NOTABLOG MONTHLY ARCHIVES: 2002 - 2020
|JUNE 2005||AUGUST 2005|
JULY 31, 2005
Song of the Day: But Not For Me is a classic George and Ira Gershwin song (introduced in the 1930 Broadway production of "Girl Crazy" and performed in both the 1932 and 1943 film versions too) that has been recorded by countless artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Sarah Vaughan to Linda Ronstadt (audio clips at those links). For a change of pace, check out an audio clip of a version by the original "space cadet," Sun Ra. A happy and a healthy to #1 Herman Blount (Sun Ra) Expert, my colleague and pal Robert Campbell, who also celebrates his birthday today.
Song of the Day: The Flying Song (audio clip at that link) is an instrumental composition written and performed by Joe Maurone (aka Spaceplayer). I first heard this track years ago and it still resonates with me. A very happy and healthy birthday to its composer.
JULY 30, 2005
Song of the Day: Don't Go, music and lyrics by Vince Clarke, is another Yaz (or Yazoo) dance gem from the 1980s. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 29, 2005
Song of the Day: Situation features the words and music of vocalist Alison Moyet and synth player Vince Clarke (who went on to Erasure fame). This duo constituted the Electro pop group Yazoo (or Yaz, as it was known in the US). Listen to an audio clip from the album "Upstairs at Eric's" (at that link) and a sample of the original Francois Kevorkian 12" remix at this link.
JULY 28, 2005
The thread at SOLO HQ on the James Valliant book is now over 200 posts! While I decided to move on from the discussion, a number of points were made by a SOLO HQ participant dealing with my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I intend to post a number of articles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of that book in mid-August. My reply to the SOLO HQ participant is posted here. I reproduce much of it here for the benefit of Notablog readers:
My recent Free Radical essay marking the tenth anniversary of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, will be published ... on SOLO HQ in mid-August. ...
James Lennox and Allan Gotthelf agree on many things; they have known each other for many years and they co-edited a book on Aristotle's biology. I respect their work in that area and have cited both of them in my own work. And David Kelley is also a fine philosopher, and I have cited his work too.
That doesn't mean I always agree with Lennox, Gotthelf, and Kelley�far from it; nor does it mean that Kelley agreed with Lennox's review of my book simply because he published that review in the IOS Journal. In fact, Kelley went out of his way to sponsor a live IOS discussion of Russian Radical before it was published, and he also published a Roundtable discussion of my book after he published Lennox's review. He also made a number of very positive comments about Russian Radical at the time.
Understand, however, that if we are to judge the validity of an argument by the number of scholars who object to it, then Ayn Rand's work itself would be among the most harshly judged philosophies on earth.
As for other colleagues and professionals who engaged my work, take a look at my website and the various relevant reviews posted here and here. Those links include a full index of all the reviews of my work, some quite positive (see, for example, philosopher Lester Hunt's discussion). Also take a look at the endorsements of my book by such philosophers as Tibor Machan, John Hospers, George Walsh, and Douglas Rasmussen.
But this is not about name-dropping. It's about a fundamental divergence between Lennox and me on a number of issues, including the very meaning of dialectics. To a certain extent, I am to blame for some of the problems that emerged in the aftermath of the publication of Russian Radical, but it was unavoidable. The book was part two of a trilogy of books that aimed to reconstruct and reclaim dialectical method for a (small-l) libertarian social theory. So, the full reconstruction of the history and meaning of dialectics was not published until the final (third) book in my trilogy, Total Freedom. I couldn't reinvent the wheel in one, two, or three books�but I sure couldn't include my whole take on dialectics in a book about Rand, even if such a discussion would have clarified the points for many readers.
In fact, I have heard from many readers through the years who have said, upon reading part one of Total Freedom (TF): "Oh! Now I know what the hell you're talking about!" And, in fact, when I teach my trilogy, I actually begin with part one of TF before getting to Marx-Hayek and the Rand volume.
Aside from that, all of the historical speculations that I made about Rand's formative influences were based on inconclusive evidence�as I acknowledged. But I was building an historical narrative, and each step of the narrative depended on the presumptions before it. The initial speculations I made concerning what Ayn Rand was actually taught at Petrograd State University have now been bolstered by evidence that is as conclusive as it's going to get. The additional Russian archival material that I uncovered over the past 10 years has, in the words of William Thomas, lent "far greater warrant to [my] historical hypothesis .... successfully exploit[ing a] line of research [that] bolsters [my] key claim of a link between Russian philosopher N. O. Lossky, his followers, and the young Rand."
Comments welcome, but as I say at SOLO HQ: "Let that whet your appetite, and just shelve this discussion until mid-August. As long as we can chat with civility, I'm open to any and all points of contention."
I'm about halfway through Russian Radical now and am finding it extremely informative (and well written). I tried reading Ayn Rand for the first time this spring, after reading praise of her on the blogs of economists Bryan Caplan and Tyler Cowen. The Fountainhead, which I read first, was rough going, but I'm glad I then tried Atlas Shrugged: it was fascinating and inspiring. I then picked up Russian Radical because of the good reviews on Amazon and because it was the only book I could locate on Rand's philosophy that was put out by a publisher whose name I recognized.
My question: Why has Rand been overlooked by mainstream philosophers? As far as the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the Columbia History of Western Philosophy, and Stanford's on-line encyclopedia of philosophy are concerned, she and Objectivism never existed.
Thanks for your fine work.
Posted by: John P. | August 6, 2005 09:37 PM
Thanks, John P, for your kind words about RUSSIAN RADICAL. You ask: "Why has Rand been overlooked by mainstream philosophers? As far as the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the Columbia History of Western Philosophy, and Stanford's on-line encyclopedia of philosophy are concerned, she and Objectivism never existed."
There are probably several factors that have militated against the inclusion of Rand in the canon:
1. Rand was an outsider; she did not work within the philosophy profession and the profession rarely takes kindly to such outsiders.
2. Rand has sometimes been viewed as a "novelist" first, and a "philosopher" second by some of those in the profession. Moreover, her status as a novelist allowed some to view her as a "popularizer" of philosophy, rather than a bona fide philosopher.
3. I think there has always been a bias against Rand's politics, which has been reflected not only in the literature---but also in the marginalization of her work by a left-wing dominated profession.
4. Finally, Rand was a woman. I think Paglia is onto something when she talks about the marginalization of women in philosophy, which is typically a male-dominated discipline. See here.
All of this said, I think the trend is changing significantly. I've written on this subject:
A Renaissance in Rand Scholarship, from REASON PAPERS
The Illustrated Rand, from THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES
Recent Work on Ayn Rand, from PHILOSOPHICAL BOOKS, available to those with access rights (a version of this essay will be in a forthcoming collection edited by Ed Younkins, entitled PHILOSOPHERS OF CAPITALISM)
Thanks again for your comments.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | August 7, 2005 10:44 AM
Terrific -- thanks for your explanations and for the links to your papers. I will definitely read them.
Posted by: John P. | August 7, 2005 05:15 PM
Song of the Day: Everything Happens to Me, words and music by Tom Adair and Matt Dennis, is one of those Murphy's Law meets Romance songs. It's delivered with typical heartbreak by Billie Holiday in an audio clip here. Listen also to a Frank Sinatra audio clip, with Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra here and, in a later version, here. And check out an audio clip here of a version featuring alto saxophonist Charlie Parker with strings.
JULY 27, 2005
Song of the Day: This Swingin' Life (audio clip at that link) features the music and lyrics of Jeff Driskill and Don Miller. It was recorded by the Don Miller Orchestra, which was the house band for "Jerry Seinfeld Live on Broadway." I adore the trombone solo of my pal Roger Bissell.
JULY 26, 2005
Yes, yes, since February and March 2005 I've been searching for something both stylish and readable for Notablog. I've gone from a "Stormy" stylesheet to a "Georgia Blue" stylesheet for the site. I then returned to Stormy, but many complained that it was just too difficult to read. And with nearly 60 comments on my "Reason, Passion, and History" essay, I simply had to make the move back toward a more "readable" format. So "Georgia Blue" has resurfaced with a few custom twists to "jazz it up." Until or unless I can implement a "stylesheet" switch option, practicality wins out over aesthetics. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers on this switch, and I hope it does facilitate the reading experience.
Also, in response to this comment from Kernon, I've now worked with NYU's Jodi Goldberg to enable HTML tags in the comments section! I will, however, have to close comments after a reasonable period of time on open entries in order to keep the spammers from placing their links on Notablog.
Speaking of which, one person at SOLO HQ took exception to my having closed the comments section on the "Reason, Passion, and History" thread after a week of debate (and he took the opportunity to attack my scholarship as well). As I explain here (and here):
I come from a scholarly culture. In a scholarly context, the typical model is: review-reply-rejoinder. Sometimes, it goes a bit further. But I don't have an endless amount of time to debate issues when the lines are so clearly drawn and there is not likely to be any movement one way or the other. ... I should also mention that it is not fair to my readers to allow a comments section to go on endlessly when I don't have the time to pay close attention to that level of traffic, given my other research, writing, and editing commitments. I love blogging and I love cyber-culture, but I do have a life.
I conclude: "I am the host of Notablog. I wrote the review at Notablog. I have the last word at Notablog."
And that is as it should be.
Though I'm deeply involved right now in the preparation of the Fall 2005 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I'm still delighted to see the comments section humming along, and enjoy the engagement.
So, let me know what you think of the new format.
I like the new look. Always easier to read dark on light. I Hope you are doing well. As always, looking forward to your future projects.
Posted by: Shane | July 27, 2005 05:09 AM
Definitely prefer the new look, Chris, good call.
Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | July 27, 2005 11:16 AM
This looks is definitely better :-) And of course you are right on the money about your right to close a comments thread on your own site ;-)
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | July 28, 2005 11:07 AM
Thanks, gents, for the feedback. I'm sticking with this ... until or unless we find a "stylesheet switcher" that allows readers to pick the option they prefer.
BTW, with regard to the comments section...
As I explain in the "contact" post highlighted on the main sidebar: it is due to security against spam that NYU actually recommends that I shut down the comments sections for older posts. I've now gotten into the habit of closing ~all~ comments on ~any~ post after a week or two (depending on the amount of traffic being generated). I should also note that my "default" option for the blog is "no comments." In fact, the vast majority of posts---"Song of the Day," for example---are closed, on principle, to any comments whatsoever. Notablog didn't even begin taking comments until February 2005, and it has been around since July 26, 2002 (yes, I ~just~ celebrated the 3-year anniversary of the blog, though the "Sciabarra Update" was around for many years prior to that time).
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 28, 2005 03:32 PM
Agreed - a clean, readable site is the best way to go. A good blog is about the content, and content that is readable is the best kind.
Posted by: Ken Zon | July 29, 2005 11:29 PM
I really like the name of this magazine. In it, Carl Schreck reviews a new book by Bruce Adams entitled Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth-Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes. I've not read the book, but it does look as if it is "No Laughing Matter," insofar as it shows how jokes served as a means of critiquing the Soviet police state.
Here are a few excerpts from Schreck's piece:
Jokes, or anekdoty, were indeed risky business in the Soviet Union, Bruce Adams maintains in the introduction to "Tiny Revolutions in Russia," his light if thoroughly entertaining recap of Soviet history told through a mix of amusing, tragicomic, baffling and plain unfunny jokes that will strike a familiar chord with any foreigner who has shared a couple bottles of vodka with a table full of Russians.
George Orwell was the first to dub jokes "tiny revolutions," but it's an especially fitting title for Adams' book, which reminds us that humor can have very serious consequences when the joke is on a totalitarian regime. The eight years Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent in prisons and labor camps came as punishment for jokes he had made about Josef Stalin in his private correspondence, Adams writes. "The anecdotes were necessarily underground humor shared only with close friends."
So, how about a few jokes?
When no African delegates showed up at a Comintern Congress, Moscow wired Odessa [a very cosmopolitan port city with a large Jewish population]: "Send us a Negro immediately." "Odessa wired right back: 'Rabinovich has been dyed. He's drying.'"
"Who built the White Sea-Baltic Canal? "On the right bank -- those who told anecdotes, on the left bank -- those who heard them."
Because the BBC always seemed to know Soviet secrets so quickly, it was decided to hold the next meeting of the Politburo behind closed doors. No one was permitted in or out. Suddenly Kosygin grasped his belly and asked permission to leave. Permission was denied. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. A janitress stood there with a pail: "The BBC just reported that Aleksei Nikolayevich shit himself."
Read the whole article here. And check out Adams' book here.
Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.
Song of the Day: Second Time Around, music and lyrics by L. Sylvers and W. Shelby, performed by the group Shalamar, has a nice groove and hook. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 25, 2005
Song of the Day: Dream On features music by Bill Frisell, lyrics by Steven Tyler, and the powerful performance of Aerosmith. It's a rock classic. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 24, 2005
Song of the Day: Burn Rubber on Me, music and lyrics by Charlie Wilson, Lonnie Simmons, and Rudy Taylor, was performed by the funky Gap Band. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 23, 2005
Song of the Day: That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be, music and lyrics by Jacob Brackman, was recorded by a melancholy Carly Simon. Listen to an audio clip of this plaintive track here.
JULY 22, 2005
Song of the Day: Street Life, music by Joe Sample, words by Oscar-winning lyricist Will Jennings, was performed by The Crusaders, with Randy Crawford as guest vocalist. The song has been heard on several soundtracks as well, including for the films "Sharky's Machine" and "Jackie Brown." Listen to audio clips here and here.
JULY 21, 2005
Song of the Day: Give Me the Night features words and music by Rod Temperton, production by the great Quincy Jones, and performance by jazz guitarist and singer, George Benson. It has a nice groove, with those sweet unison vocal-guitar lines that Benson does so well. Listen to an audio clip here. And check out two audio clips of alternative versions, featuring singer Randy Crawford, who formerly performed with the Crusaders.
JULY 20, 2005
Stan Rozenfeld gives a good review to one of my favorite all-time TV series: the original "Forsyte Saga" (a 1967 BBC production). Check out his review here. I left a brief comment here.
Comments welcome, but drop by Stan's Live Journal.
Have you seen the lavish (big budget) remake of Forsyte Saga a couple of years ago? I watched that one on PBS and loved it and then read the book afterward.
Posted by: Hong | July 22, 2005 07:31 PM
Hong, I actually have the DVDs for both segments of the remake, but have not watched either just yet.
Interestingly, those who never saw the original seemed to like the remakes quite a bit. Those who were well acquainted with the original were disappointed with the remakes.
I'll reserve judgment till I see it!
Thanks for your comments.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 22, 2005 08:19 PM
Today, a Notablog exclusive is published: My comprehensive review essay dealing with James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics: The Case Against the Brandens (Dallas: Durban House, 2005):
Reason, Passion, and History
As I expected, a judicious and balanced and utterly convincing analysis of Valliant's work.
However, as with your review of Jeff Walker's pile of garbage you are far TOO fair with the author. I can only conclude from your account - and I suspect that my reading of his work will confirm this - that every vile slur he makes against the Brandens is a perfect description of his own character and intellectual honesty. His book is clearly the product of a demented and dishonest cultist and mountebank.
Posted by: Dr. Chris R. Tame | July 20, 2005 11:46 AM
Now tell us how you really feel. :)
First, thanks, Chris T. for your compliments on my analysis.
I just want to caution commentators here to do their very best to raise the tone on this discussion from Square One. This is a subject, as I say in my essay, that seems to degenerate immediately into a slimefest. And it's easy to see why.
I think very important substantive and methodological issues are raised by Valliant's book, which is why I devoted so much space to it. And, yes, I'm fair... to a fault.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 20, 2005 01:02 PM
As usual, another masterful and fair report. Thanks.
Posted by: Jeffery Small | July 20, 2005 02:27 PM
Nice work, Chris. I doubt I'll ever read Valiant's book, but I too hope that ARI releases Rand's journals to the public in unedited form. I would actually rather they had been destroyed, as I would want any private writings of mine to be destroyed, but it is a bit too late for that with regard to Rand's journals and it is better that there be full disclosure and transparency than secrecy, manipulation, and character assassination.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 20, 2005 03:58 PM
This is brilliant work, Chris. Nowhere else have I seen these issues discussed both so thoroughly and so well.
I've read both of the Branden books multiple times (including both editions of N. Branden's memoir). I've also read Valliant's book once. For me (and in my judgment, for anyone who has read these books) your review essay qualifies as must reading.
Now, having read your review essay once, I can't think of one thing with which I disagree. Perhaps with additional readings (which I expect will be well worth the effort) I will find something here or there with which to quibble. I think you are clearly on the right track, though.
With issue after issue, you avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. If only everyone who discussed such subject matter could approach it with your level-headedness.
Unfortunately, I think that inadvertently, many people instead fall into the trap of moralizing about these topics. I say this in part based on personal experience. Years ago, in considering some of these same controversies, I sometimes did the same.
Nothing has given me more insight into the fallacies of moralism, however, than has Damian Moskovitz's talk, "Moralism in Objectivism: Why It's Bad and How We Can Get Rid of It." In the Guest Articles section of my Living Action web site, both in transcript and audio formats, this talk remains available.
This is the direct URL:
I suspect that many who find value in your comments will find value in Damian's, as well.
Thank you so much for composing and publishing such an outstanding review essay.
Posted by: Vid Axel | July 20, 2005 09:00 PM
Great review Chris (as always!).
Hey, how come URLs aren't "clickable" in your comment section? Having to copy & paste is SO YESTERDAY!
Posted by: kernon | July 20, 2005 10:42 PM
On the other hand, there is something to be said for sharing your inner struggles with the world or having an empathetic and sympathetic person share them for you if you can't. In connection with this, I have always been fascinated and moved Orson Scott Card's dramatization of "Speakers for the Dead" in his novels: Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Have you read these, Chris? As a teenager, long before I had ever heard of libertarianism or Objectivism, I thought that if we could just have more Speakers for the Dead and less politicians and priests the world would be a better place.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 20, 2005 11:52 PM
Perhaps Objectivism and the world could use real-life Speakers for the Dead, sans the touch of emotivism and subjectivism Card unfortunately embued them with. I just reread a passage from chapter two of _Speaker for the Dead_ and Card unfortunately contrasts the Speaker doctrine of good and evil with a Calvinistic doctrine. According to Card, a Calvinistic view (at least as portrayed in the novel) holds good and evil to be solely in the act with the actor's motives or intentions being irrelevant. For Card, the Speaker doctrine is that good and evil exist entirely in human motive. This intrinsicist/subjectivist dichotomy could be dialectically transcended by Objectivist ethics. Despite his apparent acceptance of this traditaional dichotomoy, however, Card's Speakers attempt to portray the full context of a person's life, both the virtues and the vices, the triumphs and the failures, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain. Methodologically speaking, a Speaker strives for objectivity.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 21, 2005 12:21 AM
Chris, thank you so much for your calm, insightful review of Valliant's book. Your review was like an X-ray of Valliant's thought process, and the result was not pretty.
There have been some rather incendiary reviews and comments attacking Valliant's book, and I can't say that I disagree with them. However, it is much more satisfying to ponder his (or anyone's) book, and much easier to arrive at a balanced, nuanced assessment, when using (or guided by) your approach. One's confidence level in one's conclusions is much higher when ideology and personal biases are set aside and a careful look is taken at the methodology of the author.
To those who might object at your being too civil or fair or non-inflammatory in your review, I will just say that I think that your dispassionate look at the facts in this case are more than damning enough!
Again, good job!
Warmest personal regards,
Posted by: Roger Bissell | July 21, 2005 04:07 AM
Much appreciation for additional comments here from Jeff, Vid, Kernon, Geoffrey, Roger...
Geoffrey, I've heard of, but have not read, Card's work. Thanks for mentioning it and for your points.
Vid, thanks for your vote of confidence and for linking to Damian's piece.
Kernon :) ... last time I allowed clickable URLs, somebody put up a link to something having to do with women and barnyard animals. I'll try it again, and we'll see what happens.
Roger, I just had a chance to look at SOLO HQ, where Dennis Hardin faults "the absence of moral evaluation" in my review. I answer him there but I'll repeat the essence of what I say here, for readers of Notablog.
Hardin states: "There is no inherent conflict between moral evaluation and objectivity. And there is no claim to superior wisdom in treating an author who engages in vicious, scurrilous attacks on admirable people as if he deserved benevolence. To review this book---to grasp the naked evil of its despicable twisting of the truth to serve a transparent and loathsome agenda---without condemning it in the clearest possible terms, is a travesty of justice."
In essence, Hardin is arguing that my lack of condemnation is as "evil" as the very book he believes I should have condemned "in the clearest possible terms."
If Hardin is looking for any inherent conflict between moral evaluation and objectivity in my work, he won't find it. I evaluate everything on a variety of levels: morally, epistemically, logically, and so forth. What he won't find, however, is a review that adopts the very "scorched-earth" style for which I criticize Valliant in my essay. What he won't find is a review where the style of my language will be focused on to the exclusion of the substance of my points. There are too many incendiary condemnations at work in cyberspace, which end up generating far more heat than light.
I simply wished to provide an alternative.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 21, 2005 08:23 AM
The links for the SOLO HQ commentary are here:
Dennis Hardin's comments:
(And for some reason, I think you still have to cut and paste... hmmm...)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 21, 2005 08:26 AM
Chris, about an issue that evokes so much emotion and so little clarity in so many people -- an issue about which there is usually more heat than light -- I am more grateful than I can say for the calm reasonableness of your article.
Posted by: Barbara Branden | July 21, 2005 09:48 AM
Excellent stuff as always. I haven't been in any great hurry to go out and buy this thing (the title pretty much indicated the essential nature of the content), but your reasoned analysis cleared away any doubts.
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | July 21, 2005 04:16 PM
Chris, insightful as always (and just as long).) :)
You speak often of the importance of separating the thinker from the philosophy. That is one area I still struggle with, because I do think that if one is going to suggest to others how to live, that person should also be able to live it. I do not think it's important to focus on every little aspect the way Prince Valliant seems to do. Although, when it comes to Rand, it's not so surprising that one is tempted to do so, since she postmarked her work "And I Mean It!".
I came across Carl Jung's comparison of Nietzsche to Schopenhauer, which some may find interesting in light of this issue (which is also kinda ironic, since in AR:RR you write "Yet the study of philosophy cannot be reduced to exploring this or that philosopher's idiosyncracies. That would be psychologism at its worst. One should not judge Schopenhauer's philosophy by his penchant for sleeping with loaded pistols or Nietsche's by the fact that he died insane."):
"[Schopenhauer] was full of contradiction. His human existence was quite apart from his philosophy, while in Nietzsche the two began to come together and in a very tragic way. So he goes really further than Schopenhauer whose philosophy is merely a mental affair, while Nietzsche feels that it concerns the whole man; to him it was his own immediate reality. It is impossible to be this on the one side and something entirely different on the other, to have a philosophy which has nothing to do with one's reality...[Schopenhauer] still believed in the non-importance of this world. But Nietzsche begins to emphasize the importance of the body by losing his belief in other worlds. As soon as the transcendent goal of life fails, the whole importance is of course in the ego consciousness and in the personal life. That is inevitable."
So if Nietzsche's transvaluation of values results in an emphasis on this world and our actions here, it's no suprise that our lives and actions are subject to gossip and scrutiny in relation to our professed beliefs. And since Rand was a big fan of ZARATHUSTRA, it could explain the continuing fascination with THE AFFAIR and her moral judgements.
Anyway, some food for thought, I'll let you and Jung duke this one out! :)
Posted by: Joe Maurone | July 21, 2005 04:41 PM
Thanks for additional comments from Barbara, Matthew, and Joe (keep 'em comin'...)
Joe, that's some very interesting material from Jung.
Interestingly, even though Valliant himself tells us that one cannot judge a philosophy by the philosopher's biography, that "Biography and philosophy are two distinct subjects" (p. 3) as he puts it, he also argues that in the case of Objectivism, Ayn Rand did, indeed say "And I mean it"---thus inviting an investigation of "her personal life" to see "the practical effects" of her "operative ideas" on her own life.
I'm not saying that biography is irrelevant; obviously, I, myself, spend quite a bit of time in RUSSIAN RADICAL investigating one aspect of Rand's "personal life"---her intellectual growth in Silver Age Russia---which I use as one component for understanding her legacy.
The issue is ~reductionism~, as I imply in the very quote you cite. Context matters, but one cannot reduce an idea to the personal or historical context in which the idea was born. Ultimately, ideas must be judged by their correspondence to reality, their efficacy and explanatory power, not by the biographical details of the person who came up with the ideas.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 21, 2005 06:20 PM
I think a key methodological issue is that you take the position that because the Brandens have acknowledged their role in the Affair and building the "cultic" attitude that surrounded the Objectivist movement, their version has a certain amount of credibility.
On the other hand, Valliant believes that because of the Brandens' conduct, their later accounts should be considered less valid.
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 21, 2005 07:12 PM
Thank you, Chris for a wonderful well-researched and informative review of the book. I think it is important that this Randroid practice of blaming the Brandens is finally put to bed.
As I have said before Barbara and Nathaniel have made wonderful and important contributions not only to objectivism but psychology/self-help as well. Thank you for pointing out their accomplishments.
Posted by: Kathy Wheeler | July 21, 2005 07:21 PM
"Ultimately, ideas must be judged by their correspondence to reality, their efficacy and explanatory power, not by the biographical details of the person who came up with the ideas. "
Right on, Chris.
Posted by: Joe Maurone | July 22, 2005 03:54 AM
Thanks to additional comments, folks.
The discussion at SOLO HQ continues as well. Dennis Hardin continues to make
points about what he perceives as my possible "moral agnosticism." You can read
his comments here:
I respond to him here:
For Notablog readers, I reproduce my response here:
I'm flattered by your characterization of me as an "intellectual giant," and I appreciate your attempt to clarify your comments.
In truth, I have been accused by some, right here on SOLO HQ, for my "lack of moral fastidiousness" through the years. Be that as it may, I have grown tired of the kind of scorched-earth, slash-and-burn technique that is all too familiar across the political spectrum, and within Objectivism as well, which substitutes "purr and snarl" words for cogent analysis. Now, before you take that personally, I am not saying that ~you~ did that in your review of Valliant's book.
But I am a scholar by training. I have spent my life taking everything I read with a degree of seriousness. I have shown that degree of seriousness for writings authored by some of the most evil men in history---Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao tse-Tung. Whatever James Valliant is, he's not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; I think we all need to achieve a bit of proportion here.
Sometimes it is required to devote a level of seriousness to a work one might reject. I chose to do so primarily because ~I~ had a lot to say about ~broader~ issues of historical interpretation and methodology. And since I am, among other things, a Rand scholar, I ~must~ take seriously the publication of a book that includes extensive excerpts from Rand's personal journals approved by Rand's Estate. As an intellectual historian who has mined rare archival materials for over 15 years now, I cannot ignore this material.
To have dismissed Valliant's work because I have profound disagreements with its author, or to have written a piece that did not delve into the ~reasons~ for my disagreements---both interpretive and historiographical---would have served no purpose, ~for me~. And, in the end, I write for ~me~, no matter how much I also write to reach others.
I have learned from both Ayn Rand and the Brandens. And one major thing I learned ~personally~ from Nathaniel Branden long ago was this: You can never hope to change somebody's perspective by beating them over the head and telling them that they are immoral scum. I may judge the actions or writings of any given author as incorrect, wrong, perhaps immoral in its implications, etc. But unless I ~grapple~ with the argument and its implications in a way that shows critical attention to detail, I cannot hope to reach those who might have been persuaded by the book to begin with.
One more thing---and perhaps you'll think me a bit too "Christian" for an Objectivist universe---but I do not treat people in a way that I would not like to be treated.
Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the publication of ~Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical~. When that book was published, it was met by knee-jerk condemnation by a host of people commonly identified as "orthodox" Objectivists. Some repudiated the book on the basis of its dust jacket. Others claimed to have read it but showed no evidence of having understood anything in its pages. Still others provided the kind of "purr and snarl" review that was obvious for its axe-grinding.
I received more serious critical engagement from ~non~-Objectivists than from Objectivists. And since ~Russian Radical~, the level of rudeness and personal attack grew with every article, book, or edited collection I published in the area of Rand scholarship. While I'm willing to debate anyone on substantive issues, I will not sanction personal rudeness. I won't crawl into the sewer with people who insist on swimming in its waters or practice the very style I condemn others for exhibiting.
You quote Rand about how "moral agnosticism" corrupts a culture. For me, rudeness, a raised eyebrow, a smirk, the pooh-poohing of critical engagement, the use of the argument from intimidation are all just as corrupting.
I wrote a trilogy that sought to recapture a dialectical method in defense of liberty. In doing fierce battle against Marxists and statists of every stripe, I chose to ~engage~ their arguments. Silence has never been an option. But if I'm going to say something, it is going to be something substantive stated on my terms.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 22, 2005 10:03 AM
Reply to Dr. Sciabarra's REASON, PASSION, AND HISTORY, by James S. Valliant
My own background and early experience with Objectivism is much the same as Chris Sciabarra's. We were both small children, I even younger than he, as the "Break" of August 1968 unfolded. I, too, had the benefit of absorbing Rand�s published corpus before I had heard any of the recorded lectures (though, like Sciabarra, I would eventually listen to them all, including those vinyl LPs of Nathaniel Branden's "Basic Principles of Objectivism" course), or before I had met anyone who had been associated with Ayn Rand. I also regard this as a "fortunate" circumstance for similar, if not identical, reasons.
Unlike Sciabarra, however, I have no personal friendships with anyone who had known Rand, much less any of the principals involved in this complex story of the public divorce that occurred between Ayn Rand and the Brandens.
I am personally acquainted with many who knew Rand, and I have been a student at the home of Leonard Peikoff, who has dubbed me a "charter member" of his "Class of '91," but I cannot call anyone who knew Rand a personal friend, nor do I normally socialize in traditional "Objectivist" circles. I also must acknowledge the great assistance that the Ayn Rand Archive provided me by supplying me with no end of valuable materials, although this, too, came "with no strings attached."
Let me also observe that I do have a number of friends who are Libertarians. Nathaniel Branden was the first associate of Rand's I ever met. While I have changed my views significantly since then, I first registered to vote as a Libertarian. In college, I worked at Laissez-Faire Books in Greenwich Village. About this time, I was a student of the late Murray Rothbard, a.k.a. "Mr. Libertarian." In the name of "full disclosure" I should also say that I value my recent correspondence with Dr. Sciabarra very highly. Readers of my book will see, however, where the course of my intellectual development has gradually taken me.
Like Sciabarra, I regard myself as an independent scholar. I commenced my project without any assistance, input or advice from any organization or institute. In addition, although I had encouraged their release in my original analysis, I did not solicit Rand's journal material from her estate. Very much to my surprise, it was offered to me, essentially, condition-free, after Dr. Peikoff had read the first version of Part I of the book, and well after its publication on the Internet.
Despite his association with the Brandens, I do regard Sciabarra as an "independent" scholar, precisely because---unlike many of those who both praise and condemn my book---he is capable of acknowledging that Rand's own perspective, though vital, has been sorely missing from the discussion so far. Indeed, I am highly gratified that he recognizes that these Rand journals are "required reading" for those serious about intellectual history and philosophical biography.
And, I most deeply appreciate that Sciabarra has provided thoughtful and thought-provoking comments that are serious, substantive---and that avoid personal abuse and rancorous emotion, something this topic, unfortunately, seems to inspire.
I also appreciate that Sciabarra recognizes our agreement on the most important issue, namely, that the truth of a philosophy is to be determined independently from any consideration of the philosophers biography. We are also in apparent agreement on the relative merits of attending to a thinker's life as opposed to the substance of that thinker's ideas.
But I honestly stand in awe of any critic who levels at me the charge of "distraction." One Internet critic has even laid the potential "killing" of Objectivism as a philosophy at my feet.
Of course, the Branden books are more detailed and salacious, and certainly more aimed at a mass-audience, than my book. As proud of the book as I am, I suspect that its sales will trail those of Barbara Branden's opus considerably. Of course, Ms. Branden allowed her book to be adapted into a cable-television movie now sold in video stores. And, Sciabarra himself refers to a "Branden-inspired" play depicting Rand as "an insane woman." And this only begins the list of "Branden-inspired" material focused on Rand's (and O'Connor's) private life.
Yet, it is this book, the first voice of serious critical analysis of the Brandens' biographical works that is getting charged with "distracting" us all with the issue of Rand's personal life (!) What is this but the naked demand that all discussion stop---but only after the Brandens are allowed to raise the issue and define it for history?
Moreover, as long as Rand's art and philosophy are admired, there will be an interest in the life of the author. The Brandens were part of that life, both as participants and self-appointed chroniclers. Any serious consideration of Rand's life must give attention to them and their role in Rand's life. As historians, we must take account of all of our primary sources when considering the topic at hand.
And, of course, consideration of these issues does not prevent philosophers and psychologists and economists from doing their substantive research and publishing it. Are substantive lectures being stopped by this conversation? Or, is it seriously being claimed that the new book will stop short significantly more serious discussions of Objectivism than the movie inspired by Ms. Branden's book---complete with vivid sex-scenes---already has?
For years, Rand's critics have made much of the silence of her defenders on the topic of the Brandens. Now, curiously enough, the complaint is that attention is being paid them at all.
Sciabarra has written that I spend an "incredible amount of time" in my analysis of the various Branden accounts of Rand on a number of what we must suppose he regards as minor issues. Some Internet critics of the book have voiced a similar complaint that boils down to the accusation that I am "nit-picking" the Brandens' accounts, for example, by my identification of various contradictions between and within their books along with other errors. In this regard, Sciabarra, like the others, spends an "incredible" share of his own focus on a single such issue---how Rand chose her name. I admit to a sense of astonishment at the obsession paid to this single issue.
However, I also take this as a serious concession. Unable to dispute the content of my analysis, the critics ignore it. I leave it to others to say whether accusations that Rand was humorless, joyless, completely callous to personal context, border-line paranoid, tyrannical to her students, and the other matters on which such time is spent in the book, are trivial. To those who care if a highly distorted mythology about Ayn Rand is allowed to go unchallenged, let me say, the book does demonstrate that the Brandens� accounts are, at a minimum, grossly warped, and that my critics� inability so far to address this substance of the book speaks volumes.
Sciabarra has trouble seeing how PARC changes much over and above the picture created by Mr. Branden�s already-significant admissions, while simultaneously conceding that the portrait drawn of a psychologically disturbed Rand in what he calls a �Branden-inspired� play is now shown to be false (Branden himself suggested that Rand was literally �mad� on such topics as� Nathaniel Branden).
Very well, maybe all that the book does is to show that Rand was not literally insane, as previously suggested.
On the other hand, Objectivist-outsider Wendy McElroy, also appears to have significantly changed her view of Rand from her reading of the book, and, for example, now questions the evidence of O�Connor�s alleged alcoholism.
Another on-line critic of mine has conceded that, of course, it is now clear the �Break� was not really about the emotions of �a woman scorned,� after all, also as previously suggested.
Perhaps some students and admirers of Ayn Rand do not regard such revisions of the record as a significant improvement. I am willing to wager that some do.
While Sciabarra acknowledges that, from the first, he realized that the Brandens� memoirs were written from a �particular point of view,� I would ask him if he had appreciated the extent of the distortion that he now appears to concede exists in those books until he had read this one?
In the book, of course, the �name issue� is dispensed with early and explicitly judged in the text to be something �minor.�
No matter, for it seems that even here, the impact of the new evidence has not been grasped. Ayn Rand�in fact and actually�did not adopt her name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. It is simply impossible for her to have done so, since she was using the name �Rand� before there was any such machine in existence. For Rand to have ever said so would make Rand out to be a liar about this relatively insignificant matter. But, to those who wonder why ~ the Brandens ~ would lie about such things, the question must be posed: why would ~ Rand ~ have privately lied to the Brandens while publicly telling the press something else, both before and after she met the Brandens?
How curious it is that Fern Brown was unable to jog Ms. Branden�s memory of Rand telling her this, as Ms. Branden is now claiming at the SOLO website, (Ms. Branden, it seems, was mistaken when she had thought that she had learned this through Ms. Brown for the first time, as she had suggested in her book), while Mr. Branden�s later claim to have heard this from Rand herself was somehow able to remind her that she, too, was privy to this statement by Rand�that is, only after it had been challenged.
Some have asked why the Brandens would dissemble over such a trivial matter, not realizing that such �insider knowledge� is precisely the sort of thing that gives them the aura of credibility��we got the inside dope��and not appreciating the context in which the Brandens relate this matter. For example, Ms. Branden says, absent evidence and incorrectly, that Rand�s Russian family never knew her American name and that this was even a reason why Rand lost contact with them in the late 1930s. You see, the new name, not revealed to anyone, is another example of Rand�s �obsession with secrecy� and alienation from her family�as I suggest in the book�as well as an example of her self-mythologizing.
As I note in the book this minor matter serves only to set a pattern.
What I also find more than curious in this charge of �distraction with trivia� is that it is ~ the Brandens ~ who have exaggerated and distorted the relative importance of such matters as Rand�s name, or her margin notes in books, or her �good luck� charm, or her alleged fear of flying, etc., etc. As I repeatedly demonstrate in the book, it is the Brandens who use trivia to construct their vast theories about Rand�s personality, a personality that in the end serves to exonerate and justify their own otherwise unjustifiable actions in regard to Rand.
Once more, it is my book, in fact, that had first raised this issue, and in regard to the Brandens themselves, another fact completely ignored. Criticism of my book, at so many turns, has exhibited this eerie sense of projection.
I had hoped that Sciabarra, of all people, would have appreciated the degree to which my analysis is an exercise in �the art of context-keeping.� Some admirers of Rand have taken me to task for suggesting a comparison between Rand and other contemporary intellectuals. But the truth is that if we are really going to refuse to �deny Rand�s humanity,� we cannot then lose sight of the full context of humanity�and what Rand�s life actually represents within that context.
Sciabarra concedes that I recognize and cite other critics of Rand who long preceded the Brandens, and that I acknowledge that long before the Brandens there were critics whose �most consistent complaint� was that the movement constituted a �cult.� It appears, then, that his charge against me is not that I claim that the Brandens invented �Rand-bashing� (which they did not), but the degree of blame I assign to the Brandens for this.
He notes that William Buckley had long been a Rand-critic, and, like most other Rand-critics, he is inspired by his ideological differences with Objectivism.
But, here, observe the difference the Brandens have made. Buckley�s
pre-Branden short swipes and jabs�as
well as the longer negative articles and reviews by others about Rand�s
work that were published in National Review�were
small potatoes indeed compared to his recent
novel, Getting It Right. For the first time we get a whole book, and one that is
deeply inspired by the Brandens�
legend. (Anyone else see another film there?) More importantly, a whole new
dimension has been added to the assault�the
attack against Rand based on her
The impact of the Brandens has simply been incomparable to that of previous critics. Thus, into a loud and well-publicized conversation, already long begun by others, my book is obviously only a single new voice.
Perhaps this entire conversation has been a �distraction.� I wonder then why it was not until Rand�s own perspective became available that the subject suddenly became a �distraction�?
It is true that the motivation of Rand�s critics is and has always been their ideological differences with Objectivism. But, I was not discussing their ~ motives ~ but their ~ tactics ~ in avoiding serious discussion. The Branden books themselves do not appear to have focused Buckley�s attention (or anyone else�s) onto Rand�s ideas, but, rather, seem to have given him an excuse to dramatically expand his attack on such irrelevancies, and an improved technique in changing the subject.
I do not, in the book, object to Rand-criticism of every type. As I observe in the �Introduction,� there have been two types of �unfair� criticism of Rand, i.e., two forms of Rand-bashing: the inaccurate presentation of her ideas, and what I call only �the more recent trend� toward distracting serious discussions with accusations about Rand�s private life. It is this latter type, or, as I say there, this �particular form of Rand-bashing,� for which the Brandens are to be blamed. And, as I point out later in the book, the Brandens merely picked up the already existing and well-developed notion that Objectivism was a �cult� and used that canard to bolster their own case against Rand.
But there can be little doubt that the coming of the Brandens� books rendered previous Rand-bashing obsolete and inspired a new and more personal wave of attack. As I clearly imply, it is this �recent trend� that �starts with the Brandens.�
And, while I can understand Sciabarra�s propriety concern to defend THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, such Rand-bashing has even appeared in that journal. He calls James Arnt Aune�s method in the pages of that journal �a familiar rhetorical strategy� that does ~ not ~ in fact, suggest that �the particulars of Rand�s private life� should cause us to �question� the validity of her philosophy; no, he is just �curious as to what Rand scholars� think about this question. Familiar though such a �strategy� might be, it is simply an indirect way of raising the same issue, which he at the very least credits with his curiosity. There is no other purpose to raising the issue except to distract from substance and �push buttons,� as Sciabarra seems to concede himself.
Whether directly or indirectly, this form of Rand-bashing has reached the pages of his own journal, whether Sciabarra will acknowledge it or not, and this fact does demonstrate its increasing currency.
Despite all of this, Sciabarra finds objectionable the rhetorical use of Tuccille�s earlier title�in a footnote�where I say �it usually begins with the Brandens� when it comes to Rand criticism. As stated, this is an overstatement if taken to mean all Rand criticism, as I already implied in the opening paragraphs of the book. And, given the topic of the book, as well as the short history of Rand criticism found in the introduction, I had hoped that the reader would know what was meant: �this particular form of Rand-bashing.�
In this regard, the Brandens represent a goldmine of material in current use by Rand�s less rational or honorable critics. In failing to recognize this, Sciabarra has mischaracterized �one of my premises in writing the book� by suggesting that I claim the Brandens to be the source of all, or even most, Rand-bashing, much less criticism. Moreover, an encyclopedic and comprehensive account of all such critics is hardly needed to acknowledge this, as he seems to imply.
Sciabarra, of course, correctly identifies the motive of most Rand-bashing, but he seems not to recognize the impact of this tactic of ad hominem distraction, oddly, even as he fears the capacity of ~ my ~ book to distract us from more serious matters.
One criticism that others, apart from Sciabarra, have offered suggests that my presentation is �one-sided.� Here, let me agree, at least in a certain sense, for I do not believe that the truth is determined by a process of �averaging� the available witnesses with the tired comment, �the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle,� wherever there is a dispute. We need to critically evaluate the witnesses� testimonies�and this includes their very credibility�as well as their biases and �perspective.� Moreover, I do believe that ethical evaluations are frequently �black-and-white� matters, indeed. As a prosecutor, I know this only too well.
Nor do I believe that truly �one-sided� polemics, such as those found in the Branden books, become objective or �fairly balanced� because their authors acknowledged both �larger-than-life� virtues ~ and ~ flaws. This only heightens my suspicions of bias.
When Ms. Branden wrote that Rand used psychology like �an Inquistor might use the rack,� or when Branden suggested that Rand was literally insane on the subject of himself, or when they both suggested that Rand was moved only by a desire to see Mr. Branden dead after their falling-out in 1968, the voices currently complaining of �hyperbole� and lop-sidedness were curiously silent. And, although I explicitly recognize errors on Rand�s part, and even a virtue or two on the Brandens� parts, the charges of bias and one-sidedness occur to students of the subject, again, only now, and only in regard to my book. Even more apparent issues of bias and hyperbole may riddle the Brandens� efforts, but, somehow, the issue has only now become relevant to the conversation, it seems.
To avoid being called �one-sided,� I trust that a student of Objectivism will not require me to �partially,� but �equally,� accept all voices. If this charge has any validity, it means only that we must account for all of our primary sources. This is precisely what I have done by providing a detailed analysis of the Brandens� main criticisms of Rand rather than ignoring them, unlike other admirers of Rand.
It is Sciabarra who has failed to be anything but �one-sided� in his analysis. He refuses to recount many of the arguments of the book or the basis for the conclusion he derides, and he consistently ignores the logical implications of the new evidence from Rand�s journals. The examples of this in his review are legion.
Sciabarra claims that I portray Barbara Branden as �a conventionally greedy woman,� but finds this implausible because he figures that Ms. Branden somehow could have taken over NBI by continuing to hide the truth from Rand, although he does not explain how exactly this would�ve happened. Instead, Ms. Branden dropped the dime on Branden.
Although I have never characterized Ms. Branden in this way��conventional� anything, she was not�I do observe the apparent financial interest she had in revealing the truth to Rand. In fact, it apparently was this revelation that generated the most serious discussions about the possibility of Ms. Branden taking over Mr. Branden�s businesses. Up to that point, Rand was still giving Branden �second chances,� and Ms. Branden�s own continued �cover� for her estranged husband had little chance of profiting her in any way. I can only suggest that Sciabarra reread this section, as he does not appear to understand the argument being put forth there.
But the list of one-sided interpretations by Sciabarra in his review goes on and on.
Perhaps most strikingly, Sciabarra, after conceding the overtly misleading nature of Mr. Branden�s 1968 statement against Rand, openly wonders what a �more precise� admission by Mr. Branden would have accomplished (apart, presumably, from correcting that false impression he was leaving.) And, yet, Sciabarra�who seems to recognize that it was for Branden to admit blame at this point, and not Rand�also asserts that Rand�s reticence to make public her affair with Branden is �baffling and very difficult to explain.�
Remarkably, Sciabarra is not �baffled� by what is for him Mr. Branden�s understandable silence regarding an actual affair�even though Branden�s other assertions made this very silence now pregnant with falsehood. On the other hand, Rand, whom Sciabarra concedes had no ethical lapse to confess, is to him utterly mystifying in her silence ~ on the same issue. Sciabarra does not pause to consider the �one-sided� nature of his own approach to this issue.
And, of course, Sciabarra ignores the simple fact that Branden did not need to say anything at all. Or, he could have issued a blanket denial of Rand�s allegations just as vaguely as she had stated them. Or, he could have just told the whole truth himself. No, he chose the very limited parts of the truth to reveal, that is, he revealed Rand�s feelings only, knowing, as anyone would, the implications of his words.
Sciabarra asserts that I �flesh out� only �one-half� of the interpersonal dynamic between Rand and Mr. Branden, even as he swallows whole and uncritically the presentation of the �other half� of that dynamic from Branden himself. Whether the Branden accounts are warped by distortion or dishonesty, Sciabarra seems to concede that there are significant problems in those accounts. But such problems do not have any effect on his total acceptance of their uncorroborated assertions on everything from Branden�s account of �counseling� Rand following the publication of ATLAS SHRUGGED to the details of their statements to Rand in private.
Sciabarra�s fondness for the wisdom of that Indian Prayer has permitted him, through the Brandens� books, to walk in their moccasins quite sympathetically. As he concedes, PARC represents, for the first time, our opportunity to walk in ~ Rand�s ~ moccasins, but Sciabarra is still, apparently, declining the invitation.
Of course, in truth, one need not actually live another�s life in order to evaluate it, and this adage is as dangerous as it helpful, suggesting a potential cover for the cult of moral grayness, even as it urges us to a rational empathy.
Equally slippery are such substitutes for thought as �it takes two to tango.�
Sciabarra is concerned that Rand�s statement had left open dark possibilities about the unrevealed flaw in Mr. Branden�s personal life to which Rand had referred. True, it did leave open possibilities that were much worse than the truth turned out to be. Of course, it must also be observed that it left open possibilities that were better for Mr. Branden than the truth turned out to be. Most importantly, and unlike Mr. Branden�s statement that made Rand look worse than truth would have, Rand left open the possibility of the truth.
Would it have served Rand�s interests better in the long-run if she had herself revealed the affair in 1968? Perhaps, but it is not difficult to see the reasons why she did not�reasons that in no way imply any consciousness of guilt on her part. Sciabarra�s implicit demand that Rand reveal this is noteworthy in its disregard for the very Objectivist value Sciabarra claims to prize so much�privacy.
Sciabarra concedes that the Brandens� 1968 statement was actively and actually misleading. He admits that Branden himself concedes that his failure to disclose the affair was quite intentional and that the statement was carefully crafted with the help of an attorney. Yet, Sciabarra refuses to call this statement an �out-and-out lie,� that is, to credit its experienced author with its obvious and inevitable implication. We cannot believe that Branden meant what he said, or meant to leave us with the stark impression his paper clearly conveyed, according to Sciabarra. The fact that Mr. Branden did not correct this record in the years that followed seems to imply nothing about Branden�s intentions to Sciabarra. The fact that so much else in that 1968 statement was equally misleading does not get factored into his analysis, either, any more than the context of Branden�s previous dishonesty to Rand does.
No, Branden�s credibility gets every benefit of every unreasonable doubt from Sciabarra, who refuses, ironically, to exercise the �art of context-keeping� by ignoring the consistent, collective import of the evidence at hand.
This failure to acknowledge the only rational conclusion, namely, that the misleading nature of the Brandens� 1968 accounts was quite intentional, causes Sciabarra to miss completely the main argument of Part I. The Brandens not only deceived Rand for years, but they also sought to deceive the world about that deception in 1968. Even in the light of all of the facts we now know, the facts that lead Sciabarra to concede the overtly misleading nature of Branden�s 1968 statements, the Brandens insist on the veracity of that statement to this day, and, indeed, they accuse Rand of defamation in 1968.
This can only have a devastating impact on the credibility of the Brandens� uncorroborated reports, and an awareness of this must condition our understanding of all of the other distortions we find in their accounts, especially where those distortions serve to justify the Brandens� own behavior or to depict Rand as being unjust to them.
Yet, Sciabarra acknowledges only distortion, not dishonesty, in any of the Branden accounts, refusing to acknowledge the clear pattern that can be detected, or even to consider the book�s argument to that effect. Rather than random and occasional, the Brandens� distortions consistently add to an image of Ayn Rand that would seem to justify the Brandens own actions and claims.
I�m afraid it is Sciabarra�s approach to the work of his friends that is the �one-sided� analysis here.
most profound misunderstanding of the book is revealed when he claims that I
[myself] into a corner�
by a partial and selective reliance on the Brandens. This is absurd.
The most common phrases found in the book are variants of the following: �according to the Brandens,� or �Ms. Branden alleges,� or �Mr. Branden reports,� in order to stress the merely provisional acceptance I am allowing their accounts for purposes of analysis. In close second, come variants of the phrase, �since the Brandens are our only sources on this, it must be treated skeptically.�
In the book, I specifically disclaim that my use of the Brandens is to be taken as an endorsement of their veracity, for the simple reason that any uncorroborated assertions by the Brandens are to be doubted. In effect, I disclaim Part I of my book as a source for historical information about Rand at all, only the believability of the Branden accounts thereof. What else could be implied when I specifically state that the recounting of any event by me should not be taken as evidence that I believe it actually happened, and, at the end of Part I, when I express, at the risk of sounding repetitive, my own yearning for a still non-existent and objective account of these events.
Nonetheless, Sciabarra somehow takes issue with ~ my ~ �historical methodology,� not the Brandens��i.e., the subject of the book. He takes issue, for instance, with my calling the Branden reports �evidence,� since I conclude that many of their assertions are purely �arbitrary,� and therefore beneath the dignity of an analytical response. But, as I make clear in the book, I only come to the conclusion that they are �arbitrary� after some careful analysis, since they are presented as primary eyewitness accounts, the very opposite of the �arbitrary.� The many assertions of the Brandens that come complete with an implicit or explicit admission that they have no evidence to support them are indeed some of my principle �evidence� for this. What could be better �evidence� of this than their own admissions to this effect?
Also, as I make clear in the book, some of the Brandens� assertions are demonstrably false. In this matter, as well, the Brandens� own assertions must be the principle �evidence.� When I observe a contradiction in the Brandens� own accounts, each of the two competing assertions is certainly used as �evidence,� while it is obvious from the argument itself that one cannot believe both to be true. It is often necessary to use statements even of a liar in order to impeach the testimony of that liar.
Moreover, I acknowledge that the Brandens� reports are potentially �evidence� in still another sense, for I readily admit that there is undoubtedly much that is true in their books. But, due to their already-established level of credibility, their reports cannot be believed absent corroboration, something else I repeatedly state in the book, and something Sciabarra himself observes.
Thus, take Sciabarra�s �examples� of my alleged �reliance� on the Brandens. In all three of the senses described above it actually would have been �quite helpful� if Ms. Branden had ~ reported ~ more of what she claims O�Connor had allegedly said in relation to the affair, just as it is helpful anytime a dissembler elaborates on the details of the alternative universe he proposes. True or false, such statements are excellent evidence�but not on the question of the truth of his assertions, but on the question of the speaker�s credibility.
Similarly, Ms. Branden�s ~ inability ~ to report that she ever counseled O�Connor to share with Rand herself any of the intense suffering Ms. Branden says that he had expressed to her (and, apparently, only to her) during his wife�s affair, undermines the credibility of her account of this alleged suffering, whether or not her report of such suffering is true or false.
Finally, in ~ contradiction ~ to her own portrait of a rather empty Frank O�Connor, Ms. Branden also provides �evidence� of his �perceptiveness.� This perceptiveness is, in fact, to some degree ~ corroborated ~ by the Branden-independent �evidence� (Rand�s letters) I then cite�and with the introductory phrase, �This [Ms. Branden�s report] is not the only evidence of O�Connor�s perceptiveness.�
None of this can be construed as �reliance,� since, in fact, I do not necessarily believe any of those assertions by Ms. Branden, and none of my actual theses depend on any of them for their demonstration. Sciabarra�s inability to name precisely how any of my actual themes rely upon the truth of any of the Brandens� assertions is an eloquently sufficient response. His implication against me that such a selective �reliance� is a typical methodology employed in the book is a complete misreading of it and something that he cannot seriously maintain.
Sciabarra also takes issue with my true reliance on Walker�s book, THE AYN RAND CULT, especially in light of my demand for corroboration in the case of Branden-sourced evidence, and especially since I challenge Walker�s credibility, as well.
Sciabarra, of course, relies far more heavily on uncorroborated reports from the Brandens. For example, he takes the �psychotherapy� Branden claims to have given Rand during what Rand herself called her post-ATLAS SHRUGGED �crisis� period as an established fact. He takes their accounts of Rand�s emotions and emotional outburst at the time of the break at face value. These are matters that would seem difficult to so corroborate and plausibility is admittedly insufficient corroboration. As they say, plausibility is often the costume of lies.
In the few instances where I rely on Walker, such as Hospers� report on Rand�s difficult youth and the �break� with Kay Nolte Smith, I do have other, corroborative sources, providing independent, if anonymous, verification. Unlike Ms. Branden, I do not rely on anonymous sources as my only source for something, but I will allow multiple, credible sources to remain unnamed where they serve as mere corroboration. Walker is cited because he is the only published source for them. Hospers has confirmed this testimony, if not in published sources, and the reported account of the Smith break, involving changes to the dialogue of a play by Rand they were producing, has been in circulation for many years, indeed. I should have, perhaps, included the fact that the changes made to Rand�s play were removed before its opening (although ~ how ~ Rand discovered these changes in the production remains the essence of the charge), but my own anonymous sources here are credible contemporaries to the event�and their reports to me long pre-date Walker�s book. As Sciabarra must know, Walker did not invent this.
But, if Walker�s reports are to be treated so skeptically, then why are we to trust the Brandens�? Are there then books so dubious that we should dismiss them altogether, or at least demand corroboration for all of their claims? I would ask Sciabarra for clarification here: is an uncorroborated and self-serving claim of the Brandens to be believed or cited without qualification?
Reliance on Walker in instances where he is our only published source is justifiable in the context of my book for two reasons. First, Walker himself is an important example of how dubious histories which themselves rely heavily on the Brandens have been written, though they certainly also add their own dimensions of dubiousness on top of such reliance. Thus, citing Walker was already inevitable, and, in a sense, an extension of my use of the Brandens, in this regard.
Second, the gaps only Walker�s account even attempts to fill highlight the importance of the information that Ms. Branden has herself suppressed.
For example, Ms. Branden is quick to wield Rand�s breaks with certain associates against her as evidence of Rand�s irrational intolerance, an image which is vital to the justification of the Brandens� behavior toward Rand, but, more often than not, she gives us none of Rand�s actual reasons for those breaks. Where we are told�and whatever the source to which we have to repair in order to be told�more details regarding these breaks, Rand�s decision invariably becomes more understandable by the telling. My main point in all of this was to raise the simple question: why didn�t Ms. Branden tell us any of these details?
At the risk of being accused of being �one-sided,� I must also say that I believe that it is vital for us to identify values along with facts, and that we morally evaluate the topic under consideration.
Sciabarra�s review is almost painful in its own unwillingness to name the 800 pound gorillas lounging in the drawing room in this regard.
Ethically speaking, I do not see Rand as �gray,� but �white,� and the Brandens, in their treatment of Rand�while they were with her, and since�has been essentially �black.� Indeed, Rand made errors of knowledge�and judgment�in my view, but I can find no significant ethical lapse under the ethics that she taught. I cannot say the same for either of the Brandens, who paint their portrait of Rand in colors of mottled gray, obscuring the clarity of the facts against them. Sciabarra appears to recognize the facts that inevitably lead to this conclusion, but he remains reluctant to draw the only reasonable conclusions from those facts.
Sciabarra charges Rand with �colossal� errors of judgment, but still refuses to accept my own hypothesis, since it apparently requires him�for reasons not defined�to see Rand as �an imbecile.� Such vast misjudgments on Rand�s part are not defined by Sciabarra, but it is obvious that most of Rand�s mistaken judgments were the result of the bad data that Rand was being intentionally fed by the Brandens. This sort of misjudgment is not something that we can lay at Rand�s feet. One can hardly count one�s judgment poor for believing lies told by trusted friends.
Sciabarra struggles, again and again, to defend the now-discredited Branden portrait of Rand. For example, he concedes that Rand�s opinion of Branden�s new mistress was largely informed by Branden�s own reports to Rand of her �inferiority� (something revealed for the first time by Rand�s notes), and, yet, he still accuses Rand of jealousy for having a negative opinion of this �other woman.�
In this context her lack of jealousy about women�s beauty generally, her suggested new affair for Mr. Branden with some new �Miss X,� and her lack of jealousy in the case of Ms. Branden, are all ignored. Sciabarra finds plausible the conventional stereotype of a jealous older woman that is so central to the Brandens� self-serving portraiture of Rand. Since we are speculating with tired clich�s, may I suggest the stereotype of the younger man dangling the prospect of romance out to an older woman for ulterior motives? �Plausible�?
Sciabarra�s accusation of �hyperbole,� admittedly, is limited to a single issue, my analysis of Mr. Branden�s psychology. But, the book is necessarily caught up with personal and psychology issues, issues that the Brandens themselves were the first to pursue. Rand�s notes themselves are largely concerned with her complex diagnosis of Mr. Branden�s psychology. Where Rand is ignorant of important facts, due to Branden�s deception, we must supply them, and thus supplement her analysis where necessary. My own psychological assessment of Branden briefly and simply draws out Rand�s diagnosis, using Branden�s own contemporary work on psychology, and adding the missing facts.
It was Branden who had observed that the motivations of a deceiver are essentially the same as those of the violent�namely, the manipulation of another, getting that other to do something that he or she otherwise would not do. This is a desire to coerce the other, to overcome another�s free will, as Branden himself had observed. With his admissions since to having deceived Rand for some four and a half years, one must put these two facts together, and also admit that Branden sought to coerce Rand. Sciabarra is also one to insist that the �Break� was intricately and intimately tied to their previous romance, so he would admit, I presume, that one must also add that this was a sexual deception, that is, a form of sexual coercion, by Branden�s own reckoning.
It is hardly �hyperbole� to connect these dots, to consider the man, as described by Rand, and his own ideas on this very subject.
Sciabarra is likewise distressed that I do not acknowledge the value of Nathaniel Branden�s substantive work on psychology. I had hoped that the title of the book would have suggested its scope: the Brandens� personal criticisms of Ayn Rand. This is also signaled in the �Introduction� and throughout. But if it was at all unclear let me state for the record that I did not intend in the book�or here�to evaluate anything except the Brandens� writings on the life of Ayn Rand.
Referring to Mr. Branden�s work in psychology at the time as a �mere adjunct� to his personal issues is hardly to dismiss the objective value of that work, as Sciabarra skillfully observes, and is something that remains completely and intentionally unexamined in the book.
If anything, Sciabarra might have caught a different impression of my opinion of Mr. Branden�s substantive work from my other uses of his articles on psycho-epistemology, the cognitive causes of emotion, benevolence versus altruism, even the obligation of parents to children, and these were used precisely because I believe those articles to be our best evidence of the mutual understanding between Branden and Rand on those topics at the time.
Sciabarra�s own �one-sidedness� is exposed when, in his defense of the Brandens� accounts, he actually denies Rand�s reports of her own state of mind that are contained in Rand�s private notes to her self. In January, and again, in July, of 1968, Rand reports in those notes that, at least in her mind, any hope for a continued romance had been over since at least January of 1968 when she wrote those entries. Sciabarra still insists on the now shattered Brandenian myth that Rand was still holding out hope for such a romance until the end. While we may speculate that Rand�s subconscious had its own agenda, the evidence of Rand�s journals is conclusive as to her conscious state of mind. Her retrospective summary in July merely corroborates the powerful evidence of her contemporary thoughts written in January.
These entries ~ written at the time and for Rand�s private use ~ are as powerful as DNA evidence in regard to the author�s state of mind.
After thus rejecting the evidence that demonstrates that Rand had seen the end
of her relationship with Branden so early, Sciabarra then claims that ~ he ~
have seen the handwriting on the wall sooner�
than Rand did (!) He assumes that the effort Rand was putting into helping
Branden could only have been with a romantic end in mind, forgetting their
business and intellectual relationships.
Sciabarra, for reasons undemonstrated, assumes that Rand�s highly integrated personality would have been unable to separate these things out in order to permit her to continue a �functional relationship,� as Rand considers in these notes. However, Rand�s serious considerations of this very possibility, and its growing viability in her mind, are discounted by him.
Sciabarra imputes a tendency to �totalism� that is not supported by the evidence he cites. Rand�s call for total epistemic integration does not imply that Rand also disregarded important distinctions. While hardly �compartmentalized,� Rand still recognized the limitations of human context, from concepts such as �the crow� epistemology to her recognition that moral judgment requires an understanding of personal context. Indeed, in these new notes, Rand develops her critique of �rationalism� in a way that appears to have foreshadowed the important work of Peikoff on this topic, as well as Branden�s own themes in THE DISOWNED SELF, and in a way that suggests something other than Sciabarra�s projection of �totalistic� tendencies in Rand.
Once again, Sciabarra is simply unwilling to actually take this opportunity to walk in Rand�s moccasins.
Sciabarra claims that he �knows of no reputable scholar� who would �take any of [the Brandens�] works� as the last word in Rand biography.� While I agree with him that no one has explicitly claimed that the Branden books are the �synoptic� biographies of Rand, this is, however, how they are treated. Exhibit A: Dr. Sciabarra�s review, which most definitely takes the Brandens as the �last word� on the subject at every turn in the road where they are the only uncorroborated source.
However, I am gratified that, unlike some of my critics, Sciabarra recognizes that my book is not a biography of Rand. It does not attempt to evaluate Rand�s life in various ways, psychological and ethical, that such a project would necessarily entail. My current aim is only to evaluate the leading critical biographies of Rand in existence.
But, it seems, I must remind Sciabarra that this book is not a biography of anyone else, either, even the Brandens. It is a critical analysis of the Brandens� biographical works on Rand, and an evaluation of their role in Rand�s life from the perspective of the new Rand notes. By its nature, then, it focuses on the many problems in the Brandens� accounts. Sciabarra claims that �[e]very comment, every action, every reaction by the Brandens is viewed in negative terms� in the book. Ignoring his own stab at inaccurate �hyperbole� here, it is true that most of the book is focused on the Brandens� errors, but such is the nature of the project at hand.
Sciabarra and I are in agreement that sound historical methodology requires that the topic be viewed from �multiple vantage points.� My book was an attempt to explicate Rand�s vantage point on the Brandens. This was, in fact, a highly negative one. I leave to biographers a more complete evaluation of Ayn Rand�s life. But this first required that we do something that Sciabarra is reluctant to do, i.e., to consider the errors and flaws in the Branden existing accounts.
An objective biography of Ayn Rand should not devote the attention to analyzing the Brandens� claims that is given to them in my book. In my view, this would only serve to distort and warp the objective evaluation of Ayn Rand. My current goal was simply to clear the road precisely in order to allow a truly �balanced� take on Rand�s life, unencumbered with the need to disprove the baseless.
Thus, by its nature, my argument will be advocacy, something I also fully concede. This is so anytime an established view is being challenged for the first time. Historical revisionism must often assert its case in just this way. The correction of a falsehood is, of necessity, a one-sided business. That�s because A is A.
It is hardly surprising that nearly all of the corrections that need to be made to the Branden-created record will reflect poorly on them, for, whether consciously or subconsciously, it is precisely areas where personal motivations can be detected that they have the greatest interest in distorting.
Also, as a prosecutor, I have found that identifying the motive of the defendant�s wrongdoing, rather than absolving him of blame, only helps to convict him. I have also found that the most sympathetic of psychological reports on the defendant almost inevitably argues his guilt all the more earnestly.
If there is any usefulness to the term �balance� in this context, then it is precisely my book that is providing a much-needed �counter-balance� to the Brandens� own self-serving and �one-sided� accounts.
Moralism and Totalism
Let me state forthrightly that, in contrast to Rand, I do not regard homosexuality as either �disgusting� or �immoral.� Sciabarra and I are also in agreement that Rand�s unpublished position cannot amount to a philosophical position or �part of Objectivism.� I also know that Objectivists who happen to be homosexual have been treated poorly by therapists and mentors in the past. Where Sciabarra and I part company is over whether Rand�s statement is a symptom of �totalism� or a significant indication of �moralism� on Rand�s part.
Sciabarra understands that, for Rand, moral judgment is a contextual matter, or, as he might put it, an exercise in the �art of context keeping.�
However, Sciabarra also notes that there are statements by Rand, such as her call for the complete integration of our mental contents, which tend to support a �totalism� which confuses the personal tastes and judgments of Ayn Rand with the essential tenets of her philosophy. Although he agrees with me that Rand�s pronouncements on the subject of homosexuality cannot amount to a philosophic principle of Objectivism, he argues that the certainty and sweeping character of Rand�s single public assertion on the topic is an instance of such moralism and totalism, and he does persuasively show that in the name of Objectivism some have elevated their negative opinion of homosexuality into such a �principle.�
But Rand did not present her opinion on homosexuality in her normally highly integrated fashion at all. She did not �connect the dots,� showing us why it was immoral or why she found it so esthetically repugnant. Thus, it is the very absence of any �totalistic� tendencies that convinces me that this was Rand and not Objectivism speaking to us here.
In addition, strongly held and stated personal judgments are not the same things as philosophically developed ones�or even ones about which the speaker may actually be certain. The equivalent of a loud �Yuck!� is just an emotional expression�nothing more or less�until integrated with other concepts and principles.
Rand did say that she found homosexuality to be �immoral,� as it surely would have been immoral for her, in my view, given her strong preference for men and her belief that femininity consisted of man-worship, in the gender-sensitive meaning of the term. If she meant more, then, as a moralist, the use of this word was an error since she did not then proceed to �connect� those �dots.� If I were certain that Rand meant to judge others in the mere practice of homosexuality by her statement, I would fully concede that the use of the word �immoral� suggests that her opinion was unjustifiable �and more elaborate than she ever demonstrated.
Nonetheless, a single un-integrated statement in a Q & A period, as much as it must have hurt many perfectly moral people, does not transform Rand into a �moralistic� person. Yes, it may even have been a mistake of �moralism,� but the most forgiving of us can make this mistake on occasion.
And this points to a more general observation I must make. As Sciabarra should be the first to appreciate, Rand cannot be judged out of context. In comparison to other moralists who passionately believed in the absolutism of principles, Rand was a remarkably cautious moral thinker, as can be observed from her private notes (another valuable service provided by their publication).
Seeing Rand as a human being means not only a refusal to see her as never having made a mistake, but also allowing Rand to make mistakes, and keeping a mistake �in context,� i.e., a non-totalistic response on our part.
It is precisely this kind of �context-keeping� that the Brandens routinely fail to do. Rand made mistakes, as I concede in the book repeatedly. Take the section on Rand�s ~ sometimes ~ sharp responses to questioners. I take the Brandens� reports here at face value at least for the purposes of analysis in order to demonstrate their own overstatement of the issue and not to dispute the personal opinions of those present.
Sciabarra accepts the Branden portrait of Rand as esthetic tyrant hook, line and sinker, but, in fairness to him, Sciabarra sees Rand�s �totalistic� tendencies not from her personal behavior as much as from the indirect implications of her esthetic approach and the demands of her epistemology. I remain unconvinced since he also recognizes that, in many other respects, Rand�s philosophy appreciates the need to, as Sciabarra puts it, �keep context.� In other words, if one takes Rand out of context, one can see her as not appreciating context. Of course�but in these notes, Rand demonstrates, as never before, that sensitivity to personal context, both in theory and in human practice. She recognizes the area of personal �options,� morally and psychologically, in more detail than has ever been on display for readers to see �in action.�
It is this very aspect of Rand�s thought, her attention to personal context, that I would have thought Sciabarra would have appreciated. Unfortunately, it is this context that he himself fails to keep.
I am grateful for this opportunity to make an important correction, however, and I am grateful to Dr. Sciabarra for observing it. As it reads, the book implies that Sciabarra was among those who unfairly questioned Rand�s recollection of her education. Of course, skepticism regarding Rand�s alleged penchant for �mythologizing� her own past, however, is much older than Sciabarra�s investigations, which in fact have helped to verify Rand�s recollections. Indeed, even in the face of the skepticism of others ~ it was Sciabarra who continued to give Rand�s memory the benefit of the doubt ~ until more evidence was subsequently obtained. For the contrary implication left by me, I apologize, appropriately, here on Dr. Sciabarra�s own website. I can only express my hope that a subsequent edition of the book will permit me to make this correction there.
But when Sciabarra states that I misstate his position on what he calls Rand�s �dialectical� elements, he is being unfair to me. I do not say that he ever denied the relationship between Aristotle and the 19th Century dialecticians, as he seems to imply, I only state that, whatever the merits of those 19th Century thinkers, any aspect of their influence on Rand can be said to have its own roots in Aristotle, like that of Locke and Nietzsche, who are discussed in the text.
However, while Sciabarra may not be an �Objectivist,� he has treated me with great fairness, for example, in giving me this extensive opportunity to respond. For all of this, and for his many insightful comments on what I regard as the beginning of a new chapter in Rand biography and scholarship, I am deeply grateful.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 11:12 AM
Jim Valliant writes: "Sciabarra himself refers to a �Branden-inspired� play depicting Rand as �an insane woman.�
Without having read the book, I have no idea what Valliant writes about Branden's ideas on mental illness, but I do have to admit that after reading Thomas Szasz's take on Rand and Branden in FAITH IN FREEDOM, I am concerned about any account of Rand that attempts to label her as insane or mentally ill. (Not that I am accusing Chris of such.)
Posted by: Joe Maurone | July 22, 2005 03:20 PM
Answers to three questions would really help me put James Valliant's book in perspective, as well aa Chris Sciabarra's review of it, and Valliant's reply.
Mr. Valliant, do you think that:
(1) Ayn Rand thought she was an Objectivist hero?
(2) Ayn Rand was an Objectivist hero?
(3) Ayn Rand thought (from 1954 to somewhere in the mid-1960s) that Nathaniel Branden was an Objectivist hero?
By "Objectivist hero," I mean someone who not only has unusual ability or insight, but is also morally perfect (e.g., Howard Roark).
Posted by: James Jacson | July 22, 2005 03:49 PM
(1) Rand had a very high opinion of herself (curiously, not of her own intellect, but her own "honesty"), and that included the belief that she was not a hypocrite;
(2) Overall evaluations like "hero" are beyond the scope of my book, but I do think that Rand adhered to her own philosophy with greater consistency than most folks do (or, are able to, given the demands of those creeds);
(3) She thought of Branden as just about the closest thing to John Galt on earth until the mid-60's;
Does that answer you?
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 04:52 PM
Oh, and Mr. Branden was and is a very, very smart guy, and Rand was hardly "taken in," in this sense.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 05:00 PM
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Mr. Valliant's book is his claim that Frank might have welcomed Rand's affair with Branden. The only source for this is a claim by N. Branden that Rand said Frank didn't disapprove. Why does Branden suddenly become credible when he says something favorable to Rand's case?
On another matter, Mr. Valliant contends that Murray Rothbard stole Rand's ideas, in particular in his essay "Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences" on the question of free will. Yet the standard claim is that Rothbard plagiarized Barbara Branden's masters theses in �The Mantle of Science� on the topic of free will. Is Mr. Valliant unable to give any credit to Barbara? Mr. Valliant also asserts that Rothbard stole her theories in The Ethics of Liberty, in particular the first chapter concerning natural rights theory. I could just as well argue that Henry Veatch stole from Rand in Rational Man.
Justin Raimondo, in his biography of Rothbard has an extensive discussion of Rothbard's relationship with Rand. In 1957, Rothbard wrote Rand a letter claiming that Atlas Shrugged was the "greatest novel ever written." Yet as early as 1954, Rothbard wrote letter to Richard Cornuelle in 1954 staing that �[George Reisman] found himself under a typical vitriolic Randian barrage, according to which anyone who is not now or soon will be a one-hundred percent Randian Rationalist is an �enemy� and an �objective believer in death and destruction� as well as crazy.� Besides shedding light on Rothbard's "break" with Rand, this letter (and others cited by Raimondo) provide contemporaneous evidence that Rand had a somewhat overbearing attitude toward those with whom she disagreed.
Mr. Valliant is certainly correct that there have been criticisms of Rand that have been unfair. At the same time, is it really true that the "method" of criticism has been to dredge up the Affair? The most recent critiques of Rand that I can think of (Scott Ryan and Greg Nyquist) don't mention the Affair (or don't make much of it). The customary response of Objectivists to critiques is to ignore them or claim that the critics don't understand Objectivism. In fact, it is customary for Official Objectivists to ignore all discussions of Rand by non-Official Objectivists. As Alan Gotthelf write in On Ayn Rand (2000), "There is, unfortunately, not much of serious interpretive value among the secondary material that has been published on Ayn Rand in books or academic journals to date.� Is there really nothing of value in the writings of Den Uyl, Mack, Rasmuessen, Sciabarra, Machan, etc.?
No doubt many Objectivists will condemn Mr. Valliant for posting on Chris� blog, just as they did when Bernstein wrote a paragraph reply to a book review in JARS. Considering the attitude of Peikoff, et al, is it any wonder that people believe that Rand ran a �cult�?
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 22, 2005 06:33 PM
The evidence that O'Connor was, at least in some sense, "cool" with his wife's affair does not come from Branden, at all, but principally from the circumstantial evidence that he stayed with Rand, and continued being affectionate with her, throughout the period in question. This is confirmed by all of the witnesses. It is sure not conclusive, but already it knocks us out of "the typical," much less the stereotypical, encouraging us to look for unconventional explabations, in any event.
Also, Rand's considerations, found in her private notes, of Rearden's sexual psychology, in which she discusses the fact that Raerden actually takes pleasure at the thought of Dagny in the arms of another hero, are themselves VERY unusual, and pre-date Rand's acquaintance with Mr. Branden. What possible male psychology could she have modelled this on? Possibly her husband's--the "model," as she said, for all of fictional heroes. Rand's view that there are no "conflicts of interest" between rational men may have been understood by Rand and her husband is a shared way. There are eyewitness reports other than the Brandens to O'Connor's lack of jealousy, generally.
Again, I do not necesarily believe anything Branden says, but when an item stands out with such inconsistency from the portrait he noramlly seeks to draw, and when it "fits" with so much else, then even a Branden report is only corroborative of the rest. No more.
Most importantly, the only evidence we have of O'Connor alleged suffering is pure, uncorroborated-Branden. Cliches and plausibilities won't do since the situation was already outside of norm...
The works of Rothbard which I cite simply could never have been penned by him without the influence of Rand. Production as "the fusion of matter and spirit"? His whole approach to and definition of free will? These are matters in regard to which Rothbard, in private, very much conceded the influence of Rand, at least as his original inspiration. I will confidently leave it to others to see the degree of that final influence. No, he not an "Objectivist" but his whole orientation on these matters was originally informed by Rand, if modified by the influence of many others as well. He might have shared that with his readers, but anger sometimes makes us do unfair things...
Rothbard's opinion in that letter certainly foreshadows his later opinion, but, as always, I am curious as to what Rand is alleged to have actually done or said.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 07:21 PM
When Rand reveals in her private notes that she herself might be "cool" with a new "Miss X" of Mr. Branden's, this reveals something more consistent about her approach than has been previously suggested. This approach may have been shared by her husband, especially when we consider how Rand projected something like this attitude onto her fictional male romantic hero, before meeting Branden, in her notes for ATLAS SHRUGGED.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 07:46 PM
There has been additional dialogue here (I see) and at SOLO HQ.
In the meanwhile, let me thank the additional posters for their comments.
Dennis Hardin at SOLO HQ is disturbed that my essay has succeeded in opening a dialogue with Valliant, but I fully expected that Valliant would reply here at Notablog.
As I say at SOLO HQ, however:
Let me just make something very clear: I earned a reputation here in the hallowed halls of SOLO HQ as "Her Royal Whoreness"---so named by Linz, because of my penchant to "dialogue" with all comers. And, in truth, over the past two decades, I have had critical public dialogues with people of many different stripes, from neoconservatives to Marxists. At one time, in fact, I was a co-founder and co-moderator of a Marxist forum called "Marxism-Thaxis," where I participated in discussions with every variety of left-winger. And I never ceased rocking the boat.
Ayn Rand once said that "It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course�but this realization presupposes a grasp of facts, of reality, of principles and a long-range view, all of which are precisely the things that the 'non-rockers' are frantically struggling to evade."
I believe that when dialogue progresses, the truth will out. I don't believe in talking an issue to death, however. I intend to write a rejoinder to Valliant and leave it at that.
I respect the intelligence of my readers to draw their own conclusions.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 22, 2005 07:53 PM
With respect to Rand's influence on Rothbard, I would suggest that readers consult Raimondo's biography of Rothbard in which he uses primary sources from Rothbard's archives to explore this issue. See p. 111 ("the good stuff in Ayn's system is not Ayn's original contrbution at all . . .Aristotle and Spencer were fine in this [rational ethics based on the nature of man." (also from 1954))
I too am interested in what actually happened. And isn't a letter from 1954 describing an event good evidence?
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 22, 2005 08:42 PM
Letters are some of our best evidence, indeed. (The author will be, of course, subjected to the same critical cross-examination to which all of our primary must be subjected.)
And, let's say that Rand's original contribution was zero (we'll leave that for another day), I think that Rothbard could have told us his own first source for the ideas at hand, since these ideas were part of a philosophical system that had had (to some degree) been an influence on him. I would also invite an actual comparison of the very language used by each of these sources (Spencer being one of my own favorites, with qualification, of course) and suggest that you will find a remarkable echo of Rand in Rothbard, again, at least, to some degree.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 09:07 PM
Prof. Sciabarra, I fully support your approach here. I have always said that no matter how seemingly irrational their views, opponents should, as far as possible, be intellectually engaged. If you draw out and speak to the other side's basic premises, you can often get through to them. And if you don't, you may nevertheless help third parties to understand. I am pleased also that Mr. Valliant has adopted the quiet, reasoning approach in this forum.
It makes the issues and arguments come out in relief. I'm pretty sure now that my initial negative impressions of the book were correct. However, I'll still read it with interest when I can get ahold of a copy.
I feel I must add that I have also formed a negative viewpoint on your theory of Rand's "influences" with respect to intellectual methods. But that is another topic that I may or may not post on.
Posted by: Rodney Rawlings | July 22, 2005 09:23 PM
Rodney, thanks for your comments and for the general tone of the discussion here, thanks to all.
As for my own theories on Rand's "influences"---I'm going to have quite a few essays posted toward the latter part of August on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of RUSSIAN RADICAL. Perhaps you can engage me on that topic at that time.
I also will be publishing a more extensive discussion of Rand's university years based on new archival materials in the forthcoming Fall 05 issue of JARS, which I plan to post on my website in due course as well.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 22, 2005 09:31 PM
It has been very difficult to read these comments because of the white letters on black background format. I read Valliant's rejoinder, but it was tough, especially for its length. Is there any way to get it in black letter on white background?
Posted by: Brant Gaede | July 22, 2005 09:36 PM
Brant, given the length of this thread, and the number of offlist comments I've gotten about difficulty reading, I'm experimenting tonight with an alternative stylesheet, which I used once before to no great applause.
Let me know what you think.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 22, 2005 09:53 PM
Not as pleasing to the purely sensuous eye, but a lot easier to read.
I'd say go with dark on light, whatever you do.
Posted by: Rodney Rawlings | July 22, 2005 10:07 PM
If you read the letters referenced in the Raimondo book (which I of course don't have access to) it appears that Rothbard was influenced by the Aristotelean and natural rights tradition prior to meeting Rand. And, to the extent that he learned certain ideas from Rand, he ultimately concluded that there were better defences or explanations than Rand offered. Maybe he should have mentioned that Rand influenced him, but to describe it as "larceny" seems a stretch.
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 22, 2005 10:11 PM
Of course, when I said intellectual methods, I meant Rand's--your theory of how it is that she learned to resolve contradictions and not drop contexts. That's what I would dispute.
I think you understood, but anyway ...
Posted by: Rodney Rawlings | July 22, 2005 10:13 PM
Rothbard was a teacher of mine, as I say. He was a fun and funny man who had a book reference for everything. Let me take this opportunity to say that I learned a lot from him.
But let me also say that from my own conversations with him, it seemed to me that he was angry about his experience in Rand's circle, and especially angry at Mr. Branden. It was also evident to me that this anger came out in the form of unfairly downplaying the important influence that Rand had had on him.
My own opinion.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 22, 2005 10:42 PM
The new style sheet is less flashy--but a lot more readable.
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 08:38 AM
Thanks for the feedback on the stylesheet, folks.
I like the original for flash, but I'm persuaded that this is more readable. As readers of Notablog know, I've long debated the style issue, but for now, substance and ease of reading is taking precedence over style. I'd like to find a happy medium, but given the offlist correspondence I've had with many readers, I'm going to stick with this for a while and see how it goes.
The SOLO HQ discussion continues; today, I responded to comments by Glenn I.
Heppard who accuses me of "empiricism" here:
I reply here:
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 23, 2005 08:49 AM
Here's the first pargraph of the "About the Author" note at the end of Atlas Shrugged:
"My personal life," says Ayn Rand, "is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it!' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books--and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same."
The note concludes:
"I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written--and published--is my proof that they do."
Isn't Rand claiming Objectivist hero status for herself?
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 08:49 AM
On p. 168 of your book, you defend Rand's decision to keep her affair with Nathaniel Branden secret (even though this meant that she presented herself to all but a handful of her followers, and to the wider world, as loving only her husband).
You cite a passage from her journals about Dagny Taggart and Francisco d'Anconia keeping their affair secret.
The same thing is said, in more polished language, on p. 109 of Atlas Shrugged (hard cover edition): "They kept their affair secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone's right of debate or appraisal."
Rand believed in judging and preparing to be judged--and that seems inconsistent with seeking any exemption from appraisal.
Rand's stated reason for the secrecy is "the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man's lower nature, to be condoned regretfully," and their not wanting any "contact with the minds that held this doctrine."
But in Atlas Shrugged, Dagny and Francisco keep their affair secret even from their friend Eddie Willers, who is never described as sharing these unsanitary views about sex. (Eddie will persist for many years in the illusion that Dagny is married to her job and not involved with anyone.)
It strikes me that if Rand, who openly challenged other people's moral standards on a wide range of issues--indeed, took an in-your-face attitude about them--was not willing to be open about a non-monogamous relationship, it's because she shared some of the views about sex and relationships that she didn't want other people to apply to her.
All of this suggests to me that Rand was a good deal less "liberated" than some people now claim she was--and that, whatever her longings or her private fantasies, she still accepted the social mores that she grew up with, which prompted the avoidance of scandal and expected any sex scandal to be much worse for the woman than for the man.
Where I am wrong here?
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 09:23 AM
One topic where I actually agree with you concerns Murray Rothbard. It's clear to me that he did have an intellectual debt to Rand that, after their falling out, he did not care to acknowledge in public. His 1958 article, which according to some sources was the immmediate cause of his exit from the fold, contains stretches of recognizably Randian rhetoric--but never cites her.
On the other hand, I suspect that Rand "railed" against anarchism (as Tibor Machan has said), instead of offering much of an argument against it, in part because she associated anarchism with Rothbard.
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 12:18 PM
I don't think that Rand ever specifically referred to herself as a "hero," but there is no doubt she believed integrity to be possible and that she had achieved it, yes.
When you say "presented to the world" as loving only her husband, I don't understand you. A loving, affectionate, cuddly, even worshipful, relationship does not in itself convey sexual exclusivity does it?
And, I think that you are wrong if you interpret the "judge and be judged" principle to imply that one must open one's life to the "appraisal" or scrutiny of others, to put one's "business on the street," as it were. Rand elsewhere stresses that the opinions of "others" must take a backseat to one's own judgment, and that civilization's progress toward "privacy," as Sciabarra reminds us, places a big "No Trespassing" sign over matters personal. Rand taught that one is under no positive "duty" of any kind to other men, either a duty of material support or a duty to inform or to educate the other. "Judge and be judged" tells us only that we cannot evade the necessity and responsiblitity of ethical judgment of ourselves or others.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 23, 2005 12:31 PM
Doesn't AR's assertion that she would unhesitatingly risk death to save her husband (with no elaboration as to who else she might risk death to save) qualify as a public presentation of the sort I'm referring to?
Leonard Peikoff was associated with Rand during the entire period of time that the Affair went on, yet he apparently had to learn about it from Barbara Branden's book (which you may agree was a particularly awful way for him to have to learn about it). Do you believe that it was OK for Ayn Rand never to clue him in? Even when, in the early 1970s, Peikoff was telling people not to read Nathaniel Branden's books "because Nathaniel Branden has hurt Ayn Rand"?
Finally, if the appraisal of others really does take a backseat to one's own judgment, why on earth should one care so much what that appraisal is?
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 01:31 PM
A somewhat different topic:
In your book you seem to accept Ayn Rand's decision to offer counseling or psychotherapy to people who were close to her.
Was Rand qualified to do this?
If she was qualified, was it ethical for her to offer therapy to her lover?
Nathaniel Branden is often criticized today for functioning as a therapist to members of Rand's Inner and Outer Circles (most notoriously, to Patrecia Scott).
Wouldn't such criticisms have to apply to Rand as well?
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 01:38 PM
Rand used her husband as one example of this kind of "supreme value"; in facc, she was using her love for her husband to suggest that there is a whole class of things for which it might be worth risking one's life. Surely, that cannot be taken to exclude other persons or things that she, personally, may have also felt the same way about... say, freedom?
I don't think that learning about the affair only after Rand was gone (and Peikoff says that it was Rand's notes that convinced him, not Ms. Branden's book) was an "awful" way to learn of it. This imputes a negative evaluation to the very idea of an affair that I don't accept (anymore than Rand did.) Also, letting someone in on a secret imposes a responsibility on that person. It is not something to be done lightly, especially with those about whom we claim to care.
And, how much I "care" about someone else's opinion is a highly contextual matter, indeed. In most cases, I hate to admit it, but I really don't care what "others" think. Howard Roark did not even "hate to admit this."
The giving of advice is a grave responsibility, but Rand was not a professional therapist. I think that there is an important distinction bewteen the advice of a wise friend and that of a professional in the field who hangs out a shingle and normally takes money for the type of advice in question.
Also, Branden and Rand believed (at least at the time) that psychology was still in a "pre-science" phase, that their own approach was superior to others (at the very least.) In this context, who was Branden himself to turn to, as both a therapist and a pioneering theorist, but his own teacher? At least, that is how I think they saw it at the time.
Posted by: James Valliant | July 23, 2005 02:33 PM
The following is a post of mine from SOLOHQ (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#142) - with a couple of small changes. I thought your readers might be interested in another view of your magnificent review and I also want to draw attention to your extremely inspiring Post 141:
I understand and even share a good deal of Dennis's outrage at this book (for many of the same reasons, but also for other reasons of my own). I don't blame him for his confusion about your approach, but I see what you do in a different light.
I have seen hybrid smear campaigns (like the Valliant book) detonated before. Your painstaking factual approach, stating your own doubts and agreement along the way according to objective standards - and letting readers come to their own conclusions - more completely wipes out the irrational part than any other technique I know of. You are the provider of ammunition, better, heavy artillery, not the front line man shooting the guns. I, for one, have no compunction about picking up the arms you manufacture and using them to deadly effect.
If truth and facts are your goals, and you are aware of any mendacity and undue bias (like most of Valliant's approach), then I know in your heart that you provided your review for the purpose of arriving at reasoned sanity on a polemical issue. I also know that you are well aware of what this will do to those (like Mr. Valliant) who practice otherwise.
Moreover, I know that, someday, should Mr. Valliant happen to come around to objective reason, even if he maintains a bias, you will welcome his correct statements with open arms. You appeal to the very best within all of us.
Your last post on this thread (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#141) is one of the most inspiring personal statements of integrity I have read in a long, long time. It makes me want to be more me than I already am.
It is a tremendous honor to know you, sir, and have one of your books (Russian Radical) with a signed dedication to me. I will always cherish that."
Posted by: Michael Stuart Kelly | July 23, 2005 03:59 PM
Didn't Peikoff turn to Rand's journals for confirmation of the Affair only after hearing that Barbara Branden's book was to be published? Given Peikoff's own stated evaluation of the Brandens, hearing about it from such a source would have to be pretty awful, even if he was 100% OK with the Affair per se. And was he pleased to learn that Ayn Rand never saw fit to confide in him?
On the Rand-as-counselor issue, you say:
Also, Branden and Rand believed (at least at the time) that psychology was still in a "pre-science" phase, that their own approach was superior to others (at the very least.) In this context, who was Branden himself to turn to, as both a therapist and a pioneering theorist, but his own teacher? At least, that is how I think they saw it at the time.
While psychology as it stood in the 1960s had plenty of weaknesses, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden actually drew on existing research in the field (something I don't see acknowledged in your book at all).
And Rand's own journals, as reproduced in Part II of your book, make use of philosophically motivated diagnostic categories (such as the "Kantian Goddess premise") that are unlikely to be taken up by any other counselor or therapist. Even after making allowances for the bullshit that Branden was feeding her (and some of it, like the stuff about "sexual paralysis," was outrageous bullshit), the apparatus didn't seem to help Rand answer the questions that most mattered to her, such as "Does Nathan really love me?," "Why is he behaving like this?", "Is there someone else?", and so on.
Besides, getting trained in counseling by being counseled by a mentor has fallen into disrepute in clinical psychology. One reason for this, historically, is the use of "the training analysis" in psychoanalytic institutes (where senior psychoanalysts would psychoanalyze the students, often for 2 solid years or longer). Today, the training analysis is generally seen as a method of insuring conformity of thought, not a way to help clinicians in training gain relevant further insights into themselves or otherwise prepare them to counsel their clients more effectively.
PS. I noticed that in your book you cited Branden's developing interest in hypnosis as an instance of his "intellectual drift," which Rand later publicly condemned in "To Whom It May Concern." Isn't hypnosis something a counselor or clinician ought to be interested in? In fact, Branden made extensive use of what he learned about hypnosis in his private practice after 1968.
Posted by: James Jacson | July 23, 2005 04:38 PM
I am quite intentionally not evaluating such things as to what extent Rand and Branden were drawing on other psychological research at the time. This is simply beyond the scope of my book, and I phrased it the way I did on purpose: "that is how I think they saw it at the time." Also, because they were drawing on the research of others does not imply that they believed those others would be better therapists.
I agree that mentoring by Rand would be insufficient training for a therapist, however brilliant one believes her to have been, and that, in her counsel to Branden, Rand was not seeking an answer to those questions you pose (however important they were to her), but sincerely to help Branden. Given his dishonesty, no amount of therapy was ever likely to get Branden to help to answer these questions. Those questions were in the background, sure, but the purpose of many of these notes is just her attempt to understand the inexplicable.
As to hypnosis, I actually observe that Rand never disapproved of Branden's experiments with hypnosis, suggesting that she agreed with you. It is Branden who says that his interest in hypnosis seemed a concern to Rand for some reason. I suggest alternatives to his claim that she was somewhat "closed" to new ideas. I also note that in contradiction to his 1968 derision of Rand's claim of "intellectual drift" that he cites examples of what he felt to be intellectual tension (and more) himself. Again, this brings out a contradiction, not necesaarily something that I believe.
Posted by: James Valliant | July 23, 2005 05:41 PM
Let me also agree that Rand's silence did have unfortunate effects on her defenders, as I say in the book. The first of these is that the Branden assault blindsided them, indeed. Hearing about it for the first time from Ms. Branden would no doubt have been distressing, if that was his first hearing of it.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 23, 2005 05:47 PM
I would point out (as a final comment on this issue) that Rothbard often acknowledged his indebtedness to other thinkers.
Rand, on the other hand, seldom did. She did mention Aristotle, and also Branden in FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL (which was dutifully excised by Peikoff in the AYN RAND READER). Am I supposed to believe that Rand got all her ideas from either herself of Aristotle? Where did she learn about laissez faire?
It seems to me that there are echoes of Old Right thinkers such as Richard Weaver in her thought. For example, Rand's views that nominalism was a disaster for civilization, her critique of egalitarianism, her belief that the attack on the rich represent an anti-conceptual mentality, etc. echo Weaver's IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES (1948). Even if I could prove that she read this book, I wouldn't accuse her of "larceny."
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 23, 2005 08:36 PM
Once again I am astounded by your dedication to this work. For you, the journey of discovery with regard to Rand has no endpoint.
I wondered as I read through this how the explosion of emotion-altering anti-depressant medications would have changed the course of Rand and Nathaniel Brandon's lives.
What would Objectivism be today? Would Rand have pursued the same goals in her life? Would she have been depressed after Atlas Shrugged, and would she have written it to begin with?
You always put Rand in a completely human context, which is the only proper context for any human being, including a genius like Rand.
Where do you find the time?
Posted by: Chip Gibbons | July 23, 2005 11:16 PM
Neil, I think Rand also credited Nietzsche, and, certainly in her letters and journals, one finds that she gives credit to people like Isabel Paterson (on this point, I recommend Stephen Cox's book, THE WOMAN AND THE DYNAMO).
Chip, very interesting questions, for which, of course, I have no answer.
As for me, there is no endpoint in Rand studies... just as there is no endpoint in Hayek studies, or Rothbard studies, or Mises studies, or Marx studies, etc.---as I continue to learn about and from the thinkers who have preoccupied my time for many years now.
There will, however, be an endpoint to this discussion. I plan to post, in this comment section, in the coming days, my rejoinder to Jim Valliant. It will be the final post in this thread. Not because I wish to choke off a "dialectic" that has gone on too long (though, clearly, with 54 posts to this thread, it is the longest one ever in the history of Notablog). But because I honestly and sincerely have a lot on my plate in terms of essays and articles to write and edit. There comes a point at which we all need to move on.
In this context, let me reproduce a post I made earlier to SOLO HQ [ http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_8.shtml#168 ]:
Linz wrote [here: http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_8.shtml#167 ] that "Chris Sciabarra just wasted 18,000 words and months of his precious time. The thing [Valliant's book] doesn't begin to deserve that kind of attention from such an esteemed source."
Let me make one thing clear: My essay may have been about Valliant's book, but in a larger sense it was not about Valliant's book at all. I wrote the essay because I have a profound reverence for the art of interpretation and the science of historiography. My wide-ranging criticisms of the Valliant book served the larger purpose, of showing, specifically, where I believed Valliant went ~wrong~ interpretively and methodologically. And given my long-term engagement with Rand studies, I thought it was necessary to go "on the record" with these thoughts, especially since other writers and reviewers had already been referencing me.
I will be posting my rejoinder to Valliant on my own blog and, as far as I am concerned, that will be that. The discussion will conclude at Notablog. Officially. I hope that some have profited from the exchange, but I've got only a few hundred other essays and articles to author and edit.
And precious little time to do it all, indeed.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 24, 2005 09:56 AM
You are correct and I certainly didn't mean to imply that Rand never credited other people, or only credited Aristotle.
Posted by: Neil Parille | July 24, 2005 10:04 AM
Thank you for your patient answers to my wide array of questions.
We still disagree about a great many things, but I have a better understanding now of what our disagreements consist of.
Posted by: James Jacson | July 25, 2005 03:11 PM
My pleasure, sir, and I want to thank you, and everyone else here, for the critical engagement. (Now let me go duck and cover for Dr. Sciabarra's rejoinder!)
Posted by: Jim Valliant | July 25, 2005 08:47 PM
This rejoinder to James Valliant is also a concluding comment on the thread inspired by my essay, "Reason, Passion, and History."
I wish to thank the participants for taking the high road and for engaging one another with civility on a topic prone to combativeness.
With regard to Valliant's reply, I'll make only a few points since I believe that I have already addressed many of his criticisms in my essay. Perhaps on the bulk of these issues, we will simply have to agree to disagree.
Valliant asks if, in the light of having read his book, I now appreciate the extent of the distortion that I "now appear to concede exists in those [Branden] books."
I state explicitly in the review that the Brandens' books are not the "last word" on Rand biography. I have ~always~ believed that the Brandens' books were written from a particular point of view. And I certainly agree with Valliant's points that corroboration is important on some issues, especially where personal bias may have influenced the exposition.
But, as I have written, in many instances, Valliant's good insights on the issue of corroboration are undermined by his own methodology.
What's In A Name?
Let's take that "nit-picking" issue of how Rand chose her name. It's certainly of historical interest. However, my "nit-picking" centers on Valliant's assertion that Barbara Branden's story of how Rand chose her name�it was allegedly taken from a "Remington-Rand" typewriter�is part of some larger pattern of deception. Valliant states here at Notablog that "the 'name issue' is dispensed with early and explicitly judged in [his book] to be something 'minor.' ... Ayn Rand�in fact and actually�did not adopt her name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. It is simply impossible for her to have done so, since she was using the name 'Rand' before there was any such machine in existence."
As I indicate in my review, the new information about how Alissa Rosenbaum's use of the Rand surname predated the 1927 merger of the Rand Kardex Company and the Remington Typewriter Company comes from Professor Allan Gotthelf, who is cited in Valliant's book (p. 13). Valliant would most likely agree with Gotthelf's own view of Barbara Branden's biography, expressed in Gotthelf's AYN RAND primer (Wadsworth, 2000), which I have criticized at this link: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/essays/text/chrissciabarra/openingaddress.html.
Gotthelf doesn't actually provide a citation for Branden's PASSION OF AYN RAND (nor does he provide citations for other views he criticizes). But he does state the following (hat tip to Neil Parille):
"Barbara Branden has written a biography/memoir of Ayn Rand, based in part on taped interviews with her in 1960 and 1961. The book has numerous factual errors and engages throughout in gratuitous psychologizing which seems to reflect its author's continued embitterment. Because of this, although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked every report I have used (and other details of Ayn Rand's life) with archivists at the Ayn Rand Institute, which has access to all the tapes" (p. 27, n. 8).
This good corroborative practice is emphasized earlier in Gotthelf's book as well. Gotthelf tells us that ARI's Michael Berliner (the very Michael Berliner who, with Richard Ralston, suggested the Cyrillic origins of Rand's name) "kindly supervised the checking of biographical information ... in the Institute's Ayn Rand Archives" (2).
So why is it that Gotthelf states the following in his own book?
"Soon after arriving in the United States, she took the name 'Ayn Rand' (14). ... The name 'Rand' is used by Ayn Rand's sister, Nora, in a letter she sent to Ayn before Ayn's first letter reached home. Nora's letters make clear that at the time Ayn Rand left Russia she (i) had firmly chosen 'Rand' and (ii) was leaning towards 'Ayn' but had not yet settled on it. Her primary reason for adopting a new name (although she kept her initials) was concern that, were she to become famous under her family name, it would endanger her family. 'Ayn' was modeled after a Finnish female name 'Aino' or 'Aina' which she liked; she probably first spotted 'Rand' on a Remington Rand typewriter in Russia. ('Ayn', as the introduction to her March 1964 PLAYBOY interview amusingly put it, rhymes with 'mine')." (19 n. 9)
Recall that Gotthelf's book was published in 2000. Why was it okay for Gotthelf to use the "Remington Rand" story, which was presumably checked by those working in ARI's Archives, but it becomes deception when uttered by Barbara Branden?
It's good to see that Gotthelf has since revised his speculative point based on new evidence. But it would never have occurred to me to accuse him of lying for having re-stated essentially the original Remington-Rand theory, 14 years after it had been proposed by Barbara Branden.
"Minor" or "relatively insignificant" as this might be, it is part of an overall pattern in Valliant's book, which puts the most negative spin on anything that the Brandens say or do.
Valliant, Walker, and Kay Nolte Smith
I know what it is to quote anonymous sources. For example, the vast majority of those whom I interviewed for my monograph, AYN RAND, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND HUMAN LIBERATION, chose to remain anonymous�so I can't indict a person's use of such sources without indicting my own use. Be that as it may, Valliant does make good points about the need to cross-check such sources. It's all a part of that larger issue of corroboration.
So let's take Valliant's reply to my points about his use of Jeff Walker's book, THE AYN RAND CULT.
Valliant admits to using unnamed anonymous sources to corroborate Walker's claims with regard to the break between Kay Nolte Smith and Ayn Rand because Walker is "the only published source" on the subject. Valliant is right that Walker did not invent these claims. But a comparison between Walker's exposition and Valliant's exposition is instructive.
In his discussion of the Rand-Smith break, Valliant (2005, 400 n. 57) cites page 35 of Walker's book. In part, here is what Walker says:
"Kay Nolte Smith was excommunicated in the mid-1970s for making unauthorized changes to ~a few lines of dialogue~ for a public performance of Rand's play PENTHOUSE LEGEND (NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH). [In an interview with Walker,] Smith concedes she shouldn't have done so but insists it was not a big deal. ~For that one mistake~ she was drummed out, 15 years of prior devoted association notwithstanding" (~ indicates ~emphasis added~)
Here's Valliant's rendering of the story, on pages 75-76 of his book:
"In the 1970s the Smiths produced an off-Broadway revival of Rand's play, PENTHOUSE LEGEND. When the play had been originally produced under the title, NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH, about forty years previously, Rand had waged a difficult battle to keep her dialogue intact. This history was well known to the Smiths. ... Such a famous reputation might be counted on to provide caution to those who would take liberties with this author's text. Not so with Kay Nolte Smith and her husband, who, ~in an act exhibiting unbelievably reckless judgment~, changed the dialogue in their production of PENTHOUSE LEGEND without authorization from Rand. In such ~an instance of systematic and personal betrayal~, a break was at least understandably in order, simply on the basis of their callous indifference to Rand's personal history, if not to her artistic integrity" (~emphasis added~).
We have gone from "that one mistake" of changing "a few lines of dialogue" in Walker's rendering to "an instance of systematic and personal betrayal" in Valliant's rendering. Now, unless Valliant has other information from ~his~ anonymous sources that would provide us with a whole litany of other instances, which would add up to "systematic and personal betrayal," I'm at a loss as to how he reached that conclusion.
Objectivism & Homosexuality, Again
Without renewing the discussion of "moralism" and "totalism," I just wanted to re-emphasize that, contrary to Valliant's claim, Rand's attitude toward homosexuality was not expressed simply in "a single un-integrated statement in a Q & A period." In my monograph, AYN RAND, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND HUMAN LIBERATION, while I go the extra mile in trying to contextualize Rand's own attitudes toward homosexuality, I also point to a number of negative references to homosexuality in the Objectivist literature. Many of these were authored by Nathaniel Branden, making their way into Objectivist periodicals, which Rand edited. In the monograph, I cite relevant passages from Rand's essays ("Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" and "The Age of Envy"), Branden's essays ("The Psychology of Pleasure," "Emotions and Values," and "Mental Health versus Mysticism and Self-Sacrifice"), a Peikoff book (THE OMINOUS PARALLELS), and so on. Rand's Q&A comment that homosexuality was "immoral" and "disgusting" was merely the cashing-in of all these tendencies that were already embedded in various Objectivist discussions and in the practices of various therapists who allegedly used "Objectivism" as a framework by which to attempt the transformation of their gay and lesbian clients to a heterosexual orientation.
And these attitudes can ~still~ be found among some self-identified "Objectivists"; as much as the culture has changed for the better, the wish to avoid the "judgmentalism" of their fellow self-identified "Objectivists" was the most frequently cited reason for remaining anonymous among the bulk of respondents I interviewed for my monograph.
Ayn Rand Studies and Ad Hominem
With regard to THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, I am not denying that certain ad hominem fallacies have leaked into a few essays that we've published. But in virtually every circumstance, the authors who have attempted to use that strategy have been criticized for it in our very pages. Since it is undeniable that these kinds of tactics have been used by Rand critics, I make it a point of publishing replies that expose such fallacies. (And we have worked very hard to exorcise such ad hominem attacks from essays long before they are even published.)
Still, the dialogue that has been published in JARS has disarmed the ad hominem attackers; it has shown that such attacks are, indeed, a smokescreen for ideological difference. To my knowledge, JARS is the only periodical that ~allows~ for the kind of critical engagement that has made such fallacies transparent.
In any event, the overwhelming majority of articles that we have published focus on matters of substance, not on Rand's personal life.
In reference to the Indian Prayer I cited ("Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I've walked a mile in his moccasins"), I cannot imagine how Valliant missed my own confession that Rand's journals made her a more sympathetic figure in my eyes. The fact that I also confessed to a degree of personal pain in reading these entries suggests a certain ~empathy~ for what she endured.
Far from having declined the invitation to walk in her moccasins, I stand by my view that these journal entries provide us with an opportunity to retrace Rand's footsteps. From the perspective of intellectual history and biography, that is a good thing.
Update: Readers wondering about the shut-down of comments on this thread should wonder no more. I was criticized by one person at SOLO HQ for closing down the comments section. See here: http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_9.shtml#185
I responded here (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_9.shtml#190):
I come from a scholarly culture. In a scholarly context, the typical model is: review-reply-rejoinder. Sometimes, it goes a bit further. But I don't have an endless amount of time to debate issues when the lines are so clearly drawn and there is not likely to be any movement one way or the other. I treated James Valliant fairly---as he attests on my blog. (And yes, I announced last week that my rejoinder would be the last word at Notablog.)
In fact, I was kind enough to share my review with Valliant before it was posted; I was kind enough to invite him to post a lengthy reply. I was kind enough to allow nearly 60 additional comments---and Valliant authored an even dozen of them.
I should also mention that it is not fair to my readers to allow a comments section to go on endlessly when I don't have the time to pay close attention to that level of traffic, given my other research, writing, and editing commitments. I love blogging and I love cyber-culture, but I do have a life.
I am the host of Notablog. I wrote the review at Notablog. I have the last word at Notablog.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 26, 2005 08:31 AM
Song of the Day: Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon, music and lyrics by Jimmy Webb, was originally performed by the Philly soul group Three Degrees, but has been recorded also by Buddy Greco, Thelma Houston, and Dusty Springfield (live). I used to love seeing my sister-in-law perform this live. What better way to mark the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in song... listen to a Three Degrees audio clip here.
JULY 19, 2005
Song of the Day: Believe, credited to six writers, was performed by Cher, whose recording was Billboard magazine's #1 Hot 100 Single of 1999. It was the biggest single of her career, and provided her with her first Grammy Award (for "Best Dance Recording"). It is known also for its use of the vocoder (though that particular link adds vocoder effects not on the actual recording). Listen to an audio clip of this well-produced dance track here.
JULY 18, 2005
Song of the Day: Love Come Down, composed by former B.T. Express band member Kashif, who also provides those nice keyboard licks, was performed with funky verve by Evelyn "Champagne" King. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 17, 2005
Song of the Day: Fresh features the music and lyrics of J. T. Taylor, S. Linzer, and Kool and the Gang. "Fresh as a summer breeze," indeed; listen to an audio clip of this 1984 dance-pop hit here.
JULY 16, 2005
Song of the Day: Tempus Fugit (or as it is sometimes rendered, "Tempus Fugue-It," in contrast to "Tempus Fuggedabodit," as my pal Aeon Skoble would say) is a composition by be-bop pianist Bud Powell. Listen here to a Powell audio clip of this superior uptempo bop track, featuring bassist Ray Brown. Also check out a Chick Corea audio clip tribute to Powell. And I especially love a burning version by Stan Getz with a terrific ensemble that features pianist and NYU educator Jim McNeely (listen to an audio clip here).
JULY 15, 2005
Speaking of feminism, women, and women philosophers, I note that the Ifeminist Newsletter has been suspended from distribution for a variety of regulatory reasons. Read Wendy McElroy's comments here (and follow-up posts here).
To keep up with the Ifeminist news, point your browser here.
Song of the Day: The Song is You, music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is from the 1932 Broadway musical, "Music in the Air." It was also featured in the 1934 film version with Gloria Swanson. It has been recorded by vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey and guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose fleet-of-finger jazz version I like best (audio clips at those links).
JULY 14, 2005
Camille Paglia, who contributed to the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, has raised her voice in defense of women philosophers who were marginalized by a recent BBC-Radio 4 Greatest Philosopher poll that placed Karl Marx at the top. Paglia writes in The Independent:
For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. ... Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. ... Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy. Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre. This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments. Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity. The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundmentally altering young people's brains. The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous. Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.
Paglia is spot on with regard to a number of points here. Systematic reasoning is clearly at a disadvantage in a culture that embraces atomizing and dis-integration as the preferred mode of analysis.
But there are a number of women thinkers, says Paglia, who merit our attention. Among these: Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand. Paglia writes:
Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers. Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum. Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropology�real facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fiction�so that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.
It's a worthwhile read.
Hat tip to David Boaz.
Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, where comments are posted here, here, and here.
This is an interesting perspective, yet I think Paglia has declared philosophy dead prematurely -- and I say that for one reason only: Ken Wilber.
Wilber, though obviously not a female, is very much a ~systematic~ philosopher in the grand tradition. Plus, his "Integral" approach to philosophic theory stands, in my view, at the cutting edge of the discipline (in terms of the breadth and depth of knowledge it integrates), and also appears to be gaining in popularity and influence.
One thing Wilber does not seem to have integrated into his approach, however, is a principled libertarian politico-economic understanding, even though he explicitly recognizes the value of capitalism and industry. Perhaps, Chris, you and he could trade notes! :)
Posted by: Andrew Schwartz | July 14, 2005 03:46 PM
Andrew, thanks for that. I've had a lot of people tell me about Wilber. I first became aware of Wilber's work through Nathaniel Branden's mentions of him in various books. I've read only a few essays of Wilber's.
I too think that Paglia has given philosophy a premature burial. But I suppose it depends on where you look. Some interesting discussion of this at L&P.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 14, 2005 08:28 PM
Song of the Day: You Make Me Feel Mighty Real features words and music by James "Tip" Wirrick and Sylvester, who performs the song like the diva he was. Listen to an audio clip of this rhythmic disco nugget here. And listen to audio clips of remakes by Jimmy Sommerville and Byron Stingily.
JULY 13, 2005
Geoffrey Allan Plauche, over at Libertas, engages my point that there is (or has been) a profound relationship between anarchism and dualism.
In my reply to Roderick Long's critique of Total Freedom, I wrote:
Though I identify certain problems with anarchism, I�m equally suspicious of minarchism. I take very seriously some of the trenchant anarchist criticisms of limited government. I greatly value the contributions of anarchist thinkers to libertarian class theory and revisionist historical understanding. If my own perspective helps minarchists and anarchists to move toward a dialectical resolution of sorts, I will be pleased. And if it contributes to a similar transcendence of the conventional left-right continuum that both Long and I reject, I will be even more pleased.
In Total Freedom, I actually held out some hope for a "nondualistic anarchism." The fact that anybody other than Sciabarra and Long is even thinking about this issue makes me smile.
As for Geoffrey's points, I actually agree with him that statism introduces various dualities into social life. I also agree with him that there is a distinction between "government" as an ideal concept and, at the very least, every existing historical example of the "State." But I'm not fully convinced that "anarchism" and "statism" are not two sides of the same dualistic coin. Perhaps it all comes down to what Plauche says: "there are different kinds of anarchism" (just as there are different kinds of statism, of course).
My chief point in part two of Total Freedom was that Rothbard endorsed one kind of anarchism that seemed to reify (as "dualistic") a number of legitimate distinctions: personal morality v. public ethos; the voluntary v. the coercive; the contractual v. the hegemonic; market v. state; liberty v. power; culture v. politics. On one level, his analysis showed much more interaction between these distinctions than his more "monistic" resolution would allow.
In any event, good to see some discussion of this.
Comments welcome, but check out Geoffrey's post too.
Hello Chris! I've written another post for my blog entitled "Anarchism, Statism, and Dualism (Cont.)" in an attempt to elaborate and clarify my argument. If I misrepresented your position I did not mean to. My original post was too brief and hastily written.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 14, 2005 05:07 PM
Hey, Geoffrey, you wrote a good post the first time and an even better post the second time. Readers should take a look here:
I'm still a bit uncommitted on this topic; I suspect I've not felt the urgency on it because the battle between minarchists and anarchists is almost beside the point---while the world is being consumed by statism on every level. That's not to belittle these very important issues; it's just that if we were to ever get to the point where we could even consider these issues as serious prospects of social order... it would already be a very different world.
You do make excellent points about our never really being "out of anarchy", on some level; I agree and mention in TOTAL FREEDOM that the global community is "anarchistic" in some sense. See pp. 332-33.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 14, 2005 08:38 PM
Your points are well taken. And we certainly don't neeed minarchist libertarians and anarchist libertarians wasting most of their energy fighting each other which is more consistent logically, ethically, and practically. It isn't a matter of urgency, practically speaking, but I suppose it is my need for consistency and the system-builder in me that makes it important to me to clarify my own worldview. Rand's minarchist state would be a very nice social environment in which to live, comparatively and absolutely speaking, but even it leaves something to be desired (especially motivationally). I think Hayek was correct in his Intellectuals and Socialism that one of the most attractive aspects of Marxism was its radical idealism. It gave people a lofty goal to strive for, even if prosperous socialism is ultimately impossible. I don't think libertarian minarchy is a lofty enough goal. And I think libertarian anarchy, unlike prosperous socialism, while extremely hard to reach, is not impossible.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 14, 2005 11:13 PM
That second sentence should read: "fighting each other over which".
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 15, 2005 12:38 AM
Geoffrey, excellent point... and I'd be the very last one to argue against any impulses toward "system-building." As you know, also, I've long been fond of Hayek's comment about how the liberal academy needs to create a liberal utopian programme that serves the same inspiration for friends of liberty that the Marxist programme served for its partisans.
My focus has been less on the ultimate "utopia" and more on the ~means~ by which to analyze the current conditions and the ~means~ by which to affect social change: dialectical analysis and its implications for praxis.
I know that many think that word abstruse, but it is only a word to indicate the profound importance of "context-keeping": of grounding the quest for freedom in an understanding of its fundamental preconditions and effects.
I have said it before and will say it again: Freedom is not simply a political ideal, but a philosophical and cultural one, and its achievement requires a simultaneous grasp of concrete historical conditions and abstract principles.
I think we're on the same page on this. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 15, 2005 10:05 AM
Right-o. And before long I'm sure I'll be focusing more on the means too.
Here's a grand research program (or harebrained scheme, call it what you will) for the Dialectical Trinity (Sciabarra, Long, Plauche - thesis, antithesis, synthesis?) to explicitly embark upon: _Investigations into the Necessary Foundations of a Free Society_.
Sorry, I couldn't resist a joke at Hegel's expense when I noticed that there seems to be three arch-dialecticians talking about these issues now, even if one of them is in a little bit of denial. ;o)
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | July 15, 2005 11:02 AM
Hey, Geoffrey! Sorry I didn't have an opportunity to respond here. :)
Like I've said before, I think Long is a dialectician where it counts (for me, at least): social theory. And as his critique of my work suggests: He came to praise dialectics, not bury it.
All the best,
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 29, 2005 07:03 AM
Song of the Day: The Windmills of Your Mind, music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was featured in both film versions of "The Thomas Crown Affair": the Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway 1968 romp and the 1999 flick starring Pierce Brosnan and a scalding Rene Russo, who shares a birthday with me. Winner of an Academy Award for "Best Song," it has been performed by Noel Harrison (for the original film), Sting (for the remake), Jack Jones, and Dusty Springfield (audio clips at each link). I also love an instrumental take on it by Phil Woods.
JULY 12, 2005
Song of the Day: Let's Get it Started is credited to six writers, including Jamie Gomez and Allan Pineda of the hip hop hybrid group known as Black Eyed Peas. It has become a rhythmic anthem of sorts in many sports venues ... perfect for tonight's baseball All-Star Game. Yankee fan that I am... I'll be rooting for the American League. In All-Star Game history, only one Yankee has gotten an MVP trophy in this exhibition game (Derek Jeter). But the National League still leads in the record books for most wins since the inception of this mid-summer classic in 1933: NL: 40 wins; AL: 33 wins; 2 ties. Nowadays, the league that wins takes home field advantage in the World Series. From the album "Elephunk," listen to an audio clip of this song, or its original un-PC incarnation as "Let's Get Retarded" ... here.
JULY 11, 2005
As readers of Notablog know, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies plans to publish a symposium dealing with Nietzsche and Rand. The symposium probably won't be published before Fall 2006 or Spring 2007. We have quite a few articles in the queue currently, including material in the next issue still celebrating the Rand Centenary, and an ethics-heavy Spring 2006 issue.
In any event, discussions about Rand and Nietzsche can be found throughout the web and in various publications. Today, I posted a brief comment to Libertas, the blog of Geoffrey Allan Plauche. Geoffrey plugs my work here and here, and I post my comment on Nietzsche and the Russian Silver Age here.
Comments welcome, but visit Libertas and leave Geoffrey some feedback.
Song of the Day: Violin Concerto in E Minor, composed by Felix Mendelssohn, has been one of my favorites ever since I saw a young girl named Nanete Gampel play it on television with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Listen to these audio clips from a glorious version by Jascha Heifetz, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch.
JULY 10, 2005
Song of the Day: Moonglow, music by Will Hudson and Irving Mills, lyrics by Eddie De Lange, was played most memorably by the Benny Goodman Quartet (listen to an audio clip here).
JULY 09, 2005
Song of the Day: The Very Thought of You, words and music by Ray Noble, has been sung by many artists, including Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Vaughn Monroe, and Rick Nelson (listen to audio clips at those links).
JULY 08, 2005
Regular readers of Notablog know where I stand on many foreign policy questions, and debating those issues here is not my intention.
Suffice it to say, we have been told by the leaders of the "coalition of the willing" that "we" have to "take the war to the terrorists" and fight "over there" so that "we" don't have to face death and destruction "over here." Or as President Bush put it: "Either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are ... or at some point we will have to fight them here at home."
Well, "home" is now London.
And fighting terrorists "where they are" does nothing to stem the tide of their ever-increasing numbers.
This is not an argument, pro or con, for military action in places like Afghanistan or in Iraq. I favored military action in the former case, but opposed it in the latter instance. I have argued that Afghanistan was a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, and nothing less than the annihilation of that terror group would do in a post-9/11 era. Long-run, however, I have argued that the US needs to change fundamentally its foreign policy.
Putting all these questions aside, my heart goes out to my friends in the UK during this period. To say I empathize is an understatement. Mourn the dead, but keep your crying eyes open. Better to see what lies ahead.
It is very easy to give into fear. "Fear is the antonym of thought." I tell myself: Don't let the politicians manipulate your fear and take away your life and liberty in an effort to "preserve" them. But don't bury your head in the sand either, thinking that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are going to "give up" anytime soon.
I can tell my readers that since September 2001, I have had at least one fear. That someday, probably in late fall or winter, people, full of rage, will wrap themselves up in explosives, hidden carefully beneath layers of clothing typical for the season. And they will enter the subway system, by boarding subway cars in the outer boroughs of New York City, perhaps in Queens, or the Bronx, or my beloved Brooklyn. And they'll sit quietly in the subway car, among unsuspecting people on their way to work, until the train is pulling into a major Manhattan destination, like Times Square, or Penn Station, or Grand Central, or, perhaps, while going over an East River Bridge or through an East River tunnel crossing. And they'll just detonate themselves.
Thousands, tens of thousands of lives, could be snuffed out in a coordinated attack of this nature on the sprawling NYC subway system. And infrastructure could be devastated for months at considerable cost to the economy. Terrorists don't need nuclear material; they don't need biological or chemical weapons. They don't need planes. They need only the will.
Seeing Londoners brave an attack of this nature feels too much like a premonition of things to come. The expressions on the faces of New Yorkers tell me that the fear is real. And if terror revisits US shores, New Yorkers know that they are wearing a bull's eye on their backs.
Short-run, the protection of citizens' lives and liberties should be the most important priority. And, in fact, the protection of life and liberty is the only legitimate role to be played by any governing body. And this requires skilled intelligence, human intelligence. But no security system is 100% effective. And the creation of a police state through the manipulation of citizens' fears is not a solution either, since that merely replaces one form of terrorism for another.
That's why, in the long-run, a fundamental change in direction, in policy, will be necessary.
For now, my deepest, heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones. My good wishes to those who are dealing with injury to body and spirit.
Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P here and Technomaget's Journal
Posted by: Technomaget | July 8, 2005 09:31 AM
I partially agree with your analysis but think there is a need to highlight some
unmentioned facts or lessons learnt which no body is addressing. Security is not
a matter of has more power, and is niether fulfilled through wars. Inside or
outside, the traditional ways of fighting 'terrorism' -with all the dimensions
of the word and the new attempts(!) at redifinning it- proved to be a failure. A
humble lesson from a small humble city like Beirut (Lebanon), and again from a
small humble person who lived and was raised in this country, in this miidle
east, can be stated as follows. Dialogue with all, only through dialogue and the
spirit of dialogue can we counter terrorism and attain global security. Even
those who do not seem to be ready for dialogue are ussually bying credit or
time, a better stand on the round table, the globe!
Beirut, again has passed through various faces of violence and raised from the ashes, seems to be fighting its way out or in again, but what decides that is dialogue, otherwise violence breaks out. There is no military power that can defeat thought, communication and the flow of ideas whether we like them or not and whether they are evil or not, for beyond any power of any kind is a mind and only through dialogue can be transformed. to transform the conflict rather than resolving it actually through power or other means. Isn't that what democracy is all about. Elections instead of chaos, political discusions and transfer of ideas rather than violence and armed groups?
We need to think deeply, G8 need to think deeply, the Arab World need to think deeply and so should all the people arround the Globe, if that happens we'll, globally, be safe, otherwise, however vigilant we may be, nothing will stop the global hit-hit back scenario.
All we can do is try open channels for dialogue and hope individuals, groups and decision makers arround the globe join or learn a lesson.
Thank you for your patience.
Posted by: Mazen | July 8, 2005 09:33 AM
Bravo Chris, you about nailed it!
For anyone who cares, my own response to this is here:
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | July 8, 2005 10:04 AM
Chris, I think your put your finger on the nerve again :)
Why didn't they strike in NY again? They also know that it would have been an
easy, but devastating strike. This is something that nags me and I think that
maybe, they didn't have a terror cell their anymore, or they are planning
something even bigger.
Since we can think that Al-Qaida (being a well-organized group) has an agenda or at least a philosophy (even if it is the absence of it) to act from.
Why did they attack in London, it is the second time in a row that a European country was attacked. This time it has been a close ally to the US (perhaps the closest).
So, who will be next?
They got us confused with the Spain bombing on who will be next... But I think now it is clearer: The Alliance of the willing is attacked, gradually, to disspell it. Or have I interpreted too much?
Posted by: Max | July 8, 2005 11:56 AM
For the life of me, I cannot understand why these animals are not doing this far, far more often than they are. There is something really important at the bottom of this matter, and -- for a long time, now -- I haven't been able to put my finger on it.
The Union Jack flew over the State Department yesterday. That's the first time that has ever happened in two hundred sixteen years. The State Department holds absolutely no value to me -- none -- whatever. But I nearly wept when I read that.
Posted by: Billy Beck | July 8, 2005 02:09 PM
Chris, ~please~ move to Los Angeles. We don't have a subway here. :-)
Love ya, man.
Posted by: Roger Bissell | July 8, 2005 08:12 PM
Thanks for all the comments, folks. A few brief points in reply:
Mazen, I am second to none in my belief in the productivity of dialogue. It's sewn into my long-standing advocacy of dialectic as a methodological orientation. Part of that commitment entails looking at any phenomenon from a variety of perspectives so as to come to a fuller understanding of its preconditions and effects.
The thing is: Parties have to be willing to engage in dialogue. They need to generate alternative institutions of conflict-resolution. And maybe some of them, who are still opposed to working through such institutions, need to pick up the works of Gene Sharp and understand the efficacy of nonviolence as a revolutionary strategy for changing the world. The problem, of course, is that some see violence as part of their creed; no amount of dialogue can convince such people to lay down their arms---except a change in the long-term conditions that have inspired them to take up arms in the first place.
Max, I'm not sure why terrorist strikes in NY have not yet happened again, but I think we need to put something in perspective. Al Qaeda and Al Qaeada-ism, which has spawned many groups with similar purposes and means, is not exactly a huge organized army. And it typically takes a long time to plan, rather methodically, dramatic acts of terror. Given the level of security and police interference in places like NY since 9/11, it is understandable why terrorist cells aren't popping out all over. Being vigilant is one thing, but buying into a state of fear is the surest way to bolster a fearsome State.
To my Brit posters: Thanks for being here to post. Stay safe.
And to Roger: You can take the boy out of Brooklyn... but... well... you get the picture. Love ya too!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 9, 2005 11:03 AM
It�s worthwhile to get a long-term perspective and history can help us here. Terrorists of the Red Brigade in Italy and Germany continued to function for a good two decades. Early in the twentieth century, anarchist/syndicalist violence took place over a period of several decades. How many people remember the terrorist attack on Wall Street in from of the J.P.Morgan building that killed 30 people instantly with others to die later?
Most of these waves of attacks accompanied an ideological movement and consumed the most fanatical members for at least a generation. The current jihdaists are the students of the Islamic Brotherhood who were invited to setup shop in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s after they were banned elsewhere. With Saudi money they spread their teachings and trained the current generation (mostly in Taliban Afghanistan).
I think there is great danger in believing that we can do anything about this. It will lead to the demands for greater and greater measures at too great a cost in terms of dollars and liberties. We can take appropriate measures but the criteria shouldn�t be complete elimination of terrorist attacks anymore that we�d expect common crime to be completely eliminated. Ideological movements are not in our control at home let alone in foreign lands. Not everything is within our control.
This was meant to help get perspective but I'm not sure if it will be welcomed. I find that facing limits helps me accept what has to be accepted so that I can focus on what can be changed. But it isn�t always the appropriate moment. So I apologize if this isn�t the time or place for this discussion.
Posted by: Jason Pappas | July 10, 2005 08:39 AM
Excellent points, Jason. No need to apologize at all. This is crucially important.
Speaking of fear: I fear that people who think they can create or construct a "risk-free" society are not merely operating on a utopian premise, but a totalitarian premise as well.
There is something Barbara Branden said to me a long time ago, which I enshrined in TOTAL FREEDOM (p. 95 n. 20). Here's what I wrote:
'I am persuaded by Barbara Branden, who argues "that the inability to live with uncertainty ... is the root of dogmatism, true belief, fanaticism, etc. My personal definition of maturity is precisely the ability to live with uncertainty ... perhaps even to welcome it as a challenge." In this regard, the notion that the world can be made completely predictable might be viewed as a flight from psychological maturity. One these issues, see also Nathaniel Branden's "Alienation" [an essay in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL].'
This is all relevant to our concern here. Since not everything is in our control, as Jason puts it, the prospect of trying to control for everything is not just one of the roots of dogmatism; it's one of the roots of totalitarianism. It's actually one of the ~epistemic~ roots of what Hayek once called "constructivist rationalism," and it fuels the kind of political movement that assumes perfect human efficacy: that people can always act to achieve a desired effect without generating unpredictable, unintended social consequences.
No such perfect human efficacy exists. But the demand for that kind of efficacy generates awful consequences.
For example, politicians have acted to cash-in on legitimate fears (of crime, both domestic and foreign) in order to aggrandize their power. That's why "war is the health of the state," as Randolph Bourne once said. Because the manipulation of fear becomes the pretext for expanding government power in all spheres. This has happened in ~every~ instance of war in the history of this country, so-called "good" wars and "bad." Often, the structures and institutions introduced during war time become a permanent part of the structural conditions in peacetime.
But if there are things over which we have no control, there are other things that we might be able to change ~over time~. (The Serenity Prayer has social and political implications, clearly.)
Current US foreign policy is dictated by many inherent structural conditions; those conditions can (and must) be changed through a fundamental change in US politics. Revolutions aren't easy, but they are sometimes necessary for the sake of human survival.
Ironically, from an ideological perspective, George W. Bush himself projected some understanding of the fact that, for decades, the foreign policy of the US government was "excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability" in the Middle East, as he put it. In the end, it achieved neither stability nor freedom. But even Bush knows implicitly that this policy stoked the flames of hatred that led fanatics to target this country.
The problem is that Bush hasn't learned the other side of this coin: that constructivism of ~any~ sort is liable to generate negative unintended consequences. If the US cannot change the internal dynamics of jihadist Islam, it cannot create liberal "democracy" in countries that lack any understanding of the concept or cultural appreciation of the preconditions and effects of freedom.
I don't think there is any foresight in current US policy of the kinds of consequences that might result of planting this country, its military and resources, smack in the middle of these complex conflicts and problems in the Middle East. Defending US citizens against attacks is one thing; trying to create the world anew is quite another.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 10, 2005 09:22 AM
And here I was worried that my post was too terse to be understood! But if it inspired the above extended exposition, I was amply rewarded.
Posted by: Jason Pappas | July 10, 2005 10:55 AM
I think it's important to keep in mind that attacks by Islamist terrorists on the American mainland tend to be spaced out over long periods of time(notice the length of time between the first bombing of the world trade center and 9-11 for example) and Bin Laden has shown that his organization is still active so we shouldn't interpet his lack of attacks here as a sign that he isn't planning any and it may be part of his strategic plan to bide his time before another attack on American soil(or increased security is causing him to have to take more time in planning a strike)
I offer my condelences to the victims of the recent tragedy in London though and HOPE there isn't a repeat here but I am afraid that I can't dismiss concerns over the possiblity of another attack since it strikes me as having some legitmancy/basis
Posted by: Nick | July 12, 2005 02:59 PM
Thanks for your comments, Nick. You're right about the length between Al Qaeda attacks, of course.
As I've said on other occasions, however, one of the chief problems at this stage is not "Al Qaeda" per se, but "Al Qaeda-ism" and the need to understand the conditions that promote it.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 14, 2005 08:23 PM
Song of the Day: (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear, words and music by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart on this date in 1957. It's one of my favorite Elvis Presley songs (he would have turned 70 years old this year). Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 07, 2005
Song of the Day: Fantasy, music and lyrics by Maurice White, Eddie del Barrio, and Verdine White, is one of those classic Earth, Wind, and Fire performances. It has fine, jazzy harmonies and a great pulse. Listen to an audio clip here.
JULY 06, 2005
Song of the Day: I Only Have Eyes for You, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, was written for the 1934 Busby Berkeley film "Dames," starring Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler (listen to audio clips from the film's soundtrack here). It was a big hit for pianist Eddy Duchin (audio clip here). I especially love a rendition by Carmen McRae ("I only have eyes for you... Joe-oh-oh Pass"). Listen to an audio clip of that playful live version here. Today is my precious dog Blondie's Sweet 16th Birthday; her eyes ain't what they used to be. But she's still the #1 blond in my life. Happy Birthday, Blondie!
JULY 05, 2005
Song of the Day: The More I See You, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, has been performed by many instrumentalists, including Harry James, and many singers, including Nat King Cole, Jack Jones, 60s Latin rocker Chris Montez, and Carmen McRae, who sings the lovely introduction (audio clips at each link). The song was written for the 1945 Betty Grable film "Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe," in which it was sung by Dick Haymes (audio clip at that link). Happy anniversary, sweetheart.
JULY 04, 2005
Song of the Day: America the Beautiful, music by Samuel Ward, lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates, is my favorite "patriotic" song, and so appropriate on this Independence Day. My favorite version remains that of the soulful, heartfelt Brother Ray (Charles). Listen to an audio clip here. A happy and a healthy Fourth of July to all.
JULY 03, 2005
... the world's gonna change us."
That's what Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said today on "Meet the Press."
And in that simple phrase, Hunter has summarized one of the crucial constructivist principles at the foundation of the Bush administration's stated neo-Wilsonian initiative in the Middle East.
Cross-posted at L&P, where discussion can be found here.
Comments welcome. Noted by Jonathan Rick here.
Song of the Day: Searching, words and music by Mauro Malavasi and Paul Slade, was performed by Change, with lead vocals by the late, great Luther Vandross. Our tribute to Luther continues today. Listen to an audio clip of this soulful dance classic here.
JULY 02, 2005
I got a note from Peter Cresswell who is spreading a meme that asks us to name three people with whom we frequently disagree and say something nice about them. Cresswell says this about me:
First cab of the block is a Sicilian  from Brooklyn. Chris Sciabarra PhD, PhD, PhD favours extensive footnotes  over forceful prose and chairs over buildings,  and while his musical taste is generally execrable  -- current 'Song of the Day' on his site is 'Boogie Nights' for Freud's sake  -- he can write the hind leg off a very big donkey.
Footnotes Added by Sciabarra
 I'm actually half-Sicilian and half-Greek. Then, again, the Sicilians are part EVERYTHING.
 I hope that all this qualifies as "extensive footnotes."
 The only reason I mentioned my partiality toward chairs in that SOLO HQ thread was that I was comparing it to the puke that is sometimes paraded as "art" on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art. In truth, however, I'd take the Empire State Building over any chair. :)
 Jesus Christ! Ever since Charles Rolo called Atlas Shrugged "execrable claptrap," these damn Objectivists have used that word!!!
 And this is why I don't open up my "Song of the Day" listings to comments. Peter would never be able to control himself!!! In any event, I can't help it that I like to dance!!! :) But my list of favorite songs is going to go on for as long as I'm alive, and it includes a few hundred titles right now, stretching from classical to jazz to disco, and from "Ain't Nobody" to "You Must Believe in Spring." Sheesh! Surely we intersect on some of those songs, Peter! Make up your own list if you don't like mine.
Oh, wait. I forgot. This is supposed to be "The Respectful Disagreement Meme." Or the "Being Nice" Meme.
Peter Cresswell and I have exchanged music. And he's a very nice guy. :)
Well, that's all for now. No reason for me to come up with three people I disagree with to say something nice about them. I already have a reputation for being too nice to too many people! Bah humbug.
Love the footnotes. :-)
Intersection achieved on perhaps twenty-five percent of songs. Coleman Hawkins 'Body and Soul' and Artie Shaw's 'Begin the Beguine' just terrific, but going down your list I lost it again when I got to 'Boogie Nights.' Make that twenty percent.
"No reason for me to come up with three people I disagree with to say something nice about them. I already have a reputation for being too nice to too many people!"
Ain't that the truth. ;^)
"Bah humbug." Exactly. :-P
Posted by: Peter Cresswell (Not PC) | July 2, 2005 06:35 PM
LOL ... I shall periodically ask you for an update here at Notablog. We'll check back in another couple of months.
But, hey, even 20% of the 318 songs listed so far means about 67 songs. That's pretty good. If somebody said: "You and Peter have agreed 67 times," that would astonish me!! :) And I ~bet~ you even skimmed over a few songs you really liked or maybe hadn't been familiar with, and ~would~ like if you'd heard them. :)
But just wait till I start adding more and more Ellington. He's due for a major infusion. And stay tuned for lots more symphonic stuff. I mean, the possibilities here are endless.
(Just trying to continue "being nice"... )
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 3, 2005 07:59 AM
"But just wait till I start adding more and more Ellington. He's due for a major infusion."
Now that will ~definitely ~up the degree of agreement. :-)
"Peter Cresswell and I have exchanged music. And he's a very nice guy. :)"
O hell, dont' let ~that~ get out. I'm trying to create a reputation here. ;^P
Posted by: Peter Cresswell (Not PC) | July 4, 2005 01:47 AM
Nice guy???? Excuse my scepticism.
Posted by: Excuse me | July 4, 2005 03:58 AM
There you go, Peter! At least one person ("Excuse me") suggests you might be an SOB.
Your reputation is safe. :)
Happy Independence Day to all:
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 4, 2005 07:45 AM
Song of the Day: Never Too Much was composed and performed by the late, great Luther Vandross, who passed away yesterday (1 July 2005). A wonderful crooner, with a silky smooth voice, Luther also knew how to mix it up with some of the hottest R&B dance beats. I'm very sad to see him go, but eternally grateful to Luther for leaving such wonderful music behind. Rest in peace. Listen to an audio clip of this classic track from his debut solo album here. And listen to an audio clip of Mary J. Blige, from an all-star Luther tribute.
JULY 01, 2005
Song of the Day: Boogie Nights, words and music by Rod Temperton (who wrote quite a few hits for Michael Jackson), was performed by the R&B-disco fusion band Heatwave. The opening and closing bars of this classic dance track are oh-so-jazzy. Listen to an audio clip here.