Note from Diana Hsieh, 22 Feb 2012
If you’ve come to this page via “Checking Premises” or something similar, please note that I’ve written a length commentary on the criticisms circulating about me, including explaining my views of various controversial matters, in this post: On Some Recent Controversies. I’d recommend reading that, then judging me based on my full range of work, not just a few out-of-context snippets. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected].
In the debate about John McCaskey’s resignation from the Boards of ARI and Anthem, one point of contention is whether McCaskey acted properly in publicly posting Leonard Peikoff’s letter. No one denies that he had permission to do so, from both Peikoff and ARI. The question is whether he had good reason to make the letter public, given the ensuing controversy.
Although I can’t speak for McCaskey, I believe that a person is entitled to defend himself against claims and demands he regards as unjust by sharing the relevant facts with interested parties.
In this case, McCaskey had a legitimate interest in ensuring that he was judged fairly by friends, colleagues, and donors in light of his resignations from the ARI and Anthem Boards. Given the serious accusations made by Peikoff, that required McCaskey to reveal the precise claims and demands made by Peikoff, in Peikoff’s own words.
Furthermore, McCaskey’s resignations from the ARI and Anthem boards would be public knowledge and, given McCaskey’s prominence in both organizations, would be natural topics of public discussion by Objectivists. Hence, as I shall explain below, it was appropriate for McCaskey to publicly post Peikoff’s letter as part of his explanation for his resignations.
At the time McCaskey was considering resigning, for him to request some public statement from Peikoff as to what exactly Peikoff believed McCaskey to have done was reasonable. As we’ve learned, Peikoff subsequently chose to make his previously private letter to Arline Mann as his statement for public consumption — as opposed to editing it or issuing a different statement. That decision was entirely Peikoff’s prerogative. And once Peikoff made that choice, McCaskey was then entitled to use that letter as his basis for explaining his resignation.
In various e-mail and internet discussions, some have suggested that McCaskey could have resigned from the ARI and Anthem Boards without releasing Peikoff’s letter. They further claim that McCaskey should have done so, given how damaging the public release of that letter has been to ARI, Anthem, and Peikoff himself.
If McCaskey resigned without releasing the letter, supporters of Anthem and ARI might naturally wish to know why he resigned. His choices would then include:
1) Giving a false excuse (e.g., “family demands” or “other commitments”).
2) Refusing to offer any reasons (even to friends/donors) and instead remaining silent on the issue.
3) Explaining his reasons, but paraphrasing (without quoting) the reasons cited by Peikoff.
4) Explaining his reasons but only circulating Peikoff’s e-mail via private conversation and/or correspondence.
1) Would have been dishonest.
2) Would require McCaskey to remain silent in the face of suspicions of wrong-doing by his friends, colleagues, and donors that he could only regard as undeserved. A silent resignation would naturally lead people to wonder whether McCaskey had done something wrong to force his resignation — or if he had quit on a lark. But on this approach, he would be unable to defend himself by explaining what had really happened. Expecting him to silently fall on his sword in such a fashion would be asking him to commit self-sacrifice.
A silent resignation would have also been a grave disservice to ARI and Anthem donors who have donated substantial sums based (in part) on confidence in McCaskey’s work and judgment. Many donors, including Diana and me, would want to know the facts, so that we could act on those facts, rather than from ignorance or supposition.
3) Would have strained people’s credulity given the surprising accusations made by Peikoff against McCaskey. Any summary or paraphrasing that McCaskey offered would have seemed incredible, and many people would have doubted McCaskey’s truthfulness. Again, this approach would subject him to unjust moral judgments from friends, colleagues, and donors.
Instead, McCaskey could have been more vague: he could have merely cited some intellectual disagreement between himself and Dr. Peikoff. However, that might have raised doubts about his commitment to Objectivist principles, unfairly so, in his view. Moreover, McCaskey’s resignation was due to Peikoff’s ultimatum, not merely an intellectual disagreement. That ultimatum is essential to any explanation for the resignation, particularly from Anthem, an organization that McCaskey founded. An explanation without mention of the ultimatum would have been less than honest, and it would have only raised more questions.
4) Would have been untenable in the long run. Given the number of people reasonably wanting to know why McCaskey resigned and given the nature of Peikoff’s letter, that letter would have been publicly posted somewhere in short order — but in a far less-controlled fashion.
Such a posting would have created a controversy similar to what we’re seeing now, but with much wilder and more baseless speculations. The current firestorm has been bad enough. But that controversy has been made more manageable by the fact that that McCaskey cited Peikoff’s letter in the up-front, sober fashion that he did, rather than having the letter be first publicly posted on any of the various disreputable anti-ARI websites.
Given these other four alternatives, I think McCaskey acted reasonably in requesting that any accusations against him be made available to the public in a form authorized by Leonard Peikoff himself. That way, others could judge for themselves whether Peikoff’s claims and demands against McCaskey were appropriate.
Of course, people can (and do) differ in their judgments as to whether Peikoff’s claims and demands against McCaskey were accurate and just. But at least the various discussions are made easier by the fact we know in Peikoff’s words, what Peikoff believes McCaskey to have done wrong. Think of how much more contentious any discussion would be without that information.
In summary, McCaskey was morally entitled to defend himself by releasing Peikoff’s charges against him in Peikoff’s own words. If the specific tone and contents of Peikoff’s letter has caused any damage to ARI, Anthem, and the Objectivist movement, then the primary responsibility lies not with McCaskey but with the letter’s author — who chose to authorize its release in that particular form and who has chosen to let that letter be his only public statement on this issue.
Finally, from ARI’s standpoint, the release of Peikoff’s letter has created an unwelcome controversy. They’ve had to divert resources they could have allocated for other uses such as their public outreach, cultural, and educational programs. Personally, I believe that the long-term negative impact on their effectiveness can be minimal, provided that they navigate through the current short-term problems in a proper fashion. As the current election shows, America needs Ayn Rand’s ideas more than ever, and we need the ARI to help disseminate those ideas.
Nonetheless, the conflict between Objectivists on this issue reveals a real divide. That suggests to me that a controversy of this sort was likely to erupt sooner or later anyways. McCaskey’s resignation may have been the trigger in this particular case, but I strongly suspect that some other issue would have eventually arisen that would have created a similar level of controversy.
Hence, we may as well work now to learn what we can from this conflict — and in particular, to identify principles to help us better manage the inevitable disagreements (whether major or minor) between Objectivists. We are paying an unpleasant price right now for the controversy over Peikoff’s letter. But if we don’t pay it now, we will almost certainly have to pay a higher price in the future when the next big conflict arises, particularly as Objectivism becomes more prominent in the culture over time.
As difficult as this conflict has been, I believe that McCaskey did the right thing in releasing Peikoff’s letter. And in the end, I think the Objectivist movement can emerge from this controversy stronger than ever.
Diana helped Paul edit this post, and she agrees with it fully.