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November 07, 2017

Russian Radical 2.0: Skeen Review and Forthcoming JARS Essay

I previously mentioned here at Notablog that Ilene Skeen had reviewed the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Skeen has now posted a version of that review on the blog "The Moral Case: For and Against." The review, entitled "Objectivism in Context" appears here.

I should mention that my own essay, "Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand," will be published in the December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, along with a companion reply from Roger Bissell, entitled "Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: Defining Issues."

My article does not address Skeen's specific review, since it went to press prior to the appearance of the Skeen essay. However, it does address most of the central issues that Skeen raises.

I should mention, in passing, that aside from writing prefaces and introductions to special issues of the journal, I have spent the last twelve years editing essays written by others. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I embrace the role I've played as a founding co-editor of the journal with open arms!

But literally, I have not published a single bona fide scholarly contribution to the journal since the Fall 2005 issue, which included my essay, "The Rand Transcript, Revisited." That essay later became Appendix II of the second edition of Russian Radical. Well, as one can imagine, I really do have a lot to say in the new essay, about the historical and methodological theses of my book on Rand. It is an essay that, in my humble opinion, is a definitive addition to the scholarly literature on Rand, because it not only engages critics of the second edition (including such critics as Wendy McElroy, who wrote a review of the second edition for JARS that appeared in the July 2015 issue; and two critics whose commentary on my work appears in the Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand), but enhances my own historical and methodological interpretive work on Rand with some significant new research.

Having just signed off on the second corrected page proofs of the December 2017 issue, I can tell readers that the year-end edition contains many provocative essays. Watch this space for more information on the forthcoming JARS. And thanks again to Ilene Skeen for adding the review to "The Moral Case" blog!

October 08, 2017

Russian Radical 2.0: Another Review and Forthcoming Response

One can find a new review (among others) of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, on both amazon.com and Goodreads, written by Ilene Skeen.

Skeen's five-star review unleashed the hounds, again, especially one named Brad Aisa, who never loses an opportunity to dump on the book. I wrote on one Facebook thread, in response to Mr. AisA, the following:

As Ronnie Reagan once said: "There you go again." I will therefore re-post this material from an October 2016 discussion of the book, where I revealed that Brad Aisa had a very different view of the book when it first came out. He made a January 1996 comment on the usenet group alt.philosophy.objectivism. Today, the book he dismisses as "a giant pile of stinking hogwash," despite its "reasonable" first part, once said that he was "quite perplexed reading the entire first section of the book." But he admits back in 1996, that "Sciabarra's regard for Rand is obvious, and there is no evidence he is trying to smear or attack her..." And he even had a couple of kind things to say about the middle section that he now dismisses as "schtick" and "grievously flawed". In January 1996, he wrote: "The middle section of Sciabarra's book seemed to me to be an honest thinker's attempt to summarize Objectivism and relate it to Rand's fiction." Finally, he reveals a high regard for Part 3 of the book:
.
The final section [that would be Part 3, "The Radical Rand"] was the only really valuable part of the book, in my view -- an attempt to show the relationship between philosophic ideas and culture, using Objectivism as the subject. I think that many Objectivists could greatly benefit from studying what Sciabarra points out in this section. Philosophic ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and there is a profound interrelationship between culture and philosophic ideas, which is NOT one way. For example, statist political regimes have a very demonstrable effect on what kminds of ideas are taught and promulgated, and free societies likewise. The notions in this section are not absent from Objectivist writings -- for example see: Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (_The Objectivist_, Apr 66) wherein she discusses the relationship between cultural and individual development; and Edith Packer's essay "The Psychological Requirements of a Free Society" (_The Objectivist Forum_, Feb 84), wherein she explains the interrelationship between free thinking people and a free culture -- but some Objectivists seem to latch onto the notion of "philosophy determines history", and not realize the context of that idea, and the profound interre.lationships be.tween the spread of ideas, the content of ideas, and individual and cultural practice.
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He has never addressed these comments that he made over 20 years ago, instead, joining the old chorus of critics who never lose an opportunity to denounce the book, virtually in its entirety, with no real understanding of the book's central methodological thesis. It is a thesis that Ilene Skeen grasps so well in the review: "The question Sciabarra raises for me, which I find riveting, even revolutionary, is what is there about Rand’s method that allows her to disregard all the methods and their many variations, and still wind up with a complete, cogent and organic philosophical whole? To my knowledge, no other book intended for the lay market has stimulated that question, framed as Sciabarra has done . . ."
Whether or not Ilene agrees with all of my answers is beside the point; at the very least Ilene acknowledges what is the central methodological thesis; my focus in that book had more to do with how Rand was exposed to, and may have absorbed aspects of, the dialectical method, a method that was in the intellectual air of Silver Age Russia---a method that was first fully articulated by Aristotle himself, whom even Hegel called "the fountainhead" of dialectical inquiry.
I will only add that I will be addressing the critics of Russian Radical 2.0 in a forthcoming article in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and what I reveal there should raise a few eyebrows, to say the least.

September 29, 2017

Michael Southern: Triumphs and Tragedy

In May 1981, I had earned my undergraduate degree magna cum laude from New York University, with a triple major in politics, economics, and history (with honors). To say I was stoked to have been accepted to the NYU doctoral program in politics, where I would go on in 1983, to earn a master's degree in political theory, and in 1988, a Ph.D. with distinction in political theory, philosophy, and methodology, is an understatement. I was positively ecstatic.

I had, by this time, laid out a path of professional goals that merged my passionate libertarian political convictions with a rigorous course of study that would include seminars and colloquia with scholars that only New York University could offer. I would study with such Austrian-school economists as Israel Kirzner, Mario Rizzo, Don Lavoie, and others, as well as leftist political and social theorists such as Bertell Ollman and Wolf Heydebrand. In this combustible intersection of ideas, there would emerge the seeds of what would become a life-long commitment to the development of a "dialectical libertarianism", and a trilogy of books---Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism---that would articulate the foundations of that approach.

Alas, these scholarly goals were made all the more joyful to achieve because of so many individuals whose lives touched mine in ways that were fundamental both to my intellectual and personal growth as a human being.

One of these individuals was a guy named Michael Southern. It was September 1981, my first day as an NYU graduate student, when I walked into Professor Israel Kirzner's seminar on the "History of Economic Thought." Looking around the room, few seats were available, so I found myself sitting next to Michael. When Kirzner finished his first lecture, logically structured as one would expect from any esteemed student of the great Ludwig von Mises, I introduced myself to Michael. He seemed a little shy at first, but I think he was genuinely surprised by my friendliness and that unmistakable Brooklyn accent. We went to a local cafe and talked for a very long time. I got to know a lot about him in that first encounter.

I learned, for example, that he was two years older than me, almost to the day: I was born on February 17, 1960; he was born on February 23, 1958. I also learned that he hailed from Massachusetts, and was a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. Back then, that was almost a non-starter for me.

After all, I was and remain a New York Yankees fanatic. We jousted and dueled over the Curse of the Bambino, and argued about who really deserved the American League MVP for the 1978 baseball season: the Red Sox hot-hitting outfielder Jim Rice or the Yankee pitching ace, and Cy Young Award winner, Ron Guidry, who went 25-3, with a 1.74 ERA. In 1978, the Yankees were 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in July, and on the last day of the season, they found themselves in a tie for first place. And, I argued, no man was more valuable to that team than Guidry, who had pitched back-to-back two-hit shutouts against Boston down the stretch, and won the deciding extra 163rd game of the season, enabling the Yanks to advance to the AL Championship series against the Kansas City Royals, and ultimately to win their second straight World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Michael was going on and on about Rice's hitting. Blah, blah, blah.

In any event, it wasn't Guidry's victory that was the most memorable aspect of that deciding game; it was a miraculous 3-run homer hit over Fenway Park's Green Monster by the Yankee shortstop Bucky "F*&%ing" Dent, as Michael put it, who had hit a measly four homers prior to this game throughout the entire season. But that homer lifted the Yanks ahead for good. I guess Michael was still a little bitter. For Dent, apparently, was as beloved by Boston fans as Bill "F*&%ing" Buckner, whose fielding error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, ultimately allowed the New York Mets to win the trophy in Game Seven. Even this diehard Yankees fan reveled in Boston's loss that year! Oh was it fun locking horns with Michael on these issues.

Animated baseball disagreements aside, it was clear that Michael and I had a lot in common; we were both avid fans of Ayn Rand, devoted readers of Nathaniel Branden, extremely interested in politics and culture, lovers of film and of music from jazz to progressive rock. All he had to say was that he had seen my favorite jazz pianist Bill Evans perform live, and that he had fallen in love with the emotional depth of his music, and I just knew that there was something very special about this man.

Over time, our friendship deepened; he'd tell me about some trouble he was having with a girl he was dating, I'd tell him about my own dating woes; we talked about our families, our friends, our goals, our triumphs, and our tragedies. He had extraordinary qualities about him; he was perceptive, intelligent, gentle, kind, compassionate, and had a great sense of humor.

By holiday time in December, that sense of humor manifested itself on both sides of the baseball divide. Michael gifted me a Jim Rice T-shirt, which I own till this day, and I gifted him a Ron Guidry T-shirt. Such was the nature of our developing affection for one another.

He had taken a waiter's job at the Cheese Cellar on East 54th Street in Manhattan, which became a regular stop for me and my family. The waiter's service was terrific, I might add. As he got to know my jazz guitarist brother Carl and jazz vocalist sister-in-law Joanne, and saw them perform at so many jazz clubs in Manhattan, loving their music, he eventually offered to do a website for them (as he would eventually develop my own website---all for free).

But something was troubling him deeply, early in that first semester, as the class with Kirzner continued. I'm paraphrasing the conversation from memory, but it went something like this. He said to me: "I can see you coming from blocks away. You just have a way about you. It's in your walk. Your step. It's never timid, but it's not overbearing. It's just the walk of a man comfortable in his own body, walking purposefully to his destination, wherever that might be. The way you walk is a bit of an inspiration to me. I just don't walk that way. I don't feel that way inside."

My walk? Lord . . . I'd never even given a second thought to the way I walked. And here, my friend was telling me that there was something in my walk that inspired him, and that made him focus on the things that he felt he lacked. He had attended weekend Intensives in New York run by Nathaniel Branden and his wife Devers Branden, and felt that they had tapped into something that needed greater attention.

I was no professional, but I was becoming a very dear and trusted friend. I tried to help him through it, with long phone conversations into the wee hours, but he seemed stuck, unable to get through a term paper for Kirzner's class. It was then that he made a momentous decision that I figured spelled the end of a friendship; he decided he was too overwhelmed by the course, that something deeper was at work, and that he needed help. As he put it later in "My Years with Nathaniel Branden," a deeply personal essay written for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy":

For the third time, I'd finished reading The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Breaking Free, and The Disowned Self, all books by Nathaniel Branden. I placed my meager belongings in a backpack, went to the Registrar's Office at New York University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, officially withdrew from Graduate School, booked a flight, and in two days landed at Los Angeles International airport; I had come to be a client of Nathaniel Branden.
Prior to my time at NYU, I had finished an undergraduate degree with honors. I was thrilled when I got accepted to NYU, to study the history of economic thought under Israel Kirzner, who had been a student of Ludwig von Mises­---both being giants in the field to me. And as it all nicely fell into place, I froze.
I don't ever remember this happening to me before. While Kirzner's class was better than even I had anticipated, I couldn't write the paper for the course. I sat at home, or at the library with ten and twelve books piled up in front of me, but I couldn't begin. Anything I thought about writing seemed trivial after a little research. I began to panic so that the more I tried to push myself, the greater the feeling that whatever I produced wouldn't be enough. I tried everything I knew to get myself "back on track." I believed I had something to offer, but I was paralyzed, much like an actor might experience stage fright. I spoke with Kirzner, and he was kind and logical and gave me some suggestions, but I was too in awe of him to show just how lost I was in terms of generating a paper. It seemed an emotional block, not an intellectual one; how could I ask for his help for an emotional problem? I understood the coursework, and the books on his reading list. I just couldn't seem to create.
...
Sitting in an outdoor cafe in the Village I reached in my backpack for The Disowned Self. I ordered coffee, threw the waiter a gigantic tip so he'd leave me alone, lit a cigarette (you could do that back then), and read the entire book, slowly, making notes; the lights and noise of the West Village turned on around me as night fell.
The next day I headed for Los Angeles, wanting to resolve, heal, and grow. I was beginning to suspect that I had had a particularly difficult childhood, and had responded to it by shutting down huge parts of myself.

To my surprise, Michael and I never lost touch. He was in therapy with Nathaniel Branden, and making strides. Every so often, we'd speak, not so much about the details of his therapy, but more about how he was challenging himself to keep moving . . . forward. Sometimes a month would pass, or two, and he'd call, and it was as if the last conversation had occurred only an hour ago; we picked up where we left off, never missing a beat. And during this period, as I faced my own trials and tribulations---with everything from relationships to my health problems (an outgrowth of a congenital intestinal condition)---he was as present and tuned-in to me, as I was to him. This was never a one-way street; the friendship that I thought would be lost by distance, had intensified. And the feeling that he was a "brotha from another mutha" only deepened. It was clear that we loved one another as only brothers could---something that geographic distance did nothing to alter.

As Michael explained in that wonderful essay of his, he was able to work through so many of his problems; he credited Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden with saving years of his life. He would become an intern for Branden and then an office manager at Branden's Biocentric Institute in Beverly Hills, California. He'd go back to school to earn a master of science in management from Lesley College and a master of science in information systems from Boston University. As a technology specialist, he did wonderful work for Fortune 500 companies.

Through all the years, our friendship only grew. He would go on to develop my website, and the original website of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. In fact, he was a member of the JARS family from its beginnings in 1999, as we unveiled the website on the day that our first issue was published. While I remained with NYU as a Visiting Scholar for twenty years (I guess you could say I bleed "violet"), he would travel the world. He was never so far away, however, that he didn't participate once or twice in my cyberseminars on "Dialectics and Liberty." Eventually he married, and even moved back to New York City for a while, living in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

There were bumps along the way---though never between us. His marriage didn't work out, his work took him out of New York again, and his interests, especially in the history of the Holocaust, took him to other countries. But again, geographic distance never seemed to interfere with our friendship. Eventually, he came back to the states, and his software expertise gave him many job opportunities, including business with a company in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked for several years.

Indeed, his software expertise was certainly highly valued by JARS; the two of us worked hard in 2015-2016 as he created a brand spanking-new website for the journal, which made its debut with the Nathaniel Branden symposium, to which he contributed that enormously revealing and enlightening essay.

In many ways, writing that essay was, for Michael, a catharsis of sorts; while it served the greater symposium's purpose of understanding the work and legacy of Branden, it also served as a profoundly personal statement of how Michael stood up courageously to the challenges he faced. It was a commitment to a life of promise, of so much more to come.

Immediately after the debut of the new JARS site and the publication of our Branden symposium, Michael began working on a prototype to finally revamp my website, which, he said, "embarrassed" him because he'd become so much more sophisticated in his software development. We had so many plans for so many projects.

But, of course, life always seemed to get in the way of smooth transitions. As my own health problems became more difficult to bear, he spent as many hours on the phone with me in 2016, as I had spent on the phone with him in 1981, except that now, we both knew each other so well that we could complete each other's sentences, anticipate each other's thoughts. Thirty-five-plus years will do that.

We last spoke in early September about the website and a few other issues; Lord knows, we still had our differences with regard to sports teams (though I was enough of a good sport to congratulate him back in 2004, when his Red Sox finally beat the Yankees, and went on to win their first World Series since 1918). We even had developed a few political differences. But nothing ever affected our mutual love, admiration, and respect for one another. When I'd call him on the phone, he'd answer "Chris!"---as if with an exclamation point. There was always joy in his voice when he heard mine on the other end of the phone. And if I needed to cry because of a slew of unending medical or personal problems, the gentility with which he treated me was just the medicine I needed.

We last corresponded on September 11th. A few days passed by, and I hadn't heard back from him, so I wrote him again. Still, no reply.

I figured he was busy or traveling, but it was unlike him not to reply to an email. So on the weekend of September 23rd, I called him on both his personal and business lines and left voice mail. It was comforting to hear his voice, even if it was automated, telling callers to leave a message. So I left messages. And still, no reply.

On Tuesday, September 26th, I got an email from his cousin, who lived in Waco, Texas, where Michael had been staying. She told me to give her a call. My heart dropped. I knew that this meant something had happened to Michael; maybe he was in a hospital. Maybe something worse. I called her immediately.

She told me that Michael had been pursuing new business in Detroit, a city where he had once worked for so many years.

And then she told me that his body was found at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 19th; he had been killed by gunshots. Police are investigating the crime as a homicide.

I have suffered many losses in my life. I lost my father suddenly to a massive coronary, when I was 12 years old. I lost my Uncle Sam, who was like a second father to me, in 1994, to prostate cancer. I lost my mother in 1995, before my first two books were published, after five years of being one of her primary care-givers, as she struggled with the ravages of lung cancer and the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. I've lost many loving friends and relatives over the years, in circumstances that were painful and difficult.

But absolutely nothing could have possibly prepared me for the grief that I felt upon hearing that one of my best friends in the whole wide world had just lost his life by a wanton act of brutality. I had the phone in my hands, tears streaming down my face, stunned, shocked, horrified, feeling literally destroyed. My heart had not been broken; it had felt as if it had been completely shattered. I still can't quite wrap my mind around this event.

Michael's funeral is scheduled for Monday, October 2, 2017 in Waco, Texas. My health issues prevent me from attending his funeral. But my heart goes out to his family and friends, who so loved him, and who suffer with unimaginable grief.

I pray that justice will be done, and that the murderer will be apprehended.

But nothing will bring Michael back.

The December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be dedicated to Murray Franck (1946-2017), who died this past July, and to Michael Southern (1958-2017). Both of these men were part of the JARS family from the very beginning, and deserve to be so honored. But they were both among the dearest human beings and friends I've ever known. To have lost both of them within two months of one another is unbelievable. But to have lost Michael in such a violent manner is just beyond tragic. He didn't deserve this ending. The pain of this loss is almost unbearable.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You made such a difference in the lives of so many people. And you made a difference in my life. I will honor you and remember you for the rest of my days. And I will miss you until the day I die.

Postscript (October 2, 2017): I posted a link to this tribute to Facebook, and was comforted by how many folks have shared the post and shared their condolences with me, both publicly and privately; I added this to my own Facebook thread:

Thanks to everyone who shared my post and who have expressed their condolences to me, both privately and publicly, here and elsewhere. Anyone who was fortunate to know Michael was blessed by his presence in their lives. And I express my condolences to all of you for this loss.
Today is Michael's funeral in Waco, Texas. It's also a day that I awake to hear that this country has just experienced the worst mass shooting in its history, this time in Las Vegas, with over 50 people shot to death and over 200 injured. Not counting the folks I knew who were murdered on 9/11, I have never had the experience of having lost a loved one to a shooting. This morning, I send my empathy and condolences to those who are mourning the deaths of their own loved ones who have died in this massacre.
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Savagery and brutality have always been a part of the human condition; that is not a comforting thought, however. What is comforting is that there are still far more people in this world who care and who will not give into the fear of such carnage, even when it hits so close to home.

August 20, 2017

"Open" versus "Closed" Objectivism, Again

I posted this on Facebook:

The debate over the "Open" or "Closed" nature of Objectivism does not much matter in the wide sweep of the history of ideas, at least judging from the way that other schools of thought have evolved. The Objectivists used to be fond of quoting the old Spanish proverb: "Take what you want, God said, and pay for it."
I have always taken this to mean, in the context of Rand's ideas: Take what you want, and give credit where credit is due. And then, if you wish, move on, especially if you are interested in being educated about the depth of intellectual history. You will learn from many different thinkers and traditions, and most likely, you will emerge with a vision that Rand may have dismissed as a "hodgepodge" but that may, in fact, given the process of advancing human knowledge, be truer to reality. Either way, take responsibility for your own vision.
We can always test that vision with regard to its consistency with Objectivism, but more importantly, we should be testing that vision in terms of its correspondence to reality. In general, that's how ideas evolve. No debate over the "open" or "closed" nature of Rand's thought is going to stop this evolution, and in a hundred years, I suspect, nobody will care. But Rand's works will have influenced thousands of people, and will have made their mark, in one way or another. At the very least, let's be "open" to that.

Postscript: Raymond Raad agreed with much of what I said in my initial post but stated: "The insistence on a closed system has already stunted the development of Objectivism intellectually and damaged Objectivism's reputation." I agreed, and elaborated:

I agree, Raymond [Ray], that the "closed" adherents have stunted the development of the philosophy; but I think the effects of their approach are going to be drowned out in the long run. Generations die off, and a hundred or so years from now, there is the potential for so many permutations of Rand's influence that this particular debate will be an asterisk.
I discuss the evolution of Marxist thought in "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical" to illustrate the point:
>>. . . David Kelley (1990) views Objectivism as an "open system": "A philosophy defines a school of thought, a category of thinkers who subscribe to the same principles. In an open philosophy, members of the school may differ among themselves over many issues within the framework of the basic principles they accept" (57).
The evolution of academic Marxist thought illustrates Kelley's point clearly. In defining the essence of contemporary Marxism, it is impossible to disconnect the statements of Karl Marx from the multiple interpretations constructed over the past century. These interpretations are as much a logical development of Marx's methods and theories as they are a reflection of the particular historical, social, and personal contexts of his interpreters. The interpretations also reflect different periods in Marx's own development. Some scholars stress the earlier, more "humanistic" Marx, whereas others argue for an economistic interpretation based on his mature works. Most scholars would agree, however, that one cannot detach Marx's unpublished writings from the corpus of his thought. Indeed, the great bulk of Marx's work was issued posthumously. For example, Marx"s Grundrisse, composed of seven unedited workbooks, was first published in the twentieth century. It provides a cornucopia of material from which one can reconstruct his method of inquiry as a distinct "moment" (or aspect) of his dialectical approach. The Grundrisse is an essential complement to and reflection on Marx's published exposition in Capital.
In addition, a Marxist scholar cannot neglect the plethora of interpretive twists resulting from the combination of Marx's theories with compatible approaches in psychology, anthropology, and sociology. What has emerged is a scholarly industry that must take account of structuralist, phenomenological, critical, and analytical approaches, to name but a few. Finally, we have been presented with different philosophical interpretations of the "real" Karl Marx: the Aristotelian Marx, the Kantian Marx, the Hegelian Marx, and the Leninist Marx. None of these developments alter the essential body of theory that Marx proposed in his lifetime. One can empathize with the innovative theorist who, jealously guarding his discoveries, aims to protect the "purity" of the doctrine. Ironically, Rand suggests a spiritual affinity with Marx on this issue. She remembers that upon hearing the "outrageous statements" made by some of his "Marxist" followers, Marx exclaimed: "But I am not a Marxist."
Nevertheless, although one can debate whether a particular philosophy is "closed" or "open," scholarship must consider the many theoretical developments emerging over time directly or indirectly from the innovator's authentic formulations. Much of current intellectual history focuses not on the ideas of the innovator, but rather, on the evolution of the ideas and on the context in which the ideas emerged and developed. As W. W. Bartley argues, the affirmation of a theory involves many logical implications that are not immediately apparent to the original theorist. In Bartley's words, "The informative content of any idea includes an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements." The creation of mathematics for instance, "generates problems that are wholly independent of the intentions of its creators." <<
The whole point of all this is that today, the "closed" adherents seem to be standing in the way of innovation and application, and the "closed" adherents will accuse the "open" adherents of "impurity"... but in the end, none of it will matter. Rand is going to have an impact that no "closed" advocate will be able to stop. If the ideas are as powerful as we think they are, none of us will even be able to predict how it will be applied to different contexts, time periods, and cultures. There is a world of wonderful possibilities that awaits.

Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins

While I've been posting songs regularly for my "Summer Dance Party," I don't want to give the impression that I'm sitting home fiddling while Rome (or Charlottesville, Virginia) burns. Nero, I am not.

I just wanted to say a few things about the conflicts we are witnessing across this country. For the record, I actually agree with President Trump on one issue: there is a lot of "fake news" out there. One example of "fake news" is that Confederate monuments were erected in the years after the Civil War exclusively to commemorate the fallen. With all due respect to those who honor the memory of the dead in that War, especially my southern neighbors, most of those monuments were erected predominantly in the era of Jim Crow and while I personally understand why Southerners mourn the loss of their relatives in the Civil War, which took the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, both Blue and Gray, I'm not convinced that all of these monuments were innocent expressions of commemoration. Some were clearly intended as symbols of intimidation during a period in which many Southern state governments maintained laws that were designed to enforce racial segregation.

I live in Brooklyn, New York, an unreconstructed libertarian American. But even here, in Brooklyn, New York, there are streets named for both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the still-active army base, Fort Hamilton, where both men were stationed in the 1840s. I don't see the point in changing the names or the history of any of the streets of this fort, whose roots can be traced all the way back to the Revolutionary War. (In fact, I had my own book party back in 1995, upon the publication of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and the first edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, at the Officer's Club of the celebrated fort).

There is one Civil War image that has always resonated with me, however---though its validity has been questioned. It is a symbolic story of reconciliation that occurred at Appomattox, when the Confederate forces surrendered to the Union forces, effectively ending the Civil War. The men of the Blue and the Gray had been overwhelmed with battlefields that knew no color, save one: blood red. And it is said that on that day, April 12, 1865, they departed, saluting one another, giving expression to Lincoln's maxim "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

Two days later, on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth put a bullet in Lincoln's head.

Unlike the imagery of Appomattox, the imagery coming out of Charlottesville has more in common with the events at Ford's Theatre. When I check out the Vice documentary on Charlottesville, watching White Supremacists march through that Virginia city, chanting "Jews will not replace us" and criticizing Donald Trump for not being racist enough because "he gave his daughter to a Jew . . . that [Jared] Kushner bastard", I am utterly disgusted. Any administration that earns even a modicum of respect from these folks is already running out of time.

Nevertheless, why should any of this surprise us? After years of witnessing the identity, tribalist politics of the left, we're now seeing an administration that is clearly emboldening the identity, tribalist politics of the right.

Friedrich Hayek once wrote, in The Road to Serfdom that the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

Few thinkers understood this dynamic better than Ayn Rand. As I wrote in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:

Rand argued that the relationship between statism and tribalism was reciprocal. The tribal premise was the ideological and existential root of statism. Statism had arisen out of "prehistorical tribal warfare." Once established, it institutionalized its own racist subcategories and castes in order to sustain its rule. The perpetuation of racial hatred provided the state with a necessary tool for its political domination. Statists frequently scapegoated racial and ethnic groups in order to deflect popular disaffection with deteriorating social conditions. But if tribalism was a precondition of statism, statism was a reciprocally related cause. Racism had to be implemented politically before it could engulf an entire society: "The political cause of tribalism's rebirth is the mixed economy---the transitional stage of the formerly civilized countries of the West on their way to the political level from which the rest of the world has never emerged: the level of permanent tribal warfare."

Ever the dialectician, capable of seeing the larger context, Rand was adamant about this reciprocally reinforcing relationship. Indeed, "she maintained that every discernable group was affected by statist intervention, not just every economic interest. Every differentiating characteristic among human beings becomes a tool for pressure-group jockeying: age, sex, sexual orientation, social status, religion, nationality, and race. Statism splinters society 'into warring tribes.' The statist legal machinery pits 'ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the old against the middle, women against men, welfare-recipient against the self-supporting.'" Ultimately, the emergent

mixed economy had splintered the country into warring pressure groups. Under such conditions of social fragmentation, any individual who lacks a group affiliation is put at a disadvantage in the political process. Since race is the simplest category of collective association, most individuals are driven to racial identification out of self-defense. Just as the mixed economy manufactured pressure groups, so too did it manufacture racism. And just as the domestic mixed economy made racism inevitable, so too did the global spread of statism. Rand saw the world fracturing into hostile ethnic tribes with each group aiming to destroy its ethnic rivals in primitive conflicts over cultural, religious, and linguistic differences. Rand called the process one of "global balkanization."

The fabric of this country has been unraveling for years. Advancing statism both depends upon and emboldens the tribalism, inter-group warfare, and "identity politics" on all sides of the political divide.

The Trump administration is neither the cause nor the solution to the problem; it is yet one more sign of how the chickens are coming home to roost. All we can hope for is that open Civil War remains off the table, for the stakes are too great for the survival of life, liberty, and property. And no matter what the color or identity of the victims, the battlefields will still run blood red.

Postscript: My comments here generated some response. For example, on Facebook, Wyatt Storch claims: "You're drinking from the same cesspool you're complaining about the smell of. The idea that the policy and actions of the government of the U.S. should be guided by the goal of not getting praised by some obscure group of idiots is absurd and insupportable. Check your premises." And Anoop Verma makes the fair point that "we can only judge Trump on the basis of the success of failure of his economic agenda. If he passes tax cuts and healthcare reform, then he will be judged fairly by history, and do a great favor on not just US but the entire world (because if the reforms succeed in US then there will be reforms in Asian countries too). If not, then we will see..."

I responded:

I'm simply stating a fact: [Trump is] earning the respect of groups that I do not wish to associate with. And in any event, no conservative, and no pragmatist--such as Trump--is in any way, shape, or form, an advocate of the free market. They are all apologists for the status quo no matter how much they claim to oppose it. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will grasp that nothing is going to change fundamentally under Trump, or anyone else for that matter.
The statist mixed economy is so entrenched--from the "Deep State" of the National Security apparatus to the Fed's control over money--that no individual is capable of altering it.

To which Wyatt responded: "Chris, I understand your point. But that statement is absurd and insupportable. You should take it back. Else because your article didn't disavow cannibalism, if some cannibal approves your article, then it reflects badly on you, would be the ad absurdum analogy."

Responding to both Anoop and Wyatt, I added:

All agreed, but right now, it's not very promising. [Trump] can't even run the Oval Office or the West Wing without it appearing like a weekly installment of "The Apprentice" and he has a fractured Republican party that, though in control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governships, and 32 state legislatures, can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a "road to serfdom" paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans, which is why Rand repudiated the conservatives so fervently.

I added:

For the record, I predicted Trump would win way back in July 2016; I was not a Clinton supporter, and I did not vote for either major candidate. But I expressed my reservations about Trump's political project back then; I am still reserving judgment on where this administration is going, but I'm not encouraged. Here is what I said back in July: "The Donald and Mercer's 'Trump Revolution'."

Wyatt admitted that we disagreed on very little, but warned me against the "histrionics" of the blood-in-the-streets metaphor that I used in this post. To which I responded:

To which I will say: From your lips to God's ears (whether or not one believes in a deity). As a student of the Holocaust, who actually took the first course offered on the subject for high school students (by my teacher Ira Zornberg), I get the willies anytime I see a bunch of neo-Nazis chanting anti-Semitic slogans. What started as laughable brown-shirted rallies during the Weimer Republic became one of the worst catastrophes in human history. Indeed: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." And that vigilance must be maintained against both leftist and rightist hooligans.

Wyatt replied: "OK, so you're triggered and you have an excuse for hysteria. Thanks for the confession." To which I replied:

I just think it's called being aware of one's surroundings; I'm not hysterical, but I'm not going to put blinders on. . . . I have had cannibals write nice things about my blog, and I've also had cannibals write lousy things about my blog. I could not care less what the cannibals say either way; I'm just calling it as I see it. I don't like hooligans or tribalists of any kind, and if the shoe fits, they should be called out on it. The only problem is that the left has typically been blind to its own hooligans, while pointing fingers at the right, and vice versa.
I will hold onto your optimism that nobody has the balls to do anything more stupid than they have already.

Wyatt added that I should simply retract my statement that seems to "back-paint immorality" from the neo-Nazis to the Trump administration. To which I responded:

But I stand by that statement; Trump is not distancing himself enough from the cannibals. To this extent, he is becoming a politician, because he knows that a certain constituency of disaffected, disenfranchised white folks voted for him, and he is not going to alienate them when he needs their support.
And I don't take your comments as a personal attack. I'm just concerned that the administration is not being vigilant enough about the thuggery that exists among some of its supporters. To that extent, yes, he is running out of time. It's not even a question of back-painting their immorality to him; it's that he will be stained by their immorality in terms of public perception, and it will undermine any good that he may have been able to achieve (at least from the standpoint of those things that I could support, like his original intent for a less-interventionist foreign policy, etc.)

I added:

I'm not reading his mind, Wyatt; I'm just looking at his actions. He's starting to look more and more like a politician to me. Time will tell.
And no, I do not believe that he is a secret Nazi; I think he is a full-on pragmatist who has tapped into legitimate fears and offered some awful solutions (like high tariffs, protectionism, building walls, amping up the War on Drugs, and now, even back-tracking on the promises of a less-interventionist foreign policy).
As for Rand: Anoop, you are correct. We should not judge Rand based on those who praise or reject her. But I've spent an awful lot of time on Notablog for years having to defend her precisely on those issues, most recently by those who implied that just because a few Rand fans were in Trump's administration, we should be prepared for a "New Age of Rand". Hogwash.

I added another note about the subject in the Facebook thread:

Wyatt, let's take Ayn Rand as an example. She wasn't a politician, to say the least; she was certainly uncompromising. She missed no opportunity whatsoever in making it very clear who she supported as well as those whose support she didn't want. She denounced folks that at times praised some of her writings, and that included everyone from William F. Buckley (who thought The Fountainhead had its moments of sublime beauty) to Ronald Reagan. She dissociated herself from conservatives and from libertarians, whom she called "hippies of the right"; she pulled no punches in telling folks that she repudiated various individuals and movements that claimed her as an influence.
Trump came in as an outsider, not a politician, or so he claimed. He certainly had no trouble using various phrases, like "Islamic terrorists", to describe people who fit the bill.
But it was like pulling teeth to get him to denounce the neo-Nazis, the White Supremacists, and the KKKish thugs who were carrying torches through the streets of Charlottesville, like they were a bunch of brownshirts. Perhaps the man should put the freaking Twitter down for a moment, stop focusing on attacking every little slight that has been thrown his way by anybody anywhere, and call out these Nazi pigs for what they are.
I'm not calling him Hitler, I am not calling him a full-fledged fascist (not yet, at least)--though the system he heads remains the same "neofascist" one that Rand condemned. I'm just saying that he seems to be less enthusiastic about dissociating himself from these white nationalists and white supremacists. And I think the reason he is less enthusiastic is because his pragmatist approach is now geared toward the same goal that all politicians seek: getting re-elected and retaining power.
That is just the nature of politics. His response to these folks has been tepid, at best, because he knows that they are among the constituencies that heavily supported him, and they are a part of a disaffected constituency that he needs to maintain if he wants to be re-elected. He is fully a politician now; he is part of the very system he condemned.
And as I pointed out in my "New Age of Rand" essay, even among the most enthusiastic of Rand acolytes, even a man who was part of Rand's inner circle, who once favored the abolition of the Fed---like Alan Greenspan---becomes corrupted once he becomes a part of the system, indeed, part of the very Fed he sought to extinguish. And he used all the levers of power to bring forth an inflationary expansion and housing bubble that was bound to burst; and in the end, it was the so-called "free-market" that took the blame, not state intervention.
Trump has a long way to go to prove that he can drain the swamp; right now, in my view, he's swimming in it.
Well, he already did one good thing: He threw Bannon out on his ass.

August 16, 2017

Encyclopedia of Libertarianism Online: My Contributions Too!

Back in 2008, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism was published by SAGE Publications. The hefty volume (at 664 pages) included entries on virtually everything and everyone in the history of thought with a relationship to libertarianism. The late Ronald Hamowy was its Editor-in-Chief.

I'm happy to report that Libertarianism.org has just published the volume in its entirety online in an interactive digital format.

I was fortunate to be invited to author two entries in the volume: one on Nathaniel Branden and the other on Ayn Rand [the links are to my entries].

Check out the Encyclopedia in its entirety; it's a terrific resource, now made far more accessible by its online publication.

July 28, 2017

JARS Enters the Editorial Manager Age

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) has undergone so many changes since its inception in the Fall of 1999. The original vision of Bill Bradford [.pdf essay], and cofounded by Bill, Stephen Cox, and me, the journal began with an all-star Board of Advisors. We were an upstart double-blind peer-reviewed periodical daring to become the first authentic forum for the scholarly discussion of the work and impact of Ayn Rand. We opened our pages to writers, from left to right, and coming from virtually every discipline across the scholarly spectrum. We faced resistance and outright condemnation from the usual suspects both within Rand-land and without (and you know who you are); we had a few missteps along the way ... but here we are... surviving... indeed, flourishing.

JARS is now indexed by nearly two dozen abstracting services in the social sciences and the humanities. The first of the two issues of our seventeenth volume (and thirty-third issue overall, which includes the double issue devoted to "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy") has just been published this month. By the end of 2017, we will have published about 370 essays by around 170 authors (obviously some of these authors have contributed more than one essay to the journal over the last seventeen years). And we have made it a policy to never publish an issue without at least one contribuor who has, as yet, not appeared in our pages. With lots of hard work from too many folks to thank here, in 2013, we went from an independently published journal to one of 56 journals published by Pennsylvania State University Press. As part of the Penn State Press family, we benefit from both print and electronic publication (the latter through JSTOR and Project Muse). And because Penn State Press markets its journals as a bundle, every time an educational, business or institutional library adds even one Penn State Press journal to its collection, it must take the entire slate of PSUP periodicals. Consequently, our issues and essays are now being accessed, through electronic media, by thousands and thousands of people worldwide. Our accessibility and visibility, indeed, has increased exponentially, as we had hoped.

Today, I am happy to announce that our rigorous review process will benefit from a new technology that, by the end of the year, will be the standard for all Penn State Press journals. It will further the efficiency of our review process, from the moment an article is submitted by an author all the way through to its publication. Whereas previously authors were submitting essays directly to me, all authors will now submit essays for consideration to Editorial Manager. Editors, authors, peer readers, and the Penn State Press production team will have various levels of access through this interface to assure the integrity of the double-blind review process and the timely turnover of peer reader reports.

This is just one more step in our remarkable odyssey from New Kid on the Block to being the only bona fide biannual double-blind peer-reviewed scholarly periodical devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times.

July 26, 2017

Big in Japan, Again: The Odyssey of an Essay

And so, the odyssey of a little essay I wrote way back in 2004 continues . . .

For the life of me, I have never understood the widespread interest in a seemingly insignificant Notablog entry I wrote back in 2004, advertising the publication of a Japanese translation of The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Well, it's happened again; this time the essay (which highlights my work with Kayoko Fujimori in translating the novel for the Japanese audience) has been translated for a Ukranian readership. The essay appeared initially as a Notablog exclusive on July 20, 2004.

Check out the new translation of that essay here.

Apparently the piece is still Big in Japan, and Romania, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Spain, and America. C'est la vie. (Like, yeah, when will the French translators get into the act?!)

July 25, 2017

Barbara Branden's POET Print Published!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the print version of Think as if Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures [link to ordering information] by Barbara Branden is now available. I had previously announced the publication of the Kindle edition of the book.


POET Print Cover


As readers may know, I have written the Foreword to the book, and Roger Bissell offers us a fine introduction. But the real "meat" of this book lies in its lectures, originally delivered in 1960, updated later in 1969, and beautifully delivered by Barbara Branden. The book also includes three additional lectures, providing us with a glimpse of Barbara's later thinking on the various topics touched on in her original series, which was offered initially under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

It is a work that merits discussion, critique, but most of all ... attention. Up to this point, it has only been available in .mp3 form, but there is nothing like a printed copy of lectures so as to genuinely study its contents. I heartily recommend it to your attention.

July 24, 2017

A Belated 100th Happy Birthday to Bettina Bien Greaves

I just discovered that on July 21, 2017, one of the dearest and sweetest people I've ever met celebrated her birthday! For shame that I missed it.

So I'm sending my belated, but very best wishes for a happy and healthy birthday to Bettina Bien Greaves, who reached the age of 100 this past Friday. Bless her!

I actually first saw her name when I discovered the extraordinary book, Mises: An Annotated Bibliography [a pdf file] that she compiled (with Robert W. McGee). Over the years that I came to know her, I was always impressed by the extraordinary breadth of her knowledge and the warmth of her support and friendship. (She even reviewed a special Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians" [link to her review], which was published in the Spring of 2005.)

I may have missed your special day, Bettina, but I wish you much health and happiness in the years to come! You're a beautiful soul.

July 16, 2017

Ayn Rand and Smoking

My colleague and friend, Pierre Lemieux, tagged me in a Facebook conversation on Rand's impact on current-day American politics. Though Pierre enjoyed my "fascinating book" (his words) on Rand, he believes that Rand was a "shallow" thinker. On this, of course, we differ, and I pointed him to a recent post of mine on the topic that he raised: "The New Age of Ayn Rand? Ha!"

In the course of our exchange, another participant remarked that Rand was an "intellectual fraud" because she died from lung cancer, and hid this from her followers, "pretending she was still smoking." Pierre asked me about the truth of this allegation, and I replied:

I believe that the official cause of death was congestive heart failure in March 1982, but it is true that she had surgery for lung cancer in 1974. Anne Heller reports in her biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made that when her doctor told her to stop smoking because there was a lesion on one of her lungs, "[s]he stubbed out her cigarette" and never smoked again. Heller reports, however, that Allan and Joan Blumenthal asked Rand "to make her decision [to give up smoking] public, even though, as they reminded her, she had indirectly or directly encouraged her fans to smoke." (Readers of Atlas Shrugged will recall the cigarettes smoked among the strikers that had dollar signs on them.) But Rand apparently "denied that there was any conclusive, nonstatistical evidence to prove that smoking caused cancer." Heller adds: "The Blumenthals understood that [Rand] was all but unable to admit to imperfections or mistakes. And they knew that she was trying to absorb a number of profound and painful psychic blows . . ."
Rand certainly was a woman of immense psychological and intellectual complexity; but I am often reminded by the "Indian Prayer" on my wall: "Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I've walked a mile in his moccasins." I'm not excusing Rand here; I'm just saying that given her own personal context and profound disappointments (including the devastating break with the Brandens in 1968 and a painful reunion with her sister Nora in 1973), I have no way to really evaluate her personal decisions.
My own mother died of lung cancer after 50 years of smoking; she went through five years of chemotherapy, radiation, remission, recurrence, and so forth. I was one of her primary caretakers, and I can't begin to imagine the kind of psychological devastation of that initial diagnosis and the personal decisions she had to make about lifestyle changes. Once diagnosed, she never smoked again, but she sure wanted to. Then again, when we'd visit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, we'd see folks in wheelchairs, outside the hospital, attached to IV poles, smoking through the holes in their throats. My mind could not even attempt to understand this kind of behavior, but c'est la vie.

Pierre remarked that Charles De Gaulle once said: "No one will ever be able to smoke again" and I replied: "Having seen the devastation of lung cancer up close and personal, I can only echo the old adage: 'From De Gaulle's lips to God's ears.'" That a small percentage of folks die from lung cancer, even though they were never smokers, gives one pause, of course. I added: "Well, my mother also worked in the garment industry for years, handling fabrics and some pretty toxic chemicals that she inhaled on a daily basis. So God knows how all these factors may have coalesced to lead to that horrific diagnosis."

Either way, I guess the point of all this is that I do not believe Rand's unwillingness or inability to acknowledge the dangers of smoking made her an intellectual fraud, anymore than I would view those folks outside of Memorial Sloan-Kettering as suicidal maniacs... at least not until I've walked a mile in their moccasins.

July 14, 2017

It's a Wonderful ... Christmas in July!

There is a Facebook thread that tears apart one of my all-time favorite movies, but also one of those films that Rand-fans especially have made into a cinematic pinata: "It's a Wonderful Life." According to this story, Rand, who was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its efforts to uncover communist propaganda in the American film industry, apparently pegged the 1946 Frank Capra classic as pinko propaganda.

I've addressed this issue several times before on Notablog, especially in a 2016 post about the 1946 film, and in a 1999 interview with "The Daily Objectivist" on the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim, who gives a superb, nuanced performance as Scrooge.

On Facebook, I added these comments:

People who cannot look at a film on different levels are guilty of context-dropping; Rand was not always consistent. "It's a Wonderful Life" says more about the remarkable impact that a single individual can make on the lives of many people and as such, it is a celebration of a "wonderful life." Is it guilty of having "mixed premises"? Sure. What film isn't?
Rand herself wrote some wonderful screenplays in her day ("Love Letters" is one of my favorites; "The Fountainhead" succeeds on some levels, but is botched on other levels). But one can disagree with her assessment of a film and still agree with the fundamental principles of Objectivism. I'm quite frankly appalled by the kind of knee-jerk response that I always see from Rand-fans to films like this or, say, "A Christmas Carol" (the 1951 version especially, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge), which tells the story of a man whose life is fractured and dis-integrated. In the end, Scrooge does not renounce business; he becomes a more integrated human being. Does the film have mixed premises? Like I said: There are few films that don't have mixed premises. And any art form, especially film, can and should be appreciated on a variety of levels. Some of those films were made in black and white, but they were superb at showing the greyness and complex textures of life, as well as the remarkable color of character and individual integrity.

And that's my "Christmas in July" moment, especially fitting when you're coming off things like Amazon Prime Day and 90-degree temperatures with 80% humidity.

Merry Christmas! And good premises! ; )

Postscript: In reply to a question about how faithful the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" was to the original Charles Dickens story, I wrote:

The 1951 film version considerably embellishes the original Dickens novel with a deeper backstory as to how Scrooge evolved into the dis-integrated individual he had become, truly a man with a "disowned self." I think when viewed through this lens, the complexity of the character and his transformation is made all the more poignant.

Postscript II: In response to Michael Stuart Kelly, who points out that the original article link posted on Facebook qualifies as "fake news", I wrote:

I agree with everything you said, Michael, about the "fake news" character of the original link that prompted the initial thread on this topic. But it was in that thread from which my discussion comes that I was reacting not so much to the link as to the fact that it got nearly forty "Thumbs Up" from people sympathetic to Rand who find any condemnation of "It's a Wonderful Life" a welcome relief. Indeed, it has become a seasonal ritual of late that some Objectivist or libertarian goes on some tirade about the Capra flick or any variation of "A Christmas Carol" because they allegedly depict business people in a bad light.
In truth, we do know this much: Rand never got the chance to tell HUAC what she really wanted to: that among the most loathsome films of 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which, I consider a cinema classic for the reasons described here), as Susan [Love Brown] mentions above. Rand despised that film's depiction of bankers "with a heart" etc., and completely overlooked the cathartic character of a film that depicted the difficulty of people returning from the worst carnage in human history (World War II) and trying to adjust to civilian life. She was asked by studio folks to stay clear of such a public condemnation of such a popular film, and was incensed to focus attention instead on "Song of Russia"---clearly a trivial propaganda film made during the war to "humanize" communists, with whom the U.S. had allied in the fight against the Nazis (Lillian Hellman had a field-day ridiculing Rand over this in her book Scoundrel Time, but Robert Mayhew discusses the whole affair in much greater detail in his book, Ayn Rand and "Song of Russia": Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood).
If it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rand (and Isabel Paterson, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, and others on the Old Right) would most likely have continued to adhere to the "America First" line, which was adamantly opposed to U.S. entrance into that war; Rand even declared that she would have rather seen the Nazis and Soviets destroy each other, such that if the U.S. were drawn into the conflict, it would have been fighting a much-weakened foe.
Indeed, it should be noted that Rand is on record as having been against all US involvement in virtually every twentieth-century war: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; that noninterventionist stance should give us pause, considering that so many of her followers were ready to atomize the Middle East after 9/11. I treat this a bit more extensively in Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, in a new section called "The Welfare-Warfare State".
In any event, getting back to this thread: though the article I linked to may qualify as "fake news," what I was responding to in the original thread was mainly Rand-fan condemnations of films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", which are offered up as Christmas pinatas every season for their alleged depiction of business in a bad light. This past year, it was libertarian Tim Mullen's turn to take a crack at both films; his comment on "A Christmas Carol" was that it was a tale of one man stalked by three left-wing ghosts. Well, maybe Dickens was a soft socialist, but the 1951 film version to which I point is the one that most speaks to the horrors of living a dis-integrated life. There is nothing I find in it that is so loathsome, when the point of the film is the reintegration of one's disowned self. Scrooge never denounces his own business or becomes any less rich than he always was; he simply becomes a healed man who understands the roots of his self-alienation.
But I do appreciate you pointing to the various errors in that original link; I laughed at some of the comments therein as well.

I added:

Well, you know where I stand on the topic of "gate-keepers." :) But the original thread to which I posted my comment got 39 Thumbs up, not quite 40... it is here. And I really can't stand seeing Jimmy Stewart called a Pinko. But that's another story...

In the continuing discussion, I made one further point on the issues of aesthetic reponse versus ethical evaluation:

[On the issue of how Scrooge is portrayed in film,] I think it depends on which version of Scrooge we look at; it is very clear in the 1951 version that Scrooge is very self-alienated, and the time spent on his past establishes the facts and tragedies that led to this.
But on another subject, I would just like to make one comment about politics and aesthetics: we all know that there were communists in Hollywood and that politics sometimes showed up in screenplays and stories. But I can't help feeling distressed that some people will dismiss any writer, actor, musician or other talented artist strictly because of their politics or personal flaws, such that we can't possibly endorse their art. If that were the case, you might as well give up listening to music, watching films, reading books, or enjoying any art whatsoever.
I was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's politics; but I loved "Spartacus"; I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's politics, but I adore "Funny Girl" and all the music she has made, gal from Brooklyn that she is; for all I know the charges against Michael Jackson regarding pedophilia may be true, but that doesn't stop me from loving "Off the Wall" or "Thriller" or being enthralled by the elegance of his dancing. I bet a high percentage of artists from ancient times through today, were tortured souls, who spilled out their guts in works of sculpture, painting, music, and literature. Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the twentieth century, was a tortured drug addict, but it was his modal take on jazz that made "Kind of Blue" what it became, as Miles Davis himself testified; when Evans played--and I was fortunate to see him play live at the Village Vanguard--it was as if he became part of the piano he was playing. At some point, you have to separate aesthetics and ethics and be willing to accept the fact that you can respond positively to art by folks you might not like, politically, ethically, or personally. It would be a very boring world if we all had to toe the party line every time we responded with any kind of emotional impact to any work of art.

Postscript III: My friend, Mark Fulwiler, raised the issue that Paul Robeson was a Stalinist, even though he was a good singer, and then asked the proverbial Hitler question: "What if Hitler were a great singer?" I replied:

Well, I can tell you that Hitler was definitely NOT a good painter. But Robeson was a great singer. And I suspect that if Hitler were a great singer, he would not be singing "Billie Jean"; I suspect it would be something really dissonant with some pretty scary Aryan theme. So I probably wouldn't respond to it aesthetically, if I was blinded and didn't know who the artist was.
But let's take a better example concerning somebody whose work we do know and whose contributions to music and compostion are well known: Richard Wagner. Wagner's racism and anti-Semitism are repugnant to me, but can anyone deny the brilliance of his harmonies, textures, or his use of leitmotifs in music? I have a hunch that Wagner did more to influence the whole development of what has become known as the film score than any single composer in history.
I'm not particularly fond of the work of Ezra Pound, who embraced Mussolini and Hitler, but I can't deny the impact of his work on everybody from Robert Frost to Ernest Hemingway; Ayn Rand herself detested many writers and their views; she made it a point of stating, for example, that she thought Tolstoy's philosophy and sense of life were "evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer."
All I'm arguing here is that there is a lot of art out there, be it painting, sculpture, literature, film, music, etc., and if I had to use an ideological litmus test as a filter with regard to what I might like or dislike, I might find myself very unhappy because there are too many artists out there, talented in their own right, whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't live like that, and I think we impoverish ourselves if we bracket out of our aesthetic scale anybody and everybody with whom we disagree.

Mark liked the points I made, but said, "What if I told you I had a recording of Hitler playing Rachmaninoff on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic?" -- to which Jerry Biggers replied, "But you don't!"... to which I replied:

LOL ROFL... sorry, I tried to take this one seriously, but you have to make me bust a gut. And you KNOW I can't afford to bust a busted gut! LOL

Jerry Biggers added: "What if I told you that I had a recording of Stalin (or other Soviet thug) having private ballet lessons for an exclusive presentation of Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet? So?......"

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (has finally collapsed into hysteria)

July 06, 2017

Murray Franck, RIP

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of a very dear friend, Murray Franck. He suffered for many years from a variety of illnesses, and fell into a coma some weeks ago, before his death on July 2, 2017. Murray was a trusted friend and an intellectual confidante, a lawyer by profession, in fact, an intellectual property rights attorney who negotiated all of my book contracts through the years, and provided indispensable advice on all things legal, intellectual, and personal throughout the more than twenty-five years that I knew him.

His wisdom on so many subjects, from the philosophy of law to intellectual history, his helpful comments on the content of my work---including extensive commentary on a forthcoming essay of mine due to appear in the December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies---was surpassed only by the depth of his loyalty as a friend. Indeed, his singular commitment to such commentary extended over the past three months, where I was in almost daily contact with him, despite the fact that he was in such a state of deteriorating health. That he retained a unique sense of humor through it all was a blessing.

But he was a champion of the journal, from its earliest stages of development, helpful to us behind the scenes with regard to a number of issues endemic to the launching of any new enterprise. More than this, he was a champion of ideas, a learned and creative scholar who had a gift for precision in both his thought and writing; indeed, he was one of the journal's earliest contributors. His essay, a reply to the late Larry Sechrest (another mutual friend of ours, gone too soon), which appeared in the Fall 2000 issue (Volume 2, Number 1), was a provocative discussion of "Private Contract, Market Neutrality, and 'The Morality of Taxation'."

I cannot count the number of times I sought this man's support and comfort through some of the most difficult periods of my life. And I can only hope I offered him in return the support and comfort he so freely gave.

The depth of my grief over Murray's death leaves me sad beyond words. I extend to his family and friends my condolences for their loss. Their loss is our loss. I know that I will forever be comforted by the legacy of love he left behind.

June 20, 2017

Barbara Branden's POET Published!

I am honored to announce that the Kindle edition of Barbara Branden's ten-lecture course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking" (or POET, as we fondly call it) has finally been published, and a print edition is on the way as well. It is entitled Think as if Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures.

Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures

The original lecture series was presented by Barbara Branden in 1960 under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and, with Ayn Rand's blessings, it was considered part of canonical Objectivism. As both Robert L. Campbell and I wrote (in our "Prologue" to the JARS symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"):

[Nathaniel] Branden tells us that "[t]he term ["psycho-epistemology"] was first used, in print, by Ayn Rand, to designate a man's 'method of awareness,' in For the New Intellectual. However, the concept of 'psycho-epistemology,' as used in Objectivism and in Biocentric Psychology, was originated neither by Miss Rand nor by myself but by Barbara Branden who, in the mid-1950s, first brought this field of study to our attention and persuaded us of its importance." Branden goes on to define "psycho-episemology as 'the study of the mental operations that are possible to and that characterize man's cognitive behavior." He adds: "There is clearly a degree of interpenetration between epistemology and psycho-epistemology."
Indeed, Barbara Branden's ten-lecture course . . . "Principles of Efficient Thinking," was the first presentation of what might be termed an "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," a virtual mirror of the title of Rand's [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology], which nicely complements and supplements the material in Rand's work. Barbara Branden's . . . course was revised to include quoted passages from canonical Objectivist writing in [1969], and that version was transcribed by Roger E. Bissell, for forthcoming print publication . . . along with several additional essays by Branden, derived from lectures she gave in 1995, 2006, and 2011. Nathaniel Branden’s guest lecture on "the fallacy of the stolen concept" is also included in the forthcoming "Principles" book.

(I have omitted from the above passages citations and references, which can be found in the published version of our "Prologue" to the Symposium.)

What is most important for the purposes of today's announcement is that the book, which was forthcoming, has now arrived! It gives me great personal and professional pleasure to finally see it in print. "Personal" because I have made no secret of the fact that I loved Barbara dearly; and "Professional" because this is truly a wonderful collection of lectures that probe so many aspects of an underappreciated component of Objectivist philosophy: psycho-epistemology.

For those who may have the mistaken impression that Ayn Rand only focused on conscious, volitional and rational thinking as essential to the survival and flourishing of the individual, it may come as a surprise to discover that she paid much attention to what many thinkers, from Gilbert Ryle to Michael Polanyi, have termed the "tacit" dimensions of consciousness. Among those "tacit" dimensions that Rand examined were two essential components: "sense of life" and "psycho-epistemology." As I explain in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, just as the conception of "sense of life" pertains to the "interrelationship between mental content and method from the vantage point of content," the concept of "psycho-epistemology" pertains "to the interrelationship between content and method from the vantage point of method." Like one's "sense of life," the development of one's habitual psycho-epistemology is normally a subconscious process that evolves over time.

And here is where Barbara Branden's work is significant. As Barbara explains in her very first POET lecture:

One of the most widespread of myths is the belief that everyone knows how to think, and that no learning process is required. Certainly no education in efficient thinking is offered, either by parents or by schools. We are taught to walk, to read, to write, to play baseball, but the most important of all human functions is left to blind chance, to trial and error, to each man's unaided efforts; and assuming that the knowledge of how to think is self-evident, people take their own mental processes as necessarily valid, as not to be questioned or examined.

Barbara's focus here is not just on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking" but on those often tacit practices that undermine the capacity of the individual to think efficiently. From my Foreword to the book:

In Barbara Branden’s lectures, we are introduced to much of the early Objectivist vernacular: the capacity to augment "focus," the contrast between "back-seat driving" and "front-seat driving," between "concrete-bound thinking" and "thinking in principles," the nature of insight, intuition, creativity, and language. Included here are extended discussions of the psycho-epistemological premises underlying, and social functions served by, evasion and repression, as well as some of the earliest Objectivist statements of the rules of definitions, genus and differentia, equivalence, fundamentality, circularity, negatives, obscurity, and the purpose of ostensive definitions. We are given a grand lesson in how to recognize the means by which efficient thinking is undermined, through "thinking in a square," the obfuscation of language, the use of dogma, "cue words," sloganeering, memorized maxims and the often unrecognized employment of irreducible primaries, floating abstractions, frozen abstractions, frozen absolutes, false axioms, false analogies, false alternatives, and the aforementioned "stolen concepts." At the root of the stolen-concept fallacy in particular is the error of "context-dropping," and in the end, it is the supreme importance of "context-holding" that makes possible "the psycho-epistemological habit of integration." Barbara’s perceptiveness shines throughout; she understands the inextricable connection between "context-holding" and respect for the "Law of Non-contradiction." Like Rand, she indicts "the very institution supposedly devoted to the pursuit of knowledge—that is . . . today’s universities," which provide "the most blatant examples of the failure to integrate ideas into a consistent system."

For a person like myself, who has spent the bulk of his professional career championing "dialectics" as "the art of context-keeping," this book is virtually a manual on the practice of that art. It emphasizes the various skills that one must employ in grasping the larger context in one's analysis of any object, event, issue, or social problem. In fact, it provides a gold mine of insights on how the practice of context-keeping is essential to reality-based integration.

I recommend this work to all those who are interested not only in the principles of efficient thinking and in identifying the ill-formed habits that undermine it, but also to all those who are interested in the history of ideas, especially in the history of Objectivism as a philosophy. There is simply no comparable work like this in print. Many of us know of the oral tradition in Objectivism; not enough of that tradition has been committed to print. This work has been a long-underappreciated contribution to the canon of Objectivism, which Rand herself endorsed, even after her 1968 break with both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden.

Fortunately, the Estate of Barbara Branden has not only made these lectures available to us as a printed record of an important aspect of Objectivist intellectual history; we are also treated to three additional lectures that enlighten us as to the various nuances and interpretive reflections that Barbara brought to this subject in her later years.

The book is a powerhouse. Get it. Read it. Savor it. It should be made part of your Bucket Reading List. The chief lesson that you will take away from it is that, indeed, you must "think as if your life depends on it . . . because it does!"

Postscript: This announcement was also noted by Anoop Verma here, here, and on Facebook.

June 15, 2017

Ayn Rand on Ronald Reagan

In a Facebook thread, that raised the issue of Rand's opposition to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential bid, because of his views on abortion and his courting of the Religious Right, I mentioned the fact that Rand was not always opposed to Reagan, and that she initially saw him as a promising public figure. Here is my Facebook post:

Granted Rand's later views of Ronald Reagan, beacuse of his entanglements with the religious right, she initially had high hopes for him, starting with his famous "Rendezvous with Destiny" speech in support of the Goldwater presidential bid of 1964. In The Objectivist Newsletter essay, "It is Earlier Than You Think," she wrote an obituary for the Goldwater campaign:
Granting the philosophical chaos of our age, was it possible to conduct a better campaign in purely political terms, and did we have a right to expect it? It was and we did. A brief glimpse of it, the best of the campaign, was a speech by Ronald Reagan, televized much too late---in the last week before the election. All of the candidate's speeches should have been on a level equal to Mr. Reagan's. But none of them approached it. It is impossible to tell whether a campaign conducted on that level would have won. I think it might have. But what one can say with certainty is that it would not have ended in so devastating a defeat.
Rand was unsparing in her criticisms of some of the dynamics that she believed brought the Goldwater campaign down to defeat:
As it stands, the most grotesque, irrational and disgraceful consequence of the campaign is the fact that the only section of the country left in a position of an alleged champion of freedom, capitalism, and individual rights is the agrarian, feudal, racist South. The Southerners, undoubtedly, were voting on the basis of "tradition"; but it was hardly a tradition of pro-capitalism. This, perhaps, is the clearest indication of the extent to which Sen. Goldwater had failed to present his case.
So Rand was not always adamantly opposed to Reagan; in fact, in an essay she wrote in 1967, she went on to reflect on that 1964 speech that Reagan had given and, in "The Wreckage of the Consensus", she stated:
The country at large is bitterly dissatisfied with the status quo, disillusioned with the stale slogans of welfare statism, and desperately seeking an alternative, i.e., an intelligible program and course. The intensity of that need may be gauged by the fact that a single good speech raised a man, who had never held public office, to the governorship of California. The statists of both parties, who are now busy smearing Governor Reagan, are anxious not to see and not to let others discover the real lesson and meaning of his election: that the country is starved for a voice of consistency, clarity, and moral self-confidence---which were the outstanding qualities of his famous speech, and which cannot be achieved or projected by consensus-seeking anti-ideologists.
As of this date, Governor Reagan seems to be a promising figure---I do not know him and cannot speak for the future. It is difficult to avoid a certain degree of skepticism: we have been disappointed too often. But whether he lives up to the promise or not, the people's need, quest for, and response to clear-cut ideas remain a fact---and will become a tragic fact if the intellectual leaders of this country continue to ignore it.
Evidently, with Reagan's courting of the Religious Right in order to win the 1980 Presidential election, Rand's hopes had been sunk. But she was clearly someone who thought Reagan a promising political figure.

Postscript: On 16 July 2017, I added a comment to the Facebook thread concerning an essay written by Ed Hudgins, which appears on the site of The Atlas Society: "Was Ayn Rand Wrong on Reagan." Here are my follow-up comments:

Very good and provocative article, Ed; it's a hard call to make.
Ironically, one thing I'm not sure she would have been comfortable with was Reagan's naming of Greenspan to the chairmanship of the Fed (even though she was at the ceremony when Ford named Greenspan Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers). Considering that Greenspan had once argued against the Fed's very existence, in "The Objectivist" and that Rand was fundamentally opposed to central banking as the source of the boom-bust cycle, I'm not sure how she would have evaluated Greenspan or Reagan with regard to his promotion; she was certainly very savvy about how government institutions corrupt even the most idealistic among us.
But then again, she was an "anti-Nixonite for Nixon," and it was Martin Anderson and others who persuaded Nixon to end the draft, which Rand viewed as involuntary servitude. So her stance on Reagan may have evolved; it's a difficult call.
And yes, Ludwig, there was a serious strain of Nietzschean Marxism in the Silver Age period of Russian culture, into which Rand was born. Nietzsche's influence on many schools of thought in that period is the subject of many books written and edited by historian Bernice Rosenthal. A very interesting period in Russian intellectual history, indeed.

In a follow-up to Ed Hudgins's comments on some of the policies of Nixon, Carter, and Trump, I discussed Rand's attitudes toward Nixon and Greenspan:

You're correct, of course [that Nixon expanded government; Carter de-regulated some agencies; and Trump's record is mixed thus far]; and Rand, as I recall, in quite a few essays that appeared in her "Ayn Rand Letter" relentlessly criticized Nixon on his wage and price controls and the entire Watergate scandal, which she saw as an outgrowth of any system that "mixed" elements of a market economy and statism.
On the Greenspan phenomenon, I discussed some of the issues (in the paragraph beginning: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan") in this Notablog post: "The New Age of Rand? Ha!"

June 06, 2017

JARS: New July 2017 Issue Arrives!

After The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies published its blockbuster 2016 double issue, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" (getting a few reviews along the way), JARS returns to its biannual format with a brand new issue. The print version of the July 2017 issue will be on its way to subscribers in the coming weeks, and will be published electronically by JSTOR and Project Muse as well. It features essays from a wide variety of perspectives, along with reviews of books on timely topics and continuing discussions of key issues in Rand studies.

NEW JULY 2017 JARS

Readers should go to our 2017 index and click into the drop-down menu for Volume 17, Number 1 - July 2017 (Issue #33). Under the "Table of Contents," readers will find abstracts for each of the essays listed below; under "Contributor Biographies," readers will learn more about the writers featured in our newest issue.

Table of Contents

ARTICLES

Russian Egoism Goes to America? A Case for a Connection between Ayn Rand and the Shestidesiatniki - Aaron Weinacht

Just Who Is John Galt, Anyway? A Carnivalesque Approach to Atlas Shrugged - Charles Duncan

The Beneficiary Statement and Beyond - Merlin Jetton

Ultimate Value: Self-Contradictory - Robert Hartford

Six Years Outside the Archives: The Chronicle of a Misadventure, in Three Acts - Robert L. Campbell


REVIEWS

Debunking Neosocialism (a review of Christopher Snowdon's book, Selfishness, Greed, and Capitalism: Debunking Myths about the Free Market) - Reviewed by Gary James Jason

Debunking Ecofundamentalism (a review of Rögnvaldur Hannesson's book Ecofundamentalism: A Critique of Extreme Environmentalism) - Reviewed by Hannes H. Gissurarson

After the Avant-Gardes (a review of After the Avant-Gardes: Reflections on the Future of the Fine Arts, edited by Elizabeth Millán) - Reviewed by Troy Camplin


DISCUSSION

Reply to Roger E. Bissell: Thinking Volition - Merlin Jetton

Rejoinder to Merlin Jetton: Conditions of Volition - Roger E. Bissell

Reply to Marsha Familaro Enright: Remembering the "Self" in "Self-ish-ness" - Robert White

Rejoinder to Robert White: The Problem with "Selfishness" is Still Problematic - Marsha Familaro Enright


JARS is published by Pennsylvania State University Press, but is distributed by the Johns Hopkins University Press Fulfillment Services. Folks wanting to obtain a subscription should inquire here. Enjoy!

May 18, 2017

Mendenhall Series on JARS Branden Symposium Concludes

Allen Mendenhall concludes his series reviewing the JARS 2016 symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" on the site of the Atlas Society.

For those who have not read the entire series, here are links to the installlments:

"The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden" (6 April 2017)

"'Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex' by Susan Love Brown" (14 April 2017)

"Nathaniel Branden, In His Own Words" (1 May 2017)

"Southern Exposure: 'Branden Saved Years of My Life'" (17 May 2017)

I wanted to extend my thanks to Allen for his challenging series of review essays and for his kind comments with regard to the coeditors on the Branden symposium (Robert Campbell and me).

May 15, 2017

Dan Sanchez's Essays on Nathaniel Branden

The Foundation for Economic Education has published two recent essays by writer Dan Sanchez that have made use of some very perceptive insights drawn from the work of Nathaniel Branden, who was the subject of a recent symposium in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Check them out on the FEE site:

"Trump's Ego is Actually Too Small" (8 May 2017)

"What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong" (15 May 2017)

Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche

On a Facebook thread dealing with the relationship of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, I wrote the following:

Troy [Camplin] is right that Rand's first exposure to Nietzsche was Thus Spake Zarathustra (which she read in Russia at the urging of an older cousin) and that her view of Nietzsche began to change with her later reading of The Birth of Tragedy. She certainly grappled with Nietzsche throughout her early fiction (up through The Fountainhead, but traces of the more "exalted" Nietzsche can be found even in Atlas Shrugged).
It should be noted that Rand's years in Russia were in the last days of Silver Age Russian culture, on which Nietzsche made an enormous impact. Nietzsche influenced everyone from the Symbolist poets (including Rand's favorite poet, Aleksandr Blok) to Russian Marxists, such as Maxim Gorky.
But to my knowledge, at least in my analyses of Rand's college transcripts, there is no evidence of her having studied him formally. She did take two courses (one on the "History of (Ancient) Greece" and another on the "History of the Development of Social Forms [or Institutions]"), which were taught by F. F. Zelinsky and N. Gredeskul, respectively, both of whom were deeply influenced by Nietzsche, and whose presentation of the material in those courses would have incorporated a distinctive "Nietzschean" flavor.
There is no doubt that Nietzsche made a huge impact on Rand, though it is Aristotle, I think, whose work made the biggest impact. Rand's mature thought shows far more sophistication than do any of her off-the-cuff comments on any number of subjects (including whatever she may have said about Native Americans or any other cultures that she viewed as "primitive" or "savage," an issue raised on another thread). Needless to say, I get into the nuances of Rand's corpus rather extensively in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

May 03, 2017

Song of the Day #1453

Song of the Day: The Every Thought of You, words and music by Reid Hall and Chuck Moore, was, for years, the theme song of "Private Screenings," hosted by the late TCM pioneer, Robert Osborne, who was born on this date in 1932. The version performed on the show is by jazz vocalist Rene Marie, in a smoky jazz room sort of way. Listen to this lovely song at 6:26 in the closing credits of a show [YouTube link] in which Osborne interviewed Liza Minnelli. Osborne was always at the top of his game; as a film historian, he participated in a "Buy the Book" program designed for educators and students, introducing viewers to "The Fountainhead." Check that out here [YouTube link]. In the meanwhile, do check out Rene Marie; finding her music has been a real eye- and ear-opener. Just wonderful.

May 02, 2017

Mendenhall Series on JARS Branden Symposium Continues

Allen Mendenhall's discussion of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden continues on the site of The Atlas Society.

This is Mendenhall's third essay in a series on the symposium. It focuses on "Nathaniel Branden, In His Own Words," focusing on the third selection in the JARS double issue: a transcription of a lecture that Branden gave in 1996, with a wide-ranging question-answer period.

Mendenhall's essay is a welcome addition to the dialogue over the JARS symposium concerning Branden's work and legacy.

April 22, 2017

The New Age of Ayn Rand? Ha!

I've been reading a number of essays online about the alleged "New Age of Ayn Rand," and the authors typically give us a list of folks in the administration of Donald Trump and in the legislative and judicial branches of government who are supposedly Rand "acolytes." Two essays come to mind: Jonathan Freedland's Guardian piece, "The New Age of Ayn Rand: How She Won Over Trump and Silicon Valley" and the far better piece by Thu-Huong Ha in Quartz, "US Repubican leaders love Ayn Rand's controversial philosophy--and are increasingly misinterpreting it."

Freedland goes on and on about how Rand's "particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism" is "having a moment," reflected in views expressed by Speaker Paul Ryan, former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and his Senator son Rand Paul, and a host of folks in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Labor Secretary Andy Puzder, and even Donald Trump himself, who once said something nice about Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

Ha's piece is more nuanced; the writer points out that Rand's atheism, opposition to tariffs, corporate bailouts, and such, run contrary to many of the policies put forth by the Trump administration. (And as an immigrant from the Soviet Union, an opponent of communism and the building of walls, I think she'd have a few things to say about some of the proposals floated by that administration on the issue of immigration.)

I should point out further that Rand's adamant opposition to laws prohibiting abortion, illicit drugs, "obscenity" and "pornography," and sexual activities among consenting adults, run counter to the fundamentalist strain in contemporary U.S. conservatism. She argued that the society was headed toward a "new fascism," which was aided by the efforts of both contemporary liberals and conservatives. It was a form of corporate state that would benefit powerful interests at home and abroad (through the various machinations of foreign "aid," the Ex-Im Bank, the IMF, and the Fed). It is true that she was opposed to the welfare state, but that's only because she rooted the problems it was allegedly created to resolve in the boom-bust cycle generated by a state-banking nexus, exemplified by the Federal Reserve System and its abandonment of the gold standard. (Hat tip to Jeffery Small: Of course, Rand was opposed morally, in principle, to the idea of a welfare state, no matter who the beneficiaries were, be it poor folks, corporations, or the bureaucracy that sustained it. She believed it required the wholesale sacrifice of some groups to the benefit of others, and that it necessarily achieved this through the initiation of force, a violation of individual rights. But she also argued that the whole class of the institutionalized poor was itself an outgrowth of state intervention.)

She was also opposed to the warfare state; her opposition to U.S. entrance into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and her repudiation of any notion that the U.S. could engage in "nation-building" among foreign cultures that had no understanding of the nature of individual rights, all exhibit a grasp of how interventionism abroad almost always created a "boomerang" effect that led to a host of "unintended" consequences. These consequences, much like the interventionist dynamic at home, would lead to further complications and demands for further interventionism, thus creating an almost self-perpetuating welfare-warfare state (see Chapter 12 of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and various essays indexed here).

Today, however, I was going to tell the story about one Rand acolyte who was in a position of immense power and what happened when he was given the opportunity to fundamentally change the institutions he once opposed.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan. And he stood firmly against the creation of a central bank, especially the Federal Reserve Bank, which institutionalized inflationary expansion and the inexorable busts; he was an adamant supporter of a gold standard, and talked much about how government facilitated the creation of monopolies with various barriers to entry. Alas, Alan eventually became Chairman of the very Federal Reserve System he once opposed, and was one of the sculptors of the bubble that burst into the Great Recession. But instead of telling that story, I should just refer readers to a wonderful essay by David Gordon posted to the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute: "Alan Greenspan, Sellout." In that essay, Gordon makes clear that even the most fervent acolytes of Ayn Rand become corrupted "once [such folks become] close to the levers of power." I submit that the internal dynamics of government intervention both at home and abroad are too powerful to control; eventually, even those who oppose that intervention become adept at using those very levers of power, and the results cannot be in sync with the philosophy of a woman who stood against interventionism in all its insidious forms, both at home and abroad, both in the boardroom and the bedroom.

This is not the age of Rand. It is the age of the anti-Rand. It is an age where people can cherry-pick and sloganize some of Rand's ideas to justify new and ingenious ways of destroying the fabric of social and economic life. Beware "the New Age of Rand"; it is nothing of the sort.

Postscript: I added a Facebook comment to this essay on 25 April 2017:

I should state for the record that Rand was proudly present at the White House when Greenspan was appointed to Ford's Council of Economic Advisors; she died in 1982, and never lived to see him take the helm of the Fed in 1987. I honestly have no clue what her view would have been; I've heard it said by some of Greenspan's friends that he had hoped to affect change from within the system. The moral of this story is that the system changes just about anyone who becomes a part of it. I do think, however, that Rand's ultimate goal was revolutionary; or else, why speak of "Capitalism:The Unknown Ideal." She declared herself proudly a "radical for capitalism" and fought for a system that had never existed in history.

April 21, 2017

Ayn Rand and Sexual Psychology

I've been having a chat on Facebook about a comment that one person made about Ayn Rand's sexual psychology. The person said:

Ayn Rand seems like the typical masculinized woman who wants to have it both ways. She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard, but she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her.

I was asked what my reaction was with regard to the above quote. At first, I said:

Honestly, . . . whoever said this sounds like he's drawn a ton of deeply psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology through examples from her fiction and her life, perhaps, while trying to place her into "typical" categories into which she may or may not fit. I have no clue. I think such claims fall far too deeply into the area of psychologizing for my tastes. And often these are the kinds of claims that are used to deflect any scholarly attention from a person's philosophy; character assassination is a lot easier than grappling with a person's intellectual legacy.

Apparently, the person who made the above conjecture is a libertarian and not trying to deflect from Rand's accomplishments as a thinker, so I was asked for a follow-up. I wrote:

Well, again, I have absolutely no clue about the sexual psychologies of anybody without having more factual knowledge. I'd have to get to know them somewhat initimately to at least form a judgment on something as private as that. I mean, in some instances, if you have your eyes open, you can see a stereotype coming from a mile away! But in too many instances, I've found that you need to really get to know somebody before you can form a satisfactory conclusion... and even then, you can be wrong.
As for Rand: let's face it, this society does not deal too well with "Type A" women. I did coedit (with Mimi R. Gladstein) the anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and in many of those essays, authors draw assumptions about Rand from her fiction and her life. It's hard not to. I recall her making a comment (I think to Nathaniel Branden) about the sex in her novels, something like, "This is my fantasy, not yours." And in many cases, at least with regard to any fiction-writer, it's very hard not to interpret the sex scenes as at least something that the author has thought about, if not engaged in. There's a lot of "rough sex" in Rand's novels; in The Fountainhead it becomes "rape by engraved invitation" (and writers have debated for years the issue of the "rape fantasy" in Rand's novels). And yes, there are things one can draw from concerning her take on "masculinity" and "femininity" (as "hero-worship") that say something about her view of man-woman relationships (as do her comments on homosexuality among men or women). The character, Dagny Taggart, also says something about her view of the ideal woman. Even her private journals during her break-up with Nathaniel Branden suggest things about her sexual psychology.
But I have enough trouble figuring out people I've known than people I've never met to do arm-chair psychology with regard to what's going on in their minds and bodies! Psychology is definitely not an exact science.

Ross Levatter replied: "Chris, you write that this author draws a number of psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology "through examples from her fiction and her life." Aren't those exactly the sources from where you would expect such inferences to be drawn?" And I answered:

Yes, of course. And with an author who said "And I mean it!" it is at least an indication of something in her sexual psychology. I'm just not prepared to psychoanalyze somebody whom I never met. So much goes into sexual psychology, some things we haven't even truly understood just yet. And we also filter a lot of our psychological inferences through the culture in which we are all embedded. So, with apologies to both Miss Rand and to the person who made the above statements, it's just not that black-and-white.

Well, of course, the discussion has continued. On April 22, 2017, I was challenged for "sitting on the fence" with regard to this issue, and I answered in greater detail:

I don't know why Rick [Giles] thinks I'm "sitting on the fence" on this issue. I just don't think it is easy to dissect a person's sexual psychology in a public forum when we don't really have access to some very intimate details about Rand. Brian, I do agree that you are probably right in your suggestion that Frank was not exactly the embodiment of Rand's stated vision of the ideal man (which was, she said, the "goal" of her fiction-writing).
To state as Rick does that "Ayn Rand is out and out hypergamous without apology" is, quite frankly, BS. If she were so unapologetic about being "hypergamous", why did she not reveal publicly that she was having an affair with Nathaniel Branden (who was probably fulfilling a need in her that Frank could not), with the "acceptance" of both her husband and Nathaniel's then-wife Barbara? For a person who challenged the morality of 2000 years, she didn't flaunt unapologetically the fact that she was in sexual relationships with two men at the same time. In fact, she never mentioned it publicly. She wanted to keep that fact private and secret, which gives one pause about how "without apology" she actually was.
Now, I've heard theories that she didn't want to publicly embarrass her husband. I've also heard theories that because Frank's brother Nick was gay, and because Frank liked gardening and painting, he was probably gay too. You see what I mean about arm-chair psychologizing? You just go down a road with no end and start vomiting conclusions on the basis of little or no evidence.
On the "dominant and submissive" themes in Rand's fiction, I can say this much: I've observed so-called "dominant" and "submissive" behavior in sexuality enough to know that the person who is "submissive" may be either "genuinely" submissive or merely running the show as slickly as a film director---one reason why I have no freaking clue what precisely was going on in Ayn Rand's mind.
Here is what we do know about Rand: She dedicated "Atlas" to both Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden. They both meant something to her on a very deep emotional level. We also know that her novels show that monogamy is not exactly a sacred commandment, that she depicts a lot of rough sex in her fiction (though not quite of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" variety), etc. We know her views on masculinity and femininity and on homosexuality. But for a woman who publicly declared that homosexuality was "disgusting," I've also heard that she cared very much for Frank's brother Nick. (She even stated in her journals that the real affair in "The Fountainhead" was between Roark and Wynand, though not a sexual bond, it was something deeply "romantic"). How do we reconcile these facts? What you see (or what you think you see) is not always what you get.
So her stated views in fiction (as fantasy or projection) and in nonfiction essays (on everything from the idea of a woman president to the Women's Lib movement) and in question-and-answer sessions to public lectures (where she aired her comment on homosexuality) just don't tell the whole story. Nor does her public and private behavior, especially private behavior that she most certainly did not wish to publicize "without apology."
I said it before, and I'll say it again: Sexual psychology is just too complex for one to draw broad conclusions when you don't know enough about the actual person you're dissecting. And I don't think we really know as much as we think we know. So much for my "sitting on the fence."

The conversation went on and on, so I'll just give a summary of what I said in a wrap up (posted on 23 April 2017):

I don't think that every private act ought to be belted out in public, but I think that to say [Rand] was unapologetically hypergamous suggests to me that she was so unapologetic that she could not have cared less what people thought of her having an affair or of anybody she cared about (what happened to "But I don't think of you"?). And I was not so much swearing at you as answering you with the same tone you addressed to me: fence-sitter is not what I am.
. . . [C]alling me a fence-sitter is akin to telling me I'm bullshitting my way out of taking a firm stand, when I'm actually arguing that I can't take a firm stand because I don't have enough information about the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. And who does? We can't make blanket assumptions based on what she projected in her fiction or what we know of her private life. When dealing with a public figure as famous as Rand, who certainly left us some clues about her sexual psychology, I have to take a very cautious approach to making sweeping judgments about a topic so intimate. I'm not a psychologist, but even if I were, I don't have such a depth of access into the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. I don't think anybody has that kind of knowledge.

Rick responded that he was "not socialised in your 1960s New York ghetto slang." He suggested that a private message could have averted a "war." Funny, but I didn't think I had inherited 1960s New York ghetto slang, considering I had not reached the age of 10 until 1970. I guess I'm a little dated. Hmmm... okay, a little more chatting went on.

I'll remember writing you a private message the next time you say that you can't read a paper because it reads like a Sciabarra book. Ahem. You been takin' digs at the ol' man, here, for quite a while now. So I'll wind it back. This is not about any war between us. You're not my enemy. Last time I looked, you were at least a Facebook friend. So let's be friendly.
This whole thread started with a question from Chris Baker asking me to react to a quote about Rand's sexual psychology. Please read that quote. If you honestly think that that quote is not about sexual psychology and that it doesn't make sweeping judgments about Rand's sexual psychology, then we must be reading different quotes. I took your comments as basically seconding the truth of that quote, and my stance is that I can't agree with that kind of a sweeping judgment (or even with its questionable assumptions) based on such a complex area as sexual psychology.
Now let me make one other point: I think I have confused your meaning of hypergamy; at first we were discussing Rand's polyandrous behavior suggested in her fiction and on display in her life. My understanding of hypergamy is being with somebody of a higher class than oneself. Now you really have me confused. Where did Rand ever make any explicit philosophical public statement endorsing mating with folks of a superior caste or class? Dagny Taggart was surely as giant an intellectual equal of any man she was with; I don't think she saw Galt as being of a superior class. And I sure don't think Rand thought Branden to be of a superior class during her affair. So, rewind this conversation and explain what you mean a bit more.

Rick maintained that Rand advocated hypergamy in her philosophical writings. I continued:

Does she really advocate that? I don't see that anywhere in her writing. CB doesn't ask about sexual psychology, but the quote he posts does make assumptions about sexual psychology. When I see terms like "the typical masculinized woman" (which is a term I've usually heard as an epithet to describe gay women), and "a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard," and comments about "her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies" and "fucking some other men as well" ... Jesus Christ on a bicycle ... the whole paragraph reeks of assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology. But while we're at it, I agree with you that a broader discussion is needed with regard to her view of romantic relationships. So hug it out, and let's at least get on the same page, bro!

I was asked to name the assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology that the paragraph's writer makes, so stating the obvious I wrote:

1. Rand is a "typical masculinized woman." What exactly is that and in what context does it make sense? A "masculinized woman" carries with it assumptions about gender roles and how a woman should or should not act, and what constitutes "masculinity" and "femininity"... and all of this relates to sexual psychology. (I was once told by a critic of Rand that she looked like the typical "castrating female"... which also carried with it assumptions about sexual psychology, and what a woman's role "should" be. Not surprising that the critic was a man.)
2. "She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard..." Uh, that's pretty self-explanatory. It speaks directly to the "rough sex" that is depicted in Rand's novels and the "rape by engraved invitation" scene in "The Fountainhead," and it involves assumptions again about Rand's sexual psychology.
3. "...she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her." Again, this kind of comment makes explicit that Rand is a person who wished to carry on encounters with multiple sexual partners, and still have at least one man who was powerful enough to want (and perhaps subdue) her. I find it hard to believe that this needs to be made any more explicit; all of this speaks directly to assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology, not just her philosophical outlook on man-woman relationships.
The whole paragraph isn't even raised as a philosophical point about Rand's views on man-woman relationships; it is a direct "analysis" of what kind of woman Rand was based on what the author thinks of the way she acted in her sexual relationships with men.
So I'm very baffled that I have to explain what I think is plainly there. This is a straight-out statement and labeling about the ways in which Rand conducted herself in matters of sexuality. And it does so in a way that presumes to know what was going on in her mind with regard to her sexual psychology. I don't know what more I can say. It's right there in the paragraph.

Rick Giles answered that I was "hell bent on looking at the inquiry from an application-level psycho-sexual evaluation of one person, Ayn Rand." I replied:

Rick, for a friend to keep telling me what I am "hell bent' on doing, well, I have nothing else to say because none of what you are asking about pertains to the quote I was asked to comment on. That quote was a quote about Ayn Rand the woman and her sex life; I interpreted it as a sweeping statement about her sexual psychology. I did not interpret it as a statement on Objectivism.
This is not a thread about Objectivism's stance on hypergamy. I don't believe Objectivism qua philosophy has a stance on hypergamy or polygamy or polyandry. There is a need to separate the philosophy from the philosopher sometimes, and what you are attempting to do here is to drag "Objectivism" into the discussion. Objectivism is not Ayn Rand's sex life. You want to start a thread on Objectivism and sexuality, go ahead. This was a thread about a comment that some guy made about Rand.
Quite frankly, I think the statement says more about the guy who said it than about Ayn Rand.
I've said all I need to say about that statement, and as far as Objectivism and sexuality, I said all I needed to say in a little monograph called Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, which discussed the various attitudes toward sexuality that one found in the Objectivist movement, attitudes that I believe were antithetical to the philosophy. You seem to have an almost hostile tone to your posts, and I can't for the life of me understand what's upsetting you so much. So accuse me of cowardice, fence sitting, running away from a conversation, but sometimes two people just talk past each other. I think we reached that point several comments ago.

Rick Giles replied: "Oh dear. Sounds like 'hell bent' might be another ghetto trigger word. I just meant dedicated! Focused! Sounds like you're offering me the last word then? I'll take a crack at that later."

As I said: Jesus Christ on a Bicycle. Later indeed!

April 16, 2017

Mendenhall Series on JARS Branden Symposium

Allen Mendenhall is in the middle of a series of essays covering The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." Readers should begin with the first installment on "The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden," and proceed to the second installment on "'Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex' by Susan Love Brown." As I remarked on one of the Facebook pages, debating Brown's provocative take on the Rand-Branden relationship:

Folks, all I can say is Allen Mendenhall is doing a remarkable job of covering an extraordinarily diverse selection of essays coming from different disciplines and perspectives. It is not our job, as editors of JARS, to agree or disagree with our writers, but to encourage them to present their cases coherently and in anticipation of potential criticisms. On that count alone, Susan Love Brown's essay certainly qualified as both "controversial" and "provocative"; if we had excluded it because Freudian analysis is not typical in Rand-land, we would be defeating the "nonpartisan" purpose of the journal; we might also have been criticized for sweeping the Rand-Branden affair under the rug. I'm glad it was included, whatever anyone's view of its perspective. It certainly gave us pause enough to want to include it among the sixteen pieces in the symposium.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the coming installments in Allen's discussion of the symposium. Thanks for the engagement, Allen!

April 04, 2017

And the (Dialectical) Beat Goes On...

I was asked on Facebook by one reader:

What is your definition of dialectics? One definition that I encountered was "inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions." From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Hegel: "'Dialectics' is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides." But this is not the definition. Here, instead of "contradictory process between opposing sides," if we take "perceived contradictory process between opposing sides," then it can be taken as a point for discussion on the subject. But, the underlying premise, as far as I know, of Hegel and Marx on dialectics involves some sort of metaphysical contradictions. In a previous comment on this thread, you had claimed that "There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of non-contradiction." This proposition of yours suggests that you are thinking of an entirely different definition for dialectics than what is generally considered by many, including me, as the process of dialectics. I think that if such a definition can be developed through a theory on epistemology, then it would have far-reaching consequences in the field of philosophy. It is my guess is that you have not yet reached your definition of dialectics. It must come only after a long theory taking into consideration Aristotle’s Topics in Organon, and the ideas of Hegel and Marx, and certain points of Ayn Rand, such as what I think an indirect reference to dialectics, that it is a "conditioned reflex."

I respond at length:

The only thing I can suggest is this: Have you read part 1 of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism? I ask because that is precisely what I do. I begin with Aristotle and work through all the differing definitions offered of dialectics through the centuries right up to the current day, all within the first three chapters. I then turn in Chapter four to a much more rigorous definition of dialectics along the lines of genus and species, It is a species of the genus "methodological orientations", and it sits on a continuum among other orientations (I identify four others). I then formally define dialectics as "an orientation toward contextual analysis of the sytemic and dynamic relations of components within a totality." I devote a whole section to unpacking that definition so that you know what I mean by "contextual analysis", "systemic", "dynamic", "relations" and "totality". The shorthand definition I have used, however, is akin to Rand's identification of logic, which she viewed as the "art of noncontradictory identification"; my shorthand definition is "the art of context-keeping", and each (logic and dialectics) entails the other. One cannot keep context while holding a contradiction, and one can only understand a contradiction by keeping context (remember that the law of noncontradiction in Aristotle is that A cannot be A and not A "at the same time and in the same respect"... so the very notion of "at the same time and in the same respect" is a context for understanding what Aristotle means by the law of nonconradiction).
I hate to have to refer you to those first four chapters of Total Freedom but it does, in fact, address all of the concerns you have raised, and begins with Aristotle as the first theoretician of a dialectical mode of analysis.
I should add one comment about this notion of contradiction: there are some folks in the tradition of dialectical thinking who have tried to pit the laws of logic against dialectical thinking. I reject and repudiate any such attempts. Even Hegel, at his best, points to Aristotle as "the fountainhead" (and that is the phrase he uses) of the entire enterprise of dialectical thinking, the first theoretician of dialectics.
What you will usually see in the analysis of certain dialectical thinkers is that they will take a look at two things, events, or problems and say that they "appear" to be in contradiction. But since contradictions cannot exist, they try to unmask the contradiction as, rather, a "false alternative", that is, things that appear superficially to be opposed to one another, but which share a common premise.
The only way to understand that common premise is to shift one's level of generality or one's vantage point on the problem. This is what Rand does when she shows that the alleged opposition of "intrinsic" and "subjective" is not really a contradiction, but that they are false alternatives sharing a common premise, and she proposes that a genuinely objective approach is the only proper alternative. (She also roots many of the false alternatives that she rejects in the "mind-body dichotomy", which is deep in the history of philosophy.)

April 01, 2017

The April Fools Run Amuck, Anoop!

So this morning I posted a really nice song by James Taylor, "I Was a Fool to Care," in honor of April Fools' Day. Alas, we are less than one hour away (ET) from putting April Fools' Day 2017 to bed, and lo and behold, I found a new "Official Membership Card" in my email queue; apparently, I now belong to "Anoopism," whose motto is: "Stand with Us and We Will Stand With You. Together, We are One." And if you look really carefully at the card, you'll see some outstanding images among "Your Anoopist Leadership for the True Anoopist Movement": two dead people (Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) and two people who are very much alive (David Kelley and WOW... Chris Matthew Sciabarra!!!).

TheCardForAnoopism1.jpg

I must say that given all that has been going on since Anoop Verma said farewell to "organized Objectivism," in a thread to which I contributed quite a bit (see my Notablog entry for all my comments), all hell has broken loose.

It's just so appropriate that the Membership Card arrived on April Fools' Day: it is a testament to all the beloved fools that came up with it. If I'm not mistaken, using images for promotional purposes, especially for this new, apparently vibrant organization, without the permission of the folks (or the Estates of the folks who are dead), might be legally actionable. Of course, there are folks out there belonging to certain institutes who are litigious to the point of no return. But sometimes, you just have to laugh at those who embrace the "foolish" in April Fools' Day, even if they start to resemble a lynch-mob with malignant malice as their only reason for being.

Well, for the record: I am a Cofounding Editor and Board of Trustee member of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Foundation, but I am not now, nor have I ever been a card-carrying member of Anoopism. Anoop Verma tackled a whole lot of books on his reading list (including two of mine) and judged them independently; sometimes I agreed with him, sometimes not. But I would never think to rain on his parade: He has the right to live by the judgment of his own mind. That is, I suspect, the most important lesson he learned from Ayn Rand.

Still, I'm kind of honored that folks went through such trouble to photoshop my image into the Official Membership Card of Anoopism. Some of them, I'm sure, wish I could join two of the other Anoopist leaders who are six feet under.

Sorry, fools: I ain't buried yet. But I hope y'all had a Happy April Fools' Day. The joke is on you.

March 27, 2017

I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians

I feel like I've been living under a rock.

Some years ago, I contributed an essay, "How I Became a Libertarian" to the Mises Institute; it's now archived at LewRockwell.com. I had forgotten that it was Walter Block, my esteemed libertarian colleague (and a past contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies), who was compiling short autobiographies for a collection that would feature the stories of how so many individuals came to embrace the promise of liberty. Block's collection of these profoundly personal entries was published in 2010, but I just picked up the hardcover from the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The book is also available as a pdf or epub file and can be accessed here.

I Chose Liberty_Block.jpg

The autobiographies are organized alphabetically and I must say that the book itself is astonishing in its breadth. I am so elated to recognize so many of the names of folks who are not only fellow travelers on the freedom road, but dear, dear friends. Some of them, sadly, are no longer with us.

I highly recommend this work; I know seven years may seem a little late, but I just wanted to say "Thank You" to Walter, once again, for having provided us with a testament to memory, which might serve as an authentic guide, as Walter puts it, to "the younger generation," illustrating the deeply personal paths and processes by which so many have come to embrace the cause of freedom.

March 25, 2017

Anoop Verma and the Nature of Objectivism

In a surprising development, blogger Anoop Verma, who has provided a free-wheeling forum on Facebook and on his blog (formerly "For the New Intellectual"), has closed down the forum, and has renamed his blog, "The Verma Report," in a farewell to "organized Objectivism." Needless to say, there must be well over a hundred comments among Facebook participants, some of whom have not been very civil in their reactions to Anoop. (Ed: I am happy to report that even though Anoop has changed the name of his own blog to signal a change in his own intellectual pursuits, he has agreed to keep the Facebook forum open with a set of rules for participation. Below are a collection of posts that I have made in the last few days on that forum.)

Yesterday, I personally thanked Anoop in a Facebook post:

Anoop, each of us finds our own way, and if there is anything of value that you should cherish in the works of Ayn Rand, it is that you must trust the judgment of your own mind and critically evaluate the facts before you. I want to thank you for having brought attention to my work on this forum, even if it brought both positive and negative commentary. But that's what this is all about... and I will watch for your new adventures in ideas with gratitude for your past efforts. The best of luck to you, or as Rand would say, "Good premises."

But what has transpired over the last day or so is an outpouring of rancor that seems to illustrate exactly why Anoop has decided to leave the Objectivist "movement" behind. So today, I've added one additional comment that will, no doubt, elicit more rancor. Here is what I said:

I am reminded of the comment that Milton Friedman attributed to Richard Nixon, who said "We are all Keynesians now." In a sense, if you want to look at this historically, and I'm not clairvoyant, but looking at this through the lens of what happened to other schools of thought in the past: later generations tend to view a whole group of folks (young "acolytes") who have emerged from the work of any particular individual (be it Marx, Freud, etc.) as part of a larger "ism", In this case, the "ism" isn't Objectivism, but "Randianism". I think that in a hundred years or so, folks looking back on this ongoing debate are not going to be as picky as the current generation. They may very well look back on this era and say that a bunch of "Randians" argued over the meaning of what Rand called "Objectivism", and split into various sub-movements, all of them variants on Rand's overall philosophy.
Rand herself knew that this would be the case; she once remarked that no philosopher could possibly develop all of the implications of her philosophy in her own lifetime, and that over time, those who follow her would attempt to fill in those areas that she had not addressed.
One would hope that the "fill-ins" would not be simply consistent with Objectivism, but with something even more important: reality.
But Rand was also sympathetic with Karl Marx (and said so), for it was Marx, who, upon hearing some of the outrageous things coming out of the mouths of folks calling themselves "Marxists," responded: "But I am not a Marxist."
I tend to agree with those who argue that "Objectivism" should be defined according to the broad generalities of what Rand argued "standing on one foot": Objective Reality in metaphysics, Reason in epistemology, Self-Interest in ethics, and Capitalism in politics.. Her work fleshes out what she means by each of these terms, and that, in a broad sense, is what constitutes the integrated system of Objectivism. If you don't accept any of these broad fundamentals, but accept some of them, then perhaps you might call yourself a "neo-Objectivist," or simply a Randian or neo-Randian.
Those coming after Rand might wish to identify the closed system as Objectivism, and the open system as Randianism, but in all probability, as I suggested above, future generations will simply look at all this and say: "The Randian philosophical movement, like most others, split into various factions, each arguing that its faction was more in keeping with the 'true' letter and/or spirit of Rand's 'Objectivism,' each arguing over the meaning of an 'open' or 'closed' system of thought, but ultimately, they were all generally in favor of the following beliefs: that reality is what it is independent of what individuals think or feel; that reason is the means of grasping that reality; that rational self-interest is the essence of morality (with 'man's life' as the standard by which to evaluate the difference between the 'good' and the 'evil'), and that the only social system consonant with these beliefs and capable of allowing individuals to flourish in accordance with these beliefs, is laissez-faire capitalism, unencumbered by any government intervention, except the rule of objective law in protection of individual rights."
Now there are a lot of gaps up there which are going to be filled in by many individuals over the next hundred or so years. In that sense, at least among most of those who have been blessed by the access that Anoop granted them in this forum, are Randians (or at least neo-Randians) now. I do not accept the "Objectivist" label myself for the simple reason that I have always had a problem with those who would extend the "closed" nature of the system to aspects of Rand's writings with which I do not agree. Must one agree that a woman can't be President (because of Rand's very specific understanding of what constituted "masculinity" and "femininity")? Tell that to Margaret Thatcher. Or that Beethoven presented us with a malevolent sense of life or that Shakespeare did the same, or that homosexuality is "disgusting" or that "From Russia with Love" was worse than "Dr. No" (I myself think that "Goldfinger" was the best Bond flick ever), or that ... and so on and so on. If you're going to argue for a closed system, you may find yourself bracketing out many of Rand's views on matters of aesthetics and sexuality. Does that make you any less of an Objectivist? (Peikoff himself admitted to liking horror films as a boy; but he himself said that though Rand would have reacted in horror over that, it didn't make him any less of an Objectivist.)
Finally, I'd like to clear up one potshot taken at my own work on Rand: I have NEVER claimed that Rand was a disciple of N. O. Lossky, the professor whom she recollected as having taught a class on ancient philosophy that she attended in the first year of her three-year degree program at the University of Petrograd. In fact, if you completely eliminate Lossky from the entire picture of Rand's education at the University of Petrograd, my argument still holds: that in every course, she would have been bombarded with what I call a dialectical mode of analysis, the view that every thing, event, and social problem should be understood contextually, placing it within a larger system of interconnected things, events, or problems, understood across time. The "art of context-keeping" is the shorthand understanding of the conception of dialectical method that I champion, and it was a key factor in Lossky's work, and in virtually all of the studies that Rand undertook in all of her courses and in the textbooks of all of the professsors that she would have encountered at the University of Petrograd.
Some folks have said that what I characterize as "dialectics" is merely learning how to think, the product of a good education. Well, Rand herself would have been the first to say that modern education has undermined our ability to think in an integrated fashion; her essay on "The Comprachicos" is an indictment of just how deeply modern education and pedagogical methods undermine our ability to think logically and contextually (and each requires the other; they are reciprocally interrelated). Rand was fortunate to get a good education, and part of that education was training on how to think contextually (i.e., dialectically).
So much for my fervid imagination.
In any event, once again, I want to thank Anoop for having provided all of us with this forum; I wish him well in his new intellectual adventures.

And that's all folks!

Ed. Fat Chance; my "that's all folks" was premature. I replied to a critic who claimed that there is just Objectivism, not Randism. I've discussed some of these issues at length in my recent post on "Upper-Case Objectivism: Why?." Here is my response (posted around 7:30 p.m. on Facebook):

There is such a thing as Randism (or being a Randian) since I call myself one. As do others. It just means someone who has been influenced by Rand. Just as there is such a thing as being a Marxist, a Freudian, a Kantian, and so forth. At least I have the honesty to say that I am not an Objectivist. The early Objectivists used to quote the old Spanish proverb: "Take what you want, God said, and pay for it." I've taken what I want from Rand, from Mises, from Aristotle, and so forth, and I have paid for it by taking full responsibility for my own integrations of various positions; I don't misrepresent my position as official Objectivism. And even my discussion of various "dialectical" themes in Rand's approach to analyzing social problems has explicitly stated that Rand herself would not have characterized these as "dialectical" themes, even though I believe that my view of dialectics as the art of context-keeping is consistent with Objectivism.
I give more credit to Rand every day of my life by living it and loving it. In her exalted view of human life, productive work, and individual happiness, she has provided us with a gift. I will cherish it until the day I die.

The person who took issue with the label Randian, reiterated their objection to the label, and I replied:

Jae, I think you're overthinking this. I wouldn't use the word "Randism"; I would use the label "Randian" to describe anyone who may not identify as an Objectivist but recognizes that they are influenced, perhaps strongly, by Ayn Rand. The same would go for anyone who took on the label "Marxian" or "Kantian": they are not Marx, they are not Kant, but they would be folks who strongly identify with the principles laid down by Marx and Kant, respectively. It's not a big deal, philosophically; it's an honest label. It would be dishonest if I called myself an "Objectivist" given that I have disagreements with some of the positions taken by Rand on a number of subjects, and I would not have the hubris to ascribe to Rand positions that I have taken, and to make them "part" of the Objectivist philosophy that she founded and developed.

Jae expressed agreement, and I responded:

You know we always end up agreeing more than we disagree, once we've had the chance to chat. That's one of the things I'll miss when this forum shuts down. The chance to actually have a conversation; yeah, sometimes it gets a little heated, but sometimes, folks find a way to at least agree or agree to disagree. "Good premises," as I said in my first reaction to Anoop's announcement. And to all a good night.

As if this weren't enough, in reply to all of this, my friend Nick Manley wondered: "I've been wondering if you even used that term [Randian] to describe yourself, Chris Matthew Sciabarra." :)

To which I replied:

In all truth, I am just as much of a neo-Misesian and a neo-Aristotelian as I am a neo-Randian, which is why I've taken to really calling myself a "dialectical libertarian." There don't seem to be many fights over ownership of that label. LOL

To which Nick replied: "Anyone who would ask me to end my now over a decade long close friendship with dialectical free market libertarian and Ayn Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra as a conditon of assocating with me gets a big fuck off. I love ya! Chris Matthew Sciabarra."

Well, I love you too, Nick. : )

On 26 March 2017, I was further questioned on my understanding of the distinction between "Randism" and "Objectivism"; I replied:

Jae, you keep asking me what "Randism" is, as if it is a set-in-stone distinct philosophical perspective, and I have answered that question several times over. I'm not an advocate of an alternative "system of thought" called "Randism." There is no "Randist" philosophy per se; all I have said is that a "Randian," like a "Marxian" or a "Kantian" is somebody who has been influenced in some significant way by Rand's, Marx's, or Kant's thought, respectively. "Randians" may differ as much from each other as any other group; some accept Rand's views on metaphysics and epistemology, but depart from Objectivism by embracing an anarchist perspective in politics. Some accept Rand's views on the morality of capitalism, but don't accept any of her views on aesthetics and sexuality. It's a broad "umbrella" term that simply means "influenced by Rand in some way, but not all ways." I don't see why this is such a problematic term. It's simply honest: it's telling folks that "I am not an Objectivist, and don't accept everything Rand said about every subject, but I have been significantly influenced by her writings and have gone my own way." It's honest.
An "Objectivist" is somebody who accepts the entire structure and system of Objectivism as laid down by Rand and by all those whose work she sanctioned in her lifetime--but I remind folks that she herself said that no philosopher could possibly complete a system of philosophy in their own lifetimes and she expected that further applications and innovations in Objectivism might take place, implying that the burden of proof was on those who assert that their applications and innovations were consistent with the broad principles she laid down as foundational to the system.
But alas, each person is free to accept those applications or innovations, and that's why it is inevitable that Objectivism, like every other "ism" in the history of philosophy is likely to splinter in many different directions (which is what led me to say, in the spirit of "We are all Keynesians now"... "We are all Randians now.")
The evolution of Marx's work and Marxist thought is a case in point. Marx laid down a system of thought that whatever its problems had certain fundamentals. Over time, different "schools" of Marxism emerged, each claiming to be more consistent with the spirit and/or letter of Marx's original foundations. And so we have such variations as "analytic Marxism," "Existentialist Marxism," "Marxist-Leninism," "poststructuralist Marxism," "Humanist Marxism," and so on. And then there were those who argued that our "best" understanding of Marx was as the Aristotelian Marx, or the Hegelian Marx, or the Dialectical Marx, or the Materialist Marx, and so on.
In a hundred or so years, scholars may look back on the evolution of "Objectivism" and say virtually the same thing; they may very well conclude that Rand laid down this system of Objectivism, which became the basis for a vast splintering of various "schools of thought": the Peikovian school of Randian thought, the Kelleyite school of Randian thought, heck, the Dialectical school of Randian thought, and so forth, with each arguing that it had grasped the fundamental spirit of Rand's Objectivism and was therefore the "better" representative of Objectivism. These kinds of intellectual battles are not unusual; in fact, they are almost universal, quite typical of what happens in the evolution of all schools of thought over time. That's why these current debates are often filled with such rancor: because there are those who struggle to own the mantle of Objectivism and who seek to "purge" those whom they believe have departed significantly from the foundations as laid down by Ayn Rand.
I'm just being honest about where I stand: I'm telling you I am not an Objectivist, however you wish to define it (though I pretty much accept the "standing on one foot" version, but certainly do not accept the more detailed fleshing out in all areas of Rand's pronouncements on topics as diverse as a woman President, the notions of masculinity and femininity, the nature of sexuality, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Woodstock!). I am heavily influenced by Rand, and have given credit where credit is due, but I have gone my own way and I neither presume that Rand would have accepted my intellectual adventures nor do I accept the blessings of those who claim that I am the Devil Incarnate.
And if you want to know what I call "my own way", it is "Dialectical Libertarianism" as laid out in a trilogy of books ("Marx, Hayek, and Utopia," "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical", and "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism"). But I'm not going to hijack this thread with a discourse on what that means.
I think I've said all I want to say on this subject; we'll just have to agree to disagree . I respect your viewpoint, but I think it's time to move on.

Jae Alexander responded that I could embrace "Galt and the Space Age" or "Rousseau and the Stone Age" and live with the consequences. I replied:

Jae Alexander, truly I am as far from the hippy Stone Age as you can possibly imagine, and have been in love with the Space Age since childhood, long before I ever encountered a single essay by Ayn Rand. The good news is that you've always provoked good conversations with me, and for the most part, I think they have been a respectful exchange of ideas. So you're out of luck: I won't 'unfriend' you. I too have a lot of productive pursuits in front of me (social media is not my "job", thank goodness!) But we probably are a lot closer in terms of our ideas about objective reality than you might think. Be well.
More importantly, I want to thank Anoop, again, for reconsidering his decision to continue this forum. The fact that he has had the willingness to show us, quite openly, his own developing intellectual pursuits is a testament to his courage and honesty.

Jae responded that I had implied disagreement with Rand over her disgust for Woodstock, which prompted the comment about my alleged embrace of Rousseau and the Stone Age. I clarified my comments (on 27 March 2017):

I'm not one to celebrate Woodstock the event, Jae. And I wasn't precise in the point I was trying to make. I was really reacting to the wholesale dismissal of the kind of music that was played by some of the artists who appeared at the event. Some of the music from that era has made it onto "My Favorite Songs" list from artists like Santana; Jefferson Airplane; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Jimi Hendrix; and Janis Joplin; all of whom appeared in concert over that weekend. But that music on my list sits alongside music from such genres as jazz, blues, classical, film scores, Broadway, country, folk, and so forth. I have known people in my life who felt guilty about liking certain kinds of music once they had declared themselves "Objectivists" because it seemed to imply that something was "wrong" with their sense of life and psycho-epistemology. I would like to think we are beyond the days when issues like that seemed to haunt the early Objectivist movement. No issue there; I'm eclectic in my musical tastes, but I'm not one to wallow in the mud, and I do "get" what Rand was trying to say in her contrast of the Woodstock event and the lunar landing, over which I, personally, was, uh, "over the moon" (and I was 9 years old at the time).

In a reply to substantive comments made by Chris Cathcart, I responded at length (on 27 March 2017) about my own theses on Rand in such works as Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. Here is what I said:

Chris, we have not been in contact for many years, but you pretty much nailed most of it. A few clarifications, however:
1. I never argue much about Lossky (or any of the other professors Rand knew or the courses she attended at the University of Petrograd) as having influenced her substantively: I make it a point of saying that what she most likely took from her education was this emphasis on the art of context-keeping so deeply embedded in the pedagogy and culture of Silver Age Russia. It was a mode of analysis that was certainly not exclusively Russian, and, as I (and you) point out, it goes all the way back to Aristotle, whom I credit (as did Hegel, ironically, and in precisely these terms), as "the fountainhead" of what I characterize as dialectical thinking. (In the end, I argue, it makes Rand even more of an Aristotelian than she may have recognized.)
But it cannot be denied that a "dialectical sensibility" was embedded in the intellectual air of Silver Age Russia (in which, btw, Nietzsche also had a major impact--and it was in Russia that Rand first discovered Nietzsche. Even her favorite poet, Russian Symbolist Aleksandr Blok, was deeply influenced by Nietzsche.)
Still, we can't be ahistorical here: It would have been almost impossible for Rand to have embraced or defended explicitly any notion of "dialectics", given her own historical context, since that concept was virtually synonymous with "dialectical materialism," part of the official Soviet ideology she so rightfully repudiated. (As a digression, I think there is a case to be made for a much more Aristotelian Marx, as can be found in the scholarship of Scott Meikle and Carol Gould; see the former's book, Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx, and the latter's book, Marx's Social Ontology.) So it is understandable why Rand never fought the battle to reclaim "dialectics" in the name of reason and reality; she was so busy reclaiming (or redefining) "selfishness" as a virtue and "capitalism" as an unknown ideal--and that alone is only part of what she accomplished.
But I am very clear that Rand repudiated most of the substance of the distinctively Russian, mystical, collectivist, and Marxist content of her early years. My book also acknowledges the impact made on Rand by the Old Right of Isabel Paterson and others among the "America Firsters" who opposed FDR's New Deal and U.S. entrance into World War II; and the impact made on Rand by the economics of the Austrian school, in her interactions with Henry Hazlitt and Ludwig von Mises.
2) For the record: in my research for ARTRR, I leased virtually every course that Peikoff taught, and I found his lectures to be remarkable in their breadth and depth, from his history of philosophy lectures to his lectures on the art of communication to his remarkable post-Randian work in "Understanding Objectivism." Whatever my disagreements with the ways in which the Estate or the Institute have handled the posthumous publication of Rand's unpublished work or their archival access policies, I consider Peikoff's corpus indispensable to the study of Objectivism. And whether you agree or disagree, I would say the same about Nathaniel Branden's work (especally the voluminous essays and lectures he gave during his years of association with Rand, but also his many books on self-esteem that followed, clearly influenced by the intellectual debt to Rand that he never ceased to acknowledge.)

On 29 March 2017, in reply to a post by Robert Tracinski (who cites his own provocative essay on the "open" versus "closed" system debate within Objectivism), I wrote:

BTW, Peikoff's playing on the phrase "open system" as akin to an "open mind" being an "empty mind": Rand herself ridiculed the same idea (having an "open mind") and said that what we should embrace is not an "open" mind or a "closed" mind, but an "active mind". So I wonder what folks on either side of the divide would say about Objectivism as an "active system." Just a thought.

Tracinski replied: "Dang. That's a definitive rejoinder," to which I replied: "I genuinely enjoyed your article and I was being a big whimsical." To which Tracinski replied: "I was being serious. That's the best answer I've heard to the 'open' versus 'closed' debate. Taking Ayn Rand's statements on an 'open mind' and concluding that the proper alternative is 'active.' That's so good, I might even steal it." To which I replied: "You're welcome to it!"

I'm glad that Anoop has kept his forum open. He complimented my coining of the phrase "active Objectivism": "Really this is such a 'Eureka moment.' I wonder why didn't anyone think of 'Active Objectivism' as of now. Even you didn't. The idea of 'Active Objectivism' sounds to me much better than the idea of 'Closed' or 'Open' Objectivism. Active Objectivism is a much much more clear concept. It represents what we would like Objectivism to be." To which I replied:

Well, the emphasis here is on both "active" and "system". Let's remember what Rand said about the distinction between "open" and "active":
What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.
But let us also remember that Objectivism is a system, and like all systems it is an integrated one; we can and should distinguish between what is essential to that system and what was distinctive to Ayn Rand the person (e.g., her particular judgments on specific works of art, music, composers, or her particular views on topics that not even Peikoff endorses anymore: e.g., her view that homosexuality is "disgusting")--and therefore nonessential to the system of philosophy she originated. But as I've indicated several times in this thread: any newly integrated ideas that we find consistent with Rand's original philosophy (as represented, she said, by her own works, and all those works and lectures given during her lifetime by others, some under the auspices of NBI or published in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist periodicals, including the contributions of the Brandens up to 1968, but not including their post-1968 work) are broadly "Randian" if and only if you want to assign to "Objectivism" what Rand wrote and approved until her death in 1982.
I suppose "active Objectivism" could cover the post-Randian period, but folks will be debating what is consistent or inconsistent with Rand's original philosophy for eons to come. Welcome to the history of intellectual thought! :)

February 21, 2017

Upper-Case "Objectivism". Why?

Today, on his "Verma Report" blog (formerly "For the New Intellectual"), Anoop Verma asks: "Why Objectivism Must Have 'O' Capitalized?"

He says that Chris Matthew Sciabarra "always writes 'Objectivism' with capital 'O.' In the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which he edits, all the authors are required to capitalize the 'O' in Objectivism." In personal correspondence, I had mentioned to Anoop that one of the reasons Rand capitalized her system, "Objectivism," was to distinguish it between classical (lower-case 'o') objectivism and traditional subjectivism. If Rand had not capitalized Objectivism, she would have been lumped together with all the other classical objectivists in history, and that would have been incorrect, from a categorical perspective. She was quite explicitly opposed to classical objectivism, which didn’t allow for agent-relative perception. All things are perceived objectively by a mind that allows us to view reality in a certain form, dictated by the organs of our perception. For Rand, the organs of our perception did not distort reality, as the classical objectivists would have maintained; they were the only means of grasping reality in a certain form. We do not acquire knowledge by some ineffable means to grasp the object (classical objectivism); and we do not distort the objects of reality by use of our organs of perception (automatic) or by defining and categorizing them arbitrarily, as the subjectivists would claim. We acquire knowledge of the objects of reality in a certain form as dictated by the nature of our own means of perceiving and identifying those objects; this is an objective reality as understood by a knowing subject.

But I've also looked at "Objectivism" in a more "hermeneutical" fashion, ever since the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was first published back in 1995 (it went into a second edition in 2013). I'll quote the relevant passages (I've eliminated the citations and references, which can be found in the published source):

In my view, there are distinctions between the "orthodox" interpreters of Rand's thought and those who can be termed "neo-Objectivists." The orthodox thinkers see Rand's philosophy as closed and complete. The neo-Objectivists accept certain basic principles, while expanding, modifying, or revising other aspects of Rand's thought. The "neo-Objectivist" label is not employed critically; for history, I believe, will describe all these thinkers simply as "Objectivists." Nevertheless, Rand did not sanction all of the developments proceeding from her influence. In the case of Nathaniel Branden, for instance, although Rand enthusiastically approved his theoretical work while he was her associate, she repudiated his subsequent efforts.
A later dispute between Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley centered on the question of what precisely constitutes the philosophy of Objectivism. Adopting an orthodox, "closed-system" approach, Peikoff has stated: "'Objectivism' is the name of Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented in the material she herself wrote or endorsed." Peikoff excludes from "official Objectivist doctrine" both his own work after Rand's death and Rand's unedited, unpublished lectures and journals, since she "had no opportunity to see or approve" of the material. Peikoff follows Rand's own pronouncements. At the time of the Branden schism, Rand maintained (in 1968) that she was a theoretician of Objectivism, which she characterized as "a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name." She claimed that it was her "right and responsibility" to defend the system's integrity, and she renounced any "organized movement" in her name.
Twelve years after this "statement of policy," when a magazine called The Objectivist Forum was established, Rand approved the journal as "a forum for students of Objectivism to discuss their ideas, each speaking only for himself." Rand stated that the magazine was neither the "official voice" of her philosophy nor her "representative" or "spokesman." Rand explained further that those who agree with certain tenets of Objectivism but disagree with others should give proper acknowledgment "and then indulge in any flights of fancy [they] wish, on [their] own." Anyone using the name of "Objectivism" for his own "philosophical hodgepodge . . . is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain (or of trying to pass his thinking off as mine---an attempt which fails, for obvious reasons). I chose the name 'Objectivism' at a time when my philosophy was beginning to be known and some people were starting to call themselves 'Randists.' I am much too conceited to allow such a use of my name." Upholding the consistency of her system as one of its virtues, Rand opposed the practice of those philosophers who "regard philosophy as a verb, not a noun (they are not studying or creating philosophy, they are ‘doing’ it)."
Thus Peikoff's interpretation of Objectivism as a "closed system" clearly mirrors Rand’s own view. By contrast, David Kelley views Objectivism as an "open system":
A philosophy defines a school of thought, a category of thinkers who subscribe to the same principles. In an open philosophy, members of the school may differ among themselves over many issues within the framework of the basic principles they accept.
The evolution of academic Marxist thought illustrates Kelley's point clearly. In defining the essence of contemporary Marxism, it is impossible to disconnect the statements of Karl Marx from the multiple interpretations constructed over the past century. These interpretations are as much a logical development of Marx's methods and theories as they are a reflection of the particular historical, social, and personal contexts of his interpreters. The interpretations also reflect different periods in Marx's own development. Some scholars stress the earlier, more "humanistic" Marx, whereas others argue for an economistic interpretation based on his mature works. Most scholars would agree, however, that one cannot detach Marx's unpublished writings from the corpus of his thought. Indeed, the great bulk of Marx's work was issued posthumously. For example, Marx's Grundrisse, composed of seven unedited workbooks, was first published in the twentieth century. It provides a cornucopia of material from which one can reconstruct his method of inquiry as a distinct "moment" (or aspect) of his dialectical approach. The Grundrisse is an essential complement to and reflection on Marx's published exposition in Capital.
In addition, a Marxist scholar cannot neglect the plethora of interpretive twists resulting from the combination of Marx's theories with compatible approaches in psychology, anthropology, and sociology. What has emerged is a scholarly industry that must take account of structuralist, phenomenological, critical, and analytical approaches, to name but a few. Finally, we have been presented with different philosophical interpretations of the "real" Karl Marx: the Aristotelian Marx, the Kantian Marx, the Hegelian Marx, and the Leninist Marx. None of these developments alter the essential body of theory that Marx proposed in his lifetime. One can empathize with the innovative theorist who, jealously guarding his discoveries, aims to protect the "purity" of the doctrine. Ironically, Rand suggests a spiritual affinity with Marx on this issue. She remembers that upon hearing the "outrageous statements" made by some of his "Marxist" followers, Marx exclaimed: "But I am not a Marxist."
Nevertheless, although one can debate whether a particular philosophy is "closed" or "open," scholarship must consider the many theoretical developments emerging over time directly or indirectly from the innovator’s authentic formulations. Much of current intellectual history focuses not on the ideas of the innovator, but rather, on the evolution of the ideas and on the context in which the ideas emerged and developed. As W. W. Bartley argues, the affirmation of a theory involves many logical implications that are not immediately apparent to the original theorist. In Bartley's words, "The informative content of any idea includes an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements." The creation of mathematics for instance, "generates problems that are wholly independent of the intentions of its creators."
In this book, I have adopted a similarly hermeneutical approach. The principles of this scholarly technique were sketched by Paul Ricoeur in his classic essay, "The Model of the Text." Ricoeur maintains that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own. In so doing, it transcends its relevance to its initial situation and addresses an indefinite range of possible readers. Hence, the text must be understood not only in terms of the author's context but also in the context of the multiple interpretations that emerge during its subsequent history.
I do not mean to suggest that Rand's ideas lack objective validity, that is, validity independent of the interpretations of others. Ultimately, one must judge the validity of any idea by its correspondence to reality and/or its explanatory power. But to evaluate the truthfulness of a philosophic formulation is not the only legitimate task of scholarship. Indeed, my primary purpose in this study as an intellectual historian and political theorist is not to demonstrate either the validity or the falsity of Rand's ideas. Rather, it is to shed light on her philosophy by examining the context in which it was both formulated and developed. In this book I attempt to grasp Rand's Objectivism as a text developing over time. As a concept, "Objectivism" is open-ended; it contains its history and its future. It must be understood in terms of both its historical origins and its post-Randian evolution. The existential conditions from which it emerged and to which it speaks are in large part what give it its very significance. So, too, its meaning continues to unfold through a clash of interpretations offered by followers and critics alike. By clarifying these conditions and factors, I hope to provide an enriched appreciation of Rand's contributions.
Such an assertion might imply that I claim to have grasped the implications of Objectivism even more thoroughly than did Rand herself. Although I would never presume to such intellectual hubris, it is true, nonetheless, that Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.

I know this is not the way Objectivists would approach the study of Rand's contributions; but then again, I've never claimed to be an Objectivist (at least not without significant qualification); I've been influenced by too many theorists, from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, to be pinned down to any one school. I've embraced the term "dialectical libertarianism", and have taken my lumps in doing so. But, for now, there are few people out there claiming to be "dialectical libertarians," so I don't think I'm in any danger of needing to jealously guard the intellectual niche I've carved out for myself. But one thing I'd never do is claim that my own philosophical hodgepodge is anything but my own. As I once wrote, citing an old Spanish proverb that Nathaniel Branden was fond of quoting:

I’m adhering to the old Spanish proverb that says: "Take what you want, and pay for it." I’m taking what I want from Rand’s legacy, and paying for it---by assuming responsibility for my own interpretations and applications. Call me a Randian or a post-Randian or a neo-Objectivist or an advocate of Objectivism 2.0, or even the founder of Sciabarra-ism. But don’t call me an Objectivist. I agree with Rand’s core principles. But I have never argued that my own innovations (on subjects like dialectics or homosexuality) are part of "Objectivism" as Rand . . . defines it. Yes, I do believe that my own viewpoint is fully consistent with Objectivism. And on the subject of dialectics, for example, I’ve even argued that Rand herself was a dialectician as I’ve defined it. But I would never argue that Rand embraced "dialectics" as such, explicitly and by that name. Ultimately, I believe that I’m carrying on Rand’s legacy in many substantive ways and the burden is on me to prove it.

I think I've done that job in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and in many subsequent essays over the last two decades. But in the end, I'll let future generations of scholars have at it, to debate whether I got it right or wrong. However, I ain't dead yet. And there's lots more to come.

February 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1430

On Facebook, I wrote the following preface:

Today’s entry in my film music series comes from an epic story of struggle and redemption with which I’ve always identified. And it’s a custom I’ve developed, every February 17th since 2005, to choose a cue from the glorious Miklos Rozsa score to my all-time favorite film, “Ben-Hur,” which made its debut at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1959, just a day over 3 months before my birth in 1960. Perhaps I fell in love with the film before I was even born, since Mom saw it around the 1959 Christmas holidays, but one thing is certain: I actually first fell in love with the soundtrack to this film, playing it over and over on the ol’ Victrola for a good 5 or 6 years prior to seeing the MGM Oscar champ for the first time on its tenth anniversary re-release, which began its run on June 18, 1969 at the Palace Theatre in NYC, the Overture, Intermission, and Entr’ Acte still intact. I should add that the re-release ran in 70 mm through November 5, 1969, in preparation for the 70 mm showing of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." My family and I saw the film in the late summer of 1969. The lobby of the Palace was already adorned with Roberto Gari's famous portrait of Judy Garland, in the wake of Garland's death on June 22, 1969---Garland having given a series of legendary performances at the theatre.

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Valley of the Lepers" / "The Search") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the more mournful themes from his majestic soundtrack for this 1959 film, winner of 11 Academy Awards, including one for Rozsa's score (a record tied by "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," but never surpassed). It's a tradition during Film Music February to pick a cue from my all-time favorite film, on this particular day because it's my birthday! This ain't birthday party music---no victory parade or parade of the charioteers! [YouTube links]. But it shows another thematic side of the grandest symphonic film score ever written by one of my all-time favorite composers. And while you're at it, check out 10 Famous Lines from this Oscar champ [YouTube link]---though at least four classic lines are missing: "Bravely Spoken," "Down Eros, Up Mars" [TCM link], "Ramming Speed" and "We keep you alive to serve this ship: So row well and live!" [YouTube links]. That last one is a line I've used in some of my more whimsical moments with contributors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. It's very effective!

February 02, 2017

Song of the Day #1415

Song of the Day: King Kong ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Barry, has all those Barry signature touches of intrigue and mystery, which could be found in every one of the eleven James Bond film soundtracks he scored (and we shall not forget Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905, was a fan of the early Bond films, especially "Dr. No," for which Barry was the uncredited arranger of the famous Monty Norman Bond motif, though there is lots of controversy surrounding who actually composed that theme). Sadly, this 1976 remake of the classic 1933 film doesn't quite live up to the majesty of the subject matter or the score, but the movie did introduce to the world of cinema, a wonderful actress in her first film role, Jessica Lange. The ending, like all the "King Kong" remakes does feel a bit like Groundhog Day (because the fate of our famous ape is sealed the moment he is brought to New York City). But this particular film features an ending that fans of the Twin Towers will never forget.

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 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.

Spring2002JARSCoverForNotablog.jpg

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.

December 30, 2016

Nathaniel Branden Symposium Reviews Begin

Anoop Verma has written a review of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden. Readers can find that review here, though the review has sparked a dialogue on Anoop's Facebook page.

I made one comment on the current thread (and will update readers as time allows):

I would just like to make one comment here, having been a coeditor on this project. Nobody should be speculating on what the "movement" would have been like had Nathaniel Branden not been there; this is a completely ahistorical way of looking at the world. We are not soothsayers; nor are we fiction writers who can easily recreate alternative realities. Reality is what it is independent of what people think or feel; Branden was there from 1950 onward. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to both Nathaniel Branden and Frank O'Connor; who knows how different Atlas would have been had Nathaniel not been in Ayn Rand's life? Would we have had the same plot and same romantic entanglements of Dagny with three men (John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Francisco d'Anconia)? Who knows?
Bottom line is: deal with what is, and form your judgments. Branden was there from 1950, and Rand and Branden went their separate ways in 1968. You may disagree with the directions that Rand and/or Branden went, but the fact is that Rand said explicitly that all the pre-1968 writings and lectures of both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden remained among the "only authentic sources" on Objectivism, in addition to her own work and the work of others featured in periodicals that she edited. As we say in Brooklyn: "Dems de facts." End of story. (And by the way, if there were no Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden in Rand's life, there would also have been no Leonard Peikoff, and so on...)
Those pre-1968 Branden writings and lectures are part of canonical Objectivism whether you like it or not; take them out of the canon, and you can take out all the essays and lectures that Branden contributed on perception, volition, the stolen concept, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, psychological visibility, romantic love, and countless other subjects, including analyses of Rand's literary method. Not to mention the essays that made it into both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (in the latter work, this includes all of the material that Branden integrated into the Objectivist corpus from the economic writings of Austrian economics).
And in terms of Barbara Branden, we have the only authorized course (a ten-lecture course) on "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which might as well have been renamed "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," since it is the only course to deal extensively with that crucial subject in the entire Objectivist tradition (oral and written). Nathaniel Branden himself credits Barbara Branden with having introduced both he and Rand to this crucial area of study.
Also note that Rand counted Who is Ayn Rand? (co-written by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) as among those only "authentic" sources containing information about her and her philosophy, and that that particular book has the only authorized biography written (by Barbara Branden) in Rand's lifetime.
I would prefer, of course, as a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that if readers would like to participate in a thread on the symposium, it would be great if they actually read the symposium and offer their critical comments as Anoop has done here. The essays in the symposium are not purely "hagiographical"; yes, some of the reflections are deeply personal and laudatory. But the subject matter of the symposium is made up of many different perspectives coming from many different disciplines; it is the only anthology of such essays of its kind. In fact it is the first of what we hope will be many more studies of Branden's work to come.

Additional comments were made on this thread; on December 31, 2016, I posted three additional comments, all in response to questions posed by Anoop Verma, whose review of the symposium is the subject of the thread.

Anoop wondered about the timeline of the relationships between Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff, and about the relationships among these individuals; he also asked about the book Who is Ayn Rand?. I wrote:

Hi, Anoop: you can basically get all the facts from two sources; one is of course Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, where she tells us on page 246 that after Nathaniel met Rand in 1950, and then she met Rand, they introduced Rand to others, including Barbara's dear friend Joan Mitchell (who had been briefly married to Alan Greenspan), and her 17-year old cousin Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff tells us in his essay "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," that he met her [Rand] when he was 17 in the spring of 1951. It should also be mentioned that almost the entire inner circle, that which became "The Collective", was made up of friends and cousins of Nathaniel Branden (then, Nathan Blumenthal) and Barbara Branden (then, Barbara Weidman): Elayne Blumenthal (Nathan's sister, who eventually married Harry Kalberman); Allan Blumenthal (Nathaniel's first cousin, who eventually married Joan Mitchell), etc. Others who came into the inner circle included Mary Ann Rukavina (who became Mary Ann Sures) and Joan Kennedy Taylor (who read an advance copy of Atlas and was daughter of Deems Taylor, composer). Hope this clarifies things; in essence, it was almost a family affair!

I added:

One other point: Barbara Branden was Rand's first biographer who wrote the first authorized biography in "Who is Ayn Rand?" but she also majored in philosophy and got a master's degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University (who was also the mentor to Leonard Peikoff, who completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU). Barbara did review books for Rand's periodicals and delivered a course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which is on its way to becoming a print publication, published by Cobden Press, for which I have written the foreword. It is a fine work on one aspect of philosophy: psycho-epistemology (which pertains not to the content of awareness but to the methods, means, and mechanics by which we think).

I added:

Nathaniel wrote three essays for "Who is Ayn Rand?": "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged"; "Objectivism and Psychology"; and "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"; this is followed by "A Biographical Essay": "Who is Ayn Rand?", the title essay of the book, the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, written by Barbara Branden. Most of the material for this was gleaned from the many hours of biographical interviews of Ayn Rand conducted in 1960-1961 by both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Check the materials I sent you and you'll find the authorized biography as the last chapter of the book.

I made an additional observation about Leonard Peikoff:

One other point, btw: None of my own admiration of Nathaniel Branden has affected any of my admiration for some of the important work, indeed--indispensable work--that Leonard Peikoff has done in the area of articulating Objectivist philosophy and extending some of the insights of Rand into areas in which Rand did not venture. Certainly his Ominous Parallels has some very important things to say about the phenomenon of Nazism, as well as the nature of social domination; his book on Objectivism includes crucially important material that was taken from the course he gave under Rand's auspices, but never put into print by Rand herself; his Understanding Objectivism is, for me, perhaps the most important series of lectures he ever gave, and I'm happy that it is now out in some form (even if not in its original packaging; that is, for example, we don't have Edith Packer's contribution to that course in print for obvious reasons: she and Peikoff parted ways some years ago in the split between Peikoff and George Reisman). I have learned immensely from Peikoff's work; a sizeable portion of my own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical cites his published work and so much of the work he did in lectures that can only be found in the "oral tradition" of Objectivism, on subjects as varied as the philosophy of history and the principles of logic.

December 20, 2016

JSTOR Publishes JARS' Branden Symposium Prologue

As readers of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies know, our journal is available not only in print, but also online through Project Muse and JSTOR. And this year's double issue is actually available in a Kindle edition, the first Kindle version ever published in the journal's history. Folks interested in ordering the Kindle edition, should check it out at amazon.com here.

But JSTOR has for the first time made fully accessible to the public the Prologue to this year's symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." You can read that Prologue here. Some of the Prologue was featured in my announcement of the issue's publication. But now you can read it in full; you don't have to be a subscriber to JSTOR!

December 12, 2016

New JARS Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

Today, a sparkling new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies makes its debut. It is a special symposium featuring the contributions of fifteen authors on the subject of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the new December 2016 issue of the journal (Volume 16, nos. 1-2; Issues #31-32) will appear this week in electronic form on JSTOR, which is promoting it as the first double-issue in the history of JARS. Print copies are on the way to subscribers, just in time for the holidays! Since this is a double issue, it can be purchased as a stand-alone hard copy by nonsubscribers at the annual subscription rate (see the subscription page at the Johns Hopkins University Press, which handles all PSUP periodical distribution through its fulfillment services). In addition to our regular print and electronic publication, this special issue is also available through amazon.com as the very first Kindle edition in the sixteen-year history of JARS.
 
As the ad copy for the new issue informs us:

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was a crucial figure in the life of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. A brilliant psychotherapist and "father" of the self-esteem movement, he made important contributions to the theory and practice of Objectivism. So far, however, his life and influence have never been the subject of a book or collection of articles. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) long intended to fill this gap by publishing an interdisciplinary collection of studies about the many facets of his work. With his death on December 3, 2014, JARS received too many valuable essays to publish in a single issue. Now, two years after Branden's passing, and for the first time in our sixteen-year history, we offer not only a double issue but one that will be available in print and as a Kindle edition. Our contributors---who include Tal Ben-Shahar, Roger E. Bissell, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Walter Foddis, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Andrew Schwartz, Duncan Scott, Deepak Sethi, Michael E. Southern, and Joel F. Wade---represent a wide array of perspectives and disciplines, such as political theory, history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, business, film, and both academic and clinical psychology. Also presented is the first print publication of a transcribed 1996 lecture (and its Q&A session), "Objectivism: Past and Future," by Nathaniel Branden, as well as the most comprehensive annotated bibliography yet produced on Branden and the secondary literature regarding his life and work.

NEW JARS: THE BRANDEN SYMPOSIUM


For a lengthier description of the purpose and contents of this symposium, I'd like to feature in today's Notablog entry, a few extended passages from the "Prologue" (full citations and endnotes can be found in the published version, along with much material omitted here), written by the coeditors for this very special issue:  Robert L. Campbell and yours truly (Chris Matthew Sciabarra).  We write:

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal, 9 April 1930) passed away on 3 December 2014. In 2012, the Editorial Board of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies had approached Branden with a proposal to feature a symposium on his work and legacy. He and his wife Leigh were pleased with the idea, and gave the project their blessings. We are only sorry that he did not live to see its completion.
The symposium, we had explained, would encompass both his eighteen years with Ayn Rand and the much longer post-Randian period in which he became known as the father of the self-esteem movement. Ironically, in the latter period, Branden was gradually drawn back toward reexamining and ultimately reiterating the core principles that Objectivism encompassed. Despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, he became a veritable neo-Objectivist who spent much time on what might be called praxis, that is, the technology of moving toward the six pillars of self-esteem, as he defined them: the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of living purposefully, and of personal integrity . . .
Upon Branden's death, our ongoing call for contributions to the symposium suddenly elicited an enormous response. So many essays poured in that it was no longer possible for all of the accepted material to fit into a single issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Our colleagues at Pennsylvania State University Press, including Patrick Alexander, Julie Lambert, Rachel Ginder, and especially Diana Pesek, helped us to arrive at a workable solution. This would constitute the very first double issue in the history of the journal, and would be published simultaneously as an e-book . . . Kindle edition.
And so we are honored that the entirety of Volume 16, Numbers 1 and 2, is now "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." We did not wish to publish a hagiography. But we must say for the record that not a single scholar from the orthodox wing of Objectivism or from the Ayn Rand Institute, where criticism of Branden has been most common, submitted a paper, though some were specifically invited. So if the balance tilts toward the laudatory in many of the contributions here, that is because the people who took the time to write these essays actually respected and valued the subject, both personally and professionally.
It was our intention to allow scholars from different disciplines and perspectives and from many walks of life to offer their critical assessments of the legacy of a towering figure in the history of Objectivism, as a philosophy and a movement, and in the popular emergence of the self-esteem movement. Many of the contributors to these pages have never before published in any journal connected to Rand studies. For that very reason, it is our hope that this first anthology will be a watershed moment in critical thinking on Branden's work and legacy.
We dont know who else could have taken on this scholarly endeavor. An orthodox Objectivist periodical would surely not wish to sanction any study of the work of Nathaniel Branden. Professional psychology journals, especially those catering to academic audiences, have not particularly wanted to give legitimacy to the study of a writer who has often been dismissed as a popular psychologist---in much the same way that Ayn Rand was once (and still is, in some circles) dismissed as a cult fiction writer and pop philosopher.
 
Such views of Rand have undergone major change, with the recent publication of two major unauthorized biographies and an exponential growth in scholarly books and articles. Our own sixteen-year history and our collaboration with Penn State University Press are powerful illustrations of the trend.
We hope now to be at the forefront of a comparable change in attitudes toward Nathaniel Branden. A critical reassessment of the man and his work can only benefit our understanding of Objectivism, both theoretically and historically. We also believe that his eclectic clinical approach is bound to have an impact on the established orthodoxies in academic and applied psychology. Such an impact will come only from the kind of constructive engagement that this journal has always encouraged. . . .
As scholars, however, we have remained true to our word: this was going to be an open forum, allowing many perspectives on the man and his work to be expressed. We think we have succeeded, as the fifteen essays (and extensive annotated bibliography) in this collection will show.
Upon Branden's death, Sciabarra criticized orthodox Objectivist writers, who refused to cite Branden's works, even those that are still part of the "official" canon of Ayn Rand's philosophy. It must be remembered that despite their acrimonious personal and professional Break in 1968, Rand made it very clear that Branden's work prior to the Break would and should be considered as among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism," which included "my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who Is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.) (Rand, "A Statement of Policy," The Objectivist, June 1968)
Sciabarra . . . argued further that those who excoriate the man still owe him a debt of gratitude, "for it was Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, [who was responsible] for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his Basic Principles of Objectivism course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism), . . .  a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of . . . the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden . . . a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published."
Alas, the relationship between philosophy as the broadest of disciplines and psychology as a special science is precarious, at best. It cannot be denied that Branden significantly examined many psychological elements that were implicit in Rand's work, and contributed greatly to our understanding  of them. He did so in the magazines he co-edited with Rand (The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist), in a series of articles he wrote on self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, and psycho-epistemology. He provided an explicit discussion of ideas that Rand did not fully explore in her own writings. But in applying these concepts, the early Branden fell into the error of using them not as tools of cognition with which to understand human behavior, but as tools of emotional abuse with which to control those in the growing inner circle of Randian admirers---and it cannot be said that Rand deplored this practice, for she often encouraged it, or used it herself. It was the employment of psychological ideas for social control that led Jeff Walker to characterize Branden not as the father of the self-esteem movement, but as "The Godfather of Self-Esteem". While the metaphor is over the top---Branden lacked both the fists and the guns available to Don Vito Corleone---it is nonetheless true that he was responsible for much damage.
This includes, of course, the damage that Branden did to his relationship with Ayn Rand and to the movement he worked so hard to create. As Sciabarra puts it, Branden, "like every other human being on earth had his faults." It was not that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) twenty-five years his senior, but that he lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed . . .  It was for this dishonesty that he was ultimately exiled from Rand's life and from organized Objectivism for all eternity. But in self-disclosure, there is a path to self-redemption. As Sciabarra argues: "[I]t was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to The Collective, where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed . . ."
Sciabarra observed . . .  that it was . . . Branden's path toward self-redemption [that] became a path for millions, among them many former Objectivists whose lives were damaged by the cultic aspects of the movement---aspects that Branden once fostered.
And that is one reason this symposium is necessary. . . .  It is surely time to reexamine Branden's contributions across the board. And this symposium leaves almost no relevant discipline untouched.
In Section I, "The Rand Years," we begin with filmmaker Duncan Scott's essay, "The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table," which discusses the visionary role played by Nathaniel Branden in systematizing Ayn Rand's philosophy and launching an Objectivist movement. Branden's achievements, argues Scott, were accomplished despite deep skepticism and considerable resistance among those within and outside of Rand's circle. And yet, with highly unlikely odds for success, Branden inspired hardworking individuals to use their talents to launch what became a cultural and political phenomenon.
One of our advisory board members, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, Susan Love Brown, follows with a truly controversial---dare we say, provocative---discussion of the personal relationship between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. In "Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex," Brown applies an Oedipal interpretation to this aspect of Branden's life story, one that ultimately resulted in his ability to break free and become his own person.
The last entry in Section I, "Objectivism: Past and Future," is the first appearance in print of a lecture and question-answer session that Branden gave in 1996 before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism. We thank the Estate of Nathaniel Branden, and Leigh Branden in particular, for allowing us to bring this eye-opening session to a wider audience. In many ways, it provides an intellectual culmination to the first section, because it allows Branden to articulate his agreements and disagreements with Rand, from the perspective of a man nearly thirty years removed from the official movement he practically created. It challenges us to think of his whole body of work as a part of Objectivism, or, at the very least, a kind of neo-Objectivism still rooted fundamentally in that which he learned from Rand.
Roger Bissell, who transcribed the Branden lecture, leads off Section II, which we've titled simply "Reflections"---by various individuals who came to know Branden from a variety of disciplines and walks of life. It was through Branden that Bissell, whose works on music, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, and politics have appeared regularly in these pages, came to read Rand, and his essay shows a special appreciation for Branden's wit, wisdom, and welcoming attitude toward new ideas.
Another JARS advisory board member, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, tells us of "The Impact of Nathaniel Branden" on her career---how, if it were not for his initial encouragement, she would hardly have become the Rand scholar she is.
Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the largest psychology classes in the history of Harvard University, provides a touching glimpse of his personal relationship with Branden, who greatly influenced the development of his approach to psychology. His essay, "My Aristotle," details the ways in which Branden helped him both academically and personally.
Deepak Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, follows with his "Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden: My Guru and More," which tells the story of how Branden's work inspired him to collaborate with the trailblazing self-esteem theorist, not only on an article that made an impact in the business community . . . but on a series of leadership programs that integrated Branden's sentence-completion techniques into sessions, exploring ways on how to raise the levels of self-esteem among those in the work environment.
Michael E. Southern, a client, an intern, and an eventual friend to Branden, follows with an extraordinary personal memoir---"My Years with Nathaniel Branden"---which tells the story of how Branden helped to liberate Southern from a host of demons. It is also a wide-ranging explication of all of the eclectic, and often literally amazing, techniques that Branden used in his clinical practice.
This essay serves as a natural transition to Section III, to which we've given a Branden-style sentence-completion stem: "If Branden's Works Were Studied by More Academic and Clinical Psychologists. . . ." The section features five individuals in the field who examine Branden's works from diverse perspectives.
Coeditor Robert L. Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Clemson University, provides us with a personal testament to Branden's impact on the development of his career and research interests. He credits Branden's book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, with having helped him to choose psychology as a career, and considers the gulf in modern American psychology between academic research and clinical practice, which Branden was only partly successful at bridging.
Walter Foddis, a clinical psychology doctoral student, gives his own suggestions about bridging. "Branden's Self-Esteem Theory within the Context of Academic Psychology" presents a new theory of self-esteem that synthesizes ideas from Branden and theorists from clinical, developmental, and social psychology. Foddis documents Branden's influence on his own development of a qualitative and quantitative measurement procedure, the Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Instrument, to assess people's sources of self-esteem.
A biochemist and doctoral student in clinical psychology, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud provides us with an essay, "Nathaniel Branden's Legacy to the Science of Clinical Psychology," on Branden's essentially, not incidentally, biocentric approach. Branden had characterized "his approach to psychology and psychotherapy as 'biocentric'," which, of course, means "life-centered," focusing on "the study of human beings" from an evolutionary or "life-centered perspective" [quotes from Branden's Informal Discussion of Biocentric Therapy].  Morales puts into sharp focus Branden's concerns with the interplay of the conscious and nonconscious aspects of the mind.
Psychotherapist Andrew Schwartz takes on Branden's dialectical concerns with the whole organism in his essay, "Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists: Nathaniel Branden in the Context of the History of Clinical Psychology." In this examination, he situates Branden's contributions to clinical psychology in the traditions of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, he traces the way they were anticipated in Alfred Adler's "Individual Psychology" (a more accurate translation, as Schwartz reveals, would be "Holistic Psychology") and their similarities with contemporary developments, such as the functional contextual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Steven Hayes and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy of Marsha Linehan.
The section concludes with an essay by psychologist Joel F. Wade, "Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness." Wade explores his personal experiences with both Nathaniel and his wife Devers (born Estelle Israel; married to Branden in 1978, divorced in 2003), and the ways in which their techniques influenced his own approach. Wade emphasizes how Devers influenced Nathaniel's work in developing a conception of happiness as a discipline, and one approach that they developed together to build on this through their work with sub-personalities, which draws on an idea of Carl Jung's.
Our Epilogue is written by one of JARS's founding editors, Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. "Nathaniel Branden in the Writer's Workshop" details the ways in which Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. Cox traces the history of his remarkable literary relationship with Branden, and provides us with a moving perspective on the literary Branden, a man hitherto unseen.
We conclude the symposium with a Nathaniel Branden Annotated Bibliography, by far the  most extensive in print. It traces not only all of his books, articles, and lectures, but much of the secondary literature. It was compiled by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Roderick T. Long, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
This symposium has been four years in the making; we hope our readers reap the rewards of an anthology that could have come into being only in a climate of intellectual diversity---a climate that this journal has championed since its inception in 1999.

Needless to say, there is much more in the Campbell-Sciabarra "Prologue"---and even our summary of the essays in this extraordinary symposium provides just a small indication of the treasures readers will discover within its pages.

For more information on the symposium, please consult the JARS page for its abstracts and contributor biographies.  And don't forget to explore the many new and wonderful features of our fully reconstructed website, courtesy of our webmaster, Michael E. Southern, himself a contributor to the Nathaniel Branden symposium. (And I'd also like to thank our indefatigable PSUP copyeditor, Joseph Dahm, for all his wonderful work on this and all of our issues, and to give a "shout-out" to Jennifer Frost, whose Grammar Check always offers helpful tips even to those of us who have been editing for decades!)

We believe this issue constitutes a seminal moment not only in the sixteen-year history of our journal, but in the evolving scholarly literature on the impact of "Ayn Rand and her times," one of the very purposes for which JARS was founded way back in 1999.

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to each person who put their money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that every single one of them signed a contract when they made their initial deposits, with the stipulation that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable, including the 1929 crash depicted in the film. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain), and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 1999:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.

November 23, 2016

George Smith on Rand's Insights on the U.S. "Slide Toward Fascism"

Just wanted to alert readers to a fine article penned by George Smith, "Ayn Rand Predicted an American Slide Toward Fascism" on the FEE website.

I was especially happy to see this discussion resurrected since Rand herself has often been tagged by her detractors as a "fascist"; my own essays on Rand's insights into the U.S. tendencies toward neofascism ("The New Fascism," as she called it) are indexed here. The discussion is particularly important in the days since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Following Rand and others in the libertarian tradition, I've argued that the system of "crony capitalism" or what Roy Childs and others once called "liberal corporativism," is the system that exists in this country; it is not a free market and whether it is peppered with the authoritarian rhethoric (and policies) of the left or of the right, it all comes down to a civil war of pressure groups, each vying for special privileges at the expense of one another, a "class" warfare that not even Karl Marx could have imagined. For as F. A. Hayek so powerfully observed, once political power becomes the central means of gaining social control, it becomes the only power worth having. That is why he argued, in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top." I've expressed my concerns for months now, but it remains to be seen just how much worse this tendency will be manifested in the new administration. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, time will tell. (Ed: And I am reminded by a colleague that in a country where, within a single week, the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series and Donald J. Trump can win the White House, anything is possible!)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; I want to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving [YouTube link]. Be thankful that, for now, at least in some crucial aspects, this country remains, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "a republic, if you can keep it." Which makes Rand's insights into the degeneration of the American republic all the more trenchant.

November 21, 2016

A New JARS Website Debuts ... and a Sneak Peek at the Next Issue!

I know that World-Wide-Web search engines are being updated as I write this Notablog post, but what the heck!

I'm so very proud of the redesign of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies website, and all the work that our web designer, Michael E. Southern, put into it, that I'm advertising today the debut of our new site, fully updated with drop-down menus and user-friendly navigation:

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

I invite folks to take a sneak peek (or is that a peak sneak?) at the contents of the forthcoming blockbuster December 2016 double issue, a special 300+ page symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." In the coming weeks, I will announce its official publication and provide an excerpt from the prologue written by the two coeditors on the project, Robert L. Campbell and me.

Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

The Nathaniel Branden Symposium features contributions from fifteen authors, providing critical perspectives from disciplines as varied as political theory, anthropology, business, film, literature, history, and academic and clinical psychology. The forthcoming announcement of its official release will include information on its print publication, as well as its electronic publication with JSTOR and Project Muse, and details on where readers might purchase single copies, including the very first Kindle edition in the 16-year history of this extraordinary interdisciplinary journal that made its debut way back in September 1999.

We've weathered storms and controversies, geographic moves and fires, but we are standing stronger and more vibrant than ever, especially since our 2013 collaboration with Pennsylvania State University Press began.

For now, welcome to JARS: The Next Generation Website. Watch this space for details on our newest blockbuster issue!

P. S. - And a special thanks to Julie Lambert and Heather Smith from Penn State Press for their invaluable input!

November 14, 2016

Ayn Rand and Google Doodles

I was interviewed by Andrea Billups this past summer about getting a Rand "doodle" into Google. Not knowing what a doodle was, at first, I was able to provide Andrea with a few thoughts. I'm just now finding the link to that essay on the site of the Atlas Society. It's a fun piece.

Take a look at "Dear Google: How About Ayn Rand on a Doodle?" by Andrea Billups.

November 10, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: Ayn Rand on Conservatives and Liberals

Anoop Verma, on his site "The Verma Report" (formerly "For the New Intellectual"), has posted a thread dealing with those sections of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical dealing with Ayn Rand's rejection of the conventional conservative-liberal polarity in American politics.

I just wanted to thank Anoop for bringing attention to this important issue on his site; those wishing to read his discussion should check it out here.

September 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1390

Song of the Day: The Passion of Ayn Rand ("Love Is, Love is Not"), words and music by Jeff Beal, is sung by Shirley Eikhard over the closing credits of the 1999 Showtime film, based on Barbara Branden's 1986 Rand biography of the same name. The film earned awards for some of its stellar acting performances: an Emmy Award for Helen Mirren in the lead role of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand ("Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie") and a Golden Globe Award for Peter Fonda in the role of Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor ("Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for TV"). Check out the sensitive jazz-infused song on YouTube.

August 17, 2016

Ayn Rand, David Cross, and Hypocrisy

Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:

"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand—I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."

Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.

First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.

Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed

every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.

Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.

I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.

Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.

Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.

But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?

The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.

And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.

Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.

Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.

Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)

August 11, 2016

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Boomerang Effect or How the Chickens Come Home to Roost

Readers should check out an extraordinary full-length New York Times Magazine exclusive, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart."

So much of what is discussed in this article provides us with too many examples of the unintended consequences and boomerang effects of U.S. foreign policy, a lesson in how the "chickens come home to roost," whatever the intentions of the initial actors in history.

Of course, U.S. foreign policy cannot be evaluated as a sole causal agent in the history of the Middle East, and the Times series does not even suggest this; after all, the U.S. has been involved in the Middle East for a century or so, but the tribalist and ideological insanity that has been embedded in that part of the world has gone on for centuries. I've had a lot to say about this for over a decade now. So I've taken an opportunity to provide readers with an index to many of the essays I've authored on the subject over the years:

"Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (March 2003) [a .pdf file]

"History and Oil" (December 2003)

"Dick Cheney’s Words of Wisdom, Circa 1992" (27 December 2003)

"Flames and Oxygen"(27 December 2003)

"A Question of Loyalty" (November 2003 - January 2004) [a .pdf. file]

"Consequences: Intended and Unintended" (11 April 2004)

"The Birth of a Narcostate" (13 June 2004)

"Weighing in on a Foreign Policy Debate, Again" (29 July 2004)

"Education and Nation-Building in Iraq" (15 August 2004)

"Unintended Consequences Not Unforeseeable" (12 September 2004)

"Freedom and 'Islamofascism'" (6 October 2004)

"Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept" (8 October 2004)

"America First" (10 October 2004)

In December 2004, I turned my attention to a five-part review of Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, published on the Liberty and Power Group Blog of the History News Network:

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments" (6 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations" (7 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III: Saudi Arabia" (8 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy" (9 Decemer 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy" (10 December 2004)

Additional essays followed:

"The Costs of War, Part 1" (23 March 2005)

"The Costs of War, Part 2" (25 March 2005)

"Iran, Again" (3 November 2005)

"ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent" (22 December 2005)

"Iraq: A Perception Problem?" (22 March 2006)

"A Crisis of Political Economy (1 October 2008)

None of the above essays, intensely critical of U.S. foreign policy, has anything to do with my own thoughts about September 11th 2001, the date on which a vicious attack on the home of my birth forever altered our lives. I've written 15 essays, beginning on that infamous date, and continuing each year in an annual tribute to those who lost their lives, those who saved lives, and those who have lived and learned to build again. Check out the index to those essays "Remembering the World Trade Center." A new essay in that annual series will be posted on the 15th anniversary of the attack: September 11, 2016.

August 09, 2016

Rio, Remixes and the Ridiculous

While sitting here watching Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Simone Biles and the US Women's Gymnastics Team kick ass, at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, I have been answering two-month old emails (that's what happens when you spend so much time working with a couple of dozen people on a pathbreaking double-issue of JARS... you fall behind in too many other things!!!). I have also updated my entry for "Song of the Day #1343," "Can't Stop the Feeling!," by Justin Timberlake, which went to #1 on the Billboard charts for the Hot 100, Digital Songs Sales, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, Dance Club, and Mainstream Top 40, as well as hitting the Top 5 on both the Dance/Mix Show Airplay and Rhythmic charts. And that's just in the U.S.; Timberlake hit #1 in 22 other countries as well. I picked the song way back on May 20th. Can I pick 'em, or what?

In the meanwhile, do check out the updated links to my Song of the Day #1343 Timberlake entry, which now includes many diverse remixes of the song and a few hilarious "Storm Trooper" videos. No, I can't explain them; they are whacked out!

July 18, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Three Rs

Today's post will discuss the Three Rs, as they relate, ironically, to the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: Reviews, Rand Studies, and Rape Culture.

As readers of Notablog know, my 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, went into a grand second edition in 2013, on the eve of its twentieth anniversary (readers can see all the blog posts related to this edition at a new page on my Russian Radical site). As is the fate of most second editions, even vastly expanded ones like the current book, few reviews seem to surface. But it has been a pleasant surprise to see that the book has made an impact on the ever-growing Rand scholarly literature. I have updated the review section of the Russian Radical page to reflect some of the reviews and discussions of the book in that literature. My own reply to critics ("Reply to Critics:  The Dialectical Rand") will not appear until July 2017 in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 17, no. 1). The delay in that reply has been primarily due to the fact that we, at the journal, have been working relentlessly on what promises to be, perhaps, the most important issue ever published by JARS: a double-issue symposium, due out in December 2016 (Volume 16, nos. 1-2): "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." It is a book-length version of the journal that will be print published and available online through JSTOR and Project Muse, and to those who wish to purchase single print copies or single copies of the first e-book and Kindle editions of JARS ever published. We are proud of the final product, which includes sixteen essays by people coming from a wide diversity of disciplines and perspectives, including political and social theory, philosophy, literature, film, business and leadership, anthropology, and, of course, academic and clinical psychology. It also includes the most extensive annotated bibliography of Branden works and of the secondary literature mentioning Branden yet published.

What makes this issue so important is that it will bring to a wider audience the work of many writers who have never appeared in any Rand-oriented periodical, while also bringing attention to the work and legacy of Branden to the community of clinical and academic psychologists. It is an issue that only JARS could have produced. Such a study would never come forth from the "orthodox" Objectivists, who have virtually airbrushed even Branden’s canonic contributions to Objectivism out of existence (the new Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand a notable exception), or from the established orthodoxies of the psychological community who have dismissed Branden's work as "pop" psychology—in much the same way that the established scholarly orthodoxies locked out Rand from the Western canon by referring to her as a cult-fiction writer and pop philosopher, an attitude that has slowly been eroded over the years by increasingly serious work on her corpus, something to which JARS has contributed with pride.

In any event, readers can find excerpts from some of the commentaries made on Russian Radical in the recent scholarly literature by checking the updated review pages here.

Ironically, among the reviewers is Wendy McElroy, who discussed Russian Radical in the pages of JARS (in a review that appeared in the July 2015 issue). I’m happy that Wendy had the opportunity to review the book, given that she has been so hard at work on so many worthwhile projects. One of those projects was just published: a truly provocative new book, entitled Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women. I’ve just posted a mini-review of the 5-star book on amazon.com; here is what I had to say (which relates directly to my view of "The Dialectical Rand"):

Wendy McElroy's new book, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women, is certainly one of the most provocative books on this subject ever written. The freshness with which McElroy approaches the subject is in itself controversial, though it is hard to believe that approaching any subject with reason as one's guide could possibly be controversial. Whether one agrees or disagrees with any particular point made by McElroy, what she accomplishes here is to show the power of a nearly all-encompassing ideology to corrupt the very subject it seeks to make transparent.  The power of her analysis lies in the intricate ways in which she approaches not only the problems of rape culture ideology but in the documentation and analysis that she uses to undermine many of the arguments that its proponents put forth to support their various positions. It is a startling display of analytical power so strong that it must challenge people on all ends of the political spectrum.
The sad part of the Politically Correct doctrine of the "rape culture," however, is that it actually undermines the power of some doctrines that I, as a social theorist, accept, with provisos.  For example, the doctrine that "the personal is the political," rejected with good reason by McElroy, is used by PC feminists in a way that does not illuminate the mutual implications of the personal and the political; rather, it folds everything personal into the political.  That such a doctrine could have emerged out of postmodern New Left thought is doubly disturbing, however, given the Marxist penchant for so-called "dialectical" analysis, that is, analysis that aims to grasp the wider context of social problems by tracing their common roots and multidimensional manifestations and undermining them in a radical way.  The same penchant exists, in my view, among many of those in the libertarian and individualist traditions, including in the work of the self-declared "anti-feminist" Ayn Rand, who, for all her anti-feminism, may have done more to empower women than any PC feminist could have ever dreamed… this, despite her views of man-woman relationships or of homosexuality, both of which one can take issue with, while not doing fundamental damage to her overall philosophic system.
The fact is that even Rand believed that there were mutual implications between the personal and the political; one's view of oneself, how one uses one's mind, the methods of one's thinking processes (so-called "psycho-epistemology", etc.) and the origins of the doctrine of self-esteem, and of the self-esteem movement championed by her protege, Nathaniel Branden, show how certain cultural, educational, and political institutions have virtually conditioned individuals to accept authority and certain destructive ideologies in ways that ultimately undermine their ability to think as individuals and accept self-responsibility, thus paving the way for the rule of coercive political power. Rand and her intellectual progeny have grasped these phenomena by showing how they operate in mutually reinforcing ways across disciplines and institutions within a system, and across time.I don't think McElroy would disagree with this, even if she fundamentally questions the doctrine of "the personal is the political," for she, herself, shows that there are indeed both personal and political consequences to the ways in which that doctrine is used by its so-called champions. But that is the kind of fundamental rethinking McElroy's book provokes for any reader who approaches her work with a critical mind. Bravo!

March 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1336

Song of the Day: The Miracle Worker ("Main Title: Helen Alone") [YouTube link] was composed by Laurence Rosenthal for the brilliant 1962 film, starring Oscar-winning Best Actress, Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress, Patty Duke as Helen Keller. I grew up watching "The Patty Duke Show" on television, but this was another side of Duke entirely. As Ayn Rand observed in her essay, "Kant versus Sullivan," Duke gave a "superlative performance" as the young Keller both on the Broadway stage and in the screen version of what Rand called "the only epistemological play ever written," for its depiction of the way in which human beings grow to understand words and their referents. Rand praised Bancroft as well, for illustrating a fierce "titanic" determination to transform a young girl with little sensory contact to reality into a thinking human being. Sadly, Patty Duke passed away today at the age of 69. But I'll never forget laughing to her TV show, and crying when she utters the word "water" in this film's finale. The expressive Rosenthal score puts to music the aloneness and alienation that Keller must have experienced as a child before her cognitive liberation by Sullivan.

March 27, 2016

Don Heath, RIP

After hearing the tragic news of the passing of Tibor Machan, I am saddened to report of the passing of another light of liberty: Don Heath, who passed away on March 25th, after suffering a massive coronary. We last corresponded in February, after hearing reports of his being cancer-free for five years, and I wished him well.

I knew Don from the 1990s when he assisted me, no matter how many times I interrupted him, during my years of research and writing, in the preparation of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. A man with a delightful demeanor and sweet personality, he was always a joy to talk to or to see. My condolences to his friends and family for this devastating loss.

March 25, 2016

Tibor Machan, Friend and Colleague, RIP

I have just heard that yesterday, Thursday, March 24, 2016, Tibor Machan passed away. He was my dear friend and colleague of many, many years, and I can hardly believe it. I know he was very sick for many months, and I'd been in touch with him regularly. He never forgot my birthday (and sent me a birthday e-card back in February, while awaiting a CAT Scan!), and I never forgot his. We last corresponded at the beginning of March, about the great film, "Judgment at Nuremberg." He was an indefatigable warrior for liberty, with a larger-than-life personality ... and handshake. He published hundreds of articles and scores of books that covered more topics than I could count, so important to the emergent modern libertarian movement, whether one agreed or disagreed with this or that point.

I first encountered the name of Tibor Machan when I found a book called The Libertarian Alternative, which had "selections in social and political philosophy" from a vast array of libertarian thinkers. This 1974 edited collection offered a kaleidoscopic vision of so many different approaches to the defense of liberty, from authors as diverse as Nathaniel Branden, Roy Childs, Milton Friedman, John Hospers, Israel Kirzner, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, James Sadowsky, Thomas Szsaz, and Joan Kennedy Taylor. I largely credit that book with opening the door to what became a vast library in libertarian thinking; I never knew that it would also be a door that would lead to correspondence with many of its authors, some of whom became my teachers ... and friends.

Though I had published before in New York University periodicals, I had never been professionally published outside of the university, from which I earned my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. So it was Tibor Machan who first engaged me when I emerged from the university, with the idea that I was going to drag dialectical method and libertarian thinking into constructive engagement with one another. My first attempt, "The Crisis of Libertarian Dualism," an article published in Critical Review in 1987, elicited a stern response from Tibor, to which I replied in the Spring/Summer 1988 issue of the journal. It was clear that we were on the same side, politically, even though my criticisms of certain forms of libertarianism must have raised my colleague's eyebrows just a bit. A year later, Tibor would publish my very first professional article on Ayn Rand, entitled, "Ayn Rand's Critique of Ideology," [.pdf link] which appeared in the Spring 1989 issue of Reason Papers. Suffice it to say, that single article did more to propel my percolating work on Rand as a dialectical thinker than any publication or presentation I'd done. I sent it to scores of people I'd never met, most of whom responded with courteous and respectful criticisms that only propelled my interest in the subject exponentially. I met scholars such as Douglas Rasmussen, Douglas Den Uyl, and so many other individuals, who I am today, proud to call my dearest friends and colleagues; many of them eventually became advisory board members for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which I co-founded with Bill Bradford and Stephen Cox in the Fall of 1999. And I was proud to publish Tibor's essays in that journal (indeed, JARS eventually published seven essays written by Tibor). He was a regular subscriber to the journal, and never lost an opportunity to praise it, or severely criticize a particular essay that enraged him. His emotional range was remarkably wide. One might say his passion burned: you could feel the deep warmth of a friend, and the scalding fire of a critic, in the same conversation. But in the end, it was that deep warmth that touched my heart.

I will always thank him from the bottom of that heart for all the opportunities he gave me and especially for all of the support he showed me when so many were shocked at the 1995 appearance of the first edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. So incensed was he by the chorus of boos that he provided a rousing endorsement for the book. He was especially supportive during some of my own darkest medical adventures. He was a comrade, a colleague, and a friend to the end, and I will miss him very, very much.

February 26, 2016

The Jackie Gleason Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

"A SONG OF THE DAY" GLEASON TRIBUTE BEGINS WITH "THE HUSTLER"

Facebook Announcement: The first episode of the famous television series "The Honeymooners" made its debut in prime time, and so I've waited for prime time to debut this essay in honor of the man who gave "The Honeymooners" life: Jackie Gleason. One hundred years ago today, Jackie Gleason was born. Since my celebration of Gleason's Centenary intersects with my Annual Film Music February Tribute, I have decided to post an exclusive Notablog essay (and brief musical series) on the importance and impact of Gleason, and to highlight music cues from films in which Gleason appeared on the culminating Oscar weekend of Film Music February.

This essay can be found in the Essay Section of the Sciabarra "Dialectics and Liberty Site" but I am reproducing it here as a Notablog Exclusive.

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Today, Friday, February 26, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to one of the greatest entertainers to have ever graced American culture: Jackie Gleason. Just as I grew up listening to the music of Francis Albert Sinatra, an artist who was the focus of my centenary celebration in November-December 2015, so too did I grow up watching the television shows, and films, and listening to the music produced by the man whom Orson Welles called "The Great One," Jackie Gleason. Gleason was a native Brooklynite, born in my hometown one hundred years ago on this date.

Though he was a co-recipient (with Perry Como) of the 1955 Peabody Award for his contributions to television entertainment, his career is notable for what he didn't get: despite five Emmy nominations, for situation comedy ("The Honeymooners"), variety shows ("The Jackie Gleason Show"), and general Recognition ("Best Comedian"), he never won an Emmy. Despite three Golden Globe nominations, he never won a globe. Despite an Oscar nomination as "Best Supporting Actor" in "The Hustler," he never won an Oscar (though he did receive the Golden Laurel Award for the performance). And despite having produced nearly 60 albums that charted on The Billboard 200 album chart, including
"Music for Lovers Only"---which was the #1 album of 1953, spending 153 total weeks within the Billboard Top Ten (nearly twice the number of weeks in the Top Ten that Michael Jackson's opus, "Thriller," which, with 78 weeks in the Top Ten [and 37 weeks at #1], and at 100 million worldwide units sold, is the biggest selling album of all time)---he has never been recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, not even with a "Hall of Fame" induction. Indeed, Gleason practically gave birth to the genre of "mood music" and his first ten theme albums sold over a million copies each.

It being "Film Music February," it should be said that it was film that inspired Gleason to produce such albums. So impressed was he by the capacity of film scores to magnify emotions on screen, especially in romantic scenes, he once said: "If [Clark] Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate." Let's not forget that Gleason himself was no slouch in the melody department; he was, after all, the composer of the themes to The Honeymooners ("You're My One and Only Love") and "The Jackie Gleason Show" ("Melancholy Serenade").

But his talent could have been stillborn if he did not battle his way out of poverty and parental abuse. His mother was an alcoholic, whose first son Clemence passed away from spinal meningitis at age 14. Determined to protect her second son, she tied young Jackie to a chair during the day while she imbibed in the bar downstairs. When he showed his fine skill at loosening knots, his mother nailed the windows shut. The only solace he had was to go with his father on weekends to see Vaudeville at Brooklyn's Halsey Theatre, and to soak up the comic antics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the silent films of his childhood. He had decided that this is what he wanted to be when he grew up: an entertainer. He started school too late, because of his mother's paranoid antics; he attended Public School 73, and John Adams and Bushwick High Schools, but he was never to graduate with a high school diploma. His father abandoned the family in 1925, something for which Jackie always blamed himself, and ten years later, his mother succumbed to complications from alcoholism. He had to quit school, and fought loneliness, alienation, and the ever-empty wallet, by hustling pool halls to make money (experiences that served him well years later for a film role that netted him an Oscar nomination).

He was alienated and depressed and he self-medicated by overeating. Indeed, he spent his life battling the side effects of living large after living so small---smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much. But those binges were not possible without the ability to earn a living. He quit school, and he began a quest to become an entertainer. His first efforts at fame were humiliating failures, whether attempting stand-up routines on stage or playing bit parts in early Warner Brothers comedies . At first, he was good at stealing the material of others, like Milton Berle, and making it his own. But he hung out with people across entertainment, including many jazz musicians. I suspect that it was the jazz bug that made Gleason's comedy so infectious, for it was at its best when it was improvisational. Lou Walters caught his show, and gave Gleason a chance to perform in a Broadway revue, "Hellzapoppin'." By the late 1940s, he got his big break, landing the role of Charles A. Riley for the first TV incarnation of "The Life of Riley," a show for which William Bendix was famous to the radio audience. He eventually was seen on the DuMont Network's "Cavalcade of Stars." Whereas Gleason was never really a stand-up comic, he was superior in an ensemble setting, where he played off of his co-stars with utterly perfect timing. He was notorioius for very little rehearsing and for hilarious ad-libbing.

Gleason's show capitalized on the great music scene in New York City; he brought in fine musicians, and even a Busby Berkeley-type dance troupe, the June Taylor Dancers, whose precision choreography was always a highlight of the show. But the show allowed him to nourish his strengths; he developed sketch comedy routines drawn from the real-life characters of his youth: Reginald Van Gleason III, the Poor Soul, and Joe the Bartender (with Frank Fontaine playing Crazy Guggenheim) among them.

Most importantly, though, Art Carney joined the cast of the "Cavalcade of Stars" in 1950, but his experiences acting with Gleason went far beyond single-sketch comedy. Indeed, the two starred together in a 1953 Studio One production, "The Laugh Maker," which showed audiences that Gleason's talents went beyond the comedic. He had some serious dramatic acting chops, as they say in the business. He portrayed the tortured comedian who sought compulsive laughs to hide his insecurities. By 1954, CBS gave him a contract larger than any in the history of television, offering him $100,000 a year for the next 15 years to appear exclusively on their network. Among his first changes to the CBS line-up were producing back-to-back filmed episodes recorded before a live audience of "Stage Show," which offered viewers a half hour of music that embraced everyone from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley; and that was followed by a full 30-minute version of "The Honeymooners," as a self-contained situation comedy. So identified was he with the Every Man, with a dream of making it big that he was celebrated as an American icon. Years later, a life-size statue of Gleason, dressed in the bus driver uniform of Ralph Kramden, was placed outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

Ultimately,it was the chemistry of Gleason and Carney that boosted the early "Honeymooners" sketches within the "Cavalcade of Stars," the highest rated show for the fledgling DuMont network. The show was subsequently sold to CBS in 1952 and, renamed "The Jackie Gleason Show." It was being watched by one third of the nation's television viewers by 1953.

"The Honeymooners" came to dominate "The Jackie Gleason Show." Early on, with Audrey Meadows replacing Pert Kelton as Alice and Joyce Randolph replacing Elaine Stritch as Trixie, the stage was set for a spin-off that led to 39 half-hour episodes that have become known as "The Classic 39," and it was in later years that those 39 were syndicated, permeating pop culture with a slew of scripted and unscripted sayings that became part of the American vernacular:

"A-Homina-Homina-Homina"

"You're a Riot, Alice, You're a regular Riot."

"I'm King of the Castle"

"Bang, Zoom, To the Moon"

"I Got a Big Mouth"

"She's a Blabbermouth!"

"One of these days, Alice, POW, right in the kisser!"

While the episodes that preceded these were preserved in kinescopes (the so-called "Lost Episodes"), "The Classic 39" were filmed with an advanced Electronicam system, as were all "Honeymooners" episodes that followed the 39 half-hour season. And for those who have not seen the post-39 "Lost Episodes," I recommend them highly: they were written for an hour-long "Jackie Gleason Show" slot, and included episodes that will have you laughing to the point of needing oxygen, and crying, for the remarkable poignancy shown in such episodes as "The Adoption" (a 1955 episode that was remade subsequently in 1966 as a musical version).

The Kramdens and the Nortons win a riotous trip through Europe: England, Spain, Paris, Rome, and even behind the Iron Curtain. And by this point, Gleason was already pioneering original musical numbers into the sketch comedy; this became a staple of the so-called "Color Honeymooners" when Gleason's show moved to Miami Beach, Florida (and Sheila McRae replaced Audrey Meadows as Alice and Jane Kean replaced Joyce Randolph as Trixie).

Though Gleason never received in life the awards and accolades he deserved, his ensemble players brought out the best in each other: Art Carney, after all, won six out of the dozen Emmy nominations he received, and of these six, four were for his work on "The Jackie Gleason Show" and one for his stint on the Classic 39 of "The Honeymooners." Carney, of course, went on to receive a "Best Actor" Oscar award for the 1974 film, "Harry and Tonto." And Audrey Meadows, nominated for four Emmys during this period, won a single statuette for her work on "The Jackie Gleason Show."

But let's grasp just who was the center of this universe. It was Gleason who was Every Man. He gave expression to every person's natural fears, desires, dreams, and disappointments, with comedic genius and with a simple flair for showing poignancy and empathy. When he goes on a television competition show, in search of "The $99,000 Answer," and [SPOILER ALERT!] loses on his very first guess, your laughter is covering a bit of sadness for every disappointment you've suffered in the hopes of getting that grand payoff that will make your day, or that will help every loved one you know. Even if he loses a "mere bag of shells," you can't help but feel for him.

One other thing stands out, however, in "The Honeymooners." In Pictures of Patriarchy, Batya Weinbaum tried to place the show under the rubric of typical patriarchy (South End Press, 1983, 119-20)). But let's not kid ourselves: This was not the idyllic picture of the 1950s: this wasn't "Father Knows Best" with the family unit living behind a white picket fence, graced by the wisdom of its Father Figure; this wasn't even "I Love Lucy," in which Ricky Ricardo gets to regularly remind his crazy red-headed wife Lucy that she needs to go see a "phys-i-kee-a-trist." And even if you were expecting a loudmouth "King of the Castle" who was always right, just how Ralph advertised himself, what you more often understood was that Alice Kramden was the only one playing with a full deck in this situation comedy. She was the smartest, most rational, most practical, and most loving wife on television, loving enough to forgive her husband the flaws of his endless foibles. [Ed: I found this essay, "Alice Kramden: The First TV Feminist," after posting my tribute and it's worth taking a look at!] I once co-edited a book called Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; it would not surprise me if somebody suggested a book entitled Feminist Interpretations of "The Honeymooners"
(or, perhaps, "The Honeymooners" and Philosophy) because there are few women in 1950s television that could have rivaled Alice Kramden as a character both strong and loving and virtually always right. (Oh, and don't kid yourself, some scholar out there would contribute an essay based on the Eddie Murphy-inspired homoerotic idea, only this time filtered through the lens of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, that the real love affair here is between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, since women, like Alice, are merely the mediating presence in a triangle between men who share a "romantic" bond that is unconsummated. Alice suggests as much on more than one occasion that the two of them act like a married couple!)

By 1959, David Merrick offered Gleason the chance to perform in "Take Me Along" on Broadway. For this role, Gleason won the only major award in his career, as Helen Hayes handed him the Tony Award for " Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical" He began his speech with, "I have always wanted to meet Helen Hayes, and it couldn't have been at a better occasion." He went back to television with a show called "You're in the Picture," which bombed and literally played for one week on the tube. The following week, he got on television and made such fun of how bad the show was, that he charmed the audience back to his good graces. He finished out his season with "The Jackie Gleason Show" reimagined as a talk show.; But in 1961, despite unpleasant memories of his early years in Hollywood, he returned to Hollywood, and received triumphant reviews for "The Hustler," losing his Oscar to the tidal wave that was "West Side Story." This was followed in 1962 with a Gleason-inspired story of a mute simpleton who falls in love with a prostitute and her daughter; it was Gene Kelly who directed "Gigot." And in that same year, he starred with Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," the big screen adaptation of Rod Serling's small screen masterpiece. Quinn later lauded Gleason for his ability to get everything right in one take; he likened his artistry to the pure talent of Frank Sinatra in this regard. A year later, Gleason added another film credit to his growing filmography, and with it came the first hearing of the "catchphrase," "How Sweet It is!," from the film "Papa's Delicate Condition."

All was ready for his triumphant return to television, with band leader Sammy Spear, and the sketch comedy that made him famous. In 1964, however, Gleason decided to move the entire show to Miami Beach, Florida. CBS knew Gleason was difficult to work with, but he was irreplaceable. On August 1, 1965, the cast, the press, and a swinging Dixieland band boarded the Great Gleason Express, and thousands of tourists lined the parade route to Miami. But Gleason was dismayed that "The Honeymooners" in syndication was doing better than his current show; so he reinvented the show, with a reboot of the Honeymooners later dubbed "The Color Honyemooners" with Sheila McRae and Jayne Keene taking the roles of Alice and Trixie, respectively. He'd eventually end those episodes with another classic sign-off, "Miami Beach Audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!" (probably because most of their inhabitants had migrated from New York City!)

Eventually, CBS and Gleason went their separate ways as cultural mores seemed to change. But Gleason kept moving. He did "Smokey and the Bandit" and its two sequels with Burt Reynolds. He starred in "Izzy and Moe" with his old pal Carney; opposite Laurence Olivier in the two-man 1983 HBO special, "Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson," and with Tom Hanks in "Nothing in Common" (1986). He suffered through the filming of that movie, knowing that complications from colon cancer had metastasized to his liver. But he gave the performace of his lifetime, and when he passed away on June 24, 1987, his fans seemed to have uttered, in one united voice, "Baby, You're the Greatest." On the Centenary of his birth, he remains "The Great One."

Referenes: In addition to drawing from online sources such as Wikipedia, this article drew material from such video recordings as "Golden TV Classics: The Jackie Gleason American Scene," "A&E's Biography, Jackie Gleason: The Great One," and DVD collections of "The Honeymooners" including the "60th Anniversary Edition of "The Honeymooners" Lost Episodes: 1951-1957," "The Honeymooners: 'The Classic 39 Episodes' and several DVD editons of "The Color Honeymooners" and "Honeymooners" holiday specials aired in the 1970s.

February 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1323

Song of the Day: Sophie's Choice ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Marvin Hamlisch, is a soft, loving theme that cushions the blow of an utterly devastating film. I only saw this film about a year ago, and was deeply affected by the horrors it depicts during the years of the Nazi holocaust. Without referring to the "choice" that Sophie must make in the film, I can say that it reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living, which depicts the horrors of Soviet communism, in one important sense: the insanity of totalitarian political systems that allow no choices except among forms of death and decay. It is all the more fitting to remember that nightmare on this day, which is a "day of remembrance" for those who were the subject of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps within the United States during World War II. Ironically, it was film that first made me aware of those camps, when I first saw "Hell to Eternity," as a child, a 1960 movie with Jeffrey Hunter (who played Christ in the 1961 film, "King of Kings") and David Janssen (who was "The Fugitive" in that remarkable television series of the 1960s). Those camps certainly were not extermination camps, but they are a symbol of what happens during wartime, when individual rights are abrogated both at home and abroad. In any event, the 1982 film gave Meryl Streep a much-deserved Oscar award for Best Actress, and Hamlisch received a much-deserved nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the iconic John Williams score for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." It is difficult to find a moment of joy or laughter in films of this nature, but I will never forget Sophie's admiration of Stingo's seersucker jacket [YouTube link]. The film's house was situated in Brooklyn, New York, and it stands still on Rugby Road in Flatbush.

December 13, 2015

JARS: New December 2015 Issue and A Forthcoming 2016 Blockbuster

You folks didn't think that I've been listening to so much Frank Sinatra over the last 19 days, leading up to "The Frank Sinatra Centenary", that I forgot to work diligently with my colleagues toward the production of the year-end edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, did you?

From our home page:

Volume 15, Number 2 (Issue 30, December 2015) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, is the current issue, continuing our tradition of multiperspectival, interdisciplinary studies of Ayn Rand and her times. And like every issue in the history of the publication, we always take pride in publishing the work of at least one new contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a further indication of just how important the study of Rand has become. The current issue is our thirtieth issue; we have published a total of 290 essays by 152 different authors (obviously, some authors have been published in JARS more than once). The bottom line is that if someone had told me in 1999 that such statistics were possible, I would not have believed them. At most, I figured there were a few dozen scholars out there who would be willing to publish in a Rand journal, but even fewer, once you consider that some authors in Rand-land would refuse to appear in a journal that would dare "sanction" the publication of essays from Slavoj Zizek, Bill Martin, and Gene Bell-Villada to George Reisman, David Kelley, and various members of our Editorial and Advisory Boards, to name but a few. But those authors outside our orbit have always had an open invitation to publish in this journal; if the Berlin Wall can fall down, anything is possible.
And so, in concluding our Fifteenth Anniversary Year, we offer another provocative issue. Eric B. Dent and new JARS contributor John A. Parnell, contribute an essay that makes the Objectivist case for reconciling economics and ethics in business ethics education. Continuing the pedagogical theme, Edward W. Younkins discusses the treatment of business and businesspeople in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and how these paradigmatic heroic portraits have been used in college-level business courses.
We then move onto the conclusion of Roger E. Bissell's Opus (Part 1 appeared in the December 2014 issue of JARS), which rethinks issues in epistemology, logic, and "the objective," by mining the insights of Rand's unit-perspective view of concepts. The issue ends with a lively discussion between Michelle Marder Kamhi and Fred Seddon, inspired by Seddon's December 2014 review of Kamhi's book, Who Says That's Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts.

NEW DECEMBER 2015 JARS

Readers can access the full abstracts and contributor biographies relevant to the contents of this year-end edition of the journal.

I'd like to continue quoting from the announcement of the new JARS, because, well, 'you ain't seen nothin' yet':

JARS readers should savor the new December 2015 issue, because we won't publish another issue until next December. 2016 is going to be a banner year in the history of this journal. The December 2016 issue will be the first double-issue in our history (Volume 16, nos. 1 & 2). Our "Call for Papers" on the topic of "Assessing the Work and Legacy of Nathaniel Branden" has resulted in a symposium of considerable size, featuring submissions from an international group of scholars, providing critical, interpretive perspectives from disciplines as varied as literature, history, politics, and, of course, psychology. In fact, a sizable proportion of our contributors have no connection to Objectivism whatsoever, but they speak as professional psychologists who learned much from the man who many consider to be the "father" of the self-esteem movement in contemporary psychology. The issue will also include the first print publication of "Objectivism: Past and Future," a 1996 transcribed Branden lecture (and Q&A session). And we will also publish the most extensive annotated bibliography ever assembled of Branden's work and the existing secondary literature. This will be such an historic issue, that Pennsylvania State University Press, which typically publishes a regular print run, and its JSTOR electronic version, has also committed to the publication of a stand-alone e-book / Kindle edition.

If you're not a subscriber now, join the excitement and subscribe today! Check out our 2016 price schedule here.

August 12, 2015

Rand: Big in Japan, Romania, Poland, Russia, Etc., Etc., Etc.

Back on 20 July 2004, I published a brief essay, "The First Landing of Ayn Rand in Japan!", exclusive to Notablog, about how I'd helped a friend and colleague of mine, Kayoko Fujimori, Professor at Momoyama Gakuin University (alias, St. Andrew's University) in Osaka, Japan, associated with the Society for the Study of Ayn Rand in Japan, in the clarification of certain idiomatic expressions, ideas, and themes in Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead. The book was published in Japanese back on 8 July 2004, with cover illustration by the well-known Japanese anime illustrator, Nobuyuki Ohnishi.

Big In Japan

Subsequent to the appearance of this brief discussion, I was approached by Alexandra Seremina, who translated the piece into Romanian. I wrote about it in a Notablog post, dated 9 April 2012, on the "Multilingual Appeal" of the piece. It was also translated into Polish by Maksim Ivancov.

Now, eleven years after the appearance of the original post, I was approached by Professor Alexander Nikiforov, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Head of the Kazan Technical University (named after AN Tupolev, KNITU-KAI), who wished to translate the piece into Russian. (We even discussed the possibility of getting Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical translated, but that's a long-term project, indeed.) Today, Professor Nikiforov sent me the link for the Russian translation of my essay; check it out here.

For all I know, the popularity of this essay must have something to do with my penchant for posting "Songs of the Day." I guess I'll have to really consider adding the 1984 #1 Dance Hit by Alphaville.

Postscript (15 August 2015): Subsequent to the publication of this Notablog entry, Science Team translated "The First Landing of Ayn Rand in Japan" into Spanish! See here.

August 07, 2015

Russian Radical 2.0: Reviews and Retrospectives

It's been awhile since I've reported on the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, so now that I have a little break in-between editing issues of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (I handed in the December 2015 issue just yesterday!), I figure now is just as good a time as any to give an update.

First, for those of you who don't know much about the second expanded edition of this book, I provide here an index of relevant Notablog posts:

Part 1: The Cover
Part 2: The Cover Story
Part 3: 1995 vs. 2013: What's Different?
Part 4: Preface to the Second Edition
Part 5: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions
Part 6: 12 September 2013, Release Date
Part 7: A Kindle Edition and Revised Revisions

Today's report on the second edition could not be more timely, since, after all, it was literally twenty years ago this month, yes, you read that right: TWENTY YEARS AGO, that the first edition of the book was published by Pennsylvania State University Press. As Carlin Romano puts it in his 2012 book, America The Philosophical:

Nineteen ninety-five also saw the publication of the first scholarly study of Rand published by a respected university press, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State) by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, a political scientist [ed: I actually prefer to call myself a "political theorist" or "social theorist," since I received my Ph.D. in political theory, philosophy, and methodology, and New York University, bless them, has a Department of Politics, not a Department of Political Science!] That book spurred debate with its novel claim that Rand, who came to the United States in 1926, is best understood as a thinker whose roots in Russian philosophy and Marxism's dialectical tradition account for the unique syntheses of her later work. Since then, scholarly interest in her has significantly spiked, if not boomed, fanned by the wide theatrical distribution of Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, a 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary approved by the Ayn Rand Institute, and such studies as What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi. The Chronicle of Higher Education, in an overview of Rand's place in academe, reported many more books on Rand's thought on the way (including a study by [the late Allan] Gotthelf), as well as a journal devoted to Randian literary [ed: and philosophical] studies.

I would like to think that my first edition not only rode the wave of that boom, but was at least partially responsible for creating it. (In reality, my work on Rand was the first book-length study published by a university press; I have always given credit to my dearest friends and colleagues, Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, co-editors of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (1987), published by the University of Illinois Press; the fact that both of these extraordinary scholars sit on the Board of Advisors of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is no accident. Their encouragement and support of my work has been immeasurable!)

The first edition of Russian Radical was published the same week as another work of mine: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was actually Part I of what would become my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." Russian Radical constituted Part II of that trilogy; in 2000, Part III concluded the study: Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. Taken as an "organic whole," the three books were designed to reclaim a dialectical mode of inquiry as an indispensable tool in the construction of a radical libertarian analytical approach.

Nevertheless, getting back to the second edition of Russian Radical, not many reviews have been published. That's fairly typical of second editions, but the "Dialectics and Liberty" site will be updated periodically to reflect any reviews that appear in online or print form. Thus far, one can take a look at the index of reviews for the second edition, where one will find excerpts and abstracts for two reviews (the first appearing on the site of the Center for a Stateless Society, the other appearing in the July 2015 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies).

My own reply to the review that appears in the current issue of JARS, written by my friend and colleague, Wendy McElroy, will appear in the July 2016 issue of the journal, along with a reply written by Roger E. Bissell.

In any event, I am happy that I've stuck around long enough to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first two books of my trilogy; I'll be positively ecstatic when I mark the centennial anniversary!

July 02, 2015

New July 2015 Issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

I am delighted to announce the publication of the July 2015 issue (Volume 15, Number 1, Issue 29) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, published by Pennsylvania State University Press.

THE NEW JULY 2015 JARS

The issue exhibits our truly interdisciplinary character. Essays dealing with subjects as diverse as epistemology, literary criticism, psychology, feminism, and ethics are featured.

The issue begins with a Call for Papers on the subject, "Assessing the Legacy of Nathaniel Branden," written by me, as one of the founding co-editors of the journal. For more information on the planned symposium, see here and here.

The issue then gets off to a monumentally provocative start with an essay by Susan Love Brown, which delves into the controversial issue of "Ayn Rand and Rape," focusing on the famous "rape" scene in Rand's novel, The Fountainhead. Co-authors Marc Champagne and Mimi Reisel Gladstein present the first essay in the literature that engages in a comparative study of the works of Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand.

In keeping with our tradition of expanding the global universe of scholars engaging in Rand studies and appearing in our pages for the first time, we have Anna Kostenko, a professor teaching at the National Technical University in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, who examines the parallels and distinctions beteen Rand and Vladimir Nabokov; Gary Chartier, professor of law and business ethics from La Cierra University, who reviews Jason Brennan's book, Why Not Capitalism?; author Troy Camplin, who reviews two current studies in libertarian literary criticism (one by Allen P. Mendenhall, the other by Edward W. Younkins); and feminist-libertarian scholar Wendy McElroy, who reviews the second edition of Sciabarra's book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which will, no doubt, provoke a discussion in one of our forthcoming issues (I think I could take editor's privilege on my own Notablog by saying that, yes, I've written my own reply already (and there is at least one more that has been finalized)! It is, after all, hard to believe that the book is, indeed, twenty years old this summer!)

The new July 2015 edition also includes essays by Roger E. Bissell, critiquing the Objectivist theory of volition, and Robert L. Campbell, critiquing the notion of "psychologizing" in the Rand literature. We conclude with a symposium featuring a discussion of Marsha Familaro Enright's provocative July 2014 essay "The Problem with Selfishness," with replies by Arnold Baise and Merlin Jetton, and a rejoinder by Enright. That essay has provoked so many responses that we will be featuring a follow-up discussion in our July 2016 issue.

Our December 2016 is tentatively set for the forthcoming symposium, "Assessing the Work and Legacy of Nathaniel Branden," which is fast filling up with contributions from scholars across the globe coming from vastly different disciplines.

Here is the official Table of Contents (readers can access abstracts here and contributor biographies here):

JULY 2015 THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES - TABLE OF CONTENTS

Editor’s Introduction: Assessing the Legacy of Nathaniel Branden - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

ARTICLES

Ayn Rand and Rape - Susan Love Brown

Beauvoir and Rand: Asphyxiating People, Having Sex, and Pursuing a Career - Marc Champagne and Mimi Reisel Gladstein

Ayn Rand and Vladimir Nabokov: The Issue of Literary Dialogue - Anna Kostenko

The Prohibition Against Psychologizing - Robert L. Campbell

Where There’s a Will, There’s a “Why”: A Critique of the Objectivist Theory of Volition - Roger E. Bissell

BOOK REVIEWS

Liberating Capitalism? (A review of Jason Brennan's book, Why Not Capitalism?) - Gary Chartier

Freedom and Fiction (Reviews of Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism by Allen P. Mendenhall and Exploring Capitalist Fiction: Business through Literature and Film by Edward W. Younkins) - Troy Camplin

Russian Radical: Twenty Years Later (A review of the second edition of Chris Matthew Sciabarra's book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) - Wendy McElroy

DISCUSSION

Symposium on Marsha Familaro Enright’s essay, “The Problem with Selfishness”

- Reply to Marsha Familaro Enright: Selfishness and the OED - Arnold Baise

- Reply to Marsha Familaro Enright: Conceptual Classifications - Merlin Jetton

- Rejoinder to Arnold Baise and Merlin Jetton: Differing Conceptual Classifications for Selfishness - Marsha Familaro Enright

We know readers will enjoy the issue; it is already published online through JSTOR, but print versions will be arriving in the mailboxes of subscribes by July 10ish. For information on subscriptions, see here

February 22, 2015

The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden: Memorial and a JARS Call for Papers

Today, the Atlas Society, John and Danis Fickewirth, and the family of Nathaniel Branden are sponsoring a memorial gathering to honor Branden's life and achievements. Having passed away in December 2014, Nathaniel Branden will be honored at Ebell of Los Angeles (743 S Lucerne Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90005) from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM (PST). Through an arrangement with my friend, Duncan Scott, a wonderful film and television writer, director, and producer, the memorial will be streamed live here. After the streaming, a video of the service will be provided for viewing some days later. I will provide a postscript to this blog entry as soon as the video link is made available.

Today, I would like to announce that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has issued a Call for Papers for a forthcoming symposium that will assess the legacy and work of Nathaniel Branden.

I would like to mention that this symposium has been long-planned; it was, in fact, in the planning stages while Nathaniel was still with us, and he was aware that the journal was working toward a discussion of his legacy. I know that he and his wife, Leigh, were enthusiastic about our proposal. We already have several internationally known scholars on board. I look forward to seeing a discussion that will honor the journal's commitment to fostering scholarly dialogue through a respectful interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, drawn from a variety of interpretive and critical perspectives.

Anyone who would like to submit proposals for contributions to the symposium, should write to me at chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu. Further details will be provided in my introduction to the next issue of the journal, which will be in the hands of subscribers in July 2015 (Volume 15, No. 1).

Unable to attend today's memorial, I am there in spirit, and express my sympathies to all of those who grieve the passing of this path-breaking father of the self-esteem movement in psychology, and who celebrate his many accomplishments. Among these accomplishments, he was the first person to systematize Ayn Rand's philosophy, and to point toward those benefits and hazards of orthodoxy, to which he himself had contributed in the early days of the Objectivist movement. In my view, his post-Randian years include writings that are an astonishing monument to the theoretical and practical tasks required to honor the self and to live the good life.

More than this, and quite apart from the forthcoming JARS symposium, I just wish to say that Nathaniel was a loyal and dear friend to the end, and I remain deeply saddened by his passing. Fortunately, we have a solid body of scholarship left behind with which to grapple. I look forward to the work that emerges from this scholarly adventure.

Postscript (5 March 2015): The video of the Memorial Service for Nathaniel Branden can now be viewed in its entirety at this link. Thank you to Leigh Branden for providing me with this link.

February 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1221

Song of the Day: The Best Years of Our Lives ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is featured in the Oscar-winning Score (of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) composed by Hugo Friedhofer. The 1946 "Best Picture" showed us some of the horrific, lingering physical and psychological effects of war (even so-called "good wars") on those who survive it. Best Director William Wyler took home one of seven competitive gold statuettes won by this superb film (the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, also won the Irving Thalberg award and another individual also received an honorary award---more on that in a moment). A deserved Oscar went to Best Actor Frederic March (though Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, and Teresa Wright are all equally wonderful in their roles). The Best Supporting Actor, Harold Russell, also received an honorary award for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell had lost both hands in World War II, and got along just fine with two hooks. One philosopher from whose work I have learned much, apparently despised this film and "It's a Wonderful Life" (for shame!), because it had subliminal pink propaganda (like references to bankers "with a heart," etc.). I could write a few articles about how far she missed the mark (like I did for "A Christmas Carol" and "Ben-Hur"), but, suffice it to say, sometimes you can appreciate works of art on many different levels, even if some mixed premises ooze into the script. This film came out a year after the end of the most horrific war in human history, one that this particular philosopher opposed. But there's a reason the American public responded to the film. The struggles of its survivng veterans were palpable and resonated with its war weary audience. One of the aspects of this film that got well deserved recognition was Friedhofer's soundtrack. And for that, Bravo, Maestro!

December 03, 2014

Nathaniel Branden, Love and Friendship Eternal

Perhaps it is a sign of the fact that I am, like everyone else, getting older, and with age, comes the realization of one's own mortality and the mortality of those one has loved, respected and admired. Today, I learned that Nathaniel Branden passed away at the age of 84; I have been utterly devastated by the news. Too many bright lights of liberty have dimmed in the past few months.

Nathaniel Branden was one of those individuals who provided the kind of light that could illuminate the path to self-discovery and self-esteem. He was the father of the self-esteem movement, in every positive sense it has embodied.

But before eulogizing the man and his work, let's get a few items out of the way immediately: I am aware that he, like every other human being on earth had his faults, and that among these faults was that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) 25 years his senior, and lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed. My take on "The Affair" has been beaten to death. I am sure that those who hated him in life are gathering for parties tonight to dance and piss on this man's grave.

They should hang their heads in utter shame, for without Nathaniel Branden, nothing like a structured Objectivist philosophy would have emerged or influenced thousands of people across the globe.

I could not care less about all the naysayers; they owe Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his "Basic Principles of Objectivism" course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, 2009), a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of all the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden (who passed away a year ago, this December), a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published (though none of us Rand scholars non-affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute have had the privilege of listening to them, much less entering the premises to examine unpublished materials to compare them to their published versions---except for one, Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and her assessment of the state of affairs is worth reading).

But it was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to "The Collective," where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed; Leonard Peikoff did a similarly exemplary job in his series of lectures, "Understanding Objectivism," by far, his best post-Randian work.

Except it was Nathaniel Branden who led the way long before Peikoff took the necessary steps to shed the oppressive characteristics that were haunting the early Objectivist movement. Unfortunately, however, Peikoff, as heir to Rand's Estate, merely established another oppressive movement, and I suspect it will take a generation for this internecine warfare and insane back-stabbing to end. It is the kind of thing that undermines the integrity of Rand's philosophy, making it a laughing stock for writers who would rather focus on the salacious details of sex scandals and personal foibles than on the serious theoretical and philosophical implications of Rand's work.

To the critics of Rand, who would dismiss her philosophy by focusing on scandal and to the critics of Branden, who would seek to erase the contributions he made to Objectivism, I could only say: To hell with every last one of you.

Both groups ignore the works of Nathaniel Branden at their own peril. He was a man who eventually learned to "Honor the Self" in a way that he could not have accomplished fully under the spell of the "Collective."

Nathaniel Branden was a friend to me; he was a counselor and mentor. He helped me through some of the worst days of my life with his psychological acumen; he helped me materially and spiritually when my congenital health problems nearly destroyed my life and my family's finances. He was a consummate gentleman, a kind, loving, humane, and brilliant man.

I first met Nathaniel, the same way I first met Barbara; I sent him a draft of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and he returned it with so many remarkable edits, questions, and challenges, that if it were not for his input, the book would have suffered immensely. One of the problems we had in our early discussions, however, was that I was referring to Objectivism as a totality, from a historical perspective, a cultural-historio-philosophical movement. Toward that end, my book sought to look at the whole of Objectivism. I could not do so without a requisite encounter with Branden's work. My Russian Radical was the first book to reintegrate the contributions of Nathaniel Branden into the formal philosophical edifice of Rand's radical understanding of the world. Sometimes I'd find in the marginalia of his comments: "But Rand didn't say this, Branden did..." and I'd interrupt him and tell him, "But you don't understand: whether you like it or not, in a hundred years, people won't give a shit about who stabbed whom or who slept with whom, and simply look at all you folks as part and parcel of the same philosophical movement, one that aimed to change the world." He relented.

Before I had the privilege of taking him and his (then, wife) Devers Branden, for my celebrated tour of Brooklyn, I met him in Manhattan to discuss my book; we later joined up with David Kelley for dinner.

While we sat in his bright hotel room, Branden asked me: "So what does Chris Sciabarra do when he's not reconstructing Objectivism, when he's not helping us to understand the amazing historical context within which the philosophy developed? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"

To which I answered: "Well, Nathaniel, you know I have health problems, so I don't get out as much as I'd like; but rest assured, if I were to ever get married, it would not be to a girl."

Without missing a beat, he looked me directly into my eyes and said: "I did a lot of damage in the early years of Objectivism, especially in my flippant treatment of homosexuality. I would like to think I've come a long way and that I have made amends to those who were unduly hurt by the insensitive ways in which I characterized sexual orientation. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with heterosexuality or homosexuality, as long as you are happy and seek the kinds of relationships that will appeal to the best within you."

It was almost an apology to me personally, though I never felt wronged; I had read his evolving views on the subject, which gave me the balls to say what I said in his hotel room.

We spoke often through the years; he shared with me books that he wrote, which have still not been published. Some of these works were works of personal catharsis, something that all of us could use a dose of. He leaves a legacy that is so immense, I would not know where to start in characterizing its importance and its impact.

All I can say, for now, is this: I express my deepest appreciation to him, and my heart goes out to his current wife Leigh, who has weathered the storms of the last few years in ways that have proven remarkable. And to all those who mourn him and who will miss him, I extend my deepest sympathies.

I will forever honor Nathaniel Branden's work, his person, his generosity, his kindness, his sensitivity, and his gifts. I will miss him until my dying day.

Love and friendship, eternal,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

December 01, 2014

Cyber Monday Spectacular: December 2014 Issue of JARS Arrives!

What better way to start off Cyber Monday shopping for the holidays than to subscribe now to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

The New December 2014 Issue of JARS!

Here is the Table of Contents for the new December 2014 issue; abstracts can be found here, and contributor biographies can be found here.

ARTICLES

Corporations are People Too: An Argument for Corporate Moral Personhood - Robert White

Philosophical and Literary Integration in Atlas Shrugged - Edward W. Younkins

The DIM Antithesis - Dennis C. Hardin

Rand's Gender Politics: A Potential of Cognitive Dissonance - Mimi Reisel Gladstein

What’s in Your File Folder? Part 1: Rand’s Unit-Perspective, the Law of Identity, and the Fundamental Nature of the Proposition - Roger E. Bissell

REVIEWS

E-Book Enthusiasm (a review of How the Martians Discovered Algebra: Explorations in Induction and the Philosophy of Mathematics by Roger E. Bissell and Who Says That's Art: A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts by Michelle Marder Kamhi) - Fred Seddon

A Latter-Day Jacobin With a Lot of Data (a review of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty) - Hannes H. Gissurarson

Contributors

Index for Volume 14

So begin your Cyber Monday and Holiday Shopping with a subscription to the only scholarly journal dedicated to the examination of Ayn Rand and her times from diverse perspectives.

November 11, 2014

Ayn Rand, Girl-Power Icon

I was interviewed by Maureen O'Connor for New York Magazine, and the resulting piece, "Ayn Rand, Girl-Power Icon," is an interesting read. My dear friend and colleague, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, with whom I co-edited Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, was also interviewed for the essay.

The article provides us with a lesson on how certain ideas penetrate our culture and enter popular consciousness.

Check out the piece here.

June 17, 2014

JARS: Exciting July 2014 Issue!

The July 2014 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 14, Number 1) will be in the hands of subscribers shortly, and it is filled with a host of provocative essays by Rand scholars, many of them new to our pages.

NEW JULY 2014 JARS

The issue features the following essays (see abstracts here and contributor biographies here).

Introduction: Life, Death, Renewal - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Barbara Branden’s Bibliography - Roger E. Bissell

Why James Taggart Is No Prince Charming: Ayn Rand and Fairy Tales - Caroline Breashears

The Problem with Selfishness - Marsha Familaro Enright

Preference Formation, Choice Sets, and the Creative Destruction of Preferences - Russell S. Sobel and J. R. Clark

REVIEWS

Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies (reviews of Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand's Normative Theory and Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology (edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox) - Fred Seddon

DISCUSSION

Symposium on Robert L. Campbell’s essay, "An End to Over and Against" (published in the July 2013 issue):

Reply to Robert L. Campbell: Thoughts for the Future - Jennifer Burns

Reply to Robert L. Campbell: The Mainstreaming of Ayn Rand - Mimi Reisel Gladstein

Reply to Robert L. Campbell: Landscapes Overlooked - Anne Conover Heller

Rejoinder to Jennifer Burns, Anne Conover Heller, and Mimi Reisel Gladstein: Psychology, Jewishness, and Noting and Working Around - Robert L. Campbell

This symposium is certainly a highlight of the issue. Imagine this: a writer reviews two recently published biographical-historical studies of Ayn Rand, and receives written replies from the authors of these books, as well as another scholar in Rand studies, and the reviewer writes a rejoinder. It may sound like a novel concept for a periodical dealing with Rand studies (though it is, or should be, business-as-usual for journals claiming to be "scholarly"). But through the years, Rand-oriented periodicals have been notoriously sectarian, their editors never dreaming to allow authors to reply to their critics for fear of sanctioning something vaguely or explicitly "evil" (thankfully, that trend is changing, as Fred Seddon notes in his review of the recent Ayn Rand Society publications, which feature essays and replies, and "Author Meets Critics" formats). In JARS, however, it is, indeed, business as usual, and we are extraordinarily proud to present such a civilized and illuminating exchange in this exciting issue.

The issue begins, however, by noting the passing of two figures important to Ayn Rand studies: Allan Gotthelf and Barbara Branden. As the author of the introduction, "Life, Death, Renewal," I had personal dealings with both of these individuals. I write:

With this issue, the journal wishes to acknowledge the passing of two individuals who made a significant impact on the development of Ayn Rand studies: Allan Gotthelf, an Aristotelian and Randian scholar; and Barbara Branden, Ayn Rand's first authorized biographer, who later went on to write The Passion of Ayn Rand, until recently, the only available full-length biography of Rand.
Gotthelf (Brooklyn-born, 30 December 1942) received his master's degree in mathematics from Pennsylvania State University, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University. His doctoral dissertation, "Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality," won first prize in the Dissertation Essay Competition of The Review of Metaphysics, where it was published in December 1976 (vol. 30, no. 2, 226-54). Gotthelf subsequently edited a number of works in Aristotle studies, including a Festschrift in honor of David M. Balme, entitled Aristotle on Nature and Living Things: Philosophical and Historical Studies (Mathesis, 1985), and a coedited volume with James G. Lennox, Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1987). A collection of sixteen essays on Aristotle by Gotthelf was published by Oxford University Press in 2012, entitled Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology, as part of the Oxford Aristotle Studies series.
Gotthelf also authored and edited a number of works on Ayn Rand. His primer on Rand for the Wadsworth Philosophers Series, On Ayn Rand (2000), was reviewed in these pages by Aeon Skoble (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 2, no. 1, Fall 2000, 131-35). He also coedited, with James G. Lennox, the first two books collecting lectures given before the Ayn Rand Society, where he served as secretary from 1990 until his death in 2013. These books, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press---Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand's Normative Theory (2011) and Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology (2013)---are reviewed in the current issue by Fred Seddon.
For several years, Allan Gotthelf and I exchanged correspondence, both before and after the 1995 publication of the first edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I acknowledged his criticisms of my work in my book---indeed, it was he who provided the precise wording with which he felt most comfortable. But when the book was finally published, he felt obliged to tell me that he would do "scholarly battle against" my work and its "obfuscation" of the ideas of Ayn Rand (correspondence, 26 May 1996).
That battle sometimes took on a bit of partisan ugliness. When our journal was first published, we worked diligently to get it included in indexing and abstracting services across disciplines and geographic boundaries. Our efforts paid off considerably; we are now indexed and abstracted by nearly two dozen services in the humanities and social sciences. But getting JARS into The Philosopher’s Index was something that Allan Gotthelf opposed strongly. At a meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in December 1999, he took exception to the very idea of including The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies in The Philosopher’s Index. He could not outright oppose the inclusion of Rand scholarship per se in an index aimed at reaching academia, for he was a cofounder of The Ayn Rand Society, itself affiliated with the Eastern Division of the APA. But he made it very clear that, in his view, JARS was not a legitimate scholarly undertaking---despite the fact that several members of its founding advisory board had been officers of, and presenters to, the very society that he chaired. Nevertheless, as required, we submitted the first three issues of our journal to the Philosopher’s Information Center, and JARS was added to the Index immediately thereafter.
Not enough has been said about Barbara Branden's scholarship and the importance of the early contributions she made to the articulation of the content of Objectivism and to the biography of its founder. She was born Barbara Weidman in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (14 May 1929). She and her future husband, Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal), met Rand in 1950. Barbara received a master's degree in philosophy from New York University, where her thesis on free will was developed under the direction of Sidney Hook. Barbara and Nathaniel conducted a profoundly important series of biographical interviews with Rand in 1960-1961 that formed the basis of Barbara's biographical essay, "Who is Is Ayn Rand?" the title essay of a book coauthored with Nathaniel (Random House, 1962). It was the only authorized biography published in Ayn Rand's lifetime---one that Rand considered part of the Objectivist canon even after her bitter break with the Brandens in 1968. But those recorded interviews also served as the basis for Barbara's sprawling biography of Rand, The Passion of Ayn Rand (Doubleday, 1986). It was Barbara Branden who developed a comprehensive course on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking," taught during the operative years of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which disseminated Rand's philosophy worldwide, with live and audio-recorded lectures. Barbara's course was based on Rand's epistemology. And it was Barbara Branden who first brought the field of "psycho-epistemology" to the attention of Rand.
I should mention that my own personal dealings with Barbara began, like my dealings with Gotthelf, out of the work I was doing in preparation of the first edition of Russian Radical. But my contact with Barbara was of an entirely different nature; what she offered me was generous amounts of unambiguously constructive criticism and, over time, the depth of her friendship and love. I also worked closely with her a few years after the publication of Russian Radical, as she prepared the lead essay for a collection that Mimi Reisel Gladstein and I coedited, entitled Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, part of the Penn State Press series "Re-reading the Canon," which now includes thirty-five volumes, focusing on thinkers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Arendt, and Daly. It was an honor to bring her and Nathaniel together in publication for the first time since their 1962 book. Each provided a contribution to the book. "Ayn Rand: The Reluctant Feminist," by Barbara, told a tale of a woman philosopher who denounced feminism, but who nonetheless influenced a generation of thinkers in the emergence of an alternative radical individualist form of feminism, which can be found in the writings of authors such as Camille Paglia and Joan Kennedy Taylor.
It was therefore with great sadness that I learned of Barbara's passing on 11 December 2013. It is my hope that the annotated bibliography that follows, compiled by Roger E. Bissell, will, at the very least, bring to light Barbara Branden's significant contributions to the Objectivist literature, so important to the ever-expanding world of Ayn Rand studies.
It is also apropos that in the current issue we feature a symposium on Robert L. Campbell's recent JARS review of biographical and historical work published by Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and Anne C. Heller, author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The exchange includes replies from Burns, Mimi Gladstein, and Heller, and a rejoinder from Campbell. Much of this discussion is enriched because of the crucial early biographical work that Barbara Branden provided for future scholars, in the extensive interviews she conducted with Rand and her contemporaries, and in the material she published in her lifetime.

Notes and references appear in the published article.

That's just an introduction to what is going to be one of the most talked about issues of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies ever published.

Check out subscription information here.

January 31, 2014

JARS 2014: Project MUSE and Other Developments

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be publishing its 14th volume this year, and we are happy to report that Project MUSE will begin its coverage of the journal with the appearance of our first 2014 issue in July. As the Project MUSE site explains:

Project MUSE is a leading provider of digital humanities and social sciences content; since 1995, its electronic journal collections have supported a wide array of research needs at academic, public, special, and school libraries worldwide. MUSE books and journals, from leading university presses and scholarly societies, are fully integrated for search and discovery.
MUSE currently includes: 303,411 articles and 592,408 chapters by 234 publishers

2014 JARS content won't actually appear in searches or on the site until the publication of our first 2014 issue, scheduled for a July 2014 appearance (though MUSE does have searchable content for my recently published second expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical... jeez, if I can't plug my own book, who can?).

And what an issue Volume 14, Number 1 promises to be; it will include many first-time authors in the expanding universe of Rand scholarship. And it will also include a mini-symposium on Robert L. Campbell's lengthy article, which appeared in Volume 13, Number 1, "An End to Over and Against," which reviews recent biographical-historical studies of Rand: Jennifer Burns's book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller's book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The mini-symposium includes replies from Jennifer Burns, Anne C. Heller, and Mimi Reisel Gladstein, as well as a rejoinder from Campbell. What a time to be discussing recent, independent biographical work on Rand, especially in light of the passing of the first biographer to publish an "authorized" biography in Ayn Rand's lifetime, my dear friend, Barbara Branden.

There are so many other essays to look forward to in the coming issue, which will use the occasion to mark the passing of Barbara Branden, as well as another Rand scholar, Allan Gotthelf, who passed away in August 2013. He was not a friend of the journal or my work, but he was one of the founders of the Ayn Rand Society of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. Much more to follow... stay tuned.

Finally, subscribers should check the changes made to the 2014 price schedule, found here.

January 08, 2014

Russian Radical 2.0: A Kindle Edition and Revised Revisions

I recently published a Notablog series on "Russian Radical 2.0" as I've called it: the newly published second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:

Part 1: The Cover
Part 2: The Cover Story
Part 3: 1995 vs. 2013: What's Different?
Part 4: Preface to the Second Edition
Part 5: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions
Part 6: 12 September 2013, Release Date

Today, I'd like to note the publication of a new Kindle edition, which can be purchased at amazon.com [online link here].

I want to mention that in preparing this note today, I had to make a change in Part 2 of the above series, because things have changed on the official website of the Ayn Rand Institute. When I was preparing Appendix III of the new second edition of my book, I accessed "this page" on 11 February 2013, wherein the Ayn Rand Institute characterized a forthcoming book as the "authorized biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram" as "in preparation." This has now been changed [accessed today, 8 January 2014]: to "Biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram (in preparation)." Note how the word "authorized" has been dropped in the online description. Airbrushing reality is not something new with the Institute. It doesn't change the facts. As I note in my book (page 466, note 2):

Impact, the newsletter of the Ayn Rand Institute (1994), announced in "A Look at the Future," in its April 1994 General News column, that Ayn Rand in Her Own Words: The Authorized Biography was "being prepared for publication in 1996." It was to be "edited by Richard E. Ralston (ARI Academic Affairs Officer and former book/newspaper publisher)." The text was to consist of "Ayn Rand's own story of her life compiled from various sources, including her journals, correspondence, and interviews[,] . . . supplemented by interviews with Leonard Peikoff, Mary Ann Sures, and others." The plan was abandoned, but the title was later used for a 2011 documentary on Rand's life (see my preface herein, 401 n.3).
More than a decade later, in June 2004, it was announced by Impact (Journo 2004a, 1) that Shoshana Milgram was "working on an in-depth biography of Ayn Rand," for which the author herself projected completion "at the latest by 2008" (in Journo 2004b, 4). ARI currently identifies the "authorized biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram" as "in preparation." See http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_ayn_rand_archives_projects , accessed 11 February 2013.

Whoops. Guess we're no longer "authorized." Oh, well.

Postscript: For those who doubt that there was an earlier manifestation of this page, in which Milgram's forthcoming biography was characterized as "authorized," we have the Internet Archive Wayback Machine: a 6 February 2013 snapshot, closest in proximity to my 11 February accessing of the page and the 5 September 2013 snapshot, the last time that the word "authorized" was seen on that ARI page. The change seems to have occurred somewhere between September 2013 and October 2013, since the dropping of "authorized" is apparent in the 5 October 2013 snapshot.

Remarkably, this is coincident with the exact publication date of the second expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Cause? Effect? Reciprocal dialectical causation? You be the judge.

December 17, 2013

New Journal of Ayn Rand Studies December 2013 Issue Arrives!

The new year-end issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is published today and can be found on JSTOR for online subscribers. It will be arriving in hard copy in mailboxes across the globe over the next week or so. And it completes the first year of our collaboration with Pennsylvania State University Press. And what a year it's been; Volume 13 has given us 250 pages of wonderfully provocative essays by regular JARS contributors and many new ones.

jars13_2cover.jpg


The new issue features the following line-up:

Articles

Probability, Objectivity, and Induction - Arnold Baise

The Gospel According to Ayn Rand: Anthem as an Atheistic Theodicy - Michael G. Simental

Egoism and/or Altruism - Merlin Jetton

Economics in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - Edward W. Younkins

Modern Physics versus Objectivism - Warren C. Gibson

Reviews

Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff's Analysis of Cultural Evolution [a review of Leonard Peikoff's book, The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West are Going Out] - Roger E. Bissell

Examining The Fountainhead [a review of Robert Mayhew's edited collection, Essays on Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead"] - Fred Seddon

Discussion

Reply to Stephen Cox: Anarchism and the Problems of Rand and Paterson - Roderick T. Long

Rejoinder to Roderick T. Long: Anarchism and Its Own Problems - Stephen Cox

The Index to Volume 13 rounds out the issue.

Abstracts to the above essays can be found here; contributor biographies can be found here.

It has been a breakthrough year for this journal, and I just wanted to extend my deepest appreciation to all the contributors, supporters, and subscribers who made it possible. We look forward to a truly productive 2014 and wish all of our readers a happy and heathy holiday season. Happy reading to you!

December 16, 2013

Barbara Branden, Love and Friendship Eternal

How does one begin to communicate the pain of loss, especially when that loss is so deep, so personal. On 11 December 2013, I learned of the death of Barbara Branden. I've been stunted for a few days wondering what on earth I could possibly say on Notablog that would do justice to the Barbara I came to know and love, a Barbara who was generous in sharing her own scholarship and time, and who was among the most encouraging and supportive human beings I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

Barbara Branden was Ayn Rand's first biographer, in fact, the only biographer to have ever been authorized by Rand herself during Rand's lifetime to pen the essay that eventually became the title piece of the 1962 book by Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden: "Who is Ayn Rand?" Of course, later, Barbara authored the sprawling, controversial 1986 biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, which until recently remained the only extant book-length biography of one of the twentieth-century's most provocative thinkers.

When the Nathaniel Branden Institute dissolved in 1968, I was 8 years old and consequently was much too young to have ever attended the many lectures produced and disseminated by NBI during its heyday. But I slowly collected and listened to many of those NBI courses, including Barbara's wonderful "Principles of Efficient Thinking." All of this was in preparation for my own book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which contained an important biographical component, fueled by Barbara's discussion of Rand having attended a course on ancient philosophy at Petrograd University taught by the great Russian philosopher, N. O. Lossky. This fact was reported not only in Barbara's 1986 biography, but in the 1962 Rand-authorized title essay for "Who is Ayn Rand?" So much of the biographical information in that essay, and in Passion, was derived from countless hours of interviews with Rand that Barbara and Nathaniel conducted in the early 1960s. (Rand never repudiated any of the Branden works prior to their 1968 disassociation; she considered their work with her, including the biographical essay, "Who is Ayn Rand?", to be part of the Randian canon and emphasized this in the June 1968 issue of The Objectivist.)

Few non-Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated scholars have ever had access to these interviews. Given the restrictive policies of the Ayn Rand Archives, I suspect I will be long dead before those archives are truly thrown open to non-affiliated scholars (Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, provides an interesting insight into the inner workings of the archives; see a PDF of her essay here.) Whatever inaccuracies that may have crept into Barbara's biographical work, we remain immensely fortunate that she was able to use so much of that interview material for her 1986 biography due to an agreement with the Rand estate.

Given one of the theses I was developing for Russian Radical, the fairly innocuous claim that Rand was most likely influenced by her teachers, especially their penchant for developing and applying "the art of context-keeping" (aka "dialectics") in combating false alternatives, I was especially captivated by the passages about Rand's Petrograd University years discussed in Barbara's original 1962 "Who is Ayn Rand?" essay, and largely reproduced in her 1986 biography. I wrote to both Leonard Peikoff, heir to the Rand estate, and to Barbara Branden, in search of further insight into the Rand-Lossky relationship, given that Lossky was among the most dialectical philosophers of his generation.

Peikoff (correspondence dated 27 May 1992) assured me that the estate was compiling information on Rand’s life and that if anything relevant to the Lossky-Rand connection became apparent, he would so advise me. I remained skeptical, however, that anything would come of Peikoff's promise, given the fact that his Ayn Rand Institute had a penchant for noncooperation with those outside their insulated universe. Years later, after Russian Radical was published, and panned viciously by one the ARIan brotherhood (see John Ridpath's "review" here), ARI reported that it had discovered a transcript of Rand's college education. I contacted the Ayn Rand Archives and offered to analyze it with the assistance of a group of scholars who were extremely knowledgeable of the historical period in question. The Ayn Rand Archives refused to share the transcript with me, unless I signed a letter promising that I'd never write on the subject. In essence, I told them with their siege mentality to shove it (see the story here).

By contrast, Barbara was immediately generous in her desire to aid my book research. Our give and take by phone, letter, and email became ever more friendly. By the time I had sent her the first draft of my book, we had become friends. But this didn't stop her from marking up my manuscript from beginning to end, and sending an accompanying five-page letter with constructive criticism, making important suggestions about this or that point and taking me to task on this or that interpretation. As she wrote in that letter (dated 28 June 1993):

Your book is a wonderful achievement, and I hope you are very proud of it. Congratulations! As you know, I could not put the manuscript down. I lost a week of evenings into the mornings --- and I lost Sixty Minutes, David Brinkley, 20-20, Prime Time Live and Bernard Shaw, as well as a couple of friends whom I barked at when they phoned. (But lo and behold! - the world muddled through without me.)

Her letter ended with this statement:

I am delighted that you consider me a friend. I feel the same way. It's a pleasure to know you. I should be in New York sometime in the next millennium, so wear a rose in your teeth so I'll recognize you.

When we finally got together some time later, I met her at the airport ... with a rose in my teeth, as promised.

We laughed, and enjoyed ourselves immensely, taking in some of New York's treasures, and, especially, the delightful beauty of my borough of birth: Brooklyn, New York.

It would not be the last time that she'd visit me; when my life-long health problems had seemingly brought me to death's door, she flew out again just to come to my home and sit with me and my sister and my little dog Blondie, who, despite a reputation for barking up a storm against invaders (i.e., visitors), took to her like glue.

Barbara and I had our disagreements (e.g., over the Iraq war) and we certainly both enjoyed a plethora of personal flaws, but we remained dear friends to the end. [And I take special pride in being a co-editor with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, on the project that became Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, the first book in which both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden appeared together... since their 1962 book Who is Ayn Rand?. -- ed.]

So it angered me to no end when I saw her being routinely pissed on while she was alive.

Being a film fan, I recall a scene from the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Argo." Lester Siegel, played hilariously by Alan Arkin, has some choice words for a critic [YouTube link]. It's the only appropriate response one can give to those who, now that Barbara is dead, would delight in pissing on her grave.

I choose to celebrate her life, and I will value her generosity, friendship, support, loyalty, and comfort until the day I die. Bless you, dear Barbara. Love and friendship eternal.

September 12, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: It Has Arrived

As I've been discussing in various entries on Notablog (see the introductory discussion that begins here), the date of publication for the new expanded second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was shifted from 2 September 2013 to 12 September 2013, which means that today, this author has given birth to a twin (albeit 18 years after the first of the twins). Oh, it's not quite a twin (trace the differences here), but like all my books, it's always exciting to see one of my babies make it into the world, even if in reincarnated form.

I see that it is now to be found at Penn State Press, Amazon.com, and it is mentioned by Irfan Khawaja on the website of his exciting new project, which has resurrected a familiar name, while taking things into a provocative new direction: the Institute for Objectivist Studies.

I've not yet received the book, but it was to arrive at the warehouse today... which means, the bouncing baby book will reach me soon, and I'm looking forward to holding it in my arms.

September 02, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: 12 September 2013 Release Date

Last month, in these five blog posts, I announced the publication of the second expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

I didn't have the opportunity to thank Paul Hornschemeier, for designing a cover that is as fresh as the content to be found in the new edition; here is a snapshot of the front and back cover design:

The New Edition

The book's official release date is now 12 September 2013. I look forward to seeing the final product myself!

August 16, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions

This week's discussion of the forthcoming publication of the new, expanded second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has provided me with an avalanche of enthusiastic feedback from many people. I hope to answer the email in time, but I just wanted to thank everyone for a show of support. (And a shout out especially to Danny at Penn State Press for his nice blog post on this week's Notablog festivities.)

Much more information on this book will be posted in the coming weeks and months. If you'd like to receive an email that will inform you of the publication of the paperback, its price and availability at Penn State Press, Amazon.com, Independent Bookstore, Powell's Books, etc., sign up here.

I would like to end this week-long series of introductory blog posts on the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by addressing a question that has been asked by quite a few individuals in personal correspondence and discussion over the past week.

Many readers know that I spent an inordinate amount of time answering critics left and right, high, low, and sideways, almost every day, every week, for years, in the wake of the enormous controversy that was generated on questions both historical and methodological, by this book's 1995 first edition. And those discussions took place on various friendly and hostile online forums, Internet lists, and Usenet newsgroups, etc. Lord knows that the avenues for discussion have now multiplied exponentially with the expansion of social media, and it is almost impossible to keep count!

In addition to the almost daily engagement, I also replied to many formal and informal reviews, which were published online and in print. These are archived on my site (yes, the positive and the negative criticism can be found right there... by what right would I have to call this the "Dialectics and Liberty" site when dialectics itself originated in dialogue?!). The archives can be found here.

I also wrote a more extensive review essay, published in the 1997 issue of Reason Papers, which can be found here. That essay, entitled "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical - A Work in Progress," sums up, and advances, much of the dialogue.

The subtitle also sums up something that is still applicable even to a second, expanded edition of this book: This is a "Work in Progress," and it will generate new questions that may require new answers. But we need to do a reality check: I can't and won't be able to do what I used to do, jumping from forum to forum and responding here and there to everyone left, right, center, high, low, and sideways. Occasionally, I will have something to say here at Notablog. But my time and energy are very different in 2013 at age 53, than they were in 1995, at age 35, when Russian Radical first appeared. And I've also got a lot of other "works in progress," that require my attention, including the enormously important work I'm doing with Penn State Press on The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

But there is a more important point to be made about "Works in Progress," a point that I have made several times in the second edition of the book, a million or so times online, and now, here again: As long as information is out there on Ayn Rand that has not yet been found or translated or interpreted or documented, there is work to be done by historians of many stripes. Some of this information is still to be found hidden deep in Russian archives long closed off to outside access. And some of this information also resides behind the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives. So I'd like to paraphrase the words of a President who stood before the walls that symbolized the closed environment that defined all that was Russian and Soviet: Tear Down Those Walls!

Yes, there is an enormous difference between the closed society of the former Soviet Union and the material that is rightly proprietary behind the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives, which has every right to set access policies. But archivists should not use these policies to stonewall those who may not share the views of the orthodoxy. Independent historians will never be able to assess the accuracy of what is coming forth, especially in published, edited form from those whose orthodox allegiance is not in question. Those of independent stripe need to see the original materials, unedited, unaltered, untouched by the visible hands of ambitious editors. I raised these questions first in 1998 in Liberty magazine, but my suspicions were confirmed by Jennifer Burns in her 2009 book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Burns writes:

Unfortunately, there are grave limitations to the accuracy and reliability of the putatively primary source material issued by Rand's estate. Discrepancies between Rand's published journals and archival material were first publicized by Rand scholar Chris Sciabarra, who noticed differences between the Journals of Ayn Rand (1999) and brief excerpts published earlier in The Intellectual Activist. After several years of working in Rand's personal papers I can confirm Sciabarra's discovery: the published versions of Rand's letters and diaries have been significantly edited in ways that drastically reduce their utility as historical sources. (Goddess of the Market, 291)

The Ayn Rand Archives deserves credit for having given Jennifer Burns access to its collections, but the multitude of legitimate scholars who have been kept out of its hallowed halls is utterly shameful.

Something here needs to be emphasized about the art of historical investigation and interpretation: The material in the Archives are calling out for the kind of detective work and interpretive work that cannot be done by those who are of an almost single orthodox mind-set. Facts are facts, but two people looking at the same material can come away from it with enormously different interpretations, because each scholar operates from a highly individualized context, with vastly different skill sets, and that means that many scholars looking at the same things can help to shed light where previously there was darkness.

It is my hope that the second, expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical will provide additional light on the historical evolution and analytical importance of Rand's unique contribution to twentieth-century radical social thought. Even if it didn't benefit from any access to any source material from the Ayn Rand Archives.

I'm glad to have had the opportunity to have published this five-part introduction to the forthcoming second edition. But there's lots more work to be done. Stay tuned.

August 15, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Preface to the Second Edition

Recently published on the Pennsylvania State University Press site is a sample chapter from the new 2013 second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Today, I publish that excerpt here, on Notablog.

Preface to the Second Edition (2013)

Nearly twenty years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published. In its wake came much controversy and discussion, which greatly influenced the course of my research in subsequent years. In 1999, I co-edited, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, part of the Pennsylvania State University Press series on Re-Reading the Canon, which now includes nearly three-dozen volumes, each devoted to a major thinker in the Western philosophic tradition, from Plato and Aristotle to Foucault and Arendt. In that same year, I became a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a biannual interdisciplinary scholarly journal on Ayn Rand and her times that, in its first twelve volumes, published over 250 articles by over 130 authors. In 2013, the journal began a new collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand its academic visibility and electronic accessibility.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that two essays first published in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies---"The Rand Transcript" and "The Rand Transcript, Revisited"---have made their way into the pages of the second, expanded edition of this book, providing a more complete record of the fascinating historical details of Rand's education from 1921 to 1924 at what was then Petrograd State University.

In publishing the second edition of any book written two decades ago, an author might be tempted to change this or that formulation or phrase to render more accurately its meaning or to eliminate the occasional error of fact. I have kept such revisions to a minimum; the only extensively revised section is an expanded discussion in chapter 12 of Rand's foreign policy views, relevant to a post-9/11 generation, under the subheading "The Welfare-Warfare State." Nevertheless, part of the charm of seeing a second edition of this book published now is being able to leave the original work largely untouched and to place it in a broader, clarifying context that itself could not have been apparent when it was first published.

My own Rand research activities over these years are merely one small part of an explosive increase in Rand sightings across the social landscape: in books on biography, literature, philosophy, politics, and culture; film; and contemporary American politics, from the Tea Party to the presidential election.

Even President Barack Obama, in his November 2012 Rolling Stone interview, acknowledges having read Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity---that thats a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America.

The bulk of this book predates the president's assessment, and yet it is, in significant ways, a response to assessments of that kind. First and foremost, it is a statement of the inherent radicalism of Rand's approach. Her radicalism speaks not to the alleged "narrow vision" but to the broad totality of social relationships that must be transformed as a means of resolving a host of social problems. Rand saw each of these social problems as related to others, constituting---and being constituted by---an overarching system of statism that she opposed. My work takes its cue from Rand, and other thinkers in both the libertarian tradition, such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Murray N. Rothbard, and the dialectical tradition, such as Aristotle, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Bertell Ollman. From these disparate influences, I have constructed the framework for a "dialectical libertarianism" as the only fundamental alternative to that overarching system of statism. In this book, I identify Rand as a key theorist in the evolution of a "dialectical libertarian" political project.

The essence of a dialectical method is that it is "the art of context-keeping." More specifically, it emphasizes the need to understand any object of study or any social problem by grasping the larger context within which it is embedded, so as to trace its myriad---and often reciprocal---causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical. Systemically, dialectics demands that we trace the relationships among seemingly disparate objects of study or among disparate social problems so as to understand how these objects and problems relate to one another---and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. Historically, dialectics demands that we trace the development of these relationships over time---that is, that we understand each object of study or each social problem through its past, present, and potential future manifestations.

This attention to context is the central reason why a dialectical approach has often been connected to a radical politics. To be radical is to "go to the root." Going to the "root" of a social problem requires understanding how it came about. Tracing how problems are situated within a larger system over time is, simultaneously, a step toward resolving those problems and overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books in my "Dialectics and Liberty trilogy"---of which Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical is the second part---seek to reclaim dialectical method from its one-sided use in Marxist thought, in particular, by clarifying its basic nature and placing it in the service of a radical libertarianism.

The first book in my trilogy is Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which I published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press. It drew parallels between Karl Marx, the theoretician of communism, and F. A. Hayek, the Austrian "free market" economist, by highlighting their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism and their mutual appreciation of context in defining the meaning of political radicalism.

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the second book in the trilogy, details the approach of a bona fide dialectical thinker in the radical libertarian tradition, who advocated the analysis of social problems and social solutions across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality---the personal, the cultural, and the structural (see especially "The Radical Rand," part 3 of the current work).

The third book and final part of the trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, was published in 2000 by the Pennsylvania State University Press. It offers a rereading of the history of dialectical thinking, a redefinition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty and as a tool to critique those aspects of modern libertarianism that are decidedly undialectical and, hence, dangerously utopian in their implications.

That my trilogy places libertarian thinkers within a larger dialectical tradition has been resisted by some of my left-wing colleagues, who view Marxism as having a monopoly on dialectical analysis, and some of my right-wing colleagues, who are aghast to see anybody connect a libertarian politics to a method that they decry as "Marxist," and hence anathema to the project for liberty. Ironically, both the left-wing and right-wing folks who object to my characterization of a dialectical libertarian alternative commit what Rand would have called "the fallacy of the frozen abstraction." For Rand, this consists of substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs. Thus, the left-wing and right-wing critics both freeze and reduce the concept of dialectical method to the subcategory of one of its major historical applications (i.e., Marxism). They both exclude another significant subcategory from that concept, whether to protect the favored subcategory (as do some conservatives, libertarians, and Objectivists) or the concept itself (as do the leftists). Ultimately, they both characterize dialectics as essentially Marxist. It is as if any other variety of dialectics does not or cannot exist. In each case, the coupling of dialectics and libertarianism is denied. The left-wing dialecticians don't want to besmirch "their" methodology by acknowledging its presence in libertarian thinking, while the right-wing proponents of liberty don't want to sully their ideology with a "Marxist" methodology.

But as I have demonstrated in my trilogy, especially in Total Freedom, it is Aristotle, not Hegel or Marx, who is the "fountainhead" of a genuinely dialectical approach to social inquiry. Ultimately, my work bolsters Rand's self-image as an essentially Aristotelian and radical thinker. In doing so, my work challenges our notion of what it means to be Aristotelian and radical.

I am cognizant that my use of the word "dialectics" to describe the "art of context-keeping" as a vital aspect of Rand's approach to both analyzing problems and proposing highly original, often startling solutions, is controversial. My hypothesis---in this book and in the two additional essays that now apear as appendices I and II of this expanded second edition---that Rand learned this method from her Russian teachers has generated as much controversy. Rand named N. O. Lossky as her first philosophy professor. Questions of the potential methodological impact on Rand that Lossky and her other Russian teachers may have had, and the potential discrepancies between Rand's own recollections with regard to Lossky and the historical record, were all first raised in Russian Radical. These issues, nearly twenty years after they were raised, have resulted in Rand's prospective "authorized" biographer arguing that Rand's recollections were mistaken. In my view, however, this turn in historical interpretation is itself deeply problematic. I discuss these issues in a new essay, which appears as appendix III, "A Challenge to Russian Radical---and Ayn Rand."

I am genuinely excited that the Pennsylvania State University Press has enabled me to practice what I dialectically preach: placing Russian Radical and its cousins in the larger context both of my research on Rand and of my Dialectics and Liberty trilogy enables me to present readers with a clearer sense of what I have hoped to accomplish. Thanks to all those who have made this ongoing adventure possible.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra
1 July 2013

[Notes and in-text citations have been eliminated from the above excerpt; they can be found in the new expanded second edition of this book.]

August 14, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: 1995 vs. 2013: What's Different?

The 2013 second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical offers a vastly expanded content over its 1995 predecessor. I have written a "Preface to the Second Edition," which I will publish here tomorrow. And whereas the first edition closed with the Epilogue, the second edition adds three new appendices, expanded notes and references, and an expanded index as well.

Readers will recall that I did not have access to Rand's college transcript when I published Russian Radical and that I had to piece together a portrait of a very turbulent time in the history of what was then Petrograd State University (and later became Leningrad University, and then, returned to its original name: the University of St. Petersburg). Nevertheless, I stated explicitly that the evidence I had collected and the conclusions I reached included a dose of reasonable speculation and a nod to "best explanation."

But I knew more evidence existed out there, and I was relentless in my quest to locate Rand's actual college transcripts. Some of this quest involved dealings with the Ayn Rand Institute discussed here. Not to be deterred by what I believed were unreasonable demands made by ARI, I was able to network globally with a remarkably cooperative and generous group of scholars and archivists, who eventually led me to the first college transcript. My analysis of its contents appeared in the first issue (Fall 1999) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The article was entitled "The Rand Transcript". As the abstract to the article states:

This essay discusses the major historical significance of the discovery and investigation of Ayn Rand's transcript from the University of St. Petersburg. The document provides evidence of Rand's study with some of the finest Russian scholars of the period, and helps to resolve certain paradoxes concerning Rand's relationship to the philosopher, N. O. Lossky. It also contributes to our understanding of those methods and ideas that may have influenced Rand's intellectual development.

But further investigation was required; more information and more detailed transcripts existed. Researching her biography of Ayn Rand (which was later published in 2009 as Ayn Rand and the World She Made), Anne C. Heller, working with Blitz Information Services, offered to share all of the information she recovered on Rand's education in the Soviet Union. My work on those materials subsequently helped her to piece together a more complete documentation for her Rand biography. It was truly a refreshing moment in scholarly cooperation.

It was not until the Fall of 2005 that I was able to publish my findings of the most detailed transcript analysis to date. As indicated in the abstract to that essay, "The Rand Transcript, Revisited":

In an examination of recently recovered materials from Russian archival sources, Sciabarra expands on his earlier studies of Rand's secondary and university education in Silver Age Russia (see the Fall 1999 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies essay, "The Rand Transcript"). He uncovers new details that are consistent with his historical theses, first presented in the 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He reexamines the case for a connection between Rand and N. O. Lossky, and proposes a possible parallel between Lossky and a character Rand called "Professor Leskov" in an early draft of the novel, We the Living.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce that "The Rand Transcript" and "The Rand Transcript, Revisited" are now Appendices I and II, respectively, in the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. This is where this research belonged; they complete the historical investigations of part one of the book in ways that could not have possibly been anticipated in 1995, when the book was first published.

Up to 2012, no scholar anywhere had fully taken on the task of criticizing the actual historical case that I made in the first edition of Russian Radical or in the subsequent essays in JARS. Then, in 2012, ARI-affiliated scholar Shoshana Milgram wrote an essay entitled "The Education of Kira Argounova and Leo Kovalensky," which now constitutes a new Chapter Four of the expanded second edition of Robert Mayhew’s edited collection, Essays on Ayn Rand’s "We the Living". For the first time, some aspects of my historical detective work are found "problematic" by a writer who is actually the newly 'designated' "authorized" biographer of Ayn Rand.

Appendix III, entitled "A Challenge to Russian Radical---and Ayn Rand," written especially for the second edition of Russian Radical is my reply to her criticisms. I won't spoil the reading experience, but I'll just say that Milgram essentially dismisses my contention of any connection between Rand and Lossky, by dismissing Rand's recollections of Lossky... recollections, mind you, that were communicated to Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in biographical interviews in the early 1960s, and that were published in Barbara Branden's biographical essay (and the title of the 1962 book): "Who is Ayn Rand?" That essay was the only published biographical essay in Ayn Rand's lifetime and had her full sanction even after her 1968 break with the Brandens.

My response to Milgram, therefore, is not merely a defense of my historical thesis, but a defense of the integrity of Rand's memory of a traumatic period in her life.

The three appendices are not the only additional materials in the second edition. I was able to update some of the scholarship, do a few nips and tucks, and provide a whole new sub-section for Chapter 12 ("The Predatory State"), which expanded considerably on material already present in the first edition. That new subsection is called "The Welfare-Warfare State," and it reveals things about Rand's views of U.S. foreign policy that might astound both her conservative and liberal critics.

A full "Table of Contents" comparison of the two editions can be found here. Readers will be able to trace even the page differences between the first and second editions at that link.

August 13, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: The Cover Story

Yesterday, it was about The Cover. Today, it's The Cover Story.

It was around the second or third week of August 1995, that both Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical made their first appearance, providing the illusion that this author would be the kind of prolific writer who would be publishing two books a week for the rest of his career. (Okay, okay, I didn't do too badly... but still!)

From the very beginning, however, these two books were conceived as part of a trilogy, which would seek to reclaim dialectics ("the art of context-keeping") in the service of a radical libertarian politics. The scheme of that trilogy came about in the planning stages of my doctoral dissertation in political philosophy, theory, and methodology at New York University, where I earned my Ph.D. under the direction of Marxist scholar, Bertell Ollman. There have been few scholars on the left or the right who encouraged me in my work on libertarianism as much as this dear friend and colleague. "Toward a Radical Critique of Utopianism: Dialectics and Dualism in the Works of Friedrich Hayek and Karl Marx" was completed and successfully defended with distinction in 1988. Two parts of that dissertation---those focusing on Marx and Hayek---became the basis of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was readied and planned for publication in 1989-90 by Philosophia Verlag, a West German publishing house that met its extinction around the time that West Germany itself integrated with the East to become, simply, Germany. (One of the parts of the dissertation, which focused on the work of the great Murray Rothbard, was revised and expanded considerably, and was later incorporated as part of the culminating book of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy": Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.)

With the Marx-Hayek book put on hold temporarily, I decided to begin work on what was to become the second part of the trilogy. And so began the massive (and that's an understatement) historical and methodological research project that eventually became Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. The book had been rejected by many university presses, which dismissed Rand as a figure not worthy of "scholarly" attention, and by many trade presses, which dismissed a book about a "pop" novelist and "philosopher" as being too scholarly. It eventually found a home with Pennsylvania State University Press. Under the brilliant, caring guidance of its director Sanford ("Sandy") Thatcher, the book was eventually published and began the process of dragging academia and Rand's "non-academic" Objectivist philosophy "kicking and screaming" into engagement with one another.

After a truly successful run of seven paperback printings, the book became one of the all-time Penn State Press sales champs.

Then, in 2012, the new director of Penn State Press, Patrick Alexander, had an inspired idea to re-release the book in an expanded second edition. More on that below.

In the meanwhile, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia finally found its own home at an American university press (the State University of New York Press) as part of their series on the "Philosophy of the Social Sciences" (and it is now available as an e-book; the first chapter is on the SUNY site as a sample PDF here). The book was published officially on 31 August 1995. And though the official date of publication for Russian Radical is listed as 19 June 1995, take it from me: both books finally made their way from their respective warehouses to my house in the same week of August 1995.

It was an odd coincidence, indeed, to have two books come out simultaneously; indeed, the second book in the trilogy (Russian Radical) actually made it to my home a few days earlier than Marx-Hayek! But it only made the intensive research and writing of the trilogy's finale, Total Freedom (published officially on 2 November 2000), all the more intellectually urgent for me. I knew that the first two books would generate even more questions than could possibly be answered in either of them, and that it required a re-reading of the history of dialectics and a re-definition of it that would make sense in the context of the radical libertarian political project to which I'd been aligned.

In the nearly two decades since the publication of the first two books of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," other projects, of course, took up enormous chunks of my time and intellectual energy. In 1999, I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand and became a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I wrote a couple of monographs, scores of articles for books, journals, magazines, and encyclopedias, and was deeply involved in online discussion forums for a long time, until I decided that there were only so many hours in a day, and opted to focus exclusively on my own work done my own way. That included the development of my own blog (Notablog) and an even greater focus on expanding the breadth, depth, and quality of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS).

And so, when I was approached last year by Penn State Press director, Patrick Alexander, to begin a collaborative publishing project with the press, I jumped at the chance. After all, it would allow the editors of JARS to focus 100% of our energy on editorial functions and would give the press control over the business aspects of the journal (design, page proof preparation, additional copyediting, printing, subscription fulfillment, and mailing), which were absorbing endless hours of my time.

The first Penn State Press issue of the journal, Volume 13, Number 1 (July 2013) was just published (its actually fulfilled in an arrangement with Johns Hopkins University Press), and our year-end edition, scheduled for December 2013, will include nearly double the number of articles as the current one. I would say that we are now receiving a record level of submissions.

But Patrick had other ideas too; he thought it was about time to publish a second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I had done intensive research into Rand's education after my 1995 book was published, and two articles documenting that work were actually published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies ("The Rand Transcript," Fall 1999; "The Rand Transcript, Revisited" Fall 2005). I agreed with Patrick; I was (and remain) convinced that the new evidence that I'd investigated and published in support of my overall historical thesis---that Rand learned from, and was heavily exposed to the dialectical methods central to the cultural milieu of a particular place (Russia) and time (pre-and-post revolutionary)---needed to appear in a second edition, where it would get the kind of exposure it deserved.

So our plan was to include these two articles, plus a new "Preface to the Second Edition," which would enable me to situate the work in the larger universe of expanding Rand studies, and in the particular context of my own dialectical-libertarian project. Soon enough, however, we'd added a third appendix, enabling me to reply to a recent critic of my historical research into Rand's education (Shoshana Milgram, Rand's newest "authorized" biographer). [Note: When I accessed that page on 11 February 2013, the Ayn Rand Institute mentioned the "authorized biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram" as "in preparation"; that has now been changed (accessed 8 January 2014): to "Biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram (in preparation)." Note how the word "authorized" has now been dropped in the online description. See my post here, which discusses the change made to the site, and questions its timing.] Moreover, I was given the opportunity to tweak the book from cover to cover, updating some of the scholarship, and, along the way, adding a much-expanded section of Chapter 12 ("The Predatory State") dealing with Rand's radical critique of the welfare-warfare state, so relevant to a post-9/11 generation. The book was re-designed and re-keyed, the index was expanded, and before too long, an e-book will be in the offing [it is now available in a Kindle edition on amazon.com].

Tomorrow, in my next blog post on Russian Radical 2.0, I'll be discussing some of the specific differences between the first and second editions.

August 12, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: The Cover

In daily posts over the course of the next five days, I am marking the publication of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, offically scheduled for release on "Atlas Shrugged Day", 2 September 2013 . . . though, in this home, we have always known that date to be far more significant: it's my sister's birthday! And she's slightly older than Atlas. Nevertheless, more likely than not, the book will be circulating by the end of September or early October.

Published nearly two decades ago, the first edition of Russian Radical is actually celebrating its 18th anniversary this month. Also reaching its 18th birthday is my first book: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Tomorrow, in Part II of this series, I will present "The Cover Story" on the origins of the second edition of Russian Radical. wherein I'll have lots to say about both books.

Today, it's just The Cover. Quite literally. The clearest and boldest symbol of difference between the first and second editions of Russian Radical is illustrated by the cover. The classic 1995 first edition cover design by Steve Kress provided images of Ayn Rand, philosophy Professor N. O. Lossky, and the Peter and Paul Fortress, where, in 1924, the young Ayn Rand (nee Alissa Rosenbaum) lectured on the fortress's history.

Ayn_Rand_The_Russian_Radical 1.0

The second edition's cover design is, if you'll pardon the expression, quite a radical departure from the first edition. Those familiar with Ayn Rand will recall that her original working title for the book that was to become her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was: "The Strike." Considering how strikes were customarily tools of organized labor, Rand was engaging in a kind of linguistic subversion that was characteristic of one of her earliest philosophic influences, Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand would often use words that had negative connotations, and totally invert their meaning. Hence, for Rand, there was a "virtue" of selfishness and "capitalism" was not a system of class exploitation, but an "unknown ideal." Well, in this instance, her working title for Atlas Shrugged was her way of using the word, "Strike" in a typically ironic fashion. For Rand (spoiler alert), Atlas Shrugged explores what happens when "the men of the mind" go on strike, when men and women of distinction, across all disciplines and specialities, across the worlds of business and art, no longer wish to sanction their own victimhood. The new cover uses the strike imagery in the color scheme of the country to which Rand emigrated in 1926 (the red, white, and blue of the U.S. flag), while also using banners with touches of red and yellow (let us not forget that it was the yellow of the "hammer and sickle" that was starkly imposed on the solid red background of the communist Soviet flag). Here's the new cover, folks!

ARTRRMEDIUM978-0-271-06227-3md.jpg

July 12, 2013

The New JARS Debuts on JSTOR

As I announced recently right here on Notablog, the new, and newly designed, Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, makes its online debut today on the JSTOR site, which, for all online subscribers to the journal has the added bonus of offering you every back issue fully archived. The new July 2013 print issue is in the mail and on its way to subscribers (you can order, or renew, a subscription, here).

This is the first issue published by the Pennsylvania State University Press (PSUP), and it is, if you don't mind me saying: Gorgeous. My deepest thanks to the press for doing it right: it is an utter and complete delight to have the editorial board give its undivided attention to all matters of content, and to have a publisher take care of all those wonderfully exciting tasks, like design, production, printing, subscription management, packaging, and mailing.

And we are already at work on the next issue, due out in December, which will begin production in August, and get to subscribers on time. That issue will have nearly twice as many articles as the current one, and promises to be another absorbing entry in the 13 volumes we've published since our 1999 premiere (thanks to hard-working editors, advisors, and those peer readers who participate in our double-blind peer review process).

The Journal has weathered many storms: moving from Port Townsend to Reno to Brooklyn, but through it all, we have worked diligently to get it indexed in whole, or in part, by more than two dozen abstracting services. Our new relationship with PSUP is going to vastly expand our visibility in the scholarly community, but, more importantly, it will exponentially expand our electronic accessibility for the benefit of all those seeking to do much-needed research in Rand studies. I am proud of the work performed by all those associated with this collaboration; this is team work at its best. But most of all, I am proud of the sweetest loyalty that our subscribers have shown since our first issue in 1999. This is the beginning of a new era; we are getting more submissions than ever, and reaching audiences far beyond our expectations.

Now, do yourselves one great favor: get the new issue, Volume 13, Number 1, our 25th published issue, and give yourself a chance to be excited, or infuriated, by one thought-provoking essay after another (check out the abstracts for the new issue, and the contributor biographies too). And if you're so inspired by the promise of this new collaborative adventure, write to us: We have authors who will be more than happy to respond in print in upcoming Discussion forums.

Most of all: Enjoy!

June 10, 2013

JARS: A New Era Begins

As advertised here, here, and here, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies begins a new era this year: a collaboration with Pennsylvania State University Press, which will manage all aspects of design, production, distribution, and subscription fulfillment, while leaving the Editorial Board in full charge of the intellectual side of this grand adventure. As I state in the "Editor's Introduction: Change and Continuity," which appears in the new July 2013 issue: "In embarking on this new arrangement, the journal unveils a new look, but retains its commitment to introducing new writers to the ever-expanding world of Rand studies." And what a new look it is!

The New JARS!

The new issue, officially Volume 13, Number 1 (Issue #25, July 2013), features all-new essays, by both former contributers and new ones:

Editor's Introduction: Change and Continuity - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Rand, Paterson, and the Problem of Anarchism - Stephen Cox

Little Prime Movers: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as Young Adult Literature - Will Stockton

Reviews

An End to Over and Against: A Review Essay on two recent Rand biographies: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, by Jennifer Burns; and Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller. Review by Robert L. Campbell

Discussion

Reply to Roger E. Bissell: Perplexing Logic - Dennis C. Hardin

Rejoinder to Dennis C. Hardin: A Guide for the Perplexed - Roger E. Bissell

Readers can access abstracts for the above essays here, and contributor biographies here.

And let me remind readers that Pennsylvania State University Press now offers print-only, online-only, and print-and-online subscriptions; online subscribers will have access to fully searchable essays, along with essays from every back issue published by JARS since its 1999 inception (back issues are already indexed for viewing on JSTOR, and we are now an affiliated journal of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals).

To order or renew subscriptions, fill out the form for mail-in or follow the links for online processing here.

Our year-end issue, due out in December 2013, promises to be even more exciting; it will be significantly larger than our July 2013 PSUP debut, with many provocative essays. Stay tuned! And enjoy...

Also mentioned at the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

May 17, 2013

Rand in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism

In 2012, Gale, Cengage Learning published Volume 261 of the series, Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.

TCLC Volume 261 Cover

Each volume publishes reprints of material that qualifies as "criticism of the works of novelists, poets, playwrights, who lived between 1900 and 1999, from the first published critical appraisals to current evaluations."

TCLC Volume 261Title Page.jpg

The newest volume includes three sections, each devoted to another writer: C. Day Lewis, 1904-1972; Jaroslav Hasek, 1883-1923; and Ayn Rand, 1905-1982, the "Russian-born American novelist, essayist, philosopher, and *playwright."

TCLC Volume 261 Contents Page

Many writers in Rand studies are featured in this section of Volume 261; the editors chose to reprint Chapter 8 of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

TCLC Volume 261 Sciabarra Sample.jpg

In the meanwhile, I've been working hard on new materials to be included in the 2013 expanded second edition of Russian Radical. Details on this edition to follow soon...

March 14, 2013

Left-Libertarian Musings

I have been remiss in not mentioning that references to, and republications of, my work have been featured on the website of Center for a Stateless Society. From the mission statement of the Center:

The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) is an anarchist think-tank and media center. Its mission is to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority. In particular, it seeks to enlarge public understanding and transform public perceptions of anarchism, while reshaping academic and movement debate, through the production and distribution of market anarchist media content, both scholarly and popular, the organization of events, and the development of networks and communities, and to serve, along with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and the Molinari Institute, as an institutional home for left-libertarian market anarchists.

One does not have to be a bona fide member of the Center, or an anarchist per se, to appreciate the fact that these folks are attempting to forge the way for a form of dialectical libertarianism, insofar as they refuse to focus strictly on the political, to the exclusion of the personal and the cultural, the social-psychological, the linguistic, the philosophical, and so forth. One of the reasons I've been critical of some forms of libertarianism is that there are what I have called "dualistic" tendencies among some libertarians to sharply separate the political from the personal and the cultural, as if dispensing with the state is all that is necessary to achieve a noncoercive society. As I have argued in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," the political is as dependent on the personal and the cultural as each of these levels is dependent on the others. It is the classic case of reciprocal interdependence:

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

My "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" consists of three books that proclaim the virtues of dialectical thinking in the service of a radical libertarianism. The essence of a dialectical method is that it is "the art of context-keeping." It demands that we study social problems by grasping the larger context within which they are embedded, so as to trace their myriad—and often reciprocal—causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical. By systemic, I mean that social problems need to be understood in ways that make transparent their relationships to one another—and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. By historical, I mean that social problems need to be grasped developmentally, that is, in ways that clarify their development over time. Grasping the larger context is indispensable to any "radical" politics worth its title. To be radical is to "go to the root." Going to the "root" of social problems requires understanding how they came about, where they might be tending, and how they may be resolved—by overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books of the trilogy are: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

The first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press, draws parallels between Karl Marx and F. A. Hayek with regard to their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism. Both thinkers exhibit an appreciation of context in distinguishing between dialectical, radical thinking and nondialectical, utopian thinking.

The second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, published in 1995 with Pennsylvania State University Press (and soon to be published in an expanded second edition) details Rand's approach as an instance of highly dialectical and radical thinking, which recognizes that social problems and social solutions must be understood systemically, across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality—the personal, the cultural, and the structural, and dynamically or developmentally, inclusive of past, present, and potential future manifestations of the problems we are analyzing and attempting to resolve.

The third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, published in 2000 by Pennsylvania State University Press, offers a re-reading of the history of dialectical thinking, and a re-definition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty. It includes a critical discussion of the work of Murray N. Rothbard, who was one of my most important influences.

One can never be sure of every last implication of one's work when one creates it. That's the nature of what is often called an enterprise of "hermeneutics", which is a fancy term to designate the art, nature, and evolution of interpretation. As different people relate their own unique contexts of knowledge to one's work, they are more than likely to find implications in the work of which not even the author may have been aware. It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that those on the "libertarian left" are drawing from some useful aspects of my work.

Here are some of the references to, and republications of, my work at the Center for a Stateless Society:

On the Shoulders of Giants by Kevin Carson

They Saw it Coming: The 19th-Century Libertarian Critique of Fascism (translated into Spanish as Lo Vieron Venir: La Crítica Libertaria Decimonónica del Fascismo) by Roderick Long

Engagement with the Left on Free Markets by Kevin Carson

"Capitalism": The Known Reality by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

A Crisis of Political Economy by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Dialectics and Liberty by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Support C4SS with Charles Johnson's "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity" by James Tuttle

March 08, 2013

JARS: Past, Present, and Future

I recently announced the publication of Volume 12, Number 2 (Issue 24, December 2012) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The abstracts and contributor biographies for the current issue can be found at those links. Subscribers and contributors should have already received their copies in the mail.

We have had a very small working staff as an independently published journal. Over the last few years especially, following the journal's move of its central headquarters from Washington to Nevada to good ol' Brooklyn, New York, much of the management tasks have fallen on a staff of one. Fortunately, Volume 12, Number 2 is the last issue that this staff will manage.

On the editorial side, of course, we've had a hard-working team, with a stellar cast of peer readers, and indefatigable Editorial and Advisory Board members.

Since the nuts-and-bolts stuff, that is, subscription fulfillment, design, production, distribution, and mailing, is being managed, starting with our first 2013 issue, by Pennsylvania State University Press, I am One Happy Camper. The first 2013 issue is already in process!

Editors and Advisory Board members will continue to do what matters, intellectually: guiding this publication’s content into an exciting future, with an even greater focus on the quality that our readers have come to expect. But the PSUP collaboration guarantees an even larger readership and an extensive dissemination of our content all across the globe. Part of this is already being generated by JSTOR, which has digitally preserved our back (and future) issues for the benefit of subscribers and scholars the world over. I have visited the JSTOR site, and am happy to report that every page of every back issue is now available; soon enough all of our content will also be dark archived by Stanford University’s CLOCKSS for eternal preservation.

Moreover, beginning with their receipt of Volume 13, Number 1 (scheduled for publication by PSUP in July 2013), current JARS subscribers will have full access to the journal’s content—and all of its back issues. New subscribers will have the option of print-only, online-only, or print-and-online access; our new subscription rates can be found here. The increases are modest, considering that our domestic rates have been the same since the journal’s first issue in the Fall of 1999. Let me encourage new subscribers and all of those who are considering re-subscribing (when their subscriptions are due for renewal) to take advantage of both print and online access. You won’t be disappointed.

As readers know, JARS has suffered profoundly personal losses with the passing of the journal’s visionary founder, Bill Bradford, and two of our original, and best, Advisory Board members, Larry Sechrest and John Hospers. With our December 2012 issue, I announced that JARS expanded its current Board of Advisors with an eye toward bolstering its interdisciplinary and international reach. Our new Advisory Board members fill that criteria resoundingly.

Volume 12, Number 2

In "Expanding Boards, Expanding Horizons," my Preface to the December 2012 issue, I re-acquaint readers with our Advisory Board members and introduce readers to the half-dozen new members, who are sure to contribute to the long-term success of this publication. First, I review our current Editorial Board, "now constituted by four hard-working scholars drawn from the humanities and social sciences," and provide a brief update on the work of my colleagues:

The newest addition is the elevation of our former Associate Editor and former Advisory Board member, Robert L. Campbell, to the Editorial Board proper. This merely formalizes a relationship that has existed for a long time; Campbell has been with JARS since its inception and has worked tirelessly in an editorial capacity, helping to maintain the quality of this journal. He is a Professor of Psychology at Clemson University. His writing in theoretical, developmental, and cognitive psychology has been published in journals as diverse as Human Development, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Cognitive Development, and The Journal of Pragmatics, to name but a few. Since 2005, he has edited the journal New Ideas in Psychology. When he’s not writing essays on Rand for our journal, he’s busy producing books such as The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (1994; second edition, 2000), and writing on jazz and blues for such periodicals as Cadence and Blues and Rhythm.
Stephen Cox, a Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego, has been a founding co-editor of JARS, and an indefatigable scholar and editor. His articles and monographs on Rand explore the underappreciated literary aspects of her work. He is also the author of the book on Isabel Paterson [The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America (2004)], an important American writer who influenced Rand’s intellectual evolution. Cox’s broad research interests are reflected in his other published work: on eighteenth-century British literature (“The Stranger Within Thee”: Concepts of the Self in Late-Eighteenth-Century Literature [1980]); William Blake (Love and Logic: The Evolution of Blake’s Thought [1992]); and the Titanic tragedy (The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions [1999]). [And I should add his 2009 publication, a book published by Yale University Press: The Big House: Image and Reality of the American Prison.
Philosopher Roderick T. Long joined our Editorial Board after Bradford’s passing, with the publication of Volume 8, Number 1 (Fall 2006). A Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University, Long is also a senior scholar for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Director and President of the Molinari Institute, an advisory panel member for the Center for a Stateless Society, and has served as editor of The Journal of Libertarian Studies. He has published countless essays on Ayn Rand, and is the author of Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand (2000). In 2008, he published Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country? (co-edited with Tibor R. Machan). His book, Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action: Praxeological Investigations, is forthcoming.
Rounding out the Editorial Board is yours truly, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, a founding co-editor of this journal, author of numerous articles that have appeared in various encyclopedias and other periodicals, and of the “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy,” consisting of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995), Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995; forthcoming expanded second edition, 2013), and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000), and co-editor, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999).

Soon enough, I will be posting information on the expanded second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which will include my 1999 JARS essay, “The Rand Transcript,” my 2005 JARS essay, “The Rand Transcript, Revisited,” a new Preface that will reflect on the nearly twenty years that has passed since the book’s first publication, and an extended Postscript, with a response to recent discussions of my historical work on Rand’s education.

Returning to the Preface for our current issue, however, I'd like to provide more information on our Board of Advisors, which now boasts twelve members. Among them are these original six, whose contributions and work are worth revisiting:

Philosopher Douglas J. Den Uyl co-edited, with Douglas B. Rasmussen, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (1984), which was the first collection of scholarly essays on Rand. The book, published by the University of Illinois Press, included varied interpretive contributions from Antony Flew, Robert Hollinger, Charles King, Tibor R. Machan, Eric Mack, Wallace I. Matson, Jack Wheeler, and the editors. Its approach—which brought scholarly rigor to the study of one of the twentieth century’s most controversial thinkers—inspired the founders of this journal. Den Uyl also authored a Twayne’s Masterwork Series book, The Fountainhead: An American Novel (1999), but his scholarship extends well beyond the Randian, encompassing such other works as The Virtue of Prudence (1991) and God, Man, & Well Being: Spinoza’s Modern Humanism (2008). He is also the co-author, with Douglas B. Rasmussen, of such works as Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order (1991). Den Uyl remains the Vice President of Educational Programs at The Liberty Fund.
Mimi Reisel Gladstein, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, has been one of the most prolific writers in Rand studies. She wrote the trailblazing 1978 College English article, “Ayn Rand and Feminism: An Unlikely Alliance,” that ultimately inspired the provocative 1999 volume in the Pennsylvania State University Press book series, “Re-reading the Canon”: Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which Gladstein and I co-edited. The series currently sports well over 30 volumes, each covering a major thinker in the Western canon, from Plato, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant to Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, and Mary Daly. Gladstein’s Rand scholarship also includes The Ayn Rand Companion (1984) and its much more comprehensive second edition, The New Ayn Rand Companion (1999), each surveying the ever-growing literature on Rand—from the literary and biographical to the philosophic and cultural. She is also the author of a Twayne’s Masterwork Series book, Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto of the Mind (2000), and Ayn Rand (2009), part of the Continuum series on “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” This is all in addition to her seminal work on John Steinbeck, which earned her the John J. and Angeline Pruis Award for Steinbeck Teacher of the Decade (1978–1987), and the Burkhardt Award for Outstanding Contributions to Steinbeck Studies (1996).
Historian Robert Hessen, a senior research fellow from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the editor of the multi-volume series Hoover Archival Documentaries. He has published many essays on topics in American economic and business history, and such books as In Defense of the Corporation (1978) and Steel Titan: The Life of Charles M. Schwab (1990)—not to mention original contributions to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist periodicals and to her book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1967).
Lester H. Hunt, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the author of many articles on aesthetics, ethics, and politics, and such books as Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue (1991) and Character and Culture (1997). He maintains the blog “E pur si muove!”
Eric Mack, a Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University, is the author of many essays on ethical and political philosophy, which have appeared in journals and books, and of such works as John Locke (forthcoming, January 2013), part of the Continuum series on “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” He is also the editor of collections by Auberon Herbert (The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays, 1978) and Herbert Spencer (The Man versus the State, with Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom, 1981).
Douglas B. Rasmussen, Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University, co-edited with Douglas J. Den Uyl, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (1984). He is also co-author, with Den Uyl, of such works as Liberalism Defended: The Challenge of Post-Modernity (1998) and Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for a Non-Perfectionist Politics (2005). His essays have appeared in such journals as American Philosophical Quarterly, International Philosophical Quarterly, The New Scholasticism, Public Affairs Quarterly, The Review of Metaphysics, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Social Philosophy and Policy, and The Thomist.

In the December 2012 Preface, I also present the six newest members of the JARS Board of Advisors:

David T. Beito, Professor of History at the University of Alabama, has authored many historical works, including Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance during the Great Depression (1989); From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890–1967 (2000); The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (2002); and, with co-author Professor Linda Royster Beito of Stillman College, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power (2009). He is the founder of the “Liberty and Power Group Blog” , and has published in this very journal (“Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America,” Spring 2007, Issue 16).
Peter J. Boettke is a Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University (GMU), the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, and the Director of the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU. He has also authored works on the history and collapse of the Soviet economy, including The Political Economy of Soviet Socialism: The Formative Years, 1918–1928 (1990); Why Perestroika Failed: The Economics and Politics of Socialist Transformation (1993); and Calculation and Coordination: Essays on Socialism and Transitional Political Economy (2001). He is also the author of Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (2012) and a widely used textbook (co-authored with Paul Heyne and David Prychitko) entitled The Economic Way of Thinking (2009). He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Review of Austrian Economics. He contributed to our path-breaking Centenary Symposium, “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians” (Spring 2005, Issue 12), and is a scheduled participant in the 2014 American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting of the Ayn Rand Society on the topic, “The Moral Basis of Capitalism: Adam Smith, the Austrians, and Ayn Rand.”
Susan Love Brown, Professor of Anthropology, Florida Atlantic University, focuses on sociocultural, political, psychological, and African American anthropology, as well as on issues of gender, intentional communities, and social evolutionary theory. Her areal interests center on the United States and the Caribbean. She is the co-author (with Robert Bates Graber, Ralph M. Rowlett, Randall R. Skelton, and Ronald Kephart) of Meeting Anthropology Phase to Phase (2000), and the editor of Intentional Community: An Anthropological Perspective (2002). She has authored countless articles, which have appeared in many books, encyclopedias, and journals on topics as diverse as race and ethnicity, religion, and the counterculture. Her essays on Rand have appeared in several books—including Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999) and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion (2007)—and journals, including The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (to which she has contributed two essays).
Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson, Professor of Politics at the University of Iceland, earned his D.Phil. in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was the R. G. Collingwood Scholar at Pembroke College. Among his many books are Hayek’s Conservative Liberalism (1987), Overfishing: The Icelandic Solution (2000), Kjarni malsins. Fleyg ord a islensku [A Dictionary of Quotations] (2010), and Islenskir kommunistar 1918–1998 [Icelandic Communists 1918–1998] (2011). He is also the Icelandic translator and editor of The Black Book of Communism (2009). He has served on the supervisory board of Iceland’s Central Bank (2001–2009) and on the board of the Mont Pelerin Society (1998– 2004) and is currently the academic director of RNH, the Icelandic Research Centre for Innovation and Economic Growth (RNH n.d). RNH is supporting the Icelandic Ayn Rand Project of the publishing house Almenna bokafelagid, which has already published Icelandic translations of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. In 2013, We the Living is due to be published in an Icelandic edition, which will include the play Night of January 16th (RNH 2012).
Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at St. Lawrence University. He is the author of Monetary Evolution, Free Banking, and Economic Order (1992), Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective (2000), and many articles on Austrian economics, Hayekian political economy, monetary theory and history, macroeconomics, and the social theory of the family. He co-edits the book series Advances in Austrian Economics. He has contributed essays to the JARS Symposium on “Ayn Rand and Progressive Rock” (Fall 2003, Issue 9) and the Centenary Symposium, “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians” (Spring 2005, Issue 12).
David N. Mayer, Professor of Law and History at Capital University, is the author of essays in law reviews, history and political science journals, and of the books The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (1994) and Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right (2011). He also serves on the board of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law (in Columbus, Ohio), the editorial board of the Cato Supreme Court Review, the fellowships Academic Review Committee for the Institute for Humane Studies, and the advisory board of The Atlas Society. Among his essays is “Completing the American Revolution: The Significance of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at its Fiftieth Anniversary,” published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Spring 2008, Issue 18).


Working with JARS has been a labor of love, though I can think of a few instances where it has also been a labor of aggravation. That’s life. But after twelve years of independent publication, we are ecstatic to join forces with Pennsylvania State University Press, wherein we retain our intellectual independence and 100% control of the editorial side of this project. PSUP takes over all those managerial, production, subscription, and distribution tasks, all those tedious and endlessly exhausting tasks that I will truly miss. Not.

At the conclusion of our Tenth Anniversary Issue, it was my desire to have produced a Ten-Year Master Author Index, to remind readers of where we’ve been. Alas, circumstances made the production of that index impossible. But we have reached a major transitional moment in our history as we begin our collaboration with PSUP this year. So now, it seemed the perfect time to produce that Master Author Index, which provides an alphabetical listing of every author's essays, arranged chronologically. The Master Author Index can be found at the conclusion of the December 2012 issue; it covers all 12 volumes of the journal (Issues 1-24).

I should point out that I made one error in the Master Author Index; it was the omission of a single reference to Dennis C. Hardin. My apologies, Dennis! His entry is included in our Volume 12 index, but was mistakenly omitted from the Master Author Index. So, it gives me great pleasure to inform our readers that a corrected copy of the Master Author Index of our first twelve years of independent publication is now available as a PDF here. (We hope that JSTOR will provide a corrected copy as well.)

Finally, I want to express my deepest gratitude to Dave Barakat, with whom I worked closely in bringing this journal to print for so many years. Dave is now with Gator Communications Group LLC (they have a Facebook page too). He is, quite simply, one of the most professional, efficient, kindest, and downright charming people with whom I have ever worked. My best wishes to him in all his future endeavors.

December 31, 2012

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: Last 2012 Issue On the Way!

As the year ends, the promised December 2012 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is on the way! It will be submitted to the printer very shortly, and should be in the hands of subscribers in January 2013.

The New Year brings with it a new publisher for the journal. As explained here:

The JARS Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University Press (PSUP) have entered into a formal collaborative agreement, commencing with the publication in 2013 of Volume 13, Number 1 (Issue 25), covering five years—and beyond.
Our Editorial Board will continue to solicit new articles and attract new writers, working closely with authors and peer readers toward the publication of essays of the finest quality and capacity for intellectual provocation. PSUP will take over the business end of the journal, while the Editorial Board will focus exclusively on the intellectual side of our project. PSUP will manage all aspects of distribution and subscription fulfillment in both print and online journal editions. Our arrangement with PSUP will also provide a more systematic framework for quality control, which will structure our workflow for the submission, double-blind peer review, and tracking of articles as they make their way to publication. And once our editorial work is done, we will submit approved, completed essays to the PSUP production department, which will provide a second level of copyediting and the typesetting of all content.
PSUP will set all institutional and individual pricing, which includes print-only, online-only, or print-and-online subscriptions, inside and outside the United States. There will be options for article downloads on a newly developed website. Indeed, a robust online edition of the journal will have the added, indispensable features and services on which the scholarly community relies, including XML codes on all files, which will be used to produce printable PDFs, as well as PDFs and html files for the web, all fully searchable.
PSUP has partnered with Project Muse and with JSTOR (both its Current Scholarship Program and back issue archive), making possible the extensive digital dissemination of PSUP journals. JARS will be potentially available to thousands of new readers from private and public, domestic and international institutions, corporations, and agencies.
The most important aspect of our collaboration, however, is our plan for the preservation of the journal and its trailblazing content. PSUP participates in CrossRef and all of its journals are now archived at Stanford’s CLOCKSS (Controlled Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe). In essence, JARS, including all of its back issues dating from its 1999 inception, will be a part of the dark archive at Stanford that will preserve its content for the use of scholars and historians in perpetuity.

Penn State Press is already advertising on its site the New Look for a New JARS! Here's a sneak peek at the new look:

The New JARS Look for 2013

And because the journal now has a robust online edition, we have added an E-ISSN to our long-time ISSN:

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number, ISSN 1526-1018; E-ISSN 2169-7132

But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

A New JARS, the last pre-PSUP issue, will be on its way to subscribers shortly. And with it, comes an Expanding Editorial Board and an Expanding Board of Advisors.

I will be posting the Preface I've written in a couple of weeks; for now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our newly constituted Editorial Board and Board of Advisors.

The Editorial Board now has four editors; the Associate Editor, Robert L. Campbell, has been elevated to the formal Editorial Board, which now includes these four editors:

Robert L. Campbell
Stephen Cox
Roderick T. Long
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

And our Board of Advisors, which suffered the loss of two founding members over the last few years (economist Larry Sechrest and philosopher John Hospers), now boasts six new members and six founding members. I'll be providing additional information on our full Board of Advisors in the coming weeks. The new members are represented below with an asterisk (*).

David T. Beito (History, University of Alabama) *
Peter J. Boettke (Economics and Philosophy, George Mason University) *
Susan Love Brown (Anthropology, Florida Atlantic University) *
Douglas J. Den Uyl (Philosophy, The Liberty Fund)
Mimi Reisel Gladstein (English and Theatre Arts, University of Texas, El Paso)
Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson (Politics, University of Iceland) *
Robert Hessen (History, Emeritus, The Hoover Institution)
Steven Horwitz (Economics, St. Lawrence University) *
Lester H. Hunt (Philosophy, University of Wisconsin)
Eric Mack (Philosophy, Tulane University)
David N. Mayer (Law and History, Capital University Law School) *
Douglas B. Rasmussen (Philosophy, St. John's University)

Finally, here is the cover to our newest issue (December 2012), which features all-new content plus our year-end Index, and a Master Author Index of every article that has appeared in JARS over its first dozen volumes!

The Last 2012 JARS Issue is On the Way!!!

The issue includes the following essays:

Preface: Expanding Boards, Expanding Horizons - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Sex and the Egoist: Measuring Ayn Rand's Fiction Against Her Philosophy - Emily J. Barr

Taking Pieces of Rand with Them: Ayn Rand's Literary Influence - Robert Powell

Ayn Rand's Objectivist Virtues as the Foundation for Morality and Success in Business - Edward W. Younkins

Private War: Objectivist Political Philosophy and the Privatization of Military Force - Martin van Wetten

Ayn Rand Nation - Neil Parille

Check out the abstracts for these articles here and the contributor biographies here.

Watch this space for more information about our newest issue in the coming weeks. Till then, Happy New Year!

September 15, 2012

JARS: Multimedia Shmurak Essay in Archives

The other day, I announced a major collaborative project between The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Foundation and Pennsylvania State University Press. As part of that project, all of the journal's back issues will be accessible and fully searchable with state-of-the-art tools for those who have an online subscription.

Today, we have a special treat for long-time readers of the journal. For a while now, we have wanted to update the site to carry a very special video file that accompanied one of our issues from 2006. One of our most provocative essays was authored by Steven H. Shmurak for Volume 8, Number 1 (Issue #15), which was published in 2006.

Those who had JARS subscriptions received a hard copy of the journal with a very special CD-ROM included inside the back cover. As we indicate on the JARS "Table of Contents" featuring Shmurak's essay, "De-Mystifying Emotion: Introducing the Affect Theory of Silvan Tomkins to Objectivists" (now available as a PDF here):

This article features a special CD-ROM presentation, which is now available for download from the JARS archives. The media provides the raw data upon which the article is based. You can safely look at the Read Me Txt File, and the presentation of "The 9 Innate Affects -- S. S. Tomkins" in two formats: PC or Mac [watch or right-click and "save as" to your local computer]. Our special thanks to the author for providing this presentation for our archives, and for providing our readers with a multimedia experience. Readers who wish to have the original CD-ROM disc that accompanied this essay [it was in a pocket glued to the inside back cover of Issue #15] can purchase it with this issue for the same price of any hard copy back issue. See our subscription page.

September 10, 2012

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come

The new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be on its way to subscribers within the next couple of weeks. And with it comes an announcement of a major breakthrough for the journal and for Rand scholarship as well.

First, let's take a look at the new issue, which is coming out in the thick of the U.S. Presidential campaign, and which includes a few essays that try to make sense of contemporary politics:

Preface - The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

The Logic of Liberty: Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and the Logical Structure of the Political Spectrum - Roger E. Bissell

Ayn Rand Shrugged: The Gap Between Ethical Egoism and Global Capitalism - Andre Santos Campos

A Defense of Rothbardian Ethics via a Mediation of Hoppe and Rand - Cade Share

Ayn Rand and Deducing ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’ - Lachlan Doughney

The Childs-Peikoff Hypothesis - Dennis C. Hardin

New JARS! Volume 12, Number 1

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies.

In keeping with our current policy of archiving back issues, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit our website, today marks the online debut of Volume 11, Number 1 (PDFs for each of the essays in that issue can be found at that link). That issue, dedicated to the memory of one of our founding Advisory Board members, philosopher John Hospers, features provocative essays by James Montmarquet, Samuel Bostaph, Robert Hartford, Walter Block, Robert L. Campbell, and Fred Seddon.

Our online publication of any issue lags behind the current issue by a full volume (about a year). Which means that those who wish to read the new JARS need to subscribe today!

The new issue includes a Preface, written by me, announcing a major breakthrough for the journal: a trailblazing partnership with Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand the journal's scholarly reach. Here is what I have to say in the Preface (a PDF link to the full Preface can be found here):

In the Fall of 1999, the first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) was published, beginning a biannual scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand: her work, her life, her impact, and her legacy. Since then, we have published over 250 essays, written by over 130 authors, working across many disciplines and specialties. Our essays have covered subjects in aesthetics, anthropology, biography, business ethics, computer science, cultural studies, economics, epistemology, ethics, feminist studies, history, intellectual history, law, literary craft, literature, metaphysics, methodology, ontology, pedagogy, philosophical biology, philosophical psychology, general philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, and sociology. We have featured symposia on Rand’s ethics and on Rand’s aesthetics, on Nietzsche and Rand, on Rand and Progressive Rock, on Rand’s literary and cultural impact and on “Rand Among the Austrians” (that is, the Austrian school of economics, which includes such thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, etc.). Our content is now abstracted and indexed, in whole or in part, by nearly two dozen abstracting and indexing services, expanding our scholarly and institutional visibility.
Moreover, the journal has built a unique scholarly forum that welcomes those working from remarkably diverse interpretive and critical perspectives. Just a cursory look through our back catalogue reveals essays by such writers as the late libertarian philosopher John Hospers, laissez-faire economist George Reisman, and market anarchist Sheldon Richman, on the one hand, and the writings of American literary critic Gene Bell-Villada, philosopher Bill Martin (a self-described Maoist), and radical leftist Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, on the other hand [names linked to JARS essays].
This new issue of our periodical begins our twelfth year of publication with the announcement of a major breakthrough that has the potential to enhance the quality of this publication and increase its scholarly reach. It will also guarantee the long-term historical preservation of our entire catalogue of back issues for the benefit of future generations of scholars.
The JARS Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University Press (PSUP) have entered into a formal collaborative agreement, commencing with the publication in 2013 of Volume 13, Number 1 (Issue 25), covering five years—and beyond.
Our Editorial Board will continue to solicit new articles and attract new writers, working closely with authors and peer readers toward the publication of essays of the finest quality and capacity for intellectual provocation. PSUP will take over the business end of the journal, while the Editorial Board will focus exclusively on the intellectual side of our project. PSUP will manage all aspects of distribution and subscription fulfillment in both print and online journal editions. Our arrangement with PSUP will also provide a more systematic framework for quality control, which will structure our workflow for the submission, double-blind peer review, and tracking of articles as they make their way to publication. And once our editorial work is done, we will submit approved, completed essays to the PSUP production department, which will provide a second level of copyediting and the typesetting of all content.
PSUP will set all institutional and individual pricing, which includes print-only, online-only, or print-and-online subscriptions, inside and outside the United States. There will be options for article downloads on a newly developed website. Indeed, a robust online edition of the journal will have the added, indispensable features and services on which the scholarly community relies, including XML codes on all files, which will be used to produce printable PDFs, as well as PDFs and html files for the web, all fully searchable.
PSUP has partnered with Project Muse and with JSTOR (both its Current Scholarship Program and back issue archive), making possible the extensive digital dissemination of PSUP journals. JARS will be potentially available to thousands of new readers from private and public, domestic and international institutions, corporations, and agencies.
The most important aspect of our collaboration, however, is our plan for the preservation of the journal and its trailblazing content. PSUP participates in CrossRef and all of its journals are now archived at Stanford’s CLOCKSS (Controlled Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe). In essence, JARS, including all of its back issues dating from its 1999 inception, will be a part of the dark archive at Stanford that will preserve its content for the use of scholars and historians in perpetuity.
The good news for subscribers is that there will be only a modest rise in subscription rates. Our domestic rates have been the same since our very first issue in 1999, and JARS will remain affordable for all those whose support we have valued deeply.
We will always be profoundly indebted to those who made this journal possible, especially to the late Bill Bradford [PDF link], whose vision continues to inspire us. We know that our new partnership with PSUP will vastly increase our exposure in the international community of scholars, providing a means for preserving all of the contributions of our authors, and a context for the ever-growing electronic dissemination of our content.

Taking a page from the songbook of Ol' Blue Eyes, I know that, for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, "The Best is Yet to Come."

Announcement also posted on the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

April 09, 2012

Multilingual Appeal

A brief essay I wrote back in July of 2004, "The First Landing of Ayn Rand in Japan!," which discusses the first Japanese translation of The Fountainhead, was just, itself, translated into Romanian, courtesy of Alexandra Seremina. Readers of the language will get a lot more out of the reading than I will, I suspect, but I'm very grateful to have this on the web.

Here's the Romanian translation of my essay: "Prima aterizare A AYN RAND IN JAPONIA!"

Enjoy!

January 31, 2012

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: New Issue

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies concludes its 11th year with an all-new issue: Volume 11, Number 2. Subscribers should be receiving the issue in the coming weeks. It features these provocative essays:

Sacrifice and the Apocalypse: A Girardian Reading of Atlas Shrugged - Oliver Gerland III

Objectivism and Christianity - Eric B. Dent

The Sim-Dif Model and Comparison - Merlin Jetton

What About Suicide Bombers? A Terse Response to a Terse Objection - Marc Champagne

The Six Million Dollar Rand (Review of 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand) - Neil Parille

Flourishing and Synthesis (Review of Ed Younkins's book, Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society) - Allen Mendenhall

New JARS! Volume 11, Number 2

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies for the current issue.

Those who have been following JARS developments know that it is now our policy to publish back issues on our site, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit us online. Since electronic publication of essays from our back issues lags by a full volume, I am pleased to announce today the online availability of Volume 10, Number 2, the culminating "Tenth Anniversary" issue of JARS that presented a terrific symposium on Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. The essays are archived here; authors include Stephen R. C. Hicks, Lester Hunt, Adam Reed, Peter Saint-Andre, Roger E. Bissell, and Robert Powell.

But please don't wait a year to see our new issue online; it's available now! Subscribe today! You can subscribe via Paypal on our home page or subscription page, or by printing and filling out this form and mailing it in with your check or money order.

I should note also that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is now being abstracted in a variety of indexes managed by ProQuest. Our scholarly reach is expanding with each newly published issue.

July 28, 2011

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Second Decade Begins ...

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies begins its second decade with the publication of a brand new issue. As explained in my Preface to the Eleventh Year, the journal has dispensed with its Northern-hemisphere-centric "Fall" and "Spring" publication schedule, opting for real-time dates and the addition of an overall "Issue Number."

The new issue, dedicated to the memory of one of our founding Advisory Board members, philosopher John Hospers, features exciting essays in Rand studies, including:

Prometheus: Ayn Rand’s Ethic of Creation, by philosophy professor James Montmarquet

Ayn Rand’s Economic Thought, by economics professor Samuel Bostaph

A Political Standard for Absolute Political Freedom, by Dr. Robert Hartford

Ayn Rand, Religion, and Libertarianism, by economics professor Walter Block

The Rewriting of Ayn Rand’s Spoken Answers, by psychology professor Robert L. Campbell

Essays on Atlas Shrugged, by philosophy professor Fred Seddon

The Journal Begins Its Second Decade!

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies for the current issue.

Those who have been following JARS developments know that it is now our policy to publish back issues on our site, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit us online. However, publication on the site lags by a full volume, which means that online publication of the current issue won't occur for at least a year, depending on the timeliness of our publication schedule.

But the good news is that just as Volume 11, Number 1 (Issue 21) appears, those who wish to read Volume 10, Number 1 (the first of two Tenth Anniversary Issues) can now access its essays here! And what an issue that was, with key essays by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Kathleen Touchstone, J. H. Huebert, Fred Seddon and Roderick Long, Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, and Peter E. Vedder. So, in a way, every announcement of a new issue of JARS brings with it an announcement that the journal will be simultaneously publishing a back issue on its website.

It also means, however, that if you want to get in on the excitement now, don't wait a year! The new issue should start making its appearance in subscriber mailboxes by mid-to-late August. So if you have let your subscription lapse, renew today, by filling out this form and mailing it in with your check or money order. Better still: Take advantage of our online Paypal Express Service (see the drop-down menu here). Our basic individual domestic rate has been the same since our very first issue, unchanged in over ten years! So act now! (Lapsed subscribers and those in need of renewal after receipt of the new issue will be hearing from us in the mail.)

Finally, it delights me to announce that with this newest issue, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies begins a fruitful relationship with Scopus, "the world's largest abstract and citation database" of peer-reviewed research literature and quality web sources. Scopus covers nearly 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers, providing "smart tools to track analyze and visualize research." Scopus will actually be abstracting and indexing JARS issues going back to 2009, providing researchers with "tools to sort, refine and quickly identify results ..."

With the addition of Scopus, and our ongoing relationship with EBSCO, JARS is now covered, in whole or in part, by 21 abstracting and indexing services in the humanities and social sciences.

I remember that in the early days of our existence, we worked diligently, clamoring at the doors of major abstracting and indexing services with the hope that they would add JARS to their databases. Such coverage is essential: It not only expands the visibility of the journal; it provides greater incentive to a diverse array of scholars to submit their papers to our peer-review process. Today, as our global reach continues to expand, it is all the more gratifying that abstracting and indexing services routinely approach JARS with invitations to add the journal to their databases.

This is an achievement that has been made possible by a team of editors, advisors, peer readers, authors, and very loyal subscribers. I extend my deepest, heartfelt appreciation to all those who have contributed to our growing success.

On to the second decade ... and beyond!

July 27, 2011

New(ish) Encyclopedia Entries

I have a very big announcement tomorrow about a brand new issue of a very special journal, but before getting to that, I just wanted to take note of a few encyclopedia entries, written by yours truly, which were recently published, and are now available on my site in .pdf versions:

"Libertarianism," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 3: H-M: 965-66

"Ayn Rand," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 5: R-Z: 1422-23.

"Murray Rothbard," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 5: R-Z: 1489.

Oh, and this entry...

"Ayn Rand," American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History, edited by Gina Misiroglu (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.; Sharpe Reference, 2009).

... is included in an encyclopedia (noted above) that won the RUSA Award for Best Reference Work, given by the American Library Association.

June 30, 2011

John Hospers, RIP

Philosopher John Hospers passed away on June 12, 2011. John was known for his work on libertarianism, and for being the first Presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party (and the only LP candidate to date, to receive, in 1972, with his running mate Tonie Nathan, an electoral vote from a rogue elector, Roger McBride, who, himself, went on to be an LP Presidential candidate 4 years later).

To me, John was a gentle man, a friend, and a colleague. He gave me much encouragement and support when I was writing my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and he was among the founding Advisory Board members of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

February 26, 2011

The 1,500th Notablog Entry: Announcing The New JARS Archives!

This marks the 1,500th blog entry here at Notablog, though I was writing Notablog-ish entries (here, here, here, and here) long before I officially inaugurated this particular one. And, yes, more than half of these entries have had something to do with music, dancing, or entertainment, rather than politics, philosophy, or economics. I genuinely appreciate the radical sensibility of anarchist Emma Goldman, to whom is attributed the statement: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution!"

I want to thank readers for their continued interest in Notablog.

Today, on the occasion of the 1500th entry, I want to take this opportunity to announce some new developments over at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. As explained here, the journal underwent a number of major changes in 2009, including three moves (from Port Townsend, Washington to Reno, Nevada, to Brooklyn, New York). The second issue celebrating our tenth anniversary year was not released until mid-2010, a year late, and our next issue, which inaugurates the eleventh volume, will be published in mid-2011.

As of today, however, the journal is making available PDFs of every essay to have ever appeared since our first issue, published in September 1999. Take a look at our various Tables of Contents here.

For the past ten years, these back issues were available as hard copies, but our stock dwindled considerably. By mid-2004, EBSCO Publishing, the world's most prolific aggregator of full-text journals, magazines, and other sources, began publishing the full text of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies on their databases. Current issues will continue to be published in hard copy and sent to subscribers, just as they will continue to appear electronically with EBSCO. But since EBSCO does not carry electronic back issues from Volume 1, Number 1 (Fall 1999) to Volume 5, Number 1 (Fall 2003), and since it has become increasingly difficult to find hard copies of these issues, we have decided to make PDFs of all of our back issues freely accessible as archives on our website (PDFs of the later issues are of higher quality because the journal is now prepared as PDF-ready for our printer... ).

Publication on our site will lag by a full volume (which will mean at least a year, depending on the timeliness of our publication schedule... ). In other words, those who seek to read Volume 10, Number 1 on the website will have to wait until Volume 11, Number 1 is published. And so on ...

Therefore, those who want to keep current with JARS will have to maintain their subscriptions or to purchase single issues when they become available. But those who wish to access any articles published prior to Volume 10, Number 1 can now do so, immediately, and free of charge.

With the journal now indexed in whole or in part by many abstracting services in the humanities and the social sciences, the availability of essays from our first decade will make it easier for scholars to research various topics in Rand studies.

March 19, 2010

JARS Tenth Anniversary Celebration Concludes

Spring is here (as of 1:32 pm EDT tomorrow), and that means the Spring issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is here too!

Ah, if only publication schedules were as reliable as the Vernal Equinox. As reported here, the journal moved from Port Townsend, Washington to Reno, Nevada, and now all operations are out of Brooklyn, New York. I've had a few bumps in the road of my own to deal with, but I'm happy to report that the new issue is finally at the printer. This is our long-awaited symposium on Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, and we should be getting the issue off to subscribers within the next two weeks. And yes, it is a Spring issue, even if our year is off a bit.

Our Tenth Anniversary Year Concludes!

Readers will be treated to a provocative discussion of the relationship between the two thinkers, featuring the following essays and authors:

Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand - Stephen R. C. Hicks

Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand: A Somewhat Different Approach - Lester Hunt

Ronald E. Merrill and the Discovery of Ayn Rand’s Nietzschean Period - Adam Reed

Nietzsche, Rand, and the Ethics of the Great Task - Peter Saint-Andre

Will the Real Apollo Please Stand Up? Rand, Nietzsche, and the Reason-Emotion Dichotomy - Roger E. Bissell

Embracing Power Roles Naturally: Rand’s Nietzschean Heroes and Villains - Robert Powell

Abstracts for the new issue appear here; contributor biographies can be found here.

Our publication schedule will be getting back to normal in the coming months. A few back issues are still available, though hard copies are going fast, and we are working hard to digitize our oldest issues for the benefit of our readers. Most importantly, our subscription databases are up to date, and we encourage new subscribers to take advantage of our new Paypal Express (see our subscription page).

Subscribe today!

December 17, 2009

A JARS Grows in Brooklyn

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has undergone a number of changes over the past year, not the least of which has been geographic! The office moved from Port Townsend, Washington to Reno, Nevada. Now, all business, subscription, and editorial queries should be directed to:

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies
P. O. Box 230052
Brooklyn, New York 11223

Yes, Brooklyn! :)

Our Spring 2009 issue is obviously very late, but it should be out to subscribers early in the new year. Subscription databases are being updated, so if you've made an inquiry that has gone unanswered for a while, be patient. A batch of materials and letters went out this week, and more will go out in the coming weeks. If you'd like a subscription to the journal, fill out this form and mail it in today!

The next issue will complete our Tenth Anniversary celebration. It features a special symposium on Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, with special guest editor Lester Hunt. Essays by Hunt, Stephen R. C. Hicks, Peter Saint-Andre, Roger E. Bissell, and Robert Powell are included.

More information on the issue will be posted here and at the JARS website soon. Stay tuned! And Happy Holidays from your friends and colleagues at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

February 25, 2009

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: 10 Years and Counting

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was first published in the Fall of 1999; our Fall 2008 issue (running just a little late) is now out, and marks the beginning of our Tenth Anniversary Celebration.

Tenth Anniversary Year for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

The abstracts for the newest issue appear here; the contributor biographies appear here. There have been a few changes over at the JARS site... and more are coming. New indices for the Table of Contents and the Contributor Biographies are now on the site. Also, JARS has recently been picked up by the indexing service, Scopus.

The newest issue includes the following articles:

Mind, Introspection, and "The Objective" - Roger E. Bissell
The Peikovian Doctrine of the Arbitrary Assertion - Robert L. Campbell
Economic Decision-Making and Ethical Choice - Kathleen Touchstone

Reviews and Discussions
Re-Reading Atlas Shrugged - J. H. Huebert
Plato, Aristotle, Rand, and Sexuality - Fred Seddon
Reply to Fred Seddon: Interpreting Plato's Dialogues: Aristotle versus Seddon - Roderick T. Long
Rejoinder to Roderick T. Long: Long on Interpretation - Fred Seddon
Reply to Peter E. Vedder, "Self-Directedness and the Human Good" (Fall 2007): Defending Norms of Liberty - Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
Rejoinder to Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen: Difficulties in Norms of Liberty - Peter E. Vedder

Enjoy!

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

July 08, 2008

New Spring 2008 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

"But I thought this was summer, Sciabarra!" Yeah, well. Welcome to the New Spring! That is, the new Spring 2008 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies! This issue completes the ninth volume of JARS, a precursor to our Tenth Anniversary Year!

New JARS: Volume 9, Number 2

The Table of Contents is as follows:

Completing the American Revolution: The Significance of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged at its Fiftieth Anniversary - David N. Mayer

Rand and MacIntyre on Moral Agency - Ron Beadle

Rand on Hume's Moral Skepticism - Tibor R. Machan

Toward the Development of a Paradigm of Human Flourishing in a Free Society - Edward W. Younkins

Missing the Mark: Salsman's Review of the Great Depression - Larry Sechrest

Reviews and Discussions

Defending Advertising (review of Jerry Kirkpatrick's book, In Defense of Advertising) - Juliusz Jablecki

Reply to Juliusz Jablecki: The Connection between Advertising and Objectivist Epistemology - Jerry Kirkpatrick

Rejoinder to Jerry Kirkpatrick: Advertising, Capitalism, and Christianity - Juliusz Jablecki

Reply to Stephen E. Parrish, "God and Objectivism: A Critique of Objectivist Philosophy of Religion" (Spring 2007) and Patrick Toner, "Objectivist Atheology" (Spring 2007):
Not Even False: A Commentary on Parrish and Toner - Adam Reed

Rejoinder to Adam Reed: What's Good for the Goose and Related Matters - Stephen E. Parrish

Rejoinder to Adam Reed: God-Talk and the Arbitrary - Patrick Toner

You can read abstracts of the above articles here, and mini-biographies of our contributors here. And don't forget that in due course, EBSCO will offer our newest issue through their databases! Check out your institutional and local libraries!

Noted at L&P.

February 19, 2008

JARS Call for Papers: Ayn Rand and War

The new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published (see here). It marks the beginning of our ninth year.

This means, of course, that next year, JARS will be celebrating its Tenth Anniversary. As part of our Tenth Anniversary year, we are already scheduled to publish a major symposium on "Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche."

We are also issuing another Call for Papers on the topic of "Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and War." The deadline for proposals is July 1, 2008; the deadline for papers is October 15, 2008.

We are interested in papers that cover any aspect of this very broad topic: Rand's view of war; defenses or critiques of Rand-influenced views of "just war," the current war or past wars, terrorism, "collateral damage," torture, the relationship between domestic and foreign policy, etc.

We are less interested in discussions of "current events"—except insofar as they illustrate broader principles. Remember that we are a semi-annual and that the state of "current events" will change considerably before these essays are brought to print.

Submissions should adhere to our style guidelines; proposals should be submitted via email to me: chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Cross-posted at L&P.

New Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: Vol. 9, No. 1

I am delighted to announce the publication of the Fall 2007 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Yes, it's a little late, but, I think, well worth the wait.

New JARS: Vol. 9, No. 1

The Table of Contents is as follows:

To Think or Not: A Structural Resolution to the Mind-Body and Free Will-Determinism Problem - Neil K. Goodell
Ayn Rand and "The Objective": A Closer Look at the Intrinsic-Objective-Subjective Trichotomy - Roger E. Bissell
Self-as-Organism and Sense of Self: Toward a Differential Conception - Andrew Schwartz
Society: Toward an Objective View - Susan Love Brown
A Critique of Ayn Rand’s Theory of Intellectual Property Rights - Timothy Sandefur

Reviews
Self-Directedness and the Human Good - Peter E. Vedder
Ayn Rand, Novelist - Peter Saint-Andre

Discussion
Reply to Fred Seddon, "Recent Writings on Ethics": On Behalf of Ethical Intuitionism - Michael Huemer
Rejoinder to Michael Huemer: Neglecting Rand's Metaethics - Fred Seddon

Abstracts of the above articles can be found here; contributor biographies are available here.

Cross-posted at L&P.

January 18, 2008

IESS Entry on "Objectivism"

I've authored an entry on Ayn Rand's philosophy, "Objectivism," which appears in the new International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, a 9-volume, 4000-page work published by Macmillan Reference USA, edited by William A. Darity, Jr. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008). The article can be found in Volume 6: Oaxaca, Ronald - Quotas, Trade, pp. 6-8, but the people at Gale / Cengage Learning have been kind enough to give me permission to post the PDF of the article on my home site.

You can access the essay as a PDF document here.

INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

Cross-posted at L&P.

November 02, 2007

Homonograph Available Again!

By an arrangement with the publisher, my "homonograph," Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, is finally available at Amazon.com at a price that is considerably lower than those $46.95 or $59.95 collectible copies being sold on that site by used booksellers.

For those who are interested in learning more about the homonograph, check out the homo home page here, along with a listing of its table of contents and various reviews.

Point your browser to the book cover below and click yourself over to Amazon.com:

Homonograph Available at Amazon.com

October 10, 2007

Song of the Day #828

Song of the Day: Born to Be Alive, music, lyrics, and performance by Patrick Hernandez, was a huge #1 dance hit in 1979. Happy 50th anniversary to Atlas Shrugged, the Ayn Rand novel that celebrates human beings who are ... born to be alive! Check out this song on YouTube.

September 20, 2007

Conference Board Review: Atlas Shrugged at 50

There are several essays out there discussing the forthcoming 50th anniversary of Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. One such essay, written by A. J. Vogl, editor of The Conference Board Review, was just published in the magazine's September-October 2007 issue. Vogl interviewed me, among others, for his article, and a summary of my own comments appears here.

I also note my fellow JARS editor, Roderick Long's recent post, "Atlas Plugged," which provides another example of Rand's influence on comics (something I discussed in my essay, "The Illustrated Rand").

There will be more on the golden anniversary of Atlas in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Also noted on Liberty & Power Group Blog.

August 14, 2007

EBSCO and a New Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

I'm delighted to announce that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Foundation has entered into an electronic licensing relationship with EBSCO Publishing, the world's most prolific aggregator of full-text journals, magazines, and other sources. Starting with our next issue, in addition to our regular print version, the full text of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be found on EBSCO Publishing's databases. And, in time, we look forward to seeing all of the articles from our past issues available in this format as well.

In the meanwhile, a crazy Spring and an even crazier Summer (did somebody say a Tornado in BROOKLYN!!!???) could not prevent the publication of the new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

New Spring 2007 JARS

Volume 8, Number 2 features the following essays and contributors:

God and Objectivism: A Critique of Objectivist Philosophy of Religion - Stephen E. Parrish

Objectivist Atheology - Patrick Toner

Merely Metaphorical? Ayn Rand, Isabel Paterson, and the Language of Theory - Stephen Cox

Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America - David T. Beito

Recent Writings on Ethics - Fred Seddon

Unilateral Transfers and a Reinterpretation of Objectivist Ethics - Eren Ozgen

Reply to Tibor R. Machan, "Rand and Choice" (Spring 2006), Eric Mack, "More Problematic Arguments in Randian Ethics" (Spring 2006), and Douglas B. Rasmussen, "Regarding Choice and the Foundation of Morality: Reflections on Rand's Ethics" (Spring 2006):
Objectivity and the Proof of Egoism - Robert Hartford

Rejoinder to Robert Hartford:
A Brief Comment on Hartford - Tibor R. Machan

Rejoinder to Robert Hartford:
Rand's Metaethics - Douglas B. Rasmussen

Reply to David Graham and Nathan Nobis, "Putting Humans First?" (Fall 2006):
Putting Humans First? YES! - John Altick

Rejoinder to John Altick:
Animals and Rights - David Graham and Nathan Nobis

Check out the abstracts for the above articles here and the contributor biographies here.

Cross-posted to L&P.

July 10, 2007

Rand-o-rama

David Glenn, a Senior Reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, interviewed me via email for a series of articles on "Ayn Rand's Academic Legacy." The articles appear in the paper's July 13, 2007 issue, and are also available online to subscribers. Check out Glenn's blog post today, "Rand-o-rama," in which he provides links to the CHE series (and also mentions my work on the radical, noninterventionist aspects of Rand's perspective on U.S. foreign policy).

Readers will remember that I was interviewed back in 1999 by Jeff Sharlet of CHE (mentioned by Glenn in his blog post as well; see here and here) on the growth in Rand scholarship. While the most recent essays don't mention me by name, they allude to my 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and also mention The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which I am a founding co-editor. (For nonsubscribers, a summary of the above references in Glenn's essays appears in my "About the Author" section. See here.)

Also noted at L&P.

June 25, 2007

Atlas Shrugged Companion Published

I have finally received my own copy of a new book edited by Edward W. Younkins entitled Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, published by Ashgate. I understand the book is already going into a second printing. It includes contributions from writers such as Douglas B. Rasmussen, Fred Seddon, Lester H. Hunt, Tibor R. Machan, Roderick T. Long, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Jeff Riggenbach, Kirsti Minsaas, Roger E. Bissell, Peter J. Boettke, Larry J. Sechrest, Steven Horwitz, Karen Michalson, Peter Saint-Andre, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Walter Block, and, of course, Ed Younkins too. Oh, and I have a contribution in the book, published as Chapter 2, entitled "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," which expands upon dialectical themes I've explored in previous works, especially my reconstruction of Rand's social analysis as a "tri-level model."

New Atlas Shrugged Companion Published

I noticed that all of the contributors mentioned above have something in common... they have all been published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies! And some of them are either editors or advisors to the journal. (The Spring 2007 issue will be out a little late; I will post its contents and the cover design on my blog before too long.)

In any event, I have not read the new Younkins anthology yet, but the range of topics, from the philosophical, political, and aesthetic to the literary, economic, and historical, is quite impressive. The book's appearance coincides with the 50th anniversary year of the publication of Rand's magnum opus.

Cross-posted at L&P.

March 23, 2007

Ayn Rand Goes Swedish

Late last year, Mattias Svensson, a friend and former student, proposed to translate one of my articles on Ayn Rand for Voltaire, a magazine with 30,000 subscribers published in Sweden. The magazine is put out by Power and Culture; the director of the organization, Boris Benulic, decided to do a Rand-themed issue, with Mattias as the guest editor.

Mattias translated a revised version of my essay, "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism." The full English version of that essay appears in a forthcoming anthology, edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion (Ashgate, 2007) (and a shortened, edited version of this essay also appears in The Freeman and in Tibor Machan's edited collection, Ayn Rand at 100).

Sciabarra Essay in Voltaire

In any event, if you are inclined to read the Swedish essay, which looks even prettier in the glossy magazine's March/April 2007 issue, it now appears online, starting here.

My thanks to Mattias and to Voltaire for a job well done.

Also noted at Liberty and Power Group Blog. (And a shout out "welcome" to Lester Hunt, who joins L&P.)

November 17, 2006

New Fall 2006 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

The new Fall 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published. The issue includes essays from contributors such as Steven H. Shmurak, Marc Champagne, Fred Seddon (two from Fred!), Algirdas Degutis, Susan Love Brown, David Graham & Nathan Nobis, Kirsti Minsaas, Greg Nyquist, Gregory M. Browne and Roderick T. Long. And I'm delighted to report that with this issue, Roderick joins the Editorial Board of JARS!

New Fall 2006 JARS!  Features a Special CD-ROM Presentation!

Here is the Fall line-up:

Demystifying Emotion: Introducing the Affect Theory of Silvan Tomkins to Objectivists - Steven H. Shmurak
(Shmurak's article is accompanied by a special CD-ROM presentation)

Some Convergences and Divergences in the Realism of Charles Peirce and Ayn Rand - Marc Champagne

Rand and Rescher on Truth - Fred Seddon

Deconstructing Postmodern Xenophilia - Algirdas Degutis

Reviews
Essays on Ayn Rand’s Fiction - Susan Love Brown

Putting Humans First? - David Graham and Nathan Nobis

Ayn Rand as Literary Mentor - Kirsti Minsaas

Discussion
Reply to Fred Seddon, “Nyquist Contra Rand”
Rand and Empirical Responsibility - Greg Nyquist

Rejoinder to Greg Nyquist
Nyquist Contra Rand, Part II - Fred Seddon

Reply to Roderick T. Long, “Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis”
The ‘Grotesque’ Dichotomies Still Unbeautified - Gregory M. Browne

Rejoinder to Gregory M. Browne
A Beauty Contest for Dichotomies: Browne’s Terminological Revolutions - Roderick T. Long

Check out the abstracts for the new issue here, and the contributor biographies here.

Cross-posted to L&P.

August 11, 2006

New Book: Ayn Rand at 100

In my post "This and That," I referred to a forthcoming anthology edited by Edward W. Younkins entitled Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, which will be published next year by Ashgate. An essay I've written, entitled "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," appears in that volume. It is actually a much longer and more comprehensive version of an essay that appeared in the January-February 2005 issue of The Freeman. A PDF version of the shorter Freeman article can be found here.

The Freeman essay also makes an appearance in a new collection, edited by my friend and colleague, Tibor R. Machan, entitled Ayn Rand at 100 (okay, okay, it's a little late).

Ayn Rand at 100

The book makes its debut on Wednesday, August 16, 2006. And it is being published by the Liberty Institute in India!!! In fact, Tibor will be giving several talks next week to launch the book in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai.

The book synopsis states: "Eminent authors discuss the impact [Ayn Rand] has had on their contribution to philosophy and, most importantly, Rand’s Indian connection." Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface : Tibor R. Machan: Ayn Rand at 100
Chapter 1: Bibek Debroy: Ayn Rand -­ The Indian Connection
Chapter 2: Tibor R. Machan: Rand and Her Significant Contributions
Chapter 3: J. E. Chesher: Ayn Rand’s Contribution to Moral Philosophy
Chapter 4: George Reisman: Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises
Chapter 5: Robert White: Ayn Rand’s Contribution to Liberal Thought
Chapter 6: Roderick T. Long: Ayn Rand and Indian Philosophy
Chapter 7: Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Ayn Rand - A Centennial Appreciation
Chapter 8: Fred Seddon: Ayn Rand - An Appreciation
Chapter 9: Elaine Sternberg: Why Ayn Rand Matters: Metaphysics, Morals, and Liberty
Chapter 10: Douglas Den Uyl : Rand's First Great Hit, The Fountainhead

I've not read all of the other essays in the collection, but I suspect it's going to be a fine anthology.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at Liberty & Power Group Blog.

August 09, 2006

This and That

After a month on summer hiatus, Notablog returns.

I have no clue what shape the blog will take at this point. While I am truly inspired by those who have the time to blog daily, and to blog with substance on such a regular basis, I have found that due to my own very personal circumstances and to my own professional commitments and responsibilities, it is virtually impossible to keep up with regular blogging or to post daily on the significant developments in the world today. Suffice it to say, while Notablog returns, and while I will resume my "Song of the Day" feature this weekend (and don't be surprised if this becomes a "Song of the Week" feature in time), I am still working diligently on many projects that demand my attention.

I should note that the Summer of 2006, which is a little more than half over, has been a productive one thus far. Aside from enjoying the sun and the sea and the lighting of the Coney Island Parachute Jump (Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower), I've been hard at work. I've completed three entries for the International Encyclopedia of Political Science and another entry for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (more information on these entries will follow in the coming months). In addition to continuing my editing of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I've also completed a piece for the forthcoming Ed Younkins-edited anthology, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which will be published next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication. My contribution is entitled: "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism."

On the subject of Ayn Rand, I have written a brief essay for the September 2006 issue of Liberty magazine. It's part of a special feature entitled "Ten Great Books of Liberty." My entry focuses on Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

While I've been on hiatus, it came to my attention that I was memed by Nick Manley. The meme has considerable overlap with a blog entry I wrote on those works that had a significant effect on my intellectual development.

Much of that development has been influenced by dialectics, the art of context-keeping. But dialectics has taken various forms tnroughout intellectual history, and the Marxian dialectic is, of course, one of them. A new film, entitled "Half Nelson," apparently delves into the subject. I may not see the movie until it reaches DVD status, but it looks like it might be entertaining.

Marxian dialectics has interested me for many years, going back to my dissertation and to the publication of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Author Kevin M. Brien has published a second edition of his fine work, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom, which addresses criticisms I made of his first edition back in the Fall 1988 issue of Critical Review. I hope to discuss Brien's rejoinder in the coming weeks.

In the next few weeks, I will also publish an exclusive Notablog installment of my annual feature, "Remembering the World Trade Center." This year's installment is particularly important; it comes on the fifth anniversary of that awful tragedy and it marks the first time that I will take readers inside the WTC. My interview subject was on the 89th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck. That he survived to tell this harrowing story is a blessing to those of us who will never forget September 11, 2001. This was the most difficult interview I have ever conducted, but I trust that readers will agree with me that it is among the most important contributions to my annual series.

So stay tuned to Notablog. The music starts up again this weekend, and will include a 12-day tribute to Tony Bennett (who turned 80 on August 3rd), the return of my annual tribute to TV themes, and a September spotlight on The Four Seasons (loved "Jersey Boys").

Comments are open. Welcome back.

May 22, 2006

Journal of Ayn Rand Studies' Spring 2006 Issue

It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of the Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The issue features a dialogue on Ayn Rand's ethics, with contributions from Tibor R. Machan, Frank Bubb, Eric Mack, Douglas B. Rasmussen, Robert H. Bass, Chris Cathcart, and Robert L. Campbell. In addition, there are articles covering topics in epistemology (Merlin Jetton) and literature (Kurt Keefner and Peter Saint-Andre). Other contributors include Sheldon Richman on Thomas Szasz and Ayn Rand; Max Hocutt on postmodernism; Steven Yates on capitalism and commerce; and David M. Brown on the new Ayn Rand Q&A book.

The issue opens with my own tribute to R. W. Bradford, without whom The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies would never have been founded. This Spring 2006 issue is dedicated to the memory of Bradford, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Chris Tame. A PDF of my tribute piece is available here.

For subscription information, see here.

Cross-posted to L&P. See also the Ayn Rand Meta-Blog.

April 18, 2006

Jason Dixon Interviews Me

Today, I publish a Notablog exclusive: An interview of me conducted by Jason Dixon. The interview was conducted in late 2005-early 2006, but is finally seeing the light of day here at Notablog.

Check it out:

An Interview Conducted by Jason Dixon

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P.

April 09, 2006

Passionate About JARS

Not to be sacrilegious or anything, but HALLELUAH and HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST (the Western Palm Sunday has arrived, hasn't it?). I finished preparing the Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and I am delighted that it's now going into production. Readers should expect it sometime in the late Spring.

It's going to be a really nice issue for those who are especially interested in Ayn Rand's ethics. JARS had published two critical essays on Rand's ethics some time ago, one written by Eric Mack and the other by Douglas Rasmussen. The essays elicited replies in the forthcoming issue from Tibor Machan and Frank Bubb, and both Mack and Rasmussen have written rejoinders. In addition, we have a very interesting exchange on the issue of egoism and individual rights, which features a contribution from Robert Bass, replies from Chris Cathcart and Robert Campbell, and a rejoinder from Bass.

The second half of the issue features essays on epistemology (Jetton), Rand's descriptive style (Saint-Andre), Atlas Shrugged and Quo Vadis (Keefner), Thomas Szasz and Ayn Rand (Sheldon Richman), and reviews of Stephen Hicks's book on postmodernism (Hocutt), Ed Younkins's book Capitalism and Commerce (Yates), and Robert Mayhew's edited volume on Rand's Q&A's (Brown).

Abstracts and contributor biographies will be made available online when the issue is published and ready for shipment.

Meanwhile, I was just alerted to an ongoing debate at SOLO-Passion, which, apparently, has given rise to some familiar criticism of JARS, a journal that remains near and dear to my heart.

As readers of Notablog are well aware, I resolved at the beginning of December 2005 that I would not be posting to forums anymore. Aside from the occasional cross-post to Liberty and Power Group Blog or the Mises Economics Blog, I have stopped posting to the nearly two dozen forums on which I was once an avid participant. My reputation for spreading myself around led SOLO founder Lindsay Perigo to once dub me "Her Royal Whoreness." Well, this whore has retired to the quiet life of research, writing, and editing. There are just so many hours in the day, and I have chosen to focus my efforts on the things that are most important: My work done my way on my time. Naturally, therefore, Notablog has become the primary place for my regular musings on everything from music to foreign policy.

On a personal note, I should add, however, that my absence from the various forums on which I used to participate has also been necessitated by ongoing serious health problems, which have compelled me to be extremely selective about the kind of time I devote to various activities. Since making these various adjustments in my time, my schedule, and my priorities, I have been feeling more invigorated, both emotionally and intellectually, and ever more productive.

Nevertheless, since JARS has been one of the activities on which I've focused, and since JARS is also the target of much criticism on that particular SOLO-Passion forum noted above, I'd like to make a few general comments in response to the various participants on that thread. I do not intend to engage in any discussion at SOLO-Passion or any other forums for the reasons I have just outlined.

First, Lindsay Perigo and I have had a very long dispute about the character of my work, and I don't expect it will ever be resolved to our mutual satisfaction. That said, however, I don't believe that he has read more than an issue or two of JARS (and, quite frankly, too many JARS critics don't seem to be on our subscription list, so it leaves me wondering how they are able to make such sweeping generalizations about the quality of the scholarship therein). In any event, to dismiss JARS as a haven of "pomo-wankers" is, I think, a slap in the face to so many writers who have graced our pages, including such people as Erika Holzer, George Reisman, Larry Sechrest, Kirsti Minsaas, Mimi Gladstein, Tibor Machan, Douglas Rasmussen, Eric Mack, Marsha Enright, John Enright, John Hospers, Adam Reed, Stephen Hicks, Fred Seddon, Lester Hunt, Ari Armstrong, Edward Younkins, Robert White, and so many others. Dare I say it, but many of these writers have appeared in the pages of The Free Radical, and have been published on SOLO. And last I saw, there was no explosion of "pomo-wanking" going on at SOLO.

Second, with regard to Diana Hsieh's criticisms of JARS: Over time, it has become very clear to readers that I have had some very serious disagreements with Diana, someone to whom I once acted as a mentor of sorts. Diana is now participating regularly at SOLO-Passion; she also runs the Noodlefood blog. Diana remarked at SOLO that she had promised not to comment "on The Russian Radical or the scholarship in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies ... steer[ing] clear of such criticisms out of consideration for [her] past friendship [with me]." But I think anybody with half a brain could see the fundamental differences that have emerged between Diana and me on many, many significant questions. As my mother used to say: You'd have to be deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid not to know where those differences lie. Diana and I do not have to spend hours upon hours doing a point-counterpoint in order to articulate those differences.

Because I am so focused on my own work at this time, I have taken a very laissez-faire attitude toward all this. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time engaging my interlocutors. But I've learned that there is only so much that one can say in any given context. Ultimately, my work speaks for itself. It is published in books, articles, encyclopedias, and journals. Much of it is accessible on the web as well. Form your own conclusions, go your own way, do your own thing. If I spent my time answering every criticism or every comment on my work, I'd not have enough time to breathe, let alone research, write, and edit.

Finally, for those who wonder, like Phil Coates, whether JARS articles are generally available: We do hope to get many of these articles online over the course of time, but some are already linked from the JARS site. Just go to any particular indexed issue and click into any hyperlinked title. (I should add that all of JARS' contributors have the right to make their articles available on any website or as a reprint in any anthology.)

Our institutional subscriptions are climbing, as are our individual subscriptions, both domestically and globally. And we are now indexed by over a dozen abstracting services in the humanities and social sciences, including three new additions, which had been very resistant to placing JARS in their indices. See here for more information.

Well, that's all for now.

Comments welcome.

March 16, 2006

Anthem on Mike Music Radio

Readers of Notablog are surely aware that I have a profound love for film scores. It is therefore no surprise that I'd recommend to your attention the weblog of the immensely talented composer Michael G. Shapiro. It's MikeMusic Radio, and it routinely movesand entertains. My biggest problem is that I've been unable to come up with a short list of recorded compositions for Mike to send me. At the very least, however, let me highly recommend Mike's most recent series of posted cues. They center on the audiobook series for Ayn Rand's work, Anthem. Check it out:

The Golden One

Second Meeting

Light

The Interrogation

The Forest

The Reunion

"I"

The Word

But please do yourselves a favor... look through all of Mike's cue archives. This Anthem material is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg!

Bravo, Mike! And keep the cues comin'!

Comments welcome.

February 25, 2006

Winter Olympics and More

Readers may have noticed that I'm doing a lot of singing and music-listening on the blog over the past couple of weeks. I just haven't had as much time to blog, even though there have been quite a few issues I'd like to write about. The upcoming Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Spring issue has been taking up a lot of my time during the day, and will continue to occupy me through the month of March. In the evening, I've been catching up on my reading, and enjoying the XX Winter Olympics (which has compelled me to tape a few of the TV series I watch on a regular basis ... so I'm behind on a number of programs...).

I have really enjoyed the skiing and the aerials, ice hockey, speed skating, snowboarding, and figure skating too (though I was rather disappointed that Sasha Cohen failed to get the gold). Last night, the figure skaters treated us to the Exhibition Gala; I have to say that I was most impressed with, and moved by, the interpretive piece performed by Johnny Weir to Frank Sinatra's rendition of "My Way." If ever there were a song perfect for a specific figure skater, this was it. Too much grace is sacrificed during the competitions in the quest to achieve technical points. Weir was among those who reminded us of just how graceful and beautiful this sport can be.

I'll have some things to say about current events in the coming days and weeks.

Comments welcome.

February 08, 2006

Bradford Tribute in Liberty

As readers of Notablog know, Bill Bradford passed away on December 8, 2005.

In the March 2006 issue of Liberty, there is a lovely tribute to the man, with contributions from Stephen Cox, Ross Overbeek, Doug Casey, Jo Ann Skousen, Mark Skousen, Wendy McElroy, Patrick Quealy, Brian Doherty, Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, Robert Higgs, Paul Rako, Andrew Ferguson, Timothy Sandefur, Jane S. Shaw, Randal O'Toole, and Tim Slagle.

My own piece, "Ayn Rand and Coney Island," also appears therein. I will publish that piece on my blog in its slightly altered version when it appears in the forthcoming Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which Bill Bradford was a founding co-editor.

Take a look here at some of the current pieces of remembrance in Liberty.

Comments welcome.

February 04, 2006

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. Emptycontent of ideas certainly has precious little to do with legislation in Washingtonbut 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.

February 02, 2006

The Kings of Nonviolent Resistance

It is no longer news that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., passed away this week. She was 78.

An advocate and practitioner of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King Jr. once uttered a classic statement: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

While a lot of discussion has ensued over the nature of the "love thine enemy" philosophy that seems to underlie King's statement, I think there is a truth therein, which was made even more apparent by King's wife. Coretta Scott King often repeated her husband's maxim: "Hate is too great a burden to bear." But she added: "It injures the hater more than it injures the hated."

I've talked about the effects of hating in other posts dealing with everything from Yoda to my articulation of "The Rose Petal Assumption," so I won't repeat my reasoning here. Suffice it to say, there is an internal relationship between hatred, fear, anger, and suffering, and, often, the transcendence of one brings forth the transcendence of all.

I think what the Kings focused on was not "loving one's enemy" per se, but the practice of a positive alternative in one's opposition to evil. Nonviolent resistance is not equivalent to pacifism. It is not the renunciation of the retaliatory use of force; it entails, instead, the practice of a wide variety of strategiesfrom boycotts to strikes, which remove all sanctions of one's own victimization. One refuses to be a part of a cycle that replaces one "boss" with another. One repudiates real-world monsters, while not becoming one in the process. For as Nietzsche once said: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

Nonviolence is not a social panacea, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary to use violence in one's response to aggression. But much can be learned about how to topple tyranny from the lessons provided by the theoreticians and practitioners of nonviolent resistance.

It's fitting that today I've marked Ayn Rand's birthday, for Atlas Shrugged is one of the grandest dramatizations in fiction of the effectiveness of fighting tyranny through nonviolent resistance. It is no coincidence that, while writing her magnum opus, Rand's working title for Atlas was "The Strike." Of course, Rand was no theorist of nonviolence, but her novel is instructive.

For further reading on the subject of nonviolence, let me suggest first and foremost the books of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. See especially Sharp's books, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and Social Power and Political Freedom.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

Ayn Rand: Centenary Plus One

Having written quite a bit in celebration of the Ayn Rand Centenary last year, there is not much I can add this year, except to note a few very provocative posts on Rand published by my colleagues, Roderick Long and Sheldon Richman. At L&P, Roderick writes of "Ayn Rand's Left-Libertarian Legacy," and at "Free Association," Sheldon discusses Rand here and here. Both cite my own article on Rand's radicalism as applied to the realm of foreign policy: "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (PDF version).

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the points therein made, I think it is terrific that more and more people are grappling critically with Rand's legacy, and practicing that Spanish proverb that Rand and her associates uttered on more than one occasion: "Take what you want, and pay for it"... that is, in this context, acknowledge what you've learned from Rand, and take responsibility for your own integrations and conclusions.

It's one of the chief means by which ideas filter throughout an intellectual culture.

Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand!

Comments welcome.

January 27, 2006

Wonderful News for JARS

When The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was first published in the Fall of 1999, its Founding Editors (Bill Bradford, Stephen Cox, and some guy named Chris Matthew Sciabarra) and its Board of Advisors knew that we had our work cut out for us. We were the first interdisciplinary scholarly periodical ever established as a forum for the critical discussion of Ayn Rand's ideas. As we state in our credo, JARS is ...

A nonpartisan journal devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times. The journal is not aligned with any advocacy group, institute, or person. It welcomes papers from every discipline and from a variety of interpretive and critical perspectives. It aims to foster scholarly dialogue through a respectful exchange of ideas. The journal is published semi-annually, in the fall and the spring.

One of the most important achievements of any academic journal is its ability to be added to the indices of established abstracting services. This is a way of bolstering a journal's reputation as a serious organ of scholarly discussion, while contributing to the acceptance of that journal's subject matter as worthy of such discussion.

In its first few years of operation, JARS was able to add over a dozen of these services, including: CSA Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, IBR (International Bibliography of Book Reviews of Scholarly Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), IBZ (International Bibliography of Periodical Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, International Political Science Abstracts, The Left Index, The Philosopher's Index, MLA International Bibliography, MLA Directory of Periodicals, Sociological Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, and Women's Studies International.

Coverage in such indices facilitates the expansion of JARS citations, and, by consequence, Ayn Rand references, within the global marketplace of academic scholarship.

This has a two-fold benefit: First, it means that the works of those who write for JARS are being made readily available as resources for future Rand scholarship. As citations to JARS articles expand in the scholarly literature, more and more scholars will find these references for use in their own work.

Second, it means that JARS will continue to attract established scholars who seek to write about Rand in journals that are reputable, and, thus, fully indexed and abstracted by services used by their fellow academics in various fields of concentration.

Though we have had success in expanding our reach in scholarly indices, it has been an uphill battle to get JARS added to three of the most prestigious of indices: the Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Current Contents/Arts & Humanities, and the Social Sciences Citation Index.

In fact, some years ago, we approached those organizations of Thomson Scientific with the requisite three consecutive issues in the hopes that they would add JARS to their lists of the world's leading journals. The first three-issue review failed; JARS was still too young to join the global ranks.

As time passed, we decided to submit JARS for a second hearing at Thomson Scientific. The review process is a profoundly rigorous one. Yet, having failed to achieve our goals the first time around, we were confident that the journal's timely publication and improved quality would facilitate its acceptance in a second evaluation.

Today, I am proud to announce that the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been selected as a new addition to three of the most prestigious indices in the international community of scholars.

o The journal will be fully abstracted and indexed by the Arts & Humanities Citation Index:

The Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI ) and Arts & Humanities Search provide access to current and retrospective bibliographic information and cited references found in nearly 1,130 of the world's leading arts & humanities journals. They also cover individually selected, relevant items from approximately 7,000 of the world's leading science and social sciences journals.

o The journal will be fully abstracted and indexed by Current Contents/Arts & Humanities:

Current Contents / Arts & Humanities provides access to complete bibliographic information from articles, editorials, meeting abstracts, commentaries, and all other significant items in recently published editions of over 1,120 of the world's leading arts and humanities journals and books from a broad range of categories.

o And, finally, abstracts of relevant journal articles centered on the social sciences (economics, political science, psychology, etc.) will be selectively included in the Social Sciences Citation Index:

The Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Social SciSearch provide access to current and retrospective bibliographic information, author abstracts, and cited references found in over 1,700 of the world's leading scholarly social sciences journals covering more than 50 disciplines. They also cover individually selected, relevant items from approximately 3,300 of the world's leading science and technology journals.

It will take a few months for the journal's contents to begin appearing in these high quality indices, but JARS will soon be included in their databases. The journal coverage begins with Volume 6, No. 2, the Spring 2005 issue.

I am utterly delighted by this wonderful news.

FYI: Our forthcoming issue, which will include a symposium on Ayn Rand's ethics, will be published in the late Spring.

Comments welcome. Also cited by The Atlasphere.

January 26, 2006

I Get Letters ...

Michael ("Mick") Russell (who has left comments on Notablog before) wrote me a personal email the other day, and I asked him for permission to reproduce it, in partnot because he was so complimentary, but because I thought he raised an issue of general interest:

Dear Chris,
Thank you for your wonderful site. And for your respect. I am a former socialist, seeking a new and improved way to change the world, for the better, of course. I have recently read Ayn Rand's We The Living. It confirmed the obvious (now) for me: collectivism is morally bankrupt and utterly wrong. I now totally reject socialism. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism fascinates me.
But I must confess to being intimidated by its study. Leonard Peikoff? David Kelley? The split with the Brandens? Of all the Objectivist, or Neo-Objectivist blogs, I find yours to be the freest and most respectful of dissent. And I loved Blondie. My condolences.
Does my past association with MarxismI was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and The Socialist Workers Partypreclude me from any activity within the Objectivist movement? I am an Atheist; not only do I reject God, I don't believe Ayn Rand is God. She was a brilliant but fallible mind. Am I an apostate before I even join the movement? I try to engage but am usually rejected by various pro-Objectivist blogs. I guess I'm a libertarian. I just want to further my mind and advance the cause of freedom. Any suggestions? Mick

I'll include here my answer to Mick, with a few additions too.

My first suggestion is that you do not worry about joining any "movements"; virtually all organized movements have their pitfalls, and it's not my intention here to list those that have been manifested throughout the history of "Objectivism."

My second suggestion is that you spend time actually reading Ayn Rand's work. Instead of navigating through all the conflicts within the "movement," you should focus on the ideas, and then, once you've read and digested Rand's work, I strongly suggest moving on to works written by those who were influenced by her (Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley, etc.), followed by works in the secondary literature.

Of course, as part of that secondary literature, I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest that at some point you might actually want to read my own book on Rand: Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (as well as other Rand-related books and journals with which I've been involved).

Whatever his other criticisms of my book, the late Ronald Merrill once called Russian Radical, "Objectivism for Marxists." I don't agree with Merrill's reasoning behind that quipthat I packaged Rand's work in the "language" of the left to make it accessible to the academic community. In fact, it was my belief then, and it is my belief now, that the "language" of dialectics was usefully employed because it captured something important in Rand's work, while enabling me to challenge the left's monopoly on an eminently radical methodology. It was not a marketing decision; it was an intellectual and theoretical choice that I made based on my view that it was a correct identification.

But if you began on the left, my work may, in fact, be something that helps you to situate Rand in the broader context of radical thinking.

As a supplement to your reading on Rand, let me make a third suggestion: Don't narrow your focus to all things Rand. If you're genuinely interested in libertarianism, let me also recommend all the works that I list here, which certainly made a huge impact on my own development.

Finally, I have to cite two essays: the first, published on the Lew Rockwell site back in 2002, entitled "How I Became a Libertarian"; the second, entitled "Taking It Personally" (PDF version). Both mention my interactions with the Young Socialist Alliance when I was in high school. I was a bit more conservative back in those days, but here's the relevant paragraph from the latter essay that should make you chuckle:

I had been an outspoken political type in high school, involved in some rather contentious battles with the Young Socialists of America who had plastered the schools hallways with their obscene propaganda. I had begun writing for Gadfly, the social studies newspaper, and had taken to quoting Ronald Reagan on the perils of central planning. I knew that I "arrived" as a political commentator when I walked into a school bathroom one afternoon to find a copy of one of my anti-socialist articlessitting, rather wet, in the urinal. Though Id heard of "yellow journalism," the article seemed to have been saved from discoloration because it had already been printed on goldenrod mimeograph paper. A small victory, that.

In any event, I hope you enjoy your new reading adventures; please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, and I hope you'll feel free to comment here as well.

Comments welcome.

Not-a-Blog-ing

I've often told friends and correspondents that I am not a blogger. I am a writer and an editor who happens to blog occasionally. Even the name of this blog was born of a belief that it was "Not A Blog," though it has quite clearly evolved into one. It was for that reason that I altered the name of the blog subtly, some time ago, closing the spaces in its title and proclaiming it "Notablog."

I know there are many bloggers out there who comment on the events of the day ... sometimes on the events of the hour ... quite regularly. But I must admit that this sort of thing never truly interested me. How many times can I fulminate over this or that trend in domestic politics or foreign policy? How many times can I express my disgust with the Bush administration, while having equal animosity toward its Democratic "opponents"? How many times can I repeat the mantra that cultural change is a precursor to fundamental political change and that, for example, when you embrace democracy without certain cultural preconditions, you get majoritarian results in the Middle East that empower and legitimize theocratic, fundamentalist, and/or militant forces?

And so on, and so on ...

Though I don't post daily discussions on fiery political topics and substantive philosophical and ideological issues, I just don't see the usefulness of repeating myself over and over and over again about the same stuff day-in, day-out. And if I did, I'd get no other work done!

So, in its place, you get a "Song of the Day," that has run daily since September 1, 2004, except when I dimmed the lights for three days after my dog Blondie's passing. Yeah, you still get my thoughts on radical politics and my occasional fulminations, you still get articles and announcements, but, to paraphrase Emma Goldman: If I can't dance or sing, I want no part of the revolution.

Though I love engagement and participating in dialogue, I am curiously autocratic where my "Songs of the Day" are concerned: I continue the policy of closing those selections to all discussion because my choices are not up for debate. Yes, I can enjoy discussing the historical background of a song and the virtues or vices of a particular rendition, or even a particular artist or composer, and I do welcome private notes from Notablog readers on such topics. But I think it would be terribly counterproductive and awfully time-consuming to engage in a constant public reaffirmation of my musical tastes, which are quite eclectic, as Notablog readers regularly note. (They match my intellectual tastes, which are equally eclectic, since I've learned from the left, right, and center...) So, if you don't like my songs, or a particular song, fine. Get your own blog and make your own list! :)

In the meanwhile, if you don't see any non-Song entry posted on a given day, be sure to check out the lively comments pages. For example, the discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" continues, and should pick up steam as we enter Oscar season. I welcome additional comments on this and on any other subject open to reader input.

I should also state that I get lots of private email and I do answer every letter I receive. It may take me time, but I get to every note. And many of those emails are worthy of longer blog posts. But I treat private correspondence as personal, and unless I ask permission, readers won't see their private thoughts on public display here.

Occasionally, however, I get an email whose topic might benefit readers more generally. I hope to publish a few of these correspondences soon enough, including one later today on Rand studies.

So, for now, I just want to thank all of you for your loyal readership and your continuing personal support.

Comments welcome.

January 19, 2006

The New Individualist and More News

Continuing with new announcements, I received the newest issue of The New Individualist, a publication of The Objectivist Center, which recently debuted a newly designed website. Lots of news in that sentence!

In any event, I enjoyed the magazine quite a bit and was impressed with the fact that it seeks to broaden its audience, publishing provocative essays by Objectivists and non-Objectivists alike.

I like the fact that there are many different publications in the growing Randian universe, each with its own character, and I read many of these periodicals regularly: The Intellectual Activist, Impact, Free Radical, etc. I don't agree with everything I read, but that's not the point. The more important point is that Rand's work has inspired not a static intellectual monolith, but a dynamic, ever-differentiating marketplace of ideas.

Speaking of periodicals, I'm currently working on the Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which will include a multilayered discussion of Ayn Rand's ethics. It will be published in the late Spring. I'll have more to say about that issue soon enough.

Comments welcome.

January 12, 2006

Blondie: 1989-2006

Blondie: July 6, 1989 - January 12, 2006

Blondie: July 6, 1989 - January 12, 2006

I'm heartbroken.

Update, January 16, 2006: In the comments section, here, I have responded at length to the many lovely public and private condolences that I've received since Blondie's death. My deepest appreciation and gratitude to each of you for your support.

Update, January 19, 2006: I have responded to additional comments posted by Notablog readers here.

January 05, 2006

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

As I mentioned here and here, I wrote an entry on "libertarianism" for the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. The entry surveys those who have contributed to a libertarian "sociology," thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand.

I am pleased, today, to publish that entry, with permission from Routledge, on my website:

"Libertarianism"

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P and the Mises Economics Blog.

December 22, 2005

ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent

I received a note from my pal Chip Gibbons, who runs The Binary Circumstance. His post, "Ayn Rand: The Roots of War," which I applauded back in May 2004, has inspired a recent exchange. A voicer there states that Chip was being unfair in his criticism of the Ayn Rand Institute as an organization in favor of the war in Iraq. The writer states that "ARI scholars repeatedly and consistently attack the war in Iraqfrom Leonard Peikoff, whose essay 'Iraq: The Wrong War' is available on-line, to Yaron Brook who has lectured both on the morality of war in general and the immorality of US involvement in Iraq and of the neo-con position in general..." The voicer believes that only The Intellectual Activist has been "mildly pro-Iraq War" and has been "subjected ... to some heavy criticism of late."

Chip responds to the voicer, stating that he published this piece 18 months ago, and that even the commentators back then observed the pro-Iraq war stance of the ARI-affiliated writers of whom he spoke. (He notes too that ARI had even displayed the Israeli flag on its site back then.) But Chip is clearly encouraged by any change in opinion at this point.

In actuality, many ARI-affiliated writers have claimed that Iran was the country to attack, but, early on, they fully supported the war to topple Saddam Hussein as a way-station to get to Syria and Iran. (Yaron Brook's recent lectures on neoconservatism and Iraq, notwithstanding, he too favors military action against Iran.) The chorus of boos against the neocons is something, however, that is a bit more recent in ARI ranks. To my knowledge, those boos were not articulated anywhere on the ARI site in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

To his credit, Leonard Peikoff has been the most critical of that war (but please note that the cited criticism of Iraq as the "wrong war" is an article he published in 1997 against the Clinton administration ... not anything he said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11). Peikoff has also been intensely critical of Bush, and, in my view, his repudiation of Bush's religious agenda is right-on-target.

Still, pre-Iraq war articles on the ARI site certainly advocated invading Iraq (a useful compendium of quotes can be found here, whether one agrees or disagrees with the overall thrust of the site on which it is published). For example, see an essay by Peter Schwartz, entitled "War and Morality."

To his credit, Schwartz has been critical of "nation-building," but he did support the invasion of Iraq. My critique of him is indexed here, and my discussion of Schwartz's position on the Iraq war can be found here.

Also see Robert Tracinski's essay: "The Iraq Charade." The voicer at Chip's place is correct that Tracinski's Intellectual Activist has been the most vocal ARIan proponent of the war in Iraq. Tracinski's magazine, in fact, published "The Case Against Iraq" in October 2002, written by Christian Beenfeldt. Beenfeldt wrote that "it is either war against Iraq or continued passivity. A successful campaign against Iraq could serve as a model of American unilateralism and preemptive response, thus becoming a stepping-stone for future actions against Iran and other states. We must make war against Iraq as a next step in a full campaign to eradicate the long line of regimes that want to destroy the West."

In May 2003, Tracinski himself applauded the war: "The war in Iraq is over. The only resistance that remains, as this issue goes to press, is a series of sniper and grenade attacks from isolated bands of fighters ..." And he too saw it as a stepping stone to Syria, Iran, etc.

And in the June 2003 issue of TIA, Tracinski also applauds the President for seeing this as merely one "battle" in a larger war, and he argues that "'nation-building' can be a legitimate task of our militaryif it is in America's interest. In the case of Iraq, it is clearly in our interests to ensure that, having overthrown one dangerous totalitarian regime, we do not allow another to replace it. And more: a pro-liberty, pro-American government in Iraq can serve as a strategic base from which to threaten neighboring regimes in Iran and Syriaand as an oil-rich ally to use as diplomatic and economic leverage against the corrupt Saudis. To achieve these benefits, America must remain in Iraq, using our military to help create and support a better Iraqi government, rather than hastily withdrawing and allowing others to fill the power vacuum."

I'd say that view is pretty much in-line with on-the-record and off-the-record Bush administration strategic statements on the war.

Now, it is entirely true and must be acknowledged that many articles written by ARI-affiliated writers after the war became increasingly critical of the Iraq policythank goodness. Readers can trace that development here. I, myself, have cited some of those articles approvingly, including Elan Journo's essay.

I'd like to think that people such as Chip, Arthur Silber, me, and others played a part in persuading some of Rand's latter-day followers of the problems inherent in the pro-Iraq war position, but I see no explicit indication or citation of anything any of us wrote at that time or since.

In light of all this, I do believe that it is incorrect to use a broad stroke in painting all ARI-affiliated writers as pro-Iraq war. I think it is a sign of healthy dissent that many writers affiliated with ARI are disagreeing with one another on these important issues of war and peace. There is no ARI ideological monolith on this question, and this is good.

This is not to say that problems don't exist in the views of some writers affiliated with ARI, TOC, or any number of Objectivist organizations. I conclude this post with a lengthy passage from my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy." That article was written in March 2003, and published in May-June 2003 in The Free Radical. I stand by every last word:

The response of Objectivists to the prospect of this kind of U.S. occupation [of Iraq[ has been mostly positive (with a few notable exceptions, e.g., Arthur Silber at The Light of Reason). Robert Tracinski, for example, rightfully criticizes the pragmatism and religiosity of the Bush administration, which pays no attention to "context or history" ("The Era of Muddling Through: How We Got Here and Why We're Still Moving," TIA, March 2003). But this does not stop Tracinski from applauding Bush for "a breathtakingly new grand strategy to remake the Middle East," a policy that Tracinski admits "is a kind of indirect colonialism. The colonial administrators will be the nominally independent leaders of Middle Eastern countriesbut the essence of their form of government and their foreign policy will be inspired or imposed by the United States of America." Deriding the muddling ways of "Old Europe," Tracinski suggests approval of the U.S. ambition "to remake the world, sweeping aside hostile regimes and securing America's safety" ("New Hollywood and Old Europe," TIA, March 2003).
William Thomas writes ("What Warrants War? The Challenge of Iraq and North Korea") that "[t]he Objectivist view of foreign policy derives from its view of morality. Just as each person should pursue his rational self-interest in his personal matters, so should a proper government uphold the interests of its citizens in its conduct toward other nations." Thomas goes on to say that it is a "basic tenet" of "Objectivist political philosophy . . . that the only just governments are the free countriesand all the free countries are natural allies. Free countries are those that essentially embrace the principles of liberty, including freedoms of speech and assembly, competitive elections, the rule of law, and property rights." In Thomas's well-reasoned discussion of principles, the New Fascism is never mentioned. And though he admits that certain foreign policy goals require us "to hold our noses" when entering into "alliance[s] of convenience" with less free countries, he does not seem to appreciate the extent to which such pragmatic considerations have brought the globe to the current crisis.
In the end, however, Thomas supported the war in Iraqand a possible war with North Korea as well. He sees the post-war reconstruction as a requirement, "the only means of eliminating the longer-term threat." Keeping the peace, funding our allies, and building a free Iraq, will require "billions upon billions of dollars . . . for reconstruction and re-education." Reconstruction? Re-education? Funding our allies? I am tempted to ask the perennial Randian question: At whose expense?
To his credit, Thomas recognizes that "if it is culturally or financially infeasible to transform . . . enemies into alliesor at least into stable, non-threatening regimes, then war will not resolve the longer-term threat . . ." To his credit, Thomas accepts the possibility that U.S. occupation might "fuel anti-Americanism throughout the region." To his credit, Thomas understands "that political policy is a symptom, but culture is the root cause." Still, he supports the risk of war and a long-term occupation that empowers "better educated" and "more secular" Iraqis, so as to "cement the transformation" of other Middle Eastern nations.
To "cement the transformation" is [ARI-affiliated writer] Ron Pisaturo's goal as well. Except that he offers a much more robust strategy. Writing in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, Pisaturo is an unabashed Objectivist advocate of a new U.S. colonialism ("Why and How to Conquer the Savages," Capitalism Magazine).
Pisaturo begins on the correct premisethat Americans have the right to defend themselves from murderous attacks. But he goes further: He urges the creation of a new Middle East as if from a state of nature; his regional tabula rasa, however, requires the "nuclear" incineration of millions of "savages" in order to start from scratch. Pisaturo stands, like Archimedes, outside the context he wishes to reconstruct. His canvas-cleaning strategy is the logically horrific conclusion and destructive essence of his utopianism. It applies literally to 'no-where' on earththough, in all fairness, the Brave No-World of Ron Pisaturo is far more dystopian than it is utopian.
According to Pisaturo, the U.S. must crush all the "evil governments" of the Middle East (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other "murderous regimes"). This is a sentiment shared by his Ayn Rand Institute colleagues, including Yaron Brook (ARI Media, 10 April 2003) and Leonard Peikoff ("America versus Americans," Ford Hall Forum, 7 April 2003)both of whom see Iran as the next target in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Pisaturo argues that the U.S. government must take back the oil fields for Western oil companies, appropriate Arab assets worldwide (including "real estate, bank accounts, and all other financial holdings"), and "isolate, colonize, and settle the lands the savages now roam." Sensing perhaps that such a proposal for massive colonization of the region might entail an exponential increase in U.S. tax rates and in the size of the U.S. militaryperhaps even necessitating conscriptionPisaturo declares that if the Western oil companies "agree to pay the cost of waging this war," then the U.S. government could continue "occupying and defending these oil-rich territories." Once the U.S. has seized the Middle EastI suppose after several years of waiting for the nuclear fallout to settleit will allow American pioneers to enter the region as international homesteaders. "Over time, pioneers, with the paid support of our military, can go into these isolated territories, subdue the remaining savages, install a civilized, colonial government protecting the rights of both the pioneers and the savages, and settle the landas American pioneers subdued the savage, murderous American Indian tribes and settled America." Of course, the "savages" will eventually realize that they will be the "most fortunate beneficiaries" of such colonialism.
In truth, Pisaturo's view of the Arab world finds inspiration in Rand's own condemnation of Arab terrorists as "savages" (on "The Phil Donahue Show"). She saw the "Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth" ("The Left: Old and New") as living "a nomadic, anti-industrial form of existence" ("Requiem for Man"). But this is a far cry from Pisaturo's genocidal call for an American Lebensraum.
I submit that this "cure" is far worse than the disease.
Let's analyze Pisaturo's proposal more closely. The Western oil companies whose interests Pisaturo wishes to defend are the same Western oil companies that collaborated with the U.S. government and Middle Eastern governments to develop the oil fields. The U.S. government socialized much of their risk, and replaced the colonizing British as the chief power in the region. From the 1920s through World War II and beyond, the government and the oil industry worked hand-in-hand to win concessions from, and bolster the power of, various "pro-Western" Arab regimes, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan, trying to create stability with money, munitions, and political machinations (see Sheldon Richman's "'Ancient History': U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention"; ed: also see my discussion here). The "pull-peddling" between the oil industry and the various governments was a quintessential expression of the New Fascism. (Rand did not examine these oil industry-government ties; but she did believe, ironically, that U.S. foreign policy had "brought the entire Western world to the position of a colony ruled by Arab sheiks" ["The Energy Crisis, Part II"]).
When a neoconservative defends the ideal of a new U.S. colonialism, I am disgustedbut not surprised. Neoconservatism was foundedas a movementby a group of disaffected socialists and "social democrats." Its modern representatives are now the intellectual architects of U.S. foreign policy. Having given up the fiasco of defending economic central planning, they now embrace global social engineering to bring the ideal of "democracy" to the rest of the world. And if some of them get their wishof establishing a new "American Empire"they'll find out that the pretense of knowledge, which destroyed socialism, will similarly destroy their Wilsonian designs. We simply never know enough to construct or reconstruct, wholesale, social systems and nations from the ground up. (On this point, see especially Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 3, pp. 107109.) Such schemes for a Pax Americana are fraught with endless possibilities for negative unintended consequences, however "noble" the intentions.
So "nation-building" as a neoconservative goal is understandablegiven the socialist lineage of its champions. But when an Objectivist advocates mass murder and U.S. colonialism and supports the oil industry's employment of the government like a mercenary private protection agency to secure its foreign financial and material holdings, it is beyond baffling. These are the same kinds of Objectivists who would accuse the U.S. Libertarian Party of "context-dropping" (in contradistinction to "atomic-bomb-dropping") for wanting to build political solutions on a fragile philosophic and cultural foundation. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Comments welcome.

December 20, 2005

Philosophers of Capitalism

Today, I finally received my copy of a new book edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond.

A New Book with a Sciabarra Contribution

The book features contributions from a number of friends and colleagues, including, of course, Ed Younkins himself, along with Sam Bostaph, Doug Rasmussen, Barry Smith, Walter Block, Richard C. B. Johnson, Larry Sechrest, and Tibor Machan, among others. Some of the articles were previously published; my own is a revised version of a piece I wrote for Philosophical Books, surveying "The Growing Industry in Ayn Rand Scholarship."

Definitely pick it up; some very interesting articles therein. You can order it from LFB or Amazon.com

Update: Check out Neil Parille's review of the anthology here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

December 13, 2005

Erika Holzer and Ayn Rand

I had the wonderful pleasure of working closely with writer Erika Holzer when she contributed to a special Fall 2004 centenary symposium, "Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact," for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Erika's wonderful essay, "Passing the Torch," was "part memoir, part fiction writer's guide, part tribute" to her literary mentor, Ayn Rand.

The good news is that Erika has greatly expanded her work into a full-fledged book, entitled Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher. I'd written to her upon reading the book with these glorious words of praise:

Damn you, Erika, for taking me away from my work and compelling me, like a man possessed, to read your book from cover to cover. It's humane, dramatic, humorous, touching, terrific on every level. You've written a literary autobiography that is as much a superb guide for fiction writers as it is a touching tribute to your fiction-writing mentor, Ayn Rand. You illustratethrough a tour de force exploration of your own evolving craftthe many important factors at work in the creative process.
This brilliant memoir offers a significant contribution to Rand studies, intellectual history, and literary theory.

Readers should check out the book cover, the table of contents, a sample chapter, and the book's other endorsements. And then get thee to amazon.com and purchase it!

A fine work!

Comments welcome.

December 06, 2005

Rand Criticism, Again

Lots of people have emailed me, wondering about my opinion of the recent article on Ayn Rand, entitled "As Astonishing As Elvis," written by Jenny Turner, which appears in The London Review of Books.

I don't have much to say about the article; a full response would require an article of equal length, just to rebut all the arguable misinterpretations and misstatements therein.

For example, at one point, Turner makes the following statement:

Sometimes, she wore a mink coat to deliver her speeches, paid for with compensation received from the Italian wartime government (the Fascisti had liked We the Living so much they had filmed it, without Rands say-so).

Well, yes, Rand did receive royalties from the Italian government because of the unauthorized filming of We the Living, but Turner neglects to mention the fact that the film, which was initially green-lighted by the Fascisti for its anti-communism, was eventually pulled because people were responding positively to its individualism and anti-statism... two political "no-no's." Why not mention this? I suppose it is just a lot easier to leave the reader with the distorted implication that the Fascists and Rand had an ideological affinity.

I could go on and on, but there's not much that I'll say here that I haven't already said here and elsewhere.

I had a few brief email exchanges with Turner while she prepared her article. She had contacted me strictly with regard to an essay written by Slavoj Zizek, which appeared in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. As it turns out, it is because of that Zizek essay that JARS got a brief mention in Turner's article. (Even that mention contains an implicit error. Turner states: "A peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, was founded in 1999, and continues to run out of New York University..." In actuality, I am a Visiting Scholar at NYU, but the journal is not run out of New York University, and has no affiliation whatsoever with the University.)

Interestingly, while Turner mentions briefly Zizek's postmodernist critique of Rand's politics, she fails to mention Zizek's admiration for Rand's portrait of human authenticity in The Fountainhead or his admiration for the way in which Rand herself handled her Affair with Nathaniel Branden (an episode on which Turner focuses as well). I pointed out here Zizek's own words on this subject: "Rand did not cheat. ... To show such firmness in the most intimate domain bears witness to an ethical stance of extraordinary strength: while Rand was here arguably 'immoral' [in the conventional sense, a reference to the extramarital affair], she was ethical in the most profound meaning of the word. It is this ethical stance of inner freedom that accounts for the authenticity clearly discernible in Rand's description of ... Howard Roark."

As I have already stated:

[I]t's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

Well, in all fairness, it should be pointed out that Turner does focus on Rand's ideas, but Rand's philosophy is presented as a stick-figure caricature of itself. And while Turner mentions that books on Rand are being published, the springboard for her essay is Jeff Britting's mini-biography on Rand, a handsome little book, but not one focused on Rand's ideas primarily. Indeed, no books in the vast and growing body of scholarly literature on Rand's ideas are examined in Turner's article, just as they are never mentioned in the New York Times Book Review or the New York Review of Books or anywhere else in the mainstream press.

But that scholarship continues to be published by university and trade presses alike, by organizations, institutions, periodicals, and individuals with vastly different perspectives on Rand. I am confident that at some point this literature will be given the attention it deserves.

Comments welcome. Noted too at L&P.

December 05, 2005

The Freeman: Dialectics and Liberty

The September 2005 issue of The Freeman includes my essay, "Dialectics and Liberty," which offers an introduction to dialectical method and its role in the works of such writers as F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. That essay finally makes its cyber-debut today! Another in a series of essays and interviews on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the article is available as a PDF here:

"Dialectics and Liberty"

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, with comments here. Also noted at Rational Review.

December 01, 2005

New Sites, New Sights

Readers of Notablog know that SOLO HQ recently closed its doors. Those who try to access SOLO HQ here will now be provided with links to the two new sites that have emerged from the previous incarnation: Rebirth of Reason (run by Joe Rowlands) and SOLO Passion (run by Lindsay Perigo).

I posted welcome messages to each organization here and here, and I was given additional links here and here, given my long association with the former website.

Readers who try to access previous Sciabarra articles can now view these essays with a slight change to the URL addresses. I have made those URL changes to all the web pages on my main site (but not on Notablog). It now appears that my former SOLO HQ essays and posts are available on both sites. I feel as if I've been cloned!

For example, my essay, "Ten Years After" used to be here:

http://solohq.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

It is now accessible here:

http://solohq.solopassion.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

and here:

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

So, enjoy yourself. Twice.

I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to make a few comments about my own posting activities, which, as some readers have observed, have been much more limited recently. Though I was still posting on a rare occasion at SOLO HQ, my last published article was, in fact, "Ten Years After" (posted on August 14, 2005, and noted above). I have posted very infrequently to that site, and I don't believe I will be posting much to either of the new sites.

I still post on occasion to Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Mises Economics Blog (when the subjects of my posts are relevant to those forums).

Nevertheless, readers need to know that I have scaled back my participation on virtually all cyber-forums due to ongoing constraints on my time and health (see here, for example). Since my surgical procedure in October, I have re-focused my energy on the things that matter most to me: my own work done my own way on my own time.

That's why Notablog is still my home. I will continue to post here as the spirit moves me on subjects as varied as music and foreign policy, and I will cross-post to other forums when I think it is relevant.

Some people have written to me privately and have wondered if the rancor on other forums has been a factor in my unwillingness to participate more regularly. I've never made a secret of the fact that I am not pleased with the level of rudeness and hostility that is often shown on cyber-forums of whatever intellectual orientation (see my comments on "The Rose Petal Assumption," for example).

I'm the last one to complain about vigorous and rigorous debate; as a defender of dialectical method"dialectic" is, after all, derived from "dialegesthai," the Greek word for "to discuss"I am the first person to praise the importance of critical engagement. And for years I've been critically engaging my interlocutors whenever and wherever I get the chance.

But, all too often, discussions in cyberspace have disintegrated into slimefests with open use of ad hominem as a substitute for reasoned discourse.

Suffice it to say: That won't happen here. That doesn't mean I don't have a sense of humor or a sense of proportion. But as Ralph Kramden once said: "I'm the King of the Castle" in my own home. I welcome comments here from individuals of any intellectual or political persuasion, and ask only that posters show me and their fellow interlocutors the respect that is required in any civil engagement. If people can't or won't be civil, they can take their cyber-business elsewhere.

It's true: Civility is not a primary virtue. But it is a requirement of participation at Notablog.

So, to all those who post to the new forums and the old ones: Best of luck. I'll see you when I see you.

Comments welcome.

November 28, 2005

So Long, SOLO

The Executive Director of SOLO, Joe Rowlands, informs readers that SOLO HQ is closing up shop and will be morphing into different entities. I posted a farewell note to the forum:

Gentlemen, I wish each of you well in your endeavors. My appreciation for your efforts is deeply personal. I wish to thank you for providing a forum where many of my own articles have appeared, along with much critical engagement. And I also wish to thank you for providing a forum that still sells my monograph on Rand & homosexuality, the first such SOLO monograph ever to be published. For having hosted the kick-off to one of the early SOLO conferences, I am also thankful for having met many good people through this forum.
As one of those who has long been concerned about the preservation of historical archives, I do sincerely hope that there might be a way to preserve the current site, in some form, as a place to which people might return to see the development of that engagement over time. There are some very important discussions here. I do realize that Joe [Rowlands], Linz [Lindsay Perigo], and Jeff [Landauer] do not have an obligation to pay for this archival preservation, but it is still my hope that preservation, in some form, will be given a priority in any transition to something new.
Be well, take good care, and thanks again.

Readers are encouraged to visit the site, and leave comments.

November 27, 2005

More on the International Ayn Rand Award

As I mentioned here, I was the recipient of the first annual International Ayn Rand Award at this year's London conference of the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International.

I suspect that a video version of my acceptance speech will be made available in the near future; for now, however, Dr. Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance has posted a Record of Proceedings, at which one will find a link to a low-resolution audio version of my acceptance speech. It is archived here.

I wish to thank Sean Gabb for his efforts and Dr. Chris Tame for his kind words of introduction in presenting the award to me. I also wish to thank William Thomas of The Objectivist Center, for having accepted the award in London on my behalf.

If the video becomes available as a podcast, I'll post the link to Notablog.

Update: I note that Arthur Silber recently reposted his own discussion of my work at his new blog. See his post: "In Praise of Contextual Libertarianism."

Comments welcome.

November 19, 2005

The International Ayn Rand Award

Some time ago, I got a phone call from an ailing Chris Tame, who is both a friend and colleague. Chris told me that he was about to inaugurate the First Annual International Ayn Rand Award, on the occasion of the Rand Centenary; it would be delivered at a special banquet on Saturday, November 19, 2005 (today!) during which annual lifetime "Liberty Awards" would also be presented to such important writers as Richard Ebeling and Norman Barry. (Personally, I have profited enormously from the works of both of these men; in fact, Richard was the very first libertarian I ever saw speak at any public event.)

Chris told me that I was selected as the first recipient of the award. He knew I didn't identify myself as an "Objectivist," but "post-Randian" or not, I was to receive the award for my intense scholarly activities, which have contributed, he said, to the wider dissemination and appreciation of Ayn Rand's work in the academy and beyond.

Here is how Chris described the award:

The International Ayn Rand Award was established by the Libertarian Alliance (based in London) and the Libertarian International (based in Holland) in 2005 to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand (born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum) was born on 2 February, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She escaped Communist tyranny to become a best selling novelist and philosopher and one the principal instigators of the modern libertarian movement, the rebirth of radical individualism and classical liberalism.
In both her novels and her non-fiction works Rand expounded philosophical "Objectivism", a systematic and radical restatement and reconstruction of Aristotelian natural law and natural rights, which provided a firm basis for the case for reason, rationality, science, progress, individual rights and autonomy and free market capitalismfor a New Enlightenment.
The International Ayn Rand Award joins the other annual Liberty Awards bestowed by the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International at their annual London Conference. The Award is specifically created to recognise thinkers and writers whose work has contributed inter alia to the development and systematisation of Objectivism, its application to specific issues and problems, and its propagation and wider understanding.

I have to say that I wasand amdeeply touched by the gesture. But I know that I am only one of many writers who have spent many years in critical engagement with Rand's philosophy.

Some have extended their good wishes, despite expressing a little confusion over my receipt of the award. I can only say that being an "Objectivist" is not, apparently, a requirement for this award. What is a requirement, in my view, however, is an acknowledgment of those whose shoulders I have stood on in my efforts to bring Rand to a wider scholarly audience.

I set out to do precisely that in a brief acceptance speech I recorded prior to my hospitalization on October 18th. I confess I was a tad bit fidgety when my friend Tony came to my home to record my speech. A kidney stone will do that to you. Recording it was a laugh a minute; the phone rang, the doorbell rang, the cuckoo clock cuckooed, and, of course, Blondie barked. We should have sent in the "blooper" reel instead of the 4 or 5 minute talk I actually gave.

But thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we were able to record the speech digitally, and send it off to London, where it will be shown tonight at the Banquet. I will post a follow-up here at Notablog soon enough, with the full text of my speech linked to the Podcast that will be available on the site of the Libertarian Alliance.

I am deeply appreciative for this acknowledgment of my work, especially since this is also the year in which I celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

And I am very deeply appreciative that Chris Tame, who has been battling a number of health problems, is well enough to attend the conference and to present the award to me. Get well, my friend.

Comments welcome.

November 03, 2005

Jon on Alan Greenspan

I left a comment at "Liberating Our Heritage," on a Jon post: "The Maestro as Manipulator?"

Jon asks about Rand's views of Alan Greenspan, based on Nathaniel Branden's recollections from his memoir, My Years with Ayn Rand. My comment on the man whom Rand called "the undertaker" can be found here.

Comments welcome, but visit Jon's place. Also noted at SOLO HQ.

November 01, 2005

More Passing Thoughts on Rand

I just wanted to alert Notablog readers that I've posted additional appendices to the "Passing Thoughts" thread below. I encourage readers to take a look at these additional postings (listed as Appendix #1, etc.).

Readers wishing to leave additional comments may do so here or on the SOLO HQ thread (my last posting there can be found here).

Update: I asked Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden about the issue of their voices being edited out of tapes still being marketed by the Ayn Rand Institute. Their replies are here.

October 29, 2005

Passing Thoughts on Rand's Journals

Every so often I'm told by this person or that person that I'm being mentioned in the blogosphere. I am honestly and sincerely flattered that so many people think my musings worth mentioning, but it is impossible for me to keep up with the many discussions of my work. If bloggers or other writers wish to inspire me to a response, the best policy is to simply inform me of your writing, and I'll do my best to reply privately or, perhaps, with a public post. The engagement, after all, is the dialectical oil that keeps the blogosphere humming along.

So, recently, somebody informed me of this post by a gent named "Mike" who runs a blog called "Passing Thoughts." (I'd drop you a note Mike, but I don't see any email contact information at your blog.) Mike seems to be quite enamored of the Ayn Rand Institute, and has been engaging in an ongoing critique of ARI critics. One of those whom he criticizes is my friend and colleague Robert Campbell (see here and here). Robert's replies are worthwhile reading (see here and here, for example).

I'm not going to re-open the debate over The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies here. Suffice it to say: If some Rand scholars do not like JARS, they can and should take their business elsewhere. We are a nonpartisan journal and we would gladly publish any articles that pass our double-blind peer review process, and that most definitely includes any articles submitted by those of a more "orthodox" hue. Now in our seventh year of publication, we are abstracted by over a dozen professional indexing services and are doing fine. So while others are indicting the quality of the journal, writers as diverse as Erika Holzer and Bill Martin, George Reisman and Slavoj Zizek, have been represented in our pages.

Nevertheless, I was relieved to discover from Mike's postings that he and his ARI friends "dont have weekly burnings of Chris Sciabarra books (we only do that stuff once per year)."

Whew! At least now when there's a spike in sales of my books at that time of the year, I'll know it's due to some Farenheit 451 Celebration!

In an earlier post at Passing Thoughts, Mike takes me to task with regard to criticisms I once made of both the Estate of Ayn Rand and editor David Harriman on the subject of the editing of the book Journals of Ayn Rand. Those criticisms can be found here and here, where I note, for example, that the name "Albert Jay Nock," which appeared in an earlier publication of an entry from Rand's journals suddenly disappeared from that same entry republished in the Harriman-edited Journals of Ayn Rand.

Mike states:

Now, the first thing to notice for any objective observer is that this criticism can only be leveled at Peikoff and Harriman. They are responsible, not the ARI. Secondly, there is no motivation for intentional dishonesty (why on earth would Peikoff be interested in eliminating Albert Jay Nock from history when there are much worse people cited by Rand that remain in the notes?). So the only explanation that fits the facts is scholarly incompetence. A very bizarre scholarly incompetence. Sciabarra makes the very serious charge: How many other revisions of the historical record are there? Now, this implies that whatever got mixed up was intentional. There is no evidence to support this, so from the outset, Sciabarra is being a jack ass.

Sigh.

If Mike re-reads the essay in question, he'll see that I only mention the Ayn Rand Institute once and not in the context of altering the historical record. I state: "Officials at the Ayn Rand Institute are busy establishing a research archive, but until independent scholars are able to examine Rand's personal papers, serious doubts will remain."

Throughout the essay, my criticisms are of the Estate (i.e., Peikoff) and of Harriman.

Mike goes on:

But a quick look at the date of publication of this article is 1998. Sciabarra should have done his homework. In 1995 Harriman gave a lecture in which he pointed out that, after writing her notes, Rand would RE-WRITE them in a condensed form. This is confirmed by Harry Binswanger (its in his first lecture on psycho-epistemology). So what has been available to all who are interested, since 1995 (at least), is the FACT that there are at least two versions of all of Rands notes.

Alas, I get an F for not doing my homework. When I reviewed the book in question, it didn't occur to me that I'd then have to consult several audio lectures to understand the context of Harriman's editing. Instead, I made the mistake of taking Harriman's preface seriously, wherein he states the following:

AR sometimes rewrote her notes, often for the purpose of condensing and essentializing. I have included such later material only when it contains provocative new formulations.

This statement conflicts with the Binswanger statement that Mike reports on his blog. Harriman stresses that Rand "sometimes rewrote her notes" (emphasis added), not that there are "at least two versions of all of Rands notes." And Harriman stresses further that in such instances of repetition, he uses the earlier version unless the newer one has some "provocative new formulations."

In my comparison of the passages in question in my original 1998 essay, there is nothing "provocative" or "new" in the Journals passage when compared to the same passage, which was published earlier in The Objectivist Forum. The only thing that is "provocative" or "new" is the absence of various words and the name of a key historical figure from the Old Right, Albert Jay Nock.

And if Mike re-reads my essay, he'll also see that I did not utter the word "dishonesty"; he may think that it is implied, but it is not. What is made explicit however is this: When scholars are offered two different versions of the same passage, and the differences are so stark, it makes it very difficult to quote from either version with certainty about its accuracy.

As I stated in my 1998 essay:

When such editorial changes are not made explicit, when not even ellipsis points are provided to indicate missing text, doubt is cast unnecessarily on the volume's authenticity. Even if this does not impugn the book's overall value to critically-minded readers, it makes the serious Rand scholar question the text's accuracy. These questions are generated not by any inherent distrust of the Estate, but by discrepancies in the same passage published in two different sources authorized by the Estate. Which version is accurate? The first? The second? Neither? (emphasis added)

With Mike's newest revelations, drawn from a lecture by Binswanger, we learn "the FACT that there are at least two versions of all of Rands notes." This revelation makes the scholar's task even worse, in my view: Not only are we left guessing which version is being quoted, but with the added proviso that Harriman made certain editorial line-changes, we must now question if one version or the other was used or if both versions were used to supplement one another. With no indication from the editor, it makes an historical reconstruction of Rand's evolution as a thinker that much more difficult.

The only way any scholar can be certain about the chronological contents of Rand's journals, then, is by getting into the Rand Archives and taking a look. But, of course, the odds of a non-ARI scholar getting into those archives are slim. James Valliant is one of those scholars who did get access, but as I said in my review of his book:

His book is one of a very select group of secondary sources actually listed on the ARI site, with links for purchase: "Books About Ayn Rand." Since I personally know reputable scholars who have not been allowed to work in the Archives, and I have had my own failed dealings with ARI in pursuit of certain archival records (see here), I can only applaud Valliant's access, and hope, with him, that the archives will be made more generally available in time.

So, to repeat, this is not an issue of Harriman's or Peikoff's "massive dishonesty." It's an issue of publishing important journal notes in a way that brings into question unnecessarily their accuracy. Whether the alterations were intended or not, or simply the result of what Mike calls "a very bizarre scholarly incompetence," the fact remains that the historical record has been altered, and this is a serious problem.

So, sorry, Mike, if you think I'm no longer the "gentleman," "fair critic," and "scholar" you once thought I was. But until or unless the Institute opens its doors to all bona fide scholars, these questions of authenticity and accuracy will remain. It's not because I "pick and choose" the "evidence ... for [my] evidence-independent theories"; it's because the evidence shows that alterations have been made. My worries are not eased by hearing now that "there are at least two versions of all of Rands notes." For if that is, indeed, the case, then those of us who are not able to check the archives are forever at the mercy of those who do, in fact, "pick and choose" what journal entries to publish, and what journal entries not to publish. It makes the job of tracing Rand's intellectual development, her chronological "chewing" of various ideas, virtually impossible.

Dialectician that I am, I didn't want to conclude this post without at least mentioning a few of Mike's other comments, ever in search of the "full context" of my interlocutor's passing thoughts. So I actually discovered that Mike has some semi-nice things to say about me here. Except even there, he is more wrong than he is right.

For example, he is disappointed by early commentary I wrote on James Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Fortunately, he adds a link in his update to my full review of the Valliant book, but it's still not enough to correct the distortions in his post. He's right that I have been critical in the past of the Estate's "handling of historical materials" and how the voices of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden were airbrushed out of existence on various taped lectures. He claims that "it is clear that the voices were removed for legal reasons," but I don't believe that has ever been made clear.

He goes so far as to say that I should have been "deeply troubled" by the Brandens' books, given my concern with "the accuracy of the historical record," especially since I used the Brandens "as major sources for [my] book on Rand."

Uh, no, Mike. My work in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical did not depend on the Brandens as "major sources"; indeed, the "major source" for the historical aspects of my book was my own archival researches. That research has continued here, here, and here, but not a single ARI-affiliated scholar has ever publicly (and I do stress publicly) commented on the very detailed work that I continue to do in reconstructing the record of Rand's early education.

Let me say in conclusion that those who adhere to a "closed-system" view of Objectivism will get little argument from me; I have stated here, for example, that "[i]n essentials, every 'philosophy'be it 'scientific socialism' or 'Objectivism'is, by necessity, closed: It must be something definite, or it is not definable; it must have identity and it must have boundaries or there will be no way of distinguishing one doctrine from another."

But even a closed system view does not require that its adherents close themselves off to discussion with those who do not identify themselves as Objectivists. Such a policy can only lead to the formation, over time, of a kind of sclerotic intellectual ghettoization for which I have no use.

So I commend people like James Valliant, and even Mike at Passing Thoughts, for actually attempting to engage their interlocutors.

Appendix #1

At SOLO, a relevant discussion on these issues is taking place. Below, I reply to various points made by James Valliant and Magenta Hornet here, here, and here. My comments are also archived at SOLO starting here.

For the record, I did not find "very few (if still unexplained) problems" in Harriman's editing of Journals of Ayn Rand. I was only able to compare one journal entry from that book to the same passage published previously in The Objectivist Forum. And a comparison of these different versions of the same passage showed inexplicable editing, including the elimination of the name "Albert Jay Nock" from the Journals' version. I have never seen the actual journals in Rand's handwriting, and I've never seen any other published passages from Rand's journals by which to make a more general comparison. So, what few problems I identified were only identified because I had a basis for comparison. With no archival access and no alternatively published versions of the journal entries available, I have no basis for assessing the overall quality of Harriman's editing.

What I did say, in my initial essay on Harriman's editing (see here), however, was not that Harriman was being dishonest in his editing but that the introduction of these alterations, with no explanation, leaves scholars in the position of having to question their authenticity in part, or in toto. This is a totally unnecessary problem that emerged, which could have been very easily addressed by those responsible for the editing of Rand's personal papers. Unfortunately, the problem has never been addressed by Harriman or anybody else. (That's not quite correct; one blogger recently addressed some of these issues, but I think the questions this blogger raises only compound the problem. See Notablog here [above].)

I should state that whatever objections people have to Jim Valliant's parenthetical remarks in his publication of Rand's personal diaries, I praised him, from Square One, for having published the material raw and for having indicated every change he made with proper use of brackets and bold emphasis.

As for the issue of the Brandens' accounts: Jim has, no doubt, found a number of inconsistencies and conflicts within each of the Branden accounts and between them. But most of these conflicts revolve around "subjectivity" issues: how each person, deeply embedded in the interpersonal dynamics that constituted The Affair, interpreted the other person's thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc. in the context of that Affair. I am not saying that The Affair is unimportant; I just continue to maintain that it relates less to the philosophic system that is Objectivism than, say, an understanding of Rand's intellectual development (which has always been of more interest to me).

As for the removal of the Brandens' voices from audio lectures, such as Rand's lectures on fiction-writing: All this would be put to rest if those responsible for the editing simply provided us with an explanation. But this practice of airbrushing people out of existence once they've broken with Rand or her immediate followers is not restricted to the Brandens. See this lovely demonstration at the Free Radical site, for example.

I have a problem with practices that alter the historical record; differences such as those that exist between the Brandens' accounts of The Affair and Rand's own journals can at least be placed in the context of motivational or interpretive differences. Jim V and I can disagree over the motivations of the players in question on any number of issues; but at least Jim V decided to approach the issue head-on, rather than bracketing out the existence of the Brandens from public discussion.

When people simply disappear from an historical record, there is something important that is being eliminated, something that partially explains that record or provides a richer context for understanding it.

As for my use of the archival material in the possession of ARI: I was in touch with Leonard Peikoff briefly prior to the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He refused to provide me with any photos for my book because he had had a bad experience with the use of a photo by James Baker for a book that Baker wrote on Rand. Not only did I understand his apprehensiveness, I actually raised the issue of the Baker book before he had a chance to. He explained that unless he really knew the people involved, he would not share such material. That was his right.

I had also asked him relevant questions concerning Rand's relationship to Professor N.O. Lossky, which he was unable to answer, but he had promised me at the time that if he came into any information about the case, he'd get in touch with me.

After the publication of my book, I received a number of letters from people at ARI who were pleased with the seriousness that I brought to the study of Rand. This didn't imply agreement with my work. But they were completely aware of my relationship to the Brandens (they saw in my book my extensive treatment of the Brandens' contributions as well as photos provided to me by the Brandens), and this never stopped them from continuing a correspondence. In fact, they were fascinated by my uncovering of information about Rand's early education at the Stoiunin gymnasium and secured from me a photo of Lossky for use in the documentary "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." I actually received a screen credit (along with Boris Lossky, N. O. Lossky's son) in that film.

Moreover, at the time, I had invited some ARI-affiliated scholars to contribute dissenting material to the volume Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; they declined. Perhaps, in that instance, the presence of both Brandens in the volume posed a problem. But this was not the explanation they offered.

All I know is that I was on the verge of receiving a faxed copy of Rand's college transcript when they suddenly told me that I could do the research, provide them with my evaluation of the material, but never publish on the subject. They gave me no explanation as to why I would be denied the right to publish my findings; at first, I simply thought that they would want to make the "big splash" and that it was a "timing" issue. But that was not the issue, and they never explained why it was that I would have no right to reap the benefits of my own work. As it turned out, I sought those archival documents elsewhere, and eventually published my findings in the first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Let me stress my agreement here with Magenta Hornet, however, that "The Rand estate has every right to decide how and when Rand's journals are made public ~ in any manner it chooses," even if it has never been expressed to me, implicitly or explicitly, that I have been denied access to those archives because of my relationship with the Brandens. In any event, such would not explain the denial of access to many other scholars, like Mimi Gladstein or biographer Anne Heller.

In fact, to my knowledge, no non-ARI scholars have been allowed to use the Rand Archives. Jim V may be the exception, but he had a relationship of sorts with Leonard Peikoff and his intellectual conclusions were certainly in sync with the negative assessment of the Brandens that Peikoff himself shares.

Such control over archives is not unusual; the Freud estate, the Nietzsche estate, and so many other estates, in their infancy, attempted to control the flow of information as a way of protecting the legacy of the person in question. But, over time, that control just doesn't work. Scholarly pursuits will not be held back no matter how many litmus tests are put in place to guide those pursuits.

I agree fundamentally with Jim on this point: "It is certainly to be hoped and expected that one day all scholars will be able to use all of it ..."

Appendix #2

Jim, you wrote:

But it's not suspiciously secretive of them, either. They significantly, then, did allow the examination of the materials you requested, just not their use, as I thought. Thank you for that. And for confirming that you do not contend that Harriman acted in bad faith.

No, you misunderstand. They actually did not allow my examination of the material. They wanted a verbal agreement from me before they faxed the material to my home that I never write on the subject. So, in truth, I never saw any of the material. Not until years later, after I'd spent tons of money and months upon months using research assistants to find another copy of the Rand transcript in the archives of the University of St. Petersburg.

I don't know if anybody else has asked to review the material from The Objectivist Forum, but I can tell you that I did find quite a few additional editorial changes in the passage comparisons that I did see. None of this implies dishonesty on the part of Harriman or anybody else; but it introduces unnecessary confusion.

As for the Reismans: I don't know the whole background; I just have a real problem with altering documents that were already published. I could be wrong, but it was my impression, for example, that even Edith Packer's lectures in Peikoff's brilliant course, "Understanding Objectivism," are no longer part of that course. Whatever the reasons are: Packer was a part of that series, and the lectures she gave were, in my view, indispensable to that series, the same way Branden's essays are indispensable to Rand's anthologies (which, thank goodness, for the most part, have not been altered... except one cannot find Branden's essays from Virtue of Selfishness or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal in the searchable CD-ROM of Rand's books).

I am happy to hear that Andrew Bernstein cites Reisman appropriately in his new book; that's quite a difference from, say, Salsman, who is now at intellectual odds with Reisman and virtually the whole Austrian school of economics in his most recent series of articles in The Intellectual Activist. (On this last point, see my essay with Larry Sechrest in PDF form here.)

I understand your point, too, Jim, about not wanting to promote the work of those individuals whom one considers immoral. But I'm speaking strictly from the perspective of an intellectual historian: I don't want to see any alteration in a book or a tape once it has been published or produced. I would sooner appreciate an editor stating at the outset that Person X is no longer associated with me or my philosophy... while still publishing the essays that were part of the anthology to begin with. This is, in fact, what Rand herself did. Her followers should have done the same thing. It would have preserved the integrity of the historical record, while allowing them to "set the record straight" in a postscript or preface.

And that's what irks me: For all I know, the principals in any of these conflicts may have been in the right in morally condemning any number of people with whom they were previously associated. But the historical record is what it is; a scholar can contextualize it in a new edition, but erasing a contribution that was part of the record is just not the scholarly thing to do. And, no, nobody owes me or any other scholar an explanation; but then they should not be upset when people speculate wildly about their motives.

As for the issue of your book and your views of the Brandens: I'll not revisit it here, since we've both discussed it here. All of it, in my view, still revolves around the Affair and the personal interactions of these people, including "the bogus counseling, the false pretenses about the Brandens' marriage, and such other issues connected to the Affair ..." I never paid much attention to this Affair prior to your book. It constituted a couple of sentences in my entire Russian Radical, and no more than a couple of paragraphs in a subsequent essay on the documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." I just don't focus on it because I don't believe it is essential to my understanding of Objectivism or Rand's intellectual development. (That's quite apart from the fact that I applauded you for bringing her private journals to light; I found that material very worthwhile reading.)

Appendix #3

Jim writes:

No, I think that you still misunderstand my point. You did have the opportunity to view and at least verify the material -- upon your agreement not to use it. Thus, the viewing and verification were not being denied, just the use of it. This is the distinction that I was making. It is an important one.

Ah, yes. Yes, indeed. I would have been allowed to read it, analyze it, give my results to ARI, but never use it personally. Praise be the virtue of selflessness and the theory-practice dichotomy! And to hell with the trader principle! :)

You misunderstand what I'm saying when I suggest "it's 'all' about The Affair." The Rand-Branden Affair certainly did involve much, much more. But it all revolved around their personal relationship, which developed over nearly two decades, entailing a host of complex psychological issues. And, quite frankly, Jim, you say that Rand thought the Affair was over; my reading of those notes shows me a woman who was deeply hurt, very angry, and, yet, still wanting to bring Branden back. Do we really have to revisit this here? I just don't see the point.

Same goes for our differences on the effect of the Brandens' works on Rand criticism: I still maintain that the people who despise Ayn Rand despise her because of her ideas; this attention to her Affair with Nathaniel is just icing on the cake for some; but it is a cake baked by those who have been ideologically opposed to everything she stands for.

That is where the battle must be fought: Over ideas. Not over the people Rand slept with, why, and for how long.

Appendix #4

Jim, thanks for your reply.

When I say something is "personal," I am not saying that it entails no intellectual or ideological components; as my review of your book acknowledges fully: Nathaniel Branden did much to bolster a rationalist misapplication of Objectivist principles and to engender a sycophantic subculture around Rand. His psychological manipulation of Rand was immoral.

But Branden was not the only one engaging in the intellectual error of rationalism. Peikoff himself has admitted to this tendency, as have many other Objectivists. And Rand herself was prone to intellectualizing real human beings and to engaging in a certain degree of moralizing.

None of this implies a moral equivalence between the wrongs of Nathaniel Branden and Rand's errors. But it is also a mistake to suggest that by abstracting "the Brandens" from the history of Objectivism, we also bracket out any problems in "Objectivism." That's just ahistorical, in my view.

Appendix #5

Just a note to say that after a day of discussion on this, I've just noticed that Mike from Passing Thoughts has posted a reply to me as well. Thanks for your comments, Mike.

In his reply, Mike states:

One of his major gripes with my post is that I accuse him of accusing Harriman and Peikoff of scholarly dishonesty. He says he does not think this. I will take him at his word and retract that. But I still dont understand what the meaning of this is: "In this single three-sentence paragraph, there are six alterations. And at least four are important to scholars and others who want to understand Rand. How many other revisions of the historical record are there?" [bold is mine]
The word "revision," as I understand it, implies intent. I read this as Sciabarra accusing Harriman and the Estate of Ayn Rand of intentionally covering up historical fact. I think such intentional distortion would be wrong. Like I said, I will take Dr. Sciabarra at his word, but I do not think my initial reaction to his paper was unwarranted in light of his concluding paragraph.

Fair enough, Mike. I can understand how you might have thought "revision" implies "intent." But "to revise" something can simply mean "to reconsider," "to change," or "to modify." I meant it strictly in those terms: A change was made to the passage that subsequently modified its meaning. I don't think my use of the word necessarily implies an evaluation of the character, quality, or motivation underlying the change. But, as I said, fair enough.

As for how others have understood (or misunderstood) my comments: I can't be responsible for how every person interprets my points. I have enough trouble keeping track of the number of dialogues in which I, myself, have participated. As I said from the opening of this post, "it is impossible for me to keep up with the many discussions of my work" or, indeed, of points that I have made over the past 15 years.

One final comment: I am utterly delighted to see more dissent within "orthodox" ranks on questions as varied as economics and the war. It is my hope that over time the engagement of the "orthodoxy" will extend outward to include scholars of many different hues.

Thanks again for your reply.

Appendix #6

Casey writes:

There is a difference between the historical record and products SOLD by the ARI for learning purposes. The record is, IN FACT, preserved, but ARI has no obligation, and probably legitimate legal concerns about SELLING educational materials to which the Brandens contributed without remunerating the Brandens for such sales. Isn't that clear?

That's very clear, Casey, and very well put.

But let me repeat for the umpteenth time: Ayn Rand herself never sought to alter the historical record of the books that are still being sold in which Branden's essays appear. (And I don't believe Branden gets one dime of remuneration from the ongoing sale of such anthologies as The Virtue of Selfishness or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal). Indeed, the only thing Rand ever did was to remove the dedication she made to Nathaniel in Atlas Shrugged on post-1968 printings of the book. This was entirely understandable, in my view... as was the cessation of sales of courses in which the Brandens were principal lecturers ("Basic Principles of Objectivism," "Principles of Efficient Thinking," etc.). I suspect, however, that all of those recorded lecture courses are on file in the Ayn Rand Archives.

Rand was very clear in her anthologies that the Brandens were no longer associated with her or her philosophy, as I said earlier in this thread, but none of this required a rewriting of reality, even in the "SELLING" of what might be considered "educational materials to which the Brandens contributed." Adam Reed is right when he emphasizes this as an outgrowth of Rand's primacy of existence view.

If the Estate wished to continue the policy of keeping the historical record intact for saleable items, it could have done the exact same thing. And if it chose not to do the same thing, the Estate could have at least informed scholars, like myself, who spent exorbitant amounts of money on lectures and audio courses that the material had been edited for content because earlier unnamed participants were no longer associated with Rand's philosophy.

Understand that heterodox non-ARI affiliated scholars like myself have to depend on the materials that the Estate offers for sale because we will never gain access to the archives where the historical record is being "preserved." I'd like to be proven wrong.

Now James wonders why it is that those of us on this side of the divide aren't as upset by the "alterations" in the historical record perpetuated by the Brandens. But Nathaniel Branden wrote a memoir, and Barbara Branden wrote a biography with heavy doses of memoir. Neither of them has ever posed as a "keeper of the flame" and neither of them has a monopoly on knowledge or information about Rand. The fact that a book has now been written and published that provides a starkly different portrait of Rand in many respects is proof that this enterprise will continue. And there are other biographies in the works, including one being written by Shoshana Milgram, who has full access to the archives, and one being written by Anne Heller, who was denied access. The Brandens may have offered the first word on Rand biography, but they will most certainly not be the last word. Praise be to the proliferation of competition in the intellectual marketplace!

But competition is not something the Estate seems to want; it possesses a virtual monopoly on most of the written and oral record of Rand and her early associates and it heavily restricts access to that record. Those of us writing in the area of historical biography or on the evolution of Rand's thought and movement must depend upon that record, even as we must seek out alternative sources of information (like those being offered by the Objectivist History Project, with which I am associated). If we are denied access to the historical record because we just don't have the proper credentials or know the right people, our dependence on the saleable record is clearly not enough. Because that record is being edited, in some respects, heavily edited.

And, to repeat: the practice of bracketing out people who are persona non grata from the "saleable" items is not restricted to the Brandens. Until or unless the archives are opened to all bona fide scholars, we will forever be in the dark, guessing what has been excised and speculating, unnecessarily, for better or for worse, about the motives of those who do the excising.

So, James, you may justifiably feel that no injustice has been perpetuated by the editing of saleable items, but you've gone to the mountain top and you've seen the promised land. You were granted access to the archives.

The rest of us are still waiting. And a part of me suspects that we will all be dead before any heterodox non-ARI-affiliated scholar gets into those archives.

Appendix #7

James writes:

So, if Nathaniel Branden were to reprint "The Moral Revolution in 'Atlas Shrugged'" from WHO IS AYN RAND?, and then to have suppressed a credit reference to Leonard Peikoff in an original footnote within it, would that be same kinda thing being complained about here? (Thank you, Craig Ceely.**)

Absolutely.

Except that the one reprint of that essay was by The Objectivist Center, and Nathaniel Branden indicates explicitly that he made "a few cuts." (He was not explicit about what the cuts were, but Rand herself was not fully explicit about the cuts she made to the 1959 edition of We the Living, so I'm not going to fault Branden for not providing an essay-length discussion of the cuts he actually made; the Peikoff note is only one of several.)

Branden also states in his preface to the reprint that the essay "was written at a time when my thinking was totally in alignment with that of Ayn Rand's, and thus none of the reservations or questions about her work that I would convey in later books and lectures is in evidence."

In point of fact, however, "Basic Principles of Objectivism," Nathaniel Branden's recorded lecture course, which TOC currently offers for sale, and "Principles of Efficient Thinking" (a Barbara Branden lecture course) have both been sold in the years after the break, and neither course has been altered at all, in any way, shape, or form, to my knowledge.

---
**Added note: BTW, Craig was also the one who reminded me recently about my screen credit in the "Sense of Life" documentary that I mentioned in this post. Not that I needed too much reminding; seeing my name on the big screen, I admit, was a thrill. :)

Appendix #8

Casey writes: "But in the end, this issue is a pretty thin reed to hang all the uproar against ARI on. ... And getting all hot about this and not about the Brandens' disregard for the historic record is a little hard for me to buy at this point."

Sorry, Casey, what I'm saying is no thin reed.

As for the Brandens: It's not as if none of us was aware of the Branden deceptions prior to Jim's book. And whatever you want to say about Rand's critics, there isn't a reputable scholar alive that I know who did not place the Branden books in their proper context as "first words" from witnesses who had a very personal stake in the events they described.

We can keep debating this, but it will not be resolved to our mutual satisfaction. I continue to maintain that what the Brandens did and what they have said about Rand pertained primarily to their personal experiences with her. And they are not the only people who knew Rand and who have said unflattering things about Rand.

But even if Rand were the biggest bitch imaginable or the kindest person who ever lived, it would not matter to me one iota in terms of my evaluation of the truth of her philosophy or my understanding of her intellectual origins or legacy. I don't reduce my analysis of a philosophy to an analysis of the life of the person who forged it. And this is coming from somebody who spent an inordinate amount of time in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical trying to come to terms with a specific aspect of Rand's life, namely, her early education.

It is because my attention is focused on Rand's philosophy, and on her intellectual origins, development, and evolution as a thinker, that the Ayn Rand Archives are important to me.

Let me also state for the hearing of the world: I actually send a small annual contribution to the Ayn Rand Institute, because I believe that they are doing important work. From their essay contests to their archival preservation, there is much to commend here. That doesn't mean that they can't do better.

Perhaps if you better understood and appreciated the unnecessarily adversarial and often litigious relationship* of ARI to most non-ARI scholars (some recent promising changes notwithstanding at the Institute), you'd be better able "to buy" the passion that some of us bring to this discussion.

---
*The litigiousness pertains not to ARI, actually, but to the Estate of Ayn Rand.

Appendix #9

I need to preface this post with a personal note. I want to thank the participants here for dragging me out of my doldrums, and inspiring me with "twisted balls" as we say here in Brooklyn, to jump into the fray. It has been difficult to do much of anything as I've been nursed back to my "normal" level of ill-health, coming out of a severe medical setback. I extended an official "thank you" at Notablog to all my well-wishers, but I wanted to extend it here as well.

Because of these recent medical woes, and because of some circumstances that are beyond my control, I am needing to "pull the reins" back a bit. I am behind in my normal work responsibilities by about a month, and I am poised to begin (again) a major research project on Aleksandr Blok, the Nietzschean Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her "favorite poet."

More importantly, I am spending a lot of time on responsibilities connected to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which I am a founding co-editor. One of the journal's co-founders, Bill Bradford, is suffering from severe health problems himself (see here).

And, I'm sorry to report today that I received word the other night that my Associate Editor, and prolific SOLO contributor, Robert Campbell, was involved in a serious bike accident in which he broke both his wrists. He underwent surgery and is currently in the hospital. He is scheduled to be released soon, but will be unable to use his hands much in the coming month or two. (Well-wishers may want to leave their "get well" thoughts here at SOLO.)

All this means that I have an enormous amount of work to do, more than usual, in readying the next issue of JARS.

I'm sure I'll get my "balls twisted" on occasion to post at SOLO again at some point and I will continue my daily blogging at Notablog. But I do need to adjust my work responsibilities accordingly in the face of these current difficulties.

All of this said, I do wish to respond at length to Casey and James. You've both been indefatigable interlocutors and I think that something should be said in response to your latest posts.

***

In response to Casey here: I am not going to speculate as to why Nathaniel Branden characterized his cut of a footnote (among other cuts) crediting Peikoff as a "superfluous" cut. I don't think one has to be a rocket scientist to know that these two men are not exactly affectionate toward one another. The point I was making, however, is that Branden at least told us that he cut something. Of course, most Rand scholars do have access to Who is Ayn Rand?, which, even though it is no longer in print, remains an important historical document in the evolution of Objectivism. (It is certainly in the hands of far more people than the TOC reprint.)

In any event, you won't find anything approaching an acknowledgment of editing in any current publications emanating from ARI-affiliated sources.

My comment that reputable scholars view "the Branden books in their proper context as 'first words' from witnesses who had a very personal stake in the events they described" is also not a new one. Most recently, I made virtually the same comment in my review of James Valliant's book (see the section on "Historical Methodology" in that review here).

As far as scholars go, I have never been to a conference at either The Objectivist Center or the Ayn Rand Institute. I have attended several "day" lectures through the years sponsored by TOC in New York City. At those conferences, the attention was on ethics, politics, or aesthetics. Nary a word was ever said about Ayn Rand's personal life.

My comments about the marginal character of the Affair in genuine Rand scholarship are based on years of contributing to, editing, and reading in the Rand scholarly literature.

For example: JARS is now entering its seventh year of publication. We have 13 issues to our credit since the Fall of 1999. I count a total of 152 articles published over this time period. Of these articles only a very few mention Rand's personal life, and only a very few of these mention Rand's "moral shortcomings." In these limited number of cases, the authors' judgments of Rand are based on their reading of the Branden works for sure. You will find a comment about Rand's "moral shortcomings" in Lisa Dolling's Spring 2000 review of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (a book that includes an essay by Barbara Branden); Joseph Maurone's Spring 2002 essay, "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism" (which deals with much more than Rand's "personal life," focusing on important Romantic themes in Rand's novels); and the James Arnt Aune Fall 2002 essay referenced in Valliant's book (an essay that was met with devastating critique by Leland Yeager in our pages). Other essays that mention Rand's personal life: Dean Brooks's review of the Sures memoir; and a 3-article exchange between Karen Michalson and Sky Gilbert on Gilbert's Branden-inspired play, The Emotionalists.

But a book review of David Kelley's Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand focuses almost no attention on Rand's personal life or the "movement" schisms; Jonathan Jacobs, the reviewer, is much more interested in philosophical issues and actually yearns for a "more purely philosoph[ical] book."

It is true that some left-wing critics, like Gene Bell-Villada, mention Barbara Branden's biographybut he sees Barbara as Rand's "frank yet devoted biographer" ("Nabokov and Rand," Fall 2001 JARS).

Other left-wingers, like Slavoj Zizek ("The Actuality of Ayn Rand," Spring 2002 JARS) go so far as to praise Rand for the way she handled The Affair. Writes Zizek: "There is a well-known story about Rand whose superficially scandalous aspect often eclipses its extraordinary ethical significance." That "ethical significance," for Zizek, is not located in Rand-as-Moral Monster, but in the fact that "Rand did not cheat" (Zizek's emphasis). He concludes:"To show such firmness in the most intimate domain bears witness to an ethical stance of extraordinary strength: while Rand was here arguably 'immoral' [in the conventional sense, a reference to the extramarital affair], she was ethical in the most profound meaning of the word. It is this ethical stance of inner freedom that accounts for the authenticity clearly discernible in Rand's description of ... Howard Roark." And Zizek then goes on to praise Roark as one of the most authentic and benevolent of fictional characters.

So, all in all, in seven years of publishing JARS, I count a total 10 articles out of 152 that mention Rand's personal life, and not all of these references are unflattering, as we have seen from the Zizek article.

Zizek didn't need to read Valliant's book (this was Spring 2002 after all) in order to come to this conclusion, and he had every reason, as a left-wing pomo, to make lots of snide comments about Rand. Instead, he formed his own positive conclusions from his own reading of the Branden books.

So, clearly, not everybody, including the critics, walks away from the Branden books with a view of Rand-as-Moral-Monster.

Remember, btw, that JARS is being "boycotted" by the likes of ARI-scholar Andrew Bernstein because of the "people" we publish. Bernstein called for that boycott of the journal and of all my works (which he admits to never having read), in the Spring of 2002, after we'd published a single paragraph reply Bernstein had written for the journal to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his Cliffsnotes (see here and here). I'll leave it to others to speculate on the character of Bernstein's denunciation. Clearly, from where I sit, it has nothing to do with the fact that we publish "the Brandens" (ooops, we have published an essay or two by the Great Mini-Satan, David Kelley!!!) or that we are some kind of Branden "front organization." That JARS is a "nonpartisan" publication has done nothing to ease the tension (see here and here).

Now, if I extend my inquiry to include the larger Rand scholarly literature, I can tell you that one finds very few references to Rand's personal life. ARI-affiliated scholars who have published fine books (I count the writing and editing work of Robert Mayhew, the work of Tara Smith, and others) never say a negative word about Rand's personal life. No surprise there. But non-ARI-affiliated scholars have a similar track record. Take a look at the countless volumes of essays and books on Ayn Rand, by Douglas Den Uyl (The Fountainhead: An American Novel); Douglas Rasmussen (with Den Uyl, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand; ); Mimi Gladstein (Atlas Shrugged: A Manifesto of the Mind; The Ayn Rand Companion); Tibor Machan (Ayn Rand, and hundreds of other articles), and you'll find almost an exclusive focus on Rand's philosophy or literary legacy. And that's where the focus should be.

(As an aside, I should mention that none of these non-ARI-affiliated writers is ever referenced in the works of any ARI-affiliated scholars. I can think of a single exception: Tara Smith, who has referenced Rasmussen in her work. But the overwhelming number of publications coming from ARI-affiliated scholars is marked by citational partisanship; non-ARI-affiliated scholars freely reference ARI-affiliated scholars, but not the other way around. On this peculiar phenomenon, see here.)

So, we're back to Square One: The smears of Ayn Rand are coming mostly from people who despise Ayn Rand's philosophy, and whose comments on her personal life are the icing on a cake baked in the oven of a primarily ideological opposition (the Commentary article that James references is a case in point; see here).

Folks, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree about our different views of the nature of the Branden books. From where I sit, scholars and other readers have been aware for nearly two decades of the central deceptions that the Brandens perpetuated toward the end of their relationship with Ayn Rand.

Where we are at odds is that I do not believe the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world; I do not ascribe every action and reaction of the Brandens to lying, deception, and manipulation; and I do not see conflict between or within the books as symptomatic of that evil. This was a complex tragedy that involved the poor choices and lives of four people directly and, apparently, countless numbers of people indirectly.

I suspect that this entire generation is going to have to die out before we relegate this whole mess to a footnote in the larger text that is Ayn Rand's profoundly important philosophical legacy.

Appendix #10

Just a very brief rejoinder.

James, you have to allow that my participation in this forum and at Notablog, contextualized further by reading through several hundred (or is that thousand?) posts on this topic, might lead me to a little hyperbole. But if you clearly don't believe that the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world, I sure do get the impression that youand others who support your positionreally do believe that the Brandens are irredeemably evil and that their motivations are almost always base. I could be wrong about this ...

Let me state four further clarifications for the record:

1. I honestly don't see how my previous post was "a giant and irrelevant distraction from the book or its goals." I thought one of your points, James, was that too much criticism of Rand is rooted in charges made by the Brandens. I simply pointed to over 150 articles in JARS and much of the critical scholarship done on Rand, and I find that the discussion of Rand is not informed (much, if at all) by the Branden books. This much is true: We do need to be vigilant and call ad hominem for what it is, whether it shows up in Commentary or National Review.

2. The Zizek article was published in the Spring 2002 JARS; however, it is a revision and expansion of an article that Zizek wrote for the Fall 1997 issue of Lacanian Ink, so his views on this topic predate both his JARS article and the electronic publication of part 1 of your book.

3. I'll let David Kelley speak for himself. I think the issues he deals with in Contested Legacy, however, go far beyond Rand's biography and speak to the problems inherent in the very sycophancy that the Brandens played a part in creating in the historical evolution of the Objectivist movement. It is a sycophancy that is still with us today in some circles.

4. I do not feel that I've been dealt with uncharitablyin any way, shape, or formby either you or Casey. I think we've been mutually respectful from the beginning. It's natural to get a little hot-under-the-collar on some of these issues, but I think we've conducted ourselves just fine.

Cheers,
Chris

Appendix #11: A Postscript

I asked the Brandens about the issues surrounding the editing out of their voices on tapes still being marketed by the Ayn Rand Institute. I asked two questions:

1. Could it be that ARI and/or the Estate might have been worried that they'd have to pay a royalty to the Brandens if their voices were left on the tapes?

2. Did either of you or both of you negotiate an end to the use of your voices by Rand and her heirs in taped lecture courses?

Both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden answered "No" to both questions.

Barbara added that she could not imagine why anyone would be worried about paying royalties to the Brandens and not to everyone else whose voices were left in. She said she has had no communication or negotiation whatever with anyone at ARI or with the Estate about this or any other related issue. And she states further that she did not require or suggest that ARI cease using her voice. Nathaniel confirms this with regard to his own voice.

I also asked others who were around in the early days to confirm if, in the post-1968 era, the voices of the Brandens were ever heard on marketed recordings. Apparently, some recall that the Branden voices were originally left on marketed recordings but that every mention of the Branden names was deleted. Perhaps because the voices remained recognizable, later marketed recordings deleted the voices as well and substituted a narrator's voice.

(Other discussants have continued the dialogue over these points at SOLO, starting here.)

Update

Discussions of the Valliant book and the Branden books continues in various Objectivist forums. See, for example, Robert Campbell's article at SOLO, and the discussion that follows there.

A lot has been made of the fact that the Brandens don't discuss much of the content of Nathaniel Branden's psychotherapy sessions with Rand in the time leading up to the end of their relationship. Rand's journals reveal that Branden was complaining of sexual paralysis. When, later, she learns of his lies, it is reported in the Branden books that Rand slapped his face, and proclaimed: "If you have an ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health---you'll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve any potency, you'll know it's a sign of still worse moral degradation!" And then she slapped him three times.

In Passion, Barbara tells us that the affair had been put on hold for 6 years, and that over that time, it "had rarely been sexual" (331). She reports that NB tells Ayn that he has no "emotional capacity" left for his relationship with her---because of his collapsing marriage. This is in sync with AR's report: that's why AR started to become a kind of "marriage counselor" to the Brandens.

She reports that NB starts withdrawing from AR, but talked obsessively about his relationship with Patrecia. He spoke of "physical and emotional" problems to AR (335) and AR began "to question the reality of his love." BB reports that NB felt guilt because he was not having the 'requisite' response to AR---his "highest value" and something that he believed he should have felt, given the Objectivist theory of romantic love. He was hoping that he'd be able to exhibit that "passionate sexual response to Ayn," but kept telling AR that his lack of response to her, "the problems besetting their relationship had nothing to do with his love for her."

It was my understanding when I first read these passages, and it is my understanding now, that this was BB's way of saying that NB wasn't getting aroused for AR, telling AR, in effect: "It's not you, it's me." He made every excuse: it was the "triangle," he said; etc. And AR began to counsel him on his problem, through "endless psychological sessions, endless excruciatingly difficult labor for her---and the tortured sense that everything she did and said was somehow beside the point, that she was losing him." (335)

"I love Ayn, but I can't release the feeling; something is blocking it---that's the only problem," NB tells himself (says BB).

I always interpreted these passages as grand self-deception and excuse-making (not only to AR but to himself) for Branden's inability to feel anything sexual toward AR. And he was also consciously deceiving AR: He felt the need to pretend that it was a generalized sexual problem, because if he didn't represent it as such, he'd have to admit that he was fully aroused for Patrecia.

But this shows the depth of Branden's deception: it was self-deception first, because he was accepting the theory of romantic love as response to "highest values" (read: highest intellectual values), thus rationalizing the whole theory, and if he were not responding to AR, it meant that the problem, in his mind, was, indeed, deep---pointing to his inner corruption. In other words, he not only accepted "the theory," but blamed himself for not living up to the theory or to AR, and had to lie to AR and to himself in order to deal with a mounting guilt, a devastating internal contradiction between his conscious ideas, subconscious desires, feelings, thoughts, and actions.

By p. 336, BB is talking about AR's questioning of the "age difference": trying to find every which reason to explain NB's lack of "desire" for her. NB seems to muster some "honeymoon periods"---but then he fell back "into guilt, into remorse, into further deceit." And then AR turns to BB---and BB now has to act as AR's "friend"---while protecting NB's secret. Oy. What a mess.

BB's rendering of AR's thoughts here seem in sync with what we now know from Rand's private journals ... though Valliant interprets it as AR conceding that NB can never really be her lover. But I don't think this is necessarily so: Clearly by "early in 1968," AR is saying that she thinks NB only loves her "theoretically, but it has no emotional reality." She does feel as if she's lost him and can't understand his obsession with Patrecia. She claims to believe NB that he wasn't in love with Patrecia (let alone involved with her sexually).

Finally, in July 1968, NB writes that letter to AR where he admits that "their ages had become an impassable barrier to his sexual feeling"; in effect, he enunciates that which he kept denying: "age differences have contributed to my sexual impotence with you."

AR is now furious... because he'd been denying it was an "age problem" all along. But he still fails to admit his relationship with Patrecia. Finally in mid-July, he admits to AR his love for Patrecia, but still denies the affair, and tells AR that he knows what this must mean to her, "to be rejected for a lesser value." She's furious, rightly so.

Finally, by August, all the truth comes out... and AR breaks with the Brandens completely. (She, of course, is in touch with BB again in 1981... and becomes aware that BB is writing her biography.)

I think NB's basic points here are in sync with BB's. He does tell us in his memoir that he felt AR "too old to inspire romantic feelings in me." [Read: sexual feelings.] It's clear throughout this entire time that despite his lies, he is, I think, subconsciously, putting all the "information" out there for Rand to see: his obsessiveness over Patrecia, talks of hypotheticals, etc.---all his way of telling her the truth, without having to tell her the truth... and in total contradiction to what he is saying to Rand on every other level.

So, getting back to Rand's comment that Branden ought to be impotent: When I first read the Branden books, and read that "impotence" comment from Rand, I interpreted it as follows: "You bastard! You claimed you had all these problems that prevented you from having an intimate relationship with me... and all along, you were having sex with Patrecia!" And if you factor in how rejected she must have felt by that point, how his lies tried to "soften the blow"---only to make the blow worse than ever---I must say that I had no negative reaction to Rand raising that impotence issue or to the number of times she slapped his face. I walked away from those books with a much more positive view of AR and a much more negative view of NB. (And the Valliant book has actually made Rand even more sympathetic.)

And I don't think my original reaction was so atypical: As I said above, even Slavoj Zizek, a left-wing pomo, drew the same conclusions, when he had every reason to use this against Rand, given his ideological opposition to her philosophy.

One final point: Valliant argues that NB had projected in his memoir that AR was literally insane. Except that the one place where he uses that word ("insane"), it is Patrecia who makes the statement (on p. 369 in Judgment Day, 1st edition) and NB never seems to use the word literally, placing it in quotes (on p. 372): "If Ayn was 'insane' [ed: notice he places that word within q

September 13, 2005

The Rand Transcript, Revisited

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and still marking the Rand Centenary, I have been publishing a number of retrospectives.

Today comes yet another essay. Published in the new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, it is another installment in my continuing research on Rand's education in Russia, which I first examined in Russian Radical, and explored even further in two 1999 articles: "In Search of the Rand Transcript" (published in Liberty magazine) and "The Rand Transcript" (published in the very first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies).

The newest article makes use of archival materials that were recently uncovered by Anne Heller, who is currently working on a biography entitled Ayn Rand: An American Life, scheduled for publication by Doubleday in 2007. Anne was remarkably generous in sharing these materials with me, and they provided some interesting additions to the historical record. I'm delighted as well to see a continuing stream of evidence that does not impugn, in any way, the conclusions I reached in my earlier studies over the past decade.

I've not only revisited the archives in this new essay; I've also revisited the subject of philosopher N. O. Lossky, who was Ayn Rand's philosophy professor during her first year at the University of Petrograd. We were able to recover and publish a rare photograph of Lossky, taken from his secret police file (kept by the GPU). It is a photo of a man who seems to echo the physical attributes of a philosophy teacher named "Professor Leskov," a character that Rand eventually cut from her most autobiographical novel, We the Living.

For my thoughts on all this, and on many other subjects of historical importance, read the whole essay, which is available today on my "Dialectics and Liberty" website:

"The Rand Transcript, Revisited" (PDF available here)

Comments welcome.

New JARS: The Seventh Volume Begins

The temperatures are going to hit 90 degrees again in New York City on this late summer day. But Autumn is arriving a little early.

Today, the Fall 2005 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published. It begins our seventh volume, our seventh year.

Here is the Table of Contents:

The Rand Transcript, Revisited - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Mimesis and Expression in Ayn Rands Theory of Art - Kirsti Minsaas

Langer and Camus: Unexpected Post-Kantian Affinities with Rands Aesthetics - Roger E. Bissell

The Facts of Reality: Logic and History in Objectivist Debates about Government - Nicholas Dykes

Ayn Rand versus Adam Smith - Robert White

Feser on Nozick - Peter Jaworski

Kant on Faith - Fred Seddon

Seddon on Rand - Kevin Hill

Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis - Roderick T. Long

Reply to Ari Armstrong: How to Be a Perceptual Realist - Michael Huemer

Rejoinder to Michael Huemer: Direct Realism and Causation - Ari Armstrong

Abstracts for this issue are available here; contributor biographies can be found here.

Print-out and mail-in your subscription form today!

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P, SOLO HQ, Humanities.Philosophy.Objectivism Usenet Group, and the Ayn Rand Meta-Blog.

September 09, 2005

Rand and the Ad Hominem Fallacy

One would think after several years in the development of modern Rand studies that Rand scholars would not have to continue dealing with the fallacy of ad hominem, which is a familiar tactic used by Rand critics to discredit Rand as a philosopher.

This is quite apart from any genuine, substantive criticisms of Rand's work, which are needed, and which Randians should engage.

Granted, because Rand ended her postscript to Atlas Shrugged with the comment "And I mean it," suggesting that her life itself was a testament to the philosophy and morality she extolled, she virtually invited discussion of how well or how poorly she reflected Objectivism. And as I have said in my review of James Valliant's book here, "we can learn things about a philosophy by examining the ways in which those who adhere to it, or who claim to adhere to it, behave. But we cant reduce a philosophy to a study of biography. Ideas have analytical integrity quite apart from the people who enunciate them. And this is coming from a writer who has enormous respect for the necessity of placing intellectual figures in both a personal and historical context so as to better appreciate the process by which such figures came to their conclusions."

Nonetheless, the "commingling" of biography and philosophy continues, especially in discussions of Rand's work. The most recent example of this comes from Commentary magazine, in which Algis Valiunas attempts to dissect "the work of the high priestess of reason," whose "centenary has gone uncelebrated."

Hogwash! As my own Centenary articles make clear, the Rand Centenary attracted quite a bit of coverage. As I wrote: "Every publication from Reason, The Free Radical, and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New York Times featured something of significance in its pages. There were sponsored parties and panel discussions from California to New York to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C."

But disparaging the Centenary isn't Valiunas's purpose; it's disparaging Rand's person as a means to disparaging her ideas that is most obvious here:

In Rand's psychology, reason unfailingly determines emotion, never the other way around. But in her own erotic life Rand was at the mercy of a turbulent unreason that pulled her under even as she burbled on about her unimpeachable rationality. As she could only love an extraordinary man, she endowed the man she married, Frank O'Connor, with all the qualities of a hero, even of a god. In fact, in almost everyone's eyes but hers, O'Connor, a failure as a movie actor, was a raging mediocrity. At the age of forty-nine, Rand fell for yet another god, Nathaniel Branden, the husband of her biographer and himself a disciple younger than she by 25 years. She expounded the perfect reasonableness of their adultery to each of the injured spouses, whom she expected reasonably to accept their twice-weekly scheduled trysts in the bedroom she shared with her husband. After years of this, the Brandens' marriage collapsed and Rand's husband swirled down the alcoholic drain. When Rand was sixty-one and Branden thirty-six, the sexual fire went out for him and he found a younger lover. Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy. Maintaining that she was entirely reasonable and right, and Branden purely evil, she destroyed his professional reputation and banished him from the Randian kingdom where he had been until then the crown prince. Heroic reason, heroic freedom, heroic love ended, as they began, in folly.

As I mentioned in my critique of Valliant's book, I have devoted only a few paragraphs in toto, in all of my Rand scholarship, to the discussion of the Rand-Branden Affair. When the critics focus on this Affair and reify it as if it were a whole unto itself, one must begin to question precisely what this strategy seeks to accomplish. They wouldn't do this typically with Plato, Kant, or Hegel, would they?

As Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes."

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages a focus on prurient interests; that's why tabloids sell so well. And it's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

As I acknowledged in my review of Valliant's book, "[t]he particular charges concerning Rands sex life can be traced to claims made in the Branden books. That much is true." But these charges are almost always used by others as the veneer to cover up an essentially ideological opposition. Back to Valiunas:

What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails. Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own ... In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as "subhuman creatures," "looting lice." Galt's radio address to the nationhe has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magicis positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained. ... But compassion disgusts Rand; John Galt scorns it as love of the unworthy, a triumph of sloppy feeling over lucid reason. This is no doubt why, for all her continued popularity, Rand is anything but a commanding figure these days. Very few conservatives want any part of her, for she is the conservative bogeyman that liberals invoke to terrify their children: money-worshipping, absorbed in the pursuit of her own happiness, indifferent to the pain of others. Though she will no doubt continue to sell-there are certain effects she brings off as well as anyone, and they haye their undeniable appealit is hardly a matter for regret that her centenary has gone largely unmarked.

Now, even if Valiunas is absolutely correct in every assertion (and these are assertions, since nowhere does Valiunas actually provide any argument), what "commingles" here is ad hominem and an essential hatred of Rand's intellectual body of work.

If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body, the state of Rand criticism and critical engagement would advance considerably. I know we are working very hard at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to advance that critical engagement (information about our new Fall 2005 issue will be posted here at Notablog on Tuesday, September 13, 2005). But more work needs to be done.

In any event, even if one wishes to focus on Rand biography, or on the particular issues surrounding the Rand-Branden Affair, then it is incumbent upon the critic to focus on all the material now available. Whatever one thinks about the Valliant book, I do believe that the publication of Rand's private journals changes the landscape considerably in any discussion of this particular aspect of Rand's biography. If Valiunas wishes to indict Rand's philosophy by assassinating her character, then it's important for Valiunas to at least weigh the evidence that is now available to scholars on this subject, for better or for worse. And though I have been intensely critical of how Rand's private papers have been edited up till now (see here, here, and here), I stand by my expressed belief that there is no reason to doubt the quality of Valliant's editing of those papers in his book. One may quibble with Valliant's parenthetical interpretive remarks. And one may still long for the unedited publication of all of Rand's private papers. But, in his publication of Rand's notes, Valliant is very careful to place any changes or substitutions in [brackets], unlike previous editors of Rand's letters, journals, and lectures. Such editors do not realize that their attempts to smooth out some of Rand's previously unpublished materials lead those of us who have not seen these materials to question their full authenticity.

Quite clearly, Valliant's book and my review of it are not the last words on this subject. Nor was my review or the lengthy dialogue on Notablog the last word on his book. In describing what is the essence of the "hermeneutical" enterprise, I state in my review:

The publication of [Rand's private] journals, however, will have unintended consequences; any published text is liable to generate such consequences, since it will be read and interpreted by many different people, each of whom brings a given context of knowledge and experience to the reading. And whereas people have been reading the Branden books and analyzing them for years, I suspect that even clinical psychologists will now have a field day poring over Rand's personal journals.

And so... the dissection of Rand's private life is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Rand's private life has now been made the subject of a comic book! Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have just published this past June the newest installment of their "Action Philosophers" series. This one is an "All-Sex Special" that focuses on "the shocking contradiction of Thomas Jefferson," the "Hard-Drinkin', Hard-Lovin' Saint Augustine," and "Ayn Rand's Non-Objectivist Love Affair." Oy.

The cover design for Issue #2 of this series only hints at the contents. The comic tells the story of Rand's life from her beginnings in Russia. In the context of a comic book, it accurately renders Rand's thinking, but the last two pages of it tell the story of the Affair. And on that note, Van Lente concludes: "Rand liked to say that modern culture 'seemed totally indifferent to my ideas and to ideas in general.' She made sure that that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Van Lente provides us with a "Recommended Reading" list at the end, which includes The Virtue of Selfishness. Though he "find[s] Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example)," he believes "she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist)."

The Rand-Branden Affair is not going away. And the rancor and divisiveness it provokes won't dissipate, I suspect, for a few generations. All the more reason for Rand scholars to insist that critics adopt a scrupulous focus on ideas in their engagement with Rand's philosophy. And if their subject is Rand biography, then they should do their best to assess all the information now at our disposal.

To reiterate: There is a place for biography and there is always a place for situating ideas in a larger historical context. But I don't think it serves the cause of Marxist criticism, for example, to criticize Marx's private life as a means toward criticizing his analytical framework. This tactic has been adopted by some critics of Marx (Gary North's essay, "The Marx Nobody Knows," published in the Yuri N. Maltsev volume, Requiem for Marx, and available as an mp3, comes to mind).

That kind of thing may be of interest to our understanding of the development of an idea. But it serves no purpose in grappling with the complexity of Marx's legacy.

If, in the future, Rand's legacy is treated with the same critical respect that has been given Marx's, it will be no small achievement.

Comments welcome.

August 28, 2005

Two SOLO HQ Posts

This is just a note to direct Notablog readers to two posts of mine at SOLO HQ. The first post reiterates points I've made many times in the past on the treatment of the subject of homosexuality by Rand and post-Randian writers.

The second post relates to that Dennis C. Hardin essay I referenced in this Notablog post. It just reiterates points made here and here, with regard to the intellectual relationship between Rand and Branden.

Update: Also check out this other post at SOLO HQ, "Hefty Complaint Against Doc," and the discussion thereafter.

Comments welcome, but readers might wish to join in on the SOLO HQ discussion.

August 27, 2005

"Lost Liberty" on "Nightline"

Friday night's "Nightline" broadcast opened with a special segment on the "Lost Liberty Hotel," an effort by Logan Darrow Clements to use the power of eminent domain to condemn the New Hampshire property of Supreme Court Justice David Souter for uses that would provide a greater "benefit" to the community. (Souter voted with the 5-4 majority in the infamous Kelo decision.)

I must admit it was hilarious to see Clements with a very visible copy of Atlas Shrugged on the ABC broadcast, which he inscribed:

Dear Mr. Souter: A story about the importance of property rights. Enjoy!
Logan Darrow Clements

Talk about milking the inner contradictions of the system to prove a point.

Taking a look at Souter's property... I can understand why anyone would want it condemned. Are the taxpayers not paying Souter a good enough salary? Can't he afford a paint job for that house?

Comments welcome.

August 26, 2005

The Rose Petal Assumption

Back in July, when volatile discussions of James S. Valliant's book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics were proceeding on a number of forums, Dennis C. Hardin at SOLO HQ made the following point, after a long, rather critical, dialogue in response to my own engagement at Notablog with Valliant:

Nathaniel Branden said the following a while back:
About ten years ago, I came across a saying from the Talmud that impressed me profoundly. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. ... The line that so impressed me was: "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy." ...
I will acknowledge that Chris has shown the true meaning of heroism in the sense described.

Well, given my long history of engagement with adversaries on all ends of the political and intellectual spectrum, I have always responded positively to that Branden-uttered line. But there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding that phrase and its various applications. Dennis himself has brought up the issue again in a recent SOLO HQ essay entitled "Nathaniel Branden vs. Ayn Rand on Morality," which has sparked another volatile discussion. As Dennis makes clear: "Branden made this comment in the context of discussing David Kelleys decision to address a libertarian group ... It is clear that Branden was using this quote to express his admiration for Kelleys decision, because Kelley saw that 'libertarians often supported their position with aspects of [Ayn Rands] philosophy, without necessarily subscribing to the total of Objectivism.'"

It's not my desire to re-open that tired, old thread over the appropriateness of speaking before libertarian groups; it depends on the group, of course, but I'd be the last one to object in principle, since I consider myself a (small-l) libertarian, and I have always believed that Rand herself was, in the sphere of politics, a (small-l) libertarianfor the same reason she was an "egoist" in ethics, despite sharing that label with Nietzsche and Stirner, for example, to whom she was profoundly opposed. (I have discussed these issues many times; see here, which, for nonmembers of the Branden Yahoo group, is referenced here; also see here.)

What I'd like to focus on, however, is that Talmudic expression. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Talmudic scholar or rabbi, though I've read the Bible from cover-to-cover. I do like what Adam Reed says here:

I looked up "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy" in the Talmud. I would have translated it as "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an opponent," because it is in the context of "makhlokhet l'shem shamaim," which in the context of the quote means "conflict between good and good." I suppose that Ayn Rand may have known of it, because in the social context that is what her heroes wind up doing. Kira turns opponent Andrei to her side, eventually. Roark turns "enemies" Dominique, and in a sense Wynand, to his. Francisco turns Rearden, and Galt turns Dagny.

Whatever the precise translation of the statement, it has had some personal significance for me. I cite it in a recent interview conducted by Sunni Maravillosa at Sunni's Salon. On this page and this page of the interview, I state the following:

I guess I've always operated also on what I call the "rose petal assumption." A friend of mine once observed that I was the kind of person who would find the one rose petal in a pile of manure. Instead of calling the whole thing crap, I'm busying myself searching for that rose petal, and sometimes getting pretty dirty in the process. But, the truth is, I do try to look for the good in people, even in my critics; I try to appeal to the best in everybody. Perhaps I would like to embody that Talmudic expression that Nathaniel Branden has often highlighted in his work: "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy."
This strategy, however, which is built into my very soul, as it were, does not always work. Some people are just constitutionally nasty and mean-spirited and it doesn't matter how many nonviolent responses one authors. It never makes a dent. I usually give such people three strikes. I mean, it is possible that in the rough and tumble of give-and-take on any particular discussion forum that a person might occasionally lose their temper in an exchange, perhaps once or twice. But beyond that, I've learned not to be somebody's punching bag. I've gotten better at drawing and re-drawing that "line between valid criticism and a crank's ranting," as you put it. Most of all, I've learned to stop tolerating rudeness. I am willing to engage anybody on any issue, but the moment my interlocutor treats me with ridicule or rudeness or disrespect, I stop the discussion and refuse to enable or sanction such behavior. I have also noticed that when people engage in rude and disrespectful exchanges, the topic of the discussion soon shifts from a debate over substance to a debate over style.
I know that in the cyber-universe and in the blogosphere, in particular, it's not just pro-freedom individuals who are loose canons in this regard. I've seen that same level of negativity, anger, fear, and hatred on display on left-wing forums as well. As for those in our own ideological home being unable to deal with criticism in a constructive way, I can only say that there is only one way to create a civil discussion: acting with civility. There is simply no substitute for actually practicing the very virtues one claims to celebrate. ...

I then draw a distinction between Rand's practice and my own:

Rand ... often speeds to the bottom line of a judgment on, say, a particular philosopher, which seems to sweep away any and all complexities in that thinker's corpus. So, while I'm more apt to look for the rose petal, Rand is busy taking the hose to the manure. And that function is needed. But it's not easy to reach people working in other traditions if one always approaches them with the hose. Or the sledgehammer.

Now, let's just explore these themes a bit more.

The phrase"A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy" or an "opponent"has particular application to the context of civil and voluntary discourse and social relations. It has no applicability once the line has been crossed into incivility and coercion, especially coercion. Branden himself makes the point in a recent interview with Alec Mouhibian in The Free Radical. When the person you are engaging is quite clearly a "mad animal," such as a terrorist suicide bomber, the very last thing you should be doing is trying to turn that person into a "friend." As Branden puts it: "Theres nothing you can do except shoot him. ... [I]n action, one kills them, rather than getting killed by them."

As one who has spent some time trying to situate the whole post-9/11 world in a wider context that takes account of the evolution and structure of U.S. foreign policy, I have frequently made a very clear distinction between "explanation" and "justification." One can look to the past history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East as one factor in the modern development of fanatical Islamic fundamentalism; but an explanation of its development, or even of its goals, is not the same as a moral justification for the actions of those particular Islamic terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 civilians on September 11, 2001.

There is only one appropriate response to those who have destroyed life, liberty, and property: Justice. And justice demands that one act in self-defense against those who violate individual rights.

Quite clearly, then, the Talmudic expression applies to genuinely human social relations. It is not a pact of appeasement between those who live according to human standards and those who adopt the barbarism of the jungle.

The Rose Petal Assumption has allowed me to reach out to my critics and my intellectual adversaries in a spirit of rational, civil engagement. It is not a license or a sanction for rudeness or ridicule. It is not a license or a sanction for the violation of individual rights. Those who are rude are not entitled to civility; in my view, they're not even entitled to a reply, except perhaps "But I don't think of you." And those who violate rights are not entitled to the sanction of those whose rights have been violated.

Comments welcome.

August 22, 2005

Dualism: A Difference With Distinction

The chat continues between Geoffrey Allan Plauche, Billy Beck, and me. Billy had originally questioned the very use of the word "dualism" to describe what he believes is mere "difference." He writes here:

What's with all this "dualism"? I'd wondered how they (Chris Sciabarra and Plauche) were using the term, starting with a review of Anaxagorean split of mind and matter. No; I conclude that they're talking about little more than definitions. In his fifth paragraph, Plauche recaps relations among various "monopolistic institution[s]" (what Plauche correctly spikes as Rand's "definition" in his third paragraph), but all this is really only different arrangements of the same basic thing. It's not about "types"; it's about the degree of application of the basic thing. Now; if we want to call it "dualism" to properly identify two different things and scrupulously discriminate between them, then I guess it's okay, but everybody should bear in mind that that's what it means.

Billy takes it one step further with these comments here:

On "dualism": Geoffrey says (quoting Chris Sciabarra, I'm pretty sure, but I think he missed the opening punctuation) that it is "an orientation toward analysis by separation of a system's components into two spheres." He continues diligently and you should go read it. I do understand that technical philosophynot cracker-barrel jaw-boningmust keep certain standards of concept and referent that are generally alien around the cracker-barrel, but I cannot understand why the plainly simple concept of "difference" would not suffice: it is what it is (which is: understanding that a thingmaterial, conceptual, whatever: the referent at issueis not what it ain't and cannot be substituted for with what it ain't), and I, for one, don't see a call for Rube Goldberging structures around "methodologies" when the Law of Identity not only works, but should be endorsed as effective at every turn throughout this currently advancing Endarkenment. K.I.S.S., fellas.

Anticipating the distinction between mere "difference" and "dualism," Geoffrey answers a query from John T. Kennedy, who asks: "Is the True/False dichotomy an example of dualism?" Geoffrey writes:

Nope. Not every dichotomy is a false dichotomy, and often it depends on the context. However, a dualist methodology encourages the creation and/or acceptance of false dichotomies. ... I should add that a dualist methodology will tend to lead one to drop or overlook at least part of the full context of a given phenomenon which will make it difficult if not impossible to identify and analyze it correctly, and failing to identify and analyze the phenomenon correctly will tend to result in any subsequent action/policy/solution being at least partially incorrect.

Everything that Geoffrey says here is accurate, from my perspective.

Let's backtrack a bit to clarify why we need the concept "dualism," rather than the concept "difference" to describe what are essentially "false alternatives."

In the above post, Billy mentions the Law of Identity. Let us recall Aristotle's first formulation of the law of noncontradiction (noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity, being the first laws of logic):

[T]he most certain principle of all is that regarding which it is impossible to be mistaken. ... It is, that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect ... It is for this reason that all who are carrying out a demonstration refer it to this as an ultimate belief; for this is naturally the starting-point even for all the other axioms. (Metaphysics 4.3.1005b17-33)

In essence, Aristotle is telling us that A cannot be A and not-A, at the same time and in the same sense. That's a crucial italicized proviso, especially for those who seek to deny the law by introducing a temporal element or by viewing A from a different perspective or relationship, and who declare that A is somehow "different" than what it is, that A is not-A.

Well, we can and should accept this fundamental law. And since Aristotle presents the law as both a law of being and a law of thought, that is, as both an "ontological" and a "logical" principle, it is clear that identity implies "difference," and that there is a "difference" therefore between "A" and "not-A."

But there are "different" kinds of "difference." There are certain differences that are differences within a unity; Aristotle called some of these "correlatives." Such differences must be viewed in their indissoluble relationships; any attempt to create a mutual exclusivity between such terms does violence to the meaning of each, since the definition of each depends upon its relationship to the other. Here is Aristotle again:

For example, if a slave is spoken of in relation to a master, then, when everything accidental to a master is stripped offlike being a biped, capable of knowledge, a manand there is left only being a master, a slave will always be spoken of in relation to that. For a slave is called slave of a master. (Categories 12.7.7a35-39)

So, it is not good enough to say that there is a "difference" between master and slave, as if these are simply in "logical" contradiction to one another. Strictly speaking, in actuality, they are not logical opposites, like "true" and "false," but relational opposites. G. W. F. Hegel would pick up on this theme in later years, in his own discussion of "master" and "slave," which Robert Heilbroner has rendered into more understandable English than anything Hegel ever wrote:

[T]he point is that a Master is a being who can only be defined or described by using a concept that is its meaningful opposite or negation. Without Servants there are no Masters, and vice versa. ... The logical contradiction (or "opposite" or "negation") of a Master is not a Slave, but a "non-Master," which may or may not be a slave. But the relational opposite of a Master is indeed a Slave, for it is only by reference to this second "excluded" term that the first is defined.

This principle actually has revolutionary political implications that have been noted variously by thinkers as diverse as Hegel, Karl Marx, and Ayn Rand: The revolution consists not in a Slave becoming a Master or a Master becoming a Slave, but in stepping outside this whole relational dynamic. Rand understood, for example, that the independent individual is one who is neither master nor slave, one who neither demands nor provides sacrifices.

In Randian language, the fallacy of dualism is, in essence, the fallacy of "false alternatives." It might be said that a dualist looks at all distinctions as if they are logical opposites, rather than relational opposites. This has the effect of rigidifying all opposites as if they are stark "black-and-white" choices, rather than relations within a unity or terms or philosophic stances united by some common (false) premise. The dualist sees mind and body as fundamentally opposed, for example, rather than as part of some organic unity. The oppositions that emerge from this dichotomy are legion:

mind-body
ideal-material
reason-emotion
fact-value
moral-practical
theory-practice

... and so on ...

Now, in the history of philosophy those who adopt methodological "monism" do so as a way of resolving the "false alternatives" that have been posited by dualists. But these "monistic" solutions don't seek some "fuller context" within which to understand false alternatives; rather, they simply emphasize one pole of a duality to the detriment of the other pole, and the dominant pole becomes the means of "resolving" the dualism. That's the methodological pretext at work in the oppositions that one finds between

Materialism and Idealism
Intrinsicism (or what was known as "classical objectivism") and Subjectivism
Rationalism and Empiricism

... and so on ...

So, to repeat: "Dualism" is used to describe a specific kind of difference.

Now let's remember that dialectics is the "art of context-keeping." When I speak of a "dialectical" resolution of a false alternative, I am speaking of one that highlights the larger context within which to understand oppositions that are, in fact, relational, rather than logical. That's why it is an obscenity when conventional defenders and critics of dialectical method have attacked its relationship to the law of noncontradiction. As I put it in my book, Total Freedom (I have dropped the footnotes and references for now):

All concepts of method presume the validity of logic. We cannot even think about the world without adhering to the fundamentals of logic, which are as much about being as they are about knowing. Logic is "the fundamental concept of method," a tool of objectivity upon which the theoretical and applied sciences depend. Objectivity entails a recognition of the fact that we can only acquire knowledge of reality by means of reason in accordance with the rules of noncontradictory identification.
One implication of this caveat is that dialectics, as an orientation, is not in opposition to logic, but rather is a fundamental complement to logic, and, as such, cannot correctly be said either to undermine or to "transcend" logic. The widespread failure to grasp this fact has resulted in the irony that dialectics has been as seriously jeopardized by some of those who have sought to preserve and extend it as by those who have endeavored to destroy it. Those so-called dialectical theorists who champion dialectics as "superior to" logic fail to appreciate logic as the foundation of knowledge, an undeniable constituent of all concepts of method. Those who refer to dialectics as being "transcendent of" the axiomatic laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity are thus speaking nonsense every bit as much as those who claim that dialectics is destructive of those laws. Defending the rightful status of dialectics as a methodological or research orientation is thus made doubly difficult, because those most in need of keeping logic foundational to their dialectical inquiries do not think they need to, while those most capable of showing that logic is foundational to dialectics think that dialectics is antithetical to logic. Logic and dialectics are mutually implied: just as logic is the art of noncontradictory identification, dialectics is the art of context-keeping, and both arts entail various techniques for achieving these mutually reinforcing goals.

How all of this relates to the debate between libertarian anarchists and minarchists is discussed in my book Total Freedom. Since this whole discussion between Geoffrey, Billy, and me began with the question of anarchism, I'll relate these thoughts to that debate.

I think one of the fundamental questions one must ask, and answer, is this: Is the distinction between "market" and "state" a logical one or a relational one? Is there some sense in which it is both logical and relational? I think anarchists and minarchists provide different answers to these questions.

I think on one level, there is clearly a logical difference between the "market" and the "state" insofar as these institutions rely upon fundamentally different principles of organization. The former is based on voluntary exchange, the latter relies upon the initiation of the use of force.

But, on another level, for me, the really interesting questions focus our attention on the historical relationship between markets and states. Here is how I put it in my discussion of the work of Murray Rothbard in Part Two of Total Freedom:

Rothbard's persistent description of the state as an "external" intrusion, however, obscures the "multiplier effect" of state interventionism. Since each intervention engenders another, having multiple, and often unforeseen, social and historical consequences, it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, causally to trace every consequence to either the market or the state. No theorist has such an omniscient view of social evolution. Though logic suggests that predation is a parasite upon production, evolution entails reciprocal patterns of development. The state may depend upon social production for its survival, but it sets the parameters within which social production has functioned. Indeed, the historical development of the interventionist economy has so deeply affected every social practice that it may be impossible to separate market and state influences cleanly. Each sphere is in a dynamic interrelationship with the other. Each sphere permeates the other. And if the very existence of the state constitutes "intervention," as anarchists claim, then the market has always existed within the parameters of state involvement. This includes a statist legal structure that defines the very form of property relations in a way that differs significantly from Rothbard's quasi-Lockean theory of "just acquisition." Will not the market continue to reproduce the injustices of state-influenced property distributions? Moreover, if individuals exist in a concrete historical context, and this context has always been tainted by "coercive" elements, how is it possible to create an accurate balance sheet by which to evaluate who is a producer and who is a parasite?

I concretize this abstract discussion by reference to an historical concrete:

These rigid distinctions create problems for individuals living in today's world. R. W. Bradford conceptualizes the difficulty, in a discussion of the Randian argument that those who receive benefits from government or who take public jobs are "morally justified" only if they regard these as "restitution," while those who advocate for such benefits "have no right to them." As the public sector crowds out the private sector, it is self-defeating for libertarians to become martyrs, while ceding to the profiteers of statism all the alleged benefits of the system. Rands only warning to prospective public sector employees is that they ought not to take jobs that bolster statism ideologically or that require the enforcement of "improper" laws, i.e., laws that violate individual rights per se. Like Rand, Rothbard argues that in a state-run world one should "work and agitate in behalf of liberty," "refuse to add to [the world's] statism," and "refuse absolutely to participate in State activities that are immoral and criminal per se." When one realizes that, for Rothbard, the very existence of the state is criminal, one begins to grasp the significant problems. For as Bradford observes, it is often difficult to evaluate the propriety of jobs or benefitspublic or privateunder statism. Recalling the Ruby Ridge conflict, he reasons: "Sure, its easy to see that, say, the FBI murder of Vicki Weaver while she held her baby in her arms in the doorway of her home is an 'improper' function of government." But he wonders:
. . . what about the secretary who helps the FBI agent, who killed Mrs. Weaver, with his paperwork? Is his job also improper? What about the cook in the FBI cafeteria? Is his? And what about the person who hauls the trash from the FBI headquarters? Does it make a difference if the trash hauler or the cook work for a private firm that contracts with the FBI? I suspect that Rand, and most libertarians, would reply that these tasks are peripheral to the murder of Mrs. Weaver, and that the person who prepared the FBI agents lunch is not acting improperly. . . . But this doesnt really answer the question of where exactly the boundary between proper and improper action lies.
Bradford emphasizes that, while the inner contradictions and crimes perpetuated by statism are omnipresent, our evaluation of moral action in that context requires a precise understanding of the particular conditions within which a given person acts. One can only determine the propriety of an action by factoring into one's evaluation such important issues as people's knowledge of the situation, their causal distance from the crime committed, the enormity of the crime, and the mitigating circumstances. Without taking these important qualifications into account, libertarians might gain "credibility" for adhering strictly to their own principles. But such adherence translates into a rationalistic application of dogma that comes "at the price of human suffering."

There is a lot to digest in this post. But I do believe that this whole discussion of "dualism" is not simply a floating abstraction on the level of what Billy calls "terminographologicality." It is a discussion that has real social and political implications. How we organize the data of our world will affect the strategies we adopt when we attempt to change that world fundamentally.

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

The tenth anniversary celebrations continue this afternoon with the publication of my interview at Sunni's Salon. I have known Sunni Maravillosa for a long time, and she's a total sweetheart. Her interview of me is comprehensive, wide-ranging, sometimes intimate, and always entertaining.

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

Ten Years After, Take 2

On this date, ten years ago, my book Marx, Hayek, and Utopia was published by the State University of New York Press. The book is near and dear to my heart because it was the very first book I ever wrote, a derivative of my doctoral dissertation that became the first installment of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." As I stated in my "Ten Years After" article:

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia was first accepted for publication in 1989 by a West German publishing house, Philosophia Verlag, which eventually went bankrupt. I took back the rights to the book and eventually secured a contract with the State University of New York Press, which published it as part of its series on the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. By the time it appeared in the same August 1995 week as my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Germany had become a united country.

Reminiscing about all this, ten years after, I have posted several times this past week at SOLO HQ. (Readers can follow that discussion here, here, and here.)

Today, in fact, at SOLO HQ, Edward W. Younkins publishes a version of an earlier review he did of my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. He mentions in his review that while I offer an interpretive, methodological, and historical discussion, I don't offer my own substantive "dialectical-libertarian" social theory. Here, I make two brief points in response:

1. It is true that I didn't develop a formal "Sciabarraian" dialectical social theory in my trilogy, but there is an implicit parallel of sorts, between my own work and the work of somebody like Isaiah Berlin. Now, I'm not comparing myself to Berlin (some love him, some hate him) or to Berlin's history of voluminous writing. Moreover, I disagree with a lot of what Berlin has written.
But something of Berlin's "approach" was imparted to me through my Marxist mentor Bertell Ollman, who was himself taught by Berlin. One of the things I learned was that if I wanted to do intellectual history, I could express my own substantive views through my interpretation of the views of others. While my trilogy does not offer a substantive social theory, it is interpretive, methodological, and historical, and one can glean where I stand by the enthusiasm that I bring to my reconstruction of [, for example,] Rand's "tri-level model" (in Part Three of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) and of Rothbard's "structural" critique (discussed in Chapter 7 of Total Freedom).
2. I think of my own essays on domestic and foreign policy as applications of the tri-level Randian model that I discuss in Russian Radical, and that I endorse, while being fully cognizant of important insights from other theorists as well (including Menger, Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard). Some day, when I finish a whole host of planned articles, I hope to return to the enunciation of a more formal "Sciabarraian" social theory. But before I can do that, I need to work on a much more accessible exposition of dialectical method. Though I defend my own ability to speak "Polish," as Linz has put it (that is, to situate myself in some very technical contemporary debates on methodology), I also believe that the time is ripe for extended essays on "The Art of Context-Keeping"essays that not only present "Dialectics for Dummies" (so-to-speak), but that integrate and illustrate the concrete practice of the art.

Here, I have more to say not only about this issue of speaking "Polish," that is, of speaking a technical language in books that are aimed at a technical audience (at least partially), but also about the larger issue of civility in public discourse:

I, personally, have engaged in what I view as very strong criticisms of other's works. Take a look at my critique of James Valliant's book, for example. I'm not going to re-open the substance of that debate on this thread. But if I'd called Valliant a "maggot" because I disagreed with him, what would it have achieved? We would have spent hours upon hours upon hours debating the style of my essay, rather than its substance.
An interview conducted by Sunni Maravillosa goes up later today where I expand on these themes. I'll post the link later. But as I say there, "when people engage in rude and disrespectful exchanges, the topic of the discussion soon shifts from a debate over substance to a debate over style."
Now, I'll admit that Linz has a nice Goldwater-tinged maxim in his essay from yesterday:
"Civility in the face of evil is no virtue; rage in the face of nihilism is no vice.
People who have seen me post to SOLO HQ have surely seen that I get passionate about many issues. Take a look at former discussions here of everything from homosexuality to foreign policy. But there comes a point where I move on. Just because I have serious disagreements with somebody does not mean that I have to revel in that topic for eons, spewing the newest, freshest insults I could come up with. That's just not me. It's not even a difference between a "public Chris" and "private Chris." It's not that I think one thing privately and say another publicly. I am usually unwilling to throw epithets around on SOLO HQ because I don't see the point of making the style of my exposition the center of the debate, thereby detracting from the substance of my points. It's as much a tactical decision as it is an expression of who I am.

Readers who doubt that should simply read Notablog more regularly; the discussions here that have been most contentious never go "off the rails." I expect my readers and posters to adhere to a certain tone in my home, and I lead by example.

More from my SOLO HQ post:

But few people ever walk away from a dialogue with me wondering about that substance. People know where I stand on a subject, whether it be the Iraq war, dialectics, feminism, homosexuality, or countless other topics.
None of this means that I'm not entertained by other people's diametrically opposed styles. Vive la difference! I have been entertained, plenty of times, by people (like Jeff), who can use satire and parody in devastating ways. And I may not like it when Linz throws certain epithets in my direction, but he can sometimes be very effective in the style that comes naturally to him.
And let me state this for the hearing of the world: I have actually learned from Lindsay Perigo. Horrors! There is a distinctive difference between the style of my academic work, which enters into very technical scholarly debates over methodology and epistemology, since it is addressed to a very specific audience, and the style of my essays for The Free Radical, which is more accessible. Linz has helped me to tap into my Inner Pit Bull on many an occasion, in his editorial comments on my first or second drafts for TFR, pushing me toward far more colorful and effective communication in that context. But I stand by my ability to speak "Polish" (as Linz puts it) to the Poles because I believe that different contexts demand different approaches. They do not demand a compromise of the substance of my points. But they do demand that I take into account the interests, needs, and knowledge of the audience I'm addressing.
On these last points, see my essay: "Dialectics and the Art of Nonfiction."

I'll post the link to my exchange with Sunni Maravillosa later today.

Comments welcome. Also mentioned at L&P.

August 17, 2005

Austrians in Academia

At the Mises Institute site, Walter Block publishes a thought-provoking piece entitled "Austrians in Academia: A Battle Plan." In it, he makes a number of interesting observations about publishing prospects. He even mentions The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (to which he has been a contributor):

What about movement journals for Austro libertarians such as Journal of Libertarian Studies, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Review of Austrian Economics, Independent Review, Cato Journal, the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Advances in Austrian Economics, etc? (I call them movement journals because none of them is biased against Austrian or libertarian themes; indeed, the very opposite is the case).
If all of your publications are in these journals, e.g., you have none in any other refereed journal, the number of schools that will hire you will be limited. If you are aiming for a faculty position at an Ivy League school, you had better limit yourself to, say, 10% of your overall publications to journals such as these. The lower in (mainstream) prestige you go, the higher the proportion of such articles you can profitably have on your c.v.
Now that I have tenure, myself, I need not worry about such considerations, although there are still some slight pressures on me in this regard: if I want to be mobile, or get more of an annual salary raise, then I should look further afield for placement of my publications. As well, mainstream economists do not focus on these journals. If we want to have some impact on the profession at large, we should seek publication in their journals.

I think Walter is, of course, correct. I would hate to think that people in the academic profession who are interested in Ayn Rand, for example, would publish only in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (and Walter is right: JARS has published its share of Austrian theorists too). It is very important for scholars to publish work on Rand and on Austrian theorists in "mainstream" journals.

But the existence of "movement journals" is important, insofar as they advance scholarly study of the subjects in which they specialize. That study must proceed with established standards of double-blind peer review. In addition, such journals must gain greater visibility in scholarly abstracts and indices. That's one of the reasons I have been relentless in my quest to get JARS noticed; the journal is now indexed in CSA Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, IBR (International Bibliography of Book Reviews of Scholarly Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), IBZ (International Bibliography of Periodical Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, International Political Science Abstracts, The Left Index, The Philosopher's Index, MLA International Bibliography, MLA Directory of Periodicals, Sociological Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, and Women's Studies International. It is also linked to many online guides and resources. And there are many additional professional indices on the way.

In any event, as I said, Walter's article is provocative and merits your attention.

Comments welcome.

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

This is a Notablog Exclusive.

In keeping with my tenth anniversary activities, I am interviewed today by Sebastien Care French researcher and Ph.D. in Politics, on the subject of libertarianism. Here's the link:

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

Comments welcome.

August 14, 2005

Ten Years After

On this date, ten years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published. It was actually not "officially" released until the fall, but its arrival on my doorstep in 1995 was a moment of celebration for me. Russian Radical was actually my second book, but it arrived from the printer four days before the release of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (which was published on 18 August 1995).

This week, I'm celebrating "Ten Years After" the publication of the first two books of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which culminated in 2000, with the publication of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism). There will be articles, interviews, and discussions here and at various host sites.

Today, to kick it all off, SOLO HQ publishes an article that first made its appearance in print in the July-August 2005 issue of The Free Radical. (Subscription information for Free Radical is available here.) The article is entitled:

"Ten Years After"

Discussion is archived here.

Links to all of my previous Free Radical-SOLO HQ writings are available here, along with PDFs for many of my Free Radical essays, including the current one here.

Comments welcome here at Notablog, and at SOLO HQ, and at Liberty & Power Group Blog too (with L&P comments here).

July 28, 2005

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 Kelleyfar 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 booksbut 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 evidenceas 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."

July 20, 2005

Reason, Passion, and History

Today, a Notablog exclusive is published: My comprehensive review essay dealing with James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics: The Case Against the Brandens (Dallas: Durban House, 2005):

Reason, Passion, and History

Comments welcome.

July 14, 2005

Paglia, Rand, and Women in Philosophy

Camille Paglia, who contributed to the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, has raised her voice in defense of women philosophers who were marginalized by a recent BBC-Radio 4 Greatest Philosopher poll that placed Karl Marx at the top. Paglia writes in The Independent:

For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. ... Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. ... Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy. Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre. This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments. Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity. The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundmentally altering young people's brains. The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous. Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.

Paglia is spot on with regard to a number of points here. Systematic reasoning is clearly at a disadvantage in a culture that embraces atomizing and dis-integration as the preferred mode of analysis.

But there are a number of women thinkers, says Paglia, who merit our attention. Among these: Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand. Paglia writes:

Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers. Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum. Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropologyreal facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fictionso that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.

It's a worthwhile read.

Hat tip to David Boaz.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, where comments are posted here, here, and here.

July 11, 2005

Rand and Nietzsche

As readers of Notablog know, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies plans to publish a symposium dealing with Nietzsche and Rand. The symposium probably won't be published before Fall 2006 or Spring 2007. We have quite a few articles in the queue currently, including material in the next issue still celebrating the Rand Centenary, and an ethics-heavy Spring 2006 issue.

In any event, discussions about Rand and Nietzsche can be found throughout the web and in various publications. Today, I posted a brief comment to Libertas, the blog of Geoffrey Allan Plauche. Geoffrey plugs my work here and here, and I post my comment on Nietzsche and the Russian Silver Age here.

Comments welcome, but visit Libertas and leave Geoffrey some feedback.

June 28, 2005

Forthcoming Work

Readers may notice that I've had a lot of songs posted to my Notablog recently. I keep the music flowing, daily, even if circumstances sometimes get in the way of regular, more "substantive" posting (though I do encourage readers to take a look at my "Song of the Day" listings, like the one today that marks the Stonewall Riots.)

Among the circumstances currently preoccupying me: My editing of the Fall 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS), which will include a new essay by me detailing the results of my investigation of new material unearthed from Russian archives on Ayn Rand's secondary school and university education. It is entitled "The Rand Transcript, Revisited," and is a sequel both to "The Rand Transcript" and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. And it has a few interesting historical curiosities and surprises...

It is only natural that I've been spending a bit more time on Rand Studies over the past year or so, given my own scholarship in this area, the Rand Centenary, the JARS Centenary issues (I and II), and the upcoming tenth anniversary (in August) of Russian Radical, for which I've authored several reflections that will appear in such publications as Liberty, The Freeman, and The Free Radical. Also forthcoming: my essay, "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," in Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, edited by Edward W. Younkins (Ashgate, Spring 2007); and my essay on "The Growing Industry in Rand Scholarship," in Philosophers of Capitalism, also edited by Edward W. Younkins (Rowman & Littlefield, Spring 2006). In addition, I've authored a brief encyclopedia entry on Rand for The Encyclopedia of the Counterculture and separate entries on Rand and Nathaniel Branden for The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Finally, I'm writing a rather comprehensive critical essay on James Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics; the essay, which will most likely be pubilshed in July as a Notablog exclusive, will deal with larger issues of historiography, biography, and Rand scholarship.

In the midst of all this, I've been interviewed by French researcher Sbastien Car, who is preparing a doctoral dissertation on the libertarian movement in the United States; Car has given me permission to post our exchange on Notablog. It will most likely be published here during the week of August 14th.

August 14, 1995 is actually the date that the second book of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, was published... ahead of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was published on August 18, 1995. It's a long story how this came to be; I discuss aspects of it in the various aforementioned reflections, which will be featured online in due course.

Other interviews are also scheduled, including one that will be published in Ama-Gi, the Hayek Society Journal of the London School of Economics. The interview, of course, is Hayek-centered, dealing with my own "dialectical libertarian" approach, which is the focus of the "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy that culminated in 2000 with the publication of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Other forthcoming publications include essays on "Karl Marx" and "libertarianism" that will appear in the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology.

Finally, for those who have checked my "Forthcoming" page, and who have asked me for a progress report: My research and study of Aleksandr Blok, the great Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her favorite poet, is a long way off from completion. And my continuing work with Bertell Ollman on the history of dialectical thinking is ongoing. I don't anticipate any publication of either of these projects in the near future.

I want to thank my Notablog readers for their continuing support. I value the comments I receive publicly and privately. Given ongoing complications from a serious life-long illness, however, it takes me a bit longer to respond nowadays. Because of these limitations, I've cutback rather dramatically on my posting to other Internet and Usenet forums and other blogs. And I will be unable to offer my Cyberseminar in the 2005-2006 academic year. I hope to offer that long-distance learning class again at some point in the future, and will post an update when the time comes.

Just know that I'm working very hard and doing the best that I can.

Thanks again for your warm wishes.

Comments welcome.

June 16, 2005

Explanation v. Justification

Technomaget is "Reading Atlas Shrugged" again, and it led to a very interesting thread on compassion. I added my two cents in a subheading entitled "Explanation v. Justification," that uses Osama Bin Laden and Darth Vader as examples.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at Technomaget's Live Journal.

June 07, 2005

Reflections on "Most Harmful Lists"

With regard to my objections (here and here) to Ralph Luker's placement of works by Ayn Rand and Herbert Spencer on a list of "most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries," reader Sergio Mendez, asks in this comments thread:

Ok Chris, but then why dont you show the same outrage with Freuds inclusion on Ralphs list? Was Freud a mass murderer like Hitler or Lenin? Arent his writtings taken VERY seriously, inspite of the hatred his works inspire on certain anglo saxon philosophic circles?

I took issue with the people and works on Ralph's original list who were from the libertarian orbitand with whom I was familiar. In all honesty, in all my years, I have read exactly one short book by Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents, and I'd hardly have considered that among the most "harmful" books. That, however, was not among the Freud books listed by Ralph. (It occurs to me that I probably need to get crackin' on that list of books over which I am supposed to be embarrassed for not having read, as suggested by Aeon Skoble and Will Wilkinson.)

Because of my unfamiliarity with other books on his original and revised lists (see here), I didn't comment. I try to work by a certain principle... not to comment about books (or even authors) one way or the other if I've not actually read them (or read them fully ... reading excerpts or dust jackets doesn't count).

In fact, I didn't comment on the Thomas Woods book (The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History) eitherwhich is very popular in libertarian circlesbecause I've not read it and had no way to offer any kind of assessment. So, clearly, my response was not "knee-jerk" in favor of all "libertarian" authors.

Still, I have a very real problem with this whole "ten most harmful books" list, as I stated at the outset. Now, it seems, on the various threads provoked by this listing (see here, for example), people are arguing over whether "harmful" is to be judged by original intent, or by the fact that the books have been "misinterpreted" or "misunderstood" in the wake of their publication.

And that is a very real issue, in my view. I have long held that there is a distinction between "intended" and "unintended" consequences, not only in a social context, but in a textual sense as well. (The study of the unintended consequences of a text has long been a focus of those trained in the methodology of "hermeneutics," which began in the realm of Biblical interpretation and scholarship.) No author can possibly know all the interpretations and misinterpretations, applications and implications, that might result from his/her writinggiven that the context of knowledge changes and that different people coming from different perspectives will engage that writing differently. This does not mean that "objectivity" is impossible in the assessment of a given work. It just means that as analysts, we need to be very careful to distinguish between original intent and unintended consequences (be they good or bad).

It also means that we are probably doomed to argue eternally about the legacy of any given writer. I've taken to arguing in favor of Ayn Rand's dialectical "radical" legacy, for example... but I'm also of the belief that there are nondialectical aspects in Rand's work that need "transcending," as it were. And, mind you, Rand is one of the more consistent writers; the problems of interpretation and misinterpretation are multiplied exponentially when we look at writers whose work is replete with "mixed premises." That's one of the reasons I would take issue with putting Nietzsche's books on a list of "harmful works"though I do this with full knowledge that misinterpretations are quite possible in his case, in particular. How much we "blame" Nietzsche for these twists and turns of interpretation is another question entirely.

I talk a lot about this in an essay sparked by a critical reading of my monograph on Objectivism & Homosexualityand it's why I've long taken to calling myself a "post-Randian." But I'm just as much of a "post-Hayekian" too. With all this debate, maybe my use of the phrase "dialectical libertarian" is best, after all. I discuss some of these labeling issues in a recent SOLO HQ thread here. In answer to the question "What do you call yourself?" I write, in part:

I voted for "None of the Above," though as Bill Perry puts it in response to Pete, at least in the current context "post-Randian" is good. I confess that I like Matthew Humphreys' suggestion about "Sciabarraite"... but that would make me the founder of Sciabarraism, whether I like it or not. How pretentious! hehe
I accept all the key fundamentals of Rand's Objectivism, but have gotten so tired of arguing over the meaning of Objectivisma debate which starts to resemble those over who is the true Christian or who is the true Muslimthat I just gave up. I've also taken to calling myself a "dialectical libertarian"... because I got just as tired arguing over who is the true libertarian. But that label has successfully alienated me from both "dialecticians" and "libertarians," and generally, people who have no clue what on earth I'm talking about. Ugh. I'm just doomed... hehe

Comments welcome. Noted at L&P.