The Night Watchman

A Small Beacon in the Night of Unreason
raised and maintained by Per-Olof Samuelsson

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1987, Leonard Peikoff (through his secretary at the time, Diane LeMont) granted us permission to publish any hitherto unpublished essays by Miss Rand in Swedish.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Today, Leonard Peikoff has withdrawn this permission to publish Objectivist materials in Swedish.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 judgement 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.

Some time 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.

(Read the full letter here.)

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.)

(PS 2006: I originally forgot to include my answer to this letter from Dr. Peikoff, but it belongs here:

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.


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 everyone 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 judgement has to be based on fact – if not, it does not qualify as moral judgement 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, except 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.

© 2000, 2006 Per-Olof Samuelsson
May be quoted freely as long as the URL to this web site is included. May not be quoted out of context.

The correspondence between the ARI and me is available on paper. If you wish to see it, simply send me your name and address; also enclose $5 to cover postage and copying costs. E-mail address: Snail mail address: Per-Olof Samuelsson, Järnvägsgatan 13, SE-634 31 Strängnäs, Sweden.

For an example of how George Reisman is treated by "official" Objectivism, see the essay "Reisman Insights Without George Reisman".

If you want to know what is so great about George Reisman - why I think he should be defended and "plugged" - please read my reader's review of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics on (Or, if you read Swedish or some other Scandinavian language, you can read my essay "George Reisman: Why Do We Need Him?" Sorry - not yet in English.)

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