This post is a reply to Mr Cropper’s YouTube video “Objectivist Pnyx Is Hereby Assembled” in which he in part called me out to substantiate one of my earlier comments. On his vid “Mr. Cropper, Objectivist Driver” I had reasserted he needed to read the last section in Burgess Laughlin’s The Aristotle Adventure for a better understanding of how philosophical ideas are effectively transmitted over time. In effect, he requested that I provide specifics to substantiate my point.
As context for this exchange, in my opinion, Mr Cropper had been making erroneous derogatory comments about how unnamed Ayn Rand Institute [ARI] intellectuals did their job promoting Ayn Rand’s ideas. I heard his statements as parroting talking points from those who would destroy Objectivism by redefining it as an open philosophic system and not limited to Ayn Rand’s philosophic work. He hypothesized that ARI intellectuals had been corrupted by their interactions in the Ivory Tower and were now saying things in an effort to please their Leftist colleagues. Finally, he asserted that if ARI intellectuals couldn’t get their act together that he would take over leadership of Objectivism. Meanwhile, I did reply with vulgar humorous male banter equivalent to “I’m gonna kick your ass” to warn him that he was stepping into dangerous territory.
In his later vid, which included his request for my reply, Mr Cropper did provide a correct high-level summary about the travels of Aristotle’s ideas over thousands of years. However, my point is more particularly about the first few generations after Aristotle’s death and before Aristotle’s ideas had become more widely accepted. Laughlin covered the details of this historical period [322-43 BC] in the second part of his book; below as an extra point, I provide an outline of that section excerpted from the book’s table of contents. Despite effectively leveraging technology to scale, Objectivism is still in a roughly equivalent post-Theophrastus period beginning 285 BC. For the purpose of answering Mr Cropper’s question, I will focus on Laughlin’s final chapter, “Lessons From the Past” and relate it to the work of ARI.
First let us be clear about ARI’s purpose which is to spread the work and ideas of Ayn Rand, Objectivism. Its purpose is not to pass legislation nor win elections. Nor is it to win the individual battles of the culture war. ARI staying true to its “Hedgehog Concept” can be a catalyst to advocates of reason achieving personal happiness, winning the culture war, and limiting government to its correct scope. Meanwhile, others outside of ARI empowered by Rand’s ideas will be engaged in the deciding cultural and political conflicts. Why does ARI talk about political and cultural issues? Those are hooks to engage an expanding audience for the ideas of Rand by demonstrating how to think about contemporarily relevant issues in the context of Rand’s philosophic work. Overtime, many people associated with ARI have engaged in non-ARI activities to apply their knowledge of Rand’s ideas to contemporary problems; for example, Alex Epstein and Don Watkins now with the Center for Industrial Progress.
A major lesson learned expressed by Laughlin was the need to publish standardized versions of the philosophic work as a failure to do so with Aristotle was a liability. ARI has worked to facilitate continuous publication of Rand’s philosophic work, including issuing previously unpublished work, making her work available through ever-changing technology and distribution outlets, and translating her work into multiple languages. Further, they maintain an Archive to retain and make available artifacts relevant to her philosophic work for study.
Some critics of Ayn Rand say that she failed to organize her work into an integrated philosophic system, but neither did Aristotle so such integration work fell upon others to complete as a necessary means “for later readers to grasp as a fully integrated whole.” While the most important of that work was completed by Leonard Peikoff in OPAR , ARI funds scholars who advance such work to organize and present Rand’s ideas. ARI’s effort in this area, especially using scholars who were personally familiar with Rand and had the opportunity to discuss these ideas with her, is a major advance applying lessons learned from failures related to Aristotle’s intellectual heirs.
Unlike Aristotle’s successors, the existence of ARI not only advances the careers of scholars working on Rand’s ideas but protects them from threats. There is a commonly repeated story about how John Ridpath was opposed for tenure on the claim that he did not publish enough; his career was saved by support from F.A. Hayek. ARI has supported avenues to ensure that Objectivist scholars have access to being published. Further, their network of academics helps to create opportunities for them to spread Rand’s ideas through associations and public events. Frankly, it is amazing how Objectivists scholars have gone from being targeted for career elimination by Marxist profs to now being sought out for their advocacy of Rand’s ideas. In contrast, Theophrastus [Aristotle’s successor] had to flee Athens where his school was attacked as “a nest of traitors.”
Laughlin identified six activities performed by those who preserved and advanced Aristotle’s ideas: reading, copying, teaching, translating, writing, and valuing. Two of ARI’s most successful programs are the annual essay contests and books for teachers, which expands the number of students reading Rand’s ideas every year. Like the ancient copyists of Aristotle’s work, ARI manages the efforts of volunteer transcriptionists to recording in text live material such as interviews, speeches, lectures, and Q&A that were previously only available via audio or video. In interviews, speeches, lectures, and courses around the world and on-line [including YouTube], ARI intellectuals teach Ayn Rand’s ideas to the public and respond directly to those with questions about her work. Additionally, through the Objectivist Academic Center, ARI trains intellectuals to apply Ayn Rand’s ideas to their scholarship and advocacy. Yaron Brook has been very vocal about the success ARI has had getting Ayn Rand’s ideas translated into new languages. While there have been a number of written works and in other media recently about Ayn Rand’s life and ideas, it is those that have been associated with ARI via funding, affiliation, archive material sourcing, or partnership that have provided the most robust, detailed, and accurate representation of Rand’s ideas [for example: see the participation of ARI in C-SPAN’s American Writers feature on Ayn Rand]. Throughout its educational efforts, including Ayn Rand Campus, ARI emphasizes the fundamentally personal and individualized value of Ayn Rand’s ideas as a toolkit for a person to independently build a happy life for their self.
Beyond those points articulated by Laughlin, I would point out that ARI has for decades been building up a community around the world based on shared values founded in Ayn Rand’s ideas. Does that mean we agree about everything? Nope, but such a community has resulted in professional partnerships, networking, friendships, and marriages. In a world full of bad ideas, it is refreshing to be able to enjoy some sanctuary with others knowledgeable about Ayn Rand’s ideas in a campus club, community meetup, ARI event, or the ARI’s annual Objectivist Conference OCON.
BUT…now Mr Cropper says that he will drive the Objectivist bus instead of ARI. Given all the important work that ARI has been doing to promote Ayn Rand’s philosophic ideas, aka Objectivism, why does he think that it is necessary? Based upon comments that he has made repeatedly across many videos decrying those he calls “Obleftivists,” I have identified four main issues of dispute by Mr Cropper and they are all narrow concrete points within politics:
- Immigration: Cropper disagrees with ARI intellectuals focusing on a proper immigration policy for the US, which to Cropper sounds too much like the Democrats, instead of getting on board with the Republicans for a narrow reform of immigration laws that emphasizes a different method restricting immigration.
- China: Cropper thinks that ARI, particularly Yaron Brook, has been acting as apologists for China [sounding like Democrats] while Cropper seems to be more interested in a Cold War style containment policy towards China.
- President Trump: While Cropper disagrees often with Trump, he thinks that ARI intellectuals have been too critical of Trump by repeating spurious Democratic talking points and making doctrinaire statements without regard to additional relevant context [for example, Trump’s tariff policy].
- The Left: Cropper believes that Objectivists should join forces with President Trump to defeat the [collectivist] Left which is the urgent enemy.
In summary, Mr Cropper’s argument for his being given the steering wheel for the Objectivist bus is that Objectivists should spend more time, money, and effort promoting the ideas of Donald Trump in short term politics instead of Ayn Rand’s ideas in long term philosophy. While I could go into detailed commentary about the specific concretes, my thoughts on the general idea were previously practically covered in my posts about Ari Armstrong’s suggesting that lovers of liberty join the Republican Party and my analysis of the factions within The Republican Hydra.
More important than those specific issues, let me talk about the framework to use in order to analyze those differences within politics. There is a lot of confusion about the political spectrum of left and right, that the meaning of those terms have changed over time, and that alternative political spectrums are needed; not true. Left is for change, while right is for status quo and tradition. Objectivists are radicals for capitalism, the unknown ideal, thus they are for change and are on the left of the political spectrum. Left doesn’t specify what type of change, but political reform of some kind instead of the status quo. Meanwhile, right is currently articulated through pragmatic stewardship [George H. W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Trump] or in a reactionary form that seeks to restore past traditions [political Christians, conservatives]. In context, left vs right is about either changing or preserving tradition relative to now.
How does this apply to Objectivists? In contemporary politics, different Objectivists will advocate policy views on the left, right, or middle. In the long term, they all agree on the political destination of change, but have differences about how to act today to bridge the gap. As ARI is advocating the radical capitalist ideas of Ayn Rand through its efforts to promote Objectivism, their speakers will emphasize the long term left political objectives of expanding the protection of individual rights. Meanwhile, many Objectivists like Mr Cropper in contemporary politics think in the short-term by advocating right-wing views to defend the status quo from those on the left advocating expanding collectivist policies and are OK with making temporary alliance with the collectivists on the right.
Where do I stand on this spectrum? First, ARI is correct to advocate long-term the political principles of Ayn Rand as that is part of their hedge-hog purpose; additionally, they do make the disclaimer that transition policies will be required to achieve those conditions in the long term. Second, in the US, the right is worse than a broken clock and will be correct less than twice a day. Meanwhile, the left seeks contradictory changes and forms a coalition that will settle the specific policies after an electoral victory [see the inability of California Democrats to agree on solutions for the state’s actual problems]. Neither is worth joining beyond temporary support on narrow issues focused on advancing the protection of individual rights. Personally, in contemporary politics, I am moderately left as I focus on multi-phased transition policies to get away from the ‘As-is’ model of the status quo towards the ‘To-be’ model of radical capitalism [for example, see my post How MoSCoW Can Fix America’s Spending Problem].
In summary, ARI is driving the Objectivist bus, has done so effectively, and they should continue to drive the bus. Mr Cropper’s narrow disputes are differences caused by long term thinking by ARI and short-term thinking by those who ally themselves today with the right politically. In contemporary politics, ARI isn’t a player as such is outside of their mission. Individual Objectivists are at liberty to advocate short-term political policies but should give attention to whether those policies move the needle towards protecting individual rights in the long term instead of simply selecting from a menu of policies offered by the political right. Very often the popular voices on the left and right are both wrong on the same issue, which gives Objectivists an opportunity to articulate a change policy that advances individual rights.
Extra Point: Relevant Outline Excerpt from The Aristotle Adventure’s Table of Contents
Part 2. Underground Stream (322-43 BC)
- Aristotle’s School (to 322 BC)
- Colonies and wars
- The school in the Lyceum
- The legacy of Alexander the Great
- “Aristotle has made these dispositions…”
- Aristotle’s Two Best Students (322-285 BC)
- Theophrastus’ school in the Lyceum
- Turmoil around the school
- Fear and Flight
- Theophrastus’ work in logic
- Theophrastus’ will
- Inside the School (285-100 BC)
- After Aristotle and Theophrastus
- Lyco and the others
- The fundamental cause of decline
- Outside the School (285-100 BC)
- Difference between Alexandria and Athens
- Recovery (100-43 BC)
- Into the light again
- Rome’s entrance
- Cicero’s studies
- For Aristotle’s work, mixed messages