Leonard Peikoff

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Leonard Peikoff circa 1970

Leonard Peikoff (born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1933) is an Objectivist philosopher. He was a friend of Ayn Rand since 1951 and became heir to her estate after she died in 1982. In 1985 he founded the Ayn Rand Institute. Before her death, Rand said that Peikoff knows and understands her philosophy better than anyone else.

Born in Canada, Peikoff later became a naturalized United States citizen. He received his PhD. in philosophy from New York University; his advisor was the famous American Marxist and Pragmatist philosopher, Sidney Hook. His dissertation dealt with the law of non-contradiction in Classical philosophy. He taught philosophy for around ten years at CUNY's Hunter College.

Peikoff was a member of the Collective (a group of Rand's closest associates) during the 50's and 60's. The Collective dynamic changed massively once Nathaniel Branden was expelled from the Objectivist movement in 1968, as Branden had originally been considered Rand's closest intellectual partner and heir. Once Branden, and then others, left the group, Peikoff's influence grew enormously, to the point where he eventually assumed the status as Rand's most trusted philosophical confidant.

Peikoff's article, "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," appeared as a postscript to Rand's 1968 book, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Peikoff's first book, The Ominous Parallels, was simultaneously an Objectivist explanation of the rise of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, and a warning that America was being led down the road to fascism. Since the publication of this book in 1982, Peikoff has given many lectures on philosophy, politics, and culture, the most important of which is probably 1985's "Understanding Objectivism," which is now available as a 30-CD set. He also revised his 1976 lecture course on Objectivism into book form, producing his magnum opus, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which was published in 1991.

In a New York Times advertisement on September 20, 2001, Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Institute advocated attacking Iran "regardless of the suffering and death this will bring to countless innocents caught in the line of fire" including the use of nuclear weapons.

As of 2004, Peikoff is writing a book called The DIM Hypothesis, where he explains the three alternatives of decision-making and solves the problem of induction.

The Peikoff/Kelley split

Inside the Objectivist community considerable dissension and criticism of certain institutions and varying interpretation of Objectivism took root after the death of Ayn Rand. Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's executor and self-proclaimed intellectual heir, promotes Objectivism as a "closed system" that consists solely of what Rand herself wrote and said, and considers any essential disagreement with what Rand said as a betrayal of Objectivism. The Ayn Rand Institute is aligned with Peikoff's view of Objectivism.

The other school of thought was started by David Kelley, an academic formerly associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, with his essay "A Question of Sanction", arguing for greater open-mindedness in working with other groups. This was in opposition to the supposed (disputed by proponents of Peikoff's position) prevailing view--that those who are not Objectivist are deliberately committing evasion, and that to work with them is to sanction their evasion. Kelley also holds that Objectivism is an "open system" that can evolve beyond Rand's own writings and beliefs, and can even correct her mistakes.

Peikoff informed Kelley that he was no longer welcome at the Ayn Rand Institute and that he had violated some of the formal tenets of Objectivism. His main rationale for this was outlined in a long article called "Fact and Value." Major Objectivist thinkers like Peter Schwartz and Harry Binswanger backed Peikoff in this schism.

Critics responded that Peikoff was continuing the unfortunate Randian tradition of "excommunicating" and "purging" free thinkers and dissidents. Ultimately, Kelley responded by founding the Institute for Objectivist Studies in 1989, which was later renamed The Objectivist Center. Kelley worked with the libertarian movement in the United States and other associated groups that Peikoff refused to work with. Nathaniel Branden, Ayn Rand's former associate, who had been "kicked out" of Objectivism by Rand herself for personal reasons, later joined with David Kelley and The Objectivist Center.

Peikoff and the ARI hold that Kelley is not an Objectivist. They cite, for example, Ayn Rand's opposition to libertarianism in the 1960s as a reason to condemn Kelley's work with libertarians, and his explicit identification of Objectivism as libertarian. Further, Libertarianism as an umbrella political philosophy encompasses mutually exclusive views: from atheism to Christianity, from limited government to anarchism. Thus, it is seen by Peikoff that Kelley's position amounted to an alignment with groups that are incompatible with Objectivism's fundamental tenets. Kelley and TOC counter by saying Peikoff and the ARI are taking Rand's opposition out of context. Nathaniel Branden recalls speaking with Rand about the lack of a clear-cut term for Objectivist political philosophy, saying that Rand's preferred term, "capitalism", only covered the economic aspects of Objectivist politics. Branden recalls proposing the term "libertarianism" to Rand's displeasure--according to Rand, "libertarian" sounded like a made-up word. Later on, when the libertarian movement grew and many prominent libertarians such as Murray Rothbard spoke out in favor of anarcho-capitalism, Rand felt vindicated in her position. [1] (http://www.nathanielbranden.net/ess/ess04.html)

As Rand's executor, Peikoff handles the copyrights to all of Rand's works (with the exception of Anthem, which has passed into the public domain). He can thus control the translation of Rand's works into other languages. He has the power of editing and releasing Rand's unpublished works, and has written forewords for all the current printings of her fiction. Kelley, on the other hand, due to his willingness to work with groups that aren't explicitly Objectivist, had gained a wider base of popular support.


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