Here are my responses to Robert Bidinotto’s recent post “Am I still an Objectivist?” Link to his article here:
BIDINOTTO: “…if you want to argue with my ideas, try arguing with mine…”
Indeed I do want to argue with your ideas.
BIDINOTTO: “In practice, that meant he was a professional yes-man, required to perfectly reflect and champion her ideas — not his own.”
I agree that Branden faked his agreement with Rand. But Bidinotto is going too far in assuming that two people can never have essential agreement philosophically, and agreement on the method of how to spread a philosophy. Otherwise he’d simply condemn Branden for being a faker/yes-man and not imply that everyone must be a faker if they are in the role that Branden was in vis-a-vis Rand.
BIDINOTTO: “Yet the nature and structure of an organization aiming to perfectly embody somebody’s entire philosophy — to the letter and without deviation — mandates and encourages dogmatism. “
He is assuming that one cannot accurately impart one person’s ideas/values/standards, say in one’s professional capacity, and then when not on the job pick and choose which aspects (if any) one disagrees with. I imagine at Talesin West there are architects who know the master’s work and methodology well and who teach to others, yet they may not care to follow the master’s standards/virtues/values themselves when doing architecture. Again, there is a legitimate issue that many of the Peikoff haters don’t seem to understand or acknowledge: There has long been an army of Rand haters out there salivating at the idea of re-defining Rand to the public. This is one of the big reason’s that it’s important to first say what the “master” (Rand/Wright) taught, practiced, endorsed, believed very clearly — and then go on to deviate if one so desires making it clear that one is deviating. “To the ovens go” was just the first salvo of the onslaught coming after Rand to re-write her. It was not enough for the statists to keep her out of the Universities. They had to trash the woman personally, and her philosophy to the average American who voted her book second in popularity in the Library of Congress’ poll of most influential books on Americans.
BIDINOTTO: “[PEIKOFF] then created an organization, the Ayn Rand Institute, which essentially mirrored the disastrous approach of NBI.”
I agree with him that both NBI and ARI are failed institutions. However, I don’t think he’s right that they failed for the same reason.
I do however wish Peikoff had given the public some kind of warning label to inoculate them a bit against frauds, charlatans, rock-stars, and demigods. A statement something like this in regard to ARI:
PEIKOFF: “The original founders of the ARI — myself especially — were the closest people to Rand. She taught us her philosophy directly, some of us even helped her to create aspects of her philosophy by questioning her. So, not without reason, we think we are the living authorities on Rand’s philosophy and we want to try to capture and codify it as best we can for posterity and future generations — especially any aspects that she did not write down or codify herself. With that said, one of Rand’s cardinal virtues was independence and each of you must judge for yourself if what I, or any other person associated with ARI, say, write or do is in accord with Rand’s philosophy. You are the final arbiter.”
BIDINOTTO: “Ayn Rand had developed her personal philosophical system and slapped a label on it, one in which she also declared a proprietary interest: “Objectivism.”
With the use of the word “slapped” he is implicitly attacking labeling or concepts. We have to label or categorize and name things else we have no way to cope with the myriad of entities reality confronts us with.
BIDINOTTO: This put her admirers in a moral quandary. Were only those who agreed with Rand’s every significant utterance “Objectivists”? Or could one call himself an “Objectivist” if he agreed with most of her philosophical essentials, but disagreed with her on this or that specific application or inference? And if the latter, where, exactly, did one draw the lines?”
I don’t see any difficulty in the issue of exactly how much agreement with Objectivism constitutes sufficient agreement to call oneself an Objectivist. Like with all concepts it depends on the foil and even those who disagree with some important aspects of Objectivism might fall into the category of Objectivist if the foil is an Islamic terrorist.
BIDINOTTO: “The determination of what is and isn’t “essential” is completely arbitrary and subjective, ranging from the utterly dogmatic (“Objectivism is everything and only what Rand wrote and said of a philosophical nature”) to the utterly relativistic (e.g., notions by various self-proclaimed “Objectivists” who equate that term with moral and political views Rand herself loathed and denounced).”
Not philosophically it isn’t arbitrary and subjective — some people use a method that is arbitrary and subjective but he’s implying that no one can be objective in classifying what is and is not essential to Objectivism (or for that matter any philosophy by extension). Rand did a decent job with her “Reality, Reason, Rational Self-interest, Rights and Romanticism” (paraphrasing from memory).
Here’s my own summary of Plato: “Two Realities, Remembrance (of one’s previous life when one knew the world of forms), Obedience to the Philosopher Kings in all ethical, political and artistic matters.
BIDINOTTO: “I saw that the basic error of Rand — as an advocate of independent judgment and individualism — had been to ascribe a label to her personal philosophy…”
He is implying that his model of philosophy in general is that no philosophy can ever be universal i.e., make universal moral statements or give universal moral prescriptions that apply to all of the people who subscribe to that philosophy’s ultimate end.
I profoundly disagree but it’s not limited to Rand’s philosophy. If a Platonist, say, is out to achieve the Platonic ultimate end of sacrificing his life and happiness to the collective/state, then there are indeed many universal things that Plato has advised that such a person would be able adopt. He would still have to customize Plato’s general advice but that’s always true for all philosophical moral advice since one is in a specific context yet philosophical and moral prescriptions are stated in general terms.
The same is true for Rand: Any person who subscribes to the legitimate interpretation of Rand’s philosophy counseling the ultimate end being SURVIVAL (a pulse) can use her moral advice to guide himself to survival (achieved rationally and independently). And similarly, any person who subscribes to the legitimate interpretation of Rand’s philosophy counseling happiness as one’s ultimate end can use Rand’s general advice (customized to one’s context) to try to guide himself to happiness.
BIDINOTTO: “Yet this put sincere admirers in an impossible position: either slavishly nod and parrot Rand’s every utterance, or abandon the label “Objectivist.”
Again, I don’t see any such problem. There are many ways to judge how much precision is needed when identifying one’s philosophy to other people. One can simply say “Libertarian” or “Free Market” in a general way to distinguish one’s views from Communists, Socialists, Fascists, etc. Similarly one can say “Aristotelian” or “Randian” or Objectivist without implying that one agrees with everything that either Rand or Aristotle wrote. How many people would align themselves with Aristotle who don’t believe in his “Immovable Mover”/God? A goodly number. And there are a goodly number who would align themselves with Rand even though they disagree with some aspect/s of her philosophy.
BIDINOTTO: “Will the “winners” of the rhetorical battles swell their chests with pride that they — and only they — are the “true Objectivists”? Will that have the slightest substantive impact upon the course of their lives, let alone upon the course of the world outside their skulls?
This is a non-sequitur aimed at those who want to try to work out what objectively are the tenets of Rand’s philosophy which comprise it’s core or essence. He asserts, with no evidence offered, that if one spends time on this purpose then one is doomed to have no social impact.
BIDINOTTO: “the label [OBJECTIVIST] has become a way for ideological enemies to employ “guilt by association” smears,
This is true for all philosophies! If one calls oneself an Aristotelian then another person could legitimately believe that one agrees with Aristotle’s bizarre view of one form of causation leading to a rock having a purpose to get to the bottom of a hill when it slides down the hill. Bidinotto acts like it’s better to not say one is basically an Aristotelian — with some disagreements on inanimate matter having purposes and on the universe being created by a lazy god who started the world off and who then bowed out of the picture (Immovable Mover).
Going further, the Catholic Church uses Aristotle in several of it’s arguments to try to prove the existence of “God.” So, should we be shy about saying that we are Aristotelian — or about stating that we agree with a lot of his philosophy — for fear of becoming embroiled in “guilt by association” with the crimes of the Catholic Church’s history of terror and cruelty via the likes of Torquemada’s Inquisition? I think not.