Complicity in Cato

In today’s installment of “John Allison, Show Us the Tape,” let me grab a posted comment and break it out for wider viewing.

The writer is Irfan Khawaja, an Objectivist scholar I quoted when I broke the story that Allison, president-to-be of the Cato Institute and long-time associate of the Ayn Rand Institute, may have plans in store for Cato that are troubling.

These plans may include turning it into a more Ayn Rand-centric place and changing its current pro-peace foreign policy. We’re still trying to get Allison to make public a Q&A that he did with a bunch of Objectivists in late June to get to the bottom of this.

Khawaja voiced a concern that got me curious in the first place. The Ayn Rand Institute is a redoubt of hardcore Objectivists who really, really don’t like libertarians.

In fact, they have anathematized another faction of Objectivists, including Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, for getting too close to libertarians.

Got all that?

Okay, here’s what Khawaja had to say in response to John Allison’s Thursday all-staff e-mail to employees of the Cato Institute to address reports of the still unreleased Q&A. He writes:

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 profess 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

    Thanks for highlighting that. Here is the link I referred to, my correspondence with Yaron Brook:

    The book reference is Gary Weiss, Ayn Rand Nation, p. 105-6, text with footnote. Though my moral judgment on ARI/Brook/Allison is obvious by now, I don’t agree with Weiss’s absurd claim that “Brook’s assault on Kelley’s group” involved “force,” and don’t generally approve of Gary Weiss or his book (I’m writing a critical review of it) but the quotations from Allison that he provides are both revealing and damning. As Weiss’s quotations show, Allison’s deference to Yaron Brook in philosophical matters is abject and pathetic. It also shows that he’s no PR genius, either.

  • James Peron

    I don’t know who Mr. Khawaja is, but most Objectivists have seen a shift in ARI policies in recent years. I have seen ARI at two explicitly libertarian conferences with information booths, and know of them attending others. Admitted the first time that happened it surprised me, but after that I learned this was more common. I was at another libertarian social with Yaron Brooke of the ARI, and can attest he even spent time chatting with Nathaniel Branden. Allison did arrange one meeting where the ARI people sat down and talked to those from David Kelley’s group.

  • Michael R. Brown

    Provenance of the email remains an undecided issue.

  • Julian Sanchez

    Honestly, now? The e-mail is valid. I didn’t pass it on, but the one Jeremy posted matches the one I got. We all have publicly listed e-mails; you can ask someone else at Cato if you need double or treble confirmation.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    James Peron is missing the point. No one is disputing that ARI has shifted their practices with respect to libertarians. The question is whether they’re morally entitled to do so given their stated policies, and in particular, whether they’re morally entitled to do so given their refusal to make a public repudiation of those policies.

    My answers are “no,” and “no.” The original ARI policy was that libertarianism was a form of nihilistic EVIL. Read Peter Schwartz’s unrepudiated essay on the subject if you haven’t done so already. It’s been sitting on their website for more than fifteen years.

    Schwartz: “IS LIBERTARIANISM AN EVIL DOCTRINE? Yes, if evil is the irrational and the destructive.”
    Schwartz again: “Justice demands moral judgment. It demands that one objectively evaluate Libertarianism, and act in accordance with that evaluation. It demands that one identify Libertarianism as the antithesis of—and therefore as a clear threat to—not merely genuine liberty, but all rational values. And it demands that Libertarianism, like all such threats, be boycotted and condemned.”

    Schwartz (culpably) confuses the issue by capitalizing the first “l,” but he means the movement and doctrine as such, not the party, as he makes clear by the context of the discussion, as well as in his subsequent essay “Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty.”

    It simply makes no sense to “shift” one’s policies in dealing with evil from condemnation to cooperation (much less to go from condemning and boycotting libertarianism to leading it). It makes even less sense if the “shift” doesn’t even involve repudiating the original condemnation. But that’s what ARI has done (with John Allison’s funding, endorsement, and cooperation), and that’s what I’m challenging. None of James Peron’s comment deals with these facts.

    According to the Weiss reference I cited, John Allison followed Yaron Brook’s lead in refusing all cooperation with David Kelley et al, acquiescing in Brook’s reason for doing so: that Kelley et al remain enemies of Objectivism, as per the original condemnation of them back in 1989. That’s what I called abject and pathetic: I’ll say it again. By the way, as an erstwhile associate of Kelley’s in the early 1990s, ARI’s condemnation of Kelley targets me as well. I have the right to take that personally. And I do. Recall Leonard Peikoff’s claim, and note the deliberate use of the phrase “or anything resembling it.”

    “if you agree with the Branden or Kelley viewpoint or anything resembling it—please drop out of our movement: drop Ayn Rand, leave Objectivism alone. We do not want you and Ayn Rand would not have wanted you—just as you, in fact, do not want us or her.”

    So their condemnation doesn’t just extend to libertarians or Kelley, but to anyone remotely in the vicinity of Kelley or libertarians. How many people does that cover? And how could anyone tell if he or she was being targeted? People who hold views like Peikoff’s should suffer the consequences of affirming them, rather than being given respectability by people who refuse to confront the facts, and refuse to judge them. And people who sit on the Boards of organizations governed by such views should have to face questions about what they have to say about them.

    As for Yaron Brook “chatting” with Nathaniel Branden, I find that a little hard to believe, but it doesn’t really affect the truth of anything I’ve said.

  • Jeff Olstad

    I don’t know if this will work. I have tried to theorize how we could convert what we have now into an Objectivist style world. Galt’s Gulch is fine for a book. Try to make that happen in real life you will have nature to contend with. The nature of politics. If we can convert CATO, maybe there’s a chance for the rest of the world. If we can’t, we are not ready.