Ayn Rand: Feminist? Argh!
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.
1 May 2006
"Rand will finally be given space in the display case on equal terms with Derrida, Heidegger, and MacKinnon. My. What a privilege."
- Ronald E. Merrill
The academicisation — or destruction — of Ayn Rand is taking place again. This time in the form of a collection of essays, the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, edited by Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra. By the standards of modern academia this is a brilliant book. It is — to paraphrase John Ridpath (reviewing Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) — preposterous in its theses, destructive in its purpose, and tortuously numbing in its content. 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.
Jewels Immersed in Sewage
Wendy McElroy's and Nathaniel Branden's contributions are the only two essays worth reading. McElroy's essay argues that the sex scenes in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged do not constitute rape. She points out, among other things, that a novel gives the reader "a godlike panorama of the psychologies of all the acting characters." This means that the reader can eavesdrop on Dominique's thoughts, so we can be certain that she is consenting to rough sex with Howard Roark, even if her actions would, in real life, fall short of consent.
Nathaniel Branden's essay answers the question, "Was Ayn Rand a feminist?" He observes that Rand's heroines are "the equal of any man in energy and ambition," and that Rand's philosophy is entirely compatible with the direction of nineteenth century feminism. He points out that Objectivism is opposed to sexism because sexism is a form of biological collectivism. Branden notes that Rand would oppose modern feminism, which sees reason, logic and science as a "male conspiracy." He concludes that Ayn Rand was a feminist if feminism defines woman as a heroic figure, and is anti-feminist if feminism defines woman as victim and man as her oppressor. That's a big "if," since most of today's feminists are explicitly anti-man.
The worst essay is Valérie Loiret-Prunet's feminist re-reading of We the Living. She argues that Rand is a "feminist Synthesist" instead of an "instrumentalist." (What is a "feminist Synthesist" and "instrumentalist"? Don't ask, you don't want to know.) She bases her conclusion on, among other things, the number of times "images of three" occur in the novel. For instance, Kira repeating Leo's name three times, along with similar examples, is claimed to be "a subconscious resurgence of Rand's own concerns with triadic synthesis, traces of the molding of her thought, of ironical clins d'oeil, or of an instinctive choice by the author of the number three." The most disappointing fact is that Loiret-Prunet is Vice-President of the French Ayn Rand Society.
Almost as bad is Melissa Jane Hardie's reinterpretation of Rand's fiction as "camp feminism." One might think that the editors would at least show some shame at including this essay, but no, they even describe this crap as "witty." Hardie teaches English, cultural studies, and women's studies (surprise, surprise) at the University of Sydney, and is the author of an essay titled "'I Embrace the Difference': Elizabeth Taylor and the Closet," in a book with the equally absurd title of Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism. I would have flung the book across the room at this point, were it not borrowed from a friend.
The other essays left me sighing in resignation and disgust. Karen Michalson, for instance, argues that Dagny Taggart is one of the strongest heroes in Western literature, which would be fine, if one could find her argument among the rubbish about myths of the "Great Mother Goddess" and an alleged ancient society where there were "rigid bureaucracies to collect taxes and force everybody into the joyful equality that all right-thinking members of these societies advocated anyway." Yes, I know, this is sickening stuff.
Frightening the Horses
This book 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. Kelly Rogers, in a classic instance of appeasement, stated at an IOS summer seminar that Objectivists should dispense with the term "selfishness" because it offends people!
If these peddlers of academic respectability want to see a real life Peter Keating, all they need do is look in the mirror. Academic respectability is a form of second-handedness on a par with the type of respectability sought by the kid who steals a pair of Nikes to impress his friends. 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. When a book, such as Feminist Interpretations, attempts to get Ayn Rand accepted in academia on the terms of modern academics, it implicitly endorses their corruption, and thus sells out Objectivist principles to the enemy. There would be little joy in finding Ayn Rand on display next to Derrida, Heidegger, and MacKinnon if she has been rendered unrecognisable.
My view of Feminist Interpretations was eloquently summarised by Robert W. Tracinski, writing in The Intellectual Activist: "This book is further demonstration of the fact that rational ideas have to be spread, not by winning over today's corrupt academics, but by replacing them."
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