Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Atlas Society loses a key voice

On March 8, 2008 I wrote a post titled “Kudos for the Ayn Rand Institute” on how the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is doing a better job getting into the public spotlight than The Atlas Society (TAS). While ARI continues to get op eds published on the current financial crisis and other issues (as shown on their web site) it looks like TAS has just taken another step backward. Robert Bidinotto, editor of their The New Individualist, recently announced on his blog that he has left TAS and no longer edits TNI. Robert has done a terrific job in building the magazine in terms of content, number of pages, appealing, professional design and public visibility. As a result TNI even won the Folio award, a national and prestigious prize, for best editing - beating out 3,000 contestants in the process.

In the interests of full disclosure I should report that Robert and I have been good friends since my freshman year in college. At the time Robert was co-publishing a newsletter advocating Objectivism aimed at the students and professors. Being the true professional that he is Robert did not divulge to me what happened between him and TAS. It ultimately doesn’t matter to me why he left. The bottom line: Robert’s departure just further and drastically reduces what impact TAS has in the market of public opinion.

Where has Robert gone? Check out his new web site: www.

Noodle Food has jumped on the vast stylistic differences between David Kelley and Yaron Brook in two video interviews held by the same organization. Noodle Fooders took Kelley’s lackluster and rambling reply to be proof that bad premises (i.e., his stance on Objectivism and toleration and other issues) have rotted his mind. While I agree Brook comes off much better I have as much issue with what he said as they did with Kelley. (My key disagreement with Brook is with his answer when asked to define capitalism. Instead of saying that it is an economic system in which individuals have rights to private property and to free exchange including starting their own businesses, he launches into telling us what capitalism isn’t. I’m drawing from memory so I don’t recall Brook’s reply verbatim. Anyone disagreeing with me show have a bit of tolerance, OK? Oops, I used a bad word!)

As much as I disagree with the wishful psychologizing behind the attack on Kelley (and by association the critics extend their argument to rest of the TAS staff including Robert), there is one inescapable fact: ARI knocks the snot out of TAS in public exposure – with a consistently strong message.

I must add that The Objective Standard also does a particularly good job of presenting Objectivist analyses of issues. Their articles are well researched, thoughtful and polemical without going over the top. I recognize that TOS is not an “official” ARI outlet but the connection between them is strong. Where is the TAS equivalent?

ARI has numerous op eds, frequent press releases, the essay contests, Q&A videos posted on You Tube, and so on. Where are the TAS equivalents?

You could argue that this just further supports the argument that TAS suffers from bad premises. In a way I agree, but not in terms of their understanding of Objectivism. I believe it comes down to a dismal lack of focus and an understanding of marketing principles. I don’t believe all differences in effectiveness come down to whether or not you “truly” understand Objectivism. There are plenty of other ways to go wrong. Allowing Robert Bidinotto’s departure is one of them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature review: Introduction

Over the years several authors have written book-length critiques of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: With Charity Toward None by William F. O’Neil, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Epistemology by Scott Ryan, Answer to Ayn Rand: a critique of the philosophy of Objectivism by John Robbins and The Ayn Rand Cult by Jeff Walker. After reading these books I felt that the authors either misrepresented Rand’s ideas in order to set up easily refuted straw men or they just offered specious counter-arguments. I also felt that all of these books did not start out neutrally with a “let’s see where our analysis takes us” approach but had a case to prove. These books also drip with disdain for Rand.


Greg Nyquist’s Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature (henceforth referred to as ARCHN) also takes Rand to task and at times harshly criticizes her. To be fair Nyquist admits in the preface that “there is quite a bit of truth in Objectivism.” The following sentence best captures Nyquist’s attitude towards Rand: “Despite my low opinion of Rand’s philosophical expertise, I nevertheless regard Rand as an important and perhaps even a great thinker.” Nonetheless, after a constant litany of Rand’s alleged errors by the end of the book I wondered what was left of Objectivism! While I don’t agree with all of Nyquist’s arguments I also believe some of his criticisms merit serious consideration. If Rand’s admirers approach this book with a truly open mind I think they’re likely to learn some important lessons even if they ultimately don’t change any of their beliefs.


A common theme runs through ARCHN: the lack of empirical data to support many of Rand’s claims.


My goal is to cover the main points of each chapter in installments, to lay out Nyquist’s key points and to indicate where I agree or disagree with him. I’ll probably resort to using bulleted lists to capture Nyquist’s key points. It also will take less time for me to write each installment. I ask anyone who visits this blog to be patient. The pressure of work and other commitments affects how often I can write posts. ;-)


The next post will start with ARCHN’s first chapter on Rand’s theory of human nature.