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Leonard Peikoff  vs.  Yaron Brook  on  Immigration

We begin with some remarks Mr. Peikoff has made over the years about Yaron Brook’s performance as president of the Ayn Rand Institute. [1]

In the talk “America versus Americans” which Mr. Peikoff gave at the Ford Hall Forum, 6 April 2003, he criticizes the Bush administration for having invaded Iraq the previous month [2] and having invaded, how Bush is handling the occupation. He also analyzes the public’s reaction to Bush’s policies. Near the end he says:

“... we at the Ayn Rand Institute are doing what we can to spread some better ideas. Dr. Yaron Brook alone, its executive director – sitting right there – in the last six months has been interviewed on 59 radio and television programs and in the press, and has given 31 speeches to groups large and small, trying to get the word out. But no one man even he, no one institute, can change the world.”

In his article self-referentially titled “Peikoff vs. an ARI Board Member” (5 November 2010), Mr. Peikoff explains why he forced John McCaskey off ARI’s board of directors. He assures us that this “does not imply a lack of confidence in Yaron, who has done a splendid job.”

Until November 2016 Mr. Peikoff’s website presented a weekly podcast where he, or Mr. Brook as guest host, answered questions sent in by fans of Ayn Rand, unwittingly accepting them as spokesmen for Rand’s philosophy . The website states:  “Dr. Peikoff applies Ayn Rand’s revolutionary philosophy to real-world questions.”  In a moment we shall quote from one such podcast made in 2013, where both men together discuss immigration. To make sense of it though, first we consider a few snapshots of Mr. Peikoff’s position on immigration over the years.

In 1999 on his radio show he said he disliked Patrick Buchanan, who at the time was running for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. Of all the reasons Mr. Peikoff might have given for his dislike he chose just this:  Buchanan would end illegal Hispanic immigration, “build a wall.”  That sufficed to trash the man.

From Peikoff’s podcast of 16 June 2008:

“What is my view of immigration, from [sic] Mexicans or anybody else? In principle I hold it should be free. It is not a function of the government to prevent foreigners from coming into this country as they wish. ...

“What causes the problems today is the Welfare State. ... [Explains how some immigrants get free this and free that at the expense of taxpayers.] That causes resentment. But there is only one solution to it, and that is not to ban immigration but to re-instate capitalism. ... [He goes on to claim that there is no way to prevent immigration anyway, and ends:]  I think Tequila is a great contribution.”
To our culture.

On his podcast of 28 June 2010 he says certain restrictions should be placed on the property rights of Muslims in America. He doesn’t consider the rights-respecting alternative:  no Third World immigration.

On his podcast of 5 July 2010 he answers the question:  “What is the proper government attitude toward immigration?”  He considers two cases, the extreme case of a capitalist, laissez-faire society on the one hand, and the advanced welfare state we have today on the other.  In the ideal capitalist case:

“the government has no function whatever, and foreigners should be free to visit here, move here, acquire property, whatever. The principle of individual rights does not apply only to citizens but also to foreigners, since they are human. ... [Foreigners] have a right to travel and settle freely, borders are not a proper barrier.”
In the welfare case we have today, he argues that because welfare attracts immigrants who seek to take advantage of it (among others who don’t), more immigrants means more theft from citizens. In this contest, he says, we must take the side of the citizens and reject immigration.

Though one might agree with Mr. Peikoff’s conclusion, as far as it goes, his argument leading to it is fatally flawed. Later Mr. Brook will exploit those flaws, as we shall see, so we postpone our analysis until then. There is also a gap, a tacit assumption not made explicit that, on average, immigrants take advantage of welfare at a much higher rate than regular citizens. This is true and should have been stated rather than implied. [3]

In response to that podcast Mr. Peikoff got another question, which he answered on 13 September 2010:  “You said that if a country has laissez-faire it should not restrict immigration. What if New Zealand had laissez-faire, would it be obligated to accept all immigrants even if it resulted in becoming Muslim and having Sharia imposed.”  The qualification at the end made it easy for Mr. Peikoff to respond and sound rational, at first:

“Certainly it is not obligated, it is obligated to prevent that situation, which is just what Europe is doing the opposite of, and is soon going to disappear as Europe. The proper government has the right and the duty to defend the nation against the use of force, at home or abroad, whether that threat is actual, or there is evidence, objective evidence that it is possible. ... [If a] sect or religion is backed by governments ... and has a slew of terrorists representing those governments ... who have declared war on the West as is true today, then all right of immigration from any part of that world or anyone subscribing to that viewpoint is terminated. ... [Regarding prospective Muslim immigrants] there has to be extra scrutiny to see if there’s any history of association with the terrorist governments or terrorist groups ... If it’s merely they believe in the Koran then that is not a problem, but if there’s any suspicion that they are going to support Sharia, that in itself disqualifies them from rationally being allowed into a country. ...

“Now properly speaking, this type of problem should be solved by war, not by immigration.”
That is, not by restrictions on immigration.  Though he begins fairly well Mr. Peikoff becomes absurd.  Scrutinize, how?  (Are you a Muslim terrorist? Oh no sir.  Gonna support Sharia? Who me?  Any secular criminal tendencies? Perish the thought!)  What of immigrants not backed by a foreign government?  How would nuking Iran have prevented the marathon massacre in Boston, or any of the dozens of immigrant perpetrated mass murders?  What of culture?  Would five non-violent, non-threatening Third Worlders for each and every New Zealander change New Zealand in a way the Kiwis might not like? [4]

There was nothing in Mr. Peikoff conclusion that Mr. Brook would have disagreed with. Muslims are an easy target in official Objectivist circles. It is part of their “We are All Israelis Now” ethos (quoting the title of an ARI Op-Ed).

Then suddenly Mr. Peikoff reverses himself, at least concerning today’s America.  At the end of his 26 August 2013 podcast he shocks the Objectivist community with an honest and forthright statement about a bill then before Congress – the Rubio-Schumer amnesty immigration surge bill:

“I am against the immigration bill a hundred percent, not just one clause or another, for one very simple reason. It happens to be the case that we are teetering on the edge of dictatorship. It happens to be the case that if the Democrats continue to have or grow their political power we will be over that edge. And it happens to be the case, whether you like it or not, that of all Hispanics in America, whether they are rich or poor, self-made men or anything else, 80% are reliably and continually Democratic. So if you are talking about a bill, I don’t care whether it’s fair / unfair in any other respects, you are talking about a bill that will infuse into this country a massive amount of Democratic supporters and thereby guarantee the destruction of this country. That is what immigration means today. And there’s no use asking me in theory what do I think, there is no theory now, we’re on the end. So it’s a question of buying time.”
Though he should have understood and acknowledged that his theory had always been wrong, the gist of this is correct and well said. We would, to be more accurate, replace 80% Democrat with “over 70% Democrat” – or “90% Socialist” considering leftist Republicans.  We would note too that the voting pattern of Asians is even worse than that of Hispanics, and that of Africans even worse than Asians. We’re talking Third World here – non-whites – but an official (ARI) Objectivist would never allow himself that form of expression.

Another problem with Mr. Peikoff’s opposition to immigration is that he considers only the political / economic threat, not the cultural / demographic one.  Culture matters more than politics – and foreshadows it.

Still, Mr. Peikoff had seen the light, part of it anyway, the part dealing with the welfare state. Mr. Peikoff once marginalized the feeling of resentment engendered by a net infusion of tax-eaters, but here he realizes that eventually they will eat you alive.

The podcast is like an earthquake in the Objectivist community. For once someone at ARI spoke out loud about a long range consequence of immigration.

Now ARI has a problem:  apparent dissention between its president, Yaron Brook, and its founder, Leonard Peikoff. What are ARI follows to think? The two men decide to hold a public discussion about immigration, billed as a debate, and hash things out in the open. The discussion, moderated by Amy Peikoff, is spread over two Peikoff podcasts dated 7 & 14 October 2013.

Mr. Peikoff puts up a fight but on each point eventually lets Mr. Brook walk over him, and at the end apologetically confesses that earlier, in that August podcast, he didn’t know what he was talking about.

The Objectivist world is at peace again, the official one anyway.

In the course of the discussion Mr. Peikoff makes some good points even if he throws in the towel at the end. Consider this, in reply to Mr. Brook’s “rights of employers” argument:

“They [employers] do not have a right to do something that is objectively harmful to the country and to all of us. True, that [restricting immigration] makes him [a would be employer] a victim, but everybody is a victim of everything today. So you can’t suddenly say, oh the poor employer, we’ve got to let this whole horde in because he wants workers. That’s ridiculous. Where does he get the right to ... destroy the whole country because he has a job to fill? [Here Mr. Brook interrupts to disagree, not quoted.] He’s destroying the country by accepting the principle that this massive horde can come in, if we have established that that horde could be destructive. The fact ... that he has a job to offer doesn’t prove he’s got a right to hire whoever he wants. ... We have no way of knowing which [immigrants] are good and which are not but [suppose] we have evidence that there’s a massive amount there that will ... quickly push us over the cliff.”
After more argument from Mr. Brook he wimps out:
“I’ll concede the point. ... if it’s not an imminent threat by bolstering significantly a destructive party then it [LP’s opposition to immigration] doesn’t apply.”
Why say this?  Why posit what is contrary to fact?  And why consider only an imminent threat and not a long range one?  Why, indeed, speak only of the future when the threat is being carried out as he speaks?

In the course of the discussion Mr. Peikoff says that today Islamics are much worse than Hispanics:  “I would cut off all immigration of Islamics, a hundred percent, that’s it. [Interruption by Mr. Brook, not quoted] ... You’re right, if there was a proper war there would be no problem.” Later Mr. Brook says the rejection of Islamics would be a “temporary emergency measure” and Mr. Peikoff replies “I think you’re a hundred percent right.”

After more argument from Mr. Brook he gives up entirely, because he can’t prove that any massive horde (excepting any number of Islamics) is objectively harmful !  (Perhaps he doesn’t read a newspaper, has no Internet access, and never goes outside.)

Mr. Peikoff is sure of one thing though: if only America were a free country he would be for open immigration. This, as argued elsewhere on this website, surrenders that free America to the East.

We now quote the conclusion of the debate, from the 14 October 2013 podcast. Note the obscene laughter as the two men discuss what amounts to the destruction of historic America:
LP:  I’ll concede this much, if my facts are wrong—

YB:  [laughs]

LP:  And I don’t— [interrupts himself] I didn’t get them from first hand sources, I got them presented by [laughter in his voice, self-deprecating] impassioned radio hosts.

YB:  [laughing gleefully] Yes.

LP:  If they’re wrong then obviously I agree with you. And you obviously agree with me: we agree on the principles of who should be excluded et cetera.

YB:  I think we agree on the principles.

LP:  So there’s really no philosophic disagreement between us, but there is a factual, and I’m prepared to say that on those type of issues you might [laughter in his voice] be right [laughter from YB].

YB:  [Laughter and irony in voice] And I might be wrong.

AP (moderator):  [interrupting] I think we’ve done a lot of good here.

YB:  [continues mockingly, seemingly good-natured laughter and irony in voice] I’m even willing to concede that I might be wrong.

LP:  Now, we are over time. I think the issues have been aired. And I’d like to conclude by saying how much I respect and admire, and [laughter in his voice] probably will come even on detail to agree with, Yaron.  And I think this is significant because this is about the biggest issue that we have disagreed about for some time, and I was actually apprehensive about talking to him about this issue. Partly because I didn’t control that I was gonna get all upset, and partly because [laughter in voice] he might refute me, so. But I never at any point regarded him as philosophically defective or non-Objectivist. And I assume you felt the same?

YB:  Oh absolutely, and I mean this just shows that when you agree on the fundamentals philosophically, yeah there’re going to be disputes about how we interpret, or do we have 50 years, or do we have 20 years, I mean those are reasonable disputes given the complexity of applying philosophy to have, and it should, you know, if we came away with a real disagreement about philosophy that would be a problem.

LP:  What’s interesting is that the disagreement is essentially over facts. What are these people effect do, [sic] and what will affect this party, and what – so it’s not at all over what should immigration policy be.

YB:  No, I mean we even agreed, which I wasn’t sure you, we agreed on, on the citizenship versus immigration, because I think that’s something we should highlight and fight for.

LP:  Yeah, that’s really crucial.
All very chummy. Then they say their good-byes to the audience, and walk away, one might imagine, arm in arm.

That was years ago and Mr. Peikoff has said nothing about immigration since. Apparently he learned to love open immigration, again. A momentary burst of sanity, then back to business as usual. ARI continues to issue media promoting open immigration, and Mr. Peikoff continues to support ARI.

Mr. Brook hosted the Peikoff podcast of 6 January 2015.  A lady had sent in a question about charity:  If charity isn’t an obligation or a virtue should she continue engaging in it? An excerpt from Mr. Brook’s answer follows. Emphasis in the original (Mr. Brook’s grammar leaks a bit toward the end):

“I think the only nonprofit you should give money to is the Ayn Rand Institute and similar organizations that are fighting for freedom, because that is the only important battle out there. ... I believe that all of you Objectivists out there – all of you who support laissez-faire capitalism, and support rationally self-interested reason – should be supporting the Ayn Rand Institute, and I think you should be doing it ’cuz  it’s in your rational self-interest to do it, for the reasons [the questioner] mentioned: you care about the world in which you live; you care about your own life; you care, to some extent, about other people; and the only way to have an impact on those other people – in a lasting way, in a meaningful way, in a way that lasts – is to help bring about a better world, and the only way to do that is by changing the culture, and the only organization, or the primary organization, dedicated to changing the culture is the Ayn Rand Institute. You should be focusing your giving, your non-profit giving, your tax-deductible giving, to the Ayn Rand Institute – your investment in cultural change to the Ayn Rand Institute. ...

“And let me just add that Leonard asked that you all know that the only non-profit he contributes to is ARI, and that he disagrees with the whole idea that we should be doing charity to support all these other causes today.”
Where does your money go when you donate to ARI?  What does “cultural change” mean to them?  They use part of your money to create media whose message amounts to this:  Working to make whites a minority in your own country is the moral, the rationally selfish, thing for you to do.  (See  ARI on Immigration.)  Mr. Brook’s idea of  “changing the culture”  is to change the demography of your neighborhood.

ARI is adept at these moral inversions. Enlisting in, or paying for, the Iraq War was the selfish thing for you to do too. On both issues they manage to dress their agenda in the moral trappings of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Mr. Brook, and the others at ARI, could not get away with such pronouncements as  “The solution to illegal immigration is to make it legal.”  without a vestige of self-sacrifice in their victims (a Christian problem). Mr. Brook banks on latent altruism in his followers undermining their authentic self-interest.

He takes them for suckers, even if he believes, on some level, his own rhetoric. He believes it, and he doesn’t believes it – which is his contradiction, his self-deception.

Mr. Brook’s arguments are special pleading, devoid of principle, uttered to fool rather than discover.  If he really thought Objectivism and “rationally self-interested reason” – good grief – entailed open immigration, he would advocate open immigration for his beloved Israel (from those countries it is not at war with). Yet precisely because he loves Israel he would never do such a thing.

One day someone might ask Mr. Brook what it is about America he hates so much that he advocates the opposite here.

“We are All Israelis Now” – except Israel can have a wall and we cannot.

As for Peikoff, his is a different case, I think. Obviously intelligent, why is he – in the end – so stupid?  It’s a puzzle.  Unlike the glib and tendentious Brook, steeped in and executing the Jewish cultural agenda, Peikoff might be making an unintentional mistake: allowing his rationalism to overrule common sense. Unlike Brook he might not be trying to harm us, yet he would destroy us all because he cannot keep in mind, beyond the influence of the day, the big picture, a large enough chunk of reality to encompass what Third World immigration entails. Another problem is that he has made it his mission to parrot Ayn Rand, unable to recognize or acknowledge her mistakes (see  Ayn Rand on Immigration ).

Besides that, he is an older man easily steamrolled by the much younger Brook’s aggressiveness. Under the influence of what Peikoff later came to deride as “impassioned radio hosts,”  for a brief time his vision widened,  then after a good browbeating by Brook the blinkers dropped down again. Don’t look to the left, don’t look to the right, think of the Tequila—

... Mark?

What is it Froggy?

... This essay’s gone off the rails into psychic crystal ball land.

Scratch the last two paragraphs.  Mr. Peikoff’s outbreak of common sense, years ago and buried inside an obscure audio podcast, means nothing. The standout fact is that he supports, has always supported, Yaron Brook and the rest of the immigration enthusiasts at ARI. He gives them a platform from which to broadcast their anti-American poison, and they are rewarded with six figure incomes while they do it. They produce audio clips, video shows, talk shows, editorials, interviews, blogs, social media, an email newsletter, so far one congressional staff talk – all hawking open borders. As far as immigration is concerned Mr. Peikoff is no better than a Leftist America hater. He fails to see the contradiction – whether in an ideal America or the America of today – between everyone on earth having a right to move here, and the philosophy he claims to defend.

He wants to “change the world,” his bosom associate speaks of “changing the culture.”  We don’t want a new world or changed culture, not in their sense of new and change. If to them that is philosophically defective they can make the most of it.


In contrast to the self-proclaimed Objectivist leaders at ARI,  the immigration disaster is very real to rank and file Objectivists. Few of them have the high income ARI leaders do to insulate themselves from the demographic effect of what those leaders advocate. Students still debate the immigration issue among themselves. Even some of the better known and better heeled Objectivist bloggers (though no official ones) allow some real debate on the subject unlike the easy takedown wrestling match the conclusion of which we just witnessed.

The continued rumbling from the hinterland prompted the Peikoff podcast of 2 March 2015:  “Why is there no agreement among Objectivists on the issue of immigration?” hosted by Yaron Brook. Before we get to Mr. Brook’s answer we examine the chinks in the armor Mr. Peikoff once used, and some Objectivists use now, to intellectually oppose advocates of today’s Third World invasion.

Mr. Peikoff claimed that open immigration is morally required in an ideal libertarian society (a totally false claim we maintain, but let it pass), but is impractical in a welfare state – laissez-faire  open-borders  good,  welfare-state  open-borders  bad. One problem with that position – call it “Practic-Oist” – is what one might call the cause-effect continuity problem. Even those in the Practic-Oist camp believe that a society that is predominately laissez-faire must, morally, have open borders. Where do you draw the line? At what point does creeping statism entail closing the borders? Are we at that point?

Another problem is that going from open borders to closed borders reverses the actual order of events in American history. From the Revolutionary War to the 1830’s there was virtually no immigration – the population grew by natural increase, not by immigration – and virtually no non-northwest European immigration (except for slaves, unfortunately) until the late 19th century. The Civil War was a huge leap from predominately laissez-faire towards statism, statism which was further augmented after the borders became more open toward the end of the 19th century. [5]

Another problem is psychological. No one wants to think he lives in a slave state. A healthy person tends to be optimistic: accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, as the old song goes. Consequently he thinks America is freer than it actually is. Wherever a Practic-Oist might draw the line between laissez-faire and welfare state, society seems closer to laissez-faire than it really is, and thus – in the Practic-Oist view – closer to the moral imperative of open borders than it really is.

The worst problem stems from Mr. Peikoff’s error – the fatal flaw alluded to above – concerning foreigners and individual rights. When he says that foreigners have a right to move here, an inalienable right as a human being, and that he opposes immigration (as he did briefly) despite that based on its consequences, his opposition sounds – and is – pragmatic, unprincipled. A person hearing his argument and who wants to be good knows which side to choose. (In fact the paradox is only apparent. We should take a hint from consequences, that is, reality: a foreigner has no inalienable right to enter the U.S. or any other country but his own.)

All of which leaves a hole in Mr. Peikoff’s argument big enough for an official Objectivist to drive his moralizing truck through.

Mr. Brook answers the podcast question, why don’t Objectivists agree on immigration, by dividing it – à la Peikoff – into two questions, one for a free society and one for a mixed economy. At first he generalizes beyond the immigration issue:

“... in a mixed economy ... there’s probably disagreement among Objectivists on a lot of different ... specific issues like this. ... [For example] is there agreement among Objectivists about how to phase out Social Security? Probably not, there are probably five or six different views out there about how to do it. ...

“I think everybody agrees on the ultimate you know kind of open immigration view in a free society, but how do we get there? Do we get there by going cold turkey today opening up the borders and that’s it, do we get there by increasing immigration today, do we get there by shutting down immigration today but committing to freeing it up tomorrow. So there are a lot of issues of implementation in how we get from here to there along the way that I think that are valid disagreements within the context of a complex world that is made very murky by the mixed economy.”
The end.  That’s Mr. Brook’s answer. Rather weak tea for his students at ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center. Sooner or later they’re going to be surrounded by Asians, Africans and Amerindians whether they like it or not.

1  Yaron Brook was president (CEO) of the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2017 inclusive.  He is still chairman of the board.

2  Strange to relate considering Mr. Peikoff’s remarks, under Mr. Book’s leadership ARI had promoted Bush’s invasion of Iraq – see  Relentless Propaganda
on this website – and this as Bush described how he would proceed.

Mr. Peikoff’s complaint is less than honest since he exercised total control over ARI all through its promotion of the Iraq invasion.  George Reisman, a former board member of ARI, wrote of Mr. Peikoff in 1994:  “under the charter of ARI he possessed absolute veto power over all of the Institute’s policies.”  (“To Whom It May Concern” 15 November 1994.)  In 2010 Mr. Peikoff still retained control over ARI, as the McCaskey affair illustrates.

A board member disagrees with a flawed theory of induction, and Mr. Peikoff has him thrown out.  ARI lobbies for the invasion of Iraq, and – nothing.  At  ARI  hypocrisy begins at the top.

3  Along the way Mr. Peikoff bashes Americans. After his tacit claim that many more immigrants per capita are on welfare than native Americans, he says:  “... I recognize that many American citizens are much worse parasites probably than the worst immigrant.”  He just couldn’t help himself.

Since the two welfare groups are large the worst in each might be equally bad. Some of the cases of immigrant fraud reported in the brief news video  “Loophole Costs Billions”  are hard to beat though.

4  Even if Europe could somehow magically implement Mr. Peikoff’s policies still it would be destroyed by open immigration. There are more than enough non-Muslim, non-terrorist, non-Sharia supporting Third World immigrants to ruin Europe several times over. Furthermore, compared to religiously motivated assassinations and massacres, secular violent crime by non-religious Muslims, if less spectacular, is more frequent and the total number of victims greater.

5  Open borders helped cause further statism. One of the reasons for the restrictive immigration acts passed early in the 20th century was the immigration of what at the time were called “anarchists” and better described as communists. The immigrants who had arrived earlier and their descendents worked to overturn those restrictions, and succeeded in the Silly Sixties.