In two newly rediscovered videos from 1998, philosopher Leonard Peikoff introduced general audiences to Objectivism and applied Ayn Rand’s ideas to controversial topics that still excite disputes today. Both videos originally aired on McCuistion, a Dallas-based PBS program hosted by former bank CEO Dennis McCuistion, and they are now available on the Ayn Rand Institute’s YouTube channel by permission of the copyright owners.
The first, “Ayn Rand and Objectivism: Is Atlas Shrugging?” is a town hall-style interview in which Peikoff comments on the importance of philosophy, the impact of Rand on the culture, and the Objectivist perspective on a plethora of political and cultural topics. The second video, “Liberal, Conservative, Objectivist: Divergent Voices” features a debate between a “liberal” (Phil Wexler), a “conservative” (Phyllis Schlafly), and Peikoff as the Objectivist voice on such topics as abortion, prayer in schools, racism, and the purpose of government.
“Ayn Rand was a novelist, a philosopher, an arch-champion of reason,” said Peikoff in the interview video. “Her famous novels are Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and her philosophy is a defense of reason and individualism.” Peikoff provided a short biography of Rand, from her youth in Russia to her early career and eventual success in America, as well as recalling his first meeting with Rand when he was seventeen.
Asked why people need philosophy, Peikoff responded:
Because they’re alive, they’re human, they have a rational faculty, they can’t escape it. . . . Because implicitly, if not explicitly, you have some kind of values, some idea of what you’re after, what’s good or bad, what’s desirable or undesirable — that’s ethics. And you have some idea of what you will take as reliable knowledge — what counts as true and what is just nonsense or absurd — and that’s epistemology, that’s the branch of philosophy which tells you how to acquire reliable knowledge. . . . You can either have unconscious, mixed-up, contradictory ideas or consistent, explicit ones.
The discussion then turned to Objectivism’s impact, past, present, and future. “I think [Objectivism’s] main role is going to be in the future,” said Peikoff, “in the generations growing up now who are learning it and are going to go into the colleges and teach it.”
The second program featured a debate in which Peikoff cut through the false alternatives presented by the opposing speakers, thereby showcasing the unique guidance that Objectivism offers on political and philosophical topics.
For instance, when prayer in schools came up, Wexler and Schlafly could not agree on the appropriate stance to be taken by the public schools — to which Peikoff responded: “I think the only solution is to abolish the public schools. . . . Let each parent pick the philosophy that he wants to teach his children and pay for it. And then there won’t be a problem. . . . I agree with something important that Phyllis said — she legitimately objects to the fact that the public schools, while banning God, are busy pushing relativism and skepticism down the throats of the students. And I think that’s completely unfair. It’s an example of what happens when you give education over to the government.”
The Ayn Rand Institute thanks the copyright owners for facilitating renewed attention to two programs that highlight the rationality of Rand’s philosophy.