The Night Watchman

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

"Reisman insights without George Reisman"

(This article was written in January 1997. It was sent to The Intellectual Activist and to some private persons.)

I will begin by telling a true life story.

About ten years ago a person I know slightly, who has an interest in Objectivism and who was also, at that time, employed at a major Swedish newspaper, wrote a short editorial about a recent case involving racism and started with the line: "Racism is the lowest, most primitive form of collectivism." There were no quotation marks, and there was no mention of Ayn Rand in the editorial.

Ayn Rand's essay "Racism" (from The Virtue of Selfishness) had just recently been translated into Swedish.1 The same kind of outrage was repeated shortly afterwards, on a much larger scale: a young Swedish libertarian wrote a long essay on the subject of racism, which consisted almost entirely of quotes from Miss Rand's essay (what was not quoted verbatim was paraphrased). There was no mention of the source of the quotes; Miss Rand's name was not mentioned.2

Now, what do you think of this? Isn't it an obvious case of wanting Rearden metal without having to acknowledge the existence of Hank Rearden?

Now, to the subject. The article by Andrew Lewis in the latest issue of The Intellectual Activist [January 1997] is a very good, hard-hitting essay, with which I have only one disagreement: it contains identifications originally made by George Reisman, in his book The Government Against the Economy, but there is not one word of credit given to Dr. Reisman, neither in the text, nor in the footnotes.

The identification on top of p. 16, that "the world is a solidly packed ball of natural resources" is a direct quote from The Government Against the Economy, and the exemplification is largely taken from the same source. And the quote from Cyprian on the bottom of p. 16 may certainly be found in Jones (to whose work there is a footnoted reference), but its relevance to the controversy over "natural resources" is again an identification made in Dr. Reisman's book.

Other points in the essay also show a "reismanesque" influence, e.g. the effect of population growth on production in a division-of-labor society.

Going back to my original true life story, I believe that the motivation behind those gentlemen's action is sheer cowardice. Ayn Rand is not exactly a popular name with the "establishment"; if one wishes to use her ideas, they have to be "sneaked in" without also mentioning her name.

It has to be the same kind of cowardice that motivates Mr. Lewis, especially in view of the fact that his essay was written for Leonard Peikoff's radio show. Mr. Lewis cannot be unaware of the fact that Leonard Peikoff wishes George Reisman ostracized. Thus, if anything from Dr. Reisman's works is mentioned on the Leonard Peikoff show, it has to be sneaked in without mentioning his name. (Dr. Peikoff, himself, is of course also aware that he is using Dr. Reisman's identifications.)

This policy of intellectual thievery and cowardice, I have to say, is bound to backfire. The relevant passage from The Government Against the Economy is simply too well known among Objectivists, and many more persons than I are bound to notice what is going on here. More and more people will begin to ask themselves (and others) the question: if George Reisman is such a bad guy that the appearance of his magnum opus is not even worth mentioning in a publication like TIA (despite the fact that excerpts from it have been published in TIA) B how can he also be such a good guy that his intellectual achievements are worth stealing?

Some day you guys will find out that the immoral is also the impractical.

1) Incidentally, by me.

2) The libertarian later apologized for what he had done; not because I asked him to do so, but because I pointed the facts out to the editor of the magazine.

PS. If you want further corroboration, I would suggest that you read Dr. Reisman's pamphlet "The Toxicity of Environmentalism" and then read Peter Schwartz' speech "In Moral Defense of Forestry", the text of which was recently published on the ARI web site, and take note of how many points from the Reisman pamphlet are echoed in the speech, without any single reference being made to George Reisman. (The speech is excellent, so you might want to read it for that reason, as well.) Just one example:

Reisman: "In [a college students' bull session], one might start with the known consequences of a quarter-ton safe falling ten stories onto the head of an unfortunate passerby below, and from there go on to speculate about the conceivable effects in a million cases of other passersby happening to drop from their hand or mouth an M&M or a peanut on their shoe, and come to the conclusion that 4.2 of them will die."

Schwartz: "If a one-ton piano crashing down on you is fatal, does this imply that a one-ounce feather floating onto your shoulders once a day for 88 years is also a threat?"

There is of course nothing wrong with one man using another man's ideas (or paraphrasing his formulations), as long as proper credit is given. But what is the moral status of using another man's ideas while at the same time attempting to deny the very existence of the man from whom one is borrowing?

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