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INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION liii, no. 45 (13 July 2007), Friday, A6-A8, A10-A13.

Ayn Rand's Academic Legacy

David Glenn

In July 2007, Sciabarra was interviewed by David Glenn, Senior Reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  (He was previously interviewed for a 1999 article by Jeff Sharlet on the growth in Rand scholarship.  See here and here.]  In the introduction to a series of articles on "Ayn Rand's Academic Legacy," Glenn writes:

The 1990s saw a boom in scholarship related to Rand, including a widely debated 1995 book that suggested she was a dialectical thinker in the tradition of Hegel and Marx.  Much of that 1990s wave, which continues today, was written by scholars who were attracted to some of Rand's ideas but not her entire intellectual program.

In his essay, "Advocates of Objectivism Make New Inroads," Glenn also mentions The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which Sciabarra was a founding co-editor.  Glenn discusses the Anthem Foundation for Objectivism, which offered the Texas State University Department of Philosophy "a long-term grant to pay the salary of a visiting professor whose specialty would be objectivism, as Rand termed her philosophical system."  The Department turned down the offer, partially because of

specific worries about the world of Rand scholarship, which has occasionally been marred by schisms and accusations of scholarly foul play.  In particular, the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization with which the Anthem Foundation is closely associated, has sometimes been accused of enforcing rigid ideological conformity—and even of failing to acknowledge the work of scholars associated with rival organizations.

In an interview with Rebecca Raphael, "a senior lecturer in philosophy at Texas State," Glenn writes:

Another red flag for Ms. Raphael was an abject apology distributed online in 2002 by Andrew Bernstein, a visiting professor of philosophy at Marist College. Mr. Bernstein lectured on Rand at Texas State this past March, and Mr. McCaskey [the Anthem Foundation's founder and president] mentioned his name as someone who might fill the position that Anthem offered to finance.

In his 2002 statement, Mr. Bernstein apologized for having contributed a one-paragraph letter to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a journal that publishes a variety of approaches to Rand's philosophy, many of which the institute's leaders find false and offensive. (Mr. Bernstein's short contribution was a reply to a negative review of his CliffsNotes of Rand's novels.)

"The so-called Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is filled with writings by people with whom I refuse to knowingly associate under any circumstances," wrote Mr. Bernstein in his apology. "I deeply regret my thoughtless decision to contribute to this journal, and hereby irrevocably repudiate any and all association with it. In this regard, the fault is entirely my own. This journal does not hide what it is. Its contents are available on the Internet for all to see. In failing to do the requisite research and gather the necessary data, I failed to properly use my mind. I must now suffer the consequences of that. To all who are sincerely concerned with objectivism, I apologize, and recommend a complete repudiation and boycott of this journal. ..."

When asked by The Chronicle about his 2002 comments, Mr. Bernstein replied that rejecting The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was a moral and intellectual obligation. "We are literally in a struggle to save human civilization from the destruction wrought by irrational philosophy," he wrote in an e-mail message. The editors of the journal have been hostile to the Ayn Rand Institute, he said, but "anyone who sincerely supports Ayn Rand's philosophy, and appreciates its indispensable role in promoting cultural renaissance, must, as a logical consequence ... respect ARI's dauntless, indefatigable, gallant struggle on behalf of a rational philosophy."

Such talk does little to quell Ms. Raphael's fundamental complaint. The Anthem Foundation might believe in good faith that a certain strain of objectivism is the truest and best, she says, but that means that departments should be even more cautious about accepting its grants. "When the donor expects the hiree to promote certain interpretations of the material," she says, "this removes from competition other scholars in the field whose results, however meritorious, do not meet the ideological litmus test."

Also see the 10 July 2007 blog entry, "Footnoted:  Rand-o-rama," the Chronicle's daily look at academic blogs, in which David Glenn writes:

Another of our articles casually mentions Rand’s “belief that democracies should respond to external attacks without much concern for civilian casualties.” That’s a broadly true characterization, but a few correspondents have pointed out that there is actually a raging debate about what kind of foreign policy Rand’s admirers ought to support. NYU’s Chris Matthew Sciabarra argues that the Ayn Rand Institute’s leaders have abandoned Rand’s radical and essentially noninterventionist policy framework. ...


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