In the September 1998 Liberty, the magazine's layout staff accidently used an unproofed, uncorrected version of Chris Matthew Sciabarra's "Bowdlerizing Ayn Rand," which included several typographical errors. The magazine apologizes to its readers and to Mr. Sciabarra. Here is the corrected version:
THE EDITOR OF AYN RAND'S JOURNALS CENSORED HER WRITING . . .
BOWDLERIZING AYN RAND
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
The recent publication of Journals of Ayn Rand was a major event for Rand scholars. In its pages, we see dramatic evidence of Rand's intellectual struggles and maturation. Together with her previously published letters, Journals goes a long way toward clarifying many important issues in Objectivism and its place in the history of philosophy.
Like any scholar, I am very concerned about the textual integrity, particularly since its editor, David Harriman, admits to grammatical and stylistic line-editing. Harriman assures us that in those cases where he "eliminate[s] words," he does not affect "the meaning" of Rand's formulations. He calls this a "restrained approach" to editing, in which omitted phrases are indicated "by ellipsis points in square brackets" (xvii).
All this came to mind a while ago when a friend asked whether I'd had access to Rand's journals prior to their publication. I told him that I had not, and asked him why he thought that I had. He quoted me back a passage from my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: "In her journals, Rand dealt critically with the writings of other thinkers, such as Albert Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken, Peter Kropotkin, and Jose Ortega y Gasset" (106-7). He had found references to Mencken, Kropotkin and Ortega y Gasset in Journals, but none to Nock.
When I wrote my book, Rand's journals had not yet published, and the Estate of Ayn Rand had not made them available to me. I had relied instead on excerpts from her journals that had been published in The Objectivist Forum, The Intellectual Activist, and various anniversary editions of her novels. And yet, while references to Mencken, Kropotkin, and Ortega y Gasset remain in the recently published Journals, my friend could not find the reference to Nock.
I was troubled by this. Could it be that I had mistakenly listed Nock in my own book as among the authors with whom Rand had grappled? I knew from Barbara Branden's biography that Rand had met Nock, as well as Ruth Alexander, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and other important intellectuals of the Old Right.
So, I went back to my voluminous research notes, and found that the reference to Nock appeared in the April 1984 Objectivist Forum, which published her journal entry for January 20, 1947:
An important point to stress: blast the fool idea that material production is some sort of low activity, the result of some base "materialistic" impulse -- as opposed to the "spiritual realm" (whatever they think that is) which consists of some sort of vague, passive contemplation of something or other (the Albert Jay Nock idea). Show that material production is the result of and comes from the highest and noblest aspect of man, from his creative mind, from his independent rational judgment -- which is his highest attribute and the sole base of his whole morality. To exercise one's own independent rational judgment is the whole essence of man's morality, his highest action, his sole moral duty and commandment that embraces all his "good" and all his virtues. (1) [italics in text; underlined emphasis mine]
I thought that my friend may have missed this reference in the Journals. He'd just checked the index, which probably had overlooked this brief mention. Surely Nock's name would be in the text. I checked out the Journals. On pages 549-50, I found the passage:
An important point to stress: blast the fool idea that material production is some sort of low activity, the result of a base "materialistic" impulse -- as opposed to the "spiritual realm" (whatever they think that is), which consists of some sort of vague, passive contemplation of something or other. Show that material production is the result of and comes from the highest and noblest aspect of man, from his creative mind, from his independent rational judgement -- which is his highest attribute and the sole base of his morality. To exercise one's own independent rational judgment is the essence of man's morality, his highest action, his sole moral commandment that embraces all his virtues. [italics in text; underlined emphasis mine]
There are several differences between these two versions of the same passage. The editor has changed one word in the first sentence from "some" to "a." In the second sentence, he has dropped the word "whole." In the third and final sentence, the word "whole" disappears for a second time. Also erased are two phrases: "duty and" and "his 'good' and all."
Are these merely stylistic alterations designed to eliminate "wordiness," as Harriman explains he has done in his introduction (xvii)? Well, in the first and last sentences, the changing of "some" to "a" and the deletion of "his 'good' and all" doesn't seem to change Rand's meaning, though it's difficult to see why the changes were made.
Dropping the word "whole" in the final two sentences makes me uncomfortable. I've devoted a lot of time to examining the presence in Rand's work of dialectical concepts, including the notion of an "organic whole." Rand uses the organic terminology explicitly in her early work and the continuing appearance of the word "whole" in her later notes might be worthy of extended analysis in any given context.
Even more problematic is the deletion of the phrase "duty and" in the final sentence. Perhaps the word "duty" is a bit too deontologically close for an Objectivist's comfort. Rand, after all, rejects duty-bound morality and assaults Kant's categorical imperatives. All Harriman had to do -- as he does elsewhere in the volume -- was to insert an explanatory comment reflecting Rand's mature conception.
The most egregious omission in the Journals version of this passage is that the reference to Albert Jay Nock has been dropped completely. Nock has been expunged from the historical record.
Most problematic, however, is that in every instance of Harriman's editing in this passage, he provides no bracketed ellipsis points to indicate that anything has been altered.
When such editorial changes are not made explicit, when not even ellipsis points are provided to indicate missing text, doubt is cast unnecessarily on the volume's authenticity. Even if this does not impugn the book's overall value to critically-minded readers, it makes the serious Rand scholar question the text's accuracy. These questions are generated not by any inherent distrust of the Estate, but by discrepancies in the same passage published in two different sources authorized by the Estate. Which version is accurate? The first? The second? Neither? Officials at the Ayn Rand Institute are busy establishing a research archive, but until independent scholars are able to examine Rand's personal papers, serious doubts will remain.
In this single three-sentence paragraph, there are six alterations. And at least four are important to scholars and others who want to understand Rand. How many other revisions of the historical record are there?