Published February-April 1990 in FreeNY
In "Fact and Value," the 5/89 Intellectual Activist essay in which Pope Leonard Peikoff officially excommunicates heretic David Kelley from the Church of Objectivism, His Holiness finally presents an ex cathedra pronouncement on the nature of the "cause of all the schisms which have plagued the Objectivist movement through the years." Contrary to what other sources might suggest, the cause, we learn, is not
differences in regard to love affairs or political strategy or proselytizing techniques or anybody's personality. The cause is fundamental and philosophical: if you grasp and accept the concept of "objectivity," in all its implications, then you accept Objectivism, you live by it and you revere Ayn Rand for defining it. If you fail fully to grasp and accept the concept, whether your failure is deliberate or otherwise, you eventually drift away from Ayn Rand's orbit, or rewrite her viewpoint or turn openly into her enemy.
Apparently having failed to grasp "objectivity," Dr. Kelley (a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University) has now become the latest "enemy" of Ayn Rand—i.e., the latest enemy of the Truth.
Given the sweeping scope of Pope Leonard's encyclical, it is important to focus on not just the specifics of Kelley's alleged differences with Objectivism, but also the nature of any conflict with Objectivism. Significantly, the ultimate object of Peikoff's fury is Kelley's statement that Objectivism "is not a closed system." The hell you say, thunders Peikoff. "[T]he essence of the system—its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch—is laid down once and for all by the philosophy's author." Ayn Rand's "system," he further pontificates, "holds that every truth is an absolute, and that a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system." He asserts that "Objectivism does have an 'official, authorized doctrine,' but it is not a dogma. It is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand's work." More: This doctrine "remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand's books; it is not affected by interpreters." Therefore, Peikoff concludes, Objectivism "is 'rigid,' 'narrow,' 'intolerant' and 'closed-minded.' If anyone wants to reject Ayn Rand's ideas and invent a new viewpoint, he is free to do so—but he cannot, as a matter of honesty, label his new ideas or himself 'Objectivist.'"
And now the big question is: What does it all mean? Almost unbelievably, the answer appears to be: Objectivism is What Rand Said, and that's that. The problem here is essentially one of not philosophic validity, but trademark infringement. Anyone is free to interpret, critique, and revise Ayn Rand's philosophy as he wishes—just don't market this new product as "Objectivist." Objectivism cannot be revised because What Rand Said cannot be rewritten; Objectivism thus "remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand's books." Like divine revelation, Objectivism—its basic tenets "and their consequences"—has been "laid down once and for all." One cannot rewrite the Bible and then claim that it is still What God Said, and the same holds true for Objectivism's scriptures, "Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's other works." And if one cannot accept these scriptures as the "'official, authorized doctrine'" of the Church, then one is compelled, "as a matter of honesty," to leave and form a new denomination.
But now there arises an even bigger question, one that could be asked as easily of Pope John Paul II as of Pope Leonard: How do we know that what is stated in your scriptures is true? The historic and fundamental answer of the Christian church is: faith, which puts a neat little end to any further inquiry. It is this response, this doctrinal tenet, that establishes Christianity as a religion. But Objectivism explicitly rejects faith as a means to knowledge. For Rand, something is "true" when it has been demonstrated by reason to be consonant with the facts of objective reality, i.e., nature. It is this epistemological foundation that establishes Objectivism as a philosophy. As "Ayn Rand's intellectual and legal heir," Leonard Peikoff is supposedly in the business of rationally defending (i.e., demonstrating) the philosophic validity of her ideas; surely the purpose of his encyclical was not merely to protect Rand's copyrights from any potential plagiarist or bowdlerizer.
Well, Peikoff does offer a defense, but it is an embarrassing bit of "package-dealing." He himself once defined this as the "fallacy of failing to discriminate crucial differences. It consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or 'package,' elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value" (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 30n). The first element has already been conveyed: What Rand Said is Objectivism. The second is delivered just as subtly: "The real enemy of these men"—i.e., heretics such as Kelley, whom the pontiff revealing condemns as "anti-Objectivists"—"... is reality." Peikoff couldn't have made it more explicit if he'd tried: Opposition (as determined by him) to Objectivism is opposition to reality, thus Objectivism is reality, i.e., objectivity. Now A equals B, B equals C, and—ever so inexorably—A equals C: What Rand Said is reality. Evidently the map and the territory really are one and the same. And so we have Objectivism (a set of defined and presumable debatable propositions), What Rand Said (the initial arguments, "unchanged and untouched," made in favor of those propositions) and objectivity (reality itself!) all thrown together into one fondue pot, courtesy of Leonard Peikoff.
In contrast to faith, there are two non-mystical, non-dogmatic means by which men can (and must) apprehend reality (i.e., nature, the universe, existence): philosophy and science. The first studies metaphysical reality, the second physical. In the course of men's efforts to practice philosophy and science, conflicting schools of thought (i.e., models and paradigms) have arisen in each discipline. Now the facts of reality can never be rejected; they are facts. And they same holds true for philosophy and science; they are the means to any knowledge we acquire. However, the disciplines' conflicting schools of thought, which cannot all be true, must be open to question and refutation. If they are not, then, as philosopher of science Karl Popper pointed out, they are unfalsifiable and therefore untenable. So, we must not allow these three distinct phenomena—facts (objective reality—subject), philosophy and science (the means to knowledge—method), and different schools of thought (models and paradigms—theory) to be melted in Peikoff's aforementioned pot.
Let us compare a scientific theory with a philosophic one—viz., Darwinism (evolution) and Objectivism. That is, let imagine for a moment that we have had the good fortune to come upon a gentleman who announces himself to be "Charles Darwin's intellectual heir." In response to our question as to the precise meaning of that curious title, he tells us that he is a defender of "Charles Darwin's ideas." Meaning the theory of evolution? He gives us a nod. Okay, then, what are his views on this still topical subject? "Fundamentally," he begins, "I believe that once one grasps and accepts the concept of an origin of species, then one accepts the theory of The Origin of Species, commits himself to it, and reveres Charles Darwin for writing it. On the other hand, if he fails to grasp and—"
We may stop him at this point. No one, Bible Belt yahoos included, denies that species had a beginning. What we want to know is, how did he make the leap from this to evolution, from fact to theory, seemingly bypassing science, the means to knowledge itself?
The question does not draw an answer. Instead, his eyes narrow as he questions us: "Tell me, what are your premises? Specifically, what is your estimation, your evaluation, of Charles Darwin and his achievement?" All right, what is it? First of all, we deeply admire Darwin's commitment to science: If man wishes to gain an understanding of this world, he must use his senses and his intellect, not acquiesce to mysticism and ancient scripture. Furthermore, we are impressed with a mind brilliant enough to conceive a paradigm far superior to anything produced by the "wisdom of the ages." In fact, we consider ourselves to be Darwinists. We study his works and defend his ideas from attack by neo-mystics such as the "scientific creationists." Of course, we are also interested in valid attempts to interpret and develop his theory. In particular, we've taken note of the work of one biologist who has shown how the basics of Darwinism can be better served by revising Darwin's subsequent argument about ... uh, is something the matter?
We cannot help but notice that this gentleman's initial look of suspicion has rapidly mutated into one of outrage.
"What the bloody hell are you talking about?! Nobody can 'serve' Darwinism by throwing out What Darwin Said! A scientific theory is an integrated whole, and any modification of any factor will 'serve' only to destroy the entire system. It is the theorist alone who lays down once and for all the essentials of the theory, as well as their indisputable consequences in all areas. Yes, this is something akin to an authorized doctrine; however, it's not dogma, because it is stated and proved objectively in Charles Darwin's works. Science deals with the eternal laws of the universe. Each scientific theory, by the nature of nature, is therefore immutable. Can you really be so depraved as not to grasp and accept all this as reality itself?"
The question of our character aside, let us indeed contest what "Charles Darwin's intellectual heir" has said. Of course a theory must be "integrated" (i.e., coherent), and there's no straw man around to argue the contrary. The question is, did the theorist achieve this? A theory is a model of reality, and it is reality—not the theorist—that determines the logical consistency between the theory's "fundamental principles" and "their consequences in every branch." It will not do to assert that What Darwin Said has already been "proved objectively in Charles Darwin's works [i.e., What Darwin Said]." If Darwinism is not to become an unfalsifiable pseudo-science, it must remain open to further scientific examination. (Remember, we must not collapse the distinction between science and philosophy—as the objective means of inquiry—and any particular scientific or philosophic paradigm.) Such an examination might indeed uncover a contradiction between "fundamental principles" and the development thereof, which is, essentially, a conflict between fact and theory. In such an instance, a dedicated man of science will amend the discordant element within Darwinism, making it consistent with the theory's (presumably sound) fundamentals and thus with reality—irrespective of What Darwin Said. An actual example is Darwinism's rejection of pangenesis, which Darwin himself accepted. To drone that Darwinism is What Darwin Said, and that What Darwin Said cannot be rewritten, is to create—and commit to—a dogma.
Incredibly, Leonard Peikoff has made such a commitment. "Incredibly" because, contrary to what he wrote in "Fact and Value," he too knows that it is reality—and not "the philosophy's author"—that determines the coherence of that philosophy. In The Ominous Parallels, he adduces heavyweights Aristotle and Kant as examples of a philosopher who derived a politics inconsistent with his "fundamental principles." Broadly, his claim is that Aristotelianism leads to (i.e., its premises logically imply) anti-statism, while Kantianism leads to the totalitarian state. But those familiar with What Aristotle Said and What Kant Said know that these developments do not occur within the texts themselves. Therefore, how can Peikoff contend that Kant's embrace of classical liberalism "suggests that Kant did not grasp the political implications of his own metaphysics and epistemology" (p. 33), if "the essence of the system—its fundamental and their consequences in every branch—is laid down once and for all by the philosophy's author"? How can he aver that "a philosopher's political views, to the extent that they contradict the essentials of his system, have little historical significance," if "a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system"?
Ironically (and conveniently), the area of logical implications for politics is where the internal consistency of Objectivism has been most widely questioned, viz., the market anarchism vs. limited government debate. Is it possible for a dedicated man of philosophy to demonstrate that Ayn Rand's characterization of the latter as uniquely consistent with rational individualism suggests—nay, proves—that Rand did not grasp the political implications of her own ethics (and, in turn, metaphysics and epistemology)? Could he then conclude that this is an exploding contradiction within Objectivism (and thus between Objectivism and reality), one that prevents its realization as "an integrated whole"? And the bottom line: Would Peikoff then acknowledge market anarchism as Objectivism's politics—i.e., as the system's logical culmination—irrespective of What Rand Said? With "Fact and Value," Peikoff responds: No, because that's not What Rand Said.
There's no point in beating this into the subsoil. Blind to his own blindness, Pope Leonard claims to see Kelley's cardinal sin—"subjectivism in epistemology"—in his alleged creation of the false dichotomy of "whim or dogma: either anyone is free to rewrite Objectivism as he wishes or else, through the arbitrary fiat of some authority figure, his intellectual freedom is being stifled." First off, here we have the straw man who dances, explicitly or implicitly, through every paragraph of his encyclical: the whimsical revisionist, who desires to "rewrite" What Rand Said merely to placate the rumblings of his viscera. Second, "the arbitrary fiat of some authority figure"—as a subjectivist epistemological premise—is precisely the dogma that Peikoff is sanctioning, his evident obliviousness to this notwithstanding.
Again: "Objectivism does have an 'official, authorized doctrine,' but it is not a dogma. It is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand's work." This is really Peikoff's most important statement, i.e., his last grasp at some measure of philosophic integrity. The reason why Objectivism cannot be questioned, much less revised, we are told, is that it all has already been proven true—i.e., factual, ergo undebatable. He is saying that since Ayn Rand drew her map correctly, there is no need for anyone else to take a look at the territory—or even just scrutinize that map for discontinuities, ambiguities, etc. But no, the argument continues, that doesn't make Objectivism a dogma, a floating abstraction not tied by anything to reality, because philosophy—a means of objective validation—is the tie.
This last line of defense presupposes what the rest of the essay denies: a distinction between Objectivism ("It") and What Rand Said ("Ayn Rand's works")—i.e., between a theory and the philosophic method of argumentation ("experimentation") that validates it. Without that, Peikoff, like his Darwinist counterpart, decapitates himself with his own boomerang logic: "It [=Objectivism=What Rand Said] is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand's works [=What Rand Said=Objectivism]." What Rand Said validates nothing because the (purported) argument cannot be followed to a logical conclusion but is rerouted to a predetermined (i.e., unfalsifiable) end—as we've seen. Peikoff's approach renders "Objectivism" a set of arbitrary assertions ("uncheckable premises," if you will), which, qua the arbitrary, leaves us nothing to analyze, to judge—to think about. What's left is exactly what Peikoff affirmed it to be: a "closed system," which means: a dogma closed to philosophy.
To separate theory from method is to place theory above method—and subject. Said "immutable" theory then becomes a dogmatic axiom, an indemonstrable Truth from which any further "knowledge" must derive. To propagate such a Truth, while condemning unbelievers as "enemies of reality," is the essence of religiosity. Through his alchemical inversion of the epistemological hierarchy of subject, method, and theory, Peikoff has transmuted the philosophy of Ayn Rand into an Objectivist theology, and himself, the self-designated heir to her intellectual fortune, into the St. Peter of the Objectivist Church. By enshrining What Rand Said as scripture (employed only for catechismal recitation), he has abandoned Objectivism as a philosophy, philosophy as a means to knowledge, and objectivity as fact.
No, What Rand Said is not objectivity, any more than The Origin of Species was the origin of species—the map is not the territory (a "cliché" that’s evidently still a necessity). Nor can it be maintained that while philosophy produced Objectivism, it may not review, let alone revise, its own product. However, none of this is of any concern to Peikoff, for he has made no secret of his priorities: "[L]et those of us who are Objectivists at least make sure that what we are spreading is Ayn Rand's actual ideas, not some distorted hash of them." The rest of "Fact and Value" is an excruciating effort to eliminate any possible ambiguity regarding the meaning of that statement.
But what are the implications for the soul of man the philosopher? Peikoff provides an answer, which, as is his wont, he projects onto the David Kelleys of the world. The reader will judge to whom it (with one modification) best applies:
To such a person, intellectual discussion is a game; ideas are constructs in some academic or Platonic dimension, unrelated to this earth—which is why, to him, they are unrelated to life or to morality. Inside this sort of mind, there is not only no concept of "objective value"; there is no objective truth either—not in regard to intellectual issues. What this sort knows is only the floating notions he happens to find [from "some authority figure"]. Ideas severed from evaluation, in short, are ideas severed from (objective) cognition; i.e., from reason and reality.
That last line also works in reverse: no cognition, no evaluation, which is the inherent amoralism—and consequent immorality—of Peikoff's position. This is the penultimate irony, for that relationship is the very point Peikoff stresses in his condemnation of Kelley. The gravamen of this latest schism is the moral standing of those who develop what may prove to be erroneous (and therefore "wicked") ideas in metaphysics and epistemology; Peikoff approvingly offers the example of Ayn Rand's denunciation of Kant as the "most evil man in mankind's history." If the present essay argues from any premise, it is that it's a fundamental commitment to philosophy (and science)—and not to any one particular school of thought or theory—that marks a man as rational (i.e., open to argument) and therefore moral (i.e., intellectually honest). Conversely, it is with the outright rejection of philosophy and science, the abandonment of any objective means to knowledge, that we then truly have something approximating an "intellectual evil."
The ultimate irony, however, is that for all of his blared commitment to What Rand Said, Peikoff can't even maintain his grasp of that. Consider a statement Ayn Rand once made to CBS correspondent Mike Wallace: "If anyone can pick a rational flaw in my philosophy, I will be delighted to acknowledge him and I will learn something from him." Got that? She did not say, "Metaphysical reality is immutable, so my philosophy is as well. The subject matter of philosophy is the same for men in all ages; as there are no new 'facts' to be discovered, so there is nothing new to be learned." She didn't say, "I've already committed myself on paper, so my position is now an authorized doctrine that remains unchanged and untouched." Nor did she state, "I reject the very idea of flaw-finding. A valid system of philosophy is an integrated whole, therefore my philosophy as presented to date is an integrated whole. To change any one part—to correct any 'flaw'—would be to destroy the philosophy in its entirety." And she didn't say, "How can you tell me what's 'wrong' in my philosophy? I alone decide what premises will lead to what conclusions." And she never said, "Look, if someone imagines that he's found a 'flaw' in my philosophy, he is free to reject my writings and go form his own viewpoint. The trademark 'Objectivist,' however, is retained by me. That's all that matters." She didn't condemn the could-be flaw-finder as an "enemy"—of either herself or reality. Finally, she did not pronounce Objectivism a "closed system." In short, Ayn Rand never held any of the premises that her "intellectual heir" attributes to her (and to the logical structure of Objectivism). Too obviously, there is no way to reconcile the conviction of her statement with What Peikoff Said. Equally clear is that despite whatever title he imagines Ayn Rand had bequeathed him, Leonard Peikoff has squandered the last dime of his intellectual capital.
It is interesting to read that Peikoff, prior to the recent insights of "Fact and Value," could account for any disputant's criticism "only psychologically, in terms of the attacker's cowardice or psychopathology." He fails to produce his qualifications for engaging in such psychologizing, which bears a striking resemblance to the Argument from Intimidation. Nevertheless, it is his own sanction of this practice, along with, more importantly, the disturbing nature of those insights, that gives us the right to present a certified psychologist's evaluation of the young Leonard Peikoff circa 1953:
Leonard cared for nothing but philosophy—and for this, I warmed to him. But I could see almost immediately that in his consciousness there was no "objective reality," no sense of reality as such, apart from what anyone thought or believed; there were only Ayn's ideas and the ideas of his professors, and when Ayn was talking he couldn't retain the viewpoint of his professors, and when his professors were talking he couldn't retain the perspective he had learned from Ayn. I watched him, observed his struggles, tried to help him—and tried to understand how someone so intelligent could be so lacking in autonomy. Sometimes my frustration was greater than my compassion. I would say to him, "Leonard, never mind what so-and-so thinks—never mind what Ayn or I think—what do you think?"
Over thirty-five years later, after much sound and fury, Leonard Peikoff, with "Fact and Value," has given Nathaniel Branden his answer.
 Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, "The Philosophic Importance of Ayn Rand," Modern Age, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter 1983, p. 67.
 Peikoff is the heir to Rand's estate; there is no evidence that she ever designated him her "intellectual heir."
 Before we continue, we must answer an objection pre-raised in "Fact and Value." Peikoff argues that philosophy, presumably in contrast to science, "deals only with the kinds of issues [i.e., data] available to men in any era; it does not change with the growth of human knowledge...." This somehow leads him to conclude that every "philosophy [i.e., each individual school of thought], by the nature of the subject, is immutable." Putting aside for now the (perhaps obvious) implications of an "immutable" theory, we will surmount this possible discrepancy by focusing on the (scientific or philosophic) theorist's accuracy in assessing the data that was available to him and his coherence in integrating it—i.e., the "internal consistency" of his theory. Continental drift is a good example of a theory that gained acceptance not because of new evidence, but because of a reassessment of the old evidence, which was about a hundred years so. Consider the data Darwin himself employed: common observations of the morphology and behavior of flora and fauna. To quote Ludwig von Mises: "What counts is not the data, but the mind that deals with them. The data that Galileo, Newton, Ricardo, Menger, and Freud made use of for their great discoveries lay at the disposal of every one of their contemporaries and of untold previous generations. Galileo was certainly not the first to observe the swinging motion of the chandelier in the cathedral at Pisa"(Epistemological Problems of Economics, p. 71).
 By instating "the philosophy's author" as a philosophy's authority, Peikoff has eliminated the possibility—i.e., gutted the concept—of "contradiction." Without reality as a referent, how then could anyone determine whether What Smith Said in epistemology "contradicts" What Smith Said in ethics, when it's all just What Smith Said? With this approach, Peikoff has sacrificed objectivity for subjectivism, critical thought for personality cultism.
 The ineluctable fate of Peikoff's crusade was observed recently by James S. Robbins. In the 7/89 issue of Liberty, he reports that a Harvard lecture by Peter Schwartz, editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist, was "a dry rehash of Ayn Rand's thoughts read from notes ... consisting almost entirely of quotations cribbed from Ayn Rand's writings. There was nothing that a perusal of Rand's writings would not reveal. Schwartz's performance underscored the stagnation of Objectivist thinking since Rand's death." Of course: Given the premises embraced by the "Objectivist Rump," what else did he expect?