The Atlas Society stands for an open, benevolent, intellectually tolerant approach to Objectivism in which philosophical disagreements are dealt with through civil discussion and intellectual exchange. We adopted this approach partly in contrast to an approach that has led to many unnecessary conflicts and schisms among adherents of Ayn Rand’s philosophy over the years, as discussed in David Kelley’s book, Truth and Toleration in Objectivism (1990, 2019).
The Ayn Rand Institute recently published a long article addressing this history of schisms—the first official comment on the issue from that wing of the Objectivist movement in many years. The article rehearses selective details of some disagreements among Objectivists in an attempt to vindicate the many bridges ARI has burned over the decades. Yet along the way, it ends up embracing the key ideas The Atlas Society has been advocating all along.
First, ARI acknowledges that it is not the definitive representative or arbiter of the philosophy of Objectivism.
ARI does not regard itself as the leader of an organized Objectivist movement:
ARI…does not pretend to be a spokesman for Ayn Rand or Objectivism…. ARI seeks a “movement” only in the sense that Rand describes above: independent individuals and organizations working on the task of spreading ideas—specifically, on increasing awareness and understanding of Objectivism—who cooperate when they find it mutually beneficial to do so and who otherwise go their separate ways.
Moreover, they concede that after Ayn Rand’s death, “She was no longer there to police the use or misuse of her name or philosophy, to declare who is an authorized representative and who is not. And no one could reasonably regard any existing individual or organization as a spokesman for a person now deceased.”
As to whether this is how ARI has actually conducted itself over the years, those who have been in the movement can consult their own memories of the various past disagreements and decide for themselves. Rather than revive these debates, we choose simply to accept this implicit acknowledgement that the questions of what the philosophy of Objectivism means, what principles are essential to it, and what new ideas are consistent with it are to be evaluated by every individual Objectivist based on his own judgment. No person or organization has a central role or special authority. To which we can only say: “Amen.”
Second, ARI acknowledges that ideological disagreement within a movement, even sometimes deep and bitter disagreement, is normal and natural.
It is entirely normal for a movement that is engaged in bringing important new knowledge to the world to have leaders who disagree, often vehemently, about the meaning and application of that knowledge.
If disagreement is normal, it should be treated as such and addressed through the ordinary norms of intellectual debate, not through division into warring camps along with warnings against sanctioning each other’s sanctioners. We are glad to see that such demands have now been conspicuously dropped and ARI has nominally adopted the more benevolent approach of “going our separate ways” as and when we disagree.
That leads us to the final point of interest in this article, which is its repeated use of the phrase “other Objectivists,” including “other Objectivist intellectuals or organizations,” to describe the counter-parties of the various breaks and schisms. It is an implicit recognition that despite our disagreements, we are all advocates of the same philosophy and that there is a multiplicity of Objectivist voices.
Objectivism is and should be a movement of “independent individuals and organizations…who cooperate when they find it mutually beneficial to do.” We agree and are glad to see the Ayn Rand Institute endorsing the same idea. There is still a great deal that needs to be done to make this happen, rationally and benevolently, in practice. But we are happy to see it acknowledged in theory.
The Atlas Society has been putting these principles into practice for many years, and to the extent others choose to follow that lead, we can all move forward into a new and more productive era in the Objectivist movement.