AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

SCIABARRA RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS

RESPONSE TO JAMES G. LENNOX IN IOS JOURNAL

This is the full text of Sciabarra's IOS Journal (April 1996) response to Lennox.  He also responds to Lennox's review in Reason (May 1996).


I wish to thank the IOS Journal for reviewing my book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. But I am disappointed by Dr. Lennox's misunderstanding of my views. Regarding the historical evidence for a Rand-Lossky relationship, Dr. Lennox argues that I upgrade the "possibilities into established conclusions . . ." But I am self-consciously speculative in establishing such connections. I do give Rand the benefit of the doubt; she claimed to have studied with Lossky. Though I discovered evidence that would "increase the reader's skepticism," I argued that Rand's recollections seemed consistent with the historical record. To have concluded otherwise would have meant that Rand was a liar. If Dr. Lennox remains skeptical because of the evidence that I uncovered, then he needs to provide us with a better, more plausible explanation.

My historical thesis however, does not hinge on this specific relationship. The dialectical method that Lossky employed could be found in every major Russian philosophic incarnation, in most of Rand's college texts, and in the teachings of virtually every major Petrograd professor. It was present in the very intellectual air that Rand breathed. Dr. Lennox presents a narrow view of dialectics. He attributes to me a historicist conception that I describe, quite clearly in the text, as Hegel's view -- not mine, and certainly not Rand's. Moreover, he equates dialectics with anti-dualism, ignoring its most essential characteristics: holism, abstraction, integration, and the use of internal relations in systemic and historical analysis. Anti-dualism emerges from the dialectical commitment to organic unity, not the other way around. Dialectical thinkers typically uncover the internal relationships of apparent opposites by varying their analytical vantage points and levels of generality.

Dr. Lennox sees the dialectical interpretation of Rand as seriously flawed. He yanks dialectical catch-phrases out of context, and gives no hint of their descriptive legitimacy. He criticizes my analysis of Rand's critique of the "inner contradictions" (her phrase) of intrinsicism and subjectivism, and ignores any evidence in support of my conclusion. He fails to grasp that Rand was brave enough to recognize what was right in the false alternatives she opposed, even as she overturned what was wrong. Intrinsicism was right to emphasize objective reality, but wrong to deny the identity of consciousness. Subjectivism was right to focus on the reality of consciousness, but wrong to deny the objectivity of existence. Ultimately, of course, Rand rejects both views as "mystical" and "skeptical" variations on the primacy of consciousness. Dr. Lennox argues further that Rand endorses her own dualisms. But dualism is not a mere distinction; it is a conceptualization of two, co-equal, externally related, mutually exclusive spheres. For Rand, "consciousness and existence" are not dualistically conceived. They are axiomatic and, "cannot be sundered." Even in stressing the primacy of existence, Peikoff, like Rand, insists: "There is no consciousness without existence, and no knowledge of existence without consciousness" (Objectivism:  The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 149-50).  Similarly, "reason and force" are not Randian "dualisms." Force is fully dependent upon the efficacy of reason. Even when Rand differentiates between mind and body, reason and emotion, no dualism is implied, for these are distinctions within an organic unity.

Dr. Lennox argues that my attempt to explain Rand's "misunderstanding" of dialectics "seriously undercuts [my] central historical thesis." But we can't be ahistorical; Rand was a child of her context. She rejected "dialectics" as a tool of Soviet propaganda, and identified it with historical materialism. Yet dialectics-as-method was a fairly uncontroversial, obvious way of philosophizing during the Silver Age, a technique widely used by Russia's philosophers, literary artists, and social critics. I am astonished that the review did not include a single mention of Aristotle. Given that Dr. Lennox co-edited an excellent volume on Aristotle's biology, I found this omission troubling. He overlooks the fact that while dialectics was endemic to Russian philosophy, it was not a Hegelian-Marxist legacy; it is an Aristotelian one. Indeed, Aristotle has been characterized as the father of dialectical inquiry. Ultimately, then, I argue that Rand remains true to her Aristotelian roots, both methodologically and substantively.

I can take issue with many other criticisms: Dr. Lennox views my Rand-Hayek comparisons as "misleading," and my Rand-Marx comparisons as "unlikely," but offers no arguments to substantiate these contentions. He dismisses my interpretation of Rand's critique of anarchism, but fails to address the dialectical thrust of that critique. He criticizes me for the suggestion of any similarity between Rand and Trotsky, but misunderstands the purpose of this comparison. Rand and Trotsky came to maturity during the Silver Age, in which "God-builders" embraced Nietzschean themes, aiming for a human ideal that integrated mind and body, reason and emotion. The noted parallels accentuate this historical conjunction. Most significantly, Dr. Lennox completely ignores my original reconstruction of Rand's social analysis as a radical, tri-level critique of contemporary statism.

Finally, a bit of scholarly nitpicking. Dr. Lennox claims that I don't offer a citation for a quote from Rand that emphasized the reciprocal relationship of reason and freedom. The full citation appears at the end of the paragraph in which that quote is employed.  Now, it is true that there are enormous differences between Rand and Hegel with regard to their understanding of "reason" and "freedom." But my comparison stressed a formal dialectical sensibility: both thinkers regard "reason" and "freedom " as internally related.

Several commentators (Cox, Minsaas) grasp the notion of "organic unity" in Rand's literary methods. Other commentators (Peikoff) view such organicism as central to Objectivism. I extend this methodological concept to the whole of Rand's project, encompassing literary, philosophic, and sociotheoretical dimensions. In Rand's comprehension of the reciprocal interactions between key principles, such that each supports and nourishes the other, in her view of reason, self-esteem, and freedom as preconditions and effects of one another, there are highly dialectical methods at work. Rand presented a systematic vision; those who refuse to recognize the dialectical structure of mutual implication and organic unity in Rand's thought do great damage to her revolutionary message.

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