Word Wars

Some students at Georgia Tech created an Objectivist club this semester. Since I am somewhat interested in Objectivism and the work of Ayn Rand, I've attended their meetings. They seem like an amicable bunch, and in my capacity as the chairman of the College Libertarians, I've expressed a desire for our groups to work together. I'm of the "Why Can't We All Just Get Along?" variety of libertarianism, and I truly believe that the differences which seperate Objectivists from non-Objectivist libertarians are small enough to warrant mutual acceptance. But being that some brands of Objectivists pride themselves on their "ideological purity" and refuse to associate with any and all kinds of "whim-worshipers," this can present difficulties. I'm not up to date on the current intra-political climate among the various Objectivist sects, but from the little that I do know, the Ayn Rand Institute, run by Peikoff, is generally recognized as being the most "pure" and least willing to compromise. Unfortunately, the Tech Objectivist club is closely associated with ARI, so I am worried that my dream of peaceful coexistence may not become a reality.

Here is an interesting tidbit from the Wikipedia entry on Ayn Rand:

In 1989, a schism in the movement occurred. Objectivist David Kelley wrote an article called "A Question of Sanction," in which he defended his choice to speak to non-Objectivist libertarian groups. Kelley said that Objectivism was not a "closed system" and condoned tolerance of and intellectual debate with other philosophies. Peikoff, in an article for The Intellectual Activist called "Fact and Value," said that Objectivism is, in fact, closed and that factual truth and moral goodness are intrinsically related. Peikoff essentially expelled Kelley from the Objectivist movement, and Kelley founded The Institute for Objectivist Studies (now known as The Objectivist Center) in Poughkeepsie, New York.

That explains Peikoff's position, but it doesn't necessarily tell us anything about what Rand herself believed. For that, I recommend this excellent collection of articles titled: "Objectivism, Libertarianism and Anarchism." I just discovered this treasure trove, and it is sure to provide endless hours of amusement. (I amuse easily) I haven't had a chance to read through many of the articles, but on a quick scan, this excerpt from the Ayn Rand Biographical FAQ caught my eye. Rand writes, in The Art of Nonfiction, p. 120:

... [T]ake the word "liberal." In the nineteenth century, this was a proper term which stood for one who defended rights and limited government -- except that it never represented a fully consistent political philosophy. So historically, what started as nineteenth-century liberalism gradually became modern liberalism. (Conservatives used to claim that they were the true liberals, but they have given up doing so.) Similarly, some people today use "libertarian" to designate the pro-free enterprise position, but there are some modern liberals who call themselves libertarians as well. This stealing of terms with undefined connotations is so prevalent today that I simply do not use any of these words. This is one reason I prefer "pro-capitalist" to "conservative." When what is being disguised or destroyed is not exactly what you uphold, then drop the word and use another.

I'm sympathetic to this argument. Many people see the attempt to reclaim stolen labels as a futile waste of time. The problem is that Rand seems to contradict herself. In the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand spends six pages explaining why she uses the word "selfishness" to describe her ethics even though popular usage of the word means something entirely different. So which is it: should we simply accept the common usage, even when a word is stolen from us, or should we remain strident in our usage, even if that means remaining a minority? I personally favor the latter, for many of the same reasons Rand gives in her defense of selfishness. But why not extend this same argument to words like "liberal" and "libertarian"?

In "What Can One Do?" from Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 202-203, Rand writes:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail.

For some strange reason, I seem to recall that Objectivists are pretty cozy with the Republican Party. Perhaps this is not true of all Objectivists, and perhaps it isn't true for Rand and ARI, but I know that they do not support the Libertarian Party, I know that they haven't started a political party of their own, and I am pretty sure that they advocate voting. So if you are an Objectivist and you believe in voting, it seems to me that you have two options: either start a political party of your own so you can maintain ideological purity, or choose the political party that comes closest to your principles. That would be the Libertarian Party. I can't even think of one policy issue, other than perhaps foreign policy, that Objectivists and the Libertaran Party disagree upon. I guess if you believe that foreign policy is so important as to outweigh all other political considerations, I could understand favoring the Republicans over the Libertarians. (Peikoff did advocate the use of nuclear warfare against the entire Middle East as the appropriate response to 9/11, after all.) But this would still be political pragmatism, which Rand rejects. How can any orthodox Objectivist support the Republican Party? It boggles the mind.

Update: In ?Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class,? Social Philosophy and Policy, Summer 1998, Roderick Long wrote:

...I challenge anyone to construct criteria that are simultaneously broad enough to include the major thinkers and traditions of the libertarian movement yet narrow enough to exclude Rand. In my judgment, Rand and her followers should be considered libertarians whether they like the label or not, since the features of the libertarian position they reject are either (a) held by only some libertarians and therefore not essential to the libertarian position, or (b) not held by any libertarians at all and therefore based on misunderstandings (often fantastic ones). Randians try to distance themselves from libertarians on the grounds that the libertarian movement tolerates a number of different philosophical approaches to grounding libertarianism, while Randians insist that Ayn Rand?s Objectivist approach provides the only acceptable grounding. But this is a bit like denying the existence of God yet declining to be called an atheist on the grounds that there are many different kinds of atheists with grounds for disbelief different from one?s own; disbelief in God makes one an atheist, regardless of how one feels about other atheists.

Beautiful. Why do Objectivists call themselves athiests if many athiests ground their disbelief of God on non-Objectivist foundations, yet Objectivists refuse to call themselves libertarians for precisely the same reason?

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Damn! I started writing a

Damn! I started writing a post about this last night but held off. Now who gets the glory?

I ran across the writings of

I ran across the writings of Roy Childs during that recent No Treason thread and they've proven to be highly interesting.

Thanks for the heads-up on the "Objectivism, Libertarianism and Anarchism" page. Lots of good reading there.

Sorry :( I will donate 3

Sorry :( I will donate 3 glory points to you.

Randall, I'm thinking about proposing a joint meeting sometime in the future, either this semester or next, between the College Libertarians and the College Objectivists about the relationship between libertarianism and Objectivist philosophy.

I follow Objectivist

I follow Objectivist philosophy but have generally stayed away from the ideological labels of the ARI folks. In other words, call me a libertarian, call me an Objectivist, my beliefs are what they are, and to hell with what you consider ideologically pure.

That said, I completely reject the Republican Party as an appropriate vehicle for advancing Objectivist ideas and principles. As for the Libertarian Party, the disagreements I have with them on foreign and military policy is significant in some contexts, less so in others. I would vote for a Libertarian candidate for city council, perhaps Congress, but not for president. Again, it's not about pragmatism-vs.-principle, but rather an issue of hiearchy and context. What many Objectivists fail to recognize is that ideological purity is not essential at every level of human interaction. It is essential in many functions, but not all.

Who would you vote for at

Who would you vote for at the Presidential level, in lieu of the LP candidate?

Merkin Muffley.

Merkin Muffley.

"Immanuel Kant was a real

"Immanuel Kant
was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable"

. . .

Mind if I call you Bruce?

Hmrf to you for stealing my

Hmrf to you for stealing my thunder. I was about to say that as a little-o objectivist, I will be voting Republican in the upcoming election, because foriegn policy trumps all other issues. We are facing an enemy who has forced war upon us, and we have to defend ourselves. Survival first; all other things second.

Ugh. I neglected to mention

Ugh. I neglected to mention that I am a member of the Libertarian Party that will be voting Republican in the presidential election.

Brian, as things stand now,

Brian, as things stand now, I would cast a blank ballot for president. But I could be persuaded to change that view.