Bryan Register
Bryan Register

Bryan Register Responds

Robert White suggests that "We are fighting a war. Not a metaphorical war; a literal war — only our tools of combat are syllogisms, not bullets."

A literal war? White has bent the concept war beyond any rational recognizability. You can't have a war without both sides knowing there is a war, whereas our alleged academic enemies don't think of themselves as at war with us — they are barely aware that we even exist. So the war is metaphorical after all.

And what an unfortunate metaphor. If we are at war, then we are an army. Armies don't allow internal dissent, they have rigid and hierarchical command structures, they systematically ignore and even violate individuality, and they are dedicated not to the conversion but to the death of their foes. On this metaphor, if the Objectivist movement is to be successful, Leonard Peikoff must have control over all of our lives, must have the right to shoot us for disagreement, can stick us in uniforms, and those of us who actually put in some effort to understand what the "enemy" is saying — that is, those of us who are philosophically literate — should be eliminated as traitors to the cause. This last seems to be White's specific function.

White speaks of "taking a sledgehammer" to modern academia. I have to confess that I've never understood the anti-academic hatred evinced by so many (pseudo-)Objectivists. My own instructors — Christians, communists, and deconstructionists included — have been almost unfailingly supportive of my Objectivist leanings, even when I wasn't trying to neo-Hegelianise my Randian hermeneutics. Perhaps the difference is that White behaves toward his teachers the way he writes — like an infantile ass — while I try to relate to them as human beings.

According to White, Sciabarra judges the way to represent Ayn Rand "not by reference to reality, but to what other people find acceptable." White should look at communication theory sometime. He can start — without betraying his apparent injunction not to read (or at least not to understand) people believed in advance to be evil — with Aristotle's Rhetoric. When communicating with someone, the someone is part of the reality with which one must deal. You cannot persuade someone exclusively by giving them shocking material which they are not in a position to understand. At some point, you must begin to speak in a way with which they are familiar. Rand's writings may come across as lucid when you're 16 and desperately eager to believe them, but they are not going to communicate themselves to academics. Indeed, when they are subjected to a close scrutiny, Rand's writings are often less clear than those of many academics; Heidegger and Kant are crystalline in comparison to some of Rand's formulations when the texts are examined closely.

White also complains that the content of Feminist Interpretations is not Objectivism. Apparently it is not reality but White's preferences which get to determine the identity of Objectivism. The fact is that no one gets to decide what Objectivism is, not even Ayn Rand; Objectivism is whatever it is, and some of the writers in the Feminist Interpretations volume have some valuable suggestions about what Objectivism might be. This can be true even if they are speaking in a language comprehensible to academics but which White has evaded learning. It can also be true if some of them are wrong and some of them are bloody weird.

Let's put in a word about the actual book itself. White hates Valerie Loiret-Prunet's paper worst of all, because it is "bollocks" — the name-calling doesn't go with an argument. Apparently White wasn't reading very closely. Loiret-Prunet's paper does have four pages of some very silly arguments about images of threes, but then — it seems that White's patience or attention span ran out by this point — it moves on to substantive arguments about the abstract philosophical points Rand is making with her characters; points about integrity and collectivism. She talks about how Andrei and Leo each dramatize parts of nobility but also parts of moral weakness or confusion and how Kira dramatizes the integrity and individuality which come from breaking out of the wrongly constructed alternatives Leo and Andrei symbolize.

White doesn't like Loiret-Prunet's notion of "feminist synthesis" and doesn't want his readers to know what it means. For any readers who are curious, it means such anti-Randian heresies as breaking down false dichotomies and attending to context. So we can see why White doesn't tell his audience what Loiret-Prunet is really talking about; if he were to tell them, it would be apparent that it is White, not Loiret-Prunet, whose version of Objectivism is unrecognizable.

Moreover, Loiret-Prunet's paper and Melissa Jane Hardie's paper, White's two least favorite, are written in an unfortunate style (I still haven't figured out what the Hardie paper is about) parts of which won't make much sense even to academics. But that leaves 19 papers written in clear English, a fact that White doesn't point out.

The facts are that academia is a marketplace, not a battlefield, and that the overwhelmingly vast majority of academics are not evil and not in need of sledgehammer rhetoric (and that Rand paperbacks are not heavy enough, or hard enough, to make much of a sledgehammer anyway). It is a marketplace in which the broadest integrations, the most lucid presentations, and the most sensitive attention both to detail and the cognitive needs of the audience win the most adherents.

Despite some weaker papers, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand will sell in this market. But that's just what White doesn't like about it; caught up in military metaphors, he has forgotten that the business of Objectivism is business.

Anti-conceptual New Left movements which persist in drooling about how marginalized they are, how nobody will listen to them (and how anyone who is listened to has sold out), and how absolutely corrupt is the status quo don't usually get anywhere; if White persists in acting like them, neither will he.

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