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Jack Criss Aims Right

I have been working very hard on catching up with my reading and have had Jack Criss's book, Ready, Aim, Right! Editorials, Essays and Reviews, 1990-2004, sitting by the side of my computer waiting for a mini-review for much too long.

As discussions of "left-libertarianism" and "right libertarianism" proceed, I found it of interest that Criss discusses his own "odyssey" from "Marx, Ginsberg, Siddhartha, long hair and 'Rock Against Reagan' ... to Ayn Rand, Aristotle, Ludwig von Mises, Voltaire and business meetings," as he puts it in the Preface of his book. He praises "laissez-faire, individual freedom, high culture"—values "most often identified with the Right," while having no sympathy for the Libertarian Party (though he clearly agrees with the LP's core principles and "party message").

All this seems pretty "Right-wing" to me, including some of his stances on the current war.

But Criss is no traditional conservative. As he wrote back in 1995:

Put up your Playboys and hide the liquor in the cabinet. They're at it again. I mean, of course, the Grand Ol' Party and their rather empty banter about family values. Empty—content of ideas certainly has precious little to do with legislation in Washington—but potentially liberty-threatening. ... These men honestly seem intent on somehow defining a very intimate sphere of human existence as they see fit, and then enacting legislation to see that their definition is enforced. At best, this is amusing. At worst, it is moral totalitarianism. ...
Liberals interfered with families with the Great Soceity of the sixties and it got us to where we are today. ... But conservatives now wish to intervene again with government programs to cure what government botched in the first place. It won't work. It shouldn't even be considered as a viable option. Government already dictates entirely too much of what we can and cannot do in our economic lives; to allow the behemoth to enter our homes and regulate our most private and cherished institution is equally evil and should not be tolerated.

Dems fightin' words. In fact, Criss has a fightin' style to his writing: very colorful and very entertaining. Even when you disagree with him on any specific issue, you marvel at his way with words.

The book is not all politics, however; I was most enchanted by his various musings on his personal life. A tribute to his father and his reflections on becoming a father offer the most poignant moments in the book.

All in all: A very enjoyable read.

Comments welcome.


Thank you for this post and the link to the essay on "Left Libertarianism" and Rand contained within it. It offers me a new avenue to explore, and different insights into Rand.

The "thought police," "nanny state" fascist mentality of the rhetoric coming from the left wing of the Democratic party and the religiousity and corporate and military worship from the right-wing of the Republican party leave me disgusted and politically stranded. My political philosophy--insofar as I have one--is informed, somewhat naively perhaps, by the Declaration of Independance, Wilde's "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" (which is not really about Socialism at all; Wilde's grasp of the Fabian movement was tenuous and blurry at best, but, DAMN, he saw further than they did), with a dash of Nietzsche thrown in for good measure.

My difficulty with Rand lies precisely with her right-wing aspects as described by the essayist in your link, and when my partner Michael Russell began exploring her writings, I felt profound skepticism. He turned me onto your (nota) blog and I was intrigued to discover that a warm, compassionate, generous and respectful person like you, seriously studying and promoting Rand. It inspires me to go back and take a look at a writer I had dismissed right after college, having been put off by the "straw-man" characters I found in my first attempt to read "Atlas Shrugged."


Peri, first I wanted to say "thank you" for your kind words and support here. You and Michael are valued participants here at Notablog, and I really enjoy reading posts from both of you.

Second, let me just say that I have long advocated preserving the elements of "radicalism" from a wide array of thinkers---Rand included---while leaving behind any vestiges of conservatism. With regard to Rand check out:

What the Hell Has Happened to the Radical Spirit of Objectivism

On Rand and foreign policy:

Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy

On Rand and homosexuality, my monograph:

Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation

On Rand and feminism, an anthology I coedited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein:

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

... as you can see, I am in broad agreement with Roderick Long on many of these issues...


Oh, and, uh, it occurs to me: My Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and my whole "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" focuses on that "preservation of the radical" I mentioned above. :)

Thank you, Chris. I've just read the first two essays you mentioned and there's a lot to absorb, especially on the history of foreign policy during the last century. A lot of Rand's criticism as described in your second essay resonates with me; however, what did Rand have to say about the Holocaust? I'm not so naive to believe that FDR seriously considered that a reason to declare war on the Axis Powers (after all, the US turned away boatloads of European Jewish refuges), but how did she approach that huge moral question?

I should probably just go to the source and figure it out for myself, but that is one question that occurred to me as I perused your essay.


Another question occurs to me--having been assigned, and quite horrified--by Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" in my 8th grade Advanced US History class, I have always been under the impression that some of the progressive reforms under T. Roosevelt and others were positive actions. After all, as the 19th century ended the country was running out of places for people to settle and become Jeffersonian "yeoman farmers" and most jobs were to be found in the industrialized cities. People were being exploited, and unhealthy products were being foisted on the public.

Of course, it's probably time to revisit those issues with something other than what I learned in the 8th grade. :-)


While I can not speak to Miss Rand's comments about the Holocaust she always spoke for open immigration. I don't think this is was a position she just arrived at in the 1950ths. Peri: on your other question read Gabriel Kolko.

There's a revisionist interpretation of that era written by Gabriel Kolko called The Triumph Of Conservativism which is the work I think Chris Grieb is talking about when he references him.
It has an entire section dedicated to disputing the traditional historical view of the introduction of government regulation in the meatpacking industry

hope that helps!

I think Chris would suggest the same reading


Peri, thanks for your comments here, and thanks also to Chris and Nick for their replies (and, especially, their recommendation of the Kolko book).

With regard to Kolko and so-called "revisionist history," you might also wish to see this seminal essay written by libertarian Roy Childs, who passed away some years ago. It integrates a Randian take on history as "a selective recreation of the events of the past, according to a historian’s premises regarding what is important and his judgment concerning the nature of causality in human action," with an Austrian-school perspective on economics, and a New Left-inspired historical viewpoint:

Big Business and the Rise of American Statism

Thanks especially to Roderick Long for making that essay available online.

As for Rand's take on the Holocaust: She actually never wrote a formal essay on the subject, though she did write an important essay on "racism" as both a "tribalist" reflection of and a modern-day component of statism. On her views about US involvement in World War II, you might also wish to check out Robert Mayhew's recently published book, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood. Also, let me recommend Leonard Peikoff's book, The Ominous Parallels, which discusses the philosophical origins of Nazism and has an important chapter about the Holocaust. Peikoff was an associate of Rand's and is the legal heir to her property; I have some differences with him concerning his historical perspective on the Nazis, but he's got a lot of wisdom in those pages.

Thank you Chris for making my post better. I was thinking of Truimph of Conservatism. Miss Rand's support of open immgration was something that people who wanted to forestall the Holocaust would have liked to have seen more of. The free countries being open to immgration would have reduced the death toll.

Thanks for your additional points, Chris.

Still, I do think it is remarkable that in all of Rand's journals and letters, there is hardly any real discussion of World War II, the Holocaust, etc. Perhaps such entries exist somewhere in the Rand Archives, but I've never seen any comprehensive discussion of these issues in any of the posthumously published collections of Rand's personal papers.