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December 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1523

Song of the Day: The Christmas Blues, words and music by David Holt and Sammy Cahn, is, yes, a bluesy song for this Christmas, recorded most famously by Dean Martin [YouTube link] and heard on the "L.A. Confidential" soundtrack. It was later recorded by Jo Stafford [YouTube link]. Don't let the blues get you down [link to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Medley by jazz pianist David Benoit; hat tip to Alexandra York]! A very Merry Christmas with peace on earth and goodwill to one and all!

December 24, 2017

Song of the Day #1522

Song of the Day: Snow, words and music by Irving Berlin, was originally written for the Broadway musical, "Call Me Madam," with the title "Free," but it was eventually dropped, and resurrected with some new lyrics for the 1954 film, "White Christmas." In the film, it is sung by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen [YouTube link]. My gut instincts tell me that New York City is going to have a lot of that white stuff this winter. But nothing warms the heart more than a little dusting on Christmas Eve, the silence of the night brightened with twinkling Christmas decorations. Right now, it looks like New York City is going to have a mixture of a Wet and slightly White Christmas this year; but that doesn't mean we can't track Santa on NORAD in his global travels!

December 14, 2017

Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand

My essay, "Reply to Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand," which appears in the December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, has apparently caused a bit of a stir on Facebook, as folks discuss one part of my essay---though it appears few have actually read the essay in full.

Anoop Verma has already posted a piece on his Verma Report: Ayn Rand: The Philosopher Who Came In From the Soviet Union, a clever play on Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

I am reluctant to say much about the essay until people have actually read it, though in truth, I think the essay speaks for itself. I did, however, clarify one issue that has dogged my use of the word "dialectics" for over twenty years now. Some folks may think my use of the word is idiosyncratic, but as I explain in the first four chapters of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, though the word has come to be associated with various untenable philosophical doctrines, it originates among the ancients, and its theoretical father is Aristotle. On Facebook, I posted this reply to one commentator:

I absolutely do not identify dialectics as the Hegelian "triad" of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (though this is more a formulation of Fichte, rather than Hegel); I identify it as the art of context-keeping. It is this art that led even Peikoff to exclaim that Hegel was "right" methodologically when he said "The True is the Whole"--but very wrong in terms of his philosophical premises. The original theoretician of "dialectics" was Aristotle, whom even Hegel called "The Fountainhead" (and he used those specific words) of dialectical inquiry: that is, Hegel saw Aristotle as the father of a mode of analysis that sought to understand any problem from multiple vantage points, on different levels of generality, and across time, so as to get a more enriched perspective of the fuller context of the problem, and how it is often an expression of a larger system of interconnected problems.
It would really be great if folks would actually read my book, and the new JARS article before hoisting onto me theories that I explicitly reject. (I address the issue of false alternatives in the book and in the newest essay as well.)
I agree completely about defining one's terms, . . . and I've devoted a trilogy of books (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism) to explaining exactly what I mean by dialectics. In the concluding book of the trilogy, in fact, I reconstruct the entire history of the concept in the first three chapters, and then devote a full chapter to defining dialectics, and unpacking that definition in such a way that it cannot possibly be confused with any of the ways in which it has been distorted. And boy has it been distorted..

Stay tuned; there may be a few additional exchanges I'll post here.

Postscript (15 December 2017): In a tangential Facebook discussion on Marxism, I had the opportunity to pay tribute to a brilliant friend and colleague, the late Don Lavoie:

Just a note on Don Lavoie: He was a wonderful friend and a magnificent colleague; he was among the most supportive people in terms of his encouragement of my own intellectual adventure. And it's no coincidence that we both did our dissertations at NYU with Marxists and Austrians on our dissertation committees. He was certainly among the most well-read libertarians on Marxism (as is Pete Boettke), and in fact, when I was the President of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, we sponsored a debate between Don and Bertell Ollman. It was terrific---as Don was a kind of Hayekian anarchist and Bertell remains one of the finest Marxist scholars of his generation.

I also spoke of a Marxism discussion list that I cofounded:

I have fond memories of interacting with Doug Henwood, Jim Farmelant, and others on the Marxism discussion list that I cofounded, and that is still operating ("Marxism-Thaxis", as in "THeory" and "prAXIS"---yes, I proposed that crazy mashup for the list name). . . . [C]halk it up to my years as a mobile college DJ, always looking for a way to create "mashups" of different styles of music that kept the crowd dancing... [Additionally], I can tell you one thing: While I took more than my share of lumps on marxism-thaxis over discussions on everything from the calculation debate to dialectics and Ayn Rand, I honestly do not believe I was ever treated with the level of vicious disrespect that I have experienced over the last 20+ years in certain "Objectivist" circles. The Thaxis folks may have thought me eccentric and crazy, but most participants treated me with respect. Maybe some of it had to do with the fact that Bertell Ollman was providing provocative blurbs for my books, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that even though I had my disagreements with Marxism, I had devoted much time to studying and understanding the Marxist tradition, rather than engaging in sweeping, uninformed denunciations.

Postscript (18 December 2017): Anoop Verma's blog post on my essay has elicited a provocative response from Irfan Khawja, which can be viewed here. Irfan says:

It's an understatement to say that Sciabarra's thesis was harshly criticized by orthodox Objectivists associated with ARI; Sciabarra himself was marked out for personal attack, and attempts were made to destroy his reputation and career. I taught for several years (1997-98, and 1999-2005) at The College of New Jersey with the late Allan Gotthelf, a well-known Objectivist philosopher associated with ARI. Allan told me explicitly that the point of his polemics against Sciabarra's book was to discredit Sciabarra as a scholar, to wreck his reputation, to wreck his career, and to make sure that no reputable scholar were ever to take him seriously. He set out, deliberately and explicitly, to make Sciabarra's views appear absurd, and to make Sciabarra himself to appear a laughing-stock. People around Allan regularly referred to Sciabarra with derision, and encouraged others to do so. They trashed JARS as an enterprise, and encouraged others to do so. One had to be there to bear witness to the intensity of the animosity felt, not just for Sciabarra's ideas, but for Sciabarra himself. I was there. It was an unpleasantly memorable experience.
The irony is that though Chris and I are friends, I've never been convinced that Ayn Rand was a dialectical thinker. Chris's work had an oddly mirror-image effect on me. Instead of concluding that Rand was a dialectical thinker, I spent some time with Aristotle's Topics, and came to the conclusion that the problem with Rand was that she wasn't a dialectical thinker. (Indeed, the problem with a lot of contemporary philosophy is that dialectics has fallen through the cracks.) Or to the extent that Rand was a dialectical thinker, the dialectical tendencies in her work were at odds with what she took herself, self-consciously, to be doing.
In any case, though it'd be pretentious to call myself a "dialectical thinker," I'm now more strongly influenced by dialectics than I once was. I owe that to Chris. So while I don't literally accept the truth of his thesis, I've ended up being positively influenced by it all the same. Despite the efforts made to shut him up and discredit him, his work found an audience, and made a lasting impression. That's quite a vindication, and a well-deserved one.
Not only did Gotthelf try to undermine Chris's reputation and career, he did his best to de-legitimize JARS as an enterprise. He (Gotthelf) had a position on the editorial board of The Philosopher's Index (a major indexing service) and did his best to get JARS excluded from their indexing service, so as to minimize its exposure to the profession. My ex-wife Carrie-Ann Biondi was (and I think is) an indexer TPI, and she told me that she had no idea that Gotthelf had engaged in such efforts. So the efforts were made, but they were made covertly.
But if you knew where Gotthelf stood--and he hardly made it a secret--none of this came as a surprise. The whole episode has been covered up and rationalized by appealing to Gotthelf's undeniably distinguished career as an Aristotle scholar. What has gone unremarked is the fact that Gotthelf self-consciously used his credentials to get away with malfeasances that he knew he could get away with precisely because he had those credentials.
The pattern is part of the Objectivist obsession with Great Men and Their Achievements: a Great Achiever is permitted to do what and as he likes without having to live up to the pedestrian ethical standards that apply to non-achievers, the lowly proletariat of the Objectivist ethical universe. Never mind the fact that no one has yet managed to define precisely what counts as "productive work" on the Objectivist account. "Intuitively," everybody "knows" what counts and what doesn't. Definitions are only the guardians of rationality until you put them to sleep.

And on 19 December 2017, Irfan continued:

I don't think we need to go very far in hunting down Gotthelf's motivation. The motivation was transparent: Gotthelf had very fixed ideas about what Rand was saying, and what scholarship on Rand should say and look like. Sciabarra's work fit neither of his pre-conceptions, and neither did JARS.
But by the late 1990s and early 2000s, both "Russian Radical" and JARS had started gaining currency in the scholarly community. This happened at a time when ARI had decided, after a long hiatus, to re-invest in the scholarly enterprise. Simultaneously, David Kelley's organization, long regarded as a bastion of openness and scholarly seriousness, began to take a populist turn, and then, to fade from view. Gotthelf was well-acquainted with all of these facts. From his perspective, if Sciabarra/JARS could be swept from the field, ARI would have a monopoly on Rand scholarship. And a monopoly is what they had wanted all along--as any reader of "Fact and Value" could figure out. The important thing was to give this monopoly a moral/intellectual blessing so that they could tell themselves and the world that they had earned it.
I don't think Allan was precisely "jealous" of Chris; he had so little respect for Chris that jealousy couldn't have arisen. But he resented the attention that Chris and JARS had gotten, attention that he regarded as undeserved, and that ought to have been directed toward ARI and Anthem.

Roderick Long added a comment with regard to Gotthelf's scholarship and behavior:

Certainly Gotthelf did some good scholarly work -- his work on Aristotle's biology, for example, is first rate. Being capable of good scholarship and being capable of unprofessional behaviour are, sadly, quite compatible.

But readers should go to Anoop Verma's blog to see Anoop's comments as well; it is a very interesting conversation to say the least.

December 13, 2017

Song of the Day #1521

Song of the Day: Night Fever is a song written and recorded by the Brothers Gibb (or as they are more famously referred to as "The Bee Gees"). It made its first appearance on the mega-soundtrack to the 1977 hit movie, "Saturday Night Fever," a film that was released forty years ago this week. I did a 30th anniversary salute to the soundtrack, so there weren't many other tunes to choose from---but there is no better one to feature than the one that seems to have inspired the very title of the pathbreaking film, which brought international fame to John Travolta who, as Tony Manero, hustled his way onto the dance floor of Brooklyn's 2001 Odyssey disco (which later became a gay dance club named Spectrum and today is a Chinese restaurant). Check out the classic original recording by the Bee Gees and then the scene in which it is heard in the film [YouTube links].

WTC Remembrance: Spanish Translation of 2016 Installment

As readers of Notablog are aware, I've been writing annual installments to my 9/11 "WTC Remembrance" series since 2001. The 2016 installment of that series, "Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine," was just translated into Spanish (it had been translated into Portuguese some months ago). Given Monday's attack at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, we are only reminded of the fragility of life during a period of what seems to be an unending "war on terror."

I'm happy that my essay, which recalls the horrific events of September 11, 2001, now reaches a wider audience.

December 12, 2017

Song of the Day #1520

Song of the Day: The Birth of the Blues, music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Buddy G. DeSylva and Lew Brown, was incorporated into the 1926 Broadway revue, "George White's Sandals." It has been recorded by many artists throughout the years, including the 1926 version by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra [YouTube link]. But today is the birthday of Ol' Blue Eyes, who himself was deeply influenced by jazz and the blues. And what better way to celebrate it than with one of Frank Sinatra's hits (it spent five weeks on the Billboard charts). Take a listen to Sinatra's solo recording from 1952 [YouTube link] and then, watch a very special live TV rendition on "The Edsel Show," with Louis Armstrong [YouTube link].

December 06, 2017

JARS: New December 2017 Issue Arrives!

Any day now, the December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be published electronically on both JSTOR and Project Muse, and subscribers to the print version should be receiving the year-end edition in the coming weeks.

JARS_17_2_cover-front copy (004).jpg

This issue promises to be one of our most provocative yet. And in keeping with our tradition of introducing at least one new writer to the world of Rand studies with each issue we publish, we are pleased to feature articles from two new JARS contributors: Kyle Barrowman and Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya. Readers can access the abstracts to each of the featured articles here; contributor biographies can be found here.

It should be pointed out that the website page for the two 2017 issues does not currently have functioning drop-down menus like the pages for the other "back issue" years (we're working on it!). But all of our site pages retain the top navigation bar. Thinking we had the luxury of time, our webmaster, Michael Southern, never had the opportunity to give us instructions on how to update the site in keeping with his unique design; so for now we're going with straightforward, accessible pages for the 2017 issues. Sadly, Michael was shot to death in September. He was not only our original webmaster, when the journal was founded in 1999, but he completely rebuilt our current site in 2015. He also contributed a deeply moving personal memoir to our 2016 symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy."

Michael is not the only JARS family member who passed away this year; we also lost our dear friend Murray Franck, who gave us indispensable legal advice and guidance in the early days of our journal and published an essay on the morality of taxation in our Fall 2000 issue.

In recognition of their contributions to the journal, we have dedicated the new December 2017 issue in memory of Michael Southern and Murray Franck.

And what an issue this is! It includes a diverse array of essays in keeping with both our interdisciplinary reach and our openness to the presentation of a wide range of perspectives:

Table of Contents

Volume 17, No. 2 - December 2017, Issue #34

Philosophical Problems in Contemporary Art Criticism: Objectivism, Poststructuralism, and the Axiom of Authorship
Kyle Barrowman

Profit Maximization Does Not Necessitate Profit Prioritization
Robert White

The Objective-Subjective Dichotomy and Rand's Trichotomy
Arnold Baise

When "A is not A": Reflections on a Conversation
Kathleen Touchstone

The New Type of Hero in Ayn Rand's Novels and Its Historical Roots
Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya

Atlas Shurgged and Social Change
Edward W. Younkins


The final two articles in this issue (by Roger E. Bissell and Chris Matthew Sciabarra) were written in response to Wendy McElroy's review of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which appeared in the July 2015 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The replies also incorporate responses to other critical commentaries on Sciabarra's work, which appear in A Companion to Ayn Rand, part of the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy series. Though Ms. McElroy was invited to write a rejoinder to the replies herein, she has respectfully declined to respond due to deadline pressures regarding books and other projects to which she is committed.

Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: Defining Issues
Roger E. Bissell

Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand
Chris Matthew Sciabarra


Finally, on a personal note, I'd just like to say that while I've contributed a number of essays to JARS throughout the years, I have done little more than write prefaces and introductions over the last twelve years. That drought of my own scholarship on Rand studies---due mostly to spending many hours with peer readers and authors to assure the integrity of the double-blind review process and the copyediting and proofs that follow---ends with this issue. I am delighted to finally contribute once again a bona fide scholarly essay to a journal that I cofounded with Stephen Cox and Bill Bradford back in 1999.