Selective timeline and links of the Kelley-Peikoff schism

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Selective timeline and links of the Kelley-Peikoff schism

Here is a small timeline and some links of how all this came about and what impacted the attitudes:

  • 1981 (October and December) – "The Primacy of Existence" by David Kelley is published in two parts in The Objectivist Forum. This is essentially the first chapter of his later book, The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception.
  • 1982 (March 6) – Ayn Rand died.
  • 1982 (May) – The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff was published. An advance review was published in the April edition of The Objectivist Forum.
  • 1982 – According to the former owner, Andrea Rich, Peikoff participated in two book signings for Laissez Faire Books that year. The first time (June 10) was at the LFB store in Greenwich Village on Mercer Street and the second a few months later in New Orleans, at the LFB booth at the annual conference of the National Committee for Monetary Reform (the same organization where Ayn Rand gave here last public appearance a year earlier in Nov. 1981).
  • 1983 - Biannual summer conferences in Objectivism were held by The Jefferson School, which grew rapidly over the years.
  • 1985 - The Ayn Rand Institute was founded. The Objectivist movement apparently was on an upswing.
  • 1985 (May 10, June 25 and December 4) - Peter Schwartz published "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty" in The Intellectual Activist in 3 parts, stating that orthodox Objectivism will have nothing to do with libertarianism.
  • Up to 1986 – An underlying tension in the Objectivist movement concerned whether or not Rand really did have an affair with Nathaniel Branden. It is hard to imagine this climate now, but there is a very good story about what it was like back then by Robert Bidinotto.
  • 1986 (March) - The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception by David Kelley was published to critical acclaim.
  • 1986 (May) - The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden was published and became a national bestseller. People on the orthodox side shut themselves off and started becoming very intolerant of any criticism at all of Rand.
  • 1986 (June) – A glowing review of PAR by Robert Bidinotto appeared in the Objectivist newsletter On Principle. Kelley was on the Editorial Advisory Board and according to an account by Bidinotto, he refused to bow to intense pressure from Peikoff, who wanted him to leave because of the review.
  • 1986 (June) – A glowing review of PAR was written also by Roy Childs of Laissez Faire Books and Laissez Faire actively pushed the book, which, together with its libertarian focus, made the organization a persona non grata to the members of orthodox Objectivism.
  • 1986 (June 26) - Peikoff published a statement in The Intellectual Activist ("In Response to Inquiries") claiming that PAR was written against Rand's wishes, denouncing Barbara as immoral and an enemy of Objectivism as held by Rand and stating that he does not intend to read it.
  • 1986 (August 20) - An Untitled Letter from Peter Schwartz was included as a separate insert in The Intellectual Activist denouncing Barbara for having made a mess of her life and PAR as "pseudo-Freudian" and arbitrary (in his own words, "entirely outside the cognitive realm"). He also stated, indicative of the orthodoxy's new position on the affair with NB, "Ultimately, what real difference is there if any of the factual allegations made by Barbara Branden – or anyone else of her ilk – happen to have actually taken place? Ayn Rand's glorious achievement is her philosophy and her literature."
  • 1986-1989 – Tensions gradually increased between Kelley and Peikoff.
  • 1988 (November 10) – David Kelley gave a speech "Objectivism and the Struggle for Liberty" at the Laissez Faire Supper Club of Manhattan (NY).
  • 1989 (January) – Judgment Day by Nathaniel Branden was published. This was revised and published in 1998 (November) under the name of My Years With Ayn Rand.
  • 1989 (February 27) – "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners" by Peter Schwartz was published in The Intellectual Activist stating the official orthodox Objectivist stance against speaking at libertarian events.
  • 1989 (March) – "A Question of Sanction,", an open letter by David Kelley, was sent privately to about 30 people with authorization to copy and distribute it. It became widely discussed in the Objectivist community.
  • 1989 (May 18) – "Fact and Value" by Leonard Peikoff was published in The Intellectual Activist, claiming that Objectivism was a closed system and speaking out against Kelley.
  • 1989 (May 18) – "On Moral Sanctions" by Peter Schwartz was published in The Intellectual Activist, written as an addendum to "Fact and Value".
  • 1990 – The Institute for Objectivist Studies was founded. Later called The Objectivist Center, and now called The Atlas Society.
  • 1990 – Truth and Toleration by David Kelley was published privately, expanding on the issues raised in "A Question of Sanction" that were criticized by Peikoff and Schwartz. In 2000 (September), this was revised and reissued under a new title, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand (free PDF download).
  • 1991 (December) - Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff was published.


Fallout: What some people in the Objectivist movement have written about works and aspects of the schism

The whole episode

Discussion of this whole episode on the old SoloHQ with several fascinating posts, starting with David Brown's post. Several links to this thread have already been given in the selective timeline.

"Short chronology and comments on the articles and actions involved in David Kelley's rejection of Objectivism" - Anti-Kelley version by Jerry Nilson.


Critiques Pro-Kelley

"POP culture: Premises Of Post-Objectivism" - Letter from Kirsti Minsaas to Harry Binswanger (1989)


Robert J. Bidinotto

"Facts, Values and Moral Sanctions: An Open Letter To Objectivists" (1989)

"Understanding Peikoff" (1994)

"Rand Versus Peikoff" (1994)


"Leonard Peikoff's Fact and Value: A Critique" by Kevin McFarlane (1994) - PDF

"An Open Letter to the Ayn Rand Institute" by D. Moskovitz (2001)


Critiques Anti-Kelley

"Reintroducing the Measurements: An Old Fallacy with a New Name" by Bennett C. Karp, published in 1989/1990 (Vol. 2, No. 3) issue of Objectively Speaking

"Notes on 'A Question of Sanction'" by Robert W. Tracinski (1989, revised 1994 and 1996)


Diana Hsieh - recent anti-Kelley crusade

(Open System)

"Ayn Rand on David Kelley" (July 27, 2005)

"The Open System, One More Time" (December 12, 2005)

(Moral Judgment)

"David Kelley Versus Ayn Rand on Kant" (February 19, 2006)

"David Kelley's Mind-Body Dichotomy in Moral Judgment" (March 17, 2006)


Other sources of links

The ARI-TOC Dispute at the Objectivism Reference Center

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Thank you for posting this valuable resource.

One event that should be placed on the timeline, if it can be accurately dated, is when Leonard Peikoff supposedly discovered confirmation of The Affair in Ayn Rand's papers.

Going back through Robert Bidinotto's "Understanding Peikoff," I have a couple of questions.

1) What exactly did Dr. Peikoff say about moral judgment in his Lecture 11? And was this altered in post-1983 versions? (According to Chris Sciabarra, Edith Packer participated in one or more of the 1983 lectures, and was airbrushed out after she and George Reisman were expelled from ARI. But that would be a separate change from the one I'm inquiring about.)

2) Is it true, as Robert B maintained, that no one could find fault with Ayn Rand's "paper persona"? Rand put arguments from intimidation in writing, on more than one occasion. And some of her answers after lectures that have become part of the printed record, courtesy of Robert Mayhew's edited collection, put her in less than the best possible light. For instance, there's the outburst quoted in Diana Hsieh's anti-Kelley blog entry of July 2005: accept Ayn Rand's system in toto, or reject it, in which case "the contradictions will be yours." (The outburst was part of an answer to a question about moral perfection--could that be a coincidence?)

Robert Campbell

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This is a historical question about the Peikovian doctrine of the arbitrary assertion.

Is Peter Schwartz's pronouncement about The Passion of Ayn Rand (Aug. 20, 1986) the first instance of an ARI Objectivist declaring the entire contents of a book to be arbitrary assertions?

Robert Campbell

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Here is the full paragraph on "arbitrary" from the review by Peter Schwartz of The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, which was an Untitled Letter included as a separate insert in The Intellectual Activist of August 20, 1986:

It is only in this context that the question can be raised of whether to believe any of the concrete factual allegations Mrs. Branden makes about Ayn Rand's behavior. When the truth of such allegations rests entirely upon the testimony of the author (and of unnamed “friends” she regularly cites), one must ask why she is to be believed when she has thoroughly destroyed her claim to credibility. It is very easy to accuse the dead of almost anything. I could readily assert that Ayn Rand met with me at dawn on the first Thursday of every month to join me in secret prayer at a Buddhist temple—and who could disprove it if I maintained that no one else knew about it? Epistemologically, conclusions reached by a categorically non-objective method have the status of the arbitrary. They are not true and not false, but are, rather, entirely outside the cognitive realm—because they are not genuine attempts at cognition. Admirers of Ayn Rand need not—and should not—feel compelled to try to rebut each and every concrete charge made by Barbara Branden (and others who are sure to follow). Let the authors of any such charges first establish their credentials as honest, objective reporters intent on presenting the truth, not on trying to salvage their own sadly wasted lives.

On reading that, I got the sense that, in addition to Barbara, Schwartz did not have much respect for the American publishing industry, especially Doubleday, which apparently to him had no standards whatsoever of editorial quality control. If taken at face value, according to him Doubleday was in the market of publishing arbitrary biographies without cognitive content of famous people. He also must have missed the list of over 200 people (named, incidentally) who were interviewed for the book who knew Rand, there being written and signed documents and taped interviews on file. Maybe that list was not included in the copy he reviewed.

As to whether this was the first time a book was reviewed as completely arbitrary by a leading orthodox Objectivist, the best place to look is in previous copies of The Objectivist Forum and The Intellectual Activist. (I don't have them yet.)

On your first post, I will look some.


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I have thought that maybe the problem with Kelley and Reisman was that they were seen as a challange by being smarter and having more appeal so that they had to removed from the scene by being purged. The Soviets got rid of someone who became to important.

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Thank you for giving us the specifics from Peter Schwartz's article.

I can see now where Jim Valliant obtained his recent pronouncement to the effect that anything "the Brandens" might say about Ayn Rand is an arbitrary assertion, unless corroborated by a source acceptable to Mr. Valliant and his ARIan allies.

Neither TIA nor TOF makes me proud to be a Randian... but the delving needs doing.


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Chris G,

I don't know whether David Kelley and George Reisman were deemed "too important," hence as threats to the ascendancy of Peikoff, Binswanger, and Schwartz.

But I wouldn't rush to rule the possibility out. Leonard Peikoff was a rival of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in a struggle to determine who would succeed Ayn Rand. Had NB and BB remained in good standing with Ayn Rand until she died, would Peikoff be seen as the foremost Randian today? Would Binswanger or Schwartz be in any position of prominence in Rand-land? Ya gotta wonder.

Robert C

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I have been reading over some of the anti-Kelley stuff in more depth and what stands out the most is the general level of misrepresentation of Kelley's ideas. Either these people really don't get it because of some kind of cognitive blindness, or they are smearing him on purpose.

Frankly, I would prefer the bad intentions because I am starting to get an uneasy feeling that if integrated incorrectly, some of the core ideas (or systems of ideas) in Objectivism could lead to such blindness. I seriously think this bears investigation (with suggested remedies).

It is almost painful to read Kelley write one thing, then read a criticism from someone apparently intelligent saying he wrote something different. The words are right there on the page. As time goes on, I will probably put up an analysis or two of the worst examples just to set the record straight on what Kelley actually wrote.


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I did mention: "1983 - Biannual summer conferences in Objectivism were held by The Jefferson School, which grew rapidly."

Great idea about including The Evidence of the Senses. I will do it.

Edit: Done. I also included OPAR and tried to get the months (and days) for as many yearly dates as I could.


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There is something that has been stuck in my mind for over twenty years now which may have some small relevance here. If I remember correctly, David Kelley read the great Rudyard Kipling poem “If” at the graveside service of both Frank O’Connor and Ayn Rand.

That was an immense honor. My question is: Was it Rand who chose David to be the one to read it?

David was at that time a relative “new-comer” on the Objectivist scene, in the sense of not being one of the Old Guard from the 50s and 60s like Peikoff et al. But my sense of it was that he was looked at even then as kind of a symbol of hope for the future of Objectivism. There seemed to be a feeling that David was a prodigy, a decent and highly intelligent young man of integrity who was also articulate, polite, presentable and good-looking to boot.

I could not help thinking at the time that, if Ayn was the one who chose him to read “If” at Frank’s funeral and at hers, then this may have been experienced as a slight by the Old Guard. The one name that came to mind when I thought about possible feelings of being snubbed over this was Leonard Peikoff. He never struck me as being a particularly gracious or forgiving guy.

Maybe I am guilty of “psychologizing,” but I have long thought that the emotion of Jealousy was capable of provoking powerful corruption within the higher echelons Objectivism, starting at the very top. This thought started to dawn on me 38 years ago, if you catch my drift.

-Ross Barlow.

P.S. – Kipling’s poem, “If,” was one of my father’s favorite poems, and he would recite the whole thing while we would do farm work together when I was a boy. I read it at his funeral.

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Ross; I think you're on to something. I have heard that Miss Rand thought Kelley had a good speaking voice but I think there may have been more going on. I suspect that Peikoff may have had moments of jealosy.

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Sorry if this is off-topic, but I saw mention in the timeline of "Objectivist newsletter On Principle". This is the first I've heard of this newsletter. Is there any other info on it (how long it was published, on-line archives, etc)?


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I Googled it and came up with the following list of contents in the now defunct Full Context magazine.

SEPTEMBER 1990 (#1)

Interview with Dr. Petr Beckmann - Karen Reedstrom

About Access to Energy - Karen Reedstrom

Justice for the Constitution? - David Oyerly

Market Perspective: An Interview with Jim O'Donnell - Karen Reedstrom

Amen (poem) - Civilization

Compare and Judge for Yourself (unedited letter of resignation from The Intellectual Activist) - George Walsh

Commentary (an analysis of Peter Schwartz's editing of Walsh's letter) - David Oyerly

Summer Movie Reviews - David Oyerly

The web site to this wonderful place is down. Does anybody know what happened? Are archives available someplace? Is it possible to purchase back issues?


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  • 6 months later...

This is a valuable resource, especially the links. (Though the links for the Objectivism Reference Center do need to go to the Wayback Machine's archive, at least for now. See the thread in the Living Room area.)

[...] 1985 - The Ayn Rand Institute was founded. Objectivism was on an upswing.

Here, though, you seem to me to be editorializing. I was surprised by this comment, especially in light of your apparent (and my) disdain, to say the least, for ARI and its damaging actions.

The founding of ARI — which type and name of institution Rand opposed before her death — had a lot to do with providing jobs, sinecures, P.R. outlets, and intellectual projects, all ranging from sizable to zero value. But it always had little to do with the essence of "Objectivism," as such, however it's construed. You can't take any institution at its word about its proclaimed purposes.

Edited by Greybird
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Thank you for the commentary. I am have changed the ORC links and I agree with your editorial comment. I have changed it to read as follows:

[...] 1985 - The Ayn Rand Institute was founded. The Objectivist movement apparently was on an upswing.

Incidentally, I also found Full Context on the Wayback Machine. It is here: Full Context


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  • 2 months later...

If people really want to get an idea of what the Kelley-Peikoff dispute was about they should listen to the Objectivism and the Struggle for Liberty tape if they can find it. It was a passionate defense of Objectivism by David Kelley in front of a group of libertarians. I listened to it after having been given it to listen to by a friend in my freshman year of college. Fact and Value came out in the May 1989 issue of The Intellectual Activist. I did not read it at the time because I was graduating high school, got accepted to Harvey Mudd College off the wait list in May and scrambled to rearrange my college plans accordingly.

Before the advent of the internet, it was really hard to get independent information about Objectivism. I did not find out about the Peikoff-Kelley split until 4 years later. I was shocked that Kelley would be bumped for making that speech. It was a dark chapter in Objectivist history.


Edited by James Heaps-Nelson
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  • 2 weeks later...
I was shocked that Kelley would be bumped for making that speech. It was a dark chapter in Objectivist history.


I was at that speech. It was indeed a passionate defense of Objectivism, generally recognized as such by those in attendance.

Unfortunately, I'd been in or around Rand-land long enough not to be shocked when I heard that David Kelley had been excommunicated.

I'll take Yaron Brook seriously as a change agent when he comes out and says that it was a dark chapter in Objectivist history.

Robert Campbell

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I don't think that will ever happen. Some of the recent goings on including PARC are both an attempt to tell Rand's side of the story and an attempt to introduce a wedge issue among independent Objectivists. For me, ARI has a serious case of tall poppy syndrome: Kelley, Reisman, Tracinski. People can never be too "big" or too different.

I will always say what I think, but I have no expectations that other people will agree with me. That's part of life and the process of seeing the world through your own eyes.


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Jim; I to have thought that one of issues leading to a person being purged was their becoming more important than folks like Schwartz, Peikoff and Harry the enforcer.

I also think that if you continue to disagree and defend yourself you get into trouble.

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