What do I mean when I say that Ayn Rand is “unworthy of respect”:

Let me be very clear about this:

If you mean by “respect”, that any specific individual’s statements or actions are exempt from examination and evaluation — then NO individual is entitled to “respect”.

Rand (at least judging by her tendency to “break” with others at whim, attempts to “rationalize” her own sluttiness, BDSM-fetish, chain-smoking, etc.) was exceptionally evasive and out-of-focus on a (fairly) regular basis.

Moreover, Rand is known for four completed works (We the living, Anthem, Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged). ALL of “her” philosophical nonfiction consists of recontextualized speeches, lectures, and articles from the various iterations of the Objectivist ‘zine.   She NEVER actually wrote (from start to finish) even a single-volume “introduction” to Objectivism.  She came close a few times (The Moral basis of Individualism and Objectivism: a philosophy for living on Earth) — but neither of those projects were ever completed.

Worse yet, “her” philosophical nonfiction is actually co-authored by others — Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Leonard Peikoff.  This fact wouldn’t be a problem IF she had actually acknowledged that fact openly.

By her own admission, she failed to complete Moral basis of Individualism and Objectivism: a philosophy for living on Earth because — she claimed — that neither project “interested” her.  Now, here’s the problem with that:

Ayn Rand is EXPLICITLY an advocate of “rational self-interest”: one’s “interests” are grounded in (as she puts it) one’s “nature and needs”.  How exactly is failure to explicitly promote – and defend – her own philosophical system NOT in her interest?

Quite frankly, the only rational conclusion is damning: Ayn Rand was a whim-ridden, evasive fraud.   To the extent that she failed to complete the above two projects, it was because she equated “her interests” with “whatever she happened to find ‘interesting’/not boring”.

PURE, unadulterated, whim-worship.

Attempted counter-argument (excuse): “cobbling together “her” philosophical argument from disparate sources — speeches/lectures/articles — was ‘easier’.”

Response: “Anti-effort mentality”.  Moreover: Nathaniel Branden could — and did — manage such a presentation via the Basic Principles of Objectivism tape-lectures.  So what exactly was Rand’s EXCUSE for failing to do so?  Her own SUBJECTIVE EMOTIONAL STATE (“It’s boring!!!!!”).

So, yeah: Ayn Rand happened to find the task of systematically presenting “her” philosophy to be “boring”….so she failed to actually do so.  Instead, she (or, in the case of the later works — PEIKOFF), attempted to PIECE TOGETHER such a presentation from preexisting fragments — speeches and newsletter articles — INCLUDING newsletter articles AUTHORED BY OTHERS.

She then proceeded (in a blatantly-hypocritical move) to insist — doggedly and immovably — that the entire content of Objectivism represented “her” ideas, and was UTTERLY ORIGINAL TO HER.

Really: you can’t have it both ways.  Rand — if she actually believed the glittering generatlities about “honesty” would have had NO CHOICE but to admit her “philosophical debt” to Aristotle (which she occasionally did), but also to explicitly acknowledge the fact that “her” philosophical nonfiction was  — in a fundamental sense — at least semi-collaborative (IE: that at least some of the “grunt-work”/details were “filled in” by others — Nathaniel Branden, Peikoff, etc.

True, you could claim that she had “delegated” those specific sub-areas to others because she was less conversant with the minutiae involved (for example: Rand understood the historical development, implications, and problems with “Western” philosophy in general outlinein particular, the Platonic/Aristotelian/Kantian (intrinsic/Objective/skeptic) trichotomy.  However, Peikoff was much more conversant with the details:  which philosopher was attempting to “answer” which earlier philosopher, how their specific attempt succeeded/failed, etc.  (For example: one of his major points is that Aristotle’s system was both incomplete, and flawed, and that such gaps/errors led to Platonism “winning” (Via the Neo-Platonists, for example.)

As Peikoff puts it, Aristotle was never “fully” Aristotelian.   To the extent that his system was a (partial) derivative of Plato, more consistent forms of Platonism would “win”.

(At least, that’s the “Orthodox” Objectivist interpretation of the history of philosophy).

Although I hate the tendency (especially among ARI-type Objectivists) to reify Rand’s novels (by claiming to “quote” Galt, etc.) — I can’t resist acknowledging the fact that Ayn Rand claiming to be the sole “author” of “her” philosophical nonfiction is exactly identical in principle to Keating taking credit for Roark’s architectural designs: Roark spends most of the novel helping Keating to (in essence) cheat his way through a “career” in architecture, without even acknowledging that Roark was helping him.  Quite frankly, for Ayn Rand to qualify as the “author” of “her” philosophical nonfiction, she would have to have actually authored all of it — and NOT “included” articles by other authors.  (For example: Peikoff’s stuff about the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, or Greenspan’s “gold and economic freedom” article — or anything written by Nathaniel Branden.

Of course, IF Ayn Rand had acknowledged the facts: “Objectivism” as a (somewhat) collaborative effort along Neo-Aristotelian lines — at that point, her position as “guru” AND her “authority” to designate a “legal and intellectual heir” would have collapsed completely.

So: IF Ayn Rand had been honest (both with herself AND her later “followers”), she would have acknowledge the following:

  1. She was essentially plagiarizing Aristotle, in terms of the fundamentals of “her” system.(IE: operating from WITHIN a preexisting, Aristotelian framework).
  2.  Large chunks of “her” books were actually authored by others (Nathaniel Branden, Peikoff etc.)

She may have authored more of it, but ONLY because Aristotle (in particular) had already done a significant amount of “her” work FOR HER.  The fact that Ayn Rand “inherited” a vast corpus of philosophical “system” or context imposed upon her the obligation to ACKNOWLEDGE that fact.

To the extent that Objectivism builds upon an Aristotelian base, Rand — IF she was honest — HAD to acknowledge that fact.

In the same vein: to the extent that she “delegated” dealing with any specific issue (“Gold and economic freedom”, “Myths about capitalism”, “The Analytic-synthetic dichotomy”) to someone else, she does NOT get “credit” for the result — EXCEPT to the extent that Aristotle gets credit for all of “her” ideas which originally derive from HIM.

In other words: IF Rand is to get credit — ANY credit — for — let’s say — Leonard Peikoff’s “Analytic-synthetic dichotomy” article (EVEN in the trivial sense of “Well, if Ayn Rand had never decided to put out the newsletter, then Leonard Peikoff *MIGHT NOT* have written the article” — then quite frankly, we cannot legitimately speak of Objectivism as “Ayn Rand’s ideas” — BOTH because Objectivism is firmly within the philosophical context which had already been established by ARISTOTLE, *AND* because in many ways Rand herself — even when offering “original” content — was MERELY attempting to answer/solve/refute some thinker “upstream”.

In essential terms: “Objectivism”  (far from being some sort of monumental, individual achievement on Ayn Rand’s part) was — and necessarily remains —  a “collaborative” effort, aimed at answering/solving/refuting various errors/problems endemic to “Western” philosophy.  Absent particular individuals (the Brandens and Peikoff in particular), “Objectivism” would most likely never have existed as anything other than “the Galt speech” — in other words, as something between the “outline” of a full philosophical system, and a (rather gimmicky) plot-device restricted to a single novel.

In some ways (although Ayn Rand would never have admitted this), Rand was MERELY a link in the “Aristotelian” chain.  Ultimately, of course (IF one grants the “primacy of Existence”) then ultimately all that you can legitimately say is: IF Rand (or Aristotle) were “right” (IE: managed to identify the “facts of reality” correctly), they shouldn’t get ass-pats for having done so.

A thinker does NOT get “credit” for managing to be “less wrong”.

 

 

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