall 2005 Mises Review: The Abolition of Antitrust, edited by Gary Hull and Explaining Postmodernsim by Stephen R.C. Hicks.

Dr. Gordon has been critical of Objectivists in the past (see, for example, this review of Ominous Parallels) but he appreciates Prof. Hicks' book in particular.

Welcome to ObjectiBlog

This weblog is devoted to the discussion of Objectivism and Ayn Rand. Its aim is to discuss Objectivism free from the name calling and hoopla too often associated with the discussion of Rand and Objectivism on the web.