Objectivist Hell

 Posted by on 12 February 2006 at 2:18 am  Uncategorized
Feb 122006

Betsy Speicher recently noted in the comments that The Objectivist Center has yet to publish a single word on the ongoing violent protests in the Islamic world over the Danish cartoons. Go check out their web site to see for yourself. (In contrast, the Ayn Rand Institute has already published one two three op-eds and one two three letters to the editor.) Maybe Ed Hudgins is busy writing a review of Underworld or something.

Just when I think TOC cannot possibly sink any lower, they surprise me! Yet I really ought not be so astonished given David Kelley’s endorsement of a Muslim organization in a speech last spring, as blogged here. In that speech, David Kelley spoke of “protest[ing] the evil of terrorism in the name of values that transcend differences in religion and worldview.” Yet even that Muslim organization has condemned the violence, albeit in bizarrely confused terms. Most notably, it claims:

The response by Muslims to the cartoons is absolutely pathetic and depressing but revealing. The reason Muslims are responding with anger and threats of violence is because most Muslims live in countries where democracy and freedom of speech are alien concepts.

That’s totally backwards — as shown by the fact that Muslims in England have exercised their free speech rights to call for beheadings for blasphemers. The Muslim world has little freedom precisely because Islam itself provides no foundation whatsoever for such a value. Yet that is precisely what an organization attempting to graft rational, secular values onto a Muslim foundation cannot admit.

In my blog post on David Kelley’s original speech, I emphasized his detachment of philosophy from values and action:

Kelley begins by saying:
I am not a Muslim. Nor am I a Christian, or a Jew. My philosophy of life, Objectivism, is a secular philosophy. But we are gathered here to protest the evil of terrorism in the name of values that transcend differences in religion and worldview.

Since a person’s values are determined by his worldview, whether in the form of religion or philosophy, what values might possibly “transcend differences in religion and worldview”? What values might be consistent with a wide range of positions on the basic nature of existence, the nature and means of knowledge, and the standard of the good? In fact, no such free-floating values are possible, as Ayn Rand certainly understood. That’s why the complex abstractions of philosophy matter so very much!

Yet we should wonder: Of what values is David Kelley speaking? He doesn’t say immediately, but his last paragraph identifies them explicitly:

I appeal to all those, of any creed or philosophy, who stand for human life and happiness, for freedom, for progress and for its source–the free exercise of reason–to join in opposing those who want to control the mind, roll back progress, stifle freedom–and who are willing to kill and maim to do so.

In other words, people of “any creed or philosophy” can “stand for human life and happiness, for freedom, for progress and for its source–the free exercise of reason” — meaning that any view is compatible with any other, that logical consistency is unimportant, and that philosophy is irrelevant to life.


In the course of searching the TOC web site about Islam, I found some even more explicit comments on the connection between philosophy and values in an exchange in the letters to the editor about that very speech. Fairly early on, in attempting to explain “the meaning and role of jihad in Islam,” David Kelley writes:

To the extent that a culture subordinates reason to faith and subordinates the individual to a higher power (whether social or divine), those premises will tend to produce superstition rather than science, duty and sacrifice rather than the pursuit of happiness, stagnation rather than progress–and violence and oppression rather than freedom and trade. (Emphasis added.)

When I first read those weasel-words (“will tend to produce”), I suspected some very bad turn ahead. After all, a culture of faith and authority will produce nothing but superstition, duty and sacrifice, stagnation, violence, and oppression” — unless opposed by better ideas. That’s the standard Objectivist view of history — with which I agree. And it wasn’t a mere slip on David Kelley’s part, as this later passage shows:

As a religion, Islam rests on faith in the existence of a supernatural being and in a story of how his commands were revealed to mankind; its whole superstructure of systemization rests on a foundation of arbitrary belief. It therefore has no rational way to exclude Islamist fanaticism from the spectrum of belief by proving it false, any more than mainstream Christians can prove that fundamentalists misrepresent Christianity.

By the same token, nothing prevents Muslims from moving in the direction of a more liberal doctrine that is more open to reason, science, progress, individualism, and a secular society. As an Objectivist, I don’t think they can complete that journey without leaving the religion behind altogether. But I see no reason why Islam cannot make some sort of peace with modernity in the same way, and to the same extent, that Christianity has.

In other words, “faith in the existence of a supernatural being” can give rise to “liberal doctrine that is more open to reason, science, progress, individualism, and a secular society” because… an arbitrary doctrine can give rise to anything! Objectivism’s just helpful for the last steps of liberalization, according to Kelley.

As I’ve probably said before, The Objectivist Center is not merely contemptuous of Ayn Rand’s ideas, it’s contemptuous of ideas as such.

As a postscript, I cannot help but mention that the letter to which David Kelley is replying begins by quoting some of Kelley’s speech, then asks: “These remarks were appropriate to the audience and circumstances in which they were delivered, but are they actually true?” (Seriously, that’s what it says.) In his response, Kelley directly considers the question, but never objects to the obvious presumption that deception would ever be “appropriate” in such a speech! Really, I need to stop being so damn surprised. Hell obviously has more levels than I thought, since TOC just keeps on decending…

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