I have critiqued the Ayn Rand Institute’s failures to advance Ayn Rand and promote her philosophy. Several people have asked me what I think ARI could do to succeed. I’ll provide some thoughts on that below. But first, some context.
Yaron Brook, on his podcast, publicly asked: “While [Carl Barney] was on the Board [of ARI] for 25 years when these failures were happening, what did he do about it?” He goes on a diatribe about my article, ARI is Failing and Needs Our Help. Yaron says it is “filled with misrepresentations, inaccuracies, distortions, perversions, and on and on and on I could go, but what for, what would be the purpose?” He asserts that my comments are full of errors but he refuses to specify even one. That’s telling. But it’s not my focus here. And I’m not interested in trading barbs with him. (That said, if he continues making such wild assertions, I’ll be inclined to publish the relevant documentation so that you can see for yourself.)
My concern here is to address Yaron’s claim that in my 25 years on ARI’s Board, I never said anything about my concerns with ARI’s lack of success. To understand my thinking on this, it will be helpful to first look briefly at ARI’s 2020 annual report, which was beautifully done—lots of nice pictures, graphs, and boasts. The problem is that it seriously lacks substance and doesn’t report on any real, measurable results. So much is missing from it.
Yaron, ARI’s Chairman and leading spokesman, is absent entirely. The annual report features large pictures and pieces on Tal Tsfany, CEO, and Onkar Ghate, “Chief Philosophy Officer,” but no Yaron. I’ve never seen an annual report in which the Chairman has nothing to say.
Next, given that this is the Ayn Rand Institute, you would expect to see Ayn Rand promoted, but she is presented only after a long, nine-page interview with Tal and not until halfway through the report. That is a huge problem (more on this later).
A mention of Leonard Peikoff appears almost as an afterthought in the back of the report. That’s wrong, too.
Then there is the question of transparency. Where are the measurements of ARI’s success? And what is even being measured? Where is the data showing meaningful results (not clicks, views, or hours)? Anyone who cares about advancing Rand’s ideas, and anyone giving money to ARI, should demand accurate, meaningful, rational measurements and data. The report offers little in this regard.
New Objectivists? Where are the numbers regarding increases or decreases in the number of Objectivists? There’s no measurement of that, and no indication or evidence that there are any more Objectivists now than there were 5, 10, or 20 years ago. (Yaron: Please prove me wrong!)
New Intellectuals? There are no new professional intellectuals coming out of ARI, and none getting into major universities. Greg Salmieri is the most recent, and he graduated from the Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) over 15 years ago. Alex Epstein also graduated from the OAC over 15 years ago; he is a credible voice for reason and Objectivism, but he succeeded on his own merit outside of ARI. (Yaron: Am I overlooking successful, impactful new Objectivist intellectuals from ARI?)
Book Sales? What’s happening with Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s books? How many books have been sold (not given away)? ARI’s annual report provides no stats on book sales whatsoever. There’s a good reason for that: the book sales have been down and declining in the U.S. for years. That is deeply troubling, and it’s an indicator of massive failure. Podcasts and radio shows may help, but if people do not read Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff, they will never understand or appreciate Objectivism.
Objectivist Academic Center? Where are the OAC graduates? Where is the group picture of graduates for this year?… Past years? Of course, the government-ordered lockdowns blocked the possibility of an in-person photo, but why no Zoom picture? There is no picture because there is no one to photograph—few, if any, have graduated. This is extremely sad and troubling.
OCON? Attendance at the Institute’s summer conference is perhaps ARI’s most visible failure. I’ve attended OCON for over 30 years, and the attendance has remained more or less flat for that entire time. Attendance should be in the thousands, not hundreds. In my view, it should be 10,000 by now.
ARI’s Board needs to speak to Yaron. He ran his December 31, 2020 personal radio show out of the Ayn Rand Institute’s Conference Room but told his listeners to ignore that fact. He asserted that he’s not speaking for ARI, and he’s not discussing Objectivism, only his own ideas. Yet he’s the foremost spokesman for ARI, the current Chairman of the Board, and the former CEO of about 15 years. Yaron used the power and prestige of his position to lend credibility to his show and to raise money for himself—a sort of telethon. In doing so, he has endangered ARI’s nonprofit status with the IRS.
Yaron wants to get paid for his show, but despite my urging of many years, he refuses to charge for Leonard Peikoff’s courses, which are invaluable. Not charging for Leonard’s and Ayn Rand’s works devalues and debases them. I know from comments I’ve received that many people are offended by the $0 price tag on material that is among the most valuable in all of human history. When I look at ARI’s treatment of Leonard’s courses, in particular, I see lack of respect.
So, what can be done? First, and above all, this is the Ayn Rand Institute—repeat, Ayn Rand! It should not be about Yaron Brook, or Onkar Ghate, or Tal Tsfany. All of Leonard Peikoff’s lectures at the Ford Hall Forum and all his courses were directly related to Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. His brilliant exposition of Ayn Rand and Objectivism did not detract from his eminence; it enhanced it. Leonard has always been his own man, while being a devoted advocate of Ayn Rand and teacher of Objectivism.
ARI should be doing much more to promote Ayn Rand and her brilliant philosophy. Massive promotions should be done of her novels, her nonfiction books, and the courses that she and Leonard taught. There should be book clubs and study clubs centered around their books and materials.
No one teaches Ayn Rand and Objectivism as well as Leonard. All of his courses should be marketed vigorously, delivered professionally, and priced appropriately. They should not be thrown up on YouTube for free alongside kitten and puppy videos. They should be offered as premium courses and taught worldwide, as was agreed many years ago when I proposed, planned, and financed ARI Campus.
There is so much more that ARI could and should be doing to advance Objectivism.
Now, for an indication of what I did and said about such things while I was on the Board of ARI.
ARI STRATEGIC PLANNING 2015
Agenda Questions: As for me, I’m not interested in a routine confirmation and tweak planning sessions, i.e., we do more or less of what we are already doing. Yaron wrote on 7/6/2015, we need “to expand current programs and bring new ones online… essential to changing the culture.” I’m not sure this is true.
I want to question everything; re-think everything; then stop or continue with minimum, moderate, or maximum effort.
What will exist in 10 or 15 years that will make a real difference? Number of Objectivist intellectuals? …of Objectivists? …of fans? …of AR books sold? …of books sold? Conferences? Speaking tours? Campus courses completed? TV appearances? Radio show? Policy briefings? Books on healthcare, education, equality? What numbers of what do we want to exist in 10-15 years?
Above all, I want to set a clear, aggressive, specific goal(s) that will lead to a substantive, measurable result—100,000 students active on Campus? 15,000 Objectivists? 1,000 professors teaching Objectivism?
Really, the question is: What will be the BIG result by 2025/2030?—a clear, specific, measurable, significant, BIG GOAL(S), and a clear-cut means of achieving it/them.
Also, at the end, real commitment to the plan, even, hopefully, excitement.
Yaron and I, along with other ARI executives and some Board members, spent seven full days planning to significantly improve ARI, which I was already funding substantially and interested in funding even more substantially. I asked many questions to spark discussion and generate ideas. And many excellent ideas were considered. However, at the end of the planning, Yaron declared that he wasn’t going to change anything. All of the planning that had been done over the previous seven days was rejected and abandoned. I was stunned and profoundly disappointed.
I left and went home. A few days later, Yaron flew to my home at Lake Tahoe and made promises to implement some of the ideas planned, and in particular, to promote and deliver Leonard’s courses according to my requests. He didn’t keep his promises.
Yaron had mainly planned to create a cadre of professional Objectivists at ARI who would write books and lecture around the world. Tens of millions of dollars have now been spent on this program. What is the result? Some books were published, but few if any of them sold more than 1,000 copies. There are no new renowned Objectivist speakers. Yaron’s plan hasn’t worked. If it had, and if ARI were successful, I would be cheering rather than critiquing.
Some are concerned about my critiquing ARI, yet if we are to have a real and effective Ayn Rand Institute—one that actually carries out the mission of promoting Ayn Rand and advancing her ideas—then we must speak up, particularly major contributors and Board members. Speaking up makes a difference. We can see this in my case; some of my prior posts have noticeably affected ARI. You can see a bit more focus on Rand, and more (but still inadequate) promotion of Leonard Peikoff and his books and courses.
We need a strong, effective ARI that produces measurable results. I’ve written several posts that have produced some changes, but I’m hoping that this will be my last one on this topic. I want to focus on Prometheus Foundation and on finishing my book.
I’ve spoken up. I’ve communicated some painful things that needed to be said. Now, I encourage contributors and the Board to speak up. Asking tough questions, such as those in the agenda I wrote, would be a starting point. Ask for measurable results. Demand them.
My best to you and ARI.