SCIABARRA TITLES REVIEWED BY LFB'S JIM POWELL AND DAVID M. BROWN
Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation
Reviewed by Jim Powell
Although Ayn Rand abhorred homosexuality, she was an unconventional person herself, she had gay friends, and her Objectivist philosophy of individualism has provided important spiritual support for gays and gay communities.
Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, examines the impact Rand's philosophy has had on gay intellectuals who have become a bulwark against gay left orthodoxy. References to Rand occur in gay plays, novels, TV shows, and movies. "Ayn Rand's literary and philosophic legacy nourishes diversity," Sciabarra explains. "An uplifting portrait of the human potential for greatness, unencumbered by personal, cultural or political forms of oppression. It is a legacy that projects an exalted view of love as a response to values. It is a legacy that belongs to all rational men and women---of whatever sexual orientation." A much-needed perspective.
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AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL
did Ayn Rand become such an extraordinary thinker?
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
Reviewed by Jim Powell
How did Ayn Rand become such an extraordinary thinker? Until now, the primary source was the biography by her former associate Barbara Branden. But Branden wasn't able to penetrate perplexing mysteries of Rand's early life, because Rand talked little about it and key documents were hidden from public view.
Now Sciabarra offers fascinating new revelations which enrich our understanding and appreciation of Rand. He spent three and a half years on exhaustive research, compiling some 5,000 pages of notes. He examined Rand's personal journals which were recently made available for scholarly analysis. He tracked down previously overlooked sources. He discovered fabulous photographs of Rand never published before--they're included in Sciabarra's book.
While she dismissed her early life as of no consequence, Sciabarra discloses dramatic intellectual adventures. He talks about Russian culture, how young Alissa Rosenbaum learned from it, wrestled with it and struggled to shape her blazing individuality. She seems more heroic now that we can better see, for the first time, where she came from intellectually and how she prepared to make her mark on the history of philosophy.
As Sciabarra makes clear, her dialectical methods and radical critique of society had distinctive Russian roots. Her dual role as novelist and philosopher had some famous Russian precedents, too.
Sciabarra helps establish Rand's place in intellectual history. He profiles Nicholas Lossky, a Petrograd University professor who had a significant impact on her intellectual development. Sciabarra compares Rand's ideas with those of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. He discusses her links to individualist thinkers like Albert Jay Nock and Isabel Paterson, Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek.
Sciabarra underscores what is distinctive about Rand's contributions. He portrays Objectivism as a living philosophy. He talks about Rand's successors Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley who offer rival interpretations. While doing research, Sciabarra got cooperation from both--proof, if you need it, that he developed important findings which transcended differences among Objectivists.
Pre-publication talk about this new book seems to have swept across the country like wildfire. A sampling of comments:
Tibor Machan, Auburn University:
John Hospers, University of Southern California:
George Walsh, Professor Emeritus, Salisbury State University, Maryland:
Nathaniel Branden, author of Judgment Day:
Barbara Branden, author of The Passion of Ayn Rand:
If you care about Ayn Rand's exhilarating ideas, this book offers you great pleasure..
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FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND
A brilliant, surprising exploration of Rand's art and thought.
Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand
Reviewed by David M. Brown
This insight-crammed anthology could have been called Novel and Intriguing Takes On Ayn Rand, but then it wouldn't fit so well with the other volumes in this Penn State series--like Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant, Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle and the like. This new entry does focus on the sexual psychology of Rand's novels, and the implications for feminism of her work. But such issues are launching pads for a wider investigation; they're not the whole enchilada.
A number of heavy-hitters are represented. A lengthy biographical essay by Barbara Branden sets the context for the book, explaining why she believes Rand's life and work constitute a "feminist manifesto." And Joan Kennedy Taylor attempts to reclaim the concept of feminism from both the collectivist left and the Randian right; the latter being represented by neo-Randian philosopher David Kelley, whom Taylor interviewed for her article and whose views are liberally represented. Nathaniel Branden (from a unique vantage point), Sharon Presley, Robert Sheaffer, Judith Wilt, Camille Paglia and Thomas Gramstad are among those who weigh in on the feminism, and femininity, of Rand's psyche and vision.
Here's just some of what's discussed:
* The famous "rape" scene in The Fountainhead. (Was it or wasn't it? More than one vote on this one.)
* Why Rand's heroines "revel in carnal pleasures...yet cannot be sexually approached except by a man who embodies what is sacred."
* Ellsworth Monkton Toohey as "Rand's greatest and only true villain." His morbid selflessness.
* How the "love triangle" themes of Rand's fiction got translated into real life.
* Susan Love Brown on "Ayn Rand: The Woman Who Would Not Be President."
* Why the sexual games in Rand's novels are "the only game in town--you either play it this way or you don't play it at all."
* Was Rand "a traitor to her own sex"?
* Why library copies of The Fountainhead always flip open to the same page.
* What skyscrapers and supermodels have in common.
For all the fun and fury of the sexual issues, perhaps the most absorbing section of the book offers new literary interpretations. The meaty readings are a welcome shift from the usual focus on Rand's thought at the expense of her art--the context in which her thought developed, after all. True, there's a certain degree of overly congested academic pirouetting in a couple of the pieces. But even problematic approaches to Rand can yield solid and abundant new insights about her literary wiles. Barry Vacker's article comparing the "cultural aesthetics of Ayn Rand with the radically different views of [gorgeous-female-model-hating] Naomi Wolf" is by turns illuminating and infuriating, for instance. But just when you think Vacker has teetered off the conceptual ledge for good, he comes lurching back with a dead-on observation that knocks your socks off. This one essay alone is worth more than 1.5 times the price of the book.
Editors Sciabarra and Gladstein, accomplished Rand scholars in their own right, deserve much credit for both careful editing and intellectual openness. Most of the essays are published for the first time, and are destined to change the debate about Ayn Rand forever. Don't pass it up.
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TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM
Review by David M. Brown
Five years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical exploded onto the libertarian and Objectivist scene like a hydrogen bomb, igniting a firestorm of controversy with its surprising yet fair reading of Rand's ideas and their place in history.
Total Freedom will be just as explosive, just as crucial to come to grips with. Now it is the work of Murray N. Rothbard, and indeed the whole sweep of libertarian thought, that is the subject of Dr. Sciabarra's ruthless analytical gaze.
One of the heralded New Wave Objectivists, Dr. Sciabarra stands out as a thinker utterly unafraid to stake out new philosophical terrain (and with the brains and sensibility to do it right). In the previous work, he persuasively argued that Rand's neglected concern with context may be seen as a form of "dialectical" thinking having much in common with the likes of Marx and Hegel (even given the falsity of much of their thinking), as well as Rand's acknowledged compatriot, Aristotle.
In Total Freedom, Sciabarra expands upon that thesis, takes care to respond to his Objectivist critics (some of his answers will shock you!), offers a concise and illuminating survey of competing styles of thinking, and then, in the second half of this masterwork, plunges into a full-throttle analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the "anarcho-capitalist" reasoning of Murray Rothbard (who, like Marx, wanted the state to "wither away," but by a somewhat different route).
Sciabarra praises Rothbard for his multi-disciplinary prowess, while pointing out where this economist/historian/social thinker/falls short--for example, in seeming at times to think an "axiom" of nonaggression can resolve social and political problems virtually by itself. But Sciabarra doesn't stop there. He also shows a way out, to a richer, stronger, reinvigorated defense of the libertarian world view.
The prospects for freedom in our time will never be the same.
First 250 Copies Were Sold with Autographed Book Plate By the Author!
On two successive weekends in November 1998, LIBERTY HQ and LIBERTY ROUND TABLE gathered 19 libertarian scholars and science fiction authors for a groundbreaking convention on libertarian ideas and writing held entirely in cyberspace. Now, thanks to audio compression technology, over 21 hours of one-on-one interviews and joint conferences from VC1 are compiled on a single CD-Rom!
Chris Matthew Sciabarra is featured in a one-on-one interview with Sunni Maravillosa discussing Ayn Rand and what libertarians can learn from the political Left. Sciabarra is also featured in a Joint Conference on the topic, "Freedom in the 21st Century -- Obstacles and Opportunities" (with Fred Foldvary, Wendy McElroy, Peter McWilliams, Sheldon Richman, and Eric Schansberg).
Other guests interviewed on the CD include: Peter McWilliams (on the drug war); Sheldon Richman (on public school indoctrination); L. Neil Smith (on strategies for libertarian activism); Wendy McElroy (on individualist and feminist history); Eric Schansberg (on taxation and redistribution); J. Neil Schulman (on the second amendment and libertarian literature online); and a Sci-Fi conference with Victor Koman, James Hogan, F. Paul Wilson, Smith, Schulman, and others.