<< ARI vs. George Reisman

Letter from Genevieve Sanford to Friends and Acquaintances

Genevieve Sanford

September 7, 1996

To our friends and acquaintances:

My husband, Rick Sanford, and I have been Objectivists all of our adult lives. We were ardent supporters of and a "major donor" (quoting Mike Berliner) to the Ayn Rand Institute. No one more than I revered Leonard Peikoff, my teacher and friend for 28 years and the person who vastly enriched my life by introducing me to Objectivism. Yet Leonard apparently will have nothing more to do with us, Mike Berliner refuses to give or to sell Ayn Rand's pamphlets to SOS, Bob Stubblefield refuses to publish or to pay Rick for an invited article for The Intellectual Activist, and former friends avoid us. We have been shunned from Objectivist circles. Dr. Peikoff has accused us of being agnostics because we endorse the onus of proof principle regarding his unspecified charges of immorality against the Reismans. Below I offer an account of the conduct of Dr. Peikoff and ARI toward us and the conclusions we draw from it.

For a year after the ARI-Reisman issue controversy, I could not believe that Leonard could do what he seemed to have done to morally condemn people without giving a convincing reason. I blamed the others at ARI for the break, because the teacher I idolized could do no wrong. When I read Peter's and Harry's letters smearing the Reismans, I couldn't believe that Leonard took them seriously, so much so that he offered them to the Reismans as the account of the charges against them, because those emotionally-charged notes hardly exemplify the objective decision-making one would expect from the directors of a distinguished organization, especially one that champions rationality. Because Rick and I now have witnessed Leonard's behavior first-hand, I finally believe the unbelievable (which I'll state below).

On July 3, 1995, Leonard wrote me a short and cordial note saying that he had heard Rick was denouncing ARI out of loyalty to the Reismans. In view of our long friendship, he wanted to know if that were true. (Mind you, he offered no reasons for his moral denunciation of the Reismans, but just wanted to know where we stood regarding it.) On July 30, Rick and I wrote him letters in response (enclosed). We basically said that we disagreed with and disapproved of what he did, we did not understand why he did it, and we hoped the parties would resolve their differences, but we were keeping our opinions to ourselves and not attacking ARI. Our letters were very respectful, and mine also friendly, because neither Rick nor I yet had spoken to him directly about the Reisman matter. We were leaving open the possibility that he might have compelling reasons for his denunciation that he would explain.

Well, he doesn't. He wrote back to us on September 17, 1995: "I was upset and even angry upon receiving your letters not because of the concrete issue of the fight between the Reismans and the Institute, but because of your use of Objectivist ideas to defend a policy of agnosticism in regard to that fight." (Why are we agnostics? I'll address this point later.) He told us: "Since it is not possible for me to give you a lecture on the philosophical issues involved personally, I did the next best thing. I delivered some 30 minutes of relevant material as part of a lecture on morality to an audience in San Francisco last month. These 30 minutes were specifically devoted to a refutation of your letters, although of course I kept the discussion completely abstract, mentioning no names of any kind." [Italics mine.] Leonard sent us the tape to listen to. Although I had posed various questions to him in my letter of July 30, in effect asking "Why did you do this thing to the Reismans?" and I had said, "If there are persuasive reasons unknown to me that would justify ARI's position, I hope you will apprise me of them so that I may re-evaluate the matter," Leonard's letter of Sept. 17 made clear that I was to receive no answer until Rick and I could first fulfill certain philosophical and epistemological conditions: "Before we talk or write any further about this issue, I would like you to hear the 30 minutes, which are enclosed. If you agree with me on purely philosophical issues, then we can speak by phone and hopefully straighten out the concrete matter." (Agree with him regarding the matter of our agnosticism?) Leonard ended by warning: "If, however, we have differences in epistemology, as such, then it will be pointless and useless for us to discuss other matters. The ball is now in your court and I await your considered reply."

The 30 minutes of tape Leonard sent us, which he said "were specifically devoted to a refutation of your letters," consisted of evasions and sophistry. It was part of his lecture at an Objectivist conference in San Francisco in the summer of '95, available in its entirety from Second Renaissance Books: we have the 30-minute excerpt that "refutes" our letters. If you hear the tape, you can form your own conclusions about whether or not, in the hypothetical case he posited of 2 friends having a big fight, Leonard accurately represented the actual issue of his fight with the Reismans. He posits in his hypothetical example that both friends accuse each other of immorality. (The actual case was one of an accuser, Leonard, and an accused. the Reismans, not of two sides simultaneously denouncing each other.) Leonard continues the example by putting a hypothetical third party, a friend of both of the friends who had a big fight (no doubt supposed to be Rick and I), in the position in which the evidence is freely presented to the third party by both sides. (I could not believe he said this. What evidence was presented by him? Only the Reismans set forth the charges and answered them. Leonard offered nothing.) According to Leonard, the evidence of each side contradicts the other, so there is no way to know by the facts which side is right or wrong. Leonard asserts that the innocent third party in this situation, in which he claims the evidence is inconclusive, is morally required to take a stand (Why?) and must decide on the basis of who is the better person. (With Leonard's great prestige, who might he expect to win that title?) Choose "the one that has the clearest epistemology," Leonard advises. If this doesn't amount to saying, "Trust me because I'm Leonard Peikoff," I don't know what does. Leonard does not appear to be morally required to present an explanation when denouncing someone, but an innocent third party is morally required to take a side his side (after all, in our letters to Leonard of July 30, which are enclosed, we did take a side) or be accused of agnosticism and, thus, of immorality.

It is simply not true that the Reismans simultaneously accused the other side of immorality and that ARI freely presented its evidence. As an act of self defense, George Reisman made a public statement accusing ARI of injustice months after he was morally condemned. The only known written account of ARI's charges, which is in Peter's and Harry's letters, ARI tried vigorously to suppress. Leonard has twisted the story around so that he appears no longer the accuser and the onus of proof appears no longer on him to defend his attacks.

He states on his tape that an assertion cannot be dismissed as arbitrary if it is made by your valued friend. A cornerstone of Objectivism is that the soundness or arbitrariness of a statement is judged by its relationship to reality, not to the person who utters it. Because Leonard was our valued friend, for a long time we expected him to have valid reasons, but after a year had passed without his giving any, his denunciation of the Reismans was indeed arbitrary, as we told him, regardless of the fact that it was he who uttered it. (When Miss Rand broke with Branden, she wrote a compelling, 8-page explanation to her readers; she didn't just say: Well you can't know the facts, so decide on the basis of who is the better person. The arbitrary isn't arbitrary if I utter it.) What conclusion can be drawn from Leonard's appeal to trust the "better person" in lieu of presenting arguments for his side except that he acted arbitrarily against the Reismans and cannot now justify his stand? (In her Letters, Ayn Rand says "I would not want anyone to trust me blindly, in the sense of accepting my good intentions as a guarantee of anything, because human judgment is not automatic and infallible.... A man's past performance is only an indication of the likelihood that his future performance will have the same quality; an indication, but not a guarantee" [p.454]. In Leonard's case, because his present conduct jarringly contradicts his past performance in philosophical issues of always giving a powerful proof of his position, we have more cause to be wary than trusting.)

In Leonard's letter to us of Sept. 17, he considers the Reisman issue as just a mere concrete matter, while the real problem is the epistemology of Rick and me. Since his action directly led to: the dishonor of 2 life-long Objectivists, the destruction of the first school that advanced Objectivism, a world-wide split between Objectivists as well as old friends, the withdrawal of support for ARI among contributors like Rick and me and many others, and the erosion of respect for him among his former ardent admirers all over the world I can't imagine how Leonard could tell us that he's upset "not because of the concrete issue of the fight between the Reismans and the Institute," but because of Rick's and my alleged agnosticism. Is he not attacking others instead of facing up to the full and tragic implications of his own behavior? We responded with a brief statement of 11/10/95 to Leonard (enclosed), saying, in effect, that our epistemology was not in question and did not require defending. We called upon him again to give the reasons for his moral denunciation of the Reismans. To date we have not heard from him, and it seems he will have nothing further to do with us.

Regarding Leonard's accusation that Rick and I are "agnostics," what could he mean, since our letters of 7/30/95 both said clearly that we took a side, i.e.. the Reismans'? Here's what he means: In our letters, Rick and I told Leonard that the onus of proof is on him to prove the Reismans are immoral and that they are innocent until proven guilty. Leonard made a moral denunciation that contradicts our substantial firsthand knowledge of the Reismans' conduct, as well as his own sanction of them for decades. He is the one making the assertion that they committed immoral acts, so the burden of proof is on him to prove it. In his tape, he explicitly denigrates the "third party" that is calling upon the onus of proof principle, saying this party heard these terms somewhere in Objectivism and is flinging them around to cover up his own agnosticism. The meaning of this confused me until I put it together with something he said to Linda Reardan. He criticized her for wanting facts in the Reisman issue, saying that she reminded him of those people who said that they didn't believe Russia was communist because they'd never been there. Leonard is grouping together people who would say, "I don't know that Russia is communist" with people who say "I don't know that the Reismans are immoral." In the first case, there is incontrovertible, massive, publicly-available evidence to form a certain conclusion about Russia's communism, and anyone who doesn't form it is agnostic or worse. In the case of the Reismans, the massive, first-hand, publicly-available evidence through the years points to their being moral. Leonard's accusation contradicts the mass of evidence, so the calling for facts in this context is perfectly proper. On the tape, Leonard likened Rick's and my position of having insufficient evidence for convicting the Reismans to the O.J. Simpson jury who, despite the damning evidence, were encouraged by the defense to take the position that they can't possibly know for sure. The answer to Leonard is that Rick and I are not like the Simpson jury because we have heard no damning evidence of the Reismans' guilt. He knows this because he, the prosecution, has offered no arguments to us. He has attacked us for failing to convict while not presenting his case.

According to the Leonard Peikoff of 20 years ago (quoted in the Lexicon, pp. 3-4), "...the agnostic allows the arbitrary into the realm of human cognition. He treats arbitrary claims as ideas proper to consider, discuss, evaluate ..." By implying that his own unsubstantiated assertion against the Reismans should be considered on a par with the prosecution's well-documented case against Simpson and the well-known fact of Russia's communism, it is Leonard Peikoff, himself, who is treating the arbitrary as "proper to consider" and thus is acting like the agnostic. It is Rick's and my calling for facts to support his assertion and, thus, to give it cognitive import, that Leonard now is denouncing as agnosticism. The champion of reason, Dr. Peikoff, has given no reasons. Incredibly, he has displayed a contempt for facts and has attacked us for requiring them.

I wrote to Mike Berliner, asking him for his reasons for morally denouncing the Reismans. He wrote a brief letter to Rick and me on 10/20/95, which he labeled "for your eyes only." It did not contain one persuasive reason. (See Rick's letter for a discussion of Mike's response.)

So Leonard has placed us in the following position: He, Leonard Peikoff, gives no reasons; Mike's are unconvincing and, also, a secret; and, if you're still looking for evidence, their side claims it violates the property rights of the accusers for the accused to release the only written account of the charges against them (Harry's and Peter's letters). But we, the innocent, are required to take a stand, because we're immoral if we don't, but we're agnostic if we want proof; however the facts contradict each other anyway so we must pick a side, "the one that has the clearest epistemology." Is this mental labyrinth the work of a clear epistemology? After two years of wandering through this mind-maze, we cannot find any case against the Reismans. What appears instead is a damaging one against the accusers, regrettably, in the court of epistemology.

In short, Leonard asked us where we stood on the controversy. When we politely and privately said we disagreed with him, instead of giving us reasons to support his side, he attacked our epistemology. When we would not cave in, the following things happened to us: Stubblefield broke a contract, refusing to publish or pay Rick for his article, Mike refused to give or sell Ayn Rand's pamphlets to SOS, a Distinguished Supporter of ARI told us, our "letter to Leonard" is being described as "rude and demanding," and Leonard apparently will have nothing more to do with us. We are profoundly disturbed by the fact that Leonard Peikoff and ARI's leaders have made the blanket endorsement of their personal conduct a pre-condition of one's acceptance into Objectivist circles. This means that a drone's blind approval is welcomed over a thinking person's honest disapproval of them, not of Miss Rand or her ideas. Approval of ARI's leaders has taken primacy over their avowed mission to spread Objectivism.

Rick said as much in his letter to Mike Berliner of 3/2/96, written in response to Mike's refusal to provide Ayn Rand's pamphlets to SOS because Rick would not disavow the Reismans. Rick cited the heroes of Atlas Shrugged, who wanted Dagny to join them in the valley, but advised her as follows: "Consider the reasons which make us certain that we are right, but not the fact that we are certain. If you are not convinced, ignore our certainty. Don't be tempted to substitute our judgment for your own." What was Mike's response to Rick, who is a life-long Objectivist, a scientist, a lecturer, a "major donor" and, one would think, an asset to Objectivism? "I asked a question that I thought required a simple answer: based on various indications, was I correct in concluding you shared the Reisman's view of ARI? Instead, I received a diatribe and a lecture on Objectivism, but no real answer to my question." ARI is warning Rick: Don't lecture us on whether or not you're intellectually convinced; just give us a simple answer to a simple question whose side are you on?

Rick and I almost certainly will be branded as enemies of Objectivism. However, a thinking person knows that criticism of a president does not imply criticism of the Constitution or George Washington, but may indicate just the opposite. While, on moral principle, we could no longer associate with Leonard, Mike, Harry, Peter, Bob or Gary, we certainly would like to deal with other Objectivists and their organizations. Undoubtedly others will be banished from the favored circle if they try to deal with us, just as we and others like us were ousted for dealing with the Reismans. Instead of battling a hostile world to advance Objectivism, ARI has turned its fire on Ayn Rand's own family, driving out of her house precious people whose ranks are far too thin already who love her and passionately want to champion her ideas. Why? So ARI's leaders can indulge in arbitrary actions without having any troublemakers around to needle them for facts, reasons and proof. What lesser reason can explain the grotesque and catastrophic purge that has shocked Ojectivists around the world? ARI urgently needs new leadership because purges of the good cannot be tolerated in Objectivism.

ARI's leaders first act in an unjust and arbitrary manner, which rightly provokes criticism, then they ostracize those who do not approve. By pressuring us to accept a position that is untenable (their side against the Reismans). Leonard and ARI were attempting to force us to put blind trust in them over reliance on our own minds, the chilling opposite of Objectivism. We are witnessing a tragic shift by Objectivist leaders in which faith in them (choose the better person) is pre-empting reason, and intimidation (take our side or be shunned) is replacing rational persuasion, i.e., a shift away from rationality.

A most regrettable result of this controversy is that some Objectivists, out of fear of being labeled heretics and ostracized, will refrain from reading George Reisman's new work, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, which is an unprecedented historic achievement. This is the first comprehensive opus in the field of economics that explicitly unites Capitalism with Objectivism. It was written by a man whose interest in his field goes back to a time when most of us were playing with toys: "I can trace my admiration for the United States' Constitution back to about the age of five." (All quotes in this paragraph will appear in the Preface.) It was written by a man who began the serious intellectual study of his profession at an age when many of us had no clue of our future career: "...by the age of thirteen, I gave up my ambition to become a Constitutional lawyer and began the study of economics." It was written by a man who viewed his profession as a moral crusade: "I undertook the study of economics for the explicit purpose of finding economic arguments in defense of individual rights, i.e., property rights." It was written by a man who loves his work: "This book is the product of a labor of love extending over many years."

A prominent Objectivist lecturer and Distinguished Supporter of ARI recently charged that George Reisman "evaded philosophy" in his writings and wasn't really an Objectivist at all. (We have no knowledge that any ARI Director or that Leonard has said this, although the antagonism of some of them toward George's work is obvious.) George includes no less than 21 footnotes to Ayn Rand and also refers to her many times in the text of just the first three chapters of his Treatise. When you read the following, keep in mind that George is an economist, not a philosopher, and ask yourself if he has not, in fact, exceeded expectations in tying fundamental ideas to his field.

Here is an example of how George "evades" philosophy:

"Economic activity and the development of economic institutions do not take place in a vacuum. They are profoundly influenced by the fundamental convictions people hold. Specifically, the development of capitalist institutions ... presuppose the acceptance of a this-worldly, proreason philosophy" (p.19). (This and all subsequent quotes are also in the Pre-publication Edition. All italics are George's).

Here is how George "evades" morality:

"[the teachings of economics] also contradict some of the most deeply cherished moral and ethical doctrines, above all, the doctrine that the pursuit of self-interest by the individual is harmful to the interests of others and thus that it is the individual's obligation to practice altruism and self-sacrifice." "It is almost certain that economics and capitalism will be unable to gain sufficient cultural acceptance to ensure the influence of the one and the survival of the other until there is a radical change in people's ideas concerning morality and ethics ..." (p.33).

And here is how George "evades" epistemology:

"Man's need for wealth is limitless because he possesses the faculty of reason" (p. 43).

Here is how George "evades" philosophy again:

"As I will show ... the philosophical significance of environmentalism is more profound than its economic significance ... the real problem of the industrialized world is not 'environmental pollution' but philosophical corruption and moral depravity" (p.99).

But George's Treatise a landmark testimony to reason, freedom and individual rights, and the first and only systematic and complete opus in a field other than philosophy to integrate Objectivism into that field will apparently be ignored by the institution that is funded to spread Objectivism. Why? Because George called Peter Schwartz's writing course "remedial"? What motives could explain why ARI leaders have worked to suppress George's writings in Objectivist publications and to destroy his school? Are they concerned with advancing a noble philosophy or with using a contributor-funded organization to engage in a petty and spiteful vendetta? I encourage any serious Objectivist to get George's book and to donate a copy, if he can afford to, to his local university library, as I have done.

I'm relieved that this painful task is behind me now. I am and always will be indebted to Leonard Peikoff because his teachings set the whole of the world in sharp focus before me and lifted the realm of my existence to a grand and glorious height. I most profoundly wish I did not have cause to speak against him.

Yours truly,
Genevieve Sanford