What Objectivism is – and is not

A is A. And Objectivism is Objectivism. No more, no less.

Since shortly after Ayn Rand´s death in 1982, various individuals and organizations have claimed that Objectivism is something else than what its creator intended it to be. These people may or may not have fully understood Ayn Rand´s philosophy – they may or may not have even read her books – but they present themselves to the world as spokesmen for Objectivism. They are not.

Objectivism IS NOT whatever anyone wants it to be. The term «Objectivism» refers exclusively to one specific and immutable philosophy: the philosophy of Ayn Rand, as stated by her through her novels, essays and oral presentations.

To consider that Objectivism is an “open” system that may include ideas, integrations or applications beyond those of Ayn Rand is an approach that is downright wrong, an approach that confuses the honest reader and that eventually leads to a total deterioration of the correct ideas.

In support of the idea that Objectivism is exclusively the philosophy of Ayn Rand, here are relevant quotes by Objectivists such as Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff and others. [Emphasis added.]


1) Who is entitled to decide what to call his idea, creation or discovery

«The name that I have chosen for my philosophy is: Objectivism«.

Ayn Rand
Preface, For the New Intellectual

«Since Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name, it is my right and my responsibility to protect its intellectual integrity. I want, therefore, formally to state that the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism are: my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed.»

. . .

«If students, supporters or friends of Objectivism wish to form local groups of their own—for such purposes as the study, discussion and dissemination of Objectivist ideas—they are welcome to do so. They can be of great value and help to the spread of Objectivism, and will earn my sympathetic interest and sincere appreciation—provided that they do not attempt to act as spokesmen for Objectivism and do not associate or collaborate with Objectivism’s avowed enemies.

«Those who approach Objectivism with different, non-ideological motives, are free to do whatever they please—on their own. But they are not free to ride on my name nor to attach the term «Objectivist,» whose public value has been created by me, to their notions, products or activities. It is an unattractive indication of Objectivism’s growing influence that many persons have made improper attempts to climb on its bandwagon.»

Ayn Rand
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—June 1968

2) Whether Objectivism is an incomplete philosophy that needs «improving» or «expanding»

«When I say that these excerpts are merely an outline, I do not mean to imply that my full system is still to be defined or discovered; I had to define it before I could start writing Atlas Shrugged. Galt’s speech is its briefest summary.»

Ayn Rand
Preface, For the New Intellectual

«Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name

Ayn Rand
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist, June 1968

3) Whether Objectivism is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded”

«Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author.

«“Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand’s achievement. Anyone else’s interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote. In regard to the consistency of any such derivative work, each man must reach his own verdict, by weighing all the relevant evidence. The “official, authorized doctrine,” however, remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand’s books; it is not affected by any interpreters.

«The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence state the “official” doctrine of the government of the United States, and no one, including the Supreme Court, can alter the meaning of this doctrine. What the Constitution and the Declaration are to the United States, Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s other works are to Objectivism. Objectivism, therefore, is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded.” If anyone wants to reject Ayn Rand’s ideas and invent a new viewpoint, he is free to do so — but he cannot, as a matter of honesty, label his new ideas or himself “Objectivist.”«

Leonard Peikoff
Fact and Value, May 1989

4) How honest intellectuals should present new ideas related to Objectivism

«College groups or independent individuals who may wish to issue newsletters or other publications expressing their own views, but on a consistently Objectivist base, should acknowledge their exact position by publishing the following permanent notice in every issue: «The editors of this publication accept Objectivism as their philosophical base; however, we are not spokesmen for Objectivism and we alone are responsible for the views expressed here.«

. . .

«In any context where someone is presenting his philosophical ideas, he should make it clear that he is discussing Objectivism as he understands it, and that he speaks for no one but himself

Henry Mark Holzer, Ayn Rand´s attorney
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—July 1968

«I wish to make a request to any unadmitted anti-Objectivists reading this piece, a request that I make as Ayn Rand’s intellectual and legal heir. If you reject the concept of “objectivity” and the necessity of moral judgment, if you sunder fact and value, mind and body, concepts and percepts . . . 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. As a matter of dignity and honor, tell yourself and the world the exact truth: that you agree with certain ideas of Ayn Rand, but reject Objectivism.

«It is perhaps too early for there to be a mass movement of Objectivists. But let those of us who are Objectivists at least make sure that what we are spreading is Ayn Rand’s actual ideas, not some distorted hash of them. Let us make sure that in the quest for a national following we are not subverting the integrity of the philosophy to which we are dedicated. If we who understand the issues speak out, our number, whether large or small, is irrelevant; in the long run, we will prevail.

«If we engage in quality-control now, refusing to sanction the rewriters of Objectivism whatever the short-term cost and schisms, the long-range result will be a new lease on life for mankind. If we don’t, we are frauds in the short-term and monsters long-range.

«Let us not cohabit with or become alchemists in reverse, i.e., men who turn the gold of Ayn Rand into lead.«

Leonard Peikoff
Fact and Value, May 1989

5) How true Objectivists present their own works

«Because of my thirty years of study under her, and by her own statement, I am the person next to Ayn Rand who is the most qualified to write this book. Since she did not live to see it, however, she is not responsible for any misstatements of her views that it may contain, nor can the book be properly described as «official Objectivist doctrine.» «Objectivism» is the name of Ayn Rand´s philosophy as presented in the material she herself wrote or endorsed.»

Leonard Peikoff
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

«The present work makes extensive use of Rand´s Objectivist epistemology, as I understand it after fifty years of professional study and teaching. To a modest degree, I elaborate on and build upon Rand´s system, but my extensions, even if valid, do not constitute part of the Objectivist philosophy, which is limited to what Rand wrote, plus those articles by others that were published under her editorship.»

Harry Binswanger
How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation

«Objectivism is the name of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, as specified and endorsed by her. It came to a close when she died, which means that Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is not part of Objectivism, as its author, Leonard Peikoff, makes clear in the book. OPAR is a secondary source on Objectivism, though a vitally important and unique one. Philosophy, however, did not come to a close with her death, and anyone can claim that they regard their own, new philosophical writings, viewpoints and theories as being consistent with Objectivism. But there is no such thing as «open Objectivism»

Onkar Ghate
Senior Fellow, The Ayn Rand Institute

«Where I venture beyond what Rand or Peikoff have themselves said about a specific question, it should be understood that I am offering my best interpretation of the position that is implied by Rand´s express philosophy. Obviously, these inferences are fallible; I do not write as an official spokesman for Objectivism

Tara Smith
Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics

6) The result of calling Objectivism an «open system»

«Those who genuinely admire Ayn Rand and wish to support her philosophy are being victimized by the undertakings described above. By supporting such undertakings, they achieve the opposite of their intentions: they contribute unwittingly to the distortion and discrediting of Objectivism. Without their sanction or support, those who attempt to use Objectivism for their own improper purposes will be left either with no following at all, or with the kind of following that they richly deserve.»

Henry Mark Holzer
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—July 1968

7) The fraud of misrepresenting Objectivism as an «open system»

«Objectivism is a fully integrated and consistent philosophical system. People may take any philosophical «position» they choose, but if their position differs from that expressed in authorized Objectivist sources, they should not attempt to peddle their views under the label of Objectivism or any «variant» thereof. Such attempts are obviously intended to cash in on an implied association which they have not earned, and they come close to being a fraud on Ayn Rand’s readers.

«The sincere and authentic students of Objectivism have nothing to gain from the pretentious purveyors of pirated ideas; nor have they anything to learn from the pundits whose understanding of Objectivist principles consists of being able to recite the axiom that A is A; nor have they any value to seek from those «practical» men of action who propose to organize an «Atlantis» or a «Galt’s Gulch» in the jungles of South America.»

Henry Mark Holzer
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—July 1968

8) The motives of those preaching «open Objectivism»

«Regardless of the motive or the particular twist, all of these opportunistic schemes (and there have been many) have had two elements in common: they have used Ayn Rand’s name and/or the name of her philosophy, Objectivism, as bait to capture an audience composed predominantly of students of Objectivism; and they have had nothing of their own to offer. Unlike an accredited university that gives a course in Objectivism, while giving many courses to an audience created by its own reputation and educational standards—unlike the intellectual who uses Objectivism as a foundation, then creatively integrates and applies its principles to his own profession, breaking new ground and making original contributions in the process—the gravy-train riders use, as their sole «capital,» both the ideas and the audience created by Ayn Rand. What they offer to that audience—in their speeches, lectures, papers, columns and newsletters—is only tired rehashes, strained interpretations, contradictory notions, and dubious «practical» applications of Objectivism.»

Henry Mark Holzer
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—July 1968

9) The legal implications of misrepresenting or distorting Objectivism

«The specific formulations of Ayn Rand’s discoveries, as well as her fiction creations, constitute her property and fall under the protection of the copyright laws. These laws forbid plagiarism, which consists of presenting as one’s own the ideas of someone else. These laws also forbid the paraphrasing of someone else’s ideas, or the use of extensive quotations from someone else’s work—even when credit is given—if these constitute the major part of the new work. What the copyright laws do permit is the quotation of brief portions of another’s work, but only if appropriate credit is given and only if a careful distinction is drawn between one’s own views and the views of the person one is quoting.»

«Thus, if in your own work you make a brief reference to the work of Ayn Rand, you must take scrupulous care to separate your views from hers and to ascribe to her only those statements which she has actually made. In other words, do not paraphrase or summarize what you think amounts to Miss Rand’s position on any given issue; set forth what that position is—just as she has stated it.»

. . .

«Her fiction characters are Miss Rand’s property; they are not in the public domain. In issues of this kind, Miss Rand has the protection of United States statutory and common law copyright.»

Henry Mark Holzer
A Statement Of Policy, The Objectivist—July 1968

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Quotes selected and organized by Objetivismo Internacional from the generally available Objectivist literature.

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Ayn Rand

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