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Objectivists don't approve of libertarians. Why would an objectivist become a CEO of a Libertarian think tank?

Objectivists are against participating in Libertarian forums. Did I misunderstand something? If dealing with Libertarians is ok, why is Ayn Rand Institute making a stand against those venues which invites speakers such as David Kelley, who don't agree with Objectivism?

asked Oct 11 '13 at 13:39

Bop's gravatar image


edited Oct 11 '13 at 14:14

I could not quite understand what this question is asking. Here is a sentence-by-sentence analysis.

Objectivists don't approve of libertarians.


Why would an objectivist become a CEO of a Libertarian think tank?

Which Objectivist? Which think tank? I normally don't pay much attention to Libertarians or their think tanks, so if this statement refers to some specific person and think tank, the question will need to name them.

Objectivists are against participating in Libertarian forums.


Did I misunderstand something?

Not so far. The confusion comes later.

If dealing with Libertarians is ok...

Who says it's ok? Everything up to this point very clearly says that it's not ok.

... why is Ayn Rand Institute making a stand against those venues which invites [sic] speakers such as David Kelley, who don't agree with Objectivism?

The reasons for the Objectivist scorn of David Kelley have been well stated by Leonard Peikoff in his article, "Fact and Value," which is available on the Ayn Rand Institute website. The reasons for Objectivist criticism of Libertarians in general are also well stated in articles that have been published in the literature of Objectivism and are also available on the Ayn Rand Institute website. Isn't it perfectly logical, then, that the Institute makes a stand against venues which invite Libertarian speakers and/or David Kelley?

In my mind, I have come to associate David Kelley more with Libertarians than with Objectivism, but just in case the question is suggesting that David Kelley himself is "the Objectivist who has become CEO of Libertarian think tank," I can only say that the question itself seems to acknowledge that David Kelley doesn't agree with Objectivism, i.e., he is not an Objectivist (certainly not consistently). His views are discussed and dissected in the "Fact and Value" article.

Update: CATO Institute

Apparently the question is in reference to the CATO Institute, of which John Allison is now the CEO and President (link).

It also appears that there is significant positive synergy between the CATO Institute and the Ayn Rand Institute (link).

As far as I know, the Ayn Rand Institute would have every reason to welcome such positive synergy, in which at least this particular organization shows genuine receptiveness to Objectivist philosophical ideas. Advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism from an Objectivist philosophical perspective (or at least receptiveness thereto) should be a very positive development for the progress of both, as far as I know. A rational evaluation of Mr. Allison's involvement with the CATO Institute will undoubtedly depend on what level of actual pro-Objectivist (pro-reason) influence he is able to exert in his position as CEO, and on how the CATO Institute responds to it. I suspect (and hope) that Mr. Allison himself will be the first to quit if his CEO role requires him to renounce Objectivism and become a fully anti-philosophical Libertarian. If his role at the CATO Institute came about at their initiative and invitation, so much the better.

Update: CEO Accountability, Authority, and Potential Influence

New comments by the questioner describe the role of a company CEO as being "the top of hierarchy...." But who chooses the CEO? To whom, if anyone, is a CEO accountable? In most modern corporations, both for-profit and non-profit, there is usually a board of directors that has the power to hire or fire the CEO. And the board of directors, in turn, tends to be accountable to the investors or owners of the company, whether the company is owned by a small number of large investors or a large number of small ones. So a CEO does not necessarily have the liberty to impose his will on the company without regard for the CEO's own accountability to the board, and the board's accountability to the investors. If the CEO of an intellectual "think tank" organization, in particular, wants to "reign in" or get rid of a key intellectual in the organization, he may quickly run afoul of his own superiors if he acts too hastily or undiplomatically or without rational cause.

Yet it's still true that a CEO would have tremendous potential influence on the organization (hence, the reason for his superiors to choose him in the first place and to retain him for as long as he and they are willing). A CEO with strong ties to Objectivism offers tremendous potential for Objectivists to begin to influence the more conscientious and receptive libertarian thinkers, to help them become more aware of the wider philosophical context of the political-economic trends and principles that they have studied most intensively, and to become better able to oppose the huge influence of mysticism, altruism, and collectivism historically and today with ideas that go far beyond merely "believing in liberty." I do not know how well Mr. Allison may or may not be fulfilling that potential.

The questioner's latest comments also link to a downloadable 143-page PDF eBook titled, Why Liberty?, edited by Tom Palmer, who is described in the book (p. 121) as "a senior fellow of the Cato Institute", although the book itself appears to be primarily a publication of The Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington D.C. and Jameson Books, Inc. From what I've read of this book so far (especially Chapter 4 by Tom Palmer and Chapter 6 by Alexander McCobin), I have found the book to be well worth comparing to Objectivist writings on "Libertarians" (as in The Ayn Rand Lexicon), to understand more clearly how the Objectivist objections to Libertarians relate to actual Libertarian writings. I can't comment further on Dr. Binswanger's specific analysis of Palmer's "Spontaneous Order" discussion, since I'm not an HBL subscriber and haven't seen Dr. Binswanger's analysis. But I noticed another formulation by Dr. Binswanger in the Lexicon's "Libertarians" topic:

In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the "libertarians" are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivism and chaos of anarchy. To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism....

The Why Liberty book certainly does seem to omit explicit recognition of reason as man's basic means of survival and how that implies man's need for freedom. Palmer's basic view, without mentioning reason or rationality, seems to be that people naturally strive to live rationally automatically if given the opportunity:

The essays [in this book] ... offer an introduction to the philosophy by which most human beings live their lives on a day-to-day basis. That philosophy goes by various names around the world, including liberalism, classical liberalism (to distinguish it from what is called "liberalism" in the United States), and libertarianism. It's an approach that is at once simple and complicated, because it incorporates the insight that simple rules can generate complex orders. ... Order can emerge spontaneously [from simple rules]....

(From pp. 1-2.) Chapter 1 (by Tom Palmer) then delves right into "a straightforward explanation of what libertarianism is about and why people should embrace liberty as a principle of social order." (p. 3) The next paragraph states: "As you go through life, chances are almost 100 percent that you act like a libertarian." This is followed by illustrative concretization. Just as Tom Palmer says, the rest of the book builds on this basic perspective.

The Objectivist view, in contrast, is that adherence to reason is anything but automatic.

But what is this book's connection to the Cato Institute and its CEO? The answer is none, as far as I can determine, except for a brief supportive quote by David Boaz (Cato's Executive VP) prominently displayed on the front cover, and the fact that Tom Palmer himself is affiliated with Cato. How, then, is Cato's CEO to be held morally responsible for allowing this book to be published? Or is it the retention of Tom Palmer as a Cato fellow that Cato's CEO allegedly should oppose?

I still maintain that the opportunity that Mr. Allison has to influence the Cato Institute in a positive way (by Objectivist standards) is too enormous to give up too casually or hastily. He may well be able to achieve far greater good by staying there and fighting for reason than by abandoning Cato to others. The key will be whether or not he is actually doing that, and how effectively.

answered Oct 12 '13 at 20:36

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Mar 31 '15 at 01:55

I am referring to John Allison, who is now CEO of Cato Institute.

(Oct 13 '13 at 12:32) Bop Bop's gravatar image

The CEO position is unique in a company, because in the top of hierarchy -- what companies employees do is approved by CEO. So what happens when a Cato writer Tom Palmer writes that morality of individual rights is not enough to justify capitalism? Shouldn't this be approved by the CEO? What is the role of CEO in an organization where all the people under the CEO are not doing their job -- of promoting capitalism properly?

http://studentsforliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Why-Liberty-Final-Typeset-with-Cover.pdf Page 34, middle of page.

(Mar 29 '15 at 20:20) Bop Bop's gravatar image

Note: Harry Binswanger made full analysis of referenced Tom Palmer writing on HBL article March 23, 2015 titled “Spontaneous order” vs. Objectivism.

(Mar 29 '15 at 20:22) Bop Bop's gravatar image

I think that everything that Tom Palmer writes he writes as a Cato employee, not as a hobby blogging after work. In the same way, everything that a professor in university publishes is approved by the university where he works. No?

(Mar 31 '15 at 12:40) Bop Bop's gravatar image

Btw, HBL (hbletter.com) has a 2 week free trial. I really like Dr. Binswanger's articles and I have been a member for two years. His this weeks article on analytic-synthetic dichotomy really cleared things up for me.

(Mar 31 '15 at 12:44) Bop Bop's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 11 '13 at 13:39

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Last updated: Mar 31 '15 at 12:44