Storm in A Glass of Water

My Conflict With “Official Objectivism”

or: Another chapter in the on-going soap opera called “Objectivist schismology”

Under this heading I will gather what I wrote about this in the mid 1990’s. I regret that it is so long. Go to the end to find out why I am so proud of it – I am …

… a man of integrity, courage, ad intelligence among a crowd of pretenders.

The question is: can I live up to this?


Contents

  1. Why I Do Not Support the “Official” Objectivist “Movement”
  2. Open Letter to Leonard Peikoff
  3. My Final Words to Michael Berliner
  4. Leonard Peikoff on “Warring Friends”
  5. Reisman vs, Binswanger on “The Real Right to Medical Care”
  6. Correspondence with Second Renaissance Books
  7. Letter to Robert Stubblefield
  8. Reisman Insights Without George Reisman
  9. Hatred of George Reisman For Being George Reisman

Why I do not support the “official” Objectivist “movement”

I am not Ayn Rand, and I am not in a position to endorse or repudiate anyone as a spokesman for Objectivism. But I have studied her philosophy diligently for more than a quarter of a century, and I certainly have at least the rudiments of a minimal understanding of it. Part of that understanding is that one cannot endorse or sanction people who do not practice what they preach. I therefore personally repudiate Leonard Peikoff and The “Ayn Rand” Institute. The background is as follows:

Since 1987, Henrik Unné and I have been publishing a series of translations into Swedish of Objectivist materials (mainly essays by Ayn Rand herself), called Objektivistisk skriftserie (“OS” for short; “skriftserie” simply means “series of writings”). This venture has been financed by Henrik Unné, while I have done the translating (and most of the other work involved in getting the publication out). We have not managed to get a large circulation, but we have certainly been instrumental in creating at least the embryo of an Objectivist movement in Sweden. We have planned to publish Miss Rand’s non-fiction books in Swedish (primarily The Virtue of Selfishness and The New Left, which are the ones closest to completion).

In 1987, Leonard Peikoff (through his secretary at the time, Diane LeMont) granted us permission to publish any hitherto unpublished essays by Miss Rand in Swedish. Dr. Peikoff has also received complimentary copies of each issue (as have also some other major Objectivist organizations).

Today, Leonard Peikoff has withdrawn this permission to publish Objectivist materials in Swedish. The reason is that I have taken “the wrong stand” in his dispute with George Reisman and Edith Packer.

I first heard about this conflict in late 1993, when there was a short announcement in ARI:s newsletter Impact that the Reismans had been asked to step down from ARI:s Board of Advisors because of “irreconcilable, but non-philosophical, disagreements”; but I did not learn any details until a year later, when Dr. Reisman (in self-defense) sent out some materials about it. It soon became evident to me that his detractors did not have much of a case against him, and that, in fact, he and his wife were being unjustly treated.

For example, it soon became clear to me that Peter Schwartz had violated the Reismans’ property rights – first by claiming that he, Mr. Schwartz, was the rightful owner of Dr. Reisman’s past TIA articles and that Dr. Reisman could only re-issue them with his, Mr. Schwartz’, permission – and then, after having stopped selling Dr. Packer’s tapes and pamphlets through SRB, by refusing to return her master tapes except on unreasonable monetary terms, and threatening to erase them, unless she paid. (Dr. Packer has passed the proper moral judgment on this: she has called it “vicious”.)

I also received a copy of a memo written by Harry Binswanger to Michael Berliner, urging ARI not to sell or promote Dr. Reisman’s recent pamphlet on health care. To my disappointment, I found that Dr. Binswanger was willing to twist Objectivism into a pretzel for the sole purpose of casting doubts on Dr. Reisman’s credentials as an Objectivist – and that Leonard Peikoff apparently approved of this pretzel. This made me realize that the situation was truly ominous – because if two of the very best minds in Objectivism are willing to betray the integrity of the philosophy just in order to “get at” a third person, then Objectivism as a movement will be dead.

However, I did not want to publicly take sides without hearing the other party’s view. I therefore wrote a short letter to Second Renaissance Books, inquiring why they had ceased carrying any materials by Dr. Reisman. I received an extremely evasive reply from Edward Podritske. It consisted of a copy of a short letter written by Peter Schwartz to another inquirer. This letter (a) answered a question I had not asked, (b) did nothing but assert that the dispute was of a “moral nature”, and (c) told the questioner that Leonard Peikoff agrees, as though that by itself would settle the matter, regardless of Dr. Peikoff’s reasons for agreeing. Ed Podritske referred to this letter as “self-explanatory“. I wrote back, telling him it is not explanatory at all, and asking again for the facts. I received no answer.

Sometime later, in the autumn of 1995, I learned that Bob Stubblefield, on his electronic study group, OSG, was urging people to shun the Reismans (together with Linda Reardan and Jerry Kirkpatrick, who had sided with them). Through a mutual acquaintance I received his account of the matter. Although Mr. Stubblefield’s account did give some factual information, it did not add up to anything – except: (a) that it was wrong for the Reismans to defend themselves; and (b) that Leonard Peikoff must have a reason for condemning them (and the Reismans must know this reason), even though Dr. Peikoff has never actually given Bob Stubblefield his reason. – I wrote a long letter to Mr. Stubblefield, disagreeing with him, but still giving him (and the other side) every possible benefit of the doubt; I never received an answer.

At about the same time I received the letters that Linda Reardan and Jerry Kirkpatrick have written on the issue, which of course only confirmed what I was already suspecting, namely that what was going on was a dark betrayal of Objectivism – and that I would be the next one to be ostracized, if I ever made my view known.

At this point, there was only one thing I could do, namely confront Leonard Peikoff himself, state my view to him and ask him to explain himself. Thus, in the summer of 1996, I composed a letter to him. I made three main points in this letter:

  1. If Dr. Peikoff condemns Reisman and Packer, or endorses other people’s condemnation of them, then he is morally obliged to state his reasons publicly, in terms understandable to any reasonable inquirer. This principle is clearly stated by Ayn Rand in “How Does One Live A Rational Life In An Irrational Society?” and I took the liberty of quoting from this essay.
  2. If people are being treated unjustly, they will – properly – shrug. I took the liberty of quoting a paragraph to this effect from OPAR.
  3. George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is a revolutionizing work which will not receive the attention it deserves, the academic economics profession being dominated as it is by Keynesians and the like.

Dr. Peikoff’s reply to this letter is so revealing that I want to quote it in full:

My quarrel with the Reismans is none of your business. It consists of personal disputes which have nothing to do with Objectivism and could not be proved to outsiders even if I wanted to, even though those facts are objective and known to me as such. Precisely for this reason I expect nothing of you in Sweden except the courtesy of a polite question as to my policy regarding you and the Reismans – as against a diatribe. In light of this last, I must withdraw all cooperation from your venture and prohibit any further reprinting of Ayn Rand material.

I think this speaks for itself. If it does not, then ask yourselves what it means to say that “facts are objective and known to me as such” but at the same time “could not be proved to outsiders objectively”. In one short word, it means that those alleged facts are subjective. Also, ask yourselves what sense it makes to prohibit the publication of Ayn Rand material in Swedish, because the translator does not buy this new brand of subjectivism. Also, ask yourselves to whom Ayn Rand’s philosophy properly belongs – to Ayn Rand or to Leonard Peikoff. And also ask yourselves why a dispute that “has nothing to do with Objectivism” has anything to do with Henrik Unné’s and my efforts to spread Objectivism. Also, ask yourselves what possible motive could prompt Dr. Peikoff to this weird act of retribution. (Or, better, ask him.)

At about the same time, I had issued a revised version of OS #1. This issue of OS consists of Miss Rand’s “Introduction to Objectivism”, a short biographical essay written by me, a summary of her philosophic achievements, a list of books published in English and in Swedish, and some information about and addresses to major Objectivist organizations. This revision had long been necessary, since so many addresses have changed since 1987 (and since new organizations have been formed and others have changed leadership). I included the address of TJS in the list (plus some very short information about it). I saw no problem at all with this, since the only official thing ever said about the TJS dispute is the Impact notice – which clearly stated that the dispute is non-philosophical. (Since Objectivism is a philosophy, it would simply be wrong for me to exclude TJS from my list because of a non-philosophical dispute.)

Dr. Michael Berliner, who always received a complimentary copy of each issue of Objektivistisk skriftserie, wrote me a short note, from which I quote:

I would guess that Dr. Peikoff will stop giving you permission to reprint AR articles unless you eliminate TJS from your recommendations – they’re very anti-ARI and anti-LP.

My letter to Leonard Peikoff was actually written just before I received this half-veiled threat, but not yet in the mail; I of course immediately sent it away. I asked Dr. Berliner what the actual case against the Reismans is, just as I had asked SRB before. Dr. Berliner wrote back and told me the following:

In all my years of dealing with people, including 20 years at universities, I’ve never dealt with anyone who acted less on Objectivism than Dr. [Edith] Packer.

No single specific instance of “acting against Objectivism” was given; yet Dr. Berliner also wrote:

You might want to check your premises and yourself why three entirely different ARI Boards of Directors took retaliatory action against [the Reismans] (primarily Dr. Packer) and why virtually every other prominent Objectivist ceased dealing with her over the years and prior to the most recent dispute.

But this was precisely the question I had asked of Dr. Berliner, and of SRB, and of Bob Stubblefield, and of Leonard Peikoff, without getting any intelligible answer. Now, I should ask the question of myself, presumably in an effort to test my powers of telepathy. And what is the premise Dr. Berliner actually asks me to “check” and presumably reject? The premise that it is wrong to accept ad verecundiam arguments.

At the same time that Dr. Berliner engages in this kind of mud-throwing about Dr. Packer (I am not the only one who has received letters of this kind), he also writes personally to Dr. Packer, assuring her that he has never defamed her, personally or professionally. He tries to get away with this contradiction by telling the people he writes to not to disseminate his letters or quote from them.

I wrote a long answer to Dr. Berliner, in which I repudiated him and Dr. Peikoff and the “Ayn Rand” Institute and gave my reasons why. That was the end of my cooperation with those blokes.

Richard Ralston of the ARI then wrote to Henrik Unné and told him to stop all cooperation with me. He also forbade Henrik to show me his letter; Henrik complied but told me some of its contents – which consisted of the same sort of rationalizations I had already heard. (Henrik, to his shame, bought every one of them.)

The “proof” commonly given for the Reismans’ guilt is that it is they who have gone public and revealed the actual facts of the dispute. Thus, their sin is that they have not submitted silently to a whispering campaign aimed at their destruction. The actual fact is that when Dr. Peikoff, in 1994, gave in to demands from Peter Schwartz, Harry Binswanger and Michael Berliner that the Reismans be “declared immoral”, the Reismans demanded to have the evidence in writing. Dr. Peikoff’s response was to send them copies of a letter from Peter Schwartz and a virtually unintelligible scribbled note from Harry Binswanger. Those items were the “evidence”. The Reismans distributed those items of “evidence”, to show how frail the case against them actually is. The only persons who have had the courage and decency to present the case against the Reismans are the Reismans.

If one party in a conflict lays the cards on the table and answers questions straightforwardly (as George Reisman has done with my questions throughout), while the other party either refuses to answer at all, or answers evasively, or answers by hiding behind one another’s authority or – when all this fails – takes recourse to threats of “expulsion” and then carries out the threats (as has been done with me, and with Linda Reardan and Jerry Kirkpatrick and Richard Sanford and Gen LaGreca and possibly many more) – which side is one to take? The answer is obvious. Yet, it is often claimed that anyone who does not side with the ARI in the present dispute is guilty of moral agnosticism. The source of this claim is a lecture given by Leonard Peikoff in 1994. (If time permits, I will later analyze this lecture in some detail.) The meaning of this is as plain as it is perverse: “agnosticism”, a term which used to have an exact meaning, now means “asking questions”; and the alternative we are asked to accept (in order to remain “Objectivists in good standing”) is blind faith in the authority of our alleged leaders, no questions asked. Could anything be further opposed to rationality or to anything that rationality implies?

A few years ago, Leonard Peikoff wrote an extremely good essay, called “Fact and Value”. The essence of this essay was that “cognition implies evaluation” – so, if you know the facts about a man or an issue, you have to pass the appropriate moral judgement on the man or the issue. It is wrong to “tolerate” what is in fact intolerable. The result of this essay, as you know, was a “split in the movement”: those who wanted to tolerate and be tolerated flocked around David Kelley; those of us who wanted to judge and were prepared to be judged did otherwise.

Today, it is only too obvious that Leonard Peikoff does not intend to practice what he preached in this essay. An obvious implication of “Fact and Value” is that moral judgment has to be based on fact – if not, it does not qualify as moral judgment at all: it is sheer whim-worship; yet this is exactly what we are now asked to do. And what we are asked to “tolerate” are such things as disrespect for other people’s intellectual property, keeping silent about their achievements, and supporting whispering campaigns aimed at destroying their reputations. Somebody, apart from me and a very few others, should have the courage to speak out.

The world is in desperate need of a philosophy that does not tolerate any breach between theory and practice – a philosophy of “acting accordingly“. It has no use for people who preach high principles and then act like scoundrels.


Open Letter to Leonard Peikoff

The following letter was written in July 1996. Since I want the cards on the table, I put it here for anyone interested to see. A few minor typos have been corrected.

For a couple of years a “whispering campaign” has been waged against George Reisman and Edith Packer.

Reisman and Packer have been removed from ARI:s Board of Advisors. ARI has decided to cease promoting the activities of The Jefferson School. Second Renaissance Books has ceased carrying Reisman’s and Packer’s books, pamphlets and tapes. No official explanation has been given.

People who ask for the reason are given no explanation. They are answered with the mere assertion that the conflict is of a moral nature. This implies that the Reismans are immoral (since the persons who say it can hardly mean that they themselves are immoral), but no facts are given to substantiate this charge. Furthermore, we are told repeatedly that Leonard Peikoff agrees, as if the sheer fact of your agreement would settle the issue once and for all. You, on the other hand, have made no public statement as to why you consider the Reismans immoral.[1]

I have to point out to you that this policy of yours runs counter to clear and unequivocal Objectivist principles.

In “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?” (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 8), Miss Rand writes:

To judge means: to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard. It is not an easy task; it is not a task that can be performed automatically by one’s feelings, “instincts” or hunches. It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles; it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person. When one pronounces moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer “Why?” and to prove one’s case – to oneself and to any rational inquirer.

From this follows that whoever charges George Reisman and Edith Packer with being immoral has to prove his case.

It has been said, in defense of the policy of not giving reasons, that the conflict is private in nature and thus of no concern to outsiders. But this does not hold water. Ostracizing the Reismans – by refusing to promote their activities or carry their works – is a matter of concern to anyone who is concerned about the future of our civilization.

A possible implication of the “no reason given” policy is that the inquirers are not rational, so no case has to (or can) be proven to them. Whoever this might apply to, it does not apply to me.

Furthermore, no abstract principle or standard by which the Reismans are to be condemned has been named by anyone.

Note: when Ayn Rand broke with Nathaniel Branden, the principle was clear: he did not practice what he preached. When you broke with David Kelley, the principle was equally clear: he preached the wrong ideas. When you broke with Robert Hessen, you named the principle: he had violated your property rights. In the conflict between you and the Reismans, by contrast, there is only fog.

From what I can gather, the conflict is basically between the Reismans and Peter Schwartz, and then you, Harry Binswanger and others have sided with Schwartz. The basic crime of the Reismans seems to be that on one occasion Edith Packer has called Peter Schwartz’ behavior “vicious”.

Now, Peter Schwartz is a person, not a principle; and he is not exempt from moral judgment. The situation I referred to involved a conflict about property rights. George Reisman believed that the articles by him that had been published in The Intellectual Activist were his by right and his to use and dispose of. Peter Schwartz believed otherwise.[2]

Thus, there actually is a principle at the bottom of this conflict – the principle that the product of a person’s mind belongs to him, not to somebody else. And this is the principle by which this conflict should be judged.

Now a word about the principle or standard by which the Reismans should be judged.

A very good statement of what is entailed in the virtue of justice is the following (and you should recognize the words):

Justice consists first not in condemning, but in admiring – and then in expressing one’s admiration explicitly and in fighting for those one admires. It consists first in acknowledging the good: intellectually, in reaching an objective moral verdict; then existentially, in defending the good – speaking out, making one’s verdict known, championing publicly the men who are rational (one also praises them to their face, if there is a context to indicate that this would be a value to the person rather than an intrusion). Evil must be combatted, but then it is to be brushed aside. What counts in life are the men who support life. They are the men who struggle unremittingly, often heroically, to achieve values. They are the Atlases whom mankind needs desperately, and who in turn desperately need the recognition – specifically, the moral recognition – to which they are entitled. They need to feel, while carrying the world on their shoulders, that they are living in a human society and that the burden is worth carrying. Otherwise, like the protagonists of Ayn Rand’s novel, they too, properly, will shrug. (OPAR, p. 284f.)

Now, George Reisman is a truly great mind (and there would be no reason for me to bother with this conflict, if he were not). In his own profession, he ranks with the great names (such as Smith, Ricardo, Mises, and a few others). His recent treatise will revolutionize the science of economics, if it gets to be known and read. He has ridded Classical and Austrian economics of the inconsistencies that have cluttered them up in the past, and added quite a few contributions of his own.[3] His work is certainly an application of Objectivism (and I challenge anyone to claim otherwise).[4] That his work will be belittled and/or silenced by today’s establishment economists is bad, but to be expected. That it will be belittled and/or silenced by Objectivists is an outrage. Yet, this is precisely what is taking place.

That George Reisman’s reputation is now to be destroyed – and destroyed by pure rumor mongering – is simply something I will not sanction.

                      Sincerely,
Per-Olof Samuelsson

Dr. Peikoff’s answer:

My quarrel with the Reismans is none of your business. It consists of personal disputes which have nothing to do with Objectivism and could not be proved to outsiders even if I wanted to, even though those facts are objective and known to me as such. Precisely for this reason I expect nothing of you in Sweden except the courtesy of a polite question as to my policy regarding you and the Reismans – as against a diatribe. In light of this last, I must withdraw all cooperation from your [translation] venture and prohibit any further reprinting of Ayn Rand materiel.

My answer:

Thank you for your letter.

I am too disappointed with you to attempt a detailed answer; besides, my full and final case is presented in a letter to Dr. Berliner, which you are allowed to read. But I have to point out a glaring contradiction:

You claim that your dispute with the Reismans has “nothing to do with Objectivism”. Yet, your reaction to it is to forbid me to do any further work in spreading Objectivism.

Has it ever crossed your mind that my motive for translating Miss Rand’s works (and putting down a lot of unpaid work on it) might be my desire to make her philosophy known to my fellow countrymen? Did you think that my motive was to please you, or to bolster your (obviously precarious) self-esteem?

Well, you were wrong.

Goodbye.

Further comments, hopefully, unnecessary. Except, perhaps, this one:

I do not need anyone’s “cooperation” in order to translate Ayn Rand’s works into Swedish. All I need is my brain, a good dictionary, and some time in which to do the job. The only scarce item on this list is time. And if Leonard Peikoff wants to make a martyr out of me and mete out some terrible punishment for the crime of translating Ayn Rand into a foreign language (something which, if properly and conscientiously done, deserves a medal and a place in the Objectivist Hall of Fame) – well, he can always go to court.


My Final Words to Michael Berliner

Background: On June 19th, 1996, I received the following short note from Michael Berliner, then Executive Director of ARI, in response to my sending him a complementary issue of the revised version of Objektivistisk skrifterie nr 1:

One note: I would guess that Dr. Peikoff will stop giving you permission to reprint AR articles unless you eliminate TJS from your recommendations – they are very anti-ARI and anti-LP.

My answer:

Could you tell me exactly what it is the Reismans are being charged with? I have tried to find out from other sources (SRB and TIA), but all I have received is evasive and/or ad verecundiam-type answers. (I will write and ask Dr. Peikoff personally, too.)

Neither Dr. Peikoff, nor you, nor anyone, could ask of me that I take sides against the Reismans, if I do not even know (and people refuse to tell me) what the case against them is.

If your note is what it looks like, namely a threat and/or a demand that I take part in the lynching of a great man, then Objektivisisk skriftserie will have to close down, or else continue with someone else as translator/editor. For I do not work under threats and I do not take part in lynchings.

Dr. Berliner wrote me the following answer, dated July 22, 1996, which he also forbade me to disseminate:

In reply to your letters to me and Dr. Peikoff: In my previous letter, I had suggested that Dr. Peikoff might not want to continue providing permissions for reprints if you continued to plug TJS. My thought was that he might not want to supply such a major value to a publication providing prestige to people conducting a campaign against him. In fact, he did not take that position, holding that you are in Europe, not privy to the dispute etc. However, your diatribe and demands changed his mind: you have obviously taken a strong stand against him (and against ARI and the others who have borne the brunt of the Reismans’ attack). therefore, he has asked me to inform you that he has discontinued cooperation with you on any and all publishing ventures.

For my own part: The “whispering” (actually screaming) campaign and the “lynching” have been conducted by the Reismans et al; any action taken by Dr. Peikoff and ARI have been solely in retaliation. If you consider it “lynching” to quietly cease dealing with those subjecting me and others to years of abuse, then so be it. But you may want to check your premises and ask yourself why three different ARI Boards of Directors took retaliatory action against them (primarily Dr. Packer) and why virtually every other prominent Objectivist ceased dealing with her over the years and prior to the most recent dispute. [Italics mine.](A personal note: in all my years of dealing with people, including 20 years at universities, I’ve never dealt with anyone who acted less on Objectivism than Dr. Packer.)

Two further comments: The basis for our action was in private conversations, so it would be impossible to make the original dispute “objective” to others, and to attempt to do so would lead to a continual exchange of “he said, she saids” – pointless, demeaning, and destructive of our work in spreading Objectivism. However, although originally personal, the dispute became ideological when the Reismans chose to disseminate private correspondence which they were given on the condition the privacy was maintained; I was present on the phone when they agreed to that condition (insisted upon because the context was critical and not understandable otherwise). apparently their view is that private property rights can be violated if one disagrees with the contents of that property.

(You may wonder why Dr. Berliner does not want this letter disseminated, if it contains nothing but the plain truth. The reason, as far as I can make out, is the following: he has written a similar letter to at least one person, and he has stated his view of Edith Packer verbally to at least one other person I have been in contact with. He has also written personally to Edith Packer, assuring her that

I have never defamed you, neither personally nor professionally.

That letter, by the way, is dated November 5, 1996. If he states to Edith Packer that he has never defamed her, then it might be at least slightly embarrassing to him if she were to know that he has in fact done just that!)

The following is my answer:

Strängnäs, Sweden, July 30, 1996

Dr. Berliner,

Thank you for your reply. I am glad this matter is settled once and for all.

Since this is the last you will ever hear from me, I am morally obliged to make my case clear.

(i)

The publishing ventures you mention are not mine; they are Henrik Unné’s. Henrik is the owner of “Objektivistisk skriftserie” and of “Förlaget Egoisten”; he is the one who takes the financial risks involved; I am, in fact, his employee. However, Henrik is dependent upon having a competent translator who also understands Objectivism. There is no such person in Sweden except me. Thus, with me boycotted, Henrik will not be able to continue his publishing ventures.

Henrik is not in any way involved in the TJS dispute: he is an “innocent bystander”. I have informed him about the conflict, and presented the evidence I have; but I have not demanded of him that he take sides. Yet, it is Henrik who is going to be hurt by Dr. Peikoff’s action, not me.

(ii)

I have to point out the utter futility of Dr. Peikoff’s action against me. He does not have the power to prevent me from translating Miss Rand’s works into Swedish; all he has the power to do is to prevent those translations from getting published. The only thing this will accomplish is that my translations will not be published until Miss Rand’s works are in the public domain. This will probably not be in my life-time, but then I have always taken a long-range view with regard to the spread of Objectivism, and I will have time to complete the work I have begun. (The only thing that slows me down today is the fact that I also have to earn a living; but hopefully I will have some years left to live and work, after I have retired.)

What conceivable life-promoting purpose is served by Dr. Peikoff’s action here? None whatsoever. The only purpose served is that of cheap revenge. And this shows that the power Dr. Peikoff is wielding is solely the power of destruction.

(iii)

Objectivism is still Ayn Rand’s philosophy and nobody else’s. It is not my philosophy, it is not your philosophy, it is not George Reisman’s philosophy, and it is certainly not Leonard Peikoff’s philosophy. The fact that Miss Rand bequeathed her property to Dr. Peikoff gives him the legal right to dispose of it by his own best rational judgement; it does not give him the moral license to dispose of it by whim. If he does, he has to be condemned, and condemned harshly – precisely because of the inestimable value that has been put in his custody. Thus, while I cannot dispute Dr. Peikoff’s legal right to take punitive action against me, I certainly dispute his moral right to do so.

I have to disagree with the notion that is is Dr. Peikoff who has “supplied me with a value” in granting Henrik permission to publish my translations. With the exception of a few articles by other Objectivists (three by Dr. Peikoff himself), the actual value was supplied by Ayn Rand; Dr. Peikoff merely acted as her agent. The value of the translation was provided by me. True, this may be a small value compared to the original text; but it is still a value; and to someone who is not fluent in English, it might be an enormous value.

Dr. Peikoff’s sole reason for penalizing me is that “I have taken a strong stand against him”. Indeed, I have. By the end of this letter, you should know why I had to do so. The objective meaning of his reaction is that he regards himself as exempt from moral judgment.

(iv)

It is a long time since I sent you a current list of subscribers to “Objektivistisk skriftserie”, so I include one with this letter. Obviously, I have to inform our subscribers that the “skriftserie” is closing and tell them the reason for it. However, I do not intend to make a song and dance about it, and I see no reason to spread this senseless conflict to people who know nothing about it and have no reason to be concerned with it. I will merely state that Dr. Peikoff has forbidden me to publish any more translations, that his reasons are confidential, and that they cannot stand daylight anyway. Should you disagree with this, you are of course free to issue your own statement.

(v)

You write in your letter:

…you might want to check your premises and ask yourself why three different ARI Boards of Directors took retaliatory action against them (primarily Dr. Packer) and why virtually every other prominent Objectivist ceased dealing with her over the years and prior to the most recent dispute.

But this is precisely the question I asked of you! And it is precisely the question I have asked of others before and only received evasive and ad verecundiam type answers. (I of course did not use those exact words; what I asked was: “What is the actual case? What are the actual facts?”) Now you say that I should not ask those questions of those who might conceivably know the answer; I should instead ask them of myself. The only conceivable reason for saying so is that you believe I have telepathic powers. Since you obviously do not believe this, the only remaining alternative is that you, too, are giving me an evasive, ad verecundiam argument, believing it is enough to hit me in the head with “three different Boards” and “every prominent Objectivist”.

Now, I do not think that you will dispute that ad verecundiam is a fallacy. All the best authorities have said that for millennia – if you get the sarcasm. What needs to be stressed is that its psychological root is cowardice: it is used by people who dare not take responsibility for their own ideas and/or actions and who feel the need to hide behind some authority. I expect ad verecundiam arguments from sundry religionists, socialists or libertarians; I do not expect them from those who call themselves Objectivists. Least of all, I expect them in the form of “the appeal to majority opinion”. Yet, this is exactly what I am getting from you.

If “prominent Objectivists” know the case against the Reismans, they can give it to me when I ask them; they should not have to hide behind Leonard Peikoff’s authority; yet this is what the ones I have asked have done so far. But it is worse than that. According to Linda Reardan (whose report I have absolutely no reason to doubt), she got exactly this line (“A majority of ARI Directors cannot be wrong”) from Leonard Peikoff. This means: while “prominent Objectivists” are hiding behind Leonard Peikoff’s authority, Leonard Peikoff in turn is hiding behind the authority of “prominent Objectivists”.

Your use of the phrase “check your premises” in the quote above is truly abhorrent; it is the voice of the primordial Witch Doctor parrotting words he has learned from better thinkers. What is the premise you want me to discard? The premise that moral judgement has to based on factual evidence – that the “who says so?” does not matter, only the facts matter. And what premise do you want me to put in its stead? Well, you have answered that in spades.

(vi)

With regard to your allegations against Dr. Packer: it is absolutely impossible for me to judge them. I do not know Dr. Packer personally; I have met her twice in person and had a ten minute conversation with her, in which she did nothing but give me some perfectly good advice. I have to judge her by her published writings and lectures. But supposing she is as bad as you make her out to be: in that case, I am perfectly capable of finding that out for myself. You have no business demanding that I take what you say on faith or that I act on it; least of all then that I judge her husband’s intellectual accomplishments by it. (You should remember, from my letter to Dr. Peikoff, what is my motive for bothering with this conflict at all.)

Dr. Packer’s sins (real or imagined) are an extremely minor issue to me. What is the major issue will become evident at the end of this letter.

(vii)

I agree with your point that your side of the dispute cannot be made objective to others, and I even agree with the reason you give (that it would lead to a pointless exchange of “he/she saids”). But for that very reason you cannot expect those others to agree with you, you cannot demand that they take the action you take, and you cannot punish them for not following suit. And this points to the actual, horrendous evil of Dr. Peikoff’s treatment of me.

What is demanded of me is not my reasoned agreement, but my blind obedience, with extra emphasis on “blind“. Now, this blindness is a blindness I would have to impose on myself. The technical name for self-imposed blindness is “evasion”. And evasion is the root of evil. Thus, what is actually demanded of me is that I become evil – evil at root. There is no way around this conclusion. (And it is easily “vertically integrated” [slip of the pen; should be: “horizontally integrated”] with your demand that I make ad verecundiam my basic ruling premise in moral matters.)

(viii)

The issue of the Reismans disseminating private letters is an obvious rationalization on your part. Dr. Peikoff had already “declared them immoral”, and ARI and SRB had ceased dealing with them (and threatened to destroy the master tapes of Dr. Packer’s lectures) before this happened – so this cannot be their actual “immorality”. It should be noted that the only person who has had the courage to present the case against George Reisman is George Reisman. If that does not tell you something, it tells me something.

The actual, objective meaning of this particular incident is this: the fact that the Reismans were considered immoral (and to be shunned) should be made known, but the reasons for it should be kept secret. If this were not so, then your side of the conflict could have made its own public statement, edited to look civilized (e.g. omitting such words as “shitlist”). [Harry Binswanger, in a scribbled message, claims that Edith Packer maintains a “shitlist”, and that he is on it.] You did not do so, well knowing that your case was too flimsy (and could not be “made objective” to outsiders). Yet, you took action against the Reismans. Under those circumstances, I dispute your right to invoke property rights. What “right” does anyone have to make murky accusations while hiding the actual nature of the accusations? This is the “right” of mystics. And if your case were not flimsy, but impregnable, then you should be grateful to the Reismans for making it known.

(ix)

This dispute, to me, became ideological the moment I discovered that Harry Binswanger was in the process of re-writing Objectivism, for the sole purpose of casting doubt on Dr. Reisman’s credentials as an Objectivist. This was in the memo Dr. Binswanger wrote to you regarding Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet on socialized medicine. (Incidentally, Dr. Reisman sent me a copy of this memo at my request. I was interested in the philosophical aspects of the dispute.) The dispute became even more ideological when I learned that Dr. Peikoff – who should have shredded this memo the same way he shredded David Kelley’s paper on “toleration” – instead heartily approved of it. At that moment it became evident to me that the alleged leaders of the Objectivist “movement” were no better than the libertarians and the kelleyites and had to be judged by the same standard.

That this re-writing of Objectivism is not an isolated occurrence is evidenced by Dr. Peikoff’s 1995 lectures on “moral judgment”. In those lectures, Dr. Peikoff (in complete oblivion and/or defiance of Miss Rand’s stated views on “psychologizing”) recommended that one base one’s evaluation of a conflict between “warring friends” on the respective parties’ psychology. (Incidentally, the “warring friends” part of those lectures was a smoke-screen: Dr. Peikoff tried to instill in his audience’s mind that the evidence in the conflict is so “evenly balanced” that one would have to resort to psychologizing to resolve it. No conflict is ever that “evenly balanced”, least of all the present one.)

[To be exact, Dr. Peikoff claimed in this lecture that when everything else fails, and one cannot find any other rationalizations, one should ask oneself which of the warring parties is most prone to “building castles in the air” – and then one should conclude that is is Reisman and Packer, not Leonard Peikoff and his friends. Of course he did not mention any names; that was part of the smoke-screen.]

When people start “tailoring” Objectivism to fit their preconceived notions, their likes and dislikes, i.e. their feelings, then they are not Objectivists any longer: they are subjectivists. And they will act that way. They will become power-lusters whose main concern is no longer truth or falsehood, but whether their own “position in the movement” is threatened or not. As I once put the point (in a different context) they will act like bullies.

The truly ominous part of this is not even what you are doing to George Reisman. This is bad enough; but I believe he will eventually gain the recognition he deserves, no matter what you do to him (or fail to do for him). He “will just have to work a little harder”. The truly ominous thing is what you are doing to Objectivism: not merely to the “movement” but to the integrity of the philosophy. If it is people who care about this integrity (people like me, or Linda Reardan) whom you punish, while letting others re-write Objectivism as they please, then it is you, as much as the kelleyites, who are “frauds in the short run and monsters long-range”.

If you wish to save your souls, I strongly recommend that you read, or re-read, the very last page of Miss Rand’s “To Whom It May Concern” – and take warning.

As for myself, I wish to have no further dealings with you, nor with Dr. Peikoff. You may have done great things in the past (Dr. Peikoff certainly has). Today, you have become irrevocably evil.

                      Yours,
Per-Olof Samuelsson

Post scriptum: One subscriber to Objektivistisk skriftserie wrote a letter addressed to Dr. Peikoff, which I take the liberty of quoting (the English is not 100% perfect, but that is hardly the point here):

It has come to my knowledge that you have withdrawn the permission for Per-Olof Samuelsson to further publish translations of Ayn Rand’s work. I would like to express my concern for this decision. Living in Sweden it’s very clear that her voice is still very much needed. This news came as somewhat of a shock to me. The effort Per-Olof has put in has been great, and comparing several translations of his with the original, I’d like to say that not only are his translations correct but also very describing [the word choice is odd, but I think he means something like “vivid”]. He finds ways to express the point in a fashion that retains the sense close to the original. This I cannot say however of some of the other translations that have been done for Swedish editions. I therefore find it not only remarkable but also in all honesty stupid to withdraw his permission. [My italics, and my sentiments.]

I’ve also been told that the reason is some sort of disagreement between the two of you. And that it is not of his business, it’s personal and hasn’t got to do with Objectivism. If this is true I beg you not to deny the rest of Sweden the possibility to read proper translations of Ayn Rand out of these reasons. If it is so that Per-Olof is a person that I (for some reason that must have escaped me) shouldn’t be associated with, I’d be grateful if you would let me know. And in that case also why.

Dr. Berliner answered for Dr. Peikoff:

I don’t dispute Mr. Samuelsson’s past efforts in spreading Objectivism. However, he wrote letters to Dr. Peikoff and myself that were so hostile, demanding and presumptuous [sic] that neither Dr. Peikoff or I have any desire to continue dealing with him. That disputes are personal (in the sense that they don’t involve the advocacy of bad philosophy) does not mean that they have nothing to do with Objectivism; and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are irrelevant to dealing. Objectivism does not permit that sort of dichotomy or compartmentalization.

My own comment:

I have to point out that you are now also guilty of projection, by stating that “Objectivism does not permit that sort of dichotomy or compartmentalization”. (“That sort” referring to the fact that I have asked you to practice what you preach.)

If a person says that his behavior toward long-standing friends “has nothing to do with Objectivism”, then this is a theory/practice dichotomy as wide as from here to Alpha Centauri. Its actual meaning is: “philosophy is a castle in the air which has nothing to do with my life”. And it was not I who made such a statement. It was Dr. Leonard Peikoff. (That this is also “compartmentalization” goes without saying. It certainly puts “philosophy” and “life” in different compartments.)

If you wish to denigrate my character behind my back, there is nothing I can do to stop you. But I do not like being the target of projection – I do not like being accused of my detractors’ own sins. This is actually the counterpart of the Communists’ policy of accusing capitalism of its own sins (“impoverishing the masses” and that kind of jazz). If you have a case against me, you can state it. But you have as big (or as small) a case against me as you have against George and Edith.

Your policy in this matter – which is answering queries with no facts at all, only with vague, contextless accusations, sometimes dressed up in Objectivist-sounding language – is bound to backfire. You seem to have too low an opinion of the average intelligence among students/supporters of Objectivism. Some of them may be stupid enough to get fooled by you. But most of them will sooner or later see through you.

POS

I am afraid my last sentence was over-optimistic. It is now [2002} six years since I wrote this, and for all I see most Objectivists simply “follow suit” in this issue. Now, by my experience, neither stupidity nor sheer cowardice is a wide-spread malady among Objectivists. I guess I have to attribute the phenomenon to ignorance.


Leonard Peikoff on “Warring Friends”

This essay was originally written some time in 1997, but I did not make it public at that time. I have been thinking of revising if before publication, but I found that very little revision was necessary.

The incontrovertible proof that Leonard Peikoff has left the narrow path of strict and scrupulous objectivity is the part of his lecture at Lyceum Conferences 1995, “Judging, Feeling and Not Being Moralistic”[5] that deals with the issue of taking sides between warring friends.

Let me begin with some elementary syllogistic logic. Suppose a logician points to a visibly triangular shape and then gives you this syllogism:

All circles are round
This figure is a circle
This figure is round

The fallacy here of course is that the minor premise is a plain falsehood. An abstraction that is true has simply been applied to the wrong concrete.

Now take a situation that could actually occur in real life. A prosecutor wants to convict someone of murder, but he knows he has no proof or that his proof is too flimsy for conviction. So instead of trying to prove what he cannot prove, he delivers a lecture on the immorality of murder. This also can be expressed as a simple syllogism:

Murderers ought to be punished (true)
This man is a murderer (false or at best unproven)
This man ought to be punished (false or at best unproven)

But this is not merely bad syllogistic reasoning, it is also immoral, for to sentence someone innocent is immoral. (Agreed?)

Now, the part of the lecture I mentioned is supposedly meant to “help” people take sides in the conflict between Dr. Peikoff himself (and some others) on the one hand and George Reisman and Edith Packer on the other. But Reisman and Packer are not even mentioned in the lecture. Nor are any details of the concrete conflict mentioned. Thus, even if the lecture were completely valid as a major premise of a syllogism (it is not, and I will return to that), it would prove exactly nothing about the actual case. The syllogism may be stated this way:

In a conflict, always take the right side (incontrovertibly true)
My side is right (unproven, not even discussed and furthermore a plain falsehood)
Take my side, or else!

But then, how do I know the purpose of the lecture was to make people side against Reisman and Packer? How do I know it was not just a “general discussion” (on the famous premise that “philosophers know everything in general but nothing in particular”)? Well, if anyone doubts it, we have Dr. Peikoff’s own word. In a letter addressed to Richard Sanford and Genevieve La Greca (who had asked for evidence rather that unsupported allegations in the case at hand) and dated 17 September 1995, he writes:

Since it is not possible for me to give you a lecture on the philosophical issues involved personally, I did the next best thing. I delivered some 30 minutes of relevant materials as part of a lecture on morality to an audience in San Francisco last month. These 30 minutes were specifically devoted to a refutation of your letters [i.e. to a refutation of the idea that moral condemnation requires evidence], although of course I kept the discussion completely abstract, mentioning no names of any kind.

What does this mean if not that Leonard Peikoff is on the “evil prosecutor premise” I mentioned above? He accuses people of murder, but he will not tell what murder has been committed, when or how; all he can do is keep the discussion completely abstract; all he can do is deliver a lecture on the immorality of murder, a lecture with which hardly anyone will disagree, anyway.

This should be enough to prove my point. But there is more. Because the abstract discussion itself is a web of sophistry.

Dr. Peikoff starts out with saying that if close friends of yours start warring and accusing one another of immorality, you cannot avoid taking sides. Now this much is true. In such a situation it is impossible for you to keep both friends, even though you might want to. Then he goes on to say that you cannot decide blindly: you have to investigate the matter carefully by asking questions of both sides. Again true (but then, who would disagree?) Then he says that one should be on the lookout for contradictions and/or plain lies, because the party that is wrong will sooner or later have to resort to those things. Let us stop here for one moment.

Dr. Peikoff could also have mentioned evasions as things to be on the look-out for. And he could have mentioned plain refusals to answer. But he does not. Yet a simple way of avoiding telling lies and avoiding one’s contradictions coming out in the open is precisely this: to refuse to say anything at all. And anyone who has tried to get to the bottom of the “Reisman conflict” should know how relevant this is.

Neither does he mention hiding behind authorities as something to be on the look-out for. Yet this phenomenon is rampant in the current conflict. People on the “Peikoff side” are routinely hiding behind Leonard Peikoff’s authority (when they are not referring to some “consensus” among “leading Objectivists”). And Leonard Peikoff, when asked, is hiding behind the authority of those others who are hiding behind his authority. (Kenneth Lansing’s wise words, in The Fountainhead, about how committees work, seem to have been completely forgotten.)

But perhaps all this is implicitly subsumed under “lies and contradictions”? If so, Dr. Peikoff has simply given us an airtight case why we should side with the Reismans and against him and his associates.

Then Dr. Peikoff goes on to say that it is still possible that you cannot make up your mind, since the evidence is so “evenly balanced”. Now, some people may think that the evidence in the actual conflict is “evenly balanced”, but it certainly is not. It is overwhelmingly on one side, and you know which. But Dr. Peikoff goes on to say that now you must “call on all your resources”. But this is fantastic. You should have “called on all your resources” in the first place. And then: you should ask yourself which of your warring friends is the most prone to rationalistic “building castles in the air”. How are we supposed to apply this to the current conflict? Are we to tell ourselves, without further investigation, that George Reisman and Edith Packer are “castle-in-the-air-builders”? Well, actually we do not have to, since Dr. Peikoff’s own reasoning (with “roundness” applied to something visibly triangular) is the most excellent example we may wish for.

It should also be noted (in case it has slipped anyone’s mind) that Dr. Peikoff is violating a principle he himself has stated and stressed many times (e.g. in his essay “Maybe You’re Wrong” and again in OPAR, p. 177). From a general observation such as “Man is capable of immorality” or “Friends are capable of betraying their friendship”, one cannot even infer the possibility of Dr. Reisman’s and Dr. Packer’s guilt. Some factual information is needed even to infer a “maybe”. A discussion about the generality does not establish anything whatsoever regarding the particular conflict. Yet all Dr. Peikoff is trying to do is smuggle a “maybe” into our minds.

But there is more, and worse. There is a lot of talk in the lecture about “moral agnosticism”. Now, if a person refuses to take sides – if he refuses to even look into the matter, or if he remains undecided even when he has abundant evidence – then he may be called a “moral agnostic”. On this grain of truth Dr. Peikoff tries to build up a case that one must side with him to avoid being accused of “moral agnosticism”.

Note first: one is not an agnostic for merely saying “I don’t know” when in fact one does not know. And one is certainly not an agnostic for saying: “I need more evidence than you have given me so far.” Only an agnostic would ever call this agnosticism.

And furthermore: if one does look into the matter – if one does try to get the story from both sides in the conflict – and finds that one gets clear, non-evasive, factual answers from one side and nothing but rationalizations, ad verecundiams and plain evasions from the other side, then which side should one take? The answer is too obvious to need stating.

But this is not what Dr. Peikoff wanted to put over on a trusting audience, for if he had, he would have had to condemn himself and his own closest associates. What he wanted to put over was this: if you do not take my side, you are a moral agnostic. So you are looking for some evidence beside my mere say-so? Then again you are a moral agnostic.

But this is turning the concept “agnosticism” into the exact opposite of its actual meaning. The original meaning of “agnosticism” is refusing to take sides between reason and blind faith. The new meaning Dr. Peikoff wants to put over is: refusing to reject blind faith.

None of the errors I have pointed out are morally innocent. In fact they have to be designated as evil, since the only discernible motive behind them is sheer power-lust, which is a species of destruction for the sake of destruction. A great man’s reputation is to be destroyed for no sensible purpose whatever; and a revolutionizing work on economics is to be prevented from being promoted by the very people who should be the first to promote it, namely the Objectivists.

But suppose I am overestimating the greatness of George Reisman and his treatise? It would not change my criticism one iota. For what Dr. Peikoff is destroying is also the philosophy whose integrity he is pretending to guard. What else is the meaning of the attempt to redefine “agnosticism” to mean refusing to take him on faith? What else is the meaning of the advice to resort to psychologizing when judging a conflict? And what else is the meaning of the policy of trying to inflict punishment on dissenters? (To take an example close to home, Dr. Peikoff does not want Ayn Rand’s works to be translated into foreign languages by people who take the Reismans’ side.)

Dr. Peikoff has once said that he wants it written on his tombstone that he never allowed anyone to water Objectivism down. [See interview with Dr. Peikoff in The ARI Newsletter, February 1993.] Well, strictly speaking, what he is doing is not “watering down”, since water is a clean substance. The correct term is pollution. And it was Leonard Peikoff who once told us (in his lecture series “Objectivism: State of the Art”) that “to be good is to be good all of the time; to be evil some of the time is to be evil”. One should not say such a thing, unless one means to live up to it.

None of this is hard to see; yet it seems that few people have had the courage to stand up for the Reismans against the unjust attacks, and fewer still seem to be prepared to morally condemn Leonard Peikoff for his behavior in the matter.

One reason for this may be that people trust Leonard Peikoff because of his past record. But then people should know that a person’s past record is never a guarantee for the future. Good people have gone bad before. (Old-timers may recall the events of 1968.) And people should also know that it is always the factual evidence that counts, not the “who says so?”.

What, then, are we to do? In the name of justice we should speak out and not permit ourselves to be intimidated into silence.

But Leonard Peikoff is Ayn Rand’s designated heir – and speaking out against the movement’s leadership might hurt the movement?

Unfortunately we cannot resurrect Ayn Rand from the dead and ask her to reconsider her choice of heir in the light of what has come forward more than a decade after her death. I can guess how she would have reacted, but I have no telepathic contact with her spirit. I also believe that Leonard Peikoff was the worthiest heir she could have found. Was. And this is what makes his development such a tragedy.

As to “hurting the movement”, nothing can hurt a movement more than leaders who betray the movement’s principles. But then, strictly speaking, Objectivism is not a “movement”. Objectivism is a philosophy. And a philosophy remains what it is, regardless of anyone’s attempt to turn it into a pretzel.

John Galt discovered the Fountain of Youth on the top of a mountain, and then found it could not be brought down. Conclusion: whoever wants to drink from this fountain has to climb the mountain himself. People who have gone before may certainly help you find your way. But what are you to do, if the “accredited guides” do not want you to find the fountain and deliberately lead you astray?

Per-Olof Samuelsson


Reisman vs. Binswanger on “The Real Right to Medical Care”

Back in 1994 George Reisman wrote a pamphlet called “The Real Right to Medical Care vs. Socialized Medicine”. The pamphlet is available at the Mises Institute’s web site. For those too lazy to read it, I will give an excerpt:

I use the concept of “rights” in the sense in which Ayn Rand uses it, and in which, at least implicitly, John Locke and the Founding Fathers of the United States used it. […] That is, not as an arbitrary, out-of-context assertion of claims to things or to obligations to be filled by others, but as pertaining to the actions an individual must take in order to live – as moral principles defining and sanctioning his freedom to take those actions. The only way in which the individual’s freedom, and thus his rights, can be violated is by means of the initiation of physical force against him […] It should go without saying that in serving his own life, each and every individual is morally obliged to respect the right of others to be free from any initiation of physical force on his part. […] To take some examples, an individual has no right to a job as such. He has a right only to those jobs voluntarily offered by employers. His right to employment is violated not when he cannot find an employer who is willing to employ him, but when he can or could find such an employer and is prevented from doing so by physical force. […] In exactly the same way, the right to medical care does not mean a right to medical care as such, but to the medical care one can buy from willing providers. One’s right to medical care is violated not when there is medical care that one cannot afford to buy, but when there is medical care that one could afford to buy if one were not prevented from doing so by the initiation of physical force. […]

In sharpest contrast, the concept of rights held by the great majority of our contemporaries, especially the great majority of today’s intellectuals, is a concept characteristic of savages, that is, of people who have not grasped the principle of causality and the fact that wealth has to be produced, who believe instead that wealth appears as though by magic, and that they have a claim for it by the mere fact of needing it or wishing for it. […]

This, then, is what George Reisman actually says about the concept of “rights” (and, as I said, anyone interested is free to read the full text from which this was an excerpt). And everyone with a shred of literacy left within him will see that this is precisely the Objectivist view of rights. Or?

Well, not according to long-time Objectivist Harry Binswanger, who calls this a “re-conceptualization” of the concept of “rights”. He does so in a memorandum to Michael Berliner (then Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute), dated May 26, 1994. (Few people have read this memorandum, but George Reisman graciously sent me a copy of it.) Since Dr. Binswanger is one of the foremost experts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, his views on this subject should be made known, so here it is:

You have solicited my response to the proposal that ARI promote George’s pamphlet, “The Real Right to Medical Care Versus Socialized Medicine and the Clinton Plan.” As you know, I have been slow to respond for two reasons. First, my original reaction to George’s article was mixed: the article had some very good aspects and some that seemed, on first reading at least, quite misconceived. Second, because of my “recent difficulties” with George and Edith, I wanted to make sure that I was not being influenced in my judgment by emotional considerations.

Having now had time to re-read the relevant sections and to re-think my objections, I have concluded that we should not promote it – at least as it now stands. My reasons are as follows – and you may forward this memo to George.

The basic problem is indicated by its title: the idea that it is a proper conceptualization to speak of a “right” to medical care. Despite the fact that George is careful to say that there is not a right to medical care, or other goods and services, “as such”, and despite the fact that he explains his usage in detail, that usage is both wrong and counter to explicit Objectivist definitions.

I was originally “on the fence” about George’s usage, because I understand one advantage that his conceptualization seems to offer: it seems to provide a further conceptual weapon to use against government’s initiation of force in this area. You recall that I raised George’s idea, rather sympathetically, to Leonard [Peikoff] and he immediately and emphatically rejected it. (Incidentally, I think ARI would be wrong to promote the pamphlet until and unless Leonard could be convinced on this point that George’s view is legitimate.) On further thinking, however, I am off the fence: the seeming advantage of George’s conceptualization is an illusion, for the following reasons.

George’s idea is that we can attack socialized medicine by saying, “No! I have a right to health care, and the government would be violating that right by its interference.” But to this the statists would simply answer, “Don’t worry, our plan will satisfy your rights-claim by enabling you to get health care – and more cheaply, too.” What then is our comeback? It can only be a discussion of the economic reasons why interference in the free market won’t, in fact, lead to my getting better and cheaper health care. But this economic argument is precisely what the concept of “rights” is designed to render unnecessary. The parallel here is to Leonard’s work on the role of principles in morality: rather than trying to trace out, in advance, all the consequences for one’s self-interest of a given choice (e.g., to lie to one’s employer), the virtues settle that in principle. Principles are our means of evaluating the long-range consequences of political choices. Rights, not economic laws – even though those laws are true, objectively demonstrable, illuminating, and profoundly valuable in concretizing the rights-based analysis. But to re-conceptualize “rights” as George is advocating would actually be to abandon the moral principle in favor of economic argument, as in the dialogue I gave at the beginning of this paragraph. The “right to things” idea requires us to demonstrate that a given government law would result in an economic loss compared to what the free market would offer. Note that this problem does not arise when we speak (properly) of the right to free exchange. The right to free exchange is violated by government force per se, without anyone having to provide an economic analysis of who would get what at what prices absent that force.

Second, the idea of a “right” to “things”, however qualified and re-interpreted, shifts the focus of our attention from the primary victim of government intervention to the secondary victims. The primary victim, the martyred hero whom we must defend above all, is the producer. Yes, it is true that if the producer is not free to produce, then men in their role as consumers have less to purchase. But this is not what Objectivism is all about. Atlas Shrugged is not about how badly Eddie Willers fares under the looters’ rule; it is about what happens to the Reardens. The Reardens here are, of course, the doctors. All of the Objectivist writing on medicine has deliberately and valiantly placed the focus on “The Forgotten Man of Socialized Medicine” – the doctors. Talking about the patients’ “right” to medical care takes the focus off the doctors.

This shift in focus is indicative of the third major problem with George’s article: the failure to grasp or confront the morality of altruism. George does reject “the need-based or wish-based concept of rights”, but not on the basis of a rejection of altruism, the code of sacrifice, and not by proclaiming man’s right to exist for his own selfish happiness. (His objection to the need-based concept of rights, which is only hinted at, seems to be that it represents a “magical” view of wealth (p. 7).)

In accordance with this failure to appreciate the role of morality – and specifically of altruism – he makes a truly shocking statement on page 9:

“It [medical licensing] is an expression of the mentality that underlies most government intervention into the economic system, namely, the mistaken belief that it is possible to serve one’s self-interest by means of the initiation of physical force against others, coupled with a willingness to serve it by such means. Such a policy is irrational and ultimately self-destructive.”

I have to restrain my bewilderment and anger as I point out that the truth is precisely the opposite: it is the mistaken belief that it is possible and necessary to serve other‘s interests that is the fundamental cause of interventionism. Licensing is a good example. Yes, the immediate motive of those particular individuals who sponsored licensing was, in part, the idea that they could gain financially from it. But what permitted them to get away with it? The doctrine of altruism. Medical licensing was put over and is maintained today by nothing but the alleged “needs” of those so stupid, lazy and irrational that they would not be able to distinguish a qualified doctor from a quack.

The same story holds for all the encroachments of the state on individual liberty: the cause is not the “greed” of the profiteers on sacrifice but the morality of sacrifice itself. And what on earth accounts for the desire for the unearned, on such a idea, except for the morality that offers one no choice other than being a looter or a looted victim?

I will hold my peace here and refrain from lecturing further on facts that should be obvious to any reader of Atlas.

Incidentally, I believe that ARI should refuse, on principle, to promote any pamphlet in favor of medical freedom that does not explicitly denounce altruism.

There are other objections that I have to the article, but I think that the foregoing is more than sufficient to explain why it should not be promoted by ARI (or any Objectivist). Again, there is much of value in the pamphlet, particularly in section 5, and if George were open to the required editing, it would be worth re-casting.

Fooled by this reasoning? Then let me help you “unfool” yourself. The following is a letter (with some minor editing) that I wrote to Dr. Reisman on December 23, 1994:

I have read your pamphlet and Binswanger’s memo concerning it. I believe his memo is fundamentally mistaken. I’d like to give my reasons (more or less off the cuff).

I see four main charges against your pamphlet in this memo, which I would like to comment one by one:

  1. It is wrong, or a mis-conceptualization, to speak of medical care “as such”, or to speak about a “right to things”, and this is even “counter to explicit Objectivist definitions”.

The right you defend in your pamphlet is clearly and explicitly the right to that medical care that one is able and willing to buy from willing providers with one’s own (properly earned) money. On the face of it, this view is simply true. And it certainly does not contradict the fact that Objectivism opposes the alleged “right” to “free” health care, i.e. health care at somebody else’s expense. (If it is not too sarcastic, I would say this is so clear that only a linguistic analyst could miss it.)

Then, what does Binswanger mean when he says that your usage is counter to explicit Objectivist definitions? He does not state this explicitly, but from his reasoning one has to conclude that he is referring to the fact that Objectivism stresses that rights are rights to action, that the right to life (in Miss Rand’s words) is “the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action – which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life”, and that the right to property is the right to use and disposal, i.e. to actions. Thus, to speak of a right to things, rather than to actions, would be a departure from Objectivism. (This is the only way I can make sense of his objection.)

What happens to this idea, if I concretize it? Suppose I have a few coins (properly earned) in my pocket. Those coins are things, so do I have a right to them? Suppose I go up to an ice-cream stand and exchange the coins for an ice-cone. The ice-cone is a thing, so do I have a right to it? The obvious, common-sense answer is: yes. Of course, this right consists in the right to use and dispose of the coins or the ice-cone. If I have the right to the coins, this means that I have the right to carry them in my pocket and to make my own purchases for them. If I have a right to the ice-cone, this means that I have the right to eat it, or to give it to an accompanying kid, or to throw it away (if I don’t like the taste). Since this is what the right means, it makes no sense to try and pry apart the ownership of things from the right to use and dispose of these things. Again, only a very tricky modern philosopher (of the linguistic analyst school) could come up with such an objection. (Medical care, by the way, is not even a “thing”, but a bundle of actions, so the objection makes even less sense in the context of the subject matter.)

There is another angle on this. It is a basic tenet of Objectivist concept theory that a concept is not equal to its definition. A concept stands for the non-defining characteristics of its referents as well as for their defining characteristics. (E.g.: “man” does not merely stand for “animality plus rationality”, but for everything that is true about men.) To equate a concept with its definition is to divorce the concept from reality and to make it into an “empty shell”. This error leads one to all the variants of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Now, “the right to the medical care one can buy for one’s own money” is certainly not a defining characteristic of the concept “right” (it is far too narrow for that), but it is one of the innumerable instances that fall under the concept. If one is a champion of rights, then one obviously has to be a champion of every concrete right that falls under the abstract concept (including the right to an ice-cone in my example above). But Binswanger seems to imply that this would be counter to the “explicit Objectivist definition”. (Again, I am trying to make sense of his objection, and this is the only sense I can find. Binswanger accuses you of “re-conceptualization”, but I only find objections to your wording of points that should be obvious to every Objectivist.)

  1. By arguing the economic case for capitalism, you are not arguing in principle, but pragmatically; if one argues for capitalism on the principle of rights, economic arguments are rendered unnecessary.

On this point I think Binswanger implicitly endorses a moral-practical dichotomy. Just as there can be no dichotomy between the moral and the practical, so there can be no dichotomy between the moral and the economic case for capitalism. (The only thing there can be is the proper intellectual division of labor between the moralist and the economist – and ideally, the moral and the economic case for capitalism should be presented together, with the connections clearly shown. If an economist claims that morality has nothing to do with economics and should be kept out of economics – as I believe is Milton Friedman’s view – then that is another thing. That should be denounced.)

As I see it, Binswanger is making two interconnected errors with regard to this point. I will try to sort them out and counter them one by one.

  1. a) He seems to say that if one is making the economic case for capitalism, one is not arguing the case for capitalism in principle, but is stepping out into the pragmatic quagmire. The only principle one can argue from (on his view) is the principle of rights; arguing from economic laws is pragmatic per se, since those laws (however true and objectively demonstrable) are not principles.

The first and obvious answer to this is that economic laws are principles. (A principle, by a slightly informal definition, is simply a big truth on which lesser truths depend. Every subject has principles – or should have, one would have to say in today’s chaos.) Furthermore, there is no contradiction between economic and moral principles (given, of course, that we are speaking of the right, rational principles, not of some Keynesian concoctions). Thus, making the economic case for capitalism is palpably non-pragmatic.

Furthermore, the main principles you are applying in your pamphlet are “the harmony of interests among rational men” and “the evil of initiating force”. Those principles are thoroughly grounded in Objectivist morality.

Binswanger argues that the purpose of the principle of rights is to render economic argumentation unnecessary. But this would make sense only on the premise that economic arguments, by their very nature, are unprincipled and pragmatic. But this simply contradicts his own concession that economic laws are (or at least could be) “true and objectively demonstrable”, for what is true and objectively demonstrable cannot at the same time be just a pragmatic rule-of-thumb. Furthermore, if all economic laws were “merely pragmatic”, then they would be useless even to concretize any rights-based principles. (Binswanger’s whole reasoning here is a mess of contradictions.)

  1. b) Binswanger also argues that making the economic case for capitalism is to subscribe to the “trade-off” view of ethics. This is really a gross equivocation.

The “trade-off” view of ethics (which Objectivism properly rejects and denounces) is that one can put a wrongful action in one scale and weigh it against the seeming advantages of taking the wrongful action. Therefore, his objection would make sense only on the fantastic premise that all economic calculation is inherently wrongful. The Objectivist analysis of this issue also says that, once the morality of an action is settled, then it is perfectly proper to calculate. If two possible courses of action are both moral, then one would have to chose between them by tracing out their consequences. It is only when one course of action is immoral that one would have to rule it out with no further consideration of its possible “benefits”.

Furthermore, what does it actually mean to settle a choice by reference to moral principle? Does it really have nothing to do with “tracing out consequences”? Does it mean that “thinking in principle” is something opposed to “tracing out consequences”? If so, there would be no difference between Objectivism and Kantianism.

Let’s look at Binswanger’s own example, “lying to an employer” (and we have to suppose that it is not lying in self-defense). What does it mean to settle such a choice in principle? Certainly, one would not have to trace out the consequences of the lie in detail, since one would know one thing in advance: whatever the consequences will be, they will be bad.[6] They would not be conducive to one’s self-interest. One would know (if one knows the principle of honesty at least in its barest essentials) that this one lie cannot be contained, that one lie would merely lead to another lie and eventually to a complete break with reality (in effect, to psychosis). One would know that, on this policy, one’s only ally would be other people’s stupidity and gullibility, and that their intelligence and rationality would be threats of exposure; one would know that this policy dooms one forever to deal with only the stupid, the dishonest, the irrational. And one would know that one never has anything to gain from such people. Now, this certainly does not entail working out in detail what this one lie would lead to (nobody is clairvoyant enough to do this anyway), but it does entail considering consequences. It does not mean: “Thou shalt be honest. Why? Because thou shalt.”

Binswanger would certainly never explicitly endorse such an absurdly intrinsicist view of principles, and would certainly check his premises if he found that he was endorsing it implicitly. But such is the view he is implicitly endorsing in his memo.

Now, there is a very peculiar thing about his memo: when he originally considered your pamphlet, he saw some “seeming advantages” in it, some “weapon” that could be used against the statists. Then, when he rejected it, he did so on the basis that the statists have a “come-back”. Leaving aside the fact that he can hardly have read your pamphlet very carefully if he takes this “come-back” seriously, the oddity is that this is a “trade-off” view. If your pamphlet is fundamentally wrong, there could be no advantages to it; if it is fundamentally right, then the advantages are too obvious too be “weighed” against any disadvantages; and the fact that the statists would have a “come-back” would be utterly irrelevant (they will have “come-backs” to everything we say, anyway).

  1. You are shifting the focus from the primary victims of socialized medicine (the doctors) to the secondary victims (the patients).

On this point I think Binswanger is reading Atlas like the Devil reads the Bible. Atlas is very much about the fate of Eddie Willers. It is certainly not what it is all about, but it is part of the book’s message. Otherwise, there would be no justification for giving Eddie the space he is actually given in the novel; neither would there be any justification for the famous stranded-on-the-train scene at he end of the novel.[7]

To digress on this point for a moment, you must have seen, as I have, the kind of hostile reviews that claim that Miss Rand is totally indifferent to the “average man” and who then, with reckless irresponsibility, equate her views with those of Hobbes, Nietzsche, Spencer and other sundry so-and-sos. My reaction to this kind of reviews is a kind of helpless indignation: the reviewers would have to blank-out big chunks of information to reach such a conclusion. Not only would they have to blank out Eddie, but also Cherryl, Jeff Allen, Bill Brent, to name the most obvious characters. Then, what would Binswanger answer those hostile reviewers? That they are perfectly right? (End of digression.)

Now, if Binswanger merely wants to make a causal connection here – if he means to say that the fate of the average man (or the patients) rests on the fate of the creative geniuses (or the doctors), then he would be right. But he goes a step farther: he claims that even mentioning and defending the self-interest of the average man is wrong – since it “shifts the focus”. But that means that if Atlas (or Objectivism) is about the fate of the creative geniuses, then it cannot be about the fate of the average man, and vice versa. And this is an obvious false dichotomy.

Furthermore: if Binswanger is concerned about “the martyred hero whom we must defend above all” (which he certainly should be), then where is his concern for the martyred free-market economist who finds himself trapped in an environment of Marxists and/or Keynesians, and whose views are scorned, denigrated, silenced? What about the economist in the valley “who couldn’t get a job outside, because he taught that you can’t consume more than you have produced”? Isn’t he one of the martyred heroes who should be defended above all? And – to “shift the focus” – what will happen, long-range, to the average man, if he is not defended? If his views are never allowed to reach the public? (Binswanger himself has acknowledged that you are one of the greatest economists of all time. In an OSG posting a couple of years ago, he wrote:

From where I sit, it looks like George Reisman will end up being the most important economist of the 20th century (with von Mises second). His views are revolutionary.

Now, he does not want your views promoted.)

(Incidentally, I am curious as to what Binswanger would say about your integration of the “pyramid of ability” principle with the law of comparative advantage. I was impressed by this integration.[8] But on Binswanger’s view, it would have to be rejected – since it says that the geniuses have something to gain from the average men and not only vice versa.)

I agree with your observation that Binswanger’s view is “Nietzschean”.[9] Objectivism certainly holds that the pursuit of self-interest is proper for everyone – not only for some certain class of people. (It is proper even for a moron – insofar as a moron is capable of such pursuit.)

  1. You fail to grasp and confront the morality of altruism.

Since your pamphlet only speaks of the pursuit of self-interest (and the harmony of self-interest between doctors and patients), and since you do reject the altruist view of rights, you are certainly not endorsing altruism, not even implicitly.

I disagree with the example Binswanger gives. The truth is that both those views are wrong. One cannot serve one’s own self-interest by the initiation of force; and neither can one serve others’ interests by the initiation of force. The initiation of force is evil, and thus can only have evil consequences for everyone involved. (As to the question which side of this false coin is a motivating factor in supporting e.g. medical licensing, this is a psychological question on which I have no view – I don’t know enough psychology to have a view.)

Binswanger’s reasoning seems to imply that the support of doctors for licensing represents egoism (“greed”), while his version (“it’s for the alleged good of the consumers”) represents altruism (and thus, this would be an example of your failure to “grasp or confront” altruism). I disagree with that. Both views rest on the view that someone necessarily has to be sacrificed. If the second view is “altruism”, then the first view is merely the other side of the false altruist coin: it is the “Nietzschean” view of egoism.

I certainly agree with Binswanger when he says that the morality of sacrifice “offers one no choice other than being a looter and a looted victim”. But it is completely unfair to use this fact against you.

On the basis of the above, I must say that Binswanger’s memo is completely wrong and even an implicit departure from Objectivism.

Mind-body integration is one of the cardinal tenets of Objectivism, and as a corollary Objectivism rejects every single variant of the mind-body dichotomy. Thus, it rejects every dichotomy between concepts and their referents (this is just a variant of the concepts-percepts dichotomy); it rejects the “prying apart” (except for purposes of analysis) of aspects that in reality belong together; it rejects every dichotomy between principles and their actual-life applications; it certainly rejects any dichotomy between principles and consequences; it rejects every variant of the moral-practical dichotomy, which includes any dichotomy between morality and economics; it rejects the idea that one man’s self-interest is in conflict with other men’s interests, which includes the corollary dichotomy that self-interest is only for some certain class of people. All of those dichotomies are present in Binswanger’s memo. True, they are only present implicitly (and Binswanger would certainly reject them out of hand, if they were stated explicitly). But they are there; and they are certainly close enough to the surface for me to see them.

Then why is Binswanger blind to them? Well, he says that he “wanted to be sure that [he] was not being influenced in [his] judgment by emotional considerations”. He certainly cannot have freed himself from such considerations, when he wrote his memo. Actually, he is trying to derive the facts from a previously formed value judgment. And this, of course, is the opposite of the right method – which is to derive values from facts, not the other way round.


Post scriptum 2007: To pass moral (as opposed to merely intellectual) judgment on Dr. Binswanger’s memo, one has to take his own context of knowledge into consideration. Had this been written by some “newbie Objectivist”, it would still have been wrong, even stupid, but it would at least be barely excusable. But Harry Binswanger is not only one of the foremost experts on Objectivism, he is in particular a foremost expert on Objectivist epistemology. This is why I stress that he should have rejected his own memo “out of hand”. The epistemological mistakes in it are not innocent. His memo is simply dishonestly motivated – the motivation is one of “cheap revenge”. And his assertion that he wrote it after “freeing himself from emotional considerations” has to be taken as a bald-faced lie. This, by the way, goes for the memo as a whole. Talk about “turning Objectivism into a pretzel”!

Post scriptum 2: A perceptive young man of my acquaintance observes that Objectivists in general do not shy away from using economic arguments on the grounds that “the principle of rights make them unnecessary”. As one example, he gives the following quotes from Harry Binswanger’s own article Immigration Quotas vs. Individual Rights. (This article is a good example of what Binswanger is capable of, when he is not dishonestly motivated.)

One major fear of open immigration is economic: the fear of losing one’s job to immigrants. It is asked: “Won’t the immigrants take our jobs?” The answer is: “Yes, so we can go on to better, higher-paying jobs.”

The fallacy in this protectionist objection lies in the idea that there is only a finite amount of work to be done. The unstated assumption is: “If Americans don’t get to do that work, if foreigners do it instead, we Americans will have nothing to do.”

But work is the creation of wealth. A job is a role in the production of goods and services–the production of food, of cars, computers, the providing of internet content–all the items that go to make up our standard of living. A country cannot have too much wealth. The need for wealth is limitless, and the work that is to be done is limitless. [Emphasis added.]

My friend asks (rhetorically) from where Binswanger got this specific idea. Yes, indeed, where did he get it? The point that the need for wealth has no fixed limits is the subject matter of Chapter 2, “Wealth and Its Role in Human Life”, in Capitalism: A Treatise of Economics. So what we have here is another instance of “Reisman Insights without George Reisman” (see later under this heading).

Another quote from the same article:

Unemployment is not caused by an absence of avenues for the creation of wealth. Unemployment is caused by government interference in the labor market … What is the effect of a bigger labor pool on wage rates? If the money supply is constant, nominal wage rates fall. But real wage rates rise, because total output has gone up … The protectionist objection that immigrants take away jobs and harm our standard of living is a solid economic fallacy.

Again, where did Binswanger get this point? Well, this point about the relation between nominal and real wages – and the fact that our growing standard of living shows up primarily in lower prices – is one stressed repeatedly in Capitalism. So to whom is credit due for this point?

A careful reader will certainly object to the above and say that Binswanger has done nothing but “concretizing the rights-based analysis” with his economic arguments. This objection would be true, but it would miss the point: because so does George Reisman in his health care pamphlet. Anyone who has read Reisman’s pamphlet and denies this would be simply lying. And this is precisely the lie of which Binswanger is guilty in the memo I quoted.

To quote George Reisman (in a different context):

Shysterism in any form is always slippery.[10]


Correspondence with Second Renaissance Books

According to Objectivism (and, I might add, according to plain common sense), one should not take a stand in a personal conflict without first investigating the matter and making an effort to arrive at the facts. To prove that I have done so (something that has been questioned by some hooligans), I would like to quote the following correspondence I had with Second Renaissance Book (SRB) in 1995.

POS to SRB (February 17, 1995):

I just received your latest catalogue, and I noticed that you have ceased carrying any materials by George Reisman. Now, I know (since it was reported in [ARI:s newsletter] “Impact”) that there are disagreements between Dr. Reisman (and his wife) and ARI:s Board of Directors, but the notice said nothing specific about those disagreement and stressed that they were of a non-philosophical nature. Thus, I am puzzled that SRB can no longer carry any of their books/pamphlets/tapes.

I am concerned with this mainly for the following reason: judging from what I know (the tape courses I have listened to and the extracts I have read), Dr. Reisman’s forthcoming book on capitalism will be to the science of economics what OPAR is to philosophy. It will certainly be the most important book on theoretical economics since Human Action. Also, judging within my context of knowledge, Dr. Reisman’s work on economics is grounded in a thorough understanding of Objectivism (which certainly cannot be said of von Mises or any other famous economist).

Such a book may have an enormous long-range impact on the science of economics and thereby, ultimately, on the fate of our civilization. It would be a tragedy if it were not widely promoted.

If I am wrong about this, and if Dr. Reisman has in fact departed from Objectivism (by word or by deed), then I would like to know the facts in the matter.

Your answer to this letter will be much appreciated.

Ed Podritske of SRB (March 21, 1995):

Please find enclosed a self-explanatory letter from the Ayn Rand Institute regarding the subject of your inquiry.

ARI (in the person of Peter Schwartz):

Dear [irrational inquirers],

In regard to your letter of September 1994, let me clarify the nature of our decision regarding TJS. We did not come to it lightly. Contrary to what you suggest, our difficulties with Edith Packer and George Reisman involve serious, moral conflicts; they do not represent anything as superficial as “personality clashes”.

Dr. Peikoff has asked us to add that he agrees fully with ARI’s position. Accordingly, he has broken off all personal relations with the Reismans, and has withdrawn from the 1995 TJS conference.

(Schwartz does not mention that the “serious, moral conflict” consisted in Dr. Reisman defending his property rights to his own essays. Also, he fails to mention that it was Dr. Reisman who had to persuade Dr. Peikoff to withdraw from the 1995 TJS conference.)

POS to Ed Podritske (March 27, 1995):

I thank you for your answer to my inquiry regarding Dr. Reisman, but I have to point out to you that the attached letter from Peter Schwartz is not self-explanatory; in fact, it is not explanatory at all.

To see this clearly, consider the Objectivist view of the relation of fact to value: that every “is” implies an “ought”. A corollary of this is that value-judgments must always be based on facts, every “ought” must be based on an “is”. A further corollary is that one makes a moral judgment (be it praise or blame), one has an obligation to state one’s reasons for the judgment, i.e. state the facts that underlie it.

Mr. Schwartz’ letter does not do this. It merely states that the conflict is moral and serious, but gives no slightest hint as to what the conflict is about. (To add that Dr. Peikoff agrees is to no avail to me, unless I know Dr. Peikoff’s reasons for agreeing.)

(I should add that Mr. Schwartz’ letter answers a point which was obviously raised by the persons he replies to, but is not raised by me. I do not believe that this conflict is merely a “personality clash”. I hold that any “personality clash” must involve some issue of right or wrong. My dilemma in this case is that I do not know what wrongdoings Dr. Reisman and/or his wife are charged with. This is why I asked in the first place.)

You must have grasped from my first letter that I am concerned with learning the truth about this matter. But what your answer implicitly tells me is to base a judgement on ignorance (or on an “argumentum ad verecundiam”, which is just a particular form of ignorance).

Please do not let me down. Give me the facts.

(Needless to say, I never got an answer to this.)


Letter to Robert Stubblefield

Robert Stubblefield was the publisher of The Intellectual Activist from 1991 to 2001. He also ran an Objectivist e-mail discussion group called the “Objectivism Study Group” or OSG for short. (I was a member of this discussion group in the years 1992–93.) The following letter is in response to an essay he published on OSG sometime in 1995. My letter was written on October 3, 1995.

Some background: Stubblefield’s essay was in response to an announcement George Reisman made at a one-day TJS conference on October 23, 1994. – The “conference call” referred to later on was a telephone conference on September 19, 1994, called by Leonard Peikoff, allegedly to solve the conflict once and for all. (George Reisman has, quite aptly, referred to this conference call as a “Kangaroo court”.)

I have done some very minor editing here (marked by square brackets) and added quite a few end notes.

I have read the analysis of the TJS conflict that you sent to Jerry Nilson([11]. Jerry forwarded it to me at my request. (He is also showing it to other students of Objectivism in Sweden, in an effort to make them take sides against Dr. Reisman and Dr. Packer.) Essentially, I disagree with your assessment of the situation. There are some points I agree with, but I do not believe those are the essential points. My reasons are as follows:

(i)

Dr. Reisman’s conflict with Peter Schwartz started as a quarrel concerning the copyright to Dr. Reisman’s TIA essays. You describe this conflict as follows:

The Reismans’ problems with Peter Schwartz in 1990 stemmed from a dispute over who owned the copyrights of Dr. Reisman’s articles that Peter Schwartz had published in The Intellectual Activist. In brief, there was no written contract and Peter Schwartz assumed that his default agreement (purchasing essentially all rights) held. When Dr. Reisman wanted an article brought out as a pamphlet on a schedule that did not match Peter Schwartz’ plans, Dr. Packer attributed his actions to his being “vicious”. He ceased dealing with her from there on – as he should have.

Some facts should be added to this account:

  1. a) Dr. Reisman wanted to publish his essays himself, under the auspices of TJS. Had he demanded that Second Renaissance Books bring out the pamphlets on a schedule that did not fit Mr. Schwartz’ plans, then Mr. Schwartz would have been right in objecting. But that was not the case.
  2. b) Dr. Reisman solved the problem by buying back from Mr. Schwartz the copyrights to every one of his own TIA essays for a sum equivalent to what Mr. Schwartz had originally paid him for those rights.

The important issue here is the principle of property rights. George Reisman’s TIA essays are the product of George Reisman’s mind, not of anybody else’s mind. He is the one who is entitled to decide how they are to be used and/or disposed of.

Peter Schwartz, however, took the attitude that those essays were his by right, and that he was only granting Dr. Reisman a favor by even discussing the conditions under which Dr. Reisman could bring out those essays in pamphlet form. I profoundly disagree with this attitude. While I recognize that both an author and a publisher are needed to bring a work to market, I do not see any justification for the notion that the primary right should belong to the publisher.

Dr. Reisman, in his statement of September 19, 1994([12], refers to this as a legal issue: he claims that the copyright law is on his side. (I already knew that the copyright laws in Europe, in countries which are under the Bern convention, recognize the primacy of an author’s right over the publisher’s right. I believed that the legal situation was different in the United States. But is seems it is not.)

My point, however, is that the law is right on this issue. The publisher’s right has to come second to the author’s right. I do realize the complexities involved: it would be absurd to claim that the publisher has no rights in a joint venture. But I do think that Mr. Schwartz acted in violation of Dr. Reisman’s rights, when he objected to Dr. Reisman bringing out his essays as pamphlet under Dr. Reisman’s own auspices. Dr. Reisman should not have had to buy his rights back to do this.

(ii)

After Second Renaissance Books had decided not to carry Dr. Packer’s tapes and pamphlets, a dispute arose about the conditions under which those materials could be transferred to TJS. And SRB (in the person of Ed Podritske) demanded $1200 for returning the master tapes of Dr. Packer’s lectures; he also demanded that this money be paid within 6 months, lest those master tapes be erased.

This is a gross violation of Dr. Packer’s property rights. SRB certainly had the right to cease selling her works (one does not have to agree with this policy, but they have the right). Since it was their unilateral decision, it is highly doubtful that they had the right even to charge Dr. Packer storage money for her materials. But they can have absolutely no right to threaten to erase her master tapes.

I have to point out that this is true regardless of Dr. Packer’s moral character. Even if every single allegation against Dr. Packer is true (which I do not believe), it remains true that she is the owner of her own work. And the master tapes of her lectures are the form in which this particular work exists.

(iii)

When Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet “The Real Right to Medical Care vs. Socialized Medicine” was published, Michael Berliner solicited Harry Binswanger’s advice as to whether the ARI should promote this pamphlet or not. Dr. Binswanger wrote a memo, a copy of which was sent to Dr. Reisman. Since Dr. Reisman mentioned the existence of this memo, I requested and received a copy from Dr. Reisman. (I requested it because I wanted to judge the dispute first-hand, not through an intermediary.) I also later received a second copy, with approving comments from Dr. Peikoff.

I have to say that I am extremely disappointed by the contents of this memo. It completely misrepresents the ideas presented in Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet, ascribing to the pamphlet a “re-conceptualization” of the Objectivist view of rights that simply is not there. What is worse: Dr. Binswanger himself makes a complete mess of basic Objectivist principles. Space does not permit a complete analysis here of Dr. Binswanger’s memo. But to make my disappointment understandable, I have to give you the “low points”:

In his memo, Dr. Binswanger argues that the purpose of the principle of rights is to make economic arguments for capitalism unnecessary. This is not merely to say that “rights” are hierarchically more fundamental than any economic analysis (which, of course, they are); nor is it to say that economic argumentation for capitalism has to be built on the principle of rights (which, of course, it has to do). It is to say that, once you know the principle of rights, you no longer have to bother with the actual life applications of this principle. Economics, properly approached, consists of applying the principle of rights – and the corollary principle of non-initiation of force – to economic activity (and, incidentally, the master of this kind of application is George Reisman). In short, Dr. Binswanger here abandons the proper view of principles (that they are a guide to thinking and living) and makes them instead a substitute for thinking and living. I cannot imagine a theory-practice dichotomy more abysmal than this.

Furthermore, he argues that making an economic case for capitalism is subscribing to the “trade-off” view of ethics. Here, he obviously forgets what this view is. It is the view that one may occasionally abandon a moral principle for the alleged or imagined “benefits” of breaking the principle. (Text-book example: robbing a bank and use the loot to promote Objectivism – which would never work, no matter what intricate cost-benefit analysis precedes the robbery.[13]) But Dr. Binswanger charges Dr. Reisman with a “trade-off” view merely on the basis that Dr. Reisman writes on the subject on which he is an expert: economics. This could only be true on the fantastic assumption that economics per se is an immoral subject (in fact, that economics is the intellectual equivalent of bank robbery).

To compound the matter, Dr. Peikoff makes approving comments on his copy of the memo on the very points I have objected to above.

I realize that when you read this, you will suspect that it is I who misunderstand or misrepresent Dr. Binswanger’s reasoning. You might think it is impossible for Harry Binswanger to express views such as these, and that it is even more impossible for Leonard Peikoff to approve of them. (This is how I would react.) My answer would have to be a much more comprehensive critique of the memo. And that would necessarily have to take some time.

No doubt, few persons alive have a better understanding of Objectivism than Harry Binswanger, and no one alive has a better understanding of it than Leonard Peikoff. But this is precisely what makes this so disappointing. In this case, I can find only one possible explanation: that their judgment is being clouded by hostility toward George Reisman. And that, I regard as inexcusable. Again, this holds regardless of whether their hostility is well-founded or not. Objectivist principles are not to be twisted in this manner for reasons of personal animosity – and certainly not by the persons who have the best knowledge of those principles.

(iv)

With regard to the point you raise:

First, you write:

Let me first note that TJS has been a huge value to many Objectivists, that its creators, George Reisman and Edith Packer, have fought for values of mine and yours – for Objectivism. Dr. Reisman’s article “Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism” shows he can grasp important ideas and his intransigent stand against hooligans when he lectured at USCD[14] shows he has the courage of his conviction.

I agree with this, but I think it understates the matter. That George Reisman “can grasp important ideas” is not shown merely by his “Education” essay but by everything he has written or said in his lectures. As to his standing in his own field, economics, I am quite happy to quote Harry Binswanger (from an OSG posting dated March 23, 1992):

From where I sit, it looks like George Reisman will end up being the most important economist of the 20th century (with von Mises second). His views are revolutionary.

Although I am only an informed layman in economics, I agree with Dr. Binswanger’s statement. Dr. Reisman is a true intellectual giant. I suspect that his forthcoming treatise will be to economics what OPAR is to philosophy. (It would be improper to put him on a level with Aristotle or Ayn Rand; but I certainly put him on a level with the great names in his own field.)

(I would not call Dr. Packer a “giant”, although I certainly appreciate her works. And I cannot help noting that it was she who originally persuaded Leonard Peikoff that OPAR needed to be written. I think that counts for something.)

But your next sentence – “He disgraced himself with that announcement” [about the cancellation of TJS 95] – together with your decision to have no further dealings with him, his wife, or the persons who side with him – implies not merely that this announcement puts a blemish on his character, but that it wipes out all his virtues and the whole of his past (and future) record. This is grossly out of proportion.

Although I have reservations about some of the things said in that announcement (more of that later), I do not know what alternative Dr. Reisman had to making it. TJS 95 had to be cancelled, since the alternative would have been to run it at a financial loss. Should Dr. Reisman then have refrained from announcing the cancellation? Or should he have announced it without giving any hint as to the reasons? If, as you say, his actual announcement was “mysterious”, then this alternative would have appeared even more mysterious. Should he have taken a cheek-turning attitude and made a public confession of his and his wife’s [alleged] immorality? What alternative do you envision?

(v)

As to the Reismans’ criticisms of their adversaries:

  1. a) The criticism of Harry Binswanger discouraging his students from getting their PhDs. I agree with you on this point([15]. The decision to pursue a PhD or not is heavily dependent on the person’s own context. If a person decides to get his PhD (in today’s intellectual climate), I would regard this as an act of heroism. If he decides not to, then his choice has to be respected. One does not live one’s life “for the cause”.
  2. b) The criticism of Peter Schwartz for lecturing on psychology when he knows nothing about the subject. I tend to agree with you on this point. If, as you say, “the class in question was on the boundary between psychology and philosophy and identified the essential characteristic a mental error must have if it is to be classified as a psychological problem rather than a philosophical one” – then this is nothing but a chewing of Miss Rand’s “Psychology of Psychologizing” essay, and a layman can do that. (I say “tend to agree, for I have not heard the lectures myself. I certainly agree that Peter Schwartz is an excellent teacher.)
  3. c) I agree with you that it was improper for the Reismans to ascribe ARI:s decision to cease announcing TJS conferences to the fact that Sandra Schwartz [Peter Schwartz’ wife] runs a competing conference organization. I do not believe that was the motive.([16] (And I do not believe there are too many competing Objectivist conference organizations.) On the other hand, I disagree totally with ARI:s actual decision. Its only purpose must have been to destroy TJS as a conference organization. (Remember that this decision was made before Peikoff had decided to withdraw from the conference. ARI must have understood that if TJS could not get enough students for their 1995 conference, they would not be able to pay Dr. Peikoff his fee. – And there is no justice in saying that TJS deserved to be destroyed.)
  4. d) I agree with you that the first instructors of OGC have to be the best minds with the best grasp of Objectivism. I do not have the context of knowledge necessary to be able to judge the Reismans’ criticism of how it was organized.[17]
  5. e) It was Edith Packer who recommended that the Board of Directors be expanded from 2 to 5 or more persons. She did this because there was a legal problem involved with the smaller Board. Yet, she has been given no credit for this, and it has been attributed to her hostility toward Dr. Binswanger and Mr. Schwartz.
  6. f) As to Dr. Packer’s earlier criticism of Dr. Berliner: this concerned Dr. Berliner’s experience and ability as an administrator. I am not in a position to judge whether this was just or not. I will just note that the continuous expansion of ARI proves that Dr. Berliner cannot have been a total disaster. (This is a deliberate understatement.)
  7. g) I do not know enough about the “Poupore incident”([18] to have an opinion on it. [And for this reason, I delete the rest of this paragraph.]

(vi)

You defend the ARI:s policy of giving only the sketchiest information about this conflict in the following way:

ARI representatives were telling callers the true reason for the anti-TJS policy: it was a moral issue that led to the seven directors of the ARI unanimously to decide to stop supporting TJS. The moral issue was unspecified because it was a private matter.

I have to disagree with this.

If a conflict is truly private, then you do not need to make your reasons public. E.g.: if you break with a friend, you at most owe an explanation to a few mutual acquaintances, but not to the world at large.

But the TJS conflict is not private. ARI:s policy has led to the destruction of TJS as a conference organization, and this is not a private matter. Dr. Binswanger’s memo about Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet was not a private matter: it was intended as an advice to the ARI not to promote the pamphlet. Dr. Reisman’s forthcoming book will probably not be promoted or even mentioned by the ARI and will not be carried by SRB: this is not a private matter; it concerns the fate of our civilization. And today, I am getting recommendations (from people who know far less about the conflict than I do) to the effect that my self-interest should require that I shun the Reismans and refrain from buying from TJS. If this conflict has spread to this remote corner of the world, then it is certainly not private.

(Parenthetically, you write in a separate letter to Jerry Nilson that “it would have been non-objective for me to recommend people to take action on the basis of the essay I wrote”. I agree with that, and I am glad you wrote it. You acknowledge that a moral stand cannot be “dictated” and that every single person has to judge for himself, within the context of his knowledge, based on his perception of reality.)

If the ARI are declaring the Reismans immoral, then it is their obligation to prove their case. Conversely, if they cannot prove their case, they have no business pronouncing the Reismans immoral. The current policy merely leaves callers in a quandary. If anyone is interested enough to call in and ask, one must assume he is also interested in finding out the truth. And if he then only gets a sweeping generality, he has to form his conclusion on this single fact. An honest inquirer would necessarily conclude that the ARI has something to hide – but he would not know whether what they are hiding is some odious, hitherto unknown, fact about the Reismans too horrible to divulge, or if they are covering up a hole in their own case.

For the theoretical foundation of this reasoning, I refer you to “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society” in The Virtue of Selfishness, which explains, very clearly, why one must be able to prove one’s moral judgments “to oneself and to any rational inquirer”.

You write that the ARI:s policy is a matter of confining the damage the Reismans might do. I grant you that this is completely consistent, given that you pin all the blame on them. But in my context of knowledge, it simply does not make sense. I see no damage here, except that a good Objectivist conference organization has been destroyed, and that a revolutionary work on economics, which is also compatible with Objectivism, will be silenced by the very people who should be the first to promote it.[19]

One further point in this context: you obviously believe that the Reismans deserve to be censured for the fact that they copied and distributed the letters from Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Binswanger on the basis of which they were declared to be immoral. I have to agree with Dr. Reisman on this point. There is absolutely no justification for the notion that the fact of their denunciation should be made public, and the basis of public shunning of them, while the reasons for their denunciation should be kept secret. The alternative to copying the actual letters would have been for Dr. Reisman to make a summary of their contents. But that would have left him open to the charge that his summary were “untrue” or a “mere rationalization”. (You are making this charge about everything the Reismans say.) But the actual letters cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as the Reismans’ rationalizations.

(vii)

Your main charge against the Reismans is that they unjustly insulted their adversaries. I want to comment on some point. First, you write:

The unjust insults were no less obvious to anyone who has heard or read materials by the three men they attacked. Do they consciously think that Dr. Peikoff pronounces people immoral without good reason?[20]

You are forgetting the obvious here. A third party to the conflict may certainly entertain such a thought: that a man like Dr. Peikoff cannot pronounce people immoral without good cause. But the Reismans were not a third party to the conflict; it was they who were pronounced immoral. They must know whether Dr. Peikoff’s reason for pronouncing them immoral was good or not. (Just think of it: if somebody pronounces you immoral, who knows whether this is fair or not? You.) What you imply here is that the Reismans should have compromised their own conviction about their own morality and merely accepted the verdict. Or else you imply [of course without any basis whatever] that they actually know that they are evil, and have decided to deny this fact to the world. These implications beg the actual question. And they certainly would not stand up in court. A judge cannot pronounce a person guilty merely on the grounds that he pleads “not guilty”. The matter should have the same standing in the court of your own mind.

Now, I, too, am a third party to this conflict. And I do not know whether Dr. Peikoff’s reasons were good or bad, for the simple reason that he has not announced them publicly. (If the reasons were those given in the letters from Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Binswanger, then they were not good reasons.)

To say the reason he calls them immoral is because they criticized Harry Binswanger and Peter Schwartz implies that Leonard Peikoff is a dogmatist looking for unthinking obedience to the authority he has delegated – the church of ARI and its priests.[21] The alternative they hint at is that he acts on whim: […]

But this means that Dr. Reisman, in order not to charge Dr. Peikoff with one side or the other of the intrincisist/subjectivist coin, simply has to accept the verdict that he is immoral. This begs the question in exactly the same way as your preceding remark: it assumes the Reismans’ guilt ahead of proof. I grant you however that, apart from this, the logic of your reasoning is impeccable. And this is profoundly disturbing to me. If the Reismans are not guilty, one has to conclude that Dr. Peikoff is “acting as the pope”. But I would not pass that judgment on Dr. Peikoff on inconclusive evidence.[22]

[…] because they imply that neither they nor their prospective speakers could count on him refraining from denouncing them without cause in the future.

Here, I believe you are missing the point. As Dr. Reisman reported this, Dr. Peikoff stressed two things: a) that the Reismans were immoral, and b) that he would nevertheless honor his contractual agreement to speak at TJS 95. There is a contradiction involved here: if one truly believes that the organizers of a conference are immoral, one cannot appear as a speaker at their conference. A contradiction cannot be maintained forever in one’s mind; therefore Dr. Peikoff would ultimately have to change his mind and either retract his denunciation or withdraw from the conference. Thus Dr. Reisman was entirely justified in his fears.[23]

It is impossible to understand how the Reismans could be honest in their conclusions about Dr. Peikoff. Anyone who has read OPAR would have a difficult time imagining Leonard Peikoff making a moral judgment on whim. And anyone who accepts independence as a virtue, as a moral principle, knows that criticism per se cannot be a moral issue. And anyone who has heard Dr. Peikoff’ answer questions cannot believe that conference call with the Reismans ended without their learning the real reason for his break with them.

There is a further instance of the same question-begging in this paragraph. I certainly agree that “criticism per se cannot be a moral issue”. Thus, you imply here that Dr. Peikoff must have had another overriding reason, over and above their criticism, for condemning them. But you do not mention this overriding reason. [Emphasis added 2006.] You do say that it was not the criticism per se that were the issue, but their disrespectful and insulting way of presenting them. If this is all, I have to conclude that they have been condemned for a mere trifle.

More importantly, on this paragraph as a whole: since man has free will and is neither omniscient nor infallible, a man’s past record is never a guarantee that he will act properly in the future. The best Objectivist minds are no exception to this. There is no justification for saying that Leonard Peikoff has good reason to break with Reismans just because he is Leonard Peikoff.

Now, I certainly would have a hard time imagining that Leonard Peikoff would do any of the things you say are implied about him. But I have to go by the evidence.[24]  Since I do not know of any good reason Dr. Peikoff might have told at that conference call, I simply have to assume that he agreed with what Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Binswanger stated in their letters. And those were not good reasons. (I also would have a hard time imagining endorsing Dr. Binswanger’s memo on Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet. But the evidence is that he does endorse it.)

With regard to the next two paragraphs, about the injustices toward Dr. Binswanger and Mr. Schwartz, I do agree with some of your points. I do believe that Dr. Binswanger’s discussions are contextual and not “dogmatizing”. I agree that Mr. Schwartz has earned his reputation on his own merits. But then, I would have to add that neither Dr. Binswanger’s memo nor Mr. Schwartz cavalier dismissal of the Reismans’ property rights are examples of proper Objectivist behavior.[25]

Essentially, however, your are arguing ad verecundiam. Your whole reasoning is personality-centered. And this necessarily makes you apply a double standard to this conflict. It is very easy to turn your words around. For example:

The injustice to the Reismans is obvious to anyone who has read or heard materials by them. Does anyone consciously think that they criticize people without good reason? Could anyone who knows their record consciously believe that they would ever raise the “cult” argument against Objectivism? Could anyone who has had reports about Dr. Reisman’s calm and composed demeanor when faced with USCD hooligans believe that he would engage in “yelling” or “bullying”? Could anyone believe that Edith Packer is motivated by the wish to ascribe rotten motives to anyone she disagrees with? Could anyone believe that she would call someone’s actions “vicious” without good cause? And how could anyone say that, when they defend their characters, they are acting on whim? Anyone who says any of these things is clearly dishomest.

If you heard this litany, you would probably dismiss it as ad verecundiam and say: “This does not prove anything. You have to go by the actual evidence.” Which is precisely my point.

(viii)

In conclusion, while I do think there are injustices on both sides in this conflict( [26]I think that the worst and potentially most dangerous injustices have been perpetrated against the Reismans. The worst injustice, in my opinion, is Dr. Binswanger’s memo and Dr. Peikoff’s endorsement of it. It is certainly the potentially most dangerous one. If the very best minds in Objectivism adopt the policy of twisting the philosophy to suit personal animosities (which is a subjectivist practice), then that makes me lose my hopes for the future of the Objectivist movement. And, since Objectivism is true and is the only philosophy that can save the world (if properly applied), it also makes me lose my hopes for the world.[27]

(I will send copies of this letter to Jerry Nilson and to anyone to whom he has shown your essay. They are entitled to know the reasons for my stand. I will also send a copy to George Reiman, who is certainly entitled to it. I will not send it around to people who have no knowledge of this conflict and no reason to be concerned with it. As for you, you may keep this communication confidential, or you may show it to the persons concerned, as you yourself deem best.)

I received no answer to this letter from Robert Stubblefield. I received a short note from Jerry Nilson, which stated that he found my letter “nauseating” (or “disgusting” – I do not remember the exact word). Well, some people do think with their stomachs and do judge by the seat of their pants.


“Reisman insights without George Reisman”

(This article was written in January 1997. It was sent to The Intellectual Activist and to some private persons.)

I will begin by telling a true life story.

About ten years ago a person I know slightly, who has an interest in Objectivism and who was also, at that time, employed at a major Swedish newspaper, wrote a short editorial about a recent case involving racism and started with the line: “Racism is the lowest, most primitive form of collectivism.” There were no quotation marks, and there was no mention of Ayn Rand in the editorial.

Ayn Rand’s essay “Racism” (from The Virtue of Selfishness) had just recently been translated into Swedish.[28] The same kind of outrage was repeated shortly afterwards, on a much larger scale: a young Swedish libertarian wrote a long essay on the subject of racism, which consisted almost entirely of quotes from Miss Rand’s essay (what was not quoted verbatim was paraphrased). There was no mention of the source of the quotes; Miss Rand’s name was not mentioned.[29]

Now, what do you think of this? Isn’t it an obvious case of wanting Rearden metal without having to acknowledge the existence of Hank Rearden?

Now, to the subject. The article by Andrew Lewis in the latest issue of The Intellectual Activist [January 1997] is a very good, hard-hitting essay, with which I have only one disagreement: it contains identifications originally made by George Reisman, in his book The Government Against the Economy, but there is not one word of credit given to Dr. Reisman, neither in the text, nor in the footnotes.

The identification on top of p. 16, that “the world is a solidly packed ball of natural resources” is a direct quote from The Government Against the Economy, and the exemplification is largely taken from the same source. And the quote from Cyprian on the bottom of p. 16 may certainly be found in Jones (to whose work there is a footnoted reference), but its relevance to the controversy over “natural resources” is again an identification made in Dr. Reisman’s book.

Other points in the essay also show a “reismanesque” influence, e.g. the effect of population growth on production in a division-of-labor society.

Going back to my original true life story, I believe that the motivation behind those gentlemen’s action is sheer cowardice. Ayn Rand is not exactly a popular name with the “establishment”; if one wishes to use her ideas, they have to be “sneaked in” without also mentioning her name.

It has to be the same kind of cowardice that motivates Mr. Lewis, especially in view of the fact that his essay was written for Leonard Peikoff’s radio show. Mr. Lewis cannot be unaware of the fact that Leonard Peikoff wishes George Reisman ostracized. Thus, if anything from Dr. Reisman’s works is mentioned on the Leonard Peikoff show, it has to be sneaked in without mentioning his name. (Dr. Peikoff, himself, is of course also aware that he is using Dr. Reisman’s identifications.)

This policy of intellectual thievery and cowardice, I have to say, is bound to backfire. The relevant passage from The Government Against the Economy is simply too well known among Objectivists, and many more persons than I are bound to notice what is going on here. More and more people will begin to ask themselves (and others) the question: if George Reisman is such a bad guy that the appearance of his magnum opus is not even worth mentioning in a publication like TIA (despite the fact that excerpts from it have been published in TIA) – how can he also be such a good guy that his intellectual achievements are worth stealing?

Some day you guys will find out that the immoral is also the impractical.


If you want further corroboration, I would suggest that you read Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet “The Toxicity of Environmentalism” and then read Peter Schwartz’ speech “In Moral Defense of Forestry”, the text of which was recently published on the ARI web site, and take note of how many points from the Reisman pamphlet are echoed in the speech, without any single reference being made to George Reisman. (The speech is excellent, so you might want to read it for that reason, as well.) Just one example:

Reisman: “In [a college students’ bull session], one might start with the known consequences of a quarter-ton safe falling ten stories onto the head of an unfortunate passerby below, and from there go on to speculate about the conceivable effects in a million cases of other passersby happening to drop from their hand or mouth an M&M or a peanut on their shoe, and come to the conclusion that 4.2 of them will die.”

Schwartz: “If a one-ton piano crashing down on you is fatal, does this imply that a one-ounce feather floating onto your shoulders once a day for 88 years is also a threat?”

There is of course nothing wrong with one man using another man’s ideas (or paraphrasing his formulations), as long as proper credit is given. But what is the moral status of using another man’s ideas while at the same time attempting to deny the very existence of the man from whom one is borrowing?


Hatred of George Reisman for being George Reisman

George Reisman is a top rank economist. And when I say “top rank”, I do not mean to compare him with the common-and-garden variety of Nobel Prize winners in economics. I mean to compare him with such giants as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Ludwig von Mises.[30]

Such a high estimate, of course, is open to disagreement. Marxists and Keynesians would not agree. And (for reasons far beyond the scope of this essay) not even all Austrians agree.[31]

But I am not alone in this high estimate. Let me quote what Dr. Harry Binswanger wrote in a posting to the “Objectivism Study Group” on March 22, 1992:

From where I sit, it looks like George Reisman will end up being the most important economist of the 20th century (with von Mises second). His views are revolutionary.

And in his own magazine The Objectivist Forum (April 1980), he wrote a very favorable review of Reisman’s The Government against the Economy. I quote the last paragraph:

Aside from all its other merits, The Government against the Economy offers the rare sight of a powerful and original mind in full control of his subject. It establishes George Reisman as an economic thinker of the first rank.[32]

So this was where Harry Binswanger was sitting in 1992, and had been sitting at least since 1980. Today, he is sitting on a very different chair. Today, he insists that George Reisman should be boycotted.

This is not idle talk on my part. A couple of years ago, an Objectivist in Norway was creating an anti-environmentalist web site and included in it a few quotes from Dr. Reisman’s writings. He was told by Harry Binswanger that he must not do this, and – being the kind of Objectivist he is – he immediately complied.[33]

And it is worse than this – worse, because it reveals the depths of intellectual and philosophical corruption to which only Objectivists can stoop, and then only Objectivists who have reached a “leading position” in the “movement”.

In 1995, Dr. Leonard Peikoff gave a lecture to rationalize his own break with Reisman. Like the coward he is, he did not bother to mention Reisman by name in that lecture, or give a single concrete detail; instead he rambled on to the effect that whoever does not take his side on faith is guilty of “moral agnosticism”. (See my essay “Leonard Peikoff on Warring Friends” – an article that properly should be titled “Proof that Leonard Peikoff is Dishonest”.)

If there ever were a Big Lie, this is it. To condemn evil is to be guilty of moral agnosticism – as long as this evil is committed by Leonard Peikoff or his close associates.

Harry Binswanger runs en e-mail discussion list, called the “Harry Binswanger List” or “HBL” for short. To be admitted to the HBL, one has to take a “loyalty oath”, to exclude the various “enemies of Objectivism”, such as libertarians and “tolerationists”. (It is not an oath of loyalty to the truth, and certainly not an oath of loyalty to rational egoism, such as Galt’s oath; it is an oath of loyalty to a party line, and a fairly cheap one at that.) Included among those “enemies” are – guess what? – moral agnostics.

This, of course, is a smoke-screen. Like the coward he is, Harry Binswanger will not say that he excludes those who take George Reisman’s side in a personal conflict. So, without saying it openly (in the kind of fresh air where issues can be faced), he is trying this piece of dirty innuendo: if we side with George Reisman, we are indifferent to morality.

I am not a moral agnostic – I know right from wrong – and I do not hesitate to call this evil.

Supposedly, there is such a phenomenon as “hatred of the good for being the good” – at least Ayn Rand claimed there is. In such a case, a person does not hate the good because he mistakenly takes it for evil. He knows what the good is, and he hates it because of that.

So why does Harry Binswanger – who is quite obviously aware of George Reisman’s value, even his greatness – hate George Reisman so much that he wishes the Objectivist community to boycott him? Why, when he sees a great man – and realizes his greatness – does he wish to see his reputation destroyed? In view of the quotes I have given, is it possible that he hates George Reisman for being bad? Or is he projecting and in facts hates himself for not being George Reisman? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

And why does this not cause a cry of outrage from the Objectivist community?

Well, I got a very nice dedication (and one which I am very proud of) in my copy of Capitalism: A Treatise of Economics:

To Per-Olof Samuelsson, one man of integrity, courage, and intelligence among a crowd of pretenders.

Whether I possess those illustrious qualities may of course be disputed. But that Objectivists, by and large, are a crowd of pretenders, is simply beyond dispute.

And why, in view of the above, are Objectivists making such an ado about Immanuel Kant being “the most evil man in history”? Is it just to avert attention from matters much more closely at hand?


“What will happen to the world now, without her anger?”
(George Reisman after Ayn Rand’s funeral in 1982, quoted in Edith Packer’s pamphlet “Anger”.)
“Now anger has gone out of the world.”
(Unidentified speaker at the same funeral, quoted by Mary Ann Sures in Facets of Ayn Rand.)

$ $ $

All the above is protected by copyright law and may be quoted only with reference to the principle of fair use. This means, among other things, that you have to provide a link to this text.


[1] The only person, to my knowledge, who has attempted to summarize and substantiate the charges against the Reismans is Robert Stubblefield, in a paper he shows to inquirers on his Objectivism Study Group. His paper, however, adds up to the same ad verecundiam argument: it is Leonard Peikoff who has pronounced the Reismans immoral, and he has told them his reason; thus he must know the reason, and the Reismans must be attempting to hide it from the world.

[2] That this is so is evidenced by Peter Schwartz’ letters to Dr. Reisman on the subject. Furthermore, as if to prove his consistency, he later threatened to destroy Edith Packer’s property – by first ceasing to sell Dr. Packer’s tapes through SRB, then demanding an exorbitant sum to return her master tapes and threatening to erase the master tapes if she did not pay.

Edith Packer did nothing more than pronounce moral judgment on Peter Schwartz. A person is not to be condemned for pronouncing moral judgment – only for pronouncing the wrong moral judgment. I know of no evidence that her judgment in this case was wrong.

[3] The nature of these contributions is not the subject of this letter. But I would like to say that Dr. Reisman’s identification of the “primacy of profits” principle (as opposed to “primacy of wages”) by itself is sufficient to place him in the Hall of Fame among economists – and among Objectivists.

[4] The only person, to my knowledge, who has attempted to challenge Dr. Reisman’s adherence to Objectivism is Harry Binswanger, in a memo concerning Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet on the right to medical care – a memo you have read and apparently approve of. The attempt is a complete failure – Dr. Binswanger only succeeds in casting doubt on his own adherence to Objectivism. I will give my reasons for this verdict, if you ask me.

[5] The very title of this lecture series, by the way, is ridiculous. If the issue is moral, one damn well should be moralistic. If you think otherwise, you might as well join the tolerationists. – But perhaps Dr. Peikoff merely meant “not being improperly moralistic”? Then I would like to hear an explicit discussion of exactly where the line of demarcation should be drawn between “proper” and “improper” moralism. There is no such discussion in this lecture series.

[6] Footnote added in June 2008: By the way, while surfing the net I came across the following quotation which makes this point in a very succinct way:

When a right is violated, you may not be able to trace out in advance the destructive consequences that will come, but you know that they will come.

The quote was attributed to none other than Harry Binswanger! Does this mean I was attacking a strawman? I don’t think so. After all, the main theme of this article is that Binswanger is arguing against his own better knowledge for no better reason than that he wants to “get at” George Reisman.

[7] What Binswanger writes –

Atlas Shrugged is not about how badly Eddie Willers fares under the looters’ rule; it is about what happens to the Reardens

– also runs counter to Ayn Rand’s own words. Read her first notes on Atlas from January 1, 1945, in Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 390ff. Just one short quote:

The first question to decide is on whom the emphasis must be placed – on the prime movers, the parasites, or the world. The answer is: the world.

Eddie Willers is neither a prime mover nor a parasite, so he has to be taken as a representative of “the world”. – Perhaps Dr. Harry Binswanger ought to read the novel a little more carefully, before he proceeds to give authoritative advice on how it is to be interpreted.

[8] I develop this point in an essay called George Reisman: Why Do We Need Him, part 2. (Sorry, foreigners: only in Swedish.)

[9] George Reisman had written to me:

I cannot refrain from saying that I believe that [Binswanger’s] memo implies that people of average ability should be asked to accept the case for capitalism without regard for their own self-interest, which the advocates of capitalism should not feature in explaining the case for capitalism, but out of a kind of mystical, Nietzschean regard for the rights of the men of superior ability. I would be interested to learn of you too reach this conclusion.

Yes, I do agree with this.

[10] Capitalism, p. 958. – The context here was the 100% gold standard vs. “fractional money”.

[11] Jerry Nilson is an Objectivist in Gothenburg, and a minor figure in this connection.

[12] I quote from this statement:

According to the Copyright Act of 1976, which was and is the prevailing law, copyright to original materials created other than by an employee for hire automatically belong to the author, unless explicitly signed away in a written contract. George was definitely not an employee for hire […] In other words, under the law, the copyrights on all the articles George had written for TIA belonged to George […] Nevertheless […] Peter automatically copyrighted George’s articles in the name of TIA, even including one that had appeared previously under George’s copyright. Ultimately, in desperation, in order to get Peter out of the way, George bought back his own copyrights for an amount of money equal to the fees Peter had originally paid him for the articles. Even though legally entitled to a refund of that money, George accepts the fact of its payment as the penalty for his own ignorance.

[13] This “text-book example” was used by Leonard Peikoff in his “State of the Art” lectures. Of course, the example is unrealistic, insofar as no Objectivist intends to rob banks for this purpose; but it certainly serves to highlight the principle. On the other hand, Objectivists seem to have no qualms about unjustly attacking perfectly good and innocent persons – on the grounds that this “would help Objectivism”. This is a blatant example of the “trade-off” ethics.

[14] This refers to an incident in 1992, when leftist hooligans interrupted a lecture by Dr. Reisman. (A similar thing happened to Richard Salsman that year.)

[15] I think I have to retract this statement, because it is based on insufficient knowledge about the dispute on this issue between Binswanger and Reisman. What I do know is that Dr. Reisman once claimed that it would be possible to win the “fight for Objectivism” “within the universities”; and Dr. Binswanger obviously thought that this was impossible. Now, this is a complex issue, on which I certainly do not know on which leg to stand. But precisely because it is complex, it is also an issue on which honest disagreement is possible.

[16] The actual motive was much worse: revenge and destruction for the sake of destruction.

[17] I do know, however, that the Reismans’ objections had to do with the original financing of the venture. I also know that they recommended Gary Hull, Darryl Wright and David Harriman as teachers. Which one of those persons has a “poor grasp of Objectivism”? They also recommended Linda Reardan. I do not know that much about her qualifications; but I do know she has the courage to stand up to injustice – a fact that, today, obviously disqualifies one from taking part in the “Objectivist movement”.

[18] This refers to an incident that happened some time in the 80’s. A person named Poupore ran a small conference organization called “The Portland Institute”, that on a couple of occasions ran weekend conferences. The problem was that he used an address list belonging to TJS to announce one of those conferences. The Reismans objected to this. To me, this is too small a point to waste time and adrenaline on. But Stubblefield claimed that the Reismans engaged in “hysterical bullying” and “yelling” in connection with this incident. Well, I would actually want to hear them yell, before I believe such a thing.

[19] A quote from Voltaire is very appropriate here: “There is nothing so disagreeable as to be hung in silence.”

[20] Well, that is precisely what he does.

[21] Today, this is the only conclusion one can draw.

[22] As above, the evidence today is conclusive.

[23] To make this more understandable, I think I have to quote from a letter by George Reisman, dated November 15, 1994, giving the reasons why TJS 95 had to be cancelled:

I must say that I was actually frightened by his [Peikoff’s] stress on honoring his contractual commitment, and decided then and there that I had to do everything possible to get him to agree to withdraw from the conference. This was because I judged that going ahead with it represented playing Russian roulette, so to speak, in which TJS would incur several hundred thousand dollars of liabilities to enrollees, speakers, and the hotel, and at any moment he might decide that his moral obligation was then to withdraw, after it was too late for us to avoid devastating loss. Thus, several days later, I called him and asked if he would like to be let out of his contract. To my great relief, he said yes.

In a letter to a third person (one of those who committed the “crime” of wanting to know the truth about the conflict), Leonard Peikoff refers to this as follow:

For your information, the latest development is the threat from the Reismans – devoid of any legal basis whatever – to issue an injunction to prevent me from speaking before an Objectivist conference this summer.

Well, maybe Reisman did issue an injunction. It was his conference Peikoff was supposed to speak before – and it was he who ran the risk of incurring a devastating loss.

[24] i.e., not by my imagination – much less then by Robert Stubblefield’s imagination.

[25] Remember again that a man’s past record is never a guarantee that he will act properly in the future.

[26] I have to retract this sub-clause. It is grossly unjust. The things I have mentioned that I regard as mistakes by the Reismans are too small in comparison to even be worth mentioning. A parallel: undoubtedly, both AIDS and the common cold are illnesses. But if someone were to deliberately transmit AIDS to a partner, it is no justification to say that this partner had once given him a cold.

[27] This policy – twisting the philosophy to suit personal animosities – was certainly perpetuated by Leonard Peikoff in his lecture “Judging , Feeling, and Not Being Moralistic“.

[28] Incidentally, by me.

[29] The libertarian later apologized for what he had done; not because I asked him to do so, but because I pointed the facts out to the editor of the magazine.

[30] I am not a professional economist, but the writers I mention I have read extensively.

[31] Those interested may read Israel Kirzner’s review of Capitalism (Review of Austrian Economics. 12 (1999). I do not agree with this review, but at least professor Kirzner states his case in fairly understandable terms (as opposed to those who refrain from stating a case at all and expect everyone to agree regardless).

[32] Another favorable review, written by John Ridpath, appeared in Peter Schwartz’ magazine The Intellectual Activist (January 1980). A couple of poignant quotes:

In a world awash in ivory-tower theory totally divorced from reality, and pragmatic action totally divorced from theory, this book is a reassuring demonstration of the vital link between theory and practice. […] It is a book written by the type of person that, in my judgment, Ayn Rand has referred to as a “new intellectual”, which is why the book can offer us the kind of fundamental guidance we need if we are to avoid the chaos and tyranny of a socialist future.

Well, this was some years ago…

[33] In case you are interested, his name is Klaus Nordby. – Another Norwegian Objectivist, Vegard Martinsen, once told me privately that he wanted to launch a campaign to give George Reisman the Nobel Prize in Economics. That was in the early or mid 90’s. I have heard nothing of this campaign since.

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