Catogate Update–a Q&A

Q: Why dive back into the John Allison-Cato Insitute-Ayn Rand Institute story with a self Q&A? Isn’t that pompous?

A: Because 1) I’ve been putting a lot of little items together and 2) I’ve been busy. Could have peppered Jeremy Lott’s Diary with them as I went but then it would have turned into Jeremy Lott’s Obsessive Scribblings About a Former Employer. Don’t misunderstand: I think the story matters, but readers come here for other reasons, too.

Q: You keep teasing people with the promise of more words from your source close to the Ayn Rand Institute, “Deep Galt.” Are you going to cough those up now?

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Who Would Ayn Rand Bomb?

Boy, it is not easy to make heads-or-tails of Ayn Rand and her devotees on foreign policy.

In the book Ayn Rand Nation, sloppy journalist Gary Weiss read some of Rand’s writings on war and peace, mistook her for a peacenik, and ended up asking Ayn Rand Institute board member (and soon to be president of the Cato Institute) John Allison, So why was World War II such a bad idea again? Allison sort of bumbled through an answer and said that, well, Rand had been responsible for changing his mind on Vietnam.

Yet as Jordan Bloom shows in this good American Conservative piece, Rand was both against America’s initial involvement in Vietnam and seriously bloodthirsty in her prescription for how to get out of it — which was essentially the Nixon-Kissinger position.

Rand’s take on World War II was a mix of Harry Truman’s initial let-the-Russian-German-bastards-fight-it-out position and the conspiratorial suggestion that America forced Japan to attack us.

There’s a lot more of course. Here, Bloom attempts to sum up Rand’s foreign policy pronouncements in one neat package:

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New News on Catogate

Slate‘s Dave Weigel (my friend, etc., etc.) has scooped me on two points on the John Allison-Cato Institute-Ayn Rand Institute story — one minor, one major. We’ll start with the major one first, his conclusion.

One of the big sticking points between Cato libertarians and Objectivists has to do with foreign policy. Cato’s foreign policy shop wants peace if possible and wars with sharply defined missions if necessary. Many Objectivists have more of a scorched Earth foreign policy.

After 9/11, Ayn Rand Institute founder Leonard Peikoff took out a pro-war advertorial in newspapers titled “End States Who Sponsor Terrorism.” He called for “mass death in the terrorist nations” and lamented, “the greatest obstacle to U.S. victory is not Iran and its allies, but our own intellectuals,” who weren’t so comfortable with sanctioning that mass death.

ARI board member and Cato president-to-be John Allison has publicly represented his views on foreign policy as being sympathetic to Cato’s. That may now be the case, but what did Allison think of Peikoff’s kill-them-all initiative at the time? Take it away Dave Weigel:

In 2001, after Peikoff published newspaper ads making the “end states” argument, he posted in a Randian message board about how it came together.

“I had a lot of help which I want to acknowledge,” wrote Peikoff. “John Allison was my primary inspiration and unfailing morale-booster; he suggested the ads in the first place, and then, with another donor, financed them.”

How about that?

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More From Deep Galt

Related to the ongoing John Allison-Ayn Rand Institute-Cato Institute controversy, my source close to ARI writes:

If you want to scare your old coworkers at Cato, refer them to a big dust-up from two years ago involving John McCaskey. He is an entrepreneur-turned-academic who created the Anthem Foundation, a very successful ARI-associated program that basically buys university positions for Objectivist scholars. As an academic, he raised some very persuasive factual objections to a new theory of induction that Leonard Peikoff has developed. So Peikoff threw a fit and had him kicked off the board of ARI and Anthem. It was exactly what the folks at Cato are afraid will happen to them.

John Allison and Yaron Brook were centrally involved in the McCaskey debacle, and they acted like politicians. [Read more...]

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.

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Atlas Mugged?

Meant to follow up on the John Allison thing yesterday but I didn’t for two reasons: 1) I’m under the gun on a major (7,000 words or so) piece on a certain esoteric faith that’s currently enjoying a “moment”; 2) I wanted to give Allison’s words some prominence. More will be said on this, later today and tomorrow, and you’ll hear more from my source close to the Ayn Rand Institute, Deep Galt.

But for now, let me just make a special plea to end this: please, show us the tape.

It is nigh inconceivable that the Q&A session was not recorded. Right now, we’re relying on pretty sketchy write-ups of that exchange. That strips it of context, which is all important in making an informed judgment.

I and a lot of others are fully willing to believe that Allison got caught off guard and gave some ill considered answers, but then expression becomes pretty important in making our own judgment. Let’s hear it and have done with this.

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.

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