|Ayn Rand's essay on "The Argument from Intimidation" became a favorite of mine back in 1969, when I was starting to read her nonfiction. On going back through it recently, I found it just as cogent as I did then.|
The difference is that back in high school, I couldn't envision Rand resorting to the very tactics that she so incisively exposed in that essay. Surely only the apologists for the intellectual Establishment could ever be involved in anything so cheap and dastardly. 15 or 20 years later, after I'd moved away from Rand's views on a number of issues, I would still try to defend her slams at other thinkers when non-Randians complained about them. It took me far too long to acknowledge what I'm sure has been obvious to many outside the confines of Rand-land--that Rand was perfectly capable of doing to her opponents precisely what her opponents did to her.
Here are key passages from the essay (all page references are to the paperback edition of The Virtue of Selfishness):
There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an
argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent's agreement with one's undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure. (p. 139)
...the psychological pressure method consists of threatening to
impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus
impeaching the argument without debate. (p. 139)
The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. (p. 139)
Rand gave some excellent advice about the place of moral evaluations in discussions of ideas:
a moral judgment must always follow, not precede (or supersede), the reasons on which it is based. (p. 143)
When Rand wrote about what Bertrand Russell was "able to perpetrate," without saying what it was or how it qualified as perpetrating, was she
following her own advice?
When she alleged that those who took Russell seriously (on the same unstated issue) just "kinda knew" what number is, was she following her own advice?
When she put down Emerson as a "little mind" or wrote Wittgenstein
off as the epitome of irrationality, implying that he had confessed to being "a mind out of focus," was she following her own advice?
When she alleged that logical positivists were lazy, petulant, and grossly immature, without pointing to any aspect of logical positivist theory that could have arisen through laziness, petulance, or gross cognitive immaturity, was she following her own advice?
When she referred to Immanuel Kant as "the most evil man in history," without adducing any evidence about his motives, was she following her own advice?
Rand went on to note that using the Argument from Intimidation is not just
epistemically irresponsible, but morally irresponsible.
When one gives reasons for one's verdict, one assumes responsibility for it and lays oneself open to objective judgment: if one's reasons are wrong or false, one suffers the consequences. But to condemn without giving reasons is an act of irresponsibility, a kind of moral "hit-and-run" driving, which is the essence of the Argument from Intimidation. (p. 143)
Again, an excellent point.
But since Rand used the Argument from Intimidation herself, we must conclude that she was morally irresponsible.
For evidence of Rand's use of the argument in intimidation in print,
my post on her repeated slams at Bertrand Russell(http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0611_24.shtml#493),
and my follow-up detailing her slam at Russell on pp. 50-51 of the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0650_2.shtml#55). See the further elucidations
by me (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0650_3.shtml#69 and
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0650_3.shtml#73), and a clarification by Merlin Jetton
Further examples (pertaining to Emerson, Wittgenstein, the logical positivists, and Kant) were provided by Peter Reidy (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0611_24.shtml#489).
Mr. Valliant sought to justify, or excuse, all of these by insisting
that they were mere presentations of arguments or statements of opinion. But by Rand's own criteria, they are not.
For evidence of Rand's use of the argument from intimidation during question and answer sessions, see the testimony of Steven Shmurak
and Bill Dwyer (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0636_13.shtml#261). Messrs. Valliant and Fahy never responded to either of these.
Now Mr. Fahy (http://solohq.com/Forum/ArticleDiscussions/1431_11.shtml#238)
has dismissed the entire question as irrelevant:
So far, we've seen attacks on the publisher [of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics], the writing style, the book flap, the editing of Rand's notes (without a single citation of a problem with those edits), the style in which the edits were presented (which were made in the standard, accepted form for such edits), irrelevant references to Rand's rhetoric concerning other philosophers, etc., and we have seen a lot of gross generalizations about James's motivations for writing the book (to paint the Brandens as total monsters and construe every one of their errors as "gleeful" participation in spiritual rape or to set Rand up as some flawless goddess,or to make a fast buck, or to set himself up as an Objectivist hero), ARI conspiracy theories, etc. I have had about enough of that stuff.It's up to Messrs. Valliant and Fahy whether they wish to contribute to this thread.
What's not up to them is whether they can keep having their cake and eating it, at the same time, in the same respect.
They maintain that Mr. Valliant's book is merely aimed at impeaching Nathaniel and Barbara Branden's testimony regarding Rand's character, rather than proving that Ayn Rand was morally perfect(http://solohq.com/Forum/ArticleDiscussions/1446_2.shtml#53). Indeed, Mr. Valliant, at least, has conceded that Rand was not perfect
(http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0636.shtml#3). This should have freed them from having to defend Rand against every allegation of moral failings.
They could have been consistent, and taken the view that evidence provided by participants here on SOLOHQ is outside the scope of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. They could have allowed that, after NB and BB's assertions are discredited, the other chips will just fall where they may.
But they haven't kept to any such policy. Instead, they've denied that Rand resorted to the Argument from Intimidation, then dropped the discussion when it was no longer going their way.