DAVID M. BROWN, FREEMAN (MARCH 1996)
David M. Brown writes: "Much to my surprise the author of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, a comprehensive new study of Rand's thought and its genesis in Russian culture, has persuaded me that something called `dialectics' is integral to Ayn Rand's philosophic approach and crucial to its success. RUSSIAN RADICAL is a different kind of look at Ayn Rand, a full-fledged `hermeneutic' on the contours, development, and interpretation of her thought. Not to fear. Chris Sciabarra is a visiting scholar at New York University who easily deploys crypto-post-modernist scholarly lingo, but he does not seem to be entirely depraved. His fundamental sympathy with Rand's thought is obvious; and clearly, Sciabarra wants to convey its complexity and power to an academic audience that has often dismissed Rand's rational egoism and libertarianism as polemical and shallow. . . .
As political scientist and intellectual historian, his goal in the book is not to evaluate the validity of Rand's radical ideas (although his analysis is frequently suggestive on that score) but to interpret them in their historical context. . . .
At every step, Sciabarra's scrupulous scholarship, dispassionate tone and dialectically dynamic argument are calculated to render Rand as palatable as possible to serious academic consideration. But the book is not aimed only at academics. It also invites those who already appreciate Rand to consider her thought anew. . . .
Sciabarra's insight into the import of Rand's integrative, contextualist dialectic is part of what makes his book distinctive and challenging. His methodology will be controversial, and here I cannot begin to suggest its playing out in the skein of the `hermeneutic.' I take his understanding of Randian dialectic to be somewhat problematic as enunciated, less so as applied in Sciabarra's actual interpretation of Rand. There is room for much more controversy too: for example, in Sciabarra's comparison of Rand to other thinkers, including provocative wondering about, say, whether Rand may have picked up her emphasis on productive work from Karl Marx. In terms of sheer new information, the material on Rand's education is invaluable, but of a necessarily speculative character. Sciabarra also rehabilitates Rand's advocacy of limited government and repudiation of anarchism as an expression of her non-dualistic, dialectical approach (and, yes, it turns out that anarchism really is `context-dropping'). He reconstructs Rand's analysis of power relations on the interlocking personal, cultural, and `structural' levels, and notes that her capitalist ideal is set forth as `the only social system that makes possible a triumph over social fragmentation.'
In Liberty magazine, the Aristotelian philosopher Henry Veatch has asked whether Objectivism will ever be academically respectable. That formerly open question must now be answered with an unequivocal `Yes,' inasmuch as Chris Matthew Sciabarra's profound and subtle study has made it inevitable. But more important, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL is a fundamental challenge to everyone to reassess the remarkable thought of a remarkable woman."
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