The Ayn Rand Institute Does Not Speak for Ayn Rand

The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) was founded in 1985, three years after Ayn Rand's death, by Ed Snider and Leonard Peikoff, Rand's legal heir.  The stated purpose of the Institute was "to introduce young people to Ayn Rand's novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience."

The current website states: "ARI also engages in research and advocacy efforts, applying Rand's ideas to current issues and seeking to promote her philosophical principles of reason, rational self-interest and laissez-faire."

ARI's first projects were college scholarship essay contests based on Rand's novels and developing a network of college clubs in order to study Objectivism.  They were worthy projects that introduced people to Ayn Rand's ideas.  Over time, however, the intellectuals at the Institute have become involved in political analysis and authoritatively pronounce their conclusions on controversial topics that Ayn Rand herself didn't address directly, dismissing those who disagree and refusing to consider that they might be wrong about those conclusions.  

Here are a few of the controversies:

Political position.  The Ayn Rand Institute website states, "We are neither of the right nor the left[.]"  Yet Ayn Rand defined the right as "those who are predominantly in favor of individual freedom and capitalism — and the word 'leftist' to denote the views of those who are predominantly in favor of government controls and socialism."  By her own definition, ARI should be on the right.

Trump. Yaron Brook, who was executive director from 2000 to 2017 and is the current chairman of the board, said it is a huge mistake to be a Trump-supporter and that there is no way in hell that Ayn Rand would have voted for Trump.  ARI put out an article by Onkar Ghate, its chief philosophy officer, claiming that Trump won the presidency because he projected himself as a dictator and that this revealed disturbing things about the American citizens.

Ayn Rand had some views about whom to vote for in past elections.  In the run-up to the 1972 election, Rand wrote that she did not like Nixon but advocated voting for him because while Nixon could not be counted on to save the country, for certain McGovern could destroy the country.  She said, "It is against statism that we have to vote. It is statism that has to be defeated — and defeated resoundingly."  She was consequently very happy to see the Americans elect Nixon.[1]  For certain, Hillary Clinton could destroy the country, yet Ghate and Brook were not happy when Trump was elected.  Intellectuals at ARI voted for Hillary Clinton and plan to vote for Biden, who could also destroy the country.

Brook even went so far as to say anyone who supports Trump is a 5th-column Objectivist.  Come to find out, Leonard Peikoff donated to the Trump campaign in February 2020.

Toward the end of Brook's podcast on January 2, 2018, he said, "Do I buy that Trump colluded with the Russians?  Yeah, I believe that[.] ... I don't have any evidence to support it[.]"  Brook is forming a conclusion without proof.  This is not objective and is in conflict with Rand's philosophy, which is based on reason.

Immigration. Many of the intellectuals at ARI support open immigration, which has created a firestorm among Objectivists.  The open immigration side claims that Rand was in favor of it based on a comment that she made about it during a question-and-answer period after one of her lectures.  They do not talk about what she might have said today based on the context of how our country and the world has changed since she was alive.

Ghate thinks controls on immigration will hasten the decline of the culture.  Harry Binswanger, a former associate of Ayn Rand, founder of ARI and current member of the board of directors, defends open immigration without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports, but without citizenship or voting rights.  "I'm very afraid that the actual reason for limiting immigration is xenophobia, which is simply a polite word for racial bigotry."

Leonard Peikoff understands that the context has changed.  In 2013, he stated that immigration today means the destruction of this country because the majority of immigrants will vote Democrat.  Yaron Brook didn't agree.  He and Peikoff later had a debate about their disagreement about immigration.

Polyamory. In Brook's podcast of December 17, 2018, he was asked about polyamory.  He told the caller he doesn't see anything morally wrong with it as long as people are up front about what they are doing so to go ahead and try it.  This sounds as though he is advocating hedonism, which Rand was adamantly against.

Black Lives Matter.  On October 17, 2015, Brook said, "Black Lives Matter has a legitimate base.  But then they spout all this Marxist nonsense and they accuse all white people of being racist."  What is the movement's legitimate base?  He does not say, but a group that espouses Marxism is Marxist and does not have a legitimate base.  Ayn Rand was one of the staunchest opponents to communism and would have never given a shred of legitimacy to Black Lives Matter.

White Privilege.  Greg Salmieri, an intellectual at ARI, thinks we should be sensitive to the idea of white privilege.  He said the legitimate part of white privilege is that there are some issues such as bigotry and discrimination that you are insulated from noticing if you are in a group that doesn't face it.  Salmieri likes the term "white blindness" instead of "privilege."

Are people determined to be insensitive to certain injustices because of the group they are in?  And the group they are in is determined by the color of their skin?  This is racism according to Rand's definition.

Many ARI intellectuals and employees are careful to say their views are their personal views and do not reflect those of ARI, but then they resort to intimidation by accusing others of not being "real" Objectivists or "fifth column" Objectivists because they disagree on some issue.  On October 24, 2017, Brook said on Facebook, "Just to be clear — no one speaks for Ayn Rand and Objectivism other than Ayn Rand.  But I do speak for ARI."  What is that supposed to mean if ARI is seeking to "promote the philosophical principles" of Ayn Rand?

ARI people should feel free to express their personal views, but it should not be done under the auspices of Ayn Rand's name.  An organization dedicated to the philosophy of reason should welcome debates about the controversial subjects of the day rather than insist that it has all the answers, because it doesn't.  These people disagree even among themselves, as Brook did with Peikoff.  Furthermore, their personal views are coming under the Institute's name, not just them individually.  Ideal, the Institute's publication, promotes certain political positions, and it leans left.

ARI started out with good intentions, but the danger of having an organization in the name of Ayn Rand is that the public can think the ideas coming from that organization reflect her views.  If some people in the organization misapply her philosophy that becomes a major problem.  Rand was opposed to Objectivism becoming an organized movement.  One of her concerns was that her views might be misrepresented.[2]  She was right to be concerned. 

Susan Hanson has studied Ayn Rand's philosophy since the 1960s. 

[1]  Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter July 31, August 14 & 28, 1972

[2] "I never wanted and do not now want to be the leader of a 'movement. I do approve of a philosophical or intellectual movement in the sense of a growing trend among a number of independent individuals sharing the same ideas. But an organized movement is a different matter."  She goes on to talk about worrying about her views being misrepresented. Ayn Rand, "To Whom It May Concern," The Objectivist, May 1968.

Image: Julius Jääskeläinen via Flickr (cropped).

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