Robert White
Robert White

Robert White Responds

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.

Robert White

1 May 2006

This article is my final contribution to the debate over Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (see TFR #36 & #37). I have, in my view, successfully defended my attack on both Feminist Interpretations and the Institute for Objectivist Studies, and in this article I want to conclude my attack by identifying some of the flaws in Chris Matthew Sciabarra's most recent response to my criticisms.

1) Dr. Sciabarra quotes from a letter Ayn Rand wrote to Sylvia Austin, a religionist and fan, who thought Howard Roark embodied the same moral ideal as Jesus Christ. He observes that Rand praises Austin's "honesty and seriousness" and "explained the differences between Roark and Jesus, without attacking the motivations or psychology of the person who made the comparison."

Ayn Rand's "strategy" here does not resemble Dr. Sciabarra's "strategy." Rand explained the differences between Roark and Jesus, whereas Dr. Sciabarra conjures up similarities between Objectivism and feminism — and Marxism. What approach would have resembled Dr. Sciabarra's? If Rand had claimed — in the name of bridging the gap between ourselves and our adversaries — that Jesus was really an Objectivist! The point Dr. Sciabarra seems to miss is that no matter how much he may like to think Ayn Rand was a feminist dialectician, invoking the term "strategy" does not justify this conclusion.

Dr. Sciabarra has also misrepresented Rand's correspondence with Austin by ignoring some key passages, which demonstrate her intolerance towards philosophic errors. Rand states that she found Austin's claim that Roark would want to serve God "offensive." And in later correspondence Rand states that the content of a second letter from Austin "astonished" her, and she refers to an example raised by Austin in that letter as "peculiar" and "preposterous." Rand tells Austin, "If you consider altruism noble in any form, you must accept the fact that you are Roark's enemy and belong with Ellsworth Toohey." Rand then comes close to accusing Austin of "intellectual evasion."

2) Dr. Sciabarra quotes from a letter Ayn Rand wrote to John Hospers, in which she states that she "would much prefer to see Objectivism presented to the philosophical profession by you [Hospers], rather than by myself — for the obvious reason that a presentation by you would lend it more objectivity in the eyes of the readers." He seems to think that Rand is sanctioning here his view of what it means to "take into account the interests of the audience that one addresses" and "the importance of reaching out to one's audience."

Observe that Rand does not ask Hospers to obfuscate her work in academic jargon, or to cloak her views in order to make them more acceptable to an academic audience — as Dr. Sciabarra has done. On the contrary, when Hospers' book was published she praised his work for its "clarity and precision" — a virtue Dr. Sciabarra cannot claim of his own academic publications.

Dr. Sciabarra has also been selective in his quotations from Rand's correspondence with Hospers. Here are two examples, from the many that I could have selected from Rand's letters to Hospers alone, which demonstrate her intolerance towards her philosophic enemies:

  • "[Y]ou were speaking with such intensity, self-confidence and righteous contempt for the views you were opposing that all of us wanted to cheer, and we admired you precisely for these qualities." (Emphasis mine.) Mr. Will Wilkinson of the Institute for Objectivist Studies — take note!

  • "Now I should like to mention a psychological aspect of the motivation of a social worker, which I regard as the most profoundly immoral aspect of the whole issue: a person who chooses social work as a full-time profession chooses to devote her life to that which I define as "zero-worship": to human flaws, lacks, failures, miseries, vices and evils, to the morally, spiritually, intellectually or psychologically inferior — to those who lack value, with the lack of value as the claim and incentive."

    So much for Dr. Sciabarra's examples.

    3) Dr. Sciabarra claims that "Rand understood the value of using 'given' concepts to communicate a vastly different substantive content, and, in so doing, challenge convention." He claims that Rand did this with concepts such as "selfishness" and "capitalism," and that he is employing the same strategy with such concepts as "dialectics" and "feminism."

    Dr. Sciabarra is mistaken about Rand's use of such concepts as "selfishness" and "capitalism." Take "selfishness" as an example. Rand recast "selfishness" in objective terms by identifying what facts in reality gave rise to the concept. In other words she used the term "selfishness" not in a cunning plan to undermine the enemy, but because it is objectively justifiable.

    This is not the same approach Dr. Sciabarra employs with such concepts as "dialectics" and "feminism." He isn't trying to ground these concepts in reality. He employs them because they are associated with collectivism, in an attempt, essentially, to pull the epistemological rug from under collectivism by trying to convince the collectivists (!) that their most cherished concepts are a "libertarian tool."

    4) Dr. Sciabarra states that he's "willing to live in a world of diverse strategies without impugning the character of those whose strategies are not mine." I have not claimed that there should be only one strategy. What I have argued against are strategies that, in Lindsay Perigo's words, "twist the body [of Objectivism] out of shape, & clothe it in the jargon of modern pseudo-academia." And someone who does that has earned my condemnation.

    5) Dr. Sciabarra mentions our intellectual relationship, stating that my "vitriol has been terribly personal." He states that I "once understood [his] approach," and that I was indebted to him for comments he made on my analysis of racism in New Zealand (published in TFR #21 — #24). I do understand Dr. Sciabarra's approach and now see its implications clearer than ever. I only hope that Chris has been sufficiently shaken by my vitriol to see the implications for himself.

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