Will Wilkinson Responds
I found Robert White's article, "Ayn Rand: Feminist? Argh!" poorly reasoned and ill-tempered. White asserts that those of us who seek to make Objectivism academically respectable are "second- handers" and "Peter Keatings" who are "transforming [Objectivism] into a mealy-mouthed, irrationally tolerant, Pollyanaistic, passionless carcass of its former self ." The evidence adduced for these serious charges seems to consist entirely in (1) the very existence of books like Sciabbara and Gladstein's, which allow for discussion of Rand's views from various perspectives, and (2) a suggestion about rhetoric from Kelly Rogers at an IOS seminar: that 'selfishness' be set aside in favor of some other term with less negative connotations.
I fail to see how (1) is a bad thing, as such discussions increase Rand's intellectual currency and provide a valuable opportunity for those us who understand her views to enter into public debate with those who don't and thereby disseminate Objectivism to a broader audience. Concerning (2), the fact that Rogers said what she said at an IOS event, even supposing she was incorrect, by no means casts a shadow of disrepute on the whole Institute and its associates. It is a great virtue of IOS that it allows divergence from "the party line." Confrontation with a variety of views prompts clarifying discussion and the exercise of considered judgment, all of which tend to deepen one's comprehension of Objectivism, which is, after all, a philosophy and not a catechism.
White's facile way with epithets like 'second-hander' and 'Peter Keating' tempts the reader to tu quoque. Genuinely independent minds rarely help themselves so readily to other thinkers' signature expressions. It is worth pointing out, since Mr. White seems to miss it, that Ayn Rand's rhetorical stylings are not themselves part of the Objectivist philosophy. One may write with Aristotelian coolness and analytical precision and remain Objectivist so long as one is maintaining Objectivist positions. One is not an Objectivist in virtue of one's form of expression, but in virtue of the content of the views one expresses.
The academic journal is not the pulpit. The first principle of rational persuasion is that one adopt a mode of expression appropriate to the audience. Mr. White has produced no convincing reason to believe that the academic audience is not worth addressing. It is impossible that striving within academia to refute prevailing views and advance Objectivist ones could constitute a positive sanction (or "irrational tolerance") of those one is acting to refute. Does academic work, as Mr. White suggests, produce but a "passionless carcass" of Objectivism? Not at all. Mr. White seems to have a superficial conception of passion. Those who quietly undertake the intense intellectual work involved in setting out Objectivist views with clarity and thoroughness, and defending them against the academic status quo, exhibit a far greater and more authentic passion for truth than those who posture, pound tables and sling borrowed epithets. Moreover, Objectivism as Rand left it ("its former self"), was little more than a sturdy, well-framed skeleton. It is difficult indeed to reduce a skeleton to a carcass. Only the sort of academic work done by IOS can put flesh upon this frame. And this work is of the utmost importance. Objectivism needs legs if it is to run.
Institute for Objectivist Studies
Poughkeepsie, New York
If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe?