AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

SCIABARRA RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS

RESPONSE TO LESTER HUNT

This is the full text of a Letter to the Editor, which was edited for publication in the May 1996 issue of Liberty.


It was a genuine pleasure to read Prof. Lester Hunt's informed, intelligent review of my book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. He raises a number of significant theoretical issues which deserve some brief commentary. Prof. Hunt questions whether Ayn Rand adhered to a doctrine of internal relations, a doctrine that is essential to my characterization of her as a dialectical thinker. In my own book, I support his contention that Rand had no such metaphysical commitment. She acknowledges that everything is related in the universe, but that it is not a philosophical task to establish the ultimate nature of these inter- relationships. In Chapter 6 of my book, however, I argue that Rand endorses a kind of epistemological internalism. An analysis of relations is legitimate provided that one defines one's context. By altering one's context, vantage point, or level of generality, Rand suggests that one can articulate the essence of the thing, and those relations which might be relevant to our analysis of it. Moreover, since nothing can be defined external to its context, the conditions of one's definition are partly constitutive of the analysis.

These principles are on display in virtually every aspect of Rand's thought. In the very structure of Objectivism, even where Rand stresses the primacy of existence, she argues that one cannot understand the full implications of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, or aesthetics in their abstraction from the whole which they jointly constitute. In her literary methods, she recognizes that each story -- with its characters and plot integrated to a central theme --"is written as a man is born -- an ORGANIC WHOLE, dictated only by its own laws and its own necessity" (Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 157, emphasis added). And in her social theory she rejects vulgar economism, and traces the internal relationships among disparate factors, identifying "the great mistake . . . [of] assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophic and political principles, and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them" (p. 260).

Like Karl Popper, Prof. Hunt is highly perceptive in recognizing "the problem with the totality." But in emphasizing the ontological priority of individuals, Rand transcends that problem which has plagued former dialectical theorists. As such, she suggests that a concern for the totality of the human condition need not be totalitarian. In my own work, in both MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA (SUNY Press, 1995) and AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, I have just begun to trace the implications of a dialectical approach to social theory that is neither Marxist nor conservative, but fully within the radical libertarian tradition.

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