Academia

So-Called Scholarly Disputes, Objectivist Style

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A scholar who thinks it's an intellectual and moral sin to communicate with or appear in the pages of a journal in his field that disagrees with him about something or other is considered a bad candidate for a gig at Texas State's philosophy department–even when it would be paid for entirely by outside money. My favorite detail: the random use of the phrase "so-called" in front of your enemy's name: "The so-called Journal of Ayn Rand Studies." (Similar in its way to Monty Python's "so-called Mao Tse-Tung.")

The scholar is an Objectivist, natch, and the outside money was to come via a fund closely linked with the Ayn Rand Institute.

The story from the Chronicle of Higher Education summarized and commented on here at the Liberty and Power blog.

For many more details on Objectivist squabbling, consult my new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement .

NEXT: Boris v. Red Ken

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  1. Sorry to be a grammar nazi, but that first paragraph really needs to be broken up. I had to read it three times to figure it out.

  2. Is Objectivism brain-rot or does it merely sound like it?

    And these people have the chutzpah to call religion irrational.

    A is A qua A. Hocus pocus filiocus.

  3. “Objectivist”=overly pretentious libertarian with almost no sense of humor, and even less compassion.

  4. Denial of tenure? That’s a bit misleading (or at least jargonistic). The summary from the Journal itself was much clearer than Liberty and Power blog. I just hate to have to work that hard to understand what is being said. Maybe that’s my shortcoming. Were they beating up David Kelley?

    Too bad these academics aren’t as rigorous when it comes to applying standards to guys like say, oh, how about Ward Churchill?

    I’m pretty good at pinning Kick Me signs on Big O’s and little O’s (espc Peikoff) but this just smells bad.

    Disclaimer: Some of my best friends are Objectivists/objectivists and IMO the infighting and excommunications among the movers and shakers are destructive. OTOH, what if everybody focused entirely on Jefferson boinking Sally and refusing to free his slaves…………

    Sure, Ayn ain’t Jeff but still.

    Hey, The Smoking Lamp Is Lit, everybody fire up a Chesterfield. It’s the rational thing to do.

    Come on KC, I’m just kidding around.

  5. No grammar police pleeeze. I already know where the problems lie and it’s because preview is not my friend.

  6. TWC–The ref to “denial of tenure” in the lede of the Lib and Power blog is NOT about this story I am summarizing, but a side reference to a PREVIOUS story about Objectivists in academia. This is a story of, as I said, an offer to have a paid gig supplied for someone turned down.

  7. Thanks Brian, I see that now. I thought that the term was some bizarre academic jargon that really meant they weren’t taking the money to “tenure” this so-called objectivist professor but not in the traditional meaning…… Never Mind, I need a drink. 🙂

    I did get the part where the offer was spurned even though it would have cost the university nothing.

  8. I’m no Randoid, but it does seem beyond crazy for a school that spend a gazillion dollars three years ago to change its name because “Southwest Texas” was deemed to declasse to turn down a highly publicized freebie like this. Then again, we Longhorns always presumed Southwest (I refuse to call it “Texas State.” That name righteously belongs to the Aggies) was where people who flunked out of UT and A & M landed. /snobbish rant.

  9. Karen, you mean rightfully belongs to the Aggies?

  10. No money is free, but some money comes with more strings than other money. The strings attached to most academic money are often remarkably loose. (That is not necessarily a good thing.) Perhaps people accustomed to relatively drama-free money got worried about the possible drama of bringing in somebody who might be of a very factional and rigid bent. I can’t really blame them.

    Academics are accustomed to drama, but they are protectionists: Better to have home-grown drama, rather than importing it.

  11. GF, you’re correct, of course. I was trying to be cute.

    And I do agree with thoreau about the drama-monarch (if that’s not a real phrase it should be) tendencies of academics. Southwest has a small philosophy department, and one short-timer with a well-honed ax could ruin it for years.

  12. On the one hand, it would be hard for me to imagine objectivism ever making much inroads among actual philosophy departments. Academic philosophy is, and should be, incredibly nuanced and fair minded to other competing theories. Has anyone ever read Rand’s For the New Intellectual? It is basically a long rant in which she says that every major philosopher in the Western Tradition except for Aristotle was not just wrong on some things, but wrong on everything, stupid and bad people to boot. Academics could never take that seriously. I mean, you may disagree with some things Locke, Descartes, Sartre, Hume, etc., etc., but are we to believe they are all worthless a*&holes?
    On the other hand, I don’t think there is any other reason than liberal bias that Rand is not taught more in English departments. Her novels were polemical, sure, but were at least as good as Harriet Beecher Stowe or Upton Sinclair, who are staples in academe. And she was a successful, strong, unabashed woman author in a time when that was not exactly common place. You’d think that would play well…

  13. And I do agree with thoreau about the drama-monarch (if that’s not a real phrase it should be) tendencies of academics.

    Are you talking about this fellow?

  14. No, but that’s a great picture.

  15. I don’t know,

    “Metaphysics: objective reality.
    Epistemology: reason.
    Ethics: self-interest.
    Politics: capitalism.”

    that sounds right to me.

  16. “And she was a successful, strong, unabashed woman author in a time when that was not exactly common place. You’d think that would play well…”

    Yes… BUT…

    In most mainstream universities, she’s a capitalist- nay, she made capitalism her religion- which makes her, in the eyes of most lefty feminists, a traitor to her gender. Most would probably rather hold a Rand book-burning than teach her work.

    In more-or-less conservative universities (like the one I attended), she’s out of the loop because her works aren’t part of the established “Great Books” canon, and in all likelyhood never will be.

    So yeah, as far as academia is concerned, Rand is SOL. But that won’t stop tons of college students from reading her in their spare time, as I did.

    (And, come to think of it, we did read a few of her essays in an ethics seminar I took as an undergraduate, and the professor was not entirely unfriendly to her views- at least, no more so than towards any other ethicist we studied. So she gets a little play. Though my graduate advisor completely slammed her in my Social Justice seminar; he didn’t care for my libertarian sympathies, apparently, especially when I insisted that Brian Barry’s “Why Social Justice Matters” was a load of immoral looter tripe.)

  17. Social Justice seminar

    They’re teaching about mirages now? I’m glad I’m not alive to worry about it.

  18. here’s a shorter link to that Chronicle story. 🙂

  19. Thank-you very much for the link, Mr. Wine Commonsewer!

  20. I don’t know a hell of a lot about the topic, but would it be fair to say that The Objectivist Center is much more open to the free exchange of ideas in the sphere of what could be termed “objectivism”, while Peikoff’s organization is all about treating the works of Rand as their personal sacred dogma that they alone can parcel out, all the while “excommunicating” those who challenge them? That’s the sense I get. One seems to be about an intellectual movement/philosophy. The other operates like a religion.

  21. “Debates surrounding Rand’s work often “resemble a religious dogma surrounding a sacred text, and not the free give-and-take of ordinary scholarship,” says Rebecca Raphael, a senior lecturer in philosophy at Texas State.

    Defenders of the foundation . . . .insist that the accusations of dogmatism are seriously overblown. The field has matured, they say, since the last major period of Randian schisms in the early 1990s.

    Ayn Rand Studies: “Major schism free since 1993!”

    Then later in the article:
    “While researching the objectivist world online, Ms. Raphael began to fear that Anthem’s grants were given only to a narrow range of scholars associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. No Anthem grants appear to go to scholars associated with David Kelley, a former Vassar College philosophy professor who broke with the institute in 1990 amid a personal and ideological dispute that concerned, among other things, whether it is appropriate for objectivists to speak at events organized by libertarians.”

    That’s why there hasn’t been another schism, they’re still busy salting the wounds of the last one.

  22. Ah yes, “Texas State”.

    If memory serves me correctly, that’s where you go when you are approaching 60 completed hours at Austin Community College and still can’t get into UT. That, and daddy doesn’t have the bank role to send you to St. Edwards.

    Actually to be fair, I know a lot of folks that went there and they are all really smart, and doing well. In a few years I am sure it will be the Call-Poly of Texas, or something.

    Oh, there is also a cool river, and outlet malls. And beer. And stuff.

  23. Mr. Nice Guy,

    You gotta admit that Albert Camus was a big jerk.

  24. Actually to be fair, I know a lot of folks that went there and they are all really smart, and doing well.

    A fellow named Lyndon Johnson graduated from there in 1931. IIRC, he also did pretty well.

  25. Southwest Texas Texas State is the school your parents send you to when they want you to get a college education but realize actually studying would interfere with your drinking. Or at least that’s the impression I get from, well, everybody I know that graduated from there and was going there. It seems to be the university of choice for car salesmen, for some odd reason.

  26. “(Southwest Texas) Texas State is the school your parents send you to when they want you to get a college education but realize actually studying would interfere with your drinking.”

    The funniest thing about Texas State University changing its name from Southwest Texas is that now it has the same initials as Texas Southern University, the scandal-wracked traditionally black college here in Houston, known for years as TSU. Want to really piss off a Texas State grad? Say, “Oh, so you graduated from TSU?”

  27. No matter what they try to name it, it’ll always be SOUTHWASTE in these parts

  28. Will Doherty EVER stop schilling his book?

  29. Rand is actually how I first learned about libertarianism. I called myself an Objectivist well before I had ever even heard of libertarianism and The Fountainhead remains one of my favorite books. I still admire Rand’s principles (as posted by whoisjohngalt) and think there is a lot worthwhile about her works.

    However, the constant, overbearing, inflexible rhetoric of Objectivists (and Peikoff in particular) put me off of it for good. The philosophy tends to hold the most inflexible position on even the tiniest thing, which is why the groups end up with all their in-fighting. At one message board I frequented, one Objectivist even said something like “any Objectivist statement will necessarily be a true statement.” I could only sigh.

    I do think Rand should be read more and taught more. I’m not surprised an Objectvist professor was rejected, though.

  30. whoisjohngalt | July 17, 2007, 11:19pm | #

    I don’t know,

    “Metaphysics: objective reality.
    Epistemology: reason.
    Ethics: self-interest.
    Politics: capitalism.”

    that sounds right to me.

    Me too.

    Has anyone ever read Rand’s For the New Intellectual?

    Yes.

    It is basically a long rant in which she says that every major philosopher in the Western Tradition except for Aristotle was not just wrong on some things, but wrong on everything, stupid and bad people to boot.

    No, it isn’t, and she doesn’t say that. In fact she notes Aristotle’s errors fairly evenhandedly if not briefly.

  31. “It is basically a long rant in which she says that every major philosopher in the Western Tradition except for Aristotle was not just wrong on some things, but wrong on everything, stupid and bad people to boot.”

    I’ve read that book and didn’t come away with that notion, but it kind of makes sense in that Rand viewed people as the sum of their thoughts and ideas, and if their thoughts and ideas are bad, they are bad.

  32. I love how they referred to the people from the institute as ARIans. Are y’all trying to tell us something?

    BTW, I graduated from (Southwest) Texas State, but I don’t consider myself the typical alumnus. Most of y’all’s impressions are fairly accurate. Always could find a cute girl to sit next to in class, though.

  33. However, the constant, overbearing, inflexible rhetoric of Objectivists (and Peikoff in particular) put me off of it for good. The philosophy tends to hold the most inflexible position on even the tiniest thing, which is why the groups end up with all their in-fighting. At one message board I frequented, one Objectivist even said something like “any Objectivist statement will necessarily be a true statement.” I could only sigh.

    The thing about this comment, is that it actually justifies the position of the “overbearing” objectivists which you criticize. You say you heard an objectivist say “any objectivst statement is necessarily a true one”. For the time being lets assume you think this means everything an objectivist says is true just because he is an objectivist. Just because a suppossed “objectivist” says this, why do you assume his statement is actually consistent with objectivism. Notice how your assumption throws suspiscion, not on an isolated statement uttered by a single person but on the entire objectivist movement. As long as non-objectivists evaluate every statement uttered by supposed objectivists as automatically representing what objectivism actually is, ask yourself what course of action would you expect from peikoff. If your response to the above quote was to “sigh” in disbelief, then the only way to prevent your negative evaluation of objectivism to be applied to the entire movement would be for peikoff to point out clearly that the above quote is not compatible with objectivism. Notice that this REQUIRES Peikoff to be “inflexable”, but then what happens, Peikoff is then criticized for being intollerant because he takes action to prevent the kinds of statements you rightly criticize “objectivists” for.

  34. Interesting article.

  35. This should make it obvious

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