Stephen Speicher

Where are the bloggers on Peikoff's election commentary?

41 posts in this topic

Where are the bloggers on Peikoff's election commentary, specifically his implication of immorality and charge of rationalism against those who disagree with him?

Many Objectivist bloggers and commentators saw Founders College worthy of public criticism and denunciation. But whatever one's view of Founders College, surely a charge of immorality and extreme rationalism among many (if not most) Objectivists is deserving of at least as much public criticism!

Fourteen years ago, Leonard Peikoff wrote:

I want to stress at this point that the above is [my] recommendation for November, not Ayn Rand's or Objectivism's. A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates. There can be legitimate differences among people of the same philosophy in regard to political tactics and strategy. So please think the issues over and judge for yourself. I have merely told you how (and why) I propose to vote in November--if I can.

("Some Notes About Tomorrow," Part 2, The Intellectual Activist, September 1992.)

Yet, on October 19, 2006, on his website (reproduced in this post), Leonard Peikoff implies that it is immoral to vote Republican or abstain from voting in this current election, and that,

In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life -- which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.

Fourteen years ago Peikoff's judgment on the election allowed for legitimate differences among Objectivists, but today it appears that there is no room for honest disagreement on this election since, unless we vote as Peikoff does, unless we vote Democratic, we are, by implication, immoral, and we do not understand Objectivism, except as a rationalistic system detached from reality.

So where is the outrage against this moralistic condemnation? Assuming a general awareness of what Peikoff has said, have the bloggers just not gotten around to criticism yet? In the Objectivist community, is there more agreement with Peikoff on this issue than I expected? And by "issue" here I do not mean whom to vote for -- that issue is being discussed on THE FORUM and elsewhere -- but rather the implication of immorality and charges of rationalism leveled against those Objectivists who do agree with Peikoff's election judgment.

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...I do not mean whom to vote for -- that issue is being discussed on THE FORUM and elsewhere -- but rather the implication of immorality and charges of rationalism leveled against those Objectivists who do agree with Peikoff's election judgment.

Yes, this is the important issue to discuss, because, while it might not have as long-term an implication as one's vote, it sure has a much more serious personal implication.

For argument's sake, let's assume that Dr. Peikoff is right. Let's assume that anyone who does not vote Democrat, does not understand Objectivism. Let's assume that this is true, and the reluctant Republican voters just don't get it. Even if this is true, I think a communication which could only have mattered to a "Objectivist" audience should have at least had a couple more sentences of explanation, even if all the sentences said was something like: listen to my tapes and you'll understand why.

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Yes, this is the important issue to discuss, because, while it might not have as long-term an implication as one's vote, it sure has a much more serious personal implication.

For argument's sake, let's assume that Dr. Peikoff is right. Let's assume that anyone who does not vote Democrat, does not understand Objectivism. Let's assume that this is true, and the reluctant Republican voters just don't get it. Even if this is true, I think a communication which could only have mattered to a "Objectivist" audience should have at least had a couple more sentences of explanation, even if all the sentences said was something like: listen to my tapes and you'll understand why.

Thanks for you comments, but rather than discuss what Peikoff might have done, I want to keep this thread focused on what Peikoff actually did say, specifically his implications of immorality and his charges of rationalism.

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Where are the bloggers on Peikoff's election commentary, specifically his implication of immorality and charge of rationalism against those who disagree with him?

Many Objectivist bloggers and commentators saw Founders College worthy of public criticism and denunciation. But whatever one's view of Founders College, surely a charge of immorality and extreme rationalism among many (if not most) Objectivists is deserving of at least as much public criticism!

Fourteen years ago, Leonard Peikoff wrote:

Yet, on October 19, 2006, on his website (reproduced in this post), Leonard Peikoff implies that it is immoral to vote Republican or abstain from voting in this current election, and that,

Fourteen years ago Peikoff's judgment on the election allowed for legitimate differences among Objectivists, but today it appears that there is no room for honest disagreement on this election since, unless we vote as Peikoff does, unless we vote Democratic, we are, by implication, immoral, and we do not understand Objectivism, except as a rationalistic system detached from reality.

So where is the outrage against this moralistic condemnation?

I see it as his opinion - which he has every right to. If he thinks I am deficient in some way, so be it. He is at least being true to his beliefs, and in that sense is moral. If you are happy with yourself, why let his comments affect you. In my opinion, personalities should play a smaller role in Objectivism, because offence seems to be taken too easily.

I don't regard his comments as personal, or a false accusation according to his standards, but simply as his view of the facts. This is related to the way he went after Kelly, and he seemed to have had support for his reasons there.

If a religious person tells me I am a sinner and evil, I am more amused than offended. I'm not making direct comparisons here, but illustrating my response to incidents like this. Now you might say that coming from such an important figure in the Objectivist movement, one can hardly dismiss such an accusation lightly. If you think he is wrong when he claims to speak for Objectivism, that is another matter, and should be addressed separately, but as long as he is accepted as the official spokesman, I see no need for taking offence. I have great respect for the intelligence of the intellectuals of Objectivism - they seem a lot smarter than I am - but when I disagree I don't bow to personality or authority, or take offence.

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I see it as his opinion - which he has every right to. If he thinks I am deficient in some way, so be it. He is at least being true to his beliefs, and in that sense is moral. If you are happy with yourself, why let his comments affect you. In my opinion, personalities should play a smaller role in Objectivism, because offence seems to be taken too easily.

I don't regard his comments as personal, or a false accusation according to his standards, but simply as his view of the facts. This is related to the way he went after Kelly, and he seemed to have had support for his reasons there.

Well his "opinion" of Objectivists who disagree on the highly complex issue of whom to vote for is unjustified and offensive.

His views on Kelley were wholly justified, and, more importantly, he gave good REASONS why they were.

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I see it as his opinion - which he has every right to.... Now you might say that coming from such an important figure in the Objectivist movement, one can hardly dismiss such an accusation lightly. If you think he is wrong when he claims to speak for Objectivism, that is another matter ...

Not "another" matter; that is THE matter. But, to be clear, the issue here is not to undermine Peikoff's claim of being "the world's foremost authority on Ayn Rand's philosophy" -- the existence of OPAR alone is credible evidence -- but rather to address the very specific judgment made in his recent comments about the election. My point is that those claims are uwarranted and unjust, and they are contradicted by his earlier claims made fourteen years ago.

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[...] I want to keep this thread focused on what Peikoff actually did say, specifically his implications of immorality and his charges of rationalism.

[bold added for emphasis here and below.]

I don't know why you say "implications," because the term "immoral" is explicit. However, at this point, I would like to offer a comment on that element, immorality. From Leonard Peikoff's website, the following is part of what he actually did say.

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

What I am unsure about now is the word "Given." If it means "Assuming" -- as in "Assuming that you agree with my preceding analysis and you objectively understand the choice of first stopping an enfeebled would-be killer rather than stopping a strong would-be killer" -- then I must agree with him. If I have formulated his position correctly (in bold), it would be immoral to choose to stop the weaker ahead of the stronger would-be killer. Why immoral? Because such a choice -- based on the assumption, and with all other factors being equal -- would be evasion, and evasion is the ultimate personal evil. It detaches one from reality, making objective knowledge and life itself impossible.

If "Given" means something else, I don't know what it would be.

Unfortunately, Dr. Peikoff's statement is so terse that I do not have a lot of confidence that I have "unpacked" and interpreted it correctly.

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So where is the outrage against this moralistic condemnation? Assuming a general awareness of what Peikoff has said, have the bloggers just not gotten around to criticism yet? In the Objectivist community, is there more agreement with Peikoff on this issue than I expected? And by "issue" here I do not mean whom to vote for -- that issue is being discussed on THE FORUM and elsewhere -- but rather the implication of immorality and charges of rationalism leveled against those Objectivists who do agree with Peikoff's election judgment.

First of all, I must say that I agree with Stephen and other Forum members who resent the way Dr. Peikoff classified Objectivists who vote Republican as people who don't understand how to implement Objectivism. From reading the posts in this Forum I think that all the people who stated they will vote Republican or abstain from voting have presented valid , logical and realistic reasons for doing so. (valid enough to put a serious question mark on Dr. Peikoff's aforementioned statement).

I also must say that , as an Israeli citizen, my interest in this topic is mainly theoretical since I do not get to vote in those elections, obviously. (although the results of the elections are important to Israel as well)...

What puzzles me in is why would Dr. Peikoff , someone who probably knows better than most about the moral problems in using the "Argument from intimidation", use the same method to convince Objectivists to vote for the Democrats? Why would he use such psychological and Philosophical "Bullying" (as he used in the last two paragraphs of his statement) to get Objectivists to vote for the Democrats? I have tried to find an answer to that question, and failed to do so.

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What puzzles me in is why would Dr. Peikoff...

I meant to say "What puzzles me in this topic is......"

sorry :)

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Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

--------------

In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.

The most egregious part of this statement is that it is unsupported by any evidence or argumentation. Dr. Peikoff frames the context by asserting that the Democrats stand for socialism and the Republicans for religion. He then finishes with the unsupported statement

If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner.

The issue of what a theocracy is, and whether a few politicians asserting that they believe in God and that he's the source of law have been discussed elsewhere in various threads on this Forum. It is hard to argue about unsupported statements other than saying "I disagree." I don't see how a vote, which is a political implementation over general issues, somehow demostrates a lack of the practical role that Objectivism plays in life. When did voting become a means of demonstrating one's understanding of Objectivism?

On to the issue of immorality if one votes Republican or if one disagrees with Dr. Peikoff. The way that I understand this is as follows. He is not saying that one is immoral for voting Republican. He seems to be saying, given the two alternatives as he's framed them ("despairing killer" vs. "ambitious killer"), then it would be immoral to vote for the latter. So, the issue is, does one agree that these are the two alternatives that are being presented in the current 2006 election? I would maintaing that these are not the two fundamental alternatives in the current election. Therefore, there is no issue of immorality if I vote for someone that Dr. Peikoff believes falls within his alternatives.

As to the issue of rationalism, this charge is completely beyond my understanding. First of all, the exact same sentence could be said about any particular candidate who might be running for office at any time throughout history. If I were alive at the time and voted for FDR, I would have "no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world." The same for Kennedy, Johnson, Robert E. Lee, etc. The main problem I have with Dr. Peikoff's formulation is that it borders on ad hominem. There is no argument about what Objectivism means in man's actual life; there is no argument about what constitutes understanding Objectivism; there is no argument about why a vote would demonstrate understanding of Objectivism.

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I don't know why you say "implications," because the term "immoral" is explicit.

I said "implications" because of some of the ambiguity that you yourself identified. However, as I noted in another thread, these current comments by Peikoff are, except for the charge of rationalism, mostly what he said in the 2004 election. (Here is a pointer to the audio of those 2004 election remarks.) Peikoff's stated view in 2004 was that "Bush is to the religious state what FDR was to the welfare state." He also spoke of Bush as an advocate of the "equivalent of a puritan theocracy." And Peikoff made clear that, in his view, that it is wrong to not vote for either Kerry or Bush because you think both are bad. According to Peikoff, Kerry is only "disgustingly bad," while Bush is "apocalyptic bad." These facts are apparently so clear and obvious that Peikoff considers anyone who sees the issue and decides upon "sitting the election out on the grounds that both of them are no good" to be "total ... immoral evasion" (this last at almost the very end).

With this in mind, I think the implication of immorality is quite clear.

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Note from Moderator: Please note that in this thread I will delete any post that does not directly address the issue at hand. Both criticism of, or justification for Leonard Peikoff's comments are welcomed, but I will not allow posts that focus on anything else.

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In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life -- which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.

My sincere question would be, how can you make this statement while simultaneously living by a Philosophy that explicitly states that knowledge is not automatic?

Isn't that one of the simplest ways to attack his statement? That simply being an Objectivist does not automatically send a lightning bolt down from the Heavens to inform me who to vote for?

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Isn't that one of the simplest ways to attack his statement? That simply being an Objectivist does not automatically send a lightning bolt down from the Heavens to inform me who to vote for?

What? You didn't read the part that said: "A is A, therefore vote Democratic"? :)

But seriously, yes, that is the proper thing to recognize. And, in the absence of further evidence, should one cast derision on many Objectivists, or grant them that they may be honestly mistaken?

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I remember a little while after the 2004 election, I attended a lecture by Dr. Andrew Bernstein revealed that he voted for Bush, because (paraphrasing) all in all, aside from them both being horrible candidates, he believed on a scale of 1 to 1000 Bush was willing to defend America at the 1 level and Kerry was a 0.

My point is, Dr. Bernstein is a senior writer for ARI. The difference of opinion about the last presidential election was apparently permissible. But, if Dr. Bernstein were to vote Republican in the upcoming election should not Dr. Peikoff, based on his claim that to do so would demonstrate his lack of understanding of Objectivism, not allow him to continue at ARI?

With something as complicated as weighing the pros and cons of two horrific political candidates or parties, I find it hard to justify assertions of irrationality. As many posts on various threads have pointed out, whether or not we are accelerating precariously towards a theocracy if we do not overthrow the Republicans soon (or even this election) is far from an indisputable fact.

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On his website, Peikoff writes:

If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner.

My question: what's the evidence that we will have a theocracy in well under 50 years?

I hold that yes, ultimately, if the religious right grows in their efforts to base laws not on individual rights and reason, but on religious edicts, then eventually, in the long run, we will have a theocracy. But the long run can be, well, a long time.

Furthermore, the notion of a theocracy anytime soon drops the context of the history of the US. Abortion laws, blue laws, prohibition, etc. were laws based on religion in the recent past yet were done away with. We used to have laws enforcing prayer in school. We didn't slip into theocracy then, when things were worse. Even if (God forbid) we reestablished such hideous laws, what's to make things worse this time than before? What is the direction an inevitable movement to religion, when just in the last few decades we've overturned such laws? If this is a reversal of direction, where did it come from; the election of Reagan?

Frankly, I think the charges of rationalism should be on the other foot: I think it is rationalistic to look at what the Republicans are doing today and think that theocracy is coming anytime soon. The other big threats to freedom -- from the left, yes, but also from the Muslims and from our inept "war on terrorism" that leads our secular government to erode our freedoms -- not potentially, not in the future, but here and now.

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Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

I don't disagree with the above at all. I just don't see how it implies any concrete thing in the current situation. Yes, it certainly would be immoral to pick a stronger killer than a weaker one; but... so what? The statement is way too generic to apply to the current political environment. I could just as easily say that religion is the enfeebled, despairing killer, while nihilism is the even stronger, and ambitious killer. How would that be any less correct? Or: Christianity is the enfeebled, despairing killer, while Islam is the even stronger, and ambitious killer. Is that any less correct, given the cited quote? The quote is simply a philosophical truism, and I don't see how it says anything specific here.

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In the very first post in this thread, I wrote:

And by "issue" here I do not mean whom to vote for -- that issue is being discussed on THE FORUM and elsewhere -- but rather the implication of immorality and charges of rationalism leveled against those Objectivists who do agree with Peikoff's election judgment.

I, of course, meant to say "against those Objectivists who do NOT agree with Peikoff's election judgment." I hope the absence of the crucial word "NOT" did not confuse anyone too much.

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Note from moderator:

For clarity, I want to emphasize that this thread is not for general discussion of whom to vote for in the coming election, or whether Christianity or Islam is the greater threat, or how imminent is the possibility of theocracy, etc. There are several other threads on THE FORUM where all these issues are being discussed. From now on I will delete any posts that have more than passing reference to these issues.

Postings in this thread should focus on evaluating, positively or negatively, Peikoff's implication of immorality and charges of rationalism leveled against those Objectivists who do not agree with his election judgment. Another legitimate focus is: why is there so little discussion of this in the Objectivist community -- blogging, commentators, lists, etc.

(In this last regard I do want to note that I was pleased to see this issue has now been raised for discussion on HBL. Perhaps discussion on other internet venues will follow.)

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I did not vote for a president. I did not see that either candidate was worthy of my positive support.

Now, what principle is there by which I could judge such action to be immoral? If someone tells me that I must choose between an (immoral) short-range murderer and an (immoral) long-range murderer, do I become classified with these immoralists because I refuse to lower myself to vote for either? That would be strange.

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I was shocked when Dr. Peikoff made similar statements in the 2004 election. It was an argument from intimidation then, and it is an argument from intimidation now. He makes matters worse by then attacking any Objectivist who disagrees with him as either ignorant about Objectivism or wilfully evasive. The article I read is rationalistic in its presentation, and insulting in its tone.

It is as though he has come to believe that he's made all the arguments in his previous works, and if you cannot extrapolate from what he's said previously, you are obviously not doing the required thinking, i.e., the fault is yours if you don't agree and you own the occasioned guilt by your sloth. He is attempting to bully adult Objectivists, rather than offering reasoned arguments for his opinion.

The fact is that every lesson I learned from Dr. Peikoff leads me to ignore his statements as arbitrary assertions,. Taking just one question I have as an example, he doesn't explain his reasons for thinking that a vote for the disasterous Democrats wouldn't bring on the very theocracy he fears? If the Dems are as bad as they seem to be, without anyone with the political savvy of even a Bill Clinton on the horizon, what is to keep the country from turning completely to the religious Right? Dr. Peikoff does not address this, or any other valid question that arises from his statements.

Lastly, I want to say that it saddens me terribly to see him do this. It is unworthy of him and his remarkable accomplishments.

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Peikoff's lack of clarity on this issue is what is puzzling to me, by which I mean I can't figure out why I would be immoral or ignorant to not vote for democrats.

One of the things that was so attractive about Ayn Rand was her vivid and incisive clarity on seemingly intractable issues. I don't know of anyone who was better. I don't like this opaqueness. As much as I respect Dr. Peikoff, I need and would like to have further explanation from him on the matter otherwise I simply can't go along with it.

I will say this, I'm gaining a lower and lower opinion of modern republicans, and now, after having read Bradley Thompson's article "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism", my view of republicans has dropped several more rungs. I had no idea they were that bad.

Remember, also, Peikoff was the one who said long before 9/11 that Iran should be nuked. I remember being taken aback by that at the time, but he was proven right. Given that, and his expertise in Objectivism, I will continue to chew over what he said.

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It has been said by some that when Peikoff made the charge that

anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life -- which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.

that he prefaced that charge with the words "In my judgment," and that he has a right to present his view. This, however, is not in question -- undoubtedly he has a right to express his view. But when Leonard Peikoff speaks of Objectivism, he does so with almost immeasurably greater influence and significance than if that view were presented by John Doe of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Peikoff is, as his own website notes, the world's foremost authority on Ayn Rand's philosophy, and when he speaks of Objectivism, without qualification, he speaks ex cathedra, as the foremost expert in Objectivism by which he is known. Surely this fact counts for special consideration, just as it should count for special responsibility.

Now compare Peikoff's current remarks to this earlier comment during the 1992 election.

I want to stress at this point that the above is [my] recommendation for November, not Ayn Rand's or Objectivism's. A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates. There can be legitimate differences among people of the same philosophy in regard to political tactics and strategy. So please think the issues over and judge for yourself. I have merely told you how (and why) I propose to vote in November--if I can.

("Some Notes About Tomorrow," Part 2, The Intellectual Activist, September 1992.)

Here he explicitly distances Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Objectivism from his own view on the election, and explictly acknowledges that "A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates." He further acknowledges that those who hold the philosophy of Objectivism can have legitimate differences about political tactics and strategy. And yet, today, fourteen years later in 2006, now Objectivism is directly tied to backing a candidate, and there is no longer room for legitimate differences between Objectivists (if "Objectivist" is understood to be one who actually understands the philosophy, not a rationalist whose grasp is detached from reality).

And, lest anyone wonder, in 1992 Leonard Peikoff urged Objectivists to vote for any Democrat nominated by the Deomocratic Party for the Presidency.

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On her blog, Diana Hsieh offers the following defense of Leonard Peikoff's charge that those who do not agree with his assessment of the election, do not understand Objectivism.

An honest Objectivist could be confused by the flood of irrelevant concretes and misleading analyses, particularly if attentive to the seemingly Objectivist defenses of the Bush Administration published in almost every TIA Daily and commonly posted on HBL (based on what I saw during my trial membership this spring). However, I think such confusion is possible only to a person without anything like a firm grasp of the relevant philosophic principles. That's why I agree with Dr. Peikoff's claim that "anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life--which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world." Sadly, that assessment has been confirmed by the flurry of concrete-bound objections to Dr. Peikoff's statement... In essence, they do not recognize that Christianity is an all-encompassing philosophy with the power to drag America into a second Dark Ages if unchecked. In other words, they fail to grasp "the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life."

These words aptly demonstrate that any attempt to defend the indefensible is doomed to failure; the argument begs the question. The fact of the matter is, no one denies that "Christianity is an all-encompassing philosophy with the power to drag America into a second Dark Ages if unchecked." At issue, however, is grasping the nature of the checks that are in place and properly assessing the facts of reality to measure the immediacy of the religious threat.

Many Objectivists who understand the philosophy evaluate the facts and assess the immediacy of a theocracy to be different from what Peikoff asserts and what Diana attempts to defend. To collectively charge that otherwise honest Objectivists who use a process of reason to reach a different conclusion, necessarily do not understand Objectivism, and that they collectively hold Objectivism "as a rationalistic system detached from the world," is a serious wholesale condemnation of me, Betsy, Harry Binswanger, Robert Tracinski, and many other honest people who do understand Objectivism.

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