In the past, routine conflicts could be resolved via ARI's board. But when major conflicts have broken out among board members, only one source of authority could be relied upon: Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff himself, in his apologia for having McCaskey removed from the ARI board, explained how this all works:
An organization devoted to spreading an ideology is not compatible with “freedom” for its leadership to contradict or undermine that ideology. In theory. the best judge of such contradiction would be the person(s) , if he exists, who best understands and upholds the ideology, as evidenced objectively by his lifelong intellectual consistency, philosophic attainments, and practical results. In practice, the best judge would be the person, if he is still alive, who founded the organization and defined its purpose, in this case as a step in carrying out a mandate given him by Ayn Rand. On both counts, only one individual qualifies: me.
The logic of this argument could be extended to cover any conflict, not just ones arising from intellectual criticism of one of Peikoff's pet projects. Because of Peikoff's unique position as the heir of Rand's estate and the individual who, among the living, "best understands" Rand's ideology, he was the obvious choice to occupy the role of Objectivist pope. Peikoff, however, will not be around forever. After Peikoff leaves the scene, who will be "best qualified" to fill the necessary role of authority at ARI (and, by implication at least, of the orthodox Objectivist movement)?
The most plausible answer is: no one. There are several reasons for this.
1. Peikoff had one advantage that can never be duplicated by any successor: namely, Peikoff could say, I spent more years with Rand than any living person. I taught a course on Objectivism that was approved by Rand. I wrote a book that was given unqualified praise by Rand. I was named by Rand as the heir to her estate. These are essentially the reasons why Peikoff became the highest authority among orthodox Objectivists, despite his increasingly eccentric views.
2. Peikoff founded ARI. No one else will ever be able to claim that distinction.
3. Peikoff, by misusing his authority, has brought disrepute upon it. This is most clearly seen in the McCasky imbroglio, which I suspect hurt Peikoff's standing among the Objectivist faithful. In that distasteful affair, Peikoff behaved in a manner that was both arbitrary and arrogant, both thin-skinned and tone-deaf. Like Rand, he exaggerated McCaskey's mild criticism into something a great deal more sinister. Intead of handling McCaskey's opposition with tact and reserve, he issued an email where he treated ARI board member, Arlinne Mann, with an astonishing high-handed, patronizing contempt, railing at her, "I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status in Objectivism." He also threatened Yaron Brook with sundering his connection with ARI unless McCaskey was safely disposed of ("someone has to go, someone will go"). After publication of his contemptuous email raised a chorus of criticism, even among the Objectivist faithful, Peikoff issued an apolgia of sorts that, although more carefully worded, was, if anything, even more rude and obnoxious. Among other things he would admit in that email "that a few longtime Board members and I are on terms of personal enmity, and do not speak to each other" and that he judged McCaskey to be "immoral" because, as Peikoff put it, "I regard him as an obnoxious braggart as a person, and a pretentious ignoramus as an intellectual." At the time, many of the Objectivist faithful decided to swallow hard and accept Peikoff's blatant sophistry; but the bad taste lingers still. There must be at least some orthodox Objectivists who look forward to time when ARI cannot be held hostage to the whims of an arrogant old man, no matter what his credentials otherwise might be.
4. Peikoff is not going to announce an intellectual heir. The apostolic succession will be sundered at the very root. No one at ARI will be able to say, "I can trace my intellectual status back to Rand herself." Not that that would be terribly convincing in any case, even among Ayn Rand cultists.
So no one is "best qualified" to fill the role of chief authority figure over at ARI. But someone will have to fill that role nonetheless. Who (or how) will it be filled?
It will probably be filled by whoever is executive director of ARI. This individual's authority will not, however, quite reach what Peikoff has enjoyed. There will be no published emails with the phrase "I hope you still know who I am." An executive director can be fired. His power rests on the degree to which he can win support from board members, which in turn depends on such things as fund raising ability, charisma, competitiveness, skill at chicanery and manipulation, and other executive skills. Steadfastness to Objectivism will of course be a necessary prerequisite for attaining the position of ARI's directorship. But expertise in Objectivism, particularly in the more remote and abstruse parts of the doctrine, won't be necessary; indeed, it might even be a hindrance. The sort of individual who would be willing to master, say, Rand's epistemology, is not likley to be the sort of person best fit to lead the institute and raise donations. Intellectuals don't ordinarily make particularly good leaders or fund raisers. If ARI wants to move forward and increase its influence on the libertarian right, they will probably have to look to the business sector for leadership. And someone with a business background is likely to be less doctrinaire and more pragmatic than an intellectual. To succeed in business, you need to know how to manage people. That's a skill in short supply among Objectivist intellectuals whose background is mainly academic.
The only real question is whether people with business backgrounds can be found to head-up ARI. Orthodox Objectivism is fortunate to have found Yaron Brook; for, despite his many flaws, he appears to have been a considerable improvement over his predecessor, Michael Berliner. But who is going to be Brook's replacement? Will the ARI board have the foresight to look for a businessman to head up the institute, or will they hire another sleepy academic? Arguments could be made both ways. ARI is dominated by academic intellectuals. So why wouldn't they want an academic to lead them? While Brook does have business experience, he also has a PhD in Finance. How many businessmen have PhD's, have taught at a college, and are orthodox Objectivists as well? Probably not many. Perhaps none at all. If a PhD and college teaching experience are necessary prerequisites for the directorship of ARI, then the ARI board may have no choice but to hire another intellectual. However, given that someone with business experience would likely be a better director, with more contacts in the business world and better opportunities to raise money (after all, who would likely bring in more money to ARI, John Allison, who is friends or acquainted with a large number of wealthy people, or Michael Berliner, who's an intellectual with a background in academic administration?). I suspect that pressure to maintain current funding levels will force the ARI board to make the more pragmatic choice of an individual with business experience, particularly in fund raising and running a corporate organization. I suspect as well that Brook himself will desire a successor that can carry on his work, and not some doctrinaire academic who will bring back the good old days, when ARI was the private preserve/cash cow of a handful of prominent Objectivist intellectuals, to the exclusion of nearly everyone else.
If, as I suspect, ARI ends up looking to the business world, rather than academic world, for leadership, this will likely further the trend toward a brand of Objectivism that emphasizes the political aspects of the philosophy and which primarily seeks to provide the Right with a moral argument for free markets. It could also mean a less doctrinaire organization. By less doctrinaire, I don't mean to suggest that ARI is going to become a bastion of "tolerance." There are limits of tolerance in any organization. You're not going to find non-Objectivists, let alone critics of Objectivists, occupying prominent positions at ARI any time soon. But that's true of virtually any ideologically motivated institute. How many socialists work at the CATO institute? How many progressives at the Heritage Foundation? How many conservatives at the Center for American Progress?
To be sure, ARI is more doctrinaire than any of those organization. However, at the same time it must be admitted that many of the worst excesses of ARI can be traced to its founder, Leonard Peikoff. From Rand herself Peikoff inherited a kind of condescending attitude toward the essential practical mechanisms for advancing an ideology. Just as Ayn Rand had no compunction over hurting the movement in order to punish Nathaniel Branden, Peikoff felt no compunction over hurting ARI in order to defend his ego in the McKaskey scandal. When Peikoff departs the scene, ARI will no longer have to deal with an individual who cares more about shielding himself from criticism than he does with the putative goals of the institute he founded.