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Peikoff's bizarre preface to UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM


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#1 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 07:36 PM

Understanding Objectivism, the course given by Leonard Peikoff starting in 1983 (live in New York and by tape transcription in over 100 cities in the U.S. and some overseas) has finally been published in an edited version printed format, including e-book for the Kindle and the Nook. Edited by Michael Berliner, he added no annotation, no bibliography, and no index.

If the text follows the taped course, it will be a welcome edition to the “unofficial” (i.e., post Rand) Objectivist corpus. My comments here do not deal with that issue, since I just downloaded the e-book Nook version, and have not read the text, much less compared it to the original taped course. My concern here is with the very odd discussion in the book’s Preface, first by the editor, Michael Berliner, followed by Peikoff's luke-warm, almost ambivalent (non?)endorsement of the text (to break the suspense, he has not read any of it! No, really!).

Berliner starts out in his preface with a series of qualifications about the finished product, stating that the text required “a significant amount of editing,” but hastening to add that he did not “edit for philosophic content.”

He then states that he only had access to the taped version, not to any original manuscript. But having said that, he then adds that a “word-for-word transcript resides in the Ayn Rand Archives,” which brings up the question of why he did not use that transcript as a base for his editing? Surely, the Archives would have given him access (he is their "senior advisor,"} and has had a long reign as the first Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute from its founding in 1985 to january 2000, and is now co-chairman of its Board of Directors. Sounds to me like the Archives would have let him in!

If that seems odd, it pales in comparison to the follow-up to Berliner by Leonard Peikoff, which amounts to a series of statements disclaiming any editorial involvement in the project! He starts out by announcing that “My own age and priorities make it impossible to undertake such a task…. (that I) Had no part in their work at any stage – no guiding discussion, no reading of these manuscripts, not even a glance at early or final stages. ” because even a glance might reveal errors’ requiring him to read more “which is precisely what is out of the question.”

To sum up his view of the final edited document, he adds “Please keep two things in mind: Michael Berliner is an excellent editor, and I have no idea as to what he has done with this book.” (italics are mine).

These statements are, to me, one of the most startling - and bizarre - statements that I have ever read from an author or lecturer about a book published under his own name, even if edited. I cannot imagine Rand (or anyone else) allowing a book of her lectures to be published without even bothering to read what was to be issued in her name. I don't know what his other "priorities" are that he alludes to - perhaps he is ill - but even that would not account for the bizarre (almost) disavowal of a project bearing his own name.

Edited by Jerry Biggers, 14 March 2012 - 11:10 PM.


#2 Ninth Doctor

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 08:08 PM

The Amazon preview (click on Read first chapter FREE over on the right) contains the material in question. It didn't rub me wrong quite as badly as it did Jerry. I take it that more books based on his lecture series will be forthcoming, though no names are mentioned.

http://www.amazon.co...31776784&sr=8-3
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#3 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 08:38 PM

The material that I was referencing is in the Preface. I have not seen the Amazon "preview," but if it is the first chapter, it's not what I was referring to.

Please note that my comments were about the Preface only. The content of the rest of the book may be excellant, but how would Leonard know that? As he keeps reiterating, he has no clue. He hasn't read any of it!

Maybe it's the greatest formulation ever written about Objectivism. Or maybe Berliner completely changed Peikoff's meaning so that he would not even recognize it.

On another not so incidental point, the editor has not added any annotation, bibliography, or an index..

#4 Ninth Doctor

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 09:52 PM

The material that I was referencing is in the Preface. I have not seen the Amazon "preview," but if it is the first chapter, it's not what I was referring to.

It's in there, it has Berliner's preliminary remarks, then Peikoff's, then maybe 10 pages of the 1st chapter. "Read first chapter FREE" is how the button is labeled on Amazon, I was just trying to be extra helpful.
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#5 Brant Gaede

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 12:16 AM

What Peikoff did was deny Berliner a seat at the Ayn Rand authoritative table occupied by 1) Rand and 2) Peikoff. He gave Berliner a kiss. He gave Branden a kick in the butt. Just Rand and Peikoff. The river runs pure and true.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede, 15 March 2012 - 07:59 AM.

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#6 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 01:40 AM


He then states that he only had access to the taped version, not to any original manuscript. But having said that, he then adds that a “word-for-word transcript resides in the Ayn Rand Archives,” which brings up the question of why he did not use that transcript as a base for his editing? Surely, the Archives would have given him access (he is their "senior advisor,"} and has had a long reign as the first Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute from its founding in 1985 to january 2000, and is now co-chairman of its Board of Directors. Sounds to me like the Archives would have let him in!



Jerry,

After reading the first chapter, I have a very favorable opinion of the book so far. If the document Berliner refers to is the original manuscript Peikoff used while delivering the lectures, I would guess it omits a vast amount of the material in the taped version, because so much of the book has a very extemporaneous feel to it. I imagine that the manuscript itself reads more like an outline. Berliner had to use the tapes in order to capture the interactive, conversational style Peikoff uses to engage his audience.


If that seems odd, it pales in comparison to the follow-up to Berliner by Leonard Peikoff, which amounts to a series of statements disclaiming any editorial involvement in the project! He starts out by announcing that “My own age and priorities make it impossible to undertake such a task…. (that I) Had no part in their work at any stage – no guiding discussion, no reading of these manuscripts, not even a glance at early or final stages. ” because even a glance might reveal errors’ requiring him to read more “which is precisely what is out of the question.”



The book is fairly easy reading, so it should not have taken Peikoff that long to go through it. I am quite sure the obstacle to doing so was the certain knowledge that he would have felt an author's obsessive-compulsive need to make multiple corrections on every page. The book is almost 400 pages long. You could well imagine that, once he started making revisions, he would have been unlikely to finish for a year or more. It would have been necessary for him to put his other projects aside and not return to them for a long, long time. So it really was a matter of priorities for him.


These statements are, to me, one of the most startling - and bizarre - statements that I have ever read from an author or lecturer about a book published under his own name, even if edited. I cannot imagine Rand (or anyone else) allowing a book of her lectures to be published without even bothering to read what was to be issued in her name. I don't know what his other "priorities" are that he alludes to - perhaps he is ill - but even that would not account for the bizarre (almost) disavowal of a project bearing his own name.


It's certainly true that Rand would never have put her name on a book unless she knew for certain exactly what statements were being attributed to her. She would never have delegated that sort of power to an editor. Each and every word would have been carefully scrutinized. It seems very bizarre that Peikoff would not have assumed that some of the statements he made thirty years ago may have been inaccurate. He must have regarded the fundamental message regarding the methodology for learning Objectivism as more important than any erroneous details.

#7 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 10:33 AM

What Peikoff did was deny Berliner a seat at the Ayn Rand authoritative table occupied by 1) Rand and 2) Peikoff. He gave Berliner a kiss. He gave Branden a kick in the butt. Just Rand and Peikoff. The river runs pure and true.

--Brant

Okay, excepting that Peikoff has allowed his course to be edited and published entirely without his participation, consultation, or review. That is something that Rand never did. In fact, she was famous (or infamous, from the perspective of some publishing house editors) for demanding that she have final editing of anything issued in her name.

As an example, Nathaniel Branden has stated that no article prepared for The Objectivist Newsletter and its successor, The Objectivist, escaped Rand's meticulous review and editing, before she would approve and allow its publication.

My guess (and that's all it is), is that the "priorities" that Peikoff alludes to in the Preface, which prevented him from participation, may refer to serious health problems (he is 76).[Correction: he will be 79 on October 15th, according to his bio on Wikipedia]

#8 Peter Taylor

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 10:42 AM

Jerry Biggers quotes the preface:
“Please keep two things in mind: Michael Berliner is an excellent editor, and I have no idea as to what he has done with this book.”
end quote

If an Objectivist like Leonardo says something like that, it implies complete trust up to the 99th percent in Michael. It could be infirm old age that is keeping him from reading the final product but I rather guess it is something like the month long bouts of a cold, a sinus infection, then another cold, and then an intestinal virus infection I had, and only got over about a week ago. I have never been so sick in my life since I had tonsillitis as a child. Robert Tracinski recently got over a bout of “the dreads.” Or it could be a combination of trust, and disinterest in “basic Objectivism” because he is thinking about advanced philosophy.
Peter Taylor
Semper cogitans fidele,
Independent Objectivist,
Peter Taylor

#9 Brant Gaede

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 10:49 AM


What Peikoff did was deny Berliner a seat at the Ayn Rand authoritative table occupied by 1) Rand and 2) Peikoff. He gave Berliner a kiss. He gave Branden a kick in the butt. Just Rand and Peikoff. The river runs pure and true.

--Brant

Okay, excepting that Peikoff has allowed his course to be edited and published entirely without his participation, consultation, or review. That is something that Rand never did. In fact, she was famous (or infamous, from the perspective of some publishing house editors) for demanding that she have final editing of anything issued in her name.

As an example, Nathaniel Branden has stated that no article prepared for The Objectivist Newsletter and its successor, The Objectivist, escaped Rand's meticulous review and editing, before she would approve and allow its publication.

My guess (and that's all it is), is that the "priorities" that Peikoff alludes to in the Preface, which prevented him from participation, may refer to serious health problems (he is 76).

He is a heart patient and is 78 sometime this year. You and Dennis seem to be closer to the truth than I am.

--Brant

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#10 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 10:57 AM

Dennis,
From your post #6, above,

"The book is fairly easy reading, so it should not have taken Peikoff that long to go through it. I am quite sure the obstacle to doing so was the certain knowledge that he would have felt an author's obsessive-compulsive need to make multiple corrections on every page. The book is almost 400 pages long. You could well imagine that, once he started making revisions, he would have been unlikely to finish for a year or more. It would have been necessary for him to put his other projects aside and not return to them for a long, long time. So it really was a matter of priorities for him."

Well, the course was delivered over 25 years' ago, so he had some time to re-work the material for publication, if he so desired. Of course, he also created and delivered a number of other courses in that time period (and there is a vague allusion that some or all of these courses may receive editing and be published in the near (?) future.

"It's certainly true that Rand would never have put her name on a book unless she knew for certain exactly what statements were being attributed to her. She would never have delegated that sort of power to an editor. Each and every word would have been carefully scrutinized. It seems very bizarre that Peikoff would not have assumed that some of the statements he made thirty years ago may have been inaccurate. He must have regarded the fundamental message regarding the methodology for learning Objectivism as more important than any erroneous details."

Agreed. So, it's doubly bizarre that the "Keeper of the Flame" would deviate from Rand on an issue that she regarded as so important.
To repeat what I have said above, "My guess (and that's all it is), is that the "priorities" that Peikoff alludes to in the Preface, which prevented him from participation, may refer to serious health problems (he is 76)." [Correction: he will be 79 on October 15th]

#11 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 11:21 AM

Jerry Biggers quotes the preface:
“Please keep two things in mind: Michael Berliner is an excellent editor, and I have no idea as to what he has done with this book.”
end quote

If an Objectivist like Leonardo says something like that, it implies complete trust up to the 99th percent in Michael. It could be infirm old age that is keeping him from reading the final product but I rather guess it is something like the month long bouts of a cold, a sinus infection, then another cold, and then an intestinal virus infection I had, and only got over about a week ago. I have never been so sick in my life since I had tonsillitis as a child. Robert Tracinski recently got over a bout of “the dreads.” Or it could be a combination of trust, and disinterest in “basic Objectivism” because he is thinking about advanced philosophy.
Peter Taylor

Yup, I've "been there, done that" (three completely unexpected hospitalizations last year for three similarly unexpected life-threatening conditions). So, I agree re the health issues.

In Peikoff's case, at 76 [correction: 79 on October 15th], he may be facing serious health problems. Or not. Just guessing.

But, the "Understanding Objectivism" course was considered as advanced, not "basic," Objectivism. In the course (and quoted in the book), Peikoff warns students that "If you're new to Objectivism, you're in the wrong place. This is not a course for beginners."

#12 Reidy

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 11:30 AM

NBI's mailers used to say the same about Branden's basic course: it's addressed to people who are already familiar with the ideas and want to learn more. The other courses were for people who'd already taken the basic (though this was never a formal requirement).

#13 Brant Gaede

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 12:04 PM

NBI's mailers used to say the same about Branden's basic course: it's addressed to people who are already familiar with the ideas and want to learn more. The other courses were for people who'd already taken the basic (though this was never a formal requirement).

For heaven's sake. If you've read AS and Galt's speech that better be enough Objectivism 101. Throw in CTUI and TVOS, easy reads, and go! ITOE only if the course was about that only.

--Brant

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#14 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 17 March 2012 - 06:53 AM

This mindset is so weird. I've seen it before. This isn't the first time Peikoff makes a half-assed endorsement of a work and says he has not read it.

I call that a CYA (cover your ass) policy taken to the paranoia level.

I want to say, "It's so hard being an Objectivist prophet who is morally perfect," but that's too simplistic. I think Peikoff's almost metaphysical distrust of other people on his team--which is shared by several of his followers who ape is behavior--is... I'm searching for an adjective... but the only one that comes to mind is... un-human.

I believe his way of endorsing without endorsing does not reflect what human beings are nor does it reflect what they should be. It does reflect a deep fear of others with an artificial moral mask for show.

But it's a morale-killer. You have to be a real nerd kind of dork to think that's normal.

It reminds me of politicians who are afraid to commit to anything, but pretend they are fighting for the people. Except they play to the crowd, not put themselves in front of it and say the equivalent of, "I don't want to be here and you can't blame me for anything."

I swear, when people look at that kind of behavior and think, if I do Objectivism, I can become like that, it's no wonder they turn away. It looks too goofy.

Michael

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#15 Jerry Biggers

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Posted 17 March 2012 - 09:17 AM

This mindset is so weird. I've seen it before. This isn't the first time Peikoff makes a half-assed endorsement of a work and says he has not read it.

I call that a CYA (cover your ass) policy taken to the paranoia level.

I want to say, "It's so hard being an Objectivist prophet who is morally perfect," but that's too simplistic. I think Peikoff's almost metaphysical distrust of other people on his team--which is shared by several of his followers who ape is behavior--is... I'm searching for an adjective... but the only one that comes to mind is... un-human.

I believe his way of endorsing without endorsing does not reflect what human beings are nor does it reflect what they should be. It does reflect a deep fear of others with an artificial moral mask for show.

But it's a morale-killer. You have to be a real nerd kind of dork to think that's normal.

It reminds me of politicians who are afraid to commit to anything, but pretend they are fighting for the people. Except they play to the crowd, not put themselves in front of it and say the equivalent of, "I don't want to be here and you can't blame me for anything."

I swear, when people look at that kind of behavior and think, if I do Objectivism, I can become like that, it's no wonder they turn away. It looks too goofy.

Michael

Michael,

Precisely.

I recall that, the last time that Leonard was announced as speaking at the OCON summer conference, he required them to add a statement in their brochure (and probably in their online notices, as well), from him, stating that his appearance at the conference does not imply his endorsement of the content of lectures by the other speakers.

And then, of course, there was his bizarre letter (with the, "I hope you know who I am" [eg., the defacto pontiff of Objectivism]) to the Board of Directors of the Anthem Foundation, attacking McCaskey for publishing (or giving a lecture) that criticized aspects of Harrimann's book , The Logical Leap and requiring that they take some sort of action against him. McCaskey resigned from the foundation to avoid further conflict between the Foundation and Peikoff.

And his increasingly weird statements on his internet podcast. And now, his embarrassing preface to his own book (which will no doubt be excerpted by critics of Objectivism as an example of the titular leader of the cult, "losing it.".

As you stated, this sort of behavior will make others interested in Objectivism turn away. Because it is quite clear that Peikoff and ARI are continuing, and in some cases intensifying, the "cultic" aspects that were present prior to the 1968 split.

I would not be surprised if there have been hushed conversations amongst the ARI Board of Directors and the ARI staff, along the lines of, "What will he say or do next/" and "What are we going to do about Leonard?"
They have to treat him with "kid gloves," since he is heir to her estate and has legal rights and control over much (but not all - there is another collection now held by the Library of Congress) of her intellectual property. For example, if he so felt like it, he could probably force the Ayn Rand Archives to hand over all thematerial by and about Rand that he gave them - unless he had given it to them, "in perpetuity."




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