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January 31, 2017

"Total Freedom": Never Too Late for a Review

I've always said it's never too late to review a book, especially if it is a book I've written. A classic display of this phenomenon is a nice review of my book Total Freedom: Toward A Dialectical Libertarianism, which was published by Pennsylvania State University Press back in 2000. Verma reviews the book on his blog "The Verma Report (formerly "For the New Intellectual") and can be found at this link.

Verma also maintains a Facebook page, which is where readers will most likely find some discussion of the book; I am not clairvoyant, but I suspect it will include some familiar discussion among those who responded both favorably and unfavorably to my work. For me, it is only one more illustration of what Oscar Wilde once said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

In any event, I've included the Verma review in my index of the reviews that has been written over the years of Total Freedom here. The Verma review is given a brief summary here, with a link to the full review on Verma's blog.

I would just like to extend my thanks to Anoop for giving some attention to the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, now in a second expanded edition, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. The trilogy itself is nearly 20 years old, the first two installments having been published in 1995, and Total Freedom at the turn of the millennium, which proves it's never too late to find a review of one's work.

Postscript: I'm not a clairvoyant, but I could have predicted the avalanche of criticism waged against my work on dialectical method. I present below some of the comments I posted to the rather lengthy thread on Facebook:

First, I thanked Anoop Verma publicly on the thread:

I would just like to thank Anoop for focusing attention on the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. I know there are folks here that recoil in horror at the mere mention of "dialectics," and worse, that Sciabarra fellow. But with all due respect, it would just be nice to see a few people condemn something they've actually read. I've got no problem with criticism; my whole home page features all the reviews of all my works (both positive and negative), and while I might take issue with a reviewer here and there, especially if I believe they have misinterpreted my theses, at least the folks who reviewed the books took time to actually read them, and then took their best shot for the bleachers (in condemnation or celebration of what they'd just read).
Folks wanting to see a wide variety of reviews of the book can see the review index on the book's home page.

When a discussant claimed that dialectics was nothing more than the collision of opinion, and that Rand didn't arrive at truth through such a process of disputation, I replied:

You will find as many definitions of "dialectic" as there are opinions on the subject; It is difficult to discuss this with someone who has not read the book, but rest assured, I had to reconstruct, in the first three chapters of Total Freedom the meaning of dialectic as it evolved through the centuries, noting of course that it was Aristotle who was "The Fountainhead" of the enterprise. And his discussion of what it is and how he practices it has nothing to do with arguing from opinion; it is, in simple language, "the art of context-keeping," which requires that we study any object of inquiry, be an event or a social problem, on many different levels of generality and from many different vantage points, so as to get the "fuller context" of its meaning, both as it exists in a larger integrated system of other objects and problems, and has had a history of development across time. I devote considerable energy to showing what a masterful dialectical thinker Ayn Rand was. You can agree or disagree with it, but at the very least, disagree with me based on how I define it and defend it, rather than on words that I've never written or words that have never come out of my mouth.

The critic then claimed that "This desire to rescue dialectics stems from a desire to rationalize. To approach ideas from a deductive perspective, not inductive as Rand has done." To which I replied:

No it is not a desire to rationalize; it is to celebrate the principles of efficient thinking, so lacking in our educational systems and pedagogical practices. Context-holding is fundamental to efficient thinking, and if you read what both Rand and Peikoff have had to say about how educational and pedagogical practices have militated against the art of noncontradictory identification and the art of context-keeping and integration, you will have a better understanding of what I'm defending. It's got nothing to do with deducing anything; it is about actively going out and seeking evidence about the place of events and problems in this world and how they relate to the larger social system in which we live, and how they relate to the larger history from which they emerge.

The critic asks: "How does one think efficiently? Dialectics? How so, if there are as many definitions as there are opinions on dialectics? Doesn't seem very *efficient*. Unless dialectics means starting where one should start and building one's arguments on the proper foundations of reason, then I see no point in them as a technique." I replied:

I devote a whole chapter (Chapter Four) of Total Freedom to defining dialectics, and defending it, and it is virtually impossible for me to summarize the usefulness of the technique in a paragraph; but if you want a brief discussion of it in a magazine essay, check out "Dialectics and Liberty."

I added:

Logic and dialectics entail one another; one cannot have one without the other. Even the law of noncontradiction is defined within a specific context: A cannot be A and non-A "at the same time and in a certain respect." Folks used to ridicule Aristotle because "A is A" takes no account of how A evolves over time, and how A can be looked at in many different respects. But note, the Master understood that, and his critics, who sought to attack the laws of logic always seem to drop the proviso of the law of noncontradiction: "at the same time, and in the same respect." I could go on, but then I'd just have to cut and paste a whole chapter from Total Freedom.

But confusion with regard to the law of noncontradiction ensued; I continued:

You are totally misunderstanding what I just said. Aristotle himself would say that A thing is what it is and given its nature, all that it can and will become, given the circumstances in which it exists. One of the reasons Rand was so critical of a certain brand of libertarian thinking was because it focused its attention almost completely on political-economic issues, ripping these issues from the larger context in which they emerged, both historically and systemically. Rand paid attention to what I call the "personal" level of generality (which entailed understanding how people could be undercut in their psycho-epistemologies and cognitive capacities by the "Comprachicos"), and she also focused attention on the "cultural" level of generality, which required an understanding of how certain cultural ideas both contributed to and were reciprocal effects of the political system, which she so opposed. It is why she was opposed to the belief that simply getting rid of government intervention would create a free society. Something politicians forget at their peril, when they try to nation-build "democracies" based on individual rights on foreign cultures that are characterized by intense tribalism and have not a clue what such concepts as democracy or individual rights entail. Rand sought to undermine "statism" by a simultaneous attack on its political and economic irrationalities, but also on the extra-political institutions that undermined the development of reason, and a culture of individualism and creativity. That's what she meant when she said that libertarians were often guilty of dropping the fuller context upon which the achievement of freedom depends.

The critic relents: "Right, I get that. . . . Reading your article. Very good so far. I agree with your article, entirely." To which I replied:

Then you get my conception of a "dialectical" way of looking at the world; call it what you wish, but it is all about understanding the complex context within which social relations of power function, and the complex context that must be changed if freedom and individualism are to have a chance of surviving.

But the critic persists: "Well, I don't see how it improves on Rand's... Objectivism."

To which I replied:

It doesn't improve Rand; all it does is to help us appreciate her on a level that too many folks out there don't appreciate. They think she is a caricature of her "black-and-white" view of the world, with no nuance or sophistication to her analysis. Calling her a dialectical thinker does not invalidate any of the other fine ways of characterizing her; but it, at the very least, reveals a level of sophistication that some of her fans and most of her detractors do not understand. Sometimes if you just change the lens through which you look at a thinker, you bring into focus things that are often unseen or unacknowledged. Peikoff himself has always said that Hegel may have been wrong about a lot of things, but he was ~right~ methodologically speaking: "The True is the Whole". And it is no coincidence that this focus on the "whole", that is, the full integrated context is something that Hegel himself credited to, and celebrated in, the works of Aristotle, whom he called the "fountainhead" of dialectics, the father of the method, who was the first to articulate the principles of analysis so essential to a contextualized understanding of the problems we seek to resolve.

Another discussant equates dialectics with what Peikoff called "chewing"; to which I replied:

Well, I think it is more than simply chewing because it requires higher levels of abstraction to understand things on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives. But, indeed, if it is akin to "chewing", let's just say, first engage all five of your senses to make sure that what you ingest looks good, feels good, smells good, tastes good, and even sounds good as you chew it 30 times before swallowing; after that, however, unlike the automatic functions of your digestive process, take time to integrate what you've been chewing into the "organic unity" of your mind's integrative function, if you want to absorb its nutrients for better mental and physical functioning. :)
Peikoff would not equate "chewing" with dialectics; but, with all due respect to him, I think he thinks very dialectically in his work and his lectures. No doubt this came from Rand, but his Ph.D. mentor was Sidney Hook (who wrote the book, From Hegel to Marx), and Peikoff no doubt understands the importance of the Hegelian insight about integration in a totality. He has never tired of quoting Hegel's dictum that "The True is the Whole", and by that he means that one cannot enagage in pulling random strands out of the discussion of any philosophical or social problem without doing damage to our integrated knowledge of the real relationships among those "strands." It is no coincidence that the words "integrity" and "integration" come from the same linguistic root.

The first critic then made a claim: "Adding 'dialectics' is a term that is not clear, loaded with connotation and specifically geared to please the skeptics/academics in order to 'legitimize' Objectivism as a philosophy." I replied:

. . . I mean this with all due sincerity: if you think for one moment that I pulled dialectics out of my hat as a way of courting the favor of the folks in academia in order to bolster the "reputation" of Ayn Rand, well, as we say in Brooklyn: Fuhgedaboudit. First, understand, my book was published after the Berlin Wall fell; Marxism may not have been in decline in areas like literary criticism, but for the most part, the very last thing anybody would want to do is to pick up the mantle of "dialectics" and run with it as some kind of badge of honor, Secondly, NOBODY in their right mind in academia, was writing ANYTHING on Rand (with the exception of a few essays in the "Personalist" and the Den Uyl-Rasmussen collection published in 1984.) The only books that were of interest were those like The Passion of Ayn Rand and Judgment Day (and this is quite apart from whether you like these books or don't): they were of interest to the mainstream media because they had salacious details about the Rand-Branden affair.
Let me tell you about my experience trying to get Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical published; I went to no fewer than two dozen university presses who would not even review the manuscript because they did not believe Ayn Rand was a subject worthy of scholarly study or legitimation. I went to two trade presses that would have published the book, but they found it too "scholarly" for their commercial markets. In the end, Temple University Press accepted the book for publication, over the objections of one of its reviewers (a scholar who was of the more "orthodox" school of Objectivisw), but by that time, Pennsylvania State University Press gave me an offer I couldn't refuse and I went with them. So two years passed before I could even get a publisher; it did not help my academic career one iota in either proprietary rewards or scholarly reputation by combining the hated "dialectical method" with the hated Ayn Rand. In fact, it was the surest way of practically sinking my career.
But as it turned out, some reasonable reviews came out that didn't find it so explosively controversial to hypothesize that somebody might have learned something from their education and from the culture within which they came to intellectual maturity. It was largely because of the controversial nature of my claims that publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca ran stories on it. I don't claim to have opened the path to others or to have simply benefited from a rising interest in Rand. But the simple fact is that prior to 1995, there had not been a single full-length book discussing the historical genesis, systematic character, and radical implications of Ayn Rand's thought. And in the years that followed, a veritable avalanche of books began to appear on Rand. If my book had even the slightest effect on opening the market on Rand, I'm happy. All I know is that I wrote that book as a way of showing that Rand was an intellectual giant, but that she stood on the shoulders of giants to see further. I honor Rand, but Rand has never been the sole area of my scholarly work; I've done books on Marx, Hayek, Rothbard, dialectics, and written articles on subjects as diverse as sexuality and music.
In any event, I appreciate the attention given to my work; nobody has to agree with anything I say in any of the works I've written. But I'm not the enemy. There is a world out there that Ayn Rand sought to change; it is the same world that I want to change, in the direction of "free minds and free markets"; it was Rand who inspired me from my senior year in high school, and it is Rand who still inspires me to live each day, with conviction that my own life and productive work are deeply personal, life-sustaining values to hold dear.

I was also asked by one person: "Is contextually absolute definition a part of the process of dialectical reasoning?"

I replied:

An excellent question; I discuss precisely this issue in Chapter 6 of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, specifically on pages 161-166. I argue there that Ayn Rand rejects those who would view all characteristics as essential to a definition as well as those who would view nothing as essential (hence, implying that the identification of an "essential" characteristic is either subjective or socially arbitrary.) I actually quote Rand directly on page 162 that definitions are neither subjective conventions nor "a repository of closed, out-of-context omniscience." Rand understood that since everything belongs to one reality, all things are related, but since we are not omniscient, she always emphasized that everything is related in some sense (that is, in some identifiable context). As I write: "For Rand, definitions must be 'contextually absolute' since they must 'specify the known relationships among existents (in terms of the known essential characteristics)" The emphasis here is on what is essential within the context of knowledge."
That whole section of the book focuses on the mutual importance of the art of noncontradictory identification (logic) and the art of context-keeping (dialectics). Each entails and implies the other. (BTW, the pages I'm referencing are from the second edition of Russian Radical.) Every chapter that discusses the structure of Rand's philosophy in every major branch stresses the crucial role of contextual thinking, whether it be in epistemology, or in Rand's analysis of the social problems of the day.

In another discusssion, concerning Anoop Verma's essay, "An Enquiry Concerning the Objectivist Movement During the 1950s and 1960s", Anoop, prompted by his reading of the recent JARS symposium on Nathaniel Branden, remarks: "Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the editor of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, is an outlier on the Branden issue. He blames the 'orthodox Objectivists' for spreading disinformation to distort Branden’s legacy." I responded to this comment on Anoop's Facebook thread:

To be fair, it's not that I believe that "orthodox" Objectivists have spread disinformation about NB; it's certainly not disinformation that he lied to Ayn Rand, used some important principles of psychology that he developed, not as a means to understand or explain, but as a psychological sledgehammer to manipulate and control Inner Circle members of the "Collective" for too many years.The central issue for me, as a scholar, was that for too many years, those who were affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute wrote articles and books---and readers could not find a single reference to any essay, lecture, etc. that Branden contributed ~during the years of his association with Ayn Rand~. Rand's statement of policy after her 1968 break with NB and BB emphasized that all their work up to that break was still considered to be part of canonical Objectivism, among the only "authentic" sources on her and her philosophy. So it was regrettable that up until the most recent "Blackwell Companion Series" book on Rand, one would strain to find a passing reference to NB and it would only be made by inference.
For example, I recall that at one point, one writer stated something like: "In an essay entitled 'Counterfeit Individualism'," and then offer a quoted passage, without even mentioning who wrote the essay; or, for example, in the case of Edith Packer (prior to her expulsion from ARI), she referred without attribution to the "Muttnik Principle" (a term coined by NB, in a discussion of experiences with his dog "Muttnik" that led him to understand and articulate the concept of 'psychological visibility'). What I most objected to was this fundamental violation of the common customs of attribution. It prevented a generation of ARI-affiliated scholars from citing any of the original lectures or essays on "self-esteem," "psycho-epistemology," "volition," etc. that Branden wrote. In some instances, such writers twisted themselves into intellectual pretzels to cite some derivative source rather than the original primary and still-officially-sanctioned sources written in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s by NB.
I understand fully why many orthodox followers might not wish to sanction works by NB, but just because you think somebody is a bum, a liar, or a fraud, does not mean that you violate the customs of scholarly attribution to primary sources. This practice is, thankfully, changing; Gregory Salmieri (and his late co-editor Allan Gotthelf), have finally made a titanic shift in the recent Blackwell Companion, and it is a book that I cannot more highly recommend.

The person who raised the issue of "contextually absolute definition" was not fully satisfied with my response, and asked for greater clarification, especially since it appears that dialectics is a rejection of alternatives that are quite clearly true (like "good versus evil", "food versus poison", etc.). I responded more fully (on 6 February 2017):

You have misunderstood what I define as dialectics with a rejection of right versus wrong, good versus evil, food versus poison. Dialectics rejects ~false~ alternatives, not true ones. It can best be understood if one thinks of how Rand posited subjectivist versus intrinsicist "solutions" to philosophical problems, and arrived at a carefully reasoned, reality-based "objective" response that was in clear opposition to conventional false alternatives.
Now it is true that "dialectics" has its origins in "dialogue", which implicitly entails the discussion of problems from different perspectives. But the full, developed conception of dialectics that I have proposed (see especially Chapter Four of my book, Total Freedom) is one that involves much more than dialogue. It is the examination of any issue, event, or problem with an eye toward understanding its full context, which entails placing it in a larger system of interconnected issues, events, or problems, and understanding how these evolved over time. It entails the examination of issues, events, or problems on multiple, interconnected levels of generality and from different vantage points so as to arrive at a fuller, richer understanding of the issues, events, or problems at hand. Rand was a master of this kind of integrated analysis, and it was, at its core, a radical form of analysis, that is, one which sought to go to the "root" of problems in an attempt to uproot them fundamentally.
Now, a bit more about the "true" versus "false" alternatives distinction I mentioned above. Even when Rand looks at conventional false alternatives, for example, she does not endorse "the virtue of selfishness" over altruism. She proclaimed "a new concept of egoism" that opposed the conventional false alternatives of "brute" selfishness (sacrifice of others to oneself) versus "benevolent" altruism (sacrifice of oneself to others).
There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of noncontradiction. To clarify this point, I'd like to quote a passage from the canonical lectures on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking", soon to be published by Cobden Press, which were given by Barbara Branden under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute circa 1959-1960 (and later revised with quotations from canonical published sources in 1969); note especially the interdependence of context-holding, integration, and noncontradiction:
"Context-holding requires integration. With regard to ideas, it requires the integration of one's concepts into a consistent, unified system of concepts. With regard to action, it requires the integration of the meaning, implications, and consequences of one's actions. With regard to values, desires, and goals, it requires the integration of the long-range and the short-range, of means and ends; it requires the integration of any particular value or desire or goal with one's total system of values, desires, and goals.
"Context-holding requires that one respect the Law of Non-Contradiction---that one not form political convictions which contradict one's moral philosophy---that one not form moral convictions which contradict one's view of the nature of man---that one not pass aesthetic judgments which contradict one's philosophy of art—that one not reach economic conclusions which contradict one's knowledge of economic theory, of politics, of the nature of man and the nature of reality—that one not choose values which contradict one's other values—that one not choose goals which contradict one's long-range goals—that one not set purposes which contradict the nature of reality.
"Context-dropping means holding a contradiction."
I hope this addresses the issues you've raised.

Anoop Verma added this comment: "In other words, . . . dialectics is a stepping stone to logic. You need to be dialectical to be logical is what your arguments in the book lead to." To which I responded:

And vice versa. By that I mean, there is an "organic" interrelationship here that cannot be sundered.

To which Anoop added: "Ok. But the question is why shouldn't we use the term 'logical analysis' or 'logical argumentation' for dialectics? Is it about preserving the Aristotelian lineage of the term 'dialectics' or is there some other significance to the word. Or is it important for us to take back the word from the Marxist universe (dialectical materialism.)" To which I replied:

We use a different word because it is a word that specifically focuses on "context-holding"; it's not just "logical argumentation," which can imply other, equally important, analytical tools. In Total Freedom and elsewhere, I spell out what I mean by context-holding and the types of analyses that qualify as such: That's why there is an emphasis on looking at any problem, event, or issue on different levels of generality and from different vantage points. I use this developed concept of dialectics to hone in on the specific importance of the means by which we hold context in our analysis of any issue, event, or problem.
On the issue of taking back the word from the Marxists, I think this is strategically important as well; after all, Rand fought to take back the word "selfishness" from those who viewed it in conventional ways, just as she tried to redefine "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal" (and note, as F. A. Hayek pointed out, the word "capitalism" was coined by the left as a way of denigrating what they believed was the "capital-class-centered" nature of free markets.)

The person who raised questions about dialectics thanked me for clarifying the issues, and I responded:

I genuinely appreciate the "dialogue" here, and I do hope that it has clarified some issues. But understand that I wrote a trilogy of books on this subject, which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So it's a lot to "chew" in any brief discussion. Please feel free to get back to me with any further quesions in the future.

The discussion continues on this thread; one participant raised the question of what exactly is "Objectivism" and I commented on it; here is what I said:

John, you asked about whether the fuller context of freedom includes a base, and I believe it does. To this extent, I would say that I have accepted, in general, Rand's fundamentals in the central branches of philosophy (her "standing on one foot" summation is a good place to start if one wants to get the general spirit of those fundamentals). It is one of the reasons I've rejected the approach of certain "libertarians" who argue as if a focus on politics is all that is needed to revolutionize the world. It is not. There are "personal" and "cultural" issues that are just as, or perhaps even more, important, as the political-economic issues.
You know, ironically, John, I am in agreement with you. Objectivism is exactly what Ayn Rand said it was, and it includes all the sources that she endorsed in her lifetime as "authentic"; we can probably have disagreements over what specifically should be included in the philosophy and what should be excluded. For example: her views on whether a woman should be President, which grew out of her views on masculinity and femininity, her views on gays, her views on specific works of art or of specific composers. But yes, there is this body of work that we should honor and call "Objectivism".
I sometimes wonder if there is utility in distinguishing between Objectivists, who stick to everything that we would have to agree is "essential" to the philosophy and, say, Randians, or neo-Randians: those who are influenced by Rand, and who have gone in directions that Rand may not have agreed with. To this extent, now that Rand is gone, we are all Randians now, that is insofar as any of us (including Leonard Peikoff who has taken full responsibility for the various directions he has taken what he has learned from Ayn Rand) develops the implications of her thought for areas that Rand did not fully address: the theory of induction, applications of her views to different cultural contexts, and so forth.
I'm sure we're all familiar with what Marx said about some of his followers, who were taking his thought in directions that he himself opposed. These folks were self-identified "Marxists," and he is reported to have said "Je ne suis pas Marxiste" ("I am not a Marxist"). I suspect that if Rand were alive today, she'd be appalled by some of the directions that the Randians or neo-Randians have gone (and I, myself, would most likely fit into the "neo-Randian" camp on most issues, but then again, I'd also fit into a "neo-Misesian" camp on economic issues, and a "neo-Aristotelian" camp on methodological issues, and so forth).
There was an old saying that Objectivists used: "Take what you want and pay for it." I take that to mean: Take what you find of value in Rand, and pay for it, by taking responsibility for the fact that you may have gone in directions that Rand would not have endorsed, and do not put words into the mouth of Rand that she never uttered or misrepresent yourself as her spokesperson. She did pretty well on her own, I'd say. One need only read her words and realize that she is and will always be the spokesperson for the philosophy that she identified as Objectivism.

January 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1413

Song of the Day: Mary Tyler Moore Show ("Love is All Around"), composed and performed by Sonny Curtis, was the opening theme of an iconic TV show from the 1970s, which spawned a few spin-off shows as well ("Rhoda," "Phyllis," and "Lou Grant"). Sadly, today, Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80. This was one of those series that was part of my youth and gave me plenty of laughs (who can forget the death of Chuckles the Clown [YouTube link to full episode]?). Then again, I liked her going all the way back to the "Dick Van Dyke Show." Check out the theme song on YouTube, which includes variations of the theme as it evolved over the seasons during which it was on broadcast television (especially with that Cute Kitten Meow at the End Credits). RIP, Mary!

January 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1412

Song of the Day: Got a Match? [YouTube link], composed by Chick Corea, appears on the 1986 album, "The Chick Corea Elektric Band", featuring Chick on keyboards, drummer Dave Weckl, bassist John Patitucci, and guitarists Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios. The track is expressive of its title: it just burns. Hot as hell, with a tempo to match. Whew. (And check out this nice Jazz Violin Band version of the track [YouTube link].) When is Chick going to get his place among the honorees at the Kennedy Center? And while we're on the subject of this stupendous musician, check out how, over the years, he has reinterpreted his own composition, a modern jazz standard if ever there was one: "Spain," which opens with a paean to Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." Here it is in three different settings: the classic "Return to Forever" 1973 original, from "Light as a Feather" [YouTube link]; a 1999 version recorded for Sextet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in three movements: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three [YouTube links]; and this 1989 Akoustic Band album version [YouTube album link at 55:15], which changes time signature and tempos (the group includes the drummer and bassist featured on today's Song of the Day). Just marvelous. While you're at it, check out Stevie Wonder's live-in-concert take on that Corea Classic and Stevie and Chick playing it live, together [YouTube link].

January 13, 2017

JSTOR Promotes JARS Nathaniel Branden Symposium

For those who might not know: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is published as both a print periodical and electronically through both Project Muse and JSTOR, which is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources. As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the journal has benefited from these diverse publication formats (including a new Kindle edition of our most recent issue). JSTOR's electronic publication of JARS has increased our accessibility and visibility to educational, business and not-for-profit institutions across the world. They also provide access to all of our back issues. (And Stanford CLOCKSS houses all of our issues in its dark archives for future generations of scholars.)

In a wonderful development, JSTOR has announced a special promotion on the new pathbreaking symposium in JARS: Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy. Check out that announcement in a Message from Penn State Press, which includes information on a special price for those who would like to download the entire issue (for $24.00!!!).

In another development, we'd also like to announce that we expect the issue to be reviewed in numerous online and print forums. Scroll to the bottom of our Branden Symposium page and you will find a special "Reviews" section that lists currently two discussions of the symposium, one by Anoop Verma of "For the New Intellectual" (who today, on his blog, discusses an early Branden work, Who is Ayn Rand?) and the other by Stephen Boydstun, who fills in some gaps in the annotated bibliography that JARS published as the concluding part of the Branden symposium. Boydstun provides additional references to Branden in the secondary literature from the wonderful journal he edited, Objectivity.

Postscript: In a Facebook thread on Anoop Verma's discussion of Who is Ayn Rand?, the typical Branden Bashers are at it again. I posted the following to that discussion:

Is it possible, for even a moment, to focus on the intellectual content of the book and of all the writings and lectures of the "evil" Brandens? Ayn Rand herself, after the break of 1968, wrote "A Statement of Policy," that all of the lectures and writings of Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden up to that point were among the "only authentic sources" on her philosophy and she explicitly mentioned "Who is Ayn Rand?" as among those sources. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has just published a symposium on "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"; so while Yaron Brook of ARI is busy calling Nathaniel Branden a "scumbag" on his podcasts (check out Episode 77), we are trying to recapture a significant part of the history of Objectivism as a philosophy and a movement. Others can engage in scholarship that is more akin to "art" insofar as it is a "selective re-creation of reality", but we choose not to airbrush out of existence the important contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, whatever their flaws as human beings. And Lord knows, those flaws were many. Let's not forget, however, that in addition to all the lectures and writings of these individuals, under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and in the various Objectivist periodicals of the time period, both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden conducted the deepest, most significant biographical interviews of Ayn Rand in 1960-1961, which have formed the basis of virtually every biographical study of Ayn Rand since, including the only "authorized" biography by Barbara Branden in Rand's lifetime, written as the title essay of the wonderful book that Anoop has highlighted here. I fear it is going to take a whole generation of folks to drop dead before we can start evaluating these issues more "objectively."

And the beat goes on, as one of the discussants attacked my own work on Rand; I replied:

On the contrary, I am completely aware of the Blackwell Companion, which is a giant step forward, and it took these folks several decades to finally address the contributions of the Brandens to the Objectivist canon. On the other hand, your completely gratuitous swipe at my own book, with no discussion whatsoever of its contributions (especially that it is the only extant source that discusses the actual courses that Rand took at the University of Petrograd; see the second edition), is actually something that the writers of the Companion acknowledge. You must have skipped that part.

The discussion then turned to several negative evaluations of my work, to which I replied:

I'm not going to turn this into a discussion about my work. But I have NEVER claimed Rand was a Hegelian or a Marxist. Read my trilogy, which started with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Russian Radical and ended with Total Freedom, which totally rewrote the history of the concept of dialectics, rooting it in Aristotle (whom Hegel himself called the "Fountainhead"!! of dialectical inquiry). Dialectics, in short form, is "the art of context keeping" and it is an art that predated Aristotle, but it was Aristotle who wrote the first theoretical book (the Topics) on the method, and showed the importance throughout all of his works, of looking at events, things, problems, etc. from different vantage points, on different levels of generality, as an integrated whole, understood across time. This is context-keeping of the most sophisticated kind and it is apparent in Rand's work. It is something that has not been discussed at length in the literature and I sought to fill that gap.
Moreover, my original historical research entailed unearthing Rand's college transcripts from the University of Petrograd (now the University of St. Petersberg again) and doing a very thorough analysis of the courses Rand took, the books that were used in these courses, and the most probable professors who taught these courses, all in an effort to try to understand better the context within which Rand was growing to intellectual maturity. (For the fuller analysis of the transcripts, in fact the ONLY analysis of the transcripts in print anywhere, see the second edition of my Russian Radical.)
In the end, however, my book tells the story of how Rand was actually more of an Aristotelian than even she may have recognized, since it was Aristotle who was the genuine father of the form of dialectics that I advocate. It is understandable why Rand would have rejected the word "dialectics" given its connection to the "dialectical materialism" of the Bolsheviks. But that does not mean that her methods of analysis show no evidence of this kind of dialectical form.
I don't want to hijack this thread on Who is Ayn Rand? to discuss the merits or demerits of my work, or my morality or my evasiveness and genuinely evil soul. None of us is perfect, and the Brandens certainly weren't, and you will find no place in any of my writings that has soft-soaked the ways in which Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden undermined and betrayed Ayn Rand and the movement they worked so hard to build. (And for the record, you will find in my work many extremely positive discussions of non-Brandenians, like Leonard Peikoff, his books and many lectures, which recognize their indispensable importance to the evolution of Randian philosophy.)
For me, it's time to move on. I'll take my lumps like anyone, but this kind of utter distortion of what I had to say is so beyond the pale that it merits some kind of response from the person who actually wrote the books and knows what he did. And if anyone here thinks that this put a feather in my cap professionally, or that it gave a boost to my "career," I can assure you that it has all been a labor of love. I've coedited The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies for sixteen years and have not earned a single cent. And I have not endeared myself to either the left (which has owned "dialectics") or the Objectivist or libertarian communities (which typically identify dialectics with Hegel and Marx) by taking up this thesis and running with it.
But I stand by every single word. Thanks for the engagement. Enjoy the conversation.

And in one final, parting shot, I added:

Some folks just never disappoint; I'm delighted that you're still having such a ball! Enjoy!

For the record, these folks know exactly who they are.

Oh, one more comment came in, on the thread I initiated at Facebook, with this JSTOR announcement; it was public, so that means any whackjob could post to the thread. Alas, one person warned Anoop Verma not to become involved with the folks of JARS; he said: "Anoop, you would be wise to avoid these people. They are dishonest and corrupt."

Well, I have to admit that I was born in Brooklyn and have lived here my whole life. And at the end of a long day of debating one whackjob after another, I just could not contain the Brooklyn in me for one minute longer. I replied:

That's right, Anoop. We have signed a pact with the Devil, and we get together regularly to perform ritual sacrifices. So, be careful, or you too will become a fallen angel.

Follow-up Postscript (posted on 14 January 2017, 9:30 p.m.): In the discussion that followed my announcement on Facebook, a dear friend, Stephen Boydstun, discussed some issues with regard to the publication in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that raised questions as to whether we advertised a piece written by ARI-affiliated scholar Andrew Bernstein on the cover of our Spring 2002 issue, in which appears Bernstein's reply to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his "Cliffsnotes" series. In the following post, I responded for the record:

I would like to say for the record that Andrew Bernstein signed a letter of agreement with The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (I have the original letter of agreement with his signature, address and contact information, and can scan it and provide it as proof to anyone so interested; but because it has private contact information, I don't think it is appropriate to put it on a public forum.) In any event, he was invited to publish an essay in reply to a critical review of his "Cliffsnotes" series, written by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2001 issue of JARS. He declined to write an essay, but chose to write a paragraph in reply; that was his prerogative. But he was obligated to sign a letter of agreement, because we do not publish anything in our pages without such a letter of agreement. I had cordial exchanges with him prior to the publication of his reply to Minsaas, and we were set to publish a review of a forthcoming of book of his until he decided to apologize to the world for having published his paragraph in JARS. He urged all those concerned with the future of Objectivism to boycott JARS. Folks can still read his apologia here.

I should mention that Bernstein's denunciation of our journal got him into a little hot water in later years; the story of that was reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an excerpt of which appears at the bottom of our review page, the piece by David Glenn.

Finally, I consider you a dear and valued friend, Stephen (and by the way, I read Mr. Shelton's essay in Objectivity and quite enjoyed it back then). So in the interests of accuracy, I would like to attach here a copy of the cover of the issue of JARS (Spring 2002) in which Bernstein's reply to Minsaas appeared. As you can see, we never went out of our way to put his name on the cover, and only listed him among those appearing in the journal when we circulated our announcement of its contents (and you can see the original Spring 2002 announcement above in the same link that contains the Bernstein apology), as was our policy then, and now. I don't know if you can see the contents in this jpeg, but as listed, here they are:

The Actuality of Ayn Rand - Slavoj Zizek
The Trickster Icon and Objectivism - Joseph Maurone
Is Benevolent Egoism Coherent? - Michael Huemer
Goals, Values, and the Implicit: Explorations in Psychological Ontology - Robert L. Robert L Campbell
A Contest of Wills: David Kelley's "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand" - Jonathan Jacobs
Having Your Say: Ayn Rand's "The Art of Nonfiction" - Stephen Cox

NOWHERE on the cover will one find Bernstein's name.


Stephen subsequently checked out his back issues and discovered that I was correct. I added on Facebook:

You know how high I hold you in esteem; and whatever my Brooklyn sarcasm above, I stand by my word that I did indeed enjoy Ray Shelton's essay in Objectivity, and you know how much I honor your journal. As you can see, we've added two links to your own comments on the Branden symposium to our reviews page, one of which fills a gap in the secondary literature, documenting citations from Objectivity in which Branden was mentioned. Again, no harm, no foul.
And as I mentioned in correspondence, we have always followed a policy of having contributors sign a letter of agreement, no matter how short or long their contributions are (and in the case of Andrew Bernstein, it was he who gave us his biography, which was actually longer than his contribution!). In any event, one can find a rejoinder to James Arnt Aune in the pages of the Fall 2002 issue of JARS by Leland Yeager, and it consisted of a single paragraph, and he too had to sign a letter of agreement.

Postscript to the Postscript to the ... (posted on 15 January 2017, 3:39 p.m.): I replied once again on the Anoop Verma thread to various questions that were raised; here's what I had to say:

Two things: First, Jae Alexander states: "And neither was I ever taken in by their [the Brandens'] wretched (post-mortem) smears, nor by your non-objective 'Russian Radical' revisionism." This is followed by the statement: "In fairness to Sciabarra, I have not gotten to his allegedly valid contributions to the Objectivist scholarship, and have not read his book myself." I would so much prefer to be condemned for something Jae actually read. I guess I'm having a little difficulty reconciling Jae's judgment of my "non-objective" revisionism without ever having read the book.
Second, Robert Nasir asks that it depends which way you look at it (the Brandens' contributions versus their flaws), and he is right; I was merely reacting to the actual content of Anoop's post, which was the contributions the Brandens made in the book Who is Ayn Rand?
Ironically, I agree entirely with some of the things Yaron Brook said about Nathaniel Branden (the "scumbag" comment notwithstanding): that NB had a key role in laying the groundwork for the sycophancy, rationalism, cultish, and nasty behavior of some of those in the Inner circle and among the first generation of "students of Objectivism," and that NB used certain important concepts meant to understand aspects of human psychology as a sledgehammer in his NBI days, harming many people in the process. I have written about this not only in the Prologue to the JARS Symposium on NB's work and legacy but in several other essays as well through the years.
All I asked at the beginning of this thread was that we focus on what I believe is the important content of a book that has been buried in the historical memory bank of Objectivism, for it was indeed a crucial contribution not only to an understanding of who Ayn Rand was (biographically) but what she had achieved philosophically. Fortunately, I was only 8 years old when the Break came, and never had the misfortune of having lived through the NBI days. I came to Ayn Rand independently, and read all her work, the work of every person who was mentioned in "The Objectivist" periodicals, all of the Austrian literature, and the libertarian literature, and was never a member of any group, though I did lease lectures from the ARI-affiliated "Lectures on Objectivism" and attended some of the early forums hosted by the Institute for Objectivist Studies. I met both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden independently while I was preparing my book on Rand (Russian Radical), and each gave me extensive commentary and criticisms of earlier drafts of the manuscript, making comments that were crucially important to its final exposition.
The only "chips" that formed on my shoulder were the ones that fell on me when I tried to crash through the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives in search of Rand's college transcript. I tell the story of my experiences in this article: "In Search of the Rand Transcript." Prior to that experience, I had had cordial relationships with many ARI-affiliated folks, and was even given a screen credit for the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" (as a Research Assistant) for having provided information on Rand's early education, and for having facilitated the receipt of a photo of Rand's philosophy professor (or at least the professor she herself acknoweldged), N. O. Lossky, from Lossky's son for Michael Paxton's use in the documentary. Till this day, I still have professional contact with scholars who have been associated with all the groups in Rand-land, and I try not to paint with a broad brush due to anyone's affiliations. It's a small world out there for Rand scholarship, and I've tried to move on from whatever acrimony I've added to the various fights throughout the years. Life is too short. But I've never hidden the fact that in their later lives, I was befriended by both Nathaniel and Barbara and honored their memories upon their passing. And as for Ayn Rand: I honor her every day of my life... just by living and loving it.

January 09, 2017

Trump versus Streep

Last night, Meryl Streep was honored at the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Our President-elect took great exception to Streep's eloquent words in opposition to some of the attitudes projected by Trump on the campaign trail (though never actually using his name in her remarks). Trump has not been kind to Hollywood types, foreigners, or the press (and the feeling has been, generally, mutual), and since the Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep, who is probably one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, used her acceptance speech to put folks on notice that she fully intended to work toward holding the President-elect accountable. Streep was exercising something that is fundamental to this country: the right to speak freely.

In an era where the President-elect reaches his fan base with policy statements that are 140 characters or less, Trump tweeted, in a classic ad hominem, that Streep was "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood . . ." Mr. Trump, you may be right on a lot of things, and wrong on a lot of things, but if you can achieve half of the accomplishments in politics that Ms. Streep has achieved with her talents in the art of acting, then you'll be a great U.S. President. I just find it amazing that a man can be so thin-skinned as to feel the necessity to belittle one of the finest talents to have ever graced the screen. If he'd simply said: "I didn't expect to be celebrated among the Hollywood elites, and Ms. Streep didn't disappoint, but I hope to prove her wrong," it would have been a welcome break from his typical Twitter tirades. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to settle for at least four years of what is typical of him.

Postscript: I'm reminded by a colleague that in her lifetime, Streep has had 19 Oscar nominations and only 3 Oscar wins in nearly 40 years. If anything, she's not been over-rated; she's been overlooked and underappreciated; for a person who has consistently delivered a remarkable range of performances (and dialects), from her roles in "Sophie's Choice" and "Silkwood" to becoming Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher, she's been taken for granted.

January 01, 2017

Song of the Day #1411

Song of the Day: Funky New Year, words and music by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bob Seger and J. D. Souther, was recorded by the Eagles, among the newest Kennedy Center Honorees, as the B-side to "Please Come Home For Christmas" [YouTube link], first made famous by Charles Brown. Check out the Funky single and a Funky live version too [YouTube links]. A happy, healthy, and very funky 2017 to all!