The Most Evil Rant in Aynkind’s History
The Most Evil Rant in Aynkind’s History
n previous posts, I discussed the Senate confirmation hearings plagiarism by Keisha Russell of a Washington Post column by Marc Thiessen and the shoddy scholarship of the former history professor, Allen C. Guelzo that underwrote the bizarre claim that “critical race theory is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant.”
In the latter post, I stuck to the source that Guelzo cited in his published writings. There is much speculation that Guelzo’s Kant to critical race theory pipeline owes its inspiration to Ayn Rand’s attacks on Kant and I would like to present evidence that supports that thesis here.
Alissa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, aka Alice O’Connor, aka Ayn Rand once called Immanuel Kant “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” The claim appeared in a “brief summary” in the September 1971 issue of The Objectivist. In the first half of the summary, Rand congratulated herself for the foresight of her articles in previous issues of The Objectivist. The second half was a prelude to an excerpt from a forthcoming book, The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s chosen successor as cult leader. “Suppose you met a twisted, tormented young man,” her introduction began. It continued:
…and, trying to understand his behavior, discovered that he was brought up by a man-hating monster who worked systematically to paralyze his mind, destroy his self-confidence, obliterate his capacity for enjoyment and undercut his every attempt to escape. You would realize that nothing could be done with or for that young man and nothing could be expected of him until he was removed from the monster’s influence.
Western civilization is in that young man’s position. The monster is Immanuel Kant.
Rand then goes on to rationalize her repeated characterization of Kant as “the chief destroyer of the modern world.” In a brief digression, Rand demurs that “It is useless to be against anything unless one knows what one is for.” What exactly was Rand for? She paraphrases one of her characters from Atlas Shrugged, “I’ve chosen a special mission of my own. I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. …until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in. (What man?) Immanuel Kant.” She concludes her introduction to Peikoff’s essay with her own call to eradicate “cancel” every last drop of Kantian “intellectual poison” from American culture:
You may also find it hard to believe that anyone could advocate the things Kant is advocating. If you doubt it. I suggest that you look up the references given and read the original works. Do not seek to escape the subject by thinking: “Oh, Kant didn’t mean it!” He did.
Dr. Peikoff’s essay will help you to understand more fully why I say that no matter how diluted or disguised, one drop of this kind of intellectual poison is too much for a culture to absorb with impunity — that the latest depredations of some Washington ward-heelers are nothing compared to a destroyer of this kind — that Kant is the most evil man in mankind’s history.
Rand had indeed written previously on what an evil influence Kant was. In a series of articles in her Objectivist Newsletter from 1965, Rand condemned the University of California Berkeley student movement and the “Kantian” curriculum that they were, according to her, the product of. In one of her articles, Rand indicted pragmatism, logical positivism, linguistic analysis, and existentialism as the bastard children of Kant, along with student activism. Because it is such a tour de force of motivated invective, I am presenting a long excerpt from the essay with just a bit of digression cut from the middle.
Mario Savio, Son of Immanuel Kant
If a dramatist had the power to convert philosophical ideas into real, flesh-and-blood people, and attempted to create the walking embodiments of modern philosophy—the result would be the Berkeley rebels.
These “activists” are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry to all the university administrations and faculties: “Brothers, you asked for it!”
Mankind could not expect to remain unscathed after decades of exposure to the radiation of intellectual fission-debris, such as: “Reason is impotent to know things as they are—reality is unknowable—certainty is impossible—knowledge is mere probability— truth is that which works—mind is a superstition—logic is a social convention—ethics is a matter of subjective commitment to an arbitrary postulate.” And the consequent mutations are those contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything.
If that dramatist were writing a movie, he could justifiably entitle it “Mario Savio, Son of Immanuel Kant.”
With rare and academically neglected exceptions, the philosophical “mainstream” that seeps into every classroom, subject, and brain in today’s universities, is: epistemological agnosticism, avowed irrationalism, ethical subjectivism. Our age is witnessing the ultimate climax, the cashing-in on a long process of destruction, at the end of the road laid out by Kant.
Ever since Kant divorced reason from reality, his intellectual descendants have been diligently widening the breach. In the name of reason, Pragmatism established a range-of-the-moment view as an enlightened perspective on life, context-dropping as a rule of epistemology, expediency as a principle of morality, and collective subjectivism as a substitute for metaphysics. Logical Positivism carried it farther and, in the name of reason, elevated the immemorial psycho-epistemology of shyster-lawyers to the status of a scientific epistemological system—by proclaiming that knowledge consists of linguistic manipulations. Taking this seriously, Linguistic Analysis declared that the task of philosophy is, not to identify universal principles, but to tell people what they mean when they speak, which they are otherwise unable to know (which last, by that time, was true—in philosophical circles). This was the final stroke of philosophy breaking its moorings and floating off, like a lighter-than air balloon, losing any semblance of connection to reality, any relevance to the problems of man’s existence.
It has been said that Kant’s dichotomy led to two lines of Kantian philosophers, both accepting his basic premises, but choosing opposite sides: those who chose reason, abandoning reality—and those who chose reality, abandoning reason. The first delivered the world to the second.
The collector of the Kantian rationalizers’ efforts—the receiver of the bankrupt shambles of sophistry, casuistry, sterility, and abysmal triviality to which they had reduced philosophy—was Existentialism.
Existentialism, in essence, consists of pointing to modern philosophy and declaring: “Since this is reason, to hell with it!”
Perhaps alongside Rand’s sweeping condemnation of the mid-1960s university curriculum, Guelzo’s more focused attack on critical theory and critical race theory may seem mild. Salami tactics. When they came for the critical theorists, I was silent…
Oh… and just one more thing. “Professor Allen Guelzo of Princeton” is not a Princeton professor. He was a professor at Gettysburg College. At Princeton, he is a “senior research scholar” in the James Madison Program, which is a right-wing beachhead installed in Princeton’s Department of Politics in 2000 with a half million dollar grant from the Olin Foundation. What does a “senior research scholar” do? I suspect it has something to do with giving commentary on Fox News that can be propagated in Washington Post columns as right-wing talking points that get incorporated into Congressional testimony.
Jane Mayers profiled “How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education” in a 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education article adapted from her book, Dark Money. In the video below, Jane Mayer talks about the Koch brothers “political assembly line” starting at around 21:15 to 22:57.
I too can write long screeds detached from meaning using big words and never citibg or analyzing anything. Can I get paid big bucks to do this, or must it all be in service to the culture of greed, of sucking every penny off “inferior” people into the pockets of the wealthy?
Based on my experience, I have to conclude that the big bucks are indelibly tied to serving the culture of greed.
Interestingly, Kant has been having something of a revival in scientific circles. For a while, the brain as a computer and learning machine was the dominant metaphor, but this has been falling from favor. When one looks at how thinking works, it isn’t just logic and syllogisms. Instead, there are special purpose structures, place cells and grid cells. Pure reason is not enough. More recent results suggests that thinking about the difference between a duck and a stork is no different inside the brain than thinking about the distance from point A to point B. The brain isn’t a thinking machine, it is a survival machine.
Early attempts at artificial intelligence assumed that the mind worked using logic, but more successful attempts in the 1990s were based on Bayesian probabilistic reasoning instead. Now it appears that this is how real brains work. They use something like Bayesian reasoning and special purpose structures in a chemically reactive stew. Syllogisms, once central, are now recognized as a Bayesian result with high likelihood. You can imagine the reaction to that in Randian circles with their fetishizing of a certain kind of argument.
In some ways, Kant always seemed the most grounded of the philosophers of his age, the one most connected to reality. It’s no wonder he is loathed by mystics.