INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES
THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION xlv, no. 31 (9 April 1999) Friday, A17-A18.
Also see The Chronicle of Higher Education series, "Ayn Rand's Academic Legacy: Advocates of Objectivism Make New Inroads," The Chronicle of Higher Education LIII, no. 45 (13 July 2007): A6-A8 [related articles: A10-A13].
In this two-page feature article, Jeff Sharlet probes the emergence of academic scholarship on Ayn Rand. Focusing on the scholarly work of Chris Matthew Sciabarra, "Rand's most vocal champion in academe," Sharlet examines how "the long-closed circle of Randianism" is being opened "to new perspectives." Sciabarra is part of a "small, but growing movement" of scholars who think that "Rand . . . will soon take her rightful place" in the Western canon.
The article explores Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and his anthology, co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, as two important signs of the academic trend. The former book, in fact, is "a best seller for a university press like Penn State," and Sanford G. Thatcher, the director of the press, credits both volumes for transcending previous works on Rand that "had been written . . . from a cultish viewpoint."
On the Feminist Interpretations volume, Sharlet highlights the contributions of Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Judith Wilt. Nancy Tuana, the editor of the series within which Feminist Interpretations appears, remarks that "Feminism and Rand share a rejection of dualism . . ."
Sharlet also explores the works of others, including: Gene H. Bell-Villada, who has proposed a session on Rand for the Modern Language Association convention; Tibor Machan, whose work on Rand will be published by Peter Lang; James P. Sterba of the University of Notre Dame; Allan Gotthelf of the College of New Jersey; Leonard Peikoff and Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute; and Tara Smith of the University of Texas at Austin. He mentions too a forthcoming journal of Rand studies.
The article ends with Sciabarra's observation from his Reason Papers article, "A Renaissance in Rand Scholarship," that "in this last decade of the twentieth century, Ayn Rand seems to be everywhere." Indeed, says Sciabarra to Sharlet, "Nietzsche was once pooh-poohed as a poet . . ." And like Nietzsche, Rand will eventually be embraced by the academy. "I don't want to sound like a Marxist here," he says, "but it's inexorable." Sharlet concludes: "Ayn Rand is a fact."
Following the publication of this important article, the Chronicle featured a colloquy on-line, which provoked over 150 responses. Among the responses were four from Chris Matthew Sciabarra, featured here:
Post #1: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics (posted 4/12, 2:10 p.m., E.D.T.) [archived on the colloquy at: http://chronicle.com/colloquy/99/rand/68.htm]
Transcending false alternatives was one of Ayn Rand's chief philosophical preoccupations. In reading many of the responses to the question of this colloquy - whether attention to Rand is long overdue or a passing fad - it occurs to me that there is a major "false alternative" on display among many of the participants. Some of Rand's fiercest critics, let us call them the "Randphobes," dismiss her work and any attention given her by those of us in academe, because they believe that it does not merit serious scholarship. And many of Rand's "true believer" defenders (whom Roy Childs once called "Randroids") dismiss academe because they believe that the trends within the academy will only do harm to a doctrine that is Truth incarnate. Both "Randphobes" and "Randroids" adhere, inadvertently perhaps, to a common premise that is at grave odds with one of the essential principles of the Western canon since the days of Socrates: that ideas grow and prosper in a free atmosphere of intellectual give-and-take. The discourse is productive because it may lead to "unintended consequences" - consequences that neither the phobes nor the droids can bear: that Rand will be treated critically as a serious writer of ideas and that an objective engagement with her body of work can vastly expand our understanding of the historical significance and applications of her thought.
To the critics, this is unfathomable because they dismiss Rand's work on the face of it. To the true believers, however, Rand remains a modern-day Minerva who emerged from the head of Zeus with no historical antecedents. These believers do as much damage to Rand's legacy as the critics, because they wish to isolate Rand's work from any approaches or other traditions that might provide shifting vantage points from which to comprehend the principles of Objectivism and their relevance to current philosophic and social problems. Those who seal off Objectivism from academia ghettoize themselves - and the rest of the academy. They afford no opportunity for Objectivism to penetrate the academy, to influence, and perhaps, dramatically transform, the alternative approaches with which it can be engaged. And they limit their own ability to critically assess Rand's writings.
In Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, Mimi Gladstein and I provide a forum for the engagement of Objectivism and feminism, and what emerges first is a challenge to collectivist feminism to reexamine its premises. That feminism evolved historically from a classical liberal and individualist base is often forgotten by those on the left who would dismiss Rand as a "fascist." But the engagement with feminism also allows those within Objectivism to analyze critically many of Rand's observations on such topics as sexuality, femininity, masculinity, a Woman President, and so forth.
I would like, finally, to answer some of the scores of questions I have seen posed here in this colloquy, and in e-mail sent to me privately, since the appearance of Jeff Sharlet's important article in The Chronicle:
1. George Barker says I've "misunderstood" Rand's philosophy because I "claim to admire the philosophy but not the fiction." I never said anything of the sort. The article reported correctly that I read all of Rand's non-fiction before reading her fiction. That was only because I was introduced to her work in the context of a high school Advanced Placement social studies class in American History, where reading the many worthwhile essays on "Capitalism: the unknown ideal" provided me with an alternative understanding of the history and morality of free markets than that which was being offered in traditional history textbooks.
2. With regard to fiction vs. non-fiction, I do not wish to give the impression that everyone who "devours" Rand's fiction first is doomed to become a "true believer." The "true believer" mentality is one that approaches Rand's work "rationalistically," rather than objectively. It tends to reify the abstractions in her fiction and to rip the characters out of their context. I learned from Rand's work that I didn't have to be Howard Roark (hence, my comment, "I never wanted to be Howard Roark"). Being Chris Matthew Sciabarra and applying the principles of Objectivism to the context of my own life is good enough.
3. With regard to my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, let me say this: The book is part of a trilogy of works that began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (State University of New York Press, 1995) and that will culminate in my forthcoming volume, Total Freedom. The trilogy is my attempt to reclaim dialectical method - an orientation toward contextual analysis - in the service of freedom. I believe that a thinker such as Rand was a master at understanding philosophic and social problems within their wider context. She traced the many relations among disparate factors and emerged with an alternative that was neither dualist nor monist in its implications. (The claim in the article that I see Rand's rejection of dualism as rooted in Marx's "dialectical materialism" - an UNdialectical historicism that Rand repudiated unequivocally and correctly - is not quite right; I actually trace the antecedents of Rand's approach more directly to Russian Silver Age literary and philosophic writers, including N.O. Lossky, one of her philosophy professors. Rand's rejection of the conventional good-evil, mind-body, theory-practice, moral-practical, fact-value dichotomies is one that can be found deep in Russian intellectual history.) My approach is not "Hegelian" - contrary to the claims of Tym Parsons - but Aristotelian, because it seeks to contextualize Rand's thought. It was Aristotle who was the father of dialectical inquiry. And, in my view, Rand is, indeed, as she claimed, fundamentally Aristotelian.
Those interested in checking out my work are invited to take a look at my website, which features an ongoing dialogue between my interlocutors (who have published critiques of my work) and me.
I once wrote in a Reason Papers article, "Reply to Critics of Russian Radical," that I wanted to drag Objectivism and the academy, kicking and screaming if necessary, into engagement with one another. I stand by my belief that the engagement can be constructive. I would like to state, in conclusion, that I am deeply encouraged by the response to The Chronicle article, and that I remain an eternal optimist on the long-run penetration of Rand's work into academe. The Chronicle is to be applauded for showing sensitivity to this emerging scholarship.
Post #2: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics (posted 4/19, 1:12 p.m., E.D.T.) [archived on the colloquy at: http://chronicle.com/colloquy/99/rand/100.htm]
Michelle Fram Cohen argues that I grossly distort Rand's views on dualism. Unfortunately, the subtle character of one's arguments are not always on display in an article which features a few sentences on one's thesis. If you'd like to read more about my work on Rand, please pick up Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State, 1995). Or check out my website.
First, I do not believe that dialectics is a synthesis of opposites. That is a view of dialectic that was put forth by Fichte, and is sometimes attributed (with some distortion) to Hegel. The dialectic is not a triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. It is a method that goes back to Aristotle and that is an orientation toward contextual analysis of dynamic, structured totalities. Because we are incapable of understanding an object from a god-like perspective, we are required to engage in an abstraction of vantage point. And by shifting our vantage point, over time, we may become aware of the fact that things which appear to be in opposition, are actually quite complementary. Dialectics, however, is not anti-dualism any more than it is anti-monism. It is pro-context. And because it cautions against context-dropping, it is in keeping with Rand's own contextual epistemology.
Now, with regard to Rand's rejection of the mind-body dichotomy, Ms. Cohen is correct. Rand saw these as a unity of complementary aspects, an "organic" unity. For the same reason, she pointed to the integration of reason and emotion, theory and practice, fact and value, and so forth. But she also rejected "false alternatives" -- such as rationalism versus empiricism, materialism versus idealism, intrinsicism versus subjectivism, and so forth.
On the subject of good and evil, Rand rejected the conventional oppositions: that is, she rejected the notion that the only alternative to the sacrifice of the self for others (the conventional morality of "altruism") is the sacrifice of others to oneself (the conventional notion of "egoism"). Moreover, Rand never saw good and evil as a dualism. Dualism posits two principles as co-equal. For Rand, evil is a parasite on the good. It can have no status equal to good because it requires the sanction of the good in order to survive and flourish.
As for oppositions between capitalism and communism or egoism and altruism, Rand engaged in a vast "deconstruction" of the meaning of these terms. She speaks of capitalism "the unknown ideal" in a way that is similar to her own notion of selfishness, which might be described as "selfishness: the unknown ideal." While capitalism and communism are surely opposed in principle, the more important contribution of Rand is this: that capitalism is not communism, or fascism, or collectivism, or statism of ANY type. It is different, not merely by degree, but in kind, from all other social systems, because it is based on the principle of individual rights.
Post #3: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics (posted 4/20, 12:43 p.m., E.D.T.) [archived on the colloquy at: http://chronicle.com/colloquy/99/rand/103.htm]
Tym Parsons mischaracterizes my approach to Ayn Rand. I never said that Ayn Rand was "new and innovative, because she departed from dualism." That is, indeed, a nonessential in Rand's thought, nonessential in the sense that it is not a defining characteristic of Objectivism. Lots of philosophers and social theorists depart from dualism. What makes Rand's philosophy distinctive is not anti-dualism, but a synthesis of dialectical method and a realist-egoist-individualist content.
Too many advocates of capitalism have been prone to charges of "atomism" in their defense of markets. Rand embraces a dialectical sensibility that refuses to disconnect politics and economics from culture, psychology, ethics, and epistemology. That so many libertarians have been guilty of this disconnect is one of the reasons that Rand opposed being lumped together with them. In any event, dialectics is NOT anti-dualism; it is an emphasis on context. And context-dropping is, in Rand's view, a major offense against reality and logical thinking.
Insofar as thinkers such as Hegel and Marx concentrate on analyzing factors within a specifiable context, they have some similarity to Rand. That Rand offers a "diametrically opposite prescription" is her contribution to a dialectical enterprise: she is revolutionary because she adopts a dialectical method, where other market advocates come perilously close to atomism, even though she eschews the entire "left-wing" substance to which that method has been wedded in modern times.
On the history of dialectic, I am not being "disingenuous" when I "package-deal the dialectics of Hegel and Aristotle." There are fundamental differences between Aristotle and Hegel. Hegel (or at least the "Hegel of tradition") is an historicist. He adopts a Platonic view of dialectic, in the end, which undercuts his own contributions to our understanding of the method. But even Hegel understood that Aristotle was the "fountainhead" of dialectics -- and he uses this term -- and that the whole enterprise of understanding an object of study in its many aspects and through its many dynamic relations is a key characteristic of dialectical inquiry. I fear that Tym Parsons and others are misunderstanding dialectics because they seem unable to grasp its "form" -- context-sensitive method -- as distinguished from the particular content (Hegelian, Marxian, etc.) to which it has been linked. My own work is moving toward an articulation of this form -- in my attempt to reclaim the method in the name of reality, reason, and genuine radicalism, a type of radicalism inspired partially by the works of Ayn Rand.
Tym Parsons' criticisms are typical of many of my critics. Such criticisms do not look at the subtlety of my argument, which, of course, is not captured even in The Chronicle article. I never expected that it would be. An article is not the place for a dissertation on Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Those who are interested in the book should read it.
As for my "try[ing] to make Rand academically 'respectable' ..." -- it is my belief that my work is accomplishing this, and not because it has distorted Rand's legacy. It is because my work approaches Rand as an historical figure who cannot be disconnected from her own context in our attempts to understand her contributions. In this sense, I have taken seriously Rand's own emphasis on the importance of context to understanding.
Post #4: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics (posted 8/30, 1:50 p.m., E.D.T.) [archived on the colloquy at: http://chronicle.com/colloquy/99/rand/135.htm]
This announcement may be of some interest to this colloquy; considering that the original Chronicle article highlighted my work, I thought this new journal (of which I am one of the editors) would be an informative follow-up to the story:
The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is the first scholarly publication to examine Ayn Rand: her life, her work, her times. Welcoming essays from every discipline -- from literary theory and aesthetics to epistemology, ethics, politics, social theory, and intellectual history -- the journal is not aligned with any advocacy group, institute, or person. It is the first place where people working in different traditions and from different perspectives can respectfully exchange their ideas on the legacy of one of the world's most enduring and controversial thinkers.
The first issue, Fall 1999, includes six new and provocative articles:
Editor Chris Matthew Sciabarra discusses the major historical significance of his discovery and investigation of Ayn Rand's transcript from the University of St. Petersburg. The document was uncovered from the vaults of the Central State Archives of St. Petersburg, and it answers the many mysteries surrounding Rand's college education. (For an introduction to this article, "Investigative Report: In Search of the Rand Transcript," published in the October 1999 issue of Liberty magazine, point your browser to: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/randt1.htm)
Editor Stephen Cox examines the shifting perspectives, the ironies and parodies, in Rand's literary celebration of American capitalism. He focuses on how Rand -- the "outsider" -- succeeded in finding new imaginative constructions of the "inside" of American life.
Roger E. Bissell, author of many published essays on philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics, challenges Rand's interpretation of the nature of musical perception, and develops a strong case for the underlying unity of the arts.
Austrian economist Larry J. Sechrest revisits the debate over "minarchy" and "anarchy," arguing that the various Objectivist proposals for limited government fail to offer a convincing rebuttal to the case for anarchy.
Robert L. Campbell, professor of psychology, shows how Rand's theory of knowledge drew explicitly on the ideas and findings of the Cognitive Revolution, the mid-century change in American psychology that overthrew behaviorism.
And philosopher and writer Gregory R. Johnson critiques Rand's ethics and political philosophy, rejecting her argument for classical liberalism, and her conception of human nature.
Information on Subscriptions, a listing of the Editorial Board and the Board of Advisors -- along with abstracts of the articles and contributor biographies -- are all available on the Web site. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Web site can be found currently at: http://www.aynrandstudies.com
Consider this posting to be an Official Call for Papers as well -- addressed to all bona fide scholars who are interested in submitting their essays to a rigorous academic review process for publication consideration. (Style sheet is also available on the Web site.)
Following the colloquy on-line, the Chronicle featured eight letters to lead off their Letters section: "The Ideas of Ayn Rand Still Provoke Both Scorn and Great Enthusiasm." Here is the full text of Sciabarra's letter, which appeared in the Chronicle, in slightly edited form:
Ideas can only be evaluated by their correspondence to reality and by their explanatory power, and they neither emerge nor flourish in a vacuum. For years, however, most academics have dismissed Rands thought as trivial, while the orthodox wing of Objectivism has tended to dismiss the academy as philosophically corrupt. As a result, the academy and Objectivism have been mutually isolated. It is ironic that both sides thereby flout an essential principle of Western philosophy since Socrates: that knowledge and wisdom best grow and prosper in a free atmosphere of intellectual give-and-take. The Chronicle is to be applauded for calling attention to a new trend among scholars who reject intellectual ghettoization. The growing discourse on Rand promises an objective critical engagement with her ideas that can vastly expand our understanding of their historical significance and application. My participation as co-editor, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (Penn State, 1999) was partly inspired by a desire to promote scholarly discourse on this provocative thinker.
Scholarly discourse is not a value unto itself, however. Ultimately, all my work -- including Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY 1995), Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State, 1995), and the forthcoming Total Freedom -- seeks to reclaim a critical dialectic as a means not only of understanding but of improving society. I have argued that Rand adopted such a dialectical approach from the Silver Age Russian culture within which she was reared, even as she repudiated that cultures religious mysticism and Marxist materialism. Her ability to relate disparate factors within a broad context, and to trace their complex development over time has yet to be fully appreciated by scholars on either the right or the left. Rands sensitivity to context in every field, from epistemology and ethics to aesthetics and social theory, helped her to enunciate an integrated view of human existence with revolutionary implications.
Not surprisingly, my emphasis on the dialectical character of Rands thought has generated much controversy. Those wishing to read more about this issue should visit my website: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra
There were other letters published in The Chronicle letters section. Gregory Summers of the University of Akron praises "Rand's passion for life," while John George of the University of Central Oklahoma criticizes Rand as "a phony libertarian." Philip Coates laments that "[a]cademics don't get Rand because they oversimplify her." Robert Bidinotto congratulates The Chronicle for the "objective tone" of its article, while highlighting the importance of the Institute for Objectivist Studies, now The Objectivist Center . George Barker praises Leonard Peikoff as Rand's "designated . . . intellectual heir," while Tibor R. Machan criticizes Allan Gotthelf's view "that only Leonard Peikoff can speak competently on Ayn Rand's thought. From an otherwise accomplished scholar, this kind of narrowness is surprising." Allan Gotthelf, speaking for himself and not for the Ayn Rand Society of which he is Steering Committee Chairman, dismisses The Chronicle's "promoting [of] the glories of [Sciabarra's] two very strange books." He "considers both books an embarrassment." Though praising some of Sciabarra's "good exposition," he states that Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has "all the trappings of scholarship" encased in "two bizarre and preposterous theses that no knowledgeable Rand scholar can take seriously." Moreover, states Gotthelf, "the Gladstein-Sciabarra anthology . . . contains much nonsense." Neither book "will . . . increase awareness of Rand's . . . philosophical achievement."
In an interview after The Chronicle article and letters appeared, Sciabarra said the following:
"It is interesting that those who condemn my work on Ayn Rand, like Professor Gotthelf, are committing a certain variation on what Ayn Rand once called the 'stolen concept' fallacy. Professor Gotthelf would not have even had the opportunity to present his views on Rand scholarship in this forum if it were not for the publication of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, the two university press books on which The Chronicle focused in its attempts to highlight a growing trend in scholarship. That these books have brought attention to Ayn Rand's work--and, ironically, to the dissenting voice of Professor Gotthelf--is proof enough that the field of Rand scholarship is now open in a way that it was not before. I am proud to be among those scholars who are not merely 'riding the crest of a Randian wave,' as Jeff Sharlet declared in his Chronicle article, but creating a few waves of our own." [See Sciabarra's review of Gotthelf's orthodox interpretation in his monograph, On Ayn Rand.]
More than a month after the appearance of The Chronicle article, Sciabarra was attacked in print by The Intellectual Activist. The Ayn Rand Institute newsletter, Impact, reported in its May 1999 issue that The Chronicle article was a "mixed treatment." In The Intellectual Activist (vol. 13, no. 5, "Short Notes: Playing with Fire," May 1999: 10-12), Robert Tracinski adds that while the article represents "several genuine efforts to study Ayn Rand's ideas," the story's "main focus" is Sciabarra's work. Tracinski repudiates Sciabarra and others for their "desire . . . to cash in on Ayn Rand's popularity while distorting or rejecting the essence of her philosophy." He reiterates former criticisms of Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which "tries to make ... Rand into a species of Hegelian," and condemns Sciabarra's co-edited volume, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which "tries to co-opt her ideas for the collectivist feminist movement." Tracinski further criticizes the author of The Chronicle article, Jeff Sharlet, for "gush[ing]" over--for being "clearly sympathetic to"--Sciabarra, and for presenting the story as a "false alternative" between "dogmatism" and "skepticism." Tracinski rejects the notion that there is any choice between the "religious cult-member who, robot-like, apes the behavior and speech of Ayn Rand's heroes" and the "morally neutral academic with a skeptical, anything-goes attitude," implying that Sciabarra is a representative of the latter view. Tracinski also denounces Sanford G. Thatcher, the director of Penn State Press, for his claim that Sciabarra's work "bring[s] Rand into dialogue with other thinkers," for "Miss Rand . . . would not have been on speaking terms" with such thinkers "in real life." He dismisses the claims of Mimi Gladstein and Nancy Tuana that Rand shares something of importance with feminism. He also criticizes the views of James Sterba and Gene H. Bell-Villada, all of whom are among "Ayn Rand's academic deconstructors . . ." Because Rand is clearly not a Hegelian, and because Rand's defense of reason is at odds with "the feminist condemnation of science as a male attempt to 'rape' nature," the academy, says Tracinski, is perpetuating a mess of internal contradictions and "irrationalities" that will come storming down with time, for, as Rand once said, "Objectivism, like reality, is its own avenger." The "deconstructors . . . will be its first victims."
Sciabarra responds to The Intellectual Activist:
I am flattered that The Intellectual Activist (TIA) thinks my work important enough to denounce it for the third time since 1995. TIA presents the classic "strawman" technique: distort a writer's views, and then, attack the distortion.
1. The claim that I "tr[y] to make Ayn Rand into a species of Hegelian" is false. I view Rand's approach to philosophy and social theory as profoundly dialectical, by which I mean that she achieves a structured, dynamic perspective on the full context. That she shares this dialectical method with thinkers such as Aristotle (the father of dialectics), and, partially, Hegel and Marx, is true. That she exposes the substantive weaknesses in Hegel and Marx, that she presents a valid alternative to them, is also true. For a discussion of that Randian alternative, see my article "Are We All Dialecticians Now?" I examine the history of dialectics in my forthcoming book, Total Freedom.
2. The claim that I "tr[y] to co-opt [Rand's] ideas for the collectivist feminist movement" is false. As co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, I aimed to open Rand's ideas to critical analysis from various feminist perspectives, most of which are not collectivist, but fully within the individualist feminist tradition. TIA would like its readers to believe that feminism is a monolith and that it is completely corrupted by collectivism. In truth, feminism was born as a classical liberal movement, and many of its current individualist representatives are contributors to our volume, including such writers as Joan Kennedy Taylor (a former associate of Ayn Rand's), Wendy McElroy, and Sharon Presley. (We also represent the views of Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, and David Kelley--whose names, apparently, are not even allowed to be mentioned in the pages of TIA because these individuals have been air-brushed out of existence by the dogmatic orthodoxy, which TIA embodies.) Not all of feminism dismisses "science as a male attempt to 'rape' nature." Tracinski commits the fallacy of picking the most absurd and, unfortunately, the most vocally irrational aspect of modern feminism, and reifying it as if it were the whole (Rand called this the "fallacy of the frozen abstraction"). Serious scholars use an intellectual scalpel, rather than an ideological bludgeon, to study the history of ideas.
3. On the false alternative of "dogmatism vs. skepticism" -- I agree wholeheartedly with Robert Tracinski. This is an indefensible dualism. I am not a skeptic. I cannot be responsible for how my views might be (mis)represented in an article. The journalist, Jeff Sharlet, made every attempt to be fair and objective in his exposition, but, given the subtlety of my own approach to Rand's thought, I knew that certain aspects of my work would be lost in the translation. Surely Tracinski can appreciate this; Ayn Rand's own work was distorted beyond recognition in many articles that were published during her lifetime. My approach to Rand is neither dogmatic nor skeptical; it is objective. And it benefits from a certain critical distance that is essential to objectivity. Tracinski's suggestion that I am a "morally neutral academic" is without any foundation. I am a radical and vocal advocate for the morality and practicality of the free society and I have been influenced enormously by Ayn Rand's philosophy.
The fact that I actively promote dialogue within academia does not mean that I harbor an "anything-goes attitude." It only means that I believe in the critical engagement that is the mark of the Western canon, and that my convictions--and Rand's philosophy--are strong enough to withstand such engagement. That Rand "would not have been on speaking terms" with many of those who are currently engaging her thought is an obvious overstatement. Given her vast letter-writing (on display in Letters of Ayn Rand), Rand was an avid "dialoguer"--and she surely understood the value of engaging her opposition. [Of course, as a colleague and friend of mine, Daniel Ust, observes, that Rand "would not have been on speaking terms" with some current scholars is irrelevant; our goal should not be to mimic Rand, but to seek truth.] Still, Rand remained an academic "outsider" her whole life, not unlike many in the Russian literary tradition. This was partially due to the fact that she was dismissed as a "popular" author with an unpopular politics. That Rand is now an historical figure of importance, that her legacy is finally being grappled with, is the inevitable by-product of the current movement in scholarship.
Tracinski would have us maintain an intellectual ghetto that freezes the living dynamism of Rand's Objectivism into a rigid dogma. I suggest that he move beyond his one-sided embrace of dogmatism, and that he take seriously his own rejection of the false dichotomy of dogmatism and skepticism. I urge all of Rand's followers--be they orthodox, revisionist, or unorthodox--to begin a long overdue re-asssessment of the nature of Objectivism. We may then begin to learn more about precisely who is "cash[ing] in on Rand's popularity while distorting or rejecting the essence of her philosophy." For in the end, Tracinski is correct, "Objectivism, like reality, is its own avenger." And it is "irrationalities" like those on display in The Intellectual Activist, that "will be its first victims."
Some months later, The Intellectual Activist took another implicit jab at Sciabarra's work:
In an article in TIA, Darryl Wright ["An Objective View of Objectivism: On Ayn Rand by Allan Gotthelf," The Intellectual Activist 14, no. 3 (March): 7-12] states: "Gotthelf's book would be a welcome addition to the literature on Objectivism at any time, but it is particularly significant at present. For decades Ayn Rand's ideas were largely ignored in academia; now they are being loudly discussed by some academics who seek to twist her into a feminist or a Hegelian. Although it is not his specific purpose to expose these distortions, Gotthelf is uniquely qualified to set the academic record on Objectivism straight."
For Sciabarra's review of Gotthelf's primer on Rand, see his article, "Orthodox Interpretations of Ayn Rand," in Full Context (12, no. 3, January/February 2000: 8-11).
Sciabarra's Chronicle interview was cited by Jonathan Rick in his papers, "No Straw Men," "The Bad Germans and the Untwisted Road to Auschwitz," and on "Hate Speech."
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