Peikoff vs. an ARI Board Member

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(The context of undisputed facts in this issue is not repeated here.)

1. Dante’s phrase does not necessarily imply moral criticism, as Ayn Rand (who often used it) understood. It is merely an eloquent way of saying that in certain extremely negative situations—whether pertaining to poor behavior, poor penmanship, or a poor manicure —there is also a positive element, but that it is not enough to diminish the negative essence.

2. Since I was writing an extemporaneous, private email to two people with the same context of knowledge as mine, not a statement for the general public, I did not aim for objectivity by means of a running philosophic commentary replete with definitions, step-by-step proofs, and answers to possible objections. But when McCaskey asked me to allow him to make my unedited letter public, I had to agree, because I did not want to give him the opportunity to charge that I was engaged in a cover-up.

3. Because some people have turned the dispute into a moral issue, I should state the full truth, which is not stated in the letter: I have, for years, long before Harriman’s book, condemned McCaskey morally: I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual. Had I held a more positive estimate, I would have attempted first of all not to demand his resignation, but to discuss the book with him, understand his viewpoint, and see if together we could resolve and/or delimit his problems with it. But given my opinion of him, intellectual discussion was impossible to me.

4. Despite my view of McCaskey, I never expressed it publicly; it is not my goal to broadcast moral assessments without reason, or to issue blessing or excommunication to self-proclaimed Objectivists. But my goal is to judge the qualifications of those given leading positions of authority in running the Institute, and thus of power in guiding the course of the movement.  My concern with this goal does not imply a lack of confidence in Yaron, who has done a splendid job.  But the latter does not imply that he and I always agree on suitable Board members.

Ultimately, someone has to decide who is qualified to hold such positions and where the line is to be drawn. An organization devoted to spreading an ideology is not compatible with “freedom” for its leadership to contradict or undermine that ideology. In theory. the best judge of such contradiction would be the person(s) , if he exists, who best understands and upholds the ideology, as evidenced objectively by his lifelong intellectual consistency, philosophic attainments, and practical results. In practice, the best judge would be the person, if he is still alive, who founded the organization and defined its purpose, in this case as a step in carrying out a mandate given him by Ayn Rand. On both counts, only one individual qualifies: me. (I have retired from books, classes, and official position, but not from perception and evaluation.)

McCaskey is free to advocate in any medium whatever he wishes and even to regard himself as an Objectivist, which indeed he may in some form be, for all I know; I have no interest in finding out. My interest is not to ferret out disagreements with Ayn Rand, but to strip them of the imprimatur of the Institute, and thus to diminish the practical consequences of such viewpoints. In other words, my role in this connection is to remove from the existential center of the movement any influence which I evaluate as harmful in practice to the spread of Objectivism. To sneer in a public setting at an epochal Objectivist book qualifies, in my judgment, as harm.

When McCaskey was appointed to the Board, I said nothing, just as I have not objected to the fact that a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other. In all these cases my personal dislike was irrelevant. It is only when I perceived harm in practice that I have taken action. And I have set the requirements for such action high. In the 25 years of ARI’s existence, I have vetoed only two individuals prior to McCaskey.

If any of you believe that this makes me a dictatorial opponent of independence or free speech, then God help you, because reality obviously hasn’t. And if, as seems possible, my detractors in this issue represent a sizable faction within the Objectivist movement whose spokesmen include magazine founders and PhDs with podcasts– then God help Objectivism, too.

P.S. Ayn Rand would not have sought to defend herself against a similar attack. She would have regarded such an attack as contemptible, and an answer to it on her part as a moral sanction of the attackers, implying as it does that their charges are worthy of consideration.

I am not as strong as she was.