2010 October 03 Sunday
The Objectivist Movement Commits Suicide

Do you have an interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, or just an interest in how intellectual movements splinter and toss out dissidents who refuse to defer to authority? An interesting new split in the Objectivist movement has just occurred involving the resignation of Stanford professor John McCaskey from the Ayn Rand Institute. On this topic see The Objectivist Movement Commits Suicide by Robert Tracinski. He places the latest turn of events into a larger pattern involving unreasonable demands for deference to philosophical authority.

The Objectivists have a history of such splits. The most famous involved Ayn Rand's much younger lover Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara Branden. You can read their books on the subject for an inside look at Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, and others around Rand at the time. Another split came in 1993 when George Reisman and his wife Edith Packer were condemned by people associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. The letters at that URL will give you a sense of how these splits play out, with anyone who won't defer to Leonard Piekoff's judgment getting condemned as immoral. This demand for deference is what amazes me. It is so much like Plato's philosopher-king idea that I marvel at the capacity for the dedicated believers in reason and evidence to reject the physical world as secondary to philosophical ideas.

Note: My favorite comment from Tracinski's article is about how scientists have done a better job at epistemology than philosophers. I've long thought that. I expect neurobiologists and artificial intelligence researchers to do a better job at philosophy than the bulk of philosophers just as physicists have done in the past.

One of my own objections to Objectivism is that its model of human nature is not based on biology. The same is true of all the political ideologies which are built on mythological views of human nature which are incompatible with real human nature.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 October 03 05:39 AM  Politics Factions

kurt9 said at October 3, 2010 10:31 AM:

Objectivism degenerated into a cult decades ago.


Jeff said at October 3, 2010 5:53 PM:

One interesting thing though, Peikoff actually came out against open borders recently and had a rational, fact based argument for it. Basically, he argued that you can't have open borders and a welfare state at the same time. The problem with a movement like Objectivism is that it attracts both good and bad people and it is almost impossible for an outsider to know the difference.

Stephen said at October 3, 2010 7:00 PM:

Objectivism is so barren that it barely counts as a philosophy. Amateur hour.

It was one of those methodologies that works adequately in a very limited problem domain but is destined to fail the moment its exposed to the complexities of the outside world.

Engineer-Poet said at October 3, 2010 8:39 PM:

The further irony is that it might have worked if Rand had allowed an "amendment" process to accomodate new information (e.g. language abilities proven in great apes, contrary to her bright line between humans and everything else), but it hardened into dogma almost immediately.  The resulting default mode of argument from inappropriate authority made it brittle.

Randall Parker said at October 3, 2010 10:45 PM:


In 1999 Milton Friedman made that argument that you can't have open borders and a welfare state and did this 10 years ago. It is surprising to me that Peikoff would finally embrace this position.

I used to be seriously interested in Objectivism when I was young. But it seems based on some wrong assumptions.

John C. said at October 4, 2010 12:28 PM:

I've often wondered how Rand got out of Russia. In spite of all its claimed anti-Communism the extremely individualistic Objectivist philosophy is destructive of Western nations and society. The Communists wouldn't have minded it taking root in Western society. You can go to any orthodox Conservative website and find them whining "Racism is collectivism! It's, it's, it's Socialism!" on the appropriate threads - while their nation and civilization, the things they should be striving to conserve, are being destroyed by multiculturalism and open borders.

Lono said at October 5, 2010 7:48 AM:

I personally have never met a true Objectivism adherent who didnít come off as shallow and ignorant.

I do believe that you are correct Randall - that it does not properly take into account actual Human nature - however I think it is clear that some of it's Libertarian like ideals do in fact work well with Human nature when implemented in an idealized way.

Some form of socialism will always co-opt such a system eventually - however - as it is also Human nature to fall into a strict hierarchical relationship with one another - and for those at the top of this hierarchy to always seek to better consolidate their own control over the lower echelons of said hierarchy.

Humans will continue to play this game of periodic socialism and revolution until either an intelligent scientific tyranny or an enlightened benevolent bueracracy finally assumes full authoritarian control of our species.

I'm personally pushing for the latter - but I find that most people are seemingly more comfortable with the former.

Engineer-Poet said at October 6, 2010 7:20 AM:

What's your picture of a "scientific tyranny" vs. an "enlightened benevolent bureaucracy"?

Lono said at October 11, 2010 12:30 PM:


Essentially I believe that Humans with higher IQ's will always eventually dominate the world's political systems.

(if not as politicians directly then as the moneyed special interests that the politicians cater to)

The difference between these two systems - as I see it - is in the phenotypic distinctions between these High IQ individuals.

Those who exhibit higher levels of empathy and altruism - alongside higher levels of IQ - would be capable of producing a benevolent bureaucracy - not too dissimilar from the idealized rule of the reluctant Philosopher King as postulated by Plato.

There are many effective ways to test for these phenotypes - and to filter out those who are more destructive to society.

In modern society we see that those who lack empathy and altruism, but who exhibit High IQ, tend to become the leaders of industry and the innovators of public policy - while those who tend to exhibit higher levels of all three ten to become marginalized - joining groups like Mensa or the Peace Corps or becoming immersed and somewhat constrained in the world of Academia.

There are exceptions, of course, but the ruthless will always tend to climb social hierarchies more efficiently and effectively - using manipulation rather than popular support to empower their ultimate agendas.

All we need to do - in America - is to use a popular movement too finally push progressive, empathetic, intellectuals into power - and once in power they will intelligently reform the system so as to prevent amoral and sociopathic intellectuals from ever again successfully obtaining political power.

The biggest problem I am finding - is that like Edward Bernays always said - the public is largely incapable of detecting - or is willfully ignorant - of when they are being manipulated to support the agenda of a small Oligarchy - in direct conflict of their own best interests.

Therefore for the empathetic intellectual elite to truly gain substantial political power - they will have to effectively manipulate the populous into supporting them - something such individuals are not genetically predisposed to willingly do.

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