INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES
FULL CONTEXT 13, no. 1 (September/October 2000): 1, 3-11.
By William and Karen MintoChris Matthew Sciabarra was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960. He resides in the Bensonhurst-Gravesend section of the borough. He is the author of the Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy that began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and that will culminate with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, to be published on December 1, 2000. He is the coeditor with Mimi Reisel Gladstein of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and also a founding editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. A recipient of fellowships from such organizations as the Earhart Foundation and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sciabarra has been a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Politics at New York University since January 1989. Sciabarra earned all three college degrees from New York University. He graduated in June 1981, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, with a B.A. in History (with honors), Politics, and Economics. He earned his M.A. in Politics (with a concentration in political theory) in 1983. And in June 1988, he earned his Ph.D. with distinction in political philosophy, theory, and methodology.
Chris comes from a close-knit Greek and Sicilian extended family. His siblings include: his sister Elizabeth, a dedicated educator and teacher; his jazz guitarist-brother, Carl Barry, and his jazz singer-sister-in-law, Joanne Barry. Above all, Chris enjoys spending time with his dog, Blondie, who some have mistaken for the Taco Bell Chihuahua, though Chris insists she is prettier.
Q: It has been five years since we interviewed you in our September 1995 issue. Can you update us on the important mile markers in your life since then?
Sciabarra: Oh boy. Well, let me just say that I never could have predicted that so much would have happened in such a short period of time. I had hoped that my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, would push open the door to further academic discussion of Ayn Rand. All I can say is: I am delighted to see that the book has had such an impact.
The most immediate result of its success was my publishers invitation to edit Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. I was concerned that my lack of feminist credentials would hurt the acceptance of that volume in their "Re-reading the Canon" series, and suggested the inclusion of Mimi Gladstein as my co-editor. Sandy Thatcher, the Director of the press, and Nancy Tuana, the Editor of the series, were both very happy that Mimi and I worked so well together, and that we delivered such a strong and provocative book. That Rand was included in a series featuring anthologies on everyone from Plato and Aristotle to Hume, Kant, and Hegel was wonderful. Of course, its publication caused another predictable uproar, but it also led to loads of coverage in major academic media, interviews in mainstream newspapers and magazines, and even Internet broadcast appearances.
So, I am honored that Russian Radical was both a major sign of the new trend in scholarly treatments of Rand, and a major facilitator of that trend; witness the many volumes on Rands life and work that have appeared in just the last few years. Of course, in the midst of all this, I became one of three founding editors of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and worked very hard to complete my forthcoming book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, which is due out on December 1, 2000. That book completes the trilogy of works that began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Russian Radical a trilogy, I might add, that I mentioned in my first Full Context interview. I had the occasion to look at that interview before this one, and nothing gives me greater personal satisfaction than to see my projected plans fully realized.
Q: Congratulations on completing your third published book in how many years has it been just six?
Sciabarra: Thanks! Yeah, it has been a bit more than five years since my first two books were published. Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Russian Radical came out in the same week of August 1995. Everybody was saying: "My, my, what a prolific author this Sciabarra is!!! At the rate of two books a week, hell fill a library in no time!" The double-book publication, however, was a fluke; Marx-Hayek should have come out in 1990 or so, but the foreign press that had committed to it went belly-up, and I had to first search for a domestic press. I was very happy that the Marx-Hayek book was eventually published by the State University of New York Press, since it appears in their "Philosophy of the Social Sciences" series. Its just that the process of getting that book published took much longer than I had anticipated, and both books ended up appearing, literally, in the same week.
Q: How do you do it? Im sure lots of readers are mystified how you can crank out the writing and do all the research, and still pay the rent, run on-line seminars, edit the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, edit other books, walk your dog, etc.
Sciabarra: Honestly, I sometimes dont know how I do it. My work requires many hours of commitment, and is as physically demanding as it is emotionally and intellectually. And I do have my physical limitations a chronic congenital intestinal condition that required by-pass surgery some years ago, and that slows me down and keeps me close to home. The condition restricts my activities in the traditional academic job market, and I dont get to lecture at TOC Summer Seminars and other TOC events though I would love to, and I am flattered that David Kelley is always extending the invitation to me. In the beginning, I lamented this state of affairs. But a few years ago, after I was forced to cancel out-of-town engagements at Cato in Washington, D.C. and at the Free Market Society in Chicago, my friend, Mario Rizzo, told me that I should simply focus on the things I can do, not on the things I cant. It is a maxim that I have lived by for a very long time, and that Ive forgotten on occasion to my peril, so it was great to hear it from Mario in such explicit terms. And, in a way, while my colleagues in the Department of Politics at NYU are compelled to teach five classes, attend departmental meetings, and give papers at various conferences, Ive been given a golden opportunity to concentrate on my research and writing. And the Internet has helped me to transcend my geographical boundaries, as I communicate with scholars internationally.
I often quote the line: "God closes a door, but opens a window." You need not believe in a literal God to realize the truth of that statement. And I think it was the Greeks who argued that limitations are simultaneously potentials to exploit. Each of us must choose to exploit those potentials in the ways that are open to us. Or as the old adage says: "Learn how to play the best hand with the cards youve been dealt."
I should also say that it would have been impossible for me to crank out the research and the writing without single-minded purpose. If you dont have the passion, hang it up. But I think it is equally important to create an environment around yourself that nurtures the passion. Deep down, I know that if it were not for the undying support of family and friends, I could never have done it. We need the emotional fuel and sometimes the financial fuel when the going gets rough the unique visibility that only rewarding personal friendships and relationships can bring. My sister, brother, and sister-in-law, my aunts, uncles, and cousins, dear friends, even my dog Blondie all are sources of support. If you match your passion with the passionate support of loved ones, you have a winning formula.
Q: What sort of tips can you give readers to optimize their day and stay on top of projects?
Sciabarra: Well, as I said, you definitely need single-minded purpose to guide you in terms of your broadest fundamentals. But you have to pull off an interesting trick just as you need to keep your eyes on the ultimate goal, you cant let yourself get bogged down by the big picture. I know that my most stressful times of work occur when I look at the literally hundreds of things that need to get done in order to achieve the ultimate goal. On days like that it seems that the only other sure thing in the universe, outside of the law of identity, is Murphys Law. Everything seems to go wrong. It is an interesting illustration of the crow epistemology: when you allow your mind to get overloaded by the enormity of any long-term project, like a book, you suddenly become overwhelmed by that enormity, and get very little done. So, you need to break it up. In terms of my own project, I realized early on that a trilogy is made up of three books; each book is made up of parts; the parts are made of up chapters; the chapters are made up of sections; the sections are made up of paragraphs; the paragraphs are made up of sentences; the sentences have words. If you abstract the parts, while letting the full context guide your choices, you get to "chew" those parts, digest them fully, and create the kind of structured unity among the parts that is your aim. I have learned as much about Objectivist epistemology in the practice of researching and writing, in the practice of thinking, as I have in reading Rands Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology or The Art of Fiction both of which are relevant to the art of writing non-fiction. (By the way, I understand Rands lectures on non-fiction are forthcoming, so Im looking forward to reading them.)
Then again, Ive also learned a lot from that other great philosopher, Yogi Berra. As a baseball player, Yogi had to fight off the occasional slump. Struggling at the plate, he was told by the coach to think a bit more about what he was doing while he was batting. But this only made him strike out more often. He soon realized, "you cant think and hit at the same time." It is one of those Yogi-isms that captures an important truth: when you keep practicing, the skill eventually becomes automatized. So, another tip I can give to readers is: just do it. If you want to optimize your day and stay on top of a project, dont overwhelm yourself thinking about all the work you have to do. Just do it. Now I sound like a Nike commercial!
Q: It must be tough to write three major works in so short a time. Im sure there must have been times when you felt like throwing in the rag and going to the beach. When the going gets tough, how does Chris Matthew Sciabarra rise to meet the challenge?
Sciabarra: Boy, you must be able to read minds! Yep, there sure have been times like that. Let me tell you about such situations and then what you can do to avoid them. When Russian Radical came out, I was poised for lots of criticism. What I was not poised for was meanness. And with the publication of Feminist Interpretations, the meanness quotient went through the roof. It is not the criticism that got me bogged down; in fact, people visiting my website have remarked that they cant get over how prominently I feature all of my critics, and my responses to the critics, right there for everyone to see. I have a commitment to dialectic, and in its original form, dialectic was an outgrowth of dialogue. So I live by it.
But over the years, I have had my fill of those who prefer monologue to dialogue. For all their professed love of Western values, such individuals betray one of the most sacred of these, expressed by Socrates and all the ancient Greeks: the value of critical discussion, of give-and-take. The mean-spirited are not interested in conversation; they prefer to issue condemnations and to hurl epithets.
Some of the epithets have been classics. First I was a neo-Hegelian, then I was a neo-Marxist. Eventually, I was berated by somebody as a "Peter Keating," trying to cash-in on Rands legacy like a good "second-hander." I was flamed as "Bubba Sciabarra" during one very distasteful cyber-list exchange (one of the reasons I am now less inclined to participate in some of these crazy e-list discussions). This was an obvious allusion to Bill "Bubba" Clinton, since the person also accused me of dispensing my "magic oil" and pulling the wool over everyones eyes. Recently, someone referred to me as "The Scab," not as in "union scab," but as in the thing that forms over a wound. But the best epithet was uttered by a looney tune on free-market.net, who called me a Soviet Spy, an anti-super-hero "Sciabarra Man" actually who was out to destroy Objectivism and libertarianism from within by dealing in "left-wing" semantics. It gets a lot worse, but some of the other things that have been said to me in private communications are not worth repeating in a family magazine. Some individuals have actually gone so far as to harass my publisher and me with phone calls and letters, and, in two instances, I was threatened with legal action. The "Objectivist" universe takes its toll, at times, so you have to develop a really thick skin and a perverse sense of humor. The irony is that the hatred comes more from within so-called Objectivist circles than from without. I was warned that all the Rand-haters would come out of the woodwork to condemn me, but the loudest and rudest naysayers have been alleged Objectivists who simply will not forgive me for any number of sins, especially for engaging leftists, feminists, and other "undesirables."
I first witnessed this kind of violent sectarianism when I was a freshman in college, among certain left-wing groups: Marxist-Leninists fighting Trotskyites fighting Syndicalists and so forth. It got very ugly. I often think that attempts at all-encompassing theoretical or philosophical projects carry with them a real danger: that some will use their vision of the totality as a vehicle for intellectual totalitarianism. When Lester Hunt reviewed my Russian Radical for Liberty magazine, he pointed to a very real "problem with the totality," as he called it. He said that when people aim for a total ideology, there is a tendency for some to judge others within the box provided by that ideology. So, if you dont like a persons aesthetic tastes, for example, it brings into question the whole character of that person. Over time, such a practice undermines tolerance, civility, benevolence, even liberty.
The problem with this kind of acontextual, totalistic thinking is that it is not dialectical; that is, it does not pay attention to the whole context. It allows people to make all sorts of inferences about your character based on their warped perception of a single aspect of your work or a series of exchanges filtered through that warped perception. And sometimes, people will assume the worst about your motivations, in spite of contrary evidence, which unfortunately says more about them than it says about you. But Id prefer not to psychologize any more than that. Dont get me wrong here; Im no victim. Im just a little tired of all the BS that comes with the territory. Being half-Sicilian, I suppose I should derive some solace from that "Godfather" character who pooh-poohs the insane Mafia universe by saying: "This is the life we have chosen." And as long as we are dealing in ideas and not in Mafia bullets, I will always hold out some hope that people can be rationally persuaded, even if I am sometimes disappointed.
But when the going gets tough, and it has, I keep my eye on my work and its profoundly personal importance to me. Ive learned to distinguish between worthy interlocutors and cranks. And sometimes, believe it or not, you have to go to the beach, or take a bike ride, or listen to some great music, or watch a movie or a baseball game, or play with your dog, or go dancing, or just hang with friends and family. The truth is that we all have a spiritual need for calm and for putting ourselves in an environment that is predictable. My love of certain activities and the love and support I receive from people who matter those are the things that sustain me when it gets a little hectic.
Q: Your newest title, Total Freedom: Towards a Dialectical Libertarianism, will strike many people as two books sandwiched within a single binding. Why the lengthy exegesis on Murray Rothbard in the second half of Total Freedom and not a broader discussion of dialectical approaches to libertarian thought?
Sciabarra: Big question, but a good one. I actually warn the reader about this in my Introduction. First, let me say that in order to present a defense of "dialectical libertarianism," I knew it was incumbent upon me to present dialectics and libertarianism separately as a prerequisite to any proposed synthesis. The first part of the book is a history and defense of dialectical thinking. Included in that history is a broader discussion of how dialectical thinking is manifested in the works of key classical liberal and libertarian writers, such as Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Ayn Rand. I wanted to show how a dialectical mode of inquiry, pioneered by Aristotle, had been used by successive generations to examine not merely the structures and dynamics of argumentation, but also the structures and dynamics of everything from culture to political economy to social psychology.
The second part of the book centers on libertarianism at the crossroads; it is my attempt to show how modern libertarianism particularly the highly influential form presented by the "guru" of the libertarian movement, Murray Rothbard embodies certain conflicting orientations at its core. Rothbards work expresses these conflicts perfectly, in my view. Having presented the essence of a dialectical method in part one, I am thus able to separate the dialectical wheat from the nondialectical chaff in Rothbards work, and by extension, in the works of other libertarians. By focusing on the promising dialectical aspects of libertarianism, and the inherent problems in its nondialectical forms, I am able to move, toward the end of the book, into an appreciation of the "dialectical libertarianism" offered by thinkers such as Lavoie, Boettke, Horwitz, Rizzo, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Branden, Rand, and others.
So, yeah, the book gives one the sense of a sandwich, but I invite the reader to take a bite.
Speaking of two pieces to a sandwich, I am reminded about something that William F. Buckley once said: every book can be summed up in two words. In my case, the two-word main title is significant, of course: Total freedom is a synonym for dialectical libertarianism. It conveys the theme that in order to think about freedom, we need to grasp the totality of its prerequisites and implications. It also carries with it a warning against those who equate totality with omniscience. But for Buckley, the two-word summary is something that can be found in a books first and last words. I thought about that in my own context: The Marx-Hayek books first word is "There," and its last word is "species." But Russian Radicals first word is "Ayn," and its last word is "legacy." Total Freedoms first word is "euphemisms," while its last word is "freedom." If you look at Rands works, the first word-last word test yields interesting results We the Living ("Petrograd", "possible"), The Fountainhead ("Howard," "Roark"), and Atlas Shrugged ("Who," "dollar") so maybe Buckleys onto something!
Q: How did the concept for the trilogy come about and what were your goals in writing it?
Sciabarra: My central goal for the trilogy has been a re-reading of intellectual history, focusing on the Aristotelian roots and nature of dialectics and its relationship to radical theory, and, more importantly, on its uses by libertarians who have been constructing a non-Marxist radicalism. My reinterpretation of intellectual history has had the secondary consequence of overturning the perceived monopoly that Marxism has had on dialectics. The shape of the final trilogy, however, has changed over time.
The trilogy is almost twenty years in the making. When I was doing my graduate course work prior to my doctoral dissertation, I wrote a paper on Ayn Rand that became a basis of sorts for the larger Russian Radical project. I was encouraged by my mentor, Bertell Ollman, the well-known Marxist theorist, not only to embrace Rand, but to extend my discussion to include a canonical thinker, such as Marx, and modern-day libertarians, such as Hayek and Rothbard. I decided against formal inclusion of Rand in my thesis, because I wanted to devote a single volume to her thought, and spend much more time investigating her Russian intellectual roots.
My dissertation research began in the early 1980s and centered on Marx, Hayek, and Rothbard. With my final thesis at 479 pages, I fully expected to split it into two separate volumes: one on Rothbard, the other on Marx and Hayek. Because I wanted to add significantly to any Rothbard volume so as to explore the broader history of dialectics, I had every hope that such a volume would be the first in the trilogy, maybe the second, but certainly not the third. I thought that by laying out the history and exploring the meaning of dialectics early on, I would avoid many of the terminological and ideological confusions that have plagued discussions of that term. As it turned out, the Marx-Hayek sections were more marketable in 1989-90, when that first book was accepted, given the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The Rothbard section was not as marketable, not even in the larger context of a history of dialectics. It has become marketable at this stage owing partially to my own work in the field, and, I hate to say it, because Rothbards death in 1995 made discussions of his work more legitimate in some circles. Sometimes it takes the death of a thinker witness Ayn Rand for the scholarly world to begin placing that thinkers work in perspective.
The end result, of course, is actually better, in my view. Because my first two books provoked such critical response, my treatment of the history of dialectics has been enriched. I have also had the advantage of answering the many criticisms of my work, and of integrating over ten years of scholarship by and about Murray Rothbard. It has made Total Freedom a better book, and the trilogy a more comprehensive project. The good news is that when I teach my Cyberseminar this spring, I will present the history of dialectics before examining anything else. I will begin with part one of Total Freedom, presenting the trilogys material in terms of its logical structure, rather than its chronological appearance. I will then move onto Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Russian Radical, and finally, part two of Total Freedom.
Q: How long did you spend doing research for each project and do you think you met or exceeded your initial expectations?
Sciabarra: Well, the whole project took about 17-20 years from initial conception to final execution. The thesis sections took me about seven years. The Rand book took me about six years. And my additional work on the history of dialectics and the additional scholarship on Rothbard took me about six years. In some cases, the research phases overlapped, and in the final phase of the project, I took a major detour so that I could co-edit the Feminist Interpretations volume. I think I have met my expectations, and in some instances, exceeded them. For example, my later research into Rands college course work, I think, far exceeded my expectations in terms of its congruence with my initial historical contentions. We can talk about that a little later.
Q: When a scholar researches a project sometimes he ends up changing his views on some issues. Did this happen to you, and if so, which views were changed and why?
Sciabarra: I think that while my knowledge has deepened considerably, my core views have actually remained quite stable. Which is a good thing, because I have long maintained that there is this unity to the trilogy, and that when it is completed, people will be able to appreciate each of the three books in light of the whole. I think those reading Russian Radical, for example, with Total Freedom as background, will have a new understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.
This said, I should point out that some of my terminology has changed over time and my definitions have become sharper. But this is only because engaging my critics has had a hugely positive effect on my ability to meet peoples objections and to quell their fears. This has taken enormous effort, especially with a word like "dialectic," but it has been well worth it.
Q: Throughout your writings, you refer to "radical" theory and its connection to dialectic as a methodological orientation. What makes a social theory a radical one, and why cant atomism or organicism support radical theory just as well as dialectic?
Sciabarra: One of the most important subtexts of my work is my distinction between "radical" and "utopian" theory. Unfortunately, many radical traditions in social theory have been infected with the utopian bug. To be radical is to go to the root. But dealing in roots, in fundamentals, also requires that one never engage in context-dropping. Utopians typically drop the context of their goals; they fail to recognize the wider requisite conditions upon which their goals depend, and often propose social changes as if they were, like Archimedes, on the outside, looking in. A genuinely radical social theory is one that seeks change by making the roots of a society, of its dynamic structures, institutions, and ideas, transparent, so-to-speak. It provides a basis for empirical and historical investigation of all the aspects of a society its philosophy, culture, political institutions, economic processes, and so forth in their interrelations. In other words, radicalism, in its goal of social change, requires context-keeping and integrated thinking. When radicals drop the wider context, their political ideals ultimately collapse into an unrealizable utopianism. Nondialectical modes, such as atomism, organicism, dualism, and monism (and I provide full genus-differentia definitions of all these terms in Total Freedom), fail to support radical theory, because each is a form of context-dropping.
Q: The other species of methodological orientations (atomism, organicism, monism, dualism) all take their names from metaphysical theories, yet dialectic as you describe it sounds like an epistemic practice. How does an epistemic practice share a conceptual common denominator with a metaphysical picture of the world?
Sciabarra: A very important question. I define a "methodological orientation" or a "research orientation" as an intellectual disposition to apply a specific set of broad ontological (that is, metaphysical) and epistemological presuppositions about objects of study and their typical relationships to particular fields of investigation. So even though the other species of methodological orientation derive their names from metaphysical theories, they too embody certain epistemic practices. Dialectic itself is not immune to metaphysical presuppositions, for it relies on a minimalist metaphysic: that existence is what it is, that consciousness is our means of grasping it, and that everything that exists is part of the same reality. Indeed, the epistemic practices of dialectic derive partially from our understanding of the nature of consciousness: that it has identity and that omniscience is not part of that identity. In a sense, the other orientations seem to assume too much about the objects of study; they commit one to a certain a priori view of the world that dictates certain epistemic practices.
Let me give an example taken from contemporary social science. The whole concept of Economic Man, which infects neoclassical economics, is derived from a kind of atomism that abstracts individuals from their cultural and historical context, creating bloodless automatons of utilitarian calculus as the basis for economic theory. A metaphysical atomism becomes a methodological atomism, one that has definite implications for how one systematizes ones inquiry. When the communists propose an alternative organicism as the basis for a dictatorship, in which the proletariat knows everything and plans accordingly, it is simply the other side of the same reductionist coin. The atomists reduce everything to the parts, while the organicists view the parts as mere extensions of the whole. And the epistemic practices of each reflect this basic orientation. The genus "methodological orientation" helps us to understand that different ways of conceptualizing the world have implications for what we see and how we process it. This is an extension of Rands observation that our method of acquiring and processing knowledge affects the content of our knowledge, just as the content of our knowledge affects the further development of the methods we use.
I like to think of methodological or research orientations as embodying distinct psycho-epistemologies, in a sense. That is, our designation of different methodological orientations helps us to classify habitual methods of awareness in terms of their specific implications for the character and quality of our philosophic and social investigations. I explore the various orientations in Total Freedom and detail their differential consequences in philosophic and social theory.
My own defense of dialectics is a methodological analogue of Rands aim to throw cosmology out of philosophy. In my view, the other methodological orientations entail cosmologies, dictating various context-dropping epistemic practices that are fatal to philosophy, social theory, and genuine radicalism.
Q: Can you give us a few examples of libertarian-leaning social theorists who employ non-dialectical methods?
Sciabarra: Well, one of the central points of part two of Total Freedom is to explore the nondialectical aspects in Murray Rothbards work. Rothbards radicalism is undermined by persistent dualism and monism. He creates a series of splits in his social theory such as those between the personal and the political, the market and the state and he seeks to resolve the tensions by emphasizing one aspect of a dualism to the detriment of another. This monistic strategy of "resolving" dualism is common to both anarchists and statists: whereas an anarchist like Rothbard is led to universalize the market as a means of destroying the state (hence, anarcho-capitalism), statists are led to universalize the state as a means of destroying the market (hence, totalitarianism).
Q: What about the strict consequentialist social scientist types those who evaluate the normative soundness of a political theory on the basis of its promotion of a social good regardless of the moral, historical, or cultural context that might shape the very concept of normativity that is involved? What orientation do they tend to employ?
Sciabarra: Id hate to pass judgement on all consequentialists in this regard, because there are many interesting variations that one can find. Because there are so many ways of dropping context, it is best that we look at each individual thinker to investigate the particular practices at work as a means of avoiding these practices.
One thing I should emphasize, however, is that one should not use methodological orientation classifications as a means of emasculating the many subtleties in a given thinkers work. In other words, there may be a tension among several orientations within any given thinkers work. I argue that Rothbard, for instance, has monistic and dualistic elements, but I also salvage some very important dialectical elements in his world-view that are worthy of our attention and praise. By identifying different orientations within a given thinkers work, we allow ourselves to celebrate that thinkers complexity, while separating the dialectical from the nondialectical. And since dialectical thinking is an essential aspect of thinking, per se a method that may be found in varying degrees in the works of even the most nondialectical thinkers among us it is important that we approach every thinkers work with an analytical scalpel, rather than an ideological sledgehammer.
Q: In the months after our previous conversation, you were roundly criticized by Objectivists for portraying Rand as a dialectical thinker. Some have suggested that such a portrayal betrays the essence of Rands working epistemology. Can you give an example of how Rand uses dialectic and explain how that use exemplifies a characteristically dialectical approach?
Sciabarra: The by-product of all that criticism, by the way, has been a steady stream of writing on my part, in venues as diverse as Reason Papers, Full Context, Critical Review, and the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, to draw out the fuller implications of dialectics and of Rands use of its techniques. Total Freedom takes the discussion one step further, since Ive included quite a bit of material on Rand and her dialectical approach.
Since I view dialectics as the art of context-keeping, I not only believe that it is an essential aspect of Rands working epistemology, but it is also essential to objectivity. One of the most important ingredients in an objective approach is to be conscious of the context of ones inquiry and of the various abstractions of vantage point, of levels of generality, and of units, by which one studies any object. Rand uses these techniques of context-keeping in virtually every aspect of her work. And because she always keeps her eye on the full context thats a good name for a journal, isnt it? her dialectical techniques constitute a stress on integration, that is, on the analytical integrity of the whole.
Examples abound. She views the structure of Objectivism in dialectical terms, as constituting a unity of interrelated branches. Rand attacks virtually every philosophic duality because of her broader understanding of the integral union of apparent opposites (like mind and body) or of the false alternatives underlying one-sided, partial perspectives (like rationalism and empiricism). In her theory of definition, contextualism, of course, takes center stage. In her aesthetic practice, she lives by the Aristotelian credo of organic unity in literary construction. And in her social theory, she is an exemplary dialectician in her analysis of any social problem. She traced remarkable interconnections among such factors as economics, politics, sex, psychology, art, culture, and education. Every step of the way, she aims for an understanding of the full context. This approach is eminently radical because, for Rand, the typical libertarian opposition to state intervention is simply not enough. The battle against statism, Rand tells us, is one that is simultaneously structural (that is, political and economic), cultural (with implications for education, language, and art), and personal (with implications for peoples ethical and psycho-epistemological practices).
Q: Many Objectivists think you are interpreting the world through "Dialectic- colored glasses". Why do you think they see you that way and is there some truth in it based on the training you had under Marxist philosophers?
Sciabarra: Well, let me say that Im actually the first person to have said that. In Russian Radical, I explicitly warn people that I approach Rands legacy in a self-consciously one-sided fashion, with an emphasis on its intellectual roots and dialectical aspects. I tell people that this is not the whole of Rands legacy. Interestingly, my approach is precisely a dialectical method at work: for dialectics stresses study of an object by abstraction, by successive shifts in context and perspective. Ive taken a dialectical view of Objectivism as part of a strategy that reveals Objectivisms dialectical elements. But there are other approaches that are equally valid. For example, Ive not yet seen David Kelley and Will Thomass Logical Structure of Objectivism, but I suspect that it will draw out the logical, rather than the historical, or methodological, or dialectical, aspects of Rands philosophy. And yet, an attempt to get at the logical structuring of the philosophy is surely a valid approach; I would not dismiss that approach as seeing the world through "Logical-colored glasses."
As for my training under left-wing thinkers, like Ollman, Roelofs, Becker, and Heydebrand, I should also point out that I was trained under Austrian economists too, like Kirzner, Rizzo, ODriscoll, Littlechild, Garrison, and others. My exposure to Marxism and Austrian theory had a very deep impact on my understanding of the amazing cross-fertilization in intellectual history among very different approaches. If anything, this has enabled me to see Objectivism in a way that not even Objectivists noticed, and if there is any truth to what I see, then it can only enrich our understanding of the philosophy and its vast implications. So I wear those "dialectic-colored glasses" proudly, and I am happy to have provoked such a debate.
Q: In Total Freedom, you devote a large portion of the book to an historical review of dialectics in philosophy. You point out, for example, that Aristotle himself employed dialectics. It remains unclear, however, how dialectics transmuted into something barely recognizable as Aristotelian. Can you fill in the history here?
Sciabarra: So youd like the thumbnail sketch of half my book? Ill try. The book begins with the pre-Socratics and the Socratic dialogues that Plato dramatized in his works. For Plato, dialectic was the "coping-stone" of the philosophic sciences, the path to wisdom. The essential problem with his conception, however, is that it is wedded to an idealist ontology. It entailed the search for transcendent truth, in which the rational human desire for comprehensiveness is replaced by the dream of the divine that somehow, human beings will be able to achieve a synoptic vantage point on the whole of reality. This kind of "totalism" or "strict organicism" sets up a nonhuman epistemological standard, that "problem with the totality" I referred to, a "synoptic delusion" as Hayek characterized it. It is an approach that Aristotle rejected completely.
Some have said that Aristotle "downgrades" dialectic in favor of demonstration, when the truth is, he simply brought it down to earth. Because Aristotle is the first philosopher to articulate the theoretical principles of dialectical inquiry, because he severed these principles from their Platonic-idealist form, we credit him as the father of dialectics. Actually, Hegel called him the "fountainhead" of dialectics, and my first chapter is entitled, appropriately, "Aristotle: The Fountainhead." Aristotle explains how shifting our "points of view" on any object of study can help us to elucidate different aspects of it. In the process, Aristotle retains the Platonic penchant for organic unity, but he recognizes the central importance of context.
The core philosophic battle that Rand traces between Plato and Aristotle is, in a sense, echoed in the divergent conceptions of dialectic that each proposed. The battles that follow in the history of dialectics are, essentially, battles between the synoptic Platonic idealist conception and the contextual Aristotelian realist conception.
Like Aristotle, the medieval Scholastics applied dialectical principles to the argumentative arts. The Scholastic dialectic, however, was ridiculed by Enlightenment thinkers because it was the "handmaid to theology." In fact, one of the central problems that dialectics has faced is that it has been used as the handmaid to theology, Geist, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and so forth. What must be understood, however, is that dialectics requires a moment of inquiry. Just as we should rightfully criticize those who engage in logical games with no regard to the truth of their own premises, we should rightfully criticize those who form dialectical abstractions with no regard for their relationship to the facts of reality. Aristotle teaches us that dialectics and demonstration must be united.
Q: How did dialectic end up primarily in the hands of Hegel and his followers?
Sciabarra: Well, because the Enlightenment thinkers criticized the uses of dialectic by theologians, it would be many years before Western philosophy would formally rediscover it. That rediscovery took place initially within the context of German philosophy, with all its pitfalls. But it reached a crescendo with Hegel, who turned dialectic against Kant and his disastrous dualisms. In many ways, Hegels conception harks back to the ancient Greek ideal of organic unity. It is often forgotten that Hegel devoted more space to Aristotle than to Plato in his lectures on the history of philosophy, and that he had great praise for Aristotles contributions to dialectical method. But Hegels conception embodies the tension between Platonic synopticism and Aristotelian contextualism; ultimately, it fails, in my view, because it gives into that Platonic penchant for the divine, a penchant that equally infects the Marxian conception.
What Marx contributes, however, is a more formal integration of Aristotelian and Hegelian insights. Despite his very serious theoretical flaws, he provides us with one model of a dialectical approach to social theory, in which the Aristotelian emphasis on contextual analysis, on shifting vantage points and levels of generality, is applied formally to an analysis of society and its many institutions. Of course, Marxism offers a false dialectical model, because it is based on false epistemological presuppositions. When all is said and done, the most important question is this: Is the model true? Does it correspond to the facts of reality and does it provide a valid explanation of the phenomena it attempts to study? The reciprocal relationship between dialectics and demonstration, between method and content, is something that we must never forget, and we can thank Aristotle for teaching this to us.
What I document in Total Freedom is how a contextual-dialectical approach informed many of the great classical liberal and libertarian thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Spencer, Menger, Mises, Hayek, and Rand. So my mini-history, which ranges from the pre-Socratics to the postmodernists, concludes with a discussion of these libertarian applications, showing that Hegelians and Marxists have no right to claim any dialectical monopoly. Ultimately, I argue that dialectics is an Aristotelian legacy, and that it is the birthright of anyone who seeks a comprehensive and dynamic picture of the wider context.
Q: In Total Freedom you also propose that in some ways, Austrian economics, and the anarcho-capitalism of Murray Rothbard, in particular, are manifestations of dialectical thinking. Could you elaborate on that?
Sciabarra: The founder of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger, was deeply influenced by Aristotle, and he retains important aspects of the Aristotelian dialectical conception. In fact, it was Menger who first proposed methodological or "research orientations" as a specific genus. Mengers dialectical approach, which shared some characteristics with Marxs, focused on political economy as an integrated unity. Menger stressed the primacy of process and the interconnectedness of many social factors, while tracing the dynamic evolution of social institutions, such as money. He imparted this legacy to both Mises and Hayek, who carried on the Mengerian revolution in the 20th century. Rothbard, however, is more consistently Aristotelian in his Austrian approach.
Rothbards dualism and monism notwithstanding, there are several areas of his thought that exhibit a profound dialectical sensibility. One area in particular is Rothbards theories of structural crisis and group conflict. He synthesizes historical revisionism and Misesian business cycle theory, and presents a picture of political economy that is precisely that: both political and economic. He refuses to bifurcate politics and economics, and draws in the influence of culture and social psychology.
Q: You knew Rothbard. Tell us about him and about the nature of your interactions with him.
Sciabarra: I met Rothbard back in the late 1970s when I was a founding member of the NYU Chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society. We got Rothbard to speak before the society several times. I struck up a cordial relationship with Murray, and learned much from my conversations with him. He was a real character, very funny, and quite entertaining as a speaker. When I went into the undergraduate history honors program, Murray gave me indispensable guidance. I chose to examine the Pullman strike and I used his theory of structural crisis as a means of understanding labor strife.
Murray gave me some very interesting pointers about how to carve an intellectual niche for oneself. He told me if I invested lots of time investigating the Pullman strike and other labor topics, Id have a virtual monopoly among libertarians in the analysis of labor history. You end up thinking and writing more about a single subject than anyone else, and your work becomes indispensable to future research on the subject. It was good advice especially when one is compelled to defend ones thesis: youve spent more time on the subject and know more about it than most others. Youve written the book, so who better than you to defend it?!
Well, I didnt continue my research in labor history, but I sure did focus on one subject dialectical libertarianism in the years that followed. Of course, I seemed to have picked a topic with which few would even want to associate themselves, so there doesnt seem to be any danger of losing my intellectual niche any time soon. But I sure do hope that before too long, my work will inspire others to move these themes to the next level.
I should point out that Murrays influence on my honors thesis was significant. And I pretty much sailed through the honors program. What I didnt know, however, was that I would face resistance from one of the three academics who sat on my oral defense committee. He was the Chairman of the Department of History, Albert Romasco. When Romasco started questioning me about my "ideological" approach to history thats a real buzz-word he became almost hostile toward my reliance on Rothbards work. Though I ended up receiving an award for best record in the history honors program, Romasco was so disenchanted with my thesis that he told me: "Maybe you ought to go into political theory instead of history!" I guess I took him seriously. In any event, when I related the story of my oral defense to Murray, explaining how hostile Romasco was, Murray started to laugh. It seems that in the Summer 1966 issue of Studies on the Left, Murray published a scathing review of Romascos book, The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, the Nation, the Depression. In it, Murray attacks Romascos welfare-liberal ideology, his "failures" and "misconceptions," his bibliographic "skimpiness" and "ad hoc, unsupported and inevitably fallacious causal theories." Murray figured I became the whipping boy for Romasco; here was Romascos chance to strike back at Murray Rothbard, by extension. Well, it was my first lesson in the politics of scholarship, even if it provided Murray with a hearty laugh. I sure wasnt laughing in front of that committee!
Eventually, through my efforts, the Department of History invited Murray to speak on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History" a remarkable lecture extending from the colonial to the modern era and it was one of the most well-received and well-attended seminars ever presented under the departments auspices. In later years, I dont think Murray was too thrilled with some of the criticisms I made of his work, but he was always cordial and supportive. Im only sorry he didnt live to see my work on Rand, which greatly interested him, or my forthcoming Total Freedom, which devotes half of its contents to a discussion of his important legacy.
Q: What audience is Total Freedom geared to? Can a layman read and understand it?
Sciabarra: I would hope so, though I fully admit that there are some very difficult sections in the book. Dialectics is something that has been buried under mountains of confusing jargon for so many years, and Ive made a major effort to translate it for the benefit of those who are least likely to respond positively to it.
Q: What is the dumbest thing an Objectivist has said about your work?
Sciabarra: That I was a Marxist in an Objectivist-sheeps clothing.
Q: What is the most incisive comment that a Marxist has made about your work?
Sciabarra: The most incisive comment came from a Marxist colleague of mine who told me he very much enjoyed my books, but that hed never assign them to his classes for fear that impressionable young students would be attracted to an alternative dialectical radicalism. I took that as a backhanded compliment, and a confession. Some leftists are very threatened by my work. They know that I aim for a radical libertarian social theory that is in direct opposition to Marxism and socialism.
Q: You are co-editor of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. What impact do you think this journal will have on scholarly perceptions of Rand and her work?
Sciabarra: On the basis of our first two issues, with coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and our growing acceptance by abstracting and indexing services in sociology, politics, literary studies, and philosophy, the journal gives every indication that it will become the place for scholars working in very different traditions to meet and discuss Rands life and work.
Q: How did you get the idea of publishing the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies and what events and people united to make it a reality?
Sciabarra: Actually, what happened was this: I told Bill Bradford, editor of Liberty, about my research into Rands college transcript, and he told me that he would love to publish the results of that research. He told me that he saw two articles coming out of my work: the first would discuss the process of acquiring Rands college transcript a process that involved the Ayn Rand Institutes efforts to block my access to it, and the second would focus on my analysis of the actual contents of the transcript. The first, he said, could be published in Liberty, while the second could be published in a new journal of Ayn Rand studies that I would edit. Bill obviously had plans for me. I knew that he was thinking about a project like this for years, but the time was never quite right. With Rand scholarship on the upswing, however, Bill thought we could make a huge impact on the future of that scholarship with the establishment of a double-blind peer reviewed, nonpartisan academic journal. Joining with Stephen Cox, who brought us his immense talents in literary studies and as an editor, the three of us became founding editors of this new venture and quickly attracted a fine interdisciplinary group of advisors. Our whole purpose is to make this a place where Objectivists and non-Objectivists could come together and engage in respectful dialogue on Rands work. And with a desire to attract literary critics, philosophers, social theorists, and even natural scientists, we are slowly expanding the scope of our publication. It has a very promising future.
Q: The inaugural issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was a wonderful surprise many of us had been debating the desirability of such a journal for years. The main objection to such journals focusing on a particular thinker is that they tend to parochialism and dont have much "outreach" potential as opposed to the topic-focused journals like Ethics that have contributions from a motley crew of scholars. How do you respond to that?
Sciabarra: Well, my own work straddles a number of traditions, and I have contacts with scholars coming from many different schools of thought. I have worked very hard, as have my colleagues, to get the word out to a wide group of people in publications, at conferences, and on the Internet in various email discussion lists, newsgroups, and websites. In coming issues, we will feature academics on both the left and the right, and we are pushing the boundaries beyond the typical parochialism. Im very hopeful.
Q: How fat is your pipeline? Do you have a lot of writers coming forward with ideas?
Sciabarra: Well, the pipeline is fat and growing. We have scores of proposals coming in original research, book reviews, symposia while a surplus of article submissions has allowed us to become more and more selective with regard to publishable content. Articles are sent back to prospective authors with lots of constructive criticisms, while others are rejected outright. The give-and-take has had a positive effect on the overall quality of the journal. Our peer readers are a committed group, and our editorial process is helping us to increase the quantity and quality of our output.
Q: There seems to be a lot of overlap with Objectivity. Is JARS positioned to supplant Objectivity as the primary forum for the discussion of technical philosophical issues related to Objectivism?
Sciabarra: Well, I was a long-time fan of Objectivity under the editorial guidance of Stephen Boydstun, and I was sorry to see Stephen leave. Ive not yet seen the new Objectivity I think it is in press as we speak but it is my understanding that it will navigate the waters between Objectivism and analytic philosophy. That is a worthwhile goal, but it is much narrower than our focus, which is both interdisciplinary and critical. Yes, we will feature advances in Objectivist scholarship, but we also hope to publish, for example, the work of Marxist literary theorists, as a means of breaking out of the intellectual ghetto, challenging the defenders and the critics of Ayn Rand to greater heights of intellectual self-exploration and debate. In the long run, we can only strengthen Objectivism as a philosophical force to be reckoned with.
There has been only one explicit overlap between JARS and Objectivity thus far: both of us are publishing George Walshs article, "Ayn Rand and the Metaphysics of Kant." All I can say is that the dual publication is a fitting tribute to a man whom I love, honor, and respect, and I am happy to have had a role in bringing his paper to a larger audience.
Q: If a second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical were to come out, what would you change? What do you now regard, if anything, as mistakes, shortcomings or confusions that youd like to fix?
Sciabarra: There are a few minor mistakes that were pointed out by David Ross, specifically in a few sentences in my section on perception that were, at best, ambiguous in meaning. So, yes, Id like to modify those.
There were two major shortcomings, however. First, there was not enough discussion of the meaning and history of dialectics, which opened me up to many criticisms. I have come to accept that shortcoming because I viewed Russian Radical as part of my trilogy, and I have learned that you cant reinvent the wheel in one book or two or three. And remember that originally, Id projected the Rand book as the third volume in the trilogy, not the second. But it would have simply overwhelmed the manuscript to have included any kind of extended history or epistemological discussion of the concept of dialectics, so I made the choice to exclude it. That discussion, as youve noted, is now part one of my forthcoming book. If anything, it points to the unity of the trilogy.
The second major shortcoming was the lack of historical evidence that would have demonstrated decisively Rands exposure to N. O. Lossky and other major dialectically-minded intellectuals of the Russian Silver Age who taught at Petrograd University. I just did not have access to Rands college transcript, and tried, to the best of my ability, to reconstruct the historical record by a very painstaking process of detective work. I was roundly criticized by many for my historical speculations, but I knew that the evidence would eventually be found and that I would be vindicated. As it happened, I could not have paid the archivists of the university to have come up with stronger documentation than that which eventually surfaced. I published the results of my analysis of Rands transcript in the first issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The article now appears on my website at: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/randt2.htm.
Q: Can you tell us why you consider Ayn Rands scholastic records important and what kinds of adventures you had in getting information out of that alien country?
Sciabarra: Well, I document my trials and tribulations in the Liberty article I mentioned. It can also be found on my website at http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/randt1.htm. In short, it came to my attention that ARI had discovered Rands college transcript at the Central State Archives and that they possessed a copy. I proposed to research the document and to provide them with a full report that they could use in their projected "authorized" Rand biography. They were willing to move forward with a collaboration on one condition: I had to sign a document swearing never to write on the subject of Rands college transcript. I figured they wanted to make the big splash in their biography and that they simply wanted me to delay publishing my own interpretive take on the document. I was wrong. They did not want me to ever write on the subject. In essence, they wanted me to abdicate my responsibility as an historian, present them with the results of all my work, and not benefit from it personally. I asked them: "Have you ever heard of the trader principle?" As it turned out, they refused to provide me with a copy of the transcript, and this compelled me to spend a few years, with the help of a network of colleagues, scholars, researchers, and archivists, to recover and decipher the original document from the Central State Archives. In fact, Full Contexts very own Karen Minto put me in touch with one important individual who actually traveled to Russia for the final recovery.
There were some financial costs involved, but there were other costs that simply could not be calculated in dollars and cents. Some individuals who might have shed greater light on the document, contemporaries of Ayn Rand, died before the recovery was complete. Others, too old and sick, were unable to engage in detailed examination of the material. This was a terrible tragedy, and it made me both angry and sad. There were so many lost opportunities due to a petty siege mentality, so prominent among Rands more orthodox followers: an unwillingness to cooperate because of an inability to control the final product. It sometimes appears as if they believe that the world is out to get them, when, in reality, I was only trying to discover the facts. It is a shame because the talented among that group have spent too much time mastering the art of thinking in a square.
I must add that I generally admire the efforts of the Ayn Rand Archives to preserve the historical record. Im not talking about the questionable edits in the material the Estate has published, a practice I have criticized in various articles. Im talking about their sustained cooperation with the Library of Congress, which has led to the microfilming of more than 17,000 draft pages of Rands novels. They are working hard to digitize every photograph, print, and document in their collection and to protect original material from pollutants. Eventually, they hope to create a reference library and to place some of the material online for access via the Internet. I am just hoping that the keepers of the flame open up their treasures for the benefit of bona fide independent scholars. Only time will tell.
As for the actual contents of the transcript: it proves beyond a reasonable doubt, in my view, that Rand took courses and studied with some of the greatest dialectically-minded scholars of her generation. I also think it provides much stronger evidence with regard to the Rand-Lossky connection. Moreover, Rand actually took a course on the dialectical methodology of the social sciences and more than three-quarters of her courses were steeped in this methodology. Now it is true that Rand would have rejected the materialist-Marxist bias of the courses. But it is also true, I think, that she would have appreciated their emphasis on context, philosophical integration, the interdisciplinary and multitextured nature of social and historical investigation, and the unity of theory and practice all key elements of a dialectical approach.
Q: You were co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand with Mimi Gladstein. Youve already described how the project came about. What reception has the book had in both Objectivist circles and academia?
Sciabarra: Well, I once swore that Id bring Objectivism and academia together, kicking and screaming if necessary, and it is obvious that the kicking and screaming continues in some circles. Some orthodox Objectivists would prefer to stay in an intellectual ghetto rather than to be mentioned in the same sentence with feminists. My view is that the orthodoxy is incorrect to view feminism as a monolith; indeed, Objectivism itself is not a monolith! But feminism has a long history, having emerged out of the classical liberal movement. I knew that by bringing together Objectivists and feminists in an anthology, we could begin to change the parameters of the discussion. Moreover, we could provide a forum for many individualists and libertarians within feminism who are often marginalized by contemporary left-wing feminists in the academy. Fortunately, not all Objectivists reacted with hostility, and Ive been very impressed by the range of support that has come from people, including people who did not like many of the articles in the volume. I didnt agree with all the articles either, but as editors, it was not our job to agree with the contributors. It was to augment a growing interdisciplinary dialogue on Rands views of men and women, masculinity and femininity, feminism and sexuality.
The editorial experience was magnificent; working with Mimi was an absolute delight. I love her dearly and could not imagine having done any of the volume without her.
As for the books penetration into the academy, this will take time, but we are patient. One good sign is that it provoked a flurry of coverage in academic print media as one symbol of the renaissance in Rand scholarship.
Q: Indeed, you have been featured in several articles over the past couple of years, in Lingua Franca, The Chronicle of Higher Education and in newsprint, on your efforts to bring Objectivism into academia you are viewed, I guess, as the Admiral of the Objectivist fleet. Are you comfortable with this role?
Sciabarra: Im comfortable with it up to a point. In terms of broad fundamentals, I would probably be considered an Objectivist. But as my friend Michelle Kamhi said in her recent Full Context interview, that label carries with it a lot of baggage. And Im not comfortable carrying the baggage. Moreover, Ive learned so much from so many different thinkers that I hesitate to "pigeonhole" myself. But Im happy to have taken a leading role in Rand scholarship. And I stand on the shoulders of so many scholars who came before me like Tibor Machan, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Eric Mack, John Hospers, and others who are still contributing much to the marketplace of ideas. I think market diversification is a good thing, and we will certainly have more of it as the Objectivist marketplace grows. Weve got a lot more to do, but this is a very exciting time.
Q: Now that you have finished your three-book epic, what goals do you have for future projects?
Sciabarra: One important project is to jump start my social life! I need a break. Id like to go out on a few dates and enjoy myself a bit more. All work and no play make Chris a very dull boy!
As for my scholarly projects, Ive got quite a few planned. I expect to publish articles on Ayn Rand and Objectivism in the Encyclopedia of Ethics, the Encyclopedia of New York State, and the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. My "Dialectics and Liberty Cyberseminar" begins on January 8, 2001, and runs four months (and anyone interested in enrolling should fill out the application at: http://www.msmb.com/sciseminar/cyberSeminarQA.asp [no longer applicable]). I am still hoping to co-edit, with Bertell Ollman, a multivolume text with selections in the history of dialectical thinking.
I personally do not have any plans for full-length book projects in the immediate future because Id like to turn my attention to some article-length pieces. One subject that interests me is Ayn Rands love of the poetry of the Nietzschean Russian Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok; I hope to author a piece on Rand and Blok in the coming years. I also have a great interest in exploring themes in human sexuality. And someday, maybe when Im old and gray, Ill draw some material from my personal journals. Ive been keeping a diary since I was 11, and there is a lot of stuff about my own growth as an individual and my own deepening ability to introspect that I could profitably exploit for the benefit of a more general audience. If that fails, Ill just focus on the racy bits.
But hey, Im also editing the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and that takes up a lot of my time. So Ill be keeping myself busy for a long time to come.
Q: Since we last spoke, have you learned any new lessons in life?
Sciabarra: Well, Ive already talked about the virtues of a thick skin and a perverse sense of humor. But I think more importantly, Ive learned that it is possible to earn the appreciation of ones peers, despite all the criticisms and negativity, by being persistent, and by keeping up the quantity and quality of ones work.
Q: The famous psychotherapist, Victor Frankl, discusses in his books the need for meaning in every human life. He would ask people to imagine themselves on their death beds and then ask themselves "What is/has been the meaning of my life?" If you imagined a similar scene, what would you like to say?
Sciabarra: This sounds like one of those Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters questions, but you know, I don't think there is a person alive who has not imagined themselves on their own death bed or who has not imagined their own funeral or who has not thought about what others might say in various eulogies. I've got to confess one thing: there have been moments, and Ive been told that this is typical of many authors, where I've feared that I might drop dead before completing a project on which I've worked so hard, and if ever there were a reason to live, it was to see my work come to fruition.
But no human life can be reduced to a single meaning; it is because we are such complex organisms that I would answer such a question by attaching lots of meanings to my life. In a social sense, that I fought tirelessly for human freedom in its totality; that I enriched the lives of those who read my work or came to know me; and that I served as an example of that which I've preached a kinder, gentler scholar, always willing to teach, always willing to learn, and always willing to engage in a polite and constructive exchange of ideas. And in a personal sense, that I lived with the utmost integrity and honesty, committed to my values and full of love for those who shared them.