« Song of the Day #344 | Main | Song of the Day #345 »

Whetting a "Russian Radical" Appetite

The thread at SOLO HQ on the James Valliant book is now over 200 posts! While I decided to move on from the discussion, a number of points were made by a SOLO HQ participant dealing with my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I intend to post a number of articles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of that book in mid-August. My reply to the SOLO HQ participant is posted here. I reproduce much of it here for the benefit of Notablog readers:

My recent Free Radical essay marking the tenth anniversary of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, will be published ... on SOLO HQ in mid-August. ...

James Lennox and Allan Gotthelf agree on many things; they have known each other for many years and they co-edited a book on Aristotle's biology. I respect their work in that area and have cited both of them in my own work. And David Kelley is also a fine philosopher, and I have cited his work too.

That doesn't mean I always agree with Lennox, Gotthelf, and Kelley—far from it; nor does it mean that Kelley agreed with Lennox's review of my book simply because he published that review in the IOS Journal. In fact, Kelley went out of his way to sponsor a live IOS discussion of Russian Radical before it was published, and he also published a Roundtable discussion of my book after he published Lennox's review. He also made a number of very positive comments about Russian Radical at the time.

Understand, however, that if we are to judge the validity of an argument by the number of scholars who object to it, then Ayn Rand's work itself would be among the most harshly judged philosophies on earth.

As for other colleagues and professionals who engaged my work, take a look at my website and the various relevant reviews posted here and here. Those links include a full index of all the reviews of my work, some quite positive (see, for example, philosopher Lester Hunt's discussion). Also take a look at the endorsements of my book by such philosophers as Tibor Machan, John Hospers, George Walsh, and Douglas Rasmussen.

But this is not about name-dropping. It's about a fundamental divergence between Lennox and me on a number of issues, including the very meaning of dialectics. To a certain extent, I am to blame for some of the problems that emerged in the aftermath of the publication of Russian Radical, but it was unavoidable. The book was part two of a trilogy of books that aimed to reconstruct and reclaim dialectical method for a (small-l) libertarian social theory. So, the full reconstruction of the history and meaning of dialectics was not published until the final (third) book in my trilogy, Total Freedom. I couldn't reinvent the wheel in one, two, or three books—but I sure couldn't include my whole take on dialectics in a book about Rand, even if such a discussion would have clarified the points for many readers.

In fact, I have heard from many readers through the years who have said, upon reading part one of Total Freedom (TF): "Oh! Now I know what the hell you're talking about!" And, in fact, when I teach my trilogy, I actually begin with part one of TF before getting to Marx-Hayek and the Rand volume.

Aside from that, all of the historical speculations that I made about Rand's formative influences were based on inconclusive evidence—as I acknowledged. But I was building an historical narrative, and each step of the narrative depended on the presumptions before it. The initial speculations I made concerning what Ayn Rand was actually taught at Petrograd State University have now been bolstered by evidence that is as conclusive as it's going to get. The additional Russian archival material that I uncovered over the past 10 years has, in the words of William Thomas, lent "far greater warrant to [my] historical hypothesis .... successfully exploit[ing a] line of research [that] bolsters [my] key claim of a link between Russian philosopher N. O. Lossky, his followers, and the young Rand."

Comments welcome, but as I say at SOLO HQ: "Let that whet your appetite, and just shelve this discussion until mid-August. As long as we can chat with civility, I'm open to any and all points of contention."


I'm about halfway through Russian Radical now and am finding it extremely informative (and well written). I tried reading Ayn Rand for the first time this spring, after reading praise of her on the blogs of economists Bryan Caplan and Tyler Cowen. The Fountainhead, which I read first, was rough going, but I'm glad I then tried Atlas Shrugged: it was fascinating and inspiring. I then picked up Russian Radical because of the good reviews on Amazon and because it was the only book I could locate on Rand's philosophy that was put out by a publisher whose name I recognized.

My question: Why has Rand been overlooked by mainstream philosophers? As far as the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the Columbia History of Western Philosophy, and Stanford's on-line encyclopedia of philosophy are concerned, she and Objectivism never existed.

Thanks for your fine work.

Thanks, John P, for your kind words about RUSSIAN RADICAL. You ask: "Why has Rand been overlooked by mainstream philosophers? As far as the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the Columbia History of Western Philosophy, and Stanford's on-line encyclopedia of philosophy are concerned, she and Objectivism never existed."

There are probably several factors that have militated against the inclusion of Rand in the canon:

1. Rand was an outsider; she did not work within the philosophy profession and the profession rarely takes kindly to such outsiders.

2. Rand has sometimes been viewed as a "novelist" first, and a "philosopher" second by some of those in the profession. Moreover, her status as a novelist allowed some to view her as a "popularizer" of philosophy, rather than a bona fide philosopher.

3. I think there has always been a bias against Rand's politics, which has been reflected not only in the literature---but also in the marginalization of her work by a left-wing dominated profession.

4. Finally, Rand was a woman. I think Paglia is onto something when she talks about the marginalization of women in philosophy, which is typically a male-dominated discipline. See here.

All of this said, I think the trend is changing significantly. I've written on this subject:

A Renaissance in Rand Scholarship, from REASON PAPERS

The Illustrated Rand, from THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES

Recent Work on Ayn Rand, from PHILOSOPHICAL BOOKS, available to those with access rights (a version of this essay will be in a forthcoming collection edited by Ed Younkins, entitled PHILOSOPHERS OF CAPITALISM)

Thanks again for your comments.

Terrific -- thanks for your explanations and for the links to your papers. I will definitely read them.