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