28 April, 2011
In a recent podcast Leonard Peikoff answers the question why he won’t appoint an intellectual heir like Ayn Rand did. His answer: “Nobody I know qualifies.” (It is right at the end of the 15 minute podcast.) This got me thinking – or, rather, stirred up some thoughts I have already had.
First of all: Where did Ayn Rand tell us in writing that she had appointed Peikoff her intellectual (and not merely her legal) heir? I have never seen such a statement from her. I have to assume it is in her last will and testament, but I don’t know how I could get hold of a copy to check what she actually says.
She once appointed Nathaniel Branden her intellectual heir. This is what she wrote in the original “About the Author” at the end of Atlas Shrugged:
When I wrote The Fountainhead I was addressing myself to an ideal reader – to as rational and independent a mind as I could conceive of. I found such a reader – through a fan letter he wrote me about The Fountainhead when he was nineteen years old. He is my intellectual heir. His name is Nathaniel Branden.
After the 1968 break she removed those lines from the text. (I certainly don’t blame her for that.)
However this may be, I think the very idea of having an intellectual heir is completely wrong-headed.
Anybody who owns property larger than a hut in the woods needs a legal heir. Somebody has to take care of the estate. Ayn Rand left a large estate. Among other things, the legal heir has to safeguard such things as the copyrights to her books and determine what (if any) of her unpublished writings should be published posthumously, who should have the film rights to Atlas Shrugged, what institutes and book stores should have the right to include “Ayn Rand” in their names, etc. He would also have to determine what translations of her works are good enough to be published, insofar that can be established without a knowledge of the languages I question. (As an aside, you can see how Leonard Peikoff handles this responsibility here and here. Yes, I have a grudge against the man.)
But an intellectual heir is quite another thing. Nobody can bequeath his brain. Nobody can bequeath his/her innermost thoughts or ideas.
Ayn Rand herself stressed, on various occasion, that one can never endorse a person’s future work; there is simply no way to know whether the person will be consistent in the future. Appointing intellectual heirs is a odd inconsistency on her part.
The only sensible meaning of “intellectual inheritance” is metaphorical. If someone says Ayn Rand is Aristotle’s heir in philosophy, or Victor Hugo’s heir in literature, I would agree. But his is only in a metaphorical sense. There is nothing about Ayn Rand in either Aristotle’s or Hugo’s will, for obvious reasons.
To turn from the serious to the funny, Peikoff said that when he dies, the intellectual inheritance is “up for grabs”. So what will happen when he dies? Will every Objectivist on the planet clamor about being Ayn Rand’s “true heir”? Will the internet be filled with flame wars on the subject?
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PS. After I wrote all this, I remembered that I once got a mail from Barbara Branden, who wrote:
Ayn Rand did appoint Nathaniel as her intellectual heir, but after she broke with him she told me that that had been a mistake, and that she never would make such a mistake with anyone else. As a result, I believe Peikoff is her intellectual heir only in his own imagination, and that she never gave him that title. I have never seen any written or spoken statement by Rand that Peikoff is her intellectual heir, only in written and spoken statements by Peikoff.
Barbara Branden may not be the most reliable of sources, but I can see no reason for her to be lying about this.
(She mailed me, because she had read my essay Untangling “Objectivist Schismology”. She also objected to my statement that her biography is “more stupid than evil”, but I did not bother to pursue this subject. Life is too short for spending it on protracted quarrels.)