THE RANDIAN-FEMINISM MAILING LIST
SELECTED ARCHIVES FROM THE FOUR MONTH CONFERENCE
The Randian-Feminism Mailing List is a forum for Objectivist and Randian Feminists -- people who share a common interest in Feminist philosophy, issues and perspectives, and in Ayn Rand's ideas and philosophy. Thomas Gramstad created the list on January 14, 1998.
March 1, 1999 (Bryan Register)
Preface - Nancy Tuana
Introduction - Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Chris Matthew Sciabarra opened the discussion of the volume (Date: Sunday, 28 Feb 1999 19:13:40):
I am very happy that we are beginning the first discussion of FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND. I say "first" because I expect that this book will be discussed and debated for many years to come. It is fitting that this inaugural conference is taking place on the "Randian-Feminism" list, and that it will be both structured and moderated, in keeping with the critical character of discourse.
I'd like to say a few words about the Introduction, on which we are concentrating this week. Mimi and I enjoyed working together on the project, and enjoyed creating an introductory essay that would touch upon the many themes in the book. One of the most important themes that is highlighted here is that both Feminism and Objectivism are not monoliths. There is no "one" feminism, and - - the protestations of orthodox Objectivists notwithstanding - - there is no "one" Objectivism. This does NOT mean that it is impossible to define either according to their essential characteristics. But those schooled in Objectivism should know that a concept is not equivalent to its definition, and that Objectivism is as much a concept as it is a proper name for a philosophical movement. As a concept, it is open-ended, and in my view, it is evolving as it comes into active engagement with the perspectives of other schools of thought. This is as it should be. For the interaction of different contexts creates an unforeseen dynamic: we are suddenly in the position to relate Objectivism to different frameworks, and these frameworks will bring to light aspects of the philosophy that were previously hidden from view.
But the same can be said for feminism. In its engagement with Objectivism, all sorts of interesting issues are brought forth: the relationship of feminism and classical liberalism; the relationship of feminism and egoism, individualism, and capitalism; the things that feminism and Objectivism might have in common; the differences between them - - and the prospects for synthesis. All very interesting and controversial applications.
In introducing the discussion, the Gladstein-Sciabarra essay highlights several issues that I wish to emphasize here - - because they will be essential to our discussions in the ensuing weeks: 1. The historical dimension: How was Ayn Rand treated in the past by feminist thinkers? (The purpose of Part One, "Looking Back") 2. The methodological dimension: How might Ayn Rand's methodological orientation be a fruitful resource for feminists who are equally critical of modernist dualities? 3. The literary dimension: What can Rand's literature teach us about gender roles and sexuality, heroism and values? Are these lessons compatible with certain forms of feminism? 4. The political dimension: What might feminists learn from Rand's libertarian politics? Is feminism compatible with individualism and capitalism? 5. The aesthetic dimension: What might Rand's aesthetic theory offer to feminist philosophies?
These are just some of the dimensions of the discussion. That our contributors come from disciplines as diverse as philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, English, and political science portends well for the quality of the engagement.
Let's have fun! :)
Sciabarra also related some of his "personal experiences in academia" (Date: 07-Mar-1999 14:34:27):
I have always had major visibility as a libertarian, and, as an undergraduate, as a libertarian ACTIVIST. I was a founder of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, back in the late 1970's, when we protested against Carter's draft registration drive. And I edited the political science journal, which published my pieces on libertarian anarchism and the abolition of public schools.
I must say that I never experienced any real hostility in academia, on any level of my undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral education. I did all three degrees at NYU, a home of Austrian economics, but my advanced degrees were in politics... so I can't even blame my good fortune on the fact that I was being graded only by Austrians. (I majored in economics as an undergraduate, and continued to attend the weekly Austrian colloquium while doing my advanced work... but that's another story.)
The simple fact is that I never walked into a classroom feeling as if I was there to do battle. I really appreciate Bryan's remark that we participate in a "marketplace of ideas." I was in school to learn and to exchange ideas and to grow through the exchange. I'm still learning from my students and my colleagues.
In all my years, I can think of only ONE professor who was a paradigm of intolerance -- he opened up the class with a nightmare line that seemed as if it should have been out of ATLAS SHRUGGED: "There is no such thing as objectivity; this class will be devoted to my opinion... and if you wish to express your opinion, I will listen... but it will not change mine." He actually was a bit nicer than this... but it is the only sign of intolerance I've ever encountered in college.
There was one other experience that was instructive, but it certainly did not stop me from receiving honors in history: I did my senior honors thesis as an undergraduate on the "Pullman Strike." I received enormous help from Murray Rothbard at the time, and even based my thesis on Rothbard's business cycle theory. When it came time to defend my thesis, one of the committee members got so pissed off at my use of Rothbardian theory that he told me to leave history and go into political theory instead. (I guess one might say that I took him seriously, since that is what I did... though everything I do in politics entails a discussion of intellectual history.)
When I told Murray Rothbard about my experience, he laughed. He told me that the guy who was angry at me was probably angry at HIM. Who was it? Albert Romasco -- chairman of NYU's history department, whose book on the New Deal Rothbard savagely attacked in print in STUDIES ON THE LEFT, a journal of revisionist history that was known to attract some libertarians as well. Petty personality and ideological conflicts will always be present in academia, and I can tell some horror stories about how my book on Rand was almost rejected by one publisher on the basis of such a conflict. (I actually ended up turning that publisher offer down... because Penn State gave me an offer I could not refuse... )
In the end, persistence wins out. I did, after all, graduate with my BA magna cum laude with honors in history -- even if my work pissed off a few people. (It is still pissing off some people... :) ) After my BA, I did extensive papers on Rand and Mises, eventually doing my dissertation on Marx, Hayek, and Rothbard. I was quite vocal about the contributions of Ayn Rand, and even those who occasionally joked about my Objectivist-libertarian tendencies always listened with respect. My mentor was an internationally know Marxist scholar (Bertell Ollman), and without his encouragement, I would never have done the dissertation that I did. In fact, in the early days, there were no Objectivists who were HALF as encouraging as he was in terms of my own wish to do a book on Ayn Rand (though I will always cherish the encouragement I received from Douglas Rasmussen, whom I had later met at a conference).
I am NOT saying that there are no difficulties in academia or that there is no bias against those who have minority perspectives. All I'm saying is that things can be made worse if you walk into an institution of higher learning not really wanting to learn -- but only to engage in a mission to seek and destroy "evil." You actually need to learn the perspectives of your interlocutors if you want to engage their arguments, and possibly influence their viewpoints. You may even find that in the engagement, they will have influenced yours. Those who rant about not wishing to "sanction" evil -- should not even go to college. There are plenty of perspectives in college that will make one sick with nausea, but one does not "sanction" evil by engaging in the give-and-take of academic discourse. It is a bedrock of Western intellectual institutions and history, and it will make those who engage in it that much stronger in the long-run.
At a later date, Sciabarra raised some additional issues with regard to Rand scholarship (Date: 06-May-1999 19:02:22), on the subject: The Philosophy VS. The Philosopher
Bryan Register writes:
> We would like to believe that Rand is simply reifying her own sexual psychology, and she probably was. However, she almost certainly at least believed that she had philosophical backing, because when Branden (tepidly) agreed with her pronouncements but said that "I wouldn't try to defend my position philosophically", Rand "said brightly" that "I would." Unfortunately, we don't possess her defense (unless it's in the part of the *Journals* that I haven't gotten to or I missed it somehow).
Chris Sciabarra responds:
This brings to mind a definite problem in the Randian corpus - - something that would not have been a problem if it had not been entrenched in the corpus by some of Rand's more orthodox followers. Rand saw the need, apparently, to justify her position philosophically on nearly EVERYTHING -- from her aesthetic tastes to her sexual preferences. Years later, Peikoff insisted that, for instance, one could be a good Objectivist and not agree with Rand's position on a Woman President. But how many good Objectivists would have opposed Rand on this question--and still remained a part of her inner circle? How many good Objectivists would have taken her to task on her views of Beethoven, or Shakespeare, or even "Charlie's Angels"?
For all too many years, we saw an intertwining of Rand's philosophy and personal aesthetic to the point where Objectivists were suspect if they had different artistic or sexual tastes. Some of this psychology is still apparent within the orthodox Objectivist "sub-culture" -- thankfully, however, many are getting beyond it. What it comes down to is this: What is essential to the philosophy? Once we grasp the philosophy in terms of fundamentals, then, it seems to me, the variety of rational values that an individual can pursue--given a certain context of knowledge and experience--are almost infinite.
And yet, because Rand imbues so much of her fiction with the traces of her own aesthetic and sexual psychology, a "deconstruction" of the texts, of Rand's novels, seems in order. Part of Da Book is, indeed, dedicated to just such a "deconstruction" -- and I don't mean this pejoratively. I recently received a letter from a critic of Da Book who was aghast that so many of our authors had "psychologized" Rand's sexual predilections. But if critical analysts do not examine Rand's sexual predilections as an extension, perhaps, of her own psychology, then we are left with only one major alternative: that these sexual predilections are ENDEMIC to the philosophy... surely something that would be deadening to Objectivism on the face of it. Barbara Branden once told me that it seems an inescapable fact that when people write works of fiction, the sex scenes will portray something about the sexual psychology of the writer... at least if the sex scenes are to have any degree of authenticity.
Nonetheless, I think it was Nietzsche who once said that a philosophy must be forgiven its first disciples. In some respects, a philosophy must also be forgiven its founder. Rand was entitled to have all of her sexual fantasies put on display in the pages of her novels. She seemed careful enough NOT to put these on display in her non-fiction work. And I think we all need to be careful not to tie these fantasies inextricably to the philosophy. They were her fantasies, and they may have given voice to the fantasies of many other women and men who bought her novels. (Buckley quoted a colleague of his who once said that people bought Rand not for the philosophy, but for the "fornicating bits.") But they are not internal to Objectivism, no matter what Rand said about justifying --or rationalizing--her tastes philosophically.
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