Lessons from The Aristotle Adventure Applied to Objectivism

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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].
  4. 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)

  1. 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…”
  1. Aristotle’s Two Best Students (322-285 BC)
  • Eudemus
  • Theophrastus
  • Theophrastus’ school in the Lyceum
  • Turmoil around the school
  • Fear and Flight
  • Theophrastus’ work in logic
  • Theophrastus’ will
  1. Inside the School (285-100 BC)
  • After Aristotle and Theophrastus
  • Straton
  • Lyco and the others
  • The fundamental cause of decline
  1. Outside the School (285-100 BC)
  • Difference between Alexandria and Athens
  • Alexandria
  • Athens
  1. Recovery (100-43 BC)
  • Into the light again
  • Rome’s entrance
  • Cicero’s studies
  • Tyrannio
  • Andronicus
  • For Aristotle’s work, mixed messages



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3 Responses to Lessons from The Aristotle Adventure Applied to Objectivism

  1. Ed Powell says:

    First let’s discuss your comment, “First let us be clear about ARI’s purpose which is to spread the work and ideas of Ayn Rand, Objectivism.” This does not seem to be true to me. It’s seems to me the primary purpose of ARI is to extract cash from fans of Ayn Rand’s work to provide “jobs for the boys,” whether these jobs are overtly or covertly nepotistic (as are some) or simply for the “in crowd.” If ARI’s public facing focus on contemporary political issues is designed to be “hooks” to draw in potential fans, they are doing a very poor job of it. Indeed, they seem to have alienated many more long-term supporters than brought in new people. Part of this is due to the shift in fund raising strategy when Brook took over, shifting from trying to accumulate large numbers of small donations from Rand fans to specifically going after “whales” who have some sympathy if not for Rand or her work, but specific issues that the Institute was pushing. You were in the room when we were told by a highly reliable source that some of the “whales” were rich Jewish Zionists who heartily approved for the Institute’s strong defense of Israel, while not caring so much about Rand’s philosophy. Now I have nothing against Israel and am definitely on their side against the savage hordes surrounding them, but Objectivism as a philosophy has nothing to say about Israel or indeed about anything having to do with country formation. Objectivism says that once a country is formed, the purpose of the government is to protect individual rights, but how it’s formed, by whom, for what reasons, in what area, and containing which people, Objectivism is silent. Nor did Ayn Rand write any opinions about Israel. As far as I can tell she wrote nothing on the subject, and only answered one or two questions off the cuff indicating her support along the lines of what I said myself above favoring civilization over savagery.

    Other whales in the tech industry are obsessed with paying far-below market wages for IT support, and thus constantly harp on the H1-B visa cap. As I’ve discussed before, a principled open borders type would realize that the H1-B visa system (because it makes changing jobs extremely difficult) is simply a government handout to big tech companies, and so the principled open border person would never argue in favor of “raising he H1-B cap” but in eliminating the H1-B program entirely and just allowing companies to hire any temporary workers they want, with the workers being free to change jobs whenever they want. Now Brook has always argued for allowing any person who can find a job into the US, but he’s often—far too often—argued in favor of lifting the cap on the H1-B program, which is the advocacy of cronyism for some of the whales he’s attracted as donors.

    The biggest whale of all of course is Carl Barney, former bigwig in the Scientology racket, and donor of more than $20M to the Institute over the years. Now, I don’t doubt that Barney likes Ayn Rand’s ideas, but his behavior as the #2 guy in the SoCal Scientology scam and then his additional extremely shady-looking dealings with the federal government as the owner of some for-profit colleges that landed him in hot water with the Feds, has been systematically white-washed or ignored by the Institute, and even lied about by Craig Biddle in his magazine. We’ve all listened to the multiple times Leonard Peikoff has dealt with the subject of forgiveness, what the criteria were to forgive someone who has turned over a new leaf. They must fully admit their immorality, provided restitution to the victims as much as possible, and through consistent moral acts over a number of years prove that they have achieved a new, different character. Barney, of course, has done none of this, but it’s not Barney I really care about, it’s Brook and Peikoff who seem to want to short-circuit their own understanding of the process of forgiveness as long as they check is large enough to provide lots of jobs for the boys.

    You mention the Institute publishing Ayn Rand’s unpublished works, and while this would indeed be a great boon to Rand scholarship, there is substantial evidence (backed up by he personal first-hand accounts of multiple independent sources) that aLo still all of the posthumous Rand material has been bowdlerized, with Rand’s actual words being changed, deceptively omitted, and in some cases completely rewritten by unscholarly (and indeed unscrupulous) editors. Such bowdlerization, if some in a modern academic context—as bad as the modern academy is—would be grounds for instant expulsion of a student, and probable firing of a professor, even if he had tenure, yet this fraud seems to be rampant in ARI’s versions of Rand’s posthumous works, rendering them of exactly zero scholarly value. As far as the archives are concerned, they were closed to scholars for many, many years, then opened to a selective few for a while (including Burns and Heller) then immediately closed again to anyone except an insider-vetted and -approved Objectivist, when Heller confirmed that the material published as Ayn Rand’s Journals was substantially altered, including in meaning, to present Rand as a fully consistent thinker over time, rather than an actual human being that made a few intellectual trials and errors as her thinking matured. Again, such behavior even in a modern academic in any serious field of study (I omit the grievance studies fields) would be grounds for immediate termination, yet ARI continues blithely on not seeing anything they did as wrong.

    The essay contests and books for students projects seem to actually promote Rand’s work, as opposed to most of the other useless activities the Institute produces (Ayn Rand Campus, OGC, etc.) On the other hand, as we’ve discussed before, there is an inherent conflict of interest in the books-to-students program that has never been adequately addressed, or addressed at all. If person A sets up a charity to raise pre-tax money to purchase the specific books that person A gets a 15% royalty on (30% of the wholesale price), then this would be seen as an obvious issue that must be addressed by the charity. If I write a book, then raise $1M for my charity to buy 100,000 copies of my book, thus putting $300K directly in my pocket as a result of the charity, I’m not sure the IRS would look too kindly on it. But doing it for Ayn Rand’s books seems to obfuscate the obvious issue. Perhaps I’m wrong, and Peikoff forgoes the royalties on the 1M+ books already purchased by the Institute. On the o5et hand, if I were wrong, you’d think the Institute would actually proclaim this in big red letters somewhere to ensure that no one misunderstood. Yet this issue has never been addressed.

    Finally your characterization of left and right is ahistoric. The left doesn’t want just change, it wants revolutionary change. It wants to topple the current system and eradicate it root and branch, before building on it their utopian vision, whether the system was the French monarchy/aristocracy, the Russian monarchy/aristocracy, the corrupt Weimar Republic, the decadent Chinese nationalist system, or the cities and universities of Cambodia. The left wants to overthrow existing institutions and replace them wholesale. The right wants to maintain either the status quo or some traditional understanding of the status quo ante. So on the right you get “conservatives” just like Mitch McConnell, who wanted to fight tooth and nail to prevent Obamacare from passing, but now fights tooth and nail to keep it from being abolished. Mitch is a status quo conservative. But then there’s Ted Cruz who wants to conserve not the status quo but the original meaning of the Founder’s Constitution. And There’s everyone in between. The left, since it wants revolutionary change, contains in its basic DNA a fundamental nihilism, After all, you can’t revolutionarily create new institutions without completely destroying the existing institutions first. You know I could cite hundreds of examples of this phenomena just from the environmentalist movement alone, but I’ll spare you. Conservatives, on the other hand are not against change, they are for *gradual* thoughtful change based on understanding the ramifications of the change on societal institutions. When gay marriage was being debated, most of us didn’t care one way or the other. “Who cares if gays marry? It’s no skin off my nose?” was a common refrain, even from me at the time. But one perspicacious conservative (Erick Erickson, who I otherwise dislike) wrote a great series of articles entitled, “You Will Be Made to Care,” and he nailed the aftermath perfectly. We are now inundated with X-rated morally neutral descriptions of anal sex in elementary school, drag queen story hour, the government enforced child abuse that is “transitioning” by forcing children to take dangerous and potentially life-ending drugs and surgery, just because he wanted to be Elsa for Halloween, or she wanted to be Batman. We have speech police in all corners of America ready to ruin the lives and careers of anyone who can’t remember which if 50-odd nonsensical pronouns to use based on their employee’s or coworker’s feelings. We have vicious anti-liberty thought police squads employed by every major tech company enforcing conformance to the new gender fluid agenda, supporting totalitarian states and being*supported by totalitarian states as this anti-biology garbage is shoved down everyone’s throats, including by the courts. Yes, we have been made to care.

    That’s the point of conservative thought, to see these sorts of catastrophes coming when major societal institutions are overthrown over night, and try to prevent them.

    I want laissez-fairs capitalism as much as the next Objectivist, but I realize that such a system must be deployed gradually with the support of the broad mass of the people, not imposed in a revolutionary way (which would be a leftist approach). I want to conserve the Constitution of the United States as originally written and understood, not overthrow it. I am thus an Objectivist in my goal and a conservative in my means. Because being a leftist in one’s means, even if the goal is noble, just leads to buckets—no, acres—of blood.

    Ayn Rand wrote near the end of her life that she wanted no organization like ARI after she died. She was right. It is a demonstrable failure that props up con artists, demagogues, frauds, and liars. The fact that a few good people (Alex and Don) have managed to escape ARI and become effective advocates of freedom elsewhere is in fact a damning indictment of the intellectual conformity (if not outright totalitarianism) that pervades ARI, such that progress can only be made outside the stifling confines of the rule of the Tsar (Brook) and his Rasputin (Ghate).

    Then contrast this entire enterprise with the extremely successful, scholarly, and productive work the Mises Institute does. I’m not a Rothbardian by any stretch, by my God those people really know how to run an ideological educational institute. And they do it for a fifth of the money per year ARI receives (at least before Barney pulled out last year). They are FAR more successful at spreading Rothbardian libertarianism throughout both the culture and the academy than ARI is is spreading Objectivism. It’s embarrassing really. But you know why the Mises Institute is a success and ARI is a relative failure? Because the Mises Institute is not set up as a means for giving jobs to the boys, it’s actually a scholarly educational institute, that runs on a shoestring budget—no lavish $400K salaries and all first-class travel there, but lots and lots and lots of free material by Mises and Rothbard and a few other Austrian economist writers. Free books, free courses, free videos—real videos, not 90-minute incoherent rants against Trump) on scholarly subjects. ARI could learn a lot from Mises, but the most important thing to learn is integrity, and for that, the current management team at ARI needs to be completely replaced.


  2. Pingback: Reply to Ed Powell re: ARI and the Political Spectrum | Selfish Citizenship

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