Photo by Gianluca Tursi
Once upon a time, I fell madly in love with a Randy rigged-Russian writer by the name of Ayn, after picking up a copy of Atlas Shrugged on a summer trip to the Middle East and Europe. This was done at the insistence of a brilliant (former Jesuit) professor of philosophy, who was head of the Humanities Department at Dawson College (Montreal, Qc).
Despite or in spite of the constant, unsolicited odd-ball warnings that Ayn Rand was the Anti-Christ incarnate (and of course, anti-semitic), and that her books would warp my fragile little mind—I devoured the novel like a starving man at an AYCE Sushi bar. Never eat AYCE sushi btw.
Next was The Fountainhead. Not that I needed it. The deed was done.
Upon my return to Canada, I immediately reached out to the Institute bearing her name, via the toll-free number on the postcard jammed in the middle of her books.
A sympathetic and engaging young man by the name of Stewart Margolis answered the call. He was head of the Ayn Rand Institute student outreach program and would go on to support me in creating the first Objectivist club at McGill University, where I had just been admitted into an honors program in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies.
Aware of Rand’s reputation and the fact that most of my professors were typical neo-Marxist, Post-Modernist anti-Capitalist terrorist sympathizers (ergo, not fans of Ayn Rand), I kept the club under the radar by giving it the awesome fake-news name: ‘The McGill International Relations Association’.
We had a mostly Indian and Scandinavian cast of co-conspirators, recruited and suckered into joining by the brilliantly witty shit-disturbing I impressed them with in our classes together. Or so I told myself.
One illustrious member ‘scammed’ into joining was Matthias Behnke who would go on to work for the United Nations in various high-profile Human Rights positions (still does). Matthias was kind enough to compete with me in the ridiculously long book category by gifting me Lawrence Durrell’s 900-page paper weight—The Alexandria Quartet, which like Atlas Shrugged, also featured a single horny heroine chased by a plethora of male-model less-than-equal romantic interests. How Randy of him.
THE OBJECTIBOTS ATTACK!
(This subject is dealt with in more amusing, excruciating detail in another article titled ‘Ayn Rand—Objectivism as Ritual’ )
After graduating from McGill, I moved to California to continue my education and launch my career. Naturally, I wanted to be near ARI (located in beautiful Marina Del Rey), where I would go on to participate in awesome ARI activities such as protests! Lectures! Screenings! Dinners! Debates and events! Oh my.
The original location of The Ayn Rand Institute in Marina Del Rey, California
Unfortunately, (most of) the folks who I met and interacted with in the so-called ‘Objectivist Movement’ were a massive disappointment to me. They were Low-Energy (Jeb?), disinterested, depressive, dopey, unaccomplished nebishy naysayers (thinking Berliner) who didn’t come close to reflecting Rand’s ‘Sense of Life’ nor those of her heroes in the slightest. Even held up to just your ‘average Joe‘ standard of etiquette, civility and personal dignity, they fell amazingly short. In fact, they were some of the most off-putting people that I have ever met in my life.
Over time, these folks evolved into the so-called ‘Orthodox’ and/or ‘Closed Objectivist’ sect of their Objectivist Ritualist cult.
Of course, I had even less interest in David Kelley’s crew for while I understood why David had run away from this bunch of Borg to strike out on his own, I was not in agreement with his whole ‘Open Objectivism’ pitch. In fact, it simply wasn’t needed. He could have made his pitch for how to SELL Objectivism without changing a thing.
During this same period, I was trying to get the proper visa or green card that would allow me to stay in the USA. And so it was one of the strangest coincidences of my life that my friend (at the time), Audrey Sinay (who stole my Diesel Jacket) kindly introduced me to a Canadian buddy of her grandfather (Joseph Sinay) who they thought could assist me in my quest.
His name? Nathaniel Branden—Ayn Rand’s former student, business partner and lover. The man who broke the motor of the world. And for the record, was complicit in Audrey keeping the Diesel Jacket that she stole from me.
I had actually written to Branden about two years earlier requesting a meeting (I was curious). He suggested in typical Brandenian ‘ALL CAPS’ style that I: ‘READ MORE THAN 2 OF MY BOOKS AND THEN I WILL CONSIDER MEETING YOU’.
So I did. And they’re quite repetitive much like his sentence completion exercises which I actually found mildly interesting. Branden was excellent at repackaging Objectivism as Self-Help Pop-Psychology, but essentially, the core components were all still there and functioning.
I finished about 4-5 books and very politely reached out again. He declined. Gotta love him for getting me to buy his books though. (asshole)
But the fickle finger of fate would have us brought together anyway.
Picture it. Beverly Hills Golf Club. 1996. Corner booth. Matzah ball soup. Nathaniel Branden is sipping it next to a giant hard-cover copy of Atlas Shrugged, trying to convince his communist billionaire BFF, Joseph Sinary, to read it. It gets crazier in the coming weeks as all these experiences would but I shall save the Branden chapter for another day. It has a wonderful ‘Objectivist-Passover-Seder’ story you’re not going to want to miss, true believers!
THE RETURN TO NORTH
And so after reluctantly returning to Canada when my visa expired (thanks for nothing BRANDEN), I worked to organize ARI visits from Andy Bernstein and Yaron Brook as part of another Objectivist club at my Alma Mater. But the new McGill group actually used Rand’s name. Bigly mistake. We ended up having our Objectivist study materials confiscated by Canada Customs as ‘Hate Literature’ and I had to go on to our local ‘Right of Communist’ radio station, CJAD, to humiliate our friendly dictatorship into returning them. Which they did, after making national headlines. But we were in good company, Erst Zundel and I.
During these years, I became close friends with the head of the Ayn Rand Archives, ARI employee extraordinaire and all-around creative genius, Jeff Britting.
I had met Jeff as a guest of the Institute at the AFI-UCLA film festival where they screened his Academy-Award nominated documentary, ‘Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life’.
By the time it became clear to me that ARI was a disaster in both form and function, I valued my friendship with Jeff considerably more than I valued my ability to excoriate the ARI folks publicly. And so I reserved my right to remain silent, and expressed my dissatisfaction with ARI directly to Jeff and only to Jeff, for many years. For his part, Jeff Britting was the great defender of the Institute. He explained, he justified (with reason), he promoted and at times, he gave me hope that they were not the disaster that I believed them to be. But they were a disaster. And I think he knew it—at a certain point. Although, to my great consternation, I have never been able to get Jeff Britting to say a negative thing about these folks. I could only read a mood and/or come to conclusions from bits and pieces of information available to me over the years, none of which were confidential, at least at the time. ARI has had a habit of wiping and/or modifying past misdeeds from the historical record in a way that would make Stalin proud.
Nevertheless, I did not want to get Jeff Britting into trouble. Being aware of ARI’s reputation, from my own direct experience and reading those of other people, I believed that this was a distinct possibility if I was to open my mouth publicly and criticize them. But then a miracle happened. Jeff Britting was removed—dismissed—downsized—fired! from behind the Orange Curtain (ARI moved to Irvine) and I was finally liberated to express my 25 years of annoyance with these people, to the outside world.
Not that Jeff wanted me to but I had had enough. Particularly when I saw this new addition—Greg Salmieri, with his condescending, prattling pitch for why anyone who disagrees with him is at BEST, ‘a conservative Ayn Rand fan’ (but not an Objectivist) and then there was the addition of Chip Joyce, who we will save for another ‘special needs’ day.
THE SWORD IN THE STONE
Novelist-Philosopher Ayn Rand died on the 6th of March, 1982. Her estate, her intellectual property, a lifetime of creative and philosophical work—the Keys to the Kingdom, so to speak—were left to her most loyal subject, tumultuous tomodachi and long-term associate, Dr. Leonard Peikoff.
Rand’s hope and mandate was that Peikoff would work toward the continued promotion and popularization of her fiction, non-fiction and most importantly—the dissemination of Objectivism (Rand’s philosophical treatise).
And who exactly is this Dr. Leonard Peikoff? Great question class. To answer, we can all take a walk down alienation lane and check out ‘Leonard Peikoff: In His Own Words’, (excerpt available right here). This presentation is a sort of watered-down, second-hand copy of a copy of Britting’s masterful documentary ‘Ayn Rand—A Sense of Life‘ and yet very telling in what it exposes about the man.
For our purposes today, let us say that Leonard is the world’s self-proclaimed ‘foremost authority on Objectivism’, ‘Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir’ and ‘Ayn Rand’s legal heir’. And one of those three things is certainly true. He was gifted the legal power to administer Ayn Rand’s estate and play with her toys for the past 36 years, in accordance with Rand’s wishes.
If only she would have wished harder.
Or perhaps been just a little less harsh with certain people in her life. But then Ayn would not have been Ayn. And we (I) would not love her so. But while her successes and achievements are monumental, so too are her failures. And this is perhaps the greatest and most notable one. She had prepared no heir that was worthy of pulling the sword from the stone. And in the case of Peikoff, after cutting himself (badly), the sword was placed back in—considerably worse for its wear.
Still, at the dawn of this whole process, Peikoff stood naked at the edge of his shower and held some promise as Rand’s champion. He had big, beautiful technicolor (dare I say) HUGE dreams for what he would build out of his mentor’s work, genius and reputation. (already a hint of a problem).
This radio show from 1982 will gives you some indication as to what I’m talking about. It will also show you where Peikoff’s head was at, right after Rand’s death. Aside from sounding quite positive, motivated and um…gleeful(?), Peikoff seemed ready to take his place as the leader of ‘Objectivist movement.
Radio Host: ‘Is what you would call the Objectivist movement, is there anyone leading the way at this point that you would identify or do you fancy yourself to kind of pick up the torch and carry it on?’
Peikoff: ‘ With all modesty Ayn Rand called me her intellectual heir and she made me her legal heir and I am running IT.’
Well, he ran it. He pushed that pedal down and drove Rand’s legacy and reputation, right smack into an impenetrable wall of Rearden Steel.
In fact, the ‘state of affairs’ as it pertains to Ayn Rand’s name, legacy and philosophy is abysmal. And I’ve been a reluctant witness, sometimes participant, to 20+ years of this unbelievable bullshit. And it was all avoidable. In fact, Leonard had every possible opportunity to succeed.
So what the hell went wrong? Where did The Estate, ARI and Lenny himself screw up? And what is the way forward today? Why ask why, drink Bud Dry!
First, let’s identify the goal as we imagine Peikoff did. Simply put, he had a mandate to continue (and increase) the dissemination of Ayn Rand’s fiction, non-fiction and her philosophy of ‘Objectivism’. The purpose? You would think that Peikoff wanted to fight for HIS values on this earth, in the here and now. That he was perhaps passionate for Rand’s philosophy and wanted to continue to change the world or as he said, ‘to save the world’, with her ideas. We’ll leave that altruistic presupposition alone for the moment and focus on what actually happened, although I do find the terminology he used…fascinating.
For the purposes of this list, I am going to hold Peikoff up as the prime-mover (our John Galt) and conflate him with ARI and/or other orgs, off-shoots and individuals under his control (legal or otherwise) or, ahem, ‘sanctioned’ by him. (oh how the Objectibots love that word)
1. AYN RAND as an INSTITUTE
The appropriation of Rand’s name as a facade for what was to become a pseudo-intellectual political action committee(s), involved in a Randy-range of activities unrelated to the promotion and dissemination of Objectivism, IS the most grievous SIN against Rand (and all of us who respect her independence). In fact, using her name as a mask for one’s own opinions is the very definition of living second-hand. Rand would roll over in her ice cave at Alcor, if she wasn’t frozen so f-ing solid. Oops. No. I shouldn’t speak on her behalf, frozen or otherwise.
There is little doubt that Peikoff believed he had the legal right to do with her name, what he wished (at least according to his convoluted trademark registrations). The morality of this choice is another story altogether. Rand was adamant that no one use her name for an organization or anything for that matter, outside of credit for her work. So why did Peikoff ignore this demand and everything that it presupposes?
I can only guess but I suspect this all connects to Peikoff’s ‘self-esteem’or lack thereof.
Rand stated in The Objectivist (1968), ‘I shall not establish or endorse any type of school or organization purporting to represent or be a spokesman for Objectivism. I shall repudiate and take appropriate action against any attempt to use my name or my philosophy, explicitly or implicitly, in connection with any project of that kind or any organization not authorized by me.’
And Rand had good reasons for her ‘policy’. She did not want her ideas to be called ‘Randism’. Objectivism is NOT a personality cult, despite those who wish it were and treat it as such.
She also wasn’t a fan of what she termed ‘Objectivist Ritualists‘. That is, individuals who saw Objectivism as a form of religious substitution. And most of all, Rand didn’t see Objectivism as an organized movement, political party or even a Pauly Shore ‘party-party’.
As she said, ‘I regard the spread of Objectivism through today’s culture as an intellectual movement – i.e. a trend among independent individuals who share the same ideas – but not as an organized movement.’ – ‘A Statement of Policy’, The Objectivist 1968
See that funny word up there—’independent’? Yah. That one. And does anyone recall the vignette in ‘The Fountainhead’ regarding the man who wanted a house like the one he drove by (and envied) as a kid? I do!
In fact, when given the chance, she had Nathaniel Branden use his OWN name for an institute in NYC that offered courses on Objectivism under her authority (which didn’t include the Arab-Israeli conflict surprisingly). A concrete example that Peikoff should have learned from.
But back to the greatest error in regards to Peikoff’s ARI. It was what he did with the Institute itself, under that name. Choosing to fight on behalf of political movements, ideas and opinions that had NOTHING to do with promoting Objectivism (as I allude to above).
Result: The Alienation of thousands, if not millions, of actual and potential Ayn Rand fans and/or Objectivists. Including ME!
And have these ARI folks learned a lesson yet? NO. They continue onward, blindly. Their latest salvo is the ‘immigration’ issue and accompanied by their usual admonitions aimed at all dissenters, is Peikoff’s gift to Objectivism. A gift that keeps on giving.
That is, ‘you’re not an Objectivist’ if you disagree with the great WE (or he, as the case may be). Dr. Seuss, here I come.
In 2006, the great Doctor let us all know that if we didn’t vote his way, we weren’t really Objectivists: ‘In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life–which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.’ – Leonard Peikoff, 2006
This wasn’t his first or last pitch in this regard, and it’s turned friends into enemies and enemies into fanatics.
2. SEX, LIES and AUDIOTAPE
Peikoff saw to it that Rand’s private journals, papers, interviews, letters, napkin scrawlings and perhaps even toilet paper, were made available to so-called ‘scholars’ and the public at large (via Valiant, Harriman and others), which in turn were used by her detractors as an endless foundry of information for their salacious, defamatory bullshit books, articles and lectures.
The end? No.
Some of this was inevitable but most was totally avoidable. A series of self-inflicted wounds? No! A series of Rand-inflicted wounds inflicted by Peikoff.
Some of the justification for this was to set the record straight with respect to the Branden’s book (and rumors), ‘The Passion of Ayn Rand’ (which infuriated Peikoff) in addition to the supposed goal of encouraging scholarship in Objectivism and/or Ayn Rand’s life. Unfortunately, neither of these pursuits were handled well or strategically.
The result: hit-piece biographies filled with salacious nonsense, innuendo and rumor. Such as Jennifer Burns’ ‘Goddess of the Market’ and Anne Heller’s ‘Ayn Rand and the World She Made’, followed-up with an endless supply of articles and interviews parroting the most defamatory aspects of these works.
I mean, who is Ayn Rand if not a serial killer-worshiping, hypocritical social-security gathering, drug addicted depressive degenerate racist loser, right?
Makers and Takers, oh my!
3. DRIVING the JOHN GALT LINE…into a BRICK WALL
In her own lifetime, Rand believed that a poor cinematic treatment of Atlas Shrugged could ruin her reputation. She was probably right. Luckily Peikoff had already destroyed it by the time his (and it is HIS) film version of Atlas was released by the man (John Aglialoro) he had sold the rights to.
The mismanagement of Rand’s estate, particularly the Intellectual Property rights to her various creative works, have resulted in a string of failed and otherwise mediocre presentations of Objectivist ideas, further convincing Hollywood elite that Objectivist-themed works are not commercial (and neither is Ayn Rand).
This is totally untrue, of course. Frank Miller (Batman), Spielberg, Brad Bird (Pixar), Allan Moore (Watchmen), Steve Ditko (Spider-man), James Clavell, Ken Levine (Bioshock), Gene Roddenberry (and thousands more) were all heavily influenced by Rand and have produced money making Objectivist-inspired works.
Peikoff’s most recent creative gift to the ‘Objectivist’ world (outside of van Hove’s The Fountainhead) includes the proposed Atlas Shrugged graphic novel to be penned by Bosch Fawstin. Mr. Fawstin’s work includes his comic book, “Pigman” along with his “Let’s Draw Mohammed” contest submission, which almost got him and Pamela Geller killed. Although he did win the contest.
Whatever you think of how to engage, debate or ‘destroy’ those who identify themselves as Muslim, it is sort of odd that one would choose such an inflammatory (and sadly mediocre) talent to pen what should be the most important comic book in human history. And why alienate some good Arabs and Asians who see Islam as more of a cultural cleavage or familial issue in their lives? Why not infect them with new ideas? Can you do that by spitting on their floor or calling their Mother a goat or by drawing them in a Protocols of Zion-ish style? Probably not.
Kind of like when Andy Bernstein came to McGill on ARI’s behalf and accidentally called all of the Arabs in our auditorium ‘savages’, until he (kindly) apologized after being called out on it. By me. (I like Andy!)
Totally idiotic and totally Peikoff.
4. RANDROIDS ATTACK!
Then there is the continued promotion of a cult-like, soul-killing atmosphere in the so-called Objectivist movement / community by the gatekeepers themselves, most notably Peikoff, Berliner, Schwartz, Binswanger, etc. and their thousands of Randroid-Peikoffian acolytes. I don’t count Yaron Brook in this group. But that doesn’t mean that I am pleased with his handling of anything during his tenure at ARI.
This ‘attitude’ toward those interested in Rand and Objectivism has not been welcoming, engaging or inspiring. Instead, these ‘Objectibots’ have become the very stereotype that Rand and her associates were accused of being during her lifetime. They’ve come full circle.
ARI and their associates have continued to turn friends into enemies and eventually, they turn on each other. As we have seen in recent years, again and again.
5. THE NEXT GENERATION:
There is an almost total lack of encouragement and strategic planning to see the next generation of Objectivist creators, thinkers and investors take center-stage in our political and cultural community.
I have experienced this first hand as a young person coming to ARI, interested in promoting Rand’s work in various media and creative projects. Peikoff was disinterested and everyone I dealt with at ARI was equally negative, dismissive or demotivated. They couldn’t see how one could win, why one should fight (except amongst oneselves). And they made their dreams come true which has become my nightmare.
It’s all a swan-song to Peikoff though. It’s his attitude. His malevolence. His personality. His weakness.
It’s not about Peikoff’s misapplication of Objectivism to life. It’s really about (ironically) his SENSE of LIFE, as Rand would say. He injected his misery into his Institute and her legacy. Into her, in fact. For despite her moods, her attitude problem (or gift, depending on your perspective), Ayn Rand was a charismatic figure who people wanted to know, wanted to learn from.
She was inspirational, even at her worst.
Leonard Peikoff is not, which is not a crime. But it is a moral crime to live second-hand off of her legacy, her reputation and her estate for 36 years, dragging it through the filthy mud of his own miserable existence.
I almost feel bad for him as there was some potential at the start. I feel much worse for us though. For me.
I now have to live in a world that could have literally been saved (for the living) by the work she did—by way of her ideas. It might still be. But not if these folks have anything to say about it.
Even now, ARI is supportive of the tech-tyranny slowly building in our culture—a malevolent marriage between crony capitalists, statist politicians and technology that will soon make Anthem into reality, not to mention the aggressive advocacy for braindead Neo-Marxist, altruistic political viewpoints guaranteed to destroy what is left of the fabric of the West.
As such, I believe the time has come to reclaim Rand’s legacy and push back—HARD. Not against ARI mind you but toward a new horizon.
To be continued…