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Tuesday, March 6, 2007 at 18:04:04 mst
Name: Jeff Montgomery
Skousen's essay is better than some. There are some distinctly positive things said, and I detect a sincere, if reserved, respect for some of the actual virtues of her work, such as clarifying the nature of productivity and the creativity and moral virtue that lies behind it.
However, the author exhibits some of the same misunderstandings of Rand's work that plague most reviews, for example, the criticism of "Her defense of greed and selfishness". These words are delivered as irreducible and innately understood terms. However, one of the most prominent ideas in the novel is precisely that "common sense" meanings of these terms are invalid and equivocal. Yet there is no suggestion that the author regards them at all critically. It would be one thing if Skousen had said "greed is wrong because life is not of value; humankind should slowly bleed itself to death and not flourish or live in any meaningful sense". That would at least indicate that the novel had gotten this point across. But there is no such indication. For example: "And long before Gordon Gekko, icon of the movie 'Wall Street,' she made greed seem good". To even mention these two in the same breath shows a significant lack of comprehension of Rand's view of these terms.
>In fact, no children appear in Rand's magnum opus.
Maybe Rand should have thrown in some cherubs? I keep hearing this comment and it is just plain silly. I guess they didn't have "Bring Your Children To Work Day" in her world.
>"Atlas Shrugged" is about philosophy, not business
?? I would call this missing the point in a major way. Not only does Rand use business as a literary vehicle for her philosophy, but also it can be one of Objectivism's most potent existential expressions. It represents an act of the rational mind and of clearly held and applied values. But if I may read between the lines, I think the author is also suggesting that the novel is not a factual portrayal of the way business is always practiced. Well, yes. Rand is not a Naturalist.
>Rand's plot violates a key tenet of business existence, which is to constantly work within the system to find ways to make money. Real-world entrepreneurs are compromisers and dealmakers, not true believers
This also misses the point. How many times is it mentioned or suggested in the book that her heroes are *traders*? Is this not deal making? Isn't agreeing on a price a matter of compromise? There are many pages of the novel dedicated explicitly or implicitly to trading and to the difference between compromise and sacrifice. Rand's refusal to live with foggy notions of important terms is again overlooked. And what is "the system" and why does Objectivism not work within it?
He then goes on to compare Rand to Adam Smith, and says:
>Smith's self-interest never reaches the Randian selfishness that ignores the interest of others
What does this statement even *mean* in relation to the actual novel? The above sentence really has no clear meaning because, again, these terms are used uncritically. What is selfishness? What are men's interests and how do they relate to each other? These questions were eloquently and extensively explored in the novel and Skousen is unaware of, or ignores, these explorations. He has apparently retained the common and confused "meaning" of these terms, which renders them useless at best, and destructive at worst.
Skousen plays up Christian morals and the alleged Christian underpinnings of capitalism. Needless to say, I don't agree. I'm not even going to get started on that one; it's too much work.
Then he raises the specter of "extreme" ideas, comparing Rand on one side to Marx on the other, and suggests we should huddle safely in the middle (somewhere between extreme wealth and mass murder?). Yawn. How many more times in my lifetime will I have to sit through the "extreme" idea warning? It's about time some Objectivist scholar dialed its coordinates into a philosophical cruise missile and took it out for good with a nice essay. That idea is just so pervasive and so pernicious.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 1:23:56 mst
Name: Bill Perry
Mark Skousen and his wife Jo Ann have written about Ayn Rand for many years. The first piece that I read was "The First Galt's Gulch Film Festival" in the July 1994 issue of Liberty. The articles always praise portions of her philosophy and attack others.
Jeff Montgomery wrote, "However, the author exhibits some of the same misunderstandings of Rand's work that plague most reviews . . ." I think that Jeff is mistaken. The worst article that Skousen has written is his "Ayn Rand's Strange Economics" in the January 2001 issue of Liberty. (As of about a year or so this article wasn't available online.) Skousen is a trained economist who teaches at the college level. He used examples solely from Rand's novels and completely ignored all essays including those compiled in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. Since he is fully cognizant of the scope of Rand's work that was a deliberate choice. I think he understands Rand but is intellectually dishonest in his attacks.
Skousen's agenda is to argue for free market capitalism as consistent with Christianity--in his case Mormonism. He uses Rand's philosophy to buttress his arguments He is a far more dangerous critic than those who disagree with more of Rand's philosophy.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 2:04:02 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
Bill Perry, in Comment 2, said: "He [Skousen] is a far more dangerous critic than those who disagree with more of Rand's philosophy."
I think this point deserves elaboration. I offer my questions as an opportunity for elaboration.
- Do you mean he is more dangerous to the future of the Objectivist movement *because* he supposedly agrees with some tenets of Objectivism? If so, why?
- Is it because his audience might reject Objectivism, as a whole, based on his misrepresentations of the *other* tenets of Objectivism, the ones he disagrees with?
I would like to note also that if he is indeed a Mormon, then he rejects Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. That leaves only politics and esthetics. I don't know whether he agrees with Objectivist esthetics. At most, he can then be in agreement with only Objectivist political principles. If he is, it is only in the same sense that, supposedly, libertarians agree with Objectivist politics -- in terminology only, *not* in any objective, cognitive sense.
Peter Schwartz, in his recorded lecture on "Contextual Knowledge" (see The Ayn Rand Bookstore website), makes the point that, in my wording, two men who use the same words but with a different underlying philosophy, *cannot* mean the same thing. Context determines meaning.
Of course, some individuals have minds that are a train-wreck collection of elements from a variety of worldviews, and some of those elements might in some vague way be objective, though compartmentalized away from other elements.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 2:17:44 mst
Name: Trey Givens
My favorite part is when he says "But its [Atlas Shrugged's] ethical basis � an inversion of the Christian values that predicate authentic capitalism � poisons its teachings" as if Ayn Rand started with Christianity and turned it on its ear just to be contrary.
The article is the usual, vague mush of criticisms. Both frustrating and disappointing.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 2:37:06 mst
Name: Tom Rowland
It was interesting to me to see Mr. Skousen's struggle to reconcile his obvious admiration for Ayn Rand's achievement with his almost half-hearted loyalty to his Christian values. And what a mess he makes of it, citing Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises at their worst, along with the Golden Rule, as the justification for a sentence -- "John Galt -- it's time to come home and go to work" -- worthy of President Thompson or Wesley Mouch.
I agree with Jeff that there is every reason to question whether Skousen has read Atlas in any but the most superficial way. And to add what is, in my view, the much more dangerous sure sign of this failure that he fails to understand that capitalism cannot be defended on essentially subjectivist grounds. As Rand pointed out, the Golden Rule is, at best, empty. It assumes without any demonstration whatsooever, that we all kinda know what we would have others do unto us. One look at the culture in which we live should disabuse anyone who holds it of that notion. And Mises subjectivist defense of Capitalism -- on the grounds that capitalism is the best provider of goods and services regardless of their value to rational human beings (thus making the distinction between James Taggart, the killer, and John Galt, the life giver, irrelevent as far as the manufacturer of the torture machine is concerned) -- is grotesque once one actually supplies the concretes missing from Skousen's floating abstraction.
No doubt the machine's manufacturer would be counted among those praiseworthy exemplars of capitalism that "are compromisers and dealmakers, not true believers" who "wouldn't give a hoot for Galt." Fortunately, Galt had a group o close friends who were willing to put their lives on the line to rescue him. I count myself among them. And if I were to give John Galt any advise about what to do if he ever heard Mr.Skousen utter his closing line to his face, it would be to turn his back and leave while tossing over his shoulder the words, "Make me!" Oh, but that's what he did, isn't it.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 2:44:56 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
Trey Givens, in Comment 4, says: "The article is the usual, vague mush of criticisms. Both frustrating and disappointing."
In the past, I too felt frustration and disappointment in reading such articles. No more. I know now that I was making a mistake. I was expecting a dog to meow.
Entities act according to their nature. Skousen is who he is, with all his jumble of misintegrated ideas. I now feel no frustration or disappointment when a dog barks.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 5:40:23 mst
"I now feel no frustration or disappointment when a dog barks."
How about feeling frustrated when a man barks like a dog, because he refuses to live conceptually like a man?
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 5:44:30 mst
Jeff Montgomery wrote: "Then he raises the specter of "extreme" ideas, comparing Rand on one side to Marx on the other, and suggests we should huddle safely in the middle (somewhere between extreme wealth and mass murder?). Yawn. How many more times in my lifetime will I have to sit through the "extreme" idea warning? It's about time some Objectivist scholar dialed its coordinates into a philosophical cruise missile and took it out for good with a nice essay. That idea is just so pervasive and so pernicious."
Didn't Rand do that in "'Extremism' or the Art of Smearing"?
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 6:09:58 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
In Comment #7, "DavidR" ask mes: "How about feeling frustrated when a man barks like a dog, because he refuses to live conceptually like a man?"
No, I don't. Do you? If so, why do you feel *frustrated*?
In certain circumstances, I might feel disappointed because I realize, having better identified his nature, that I have little or nothing to gain from trading with him, at least in the areas of his life that evoke barking.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 7:22:08 mst
Mark Skousen is a despicable individual, based on what I saw of him some years ago. Of course, being a libertarian, he cannot be a supporter of Objectivism, and he has all of the faults that those aware of Objectivism but rejecting it have. What's worse is the way he likes to write about Ayn Rand without agreeing with or understanding her philosophy or even her point of view. On a personal level, he's a jerk. He was such a bad manager during his stint running the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), that he had to be thrown out. He writes an investment newsletter that has been promoted in a seriously misleading and unobjective way, promising investors much more than it can deliver, and which curiously failed to integrate much of his economic knowledge into its investment recommendations. As a manager of a softball team, he screamed at and demeaned people, and seemed to enjoy lording over stockbrokers who might hope to be recommended in his newsletter. I was told that when speaking with women, he tended to mostly stare at their chests, but cannot verify this as I was never around him in the presence of women. In summary, I'm not surprised that this detestable and unintegrated person would grasp to a rationalistic philosophy and religion, and then get angry at Ayn Rand for philosophically demanding that he integrate his words and actions, as a matter of morality. In other words, altruism and religion offer an out to Skousen, because in his mind, they can compensate for the problem of him being an a**hole on earth.
His son seemed like a nice guy, however, despite being a Mormon. People around my office kinda felt sorry for him for having such a jerk for a dad.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 9:04:10 mst
Name: Jim May
"Rand's plot violates a key tenet of business existence, which is to constantly work within the system to find ways to make money. Real-world entrepreneurs are compromisers and dealmakers, not true believers"
I don't have a copy handy, but I'm sure that one of the individuals on the doomed train buried in the collapse of the Taggart Tunnel, is a businessman who thought that he could "get along" and make money under any political system.
"Smith's self-interest never reaches the Randian selfishness that ignores the interest of others"
That's why nobody bothered to rescue Galt from the State Science Institute. After all, that certainly wouldn't be ignoring the interests of Galt.
Skousen is an intellectual lightweight, and his criticisms par for the course. We need to have a website up with the stock answers to these stock criticisms, so we can just link to it and save time when debating these fools. If I had time, I'd do it myself; I have had the idea percolating in my brain for a long while.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 11:57:50 mst
Name: Bill Perry
Burgess Laughlin asks me which of two reasons applies to my claim that Skousen is more dangerous than other critics of Rand because of his agreement with part of what she wrote. His second statement is closest to what I mean.
"- Is it because his audience might reject Objectivism, as a whole, based on his misrepresentations of the *other* tenets of Objectivism, the ones he disagrees with?" If a person might be sympathetic to objectivist arguments, but reads misrepresentations of them he might be deterred from reading further.
In addition Burgess says, "I would like to note also that if he is indeed a Mormon, then he rejects Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics." That is a bit of an overstatement. Skousen rejects them as a whole. However, he agrees with portions of each of them. For instance he is almost certainly an advocate of free will, rather than determinism. He would agree with portions of the epistemology that allow the evidence of the senses in most cases (except when overriden on rare occasions by his deity.) He would agree that productiveness is a virtue, while rejecting other aspects of the ethics. He agrees with much of the politics, since he is an advocate of capitalism. Indeed the politics is his closest area of agreement.
The beauty and strength of Objectivism is the integration of the different branches of the philosophy. Skousen rejects that because of his disagreement with various aspects. His approach encourages people to pick and choose among Rand's ideas in a haphazard manner in addition to deterring possible sympathizers.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 14:07:51 mst
Re Jim May's comment (11):
On businessman preferring to "play along with the system"--Skousen's point is that in real life, almost all businessmen would be like the man who was buried in the tunnel collapse, and that there would be very few strikers, and in that sense AS is unrealistic. Rand herself said that we hadn't reached the dystopian state pictured in the novel. The counter to this would be that in the society depicted in AS, more and more businessmen would come to the conclusion that they had nothing to gain, and much to lose by playing along with the system. It's quite possible that there would be more strikers than AS depicts--plus possibly some looters who felt it would be in their long term interests as parasites to ally with the strikers. (Did Rand deal with such a possibility in AS?)
Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 5:36:21 mst
Name: John Dailey
~ Jeff Montgomery's and Tom Rowlands 1st posts' 1st paragraphs sum up my view of Skousen's article. It's a far cry from Chambers'-cum-Buckley's noted ancient reviews.
~ Given Skousen's religious beliefs a-n-d past refs to AS, why be surprised that he has a prob with Rand's ethics, (nm implicitly her metaphysics and epistemology), ergo her politics? Some have personally neg views of Skousen-the-person; I don't see the relevence here.
~ Several have pointed out some flaws in Skousen's views on AS, but, such flaws are clearly expectably dependent on his established beliefs. It's no accident that this article was featured in TCSM. --- Ergo, I see no point in wasting time sending any 'rebuttal' to the editor.
~ What's interesting is that I think this article is now amongst many to come...now that word's out about some seriousness in making AS a bona-fide film...and it's probably the most 'respectful' we'll see.