Ready to engage your brain and get serious about understanding Rand’s philosophical system? The Objectivism Seminar is about to go through Leonard Peikoff’s presentation of the entire philosophy in Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR)!

Whether you are new to Rand or a veteran student of Objectivism, our sessions will be valuable to you: we’ll go through the entire system, with the experienced folks refining their understanding and ability to articulate and apply the ideas, while the newer folks grapple with the ideas and ask all the right questions. So please don’t be shy about jumping in — the reading and meeting load is light, and you’ll be working with a great group of people!

We’ll begin the weekly sessions for OPAR on Sunday May 18, 7:30pm Mountain time, reviewing and discussing about two sections per meeting. I’ll almost always be moderating to keep us on track. And as we go, each section will have two volunteers at the helm of the discussion (maybe you!): one reviewing the material, and one playing Devil’s Advocate to stimulate productive engagement. Everyone else can join in as desired to flesh out our picture of important elements and connections, explanations and applications, and to bring questions and concerns for us all to grapple with.

For more information you can read the original Invitation to The Objectivism Seminar, and you can visit the site to get geared up for the journey!

Leonard Peikoff’s Podcasts

 Posted by on 22 April 2008 at 12:21 pm  Activism, Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism
Apr 222008

Back in January, I finally listened to Leonard Peikoff’s first six podcasts. He has posted a bunch more since then, but I’ve not yet heard those. While I knew I’d find them interesting, I didn’t listen to them sooner because I’m on mostly break from studying Objectivism while writing my dissertation. They are definitely worth a listen or two, as the questions are almost always well-chosen and well-answered.

In the sixth podcast, Dr. Peikoff discusses the pitfalls of discussing Objectivism in online discussion forums. I won’t repeat his comments here, but I largely agree with his concerns that such online debates risk divorcing a person’s ideas from his values and promote disintegrated examination of ideas in isolation. It’s also true that many self-described Objectivists arguing with confidence online are completely clueless, rationalistic, or even outright dishonest.

I would add a few points, based on extensive experience reading and posting to such discussion forums over the course of about 15 years. (For the record, the only public discussion forum that I regard as remotely Objectivist is ObjectivismOnline. The contributors can be far better than found elsewhere, but I still think the forum suffers from the standard problems of that medium.)

First, thoughtful and productive discussion is a rarity on most discussion boards, whether supposedly Objectivist or not. Mostly, the threads consist of discombobulated streams of unjustified assertions, ill-considered opinions, nasty remarks, ignorant assumptions, and outright dishonesty. To participate in those discussions is, at best, a huge waste of time. The fact that someone has said something particularly stupid in some online debate is not a good reason to spend hours arguing with that person and his fellows.

Second, the capacity to beat the pants off some random opponent in online debate doesn’t mean that you know what you’re talking about, that you’re thinking clearly, or that you’re right. Unfortunately, people often suppose that argumentative might makes right. And so they seek the thrill of victory in online debate with all the fervor of a crack addict. In fact:

If you wish to seriously test your ideas in debate, the proper approach is to carefully study and think about some issue of personal interest to you, then discuss it in private with someone whose knowledge and judgment you trust, whether in person or e-mail.

Third, if Objectivists want to change the culture for the better, they ought not waste their time and energy by arguing with other Objectivists — even on the better forums. To actually change the culture, Objectivists need to present their ideas to people unfamiliar with them. That’s often harder — but far more rewarding in the long run. (That’s precisely why I created my OActivists mailing list.)

However, even with people unfamiliar with Objectivist ideas, lengthy online debates will likely be a waste of time. (If the person is someone known to you in real life, then the situation is somewhat different. Then long-running debates can have some value.) With strangers, the goal should be to clearly and briefly make a point or two that might intrigue an reasonable reader and perhaps point him in a new direction. That’s often all that the better people require.

In general, with any protracted online debate, I recommend asking oneself: Could I be spending my time in a more productive or enjoyable way? If so, then do go that other thing! If not, then get a life! And yes, that includes protracted arguments in the NoodleFood comments.

Leonard Peikoff, Podcaster

 Posted by on 22 October 2007 at 11:31 am  Leonard Peikoff
Oct 222007

Dr. Peikoff’s first podcast has just been posted to his web site. You can e-mail him questions to answer at [email protected].


Oct 292006

Dr. Leonard Peikoff recently posted the following Q&A on the upcoming election on his web site.

Q: In view of the constant parade of jackassery which is Washington, is there any point in voting for candidates of either entrenched party? Throwing out the incumbents “for a change” is to me an idea based on the philosophy that my head will stop hurting if I bang it on the opposite wall.

A: How you cast your vote in the coming election is important, even if the two parties are both rotten. In essence, the Democrats stand for socialism, or at least some ambling steps in its direction; the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.

Socialism–a fad of the last few centuries–has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast–the destroyer of man since time immemorial–is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

The survival of this country will not be determined by the degree to which the government, simply by inertia, imposes taxes, entitlements, controls, etc., although such impositions will be harmful (and all of them and worse will be embraced or pioneered by conservatives, as Bush has shown). What does determine the survival of this country is not political concretes, but fundamental philosophy. And in this area the only real threat to the country now, the only political evil comparable to or even greater than the threat once posed by Soviet Communism, is religion and the Party which is its home and sponsor.

The most urgent political task now is to topple the Republicans from power, if possible in the House and the Senate. This entails voting consistently Democratic, even if the opponent is a “good” Republican.

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.

If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner.

I fully support Dr. Peikoff’s statement.

I am acutely aware of the concrete evils of voting for the Democrats: high taxes, environmentalism, welfare programs, socialized medicine, and gun control. Nonetheless, I will vote for Democrats as long as necessary, even for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

That is a substantial change for me, as some of you might recall. In the 2004 election, I was hopelessly torn by the choice between Bush and Kerry. While I knew that both were evil, I could not say Bush was apocalyptically evil while Kerry was merely ordinary evil. (Frankly, that middle ground was progress for me, as I’d been pro-Republican in the general vein of TIA Daily for many years beforehand.) I continued to pursue the matter after the election: I knew I needed to understand the relevant principles much better than I did. Listening to Dr. Peikoff’s excellent DIM Hypothesis course made the most difference to me: upon hearing the whole course, I finally understood the real meaning of the posted excerpt on the 2004 election. Of course, I still had much more thinking to do. Dr. Peikoff’s Religion Versus America and America Versus Americans lectures were illuminating, as was Dr. Yaron Brook’s lecture The Morality of War and Dr. John Lewis’ Ideas and the Fall of Rome. Dr. Brad Thompson’s recent article The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism is also a must-read.

I mention those sources for a very specific reason: It’s hard to understand the depth and power of Dr. Peikoff’s position unless you are familiar with them, particularly his DIM Hypothesis course. Dr. Peikoff’s position is not based on any casual survey of recent events; it is well-grounded in fundamental principles, particularly the essential factors governing philosophic change in cultures over the course of centuries. The Objectivist view of the role of philosophy in shaping individual lives, politics, culture, and history is a massive integration. While most professed Objectivists could summarize it, they do not genuinely understand it for themselves, i.e. based upon their own induction from the concretes. Dr. Peikoff’s DIM Hypothesis course makes that induction so much more clear. It helps a person cut through the confusing sea of today’s concretes, so as to see the essential trends. (Note: The Ayn Rand Institute has made Dr. Peikoff’s DIM Hypothesis course available for free to registered users!)

As regards the election, the past two years of the Bush Administration and its Republican Congress have displayed the true philosophic commitments of today’s conservatives more starkly than ever. In their domestic policies, the Republicans fully support socialism and statism. They simply do so in craftier ways than the Democrats. Most obviously, the Bush Administration successfully pushed its prescription drug plan — a massive new entitlement — through a Republican-dominated House and Senate. Even with his Democratic Congress, Clinton was unable to match that feat of welfare statism. As a general matter, the Bush Administration is not even slightly concerned with controlling spending or the growth of government. Consider these “hard facts” from Dr. Thompson’s The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism:

Government spending has increased faster under George Bush and his Republican Congress than it did under Bill Clinton, and more people work for the federal government today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. During Bush’s first term, total government spending skyrocketed from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, an increase of 33 percent (almost $23,000 per household, the highest level since World War II). The federal budget grew by $616.4 billion during Bush’s first term in office. If post 9/11 defense spending is taken off the table, domestic spending has ballooned by 23 percent since Bush took office. When Bill Clinton left office in 2000, federal spending equaled 18.5 percent of the gross domestic product, but by the end of the first Bush administration, government outlays had increased to 20.3 percent of the GDP. The annualized growth rate of non-defense and non-homeland-security outlays has more than doubled from 2.1 percent under Clinton to 4.8 percent under Bush.

Increased spending inevitably means increased taxes. Thus, despite President Bush’s much vaunted tax cuts, Americans actually pay more in taxes today than they did during Bill Clinton’s last year in office. The 2006 annual report from Americans for Tax Reform, titled “Cost of Government Day,” sums up rather nicely the intrusive role played by Republican government in the lives of ordinary Americans. The report says that Americans had to work 86.5 days just to pay their federal taxes, as compared to 78.5 days in 2000 under Bill Clinton. In other words, the average American has worked 10.2 percent more for the federal government under George Bush than under Bill Clinton. When state and local taxes (controlled in the majority of places by Republicans) are added to federal taxes, Americans worked for the government eight hours a day, five days a week, from January 1 until July 12, meaning they worked full-time for the government for more than half the year. As Tom Feeney, a congressional Republican put it: “I remember growing up and reading in some school textbooks that if more than half your paycheck went to the government, then you were living in a socialist society.” Just so, Mr. Feeney.

The profligate spending of President Bush and the Republican Congress is thoroughly consistent with current Republican principles. In fact, Bush’s massively expensive prescription drug plan was based upon the very same model of a “conservative welfare state” as his failed attempt to reform Social Security, his support for school vouchers, and his tax cuts. As Dr. Thompson explains:

How does a conservative welfare state work? And how does it differ from a liberal welfare state? The neocons advocate a strong central government that provides welfare services to all people who need them while, at the same time, giving people choice about how they want those services delivered. That is what makes it “conservative,” they argue. That is how the neocons reconcile Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Hayek and Trotsky.

In practice, this means that the coercive force of the state is used to provide for all of the people’s needs–from universal social security to health and child care to education–but the people choose their own “private” social security accounts; they choose their own “private” health and child-care providers; and parents receive vouchers and choose which schools their children will attend. The choices, of course, are not the wide-open choices of a free market; rather, the people are permitted to choose from among a handful of pre-authorized providers. The neocons call this scheme a free-market reform of the welfare state.

As economic “supply-siders,” the neocons occasionally support tax cuts–but not because they want to return to taxpayers money that is rightfully theirs. Instead, they advocate lowering the marginal tax rate because it will provide an incentive for people to work harder, earn more money, spur economic growth–and, thereby, generate more tax revenue that will be used to fund the conservative welfare state.

In other words, President Bush’s occasional vaguely free-market rhetoric means nothing. The guiding ideal of his administration is that of total government control over our lives, albeit with some nominal choices sanctioned and regulated by that government. That’s the kind of “freedom” that today’s Republicans support — and that TIA Daily routinely praises. It’s worse than a farce: it’s a dangerous illusion. Due to the apparent choices still available to them, Americans might not recognize the ever-tightening vise of government control until it’s too powerful to effectively resist. To put the point somewhat crudely, the Republicans want Americans to indulge their power-lusting fantasy that their kinder, gentler form of rape is actually consensual sex, i.e. that their form of statism is actually freedom. It’s not. If Objectivists can’t see that, then America’s prospects are very bleak.

Even more alarming, Republicans at the local, state, and federal levels are actively intertwining religion and politics. Republican candidates clearly display their Christian credentials in their campaign literature and declare their intention to govern by Christian principles. They claim that America was founded upon Christian principles — and advocate a return thereto. They actively promote religion with state power and taxpayer dollars via faith-based initiatives. Many now openly reject the very idea of secular government, i.e. of separation of church and state. For example, Janet Rowland, the woman Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez selected as his running mate, openly advocates teaching creationism in public schools, wholeheartedly supports faith-based initiatives, and denies any Constitutional support for separation of church and state. She claims that “we should have the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion.”

Based upon recent threads on Objectivist discussion boards, many Objectivists seem to think that the meaning of Christian government in America is limited to marginal issues like abortion, stem-cell research, evolution, euthanasia, and the like. That’s completely false. Christianity is an all-embracing worldview: otherwordly, mystical, altruistic, and authoritarian. Its holy scriptures are explicitly and unequivocally opposed to all the values of this world: success, wealth, pleasure, science, justice, love, reason, pride, independence, and even long-range planning. It demands poverty, incompetence, misery, suffering, mercy, humility, submission, miracles, faith, and death. In recent decades, ever-growing millions of American Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, have embraced an ever-truer faith. They are committed to living in obedience to God. They are rediscovering the actual meaning of the teachings of the New Testament. They are rejecting the common sense worldliness that has long tempered American Christianity; they are embracing the blind emotionalism of faith. Ominously, they are raising an even more radical generation of Christians, teaching them to be “sons of God” rather than “children of the world,” just as Augustine demanded. This new Christianity is a whole new animal.

Unsurprisingly, these millions of serious Christians want to live in a society that reflects and supports their Christian values. Also unsurprisingly, they are perfectly willing to use the coercive power of the state to achieve that end. They fight to implement and/or retain laws criminalizing homosexual sex, forbidding the co-habitation of unmarried couples, and requiring modest clothing. They support the Bush Administration’s vigorous prosecution of obscenity and heavy fines for indecency in the name of “family values.” They demand that religious nonsense (i.e. “intelligent design”) be taught as science in public schools. They demand the removal of un-Christian books from public and school libraries. Significantly, serious Christians will not be satisfied with success on those limited issues. They will demand strict divorce laws, limit access to birth control, prosecute adultery, and demand religious instruction in schools. To set a proper moral example for the children, they will force everyone to live a Christian life. They will silence critics of religion, whether by actively denying the right to offend religious believers or by passively permitting the intimidation of speakers. (Sadly, that’s not much of a stretch in light of Bush the Father’s response to the fatwa Salman Rushdie and Bush the Son’s response to the Muslim jihad against the Danish cartoons.) Meanwhile, these Christians will continue to support socialism for the simple reason that the New Testament commands it. It demands total collectivization of property and distribution according to need. In passage after passage, it inculcates vicious hostility to wealth, in part on the grounds that the wealthy exploit the poor. Marxism collapsed as an ideological force with the Soviet Union, but Christianity can and will give socialism a new lease on life. The utter misery created by Christian socialism will not be a reason to abandon it; Christianity is explicitly opposed to worldy values like happiness and prosperity. It lauds the silent endurance of suffering and misery as a virtue — and Christians will force you to be virtuous.

The size and power of the evangelical Christian subculture in America should not be underestimated. It is millions strong, generously funded, and growing quickly, often below the radar of the mainstream media. (See the excerpt from the DIM Hypothesis course for details.) Moreover, consider the slew of large Christian organizations seeking to influence American politics, such as American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Christian Coalition of America, Pro-Family Law Center, and Family Research Council. All were created in the last 30 years. In addition, Christian conservatives are successfully infiltrating academia, filling the vacuum created by the ideological death of the left. (To head off a likely objection: Yes, Democrats are increasingly appealing to religion. However, they’re doing so because they’ve seen the great success of the religious Republicans. For now, it’s just opportunistic me-too-ism. If religious Republicans are rejected by the American people sooner rather than later, it will disappear. If not, Christian Democrats will gain power over their party and thereby eliminate the possibility of secular government.)

For those who understand the awesome power of philosophy in human life, the grave threat posed by this virulent new strain of Christianity is obvious. If America embraces the Christian government of the Republicans, the anti-reason and anti-life ideals Christianity will soon permeate every aspect of American life: politics, business, foreign policy, art, science, criminal and civil law, medicine, education, child-rearing, and more. Of all people, Objectivists ought to see that, precisely because Objectivism recognizes that philosophy is the fundamental driving force of human life and society. Yet many of Dr. Peikoff’s critics dismiss the reinvigorated Christianity spreading throughout the Republican Party as irrelevant or marginal, focusing only upon superficial issues of policy. They are utterly missing the point.

As if the prospect of Christian government in America isn’t bad enough, the foreign policy of the Republicans is even more dangerous. The Bush Administration is not fighting a half-war against Islamic totalitarianism, as its Objectivist apologists claim. It is fighting an altruistic pseudo-war in which the lives of thousands of American soldiers and billions of taxpayer dollars are openly sacrificed for the good of the enemy.

To take the most telling example, President Bush has embroiled the American military in years of fruitless war in Iraq — with no end in sight. On the present course, America can only leave Iraq in defeat, i.e. by withdrawing troops as the country sinks further into chaos. When that happens, Iraqis will be free to do as they please, namely to slaughter each other in religious and civil war culminating in the establishment of a repressive Islamic theocracy. That new Iraq will be far more dangerous to America than Saddam’s regime ever was; it will be another Iran. Notably, Bush’s lofty plan for Iraq diverges only slightly from that grim reality: he wants Iraqis to democratically vote themselves some new government, any new government. Since his basic goal is to promote democracy rather than secure America, he’s willing to accept an Islamic theocracy hostile to America, so long as Iraqis vote for it. That’s what our soldiers in Iraq are fighting and dying to protect in President Bush’s “war on terror.” The fact that they have killed some jihadists is wholly irrelevant: militant Islamists are not in short supply in the Middle East.

America’s bloody self-sacrifice in Iraq is the concrete reality of President Bush’s “Forward Strategy of Freedom.” According to that doctrine, the root cause of the “stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export” common to almost all countries in the Middle East is the absence of democracy. So the solution to Islamist terrorism is to allow Islamists the power of the vote. By implication, Islam is fundamentally unrelated to terrorism. As a “religion of peace,” Islam cannot inspire or motivate terrorism, whatever the terrorists might say. Notably, Bush explicitly connected his Forward Strategy of Freedom to his own religious faith. He declared the spread of democracy to be America’s “calling,” a task to be accomplished with God’s assistance and American sacrifice. Iraq was supposed to be the first major step: “the establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.” In fact, the only significant outcome has been an explosion of Islamism in Iraq.

President Bush’s much-lauded Forward Strategy of Freedom has worked equally well elsewhere. The Bush Administration has vigorously promoted government by democratic vote in Muslim countries, even when that elevates violent Islamic totalitarians to power. Democracy brought Hamas to power over the Palestinian Authority, injected Hezbollah into the Lebanese government, and enshrined Islam as the law of the land in Afghanistan. Yet Bush continues to push for full-blown elections in Egypt and Jordan, even though that would undermine the efforts of those semi-friendly countries to suppress militant Islam. By promoting democracy, President Bush is aiding our enemies, openly helping them gain political power that otherwise would have been out of reach. Yet he has not been deterred from his God-given mission by the ever-growing political power of the Islamists around the Middle East. Like any good Christian, he is impervious to the facts of this world.

The Bush Administration’s foreign policy is influenced by Christianity in more than just this “love your enemies” plan for Islamists. In his recent talk, “Nothing Less Than Victory,” Dr. John Lewis rightly argued that America ought to demand that the Muslim world wholly separate mosque and state. As in Shinto Japan after World War II, Muslims would be free to pray to Allah in their private lives, but Islam would be barred from public life and politics, including education. Muslims could rationalize that public secularism however they pleased — or abandon Islam entirely. Such secular government in Muslim countries is required to eliminate their threat to the West. Yet President Bush is completely incapable of demanding anything of the sort. He does not believe in the separation of church and state; he’s actively intermingling religion and politics in America. So he has no principled objection to states governed by Islamic law. He regards religion as a positive force in human life and in the state. He merely prefers Christianity to Islam.

In essence, by the very nature of his guiding philosophy of life, President Bush is incapable of defeating Islamic totalitarianism. He lacks the capacity to identify the enemy as Islam and to demand the separation of mosque and state. The result is not some half-good measures against Islamic totalitarianism. He’s actively sacrificing American lives, dollars, and security in order to promote Islamists to political power.

Even worse, by so doing while posing as a tough defender of America, the Bush Administration has substantially destroyed the critical ingredient in the battle for Western civilization against the Muslim barbarians, namely our will to fight. America’s military might is awe-inspiring. If victory was the goal, America’s military could probably crush Islamic totalitarianism in mere months, if not sooner. The only question is whether America has the moral confidence to use that awesome military power in the service of its own defense. In the weeks and months after 9/11, most Americans were eager to terminate the deadly ambitions of the Islamists. The Bush Administration bled dry that fighting spirit with years of war in Iraq, not to mention the ongoing appeasement of terrorists and the states that sponsor them. The cultural and political power of the Islamists in the Middle East has only grown since 9/11, so much so that many Americans now regard victory against the Islamists as impossible and self-defense as slow suicide. They do not think we can win; they aren’t certain we deserve to win; they don’t even know what “winning” would mean. That’s obscene. In concrete terms, the loss of moral confidence means that America will not confront Iran or Saudi Arabia, even though they are the two ideological and financial fountainheads of terrorism against the West. Our government will continue to appease Iran with diplomacy while it openly pursues nuclear weapons. It will continue to pretend that Saudi Arabia is an ally.

Of course, I cannot imagine that the Democrats will wage anything like proper war against the Islamic totalitarians determined to destroy America. However, I can reasonably hope that their fearful cowardice will protect us from self-sacrificial wars. They will not sap America’s will to fight, but perhaps even reinvigorate it by their inaction. For example, by pulling out of Somalia in disgrace, the Clinton Administration saved us from the self-sacrifice of Bush the Elder’s humanitarian “war” to protect and serve a hostile population. Americans were not sapped of their will to fight thereby: most understood that we could and should have retaliated — even though we shouldn’t have embroiled ourselves in that mess of a country in the first place. In contrast, if Bush the Younger were in charge, American soldiers would probably still be dying senselessly in Somalia, just as in Iraq today, on the premise that Somalis really want freedom too.

The world would be a safer place today if President Bush refused to take any action in response to the 9/11 attacks. Fewer Islamists would be in positions of political power in the Middle East. Americans might be frustrated by the inaction rather than cowed by improvised roadside bombs.

Objectivists ought to recognize the total failure of Bush’s foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly in light of the slew of articles and lectures on the topic in recent years by Dr. Lewis and Dr. Brook. Yet many seem utterly blind to the disaster, focusing only upon insignificant concretes. The fact is that the Bush Administration is not fighting a war against Islamic totalitarianism: as a matter of deliberate policy, it is promoting their political and cultural domination of the Middle East. Yet that’s the Administration that TIA Daily praises, supports, and urges you to vote for — precisely on the grounds of its “war on terror.” It’s appalling.

Those are my basic reasons for regarding today’s Republicans as far, far more dangerous than today’s Democrats. The problem is not some few individual Republicans but the whole Republican Party, including its leadership. It must be told in no uncertain terms to reverse course. It will only do so if punished by voters for injecting religion into politics and promoting Islamism in the Middle East. Yes, the Democrats are awful. Yes, it will be painful to vote for them. However, the alternative of Christian government is so much more dangerous to our liberties.

The fundamental philosophic principles required to clearly understand the nature of our choice in this election are not self-evident. They can be difficult to understand, even for someone long familiar with Objectivism. An honest Objectivist could be confused by the flood of irrelevant concretes and misleading analyses, particularly if attentive to the seemingly Objectivist defenses of the Bush Administration published in almost every TIA Daily and commonly posted on HBL (based on what I saw during my trial membership this spring). However, I think such confusion is possible only to a person without anything like a firm grasp of the relevant philosophic principles. That’s why I agree with Dr. Peikoff’s claim that “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.” Sadly, that assessment has been confirmed by the flurry of concrete-bound objections to Dr. Peikoff’s statement posted on various Objectivist forums. More particularly, most critics of Dr. Peikoff dismiss as insignificant (or even deny) the rise of a new form of Christianity among millions of Americans over the last three decades. They treat Christianity as relevant to little more than birth and death, i.e. to abortion and euthanasia, even though millions of Christians are determined to live by the actual teachings of the New Testament. They claim that America’s sense of life makes theocracy impossible, as if the sense of life of a nation is independent of and impervious to massive changes in explicit philosophy. In essence, they do not recognize that Christianity is an all-encompassing philosophy with the power to drag America into a second Dark Ages if unchecked. In other words, they fail to grasp “the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life.”

In response to Dr. Peikoff’s claim, some argue that a person’s vote reveals nothing about his understanding of Objectivism. In fact, a person’s concrete actions often do reveal failures of understanding–particularly when the choices are stark. An Objectivist who occasionally shoplifts doesn’t understand property rights (and more); an Objectivist who stumps for the Libertarian Party doesn’t understand the role of fundamental philosophy in politics (and more); an Objectivist who admires Kant’s philosophy doesn’t understand much of anything. Similarly, an Objectivist who thinks that today’s Republicans are less evil or as evil as today’s Democrats fails to grasp the fundamental ideological commitments of the Republicans and the real life meaning thereof, particularly the totalistic crushing oppression of life in a Christian culture and under Christian government.

Moreover, I’m glad that Dr. Peikoff was so blunt, even though some were insulted. Many Objectivists needed to hear those shocking words. They needed to be told in no uncertain terms by the foremost expert on Objectivism that their understanding of the philosophy is seriously deficient. If Dr. Peikoff had stated his views in less stark terms, most pro-Republican Objectivists would have dismissed them without much consideration. Others would have remained oblivious to the enormous differences underlying the positions advocated by Yaron Brook, John Lewis, Craig Biddle, and Leonard Peikoff on one hand and Robert Tracinksi, Jack Wakeland, and Harry Binswanger (at least in 2004) on the other. A wake-up call was needed. Yes, it’s blaring — probably because the softer alarms weren’t often heeded.

Obviously, a person who fails to properly understand Objectivism is not thereby dishonest or immoral. However, some of Dr. Peikoff’s most vehement critics have interpreted him as saying just that — wrongly, I think. Dr. Peikoff wrote:

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

In my judgment, that claim of immorality presumes that a person understands the choice in question basically as stated, i.e. between an ever-weaker killer and an ever-stronger killer. If a person fails to understand that despite serious and honest effort, then his failure to vote for the Democrats would not be a moral failing, although still a serious mistake. More generally, the identification of a certain act as immoral doesn’t imply that everyone performing it is immoral. For example, it’s immoral for a husband to lie to his wife to spare her feelings, but if he’s accepted the standard view of honesty, he might reasonably think that some “white lies” are proper. Such a husband has done something wrong by lying, even though he’s not acted immorally in the sense of evading his knowledge. Hopefully, someone will tell him that he’s doing wrong, that lying to his wife is immoral, and that he doesn’t understand honesty. That’s what Dr. Peikoff has done for Objectivists. (Of course, some pro-Republicans Objectivists are probably dishonest in their views. However, my point is simply that Dr. Peikoff didn’t say that all were.)

Finally, I must comment upon some of the vicious attacks on Dr. Peikoff posted to the ObjectivismOnline and The Forum threads on his statement. To be blunt, I’m appalled by them, particularly by the many accusations of intimidation, bullying, dogmatism, and the like. (For example, Jack Wakeland began this post with “Thank you, [name omitted], for so quickly standing up to Dr. Peikoff’s attempt to bully.”) Such charges are absurd: a person does not dogmatically impose himself upon anyone else by expressing strong epistemological and moral judgments. (That’s David Kelley’s “tolerationist” view; it’s not Objectivism.) Dr. Peikoff is certainly not obliged to sugarcoat his negative judgments for the sake of spineless cowards fearful of his disapproval, particularly not on such weighty issues like the fate of America.

More generally, Dr. Peikoff deserves far better treatment from Objectivists than he’s received of late. Apart from Ayn Rand, he’s undoubtedly the most knowledgeable and accomplished Objectivist philosopher — by far. No one else could have so skillfully and clearly systematized Objectivism as he did in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. For that feat alone, he deserves the deep respect and admiration of Objectivists. In action, such respect means that Objectivists ought to give his arguments careful attention and scrutiny, even if ultimately disagreeing with them. That’s hardly too much to ask. However, that’s not happened in this debate. Dr. Peikoff has been attacked in the very same terms as I often heard in TOC circles, i.e. with the same casual disregard for facts and the same specious arguments about intimidation. Also like at TOC, many people have dismissed his arguments as absurd without any substantial effort to understand them. That’s inexcusable.

To be perfectly clear, I will not tolerate any such attacks upon Dr. Peikoff in the comments on this post. Disagreement is fine, but I want nothing to do with anyone who treats him with the dismissive contempt I’ve seen elsewhere. My admiration for Dr. Peikoff and his accomplishments means something to me, something serious and important. So those supposed Objectivists who cannot treat Dr. Peikoff with some minimal respect are kindly invited in advance to remain silent.

A Suprise

 Posted by on 26 April 2004 at 6:57 am  Leonard Peikoff
Apr 262004

Anyone familiar with vitrol against all things non-liberal in Brian Leiter’s blog will be rather amused by the pleasant reference to Amy and Leonard Peikoff in this post. The humorous RNC and DNC convention schedules are worth reading.

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