INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES
NAVIGATOR 3, no. 1 (January 2000): 10-15.
"The Annus Mirabilis of Chris Matthew Sciabarra"
In this six-page cover story (with three featured photographs), Donway observes that 1999 was a "landmark [year] for Ayn Rand and her philosophy." At the center of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, stories in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca, and the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, has been Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The article tells "his story" -- from the early years to his years at New York University.
Of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Donway observes: In August 1995, Penn State Press released "a work of intellectual history and philosophical interpretation that stunned the Objectivist movement . . . To paraphrase what one scientist said upon reading Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics, 'It was as though you had stepped into a familiar street only to find that all the houses had been painted mauve.' " Donway describes the ensuing controversy over Russian Radical, including a retelling of the exchanges between James Lennox and the "unfailingly polite" Chris Sciabarra in the pages of IOS Journal.
"'First the Trinity, and now the Atonement. That man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.' So says Giles de Vannes of Peter Abelard, in Helen Waddell's novel about the twelfth-century philosopher. An Objectivist might say the same of Chris Sciabarra." The article then discusses how Sciabarra parlayed the successes of Russian Radical into a series of other triumphs. In addition to his 1999 contributions, Sciabarra looks forward to the publication of Total Freedom. Donway quotes Sciabarra: " 'I believe that my own reclamation of dialectics [in Total Freedom], which requires a vast rereading of intellectual history, will help to contextualize my work on Rand in a way that may lead some to first appreciate what I was trying to accomplish.' Perhaps. But some will doubtless want to dispute again what Sciabarra is arguing. . . . [Sciabarra continues:] 'I think that 'to go hunting where the methodological ducks are' is not the only strategy, but it is always a useful strategy, especially if one argues, like me, that it is possible to use certain conventional terms in ways that thoroughly undermine their conventional meanings.' Let the debates continue."
Here is the article in full:
By Roger Donway
The year just past was a landmark for Ayn Rand and her philosophy. Pennsylvania State University Press published Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand on February 2, the ninety-fourth anniversary of Rand's birth. The Chronicle of Higher Education, academia's most prestigious newspaper, proclaimed that "Ayn Rand has finally caught the attention of scholars." Academia's most prestigious newsmagazine, Lingua Franca, followed that with a respectful eleven-page article about the Objectivist movement. And then, in autumn, came the biggest shock of all: the launching of an academic semi-annual periodical called The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
Common to each of these events was the presence, at the event's very center, of Chris Matthew Sciabarra, a visiting scholar in the department of politics at New York University. When it comes to introducing Objectivism to the academy, he is far and away the philosophy's leading matchmaker. Yet many Objectivists, though they know his work to varying degrees, know little of his story.
Sciabarra, born in Brooklyn in 1960 to a "close-knit extended family, in the Greek and Sicilian traditions," has lived in Brooklyn all his life. "I spent the better part of my youth steeped in education," he tells Navigator, "and was encouraged especially by my mother and sister. I had good friends, and a very supportive family, but I was a very sickly kid, and this had its effects on my ability to do all the usual things that little boys do. For example, I was not able to participate in the usual athletic games of boys-though I did ultimately coach and manage a softball team, and became an avid Yankees fan."
Born with an intestinal obstruction that was not detected until he was 13 years old, Sciabarra had intestinal bypass surgery at 14, which literally saved his life. "I enjoyed a much better state of health thereafter," he notes. "Some complications from the surgery (not life threatening) emerged a few years later, and it was difficult dealing with these complications initially. But, as that scientist in Jurassic Park says: Life finds a way. Actually, each of us must choose to find a way. One of the ways in which I dealt with adversity was to keep a personal diary. I started one at age 11, and except for when I was 13 and 14 (when I was just too sick), I have kept one ever since.
"There's a lot of other stuff about self-discovery that I could discuss, especially issues concerning my growing understanding, as a teen, of my sexual identity . . . but I suspect that that could be the basis of a separate article!"
In high school, Sciabarra was introduced to Ayn Rand by his sister-in-law, who said simply: "You'll find some similarities between what you're saying and what she advocates." Interestingly, Sciabarra began by reading Rand's nonfiction, which reflected and fueled his interest in the social sciences, and he believes that choice has had an effect on his subsequent career: "Unlike virtually everyone who has come to Rand," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "I devoured her entire nonfiction before reading any of her fiction. I think that saved me from becoming a true believer." He is quick to note, however, that he subsequently devoured everything Ayn Rand had ever written, using the New York City subway as his reading room.
After high school, Sciabarra entered on an unusual academic trajectory, pursuing all of his degrees-B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.-at New York University. There, Sciabarra studied with Austrian-school economists such as Israel Kirzner, Mario Rizzo, and Gerald O' Driscoll. He also took classes from business historian Vincent P. Carosso and from labor historian Daniel Walkowitz. In June 1981, Sciabarra received his B.A., magna cum laude, having fulfilled a triple major in economics, politics, and history (with honors). He was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. His honors thesis in history, directed by Walkowitz, was "The Implications of Interventionism: An Analysis of the Pullman Strike."
"I used the Austrian business cycle theory to argue that labor strife was rooted in systemic crises in the economy, boom and bust, brought about by government intervention. . . . This aggravated a number of people on my committee, one of whom was Albert Romasco. Romasco was so angry with me for using the works of Murray Rothbard that he declared: 'Maybe you ought to go into political theory instead of history.' I did not know, at the time, that his anger toward Rothbard was profound. . . . Romasco had simply directed that anger toward me. It was my first taste of politics in academia, but it did not prevent me from receiving a history department award for best record in the honors program."
Nor did it prevent NYU from being supportive of Sciabarra: The school's offer of a full scholarship helped persuade him to continue at NYU for his graduate work. Another attraction was the chance to work with the man he calls "my mentor," the Marxist scholar Bertell Ollman. Ollman-author of Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, and Social and Sexual Revolution: Essays on Marx and Reich-is also the inventor of "Class Struggle," a board game designed to educate the public about the tenets of socialism. "All my work," Ollman has said, "is directed to helping people understand why American capitalism is going down the tubes as fast as it is."
The master's thesis that Sciabarra wrote under Ollman (and Israel Kirzner) was titled "A Brief Survey in Methodological Integration: Dialectics, Praxeology, and Their Implications." Says Sciabarra: "Just as my senior honors work generated criticism from those on the Left, my master's thesis generated criticism from those on the Right, namely, Israel Kirzner. . . . The thesis tried to show that there were some important parallels between left-wing practitioners of dialectical method and those in the Austrian tradition who pursued studies of human action within the full context of social relations. Aspects of this thesis, specifically those pertaining to Mises, show up in my forthcoming book Total Freedom, though in substantially revised form."
After receiving his M.A. in 1983, Sciabarra began work toward a doctorate, again studying with Ollman. Sciabarra's dissertation was called "Toward a Radical Critique of Utopianism: Dialectics and Dualism in the Works of Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Karl Marx," and he defended it in the spring of 1988, receiving a Ph.D., with distinction, in June 1988.
New York University's support of Sciabarra continues to this day, through its bestowal of the position "visiting scholar," which carries no teaching load. "I stay at the university," he says, "because the department of politics is fully aware of my health circumstances, and it provides me with the institutional affiliation that enables me to continue my work, seek grants, and publish in academic circles."
Prevented by his health from teaching, Sciabarra has instead trod the difficult path of surviving as a writer. "I live with my sister, and we share domestic expenses," he notes. "I can't deny the difficulty of being an author, but I have received good support from a variety of sources, including foundation fellowships from various institutions and organizations, royalties, payment for encyclopedia and other articles, and some income that derives from cyberseminars that I have offered. My cyberseminar offerings will be expanding after the publication this fall of my next book." (It is Sciabarra's health, incidentally, that has also kept him from attending TOC Summer Seminars.)
When he finished his formal education, Sciabarra first went to market with a book based on his dissertation, as most young scholars do. "The bulk of the book," he says, "is a rewrite of two parts of my dissertation, those dealing with Marx and Hayek. (One other part of my dissertation, on Rothbard, has been substantially revised and greatly extended as Part Two of Total Freedom.) The Marx-Hayek book, however, includes an additional chapter that is original to that book, on the work of the Frankfurt School and various other 'New Left' scholars who repeat the same patterns and epistemological mistakes of Marx."
Initially, the Marx-Hayek book was slated to be published in 1989-90 by a West German house, which wanted to make it part of their International Carl Menger Library. But that house went bankrupt, so Sciabarra was able to offer the book to an American publisher. SUNY Press accepted the book for their Philosophy of the Social Sciences series, but long delayed publication. It came out-as Marx, Hayek, and Utopia-in the very same week of August 1995 that Sciabarra's second book was published. "It made me look like one helluva prolific author," Sciabarra jokes, "while the truth was somewhat less spectacular."
August 1995. In that month, there emerged from Pennsylvania State University Press a work of intellectual history and philosophical interpretation that stunned the Objectivist movement-Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. To paraphrase what one scientist said upon reading Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics, "It was as though you had stepped into a familiar street only to find that all the houses had been painted mauve." Traditionally, Ayn Rand had been understood as an outsider who had come to these shores and revivified the Anglo-American Enlightenment philosophies of Bacon, Locke, Newton, and Jefferson, simultaneously turning back the challenges of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and the Continental philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet here was Sciabarra, who obviously possessed an intimate knowledge of Rand's philosophy, writing a book that posed the following two questions: (1) In what sense can Rand's philosophy be understood as a response to her Russian past; and (2) In what sense can Rand's philosophy be understood as a contribution to twentieth-century radical social thought?
"Rand," he wrote, "was fully within the Russian literary and philosophic tradition. Like most of Russia's great literary figures, she was an artist, social critic, and nonacademic philosopher who constructed a broad synthesis in her battle against the traditional antinomies in Western thought: mind vs. body, fact vs. value, theory vs. practice, reason vs. emotion, rationalism vs. empiricism, idealism vs. materialism, etc. . . . In Part One, I discuss the process by which this assimilation may have taken place." No longer, then, was Rand the self-created Enlightenment philosopher saving a degenerate Western tradition from its own intellectual malaise and returning it to its former glory. On the contrary, she was the emissary of a very foreign philosophical culture, one that she denounced, bringing with her (unknowingly?) that culture's non-Enlightenment philosophic perspectives.
But Sciabarra was not finished. "Part Two," he wrote, "reconstructs Rand's project in each of the major branches of philosophy. . . . I argue that Objectivism is inherently dialectical and non-dualistic. . . . In Part Three, I examine Rand's radical assessment of the nature of power as manifested in all social practices and institutions." In a blurb for the book, Sciabarra's mentor, Bertell Ollman, wrote: "Ayn Rand, a radical? A comrade of Marx, methodologically speaking? Libertarians and Marxists BEWARE, because Sciabarra makes a solid case for his astounding claim."
For Objectivists, the reddest of the red flags was Sciabarra's use of the word "dialectical." Though employed by many thinkers throughout the history of philosophy (including Aristotle), the word seemed highly incongruous when applied to Rand by Sciabarra, given that his background was largely in post-Enlightenment Continental philosophy rather than in classical philosophy.
A response to the book was not long in coming. In the November 1996 issue of the IOS Journal, James Lennox, an Objectivist professor of the history and philosophy of science, undertook to review Sciabarra's work. Commenting on the supposedly dialectical nature of Rand's thought, Lennox wrote: "It is true, and an important insight, that Ayn Rand had a keen eye for the shared premise underlying 'false alternatives.' . . . [But, contrary to dialectical thinking,] Rand's method of uncovering fundamental alternatives in no way implies accepting one half of each alternative; nor does it imply a desire to transcend opposites by synthesizing them into a new unity." Moreover, Lennox said, one can also see Rand as putting certain fundamental dualities at the foundation of her philosophy: "consciousness and existence; the metaphysical and the man-made; reason and force; to name a few."
Though he is unfailingly polite, Sciabarra is not one to remain above the fray, and he responded to Lennox's criticisms a few months later. Specifically, he rejected Lennox's characterization of dialectics. "[Lennox] incorrectly attributes a Hegelian historicist conception of dialectics to me. Moreover, he equates dialectics with anti-dualism, ignoring its essential characteristic: organic unity and internal relations in systematic and historical analysis." As for Rand's supposed dualities, Sciabarra wrote: "Dualism is not a mere distinction; it is a conceptualization of two, coequal, externally related, mutually exclusive spheres. For Rand, 'consciousness and existence' are not dualistically conceived."
Lennox, in turn, responded to Sciabarra. "The 'historicist conception' of dialectic which [Sciabarra] now says is 'Hegel's-not mine, and certainly not Rand's' is consistently drawn upon in his book, both in characterizing Rand's methodology and in buttressing claims of fundamental similarity between Rand, Hegel, and Marx." As for the claim that organic unity and internal relations are the essence of dialectical thinking: Lennox replied that one could not reasonably say that the term "dialectical" referred principally to integrated and systematic thinking, and only secondarily to thought that opposes dualism and seeks "transcendence." He added: "On Ayn Rand's dualism, I can only say that in the sense that those in the 19th-20th century dialectical tradition take consciousness and existence to be non-dualistic-i.e., in the sense that reality is a 'construct' of consciousness, constituted by reason, and so on-Ayn Rand is a dualist. She is adamant on many occasions that existence in no way depends on consciousness."
In an on-line response to Lennox, Sciabarra commented on his comparison of Hegel's and Marx's dialectical thinking with Rand's, saying that he (and Rand) rejected the "historicist conception" of dialectic propounded by those two authors, but "there is, however, another sense in which Hegel, Marx et al. are legitimate dialecticians, and this relates to their emphasis on organic unity and internal relations." As for Lennox's point about the essence of dialectical thinking, Sciabarra wrote: This "is such a profound distortion of dialectics that it would merit, in response, a book in itself. I am working on this response in my forthcoming book." And so the debate will no doubt continue later this year when Sciabarra brings out the book he considers the third and final part of his trilogy.
"First the Trinity, and now the Atonement. That man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." So says Giles de Vannes of Peter Abelard, in Helen Waddell's novel about the twelfth-century philosopher. An Objectivist might say the same of Chris Sciabarra. In December 1998 when Pennsylvania State University Press published its catalogue for the spring and summer of 1999, there appeared on page 9 an announcement for Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, coedited by Sciabarra and Mimi Reisel Gladstein, associate dean of liberal arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, and author of The Ayn Rand Companion. "The interdisciplinary strategies of rereading Rand," said the blurb, "range from the lightness of camp to the darkness of de Sade, from postandrogyny to poststructuralism." First dialectics, and now poststructuralism.
But feminism was a logical topic for Objectivists. Writing in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, Rand had created female characters of unsurpassed independence and moral strength. In the Sixties, her Objectivist Newsletter had run a largely favorable review of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. On the other hand, both the strength and femininity of Rand's fictional women seemed less suited to 1970s Cambridge than to 1930s Hollywood. (She had wanted Greta Garbo to play Dominique in the movie version of The Fountainhead.) And her last comments on the feminist movement had consisted of ferocious denunciations. How, then, had Sciabarra lit upon this subject?
"In December of 1995," he tells Navigator, "I was fortunate enough to attend the American Philosophical Association's annual meeting in New York City. Sandy Thatcher, the director of Penn State Press, which had published Russian Radical, was in attendance at the PSP booth. With all the attention that my book was getting, he showed me a few other books that had been published by the press, among them various volumes in their 'Rereading the Canon' series. All of these volumes were entitled Feminist Interpretations of . . . -and fill in the blank. A who's who of Western philosophy was represented. Sandy looked me right in the eye and said: 'So, how would you like to edit an anthology on Rand for our series?'
"I told Sandy that if he thought the hoopla over Russian Radical was big, I'd be burned at the stake for editing a collection in a feminist series-not just by my Objectivist colleagues, who would question the legitimacy of 'feminist interpretations,' but by feminists who would object to my lack of feminist credentials and to my sex. I knew that, in this PC academic environment, to have a man edit a volume on a thinker who proudly called herself a 'male chauvinist' would be suicide, and it would not help Ayn Rand's introduction into feminist discourse. So, Sandy suggested that I find myself a coeditor: a bona fide scholar, who happened to have both Rand and feminist credentials. 'Large pool of candidates,' I joked." But Mimi Gladstein's name quickly came to mind as the leading candidate. "I entertained a few other names, but Mimi was the only academic I knew who had bona fide scholarly credentials in women's studies, and who had also published a book and several articles on Rand."
Getting the right mix of authors was harder. "I personally asked Camille Paglia to write an original piece for us," Sciabarra says, "and while she was flattered, and thought the volume important, she was too busy to author such an essay. (We did, however, publish her comments on Rand from a 1995 Reason magazine interview.) I asked David Kelley to contribute, concerned as I was that Rand's philosophy, and her defense of objectivity, be represented. But David was too busy to contribute and also expressed some reservations about the validity of the concept 'feminism.' I asked Susan Haack to contribute, but she had neither the time nor the inclination to write an essay, given her own good objections to 'feminist epistemology.'"
Nonetheless, Feminist Interpretations managed to assemble an impressive array of original essays by authors such as Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, Diana Mertz Brickell, Wendy McElroy, Sharon Presley, Robert Sheaffer, and Joan Kennedy Taylor. Did the co-editors try to get a contributor to defend Ayn Rand's view about a woman president? "Try though we did, none came forward-and those from ARI who may have defended Rand's essay were not inclined to contribute to our volume. It would have made for a very interesting exchange. The closest we came was Robert Sheaffer, who simply argued that Rand's insights into the relationship of the sexes led her to understand the enormous difficulties for women in positions of leadership. Sheaffer's piece was pretty controversial, however, given that other contributors in our volume did not even believe he was a feminist. . . . [But] we did not wish to exclude essays that some might reject as outside the bounds of an alleged feminist monolith."
In a manner characteristic of his academic entrepreneurialism, Sciabarra parlayed the publication of Feminist Interpretations into his next triumph. "I saw the publication of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand as a very good opportunity to extend the discussion on Rand," Sciabarra says. "I contacted an editor at the Chronicle and told her that I was pleased to see the Chronicle's announcement of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand in its weekly book section, but that more needed to be said about the book and the growing attention being given Ayn Rand by scholars. I suggested that she do a piece on the book for CHE's small 'Hot Type' section. She replied that she was well aware of our volume and also thought it a good opportunity for extended discussion. In fact, she said, she had a journalist on tap for a possible story, and she was wondering if he could contact me for further information to test the viability of such a story. I must say the Chronicle treated me quite well in the piece, but I was also impressed with how they treated me personally. Jeff Sharlet interviewed me extensively on the phone, and also wined and dined me, courtesy of the Chronicle, to a nice meal at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, where we chatted for hours. A week later, CHE invited me to a photo shoot, forty stories up, at 22 Cortlandt Street, with the Trade Center as background. The photographer, Don Hamerman, wanted a windblown 'Howard Roark' effect atop a skyscraper. I told him I was no Howard Roark or Gary Cooper, though with March winds keeping my eyes semi-closed, he definitely got the wind-blown effect he was looking for!"
As for his impact on the final article, Sciabarra says Sharlet "did contact a number of people I'd suggested, including Mimi Gladstein, Nancy Tuana, and Sandy Thatcher (all connected with the feminism volume), as well as Tibor Machan. But he did not contact all the individuals I had suggested from the Objectivist Center, chief among these being, David Kelley. An antagonist of Sciabarra's was quoted in the story: Allan Gotthelf, a professor of philosophy at the College of New Jersey and the chairman of the Ayn Rand Society. Gotthelf, the story said, termed Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism the only definitive book on Rand and dismissed most other new works as "fanfare." Gotthelf went on to pronounce himself "cautiously optimistic about the potential for an outbreak of objectivism," citing his own book (then forthcoming, now out from Wadsworth), which he hoped would "serve as a bridge between Rand and analytic philosophy." He also pointed to the efforts of Tara Smith, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, "as representative of the direction that Rand studies needs to take if Objectivism is going to be the big idea of the 21st century."
No sooner had the CHE article been published than the paper's online letters section, Colloquy, burst forth with comment, pro and con. As of early 2000, 144 letters had been posted to the site, more than ten times the number devoted to the section's trendy discussion of protesting sweatshops.
Perhaps sensing that its rival had struck a gold-mine, the leading newsmagazine of the academy, Lingua Franca, came out with its own article on Objectivism in September, and Sciabarra was again at the center of things, giving him his third triumph of the year. Though he was not quoted directly in the piece, Sciabarra sat for an extensive interview; his work received three full columns in the published article; and the author, Scott McLemee, took most of Sciabarra's suggestions about contacting others, including David Kelley at TOC.
In contrast to Jeff Sharlet, however, McLemee did not focus his story on Objectivism's new acceptance in the academy. Instead, he told the whole familiar tale of the Objectivist movement, from Ayn Rand's New York circle through all the many splits and disagreements. The result was therefore an article that conveyed little new information to Objectivists, however eye-opening it may have been to its primary audience of non-Objectivist academics. As for the article's impact on that primary audience, Sciabarra believes it will definitely be positive, despite the necessary recounting of some embarrassing history. "I thought the article quite fair and very well balanced," Sciabarra says. "And I thought that McLemee's critique of 'proprietary' Objectivism was right on target."
Did the piece's attack on "proprietary" Objectivism portray TOC as the rise of "tolerant Objectivism" or as an abandonment of Randianism? "Oh, most certainly as the rise of a tolerant Objectivism," Sciabarra avers. "I know this because I've heard from various colleagues of mine who are on the political Left and who were pleased to see level-headed people in Rand circles, something thought by them to be an oxymoron."
Chris Sciabarra's fourth triumph of the year was proclaimed quietly in August 1999. In a few confidential e-mails, Sciabarra announced the imminent launch of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a semi-annual publication of scholarly papers concerned with "the study of Ayn Rand and her times." The journal has two editors in addition to Sciabarra: R.W. Bradford, editor and publisher of Liberty magazine; and Stephen Cox, professor of literature at the University of California, San Diego. The first number of the journal ran to 170 pages and comprised six articles, including Sciabarra's own "The Rand Transcript," a further exploration of Ayn Rand's youthful academic career. The remaining five articles in the first number of JARS included two on political philosophy, and one each on psychology, aesthetics, and Ayn Rand's novels.
How had the publication come about? "In the aftermath of Russian Radical, I had been rather frustrated with the fact that I could not fully substantiate my historical thesis that Rand had studied with Lossky and his associates at the University of Petrograd. I had approached Bill Bradford, editor of Liberty, about publishing a piece on my investigation in the pages of his magazine. He told me that he had a better idea: Why not publish two pieces? One describing the politics of Rand scholarship and the difficulty of getting Rand's college transcript; the other describing and interpreting my actual findings. The first piece he thought well matched for Liberty. The second he thought could be published in a brand-new scholarly journal of Rand studies edited by me! How thoughtful, I remarked. I was a bit hesitant to add one more project on an already full plate, but by the time my Rand-transcript article was written, I was more and more convinced by Bradford that the time had come for a scholarly Rand journal. Together with Stephen Cox, we, as founding editors, launched the journal with Bill's financial backing, and we aim to reach Objectivist and non-Objectivist scholars alike, across the disciplines and traditions of academia."
This year, Chris Matthew Sciabarra will complete forty years of life. What will he do in the many years and not so few decades that lie ahead?
First, in good Objectivist fashion, he will seek enjoyment in life, not least by playing with his dog Blondie. "She's an adorable Chihuahua mix," he says, "and a very bright dog. I've had her for almost a decade, though in recent years, my walks are greeted by children in the neighborhood who can't resist the 'Yo Quiero Taco Bell' comparisons. The Taco Bell dog is very nice, but, of course, Blondie is much cuter." Another major source of pleasure for Sciabarra is the cinema. On his Web site, a "Favorite Things" section prints out to fifteen pages. Nine pages are devoted to films, more than one hundred of them, divided into thirteen categories. No summary can do it justice.
Secondly, as if to emphasize that he will take no pause at age 40, Sciabarra has already been featured in a major article about the Objectivist invasion of academia, published in the National Post, one of Canada's two national papers. Among other highlights, the article referred readers to The Objectivist Center's Web site and mentioned that the next summer seminar will be held in British Columbia.
Thirdly, continuing his relentless networking, Sciabarra has arranged for Lingua Franca author Scott McLemee to submit an article on Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult to JARS.
But the biggest event of 2000 for Sciabarra will almost certainly be Penn State Press's fall publication of Total Freedom, the third part of his trilogy (which so far includes Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical). Not only will the new volume allow Sciabarra to begin a cyberseminar on the whole trilogy, beginning in January 2001, it will surely involve him in those numerous debates from which he never shies. As Sciabarra sees it: "I believe that my own reclamation of dialectics [in Total Freedom], which requires a vast rereading of intellectual history, will help to contextualize my work on Rand in a way that may lead some to first appreciate what I was trying to accomplish." Perhaps. But some will doubtless want to dispute again what Sciabarra is arguing.
The last section of Total Freedom is called "Randian Radicalism," echoing the subtitle "Russian Radical." That is only one part of the book's discussion of Ayn Rand, however. "I deal with Rand throughout the book," Sciabarra says, "primarily in two sections. One is 'Randian Radicalism.' But the book is generously peppered with Rand references and discussions, and in Chapter Four, I attempt to expand my definition and defense of dialectics by grounding it in Rand's epistemology. The last section of the book is an expansion of my tri-level model of Rand's analysis of 'power relations' in society. I show how each of the aspects of Rand's critique of statism requires and supports the others, and how the focus on one aspect to the exclusion of any others must result in a very one-sided picture of how to change society."
That Objectivists must now take serious account of Sciabarra's work, whatever they make of it, is indicated not least by the sales to date of Russian Radical. Approaching 10,000, they make Sciabarra's work a best-seller in the world of university presses and thus a major ambassador of the Objectivist philosophy to the scholarly world. For this reason, Sciabarra's new book is bound to stir up intense debates-not only discussions about Rand's thinking but discussions about Sciabarra's very efforts at matchmaking. A measure of the opposition that Sciabarra faces can be seen in his delicate relationship with the Ayn Rand Society, an affiliate of the American Philosophical Association and, one would suppose, a prime mover for bringing together Objectivism and academia. "I am a member of the society," Sciabarra notes, "and I think the society's existence is important. Unfortunately, a number of individuals connected to the steering committee are not as enamored of my work as I am of the society to which we all belong. But that's another story. Two current steering committee members, Lester Hunt and Douglas Rasmussen, are on the JARS board of advisors, and that is a hopeful sign."
Still, even many who are willing to debate Sciabarra's "dialectical" interpretation of Ayn Rand's thought question some of his matchmaking efforts and ask whether he is seeking academic acceptability on terms that Objectivism could not survive. For example, his publisher's blurb for Feminist Interpretations, with its references to camp and poststructuralism, seems to flirt with approaches that entail anti-Objectivist commitments. Does admittance to the academy require Objectivists "to go hunting where the methodological ducks are," Navigator asked Sciabarra, and can it be done without compromising Objectivism? His answer: "I think that 'to go hunting where the methodological ducks are' is not the only strategy, but it is always a useful strategy, especially if one argues, like me, that it is possible to use certain conventional terms in ways that thoroughly and ultimately undermine their conventional meanings."
Let the debates continue.