BREAKING! John Allison’s Non-Denial Non-Denial

In a letter today sent out to all Cato scholars, soon-to-be president John Allison addressed some concerns raised by Jeremy Lott’s Diary. Here is his response in full, with one bit of emphasis added. I have some opinions about the contents of the letter, but those can wait for later:

All Cato Employees,

I have now had the pleasure of meeting with almost all the Cato team. I’m impressed with the quality of Cato’s employees and their commitment to Cato’s mission.

However, there a couple of rumors circulating that are creating unnecessary anxiety. The first has to do with my association with the Ayn Rand Institute ( ARI ). I participated in a Q and A at a previously planned ARI event shortly after the announcement that I would become President of Cato. There has been Internet chatter based on “tweets” from the Q and A. I was being “grilled” at the event and will not guarantee that my answers were the best. Also, I was still learning about Cato. However, in the many sessions I have had with employees at Cato my answers have been totally straightforward. Make your own judgment.

As regards to my philosophy, I had a number of discussions with Ed Crane long before being approached to become Cato’s President. I believe Ed and I are in fundamental agreement on all essential philosophical issues. Also, I have written a book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, which will be published by McGraw Hill on September 27. The book focuses on economics, but also includes fundamental comments on individual liberty, national defense, and the overall role of government. Ed said he agreed with everything in the book, except my position on Fair Value accounting which is an esoteric issue. I think you will find my philosophy as expressed in this book very consistent on every major issue with Cato’s core beliefs. The book was written before I considered becoming Cato’s President. Furthermore, I certainly do not expect anyone at Cato to always agree with me and I have a great deal to learn.

As discussed at several employee meetings, while I am proud to be an objectivist, the focus on my association with ARI is completely out of context. I am also on the boards of the Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest business schools and universities are fundamentally philosophical organizations. I guarantee some of the faculty at these universities are dramatically less philosophically aligned with Cato than is ARI. I have learned from this university engagement and possibly changed some minds. In fact, now that I have a deeper understanding about Cato, I believe almost all the name calling between libertarians and objectivists is irrational. I have come to appreciate that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists. I respect this distinction, (although I consider anarchy to be dangerous).

It’s important to understand that my primary life experience is as a businessman, with over 40 years of working with BB&T. The conspiracy theories that seem important in think tanks appear very odd to me. When I retired as CEO, BB&T had $152 billion in assets and 30,000 employees. There was a radically wider range of fundamental beliefs among these employees than exist at Cato. Yet, we worked together to create a great organization. Having run a large organization with many different constituencies, I am a “big tent” thinker. I have long encouraged ARI to work with Cato. Furthermore one of the reasons I came to Cato is that I believe we can play a leadership role in the greater free society movement without sacrificing our principles. Frankly, if all of us who believe in a free society don’t become more impactful, the future wellbeing of the U.S. is at risk. Being successful demands both a long term perspective and current action plan.

We are in the last stages of finalizing the settlement documents. If all goes as planned, I will assume the Presidency of Cato October 1 and Ed will continue in a consulting role (after year end). By the way, the Cato Board who are long time libertarians offered me a contract which I refused. If I am not optimizing the performance of Cato in fulfilling its mission then the board can and should find a new leader. All of you (especially Ed) have the right to be proud of Cato’s many accomplishments. However, everything can be improved. Some of the strategic thinking skills I learned leading a rapidly growing and highly successful organization can drive Cato to even greater effectiveness. We will make the world a better place to live by powerfully communicating the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace while creating a culture where each employee can pursue their personal happiness.

Best Wishes,


P.S. For those interested in foreign policy, these are some quotes from my book:

The Founding Fathers did not see the purpose of the U.S. military to eliminate injustice on the planet as liberals demand. They did not expect the U.S. military to make the world safe for democracy as the neo-conservatives demand. They viewed the role of our armed forces to protect and defend the U.S. George Washington wisely advised to avoid foreign entanglements. The Founding Fathers were familiar with the economic waste of European military adventures.

It is clear that the defense budget in the U.S. could be cut at least 25% and the U.S. be better defended than it is today.

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  • Michael R. Brown

    What’s the provenance of this email? Sounds unlike John Allison. (Would he go so directly against the Objectivist linkage of politics and morality? And would he decapitalize “Objectivist”?) This needs to be definitely linked to Allison to have any credibility … it seems a neat fulfillment of what some bloggers would like to see.

  • Jeremy Lott

    Your concern is ill founded. This e-mail was sent from John Allison to all Cato employees Thursday morning. Slate ran it as well.

    • Michael R. Brown

      Is there evidence of this?

  • Irfan Khawaja

    I’m going to assume that that email is authentic. If so, it’s a farce.
    Let’s just clarify what the issue is. The issue is that since 1989, ARI has, as a matter of explicit, public policy anathematized libertarians as “evil,” and described “trafficking” with them as complicity in evil. That was the basis of their as-yet unrepudiated demonization of David Kelley back then, and of everyone associated with him (like me). No one at ARI has ever repudiated this policy, and I’ve recently made public my online correspondence with Yaron Brook, re-affirming ARI’s old position (a re-affirmation endorsed in the same correspondence by Leonard Peikoff). (I can direct anyone to the site where it’s made public if you want.) So the old policies of demonization still stand. And they’re still there on ARI’s website, last I checked.
    John Allison has contributed huge amounts of money to ARI in the full knowledge of the existence of these policies, and he became a Board member at ARI in the full knowledge that endorsing the policy was an EXPLICIT necessary condition of his occupying the office he held. Given the opportunity to reconcile with Kelley, he rejected it, deferring to Yaron Brook’s view that the repudiation of Kelley (and his followers) should stand. (This fact is detailed in Gary Weiss’s new book, Ayn Rand Nation, and was confirmed to me by Kelley himself; I can supply page references if anyone wants.) Given the opportunity to name ARI’s policy in an explicit way as the root of the “namecalling,” he’s changed the subject and said nothing.
    NONE of this is a “rumor” or “conspiracy theory.” Every element of it is irrefutable fact, and if Allison or his defenders think they can refute it, let them give it a try. He is now taking actions that utterly repudiate the 20+ year position of the organization on whose Board he STILL sits (a fact I checked ten minutes ago). They have said nothing to explain this, and neither has he. But it demands an explanation.
    His defense of himself consists of red herrings that evade the basic issue. No one thinks that being a member of the Board at Duke or any other university requires you to sign on to views of Duke’s faculty, as Allison ridiculously suggests. Board members aren’t responsible for the views of the rank and file of an organization. Nor in any case do universities promulgate policies like “Fact and Value” or “On Moral Sanctions,” a la ARI, or engage in decades-long vendettas against the people they’ve excommunicated, and quietly encourage trashing their reputations (as I know from first hand experience with ARI people). But being on the Board at ARI does require you to sign on to ARI’s repudiation of libertarianism. It requires you to regard people like Kelley as your enemies, and to treat them accordingly.
    If all this is news to John Allison, he’s simply a fool (and has been badly misled by his handlers at ARI). In that case, however, we’re entitled to ask why a fool has been installed at the head of the Cato Institute. If he can’t answer simple questions about himself, why think he’s going to be of any use when the New York Times and Washington Post start asking tougher questions about Social Security, Medicare, the right to health care, the need for infrastructure, the need for stimulus to reduce the unemployment rate, etc.? If he can so easily be manipulated by the likes of Yaron Brook et al, how independent a thinker can he be?
    I honestly cannot believe how little pushback Allison, Cato, and ARI have gotten for what, objectively considered, is their joint swindle of the libertarian and Objectivist movements. No libertarian or Objectivist who was awake through the 1990s could forget the virulence of ARI’s virtual war against what they regarded as heterodoxy. And heterodoxy in those days consisted of taking the position that John Allison, Yaron Brook, et al now professes to take. What we need to hear from them is an EXPLICIT repudiation of ARI’s past–meaning documents and their authors, including Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz. Allison’s handwaving BS about a “big tent” is not going to cut it at this point.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    Sorry, near the end, I meant:

    And heterodoxy in those days consisted of taking the position that John Allison, Yaron Brook, et al now profess to take.