login about faq


There is a pretty infamous interview Dr. Leonard Peikoff had with Bill O'Reilly. I've cited it above for convenience, in case a person wants to access the interview that gives rise to this question/concern.

Many people seem to feel that Dr. Peikoff comes off as raving and crazy. The more salient point, is that it looks like Dr. Peikoff has contradicted the ethical principles of Objectivism, and that he has engaged in hypocrisy.

This is because in the interview, he says and I quote: "I'm absolutely not concerned with innocent people in the enemy territory. If they get killed that is the responsibility of their government for initiating aggression against us".

Besides being barbaric and cruel, his statement contradicts the ethical tenets of Objectivism, since Objectivism espouses individual rights and freedom. To kill innocent people over the actions of their government that they had nothing to do with(hence why they are innocent), contradicts the Objectivist position on the right to life, contradicts the nonaggression principle, and contradicts the Objectivist virtue of Justice.

What Dr. Peikoff advocates in the interview is as wrong, barbaric and unjust as a man beating another man's wife, and then runs to his house filled with 9 other people. And the husband decides to beat up the man who beat his wife, and everybody else in the house simply because they are in the house with him, despite them having nothing to do with that man's assault on his wife.

Do you agree that Dr. Peikoff has contradicted Objectivist ethical principles and that his statement and sentiments are morally wrong and hypocritical, or do you have an explanation for what he said, that explains all this away, and his behavior and statements can be explained such that it is consistent with the ethical tenets of Objectivism?

asked Jul 22 '14 at 16:09

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image


edited Jul 23 '14 at 01:09

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


Those who are interested in this topic can find additional perspective in the book, Ayn Rand Answers. Look in the index under "war." In that material, Ayn Rand specifically addresses a question about "innocents in war," along with several other closely related questions.

Another illuminating point of reference historically is the war-initiating actions of Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, and the decisive action that the U.S. finally took against Japan to bring Japan's warmaking capacity and determination to an abrupt end. It was an intentional targeting of civilian cities in an enemy nation upon whom the U.S. had declared war, in retaliation for Japan's war on Western nations and its 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. In my understanding, Dr. Peikoff maintains that Iran today is essentially in the same position with respect to war on the West as the Axis nations were in World War II, including a long history of aggressions by Iran against the West, although Iran doesn't yet have as big an army as the World War II Axis powers had.

Dr. Peikoff's interview was in June 2008, regarding what to do about terrorism. Dr. Peikoff emphasized, as he has done often in the past, that we should be focusing on Iran as the most important target for retaliatory physical force at present. The first time I remember hearing Dr. Peikoff's views on Iran was within the next day or two after the 9/11/2001 attacks. Many people today may be shocked at the idea of comparing Iran to the World War II Axis powers, and no one in Washington seems to be seriously considering declaring war on Iran; yet the facts are:

  • The U.S. Government has long classified Iran as the chief state sponsor of terrorism in the world today;

  • Iran has a long history of attacks on Western interests, dating back many decades, for which the West has never given an adequate retaliatory response;

  • A military attack on Iran would very likely send a strong signal to the rest of the Arab world not to engage in aggressions against the West, although such retaliation would need to be a very decisive form of attack (ideally preceded by a declaration of war) to avoid merely enraging the Arab world while leaving their warmaking capacity and resolve mostly untouched.

It is not Dr. Peikoff who is "wrong, barbaric and unjust"; it is the militant Islamic terrorists, sponsored and incited by Iran (and financially supported by Saudi Arabia). If Dr. Peikoff's remarks can at least stimulate some serious public discussion of what to do about Iran, his efforts will have been worthwhile.

Many observers today may favor some kind of limited, "surgical" intervention, but my understanding is that Dr. Peikoff considers the situation far too late for that any longer, particularly given the West's completely inadequate response so far to the 9/11/2001 attacks. Meanwhile, we merely "hunker down" defensively, with intrusive TSA inspections at airports and other public transportation systems, and other, similar measures (albeit with an ultimately successful strike against the top terrorist leader). I was particularly stunned to see the extent of such inspections for the simple ferry boat ride from Manhattan to Ellis Island when I encountered it on a visit to New York City. We also have massive, pervasive electronic spying on Americans by the NSA, purportedly on authority of the PATRIOT Act enacted by Congress. Experts on terrorism have pointed out that the next major terrorist attack on the U.S. isn't a question of if, but of when. What should a nation of freedom and individual rights (insofar as it still exists today) be prepared to do about nations that sponsor such terrorism?

Update: Initiation vs. Retaliation

A comment states:

One might claim the intentional targeting of innocent civilians is an initiation of force, which is evil.

The Objectivist view (as I understand it) is that the targeting of civilians, either accidentally or strategically, is an often inseparable aspect of retaliation against outlaw nations for their prior initiations of physical force against other countries and their citizens. Ayn Rand mentions this point in Ayn Rand Answers, in response to the following questions:

  • "What do you think about the killing of innocent people in war?" (p. 94)

  • "Assume the Soviet Union started a war of aggression; assume also that within the Soviet Union there are individuals opposed to communism. How do you handle this conflict?" (pp. 94-95)

  • "Can you defend one country attacking another?" (p. 95) Ayn Rand observes: "Individual citizens in a country that goes to war are responsible for that war." Her complete answer provides elaboration.

  • "If an individual who values his life is living in a dictatorship, what should he do?" (p. 96)

  • See also, "If an individual thug is stronger than other men, or a national government is stronger than other people, wouldn't reason make them resort to violence?" (pp. 115-117)

On the topic of outlaw nations, refer to The Ayn Rand Lexicon, topics of "National Rights," "Self-Determination of Nations," "War," and "Foreign Policy."

Update: Civilians in Outlaw Nations

The comments have been inquiring further about "innocents in war," and Greg's comments lucidly explain the principle involved as regards "human shields." But I don't think the two civilian cities in Japan bombed by the U.S. in World War II were being used as "human shields." They were targeted for nuclear bombing by the U.S. to impress upon the government of Japan that the U.S. has the overwhelming technological capability to destroy Japan completely, and to demand Japan's immediate and unconditional surrender. The result was about as swift a surrender, with as little loss of additional lives on either side, as could have been achieved any other way. When an outlaw nation has initiated war against other nations and their peoples, the citizens of the outlaw nation, as an integral part of that nation, are subject to whatever counter-force it takes decisively to end their nation's aggression and its will to fight. Strategically, the goal isn't to target civilians per se, but to end the outlaw nation's aggression and its underlying causes. It is seldom possible to do this entirely by trying to hit military targets "surgically" and exclusively, and the role of civilian populations in making wars between nations possible cannot be underestimated. Governments depend on their civilian populations for support.

This doesn't mean that Objectivism endorses all wars in which the U.S. is or has been involved. Far from it. Ayn Rand strongly criticized and opposed the war in Vietnam, for example, from the perspective of a rational view of foreign policy and war. Dr. Peikoff tried to express opposition to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the same grounds (lack of American national self-interests), before he was interrupted by the interviewer in the video cited in the question. For additional overview of Objectivism's perspective on foreign policy and war, refer to those topics in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

answered Jul 23 '14 at 23:57

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Jul 31 '14 at 21:40

While this answer is a perfectly legitimate discussion of modern day politics, I don't think it directly answered the question at hand. Is Peikoff's position on the breadth of war consistent with Ayn Rand's philosophy?

(Jul 26 '14 at 13:21) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

For those who are interested, additional perspective can be found in Ayn Rand's own answers in the book, Ayn Rand Answers, as noted in the opening paragraph of my answer. I do not see any conflict between Dr. Peikoff's philosophical perspective and Ayn Rand's own philosophical perspective. If anyone believes Ayn Rand may be contradicting her own philosophy in any manner, how so? If anyone believes the intentional U.S. targeting of civilian Japanese cities in World War II was wrong by Objectivist standards, how so?

(Jul 26 '14 at 14:15) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

One might claim the intentional targeting of innocent civilians is an initiation of force, which is evil.

(Jul 26 '14 at 23:40) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

What makes a civilian innocent and what makes a civilian guilty? Are people who are forced to work in factories (e.g., Jews under Nazi Germany) innocent? Are people who voluntarily work in factories (e.g., Japanese under Japan Empire) innocent?

(Jul 27 '14 at 18:23) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Regarding the idea that "intentional targeting of innocent civilians is an initiation of force": I often clarify when/why it is not by using the example of a human shield in a robbery. If an officer is (non-negligently) drawn into deadly fire that he cannot withdraw from, then it is self defense to shoot his attacker through the human shield, and 100% of the culpability for that innocent's death is on the robber who intentionally created the situation where the officer would have to either die himself or kill the innocent human shield in self-defense. ...

(Jul 28 '14 at 12:48) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

... Aggressor governments can do essentially the same thing with their civilian population. Obvious examples include firing rockets from densely populated areas, storing munitions under schools filled with children, etc.

(Jul 28 '14 at 12:48) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I have read Rand's answers to the questions referenced by Ideas for Life, and I am still unable to integrate this positron with the broader Objectivist philosophy. I still believe the intentional targeting of innocent life is an initiation of force on a larger scale. And frankly I'm a bit taken aback by both Rand's and Peikoff's seemingly flippant attitude towards innocent lives. Can this community help me understand?

(Jul 29 '14 at 23:17) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

@JK Gregg

You are correct to be taken aback by Peikoff's flippant attitude towards innocent lives, and Peikoff does completely contradict Objectivism on a number of counts by his statements. What he said is an initiation of force, it does contradict justice, and it does contradict those innocent civilians right to life.

And this was made very clear in my husband example. I am however, unaware of this flippant attitude towards innocent lives with regard to Rand. Where do you get this as far as she is concerned?

(Aug 01 '14 at 18:57) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image
showing 2 of 8 show all

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Jul 22 '14 at 16:09

Seen: 2,371 times

Last updated: Aug 01 '14 at 18:57