This was the
inaugural address for the first Enlightenment conference, given on 22 March
A discussion followed, which is archived
Objectivism and Academe: The Progress, The Politics, and The Promise
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
I’d like to open the discussion with just a few brief remarks about Objectivism
and the academy: the progress, the politics, and the promise.
The penetration of Objectivism into the academy is taking place through two
basic means: First, through the scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand and her legacy.
Second, by the extension and application of Ayn Rand’s philosophy to an
ever-growing list of disciplines. The first means can be called, generally,
“Rand scholarship” - that is, material that is about Rand and her philosophy
(either critical or interpretive), but that is not necessarily produced by
Objectivists. The second means can be called, generally, “Objectivist
scholarship” - that is, scholarly work being done by those who work exclusively
or predominantly within the general paradigm offered by Ayn Rand. I should note
that it is certainly possible for those on the peripheries of Objectivism to
contribute to this second means, by extending and applying (sometimes
inadvertently) Objectivist principles through a critical engagement with Rand’s
philosophy. (So there is obvious overlap between the two basic means; they
needn’t be hermetically sealed from one another.)
Rand scholarship has had an unusual growth over the past five years. Unless
you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of how Rand scholarship in
particular has grown exponentially during this period. Since August of 1995,
when Penn State Press published My Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical,
many, many books on Rand have appeared, including such works as Peter Erickson’s The
Stance of Atlas, John Robbins’ Without a Prayer, Jeff
Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult, Gene Bell-Villada’s The
Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand, Tom Porter’s Ayn Rand’s Theory
of Knowledge, and Mimi Reisel Gladstein’s New Ayn Rand
Companion, Revised And Expanded Edition. These works vary in their scholarly
appeal, but each provides a very different take on Rand: historical,
methodological, sociological, literary, and so forth.
More importantly, books have begun to appear in established serial collections
of a canonical nature: Tibor Machan’s Ayn Rand is
part of the Peter Lang series on Masterworks in the Western Tradition; Allan
Gotthelf’s On Ayn Rand is part of the Wadsworth
Philosophers Series; Douglas J. Den Uyl’s the Fountainhead: an
American Novel and Gladstein’s Atlas Shrugged:
Manifesto of the Mind are part of the Twayne’s Masterwork
Studies series; and, of course, my own coedited anthology, with Gladstein, Feminist
Interpretations of Ayn Rand, is part of the “Re-reading the Canon” series
put out by Penn State Press. And let’s not forget the publication of the first
three Cliffsnotes monographs, on Anthem, The Fountainhead,
and Atlas Shrugged, all authored by Andrew Bernstein. What
is really significant about these publications is that each is a part of a
larger series, in which Rand is placed on the same shelf with every other major
thinker or literary artist in the Western tradition. If ever there were a sign
of Rand’s entrance into the pantheon of serious philosophical and literary
consideration, her appearance in such series is cause for celebration - whatever
the worth (or lack thereof) in any individual work.
Of course, as one of its founding editors, I should also point out a scholarly
publication that straddles both Rand studies and Objectivist Scholarship: The
Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which gives every indication of being a place
where people working in very different traditions meet to discuss Rand’s ideas
All of these developments have been noted by important periodicals inside and
outside of academia: including the Chronicle of Higher Education,
the National Post, Lingua Franca, the Philadelphia
Inquirer, and even the Village Voice.
Scholarship on Rand or in the growing Objectivist tradition is also being aided
by a continuing publication of posthumous “Rand” books, emanating from the
Estate and from associates of The Ayn Rand Institute, including such works as The
Ayn Rand Lexicon, Rand’s Marginalia, her Letters,
her Journals, and her lectures as presented in The
Art of Fiction and The Art of Non-fiction.
What needs to be noted, however, is that some of the books mentioned herein
provide us with a snapshot of the politics surrounding Rand and Objectivist
studies. Of course, there is the typical politics that Objectivism must face
from without: those who do not take Rand seriously, and who doubt the
seriousness of any scholars who do. Often, this politics is quite literally
political; that is, it is usually motivated by those who know that Rand is an
uncompromising defender of capitalism, and who dismiss her work as an apologia
for the corporate state. This left-wing bias is sometimes matched by a
right-wing bias coming from those traditionalists who have always looked at Rand
suspiciously, given her atheism and stance on civil liberties. These biases,
while real, are withering to some extent. It is not that they are nonexistent;
it is that the more that is published on Rand, the more the study of Rand and
Objectivism is legitimated. As this young industry grows, even the critics must
present sustained argument, rather than dismissal by “purr and snarl words,” if
they wish to be taken seriously.
From personal experience, I can say that I have never, and I
do mean never, received any stunning rebuke for mentioning
Ayn Rand in class, whether as an NYU undergraduate (in the late 1970s) or as an
NYU graduate or doctoral student (in the early-to-mid-1980s). Sure, sometimes,
if I mentioned Rand, like in an introductory philosophy class, I’d get a little
chuckle from the teacher. But sustained questioning, done with respect, often
elicited more careful discussion. Possibly because I was always good-natured,
even when criticized, I felt more and more comfortable bringing up Rand’s name
in politics, economics, and history classes - in classroom discussion, on exams,
in term papers. I was not naive; I had decided early on that I’d write a book on
Rand, but I chose not to focus on her in my doctoral dissertation. I was
encouraged, nonetheless, by my Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, to write a
dissertation on Marx, Hayek, and Rothbard - with some bulky references to Rand.
When the time came for my oral defense, I introduced Rand’s name several times;
the five professors who interrogated me voted to pass me with “honorable
distinction” - on the condition, they said, that I not undermine my career so
quickly by publishing a book on Ayn Rand before my projected volume on Marx and
Hayek. We all laughed; I pledged that Rand would surely be number two on my list
of projected books, and that they need not worry!
The point of this little autobiographical digression is this: I think that more
depends on how you introduce Ayn Rand into an
academic setting than on the simple fact that you do. As a colleague of mine
once said, if you learn how to play nicely, and show respect to the other boys
and girls in the sandbox, nobody will threaten to take your pail and shovel
away. Often, the respect you receive will be a function of the respect you
I was warned early on in my libertarian education not to be self-victimized by
what was called “The Great Libertarian Macho Flash.” If you enter an academic
discussion by beating people over the head with an ideological bludgeon, you
will not get very far. On matters of academic exposition, one should not begin a
conversation with the implicit premise (summarized well by Nathaniel Branden):
“I’ll give you one chance... if you don’t get it, your soul be damned!” Do your
best to relate your own views to the views of your opponents, to understand the
interests and contexts of each audience that you address so as to bridge the
gaps between you. We all have to provide a bit of translation among the
traditions that we actively engage if we are going to be understood and
Aside from the politics that surrounds Objectivism from without, another form of
politics or partisanship comes primarily from within Objectivism. Ambrose Bierce
once defined politics not as “the art of the possible,” but as “a strife of
interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” Some of Rand’s more orthodox
followers give substance to Bierce’s insight. What I mean by partisanship here
is not simply the taking of a strong position in the intellectual give-and-take.
It is support of a position based not on the correctness of the ideas, but on
the source of those ideas - the group, the faction, or the party from which the
ideas emanate. Partisanship is the opposite of objectivity.
Since the lexicons, the marginalia, the letters, journals, and lectures come
ultimately from the Rand Estate, one would hope that they would be presented
free of partisanship, with a willingness to open the facts of reality to
scholarly discussion and evaluation. Sadly, this has not been the case. Let me
say at the outset that we will find lots of value in these books; but
unfortunately, there are distortions that can be found in the texts, which cast
an unnecessary shadow on their authenticity. This is not a good thing for Rand
studies or Objectivist studies, since scholars working within these areas
require reliability in the sources they consult. I’ve written about this subject
at some length; see for example:
"Bowdlerizing Ayn Rand"
"Orthodox Interpretations of Ayn
"A Renaissance in Rand Scholarship"
"Investigative Report: In Search
of The Rand Transcript"
Ultimately, the problem with the release of edited material from the Estate is
that when we don’t have the original source with which to compare the material,
we are left at the mercy of editors who sometimes do not recognize the
importance of that which they have edited. (A less generous interpretation of
such editing is that the editors DO know the importance of what they are
editing, but this makes their actions even more tragic.)
In some instances, even the original sources have been altered. The
Art of Fiction, for example, is based on Rand’s lectures on fiction-witing,
but the lectures that are selling at Second Renaissance Books have been edited
down from 48 to 23 hours, as Russ LaValle has pointed out. Unfortunately, even
the audio lectures themselves have been edited. And some of those edits are
curious, to say the least. For instance, in attendance at Rand’s 1958 course
were Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Anytime either of these individuals
speaks, a narrator interrupts the tape to tell us that “at this point in the
lecture, a [nameless] student asked Miss Rand the following question . . .” Such
air-brushing of reality is never completely successful, because those of us who
know Barbara’s or Nathaniel’s cough or laugh can detect them in the background.
The Ayn Rand Institute is in the process of establishing an archival library,
wherein the original lectures will be available. The work of the institute, in
terms of the preservation of original documents and lectures, has been
exemplary. But we can only hope that someday the archives will be open to bona
fide independent scholars who do not have to pass a litmus test in order to
conduct research, and who will be able to view materials without the distorting
influence of editorial intervention.
The interesting thing about partisanship is that it often depends less on direct
criticism of competing ideas (since that would entail actually entering into a
respectful dialogue with one’s opponents), and more on an absence of competing
ideas. It is a perverse Hegelianism: it is the absence that speaks louder than
the presence. Ultimately, the orthodoxy is creating a kind of ideology - and I
use this word in a pejorative sense, in this context. As John Davenport once
wrote: “The hallmark of ideology is always to rule out alternatives before they
can be critically considered.”
Several examples of this occur in Gotthelf’s book, On Ayn Rand,
a fairly straightforward primer. He claims in that book that he wishes to deal
only with primary sources, and will discuss secondary sources at another time.
Still, he dismisses Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand for its “gratuitous
psychologizing,” its “embittered” tone, and its “factual errors,” but he never
actually provides the title for Branden’s book. He dismisses the theses that
Rand that Rand was ever influenced by a dialectical orientation or that her
methodology or even her interpretations of Nietzsche were influenced by her
Gotthelf is criticizing implicitly those who might hold such positions; but one
can find no reference to Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical or
its author, wherein such claims are examined quite extensively. Peikoff’s Objectivism:
The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is used as a primary source
(Peikoff’s post-publication condemnation of Gotthelf’s book notwithstanding),
but one will not find any reference to work by those who are persona non grata
with the orthodoxy, including Machan, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, and Gladstein. There
is no mention of David Kelley’s Evidence of the Senses or
of Nathaniel Branden’s Psychology of Self-esteem (even
though this latter work is filled with “approved” writings that Branden authored
while he was associated with Rand). Gotthelf only states that Branden and Rand
were friends, and that those wanting more information about the end of their
relationship should consult Rand’s version of the story as published in the May
1968 issue of THE OBJECTIVIST.
This same bibliographic myopia is on display even in Bernstein’s Cliffsnotes.
At the end of each of the monographs, there is a “Cliffsnotes Resource Center.”
In every other monograph published by Cliffsnotes, one will find a nice
diversity of sources cited for the particular author and work under
consideration. In Bernstein’s monographs, here are the books listed under
“Critical Works About Rand”
Letters of Ayn Rand (edited
by M. Berliner)
The Ayn Rand Lexicon (edited
by H. Binswanger)
Journals of Ayn Rand (edited
by D. Harriman)
The Ayn Rand Reader (edited
by G. Hull)
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand -
by L. Peikoff
The Ominous Parallels -
by L. Peikoff
None of these books is a critical work on Rand. Rand’s major works of fiction
and nonfiction are listed thereafter, as are some Internet addresses (ARI, for
example), and some films and audio recordings (the Paxton documentary, Ayn
Rand: a Sense of Life, plus Rand’s Fountainhead, Love
Letters, and You Came Along).
The only non-orthodox source listed is “The
Passion of Ayn Rand” - not Branden’s biography, but the Showtime “film based on
Ayn Rand’s life.” I was actually quite shocked to find this listed in the
bibliography, but not surprised by the omission of information that would have
identified the film as based on the Branden book.
Sometimes, the orthodoxy promotes those Objectivist scholars whose works even it
criticizes as “burdened at times by an overly ‘academic’ style” - as Second
Renaissance Books characterizes Tara Smith’s Viable Values: A
Study of The Root And Reward of Morality.
As Objectivist scholarship goes, I think Smith’s book is worthy of our attention
- whether or not we agree with her approach to Rand’s ethics - and I enjoyed the
recent symposium on Viable Values at the
December 2000 Ayn Rand Society meeting of the American Philosophical
Association. Having met Smith, I am impressed especially by her willingness to
engage with non-Objectivist academics in such a forum.
Still, I was disappointed that Smith’s book does not engage academics who have
long published on the subject of Objectivist ethics. Considering that she
presents a case for eudaimonia based on Rand’s ethical egoism, and that her
arguments for human flourishing share much with positions offered in the early
1980s by theorists such as Den Uyl and Rasmussen (in Philosophic
Thought of Ayn Rand, and later, in 1991, in their Liberty
And Nature), it would have been good to see her situate her own work within
this growing literature, to compare and contrast her approach with those who
have come before her. I should note that Lester Hunt contributed to this
literature in a paper for the 1996 meetings of the Ayn Rand Society, for which
Tara Smith served as a commentator. Smith refers to her comment, in Viable
Values, but nowhere mentions the paper by Hunt on which she commented.
Neo-Aristotelian eudaimonism is happily on the rise in many quarters (even on
the left, in the work of Marxist Roy Bhaskar); to not notice its champions among
writers influenced by Rand is especially regrettable.
There are other books being published, of varying quality, that seek to actively
engage, extend, and apply Rand’s work to an ever-growing number of disciplines.
The most important of these, in my view, is Torres and Kamhi’s What
Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. It is the first book that attempts
to place Rand’s philosophy of art within the history of aesthetics, and that
attempts to apply and extend Rand’s principles in an analysis of contemporary
trends. The good news about this effort, however, is the dialogue that it is
sparking: it has already provoked two reviews in The Objectivist Center’s Navigator,
and has inspired a forthcoming symposium on Rand’s aesthetics in the Spring 2001
issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS).
This symposium features contributions from Objectivist philosophers, Rand
sympathizers, and Rand critics - both Marxist aestheticians and traditionalists.
This is the kind of critical engagement that will promote not only discussion of
an important book, but of one of the most neglected aspects of Objectivist
philosophy. And it is my hope that such discussion will branch out into
publications outside our little universe.
One thing that I must emphasize about such symposia is this: as an editor, I do
my best to keep scholars on the “high ground.” Sometimes, however, I will work
with a scholar who has an intransigently negative view of Rand. In such
circumstances, I will ask for clarification and amplification, but I almost
always throw caution to the wind; there are many scholars on the left and the
right who have read Rand and who have few prospects for publishing their own
negative musings on Rand’s work. It is my view that a journal like JARS can
be a place where such negativity is put on display - as one means of
counteracting it, since we open our doors to those who will reply in kind,
pointing out such an author’s errors or biases. I maintained this same approach
in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, in which we printed
previously published essays by authors such as Susan Brownmiller, Barbara
Grizzuti Harrison, and others, who were deeply critical of Rand. Fans of
Brownmiller or Harrison might pick up the book, nod in agreement, and then,
suddenly, find themselves in a quandary, as they read other essays in the book
that challenge their cherished negativity. We’ve got to stop being fearful of
this negativity; there’s lots of it out there - and it is going to take a
gargantuan effort to overturn it. Better to notice it, and to respond to it.
With each exchange, Rand’s work gains legitimacy. And as my colleague Roger
Bissell points out, it was Rand herself who once said: “It is obvious that a
boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be
rocked hard, if it is to regain its course...” I think Objecitivism can
withstand the rocking.
Other scholarly exchanges among those sympathetic to Rand are taking place as
well. I am particularly pleased by the recent publication of Roderick Long’s
Monograph, Reason And Value: Aristotle Versus Rand, as part
of TOC’s Objectivist Studies series. What is
extremely important about this monograph (and others like it in the series) is
that it features a dialogue among three participants: Long, Fred Miller, and
Eyal Mozes. By weighing the perspectives of Rand and Aristotle, scholars working
within or on the periphery of Objectivism, challenge some important aspects of
Rand’s work. The challenge must ultimately result in refinement, revision,
extension, application, and innovation.
I’d be remiss to not notice, in this context, the important work of
Enlightenment, which is also extending the challenge by providing us with net
access to a remarkable growth in work by budding Objectivist scholars. I am
personally amazed by how much work is being done and I applaud the efforts of
Carolyn Ray, Tom Radcliffe, and others connected to the Enlightenment project
and the forthcoming Journal of Objectivity.
Just a cursory look at Enlightenment’s website shows us the work of dozens of
authors, who have written dozens of essays and critical analyses, working
papers, doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, and bachelor’s theses. The site
also provides access to important email discussion lists, including “Analytic,”
a list conceived, created, and run by Bryan Register; “Dictionary,” conceived
and run by Carolyn Ray; and “Locke,” a read-list only, which provides a guided
introduction for Objectivists to Locke’s work.
The web is extremely important to the future of Objectivism and the academy, and
Enlightenment is taking advantage of this fact in many important ways,
including, of course, its sponsorship of this Online Conference. We have barely
touched the potential of the web. As technology advances, more and more
long-distance education options become possible. (I, myself, continue to teach
long-distance classes, such as my “Dialectics and Liberty” course.) Online
education is a very fruitful area for development; it provides an alternative
means for spreading Objectivism via a “parallel institution,” as Rothbard once
called it. Actually, on this point, Rothbard echoes the views of Antonio
Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, who argued that Marxists could and should provide
alternative educational and cultural organizations as one means of infiltrating
the larger culture; over time, these organs of “civil society” penetrate the
culture. They not only undermine established institutions from without; they are
sometimes absorbed by established institutions, which are then undermined from
within. The importance of using this parallel strategy in combination with the
strategy of penetrating established educational institutions is that it provides
us with a multi-pronged approach to undermining the intellectual status quo. The
strategies are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, complementary.
I’d like to conclude with a few observations about the kind of Objectivist
scholarship that we are most likely to see in the future. I’ve often argued that
scholarship proceeds by a kind of hermeneutic: as more and more people enter a
dialogue, each brings to that dialogue a personal context of knowledge with
which to interpret the texts under consideration. The tacking back and forth
between the intentions of the author as expressed in the text and the
perspective of the interpreter creates a dynamic that almost always advances the
dialogue further. Inevitably, competing schools of interpretation emerge, and
the debates intensify over the original author’s meaning, and the implications
and applications of the author’s ideas.
This is how most schools of thought have developed. Let’s take two schools in
particular: the Marxist and the Austrian.
After Karl Marx’s death, two central schools developed: the orthodox and the
revisionist. Engels promoted the orthodoxy by publishing many of Marx’s works
posthumously. Other thinkers, like Eduard Bernstein, began a necessary
“revisionist” critique of some Marxist ideas, while adhering closely to the
Marxist paradigm. In Russia, Plekhanov took Engels’ writings on the dialectics
of nature and developed a more formal “dialectical materialism.” Lenin applied
Marx’s theories to the context of a “pre-capitalist” country (Russia) and
developed Marxist-Leninist ideology. The works of Freud and Reich were
integrated with some of Marx’s earlier, more “humanistic” works, by the
Frankfurt school of Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, and others. By the end of the
twentieth century, we were being offered competing pictures of Marx: the
Aristotelian Marx (Meikle), the Hegelian Marx (G. Lukacs), the dialectical Marx
(Ollman), the analytic Marx (Roemer), and even Marx the Market Socialist (Lawler
and Schweickart - who have learned a lot from Hayek!). The point is that all of
these developments have come from individuals working within the Marxist
paradigm. And as their work has multiplied, it has affected every discipline
from aesthetic criticism to political economy to cultural anthropology.
The same can be said, on a more modest level, about the Austrian school of
economics. Developing out of the works of Carl Menger, Friedrich von Weiser and
Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, the modern Austrian school of Ludwig von Mises and F. A.
Hayek has given birth to a veritable industry in Austrian economics. Some have
approached the body of Austrian theory in a deductivist or “rationalist” or
“aprioristic” manner more consistent with Mises’ Human Action (e.g.,
Rothbard), whereas others have taken a more Hayekian route that stresses
evolutionary processes and the unintended consequences of human action. Still
others have taken the lessons of hermeneutical method and developed a kind of
Austrian hermeneutics (e.g., Lavoie, Horwitz, Boettke, and others). (I discuss
all of these developments in my newest book, Total Freedom:
Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.) Some stress the radical “subjectivism”
of the theory (Lachmann), whereas others incorporate lessons on objective value
from the classical school of political economy (Reisman). There are now very
spirited debates within Austrian economics - taking place in Austrian-inspired
journals and in mainstream journals alike. All indications are that Austrian
theory is slowly emerging from its position as a relic of the history of
economic thought to a vibrant, living paradigm, with its emphasis on the primacy
of process as a foil to static, neoclassical economics.
The simple fact is: You can’t keep an idea down. Even bad ideas become fertile
ground for major theoretical developments. Such developments are even more
exciting when the ideas are good ones.
I think we are seeing the beginnings of such an evolution in Objectivism, and I
do not think that this is anything to fear. There will be those who argue that
the core of the philosophy will necessarily be stripped of its essence, and
watered down. But that is not necessarily the case; what will happen is that as
more and more people join the ranks of scholars who take Rand and Objectivism
seriously, there will be more and more opportunities for different
interpretations and developments within the paradigm provided by Rand. Some of
those developments we will like, and some we won’t. But the great thing about an
exploding industry is that there will be more and more opportunities to debate
this or that development and its consistency with Rand’s philosophical framework
- and ultimately, with reality, which, after all, is what matters most.
I see a Promised Land that will only be reached by the hard work and effort of
dedicated individuals, who eschew dogmatism, who take ideas seriously, and who
pursue this project with the intellectual honesty it requires.
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caro: If you require a larger font, or if you would like to fit more of the text
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agnes: Good morning, I'm Agnes Koos. This is a trial message, but I enclose one
of my most important questions to Chris Sciabarra: After I discovered your
interest in Hayek, I would be very grateful for a short comparison between Ayn
Rand and Hayek - main similarities and differences, within the limits of
possibility (I mean in the fields they both dealt with). (Question tied of
course of my attempt to see relationships between Objectivism and Rational
caro: Good day, everyone! The moderator is now in.
caro: Please remember to go to http://w2.wetheliving.com/ if the server suddenly
becomes inaccessible; there will be news there. If you have any other problems,
just send me an email; my mail is open.
caro: Ted, Chris, Matt, Irfan, Agnes, and Bryan should keep in mind that their
comments go live immediately. Everyone else's comments won't appear until I send
chris: howdy... and good day to you Caro! The guy who wrote the "opening
address" is here...
irfan: I have a question for Chris on the issue of "partisanship." Early on in
his paper, Chris criticizes partisanship in Objectivist scholarship, and
characterizes it as a concern not with truth, but with the source of someone's
ideas. I agree with that characterization of the issue, and like Chris, I reject
partisanship as an impediment to serious scholarship. But I find it remarkable
that Chris's criticisms of various Objectivist scholars--Allan Gotthelf and Tara
Smith, in particular--are partisan in precisely the sense he seems to reject. In
both cases, Chris's primary concern in discussing these authors is with
*sources*. He writes as though the most pressing issue concerning these books
was: whom did Gotthelf and Smith footnote and why? And Chris's emphasis on this
issue is far from anomalous. Many Objectivists seem utterly consumed by the "who
was footnoted and why" issue. It seems to me a pseudo-issue and a distraction
from more important topics--e.g., "what did they write and why?" (I should add
that I actually disagree with most of what Chris says about the particular cases
of Gotthelf and Smith as well. I can explain why separately.) My question is:
why isn't an emphasis on this issue (who was footnoted?) partisanship of the
same invidious kind that Chris eloquently deplores? What is the point of raising
it and giving it such prominence? Irfan
caro: Excellent! I won't give a long introduction to Dr. Chris Sciabarra. I'll
just say that he's the man who has brought us TOTAL FREEDOM, and let him speak
chris: I do see a question from Agnes here, who asks me about the similarities
between Hayek and Rand. I explore some of the similarities in Chapters 7 and 8
of RUSSIAN RADICAL. Aside from their obvious status as advocates of the free
market, I do think that the two thinkers share much with regard to their
critique of "rationalism." I think one other important area to explore for
similarities (and provocative differences) is in their approaches to the "tacit"
dimensions of knowledge.
caro: This is a question sent in early: The tremendous growth in published Rand
scholarship is very encouraging. But is there yet hard quantifiable information
on how much impact the published work is having: *Do you have or do you have a
plan as to how to obtain numbers on: 1. How many copies are being sold of the
various published books and journals?
chris: Irfan poses an interesting an important question, so I'll try to answer
it. I don't think that I would have ever raised the issue of who is or is not
referenced if the issue had not been raised to begin with by Professor Gotthelf.
It is he who takes swipes at Branden without naming the title of her book, and
he who takes swipes at my work without naming the book or who wrote it. I think
this goes way beyond simple partisanship; by not referencing people like Branden
and Kelley, for example, and not grappling with their enormous contributions to
our understanding of Objectivism, something is lost of substance.
chris: I don't have numbers for all the books, though I do know numbers for my
own; RUSSIAN RADICAL is on the upside of 10 thousand. I understand that
Gotthelf's work has sold around 4000 copies and is the best seller in the
Wadsworth series (all the more reason for it to have included a comprehensive
bibliography to introduce the student to all the work being done out there by
Rand scholars). Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand moved similar numbers, I
caro: Whether they are mostly being bought by the "already converted"
(Objectivists, Rand fans, libertarians, a handful of conservatives... as opposed
to, say, future professors of philosophy, liberals, the intelligent layman who
chris: I suspect that the journals and books will have a Rand and libertarian
base; however, there is evidence that many professors are assigning books (at
least in my own book's case) to their classes. It is always difficult to gauge
who is buying what, unless everything becomes electronically scanned and full
"cookies" give us hints to people's buying habits.
irfan: A rejoinder to Chris's response to me: I agree that Gotthelf should have
mentioned Branden's book. But in the case of your work, I don't see why the
issue isn't covered by his reference (which you mention) to a later discussion
of secondary material. I also don't think your explanation of why Gotthelf
didn't mention Kelley or Branden is persuasive. You seem to have inferred too
quickly that it's a matter of partisanship. But Gotthelf didn't mention Harry
Binswanger's book, either. Perhaps it wasn't partisanship but a decision
regarding exposition unrelated to partisan considerations. The decision might
have been--focus as much on primary sources as possible. Neither Kelley, nor
Binswanger nor Branden qualify in that respect.
caro: --Apologies--I think the refresh rate is a bit too fast. Working on that
now; your patience is requested.
chris: Honestly, with regard to Branden, I can't think of a single writer who
contributed more to the intellectual arsenal of Objectivism in its beginning
stages -- particularly on important issues of self-esteem, volition, and such --
other than Ayn Rand, than Nathaniel Branden. And if he were not being partisan
with regard to the personal details of the Rand-Branden affair, he would have at
least given the reader the option of looking up alternative views of it in
Barbara Branden's biography or Nathaniel Branden's memoir, rather than just
offering us Rand's statement from May 1968 which said virtually nothing about
the actual reasons for their split. As for my own work, yes, it is surely a good
point that Gotthelf postponed discussion of the work for his essay on secondary
material. The issue here however is that he DID mention the theses of the book
in his exposition -- but gave no indication where on earth these theses came
from. It would have been nice for him to say -- "this are ridiculous theses put
forth by Chris Sciabarra." I would have actually preferred that to having the
theses dismissed in one or two sentences without any discussion whatsoever of
their origin or meaning. I hasten to add that I actually don't dislike
Gotthelf's book... certainly not in the way it was attacked by Leonard Peikoff
after the fact. I applaud Gotthelf's contribution here, and think it is a good
sign of a wider movement toward bringing Rand into the academy.
tom: I need a brief pause in entries while I fix the refresh rate--please don't
hit send for a minute.
tom: Ok--the refresh rate should now be something more reasonable. Please go
agnes: Sorry to intervene with a question not related to the previous ones - I
waited for something closer to mine, but maybe the moderator arranges for the
right order - - You speak of a developing Objectivist scholarship. Do you think
this should deal with a study of human values? I mean can you imagine a
scientific value inquiry within the Objectivist paradigm and how should it be?
e.g.Would it be interested in predicting the evolution of values?
chris: On the issue of partisanship, however, I should mention, that when people
on the "other side" -- those more closely associated with TOC for example --
discuss Objectivism, nobody seems to hesitate to mention Peikoff, or Gotthelf,
or Sciabarra, or Den Uyl, or Machan, or Rasmussen or any number of people
writing in Rand scholarship. The hesitation only comes from the orthodoxy; it is
as if mere mention of non-"approved" thinkers or writers is cause for concern.
chris: Agnes asks an interesting question; yes, of course, I would love to see
an Objectivist-oriented discussion of the evolution of values. Up till now, in
the libertarian / Objectivist universe, I've only seen discussions like this
coming from the Hayekians. It would be interesting to see some
historically-oriented studies by Objectivist scholars that offer an alternative
to the Hayekian approach, which is influenced (to a certaian degree) by thinkers
from the Scottish Enlightenment, such as Hume and Smith.
caro: DOes that answer your question, Agnes?
irfan: I'm still not persuaded by your discussion of Gotthelf or generally of
this issue. Regarding Rand-Branden, Gotthelf tells us that he doesn't *trust* B.
Branden's book, hence the pointlessness of referring readers to it to read about
the split. And N. Branden's book doesn't even purport to be fully factual. I
don't think either book is particularly reliable on the issues it discusses.
Perhaps Gotthelf should have said nothing at all about the split, but I don't
see the problem with what he did do. In the case of your book, the general issue
he was discussing was Rand's prior influences and their extent. I think he
wanted to deny any important level of influence without tying it to the specific
claim of influence you made in your book But we'll see how he handles this in
the forthcoming paper.
agnes: Thanks for the answer, but I'm surprised by Chris' emphasis on history.
Do you think it is characteristic to Objectivism or it is important just in this
field ? I may imagine completely synchronical research too, which still founds
prevision (genre Rokeach, Schwartz).
caro: Looks like we have two separate threads going here. Let's finish up with
Irfan's question, then move back to Agnes's. Chris?
chris: Well, Ok, Irfan, and yes, I do look forward to how he'll handle it in his
forthcoming work. I know from previous exchanges with him that he disagrees
rather fundamentally with my approach, which is FINE. I really value the
exchange of views on these issues; speaking from my own perspective, however,
I've been accused of HYPER-citations. A cursory look at my work will show text
jammed with footnotes, because my own style of scholarship is to provide people
with as many clues and interesting possibilities as I can -- for the sake of
future research. My own website features virtually every critic who has said
anything bad about my work -- because I think that it is important to put this
material in a place for people to weigh and examine. I have witnessed too much
personal animosity between people who don't agree with one another, and my point
about partisanship is: don't let this interfere with an honest discussion of
ideas. (I have other criticisms of Gotthelf's book that relate to substance -- I
am sorry he didn't spend more time than he did on politics and aesthetics, but
this is another issue entirely.) As for the Branden issue... yes, I understand
that he doesn't trust Branden's book... but he doesn't NAME Branden's book.
Given all that has happened in the past in Objectivist circles, where the mere
mention of Branden's TITLE became a cause for purging, it would have been
REFRESHING for him to simply have named the source that he alluded to.
irfan: Well, I think before the moderator purges ME, I'd better let someone else
have the floor. Thanks for the answers, Chris.
caro: OK, let's turn back to Agnes.
chris: Oh, and by the way, Irfan, << I >> very much enjoyed the APA conference,
and was impressed by your paper, and by Professor Smith's discussion. I think
her own approach -- a respectful and assertive one -- is something to celebrate,
and I very much appreciated the fact that she was so willing to engage her own
critics in public. It was refreshing. And Objectivism needs more like it.
agnes: Forgive me, Irfan.
tom: I'm going to knock the refresh rate down another notch--please don't send
for a minute.
tom: Ok to go ahead now.
chris: Agnes asks me if the emphasis on history is characteristic to Objectivism
or important just in this field. I would say that in general, the approach to
value that I've seen in Objectivism is one motivated to get to the objective
roots of value, to understand the nature of value. It is not so much an
historical discussion as it is a scientific one. However, I do think it would be
interesting for Objectivists to say more about the historical evolution of
morals and traditions. I was always intrigued by Rand's statement, for example,
that St. Ambrose's anti-wealth views were actually understandable, given his
historical context. She was not as forgiving to those who offered anti-wealth
views in the 20th century. But Rand hints here at a kind of analysis that might
entail a kind of historically or culturally specific emphasis. I'm not saying
"relativistic," I'm just saying that she showed a keen insight here about the
relationship of moral values and the social/historical conditions within which
they are expressed.
chris: I should mention too that Rand always maintained that her own
understanding of the connection between reason and production could not have
been possible without the Industrial Revolution, which documented that
connection in terms that were undeniable.
chris: Caro, would you like me to answer some of the additional questions that
came via email today?
caro: Chris, do you think that academics have much of a role in setting the
social/historical context? Can you elaborate on that point a bit?
agnes: Sorry, I have problems with keeping the text on screen: it always goes
back to previous passages. Your answer does sound as if historical-social
conditions would explain only divergence from a standard rationality and in fact
the normal course of the historical development would be toward a well-defined
type of rationality with the associated value assuptions/systems. Am I right?
chris: I'm always reminded by a statement that has been uttered in various forms
by everyone from Hegel and Marx to Hayek and my colleague Peter Boettke: that we
are as much the creatures of our context as we are its creators. Yes, of course,
I think we have a huge role in setting -- and altering -- that context. The
issue is always this: we enter into a context that offers us a "given climate of
opinion," as Hayek once said. Whatever we can do to bridge the gap between that
climate and the revolutionary alternatives we yearn for is essentially a
translation exercise. Rand, for example, did this with such notions as
"selfishness," "government," and "capitalism." I've often said that just as she
named one of her books CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL, she could have named
others, SELFISHNESS: THE UNKONWN IDEAL, or for her political theories,
GOVERNMENT: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL. Her conceptions obviously draw from conventional
words, but the meanings she provides them with are, in some instances, so
different from the convention that they subtly undermine the convention. (By the
way, I've done a similar thing, I think, with the very notion of "dialectic" --
taking Rand's lead, I could have titled my TOTAL FREEDOM instead: DIALECTICS:
THE UNKNOWN IDEAL. So, yes, we have a place in the context; we are never
speaking from an Archimedean standpoint external to that context. But we can
engage in the kind of immanent critique that subtly overturns the status quo.
caro: A question from Jamie Mellway: A lot of Chris' address is applauding the
recent turn towards scholarship in Objectivism against the more anti-scholarship
of the past and with ARI. I wholehearted agree with applauding this turn. My
question for Chris is, now that we have something of an infrastructure for
academic debate with JARS and Enlightenment, what’s next? I.e., is providing a
forum enough or do we need to have more focused approach to topics? Do we need
to aggressively challenge what is possibly wrong with (interpretations of)
Objectivism or let all the perspectives sing out loudly? How much good
scholarship do we need to impose on Objectivism? I am asking because there seems
to be a divide in Objectivism between ATL where (almost) anything goes & the
same old issues are asserted, and with the more academic stuff is being ignored
by all but a handful of people. How do we move forward with this kind of divide?
caro: (Note: ATL is the unmoderated We The Living list, "Atlantis"
chris: As far as Agnes' question, I'm not entirely sure if we can say that
historical-social conditions explain divergence from a standard rationality, and
I'm pretty sure that we're not moving toward some necessary victory for a
well-defined rationality. But Objectivism does have important things to say
about how conditions can undermine the pursuit and achievement of values. Ayn
Rand's WE THE LIVING, if anything, is one of the most eloquent statements of how
an "airtight" nightmarish social existence makes us choose between various forms
of suicide. Rand understood that we needed to create the kind of society where
rational values would be rewarded; that society is as much the product of
rational values as it is the context for their successful pursuit.
chris: Jamie poses an interesting string of alternatives. I would say that there
is not much that anyone could do except to do what one does best. By this I
mean, if we're scholars, and this is our mode of moving in the world of ideas,
go for it. We have a wonderful division of knowledge and specialization of
talents going on in a relatively infant industry. There is nothing we can do to
hold back the almost anarchic development at this point -- whether it be the
kind of free-wheeling ATL type discussion or the more sustained scholarly
argumentation that goes with the academy. I say - "let all the perspectives sing
out loudly." There's no point in trying to control something that can't be
controlled. What is important is that in the marketplace of ideas, we might
elevate the discussion over time so that more and more people are taking
seriously the ideas that we consider. If a more focused approach to topics is
your strength, I encourage you to do this (and I mean "you" in the generic
sense, though, of course, I know Jamie has wonderful strengths in this area!!).
I am, by the way, very pleased with the proliferation of electronic forums for
discussion, even the free-wheeling ones... but especially ones like
Enlightenment, which provides a place for working papers that are criticized in
online conferences such as this one. I think the potential of the web (as I say
in my paper) is enormous, and long-distance learning is a valuable addition to
the intellectual marketplace.
caro: (Moderator's note: I'm going to moderate the next sessions more heavily,
so that the flow of conversation makes more sense. Just giving you the good news
chris: That's Ok, Caro... I'm happy to be the test case. :)
caro: from Robert Campbell: In the exchange between Irfan and Chris I took Chris
to be defending the basic principles of good scholarship: you cite everybody
whose work you know and who has something relevant to say, whether you agree or
not. In the more tribal reaches of academia, these principles are routinely
violated in two ways. First, there is a strong preference for positive over
negative citations--citations of people you agree with vs. citations of people
you disagree with. Second, in the most factionalized areas there are approved
positive citations and disapproved positive citations. In this context, it is
very clear that in his book Gotthelf violates the principle in both ways. His
claim to be citing only "primary sources" is an inadequate defense. As Chris and
others have pointed out in the past, if he really meant this he wouldn't have
cited Peikoff either. If Gotthelf doesn't trust either Nathaniel or Barbara
Branden's memoirs, fine--he just needs to say so. Does he trust Rand's
hagiographers, by the way? And if he doesn't, will he say that he doesn't in
print? The TOC folks have occasionally ignored relevant sources, but their track
record is far better than that of anyone associated with ARI--and far better
chris: By the way, on the point of advancing discussion of Objectivism, I'd also
encourage Objectivist writers to begin thinking about and writing about POP
CULTURE. If I can offer a brief commercial break here... my own article on, of
all things, "The Paradox of Eminem," appears in the next issue of THE FREE
RADICAL, and will make its debut on Lindsay Perigo's "SOLO" site as well. I
think Objectivist writers need to be as concerned with pop culture as they are
with the "ivory tower." It is all part of a multipronged discussion that brings
Objectivist ideas to bear on an enormous variety of issues and concerns.
caro: From Andrew Breese: You, above, write about different specialists doing
different things to advance something that sounds like a cause or movement.
Perhaps because you sound like David Friedman when you say that :), I think you
mean (elements of) libertarianism as the cause or movement. What do you honestly
think libertarianism's impact can be on the world-at-large culture in the
chris: I'd like to, of course, offer my own agreement with Robert Campbell on
the scholarship issue. I should emphasize that this sectarianism is not
distinctive to Rand scholarship. It could be found at one time in Freud
scholarship, and Nietzsche scholarship, and Marx scholarship. Robert is right...
in contentious areas marked by faction, this kind of sectarianism is routinely
on display. But today, after a century head-start on Objectivism, Marxist
scholars have learned that, over time, one must engage one's opponents within
the paradigm that these opponents ostensibly share. Today, we have vast
differences between the "dialectical" Marxists and the "analytic" Marxists, the
Frankfurt school and the Market Socialists, and what-not. But these groups talk
to one another in scholarly dialogue. (Of course, I'm not talking about Marxist
politicians, who simply did away where their critics; fortunately, we've never
seen anything remotely like this in Objectivism!! :) )
irfan: Responding to Robert Campbell: I don't agree with your formulation of the
principle for citation; I think the principle has to be narrower than that. The
principle you've described is a principle for a bibliographical essay, not a
footnote in a 100-page primer. So Gotthelf's violating *that* principle can't be
relevant here. Re Gotthelf's use of Peikoff: Peikoff's exposition of things Rand
said is certainly more 'primary' a source than Branden, Kelley, Binswanger,
Chris, you or me. Peikoff was one of the few people in a position to record
Rand's views on the relevant questions. Hence Gotthelf's reference to it as
'quasi-primary.' That seems as good a description as any of Peikoff's book.
Clearly, Gotthelf does trust the ARI-approved biographers; he says so (p. 27).
And he doesn't trust B. Branden's book--he says that, too (p. 27). As I said
earlier, he should have mentioned the title of the latter book. I wasn't
providing a blanket defense of Gotthelf--I was challenging the evidence for
Chris's inference that Gotthelf's methods were "partisan" tout court. And I
still don't think that claim has been borne out as stated in Chris's paper.
caro: Chris, can you address Andrew's question next?
chris: Andrew asks a BIG question. Honestly, I think libertarianism's impact on
the world-at-large HINGES on a multipronged attack on the culture. I argue in
TOTAL FREEDOM for a "dialectical libertarianism" because I believe that too many
libertarians have been complacent about issues of history and culture. They
simply want to roll back the state as if politics is the only domain that
matters. Rand has taught us (and she's not alone in this... since Mises, Hayek,
and Rothbard have offered some insights into this area as well) that we must be
concerned with the preconditions and effects of liberty. It means developing the
kind of systems-approach that entails investigations of philosophy, social
psychology, psycho-epistemology, culture, pedagogy, linguistics, economics, and
politics, maybe even cultural anthropology. Libertarianism needs to move in the
direction of grand theory because the oppression it fights is on a grand scale.
All of the political changes in Russia, for example, mean nothing if there is no
individualist culture promoting responsibility and autonomy, independence and
honesty. Markets are nothing without the institutional context within which they
can flourish as mechanisms of justice.
chris: Just as an aside on Peikoff and Gotthelf: I don't think any book is more
primary (other than Rand's) than Nathaniel Branden's PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-ESTEEM,
which was a virtual anthology of everything he wrote while he was associated
with Rand. Now, granted, there is only so much Gotthelf could do in a 100-page
primer; I would not have expected him to go on and on about psychology. But in a
chapter on "Virtue, Self, and Others," surely there is room for a citation of
Branden's important work on self-esteem. In his Chapter 6 discussion on
"Perception and Concepts," surely there is room for one citation to David
Kelley's EVIDENCE OF THE SENSES. This is a primer -- it can also be a hugely
important resource for a young student who wants to "read more about it."
caro: From Phil Coates: You mentioin that Rand is now beginning to be taken
seriously because of the recent books in reputable venues. The next level beyond
mere acknowledgement would be viewed as central and prestigious. Talk about when
and how that might happen...when the John Grays, Richard Rortys, WVO Quines will
think they have to deal with her.
chris: Boy, oh boy, do I hope for the day that Phil projects! I don't know how
long or even if that day will come. I would have hoped that with Rorty having
been David Kelley's thesis advisor that he could have been engaged on Rand. John
Gray, of course, has long turned his back on libertarian or even Hayekian
thought, but I would have hoped that even he would have ATTACKED Ayn Rand, since
mention of her is often better than silence. I do wish to say however that lots
of us are working very hard to bring others on board in discussing Rand
critically. For example, in the next issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a
major Marxist literary theorist and aesthetician, Gene Bell-Villada, who was a
finalist in the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award, contributes an essay on
Rand's aesthetics. I'm doing my best to bring as many people from as many points
of view on board to discuss Rand. Others are working hard too, including Allan
Gotthelf, who, in the Ayn Rand Society, brings critics of Objectivism into
engagement with Objectivist scholars. I think that it is simply a matter of
time: the more this is discussed, the more there is a possibility that we will
raise Rand to the level of centrality and prestige that she deserves. It will
just entail sustained work on the part of a lot of people.
caro: From Frank Forman: Chris, outside the ARI band, are you seeing signs that
Objectivists are opening up? That factions retreat into fundamentalism is
characteristic of ideas in decline, as Randall Collins showed in "The Sociology
of Philosophies," but this Objectivism is not at all in decline, just one small
branch of it.
chris: Well, I do think that organizations like The Objectivist Center,
Enlightenment, and others, are opening up to allow the perspectives of outsiders
to be heard and discussed. Given the sectarian history of Objectivism, given the
closed-culture of the early movement, I think that every step toward the
"opening up" is a step well taken. But Rome wasn't built in a day, to use an old
cliche. We need to be patient, especially with a philosophy and with people who
are fired up by that philosophy. Look at how long it took for Marxism to make
the impact IT made on the world. Today, not a single discipline in the social
sciences or humanities is unaffected by the Marxist paradigm. Infiltration is
insidious, but it is productive of consequences across disciplinary bounds that
are often not seen immediately. I think the "cat's out of the bag" at this
point, and those who have ventured away from fundamentalism, so-to-speak, can't
stop the process toward open engagement. And this is good.
irfan: I promise not to say any more on this, but responding to Chris's aside on
Peikoff & Gotthelf--this strikes me as a change of subject. The question isn't
what Gotthelf's footnoting policy should have been--mine would have been
different--but whether his actual policy was motivated by "partisanship." My
point has been that you (Chris) referred to Gotthelf's book explicitly and
expressly as an example of partisanship, but haven't in my view pointed to
sufficient evidence to vindicate that claim about his motives. In general, I
think one needs to adduce A LOT of inductive evidence to make claims about
people's motives, and we haven't seen enough evidence to make the inference
you've drawn. Yes, he could have included Branden and Kelley, and didn't, but he
could have included Binswanger and Tara Smith and didn't. One explanation for
all of that is partisanship; another is an intention to focus on primary or
nearly primary sources. Your evidence is indeterminate between those two
explanations, and doesn't account for some of the facts.
caro: On that note, the session is will now close, unless Chris would like to
make further statements, about anything, at this point. I request that, when
Chris has said goodbye, everyone log off and then log back in just before 5:30
EST if attending the next session with Irfan Khawaja. Thank you!
chris: Well, in the case of Branden, we're talking about a primary source in my
view; so the exclusion must be partisan -- I have no other explanation.
Ultimately, of course, yes, you're right: I'm not inside Gotthelf's head. I
don't know his motives, but I know what I see. On Gotthelf's own account,
primary sources were important to him, and secondary sources were not. So even
if we discount everyone on that criteria -- Nathaniel Branden remains a glaring
omission. Given Gotthelf's close association with ARI, speaking at
ARI-affiliated conferences and such, I simply can't imagine that anyone there
would have liked to have seen him reference Branden.
chris: Let me end on that note... and wish everybody well. I'm very happy and
glad to have been invited to participate here, and look forward to the other
sessions! Thanks to Enlightenment and all those who participated! Take care!
caro: Thank you, Chris! Thanks to everyone for your questions. Please log back
in at 5:30 for the next session.
caro: Sorry--I realized that wasn't clear. Logging off consists of simply
closing your browser, or going to a different web page.