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INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES

NATIONAL POST, (8 January 2000), Arts & Life Section

Ayn Rand Goes to College

Andy Lamey

"Long considered an intellectual laughingstock, Alan Greenspan's favourite thinker is attracting attention from revisionist academics, angering her traditional supporters."

In the article, Lamey discusses the recent movement toward academic consideration of Ayn Rand's system of thought.  "Last fall the movement peaked with the arrival of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.  Papers in the first issue, written mostly by professors, range from 'Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology,' to a critique of Rand's theory of music."  Robert Campbell, author of the article on Rand and psychology, is interviewed by Lamey, as is Mimi Reisel Gladstein, coeditor, with Chris Matthew Sciabarra, of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand.  

"Perhaps the most prominent of the neo-Randian academics, Sciabarra, in addition to co-editing the feminist volume and the new journal, is the author of Ayn Rand:  The Russian Radical (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).  The book argues that Rand's early Russian education . . . had a decisive influence on her.  Even though she would recoil from any association with Marx or Hegel, the style of Rand's thinking was similar to theirs, Sciabarra argues.  As a dialectical thinker, Rand 'strives to uncover the common roots of apparent opposites,' such as materialism versus idealism, or rationalism versus empiricism, Sciabarra writes.  Rand was a radical in the Russian tradition bent on sweeping social change, albeit from a 'secular, humanist and libertarian' point of view, he adds.

"While he too still has to contend with the odd smirk by colleagues, 'those walls are coming down.'  But what still remains is 'the wall that has been created by some of her more orthodox followers.'"

Lamey quotes Gladstein, who says that while the Randians used to decry academics for not paying attention to Rand, she has been doing so for over two decades -- " 'and yet the reaction is to denounce me.'"

Sciabarra notes the cult aspects of Rand's following, something criticized too by Jeff Walker in his book The Ayn Rand Cult.  But Sciabarra's work itself has inspired some of the most "scathing denunciations," on display in reviews of the feminism anthology, for example, in the New Zealand magazine, The Free Radical.  John Ridpath, an Ayn Rand Institute associate, denounced Sciabarra's Russian Radical as well.   " 'None of us knew about Sciabarra and all of a sudden he comes out with . . . this huge, tortured interpretation,' Ridpath says now.  He charges Sciabarra is merely following the academic vogue of 'let's take something apart and reconstruct it in a new way.'"

But the academics view the orthodox followers of Rand as "standing in the way of legitimate scholarly inquiry" by blocking access to Rand's papers.  Sciabarra, for example, could not get a copy of Rand's college transcript from the Ayn Rand Institute, and had "to conduct a difficult 18-month search for another" copy that might "establish whether Rand studied with a key Russian philosopher [N. O. Lossky].   (In the end, the transcript listed the philosopher's course but not his name.)   'One can find similar behaviour in the estates of other very controversial figures [such as] Freud and Nietzsche,' Sciabarra says.  '[But] the joke of it is that one never really has control [over their intellectual legacy].'"

Lamey says that "Rand scholars believe their efforts are worthwhile, despite the obstacles," citing additional arguments from Campbell, Gladstein, and also David MacGregor, a left-wing Hegelian who "exchanged views of Rand with Sciabarra in Critical Review."   MacGregor notes that Rand's popularity is often an obstacle to her being taken seriously.  But MacGregor applauds "the revisionist project," and he applauds Rand's ability to discuss the role of morality, of good and evil, something that academics "'should be thinking about . . .'"


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