This delightful gem of a comment was offered on my blog post, Asking for Rape?, presumably because I dared to criticize Leonard Peikoff’s view that a woman cannot withdraw consent for sex after penetration.

I feel sorry for these haters of mine, in a way. I was supposed to wither away into obscurity after they’d exposed my treacherous ways — particularly, my failure to properly respect every last one of Leonard Peikoff’s opinions. Surely, I couldn’t possibly succeed after that!


Instead, my influence has continued to spread, as evidenced by an over 50% increase in downloads and listens to Philosophy in Action Radio in 2013. I published my first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame too. That’s not a bad bit of work for the year after my intended demise!

So… go home, dogmatic Objectivists, you’re drunk!


Bob Levy, the Chairman of Cato’s Board, comes out in favor of background checks in the New York Times: A Libertarian Case for Expanding Gun Background Checks.

Extending background checks to unlicensed sellers shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Background checks are already required for purchases from federally licensed dealers, whether at stores or gun shows, over the Internet or by mail. Moreover, gun buyers would be exempt from background checks if they had a carry permit issued within the last five years.

That’s all the argument that he gives on that point, which shows a remarkable lack of concern for the well-grounded fears that background checks lead to registration, bans on sales, and then confiscation. On the other hand, we have this compelling argument:

Gun-rights advocates should use this interval to refine their priorities and support this measure, with a few modest changes. If they don’t, they will be opening themselves to accusations from President Obama and others that they are merely obstructionists, zealots who will not agree to common-sense gun legislation.


Granted, many Objectivist intellectuals have been lukewarm on gun rights, and they’ve said far worse. Still, I think that libertarians like Bob Levy know better — and that’s what makes this kind of aggressive compromise-peddling so worrisome to me. Based on my interview with John McCaskey on libertarianism’s moral shift, I have to think that we’ll see even more such calls for compromise in future.


On Monday, Dr. Peikoff released a podcast with the following question:

Do you distinguish official Objectivist doctrine from Ayn Rand’s personal views?

His answer was excellent: it’s a brief but clear explanation of the meaning and implications of the “closed system” view of Objectivism. That’s what I advocate, what I practice, and what I defended in my recent blog post. If you’re interested in these matters, I recommend listening to his answer. (It’s only 2 minutes, 31 seconds long.)

Here’s the transcription, courtesy of D Jason Fleming:

Philosophy is broad principles, about the nature of the universe, the means of knowledge, the nature of man, and then the value doctrines that all that leads to. All this is interconnected. In a proper philosophy, it’s one system, as in Objectivism.

Now that does not mean that every specific application of that philosophy is inherent in the philosophy. A philosopher can hold views that do not necessarily follow from the philosophy, but are its application to a realm where facts are established by science, or observation, or some other appropriate means.

Philosophy is wide abstractions. That does not entail specific choices or specific interpretations of how they apply to concretes. For instance, take my theory of history presented in the DIM book. I make a definite distinction between official Objectivst doctrine and Peikoff’s theory of history. Now, I believe that my theory is based on Objectivism, but it does not follow from Objectivism, it is not therefore Objectivism as such. It is my application and each person has to decide is this the correct application or not? It is not subjective, but it’s still not a question of what is the philosophy, but what is its applications? And in that regard, Ayn Rand and I and others can disagree without anybody contradicting the philosophy.

Remember also that there are personal options in applying broad philosophic principles. You can say that, for instance, “sex is good” is a philosophic principle, but that does not necessitate any special particular position or clothing, et cetera. It does specify that the general principles of morality apply, such as fraud, force, evasion, et cetera. But as apart from that, there are many different interpretations and complete options which would be personal, not official.

So: yes, but without that implying a contradiction or a subjective viewpoint.

Hear, hear!


Yesterday on Facebook, I was alerted to a new web site attacking me: The web site claims to be “in response to the danger that some, who may seem in agreement with the philosophy, are in fact subverting it.” It has pages on “The Brandens,” “David Kelley,” and “Libertarianism,” with a few perfunctory links. Then, under “Current Controversies,” you’ll find six pages on me, albeit with little of substance. The site claims:

We believe [Diana Hsieh] has revealed herself to not understand and/or to not agree with certain aspects of Objectivism. In addition, we have serious concerns about the nature, frequency, and tone of her public disagreements with Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

The purpose of the web site is clearly to attack me, and I was expecting that something like that might happen. As many of you know, a handful of people have been loudly condemning me on Facebook in recent weeks, demanding that our mutual friends un-friend me, and so on.

The site is not something that I can take too seriously. A handful of people — none of whom I know, except to barely recognize a few names — think poorly of me. Mostly, I regard the site as an embarrassment to Objectivism: it deserves to disappear into the ether.

For obvious reasons, the creators and supporters of this web site are not welcome in my life, including online. They are not entitled to post belligerent comments on my Facebook wall or in these NoodleFood comments, as happens periodically. They should have had the good sense to unsubscribe themselves from my OLists, rather than obliging me to remove them. Most of all, they’re not entitled to violate my rights, such as by reposting video segments from my webcast without my permission. (Happily, I was able to remove such a video with a DMCA takedown request.)

Here, I’d like to explain my views on some of the controversial topics, so that anyone confused by this brouhaha can know where I stand and judge me accordingly. If you have any further questions, please e-mail me privately.

For me, discussion between thoughtful and friendly Objectivists — not just on the proper application of our common philosophic principles, but on a wide range of practical topics — is a huge value. In such discussions, reasonable people will disagree from time to time, particularly on complex topics. Such disagreements can provide an excellent opportunity to question assumptions, consider new facts, understand opposing views, and more. That’s a value to me — and to many others too.

Such friendly discussion doesn’t happen automatically: it requires purposeful effort. The people involved in the discussion need to focus on the substantive issues. They need to strive to be rational and benevolent, including in their assumptions about and treatment of others. They need to give others the necessary time to think through the issues on their own. They need to consider the judgments of experts carefully, yet come to their own rational, independent conclusions. By such means, disagreements can be friendly, or at least civil, and even a passionate disagreement need not cause rifts among good people.

I learn lots through such discussions with my fellow Objectivists, and I hope that others do too. That’s part of the purpose of the various OLists, and I’m proud of the success of those lists.

If Objectivists don’t nourish and protect that kind of rational culture, then a self-destructive culture of suspicion, hostility, and dogmatism will take its place. Then, any disagreement — even if trivial, even if outside the scope of Objectivism — will become grounds for denouncing someone else as dishonest and attempting to ostracize them. Any connection with a condemned person will be grounds for your condemnation too. People will fear speaking their minds, and some will even forego thinking for themselves.

That kind of repressive culture actively undermines the virtues of rationality, justice, and independence. It’s not compatible with the fundamental principles of Objectivism, nor is it the kind of culture that can revitalize America.

To promote a rationally benevolent Objectivist culture does not mean eschewing moral judgment, nor that every Objectivist will join hands to sing kumbaya. A person may falsely describe himself as an Objectivist, meaning that he rejects core principles of the philosophy in word and deed. Such people, as well as the dishonest critics of Objectivism, should be judged and treated according to their merits (or lack thereof). Moreover, some Objectivists just might not wish to work together due to personal conflicts. That’s to be expected — and while sometimes unfortunate, that’s hardly unusual for intellectual movements.

As for me, I occasionally disagree with other Objectivists — including with scholars and intellectuals who I like and respect — on various topics. When their publicly-stated views are relevant to my projects or of sufficient interest to me, I might discuss my disagreement publicly. That’s been my longstanding policy. People familiar with my history know that I’ve spoken out on controversial topics before, and that I’ve sometimes taken heat for doing so. That’s nothing new for me.

Of course, I’m always interested in substantive arguments against my views. I’m happy to change my mind when I see that I’m wrong — or at least to accept that my opponents have a better case than I realized. However, I’ll never accept someone else’s say-so, nor hide my views because I think they might be unpopular. That’s just not the kind of person I am, nor the kind of person that I’d ever want to be.

As it happens, Dr. Peikoff has said some things in recent podcasts that I disagree with, sometimes very strongly. Twice, I’ve made my disagreement known — in my webcast discussions of compulsory juries (May 2011) and the transgendered (Oct 2011). (In the debate about the NYC Mosque, I blogged my view before Dr. Peikoff’s podcast on the topic, and I continued to disagree with him on that issue.) Given that Dr. Peikoff and I happen to share some similar interests in practical philosophy, such periodic disagreements are hardly surprising.

On the whole, I’ve tried to be careful in my tone and manner, as is evident from my writings on the NYC Mosque and John McCaskey’s Resignation. Alas, I didn’t take proper care in my discussion of compulsory juries. Unfortunately, some people wrongly interpreted my enthusiasm for the topic as enthusiasm for criticizing Dr. Peikoff. I didn’t intend any disrespect, and I regret that I could be interpreted that way. (I say more on this later.)

Because I expect to disagree with other Objectivists from time to time, particularly on applications of the philosophy, I don’t regard my occasional disagreements with Dr. Peikoff as of much significance. I almost always agree with him, so disagreements are a kind of interesting philosophical mystery that I like to unpack. Sometimes, after further reflection, I find that I was wrong, and that Dr. Peikoff is right. But that’s not always the case.

Of course, I regard Dr. Peikoff’s books and courses as a huge value: I’ve learned more from him over the past two decades than I can properly express. As I routinely tell people, anyone who wants to deeply understand Objectivism simply must read his books and listen to his major courses. Nonetheless, I’ve never thought myself duty-bound to agree with Dr. Peikoff, nor to be silent about any disagreements, due to that appreciation for his work. To remain silent would not be respectful: it would be either patronizing or cowardly.

Unfortunately, a few Objectivists seem to regard any disagreement with Dr. Peikoff as some kind of personal attack on him. That’s wrong. To criticize a person as wrong — even very seriously wrong — on some particular issue is not the same as condemning the person. Good people can be very seriously wrong sometimes. To personalize mere disagreements over ideas by interpreting them as personal attacks is unwarranted, as well as unfair. It’s also toxic to the Objectivist movement, as that approach erodes the much-needed culture of independent thinking and rational judgment.

Notably, my occasional disagreements with Dr. Peikoff and other Objectivists are not disagreements about the principles of Objectivism — like that humans have free will or that integrity is a virtue. At most, they concern the application of Objectivist principles to circumstances and questions not considered by Ayn Rand. As such, they’re outside the scope of Objectivism. They are the kinds of peripheral issues about which Objectivists sometimes disagree, and when they do, they should do so civilly, particularly if they wish to succeed in their own lives and change the culture.

Remember, Objectivism does not encompass all philosophic truth. It’s the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand, and it’s a closed system. Hence, even the best scholarly work done by Objectivists since Ayn Rand’s death cannot be regarded as part of Objectivism. As Leonard Peikoff himself explains in Fact and Value:

“Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand’s achievement. Anyone else’s interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote. In regard to the consistency of any such derivative work, each man must reach his own verdict, by weighing all the relevant evidence. The “official, authorized doctrine,” however, remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand’s books; it is not affected by any interpreters.

Objectivism doesn’t have a theory of induction or a theory of children’s rights. It doesn’t tell us who to vote for in 2012 or whether Agora was a good movie. Many Objectivists have views on these topics, and those views might be more or less consistent with Objectivist principles. However, there is simply no such thing as “the Objectivist position” on the NYC Mosque or “the Objectivist position” on gun rights or “the Objectivist theory of induction.” (People often loosely describe new philosophic works that are consistent with and based on Objectivism as “Objectivist,” and that’s fine. However, such works are not part of the “official, authorized doctrine” of Objectivism.)

To claim that my few disagreements with Dr. Peikoff on issues outside the scope of Objectivism prove that I don’t understand or don’t agree with Objectivism is just plain wrong. Although Dr. Peikoff understands Objectivism thoroughly, he’s not immune from error, particularly in the application of Objectivist principles to current events or new questions. Everyone must judge for himself the truth of Dr. Peikoff’s claims, as well as their consistency with Objectivism.

Personally, I take the closed system view of Objectivism very seriously, particularly because I thought long and hard about it some years ago. (See my essays Ayn Rand on David Kelley and The Open System, One More Time.) I’m an Objectivist because I agree with and practice the principles of Objectivism. I don’t claim to speak for Objectivism, nor do I regard my new philosophic work as part of Objectivism. (That’s part of the reason why my webcast is “Philosophy in Action,” not “Objectivism in Action.”) I regard my philosophic work as compatible with Objectivism. But it is my own work, and others can and ought to judge its compatibility for themselves. As always, I welcome substantive comments and criticisms, particularly from an Objectivist perspective.

As for some of the particular objections raised against me, I’d like to explain a few points that might not be apparent from a distance. (I’ve explained much of what follows to people who inquired with me, usually to their satisfaction. A person’s action and motives are often not what others suppose from afar. That’s why justice often requires inquiring with a person about the facts in a civil way before judgment.)

NYC Mosque

All of Paul’s and my blog posts are collected here, in reverse order: NYC Mosque.

This issue was hugely controversial among Objectivists. It is a complex and difficult subject, partly because the debate concerned what people ought to do given that our government refuses to do the right thing, namely protect us against terrorist threats from Islamists by declaring war against states that sponsor terrorism. With the proper course closed off, our only options were “bad” and “worse,” and Objectivists were arguing over which was which. (That’s similar to debates about the proper rules for government schools: since government schools ought not exist, plausible arguments can often be made both for and against some proposed rule.)

I stand by the concerns that Paul and I raised in our blog posts, but I understand — mostly thanks to Amy Peikoff’s posts — why others saw the matter differently. I was, and still am, disturbed by Dr. Peikoff’s manner in his podcast discussion, and I found much of his argument unpersuasive on its own.

Mostly though, I think that Objectivists ought to be able to disagree about this kind of topic in a friendly or at least civil way.

John McCaskey’s Resignation

Paul and I have already said all that we wish to say about this matter in these posts. We think that our concerns about Dr. Peikoff’s letter were warranted, and we think that the dispute between Dr. Peikoff and Dr. McCaskey could and should have been handled better by ARI.

Compulsory Juries

As I said earlier, I should have been more careful in how I expressed my disagreement with Dr. Peikoff in my webcast discussion of compulsory juries. As my regular webcast viewers know, I love wrangling with difficult issues, particularly when I think I can cut through them clearly. I was enthused about this particular topic, and I knew that my arguments on it were solid. I didn’t intend any disrespect to Dr. Peikoff: I was too focused on the substantive issues to even think about that. That was a mistake, of course, and I don’t intend to repeat it. (It’s easy to make such errors in speaking extemporaneously, as everyone who speaks extemporaneously knows.)

My views on the issue have not changed: I do not think that compulsory juries are compatible with individual rights, particularly given Ayn Rand’s clear rejection of the draft and compulsory taxation. Moreover, a compulsory jury is an attempt to force men to think, and that’s something that Ayn Rand knew to be impossible and dangerous. Also, I think that my summary of Dr. Peikoff’s stated views was fair. Mostly, I quoted him at some length. Although he was uncertain whether juries would be used in a free society, he clearly stated that they could be compulsory, if so.

Dr. Peikoff didn’t offer any substantive justification for his views in his two podcasts. After my webcast, Amy Peikoff attempted to defend his view in this blog post by appealing to tacit consent to a social contract. Her argument fails for the reasons given in this comment by NS. (When preparing for the webcast, I thought that Dr. Peikoff’s remarks perhaps suggested an appeal to social contract. However, I never would have attributed that view to him, not even provisionally, because I’ve long known that social contract theory is wholly incompatible with individual rights.) Also, for more on the errors of social contract theory, I’d strongly recommend reading Harry Binswanger’s April 29th, 2011 post to HBL. (That’s only available to subscribers of HBL, but it was sent to me as the “HBL Monthly Enticement” on May 30th, 2011.)

I’ve not yet seen any plausible defense of Dr. Peikoff’s views, and I hope that he reconsiders his position at some point.


I discussed the rights of the severely mentally disabled in a May 2011 webcast. My basic view is that normal children, as well as mentally impaired children, have all the usual rights to care from their parents. However, in the rare cases of complete mental incapacity — such as in the horrifically tragic cases of anencephalic babies, where only the brain stem exists — rights cannot apply. Rights are not inherent in our DNA; they’re based on the role of reason in man’s survival. Hence, if a child is proven in court to have zero current or future capacity to reason — or, as in the case of the anencephalic, not even the potential for consciousness — then that child could be humanely enthanized by its parents.

On hearing this view, any thinking person will immediately inquire about the logical implications of saying that anencephalic babies have no rights. Consider the extreme cases: Does that mean that they could be treated like any other animal, e.g. used for medical experiments, kept as a pet, or even eaten for food? (UGH!) The thought is repulsive, undoubtedly, but that’s not a reason to refuse to think about it. An honest person’s thinking is guided by facts, not emotions, and refusing to examine the logical implications of views under consideration is just evasion. (I was asked about this very issue in a discussion over dinner with some Objectivist friends prior to the webcast. It’s a natural question.)

In the webcast, I said that using such babies as a food source, even if legally permitted, would be morally horrifying. That feeling would be pretty near universal, however, so I couldn’t imagine that any kind of widespread problem with that would ever exist. That wasn’t a pleasant thing to say, but I didn’t want to evade the question.

Later, someone seemingly determined to misrepresent what I said in the webcast — as if I was all in favor of eating babies for breakfast — questioned me about my views. Part of that discussion showed up in these NoodleFood comments. I found the whole discussion pointless and irritating, but I was thinking through my views as I posted comments. Hence, some of what I said earlier in that thread is definitely wrong. My current view can be found in this comment. Basically, I can imagine a few far-fetched scenarios in which consuming human flesh would not be horrifyingly immoral, provided that no rights were violated in doing so. (I’m still uncertain about Case #3: I feel an overwhelming sense of revulsion at the thought of doing that, but I’m uncertain that every rational person would necessarily feel that way. When in doubt, I will not condemn.)

The whole topic is so ridiculously far-fetched that I just can’t see any point in further discussion of it. I’d be far more interested to hear a well-reasoned defense of some kind of legal protections for anencephalic babies, even if not rights. (That could have fascinating implications for laws pertaining to the treatment of animals.) Of course, any such attempt would have to be based on the Objectivist theory of rights, as opposed to the intrinsicist view. That intrisicist view says that rights are inherent in human nature, and it leads to granting rights to zygotes.

If anyone wants to assess my understanding of rights, I’d recommend reading my two published writings on the nature and basis of abortion rights, both co-authored with Ari Armstrong:

I’d also recommend reading my two graduate papers on the follies of animal rights:

The second paper discusses what rights humans without any capacity for rational thought might have, and the implications of that for claims about animal rights.

The Transgendered

I strongly disagree with Dr. Peikoff’s moral condemnation of the transgendered and their surgeons. In this December 13th, 2010 podcast, he claims that transgenders are engaged in “a war against reality.” He also says that the doctors who perform sexual reassignment surgery are “corrupt without qualification,” and he likens them to the doctors who performed experiments in Nazi concentration camps. In this June 20th, 2011 podcast, he claims that a person’s sex is immutable, that sexual reassignment surgery does not change it, and that such surgery destroys a person’s capacity for sexual enjoyment. In this January 2nd, 2012 podcast, he says that transsexualism is a “metaphysical assault on reality” and “a thorough corruption” that he would “never voluntarily associate with.” He thinks that gay groups should be opposed if they welcome transsexuals. (Note: This third podcast was posted after my webcast discussion.)

I briefly registered my strong disagreement in this webcast discussion: Restrooms for the Transgendered in Transition. I regard Dr. Peikoff’s views on this subject as terribly ill-informed and his moral condemnations as unjustified. I was particularly disappointed because his moral condemnation of transsexualism seems exactly like the moral arguments against homosexuality that used to be common in Objectivist circles.

Given that I know some transgendered Objectivists — and that OHomos @ welcomes transgenders — I didn’t want to remain silent about these repeated public condemnations of the transgendered, particularly not when I was answering a question on the transgendered in my webcast. Others have spoken up too, and I’m glad of that. People — particularly the transgendered — should know that Dr. Peikoff doesn’t necessarily speak for other Objectivists on this topic. Also, I wanted transgender Objectivists to feel welcome in the forums that I manage.

In the webcast, I said that Dr. Peikoff’s comments on this topic are “horribly ignorant” and “armchair philosophizing.” I stand by those remarks, strongly-worded as they are. Dr. Peikoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the basic claims about the psychology of transgenderism. He would likely disagree with those claims, but a fair judgment of the transgendered and their doctors requires some familiarity with them. His remarks are premised on other critical factual errors, as Trey Givens discusses in this blog post. Moreover, in light of the strength and vehemence of Dr. Peikoff’s repeated condemnations of the transgendered, I don’t think my language was out-of-proportion. Of course, my criticisms are limited to his comments on this particular topic, which I regard as a striking exception to the keen insight that I’ve enjoyed in Dr. Peikoff’s lecture courses, time and again.

Privacy Lies

For many years — probably more than a decade — I’ve been interested in the question of the morality of lies to protect one’s privacy. That’s part of my broader interest in the virtue of honesty — as evidenced by my two published papers on the topic: “Dursley Duplicity: The Morality and Psychology of Self-Deception” in Harry Potter and Philosophy and “False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth” in the Journal of Value Inquiry. Privacy lies are of particular interest because Objectivists often disagree about them, and I enjoy sorting through such moral tangles. However, there’s more to the story.

For many years, I knew that Nathaniel Branden condemned such lies in very clear terms in his “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course. (That course was originally given at NBI, and it was approved by Ayn Rand.) However, the version of that course available to the public (which I own) was actually re-recorded after his break with Ayn Rand. I worried that, particularly on this issue, Branden might have changed the content. Recently, I was able to get my hands on a rarity: the original lectures recorded at NBI. To my surprise, the discussion of privacy lies was exactly the same as in the publicly available versions. Moreover, Ayn Rand didn’t seem to change her view later in life: her remarks in the Q&A of Dr. Peikoff’s “Philosophy of Objectivism” course indicate that she still regarded lies for the sake of privacy as wrong in 1976.

However, Leonard Peikoff has claimed that lies for the sake of privacy are justified. He discusses the issue in Understanding Objectivism, and he has a line about it in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. When I asked him about the issue during an OCON Q&A, he wasn’t able to offer a suitable example of what he meant. (I don’t mention that to fault him, but rather only to indicate my longstanding interest in this topic, including my attempt to get a better understanding of Dr. Peikoff’s views.)

Personally, I’m fascinated by this apparent difference of opinion between Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff. I want to consider what each side has to say in depth, and I’d like to see if their views can be reconciled. Mostly though, I want dive into the substantive question, then develop a clear and cogent analysis of these kinds of lies from an Objectivist perspective.

My own view has long been that privacy lies are dangerous (like other kinds of lies) and unnecessary (provided that a person thinks ahead). Ultimately, if Dr. Peikoff disagrees with Ayn Rand on privacy lies, I won’t consider that any reason to cast doubt on his understanding of and committment to Objectivism. Given that the topic is so narrow, that would be silly and wrong for anyone to do that.

When I was playing the relevant segments of audio from the tapes of the “Basic Principles of Objectivism” to create MP3s on my computer, I posted a quick status update to Facebook on the topic. I said, “I’ve been doing some fascinating historical digging on Ayn Rand’s view of ‘privacy lies’ today. Her view, in contrast to that of Leonard Peikoff, was that such lies are wrong, and often downright vicious. And she’s right!” In the first comment, I said, “Hopefully I’ll have the time to put together a blog post on this topic sometime in the next week or two.” Later in that thread, I said more about my sources and my own views.

I thought that people might be curious about the issue, as I was. Naively, I never imagined that people would get upset about the matter. (Alas, I’ve learned that anything that can be taken out of context via unfavorable assumptions about my motives probably will be. Recently, I posted a simple quote from Ayn Rand on rights. Much to my amazement, some people interpreted that as “quoting Ayn Rand out of context as a weapon against Leonard Peikoff.”)

According to my critics, I’m culpable on this issue of privacy lies because I’ve not yet blogged about it. Of course, if anyone had asked me why, I would have given them a very simple answer: I’ve been very busy of late, and I have about 20 blog posts that I’d like to write at any given moment. I will blog about it — although I’m not sure exactly when — precisely because privacy lies have been such a longstanding topic of interest for me. In the meantime, anyone else can investigate the matter for themselves, as all the sources are public.

Objectivists ought to be able to discuss — and disagree on — the morality of privacy lies in way that respects each person’s independent judgment and context of knowledge. Ultimately, I suspect that a person cannot coherently advocate for the morality of privacy lies and uphold the virtue of honesty. However, that’s far from self-evident, and some might argue that privacy lies don’t aim to gain a value but only to keep it. Among Objectivists, any such claims will have to be argued carefully and chewed over thoroughly, as people think through a wide range of cases in light of the virtue of honesty and other relevant principles. Objectivists can foster that kind of discussion by scrupulously respecting each person’s independent judgment, rather than demanding deference to experts. I’d like to see that happen, and I hope that my future writings on this topic contributes to that.

* * *
Objectivists will disagree with each other on occasion: that’s inevitable. To be happy in our own lives, as well as promote rational ideas in the culture, we must keep those disagreements in perspective. We must take care to practice the virtues and respect them in others. By doing that, we can create a vibrant, healthy, and friendly community of Objectivists. That will attract others to our ideas, and enable us to be better advocates for Objectivist principles in the culture.

I’ll continue to promote that kind of Objectivist culture — and to fight for reason, egoism, and rights in America. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I’m eager to do even more in the years to come. Surely, I’ll err on occasion — but I’ll always strive to correct my errors and do better in the future. I appreciate substantive arguments against my views, but I’ll pass on the circular firing squad. I’ve got too many positive values to pursue and too much statism to fight for that kind of silliness.

Again, if you have any burning questions, please e-mail me privately.

Jun 142010

Much to my dismay, the movie of Atlas Shrugged has begun filming. Otherwise John Aglialoro would have lost his rights on Saturday.

The long-brewing feature version of author Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” has begun shooting in Los Angeles as a $5 million indie produced by John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow.

Cameras began rolling over the weekend on a five-week shoot for “Atlas Shrugged Part One” with Paul Johansson directing from Brian Patrick O’Toole’s script. Aglialoro would have lost the feature rights if the film wasn’t in production by Saturday.

A spokesman for Aglialoro — the CEO of exercise equipment producer Cybex — said there will be at least one more “Atlas Shrugged” shot after the current film’s completed. Rand’s massive novel is divided into three parts, each consisting of 10 chapters. …

Johansson (“One Tree Hill”) portrays Galt. The lead role of railroad executive Dagny Taggart has gone to Taylor Schilling (“Mercy) and the part of Henry Reardon is being played by Grant Bowler (“Ugly Betty”).

Michael Lerner (“A Serious Man”) portrays lobbyist Wesley Mouch and director Nick Cassavetes has signed on for the Richard McNamara role. Other key cast include Matthew Marsdan as James Taggart and Graham Beckel as Ellis Wyatt.

“Atlas” also stars Edi Gathegi, Jsu Garcia, Rebecca Wisocky, Ethan Cohn, Patrick Fischer, Neill Barry, Christina Pickles and Nikki Klecha.

From what I’ve read, the movie seems to be a low-budget, haphazard rush. That means that it’s sure to suck worse than I’d imagined. But perhaps, unlike a Hollywood blockbuster, they’ll stick closer to the novel. I’m not hopeful, and I fear the movie could do more harm than good in terms of spreading Ayn Rand’s ideas in the culture.

Some harm — potentially substantial — could come from the fact that John Aglialoro is a supporter of and associated with David Kelley and his pseudo-Objectivist Atlas Society. Just imagine David Kelley interviewed about Objectivism in the DVD extras, fumbling and stumbling through basic ideas in Objectivism, as in this interview, then advocating his frankenstein notion of “open Objectivism.” (See my two essays on that: Ayn Rand on David Kelley and The Open System, One More Time.)

Kelley’s IOS/TOC/TAS has been dying since its peak around 2003, when I cut ties. Lately, it’s been on life support, courtesy of a few remaining donors. However, the organization has done nothing of note for years, except employ people. In 2009, they didn’t have a summer conference because they were going to focus on upgrading their web presence. Guess what? They still have the same crappy web site!

I fear that IOS/TOC/TAS will rise from the grave with this movie. I suspect they’ve been desperately waiting for it as their last hope. That’s just pathetic: it’s clear that their core idea of “open Objectivism” has been an abject failure in practice, particularly compared to the flowering of new and innovative work under the supposedly dogmatic Ayn Rand Institute. Yet, true dogmatists that they are, they’re not willing to check their premises.

Ultimately, the fact that the movie seems likely to be a low-budget, haphazard mess might be the silver lining in the black cloud. In all likelihood, the fewer people that see it the better.

Apr 012010

A few weeks ago, I got the following anonymous question on FormSpring:

When you decided to jump ship, for the sake of your career, from a reality-oriented to a Leonard Peikoff-oriented flavor of Objectivism, did you use the wet finger in the air method, or the toss a candy wrapper method?

I had loads of fun writing my reply:

Actually, Paul and I used the time-honored method of paper-sissor-rock. However, we rigged the game. Seriously, who wouldn’t take that offer for a 10-million-dollar-a-year position at Oxford if only I’d switch sides? Leonard offered it to me in a secret meeting in the Alps. He’s very tight with that department, as you must know. It was very hush-hush!

Of course, everything that I wrote about the issues and people was complete bullshit. In fact: David Kelley is a paragon of objectivity, deeply wronged. Ed Hudgins is pure genuis. Nathaniel Branden is nothing but honest. Barbara Branden is fairness and sweetness personified. Chris Sciabarra is honorable to the core. In addition, Objectivism has no fixed nature; it’s whatever the community says. Advocates of anarchism, welfare programs, environmental regulations, drug laws, and even pedophilia are stellar allies in the struggle for liberty. And Marxist professors… bless their hearts. They mean well, and that’s good enough for me.

So sure, I made up everything. But I had to cover my tracks! It’s really too bad that you’ve exposed me. I’d better unpack my bags for England. I’ll have to sell the Lexus too, as I’m sure the Leonard will want his “signing bonus” money back. Damn.

You’re totally right to ignore everything that I wrote on these topics. I didn’t mean any of it. Seriously, why bother even considering arguments, when you know my true reasons?!? Facts, schmacts! You’ve seen into my greedy little soul!

Need I say it? Oh sure… NOT.

Whoever you are, you’re so pathetic that you’re actually funny. Thanks for the laugh

(Thanks to Jimmy Wales for suggesting that I post it on April Fool’s Day.)

Mar 302010

Robert Mayhew, the editor of Ayn Rand Answers, asked me to publish the following essay. I am more than pleased to do so.

On Ayn Rand Answers
by Robert Mayhew

In the early 2000s, I edited and prepared for publication a selection of Ayn Rand’s answers to questions, mostly from question periods following a number of her lectures. The result was Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A (Penguin-New American Library, 2005).

In her “Essay on Sources”, in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford University Press, 2009), Jennifer Burns writes that Ayn Rand Answers is among those works that “are derived from archival materials but have been significantly rewritten”; and like Journals of Ayn Rand, she says, “they should not be accepted at face value” (pp. 292-93). She does not explain or illustrate what she means by “significantly rewritten”.

Burns was not the first to comment negatively on Ayn Rand Answers. For instance, on June 23, 2008, Roger Bissell posted on the forum “Objectivist Living” a side-by-side comparison of what purported to be a transcript of one of Rand’s Q&A and the rendering of it in Ayn Rand Answers. The differences were glaring. The problem, however, was that what he presented as a transcription of the original material was nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, his ineptness enabled him (in his own mind) to score a big hit against me and my scholarship. Not willing to let incompetent dogs lie, over a year later (Sept. 21, 2009) Dr. Robert Campbell (Professor of Psychology, Clemson University) decided to repost this inaccurate comparison on another forum (“SOLO Passion”).

Campbell saw no need to check the source himself–until Tore Boeckmann pointed out the gaffe. So prompted, Campbell listened to the relevant tape, and a week later (Sept. 28, 2009) perfunctorily apologized for not double-checking. One would have thought that Campbell had learned a valuable lesson–a lesson useful to scholars–namely, always to check one’s sources oneself. But that was not what he picked up from this experience, as we shall see. Rather, what he discovered in the first-hand checking that he did undertake was that I had edited some Q&As, and omitted others. Of course, he could have gleaned that from the cover of the book–from “edited by Robert Mayhew” and “The Best of Her Q&A”–or from the preface; but to him, this was a revelation.

So, armed with a sense of righteousness (and an indifference to copyright law), Campbell made it his mission to demonstrate on “Objectivist Living” the extent of my sins (see here). I spent an unpleasant couple of hours the other day reading his ‘work’, and the sycophantic and malevolent comments that followed most of his ‘revelations’. I won’t be returning.

Now it is worth pausing at this point to ask something that Campbell (and other critics) never stopped to ask: Why would Leonard Peikoff have approved of my editing such a collection? What was his aim? Surely this is necessary for an objective evaluation of Ayn Rand Answers.

When I asked Dr. Peikoff what Ayn Rand’s wishes were regarding this and other unpublished material, he answered that she had told him to do whatever he wanted with it–whatever he thought was best. And he thought it best to make this material available to the broadest audience possible: to those who read Rand’s novels and non-fiction, and would be interested in the additional information that such a collection contained, namely, her views on a wide variety of issues, many not discussed elsewhere. On a related point, Penguin Books would not have published and widely distributed a complete, unedited transcript of the Q&A (nor would any other non-academic publisher). Moreover, such a transcript would not be terribly accessible or as appealing to the general reader–to a typical fan of her novels. And since the book was aimed at such a reader, Dr. Peikoff also wanted to limit its contents to those Q&A that he knew to be consistent with her explicit philosophy, and in some cases to have them edited accordingly. I made this clear in my preface; I did not hide the fact that such editing was done. And of course, I knew that the transcripts and recordings were available at the Ayn Rand Archives (and that many of the recordings would become available online). I’ll add, finally, for what it’s worth, that Rand herself (in her 1969 non-fiction writing course) said of her answers to questions: “Sometimes, I may give an answer that’s almost publishable–but not quite. It might be good for a first draft, but it would still need editing.”

Campbell ignores any such considerations, and simply assumes that what the Estate should have done (if anything) was publish a complete and unedited transcript of the Q&A. This is clear from the level of editing that he regards as objectionable. The following is Campbell’s transcription of one answer, followed by the edited version in Ayn Rand Answers. I’ve placed in bold the differences between the two. They are minor.

“I think Mr. Kissinger is the most disgraceful and disastrous Secretary of State [applause] that we’ve ever had [more applause]. Mainly because of his philosophical views, if you know that he is an admirer and a follower of Metternich, which was the worst of the European approach to foreign policy and to power.”

“I think Mr. Kissinger is one of the most disgraceful and disastrous secretaries of state that we’ve ever had–mainly because of his philosophical views. He is an admirer and follower of Metternich, who represents the worst of the European approach to foreign policy and to power.”

Campbell comments: “Why Dr. Mayhew toned this judgment down is known only to him.” Actually, it is not known only to me (see below). In any case, Campbell clearly objects to anything beyond mere transcription. If he were more scholarly, he could have attempted to level an objection–with civility and arguments–to the very idea of editing this material, and make clear what he thinks should have been done with it. But he does not. Instead, he proceeds as if I were presenting a transcript–one that I have surreptitiously and grotesquely warped.

That a mere transcription of all the Q&A would not get a wide distribution or have a popular appeal, and that such material is already available to scholars at the Ayn Rand Archives, does not occur to Campbell. Instead, he discerns the motives for my editing in what he sees as my personal defects. He assumes that I dishonestly and presumptuously tried to pass off as Rand’s my own thoughts and words, and that I omitted–without explanation, and owing to evasion (“blank out”, he says)–any material that I decided was embarrassing. In his view, I undertook this editing to hide or sanitize what Ayn Rand really said. As I am affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute (Campbell calls me an ARIan, thus comparing me to a Nazi), my sole or primary concern is rewriting history to construct a barrier between the world and the flawed reality that is Ayn Rand. That I’m trying to do so despite the fact that much of this material is available (and all of it exists in the Archives), just shows (I guess) that I’m stupid as well. But I’ve met my match in Campbell: again and again (as he tells it) he catches me trying to pull a fast one.

Campbell and many others (e.g., see George Reisman’s Amazon ‘review’) see no difference between Ayn Rand’s Estate hiring a person to edit her unpublished extemporaneous remarks, after her death, and someone changing the wording of Rand’s published works without her permission while she was alive. Of all the context dropping committed by these people, this may be the worst. Ayn Rand was not alive to edit this material (with a few exceptions–more on those shortly). I regarded the aims of the Estate as laudable, and so I undertook to prepare this material for publication in the way described, under the guidance of Leonard Peikoff (the person alive most qualified to oversee such a project).

Now I mentioned before that Campbell did not learn from his experiences always to investigate sources himself. This failure is especially clear in a few cases (most notably the long Q&As on Solzhenitsyn and on the mini-series Roots) in which he seemed to detect radical additions and departures without parallels in the original recordings. Campbell could have done a more thorough check, looked into the possibility that there was some other source, or sent me an e-mail asking what was going on. (I would not respond to such an e-mail now.) Not Campbell. He accepts one of the policies he falsely attributes to his enemies (the ARIans), at least in the case of his enemies, namely, that wherever there is (what he takes to be) error, the motive must be dishonesty or some other flaw (like arrogance or slavish devotion to A.R.I.). As he explains these revisions, I simply took it upon myself to speak for Ayn Rand–to invent whole sentences and give her the words she was unable to find herself. He could conceive of no other possibility.

In fact, in these few cases I made use of The Objectivist Calendar (twenty issues, June 1976 to June 1979), in which Rand occasionally published (with her own edits, cuts, and additions) some of her Q&A. (Incidentally, the revised version of the above Kissinger-answer comes verbatim from this source.) In retrospect, I should have mentioned this in the preface or in a note. But as Ayn Rand Answers is a publication aimed at the general reader, and not a transcript for historians and other scholars (nor for the many pseudo-scholars who inhabit the Objectivish internet underworld), I regard this as a minor error–surely it pales in comparison to what passes for scholarship in the mind of Robert Campbell. And I can’t help but wonder whether these Q&A were the ones Dr. Burns (who spent years at the Ayn Rand Archives) was referring to when she declared that this material was “significantly rewritten”.

Dr. Campbell is scheduled to give a lecture at the Atlas Society‘s 2010 summer conference. Its title is “Who’s Answering: Ayn Rand or Robert Mayhew?” This speaks volumes about his seriousness as a scholar–and about the stature of the Atlas Society.


The Cato Institute recently hosted a book forum with the authors of the two new Rand biographies, Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller, and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns. Cato’s David Boaz ran the forum, setting the context, introducing the authors, and running the Q&A.

I am interested in the two books, so I wanted to hear the authors as they presented some of their thoughts and showed their mettle in the back-and-forth. The bottom line? Burns seems honest in her scholarship and sincere in her engagement. She said a lot of interesting things, and I want to hear more from her despite some weaknesses due to a lack of grounding in Rand’s system of thought. Heller didn’t come across nearly as well, which left me much less interested in her work. And then there’s Boaz.

Boaz began by speaking of the enduring influence of Rand, especially on libertarians and conservatives, and about the recent surge in interest in her and her work. He agreed with a Liberty magazine review of Heller’s book, saying that “There can be no question about the fact that Rand remains America’s most influential libertarian, with the possible exception of Milton Friedman, and America’s most influential novelist of ideas.” Extending this, Boaz characterized Atlas Shrugged as a libertarian book, and Rand as a libertarian who has done more than anybody in our time to introduce people to libertarian ideas.

What got my attention was Boaz’s treatment of the elephant in the room: he chuckled that many listening may wince at his talking that way, that indeed Rand would have disagreed with being classified as a libertarian (this would be an understatement) and that “many of her fans maintain that point even now.” He dismissed all of this, saying in effect that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. You see, “anybody who believes in individual rights, free enterprise, and strictly limited government is a libertarian. And Ayn Rand certainly did.” QED. Yet, he informs us, somehow this impeccable logic is lost on the “high priests” of Rand’s estate, who refused to let any of her material appear in his book, The Libertarian Reader.

As an Objectivist, I see a different puzzle here: Many people, libertarians in particular, clearly admire and profit from Rand’s ability to analyze and integrate, to identify widespread and longstanding false alternatives and package deals time and again, and to then offer something better. So I find it odd that when they see Rand apparently ignoring the incredibly straightforward point that she fits their definition, that they don’t pause to consider whether there might be some more basic reason for her balking so.

And of course there is. Here’s a hint: it’s an epistemology thing.

Concepts are important. They are how we organize our knowledge of the world so we can act in service to our lives. Good concepts are immensely helpful (see the basic ideas that ushered in the fruits of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution), and bad ones can really hurt us. What if, for example, your moral system left you seeing the bully and the victim who fights back as morally indistinguishable? As we’ve seen with pacifism, the result of such thinking is unjust and destructive to all concerned, both personally and socially: victims are morally if not legally discouraged from defending themselves, predators are only emboldened, and this view naturally translates to unjust and destructive cultural sentiments, laws, and policies like those against simply “violence”. So it makes all the difference to distinguish sharply between aggressive and defensive use of force because these are in fact morally opposite things with existentially opposite effects on human lives. Examples abound, but the general point to appreciate is that Objectivists are methodologically careful about this sort of thing because they grasp that accepting any concept which treats essentially identical things as opposites, or opposite things as essentially identical, ultimately means inviting difficulty if not disaster in our efforts to successfully navigate reality.

Now consider the libertarian way of thinking about political classification. Rejecting the generally useless left-right spectrum, they offer a two-dimensional approach based on degrees of personal and economic freedom which is often shared via their educational and recruiting tool, the Nolan Chart. In this view, libertarianism is neither left nor right, and it stands fundamentally opposed to totalitarianism. This sets up the natural axis of size or extent of government as their key normative criterion, which is pretty easy to pick out in their policies and rhetoric and reactions to world events. This is also why libertarians have always had influential anarchists in their ranks: even those who might be wary of the “extreme” of anarchism have no principled objection to it because, in their own basic way of thinking, anarchism is the natural full opposite of the evil of totalitarianism — indeed, they have framed it as the pinnacle of libertarianism.

We can now appreciate what Rand was signaling with her outrage at being grouped or associated in any way with anarchists in particular and libertarians in general: she was refusing the mental, personal, and social chaos that flows from a fundamentally flawed way of seeing things. Rand understood that the essential concept in politics is individual rights, and so she identified totalitarianism and anarchism as indistinguishable in what’s important: their complete lack of an objective recognition and systematic protection of man’s rights. In contrast, as noted above, the libertarian way of thinking mis-classifies totalitarianism and anarchism as moral opposites by focusing on the inessential characteristic of size. If the purpose of politics is to sort out and enact the conditions required for people to successfully live among one another, this kind of confusion is about as disastrous as it gets — even while self-consciously seeking the good, the conceptual lens of libertarianism will drive you to its opposite.

And conversely, the libertarian framework fails to capture crucial differences. Consider a powerful government that performs all and only its proper functions in the defense of man’s rights, and one that happens to have all the same laws and institutions but also has, say, conscription on the books just in case war breaks out. These two governments are all but indistinguishable (and neither is smiled on) in the libertarians’ basic classification scheme based on size. But Objectivists see these two as moral opposites because one is committed to the essential task of the defense of man’s rights and the other is not. Even though not currently violating any rights, the government with conscription laws clearly rejects the key principle of the field. It has no principled defense against the slippery slope to serfdom we’ve seen play out in history all too many times.

The politics of liberty that Objectivism advocates really does depend on a particular philosophical foundation. The Libertarian movement might be in a better position to understand this if they weren’t so eager to set aside the fact that fundamental ideas are critically important.

While scholarly leaders like Boaz should surely know better, there are plenty of people who innocently adopt the libertarian way of thinking about government because it seems to line up reasonably well with fundamental American values like strictly limited government, respect for rights, and capitalism. (Indeed, I was just such a person.) But even innocent use doesn’t mitigate the very real problems and dangers discussed above. So Objectivists will continue to pointedly reject the libertarian label and its conceptual basis in the interests of moving our culture toward one that genuinely values liberty.

Atlas Shrugged Movie Update

 Posted by on 24 July 2009 at 1:01 pm  False Friends of Objectivism, Film
Jul 242009

Here’s another report and then another report on the attempts to produce a film version of Atlas Shrugged. Basically, Charlize Theron was reported as interested for a few days, but now she’s reported as not interested.

The good news is that the “option with the Rand estate expires if principal photography does not begin in 2010.” Given the involvement of the producers with David Kelley’s thoroughly dishonest and incompetent group, currently known as The Atlas Society, I very much hope that option expires.


Paul and I just finished four lovely days of hiking in Acadia, Maine. (I’ll blog some about that later today, if I can.) We’ve had not-so-great internet access, however, so I’m a bit behind on some internet-dependent tasks, including blogging. However, tomorrow I’ll start a daily (but short) blog post on OCON.

However, I want to mention that Dr. Tom Stevens — of the so-called Objectivist Party has written the most absurdly offensive blog post possible: Farrah Fawcett’s E-Mail Reveals Ayn Rand Thought Their Sharing The Same Birth Date Had Significance. I won’t pain you by quoting the pompous blog post, but basically he accuses Ayn Rand of relying faith, superstition, and mysticism because she apparently made an offhand remark to Farrah Fawcett about them sharing a birthday.


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