Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists

Objectivists I know and know of tend to be smart, thoughtful, balanced, joyful, successful people. They do profoundly important work in such areas as education, technology, aviation, business, law, and philosophy. In many ways their productive achievements directly or indirectly benefit my life.

Unfortunately, there is a brand of self-proclaimed Objectivist—more accurately, pseudo-Objectivist—who tends to parrot Ayn Rand’s ideas rather than seek to deeply understand them and to nastily smear both Objectivists whom they deem heretical and critics of Rand’s ideas. Continue reading “Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists”

How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics

I have come to believe that Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics is basically wrong, however interesting and insightful it is in various ways. Because of my interest in the matter, and because I used to think that Rand’s theory is correct, I spent considerable effort reading about the theory and formulating my thoughts about it. I wrote up the results in my new book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics. Continue reading “How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics”

Ayn Rand Is the Anti-Trump

Recently the Washington Post has published numerous stories that worry about “fake news” (see a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth example out of many articles on the subject). It seems odd, then, that the paper also published the ludicrous claim that Donald Trump is an “Ayn Rand-acolyte” and an “objectivist” who follows Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In fact, there is zero evidence that Trump understands any aspect of Rand’s ideas and much evidence that in the main he flatly rejects them. Continue reading “Ayn Rand Is the Anti-Trump”

What Is Ayn Rand’s “New” Novel, “Ideal?”

Ideal by Ayn Rand
A new publication of a work of one of the 20th century’s most read (and most controversial) novelists is big news. Ideal is the work at issue; Ayn Rand is the author. So what is Ideal?

Ideal is not new; it was written in 1934 and revised as a play over the next year or two. (The play wasn’t produced until 1989.) What’s new is the publication of Rand’s early novelization of the story.

The play was published in 1983 in The Early Ayn Rand. The new publication contains the novelization which preceded the play—and which is substantially less polished—as well as a reprint of the play. The oddity, then, is that the “new” work is in rougher shape than is the previously published version of the work.

What, then, is the purpose of publishing an older version of the same basic story? Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s heir, suggests two main reasons in his introduction to the new work. First, a publication of one of Ayn Rand’s earliest works, and in two different versions at that, may offer valuable insights into her intellectual and literary development. Second, a novel offers a reader a complete, self-contained experience in a way that a play cannot.

On this latter point, Peikoff explains:

By itself, a script is not a work of art or a genre of literature. Novel and play alike, being complete, enable you fully to enter and experience the world they create. But the script by itself does not: it omits the essence in this context of literary art; it is written for perception (to be heard from a cast of actors seen on a stage), yet by itself it is detached from any such perception.

As an indication of just how substantially Rand revised the play relative to the preliminary novel, consider Peikoff’s description of a section:

In Chapter 3 of the novel, the central character is Jeremiah Sliney, an ignorant, dialect-speaking farmer. On her typescript, even before she started the play, AR slashed out the whole chapter, with ruthless lines signifying emphatic rejection. . . . Dropping Sliney from the play, she instead took the name of a son-in-law of his, who had been an incidental character, and made him the scene’s central character. In this reincarnation, Chuck Fink [the new character] has an ideological identity: he is a member of the Communist Party.

By any standard, that is a major change. Yet the “new” publication contains the original text, despite Rand’s rejection of it. Peikoff writes, “Despite [Rand]’s deletion of Slinky, I have left him in the novel just as he was in its first draft.” Peikoff puts readers on notice, then, that this novelization does not reflect a polished, final work that Rand herself approved. Rather, it reflects a work in progress.

Why did Rand develop the material into a play rather than into a revised novel? I had assumed that the reason had something to do with Rand’s anticipation of getting a play produced. But Peikoff suggests literary reasons. First, Peikoff suggests, the beauty of the central character is integral to the story, and that is probably better shown than described. Second, the play format seems to have allowed Rand to introduce a wide array of minor characters more perceptually and therefore more briskly.

What is Ideal about? Peikoff offers a good summary in notes published with the 1983 version:

[Ideal is] a story in which a famous actress, so beautiful that she comes to represent to men the embodiment of their deepest ideals, actually enters the lives of her admirers. She comes in a context suggesting that she is in grave danger. Until this point, her worshippers have professed their reverence for her—in words, which cost them nothing. Now, however, she is no longer a distant dream, but a reality demanding action on their part, or betrayal.

“The theme is the evil of divorcing ideals from life,” Peikoff writes there.

That is a theme well worth contemplating in novel form, even if the novel in question does not reflect Ayn Rand in mature literary form.

Oh, You Mean Ayn Rand Wasn’t a Rawlsian?

Image: Michael Greene
Image: Michael Greene

As John McCaskey reviews, various libertarians today are explicitly egalitarian in the vein of John Rawls. One such libertarian is John Tomasi, who claims that even “avowedly egoistic defenses of libertarianism [such as Ayn Rand advocated] recognize the moral imperative that material benefits of social cooperation reach the least well-off class.” This is as quoted by Don Watkins in his article today for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Watkins offers a pretty good summary of why Rand was not Rawlsian, even implicitly, even a little. (As an aside, she was not a libertarian, either, and did not consider herself to be one.) He writes:

Rand would say we shouldn’t evaluate institutions by how they affect any group. It’s wrong, she thinks, to approach political questions by thinking in collectivist terms like “the rich,” “the poor,” or “society.” The question is not which social system benefits which groups, but which social system is geared toward the life of an individual human being.

Of course, when government protects each individual’s rights to think and act by his own judgment, the outcome is a prosperous society that can benefit everyone—including the least-wealthy people living in it. It should come as no surprise that what’s good for individuals is good for individuals considered as a group.

Ayn Rand, Coffee, and the Honor System

Image: Julius Schorzman
Image: Julius Schorzman

The Objective Standard just published my article, “Contra Time Writer’s Claim, Ayn Rand Did Not Advocate Mooching Coffee (or Anything Else).” Basically, Bijan Stephen claims that Rand endorses mooching any time there’s an “honor system” for payments. But his claims about Rand are ridiculous—and directly contradicted by countless, explicit comments by Rand. This “smear Rand” phenomenon is interesting, at least: Which other public intellectual born over a century ago is as routinely subjected to regular smears today?

Where Is Dave Brat’s Paper on Ayn Rand?

dave-brat-297x300Recently I wrote a blog post for TOS Blog about Dave Brat’s views (specifically, I compared and contrasted his views and those of Ayn Rand).

In that post, I quote from a summary of a 2010 paper coauthored by Brat about Rand. That four-page summary is available through Southwest Informs, under “2010 Proceedings,” “Papers Listed by Track.” (The summary was not available there until June 11, when I contacted the organization and its representatives made it available.) Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate the full paper.

Lynn Stuart Parramore also went looking for the paper:

We tried to find that paper, which was “presented and published in the proceedings of Southeast Informs, Myrtle Beach, SC, October 6, 2010,” but that publishing venue evidently doesn’t quite make the cut for Google scholar and JSTOR, so we can only guess at its contents.

But Parramore’s remarks are imprecise. Whereas Brat’s college page claims the 2010 paper was “published in the proceedings of Southeast Informs,” the paper was not actually made publicly available. When I asked Ali Nazemi of Southeast Informs if the organization has the full paper, he replied (in a June 11 email), “That [the summary] is all we have. The authors may have the full paper and may have tried to get it published in a journal.”

I have contacted Brat via email, both through his campaign and his college email address, but as of yet I have had no reply. Obviously I’m interested in reading the paper, and when and if I get my hands on it I’ll write about its contents.

In Appreciation of Diana Hsieh

As Diana Hsieh turns the primary leadership of Front Range Objectivism (a group devoted to studying and applying the ideas of Ayn Rand) over to the capable hands of Santiago Valenzuela, it is a great time to pause to appreciate all the great things Diana has accomplished in recent years.

• After undergoing the rigors of graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Diana completed her dissertation on the problem of “moral luck.” Essentially, she demonstrated that people are responsible for their own choices, luck notwithstanding.

• Diana has become an accomplished public speaker, and she has helped others in the area (including me) improve their speaking skills. As an example of her efforts, earlier this month Diana spoke to over 50 people at Liberty On the Rocks in Denver. Drawing from her dissertation, she argued that people deserve what they earn, contrary to John Rawls’s claims that people get what they have through luck. And last month Diana gave a “Think!” talk at CU about Rand’s conception of moral perfection.

• Diana helped create several Atlas Shrugged reading groups in the Denver area, groups that have have developed into regular monthly reading groups.

• Diana developed the “Explore Atlas Shrugged” podcast series, an excellent companion to the novel.

• In other ways, Diana has helped to expand Front Range Objectivism, as by developing its web page and running the “Snowcon” conference for the past two years.

• Diana formulated the most rigorous case for abortion rights ever written from an Objectivist perspective. She also put substantial effort into defeating the so-called “personhood” anti-abortion ballot measures in Colorado. Diana and I coauthored papers on the subject for the Coalition for Secular Government and for The Objective Standard.

• Diana created the “OLists” to promote Objectivist activism and community.

• Amidst all this other work, Diana developed her “Philosophy In Action” weekly webcast, which focuses on applying philosophy to the challenges of daily living. She plans to focus her efforts on expanding this.

Diana has done far more than most to promote important ideas over the past few years, and she deserves our gratitude and appreciation.