Peter Schwartz wrote in a forum, among many of my friends, colleagues, and associates, that he has “no objection to someone who criticizes ARI’s policies or strategies,” but that I’ve gone too far. I’ve been criticizing ARI over the last several months, and he says I’ve engaged in “smears and half-truths.” He makes two claims in this regard: First, he says that I wrote that “Yaron Brook, on his show, said that no one who supports or votes for Trump could call himself an Objectivist. Yet [I] had to know, since Yaron made it very clear, that he was referring, not to those who reluctantly vote for Trump, but to those who enthusiastically embrace him and ignore his significant failings.” I had to know?! How? I don’t listen to Yaron’s podcast. I receive reports from his listeners. Based on a report (which I verified by listening to that awful section), what I actually wrote was:
One prominent ARI Objectivist stridently asserted that you cannot be an Objectivist if you support Donald Trump… Unknown [to Yaron] was the fact that Leonard Peikoff, the world’s most prominent living Objectivist, supported and even contributed to Trump.
Compare this to what Peter wrote. Was he accurate? This is the transcription from Yaron’s podcast that was sent to me:
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 [this was practically shouted at the audience]… 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.
Those were Yaron’s words. What I said was accurate, not a “smear” or “half-truth.” He accused Trump supporters of being enemies who are going to “destroy Objectivism.”
As Ayn Rand wrote, “definitions are the guardians of rationality.” What is the definition of “apologist?” I provided it in my post:
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.
Then I cited what Leonard had to say:
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.”
So Leonard also got the impression that Yaron was clearly saying that you’re not an Objectivist if you sympathize with or vote for Trump.
Leonard wrote to me that he was “steaming” about Yaron’s comments regarding Trump, and also publicly declared at his Zoom birthday party:
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.
I wonder if Peter would say “[Leonard] had to know!” and that Leonard was smearing Yaron with half-truths.
I then concluded my post with: “Whose thinking should you follow—Yaron’s or Leonard’s? Neither. You should think for yourself.”
Clearly, what I wrote was accurate, not a “smear” or a “half-truth.” Peter, I ask you to correct or withdraw your claims.
Only after Yaron became aware of Leonard’s displeasure (and after losing donors’ money)—and without making an apology—did he say that he really didn’t mean what he said but was only “referring, not to those who reluctantly vote for Trump [as Leonard and Harry did], but to those who enthusiastically embrace him and ignore his significant failings” (emphasis added). I don’t think that any rational person could possibly ignore Mr. Trump’s many “significant failings.”
Peter makes another claim: Onkar conducted a phone meeting with Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) students (during the McCaskey imbroglio) to inform them of the reasons that Craig Biddle was not going to be speaking at a lecture tour on behalf of ARI. This time, Peter cites accurately what I wrote:
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.”
Peter does not include what I wrote next, which was:
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.
Onkar created an unnecessary schism between TOS and ARI to the detriment of both organizations (and thus the advancement of Objectivism). Peter does not seem to know what Onkar said at the OAC meeting. Here is the key portion of the transcript in which Onkar addressed what Craig wrote about the McCaskey affair:
It’s garbage… It’s terrible… Of the many philosophic concepts misused in that statement are the nature of the arbitrary, the nature of possibility, the nature of contextual knowledge, both of Ayn Rand’s statements that are quoted, the nature of moral judgment and what a judgment is, the nature of moral neutrality… I’m not going to go into all the details of the nature of the statement or what is wrong with it… If you read and can understand the philosophical issues involved in Craig Biddle’s statement, there are significant problems here… It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.
Are those reasons or rationalistic, floating notions? Would you accept them as reasons?
Peter cites Don Watkins’s post relating to this issue, in which Don claims that Onkar did give the OAC students reasons. But Don (who apparently speaks for Yaron and Onkar) got it wrong; he did not recall the events accurately. In reply to Don’s claims, Craig shared the full portion of the transcript in which Onkar addressed these issues, making it clear that Don’s recollection of Onkar giving reasons was false. Don then withdrew from the field.
Peter is a skilled polemicist, so I’m surprised that he failed to quote me correctly. He wasn’t quoting something I said but something I wrote, and he clearly had the writing in front of him. I’m also surprised that he failed to look into the veracity of Don’s claims before agreeing with them. He called Don a “highly credible source.” That clearly was not the case.
(Why are Peter, Don, and others having to speak on these matters at all? Why doesn’t Onkar simply speak up and say, “Here’s why I was right…,” or, “Hey, look, I made a mistake…”?)
I am deeply disturbed and distressed by these unseemly disputes and the hostility and infighting. And from emails and comments, I know you, too, are sickened by it. I have no interest in continuing this debate with ARI. But I did not start it. ARI did. And I am not the cause of its continuation. ARI is. I wrote The Truth About Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI only after I discovered that Yaron had defamed me and Craig in an effort to turn Leonard Peikoff against us to stop us from publishing and promoting Leonard’s courses. That was beyond the pale. I decided I had to speak up.
If this nonsense continues—if my or Craig’s efforts to promote Objectivism and Ayn Rand continue to be undermined by anyone through any means, including attempts to poison Leonard against Craig or myself—then I will take every action necessary to combat it, including legal action. To the parties involved: Please understand this and stop any further smears or attacks on me (or on Craig Biddle). If you cease and desist, I will have nothing more to refute and nothing more to say, which would make me happy.
A concluding question for readers: When someone makes an evidence-based criticism of a person or an organization in the Objectivist community, should that be condemned as “an attack” or a “smear?” Or is it legitimate, rational discourse according to the Objectivist ethics? I’d like to know your opinion.
15 thoughts on “Peter Schwartz Claims “Unjust Attacks on ARI””
“Hubris – the Greeks – Objectivists” (why the fights, purges, and chronic lack of success?)
I’m always amazed at the arrogance and hubris of Objectivists on all levels time after time over the decades. No one else I’ve known exhibits this to this degree.
“I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and I have the final answers. Why can’t you see that immediately? You need to just shut up and listen to me” — that would never be baldly stated, or even explicitly held by the more thoughtful ones. But it often lurks under the surface, and rises to the fore under pressure.
Francisco d’Anconia once pointed out to another character that it’s exactly when you’re under stress or in contentious circumstances that you need to keep your manners and your civility tightly attached to you. And that includes imprecise words you can’t easily take back. For example, the phrase “honest disagreement” should be used a lot more frequently among Objectivists than “immorality”*.
The ancient Greeks wrote a lot, many plays about excessive pride which they called “hubris”. They didn’t mean what we call rational egoism, they meant an unearned and out of proportion to the actual facts — and to the needs of dealing with other human beings benevolently — attitude and approach.
Because they subscribed to an more egotism thanf egoism, they were constantly having the quarrels and one-upsmanship between city-states and no one willing to cooperate or back down. So the Greeks even on a small peninsula were never united. And they constantly went to war. It was the more disciplined and organized, but less creative and less brilliant, Romans who conquered them and who knew that “there is no hubris in team”.
(This would require a related discussion, but there is an arrogance also in being unwilling to admit that one has a lot to learn. There’s a valid kind of humility in saying “hey maybe I’ve made mistakes in strategy or tactics” and that one can even take lessons from one’s adversaries who are far, far more successful in spreading ideas and changing minds. Rather than simply blaming an irrational society for every failure to get people to listen to you.)
*Francisco also pointed out in another exchange, “you ought to learn that words have an exact meaning.”
I’ve watched many of the schisms over the years, which strikes me as a symptom of orthodoxy. It’s interesting that Mr. Brook chose the word “apologist” which is typically applied to defense or justification of a religion as if Trump supporters must be part of a cult of personality. The vitriol and rebukes aimed at Trump sympathizers or supporters at the very least invited a reasoned debate, perhaps by someone in the Trump movement like Dr. Peter Navarro or Steve Moore, the economic adiser to Trump along with Larry Kudlow. What we need now more than ever is a strongly protected free speech forum for open debate among Objectivist thinkers. We need an outlet for reasoned arguments and facts, not ad hominem attacks.
I believe Ayn Rand herself was critical of having an “Objectivist movement,” and now I understand why. Instead of splintering into “sects,” Objectivist thinkers (pro-reason, pro-capitalist, pro-individual rights) should work on uniting or creating a network of lycea as an alternative to public schools, or leveraging platforms like TedX, or Ford Hall Forum for debates to get past the propadanda machine and give people facts unfiltered. Investigative journalism is nearly exstinct.
Now that the creeping fascism that Ayn Rand warned us about is here, in control of House, Senate and Executive branches, there is no time to fiddle with these types of quarrels, which are best handled by parties in private rather than by public pronouncement or edict like the Church of Rome. I see great effort among pro-reason, freedom lovers and reality-based camps to unite now (even if they must agree to disagree on some fundamentals), while the formal agencies promoting Objectivism seem to be dividing more and more. Maybe that’s what is needed. I am and will always be an Objectivist, but I don’t like the gatekeeping mentality. Stick to the facts and evidence-based arguments. Even Conservatives see the imminent threat to our way of life and are openly saying (at C-PAC) they will work with atheists to defend it.
What is Wrong with Objectivists?
On page 1022 of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote, “there are no victims and no conflicts of interest among rational men….”
While I agree with Carl and most of what is written here, I disagree with the solution of giving up on ARI. If Objectivism is a philosophy for living on Earth, why can’t Objectivists get along? This behavior is distressing in every respect. That those in the Ivory Tower are oblivious, those with the funding are taken for granted, and that those caught in the crossfire don’t matter.
How can anyone expect the world to take Objectivism seriously when people with voices give up on each other as if Ayn Rand’s words above have no meaning for them whatsoever? Are we all so sure that the other guy is the devil, that we cannot sit down and reason with each other? This behavior is inappropriate in the sandbox. Why do we not agree that Objectivism is the philosophy that informs our lives, and it is incumbent upon us as Objectivists to admit that rationality does not bestow infalibility.
If there is nothing wrong with Objectivists, why can’t Objectivists successfully practice Objectivism with each other?
It has traditionally been ARI refusing to work with other Objectivists, or Ayn Rand fans, for some claimed moral imperfections.
Well said, Irene.
I remember listening to a Yaron rant about Ron Paul. I share many differences with Dr Paul but the rant that Yaron let rip with was irrational and not much evidence. It was not what I expected.
Dr Paul hold some opinions like he’s against abortion but when I read his reasons and his experiences in the medical profession, I could see why and get his view point. For Yaron to utterly slate Dr Paul in the manner he did, when Dr Paul probably the most principled person in politics at that time and pro-liberty as any politician in my lifetime. I couldn’t get my head around it. I still haven’t heard Yaron give good reason why holds such an opinion. He also hates Tom Woods and does the same. I think both of these people are a net positive for the cause of liberty, why he attacks these people with such malice when we have much worse people around. It just baffles me.
So, this argument with Mr Biddle and the Trump stance that Yaron holds, I’m no longer surprised. I heard that rant on his podcast, it was one of the last I listened to. I’m far from a Trump fan, but give me the orange man over Joe Biden and that disgusting statist that is Vice President. She is basically a criminal in my eyes.
On a positive note; I absolutely loved Yaron and Michael Malice on Lex Fridman’s podcast. It was 4 hours plus of awesome material. I loved every second.
I agree with Craig’s and Carl’s statements.
Thank you again, Mr. Barney for your clarifications. When challenged, neither Yaron nor Onkar nor Harry nor Peter respond with facts and then reasoned arguments from those facts, but with denunciations and statements implying, “if you don’t understand why [the statement under discussion] wrong, you obviously are too stupid to understand, and I, for one, am not going to waste my valuable time trying to educate you when I have many other important things on my calendar, like writing another vacuous essay for New Ideal.”
One of the serious problems with ARI is the constant money-grubbing. It seems they’ve sold their souls to various donors who do not have Ayn Rand’s legacy or Objectivism as their primary value. This fact has made ARI lose its way and wander off from teaching about Ayn Rand to teaching some ideas that Ayn Rand specifically opposed during her lifetime.
One word of warning. Every grifter who knows a little about Objectivism will be coming out of the woodwork looking for funding from Prometheus Foundation. Beware of these, as there are more grifters in the small universe of Objectivism than sincere scholars. It’s okay if the Prometheus Network has a stable of intelligent, committed intellectuals that disagree about concrete applications of Objectivism–learning is accomplished by dialogue. But keep on guard against those people who try to ingratiate themselves by merely repeating, machine-like, the things they think you or Craig want to hear–those people are almost universally the most dishonest.
Good luck in your endeavors.
Mr Barney asks, at the end of his article:
//When someone makes an evidence-based criticism of a person or an organization in the Objectivist community, should that be condemned as “an attack” or a “smear?”//
Characterising someone’s words as a “smear” when they’re NOT, is a way of smearing them.
Mr Barney’s criticisms of *some* ARI people and actions seem evidence-based to me and, if anything, understated.
Equally important, they tend to be accompanied with constructive proposals aimed at advancing the work of the Ayn Rand Institute.
As for Yaron Brook raging against Objectivists who supported Donald Trump’s work, I remember listening to that loud, fast & fevered rant. All that was missing was the Twilight Zone soundtrack.
I wonder whether or not Peter Schwartz (for whom I have great respect) actually listened to that episode of Yaron Brook’s show. If not, I hope he does.
Smears and half-truths are when Yaron implies Craig is dishonest or immoral, but then says he’s not really asking us to make a judgment, as his excuse to offer no details for his ambiguous assertions about Craig.
I’m so sick of these fights.
It seems like they break out like clockwork about every 15 years. Leading Objectivists regularly it seems “don’t play well with others”: It seems like it repeatedly escalates and goes beyond the normal disagreements and differences in personal style or the like that will happen in any kind of group undertaking, and you learn to live with and to soft pedal and not to allow to escalate or reach the level of inflammatory personal disparagement or accusations of bad faith.
–Or worse, “you don’t understand the philosophy”.
–Or worse, “you are immoral”.
–Or worse, airing this out in public as if those who were not directly involved could make sense of the conflicting testimony.
(Or sometimes a final step worse, asking people who weren’t involved to take sides based on incomplete or second-hand information: And then ostracizing those who don’t.)
I couldn’t have said better, Mr. Coates. I too am sick of the fights. Even though I fully accept Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I stopped calling myself an Objectivist years ago. I do not wish associate myself with the counterproductive “circular firing squad” mentality of so many intellectuals who call themselves Objectivists.
I appreciate that Yaron Brook back-tracked on his Trump supporter condemnation. I hope that he will also rethink his condemnation of Craig Biddle.
Objectivists have Ayn Rand’s gift of an incredibly worthy philosophy. Yet the cause of the philosophy has largely failed to have a significant positive impact on the culture of America.
Perhaps Objectivists intellectuals will apply their intellect to understanding why Objectivists have been eating their own for so many years, with negligible positive cultural benefit. Perhaps then the cause of Objectivism can rally and begin to have a positive impact on our culture.
Of course evidence-based criticism is not an attack or a smear. To claim such is just one more example of how the personalities at ARI are increasingly indistinguishable from the woke left (Leonard excluded).
I had given up on ARI, but I am glad you are supporting Craig and TOS and it gives me hope for the future of Objectivism.
I am proud that my first exposure to Ayn Rand was Dr. Leonard Peikoff. He and a few others are my idols even as I take on the mission of being a radical for reason in my own way. I do not need anyone’s permission and certainly cannot trust some simply for the label Objectivist. For others, aside from those who struggled to master the power of wisdom in philosophy, I saw the “woke” culture in this movement well before the left started it. Sometimes, the slights would be petty, in others, maybe there was something, but in others, it is an excuse to not cooperate , or even to express envy, and the tactics seemed to default to scorched earth. That’s fine with me, since if followers of Objectivism cannot trust each other to be truthful, or keep silent when they are angry, yet ignorant, or recognize that they are envious, and move on to something else positive, then the ultimate justice is that the movement will repeatedly self-destruct. Ayn Rand’s ideas, an individualst philosophy, will prove again and again be effective only one person at a time, one mind at a time.
Meanwhile, Carl Barney will win the battles of the war that should never have been, and ARI will muddle through the next crisis if they keep their books clean…