JSTOR Promotes JARS Nathaniel Branden Symposium
For those who might not know: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is published as both a print periodical and electronically through both Project Muse and JSTOR, which is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources. As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the journal has benefited from these diverse publication formats (including a new Kindle edition of our most recent issue). JSTOR's electronic publication of JARS has increased our accessibility and visibility to educational, business and not-for-profit institutions across the world. They also provide access to all of our back issues. (And Stanford CLOCKSS houses all of our issues in its dark archives for future generations of scholars.)
In a wonderful development, JSTOR has announced a special promotion on the new pathbreaking symposium in JARS: Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy. Check out that announcement in a Message from Penn State Press, which includes information on a special price for those who would like to download the entire issue (for $24.00!!!).
In another development, we'd also like to announce that we expect the issue to be reviewed in numerous online and print forums. Scroll to the bottom of our Branden Symposium page and you will find a special "Reviews" section that lists currently two discussions of the symposium, one by Anoop Verma of "For the New Intellectual" (who today, on his blog, discusses an early Branden work, Who is Ayn Rand?) and the other by Stephen Boydstun, who fills in some gaps in the annotated bibliography that JARS published as the concluding part of the Branden symposium. Boydstun provides additional references to Branden in the secondary literature from the wonderful journal he edited, Objectivity.
Postscript: In a Facebook thread on Anoop Verma's discussion of Who is Ayn Rand?, the typical Branden Bashers are at it again. I posted the following to that discussion:
Is it possible, for even a moment, to focus on the intellectual content of the book and of all the writings and lectures of the "evil" Brandens? Ayn Rand herself, after the break of 1968, wrote "A Statement of Policy," that all of the lectures and writings of Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden up to that point were among the "only authentic sources" on her philosophy and she explicitly mentioned "Who is Ayn Rand?" as among those sources. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has just published a symposium on "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"; so while Yaron Brook of ARI is busy calling Nathaniel Branden a "scumbag" on his podcasts (check out Episode 77), we are trying to recapture a significant part of the history of Objectivism as a philosophy and a movement. Others can engage in scholarship that is more akin to "art" insofar as it is a "selective re-creation of reality", but we choose not to airbrush out of existence the important contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, whatever their flaws as human beings. And Lord knows, those flaws were many. Let's not forget, however, that in addition to all the lectures and writings of these individuals, under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and in the various Objectivist periodicals of the time period, both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden conducted the deepest, most significant biographical interviews of Ayn Rand in 1960-1961, which have formed the basis of virtually every biographical study of Ayn Rand since, including the only "authorized" biography by Barbara Branden in Rand's lifetime, written as the title essay of the wonderful book that Anoop has highlighted here. I fear it is going to take a whole generation of folks to drop dead before we can start evaluating these issues more "objectively."
And the beat goes on, as one of the discussants attacked my own work on Rand; I replied:
On the contrary, I am completely aware of the Blackwell Companion, which is a giant step forward, and it took these folks several decades to finally address the contributions of the Brandens to the Objectivist canon. On the other hand, your completely gratuitous swipe at my own book, with no discussion whatsoever of its contributions (especially that it is the only extant source that discusses the actual courses that Rand took at the University of Petrograd; see the second edition), is actually something that the writers of the Companion acknowledge. You must have skipped that part.
The discussion then turned to several negative evaluations of my work, to which I replied:
I'm not going to turn this into a discussion about my work. But I have NEVER claimed Rand was a Hegelian or a Marxist. Read my trilogy, which started with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Russian Radical and ended with Total Freedom, which totally rewrote the history of the concept of dialectics, rooting it in Aristotle (whom Hegel himself called the "Fountainhead"!! of dialectical inquiry). Dialectics, in short form, is "the art of context keeping" and it is an art that predated Aristotle, but it was Aristotle who wrote the first theoretical book (the Topics) on the method, and showed the importance throughout all of his works, of looking at events, things, problems, etc. from different vantage points, on different levels of generality, as an integrated whole, understood across time. This is context-keeping of the most sophisticated kind and it is apparent in Rand's work. It is something that has not been discussed at length in the literature and I sought to fill that gap.
Moreover, my original historical research entailed unearthing Rand's college transcripts from the University of Petrograd (now the University of St. Petersberg again) and doing a very thorough analysis of the courses Rand took, the books that were used in these courses, and the most probable professors who taught these courses, all in an effort to try to understand better the context within which Rand was growing to intellectual maturity. (For the fuller analysis of the transcripts, in fact the ONLY analysis of the transcripts in print anywhere, see the second edition of my Russian Radical.)
In the end, however, my book tells the story of how Rand was actually more of an Aristotelian than even she may have recognized, since it was Aristotle who was the genuine father of the form of dialectics that I advocate. It is understandable why Rand would have rejected the word "dialectics" given its connection to the "dialectical materialism" of the Bolsheviks. But that does not mean that her methods of analysis show no evidence of this kind of dialectical form.
I don't want to hijack this thread on Who is Ayn Rand? to discuss the merits or demerits of my work, or my morality or my evasiveness and genuinely evil soul. None of us is perfect, and the Brandens certainly weren't, and you will find no place in any of my writings that has soft-soaked the ways in which Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden undermined and betrayed Ayn Rand and the movement they worked so hard to build. (And for the record, you will find in my work many extremely positive discussions of non-Brandenians, like Leonard Peikoff, his books and many lectures, which recognize their indispensable importance to the evolution of Randian philosophy.)
For me, it's time to move on. I'll take my lumps like anyone, but this kind of utter distortion of what I had to say is so beyond the pale that it merits some kind of response from the person who actually wrote the books and knows what he did. And if anyone here thinks that this put a feather in my cap professionally, or that it gave a boost to my "career," I can assure you that it has all been a labor of love. I've coedited The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies for sixteen years and have not earned a single cent. And I have not endeared myself to either the left (which has owned "dialectics") or the Objectivist or libertarian communities (which typically identify dialectics with Hegel and Marx) by taking up this thesis and running with it.
But I stand by every single word. Thanks for the engagement. Enjoy the conversation.
And in one final, parting shot, I added:
Some folks just never disappoint; I'm delighted that you're still having such a ball! Enjoy!
For the record, these folks know exactly who they are.
Oh, one more comment came in, on the thread I initiated at Facebook, with this JSTOR announcement; it was public, so that means any whackjob could post to the thread. Alas, one person warned Anoop Verma not to become involved with the folks of JARS; he said: "Anoop, you would be wise to avoid these people. They are dishonest and corrupt."
Well, I have to admit that I was born in Brooklyn and have lived here my whole life. And at the end of a long day of debating one whackjob after another, I just could not contain the Brooklyn in me for one minute longer. I replied:
That's right, Anoop. We have signed a pact with the Devil, and we get together regularly to perform ritual sacrifices. So, be careful, or you too will become a fallen angel.
Follow-up Postscript (posted on 14 January 2017, 9:30 p.m.): In the discussion that followed my announcement on Facebook, a dear friend, Stephen Boydstun, discussed some issues with regard to the publication in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that raised questions as to whether we advertised a piece written by ARI-affiliated scholar Andrew Bernstein on the cover of our Spring 2002 issue, in which appears Bernstein's reply to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his "Cliffsnotes" series. In the following post, I responded for the record:
I would like to say for the record that Andrew Bernstein signed a letter of agreement with The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (I have the original letter of agreement with his signature, address and contact information, and can scan it and provide it as proof to anyone so interested; but because it has private contact information, I don't think it is appropriate to put it on a public forum.) In any event, he was invited to publish an essay in reply to a critical review of his "Cliffsnotes" series, written by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2001 issue of JARS. He declined to write an essay, but chose to write a paragraph in reply; that was his prerogative. But he was obligated to sign a letter of agreement, because we do not publish anything in our pages without such a letter of agreement. I had cordial exchanges with him prior to the publication of his reply to Minsaas, and we were set to publish a review of a forthcoming of book of his until he decided to apologize to the world for having published his paragraph in JARS. He urged all those concerned with the future of Objectivism to boycott JARS. Folks can still read his apologia here.
I should mention that Bernstein's denunciation of our journal got him into a little hot water in later years; the story of that was reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an excerpt of which appears at the bottom of our review page, the piece by David Glenn.
Finally, I consider you a dear and valued friend, Stephen (and by the way, I read Mr. Shelton's essay in Objectivity and quite enjoyed it back then). So in the interests of accuracy, I would like to attach here a copy of the cover of the issue of JARS (Spring 2002) in which Bernstein's reply to Minsaas appeared. As you can see, we never went out of our way to put his name on the cover, and only listed him among those appearing in the journal when we circulated our announcement of its contents (and you can see the original Spring 2002 announcement above in the same link that contains the Bernstein apology), as was our policy then, and now. I don't know if you can see the contents in this jpeg, but as listed, here they are:
The Actuality of Ayn Rand - Slavoj Zizek
The Trickster Icon and Objectivism - Joseph Maurone
Is Benevolent Egoism Coherent? - Michael Huemer
Goals, Values, and the Implicit: Explorations in Psychological Ontology - Robert L. Robert L Campbell
A Contest of Wills: David Kelley's "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand" - Jonathan Jacobs
Having Your Say: Ayn Rand's "The Art of Nonfiction" - Stephen Cox
NOWHERE on the cover will one find Bernstein's name.
Stephen subsequently checked out his back issues and discovered that I was correct. I added on Facebook:
You know how high I hold you in esteem; and whatever my Brooklyn sarcasm above, I stand by my word that I did indeed enjoy Ray Shelton's essay in Objectivity, and you know how much I honor your journal. As you can see, we've added two links to your own comments on the Branden symposium to our reviews page, one of which fills a gap in the secondary literature, documenting citations from Objectivity in which Branden was mentioned. Again, no harm, no foul.
And as I mentioned in correspondence, we have always followed a policy of having contributors sign a letter of agreement, no matter how short or long their contributions are (and in the case of Andrew Bernstein, it was he who gave us his biography, which was actually longer than his contribution!). In any event, one can find a rejoinder to James Arnt Aune in the pages of the Fall 2002 issue of JARS by Leland Yeager, and it consisted of a single paragraph, and he too had to sign a letter of agreement.
Postscript to the Postscript to the ... (posted on 15 January 2017, 3:39 p.m.): I replied once again on the Anoop Verma thread to various questions that were raised; here's what I had to say:
Two things: First, Jae Alexander states: "And neither was I ever taken in by their [the Brandens'] wretched (post-mortem) smears, nor by your non-objective 'Russian Radical' revisionism." This is followed by the statement: "In fairness to Sciabarra, I have not gotten to his allegedly valid contributions to the Objectivist scholarship, and have not read his book myself." I would so much prefer to be condemned for something Jae actually read. I guess I'm having a little difficulty reconciling Jae's judgment of my "non-objective" revisionism without ever having read the book.
Second, Robert Nasir asks that it depends which way you look at it (the Brandens' contributions versus their flaws), and he is right; I was merely reacting to the actual content of Anoop's post, which was the contributions the Brandens made in the book Who is Ayn Rand?
Ironically, I agree entirely with some of the things Yaron Brook said about Nathaniel Branden (the "scumbag" comment notwithstanding): that NB had a key role in laying the groundwork for the sycophancy, rationalism, cultish, and nasty behavior of some of those in the Inner circle and among the first generation of "students of Objectivism," and that NB used certain important concepts meant to understand aspects of human psychology as a sledgehammer in his NBI days, harming many people in the process. I have written about this not only in the Prologue to the JARS Symposium on NB's work and legacy but in several other essays as well through the years.
All I asked at the beginning of this thread was that we focus on what I believe is the important content of a book that has been buried in the historical memory bank of Objectivism, for it was indeed a crucial contribution not only to an understanding of who Ayn Rand was (biographically) but what she had achieved philosophically. Fortunately, I was only 8 years old when the Break came, and never had the misfortune of having lived through the NBI days. I came to Ayn Rand independently, and read all her work, the work of every person who was mentioned in "The Objectivist" periodicals, all of the Austrian literature, and the libertarian literature, and was never a member of any group, though I did lease lectures from the ARI-affiliated "Lectures on Objectivism" and attended some of the early forums hosted by the Institute for Objectivist Studies. I met both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden independently while I was preparing my book on Rand (Russian Radical), and each gave me extensive commentary and criticisms of earlier drafts of the manuscript, making comments that were crucially important to its final exposition.
The only "chips" that formed on my shoulder were the ones that fell on me when I tried to crash through the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives in search of Rand's college transcript. I tell the story of my experiences in this article: "In Search of the Rand Transcript." Prior to that experience, I had had cordial relationships with many ARI-affiliated folks, and was even given a screen credit for the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" (as a Research Assistant) for having provided information on Rand's early education, and for having facilitated the receipt of a photo of Rand's philosophy professor (or at least the professor she herself acknoweldged), N. O. Lossky, from Lossky's son for Michael Paxton's use in the documentary. Till this day, I still have professional contact with scholars who have been associated with all the groups in Rand-land, and I try not to paint with a broad brush due to anyone's affiliations. It's a small world out there for Rand scholarship, and I've tried to move on from whatever acrimony I've added to the various fights throughout the years. Life is too short. But I've never hidden the fact that in their later lives, I was befriended by both Nathaniel and Barbara and honored their memories upon their passing. And as for Ayn Rand: I honor her every day of my life... just by living and loving it.