New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

Of Schisms, Public and Private

Why does the Objectivist movement experience conflicts and schisms? Why do some Objectivists and Objectivist organizations refuse to work with one another? Why is there infighting? Why can’t we all just get along?

Share this article:

Dear New Ideal readers,

During my nearly four years at the helm of ARI, I have been asked numerous times about ARI’s relationship to other individuals, organizations, and movements. One recurring, related topic has been conflicts and schisms within the Objectivist movement. Although a number of the cases brought up happened before my time at ARI, the intensity of some of the discussions has made it clear to me that this topic is an important one to address.

Why can’t conflicts and schisms be avoided? Why can’t ARI patch up its disagreements with other individuals and organizations? Or, from an opposing direction, why doesn’t ARI speak up more publicly and in more detail when it is being repeatedly attacked?

These are not easy questions to answer and the principles that should guide one in dealing with such conflicts are not obvious.

Last spring and summer, I asked the intellectuals on ARI’s board of directors to discuss with ARI’s faculty, staff, and many students and activists who work closely with ARI, what some of these principles are. The result was a series of workshops, for which I received many calls and emails from participants thanking me for the level of clarity provided.

This persuaded me to ask Onkar Ghate to draft an article that would make some of the issues and principles involved accessible to a wider audience, and to ask Harry Binswanger to contribute to the article and help edit it. Given that this article covers ARI’s policy in dealing with such matters, I also asked ARI’s board of directors to approve its publication.

I hope that you will find, as I do, the contents of the article helpful both for understanding the sources of disagreements and schisms within ideological movements and for understanding how ARI deals with such public and private conflicts.

Sincerely,

Tal Tsfany
President & CEO
Ayn Rand Institute


Of Schisms, Public and Private

By Onkar Ghate and Harry Binswanger

Why does the Objectivist movement experience conflicts and schisms? Why do some Objectivists and Objectivist organizations refuse to work with one another? Why is there infighting? Why can’t we all just get along?

These questions have been with us since at least 1968, when Ayn Rand publicly repudiated Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in an article in The Objectivist.1 The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) opened in 1985, three years after Rand’s death, and its leadership has had to navigate new disputes and conflicts as they have arisen.

Judging by inquiries that we continue to receive, these questions are being raised again in the light of public attacks against us by a former member of ARI’s board of directors, Carl Barney, together with Craig Biddle, a past speaker at ARI events.

We are not here attempting to rebut their allegations. Rather, our goal is to explain why schisms occur within intellectual movements, to articulate some of the principles that guide ARI in navigating them, and to clarify why we consider Barney’s and Biddle’s accusations to be completely non-objective.

Are conflicts and schisms unique to the Objectivist movement?

Heated disputes, protracted conflicts, and outright schisms are common in intellectual movements—even in the positive, rational movements.

We tend to speak of positive movements as monoliths. We say: “The Enlightenment held . . .,” “the Founding Fathers thought . . .,” “the American abolitionists argued . . .,” But that is an oversimplification. Descartes and his followers profoundly disagreed with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton about the nature of the scientific method. Newton and Leibnitz feuded over, among other things, the invention of the calculus. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams refused to speak to each other for a decade. William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass began as colleagues and friends, but later parted ways.

None of these movements was “one big, happy family.” Why not? And would they have been more successful if they had been?

Why positive movements experience conflicts and schisms

It is entirely normal for a movement that is engaged in bringing important new knowledge to the world to have leaders who disagree, often vehemently, about the meaning and application of that knowledge.

They will disagree about theory and about strategies, goals, and tactics. They will disagree about who understands the new knowledge, who effectively advocates the ideas and values, and who in fact practices what is being preached.

When moral values are involved, the number and severity of disagreements are magnified.

Jefferson and Adams, for instance, each viewed himself as a staunch supporter of the Declaration’s principles. But they hotly disagreed about what to do about slavery, how to evaluate the French Revolution, and whether the Alien and Sedition Acts were proper. Garrison and Douglass came to disagree strongly about whether the U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document. And each man felt disrespected by the other.

Knowledge doesn’t apply itself. New knowledge doesn’t integrate itself into the full context of existing knowledge and to the plans and actions of those who endorse it.

In judging, organizing, and applying new ideas, everything depends on what one considers an essential.

Is governmental coercion essential to censorship or does Facebook censor when it bars certain viewpoints? Is Thomas Jefferson to be despised because he owned slaves or revered because he helped create the first nation of liberty? Are those like George Gilder and Ronald Reagan who seek to defend the free market on religious and altruistic grounds helping or hurting the capitalist cause?

Plus, in answering questions of this kind, faulty psycho-epistemological thinking methods—especially rationalism and empiricism—will distort the process and warp the conclusion.2

All of this explains why two fully honest individuals may disagree. When the disagreement is substantial, the moral course is for them to go their separate ways.

Further, individuals have free will. Even within positive movements, leaders on one or both sides of an issue may be acting immorally—in which case it is imperative for the good to dissociate from the bad.

Consequently, if a positive, rational movement takes ideas seriously and demands moral behavior from its allies, then disagreements and schisms should not be puzzling or surprising. What would be surprising, indeed cultish, would be everyone in the movement walking in lockstep, mouthing the same slogans, supporting the same actions, and never uttering a critical word about one another.

Why a positive movement should not be one big, (un)happy family

In intellectual movements, as in business, the parties should cooperate only when they judge it in their self-interest to do so. They should go their separate ways when they don’t. This is how John Galt states the principle:

I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason. I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice. It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don’t, I enter no relationship; I let dissenters go their way and I do not swerve from mine.3

The need to set one’s own terms and to “let dissenters go their way” is critical when the cooperation is intellectual and long range. But this fact can be obscured by thinking of ideological conflicts as a “war of ideas.”

That is a metaphor. A literal war means massive physical force, deadly combat, and widespread destruction. In a literal war, there is strength in numbers and value in having one unified strategy and a coordinated plan of attack; internal disagreements have to be resolved or put aside. In a literal war, different commanders cannot each go their own way.

But none of this is true in a “war” of ideas. A “war” of ideas seeks not to physically overpower but to enlighten. In that task, cooperation and coordination are useful only when the parties are intellectually allied; when they have contradictory viewpoints or approaches, it is actually good for them to go their separate ways.

Even when all within a movement claim to agree on basic premises, those who go to the public with a clear, accurate, and properly argued case have nothing to gain by coordinating with those presenting a foggy, distorted, poorly argued one. And ignoring disagreement about the proper application of the basic premises would be more directly self-defeating.

Imagine that in 1800 Jefferson and Adams had been told to regard their intellectual and moral disagreements as internal squabbles; imagine that they had been pressured to “rise above them for the sake of the new nation.” That would have been immensely insulting to both men. It would have put them into mental straitjackets, and they could not have complied without violating their integrity.

Or imagine that someone had insisted that, in the fight to abolish slavery, Garrison and Douglass must set aside as an insignificant detail the question of whether the Constitution is a pro-slavery or anti-slavery document and the question of whether Garrison was failing to grant Douglass the respect he deserved. To set aside their differences would have meant to abandon their own best judgment. The only way either man could have “risen above” their intellectual and moral dispute is by evasion.

Ignoring moral conflicts does not lead to a “happy family,” “getting along,” or preserving alliances. Papering over intellectual disagreements is not the road to success in a “war” of ideas. A “war” of ideas is an effort to persuade people, to reach their minds, to help them grasp new and basic truths. A “war” of ideas is essentially an educational effort, which means that what matters is not the quantity of one’s allies but their quality. What is the quality of an intellectual who evades or downplays disagreements on intellectual or moral issues?

The mind operates by individual choice, and the educator must respect the autonomy of everyone involved, including his own autonomy. The educator must stay loyal to his own best perception of the facts, and he must know that his audience’s understanding of the new ideas requires their individual, self-directed integration of the material into their own individual contexts of knowledge.

Yes, sometimes a movement’s internal disputes unduly magnify trivial issues. But much more often internal conflicts concern fundamentals. It is the responsibility of each individual within a movement to judge which conflicts are trivial and which raise important issues.

ARI is not the leader of an organized Objectivist movement

On this basis, let’s consider some of the principles and policies that guide ARI in navigating disputes within the Objectivist movement.

First, ARI does not regard itself as the leader of an organized Objectivist movement.

Rand herself was wary of any attempt to create an organized Objectivist movement. In 1968, when she repudiated the Brandens and the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), she clarified her position.

I never wanted and do not now want to be the leader of a “movement.” I do approve of a philosophical or intellectual movement, in the sense of a growing trend among a number of independent individuals sharing the same ideas. But an organized movement is a different matter. NBI was not quite either; it was intended as a purely educational organization, but it did not function fully as such, and, at times, it became professionally embarrassing to me.4

A month later she issued a formal statement of policy, which said in part:

I regard the spread of Objectivism through today’s culture as an intellectual movement—i.e., a trend among independent individuals who share the same ideas—but not as an organized movement. The existence (and the later policies) of NBI contributed to certain misconceptions among some of its students and the public at large, which tended to put Objectivism in an equivocal position in this respect. I want, therefore, to make it emphatically clear that Objectivism is not an organized movement and is not to be regarded as such by anyone.

My role in regard to Objectivism is that of a theoretician. Since Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name, it is my right and my responsibility to protect its intellectual integrity. . . .

I shall not establish or endorse any type of school or organization purporting to represent or be a spokesman for Objectivism. I shall repudiate and take appropriate action against any attempt to use my name or my philosophy, explicitly or implicitly, in connection with any project of that kind or any organization not authorized by me.

If students, supporters or friends of Objectivism wish to form local groups of their own—for such purposes as the study, discussion and dissemination of Objectivist ideas—they are welcome to do so. They can be of great value and help to the spread of Objectivism, and will earn my sympathetic interest and sincere appreciation—provided they do not attempt to act as spokesmen for Objectivism and do not associate or collaborate with Objectivism’s avowed enemies.5

Of course, Rand’s death made the situation radically different.

She was no longer there to police the use or misuse of her name or philosophy, to declare who is an authorized representative and who is not. And no one could reasonably regard any existing individual or organization as a spokesman for a person now deceased.

ARI, founded three years after Rand’s death, did not and does not pretend to be a spokesman for Ayn Rand or Objectivism. Nor is its mission to create an organized Objectivist movement. Its mission is to disseminate Ayn Rand’s philosophical system, Objectivism, by means of educational activities.

ARI seeks a “movement” only in the sense that Rand describes above: independent individuals and organizations working on the task of spreading ideas—specifically, on increasing awareness and understanding of Objectivism—who cooperate when they find it mutually beneficial to do so and who otherwise go their separate ways.6

Contrary to some of the public caricatures, ARI has always rejected any notion of baptizing individuals and organizations into, or excommunicating them from, some organized movement.

ARI strives to maintain high intellectual and moral standards

From its inception, the Institute has carried Ayn Rand’s name and called itself “The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism.” To meet the responsibility this entails, ARI maintains high standards, both intellectual and moral. We work diligently to ensure that it is in fact Objectivism that we are disseminating. This means that ARI’s leadership must judge whether the intellectuals we present to the public possess a professional-level knowledge of the aspects of Objectivism they are discussing and are not openly or by obvious implication taking actions that contradict the principles they are espousing.

This last point warrants emphasis. As an Objectivist educational organization, we take seriously what Rand said about Nathaniel Branden, namely, that “he did not practice what he preached, that he demanded of his students a standard of conduct he failed to demand of himself.” She went on to explain the special significance of this issue.

Such an attitude is not morally permissible in any writer or lecturer; it is worse in a lecturer on philosophy and psychology; it is still worse in a lecturer on morality, who has to exemplify in his own conduct the moral principles he advocates. It is intolerable in a lecturer on Objectivist morality: Objectivism does not permit any variant of the mind-body dichotomy, any split between theory and practice, between one’s convictions and one’s actions.7

ARI’s leadership continuously assesses not only our spokesmen’s intellectual and philosophical knowledge but also the morality of their professional statements and actions.

The fact that we make such judgments introduces a potential source of disagreement and conflict with other Objectivists, especially because the Objectivist morality demands full, uncompromised virtue.

As one would expect, other Objectivists have disagreed with some of our decisions. For example, they have disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with our decision to not contract with a given individual when they think he is eminently qualified, intellectually and morally. And, conversely, they have disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with our decision to contract with someone they regard as eminently unqualified.

Which individuals ARI works with or doesn’t is but one source of possible disagreements with other Objectivists. There are many others, such as how we analyze and evaluate contemporary political figures and movements.

Individuals who have disagreements with ARI remain free to express their own viewpoints and form their own groups and organizations, governed by the principles and standards they think are correct—but we have to go by our own best judgment, both of the philosophy and the best means of spreading it.

ARI rarely publicly criticizes the activities of other Objectivists

Because ARI sees itself as an educational organization, not as a policeman of an organized Objectivist movement, we rarely publicly criticize other Objectivist intellectuals or organizations with whom we disagree. We simply articulate our own positions.

When we have professional dealings with these intellectuals or organizations, we try to address the disagreement privately. If we judge that the dispute precludes any further relationship, we go our separate way. (To correct a widespread error: ending a relationship does not impose a penalty on anyone. The refusal to trade is not the infliction of harm.)

We comment publicly only when the matter has become at least partly public—and even then, only when the issue is sowing confusion among our donors, staff, or audience, or when that confusion stems from a wrong philosophical premise that needs to be exposed.

For example, when ARI parted ways professionally with the writer Robert Tracinski in the 2000s, we did not think the matter warranted a public statement or explanation, because his publicly expressed positions on foreign policy and on the role of philosophy in history were clearly in sharp disagreement with ARI’s.

Even when Tracinski started publicly attacking ARI and its leadership, we did not respond publicly. No special explanation of our decision seemed necessary or called for.

Nor did we consider publicizing some unresolved business disagreements we had with Tracinski, even though those factored into our decision to end our professional relationship with him, because outside parties do not have the context to judge such private matters.

In contrast, consider the case of David Kelley, a philosophy professor who was associated with ARI for several years in the 1980s. ARI’s leadership publicly denounced Kelley’s expressed views and endeavored to explain how they amounted to an attack on the core principles of Objectivism.

The background was the following. Unbeknownst to most Objectivists at the time, prior to ARI’s public break with Kelley, there had been growing philosophical disagreements between him and all the other leading Objectivist intellectuals. These individuals each spoke privately to Kelley, some for several hours, without making any dent in his views. Finally, in 1989 Kelley published a broadside (“A Question of Sanction”) setting forth his views, and it generated considerable confusion among Objectivists. Were the philosophical principles Kelley enunciated consistent with Objectivism? Were they true?

Because of these confusions, and because Kelley had been a prominent intellectual representative of ARI, Leonard Peikoff responded in The Intellectual Activist with “Fact and Value,” a profound explanation of what objectivity in the realm of morality means and why Kelley’s claims were expressions of radical subjectivism (and, perforce, were repudiations of Objectivism).

Fully agreeing with “Fact and Value,” ARI ended its professional relationship with Kelley. In the article Peikoff had requested of Kelley and anyone who agreed with Kelley’s viewpoint that, as “a matter of dignity and honor, tell yourself and the world the exact truth: that you agree with certain ideas of Ayn Rand, but reject Objectivism.” For Kelley to fail to do this, for him to declare that his own viewpoint is Objectivism (or is “open” Objectivism), was to commit an intellectual fraud, and that made it imperative to speak out publicly and to break with him.

ARI does not attempt to “litigate” private disputes in public

ARI’s conflicts with Robert Tracinski and with David Kelley illustrate another aspect of how ARI tries to deal with internal conflicts: we do not pretend that one can “litigate” private disputes in the court of public opinion. That is, we do not pretend that, outside the proceedings of a legal trial, third parties can access the facts necessary to objectively evaluate allegations of private misconduct.

It’s legitimate for conflicts within a movement to be debated publicly when they address important issues and concern statements and actions that are themselves public. But even here, for relatively small movements, in which most of the principals know each other and are engaged in ongoing private communication, objectivity requires that all parties distinguish which elements are public and which are private.

Just because some aspects of a conflict are public and legitimate to discuss publicly, does not mean that all are.

Consider, for example, the conflict between Garrison and Douglass. Whether the U.S. Constitution is a pro-slavery document is a public issue, and an important one. The evidence and arguments involved in this aspect of the conflict are publicly available: third parties can independently assess them.

But what about the other aspect of the conflict—whether Garrison failed to grant Douglass the moral respect he deserved? Assuming the conduct was private, why should you, as an outside observer, believe Douglass’s testimony but not Garrison’s (or vice versa)?

Douglass might publicly state, as a way of explaining his own public conduct, that he has split from Garrison because of severe public disagreements about the nature of the U.S. Constitution and because of private conduct by Garrison that was offensive to him. But Douglass would not be trying to convince third parties about what happened in private; he would simply be trying to make his own conduct intelligible by explaining that in his judgment he has not frivolously parted ways with his former ally.

Why it is difficult for third parties to judge private disputes

We often underestimate the difficulty of judging what happened in a private dispute. (The prevalence of social media has contributed to this underestimation.) It is difficult to judge private conflicts even when you know firsthand the parties involved and some of the relevant facts generating the conflict.

Anyone who has been friends with a couple going through an acrimonious divorce knows how difficult it can be to judge what went on behind closed doors. By using your prior judgments of each’s moral character and by checking the consistency and coherence of each side’s stories, you might be able to form reasonable hypotheses about who is right and who is wrong and in what respects. But even just that much is often difficult to do.

When you are not a friend of the parties but only an outsider with little or no information about the private dispute and about the character of the parties involved, the difficulty of determining what happened is much greater.

In a court trial, objective processes exist. For example, both sides are required, in the discovery process, to answer questions they may not want to answer, to hand over documents they may not want to hand over. They face penalties if they lie during discovery or on the witness stand, or if they omit, misrepresent, alter, or forge documents.

No such procedures exist when one party makes public allegations about a private dispute.

Even if that party reveals what it claims are valid private documents and communications, and asserts that it has many more it could reveal, an outsider has no way of knowing if the documents and other communications have been fabricated or tampered with and no way of determining whether they present a biased sample of the actual full communications involved. No one is under oath, no one is subject to cross-examination, and there are no legal penalties for falsification or perjury.

One of the reasons businesses require employees, contractors, and members of their board of directors to sign confidentiality agreements is precisely to avoid the morass that comes with “litigating” an individual’s private grievances in public.

Failure to keep this fact in mind was the basic error ARI made in 2010 when John McCaskey resigned from ARI’s board of directors: we did not try to stop the airing in public of a part of an internal dispute—seemingly implying that third parties could and should judge the sides involved in the conflict.

(When McCaskey resigned, he asked to issue a public resignation letter, which included publishing a private email from Leonard Peikoff that had not been sent to him. We acceded to McCaskey’s request, even though we knew that this email did not convey the full story behind the resignation. With only a sliver of information, third parties would obviously be unable to assess the dispute, yet they were seemingly being asked to. The ensuing debate among Objectivists about what “really” happened was a clear example of why it is normally non-objective to try to “litigate” private disputes in public.)

What objectivity and justice require of a party making a private dispute public

As a rule, one should be suspicious of the first side that goes public in a private dispute (or in the part of a dispute that is private).

The side that brings the dispute into the public arena must answer two basic questions:

  1. Why is it objective for them to have gone public in the way that they have?
  2. Why do they think outsiders are now in a position logically to judge the dispute?

Usually, when one side goes public it is an emotional venting, a lashing out. That is sometimes understandable but is still non-objective behavior, and unfair to their own audience.

When one side deliberately chooses to “litigate” a private dispute in public, it typically amounts to a declaration of war on the other side. The side going public expects third parties to side with them against the other side. If you have no firsthand knowledge of what happened in private, they are hoping that you will regard their side as credible and the other side as not.

If there’s reason to care about the matter, therefore, the basic question to ask yourself is whether you have been given convincing reasons for doing that—i.e., for accepting the charges of the side that has made the conflict a public issue.

To answer this question, it is helpful to break it apart.

First, with respect to whether one should regard the side that has gone public as credible, among the things to ask are:

  • Have they given convincing reasons for why it was necessary for them to have gone public?
  • Is the story they are telling about what happened behind closed doors both internally coherent and consistent with the publicly available facts?
  • What, if anything, do I know about their character and track record?
  • Have they explained why they think I have sufficient evidence to judge the matter in their favor?
  • How do they expect me to act as a result?

Second, with respect to whether one should regard the party being attacked as credible, among the things to ask are:

  • What, if anything, do I know about their character and track record?
  • Has the accuser given me reasons (apart from their accusations and their narrative) to doubt the credibility of the accused?
  • Do I think the accused party should even respond to the allegations about what happened in private? Do they lose credibility if they don’t?
  • If I think they should respond, why—and how? Is it sufficient for them simply to deny the allegations?

Consider the relevance of these questions to a controversial case: Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. On the one hand, the question of why Christine Blasey Ford had gone public with the attempted rape accusation had an obvious answer: she was trying to prevent the appointment of someone she thought unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, there were the obvious questions of what (legal) remedies Ford had pursued in the years prior and why she thought it proper to raise at a Supreme Court nomination hearing her (unverifiable) version of what happened at a party so many years earlier. There were also questions about how Kavanaugh could defend himself, other than by denying the allegations. Did Senate committee members have any independent reasons to doubt Kavanaugh’s credibility? Was Ford’s story coherent and consistent with the publicly available facts? And even if it was, did she think her allegations were sufficient grounds for the Senate to bar Kavanaugh from the Court? If so, why?

Or consider the now-retracted Rolling Stone story in which a University of Virginia (UVA) student, referred to only by a first name (Jackie), was quoted as alleging that she had been gang raped at a UVA fraternity. The conclusion reached by the investigators who were asked to examine what went wrong with Rolling Stone’s reporting was, in effect, that both the reporter and the editors of the magazine did not take seriously enough the kinds of questions that we listed above. Why, for instance, was a Rolling Stone article the avenue through which Jackie was making these disturbing allegations public? Had she already contacted the police and if so, had she told them the same story she was now telling the reporter? Had she been ignored by the police, or did they investigate her accusations? Why, if she was now ready to go public, was she unwilling to name her alleged attackers, even those whom she said she knew? And why was she unwilling to name the friends she supposedly had told about the alleged rape shortly after it happened? Were convincing reasons presented, either by Jackie or by the reporter, to think that Jackie’s testimony was credible but that the testimony of those she was accusing would not be?

When one side in a private conflict does not adequately explain why it is objective for them to go public and why in logic you should side with them against their opponents, their allegations should be dismissed. Moreover, their action of making public accusations should be held against them.

As Rand points out, “a man is to be judged by the judgments he pronounces.”8

If evidence exists that their public allegations are inconsistent or omit or distort relevant, publicly available facts, this warrants a much more negative moral judgment. It is dishonest, and perhaps manipulative.

How these principles have guided us in the current conflict

In 2019, ARI announced that, “after over 20 years of service,” Carl Barney was “no longer a member of its Board of Directors,” thanking him for his contributions and wishing him “continued success as he remains actively involved in the Objectivist movement through his Prometheus Foundation.”

In 2020, Barney published his first post attacking ARI and much of its leadership, titled “The Truth about Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI.” Two days later Craig Biddle told readers of The Objective Standard that he “knew the truth would eventually come out” and thanked Barney for presenting “the essential facts necessary [for outsiders] to make sense of the situation.”

Because Barney’s post did not even attempt to answer the two basic questions any such post must answer—viz., (1) Why it is objective for him to go public in this private dispute and (2) Why outsiders should now think they are in a position logically to judge the dispute—we at ARI initially thought it would be inappropriate even to make a statement rejecting Barney’s allegations. In logic, outsiders did not have grounds to consider Barney’s accusations as a reasonable hypothesis. In their context of knowledge, these accusations were arbitrary assertions.

In fact, Barney’s post called for an even more negative assessment because it failed the coherency/consistency test (e.g., conferring on Onkar, an employee who was not even a member of ARI’s board at the time, the ability to dictate policy to ARI’s CEO and board of directors).

It also failed the test of compatibility with publicly available facts (e.g., Barney suggests that Peikoff respects Biddle’s grasp of Objectivism, when in fact Peikoff has publicly reprimanded Biddle for his inability to understand and apply Objectivism’s principles).9

Because Barney was a former supporter of ARI and a former board member whom we had publicly praised, and because Barney was insinuating that there was dissension among board members, ARI’s board of directors decided to respond very briefly to his post.

The board’s short public statement said (a) we reject the allegations in Barney’s post but that it would be fruitless to try to “litigate” a private matter in public; (b) we had in private tried extensively, over years, to resolve our numerous disagreements with Barney, but had been unable to do so; and (c) no board members, contrary to Barney’s insinuations, sided with him: Barney was ejected from ARI’s board of directors by a vote of 11–0.

Once ARI’s board had publicly stated that it rejects Barney’s allegations, we considered our role in any public dispute to be at an end, especially because from the outset the non-objectivity of Barney’s and Biddle’s accusations was clear for anyone to see.

Their public attacks have continued, and the irrationality is now virtually self-evident, as they change their stories (e.g., Biddle now contradicts Barney regarding what Onkar allegedly said to students) and have even tried to justify violating individual rights (Biddle now claims that it was legitimate for him to have violated ARI’s property rights, trafficking in a stolen recording, because some ARI staff members privately criticized an article of his).

As we said at the outset, our purpose in mentioning a few concretes is not to rebut Barney’s and Biddle’s allegations but to say only enough to make objective why we have dismissed the allegations.

It is a tenet of Objectivism that when “a person makes an assertion for which no rational grounds are given . . . . It is as though nothing had been said.”10

We stated above that the side that first decides to make public allegations about a private dispute often discredits itself. That certainly applies here. Barney’s and Biddle’s public allegations ask outsiders to accept their version of private meetings and discussions without raising the kind of questions listed above—i.e., they expect to be taken on faith.

We find Barney’s and Biddle’s public statements and conduct deplorable, morally and epistemologically. Moral judgment is a demanding responsibility. It is not compatible with throwing around public accusations about what allegedly happened in private and hoping that the victim will thereby be tainted in the minds of the gullible. Moral judgment “is a task,” Ayn Rand writes, “that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought.”11

Making moral judgments—objective, principled ones—is a task that should be embraced. The good has much to gain from moral clarity and much to lose from compromise and appeasement.12

Anyone with questions about any aspect of this article is welcome to contact us for further clarification. But we hope that it is now clear how ARI navigates conflicts and why withholding moral judgment, in the name of “let’s all get along,” would be a betrayal of our mission and our integrity.

SUPPORT ARI

If you value the ideas presented here, please become an ARI Member today.

Readers seeking a superior print result may wish to download the free Just Read app.

Footnotes

  1. Ayn Rand, “To Whom It May Concern,” The Objectivist, Vol. 5, May 1968.
  2. On rationalism and empiricism, see Leonard Peikoff’s analysis in Understanding Objectivism.
  3. Atlas Shrugged, 50th anniversary edition, p. 936.
  4. Ayn Rand, “To Whom It May Concern,” The Objectivist, Vol. 5, May 1968.
  5. Ayn Rand, “A Statement of Policy, Part I,” The Objectivist, Vol. 5, June 1968.
  6. The theme of ARI’s 2016 summer conference was Objectivist Movement 2.0. We stressed that ARI is more than ever intent on helping foster a growing community of individuals and organizations interested in promoting Rand’s philosophy, but that we did not think of ARI as the leader of all this activity and that we did not expect everyone to get along.
  7. Ayn Rand, “To Whom It May Concern,” The Objectivist, Vol. 5, May 1968.
  8. Ayn Rand, “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?,” The Virtue of Selfishness, centennial edition, p. 83.
  9. In the aftermath of John McCaskey’s 2010 resignation from ARI’s board of directors, many Objectivists, including Craig Biddle, publicly attacked Peikoff. Here is the relevant portion of Peikoff’s public response, in which he condemns his attackers. Barney’s post misleadingly quotes from Peikoff’s statement and provides no link to the source.

    When McCaskey was appointed to the Board, I said nothing, just as I have not objected to the fact that a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other. In all these cases my personal dislike was irrelevant. It is only when I perceived harm in practice that I have taken action. And I have set the requirements for such action high. In the 25 years of ARI’s existence, I have vetoed only two individuals prior to McCaskey.

    If any of you believe that this makes me a dictatorial opponent of independence or free speech, then God help you, because reality obviously hasn’t. And if, as seems possible, my detractors in this issue represent a sizable faction within the Objectivist movement whose spokesmen include magazine founders [Craig Biddle] and PhDs with podcasts [Diana Hsieh, aka Diana Brickell]—then God help Objectivism, too.

    P.S. Ayn Rand would not have sought to defend herself against a similar attack. She would have regarded such an attack as contemptible, and an answer to it on her part as a moral sanction of the attackers, implying as it does that their charges are worthy of consideration.

    I am not as strong as she was.

  10. Nathaniel Branden, “Intellectual Ammunition Department: What is the Objectivist view of agnosticism?,” The Objectivist Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 4, April 1963; see also Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 163–71.
  11. Ayn Rand, “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?,” The Virtue of Selfishness, centennial edition, p. 84.
  12. See “The Anatomy of Compromise” by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
Share this article:

Onkar Ghate

Onkar Ghate, PhD in philosophy, is a senior fellow and chief content officer at the Ayn Rand Institute. A contributing author to many books on Rand’s ideas and philosophy, he is a senior editor of New Ideal.

Harry Binswanger

Harry Binswanger, PhD in philosophy and formerly an associate of Ayn Rand, is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation. He is a member of the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Updates from New Ideal

 

Listen to New Ideal Live!

New Ideal Live is the podcast that explores pressing cultural issues from the perspective of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, which upholds the ideals of reason, individualism, and capitalism.

Subscribe here.

Ayn Rand University App

Explore unique philosophical content that challenges conventional views — in courses you can take on the go.

Available on Google Play and
the App Store.