Craig Biddle is an accomplished, highly productive, Objectivist intellectual who has dedicated the last 25 years to advancing Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. He has done it well.
He is cofounder and editor of The Objective Standard, a vital source for commentary from an Objectivist perspective, now in its 15th year of publication. He is founder of the Objective Standard Institute, which teaches the importance of philosophy and the principles of Objectivism. Craig is also the Executive Director of the Prometheus Foundation for Advancing Objectivism, which I created for the purpose of finding and funding dedicated Objectivists and organizations who promote Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
In addition, Craig has written several books on the principles of Objectivism, lectured at universities and colleges, taught courses at the Ayn Rand Institute’s OCONs, and given many presentations on Ayn Rand’s ideas for Foundation for Economic Education, Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, and more.
Craig is adept at simplifying and clarifying technical and complex philosophical material. His first book, Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It is a well-concretized introduction to Rand’s morality of rational egoism. The Ayn Rand Bookstore recommended Loving Life as an “observation-based approach… helpful in keeping Ayn Rand’s moral principles firmly anchored in reality in one’s mind.”
Many Objectivist intellectuals have praised the book. Alex Epstein, for example, writes:
Loving Life gives you two crucial values. It a) shows how morality is a matter of objective fact, not subjective whim or religious dogma; and b) shows you clearly and concretely the meaning of the morality of rational self-interest and how to use it to improve your life.
Leonard Peikoff was so impressed with Loving Life that he offered to write an introduction to the book and to help Craig take it to a major publisher, not something he does frequently or lightly.
Craig’s courses at OCON provide additional examples of his ability to simplify, clarify, and concretize complex philosophical ideas. I attended most of Craig’s OCON courses. His professional presentations demonstrated that he had researched and prepared thoroughly. The courses were outstanding and routinely received standing ovations. Those I took were: “God Said” (2004), “The Science of Selfishness” (2007), and “Moral Rights and Metaphysical Law” (2009). I did not attend “The Elements of Thinking in Principles” (2005), but I’ve heard it was excellent. Craig’s courses were highly acclaimed by OCON audiences. From a stack of course surveys, here are a few typical comments: “Best class taken in 4 years of conferences.” — “My favorite of all sessions! Lots of new insights, very clearly and engagingly presented.” — “Brilliant presentation. Relating everything back to reality… Life changing!” — “This was the best course of the conference.” — “Outstanding—my favorite course by far. This will help me in life and business.” — “A masterpiece of presentation. Highly illuminating, highly retainable.” — “Lucid. Cogent. Original. Essentialized. Excellent pacing and structure of the argument. Relentlessly surprising!”
The Objective Standard (TOS), founded by Craig and Sidney Gunst, was launched in 2006 to the delight of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and the Objectivist community. Here was a journal of culture and politics written from an Objectivist perspective and edited by Craig to exacting standards.
The first issue of the journal included articles by Lisa VanDamme, David Harriman, Elan Journo, Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein. Yaron, John McCaskey, and John David Lewis joined the masthead as contributing editors. Other Objectivist thinkers such as Brad Thompson, Dianne Durante, and Andrew Bernstein contributed regularly. Craig got the journal into hundreds of college libraries—including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and other top universities. He also got TOS onto newsstands all across America, including Barnes & Noble and (in Canada) Chapters Indigo. He worked diligently with writers to ensure that TOS’s articles exhibited the highest quality.
Craig’s own articles in TOS are lucid and have been enthusiastically praised by Objectivist intellectuals. Harry Binswanger, for instance, wrote of Craig’s article “Secular Objective Morality: Look and See”: “Excellent presentation. Should be read by anyone seeking a clearer understanding of life as the standard of morality.” On his Harry Binswanger List (HBL), under the header, “An Unusually Clear Exposition of the Base of the Objectivist Ethics,” he wrote: “Craig Biddle has written an admirably concise, clear and correct exposition of the foundations of morality. Reading it will add to your own clarity on the little-understood but supremely important validation of life as the standard of value.” That’s high praise from Harry. Jim Allard agreed:
I second HB’s praise for Craig Biddle’s article on the foundations of morality. It’s wonderfully written in a way that’s both accessible to non-Objectivists and clarifying for seasoned Objectivists. I love the “look and see” tagline and tie-in to Galileo and thinking as man’s basic virtue.
One of the article’s main virtues is that it presents the positive case while using religion as a foil, as opposed to being an attack on religion. It’s the virtue of “looking” (as opposed to religious evasion), the need for objective values (as opposed to religious subjectivity), etc. Neither a straight presentation of Rand’s ethics (without the foil), nor a focus toward repudiating religion would be as powerful.
Craig’s work is exemplary, yet some people at ARI, most notably Onkar and Debi Ghate, sometimes supported by Yaron Brook, deny this and defame him. They claim that “Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism” and have even said that he is “immoral.” Against so much positive evidence, what could explain this?
Onkar’s animosity toward Craig started with TOS in 2006. Onkar was outraged that Craig heavily edited ARI writers’ articles that Onkar had already edited himself. He was especially upset when Craig said that an article written by his wife, Debi, would require not merely heavy editing, but a complete rewrite. This infuriated Debi and Onkar. And Onkar’s animosity toward Craig increased with every ARI article that Craig edited.
Onkar’s hostility toward Craig intensified in April 2010, when Craig privately criticized an article that Onkar had published at Division of Labour. In the article, Onkar attempted to apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy to Adam Smith’s thought experiment about whether “a man of humanity” in Europe would cut off his pinky finger to avert an earthquake in China that otherwise would kill a hundred million Chinamen. Onkar said that according to Objectivism the man should not cut off his pinky, that he should instead let the earthquake kill the hundred million Chinamen:
Rand’s ethics would pronounce the action [cutting off his pinky] immoral…. Rand argues that a morality that denigrates the individual and demands his sacrifice for the “greater good” is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the bloodshed and destruction of millions of individuals throughout Western history…. Rand knew that in rejecting self-sacrifice, she would be smeared as advocating sacrifice of others to self. Reject the ideal that you should slice off your finger for the sake of others, and you must be claiming that you should slice off other people’s fingers for your sake. “Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal—under the threat that sadism was his only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind.”
Craig wrote to Yaron that the article misrepresented the Objectivist approach to dealing with such bizarre hypotheticals:
Onkar’s answer to the question about cutting off one’s pinky to prevent an earthquake in China misrepresents Ayn Rand’s position on such matters. She was quite clear in “The Ethics of Emergencies” (and elsewhere) that it is improper to accept such scenarios as starting points for answering questions about ethics. She held that one cannot begin to answer ethical questions in the absence of a hierarchy of values based on a rational standard. Jumping in and attempting to answer Smith’s ridiculous, metaphysically (and economically) impossible scenario on its own terms is a serious methodological error.
I think it would be a mistake for ARI to let this go uncorrected. Uncomfortable as it may be, I suggest that Onkar (or you) post a brief addendum under the piece correcting the error.
No addendum was posted. Onkar’s article remained up until 2014, when the website was shut down.
Later in 2010, Onkar’s anger toward Craig further intensified after Craig published a statement about the McCaskey-Peikoff conflict. In an Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) meeting that Onkar called to discuss Craig’s statement about the conflict with students, he repeatedly dismissed Craig’s statement as “garbage.” When students asked him to specify what about Craig’s statement was wrong, Onkar did not give reasons, explanations, or evidence in support of his assertion. He just repeated: “It’s garbage!”
This did not satisfy independent-minded OAC students. Several of the brightest quit as a result. Onkar was frustrated and furious. He reacted by denouncing Craig as “immoral,” saying “Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism,” and by making the policy that ARI would no longer work with Craig or promote his work.
Who was at fault for the public relations disaster following the McCaskey-Peikoff conflict?
At the time, I was on the Board of ARI, and I had a ringside seat. I know that McCaskey was the main culprit: he should never have published Leonard’s private email, which he did deliberately to harm Leonard (I know from personal conversations with McCaskey that this was his intention).
ARI’s Board of Directors should never have agreed to McCaskey’s demand to publish Leonard’s email in exchange for his resignation. And they should have insisted that Yaron, as CEO, communicate with Leonard to resolve the conflict. Yaron did not resolve the conflict. If he had, Craig would not have posted his statement. (Which statement, I did not approve of.)
Yet Onkar blames Craig and set ARI’s position as: “Craig unjustly attacked Leonard Peikoff, and he doesn’t understand Objectivism, so ARI will not work with him.” (It is worth noting Onkar’s hypocrisy: he himself has called Leonard “immoral” for his involvement in the McCaskey conflict.)
When ARI shunned Craig, and when Onkar, Yaron, and others started telling people that “Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism,” many people withdrew their support from Craig and TOS. One ARI-affiliated intellectual contacted TOS’s writers and told them not to write for the journal and not to work with Craig anymore. Fortunately, many independent-minded intellectuals continued working with Craig—including Andy Bernstein, John Lewis, Lisa VanDamme, Alex Epstein, Eric Daniels, Ellen Kenner, John Ridpath, Mike Berliner, and more. But the unjust attacks on Craig and TOS were harmful. Within a year of ARI’s blacklisting of Craig, his speaking engagements dried up, his book sales dropped, and TOS’s subscriptions plummeted. For about 7 years, Craig struggled to keep TOS afloat. He went into personal debt, using his credit cards to pay writers as well as his own bills and living expenses. Fortunately, with help from donors who knew his character and the value of the Journal, Craig and TOS were able to survive.
In 2016 several senior Objectivists made efforts for rapprochement between Craig and ARI. I was asked to assist. I asked Yaron what was needed. He said that the problem was that Leonard had told him, “If you are a friend of Biddle, you are not a friend of mine.” Knowing Leonard, this didn’t sound quite right. So, while dining with Leonard at my home, I asked him what he thought about working with Craig. He said: “I have no concerns. You can do whatever you want with Craig. I do not want anyone to base their relationships on or avoid people on my personal disagreements with them.” This echoed a statement Leonard had written in November 2010: “When McCaskey was appointed to the Board [of ARI], I said nothing, just as I have not objected to the fact that a few longtime Board Members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other. In all these cases, my personal dislike was irrelevant.” I told Yaron what Leonard said about Craig and asked him about rapprochement. Yaron said: “Well, maybe I should write an article for TOS, and that would mend the fences.” He never did.
I began reconsidering what had happened during and after the McCaskey affair and how Craig had been treated. And the more I reviewed the situation, the more I realized that Craig had been unfairly treated. I communicated my thoughts to people at ARI and to various Objectivist intellectuals. Many agreed that Craig had been unjustly vilified and that it was time for rapprochement.
In September 2016, I invited Yaron and Craig to my home, where they spoke for two hours and developed an action plan to begin cooperating and collaborating. Craig followed through on the agreement by sharing ARI material on social media and by reviewing books by ARI writers in TOS. Yaron had agreed to mention TOS articles on his podcasts and credit the journal for its good work. He never did. (Unknown to me at the time, Onkar was so antipathetic to Craig that he persuaded Yaron not to cooperate.)
By 2017, other ARI-affiliated Objectivists were eager for rapprochement, including Jim Brown, then CEO of ARI, and later Tal Tsfany. Jim arranged for TOS to have a table display at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg and discussed other ways that ARI and TOS could cooperate. Rapprochement was underway. The following year, ARI hired Tal Tsfany as CEO, and Tal arranged for TOS to have a table display at OCON 2018 in Newport Beach. But at the last minute, Onkar, as the new “Chief Philosophy Officer,” forbade it and (initially) banned Craig from the Intellectuals Conference. Rapprochement was off.
During the OCON conference, Lars Seier Christensen and John Allison approached Tal and Yaron and insisted that the matter with TOS and Craig be resolved one way or another. On July 3, Tal arranged a mediation session between Onkar and Craig. Yaron attended and Tal was the mediator. The meeting lasted for about two hours and ended with an agreement to cooperate with a three-point agreement:
- The two organizations would have table displays at each other’s conferences;
- Tal would write an announcement about the reconciliation and cooperation and publish it in Impact and/or New Ideal; and Craig would write a similar announcement in TOS;
- Tal, or someone from ARI, would write an article for publication in TOS (later modified to Tal would do an interview with TOS).
The agreement still had to be authorized by ARI’s Board; on August 14, while Craig was in flight to Richmond for the first TOS-Con, Tal called him to say that the Board had approved the agreement. Anu Seppala set up a table for ARI at TOS-Con, and she received a warm welcome from Craig and everyone at TOS. Rapprochement had occurred.
On August 23, 2018, ARI published an interview with Tal in Impact, in which he mentioned only in passing that ARI and TOS had resumed working together; it was a couple of awkward sentences buried in a long and wide-ranging interview. By contrast, Craig published his announcement on TOS’s homepage with a big image of a firm handshake and the header, “TOS and ARI Have Resumed Cooperation.” And TOS shared this post on all of its social media channels and emailed it to TOS’s entire mailing list via TOS Weekly.
Two weeks later, on September 7, Tal emailed Craig asking him to promote the November AynRandCon in Atlanta. Craig did so. TOS ran an ad for AynRandCon on TOS’s website, free of charge. Craig also wrote and published a blog post about the ARI conference, which was displayed prominently on TOS’s homepage. And TOS sent that post out to its entire mailing list and shared it on TOS’s social media pages. The free ad ran for two months, right up to the day of AynRandCon. Craig cooperated. He kept his word.
About a month later, on October 11, Craig asked Tal whom he should contact about TOS’s table display at the November AynRandCon. Two days later, Tal texted to say that he wouldn’t allow TOS to table at the event because it was an “educational event” and he didn’t want anyone “pressuring the students about Objectivism.” Craig reminded Tal that TOS never pressures anyone about Objectivism and that TOS is an educational organization. (FEE—an explicitly libertarian organization—was going to be exhibiting at the event and thus would be directly or indirectly advocating libertarianism.) Tal insisted that TOS is not an educational organization, that FEE is an educational organization, and thus TOS could not table at the conference. This nonsensical decision came from Onkar, the “Chief Philosophy Officer.”
Even so, a month later, on November 27, 2018, ARI emailed to ask if TOS would promote AynRandCon Europe (just as TOS had promoted AynRandCon Atlanta). Craig did so again. He wrote a post about the event and sent it out to TOS’s entire mailing list. He also invited ARI to send an ad about the event for placement on TOS’s website (free of charge, as TOS had done for AynRandCon Atlanta). Craig’s promotion and the promotion by groups funded by my Prometheus Foundation made the event a huge success.
Further, on January 4, Craig invited Tal to speak at TOS-Con 2019, and Tal accepted the invitation. Craig was continuing to cooperate.
Six months after the “OCON agreement” that the Board had approved, I asked Craig whether ARI had posted an announcement about the rapprochement and submitted an article or scheduled an interview for publication in TOS. They had not. ARI did not keep their word.
These are the essential facts:
- ARI agreed that the two organizations would table at each other’s conferences. Craig upheld the agreement. ARI did not.
- ARI agreed to have one of their intellectuals write an article (or later to do an interview with TOS). They did not do so until after they were “pressured” by me.
- ARI agreed to publish a statement about the reconciliation. They didn’t. They buried an “announcement” in a couple of awkward sentences in a meandering interview.
Seven months after the agreement, I reminded Yaron and Tal that they had not kept the agreement. They nevertheless insisted that they had. About a month later, Tal wrote an announcement about the resumed cooperation between ARI and TOS—not in New Ideal or Impact Weekly—but in ARI’s defunct and un-trafficked blog, on which nothing had been published for more than 6 months (since August 17, 2018), and on which nothing has been published since. (ARI has since removed this announcement, but it is archived here.) Onkar, Yaron, and Tal had not kept their word.
When I reminded Tal that the agreement had not been kept, he insisted that the agreement had been kept. I was stunned. I wrote to him setting forth what the specific agreement was and the ways in which ARI failed to keep it. Even then, like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, he insisted that it had been kept. This was the final straw. I told ARI that because of this and earlier broken agreements, I would not continue to fund (with millions of dollars) the plans to establish an Ayn Rand University. Now some at ARI shun me for pointing out that Yaron, Onkar, and Tal had broken agreements.
There is more to all of this. There are hundreds of documents—texts, emails, memos, and agreements—that evidence this story (which will be shared if the need arises). At this point, I just want to make these facts known because they are necessary to a just evaluation of Craig and TOS. Craig has been unjustly maligned by Onkar, Yaron, and others. It is time for this injustice to end. In fact, it is time for Craig to be properly recognized and supported for the excellent work he has done and is doing. I’d like to close with a few more words about that.
As Craig’s extensive work and track record make clear, he is an extremely knowledgeable and productive Objectivist intellectual. He is an accomplished writer, a compelling speaker, and an excellent teacher. He manages a whirlwind of productive activities—from editing and publishing The Objective Standard, to writing myriad articles and books, to founding and teaching courses at Objective Standard Institute, to directing and serving on the Board of Prometheus Foundation. In all of his capacities, Craig advances Objectivism with clarity, benevolence, and grace. He keeps his word, he gets things done, and he lives by the philosophy he advocates. This is visible for everyone to see.
Craig is, above all, an independent thinker. He doesn’t “go along to get along.” He stands up to anyone in defense of anyone or anything he thinks is right—and he does so without compromise. This has earned him many supporters and a few detractors.
As steadfastly as Craig upholds principles and thinks for himself, he also recognizes the good in others, respects their independence, trusts them to think for themselves, and gives credit where credit is due. This is how he attracts independent-thinking, talented people to work with him (despite efforts by some to defame him) at TOS Journal, TOS-Con conferences, and now at the new Objective Standard Institute.
I have worked closely with Craig for many years, and I’ve come to see his many virtues, chief among them: independence, conscientiousness, and benevolence. He is an honorable Objectivist who lives our philosophy. He deserves our support, and we should give it to him proudly.
I hope these facts and my thoughts have been informative. I welcome any questions or comments you may have.