AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

PUBLISHED REVIEWS

COMMENTARIES ON THE SECOND EDITION OF RUSSIAN RADICAL APPEAR IN VARIOUS SECTIONS OF A COMPANION TO AYN RAND (PART OF THE BLACKWELL COMPANIONS TO PHILOSOPHY SERIES).  BELOW ARE EXCERPTS FROM SUCH COMMENTARY FROM RAND BIOGRAPHER SHOSHANA MILGRAM AND PHILOSOPHER GREGORY SALMIERI, FEATURED IN TWO OF THEIR CONTRIBUTED CHAPTERS TO THE BOOK (EDITED BY ALLAN GOTTHELF AND GREGORY SALMIERI; HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: JOHN WILEY & SONS, LTD., 2016)


"THE LIFE OF AYN RAND: WRITING, READING, AND RELATED LIFE EVENTS" (CHAPTER 2 IN THE COMPANION, WRITTEN BY SHOSHANA MILGRAM):

In the second edition of the book, Essays on Ayn Rand's "We the Living" (edited by Robert Mayhew; Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), Milgram's chapter "The Education of Kira Argounova and Leo Kovalensky" includes a discussion of Sciabarra's historical research into the Soviet education of Ayn Rand, both at the Stoiunin gymnasium and at Petrograd State University. She raises questions especially with regard to the historical thesis that Rand studied with N. O. Lossky, presented in the original edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, based on Rand's own recollections of her university studies. Sciabarra responds to Milgram's critique in Appendix III of the second edition of Russian Radical, "A Challenge to Russian Radical -- and Ayn Rand (2013)."

In A Companion to Ayn Rand, Milgram has very little to add to the discussion. Milgram stands by her hypothesis that Rand studied ancient philosophy with Aleksandr Ivanovich Vvedensky, instead of N.O. Lossky, as Rand recollected in 1960-1961 biographical interviews conducted by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.  Those recollections formed the basis of biographical presentations in print and on film; they were presented as part of the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, authored by Barbara Branden in 1962 as the title essay of Who is Ayn Rand? (New York: Random House), and repeated in Branden's 1986 biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand (New York: Doubleday).  They also are the basis of the same story of Rand's encounters with Lossky as told to filmmaker and author Michael Paxton by both Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff for Paxton's 1998 Oscar-nominated documentary film, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life," as well as Paxton's companion book (Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life -- The Companion Book [Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1998]), and by Anne Heller in her 2009 biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (New York: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday).

In "The Life of Ayn Rand," Milgram repeats her thesis from the second edition of Mayhew's We the Living essay collection, stating:  "Chris Matthew Sciabarra, who believes that Losskij [Lossky] was a formative influence on Rand, comments on my observations about Losskij [Lossky] and Vvedenskij [Vvedensky] (Sciabarra 2013, 393-399), but he continues to maintain, without resolving the discrepancies between Rand's description and Losskij [Lossky], that she was probably correct to name him as the teacher" (Companion, 38-39 n. 9).


"THE OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY" (CHAPTER 12 IN THE COMPANION, WRITTEN BY GREGORY SALMIERI):

In his discussion of Rand's ability to engage in "grand-scale integration across time and across fields in [her] interpretation of the events of her time" (Companion, 300), Gregory Salmieri adds an endnote that directly addresses points raised by Sciabarra in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical as they pertain to what Sciabarra calls Rand's "dialectical" mode of analysis.  Salmieri is worth quoting at length (Companion, 313-314 n. 104):

"Focusing on the integrative nature of Rand's thought and its relation to her political radicalism, Chris Sciabarra (1995) argues that she is a part of a tradition of radical, Russian 'dialectical' thinkers, whose methods she learned from N. O. Lossky, a socialist Hegelian who may have taught a course she took in Ancient Philosophy. (See Shoshana Milgram's discussion of this class, above, 38 n. 9)  Sciabarra is knowledgeable about Rand's corpus, occasionally perceptive about aspects of her thought, and obviously correct that system-building and political radicalism are more characteristic of the Russian thinkers he cites than of mainstream twentieth-century Anglo-American thought. But twentieth-century Anglo-American thought is idiosyncratic in this respect. Historically, almost all philosophers of stature were system-builders, and many took radical political stances that they saw as based on their systems.  Certainly this is true of the thinkers of the Enlightenment. (Spinoza is a particularly obvious case, but this is true too of Locke, and of many eighteenth-century French and American thinkers.) Moreover, these facts about historical philosophers are stressed in the histories of philosophy that Rand read by Windelband and Fuller. . . . The features Rand has in common with Sciabarra's Russian dialecticians could have been absorbed from any of a number of sources or (more likely) from the general cultural heritage that all educated people share. It goes without saying that growing up in Russia in the time and place Rand did had an effect on which works and ideas she was exposed to at which times and that this must have had some influence on her early thought. So a detailed study of how she processed these inputs at different stages in her development would be of great interest. But this is not what Sciabarra provides. His book is long on comparisons between Rand and obscure authors of whom she probably never heard, but it breezes quickly over many thinkers whom she is known to have read or conversed with (e.g., Hugo, Dostoevsky, von Mises, Blanshard, Isabel Paterson, H. L. Mencken, Ortega y Gasset, etc.) and who share at least some of the features that Sciabarra finds in both Rand and the dialecticians. Moreover, Rand lacks the central 'dialectical' feature he claims to find in her thought: 'a revolt against formal dualism.' For as Lennox (1996) observes, though Rand rejects some dichotomies (as do most thinkers of stature), she defends or introduces others."


Sciabarra's Response to Brown The Author's reply to Milgram's and Salmieri's comments will appear in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 17, no. 1 (July 2017).
Stay tuned!

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