ROBERT WHITE, THE FREE RADICAL 36 (JUNE/JULY 1999): 24
Robert White has written a 1 May 2006 postscript to his Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand review, which I reproduce here, at the author's request, and with the author's permission:
I would like to make clear, for the public record, that I no longer agree with the tone and much of the content of my contributions to the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand debate. This debate took place in The Free Radical from June/July 1999 to May/June 2000. Six years have now passed. In the intervening time, I have come to rethink many of the issues raised in the debate. I still do not accept the legitimacy of feminist interpretations of Rand (or anyone else). However, I now accept that despite its flaws, the anthology represents a significant recognition of the legitimacy of Rand studies. I also now take the position that the tone of my contributions, including many of my statements and accusations, were inappropriate and unscholarly. I, therefore, repudiate these articles. I appreciate the continued interest in the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand debate. However, I ask that anyone citing my contributions make it clear that these articles do not represent my current position on, or approach to, philosophical issues.
Here is a summary of White's original contribution, with a link to his original review:
Ayn Rand: Feminist? Argh!
White, echoing both John Ridpath and Robert Tracinski, views this book as yet one more sign of the "academicisation or destruction of Ayn Rand . . . " Indeed, he says, "Modern academics will love it! I hate this book, but then I despise modern academia and those so-called Objectivists, the traitors among us, who seek to appease them."
Though he praises essays by Wendy McElroy and Nathaniel Branden, he condemns the rest of the book as "sewage," citing Valerie Loiret-Prunet's essay as "the worst," with Melissa Jane Hardie's essay on Rand's fiction as "camp," a close second. "The other essays left me sighing in resignation and disgust." Overall, the book, he says, "is symptomatic of a disease which infects many Objectivists who associate with the Institute for Objectivist Studies: the black plague of academic respectability. These Objectivists are transforming the philosophy into a mealy-mouthed, irrationally tolerant, Pollyannaistic, passionless carcass of its former self, as they bend over backwards to show the enemy - modern academia - that Objectivists can neo-Hegelianise their hermeneutics with the best of them. . . . Ayn Rand would roll over in her grave if she knew that her intellectual descendants had become Peter Keatings trying to gain academic respectability, not because her ideas are valid, but for the number of times 'images of three' appear in her novels! Objectivism should be promoted in the universities with the goal of reversing the trend of modern academia, not with endorsing that trend." This book, White declares, "implicitly endorses" the "corruption" of acadmia and "thus sells out Objectivist principles to the enemy," making Rand's work "unrecognisable."
In my last contribution to this debate, at the very real risk of being branded an "orthodox dogmatist," I sympathised with the Kelley/Peikoff/Berliner view that feminism is an 'invalid concept,' i.e. a concept which seeks to integrate errors, contradictions or false propositions whose approximately defining characteristic is a non-essential.
Feminism: Libertarianism for Girls?
In TFR #40, Dr. Sciabarra took from my contribution that I "reject feminism in toto," hedging my bets by "referring to 'modern feminism' [and] effectively bracketing out any possibility for a rational individualist feminism." Let me make it clear that I do draw a distinction between the struggle for equal rights under the law of 19th century suffragists and the subjectivist post-modernism found in any "feminist studies" section of a bookstore or department of a university. The latter is what I mean by 'feminism' and what most feminists mean by feminism. If we are to believe Dr. Sciabarra's assertion that he seeks to "reclaim [feminism] forliberty," I fail to see what he has to gain by it.
Dr. Sciabarra gives his definition of "feminism" as a "legitimate ideology advocating socio-political equality and individual autonomy for women. It was ... and should remain, a subset of liberalism and individualism..."
I concede that if we accept Dr. Sciabarra's definition of feminism, the concept would be valid. Unfortunately, very few feminists would accept Dr. Sciabarra's definition of feminism and surely they'd know. I cannot begin to number the feminists who would like to establish a "dialectic" with Dr. Sciabarra if he were to properly define "liberalism and individualism". Many feminists would be aghast that anybody would wish to impose something as patriarchal as a definition on their movement.
He continues: "... it speaks to the fact that women have been oppressed by various Western religions and cultural traditions and, in the "Third World," by barbaric tribalist practices." Why then does Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand not address such oppression? Why instead does it focus on essays analysing the number of times Kira speaks Andrei's name or those that attempt to demonstrate that Ayn Rand is a "feminist synthesist"?
In response to my implication that feminism is rife with polylogism, Dr. Sciabarra argues that "feminism ... rejects polylogism since it is entirely possible to be a man and be a feminist." Once again, many feminists, including Marilyn French (see below) would disagree. He writes that a true example of polylogism would be a book entitled Racist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Yet, for some reason, Sexist Interpretations of Ayn Rand is not.
He states that "feminism [is] the specific application of individualist-Objectivist principles to women's issues" as "libertarianism [is] the specific application of individualist-Objectivist principles to the general realm of politics." He implies that if I am to reject feminism as a concept, I should similarly reject libertarianism as a concept. I do not agree. Libertarianism is an entirely valid concept. It can be defined as "that political movement [genus] that subscribes to the non-initiation of physical force principle [differentia]." Libertarians are united by this definition, and libertarianism's differentia clearly delimits it from all other political movements. I have yet to be presented with a uniting, differentiated definition of feminism apart from Sciabarra's "libertarianism for girls" which anyone familiar with feminism would not accept.
Going Off the Register
Mr. Register responds to my challenge to the validity of the concept of feminism by essentially claiming that, by my reasoning, no concept is valid because there are differences between the concretes subsumed by any concept. The example he gives is the colour red and he argues, according to my position, "this concept seeks to integrate both cherry red and blood red ... but cherry red is not blood red. So 'red' refers to some A and non-A, a contradiction."
I can tell Mr. Register that his interpretation of my position is wrong. 'Red' can be defined as "the reflection of light off an entity [genus] absorbed by the human eye and transmitted to the brain in a specific way [differentia]." (I am not an optometrist. I cannot describe the differences between the perception process of a red entity and a green entity. What I do know is that such differences exist and they can be identified.) A difference in shade is an example of a non-definitional characteristic and differences in these do not represent contradictions. All that needs to be said is that colour of cherries and of blood has nothing in common with the colour of grass or leaves and that a thing cannot be both red and green at the same time, just as an ideological movement cannot be both individualist and collectivist at the same time.
Mr. Register also describes the process of the "co-opting" of a movement. I accept, for the sake of argument, that the term libertarianism was originally coined by anarcho-socialists. The point I would make is that just as libertarianism is no longer associated with socialism, feminism is no longer associated with individualism. Dr. Sciabarra edited his book in 1999, not 1899.
Mr. Register's attempt at a definition is "those who share a common concern (sex relations) and those ... commonly opposed to a single model (the tradition)." I would argue that this definition is too broad and fails to differentiate. It subsumes every individual opposed to tradition (the readers of this magazine, for instance) with an interest in "sex relations" (all the readers of this magazine, then!) It subsumes individuals who would be unpleasantly surprised to discover they were feminists and individuals whom feminists would be unpleasantly surprised to discover were feminists.
Virkkala and Valkeyries
I enjoyed Timothy Virkkala's contribution and I am glad to be a source of his entertainment. I have no comments to make except to say that a concept is a mental integration of two or more existents, (1) isolated by a process of abstraction and (2) united by a specific definition. Any "ism", whether a philosophy or a political movement, can be considered a valid concept solong as it can be differentiated and defined in this manner.
Gramstad grandstands (no pun intended) that he has "never seen a definition of feminism that is incompatible with Objectivism ... never seen a definition of feminism which is at the same time representative of feminism and mutually exclusive with Objectivism." (Interestingly, Mr. Gramstad later cites 16 "types" of feminism and concedes that 5 of these are incompatible with Objectivism. Presumably these "types" have definitions!) I agree with him on both counts because I have never seen a (valid) definition of feminism! And Mr. Gramstad's three-point "definition" from soc.feminism, which I repeat below, is no exception:
Mr. Gramstad is correct when he says that this "mission statement" (for want of a better term) does not in any way "resemble an Aristotelian definition" because once again, Mr. Gramstad's definition is too broad. What is meant by "a desire to change that situation?" Does it mean bloody socialist revolution followed by the establishment of a lesbian matriarchy or does it merely mean men doing more housework?
From the Horse's Mouth --- Last Words from the Feminists
I have had a lot to say on concept formation and definitions. I would now like to offer some concrete examples of ideas from those who consider themselves to be feminists and ask Dr. Sciabarra why this movement should have anything to say on Ayn Rand.
Metaphysics — Professor Virginia Held offers that "a feminist standpoint would give us a quite different understanding of even physical reality." [Feminism and Epistemology: Recent Work on the Connection between Gender and Knowledge, 1985]
The University of Minnesota, suffering from terminal feminism, has seven women's/feminist studies departments and publishes two feminist magazines. Professor Norman Fruman, a distinguished scholar in the English department, was one of the few outspoken:
"If you resist feminists you are liable to the charge of sexism. It is a nightmare. At faculty meetings, we have learned to speak in code. If charged, you may then be socially or professionally isolated. With the rise of poststructuralism, Derrida, Foucault, Althusser, you have the basis for a Stalinist position. Many faculties are now teaching students that there is no objectivity. All is subjective." (Emphasis mine.) [Who Stole Feminism?, 1994]
On science, feminist theorist Hilary Rose states "male scientists have been handicapped by being men. A better science would be based on women's domestic experience and practice." [Feminist Epistemologies, 1993]
Nature of Man (excuse the political incorrectness) --- Sandra Bartky, an expert on what she calls the "phenomenology of feminist consciousness" has this to say: "Feminist consciousness is a consciousness of victimisation .... to come to see oneself as a victim." [Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, 1990]
Feminist epistemologies? Feminist consciousness? Welcome to polylogism.101.
Politics — Marilyn French offers this: "The entire system of female oppression rests on ordinary men, who maintain it with a fervour and dedication to a duty that any secret police force might envy." [The War Against Women, 1992]
"As long as some men use physical force to subjugate females, all men need not. The knowledge that some men do suffices to threaten all women ... A man can simply refuse to hire a women in high-paid jobs, extract as much or more work from men but pay them less, or treat women disrespectfully at work or at home. He can fail to support a child he has engendered, demand the woman he lives with wait on him like a servant. He can beat or kill the woman he claims to love; he can rape women, whether mate, acquaintance, or stranger; he can rape or sexually molest his daughters, nieces, stepchildren, or the children of the woman he claims to love. The vast majority of men in the world do one or more of the above." [Ibid.]
Esthetics — "Feminist musicologist" Susan McClary of the University of Minnesota has this to say on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. (Compare with Objectivist David Adams's piece in TFR #40.):
"The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release." [Getting Down off the Beanstalk, 1987]
McClary also directs us to be alert to themes of male masturbation in the music of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Classical music lovers, you have been warned.
Dr. Sciabarra may well claim that these individuals represent the fringe of feminism, but they are no less fringe than the "pro-freedom, individualist" feminists he seeks to court. The above examples represent yet another form of post-modern multiculturalism, attempting to destroy truth, universality and objectivity and ushering in the death of man (literally in some cases). Upon reading Feminist Interpretations, one can all too easily visualise the snide, sickly smirk on Melissa Jane Hardie's face as she relishes the gift opportunity to deconstruct the work of Ayn Rand. At worst, Hardie and the above do represent feminism in toto; at best, they represent it in part.
If the latter, one has to wonder why pro-freedom individualists would want to associate themselves with an egregious package-deal movement characterised by anti-reality, anti-reason, anti-life, anti-beauty and anti-freedom ideology?
|Click here to view Chris Matthew Sciabarra's response|