(If you are not an Objectivist, please ignore this.)
The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is failing, and I have struggled over whether to make a statement about how and why it is failing. I understand things that Objectivists, and particularly major contributors to ARI, need to know and have a right to know. If ARI were succeeding, I would have nothing to say; but it is not. I can’t in good conscience keep silent. I think Ayn Rand would say, “You must speak up.”
Some will criticize me for making a public statement. They may ask why I didn’t settle this privately and with the Board. I presented the following thoughts to Yaron and the Board repeatedly while I was on the Board at ARI, and since I left, I’ve written to them about these issues extensively as well. All to no avail. So, I will lay out the facts for you. You can investigate, ask questions, think about it, and decide for yourself.
Ask yourself, after reading the facts below, would your integrity permit you to remain silent—especially after you have made attempts to correct ARI’s failing course?
ARI is seriously failing in its mission of promoting Ayn Rand and Objectivism. My goal is to encourage change at ARI. It is important, in my view, that ARI supporters know the painful truth about ARI’s recent past and its present in order to begin making ARI successful in the future.
Here’s some history: About five years ago, when Yaron asked me to give him more money (I was giving about $4 million per year), I said “yes” and asked him what the Institute was already doing with its money and what ARI would do with more. He offered to send me a strategic plan.
When I saw what ARI was doing, and its strategy, I realized that it was not producing meaningful results and that its influence was waning. Right away, and for the next several years, I struggled, discussed, wrote, and debated with Yaron to improve ARI’s strategy.
ARI was spending millions of dollars every year on developing nascent intellectuals with the goal of each of them writing a book. A few did write books, but they didn’t sell much—except to the extent that I funded purchases for distribution. (I mean no criticism of the intellectuals working at ARI.) Another part of this strategy was for Yaron to conduct lecture tours all over the world (I went with him on about four or five of them). These had some value, but as a central strategy, they were not effective. While giving talks has value, the most effective way to affect long-term change is to train people deeply in philosophic ideas.
As an alternative strategy, I advocated strongly for delivering courses, particularly Dr. Peikoff’s courses; promoting Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s books; developing and promoting ARI Campus; and building up a strong Academic Center with 1,000 students attending annually.
Eventually, I came to the painful conclusion that the leadership at ARI had a flawed and failing strategy for affecting meaningful intellectual and cultural change, and had no interest in developing a new strategy. Apart from the original essay contests (which I supported) and the free books program, their basic strategy (on which they were spending loads of time and millions of dollars) was to develop a few nascent intellectuals and to support Yaron’s travels and lectures around the world. ARI continued running the OAC, but very little has come from that despite enormous amounts of time and money.
But ARI didn’t want to change. Yaron declared bluntly: “I have my strategy and I’m not going to change it.”
How can we know if an organization is succeeding? Well, its revenues grow, its audience and influence increase; and it achieves its goals. ARI is not succeeding. It is fast becoming a failed organization. Ask yourself: Are more or fewer people reading Atlas Shrugged today than ten years ago? Are effective new intellectuals being developed? If so, where are they, and what are they doing? Is ARI attracting more or fewer young people to the Objectivist movement? How about Campus Clubs and STRIVE/Undercurrent? Given this course, where will ARI be in five years?
Here are the main criteria for measuring success or failure:
- Contributions/donations: ARI’s revenues have been trending down for about 10 years—even apart from the loss of my contributions. By contrast, consider the huge increases in revenues (sometimes double, or thrice, or quadrupled) for organizations such as the CATO Institute, Prager University, the Foundation for Economic Education, and even The Atlas Society—all of which have shown huge increases in revenues in recent years. If anything, given that we have a philosophy that is true and supportive of human life, we should be way ahead of them.
Major contributors to ARI (including at least three board members) have been withdrawing their funding or cutting back. They don’t want to pay for unproductive intellectuals, rants about politicians, and low-quality articles. That is not the return on investment contributors want.
- Objectivists: The number of people attending OCON has been flat to down beginning 10 years ago. If you take out the “paid-for attendance” (i.e., scholarships), attendance has actually declined. Attendance by now should be in the thousands! Where are all the new Objectivists, and where are the new intellectuals?
The Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) under Onkar Ghate has produced little in the last 10 years; it lacks energy and impact. Auditors aside (who merely listen in), it has fewer actual students today than it did 10 years ago. Few graduates have made substantial contributions to the advancement of Objectivism. (I bet you can count on one hand graduates of the OAC who are advancing Objectivism.) This is a huge and tragic failure.
- Ayn Rand book sales: Book sales in America have been declining for about eight years (they’ve been growing internationally, in part because of activities funded by my Prometheus Foundation). This is perhaps the most damning statistic of all. ARI’s efforts are not increasing book sales, and they’re doing little directly or specifically to increase sales. It’s just not part of their strategy.
- Morale: ARI has not inspired the Objectivist community; it dispirits many people. The Objectivist community is sick of hearing ranting and raving about politics (Trump in particular), and so much hostility and negativity. They want an Objectivist movement that is vibrant and life-affirming. They want the kind of positivity and benevolence that Ayn Rand radiated and inspired. The want to see her ideas in action. And they want to see the Objectivist community working together to advance her vital ideas. Yet ARI promotes Yaron and Onkar and causes division among Objectivists. The Ayn Rand Institute should be uniting the Objectivist movement, not dividing it.
- ARI Campus: I planned and financed ARI Campus to reach hundreds of thousands of people and to have them take and complete courses on philosophy, particularly Objectivism. After spending $5 million on a software system and a video studio, it all collapsed. ARI has never promoted it or taken it seriously. To be an effective college, it had to be run like one and promoted as a serious educational program. It should offer high-end, real courses and charge people for taking them, thus attaching value to the courses and providing an incentive for students to complete them. (This is education-business 101.) But ARI didn’t do any of this. Instead, they released everything for free on YouTube, thus watering down the value of the courses by running them beside millions of free cat videos. Five to ten million dollars more was spent on Campus, yet it still produces only a trickle. And the number of people taking courses (rather than lectures) and completing them is very small. (Merely citing the numbers of hours viewed on a mobile app creates a false cumulative picture. Any first-year statistics student knows this.)
ARI squandered my multi-million-dollar investments. And in an effort to salvage the parts of the project that were supposed to become Ayn Rand University—and that could have become an actual university if I had contributed the additional $12 million they asked for—they instead created a mobile app and called it “Ayn Rand University.” (I’m glad Ayn Rand is not alive to see this. What could have been an actual Ayn Rand University is now an app.)
- Intellectual Standards: The quality of the intellectual work being done at ARI is not to the standard of 20 years ago. OCON has deteriorated. 20 years ago, we had substance—courses by Leonard Peikoff, Harry Binswanger, Peter Schwartz, John Ridpath, George Reisman, and, yes, Yaron Brook. No longer. The last in-person OCON was the worst—especially the lackluster and meandering discussion about aesthetics.
The writing coming from ARI has deteriorated, too. As one commenter wrote in an email to me: “Many of its [ARI’s] key figures have become increasingly negative over the last few years. The quality of their op-eds and articles has been awful. Poorly researched, full of silly assumptions and premature judgments and just generally sloppy.”
- Size: The number of staff at ARI is about half of what it was 10 years ago. Over the last two years there have been four layoffs. This is partly because I stopped contributing. But it is also because others have stopped as well. I’m not the only one who sees these problems (but I am speaking up; perhaps others will too). Contributions were down even before I stopped supporting ARI, and they’ve been falling more since I stopped.
These are the results of my contributing a total of about $40 million to ARI. I think this gives me a right to ask for an accounting and to urge for improvements.
The Institute is in the most serious decline I’ve seen since I made my first contribution in 1985. Some of this is a consequence of ARI’s broken agreements with me and Craig Biddle, which has cost them my money and support and the moral and financial support of many good people. And some of it is a consequence of ARI’s increasingly non-objective (and non-Objectivist) approach to ideas. One of the clearest examples of this is Yaron Brook’s dogmatic and strident pronouncement that if you support President Trump, you should not call yourself an Objectivist. His exact words were:
Those of you who are apologists for Donald Trump, please never use the word “Objectivism” to associate it with yourself. Because you cannot be Objectivists—you are not Objectivists… You’re the fifth-column within Objectivism. You all will destroy Objectivism. And it will ultimately be on you if America declines, if America disappears, if America succumbs to either the whackos of the left or the whackos of the right.
An apologist is a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. Is it controversial to support Trump? Yes, to some. Is it controversial to say he is less bad than Biden? Perhaps, to some. Does holding one of these positions make you a sell-out who doesn’t deserve to call himself an Objectivist? Does it make you a fifth-column within Objectivism—an enemy of Objectivism? Yaron says, yes, it does.
Of course, seasoned Objectivists could and likely did dismiss Yaron’s offensive statement. But to new Objectivists, particularly young adults who are trying to understand Ayn Rand’s ideas, this was intimidating and disturbing. It’s not surprising that Leonard Peikoff responded as follows:
“The one [issue] that galls me the most is his [Yaron’s] statement on the radio that anyone who sympathizes or votes for Trump is not an Objectivist. So, he is implicitly declaring that my life work is not by an Objectivist, but his is.”
As we know, Ayn Rand was completely opposed to such dogma. One of her oft-repeated principles was that you must think for yourself. Make up your own mind. Yaron’s statement demonstrated contempt for the minds of his listeners.
His pronouncement insulted half of the Objectivist community and likely more than half of ARI donors. He told them not only that they should not call themselves Objectivists, but also that they are enemies, a “fifth-column within Objectivism”—an enemy within the ranks! I have to wonder how many good people left Objectivism, and how many said, “That’s it. I’m not donating anymore to ARI.” This insulting rant was extremely destructive to the reputation of Objectivism and ARI. Has Yaron apologized for this insult and egregious harm to ARI and Objectivism? No. Will he apologize?
Recently during his Zoom birthday party, Leonard declared:
“I am voting for Trump. That’s it… I heard somebody say: ‘No Objectivist would vote for Trump,’ and I’m still steaming over that. So I’m trying to publicize the fact that whoever said that is crazy.”
Whose thinking should you follow—Yaron’s or Leonard’s? Neither. You should think for yourself.
Some Objectivists (including Dr. Peikoff) tell me they do not and cannot listen to Yaron’s scoffing and strident blaming. This is not what Objectivism looks like in practice.
The world needs Objectivism more than ever. It needs a strong and visionary Ayn Rand Institute—an Institute that promotes Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff (not only or primarily Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate).
It wouldn’t be right to criticize ARI if it were achieving its goals and succeeding, but ARI is not achieving its goals. They may say this article is “riddled with errors and distortions.” But much of what I’ve described here you have seen for yourself. And if you have questions about any of this, I encourage you to demand numbers and explanations from ARI.
ARI may try to blame me or Craig or say, “philosophy is hard.” It is up to you to weigh the facts and results and decide for yourself. And I do hope you will ask questions and decide for yourself.
To have a vibrant, successful Ayn Rand Institute, major contributors and senior Objectivists need to step up with courage and conviction and insist upon changes. ARI must have a new strategy.
There are many Objectivists of intelligence, vision, and decency—individuals whom I have long respected. I urge these Objectivists to step up and save ARI. I, perhaps more than anyone, have always wanted and still want ARI to thrive and prosper. I call on Mike Berliner, Peter Schwartz, Harry Binswanger (the original Board), John Allison, Lars Christensen, Jim Brown, Arturo Gamboa, Tim Blum, Alex Epstein, Lisa VanDamme, Andrew Bernstein, Richard Salsman, Brad Thompson, Eric Daniels, Annie Vinther Sanz, Greg Salmieri, Adam Mossoff, Rajshree Agarwal, Ellen Kenner, Ed Locke, Andrew Layman, Binh Dang, Jim Allard, Mark da Cunha, Michael Kauffman, and others to ask questions, ask for facts and clear answers, and speak up and save ARI before it is too late.
It is up to us to speak up and act. I am speaking up. I welcome your comments.
38 thoughts on “ARI Is Failing and Needs Our Help”
Significant time has passed since you wrote this post. I am curious if the Ayn Rand Center UK has been created a structure with a clear business plan and quality content. Do you think it is worth supporting?
Just a note about a no-cost way we all can promote Objectivism :
Do not be afraid to call yourself an ” Objectivist ” . You don’t have to be a scholar or expert to claim the title, ” Objectivist ” .
In any discussion, feel free to casually say , without defining the term , ” I am an Objectivist . ”
That will imply that everyone ought to know the word, that it is as normal and common as being a Presbyterian .
After all, if someone says he’s a Christian, it doesn’t mean he knows the Bible well, just that he believes Jesus Christ was the son go God .
Every time you identify yourself as an Objectivist, you transform the philosophy from old written novels to flesh and blood human being . Get out there and promote it !
I hadn’t thought about it this way. Interesting point. Thanks for suggesting.
Subject: Transparency and Openness
The most important thing about these comments is the the simple fact of Carl welcoming them. He opened up his post for discussion.
It’s surprising how seldom this has been the case with Objectivist intellectuals over the decades. For a current example, where is the little box at the end of each emailed or online article or post which invites feedback?
It’s as if the Objectivist elite thought they were brilliant enough to have already put forth a fully-articulated, non-debatable, all bases covered, complete and unanswerable, persuasive to the uninitiated case for for every issue. They are not Rand, and even she couldn’t do that.
What would a non-Objectivist think? What jargon would they not even understand? What qualms or unanswered questions might need to be further addressed?…
You learn a lot by encouraging steady feedback. You see what is controversial and what needs to be thrashed out or discussed further. What needs to be explained or detailed more to get people fully on board and enthusiastic.
Openness builds trust.
It conveys that you are thoughtful and willing to listen…sometimes that can be even more important than if you agree about every detail.
This “open up, listen, and learn” principle applies not just to your intellectual content, but to your plans and programs and strategies if you’re an organization. Always ask for robust and ongoing feedback, even when plans are in an early stage.
The ‘raising of the drawbridge over the moat’, the walling oneself off is a central part of the reason Objectivists end up preaching to the (not large and not growing) choir.
And bitter about the fact that the culture is basically not listening, when it was partly the movement’s fault with not figuring out how to engage and persuade properly (and, yes, this is super-difficult).
We need a movement of people who speak up and take spaces. But format matters. We need more art, we need more videos. Take a look on what Prager is doing. It is pretty effective. Short videos explaining ideas. I think tha before you catch a fish you need some baits.
Thank you for this commentary. I have also come to the conclusion that the present generation of Objectivist intellectuals is failing in its efforts to alter the direction of the culture. And I have too frequently been disappointed with the technical quality of essays and video lectures released by major Objectivist thinkers.
Now, if you will pardon what may seem an exercise in crass self-promotion, I am going to take this opportunity to recommend my book on authoritarian political ideologies, Flowers From the Garden of Evil: Everyone’s Guide to the Elements of Authoritarian Dogma. Available through Amazon Books, this survey is the finest study of its subject ever published (really!), and the first to comprehensively and systematically delineate the philosophical principles that underpin the authoritarian tradition of intellectual manipulation. Take a look; I believe you’ll be enthralled.
Thank you again for your evaluation of the issues troubling the Objectivist movement. Your analysis is compelling.
Great article and specifics. I have been in battle with Yaron Brook for about 5 years over Trump. Yaron is too comfortable in his position(s) with the Ayn Rand Institute. Comfort is a killer of progress. Plus any successful organization must change continuously and constantly. The most successful organizations bring change from within every 4 months or less. Brook and his fellow believers have become self congratulatory echo chamber. Anyone who says “I have my strategy and I will not change it” is doomed to defeat. Change is a prerequisite of Life – maybe more so in the business of business (profit or non profit) than any other aspect of life.
The stagnant results over the last 10 years are the proof.
A persuasive article, but without hearing ARI’s defense, not completely so. I agree about Yaron, but from a different perspective. Wrong man for the job.
I’m glad LP responded as he did to YB’s ridiculous statement about Trump. I think you did the right thing in withdrawing support. It’s just so easy spending someone else’s money. Any bureaucrat can tell you that!
The most sensible thing ARI could do, in my view, would be for LP to make up with DK and join forces with TAS. LP’s “Fact and Value” was a seriously flawed piece. DK speaking to a Libertarian group emphatically did NOT sanction ideas not shared by O’ists. How can you persuade others without talking to them?
We all make mistakes. Best thing is to own up to them, learn from them, then move on. “The way out is through.”
I, too, have thought for myself and published my thoughts. But too many senior O’ists merely pay lip service to independence, they do not actually welcome it. So my thinking has been ignored.
All the best with your future endeavours, Mr Barney, and congratulations on what you have already achieved.
Cordially, Nicholas Dykes.
Yes Carl, I agree.
The role of professional intellectuals is to help others -who are not professional intellectuals- to understand how man should live in order to flourish and enjoy life. To achieve this they have to not only provide a clear and structured presentation of the correct philosophy, but also be able to convey the enormous benefit of devoting time and effort to understand it. That should be ARI´s role.
If the proper foundations for Ethics and Politics are not clear in the mind of a man, he will not be able to act to his full potential, let alone defend his right to live his life as he wishes.
I agree that you need to redirect funding away from ARI and toward the more productive parts of the movement.
I agree that Yaron has gone off the rails. I think he does a very good job of promoting the ethics of Objectivism and Capitalism, and I have learned an enormous amount from him. I credit him with convincing me of many correct political positions, from free immigration to Austrian economics.
I think that where he went bad was about a year into Trump’s presidency. He went from opposing Trump’s soft nationalist crackdown to rushing to jump on board with every single one of the Left’s causes. In 2018, it was feminism, as he proclaimed “the men of this country have treated the women terribly.” In 2019, some combination of Russia and Ukraine conspiracies, I can’t even remember. In 2020, he jumped on board the coronatarian train, blaming Trump for not containing it with test and trace, shaming people for calling it a common cold and people who questioned the lack of evidence behind masks.
Amesh Adalja has been the worst, getting on TV to endorse limited lockdowns, blame Trump for covid, condescend critics of himself and Fauci as nihilists, and shame anti-mask protesters. In general, I think Charles Tew hit the nail on the head when he noted that a lot of Objectivists today are more concerned with being taken seriously than sticking to their guns.
We are about to have a national lockdown in slight part because people like Yaron and Amesh are more concerned with being taken seriously than with promoting Capitalism. What good is an Objectivist movement if an Objectivist is at the forefront of advocating for the semi-authoritarian state many Americans now live under.
I think that what is needed is a restructuring of funding in the Objectivist movement. I think the movement has definitely declined in quality, to the point of coasting on “TDS.” To some extent, this is an inevitable consequence of the declining educational system and cultural health of the country. Us younger Objectivists are, on average, just not as smart!
I think it’s worth looking at some of the younger folks outside ARI who are deserving of funding:
Alex Epstein and CIP- responsible in part for today’s regulatory rollback
Charles Tew- one of the most brilliant philosophers in the Objectivist movement. You could make an Ayn Rand University Course out of his content
Craig Biddle- TOS speaks for itself
Michael Hurd- he writes an enormous amount on psychology and was an effective radio host, why not give him a bigger platform
Ellen Kenner- her show has been reaching quite a number of people for decades, please give her a bigger platform
Adam Mossoff- CPIP is very good.
Lisa Van Damme- can we get a national network of schools in the states with more educational choice?
Tara Smith- explicated the philosophy of Objectivist legal theory
Diana Hsieh- she was very enjoyable to listen to and I learned a lot from her. Charles Tew recommended her. Get that woman a philosopher job!
There are others who seem good but whom I’m unfamiliar with. There are also others who already have full plates.
– Evan Woodham, Judicial Law Clerk, State of Utah
Just as you can support Trump for all his flaws, ARI has done some things to spread Objectivism that cannot be discounted because of the power lusters who inserted themselves as the true disciples. If a mind is introduced to ideas that contain answers they were searching for, the reward is recognition of the joy of discovery experienced by yours truly. If that is not worth passing on in the most visible way then one cannot say there has been any gratitude expressed. The regime at ARI is a passing attempt at stature and as with all who get in over their head will only embarrass themselves. In the meantime, I will continue my contributions and ignore the folly until I see there is no expansion of the ideas of Ayn Rand through the availability of her works to educational facilities.
Amending my comment above:
For TOS, I should have worded their area of emphasis, “positive applications and case studies”, and included their many “articles on historical figures and role models who are inspiring and we can learn from.”
LET MULTIPLE APPROACHES FLOURISH
History shows there are different ways to spread ideas — top-down (major thinker who is accepted and influences the culture), bottom-up (acquiring enough of a mass of adherents that the ideas go viral and there is a large enough market to support the intellectuals), cell to cell (finding niches in a hostile or resistant environment and going niche to niche at first).
Each of these helps the other. Fortunately, Objectivism has three organizations having different emphases:
ARI — PHILOSOPHERS: Develop and train high-powered intellectuals who will cause the adoption of the full philosophy on a systematic level, while (based on the skills of the intellectuals currently) emphasizing a lot of writing and speaking on current issues in politics and economics and what is wrong in the culture.
TOS — POSITIVE APPLICATIONS: How people can develop skills to grow personally, psychologically and as communicators and professionally.
TAS — NUMBERS and YOUTH: Making a wide range of grassroots awareness and exposure, as among those who share some values while not yet ready to accept all of the systematic philosophy.
That’s oversimplified in each case.
But the advantage is, and this is a big if! … if they are executed well each can bring in a different kind of person, or people at different levels. (There’s a fourth strategy, but leave that out for now.)
I agree with your statement. After all the money you have invested in this venture, the least you would expect is accountability. To have been dismissed from the board because you demanded accountability and measurable results for your efforts is despicable. You have made the activities of the institute possible and have paid for the salaries of the institute’s staff members for decades.
As you are well aware, I cannot assist in your efforts with any financial contribution, but I am willing and eager to help you to further Objectivism in any way I can. How can I help?
Dear Mr. Barney,
As a fly-over-country Objectivist, I share your concerns and thank you for speaking up about issues that have increasingly isolated those of us far from the centers of the movement, leaving us feeling bewildered and betrayed by those intellectuals with whom we thought to find common ground and active opportunities to help constructively introduce Objectivist fundamentals of ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and politics into our rapidly disintegrating culture. Please include me on your mailing list. Out here in the hinterlands, the structure, processes and goal-setting agendas of ARI are less than apparent, and I would not know to whom I might address these concerns. However, writing is my core competency. I would gladly follow through with your suggestion that those of us who feel disenfranchised from the intellectual community currently steering the movement express our concerns. Perhaps you could share with all of us whatever process you believe would be most conducive to positive change?
Good work. I sent a letter to TT last Thursday in a similar vein. The gist was this: get a new Chairman of the Board and a true headmaster for the OAC.
Thank you for the article. I have been an Objectivist for more than 40 years since I first read the Fountainhead. Although obviously not at anything like the level at which you donated, I was at one time a dedicated donor to ARI. (I received an icon for 20 years of continuous donations.) As my career in medical care was winding down, I began pursuing a career in screenwriting. At that time, there was an OCON lecture on Ayn Rand and the scripts which she wrote for Hal Wallace. As part of my training, I wanted to read those scripts so I called ARI to inquire. The person responsible for the archives was not available so I left my contact information. I heard nothing. So I called back. Again the person in charge was not available. Again I left my contact information. Again I heard nothing. That was the last penny I ever gave to ARI. To be clear, I did not necessarily expect to view the scripts (I’ve heard ‘no’ before and would not have minded.) but I was owed the courtesy of a response.
Wait, you say, why put such weight on a ‘trivial moment’ when those at ARI are busy doing big and important things? Because as I have learned, in life, whether making the correct choice in sorting out a challenging diagnosis or in managing a busy operating room or in working with your customers, or donors, while running a business, details are absolutely crucial. For example, I made a single donation to an organization which fights government excesses in court. Not only did I receive a thank you but (not that I expected it) they took me out to lunch.
Wait, you say, why put such emphasis on an isolated event? Because it was not isolated. I have two good friends, both highly successful professionals, one a senior managing engineer for a large corporation, the other teaching communication, speaking, writing, to corporate staffs around the world, and who both donated money to ARI and volunteered their time to staff ARI events. Both independently stopped doing so because of the haughty arrogant mistreatment which they suffered at the hands of ARI staff. One is now researching other organizations to which he can leave his money when he dies as I am. The point is that the way in which a staff member of a business handles a customer or donor starts at the top and whoever was at the top of ARI was, in my view, not doing their job properly.
I’ll mention the accusation that anyone who voted for Trump was not only not an Objectivist but also a traitor to Objectivism. This is an arrogant and authoritarian remark. As Objectivists, we face a choice totally not of our choosing. Choose to vote for Trump, vote For Biden, not to vote, or write in a choice. I see no moral or intellectual defect in making any one of these choices. An Objectivist who makes that choice does so only on the basis of estimating, or perhaps guessing at is a better phrase, what will be the least damaging to America’s future and since it is only an estimate, how can one possibly condemn any one particular choice?
Finally, I’ll offer an unsolicited suggestion. I see a crucial need for competition with Face Book, Google, Twitter, etc. An Objectivist resigned from one of those corporations and did so in the context of stating clearly why he found their corporate policies objectionable. And it is clear from reading on line that many many people, not just Objectivists, share my sense of the necessity for such competition. Why not redirect your money to starting a company which does so? Yes, those corporations are far out in front and have huge assets but do not underestimate the value of the human spirit, particularly in this case given all of the people who, Objectivists or otherwise, despise the attempts by these corporations at ‘censorship’? I see a real need for such competition and frankly, I think that company which provided that competition in a skillful fashion would be a great context in which to spread the ideas of Ayn Rand.
I’m greatly impressed that you have sent this email. I have also found ARI to be less than consistently good in their online presentations. I am finding that some of Yaron’s comments are offensive, arrogant, out-of-context, and false. I also disagree strongly with his attacks on Trump from a philosophical point of view.
I think Yaron and some at ARI have adopted an intrinsicist approach to Ayn Rands ideas, quoting her written material, but not fully integrating her philosophy as it applies to current issues.
I think ARI and TOS should be managed and led by the same person(s) under an agreed upon Vision Statement and Strategic Plan developed by the most important stakeholders. This would result in clarified and supported goals and objectives. Project management tools can then be applied to implement actions to achieve goals under budget and on time.
I think a future ARI might be best suited for how to best research, understand and communicate Objectivism vs other philosophies. TOS and possibly Prometheus on how to best apply Objectivism to today’s world.
I’ve been an Objectivist since the early 80s and would like to help.
Carl, I know you:be given a lot 9f yourself to this cause. Still, I am glad you have withdrawn your support.
Those who are eager to become professional ‘New Intellectual,’ even with a modest salary and perhaps no tenure as a professor can seek out others privately as mentors. As for reaching the rest of us, offering us the likes of New Ideal could do very well for keeping us on track morally. We can seek elsewhere for credible answers involving political trends, family life, childrearing, psychology, economics etc etc. A personal note: I’m 78, married for 48 years, still crazy about the same gal. We have two grown sons, and we all live in Atlanta. I used to attend NBI lectures. And I still recall a Barbara Branden lecture, approved by Ayn Rand. “Even before you were born,” said Barbara,”you were already either male or female.” I thought that was a great way to start a lecture on the psychology of romantic love! These days, even such time-tested concepts as normality, femininity, masculinity, maturity, discipline etc have become, well abnormal.😉 Rand was surely on target in tracing today’s cultural morass back to Kant.
Best wishes, Joe Scheb
Like you I used to be a donor to ARI (small time, nowhere near your level). Like you I have been turned off by the recent words of many prominent Objectivists. Like you, I realized several years ago that ARI was getting nowhere. My question to a prominent ARI figure “how are speaking tours and high school book drives working out? We seem to be falling further behind”.
That question came in response to my idea getting poo-pooed: founding a capitalist party. “You have to change the culture first” (how’s that working out) was the predictable reply. Well, I say you change the culture from the top down. Not by book drives and speaking tours that reach a relative few.
For fun really, an acquaintance and I (Mark Pellegrino) decided to write up what that party would look like. We did a pretty good job, but decided to hire Andy Bernstein to write up the final draft. You can find the fruits of our efforts here: theamericancapitalistparty.com
Now, Mark and I have other lives. We’ve put very little effort, or what would be a massive effort, toward getting this going. My hope was we’d reach some billionaire who wanted to save the world, and instead of having his/her name on a university building, he/she would leave a real legacy behind.
I was aware of you and John Allison as prominent objectivists, but didn’t want to step on relationships you had with ARI. If you’d like to talk, I entered my email here. Mark and I have a lot of ideas.
Regardless, great post. You’re 100% right about all of it, and there are certainly better uses for your money.
I salute and support your challenge to ARI, Yaron and Onkar in particular.
My concern is that, not only are they failing, but they are dangerously close to corrupt.
It matters to me that you are supporting Leonard and bringing back to prominence his intellectual contribution from years past
A thought I’ve had for quite some time coalesced this past year: some Objectivists are the absolute worst ambassadors for Objectivism.
I’ve shaken my head in disappointment while watching many of the recent videos produced by ARI and I cannot believe that they appeal to those who are curious about Objectivism. If ARI is trying to win the battle of ideas with those efforts, then they are failing. Great teaching involves much more than mastery of subject.
I had to stop donating to ARI a few years ago for economic reasons, but I have not resumed for philosophic reasons.
Ayn Rand recognized the importance of culture, which is why her novels have had such a great impact. Though it is important to train intellectuals, ARI also needs to make strides in cultural pursuits by making alliances with those most capable of such successes. They are failing there, too.
I think that there is a conflict of interest with Yaron serving on the board of ARI and his promotion of of his program YBS. If I am a donor with limited resources to whom should I donate money? Is the Institute and YBS one and the same?
I have also questioned whether the institute, which seems to spend a lot of money, is fulfilling any meaningful strategy for success. For instance, I have questioned the sidelining of serious Objectivist such as Andrew Bernstein in favour of a Gina Gorlin,. I question the effect especially compared to the cost of Yaron’s overseas business class travels to lecture. Further, I can’t understand why ARI’s leading intellectuals such as Greg Salmieri aren’t the ones more on the debate front, here I’m thinking of the force of Leonard Peikoff and John Ridpath. I’m outraged at ARI’s engagement with the likes of an Eric Weinstein. And finally the Institutes initial wishy washy non – pro -freedom approach to covid was unacceptable.
In other words, I think your questions are proper and valid and that they deserve a response. There really seems to be no accountability.
Ryan Holiday, a young bestseller author has done more for popularizing the old philosophy of stoicism (which can’t hold a candle to objectivism) almost all by himself in a few years than ARI has done for objectivism during their entire existence.
The structure of ARI is wrong if evaluated by results versus money over time. It seems like it had a great start, but has slowly has fallen off. This has happened to other institutions, but it seems that the fervor at which Objectivist institutions have exploded means that additional measures are required for success. Look at those peer institutions you listed, and more, whether or not you like them, and note what it takes as organizations to be sustained and to grow. What did they do when they had a crisis similar to today? (Ejecting a to funder, well, at least one.) This includes funding, structures, projects and results (publications, trainings, events, graduate student engagement, service revenue stream.). I believe there is an opportunity for a fresh start, though it might mean a different mixture of people, and different rules to prevent projects getting torpedoed by an argument. For instance, a crazy suggestion, people may only work on one project aside from operational activities, except the board, and no projects without clear succession. So, if there is a failure, only one project is affected at worst. There is also the value of job rotation.
Starting from the goals, objectives and strategies as laid out by the board, which is ruled by orderly means and must follow transparency requirements for non-quorum meetings, every aspect of the organization must be identified and measured. Eg., an author has not created a draft at the productivity level of Thomas Sowell or Ayn Rand, well fine, but it that one draft every six months, or five years? How many graduate students are being sponsored and what is their track record with their chosen institutions? How many are in the pipeline and what are these people doing after they graduate? Everything has an objective, and those objectives have measurements of exactly what to accomplish over time.
Thank you for confirming from the inside what is obvious to anyone familiar with ARI since its founding. You ask for Objectivists to come forward and join you in rescuing ARI from itself. I am doing just that. What is missing is the cause of why dedicated advocates of Objectivism fail when they leave the philosophical system of Objectivism and enter into trying to advance it as a business.
The error is not in spending money but philosophical. The Objectivism ARI is advocating is not the Objectivism defined by Ayn Rand. The difference is caused by a series of intellectual mistakes made by the in house philosophers which are errors of knowledge about science and epistemology. The result is anyone following their courses gets lost at how Objectivism explains the observed world. When Ghate proclaims “Science is determinist” all rational and science minded people around the world are alienated from Objectivism. The changes needed are simple at the board level but require philosophical work from the outside because Binswanger and Ghate and possibly Smith don’t know their science. The future belongs to Objectivism as the integrating idea for science and philosophy, but we have to turn ARI around.
Thank you for speaking out. I very much appreciate what you have to say.
I am a long time (since the ’60s) admirer of Ayn Rand and Objectivism and since I am of the rank and file only, I was heartened to hear you speak of the term “Objectivist” in a less than royal fashion especially in the matter of Trump. I will now go back and read your other articles.
Glad you wrote and posted this, as well as your article about Craig. Many of us are thinking for ourselves and are not happy with ARI as it is now. Such a shame. And what has been done to Craig Biddle and John McCaskey is unconscionable.
I was shocked in March to hear ARI Objectivists were not shocked and horrified by the government lockdowns. Where has their action been to restore our freedom? The lockdowns and riots have been a perfect example of how to apply Objectivism in defense of our lives, but where has that been? No where.
Has Yaron replied to your article in which you invited him to reply recently? Please send it out if he does.
Thanks for all you’ve done and are doing, and stay safe in these insane times.
Patrice Larson Aumann
Palm Desert, CA
I could produce a long list of reasons to not vote for Trump. But I have a much longer (and more important) list of reasons to not allow his opponent to become POTUS. Also, I must add that Trump isn’t just the lesser of evils. Even if Trump doesn’t really know how to make American great again, it is clear that to me that he genuinely loves America and for mostly good reasons. I can’t say that about his opponent and fellow travelers.
It is a sad fact that our fellow citizens give us such poor choices for political leadership. But it is reality and we need to respond to reality as best we can with the choices at hand.
On the subject of ARI, I love everything produced by Ayn Rand and reject none of it. But I stopped calling myself an Objectivist a long time ago, because I did not want to associate myself with people who have been so irrationally hostile to their comrades in arms. This has been going on for decades and doing all of the harm that you have cited.
I’ve long believed that ARI could not succeed in sponsoring Objectivism. And not just because of the infighting. Now that you’ve disclosed the size of your former financial and intellectual support, I no longer wonder how ARI has survived until now. I congratulate you for shifting your support elsewhere. I don’t know too much about your current projects, but I do believe that both Craig and Alex Epstein are very worthy of your support.
Unfortunately, ARI has the same flaw that infects most similar non-profit organizations. They are bureaucratic squabblers because they are not accountable for results — results in terms of philosophical impact they make on the culture (not so much the results in the funds raised from contributors).
ARI probably isn’t worth saving as a non-profit. Shouldn’t the foremost advocate of capitalism be a capitalist enterprise? Should an Objectivist enterprise be run like a church? Perish the thought. Shouldn’t ARI be run by sympathetic business people and charged with making money by selling Objectivist ideas programs to the public e.g. in the form of videos, movies, books, education, etc.? Certainly there’s nothing wrong with selling shares in the enterprise to people who love Ayn Rand’s philosophy, especially when the enterprise needs capital to get started. But it should be self-sustaining as a capitalist enterprise.
I would also advocate that a principle goal of ARI or its successor should be to make a profit while running its competition — our nation’s church-like colleges and universities — out of business. The evil mystics supported by these institutions are doing great harm to our nation and they need to be stopped ASAP. The ARI approach of sponsoring intellectuals to replace the mystics is failing and really cannot succeed. As a businessman, I’m sure that you can appreciate that these institutions are competitors, who are selling poison to unsuspecting students and their parents. Have you ever heard of a company training executives to take over their competitors’ businesses? Of course not.
So don’t give up on your Ayn Rand University idea. You, of all people, know how to make a success of a profit making college or university. Perhaps you can go after the over-priced liberal arts schools first. Use the Software-as-a-service model that is making so many companies like Salesforce.com, Adobe, Microsoft, etc. so wealthy. They are undercutting the competing alternatives on price and service so much that competitors fail.
To attract students, hire famous and competent historian-educators to produce history courses for online consumption that are funded and distributed on line by ARU. Do the same with other subjects, but with ARU retaining the intellectual rights so that students are taking their college courses from an interactive server and the professors need only be paid a one time fee for their intellectual contribution — not for lecturing and grading papers. (You can market their services as tutors and mentors if you approve of them philosophically.)
I guarantee you that there is no subject, including foreign languages, science, engineering, architecture and math, that cannot be taught this way. Not only will students be attracted by famous professors and low prices, they will also be attracted by the ability to take the courses any time and any where. And, you need not have any significant entrance requirements. (You can offer scholarships, a price cut, to the bright people that you most want to attract.)
As a separate, but companion enterprise, you can offer scholarship communities — pleasant living dorms or apartment complexes where college students can live outside their home if they have the funds and if they so desire. You can place them anywhere — how about Maui? London? Malibu? Costa del Sol? Rome? Laguna Beach? In artistic centers? In technology centers? Manufacturing centers? They need not be large at the outset; just be initiated with a plan that allows them to expand as the school grows.
I’m confident that you can attract the right people to staff such an enterprise and raise startup capital — from acquaintances and even venture capitalists. You can start out as chairman and then hand-off to a co-chair as you desire. The main purpose is to make profits by putting the evil mystics out of business.
Thanks for publicizing ARI’s plight. It needed to be done. But I suggest that you not try to salvage the present version of ARI. Some of the people, perhaps. Even the name. But not the current non-business.
Thanks for the information.
I knew Rand. I don’t think she would have ever wanted her name on any organization. Calling it The Ayn Rand Institute makes it sound as if they have the “true word” about her ideas.
I’ve found ARI dull from their beginning, with only a few things of interest. I lost all respect for ARI when they published the essay by Ghate, “WHY AYN RAND WOULD HAVE DESPISED A PRESIDENT TRUMP.”
I saw that argument as a pattern any Objectivist could use to make any point. Just cherry pick quotes about other subjects and say that’s what Rand would have thought in this circumstance. It isn’t a matter of the person who’s the subject of this essay, it’s the form of this argument that is awful.
I asked Greg Salmieri what he thought of the form of this argument and he answered that Ghate was an expert. Pathetic, even though I still respect Salmieri in other areas.
I agree with you wholeheartedly in all particulars. In addition, I have heard from multiple people that ARI has developed a culture of intellectual conformity rivaled only by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Any disagreements on the *application* of Objectivism to concrete topics of the day had to be argued over endlessly internal to the organization, with Onkar getting the final word. This has led to many of the dysfunctional attributes you mention above. If every *concrete* question must be decided once and for all time by Onkar (or Yaron) and then no dissent is possible, even in light of new evidence, then what you have is a church with dogma, not an intellectual organization trying to find the truth based on each persons’ understanding of Objectivism’s core principles, the appropriate context in which to apply those principles, and the concrete issue being discussed.
The most obvious issue is whether one can be a Trump supporter or not, as you discussed. I, like Dr. Peikoff, am a Trump supporter for all the various reasons I’m sure you know well. But there are other issues that Objectivists disagree about honestly, while no dissent is allowed by ARI. For example:
* Should we have unlimited immigration to the US? While Yaron waffles on this issue, the basic ARI position is “Yes.” I respectfully disagree, and unlike anyone at ARI, have written about this issue extensively (see, e.g., https://objectivedissent.org/2017/01/24/immigration/ ). Now, my reasoning may be right or faulty. But I have never received any feedback at all (other than that I am a xenophobe not worth discussing) from anyone at ARI.
* Should we have completely free trade with Communist China? The ARI answer, promoted by Yaron over the years countless times, is “Yes.” Well we found out this year that absolutely no pharmaceuticals or medical protective equipment or machinery were manufactured in the US, but almost all in China. The US has no native capability to manufacture *antibiotics*. So what are we going to do if China becomes belligerent in the South China Sea or with Taiwan or Japan or the Philippines? How do we go to war to protect our allies if we have no antibiotics (or capability to make antibiotics) to give our injured soldiers or sailors? I mentioned this to Yaron after a live talk maybe ten years ago, but no one seemed to listen. The dogma of free trade with our potential enemy had been decided by Yaron or Onkar, and thus *no matter what happened in the real world*, no “true Objectivist” was allowed to argue with that dogma of “free trade.”
* Is abortion moral, and should abortion be allowed throughout all nine months of pregnancy? Ayn Rand was a fierce defender of abortion rights (as am I), however Rand herself never said abortion is moral (or should be legal) up to the moment of birth. Yet this is the ARI position, and again it has been dogmatized. There are very interesting ethical and scientific issues regarding the status of the fetus in the final trimester that I think could benefit from an objective (and Objectivist) non-dogmatic approach. Yet such heresy is not allowed.
These are merely three examples, but I could come up with more if you wanted. What ARI needs is commitment to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of reality, reason, individualism, and individual rights, with the understanding that good, rational, well-meaning Objectivists can, and indeed will, disagree on its application to specific concrete cases, because of differing views of the context or the scientific literature or new facts that come to light (like the lack of pharmaceutical manufacturing capability in the US and its implication for national security). ARI needs to dismantle the dogmatism on concrete issues and embrace open *written* discussion, debate, disagreement, and welcome feedback from well-meaning Objectivists. It is by debate and argument that knowledge is gained, not by rationalism (turning the crank of deduction, as Dr. Peikoff would say). ARI does not allow debate. Sure, Yaron will debate some idiot socialist–that’s like Mike Tyson sparring with a high school student. But he won’t debate any knowledgable Objectivist dissenter, because such a debate would show how shallow Yaron’s understanding of the subjects he pontificates on really are.
To fix ARI, and indeed in your own work going forward, my suggestion is to require commitment and knowledge of Ayn Rand’s work and philosophy, but allow heterodoxy on individual concrete issues, rather than require rote memorization of dogmatized rationalism, as Yaron and Onkar seem to want. There is no fix to ARI while Yaron and Onkar both work there and create a hostile intellectual work environment from its intellectuals (like they do to Craig). ARI can only be saved if Yaron and Onkar are ejected from the organization.
Best wishes in your endeavors to help spread Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s work and ideas.
I agree with your comments on Mr Brook. I have listened to Yaron’s podcast for a few years and I have enjoyed it. Unfortunately, his abrasive “I’m right”, dogmatic style has become little tiresome. When he disagrees with someone’s point he always goes off with “NO”, a terrible way to answer someone and automatically puts them in a defensive mode. I think this is why he has trouble building a channel. He’s not likeable and whether we like it or not, being likeable when you are selling an idea or product is one of the most important things. Milton Friedman knew this, and this was why he had a good impact. Freedman told the economist, Walter Williams, that when he talks about capitalism and a free society to smile, it makes a difference. I feel Yaron is too combative and wants to be seen as right and winning the argument than changing the mind of the person he’s speaking with, let alone smile to show the people listening that life is good under such a system.
I don’t know if you saw Patrick Bet-David (‘Valuetainment’ channel on YouTube) interview Yaron? I like PBD and he gives me a good, positive, feeling when I listen to his show. I don’t get that with Yaron. PBD is very astute, pro-capitalist, an immigrant with a love of the US. I success story that shows the American dream. PBD gave Yaron some marketing advice and was dismissed. PBD has built quite a following in a short period of time and has a couple of channel on YouTube with over 1m subscribers. He was looking to give some advice to Yaron on how to sell Objectivism & build a following and Yaron dismissed him without really giving him a second thought. That’s a bad sign and not an attitude for growth.
I think PBD is a good interviewer and good exposure for Mr Biddle if something could be arranged. I think Craig could do a better job on selling Objectivism, if he was to appear.
PBD very much the entrepreneurial/capitalist crowd and these people are probably prime for Objectivism. Whilst I haven’t studied his audience, I would expect them to be young and hungry. This seems the type ARI is aiming to convince and would suit the heroes in Rand’s novels.
I think your overall assessment of ARI is right and the amount of currency that you alone has given, they should have better results. A lot of the intellectuals don’t inspire and seem drab. How many are living like the characters of the novels! This is not to say they are bad, but without charisma on the front lines to draw people in, these intellectuals won’t get the traction that their work deserves.
Thank you for your contributions to ARI and Yaron, as without them I probably wouldn’t have found Ayn Rand. I first heard of Rand via Stefan Molyneux. This was before he went off the deep end & became controversial. I got into him in his early days and he mentioned Rand back then but I had no clue about her or her ideas. Then I saw Yaron & Don Watkins on the Rubin Report, which was part of an ARI push they had with Rubin and they started me on the path. I now have all her books and many others. I am not the same person I was six years ago.
Sorry for the long post and any errors. I didn’t expect to go this long when I started and did change it quite a lot, so I hope it is intelligible.
Thank you for your essay, Mr. Barney.
All my limited funds to ARI to support Objectivism are earmarked for their ‘Ayn Rand Books and eBooks for Teachers’ effort – plus ‘Free Objectivist Books’ which a student may click on when perusing the ARI website. I also admire and support to some lesser monetary extent the work of Craig Biddle who I greatly admire.
My take is that philosophy must be sold – and not told – and Objectivism is no different from any other in that regard. (Has anyone noticed that the Post Modernist Philosophers now dominate our culture – it’s because they sold their nonsense notions!)
In my opinion, AR is the best salesman of her work followed by LP for those who want to understand her past the Literary level. The best prospects are younger people.
I have a modest proposal. Talk the principals into stopping the bickering about how many angels dance on the head of a pin, and promote AR’s work. Do this by a joint venture by Biddle, ARI, and Atlas Society to distribute her books nearly free. Not everybody who reads her works is going to be an Objectivist or for those who do, become will be a learned scholar. But, a winning view of life could be transmitted to those interested. Our goal should be to change the culture and the Post Modernists have taught us the most efficient way to do just that.
Cecil R. Williams
Dear Mr. Barney,
Thanks for pulling the curtain open on ARI and Yaron Brook for me, a simple student of Objectivism who witnessed a back-and-forth struggle between TOS and ARI over the years since I have been paying more attention to Ayn Rand’s ideas and the organizations supporting such ideas.
I discovered Ayn Rand thru Alex Epstein’s excellent work on energy, and then started to follow Yaron Brook, some 5 years ago. I met him in person a few times here in Switzerland, and I had the pleasure of being at OCON 2018 where I moved my first steps in the Objectivist world, full of great names and great ideas with whom I could talk to and interact. A real highlight of my past few years!
But a few things in Yaron’s podcasts never fully resonated with me, especially his fixation on politics, which for Ayn Rand is surely important, but not a thing on which to base most of the shows, especially when one mostly speaks about negative aspects of this or that politician, which in most cases might be true, but maybe in the case of President Trump it is a little less true, and is definitely obfuscated by a large personal bias.
I have almost completely stopped listening to Yaron Brook’s show because of his fixation on Trump, which has become an obsession, sadly. I am happy to see that Craig at OSI has started to publish great content, at the same time!
I am writing this note while the polls are still open, and while I am not a big fan of Trump, I realize that he is the last bastion to freedom that the world has. It’s all in the hands of the American people right now. I wish us all, in what remains of the free world, well.
I thank you for the huge impact your contributions had on ARI, and I am sure I have directly benefited from them.
I look forward to some healthy competition for spreading Objectivist ideas around the world. I for one need to learn a lot, still.
That’s some biting criticism Carl.
I agree that it would be appropriate for ARI, and clearly Yaron, to respond.
As a 30 + year benefactor myself, it’s sad that Objectivism, the movement, continues to suffer from these institutionalized feuds. I could name at least half a dozen break ups that were done in the name of protecting Objectivism, that clearly have had the opposite effect.
Why do you think that is?
After attending a lecture at Rutgers University, a few years ago, listening to a representative of the ARI Institute, I was horrified to hear this man bash Trump for 30 minutes.
That is when I stopped supporting the Ayn Rand Institute and fully understand why Ayn Rand had no interest in institutions professing her philosophy.
Ayn Rand would likely characterize Trump as a “Buzz Windrip” from Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here”!
Trump is a whim-worshipping, pragmatic, subjectivist autocrat.
ARI is right to condemn him to a third rung of Dante’s Hell!
He & the current Republican party are objectively demonstrable authoritarian!