People will be able to look up BREAKFAST and see
that I did not advocate eating babies for breakfast.
– Ayn Rand
If I were running the Ayn Rand Institute – admittedly an unlikely turn of events – I’d make all of Rand’s writings available online. (So far the only major Rand work available online got there by mistake, because Peikoff & Co. apparently forgot to renew the U.S. copyright on Anthem.) So why hasn’t ARI taken this obvious step? Do they really value copyright revenue more than the chance to promote Rand’s ideas? If so, they’re still probably miscalculating: I suspect putting Rand’s works online would stimulate more book sales than it would stifle. (The Mises Institute, for example, puts loads of stuff online and yet the paper versions sell like hotcakes.)
But I suspect ARI’s decision not to put the writings online has been driven less by mercenary considerations than by some sort of notion that it’s immoral, a violation of the Trader Principle, to hand out benefits without receiving anything in return. If so, it’s a misunderstanding of the Trader Principle; unless the folks running ARI regard themselves (or Rand, insofar as they take themselves to be her agents) as having no personal interest in promoting Rand’s ideas (in which case, what’s the point of ARI?), they presumably would receive a “selfish” benefit by putting them online, and thus could do so with a clear egoist conscience.
Whatever the reason, ARI’s refusal to disseminate Rand’s writings in the most effective manner seems nearly as self-defeating as Andrew Galambos’s refusal to disseminate his writings in any form. (I’m reminded of the Shakers, a sect which died out because its tenets forbade reproduction.)
But a small chink has appeared in the armour of ARI’s anti-web policy: the Ayn Rand Lexicon has been placed online. (Conical hat tip to Karen DeCoster.) Admittedly this is a comparatively unimportant text; it’s just a collection of quotations from Rand (and sometimes her acolytes as well) on various subjects, arranged alphabetically by topic (apparently the editors were under the misapprehension that alphabetical order of topics is sufficient to make a book a “lexicon”). But it’s a start.