AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

SCIABARRA RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS

RESPONSE TO JAMES G. LENNOX IN REASON (MAY 1996): 12-13.


RETHINKING RAND'S ROOTS

James Lennox has taken the trouble to submit virtually the same review of my book to two publications, IOS Journal (November1995) and Reason (February 1996), and in each case he has deeply misunderstood my views. 

Regarding the historical evidence for a Rand-Lossky relationship, Lennox argues that I upgrade the "possibilities into established facts." I remain self-consciously speculative,however, while giving Rand the benefit of the doubt. She claimed to have studied with Lossky. Though I disclose evidence that heightens our skepticism, I argue that Rand's recollections seem consistent with the historical record. To conclude otherwise would imply that Rand was a liar.

My historical thesis does not hinge on this specific relationship, however. Dialectical method was endemic to Russian philosophic culture, to Rand's college texts, and to the teachings of virtually every Petrograd professor. It was present in the intellectual air that Rand breathed. Lennox incorrectly attributes a Hegelian historicist conception of dialectics to me. Moreover, he equates dialectics with anti-dualism, ignoring its essential characteristics: organic unity, abstraction, integration, and internal relations in systemic and historical analysis. In employing such an approach, Rand was courageous enough to recognize what was right in the false alternatives she opposed, even as she overturned what was wrong. And whenever she emphasizes the primacy of existence or the efficacy of reason, she always shows a keen awareness of the internal connections between consciousness and existence, mind and body, reason and emotion.

It is not my claim that Rand simply misunderstood "dialectics." Rather, she equated dialectics with historical materialism, a notorious tool of Soviet propaganda. Dialectics as a method, however, was an uncontroversial critical technique employed by most Russian thinkers. The father of such dialectical inquiry was Aristotle, and as I argue, Rand remains true, in essence, to her Aristotelian roots, both methodologically and substantively. Given his misreading of my thesis, it is no wonder that Lennox fails to see any evidence in Rand's Letters of this dialectical approach. A careful reader of the Letters will find explicit references to "organic wholes," as well as countless examples of her ability to trace critically the internal relationships between seemingly disparate factors, such as politics, sex, and art.

Finally, I am dismayed that Lennox has virtually ignored Part Three of my book, and its original reading of Rand's social analysis as a radical, tri-level critique of contemporary statism. Leonard Peikoff, among other commentators, has emphasized the organic structure of Objectivism. I have extended such insights 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, and in her view of reason, self-esteem, and freedom as preconditions and effects of one another, there are highly dialectical methods at work. Those who refuse to recognize this dialectical structure of mutual implication and organic unity in Rand's thought ultimately diminish her revolutionary message.

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