The Night Watchman

A Small Beacon in the Night of Unreason
raised and maintained by Per-Olof Samuelsson

Open Letter to Leonard Peikoff

The following letter was written in July 1996. Since I want the cards on the table, I put it here for anyone interested to see. A few minor typos have been corrected, and a word that apparently does not exist in English ("belumbered") has been changed to "cluttered up".

For a couple of years a "whispering campaign" has been waged against George Reisman and Edith Packer.

Reisman and Packer have been removed from ARI:s Board of Advisors. ARI has decided to cease promoting the activities of The Jefferson School. Second Renaissance Books has ceased carrying Reisman's and Packer's books, pamphlets and tapes. No official explanation has been given.

People who ask for the reason are given no explanation. They are answered with the mere assertion that the conflict is of a moral nature. This implies that the Reismans are immoral (since the persons who say it can hardly mean that they themselves are immoral), but no facts are given to substantiate this charge. Furthermore, we are told repeatedly that Leonard Peikoff agrees, as if the sheer fact of your agreement would settle the issue once and for all. You, on the other hand, have made no public statement as to why you consider the Reismans immoral. (1)

I have to point out to you that this policy of yours runs counter to clear and unequivocal Objectivist principles.

In "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?" (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 8), Miss Rand writes:

To judge means: to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard. It is not an easy task; it is not a task that can be performed automatically by one's feelings, "instincts" or hunches. It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles; it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person. When one pronounces moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer "Why?" and to prove one's case – to oneself and to any rational inquirer.

From this follows that whoever charges George Reisman and Edith Packer with being immoral has to prove his case.

It has been said, in defense of the policy of not giving reasons, that the conflict is private in nature and thus of no concern to outsiders. But this does not hold water. Ostracizing the Reismans – by refusing to promote their activities or carry their works – is a matter of concern to anyone who is concerned about the future of our civilization.

A possible implication of the "no reason given" policy is that the inquirers are not rational, so no case has to (or can) be proven to them. Whoever this might apply to, it does not apply to me.

Furthermore, no abstract principle or standard by which the Reismans are to be condemned has been named by anyone.

Note: when Ayn Rand broke with Nathaniel Branden, the principle was clear: he did not practice what he preached. When you broke with David Kelley, the principle was equally clear: he preached the wrong ideas. When you broke with Robert Hessen, you named the principle: he had violated your property rights. In the conflict between you and the Reismans, by contrast, there is only fog.

From what I can gather, the conflict is basically between the Reismans and Peter Schwartz, and then you, Harry Binswanger and others have sided with Schwartz. The basic crime of the Reismans seems to be that on one occasion Edith Packer has called Peter Schwartz' behavior "vicious".

Now, Peter Schwartz is a person, not a principle; and he is not exempt from moral judgement. The situation I referred to involved a conflict about property rights. George Reisman believed that the articles by him that had been published in The Intellectual Activist were his by right and his to use and dispose of. Peter Schwartz believed otherwise. (2)

Thus, there actually is a principle at the bottom of this conflict – the principle that the product of a person's mind belongs to him, not to somebody else. And this is the principle by which this conflict should be judged.

Now a word about the principle or standard by which the Reismans should be judged.

A very good statement of what is entailed in the virtue of justice is the following (and you should recognize the words):

Justice consists first not in condemning, but in admiring – and then in expressing one's admiration explicitly and in fighting for those one admires. It consists first in acknowledging the good: intellectually, in reaching an objective moral verdict; then existentially, in defending the good – speaking out, making one's verdict known, championing publicly the men who are rational (one also praises them to their face, if there is a context to indicate that this would be a value to the person rather than an intrusion). Evil must be combatted, but then it is to be brushed aside. What counts in life are the men who support life. They are the men who struggle unremittingly, often heroically, to achieve values. They are the Atlases whom mankind needs desperately, and who in turn desperately need the recognition – specifically, the moral recognition – to which they are entitled. They need to feel, while carrying the world on their shoulders, that they are living in a human society and that the burden is worth carrying. Otherwise, like the protagonists of Ayn Rand's novel, they too, properly, will shrug. (OPAR, p. 284f.)

Now, George Reisman is a truly great mind (and there would be no reason for me to bother with this conflict, if he were not). In his own profession, he ranks with the great names (such as Smith, Ricardo, Mises, and a few others). His recent treatise will revolutionize the science of economics, if it gets to be known and read. He has ridded Classical and Austrian economics of the inconsistencies that have cluttered them up in the past, and added quite a few contributions of his own. (3) His work is certainly an application of Objectivism (and I challenge anyone to claim otherwise). (4) That his work will be belittled and/or silenced by today's establishment economists is bad, but to be expected. That it will be belittled and/or silenced by Objectivists is an outrage. Yet, this is precisely what is taking place.

That George Reisman's reputation is now to be destroyed – and destroyed by pure rumor mongering – is simply something I will not sanction.

Per-Olof Samuelsson

Dr. Peikoff's answer:


My quarrel with the Reismans is none of your business. It consists of personal disputes which have nothing to do with Objectivism and could not be proved to outsiders even if I wanted to, even though those facts are objective and known to me as such. Precisely for this reason I expect nothing of you in Sweden except the courtesy of a polite question as to my policy regarding you and the Reismans – as against a diatribe. In light of this last, I must withdraw all cooperation from your [translation] venture and prohibit any further reprinting of Ayn Rand materiel.

Comments, hopefully, unnecessary. Except, perhaps, this one:

I do not need anyone's "cooperation" in order to translate Ayn Rand's works into Swedish. All I need is my brain, a good dictionary, and some time in which to do the job. The only scarce item on this list is time. And if Leonard Peikoff wants to make a martyr out of me and mete out some terrible punishment for the crime of translating Ayn Rand into a foreign language (something which, if properly and conscientiosly done, deserves a medal and a place in the Objectivist Hall of Fame) - well, he can always go to court.

1) The only person, to my knowledge, who has attempted to summarize and substantiate the charges against the Reismans is Robert Stubblefield, in a paper he shows to inquirers on his Objectivism Study Group. His paper, however, adds up to the same ad verecundiam argument: it is Leonard Peikoff who has pronounced the Reismans immoral, and he has told them his reason; thus he must know the reason, and the Reismans must be attempting to hide it from the world.

2) That this is so is evidenced by Peter Schwartz' letters to Dr. Reisman on the subject. Furthermore, as if to prove his consistency, he later threatened to destroy Edith Packer's property - by first ceasing to sell Dr. Packer's tapes through SRB, then demanding an exorbitant sum to return her master tapes and threatening to erase the master tapes if she did not pay.

Edith Packer did nothing more than pronounce moral judgement on Peter Schwartz. A person is not to be condemned for pronouncing moral judgement - only for pronouncing the wrong moral judgement. I know of no evidence that her judgement in this case was wrong.

3) The nature of these contributions is not the subject of this letter. But I would like to say that Dr. Reisman's identification of the "primacy of profits" principle (as opposed to "primacy of wages") by itself is sufficient to place him in the Hall of Fame among economists - and among Objectivists.

4) The only person, to my knowledge, who has attempted to challenge Dr. Reisman's adherence to Objectivism is Harry Binswanger, in a memo concerning Dr. Reisman's pamphlet on the right to medical care - a memo you have read and apparently approve of. The attempt is a complete failure - Dr. Binswanger only succeeds in casting doubt on his own adherence to Objectivism. I will give my reasons for this verdict, if you ask me.

© 2002 Per-Olof Samuelsson
May be quoted freely as long as the URL to this web site is included. May not be quoted out of context.

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