Anarchy in Philadelphia

The Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Eastern Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia, 8-11 January 2020. Here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium:
New Work in Libertarian and Anarchist Thought

G5E. Thursday, 9 January 2020, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, Philadelphia 201 Hotel, 201 N. 17th St., Philadelphia PA 19103, room TBA.


Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)


Zachary Woodman (Western Michigan University), “The Implications of Philosophical Anarchism for National Identity

Jason Lee Byas (University of Michigan), “What Is Violence?

William Nava (New York University), “The Causal Case Against Contributing to Public Goods

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University), “Ayn Rand’s ‘New’ (Posthumous) Critique of Anarchism: A Counter-Critique

15 thoughts on “Anarchy in Philadelphia

  1. Pingback: Anarchy in Philadelphia | Austro-Athenian Empire

  2. I’m sorry I’m going to miss this (though I’m now wondering whether I should make the trip to Philly for this one session). But at the risk of coming across as a moocher, what does “Ayn Rand’s ‘New’ (Posthumous) Critique of Anarchism” refer to?


    • They’ve reissued Rand’s “Textbook of Americanism” with a bunch of new content, mostly from her discipuli, but there’s also a section of previously unpublished excerpts from Rand’s seminars on politics, and the argument against anarchism she gives there is a bit different from the one in “The Nature of Government” (and also different from the final-arbiter argument that’s popular with her discipuli nowadays).

      Her metaphysics seminar remains unpublished. Who knows when or if we’ll ever get that.


      • I’m clearly out of touch. I think I was vaguely aware that they’d re-issued that book, but assumed that it must be superseded by Later Rand, and so, ignored it (having read all the Later Rand I feel the need to read). I wasn’t even aware there was a metaphysics seminar.

        Revenue stream aside, I’ve never quite understood ARI’s fixation on Rand’s unpublished, unofficial work. After staking their claim on the proposition that Objectivism = Ayn Rand’s official, published works–so that not even Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is a work of Objectivism–they now seem intent on dredging up every last scrap she ever wrote and passing it off as quasi-doctrine. What’s next? Ayn Rand’s To-Do Lists?

        I probably shouldn’t joke about this.


        • I’m the opposite — ARI seems not interested enough in her unpublished, unofficial work. They dole it out in drips and drops, often much more highly and intrusively edited and revised than they let on, in an Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche kind of way. If I were in charge of ARI (an unlikely eventuality) I would publish all of it, with minimal editing — yes, including her to-do lists. Why not? The private papers and unpublished drafts of important writers — be they Nietzsche, Tolkien, D. H. Lawrence, or whoever — are of enormous value to anyone doing a systematic study of the authors’ ideas and/or life, and are often of great interest to the more casual reader as well. I’m glad we’re not deprived of NIetzsche’s Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, or Tolkien’s Children of Hurin, or Lawrence’s late poetry, or Rand’s Red Pawn or Ideal, etc.


          • I guess I would make a distinction between quasi-public work (letters, seminar transcripts, interviews, etc.) and private stuff (journals, marginalia). I have no objection to publishing stuff in the first category, but two objections to publishing stuff in the second (or maybe an objection-and-a-half).

            The ethical objection is that it strikes me as a violation of the author’s privacy. Granted, Rand gave Peikoff the discretion to publish her stuff as he saw fit, but I would still say that since it’s a violation of the author’s privacy to publish entirely private writings, he shouldn’t have seen fit. And I doubt ARI’s been consistent about it anyway. I doubt they’d publish journal entries or writings that revealed anything embarrassing or revealing of Rand’s affair with Branden. Not that I think they’re obliged to. I would say: don’t publish private stuff, but if you do, publish it all, warts and all.

            The other objection (or quasi-objection) is that in my view, the utility of such private documents is easily over-stated and has a problematic effect on scholarship. This isn’t an objection to publishing them per se, but it’s an objection to relying very much on them if published. “Rand scholars” (as they now call themselves) now habitually cite passages in her Journals as though in confirmation of a given interpretation of the official texts: “She said p at t1, then published p* at t2, and we can see the clear line of development from p to p* over time,” etc.

            But I haven’t seen anyone argue for the prior assumption: how exactly do private journal entries not meant for public consumption confirm any interpretation of texts intended for public consumption? The unspoken assumption is that the journal entry is an unpolished, developmental precursor of the published view. But there are other possibilities that have to be excluded before that inference goes through. The journal entry could be the author simply blowing off steam. Or it could be a mere “hand exercise.” Or it could be free association. Or whatever. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint which of these things it was. But it’s easy to assume that the journal entry is the developmental prologue to the finished view, and easy to assume that this is the only possibility.

            Even worse is the assumption that the earlier view provides elaboration on the later, less determinate view. What if the later, less determinate view is really the only “view” that can genuinely be ascribed to her? What if the actual inference to make is that the earlier view was merely Rand blowing off steam in an inconclusive way, and the later view was a way of hedging her bets on all those philosophical problems she left unresolved by means of some indeterminate statement(s) that seem to solve them but end up being indeterminate to the point of meaninglessness? The unpublished writings have now become a ready excuse for over-interpretation of texts that are, by themselves, often vague and indeterminate. If such writings are now to be regarded as part of the Randian Corpus, it should be fair game for someone to say, “I don’t regard them as a heuristic guide to her officially published writings.” The unpublished writings should not become some kind of privileged annotation on the published text.

            A concrete example. In 2011, Allan Gotthelf invited David Boonin and me to an ARS session on Rand on punishment. Unbeknownst to me, Allan had given David the advice to look for Rand’s view on this subject in her letter exchange with Hospers on the subject (an exchange where Hospers’s own letters are omitted). (Granted, my objection above applies less to letters than to journal entries, but it still has some, weaker application here.) Boonin took Gotthelf’s advice, and structured his whole paper around the Rand-Hospers letter exchange. Allan’s assumption was even more problematic than the one I just described: he assumed that the letter exchange gave the reader profound insight into the workings of Rand’s genius-level views on the subject. It did no such thing. It gave insight, instead, into what Rand was like in a polemical confrontation where she expected to be understood more quickly than she was understood, and hadn’t put her views into reflective equilibrium on the subject. So I thought Boonin’s paper was misdirected from the outset (not his fault), the mistake being to ignore the “official” text and find the key to all mysteries in the esoteric writings. I told Boonin that he should have ignored the letter exchange altogether. He responded, reasonably enough, that he’d taken Gotthelf’s advice in taking it so seriously.

            Granted, that’s a somewhat idiosyncratic case, but my point is, the general tendency persists.


            • “This isn’t an objection to publishing them per se, but it’s an objection to relying very much on them if published. .. it’s easy to assume that the journal entry is the developmental prologue to the finished view, and easy to assume that this is the only possibility. ”

              Certainly such scholarship can be done badly. And unpublished writings can vary greatly in their significance. (As can published writings, of course.) But what promotes bad scholarship of the kind you describe is ARI’s current policy of reserving access to the archives to ARI-approved scholars (which tends to guarantee that only those who take the developmental-prologue view will get to see them), and releasing highly edited and “cleaned up” versions of what they do make public (which tends to make the developmental-prologue view seem more plausible than it is).

              But unpublished writings are interesting precisely because they’re not always developmental prologues; sometimes they show that the author was initially heading in a different direction, and this different direction can explain apparent tensions between earlier and later published works, for example.. (And they’re also of interest to biographers even when they’re not philosophically illuminating.)

              “The ethical objection is that it strikes me as a violation of the author’s privacy.”

              I feel the pull of that. I think the strength of the pull depends on how long the author has been dead, what the executor’s personal relationship with the author was, and how strong the ethical pulls in the other direction may be. Which leads me to …

              “I doubt they’d publish journal entries or writings that revealed anything embarrassing or revealing of Rand’s affair with Branden.”

              ?? They already have. Valliant’s wretched book contains lengthy excerpts from Rand’s journals about the affair. (Of course Valliant thinks the excerpts are embarrassing only for Branden and not for Rand. The fact that they actually vindicate Branden more than they hurt him is a point that Valliant [and the ARI honchos who gave him the journals] seems curiously blind to.)


              Here I’m of two minds. On the one hand, those journals are a paradigmatic case of the sort of thing Rand would not have wanted her heirs to publish, and understandably so. Peikoff (or whoever made the decision) was a poor friend to Rand in releasing them. So that’s the ethical pull of privacy. On the other hand, in this case there’s a strong ethical pull in the other direction: in light of the damage that was done (not just to the Brandens but to many, many people) by the ARIans’ repeated dismissal of the Brandens as liars, there’s a certain justice in publishing texts from Rand that prove the Brandens weren’t lying (even though Valliant’s malicious intention and frankly crazed interpretation is the opposite).


                • When I was giving examples of valuable unpublished stuff I oddly forgot to mention one of my favourite examples, Wittgenstein, most of whose stuff is unpublished, but which is of enormous philosophical value. Many of the arguments he gives briefly and cryptically in his published writings are expressed much more fully and clearly in the unpublished ones.

                  There’s also the privacy concern here too. Wittgenstein’s estate denied Hayek access to the Wittgenstein papers (leading Hayek to abandon his intention to write a Wittgenstein biography) because they didn’t want his homosexuality to come to light. Of course what would have been a scandal then is not so now.

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              • Yeah, as you anticipated, by “doubt they’d publish journal entries or writings that revealed anything embarrassing or revealing…,” I meant adverse to Rand’s reputation by ARI’s lights. They clearly thought that whatever they let Valliant use was exculpatory of Rand, but I don’t know that Valliant’s book is exhaustive of all of the relevant material, hence my comment.

                I do agree with your take on Valliant’s book (had no regrets throwing it out when I moved last year), and I guess I “agree” with the dialectic you pose here, at least in the sense of feeling the pull in both directions. In general, I think private stuff shouldn’t be published, but you’re right that there’s a certain justice in giving readers the material by which to judge the various sets of accusations that Rand made against the Brandens and vice versa. I don’t recall either side’s coming off all that well, but have so little patience for the whole thing that I found the details hard to remember.

                I agree with the rest of what you say. I suppose my complaint is more one of the role that the unofficial works play in orthodox Rand scholarship than the role they might ideally play. But one interpretive option that ought to be left open is just plain indeterminacy: Rand often bites off more than she can chew, philosophically speaking. There has to be room to say: regardless of the inference we might make by way of unofficial writings, the official text is not just mute on many essential issues, but fails to resolve the problems that the author self-consciously set for herself. In my experience, the unofficial writings are often brought in as a kind of hermeneutical “god of the gaps,” to “suggest lines of argumentation implicit in the text.” That’s fine, but an interlocutor reserves the right to respond by saying, “Yeah, but as far as the official text is concerned, we’ve reached a dead end: the resources of the text itself, as self-consciously prepared for publication by the author, have run out. At this point, if you produce an argument to save the claims made in the official text, that’s you the interpreter at work, not the author. In short, she didn’t build that.”


                • I’m less averse than you are to using unpublished works as a guide to the interpretation of published ones. Of course they’re not infallible guides; but one published work is not an infallible guide to the interpretation of another published work by the same author, either. Everything should be done carefully. (Of course orthodox Rand scholarship is a mess, with or without the unpublished works.)

                  There’s a tendency to think that published works are more definitive and unpublished ones more tentative. But published works are often written hastily to meet a deadline, edited down to a required length, and (in Rand’s case) given an extra polemical, combative spin, and all that can actually make them less careful, less nuanced, less reflective of the complexity of the author’s thinking than the unpublished works are.

                  “I don’t recall either side’s coming off all that well”

                  True enough. But in a context where many people regard Rand as a metaphysical avatar of unquestionable rationality and virtue, whereas even Branden’s strongest proponents have never claimed any such status for him, anything that reveals feet of clay for both sides — two flawed people handling a difficult situation mostly badly (and who among us has not handled some difficult situation mostly badly?), rather than an Objectivist Judas betraying an Objectivist Christ — in effect vindicates Branden more than Rand.


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