(For Objectivists and members of HBL)
Craig Biddle’s interview with Dennis Prager, “A Dialogue About God and Ayn Rand,” has now exceeded 1.2 million views. It has set an all-time record for views of Mr. Prager’s Fireside Chats, and it has generated the highest number of Fireside Chat comments on YouTube (more than 1,400), most of which are positive.
The PragerU five-minute video, “Understanding Ayn Rand,” which promoted Atlas Shrugged, has exceeded 2.3 million views and 3,000 comments, and those numbers are still rising. The script for this video was co-authored by Craig, his team at the Objective Standard Institute (OSI), and the writers at PragerU. (See Craig’s discussion of the backstory here.)
PragerU’s audience is generally young (18-34), smart, and interested in ideas. And these videos are introducing millions of young people to Ayn Rand’s books and ideas. According to YouTube statistics, these two videos—“A Dialogue About God and Ayn Rand” and “Understanding Ayn Rand”—have had more views than any other video production in Objectivist history. So, you would think that appreciation and congratulations would be flowing to Craig and OSI, and they are. There have been a flood of emails, inquiries, and subscriptions to Craig’s journal, The Objective Standard.
But some are dismissing and disparaging this promotion of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and they seek to denigrate its creator, Craig. A mixture of appreciation and hostility is on display on the Harry Binswanger List (HBL), a discussion forum run by Harry. Some have said: “courageous,” “a great interview,” “I loved this interview,” “bravo,” “a great service,” “excellent job,” “well done,” etc. But some have said: “wrong,” “bad!,” “should have been more militant,” “embarrassing [to be on with someone so religious],” “not fundamental or principled,” “should have attacked,” “watered down,” “too friendly,” “needs to be more confrontational.”
Craig engaged in the discussion on HBL calmly and rationally, addressing the various criticisms of him and the videos. He explained his reasoning behind his choices and his wording, and he asked for and appreciated constructive criticism people had to offer.
Craig also joined a video discussion, a “Meeting of the Minds,” (MOTM) with about 140 HBLers on Zoom. Craig continued replying calmly, clearly, and confidently.
Harry and Peter Schwartz began the meeting with “when do you break with…” and hints at a schism. It appeared that the meeting was orchestrated to condemn and ostracize Craig. However, it didn’t work out that way. The hostility during the meeting was ultimately diffused by participants’ questions and some thoughtful discussion, and by compliments of Craig. And someone suggested that if we were going to criticize Craig, we also ought to criticize Greg Salmieri and Yaron Brook for the Jordan Peterson appearance at OCON in 2018 in Newport Beach, CA. (I’ve heard that it cost ARI $50,000 or $70,000 to have Peterson appear on the stage for an hour.) That engagement with Peterson by Greg and Yaron was awful. (Fortunately, it has only 30,000 views. — Correction: A reader informed me that although the version of the Peterson video on ARI’s YouTube page has 31K views, the version on Dave Rubin’s page has almost 289K views. I appreciate the correction.)
As for Yaron’s appearance on the Glenn Beck show, we don’t have to speculate as to why it was so ineffective. Yaron explains it himself on a podcast in which he was critical of Craig for not being confrontational with Prager and for not attacking religion:
I went on Glenn Beck’s channel … I attacked Trump, I attacked conservatives, I attacked religion, and that’s why I failed in Glenn Beck’s channel and came to the conclusion it’s not a good audience.
That is Yaron’s style. It is not Craig’s style.
The MOTM appeared to conclude amicably. But Harry and Peter didn’t relent. Both Craig and I were removed from HBL last Sunday for a new offense—allegedly for smearing ARI and its principals. The alleged smearing, it turns out, is my article “The Truth about Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI,” which defended Craig against a decade of covert smearing and shunning by Yaron and Onkar Ghate.
One of Harry’s main claims is that Craig shouldn’t have engaged with Mr. Prager because he is too religious. And a few on HBL judged Craig “immoral” for discussing Objectivism with him. It’s worth noting that, a few years ago, ARI was negotiating a major video production campaign with PragerU, and it was only dropped for financial reasons, not for moral or intellectual reasons. It’s also worth noting that in a discussion with me recently, Leonard Peikoff mentioned Craig’s interview with Prager and told me that he thought Prager was intelligent and a competent intellectual, and that he sometimes likes listening to him. When I expressed surprise because of Prager’s religiosity, he told me that one of Ayn Rand’s household assistants was a practicing Christian. When Leonard had a radio show, he spoke highly of the very religious Dr. Laura Schlessinger, complimenting her for taking ideas seriously and speaking her mind. Ayn Rand regularly communicated with religious people, even clergymen, respectfully, calmly, and rationally.
Yaron and others from ARI have appeared on or worked with Bill O’Reilly, who is a dedicated, practicing Catholic; Glenn Beck, who is Mormon; Dave Rubin, who has recently returned to religion despite his many engagements with ARI intellectuals; and Jordan Peterson, who embraces a mixture of various forms of religion and mysticism. And some of these engagements have been pursued at considerable expense to ARI’s donors—the appearances on Dave Rubin’s show were particularly expensive (I was asked to finance some of them).
I appreciate what Craig has achieved with PragerU, including his interview with Dennis Prager. Mr. Prager is a large, imposing man physically and he has a formidable intellect. He is also one of the most knowledgeable and skilled advocates of religion (Judaism). Craig went into the lion’s den to discuss Ayn Rand’s ideas vs. religion. Craig knew that what he said there with the cameras running would have an impact—maybe a major impact—on the advancement of Objectivism, as would his attitude and demeanor.
Dennis Prager was gracious and kind. He was also serious and adept at asking provocative questions. The first one, “Do you hope you are right or wrong about there not being a God—you’ll get to see your loved ones after you die?” was particularly tricky. (Craig was given no advance notice of the questions to be asked, no preparation or rehearsal, no idea what he would be asked.) Under the circumstances, I think Craig handled that question well.
I’ve observed a lot of Objectivists answering difficult questions, particularly Yaron, with whom I went on several world tours. Sometimes he was brilliant, sometimes good, and occasionally I cringed. But that’s the nature of being on the spot and answering hard questions on the fly; it’s a challenge. We’ve all seen Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, Yaron, Harry, and others in the hot seat on television, and many of their answers are just like Craig’s—some excellent and some not. Craig did well, and there is no question about the extraordinary results: millions exposed to Ayn Rand’s ideas.
I think we should appreciate what happened, the results, and the benefits for our great values—the promotion of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. I think we should have appreciation, gratitude, and perhaps some admiration for Craig.
I’d like to know what you think in the comments.