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John McCaskey

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John McCaskey made a fortune as a software engineer and businessman in the 1990s, changed careers and now devotes his time to the history and philosophy of science. He had obtained a doctorate in the history of science from Stanford University in 2006 and at the time of the controversy described here was teaching there part-time.

Somewhere along his career he became interested in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. In 2001 he founded the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship in order to promote the study of Objectivism in colleges. Though the Anthem Foundation is a separate legal entity from ARI, since at least 2008 it has been run by ARI associates. Mr. McCaskey became a member of ARI’s board of directors in 2004.

Here we describe the events that led to his abrupt departure from ARI and the Anthem Foundation. The events center around Leonard Peikoff, the founder of ARI though no longer on its board of directors, and David Harriman, the author of a book about scientific induction, elaborating Leonard Peikoff’s ideas on the subject.

The story begins in the early 2000s when Mr. Harriman was working on his book while being supported by ARI.  Mr. McCaskey, the ARI board member best able to judge Mr. Harriman’s work, takes an interest in it and over the years reads drafts of the book. He hears Mr. Harriman lecture on the material, and they also discuss it between themselves.

He expresses reservations about the book’s historical accounts. As will be seen, the details of his criticism are irrelevant to this story, merely the fact that he was critical of Mr. Harriman’s work, and thus of Mr. Peikoff’s, is all that matters.

The book is officially published in July 2010:  The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.  It features an introduction by Mr. Peikoff, and according to Mr. Harriman’s Preface one chapter and part of another are “taken nearly verbatim” from lectures by Mr. Peikoff, and every chapter “has benefited by his line-by-line scrutiny.” The previous month Mr. McCaskey had received a pre-publication copy of the book and as he read through it sent Mr. Harriman several emails challenging some of its statements.

At the annual Objectivist Summer Conference (OCON July 2010) Mr. McCaskey and about half a dozen other academics meet privately to discuss the book. Subsequently Mr. Peikoff finds out about the meeting, which he later refers to as a forum, from someone who knew someone who had attended. (As will be seen, he later writes of the meeting as if he had heard about it second-hand rather than third-hand.)

Throughout all this Mr. Peikoff never discussed the book with McCaskey. He did read some of the emails that McCaskey sent Harriman.

*     *     *

On August 30, 2010 Leonard Peikoff demands of ARI that it remove McCaskey from its board of directors. Unless ARI removes McCaskey, Mr. Peikoff threatens, he himself will leave, taking – one assumes – the Ayn Rand trademark and archives with him.

Here is the email that Mr. Peikoff sent Arline Mann, a lawyer for ARI and co-chairman of the ARI board of directors (the first bracketed word, “legal,” and all abbreviations – AR for Ayn Rand, and so forth – are in the original; as is the word “whom” at the end of one paragraph; we leave off our external quote marks):

From:  Leonard Peikoff
Sent:  Monday, August 30, 2010 ...
To:  Mann, Arline [Legal]
Cc:  Yaron Brook
Subject:  Your call

Hi Arline,
I do not want to argue what I regard as facts:

That M[cCaskey] attacks Dave[ Harriman]’s book, and thus, explicitly or implicitly, my intro praising it as expressing AR’s epistemology, and also my course on induction, on which the book is based.

I have seen a large part of this criticism myself, and have heard its overall tenor and content from others who attended a forum on the subject. I do not know where else he has voiced these conclusions, but size to me is irrelevant in this context. By the way, from the emails I have seen, his disagreements are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.

In essence, his behavior amounts to: Peikoff is misguided, Harriman is misguided, M knows Objectivism better than either. Or else: Objectivism on these issues is inadequate, and M is the one pointing the flaws out.

When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me -- I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism -- is denounced by a member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded, someone has to go, and will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom.

I do understand how much money M has brought to ARI, and how many college appointments he has gotten and is still getting. As Ayn would have put it, that raises him one rung in Hell, but it does not convert Objectivism into pragmatism.
Best wishes,
Thus if you criticize (denounce is an exaggeration),  even privately,  Mr. Peikoff’s work – and of course this is not Ayn Rand’s work – you can expect to be thrown out of the Ayn Rand Institute no matter how much you have helped them or him.

*     *     *

Mr. McCaskey saves ARI the trouble of deciding between himself and the founder of ARI, between himself and existing:  he simply resigns, but does insist on one condition, that Peikoff make his ultimatum public.

In the announcement of his resignation on September 3 Mr. McCaskey says that he found Peikoff’s remarks:

“... insultingly unjust ... and his ultimatum, as such, a threat to the Institute. I believe it would be damaging to the Institute if the Institute acted either way, either acceding to his demand or rejecting it.

“So I decided to resign from the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute and of the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship.”
This appears less than consistent. If the ultimatum by itself was a threat to the Institute, and he cared about that, why then publicize it? Mr. McCaskey should have been more forthright about his wanting to expose the injury being done to him overriding his concern about the damage the exposure would cause ARI.

He had little choice in publishing the email because, as he relates in his resignation announcement, the email was the only official evidence of the reason for his departure given him. (The link to his full statement can be found below, under the heading “Source Material.”) In an email published on Noodlefood, 12 October 2010, Mr. McCaskey explains further, and again he could have been clearer that his choice was either damage ARI’s reputation or allow them to damage his:

“When I first heard of Peikoff's demand that I be removed from the board, I broached the obvious possibility of my resigning. But I said I thought that would make good sense only if Peikoff were willing to go public with his denunciation and demand.

“It became increasingly clear to me that the Institute would be seriously damaged if it took either horn of the dilemma, but I still had seen nothing in writing that articulated exactly what Peikoff was demanding and why.

“After I received a copy of the email, I offered to resign if he gave permission to release that. It was the only thing in writing I had. I expected he would edit it first. He preferred to have it stand as is.

“The Institute also gave me its permission to release the email.”
Apparently Mr. Peikoff didn’t think Objectivists deserved anything better.

*     *     *

On October 11, about six weeks after his resignation, ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center emails its students (we leave off our external quote marks):

Dear OAC Students,

We’re looking forward to starting up the OAC year in a few weeks, and to seeing all of you in class soon. In the meantime, we want to invite you to a phone meeting we’re planning to have with the entire OAC student body (this is the first such meeting, I believe.)

For those of you who spend time on Facebook, you’ve likely become aware of various discussions on the internet by some Objectivists regarding Dr. John McCaskey’s recent resignation from ARI’s Board of Directors. We understand that some of you have questions, and more importantly, that some of you are genuinely struggling with how one should respond based on the limited public information and subsequent “chatter”. We therefore want to meet with all of you to discuss both why Dr. McCaskey’s resignation is a private matter, and more urgently, to provide some guidance on how to objectively think and communicate about a matter that appears as difficult to understand as this one does.

The adjective supercilious comes to mind.  The email goes on to say that because of their travel schedules the teleconference won’t take place until November 8, and that because of the large number of students communication might be only one way, please email any questions in advance.

*     *     *

On October 29 Craig Biddle, publisher of The Objective Standard, defends John McCaskey in an essay he places on his personal website (not TOS’s): “Justice for John P. McCaskey.” ARI immediately cancels all his scheduled speaking engagements. On Facebook (October 30) Mr. Biddle writes optimistically: “I hope to reschedule them in the near future.” It doesn’t happen. [1]

*     *     *

On November 5  Mr. Peikoff publishes a statement which he entitles  “Peikoff vs. an ARI Board Member.”

... Oh God, give it a rest. Do I have to read this?

Froggy, you are free to leave at any time.  To continue, he numbers his points one to four. In the first he tries to justify his “rung in hell” remark, referring to it obliquely as “Dante’s phrase.” He claims that Ayn Rand often used it, as if that were relevant. It is, he says, only an eloquent way of saying that a positive doesn’t compensate for an extreme negative, and that it does not “necessarily” have moral import.

His second point begins with a claim about his email to Arline Mann:

“... I was writing an extemporaneous, private email to two people with the same context of knowledge as mine, not a statement for the general public ...”
The question goes begging why he then authorized its release as such. He claims that “McCaskey asked me to allow him to make my unedited letter public” – the operative word being “unedited,” which is at variance with Mr. McCaskey’s account (see above).  Mr. Peikoff continues: “I had to agree, because I did not want to give him the opportunity to charge that I was engaged in a cover-up.”  Which is hard to follow; he didn’t have to agree, he could have written another document.

In any case whether the letter was private or public doesn’t matter. Its content is ridiculous. Private versus public is a red herring.

In point three he says that “some people have turned the dispute into a moral issue,” implying that the objection articulated in his email was not moral. But, Mr. Peikoff continues, because some people have turned the dispute into a moral issue he now “should state the full truth” – somehow one follows from the other. Here is the full truth according to Mr. Peikoff (emphasis his):

“I have, for years, long before Harriman’s book, condemned McCaskey morally: I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual.”
This, as Mr. Peikoff later emphasizes, was only in private. He then says that his low opinion of McCaskey was the reason he hadn’t discussed Harriman’s book with him or tried to understand his viewpoint. Thus, Mr. Peikoff explains, it was impossible to resolve or limit their differences over the book.

In point four, among other things he considers who should choose ARI board members:

“... my goal is to judge the qualifications of those given leading positions of authority in running the Institute ... . My concern with this goal does not imply a lack of confidence in Yaron, who has done a splendid job. But the latter does not imply that he and I always agree on suitable Board members.”
He goes on to argue that he is the one best qualified to “decide who is qualified to hold such positions ... .” He then insinuates that McCaskey is not an Objectivist:

“McCaskey is free to advocate in any medium whatever he wishes and even to regard himself as an Objectivist, which indeed he may in some form be, for all I know; I have no interest in finding out.”

and insinuates that to disagree with anything in David Harriman’s book is to disagree with Ayn Rand:

“... my role in this connection is to remove from the existential center of the movement any influence which I evaluate as harmful in practice to the spread of Objectivism.” [2]


“To sneer in a public setting at an epochal Objectivist book qualifies, in my judgment, as harm.”

By all other accounts McCaskey’s criticism, correct or not, was polite, it could not properly be characterized as sneering. Certainly his public criticism cannot. Furthermore, he didn’t criticize the book in public until after he had resigned. (The OCON gathering was not public.)  Mr. Peikoff continues:

“When McCaskey was appointed to the Board, I said nothing, just as I have not objected to the fact that a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other. In all these cases my personal dislike was irrelevant. It is only when I perceived harm in practice that I have taken action. And I have set the requirements for such action high. In the 25 years of ARI’s existence, I have vetoed only two individuals prior to McCaskey.”

The last two ousted board members were George Reisman and his wife Edith Packer, see  ARI vs. George Reisman.  Mr. Peikoff was a member of the board at the time. Whether it is legal for him to control board membership now, after his official retirement from ARI, is a question.

Mr. Peikoff concludes by saying that he does not oppose independence or free speech, contrary to his detractors, who include “magazine founders and PhDs with podcasts” – an oblique reference to Craig Biddle (The Objective Standard) and Diana Hsieh (Noodlefood).

Though this put-down might make Mr. Biddle and Ms. Hsieh look good, it’s not a case of bad versus good but rather of one bad versus another somewhat less so, at least in the matter of John McCaskey. Like Peikoff,  Biddle and Hsieh have no problem with the anti-American propaganda, perversely couched as Objectivism, emanating from ARI. [3]

Unfortunately the same must be said of Mr. McCaskey. Supporting John Lewis – what was that about rungs in hell?

Mr. McCaskey might be naïve rather than vicious. Perhaps he never looked at ARI very closely and left to other people the issues outside his area of expertise. May he come to be appalled at some of the propaganda he helped finance.

Finally, in a postscript, Mr. Peikoff again drags in Ayn Rand’s name, saying that she would not have stooped to defend herself against such detractors but “I am not as strong as she was.”

*     *     *

Meanwhile back at the ARI, the scheduled conference call with OAC students takes place. A few days later, on the 11th of November, ARI finally publishes a statement about McCaskey’s resignation.

The statement is in the form of a letter by Yaron Brook. He begins with a misleading half-truth:

“Dear ARI supporter,

“On September 3, 2010, John McCaskey resigned from ARI’s Board of Directors on the condition that he be permitted to publish an e-mail Leonard Peikoff had sent to Arline Mann, co-chair of the Board.”
Mr. Brook leaves out an important detail, that the resignation was in response to Peikoff’s demand that ARI remove McCaskey from the board or Peikoff would sever his relationship with ARI, effectively ending ARI.

Naturally Peikoff’s email was much discussed in Objectivist circles. Mr. Brook refers to that discussion as “clamor.” He says this clamor is driven by only “a small group of people,” people who lack the “full context.” With these words and phrases Mr. Brook would have us believe that only a few ignorant lowlifes worry about the McCaskey affair. Here’s the complete sentence:

“What Dr. McCaskey published has caused a clamor – one continually reinvigorated by statements of ‘fact’ and commentaries from a small group of people who lack the full context.”
But even Mr. Brook doesn’t believe it, for he continues:

“Unfortunately, ARI’s Board of Directors did not foresee the extent to which this would happen. ... [Releasing] Dr. Peikoff’s e-mail and our silence since the resignation have caused much confusion among our supporters ...”

OK, not much foresight over at ARI.  Note the impression Mr. Brook tries to give:  that the problem is your reaction to the attack on McCaskey, not the nature of the attack itself. McCaskey caused the “clamor,” not Peikoff.

Now Mr. Brook shall “rectify the matter.” He begins by praising in glowing terms Peikoff’s work on induction and Harriman’s book based on it. He says that Peikoff expressed his concern about McCaskey in August 2010, and by the end of the month:

“presented the terms and timeline he expected ARI’s Board to meet in order to resolve the conflict. At all times, Dr. McCaskey’s unfavorable attitude toward this major ARI project and Dr. Peikoff’s view on the matter were the only issues, not any personal views Dr. Peikoff had about Dr. McCaskey’s moral character.”
— that last apparently being a reference to Peikoff’s statement trashing McCaskey six days before. Mr. Brook goes on to say in so many words that ARI could not exist without Peikoff, and concludes that “we are certainly interested in hearing his thoughts and analyses, and we give them due weight in our deliberations.”  (Due weight as in overwhelming, we would say.)  And as they were deliberating McCaskey offered to resign. Mr. Brook continues:

“ARI’s Board believes that the right outcome was reached—that Dr. McCaskey is no longer a Board member.

“Let me turn now to some of the wild rumors and accusations that have been circulating. First, there was no attempt to quash Dr. McCaskey’s criticisms of The Logical Leap. To the contrary, Dr. McCaskey may now freely express his views about the book and has done so; he no longer has a conflict of interest given that his obligations as an ARI Board member have come to an end.”

Yes, and you needn’t worry about being robbed after a thief has stolen all your money. All’s right with the world.

(After telling of McCaskey’s offer to resign Mr. Brook writes parenthetically:  “Note that there was no request made by anyone that Dr. McCaskey resign from the Board of Directors of the Anthem Foundation.”  This is disingenuous. In 2008 ARI staff had taken over the Anthem Foundation’s operational management and in 2010 its entire staff and board of directors were ARI associates, including Yaron Brook on the board. [3]  Surely McCaskey would be reluctant to continue dealing with Anthem / ARI after recent events.)

Mr. Brook goes on to praise ARI’s ultimate “consistency” on “philosophical, cultural, and political issues” after internally debating them, and its “high quality of scholarship.”  Thus necessarily “a Board member cannot undercut ARI’s major projects” and remain a board member.

“If the controversy around Dr. McCaskey’s resignation has caused you to have doubts or reservations about ARI, please set aside the selective reports, slanted histories of old conflicts, and rampant speculation  and consider the actual facts. Take a look at ARI’s track record ...”
Indeed, just look at the twisting of history, the promotion of unjust wars, the justification of medieval torture, the Leftist-like advocacy of open borders. Mr. Brook concludes by praising ARI’s promotion of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. And thanks you for your support.

“Sincerely yours,
Yaron Brook”

The above is the gist of the ARI board’s statement, a mealy-mouthed performance of over eleven hundred words and an extended insult to the intelligence of ARI’s supporters.

Several other points could be criticized, for example the attempt – like Mr. Peikoff’s – to explain away the bullying email to Arline Mann by insinuating that it had been clandestinely leaked, again saying it was “private” and “informal, unedited, and not written for publication.” If it was private it ceased being so by the voluntary action of Misters Peikoff and Brook. In any case, focusing on the issue of private versus public sidesteps the email’s content, which was as ridiculous in private as it is in public.

Harry Binswanger had encouraged McCaskey when he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation, finished four years earlier. From the Acknowledgements section of McCaskey’s dissertation:  “A special thanks to Harry Binswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute. His enthusiasm for this project has been a constant source of encouragement.”  Yet when it came to McCaskey’s ejection from ARI  Mr. Binswanger, who is on ARI’s board of directors, apparently did not defend him; in any case he made no public statement.

Source Material
(the year is 2010)

June 14 - 28 (made public October 4)
Some of John McCaskey’s emails to David Harriman
(almost halfway down).

August 30
Email from Leonard Peikoff to Arline Mann, a lawyer for ARI and co-chairman of the ARI board of directors, with cc to Yaron Brook. All but first and last paragraphs quoted above, full text (as a picture) quoted in John McCaskey’s September 3 resignation letter – see next item.

September 3
“Resignation from the Boards of ARI and the Anthem Foundation”
by John McCaskey.

September 4
“Potentially seminal theory, but some unconventional history”
Mr. McCaskey’s comments on Mr. Harriman’s book at Amazon.com.  Also reprinted on Mr. McCaskey’s website.

October 4
Mr. McCaskey’s further comments at Amazon.com are no longer there.

October 11
ARI’s email to its Objectivist Academic Center students
(an archived copy, complete except for phone number and signature).

October 12
Mr. McCaskey explains his motivations further in an email published on Noodlefood, the full text of which is quoted in the article above. (It was published on the 12th but may have been sent before then.)

October 29
“Justice for John P. McCaskey”
by Craig Biddle, publisher of The Objective Standard though the above was on his personal website.  See also his  “Answers to Questions about ‘Justice for John P. McCaskey’  of November 10.  (A few years later Mr. Biddle took down the website then in 2021 put it back up. The links are to archived copies.)

October 30
Craig Biddle announces on Facebook that ARI has cancelled his ARI-sponsored speaking engagements. Later he removes this announcement. The full text can found in the first footnote below.

November 5
“Peikoff vs. an ARI Board Member”
by Leonard Peikoff.  The link is to an archive. It was on his website at
but he has since removed it. That address now redirects to his main page.

November 8
The OAC teleconference, announced October 11, takes place. No recording or transcript is available.

November 11
“A Statement from ARI about the Resignation of John McCaskey from Our Board of Directors”
In November this was easy to find on ARI’s website; it was listed among the website’s news releases. However by January it was no longer listed. It was still at its original URL though, until ARI renovated their website March 2014 and removed it. The link above is to an archive.

What to Make of It ?

When in ARI’s statement Yaron Brook referred to “slanted histories of old conflicts,” intending to pooh-pooh any similarities to the McCaskey affair, doubtless one conflict he had in mind was the ouster of George Reisman and his wife from the ARI board 17 years earlier. Contrary to Mr. Brook’s implication these two affairs have a lot in common. Both victims had a history of long and useful service to ARI, both engaged in constructive criticism only to be denounced as immoral troublemakers, thrown out, and have those who sided with them marginalized. And both defended themselves with more decency than possessed by their attackers.

And, it has to be said, both may have deserved what they got.  Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

There is good reason to air this unseemly squabble. The McCaskey affair is further evidence, if any was necessary, that the official Objectivists are extraordinarily inconsistent in their Objectivism. Just as they twist Ayn Rand’s philosophy to get what they want in politics, so they twist Ayn Rand’s philosophy to get what they want in their personal lives, sacrificing others to their pet projects. The irrationality in their personal lives reflects the irrationality in their Institute.

The affair went from  “Leonard Peikoff vs. John McCaskey”  to  “ARI vs. John McCaskey” – which meant  “ARI vs. anyone who can think for himself.”

(Unlike Mr. McCaskey, Mr. Harriman was fairly young when he began his association with ARI. A couple of years after the McCaskey affair Misters Peikoff and Harriman had a falling out; Mr. Harriman is now independent of ARI.)

“But,” you frequently hear in Objectivist circles, “what about all the good ARI does? Shouldn’t we support them for that?”  For example here is Betsy Speicher, posting on her (now defunct) forum November 21, 2010 (emphasis removed):

“While ARI and its activities are not the only way to spread Objectivism, it is definitely a major and necessary institution. It represents a gathering of money and talent that can accomplish worthy goals on a scale that individuals and small groups cannot possibly do. Could anything less than ARI spread Objectivism as effectively as ARI’s essay contests, free books to teachers, OAC, media department, and its support of campus clubs and scholars?”
Her question is loaded and rhetorical. ARI has no monopoly on money or talent, the only monopoly it has is on Ayn Rand’s copyrighted work, through Leonard Peikoff. The last three activities she mentions are a major source of pollution in the Objectivist undercurrent. ARI’s free books all come with the address of its website on the back cover, and readers of ARI Watch know what will be found there. Many of the ideas that ARI’s media department promulgates Ayn Rand would have excoriated. Its campus club newspaper The Undercurrent is no better. Scholars ARI supports have included men such as John Lewis. None of this can be described as good if you follow ARI Watch. The Ayn Rand Institute simply does not live up to its name.  Ms. Speicher continues:

“ARI, despite occasional support for people or projects I may not approve of, offers too much of genuine value to me and to Objectivists like me, to abandon it now.”

ARI does offer much of value, for people like Betsy Speicher. Judging from her forum she agrees with ARI on the virtue of bombing the Middle East, open immigration, Israel worship, etc. She posted in another forum that she despises ARI Watch.Contrary to Ms Speicher, would that enough people abandoned ARI so that it came to an end through inattention and universal derision. [4]

But not because of the McCaskey affair. The McCaskey affair is trivial compared to ARI’s other transgressions. Better that ARI came to an end because of its support for open borders, its approval of government institutionalized torture, its mindless, “unquestioning” – to use their word – support for Israel, and so forth, than because of a sloppy internecine personality clash.

*     *     *

... You’re through?


... How can you do this?  How can you shrink your mind down to this level?

Every man should have a hobby,  LOL.

1  Craig Biddle’s essay is rather preachy and condescending, having midway through a lecture on the philosophy of justice, as if the McCaskey issue were complicated.

His statement on Facebook, October 30, since removed, was as follows:
“I regret to announce that because of my recent statement ‘Justice for John P. McCaskey’, the Ayn Rand Institute has cancelled my ARI-sponsored speaking engagements in the coming weeks. These include scheduled lectures at Kansas State U, U of Michigan, U of Minnesota, U of Wisconsin-Madison, and U of California-Irvine. I’m sorry that ARI has canceled these events, and I hope to reschedule them in the near future.”
Although to date ten years later ARI has not sponsored him again there was a rapprochement of sorts in 2019 when ARI announced there would be renewed cooperation between ARI and TOS. By mid 2020 this cooperation had gone sour.

2  Not that Torture USA harms the existential center.  See  Torture and Intrinsicism  on this website.

3  A complete list of Anthem Foundation officials as of January 2010 and their relation to the Ayn Rand Institute:

     Position at Anthem    Position at ARI
Debi Ghate    Senior Director    Vice President of Academic Programs
Stewart Margolis    Programs Officer    Academic Programs Officer
Jeff Scialabba    Programs Officer    Academic Programs Officer
Yaron Brook    Board Member    Board Member, chairman
Edwin Locke    Board Member    Board Member

Robert Mayhew was announced as a new board member on December 3, 2010, filling the gap left by Mr. McCaskey’s departure. By 2016 Ghate and Margolis were no longer associated with the Anthem Foundation or ARI. By 2020 Yaron Brook had been replaced by Tal Tsfany.

4  It never should have begun. Ayn Rand herself explicitly rejected an organized Objectivist movement.  See  Ayn Rand on Organized Objectivism  on this website.