Now some Objectivists who actually have a sense of humor have made up an “Official Solo Schism Form Letter”. Funny stuff. The letter is lampooning Objectivist nobody Diana Mertz Hsieh, who felt compelled to Officially, Publicly Break with a former Objectivist friend, the brilliant Chris Sciabarra (who is a decent, sincere, honest person who did not deserve to be treated like this), and to justify it by printing his private correspondence to her and a set of charges to any normal person would appear very bizarre (strange for a Randian, eh?). One of many critiques of Hsieh’s dishonorable actions is found here; another.
[Update: Some recent fun shenanigans: Carl Barney on the Ayn Rand Institute and Craig Biddle.
And see also: Objectivists on Positive Parental Obligations and Abortion and Objectivist Hate Fest]
Correction: I have been informed that the letter was originally a spoof on Objectivist Lindsay Perigo and his site Solo; but that it works just as well with Hsieh, as Kelly’s filling in the blanks for a letter to Chris shows (later in the thread linked). Update: Just came across the latest Official Objectivist Denunciation [repixeled below]: Andrew Bernstein of the Ayn Rand Institute has apparently been pestered into apologizing for having =gasp= published a short piece in the “Journal of Ayn Rand Studies”. Bernstein’s apology states “I deeply regret my thoughtless decision to contribute to this journal, and hereby irrevocably repudiate any and all association with it.”
Well, then, Dr. Bernstein–it’s official–and more than that, irrevocable! Thanks for letting us know!
He goes on: “To all who are sincerely concerned with Objectivism, I apologize, and recommend a complete repudiation and boycott of this journal and of any and all of Mr. Sciabarra’s work.”
Okay! I hereby repudiate and boycott Sciabarra.
And now I take it back! ha ha, I forgot to make it irrevocable!
A former Objectivist wrote me with this theory:
The only other thing I can say about the Club’s obsession with excommunicating people is that it strikes me as an initiation ritual of sorts–like how the Cosa Nostra makes you whack a guy to “make your bones.” It’s also an obvious way of generating false self-esteem, which is something I see a lot of in O’s. After all, most of their lives revolve around taking credit for the work of a dead philosopher who in turn borrowed heavily without attribution.
Okay, bad pun. I refer here to their odd, pompous, self-important, silly habit of offically “breaking” with people who were once in the fold but who start to think for themselves. But I guess, like Muslims, it’s worse to be a former Randian than never to have been one at all. As Rush (another favorite group of young Randians) say, “For you the blind who once could see/The bell tolls for thee”.
Now our own Skip Oliva is the latest to be “broken” with by Official Objectivists. On the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism’s Rule of Reason blog (are Objectivists trying to parody themselves with the stilted, cloying, predictable overuse of such Randian catch-phrases?), some Nicholas Provenzo character washes his hands of the Skipster. Oliva’s sin? A former supporter of the CAC, he has–gasp!–published on LewRockwell.com. Treason! Heresy! Writes P-dog:
…I must publicly indicate my disappointment that in the time since he left CAC, Mr. Skip Oliva, a former policy expert, has chosen to become a contributing writer to libertarian organizations such as lewrockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
… The logical outcome of the libertarian position—the position of trying to secure capitalism without a legitimate philosophic base—is anarchy. I don’t understand why Mr. Oliva has chosen to align himself with such an untenable intellectual position. I can find no innocent explanation. … I can only think that during that period of unrewarded hardship and effort, Mr. Oliva turned on the movement that he felt had abandoned him. This is tragic, but if so, the mistake lies with him. One’s ultimate justification for being cannot be the sanction of others. The alternative to the current lack of Objectivist political and legal activism is not to make one’s bed with the libertarians, simply because they are anti-state. The alternative to being ignored is not to embrace one’s spiritual enemies as an act of revenge.
… Accordingly, while I wish Mr. Oliva my best, I must properly disassociate this organization with him on the above grounds.
Oh my God, it’s so melodramatic! Hey, Provenzo–you forgot to portentiously add, “For the Record–”
My reply to Provenzo’s response, in case they delete it on grounds they should not “sanction a sanctioner” or some other Randroid weirdism:
Want to enrage a Libertarian? It’s easy. Just have standards. Consider lewrockwell.com blogger Stephan Kinsella’s response to my “Off the Reservation” post.
Enrage? Ha. Far from it. Just amused. BTW I am an Objectivist, by any reasonable standard, unless lack of sense of humour, dourness, and being Serioso about everything is a requirement.
Kinsella’s response is interesting because he refers back to an earlier article he wrote attempting to eviscerate Diana Hsieh for realizing that her previous support for David Kelley’s Objectivist Center was misplaced. Hsieh, an Objectivist graduate student in philosophy, grew weary of the Objectivist Center’s lack of scholarship. Upon re-examining the break that led to Kelly’s ostracism from Objectivism, Hsieh concluded that he and his organization’s approach to philosophy was substantively flawed and dishonest. Because her participation in the Objectivist Center was often held up as an example of the organization’s efficacy and because she knew her determination would sever many of her personal relationships, Hsieh felt compelled to make her declaration of independence public.
I was criticizing not her decision to break but her compulsion to publicly announce it. It’s so Randian.
Kinsella’s response? Venom.
Not “blank-out”? Shame.
Off putting, because it reflects a standard? Probably. It certainly explains the miles of hatred heaped upon Hsieh since her break with her former allies.
Not hatred–ridicule; not for breaking, but for feeling a need to Publicly, Officially Declare It Be So.
And perhaps (going back to my post) that’s why Kinsella can’t stand the fact that I indicated my disappointment with Mr. Oliva. Never mind that Mr. Oliva was a personal friend, going back to college. Never mind that I battled with him over the very issue that severed our friendship for hours on end, only to be told that he didn’t want anything to do with me or my philosophy. Never mind that I have my standards. The Libertarian mantra Kinsella echoes is that you must simply get along with everyone, whatever they think, say or do, or shut the hell up.
Again–don’t fault you for being disappointed in or not feeling close to someone, but this Randian tendency to Publicy Break with people is just hilarious and silly.
Yeah, right. And that’s going to lead to capitalism . .
What’s going to lead to capitalism is a radical improvement in the economic understanding of the average person. Which is to say–nothing. Ain’t gonna happen. Deal.
And a reply to a subsequent post by him:
Are you saying Oliva “hates” Rand and her philosophy? Even I am not guilty of that. Quite the contrary.
Surely you guys are aware how normal people deal with these things. If they have a dispute with someone, they limit their contact with them or even stop dealing with them. But they don’t feel compelled to make an “Official Announcement” about it, as if the world cares. I think in the future all you dudes should title your public “breaking” missives something like:
“Why I Am Hereby and Henceforth Breaking with _____ (And Why You Should Care (And Why I Should Care That You Should Care)–And If You Don’t I’ll Break With You Too”
Incidentally, no Objectivist has ever officially “broken” with me yet. Sigh.
I usually go to annual Austrian Scholars Conference meetings of the Mises Institute (and good ole’ George Reisman is there–having been booted out of ARI and found a tolerant, “benevolent” home where people are not insane); if I one day lose interest and stop going, need I “officially” declare this Once and For All to the World?
Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket. You people can’t even see that you have become living parodies, can you?
As noted previously, Objectivists often use cliched and oddly stilted pet Objectivist terms and turns of phrase, such as “moral subjectivism”. I’ve long found these and other Objectivist tendencies to be amusing, or silly, including: psycho-epistemology (she sure has a nice set of psycho-epistemology!); over-use of “altruism”; overkill on the “Kant is the ultimate evil” thing; over-use of–em-dashes–and italics; “second-handers”; over-use of “qua”; boorish, in-your-face insistence on using “man” as much as possible to represent both genders; saying, “Observe: ” at the beginning of a sentence; the classic “whim-worshipper”; Frank is my “top value”; “stolen-concept fallacy”; and, one of my favorites, “blank-out”. This whole dour, humorless, serioso, robotic cult of personality has arisen around her.
The more I read Objectivists trot out their ridiculous stock phrases, the more I realize this aspect of the philosophy is really inapplicable to the real world. Who talks like that? Who even thinks like that? Who goes around talking about “psycho-epistemology” or saying their husband is their “top value”? What the hell is a “top value”? Jeez. In my view, this cliched, robotic reasoning is useless and off-putting.
Last but not least, is the Objectivists’ habit of O-So-Officially “Breaking” with people. In my experience, people tend to drift apart if they no longer like each other or find other interests more compelling. There is no official moment of “breaking”. But not for Objectivist. They act as if there is some official record book of relationships (which squares with the Objectivists’ obsession over having an Official Final Authority to settle disputes–can’t have the messy unpredictability of a private market solution); and the act of “breaking” implies that the status of your personal relationships are so important to others you have to Officially Notify them of it. Give me a break.
Lo and behold, it turns out that this Objectivist chick Diana Hsieh recently felt the need to do the same thing: she “officially” recants her previous criticisms of the orthodox Ayn Rand Institute, and “breaks” with David Kelley’s The Objectivist Center. Jeez H. In a post entitled, appropriately enough, A Public Statement, she writes:
Some of you may wonder why I am disassociating myself from TOC in such a public fashion, rather than merely drifting away in private discontent like so many others over the years.
No, I don’t wonder–it’s b/c it’s common among Objectivists to “announce” their “decision” to “break” with someone in such a serioso fashion.
For these and other reasons, I am pained by the end of my ten year relationship with IOS/TOC.
Okay, hereby noted; will the Official Secretary of Rational Relationships please record in the Official Record Book of Official Relationships that Ms. Hsieh has Officially Broken with IOS/TOC.
Egads. This chick used to be anti-ARI; now she has switched, and Officially Denounces her pre-ARI work as “pseudoscholarship.”
Objectivists are not even worth taking seriously if they continue to trot out these weird, robotic phrases and engage in these bizarre habits.
BTW, lest people think I am just bashing Objectivists indiscriminately, let me say I believe I am actually an Objectivist if you go by the short summary of her views, on politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. I just don’t go for the dour, humorless, robotic cult of personality that has arisen around her. And you know what, I don’t even feel guilty about it–the face without pain or fear or guilt, and all that, ha ha.
See also The “Benevolent Rape” Scene?
The ARI Special: Denunciations
By Diana @ 12:18 PM
Andy Bernstein is supposed to one of the more benevolent and rational types at the ARI. But clearly even such people can be pressured into stupid denunciations, such as the one below. (I wonder whether Bernstein is telling the truth about his ignorance of Chris’ work. It seems implausible to me, given all the negative attention that Chris has gotten from the folks over at the ARI.)
To All Sincerely Concerned With Objectivism
By Andrew Bernstein
Last year Chris Sciabarra solicited from me an article for his journal in response to its review of the CliffsNotes on Ayn Rand’s novels. All I knew of Mr. Sciabarra was that he had written a strange book entitled Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical, in which he argued that she was a great thinker of the Hegelian school. Knowing nothing of his journal, I wrote several lines in response. This was a serious error on my part. I was irresponsible in not researching this journal and identifying its nature.
In a world in which some individuals profess to love Ayn Rand’s work but make a living criticizing it – and where some similarly profess to admire Objectivism but insult the Ayn Rand Institute, its staff and contributors, I should have known better.
The so-called Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is filled with writings by people with whom I refuse to knowingly associate under any circumstances. I deeply regret my thoughtless decision to contribute to this journal, and hereby irrevocably repudiate any and all association with it. In this regard, the fault is entirely my own. This journal does not hide what it is. Its contents are available on the Internet for all to see. In failing to do the requisite research and gather the necessary data, I failed to properly use my mind. I must now suffer the consequences of that. To all who are sincerely concerned with Objectivism, I apologize, and recommend a complete repudiation and boycott of this journal and of any and all of Mr. Sciabarra’s work.
I almost feel sorry for Bernstein in reading this groveling apology. But then I think to myself the very true thought that Chris Sciabarra is probably the most moral person I know. So perhaps Andy Bernstein is getting precisely what he deserves.
Update 4/25/06: My view of this whole incident has changed dramatically: Andy Bernstein was right to distance himself from the pseudo-scholarship of JARS And I just recently confirmed what I’ve suspected for some years: Chris Sciabarra is a manipulative liar of the first order. (See Dialectical Dishonesty.) I do know that Chris intended to cause trouble for Andy Bernstein by publishing his reply. And I strongly suspect that Chris lied to me about details of this incident in order to cast Andy in a far worse light than he deserves.
The latest, from some inept writer named “Anoop Verma” [sic]:
I am inspired by Ayn Rand’s philosophy and literature, but I am now compelled to dissociate myself from the Objectivist movement. I was an enthusiastic supporter of organized Objectivism in the last five years, but now I feel disenchanted and disgusted by the shenanigans of the movement’s top philosophers and acolytes.
I have found evidence which shows that the Objectivist movement is in a state of disrepair and it is being led by men of low caliber and integrity. The top Objectivist philosophers are insular and authoritarian. They prefer to waste time in petty squabbles instead of creating new articles, books and lectures for expanding the scope of Rand’s philosophy.
Here are the reasons for which I have decided to excommunicate myself from the Objectivist movement:
Open System—Closed System
I find the issue of “open-system—closed system,” which is dogging the Objectivist movement for almost three decades, quite baffling. In his 1989 article “Fact and Value,” Dr. Leonard Peikoff claims that Objectivism is a closed system. But his arguments are not convincing.
Here’s an excerpt from “Fact and Value”: “Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author. If this applies to any philosophy, think how much more obviously it applies to Objectivism. Objectivism holds that every truth is an absolute, and that a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system.”
These lines make no sense. Why should a change in one element destroy the entire system in Objectivism? Does Dr. Peikoff really believe that he can stop anyone from making use of Rand’s abstract philosophical ideas? Just look at the extensive permutations and combinations that we have of the ideas of every major philosopher in history. Why should the fate of Rand’s ideas be any different?
Isaac Newton has said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” The same holds true for Rand. She could look far ahead because she stood on the shoulders of giants like Aristotle, Aquinas, Newton, Locke, and many others. She picked up ideas from many philosophers of the past, changed those ideas that needed to be changed, developed a number of ideas of her own, and went on to create a new system of philosophy.
Rand is now herself a giant in philosophy. It is natural that a new crop of philosophers will try to stand on her shoulders to look further ahead. There is scope for improvement in a philosophical system when the followers of the original philosopher explore different lines of thought and come up with new perspectives on the social, moral and political problems.
As Dr. Chris Matthew Scibarra has said in the Introduction to Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: “Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.”
If Objectivism is a closed system, then, in my view, it cannot be regarded as a philosophy. A philosophical system must always be an open system. A philosophy is a set of principles which explain the nature of the universe and man’s place and role in it. A philosopher who creates a new system of philosophy is the discoverer of the principles which explain reality. It is irrational to claim that the philosophical principles explaining reality are to be regarded as a closed system.
For more information on this issue, I will refer to the book by Dr. David Kelley, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand.
The Authority Figure
Ever since I became active in Objectivist circles, I have been reminded repeatedly by certain old-timers of the movement that Dr. Peikoff is the supreme authority in Objectivism. I accept that Dr. Peikoff is a writer of important books and articles on Objectivist thought but why should he be regarded as an authority figure? Why does Objectivism even need an authority figure? This is the philosophy of reason and everyone is expected to follow the rule of reason and not of any human being.
The Intellectual Heir
On his website, Dr. Peikoff declares that he is Rand’s legal and intellectual heir. I understand the logic of having a legal heir, but why does Objectivism have a so-called intellectual heir? Why? It is ludicrous to think that anyone can inherit philosophical ideas. Also, I am unable to find any communique from Rand stating that she has conferred the title of “intellectual heir” on him.
I think that Ayn Rand did a great disservice to Objectivism by proclaiming Nathaniel Branden as the intellectual heir in the 1950s. She wrote in the end of Atlas Shrugged: “When I wrote The Fountainhead I was addressing myself to an ideal reader – to as rational and independent a mind as I could conceive of. I found such a reader – through a fan letter he wrote me about The Fountainhead when he was nineteen years old. He is my intellectual heir. His name is Nathaniel Branden.” Branden’s “intellectual heir” status was revoked by Rand after his split in 1968.
Barbara Branden has claimed that Rand told her that she had learned from her bad experience with Nathaniel that it is not a good idea to have an intellectual heir. Rand had learned the right lesson. Objectivism is not a cult—it is not a religion—therefore it can’t have an intellectual heir. It is not as if Rand was akin to the Messiah who re-named Simon, “Peter”, the rock on which the church of Objectivism will be built. It is certain that Dr. Peikoff is not Saint Peter.
A Movement Mired in Schisms
What is the reason for which Rand evicted Nathaniel Branden from the Objectivist movement? I can deduce from the articles and books that I have read on this subject that the breakup between Rand and Nathaniel was for personal issues and not on account of philosophical differences. Rand was entitled to remove him from her life but did she have to excommunicate him from Objectivism of which he was a good advocate, despite any personal flaws that he may have had?
After Rand’s demise, Dr. Peikoff became the supreme leader of Objectivism and he started the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). But under his leadership many wonderful thinkers have been shunted out of the Objectivist movement. Dr. David Kelley, George Reisman, Robert Tracinski and John McCaskey are apparently no longer fit to be called Objectivists, even though they are writing articles and books as good as the intellectuals in the ARI.
What is going on at the ARI? Why are good intellectuals being forced to leave the institution? From the books and articles that I have read on these schisms, I can infer that these intellectuals have departed from the ARI for reasons that have very little to do with philosophy.
Objectivism is bleeding talent because the top-level Objectivists have accepted the idea that Dr. Peikoff is the supreme authority and intellectual heir. This has led to a situation where anyone who disagrees with Dr. Peikoff is forced to sever all connection with the ARI. As long as the Objectivist movement remains subservient to one individual and one institute there is no possibility for Objectivist ideas to take root in our culture. Objectivism needs more voices.
The Demonization of the Brandens
In his 1987 talk at the Ford Hall Forum, Dr. Peikoff was asked if he had read Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand. Here’s an excerpt from what he said: “I didn’t, because I discount — you know, the technical term is not lie, which I would regard as inaccurate—I regard her book as non-cognitive. Uh… By this I mean, I do not think that it has reached the realm of cognition to be evaluated as true or as false.”
I have read Barbara’s book. It is certainly not a “non-cognitive” work as Dr. Peikoff claims. I won’t say that everything she has said is the truth. But she has an interesting story to tell and she has made a number of valid points. The book is quite popular. In fact, I fear that Dr. Peikoff’s judgement of Barbara’s book has a non-cognitive bias. He has said that he will not read the book. But if he does not read the book, then how does he develop an opinion on its content? Heresy! Premonition!
In the case of Nathaniel Branden’s book My Years with Ayn Rand, we find a similar campaign of disinformation and vilification being launched to persuade the Objectivists that they should not read it. Well, I did read it. I didn’t like this book as much as I liked Barbara’s book, but this does not mean that I should start claiming that Nathaniel has written a non-cognitive book. This business of branding books as non-cognitive is extremely ridiculous.
There are many faults in Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, but this does not give anyone a right to demonize them. They have said a lot of wrong things about Rand in their books, but they have also said many right things. Their books are not arbitrary or non-cognitive. They merit scholarly evaluation.
Support for Left-leaning Political Groups
In the time of the 2006 elections, Dr. Peikoff issued his Objectivist fatwa: “In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.”
Apparently, Dr. Peikoff was of the view that the Republicans were overrun by the Evangelical Christians and that voting for them was the same as voting for a theocratic autocracy. Irrespective of the reasons on basis of which Dr. Peikoff reached his political judgment, he had no right to dictate to others who they should vote for and to threaten them, even implicitly, with excommunication for having a different opinion. I think his claim that anyone who votes for Republican or abstains from voting is not fit to be an Objectivist is most amazing.
Then in the 2017 elections many Objectivist thinkers “ordered” the Objectivists to vote for Hillary Clinton. They happily joined hands with the liberal shills in the mainstream media and proclaimed that Donald Trump was a racist, fascist and barbarian warmonger. The worse thing is that they didn’t consider it necessary to explain the logic and evidence on basis of which they had reached their political judgement.
The reason for which Dr. Peikoff prefers progressive political groups is, I think, stated in his book The Ominous Parallels. Dr. Peikoff has said in The Ominous Parallels that in a few years the political power in the USA will get usurped by a conservative fascist force. How can his prediction be wrong—after all, he is the intellectual heir to Rand! Since Dr. Peikoff has not predicted the rise of a progressive fascist group in the USA, the Objectivists are not expected to feel threatened by the rise of the welfare state under progressive regimes. Well, such is the post-Rand logic.
Lack of Research on Rand’s Soviet Background
I became aware of the influence that Rand’s education in Soviet Russia had on her after reading Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra. It is surprising that we don’t have any other detailed scholarly study of Rand’s Soviet background. Sciabarra’s work remains the only source on Rand’s education.
The authorized biographies of Rand written by scholars affiliated to the ARI seem to take a minimum cognizance of the fact that she lived in Russia till the age of 21. These biographies do not offer any insight into the teachers and philosophers by whom Rand may have been influenced while she was in Russia. It seems as if Dr. Peikoff, for some reason which is known only to him and his closest associates, is interested in re-writing the history of Rand’s life, and projecting her as a completely American writer.
Well, I will end the article at this point. I think I have covered the key reasons for which I am forced to withdraw from the Objectivist movement. Hasta la vista, dear Objectivists.*******
I have read a number of books, articles and blogs to develop my view of the current sad state of the Objectivist movement. Here I mention a few of these works:
The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand by Dr. David Kelley
The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden
My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by James S. Valliant
The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: A Symposium on Nathaniel Branden
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra
“Resignation from the Boards of ARI and the Anthem Foundation” by John P. McCaskey (Article)
“Anthemgate” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
“The 1980s Called, and They Want Their Objectivism Back” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
“Intellectual Inheritance?” by Per-Olof Samuelsson (Article)
“Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff’s Analysis of Cultural Evolution” by Roger Bissell (Article)
“Open Letter to Objectivists” by Lindsay Perigo (Article)
The Vision of Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
“In the Ayn Rand Archive” by Jennifer Burns (Article)
“The Rewriting of Ayn Rand’s Spoken Answers” by Robert L. Campbell (Article)
Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden