Chris Sciabarra Responds
Intellectual differences among people who are otherwise philosophically and politically allied makes our movement stronger. I applaud both Timothy Chase and Bryan Register for recognizing the strength of difference in the intellectual marketplace. My appreciation also to The Free Radical for airing out these differences, even if it sometimes appears to be an exercise in eating one's own for which our statist adversaries on the left and the right can only hope.
Robert White promises us that he has made his "final contribution to the debate over Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand." For this, we can only breathe a sigh of relief. Still, White wonders if his "vitriol" has sufficiently "shaken" me to understand the implications of my own approach. He continues to so misrepresent that approach that I wonder how he ever understood it sufficiently to use it in his series on racism.
Rather than engage in a point-by-point response on the textual interpretation of Rand's letters (since all of White's important observations are based on the premise that my work is either amoral or simply designed to obfuscate), I want to respond to the more general issue at hand. He claims that I employ concepts such as "dialectics" and "feminism" precisely "because they are associated with collectivism." He implies that I seek this association as some kind of badge of scholarly honor, asserting that my usage is "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.'" White claims to "see [the] implications [of my approach] clearer than ever," but this characterization makes it obvious to me that he has failed entirely to grasp the essence of my work. It is no wonder that he sees in my books sly obfuscation, cunning, and academic jargon, rather than a wholesale reconstruction of intellectual history and a radical reclamation of dialectics in the name of liberty.
With regard to "feminism," I have made the claim that White continues to ignore: that the concept originated in the classical liberal movement, and that it became corrupted by the collectivists in the same way that collectivists corrupted "liberalism." Ayn Rand herself understood this, when she argued that the "egalitarians ride on the historical prestige of those [classical liberals] who fought for political equality," just as today's collectivist feminists ride "on the historical prestige of women who fought for individual rights against government power ..." Rand recognized that the collectivists' war on objectivity allowed them to invert legitimate concepts, and, on this foundation, to seek "special privileges by means of government power."
So, I agree that Rand's strategy was not simple "cunning." Her battle was philosophical, and her reconstruction of "selfishness" and "capitalism" is something to be praised. On these grounds, my approach is essentially the same as Rand's: I seek to ground dialectics in the facts of reality, and I have suggested as such in these very pages on that topic (published in TFR #29).
"Dialectics" is an objective methodological orientation that stresses context-keeping. It aims for contextual analysis of the dynamic and systemic relationships among disparate factors within a given structured whole. It appears to be a "cherished" tool of collectivists, but collectivists have so distorted the dialectical enterprise that they have forfeited their right to it. My claim has always been that the father of dialectics was Aristotle, whose Topics was the first textbook of dialectical inquiry.
In Russian Radical, I did not explore this thesis in any depth, because my aim there was to show how dialectical method was filtered through the Russian Silver Age cultural context from which Ayn Rand emerged. (And my recent essay, "The Rand Transcript," in the Fall 1999 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, brings forth additional, strongly persuasive evidence that Rand studied dialectics quite extensively as a college student.) My books constitute a trilogy no, not "images of three," but an actual trilogy. Beginning with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (Suny, 1995), continuing with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the trilogy will culminate in Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State, 2000). Quite often, before his attacks on Feminist Interpretations, White expressed great interest in seeing the final chapter of this trilogy. Perhaps when it is published in the fall of next year, White might approach that book with a renewed objectivity.
In Total Freedom, I not only defend Aristotle as the "fountainhead" of dialectics, but I reconstruct the entire history of that concept. I reclaim dialectics by defining it and grounding it in objective reality. I attack the Marxist tradition for having undermined dialectics with its historicism and its futile attempts at collectivist omniscience. Yes, I seek to use dialectics as a "libertarian tool" but this is only because dialectics and freedom are inextricably connected. Dialectics requires free inquiry; it requires the ability to volitionally shift one's perspectives on an object as a means of understanding its many facets in any given context. And freedom requires a dialectical sensibility, since we must never forget the broader philosophical, cultural, social, and historical context upon which it must be built. Rand understood the need for dialectical, contextual analysis, just as surely as she understood the context of freedom. She offers us a remarkable radical synthesis that overcomes both the historicist errors of Marxism and the all-too-common libertarian penchant for abstracting freedom from its broader conditions.
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