Sunday, December 13, 2009

Robert Mayhew Reviews Goddess of the Market

Orthodox Objectivist Robert Mayhew recently reviewed Goddess of the Market in The Objective Standard, a magazine associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. It is probably the harshest review of this excellent new biography of Ayn Rand.

Perhaps the most sensational claim in Goddess is that the published version of archival material has been rather heavily rewritten to conform to the Objectivist view of Rand. Rand is rewritten to sound more definitive, for example. One of the perpetrators named by Burns is none other than Robert Mayhew, in his Ayn Rand Answers, a selection of her question and answers. Robert Campbell has confirmed the rewrite by comparing what Rand said to what Mayhew claims Rand said. The amount and nature of the changes are truly stunning. It would have been nice for Mayhew to inform his readers that he is specifically criticized by Burns.

In any event, Prof. Mayhew's review leaves a lot to be desired. Let's discuss Mayhew's central points.

1. Mayhew asserts that Burns believes in historical determinism and that she alleges that Rand's ideas are a product of her environment. Nonetheless Mayhew is nice enough to claim that Burns is not "generally Marxist." Yet neither of the quotes from Goddess which Mayhew reproduces show that Burns is a determinist. In fact the two quotes describe merely the influence of Rand's early environment on her thought. Mayhew is also upset that Burns implies that some of Rand's ideas were "caused by her encounter with other thinkers." Indeed she does. Burns gives solid evidence for this, including the influence of Herbert Spencer, Isabel Paterson and H.L.Mencken. The obvious question here is, so what? While Mayhew might be correct that Burns should he discussed these influences in more detail, it's not as if a strong case can't be made that Rand was influenced by others more than she let on. For example in Shoshana Milgram's essay in Mayhew's Fountainhead anthology, she shows the strong influence of Nietzsche on Rand's thought. We may grant that Rand didn't take various ideas from other thinkers and pluck them at random in her thought, but it's not as if there aren't similarities. Does Mayhew believe Rand is diminished if one contends that other thinkers influenced her?

2. Mayhew next complains that Burns ignored Rand's philosophy when it comes to her politics. As an example he mentions Burns' brief discussion of Rand's rejection of environmentalism. Burns writes that Rand was unable to accept the motives of environmentalists at "face value." I generally think Burns is correct here. Rand often searched for hidden agendas instead of confronting ideas head on. One thinks of Rand's critique of religion. She was much more concerned with the alleged motivations of religious thinkers than their actual ideas. A classic example of this is Rand's contention that a streaker at the Academy Awards
was a Kantian nihilist instead of a someone pulling a prank. That Rand's critique of environmentalist was somewhat prescient (and here I agree with Mayhew) doesn't mean that Burns hasn't put a finger on an occasional weakness in Rand's thought.

3. Mayhew attacks the book for its selectivity. I was surprised, like Mayhew, with the amount of discussion of Rand's private life. However Mayhew goes overboard in his claim that this is addressed to the detriment of Rand's political ideas. I think the reader of Goddess would understand quite well why Rand disagreed with conservatives and non-Objectivist libertarians. In my opinion Burns strikes close to the right balance between Rand's ideas, her life, and her influence on the conservative and libertarian movements. I would have preferred a bit more and detailed discussions of her political philosophy.

4. Mayhew puts a jab in a footnote about the supposed errors in the book touching on Rand's life. Without telling us what these are it's hard to evaluate this claim. Does Mayhew consider Burns' contention that Frank drank too much to be an error? Does he claim that Burns is wrong to suggest that Rand was not entirely candid about her early life? Mayhew does write that Burns exaggerates Rand's use of amphetamines; however there is reason to conclude that Rand's use was excessive and exacerbated her difficult side.

Finally, one can't but help noting the religious tone that opens the review. Mayhew compares Rand to Jesus, her followers to his disciples, and Nathaniel and Barbara Branden to Judas!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Greatest Novel Ever Written"

This link contains letters from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Ayn Rand praising Atlas Shrugged. That Murray Rothbard would praise Rand so highly, in spite of their differences and his problems with her movement, is an obvious testimony to her charisma.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Material About Rand, the New Bios, and the PARC Wars

Over at SOLOPASSION I have started a post with a number of links to material about Rand, the new biographies and the PARC wars. The PARC wars material is not meant to be comprehensive, but only to allow readers to get some background on the controversies about Rand's life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Goddess of the Market (Amazon Review)

My Amazon review of Goddess of the Market:

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a pivotal figure in the modern libertarian movement. What is most interesting is that her influence was also great on the conservative movement, notwithstanding her atheism and secularism. Jennifer Burns, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, has written an outstanding intellectual biography of Rand, one that focuses on Rand’s political ideas and activism.

As anyone who has been following the buzz about this book knows, Prof. Burns (who is not an Objectivist) was granted almost complete access to material at the Ayn Rand Archives, which is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. There has always been a bit of controversy about the Archives. Questions have been raised about the accuracy of the material released (such as the Journals). Prof. Burns was able to compare published versions with the originals. The suspicions raised by scholars such as Chris Sciabarra were fully justified, in particular with respect to the published version of Rand’s journals. As Prof. Burns writes, “On nearly every page of the published journals an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand’s original writing. In the book’s foreword the editor, David Harriman, defends his practice of eliminating Rand’s words and inserting his own as necessary for greater clarity. In many case, however, his editing serves to significantly alter Rand’s meaning.” She adds, “similar problems plague Ayn Rand Answers (2005), The Art of Fiction (2000), The Art of Non-Fiction (2001), and Objectively Speaking (2009).”

Rand said she developed her philosophy at age two and one-half and it remained essentially the same. The historical record has been rewritten to accord with Rand’s self-mythologizing. (This is not cast aspersion on the current archivists, who are very much aware of – and upset at – the jiggery pokery sanctioned by Rand's estate.)

Given the rewriting of the historical record by the estate, what does that say about the accuracy of the ARI-sanctioned description of Rand set forth by Leonard Peikoff in his 1987 Ford Hall Forum address and James Valliant in his 2005 The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics? Peikoff and Valliant claimed that Rand’s only flaw was occasional anger, which they attempted to justify as Rand’s righteous rage against a relativistic world. The Peikoff and Valliant view is, to say the least, misleading. Prof. Burns confirms Rand’s abusive treatment of the Collective, her mistreatment of her husband, and her tendency to sever relationships over minor matters, among other things. Although Prof. Burns doesn’t label Rand’s husband an alcoholic, the evidence that he drank more than one should is quite strong. She also concludes that Rand’s behavior was likely affected by decades of amphetamine use.

Nothing in this book shows the portrayal of Rand in Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography of Rand (The Passion of Ayn Rand) to be wrong in any substantial regard, much less deliberately dishonest. Prof. Burns does find fault with certain aspects of The Passion of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s memoirs.

The value of Goddess of the Market, however, is not the light it sheds on various Objectivist controversies, but in the fascinating story it tells. Rand’s life intersected with many of the best known people in the conservative and libertarian movement such as Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard. Prof. Burns shows Rand’s gradual disillusionment with the conservative movement over its embrace of religion. She never felt at home with the libertarian movement, which she as saw almost exclusively as anarchist and subjectivist. Perhaps she saw libertarianism as a competitor (she could never decide whether she had nothing in common with them, or if they plagiarized her ideas).

Burns also highlights Rand’s involvement in politics. She worked for Wendell Wilkie’s campaign and attempted to organize a movement to fight the spread of collectivism. Much of this was known before, but Prof. Burns tells the story with new details and corrects the record on various matters, such as Rand’s split with Isabel Paterson.

Goddess of the Market breaks new ground in Ayn Rand scholarship. Hopefully the new openness of the Archives will permit scholars to delve more deeply into Ayn Rand’s life and her intellectual development.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001

Where were you? I was visiting Indian ruins in Argentina.

Where were you when the world stopped turnin'that September day?
Out in the yard with your wife and children;
Or working on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke Rising against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?
Did you weep for the children that lost their dear loved ones?

Did you pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubbleand sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out in pride for the red white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer?
And look at yourself for what really matters?

I'm just a singer of simple songs;I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, Hope and Love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is Love.

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?
Teaching a class full of innocent children;
Driving down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivorin a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her?
Did you dust off that bible at home?
Did you open your eyes hope it never happened;
And close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages;
Or speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow;
Go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns?
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers?
Stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your familyThank God you had somebody to love?

I'm just a singer of simple songs;
I'm not a real political manI watch CNN,
but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, Hope and Love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is Love.I'm just a singer of simple songs;
I'm not a real political manI watch CNN,
but I'm not sure I can tell you the differencein Iraq and Iran

But I know Jesus and I talk to GodAnd I remember this from when I was young
Faith, Hope and Love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is Love.And the greatest is Love.
And the greatest is Love.

Where were you when the world stopped turnin'that September day?

-Alan Jackson

©2001 EMI Music / Tri-Angels Music (ASCAP)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Judgment Day

Murray Rothbard's review of Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day is now available.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Economic Reasoning: The Most Common Fallacies

This lecture by Dr. David Gordon has a few comments on Objectivism.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Retouching Rand

I posted this piece over at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Probably my hardest-hitting piece. For those few viewers of my blog I should note that I have a relatively high opinion of Rand, certainly higher than my posts would indicate. I hope to do a series on the things I like about Rand starting in September.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Can't Fake Reality

Jennifer Burns' forthcoming intellectual biography of Ayn Rand is called Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

Of particular note is that Prof. Burns was given full access to Rand's papers at the Ayn Rand Archives (which is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute). According to this review, the skepticism that many have had with respect to the accuracy of material put out by the ARI (see here and here) is fully justified. In fact, things may have been worse than suspected.

Under the influence of Rand’s heir, Leonard Peikoff, the archives were
off-limits to many scholars for years. Peikoff has a history of wanting to
protect Rand’s reputation, even if that means giving facts short-shift. That Burns had full access to Rand’s papers is a good sign for future Rand-related scholarship—though Burns does warn that scholars who were involved in “Objectivist controversies” may still find themselves barred from seeing the papers.

Because of her access, Burns was able to document the influence of Nietzsche on Rand. One of the great modern myths, regarding Rand, is that she emerged from Russia with a fully formed philosophical system, at least in all the essentials. Burns is able to document that Rand was in the process of forming her ideas over a period of decades. And while I found her discussion of Nietzsche’s influence on Rand fascinating, I thought she should have given equal emphasis to the whys and hows of Rand shifting away from Nietzsche.

* * *

One other area that I found of significant interest is Burns discussion of the various problems surrounding Rand documents made public by the
Ayn Rand Institute, Leonard Piekoff’s organization. There has been a great deal of controversy over indications that ARI doctored documents. Some of this doctoring was admitted by ARI, which asserted that they merely made clarifications consistent with what Rand had intended to say. Burns, who has seen the originals, says this is not the case.

She does say that the letters of Rand, that have been released, “have not been altered; they are merely incomplete.” But the same is not true for other works of Rand, including her Journals. Burns writes, “On nearly every page of the published journals an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand’s original writing. In the book’s foreword the editor, David Harriman, defends his practice of eliminating Rand’s words and inserting his own as necessary for greater clarity. In many case, however, his editing serves to significantly alter Rand’s meaning.” She says that sentences are “rewritten to sound stronger and more definite” and that the editing “obscures important shifts and changes in Rand’s thought.” She finds “more alarming” the case that “sentences and proper names present in Rand’s original …have vanished entirely, without any ellipses or brackets to indicate a change.”

The result of this unacknowledged editing is that “they add up to a different Rand. In her original notebooks she is more tentative, historically bounded, and contradictory. The edited diaries have transformed her private space, the hidden realm in which she did her thinking, reaching, and groping, replacing it with a slick manufactured world in which all of her ideas are definite, well formulated, and clear.” She concludes that Rand’s Journals, as released by ARI, “are thus best understood as an interpretation of Rand rather than her own writing. Scholars must use these materials with extreme caution.”

The bad news is that “similar problems plague Ayn Rand Answers (2005), The Art of Fiction (2000), The Art of Non-Fiction (2001), and Objectively Speaking (2009).” Burns says all these works were “derived from archival material but have been significantly rewritten.” Rand scholars have long suspected such manipulation of documents; Burns confirms it with evidence she herself saw.

Certainly an explantion for this is required. For a number of years we have been told that the Archives will be publishing a collection of oral history entitled 100 Voices. I would recommend that the ARI make the actual interviews available on the web and provide access to non-ARI scholars.

New Books on Rand -- Early Reviews

The first reviews of the new books on Ayn Rand by Anne Heller and Jennifer Burns are in. It appears that the books will be outstanding.

Here are the two reviews of Prof. Burns' book: here and here.

Here is the first review of Anne Heller's book.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Test Your Knowledge, Number 8


1. Piers Paul Read

2. Paul Prudhomme

3. Pierre Paul Prudh’on

4. Louis-Marie Prudhomme


A. Contemporary Novelist

B. Painter

C. Cajun Chef

D. French Leftist Journalist

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right

Here is an interview with Jennifer Burns, author of the forthcoming Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hessen on The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter

Robert Hessen discusses the The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter in Ronald Lora, The Conservative Press in Twentieth Century America. Go to page 349.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Szasz on Rand and Branden

This is an incredibly harsh attack on Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden by Thomas Szasz from his book Faith in Freedom. Go to page 123.

Greenspan: The Man Behind Money

Google books has made available a generous selection of Justin Martin's 2000 book Greenspan: The Man Behind Money. Martin has a lengthy discussion of Greenspan's involvment with Rand on pages 35-53.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taking Ideas Seriously, Part II

[Cross-posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

In part one of this essay I discussed some of the problems with the Objectivist theory of history. Here I will discuss Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels, in which Peikoff applies Rand’s philosophy of cultural change to a concrete historical episode.

The Ominous Parallels (“OP”) was published in 1982 with a preface by Ayn Rand. Peikoff’s thesis is that the rise of the Nazis was the direct result of the influence of Immanuel Kant on German philosophy and culture. Kant inspired even more irrational philosophers as Hegel and Fichte, who went on to influence twentieth century German speaking irrationalists such as Sigmund Freud, Thomas Mann, Karl Barth, Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger (most of whom, curiously enough, were anti-Nazi). This intellectual climate paved the way for the Nazis to take control of Germany in 1933. Peikoff gives short shrift to the Great Depression, the Treaty of Versailles, and mistakes made by anti-Nazi politicians to mount an effective resistance to Hitler as explanations for the rise of Nazism.

The most obvious problem for Peikoff is that Kant was not a Nazi or even a proto-Nazi. His political views were generally of the classical liberal variety. The second formulation of the categorical imperative (which Peikoff never quotes in his lengthy discussion of Kant’s ethics) is the rather un-Nazi sounding “act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end.” For any number of reasons, Kant seems particularly ill-suited as the intellectual godfather of Adolph Hitler.

A larger problem is Peikoff’s assumption that the influence of ideas flows one way (from bad to worse) and that later thinkers will inevitably draw the conclusions that Objectivists assert must be drawn from bad ideas. Peikoff does not establish (or even attempt to establish) that his and Rand’s idiosyncratic understanding of Kant was accepted by German philosophers and intellectuals. In addition, Peikoff does not show (or again even attempts to show) that German intellectuals drew the political conclusions that he thinks are inevitable from Kantian philosophy. Such a demonstration would require the review of an enormous amount of literature (most of it untranslated) by German intellectuals from Kant to 1933. If Kant’s immediate followers were not collectivists of the Nazi variety, any claim that Kantianism leads inevitably to collectivism or Auschwitz (which Peikoff alleges was Kant’s “dream”) is rather debatable.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that there are only a couple of Nazis whom Peikoff cites as finding support in Kant. The first is Lothar Gottlieb Tirala. Peikoff calls him a “philosophically trained Nazi ideologist” who believed that Aristotle was non-Aryan. (OP, pp. 57, 65-66.) I suspect that Tirala first came to Peikoff’s attention through von Mises’ works Human Action and Omnipotent Government. Von Mises discusses him as a representative advocate of “polylogism,” the belief that different classes or races employ different logic. Tirala was a physician who headed the Nazi’s Institute for Racial Hygiene. He was seen as something of an eccentric even by most Nazis because of his theory that proper breathing could cure a host of diseases. He does not appear to have been taken seriously as a philosopher. (Best I can tell, his only work translated into English was The Cure of High Blood Pressure by Respiratory Exercises.)

The second is Adolph Eichmann. Peikoff relies exclusively on Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, her famous account of his 1961 trial. According to Peikoff, “[h]e was a faithful Kantian Adolph Eichmann told his Israeli judges.” (OP, p. 96.) As Fred Seddon shows, Peikoff’s use of Arendt is highly misleading.

As David Ramsay Steele notes, one of the presuppositions of Objectivist theory is that there is a “tight fit” between metaphysics and epistemology on the one hand and ethics and politics on the other. However, the one theme running through Nazi ideology is not Kantianism or even philosophy, but biology and race. Fanciful theories of Aryan supremacy were probably accepted by the average Nazi not because of epistemology but because of the all too human need to find scapegoats in a time of crisis. Peikoff is aware that the rise of the Nazis took place simultaneously with the acceptance by many intellectuals of esoteric racial theories of Aryan superiority, but makes the dubious claim that these ideas were believed only because bad philosophy paved the way for them. Of course many German philosophers such as Hegel and Fichte were ardent nationalists, but it does not appear that they advocated proto-Nazi racial ideas. Even the most prominent philosopher who was a member of the Nazi party (Martin Heidegger) did not accept Nazi racial theories completely. If one had asked the average Nazi (or even Nazi intellectual) why he believed in racist ideology I would be surprised if he gave reasons having anything to do with the philosophies of Kant, Hegel or Fichte.

Interestingly enough, probably the most widely quoted philosopher by the Nazis was Friedrich Nietzsche. Unlike the obscure and abstruse Kant, Nietzsche actually sounds like a Nazi, at least at times. His philosophy is also tinged with racial and biological overtones. This is not to say that he would have approved of the Nazism, but if Nazism should be laid at the feet of any thinker (a dubious proposition) it would be Nietzsche. As readers of this blog know, Rand admired Nietzsche and echoes of his philosophy show up even in her later works. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Peikoff (always eager to defend Rand) tells us that his influence on the rise of the Nazis is “debatable.” (OP, p. 43.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism

This is the Scribd document:

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism neil.parille4975 The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism is a critique of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, published in 2005. In The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, Valliant argues that the biographies and memoirs of Barbara Branden (The Passion of Ayn Rand) and Nathaniel Branden (Judgment Day and My Years with Ayn Rand) paint a false and dishonest picture of Rand. Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was the author of The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and works of philosophy and politics.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Robert Hessen: In Defense of the Corporation

It's occasionally said that Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels (1982) is the first book on Objectivist philosophy. However, it would appear that Robert Hessen's In Defense of the Corporation (1979) was earlier.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taking Ideas Seriously, Part I

Objectivists claim to “take ideas seriously.” According to Rand and her followers it is ideas (more specifically abstract philosophical ideas such as metaphysics and epistemology) that determine the course of history. As Rand put it in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (“ITOE”) concerning “the problem of universals”: “[T]he fate of human societies, of knowledge, of science, of progress and of every human life, depends on it. What is at stake here is the cognitive efficacy of man’s mind.” (ITOE, p. 3.) Yet despite the supposedly supreme importance of ideas in the Objectivist schema, how well do they deal with intellectual history in practice?

Rand’s first work following Atlas Shrugged was a lengthy essay entitled “For the New Intellectual” which appeared in a book of the same name published in 1961. In this essay Rand traced the history of philosophy and its generally deleterious effects on history through brief (and not entirely accurate) descriptions of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kant and Spencer. The first book written by an Objectivist philosopher other than Rand was Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels in which Peikoff blamed Nazism on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Although Objectivists often present their views dramatically and hyperbolically, the Objectivist claim about the influence of philosophers on the course of history is not new with Rand (nor, in a rare display of modesty, did she claim it was). For example, the historian Christopher Dawson wrote in his 1953 work Understanding Europe: “What we all tend to forget, however, is the way in which even the most irrational phenomena in the modern world . . . have been conditioned and in some sense created by the ideologies of the past, so that behind the modern demagogue and dictator there stands the ghost of some forgotten metaphysician.” (Dawson, Understanding Europe, p. 152.) Other examples are Richard Weaver’s contention that Western culture got off the wrong track with medieval nominalism and Eric Voegelin’s thesis concerning the influence of Gnosticism on revolutionary ideologies.

The Objectivist version of intellectual history is problematic on a number of grounds:

First, is it really the case that the fate of knowledge depends on the right theory of concept formation? History doesn’t bear this out. To take one example, consider the “fate” of mathematics in the twentieth century. No one can deny the tremendous progress that mathematicians made even though there was no agreement as to the conceptual foundation of mathematics or even the definition of a number. Nor does it appear that physics and chemistry (both heavily mathematical) suffered as a result of this conceptual logjam, contrary to what Objectivist “super logic” might suggest if knowledge is rigidly contextual and hierarchical. Is there any reason to doubt that science and technology will continue to make progress even if the Objectivist theory of concept formation remains unheralded?

In addition, a review of individual thinkers and scientists would likely show that a substantial majority did not sympathize with Objectivist or proto-Objectivist ideas. No less than the twentieth century’s greatest scientist, Albert Einstein, considered himself a Kantian. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead made seminal advances in logic in their massive Principia Mathematica. Whitehead went on to found the school of thought known as “process theology” writing, among other works, Religion in the Making. Another example is Nicholas Copernicus, who famously advanced the heliocentric view of the solar system in 1543’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. Copernicus was a Catholic prelate trained in scholastic theology. Upon a visit to Italy he came under the influence of neo-Platonist mathematicians. It doesn’t appear that Copernicus’ philosophic background prevented him from making one of the most important discoveries in astronomy.

Of course, one could easily conjure up various philosophies that would be destructive of scientific progress (such as the belief that studying the natural world is immoral), but history shows that science is compatible with a variety of philosophical approaches and that a certain eclecticism in method might even be desirable.

Second, Objectivists often look for philosophical explanations for rather mundane events. In a 2007 post I drew attention to Peikoff’s defense of Rand’s claim that the streaker at the 1974 Academy Awards was a Kantian nihilist, when in fact he was a publicity seeker intent on making a statement about public nudity.

Third, Objectivists tend to reduce historical change to a few philosophical ideas and ignore other, non-philosophical factors. For example, in The Ominous Parallels, Peikoff barely mentions the Treaty of Versailles, which fueled German resentment. This, combined with mistakes made by anti-Nazi German politicians and the Great Depression, were far more responsible for the rise of the Nazis than the influence of Kant.

Fourth, for all the Objectivist bluster about “taking ideas seriously,” Objectivism is destructive of the understanding and enjoyment of ideas. The Objectivist approach simplifies and caricatures the history of ideas to such an extent that one wonders at times why Objectivists would study ideas other than their own. This point was made by David Gordon is his review of The Ominous Parallels:

“There is, I think, a deeper flaw in Peikoff's approach to intellectual history than his errors, however grave, about a particular thinker. One has no sense, when reading Peikoff, that Kant (or any of the other thinkers he condemns) was responding to serious intellectual problems. If, for example, Kant differed with Aristotle, the thought never seems to have occurred to Peikoff that he may have had some legitimate reasons for doing so. Peikoff gives us a history of philosophy with the arguments left out. Someone unfortunate enough to derive all his knowledge of Kant from Peikoff's pages would have no conception at all of why Kant's successors regarded him as a profound thinker rather than the proponent of ‘a perverted theory that no one could mean.’”

Fifth, there is a tendency in Objectivist circles to make the thought of various thinkers conform to what the Objectivist theory of history would suggest rather than letting them speak for themselves. To take just one example, Objectivists often portray the ancient Greeks (whom they admire) as secularists when their society was religious to an extent hard to appreciate today.

In the second part of this post I will compare Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels with Christopher Dawson’s discussion of Hegel in Understanding Europe and Ludwig von Mises’ discussion of the rise of Nazism in Omnipotent Government.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This is an interesing article from Wired Magazine dealing with seasteading.

I have heard about this once or twice. Apparently, some libertarians believe that one might establish a "stateless" society outside of a nation's territorial waters (apparently 200 miles). I wonder how many people it would take for such a mini city to constitute a nation for purposes of the UN membership (not that most libertarian nationists would want to become "member states" of the UN).

According to the article, the first such colony (or primitive version thereof) was created by an admirer of Ayn Rand, one Werner Stiefel.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Good Life of Murray Rothbard

This talk was given by Murray Rothbard's wife Joey in 1996. There is an interesting discussion of Ayn Rand and the Objectivist movement.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tombstone Every Mile by Dick Curless

This song made Dick Curless famous. They didn't call him "the baron of country music" for no reason. Too bad most of his songs are hard to come by.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Chick Inspector by Dick Curless

We waited a long time for this classic to show up on the web.