John McCaskey made a fortune as a software engineer and businessman in the 1990s, changed careers and now devotes his time to the history and philosophy of science. He had obtained a doctorate in the history of science from Stanford University in 2006 and at the time of the controversy described here was teaching there part-time.
Somewhere along his career he became interested in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. In 2001 he founded the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship in order to promote the study of Objectivism in colleges. Though the Anthem Foundation is a separate legal entity from ARI, since at least 2008 it has been run by ARI associates. Mr. McCaskey became a member of ARI’s board of directors in 2004.
Here we describe the events that led to his abrupt departure from ARI and the Anthem Foundation. The events center around Leonard Peikoff, the founder of ARI though no longer on its board of directors, and David Harriman, the author of a book about scientific induction, elaborating Leonard Peikoff’s ideas on the subject.
The story begins in the early 2000s when Mr. Harriman was working on his book while being supported by ARI. Mr. McCaskey, the ARI board member best able to judge Mr. Harriman’s work, takes an interest in it and over the years reads drafts of the book. He hears Mr. Harriman lecture on the material, and they also discuss it between themselves.
He expresses reservations about the book’s historical accounts. As will be seen, the details of his criticism are irrelevant to this story, merely the fact that he was critical of Mr. Harriman’s work, and thus of Mr. Peikoff’s, is all that matters.
The book is officially published in July 2010: The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. It features an introduction by Mr. Peikoff, and according to Mr. Harriman’s Preface one chapter and part of another are “taken nearly verbatim” from lectures by Mr. Peikoff, and every chapter “has benefited by his line-by-line scrutiny.” The previous month Mr. McCaskey had received a pre-publication copy of the book and as he read through it sent Mr. Harriman several emails challenging some of its statements.
At the annual Objectivist Summer Conference (OCON July 2010) Mr. McCaskey and about half a dozen other academics meet privately to discuss the book. Subsequently Mr. Peikoff finds out about the meeting, which he later refers to as a forum, from someone who knew someone who had attended. (As will be seen, he later writes of the meeting as if he had heard about it second-hand rather than third-hand.)
Throughout all this Mr. Peikoff never discussed the book with McCaskey. He did read some of the emails that McCaskey sent Harriman.
Here is the email that Mr. Peikoff sent Arline Mann, a lawyer for ARI and co-chairman of the ARI board of directors (the first bracketed word, “legal,” and all abbreviations – AR for Ayn Rand, and so forth – are in the original; as is the word “whom” at the end of one paragraph; we leave off our external quote marks):
From: Leonard PeikoffThus if you criticize (denounce is an exaggeration), even privately, Mr. Peikoff’s work – and of course this is not Ayn Rand’s work – you can expect to be thrown out of the Ayn Rand Institute no matter how much you have helped them or him.
Sent: Monday, August 30, 2010 ...
To: Mann, Arline [Legal]
Cc: Yaron Brook
Subject: Your call
I do not want to argue what I regard as facts:
That M[cCaskey] attacks Dave[ Harriman]’s book, and thus, explicitly or implicitly, my intro praising it as expressing AR’s epistemology, and also my course on induction, on which the book is based.
I have seen a large part of this criticism myself, and have heard its overall tenor and content from others who attended a forum on the subject. I do not know where else he has voiced these conclusions, but size to me is irrelevant in this context. By the way, from the emails I have seen, his disagreements are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.
In essence, his behavior amounts to: Peikoff is misguided, Harriman is misguided, M knows Objectivism better than either. Or else: Objectivism on these issues is inadequate, and M is the one pointing the flaws out.
When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me -- I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism -- is denounced by a member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded, someone has to go, and will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom.
I do understand how much money M has brought to ARI, and how many college appointments he has gotten and is still getting. As Ayn would have put it, that raises him one rung in Hell, but it does not convert Objectivism into pragmatism.
In the announcement of his resignation on September 3 Mr. McCaskey says that he found Peikoff’s remarks:
“... insultingly unjust ... and his ultimatum, as such, a threat to the Institute. I believe it would be damaging to the Institute if the Institute acted either way, either acceding to his demand or rejecting it.This appears less than consistent. If the ultimatum by itself was a threat to the Institute, and he cared about that, why then publicize it? Mr. McCaskey should have been more forthright about his wanting to expose the injury being done to him overriding his concern about the damage the exposure would cause ARI.
“So I decided to resign from the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute and of the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship.”
He had little choice in publishing the email because, as he relates in his resignation announcement, the email was the only official evidence of the reason for his departure given him. (The link to his full statement can be found below, under the heading “Source Material.”) In an email published on Noodlefood, 12 October 2010, Mr. McCaskey explains further, and again he could have been clearer that his choice was either damage ARI’s reputation or allow them to damage his:
“When I first heard of Peikoff's demand that I be removed from the board, I broached the obvious possibility of my resigning. But I said I thought that would make good sense only if Peikoff were willing to go public with his denunciation and demand.Apparently Mr. Peikoff didn’t think Objectivists deserved anything better.
“It became increasingly clear to me that the Institute would be seriously damaged if it took either horn of the dilemma, but I still had seen nothing in writing that articulated exactly what Peikoff was demanding and why.
“After I received a copy of the email, I offered to resign if he gave permission to release that. It was the only thing in writing I had. I expected he would edit it first. He preferred to have it stand as is.
“The Institute also gave me its permission to release the email.”
... Oh God, give it a rest. Do I have to read this?
Froggy, you are free to leave at any time. To continue, he numbers his points one to four. In the first he tries to justify his “rung in hell” remark, referring to it obliquely as “Dante’s phrase.” He claims that Ayn Rand often used it, as if that were relevant. It is, he says, only an eloquent way of saying that a positive doesn’t compensate for an extreme negative, and that it does not “necessarily” have moral import.
His second point begins with a claim about his email to Arline Mann:
“... I was writing an extemporaneous, private email to two people with the same context of knowledge as mine, not a statement for the general public ...”The question goes begging why he then authorized its release as such. He claims that “McCaskey asked me to allow him to make my unedited letter public” – the operative word being “unedited,” which is at variance with Mr. McCaskey’s account (see above). Mr. Peikoff continues: “I had to agree, because I did not want to give him the opportunity to charge that I was engaged in a cover-up.” Which is hard to follow; he didn’t have to agree, he could have written another document.
In any case whether the letter was private or public doesn’t matter. Its content is ridiculous. Private versus public is a red herring.
In point three he says that “some people have turned the dispute into a moral issue,” implying that the objection articulated in his email was not moral. But, Mr. Peikoff continues, because some people have turned the dispute into a moral issue he now “should state the full truth” – somehow one follows from the other. Here is the full truth according to Mr. Peikoff (emphasis his):
“I have, for years, long before Harriman’s book, condemned McCaskey morally: I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual.”This, as Mr. Peikoff later emphasizes, was only in private. He then says that his low opinion of McCaskey was the reason he hadn’t discussed Harriman’s book with him or tried to understand his viewpoint. Thus, Mr. Peikoff explains, it was impossible to resolve or limit their differences over the book.
In point four, among other things he considers who should choose ARI board members:
“... my goal is to judge the qualifications of those given leading positions of authority in running the Institute ... . My concern with this goal does not imply a lack of confidence in Yaron, who has done a splendid job. But the latter does not imply that he and I always agree on suitable Board members.”He goes on to argue that he is the one best qualified to “decide who is qualified to hold such positions ... .” He then insinuates that McCaskey is not an Objectivist:
Mr. Peikoff concludes by saying that he does not oppose independence or free speech, contrary to his detractors, who include “magazine founders and PhDs with podcasts” – an oblique reference to Craig Biddle (The Objective Standard) and Diana Hsieh (Noodlefood).
Though this put-down might make Mr. Biddle and Ms. Hsieh look good, it’s not a case of bad versus good but rather of one bad versus another somewhat less so, at least in the matter of John McCaskey. Like Peikoff, Biddle and Hsieh have no problem with the anti-American propaganda, perversely couched as Objectivism, emanating from ARI. 
Unfortunately the same must be said of Mr. McCaskey. Supporting John Lewis – what was that about rungs in hell?
Mr. McCaskey might be naïve rather than vicious. Perhaps he never looked at ARI very closely and left to other people the issues outside his area of expertise. May he come to be appalled at some of the propaganda he helped finance.
Finally, in a postscript, Mr. Peikoff again drags in Ayn Rand’s name, saying that she would not have stooped to defend herself against such detractors but “I am not as strong as she was.”
The statement is in the form of a letter by Yaron Brook. He begins with a misleading half-truth:
“Dear ARI supporter,Mr. Brook leaves out an important detail, that the resignation was in response to Peikoff’s demand that ARI remove McCaskey from the board or Peikoff would sever his relationship with ARI, effectively ending ARI.
“On September 3, 2010, John McCaskey resigned from ARI’s Board of Directors on the condition that he be permitted to publish an e-mail Leonard Peikoff had sent to Arline Mann, co-chair of the Board.”
Naturally Peikoff’s email was much discussed in Objectivist circles. Mr. Brook refers to that discussion as “clamor.” He says this clamor is driven by only “a small group of people,” people who lack the “full context.” With these words and phrases Mr. Brook would have us believe that only a few ignorant lowlifes worry about the McCaskey affair. Here’s the complete sentence:
“What Dr. McCaskey published has caused a clamor – one continually reinvigorated by statements of ‘fact’ and commentaries from a small group of people who lack the full context.”But even Mr. Brook doesn’t believe it, for he continues:
Now Mr. Brook shall “rectify the matter.” He begins by praising in glowing terms Peikoff’s work on induction and Harriman’s book based on it. He says that Peikoff expressed his concern about McCaskey in August 2010, and by the end of the month:
“presented the terms and timeline he expected ARI’s Board to meet in order to resolve the conflict. At all times, Dr. McCaskey’s unfavorable attitude toward this major ARI project and Dr. Peikoff’s view on the matter were the only issues, not any personal views Dr. Peikoff had about Dr. McCaskey’s moral character.”— that last apparently being a reference to Peikoff’s statement trashing McCaskey six days before. Mr. Brook goes on to say in so many words that ARI could not exist without Peikoff, and concludes that “we are certainly interested in hearing his thoughts and analyses, and we give them due weight in our deliberations.” (Due weight as in overwhelming, we would say.) And as they were deliberating McCaskey offered to resign. Mr. Brook continues:
(After telling of McCaskey’s offer to resign Mr. Brook writes parenthetically: “Note that there was no request made by anyone that Dr. McCaskey resign from the Board of Directors of the Anthem Foundation.” This is disingenuous. In 2008 ARI staff had taken over the Anthem Foundation’s operational management and in 2010 its entire staff and board of directors were ARI associates, including Yaron Brook on the board.  Surely McCaskey would be reluctant to continue dealing with Anthem / ARI after recent events.)
Mr. Brook goes on to praise ARI’s ultimate “consistency” on “philosophical, cultural, and political issues” after internally debating them, and its “high quality of scholarship.” Thus necessarily “a Board member cannot undercut ARI’s major projects” and remain a board member.
“If the controversy around Dr. McCaskey’s resignation has caused you to have doubts or reservations about ARI, please set aside the selective reports, slanted histories of old conflicts, and rampant speculation — and consider the actual facts. Take a look at ARI’s track record ...”Indeed, just look at the twisting of history, the promotion of unjust wars, the justification of medieval torture, the Leftist-like advocacy of open borders. Mr. Brook concludes by praising ARI’s promotion of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. And thanks you for your support.
The above is the gist of the ARI board’s statement, a mealy-mouthed performance of over eleven hundred words and an extended insult to the intelligence of ARI’s supporters.
Several other points could be criticized, for example the attempt – like Mr. Peikoff’s – to explain away the bullying email to Arline Mann by insinuating that it had been clandestinely leaked, again saying it was “private” and “informal, unedited, and not written for publication.” If it was private it ceased being so by the voluntary action of Misters Peikoff and Brook. In any case, focusing on the issue of private versus public sidesteps the email’s content, which was as ridiculous in private as it is in public.
Harry Binswanger had encouraged McCaskey when he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation, finished four years earlier. From the Acknowledgements section of McCaskey’s dissertation: “A special thanks to Harry Binswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute. His enthusiasm for this project has been a constant source of encouragement.” Yet when it came to McCaskey’s ejection from ARI Mr. Binswanger, who is on ARI’s board of directors, apparently did not defend him; in any case he made no public statement.
And, it has to be said, both may have deserved what they got. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
There is good reason to air this unseemly squabble. The McCaskey affair is further evidence, if any was necessary, that the official Objectivists are extraordinarily inconsistent in their Objectivism. Just as they twist Ayn Rand’s philosophy to get what they want in politics, so they twist Ayn Rand’s philosophy to get what they want in their personal lives, sacrificing others to their pet projects. The irrationality in their personal lives reflects the irrationality in their Institute.
The affair went from “Leonard Peikoff vs. John McCaskey” to “ARI vs. John McCaskey” – which meant “ARI vs. anyone who can think for himself.”
(Unlike Mr. McCaskey, Mr. Harriman was fairly young when he began his association with ARI. A couple of years after the McCaskey affair Misters Peikoff and Harriman had a falling out; Mr. Harriman is now independent of ARI.)
“But,” you frequently hear in Objectivist circles, “what about all the good ARI does? Shouldn’t we support them for that?” For example here is Betsy Speicher, posting on her (now defunct) forum November 21, 2010 (emphasis removed):
“While ARI and its activities are not the only way to spread Objectivism, it is definitely a major and necessary institution. It represents a gathering of money and talent that can accomplish worthy goals on a scale that individuals and small groups cannot possibly do. Could anything less than ARI spread Objectivism as effectively as ARI’s essay contests, free books to teachers, OAC, media department, and its support of campus clubs and scholars?”Her question is loaded and rhetorical. ARI has no monopoly on money or talent, the only monopoly it has is on Ayn Rand’s copyrighted work, through Leonard Peikoff. The last three activities she mentions are a major source of pollution in the Objectivist undercurrent. ARI’s free books all come with the address of its website on the back cover, and readers of ARI Watch know what will be found there. Many of the ideas that ARI’s media department promulgates Ayn Rand would have excoriated. Its campus club newspaper The Undercurrent is no better. Scholars ARI supports have included men such as John Lewis. None of this can be described as good if you follow ARI Watch. The Ayn Rand Institute simply does not live up to its name. Ms. Speicher continues:
But not because of the McCaskey affair. The McCaskey affair is trivial compared to ARI’s other transgressions. Better that ARI came to an end because of its support for open borders, its approval of government institutionalized torture, its mindless, “unquestioning” – to use their word – support for Israel, and so forth, than because of a sloppy internecine personality clash.
... How can you do this? How can you shrink your mind down to this level?
Every man should have a hobby, LOL.
|Position at Anthem||Position at ARI|
|Debi Ghate||Senior Director||Vice President of Academic Programs|
|Stewart Margolis||Programs Officer||Academic Programs Officer|
|Jeff Scialabba||Programs Officer||Academic Programs Officer|
|Yaron Brook||Board Member||Board Member, chairman|
|Edwin Locke||Board Member||Board Member|