Publish or Perish Indeed

Friday, November 17, 2006

I originally composed this post on November 2, but held off on publishing it for reasons I have neither the time nor the inclination to elaborate upon.

When I wrote the below, I agreed with Robert Tracinski's idea that the goal of the last election should have been to rout the left. Parts of this passage, which I have not edited beyond adding bold face to a quote, will reflect that opinion, which I have since retracted.

I also thought that Tracinski would soon offer a more explicit explanation for his opinion. At the time, I believed that such an explanation would entail his offering some kind of rebuttal to Leonard Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis. Indeed, it appears that Tracinski has undertaken to offer a rebuttal to what he calls "the standard Objectivist theory" of how ideas spread through culture -- in four parts through
TIA Daily of which three parts are complete. I find it rather unsatisfying so far and think that Harry Binswanger's analysis in last night's HBL is dead-on and should be read as soon as possible. [Update: Edward Cline weighs in in detail at Rule of Reason.]

Interestingly enough, as one might see from my own reasoning (Follow links from "retracted" above.), it was not necessary to have any familiarity with the DIM Hypothesis whatsoever (I do not, yet.) to see that Tracinski's view on the election was in error. One does indeed need only, as Leonard Peikoff himself pointed out, to "understand ... the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life," -- and consider easily-accessible evidence on the sad state of the conservative movement today.

Although, I suppose it is possible Tracinski could salvage his theory in Part IV, even if he does pull the fat out of the fire, Tracinski has other issues (pun intended) to address -- and I'm not even thinking about his gun-slingin' pardner, Jack "I keep 'em clean" Wakeland

[Update: Jack Wakeland has retracted the remarks referred to in the above link.]


I do not recall exactly how I first encountered this blog posting, but it strikes me as quite topical at the moment. Gerald Kalafut, writing in mid-June, very methodically took The Intellectual Activist to task for failing to keep up with its publication schedule.
There is a point when a scheduled delivery becomes so late, that its final arrival brings not relief but outrage. I am speaking of course about the appearance in my mailbox of the latest issue of "The Intellectual Activist" (TIA). This is a magazine that I used to look forward to reading with great excitement and joy, but now greet with a growing sense of anger and frustration.

Here is the breakdown (puns intended) of TIA's publication cycle of late:

volisscover datepub datebehindchange
189September 2004September 20040
1810October 2004February 20054+4
1811November 2004March 20054
1812December 2004July 20057+3
191January 2005August 20059+2
192(removed)September 20059
November 200510+1
January 200611+1
February 200611
"April 2006"12+1


The current issue features the Danish cartoons of Allah that sparked off riots in Europe and the Middle East. The threats of Islamic fueled violence and self-imposed censorship are certainly still relevant. But, printing these pictures - months after the initial crisis - has drained this courageous act of solidarity of most of its impact. It comes off not as bold action - standing next to the bloodied victim while staring down a mob - but as timidly patting the victim on the back after the mob has left.


Ironically, the title of this month's issue is "Publish or Perish". That was the challenge that Robert Tracinski faced when he took over TIA. I am sorry to say this but he has failed to publish, and TIA is perishing because of it. "The Intellectual Activist" is now less intellectual, has seemingly lost its activists, and rarely goes to print. [my bold]
My sentiments as a customer exactly. I think I may still have a few months left on my subscription -- if I recall correctly. (The email edition has gotten somewhat more irregular and less consistent in length lately, as well.)

Kalafut also mentions a Sid Cammeresi post expressing disappointment at the direction taken by the editorial policy of TIA since about 2004.

Of what relevance is this? While some of the "Blue Objectivists" doubtless gnash their teeth as they wonder how I could still buy anything Tracinski says whenever they stop by here, Tracinski is an excellent writer and is capable of brilliant analysis. I think he has said some valuable things about how public debate occurs that are quite easy for Objectivists less familiar with his work to misconstrue in the first place.

However, to have such a poor track record of publication that a former fan wonders aloud on the Internet about whether it constitutes "breach of contract" or "false advertising" does not enhance the faith, so to speak, of any Objectivist. Ideas matter, and precisely because they are guides to action. No wonder so many Objectivists find it so easy to believe the worst when they read TIA Daily! To say the least, this apparent disregard for the trader principle by TIA does not lend credibility to whatever novel ideas about the progress of history its editor might have to offer.

What does this say? By itself, not necessarily anything. Enough past Objectivist publications have been Mom-and-Pop affairs that have published irregularly that the circumstance was almost a running joke back in the day. But on top of that, you have Jack Wakeland apparently accusing the Blue Objectivists -- without prior provocation or elaboration or subsequent apology -- of "doing our enemy's work". And now, Tracinski saying the following:
This is not the first time Dr. Peikoff has put forward what I identify, on the sense-of-life level, as the Dominique Francon voting strategy, after the character in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. As with Dominique Francon, [Peikoff's] approach seems to be grounded in a sincere disgust with the current state of the world and with how far short it falls from the ideal. But also as with Dominique Francon, it implicitly regards the good as doomed in this rotten world, and offers only a negative solution. We're besieged by "killers," and our only choice is how we will die.

I am afflicted with something very close to that sense of life and I don't see that. Peikoff sees voting for the Democrats as the best (vice "least horrific") course to follow in this election. I don't agree with Peikoff (and not entirely for reasons put forth by Tracinski), but I have never and do not now see in anything of his that I have read anything that boils down to "[O]ur only choice is how we will die." And, oh yeah. There's this. I leave it to the reader to determine whether the joke was intentional there.

At a certain point, one has to wonder what the Hell is going on. I'm at that point now. There could be any number of explanations for what's going on at TIA Daily. I hope they're benign and do not add up to the worst. They could be. But for Tracinski, with his credibility on the line, to pull things out of the fire, he will have to provide answers to questions like these, and not just because some upstart blogger said he does.

-- CAV


Editor's Note: Originally composed November 2. Please read preface above.


Today: (1) Corrected date. (2) Added link to Edward Cline post.
11-17-06: Added link to Wakeland's retraction.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Tracinski is an excellent writer and occasionally makes brilliant points. However, I also agree with Ed Cline that he is in the process of rejecting Objectivism. For too long I have noticed fundamental differences between his positions (especially on war) and those taken by Dr. Brook or Dr. Lewis, etc. Now with his 4 part "What Went Right" series, he seems to be challenging core Objectivist principles.

I felt that trouble was brewing a few months ago when I saw similarities to things Tracinski wrote with things written by TOC writers Ed (Mr. appeasment) Hudgins and Robert (Mr. Guttersnipes) BiDinotto. I have the feeling that Tracinski is on the way to becomming an "independent". I don't know when, but I sense that its inevitable.

Where Mr. Wakeland ends up, I have no idea.

Bill Visconti

Gus Van Horn said...


I am pretty much where you are, although still more hopeful when I wrote the bulk of this than I am now.


Myrhaf said...

The Schwartz TIA was published irregularly also. That's just the way it goes with small magazines.

I have not read "What Went Right." Is Tracinski attacking the DIM Hypothesis in it?

American Individualist said...

I'm glad to finally discover that others share me frustration with The Intellectual Activist. I'm frustrated with Robert Tracinski’s publication on a few levels, but mainly that it is published so sporadically now, after enduring a couple of years of sporadic publishing as Tracinski launched TIA Daily and worked on re-publishing the back issues -- all the while vowing that he’d get it back on track. He never did. Never even came close.

Ironically, a few weeks ago, I mailed Tracinski a letter saying I no longer wish to subscribe to TIA. I had re-subscribed earlier this year, but only received one or two double issues. Yet, in the mail today, Friday, I received a TIA renewal notice! Not a check reimbursing me for the issues I paid for but I now canceled, nor a notice saying my Master Card would be credited. No, I got a renewal notice! I re-subscribed for a year (or 12 issues), received the equivalent of 2 to 4 issues, yet I received a renewal notice!

Of course, this only underscores my frustration with Tracinski’s management of TIA, and to top all of this off, he either ignores my emails to him, or writes back to tell me he's too busy to answer my queries about when I can expect the next issue to be in my mailbox.

This is downright bad business.

Andrew Dalton said...

The slipping publication schedule, along with the declining quality of articles, was something that I noticed at the time it was happening. The publication delay was particularly obvious, since all of a sudden there was a whole winter without an issue of TIA. And I think that I finally got the last issue of my 2004 subscription--which I did not renew--a couple of months ago.

At the time, I saw this more as organizational sloppiness than anything else. However, the philosophical drift of TIA Daily became stronger and stronger. Today, half of Robert Tracinski's articles are comfortably compatible with what one might read at National Review Online.

Gus Van Horn said...


You are correct, and that was not the only one published irregularly. As I said, that fact does not alone mean anything.

No. Tracinski was not directly attacking the DIM Hypothesis. What he was doing was offering his own theory, supposedly built on Objectivism, of how ideas affect history. So far, it seems to be at odds with Objectivism.


Gus Van Horn said...


If I recall correctly, putting out TIA on schedule had been a stated goal of Tracinski's when he took it over. Fair enough if he can't meet that goal, but directly stating as much to his readers would have been a good idea, to say the least.

I have to say that I had not noticed a decline in TIA's philosophical quality until relatively recently. I attributed the less-philosophical character of TIA Daily (vice other Objectivist publications) to its focus on politics.


Gus Van Horn said...


Ugh! The down side of comment moderation is that when you get multiple comments, they don't necessarily arrive in the right order!

I wish I'd read yours first. In any case, thank you for stopping by.

I long ago decided I would simply not renew my TIA, although after reading this, it would seem more just -- but very draining -- to hound Tracinski for the value of the rest of my current subscription.

In any case, I may be able to top your "renewal notice" story. Some months back, I received in the mail a solicitation from TIA to join something called something like "World of Ideas", which would allow premium access to the TIA web site among other things. The funds would permit new projects in radio or televison, I think.

The price for a five-year membership? 1000 smackers.

Uh huh.


softwareNerd said...

BTW, Jack Wakeland has retracted what he said about using guns.

I think its wrong to mix criticism of TIA's publishing schedule with criticism of its content. As Myhraf said, this was always the case with TIA, much before RT took over (actually, I remember them skipping issues and so on).

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for pointing out the retraction. Wakeland should now explain his "doing the enemy's work" screed.

That essay combined intellectual criticism of the "Blue Objectivists" with unwarranted moral criticism.


Andrew said...

Retraction? At Noodlefood, Jack Wakeland wrote:

> It was part of a general statement of my hostility to the true danger in American politics--the moribund, but far from deceased left. I was in a dark mood after the leftists obtained control over all the levers of power in Congress and a half dozen additional state governments. I got carried away.

The "true danger in American politics?!" How about weak-kneed quazi-Objectivists who can't see the world for what it is and insist upon helping the conservatives.

I wish for once these pro-Republican Objectivists would wake up to reality. The conservatives are not our friends. They have betrayed capitalism far more than they ever have helped it. If anyone was unsure of it before, I think the last six years proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The conservatives do not deserve our help and Jack Wakeland and Robert Tracinski need to own up to it, or quit calling themselves Objectivists.

Gus Van Horn said...

Well, RWT all but admitted yesterday that he isn't sure he agrees with all of Objectivism:

"[O]n the question of whether I disagree with Ayn Rand on this topic, the answer is: I'm still trying to figure that out for sure, and I am certain there will be many people who will offer their suggestions (friendly or otherwise) on this question. I certainly don't reject the essentials of Ayn Rand's philosophy -- indeed, I am relying upon them in this series -- nor do I mean to imply, for example, that she held that the content of specialized fields could be deduced from philosophy.

"That leads me to say something about the status of my own theory. I have always held that Objectivism is Ayn Rand's philosophy and stands for her ideas, and that any new theory contributed by a subsequent thinker is his own. So I am not arguing that my view on the role of ideas in the world is the "real" Objectivist theory. To the extent that what I am saying is original, it is my theory, and the reader may judge for himself to what extent it is consistent with Ayn Rand's philosophy—and, most important, with the facts of reality." [my bold]

The honorable thing at this point would be for him to publicly state that he has reservations about Objectivism and cannot forthrightly call himself an Objectivist.

Myrhaf said...

Ironically, I subscribed to TIA Daily last Tuesday, a few days before I became aware of this controversy. They took my money, but I still have not seen a TIA Daily.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I love your post.

Sidney Cammeresi said...

Calling Tracinski an excellent writer is like saying the authors of the Bible were excellent writers. It's dropping immense context. He writes in a very grandiose style, granted, but he writes like he's describing the John Galt Line when his actual referents in reality are, e.g., Islamists voting in one would-be dictator instead of another.

I think it has been some time since there has been a basis to assert that TIA is guided by the philosophy of Objectivism, but the public have not been privy to the exact difference between their philosophy and Objectivism. Tracinski's recent series of articles have finally made that explicit.

Inspector said...

Re: Myrhaf's comment:

"The Schwartz TIA was published irregularly also. That's just the way it goes with small magazines."

Is this also the case with TOS? I was thinking of subscribing, but I won't subscribe to anything if they don't meet their publishing schedule.

Gus Van Horn said...

Small deluge of comments here. I will address only highlights of the last four.

Inspector, TOS is a brand new publication, but it is a quarterly, which seems to me like a more viable publication schedule for a small operation.

Before I comment further, I have to address a comment by Sidney Cammeresi since he is correct and I am about to praise TOS.

The "dropped context" Cammeresi mentions would also include RWT's straying from Objectivist principles. Insofar as his writing is affected by this departure from Objectivism, it has suffered in two respects. (1) You don't get the impression that he has "fire in his belly". If you really believed your values were under threat, you could convey the appropriate feelings without straying into emotionalism. Any good "call to arms" would have this quality. (2) As he attempts to incorporate what I have been privately calling "the Glenn Reynolds influence", his pieces get more rambling. Hand-waving is not induction, and it shows up as boring and unconvincing prose.

Having said that, I must say that the first three issues of TOS have far exceeded in quality any other Objectivist publication I have ever read. In fact, if I recall its stated goals for amount of content, it has also exceeded those. I very highly recommend it.

Don't let my admiration for some aspects of Tracinski's writing keep you from considering a subscription. And don't take my word for it. Go to TOS and read the sample articles (labeled "accessible to all") they have made available from this page.