Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Lesson of the Peikoff-Kelley Split, Cont'd

Following up yesterday's posting, I want to take up the issue of David Kelley's strategy of "working with" libertarians to achieve libertarian and/or Objectivist goals. This strategy reveals a fundamental failure to grasp the Objectivist view on philosophical hierarchy, and in ways Peter Schwartz's incompetent attack on the "libertarian movement" failed to capture.

I made reference in yesterday's posting to one-time Atlas Society Executive Director Ed Hudgins' totally lame op-eds. Hudgins came over to the Atlas Society from the CATO Institute, and those two organizations have intertwined over the years. Now, here's the issue: what does Objectivism-advocacy have to gain from Objectivists hobnobbing with libertarian groups? What, exactly, has Kelley's alliance with CATO produced to help advance the spread of Objectivism? More fundamentally, what could he gain on the Objectivism-advocacy front with this strategy? What crucially important ideas do organizations like CATO offer for Objectivists? What's the goal, and what has been accomplished?

An alliance between a primarily Objectivist organization and a primarily libertarian organization offers nothing of use to the Objectivist one. I mean, isn't it obviously so? The American discourse is up to its neck in pragmatic policy analysis, which is what CATO in all its glory specializes in. This isn't to downplay the useful aspects of such policy analysis in the discourse. But we've been awash in policy analysis with libertarian or capitalist implications for decades on end. What good has it all done? The mainstream is still way suspicious of capitalism and laissez-faire and individualism. Doesn't this suggest that this isn't a question of there being enough economics education, but rather not enough philosophical education?

This begs the question: just what were Kelley & Co. doing, devoting their precious intellectual resources to aligning with libertarian organizations in their advocacy-strategy? Not only has that strategy not accomplished much of anything given the empirical record, it couldn't accomplish anything. You don't even need Kelleyite pragmatic experimentation along such lines to test this true hypothesis. Why? Because of the philosophical hierarchy. (Duh.)

I'll quote Objectivism's founder on this point:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism. (For a definition of reason, see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Reason in epistemology leads to egoism in ethics, which leads to capitalism in politics.

(For further amplification of reason in its full meaning, see Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism and other courses.)

Now, it's self-evidently obvious that had Kelley understood this point, he wouldn't be substituting a fight for reason with a fight for the same thing libertarian groups are already fighting for. Rand recognized the primacy of ethics over politics and of epistemology over ethics. In terms of epistemology - i.e., cognitive methodology - Peikoff has done a shit-ton more of value in the time since Rand's death than Kelley has. Peikoff did work of greater philosophical fundamentality with his work on induction alone. Perhaps it's no coincidence that as Kelley spent more and more time courting libertarians, on a level of lesser philosophical fundamentality, his grasp of the principles of greater fundamentality atrophied, culminating in his evasion on the Branden matter?

Well-versed students of Objectivism are well aware of how abstract principles of greater fundamentality are broader reaching in their practical effects. When Rand looked at the American political scene, she recognized that a moral revolution was needed to restore America to its founding roots, as policy analysis provides only facts, not values. And she asked, further, what preconditions were necessary to bring about the moral revolution. To do that, she looked at things the way a true philosopher is supposed to: at the greatest level of fundamentality applicable. The fundamental is reason, which is adherence to reality by means of logical integration; the pursuit of happiness and the freedom to exercise one's mind are derivative of that fundamental.

Rand gave up on aligning with the many conservatives and libertarians of her day, given the fundamental differences between what they were fighting for and what she fought for. The absolutism, primacy and supremacy of reason was her chief concern. What is Kelley's?

[Hint: at the core of a sound understanding of Objectivism is knowing how to apply the Rule of Fundamentality on any given issue. Rand was a fucking master at it (leaving aside her polemics). A much more fundamental goal than educating people about libertarian policy analysis is educating people on how to master the Rule of Fundamentality as well as Rand did. Since this is an issue concerning the essence (i.e, the fundamentals) of sound cognition as such - an illustration of the very Rule in question - the implications in practice are going to be the most far- and wide-reaching. The basic reason there isn't laissez-faire in this country isn't primarily because people fail to grasp what's so great about freedom; that is merely a consequence. The underlying cause is people's inability to think properly. As we've seen, this malady of improper thinking strikes even (or is it especially?) intellectuals, with the greatest tragic effects in practice (again, given the Rule).]

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