AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

SCIABARRA RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS

RESPONSE TO GARY McGATH


I am delighted that Gary (I hope he doesn't mind me using his first name) has given this book a careful reading, and that he is engaging in the kind of critique that is most constructive, and productive of further dialogue. Nevertheless, I have a few comments to make about some of his most significant criticisms of the work. I will take these criticisms one-by- one as they appear in his review.

1. Gary states that my book offers "an oddly skewed view of Rand's philosophy, attempting to find new layers of unity in her work, and often stretching in order to do so." I self-consciously "stretch" in several instances throughout the book, especially with regard to my historical speculation, simply because I try to offer the best explanation for certain peculiarities in Rand's philosophy. I also self-consciously offer "an oddly skewed view" of Objectivism because I examine it from the vantage point of its development over time (historically and in the years since Rand's death) and from the vantage point of method. In the epilogue, I state quite emphatically that this is a "self-consciously one-sided" presentation and that there are other legitimate perspectives on Rand's philosophy. But like all "one-sided" presentations, mine discovers aspects of Objectivism that are not readily apparent to the reader who interprets the philosophy in more conventional terms.

2. Gary states that the order of my presentation may confuse the newcomer to Rand's philosophy. I would suspect that a person totally unfamiliar with Rand would probably not pick this book up first. Nevertheless, just one comment about the order of the book. The book is divided into three segments. And ironically, where Ayn Rand divides ATLAS SHRUGGED according to three Aristotelian "catch-phrases," I've used three typically dialectical ones: Part One: The Process of Becoming; Part Two: The Revolt against Dualism; Part Three: The Radical Rand. This order is deliberate. By first discussing Rand's philosophy as part of a "process" of intellectual discovery, development, and evolution, I place the entire project in its proper historical context. While genuine Objectivists know that Rand never deduced the system of Objectivism from the axiom that "A is A," many critics and fans of Rand suggest that such was the case. The fact is that Rand emerged in an historical context which must be grasped first if one is to appreciate the originality of her system (which is discussed in part two) or the radical implications of her social critique (which is discussed in part three). This order shows that Rand was a figure of historical importance, emerging from a real laboratory of sorts that made it much easier for her to reach the kinds of grand generalizations for which she is most famous.

3. Gary states that my "startling new thesis" on the "dialectical" character of Rand's philosophy connects her to "two philosophers whom she thoroughly despised: Hegel and Marx." Well, this is partially correct. But it also places her in the tradition of the father of dialectical inquiry: Aristotle. Even Marx and Engels argued that it was Aristotle who was the first master of dialectical inquiry, that he was the "Hegel" of the ancient world. It was Aristotle, who, in his critical commentaries, exhibited a desire to grasp the whole and its various parts, to view a problem from various vantage points and on different levels of generality, to transcend the stifling limitations of eleatic monism and Heraclitean flux. By placing Rand in this context, I suggest that Rand is an Aristotelian in ways that not even she explicitly recognized.

4. Gary quotes my book (page 16) on the nature of dialectics as being a method of transcending dualism. This is partially correct. Gary leaves out my discussion (on page 17) that which is "essential" to dialectical inquiry, namely, an emphasis on the totality. Let me draw out the implications of dialectical method. Dialectics is composed of three major aspects:

1) AN EMPHASIS ON THE WHOLE. As I state in my introduction: "Dialectics . . . is a method that preserves the analytical integrity of the whole. Although it recommends study of the whole from the vantage point of any part, it eschews reification, that is, it avoids the abstraction of a part from the whole and its illegitimate conceptualization as a whole unto itself. The dialectical method recognizes that what is separable in thought is not separable in reality."

2) AN EMPHASIS ON INTERNAL RELATIONS WITHIN A SYSTEM. Because dialectics emphasizes the whole as a system, it grasps the parts as systemically interrelated, as both constituting the whole and being constituted by it. This "internalist" orientation often leads Rand to a recognition of reciprocal causation, rather than mere linear causality, between and among the various factors in the whole. And this approach is apparent in her literary method--where she sees her books as "organic wholes," in her philosophy--where each branch of the philosophy is integrated and internal to the other branches, and in her social critique--where she is eminently radical in her ability to trace connections between seemingly unrelated factors. Yes, she often skews her analysis toward primary factors (such as "existence" or "philosophy") but in most cases, she sees a conjunction of factors such that one cannot isolate a single factor without taking all the other factors into account. For example, Rand would never analyze a single social problem external to the system that generates it; she sees all social problems as expressive of--and perpetuating--the statist system that she critiques.

3) AN EMPHASIS ON INTERNAL RELATIONS INTERTEMPORALLY. This means that Rand would never analyze a social problem for instance, external to its past, present, and possible future course. She sees all problems in their historical context, tracing their development over time, and suggesting their future implications as well. Because of this emphasis on the whole, on internal relations both systemically and historically, dialectics is neither dualistic nor monistic. It opposes false alternatives. In some instances, it regards the alternatives as based on a common premise. In other instances, it clarifies the integrated relationship of spheres that dualists and monists keep separate and distinct. More on this in a moment...

5. Gary states that "not all `dualities' are `dualistic' . . . Rand rejected some dualities while strongly affirming others. She did not find `common roots' in reason and force, in capitalism and statism, in egoism and altruism, but rather stressed their polar opposition."  Let me clarify a crucial issue here: to reject dualities does not mean that one tries to integrate genuine differences. I agree with Gary that "not all `dualities' are `dualistic' in this sense." Dialectics strives to uncover the common roots of "apparent" opposites. It treats such opposites as relational, not logical. On pages 302-303 in my book, I quote Robert Heilbroner on the dialectical understanding that Hegel suggested in his analysis of of "master" and "slave." Heilbroner states: "The LOGICAL contradiction (or `opposite' or `negation') of a Master is not a Slave, but a `non-Master,' which may or may not be a slave. but the relational opposite of a Master is indeed a Slave, for it is only by reference to this second `excluded' term that the first is defined." [And by the way, even Aristotle recognized relational pairs-- he too, saw "master" and "slave" as "correlatives."] Gary is correct: there is no integration to be had between "truth" and "falsity," "reason" and "force," "good" and "evil." Although even here, Rand traces relationships: she saw "falsity" as dependent on truth, those who use "force" as ultimately dependent on those who use "reason," and the "evil" as parasitically dependent on the "good." Rand did not place these distinctions on a Manichaen, dualistic, co-equal foundation. But if we examine other such dualities as Gary mentions, as that between "capitalism" and "statism" or "egoism" and "altruism," we find subtle and important non-dualistic insights in Rand's works. I address these very issues on page 235, 252, and 283-84. I state that even in the case where Rand posits an opposition, she does not endorse dualism. In her exalted sense, "egoism" is opposed to both conventional "brute" or "vulgar" selfishness and altruistic self-sacrifice. In her exalted sense, "capitalism, the unknown ideal" is opposed to both the historical model of "mixed" capitalism which most contemporary theorists identify as "capitalist," and the various forms of statism (fascism, socialism, communism, etc.) One also finds that in her concept of "government," (or as I put it, "government, the unknown ideal"), there is a transcendence of both anarchism and statism.

6. Gary states further that for Rand, "these dualities are not the starting point; rather, she draws out similarities in apparently opposed ideas in order to contrast her position with traditional alternatives." This is true. But please remember that mine is an historical study. Rand did not discover an integrated alternative in a vacuum. The dualisms she opposes came before her, and her own position was necessarily crafted as a discovery for sure, but also as an integrated response to false alternatives. This is why I state in my introduction that (p. 17) "Rand does not literally construct a synthesis out of the debris of false alternatives. Rather, she aims to transcend the limitations that, she believes, traditional dichotomies embody."

7. Gary questions my own suggestion that Lossky had an impact on Rand, especially since it appears that Rand only took one off-campus course with him. I agree with Gary that my statement of possible influence here is "a matter of conjecture." I state this in the book. Nevertheless, I do draw out some interesting historical facts. Rand studied at the Stoiunin Gymnasium, a high school established by Lossky's in-laws, and a place at which Lossky taught. Since Lossky was exiled from Leningrad University, and was severely restricted in his teaching assignments, Rand would have had to have made a conscious decision to seek Lossky out and to take one of his courses. But even if we minimize the Lossky role, the whole point of my first part was to show that Lossky was merely the concrete embodiment of themes in Russian philosophy that were endemic to Russian culture, themes that were in the very intellectual air that Ayn Rand breathed every day of her early life. Nearly every one of the teachers she would have had at university would have expressed the same methodological orientation. Such a dialectical orientation could also be found in every major college text in history and philosophy that Rand would have in college. My dissection of Lossky was a self-consciously speculative endeavor to illustrate that Rand was exposed to these themes both implicitly and explicitly.

8. Gary argues that Rand, unlike Lossky, "would never have accepted a reconciliation of the rational and the non- rational, or the universal [and] the particular." There are deep differences in the content of Rand's and Lossky's philosophy, and in the kinds of resolutions they propose. But just as an aside: Rand did attempt to reconcile "rational" and "non-rational" -- NOT "rational" and "irrational." The "non-rational" (like the "non-Master" above) is not necessarily the "irrational." The "non- rational" can refer to "emotion" and the "subconscious" -- and as Chapter Seven documents, Rand and her successors pay great attention to the reconciliation of such apparent opposites as "mind" and "body," "reason" and "emotion," the "conscious" and the "subconscious."

9. Gary states: "Sciabarra loves to draw unexpected parallels between Rand and thinkers whom she violently disagreed with, and I suspect he gets a certain pleasure from the shock value. . . . Doing this may be fun up to a point, but it can also obscure the fact that these similarities have little significance in a wider context." Well, I have to admit one thing: yes, I do get a "certain pleasure from the shock value." But diabolical humor aside, the specific example that Gary cites, namely my comparison of Trotsky and Rand on the issue of the new communist man and the New Intelletual was very significant in a wider historical context. As I point out in the book, both Trotsky and Rand were heavily influenced by the Nietzschean themes of the Russian Silver Age--and one can detect these themes in their respective projections of the ideal human being.

10. Gary concludes by saying that the "review has taken more effort . . . than any other review [he's] written for this list." I can't begin to express my genuine appreciation for his efforts. So many people on MDOP were very helpful in the genesis of this project, and I hope that I have not left many names out in my acknowledgmetns. I want to thank Gary once again for giving my book a constructive review, and I hope that these exchanges will continue for a long time to come. Ayn Rand has arrived-- she is showing up in The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and now, on the University Press bookshelf. It is long overdue.

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