As the Peikoff-McCaskey Debacle continues to roil and rankle Objectivists all over, I’ve noticed a new argument cropping up here and there. Gus van Horn actually presents it thus, “I no longer agree with its premise that Peikoff morally condemned McCaskey.”
I’ve met Gus in person and I was impressed with the rigor and focus of his thought, so even though he’s not a philosopher, for him to say this actually gives me significant pause.
Now, with signficance.
I don’t get it.
I do understand how much money M has brought to ARI, and how many college appointments he has gotten and is still getting. As Ayn would have put it, that raises him one rung in Hell, but it does not convert Objectivism into pragmatism.
Now, at the risk of waving my having been raised Pentecostal as a qualification for remark here, “Hell” is, according to Christian mythology, the punishment one receives after one has suffered the judgment of God. That judgment is moral.
Even if we say, “Oh, Peikoff was just being colorful as he is wont to do,” (Seriously, he is totally wont to do that. Remember his reference to someone throwing acid in your face? And all the talk of hookers and sex toys? Color. He has it.) we’re still left to look at the entire objective of the letter, which is to demand that ARI break with McCaskey because in Peikoff’s estimation McCaskey did something wrong.
This evaluation of wrong-doing here isn’t, “Oh, his opinion here is optional and I disagree.” That’s how one responds when someone doesn’t like the latest Lady Gaga song or your shirt-tie combo.
Dr. Peikoff’s summarizes McCaskey’s behavior as either being an insult to him or an accusation that Objectivism is insufficient to meet the demands of life in reality. Both cases represent a breach of principle for an Objectivist. The first case is dishonest and unjust and the second case is irrational.
In either case, there is a moral evaluation being made here.
Perhaps people are saying that Peikoff’s condemnation applies only to McCaskey’s particular actions and not his character as a whole. That jives well with Yaron Brook’s statement that
the issue for Dr. Peikoff was only whether or not Dr. McCaskey should remain on ARI’s Board, not his continued involvement in ARI activities. In other words, contrary to claims that some are now making, no “excommunication” was demanded by Dr. Peikoff or considered by any Board member.
To say that the condemnation is of his actions and not his entire character cannot be accurately summed up as “Leonard Peikoff’s now-public moral condemnation of [McCaskey]” strikes me, personally, as an unnecessary splitting of hairs, particularly in light of the scope of the impact this dispute has had on Objectivist circles at large.
If McCaskey’s actions weren’t that serious how does it make sense to use the colorful reference to hell and demand that he be removed from the Board of Directors? If you have a problem with just some particular action, the proper course is to address that action and demand remediation. Sure, that remediation might involve them losing their job, but the more serious the crime, the more care one takes in deliberating over the facts and presenting the case. You don’t have them sent out of the camp and stoned — if you can forgive another colorful biblical allusion — and simply refuse to give your reasons why on the grounds that everyone should simply reflect upon who you are.
Craig Biddle’s citation of Rand and explanation on this point is very apt in my view:
To morally condemn a man, authorize that condemnation to be made public, and then fail to provide a good reason for that condemnation is nonobjective and unjust. As Ayn Rand put it: “When one pronounces a moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer ‘Why?’ and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer.”
And notice that Biddle clearly defines the extent and justification of his judgment on this matter.
If Dr. Peikoff’s moral judgment — and, seriously, that’s what it is — is so limited, how can he allow such gross injustice against McCaskey continue by remaining silent? Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. McCaskey is being accused of a lot of bad things. For example, Harriman has implied that he’s a Kantian with a malevolent universe premise. How can Peikoff and others stand by while this happens if moral condemnation is not the very issue at hand?