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

My previous article was to have been my final contribution to the debate over Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, but the criticisms made by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (in this issue) and Bryan Register (in TFR #38) are too noxious for me to allow them the last word. I won't comment on Timothy Chase's contribution, since our differences are addressed in my replies to Dr. Sciabarra and Mr. Register.

Reply to Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Dr. Sciabarra claims that my "observations are based on the premise that [his] work is either amoral or simply designed to obfuscate." Nonsense. I claimed that Dr. Sciabarra accepts the standards of modern academia, not because these standards are rationally defensible, but because they are the standards accepted by modern academics, and as a result he thinks feminist interpretations of Ayn Rand and the use of academic jargon is valid. The consequence is that Ayn Rand's ideas are obfuscated. The obfuscation may not have been designed, but it's there.

Observe that Dr. Sciabarra has never defended the standards of modern academia, and has instead argued that his approach is justified, not because the standards he accepts are rational, but because the audience he is addressing — modern academics — accept these standards. Dr. Sciabarra fudges the issue by claiming (in TFR #37) that this is what it means to "take into account the interests of the audience that one addresses" and to "bridge the gap between ourselves and our adversaries," but he has not explained why it's okay to accept a standard simply because one's audience (or adversaries) accept that standard.

Dr. Sciabarra says that I continue to ignore his claim that the "concept [of 'feminism'] originated in the classical liberal movement, and that it became CORRUPTED by the collectivists." Re-read my review in TFR #36. I acknowledge there that Objectivism is "entirely compatible with the direction of nineteenth century feminism."

Dr. Sciabarra disputes my claim (in TFR #38) that he's employing concepts such as "dialectics" and "feminism" in "an attempt, essentially, to pull the epistemological rug from under collectivism." Why, then, did Dr. Sciabarra claim (in TFR #37) that he was using "'given' concepts to communicate a vastly different substantive content"? I interpreted this claim to mean that he is using the concepts "dialectics" and "feminism" (the "'given' concepts") in a radically different way to the collectivists ("a vastly different substantive content"), with the result that the collectivists lose their right to use such concepts (as Dr. Sciabarra acknowledges in this issue), and thus they have the epistemological rug pulled from under them.

Reply to Bryan Register

Mr. Register refers to my "apparent injunction not to read (or at least not to understand) people believed in advance to be evil." Where the hell did I state or imply this?!! I'd like Mr. Register to answer my question, because I can't imagine what gave him this idea. Yes, I have condemned Feminist Interpretations, but one cannot infer from this that I don't think people should read the book or understand it, or that I think people should judge the book as "evil" before reading or understanding it!

Mr. Register claims that if we are fighting a literal war, as I suggest in TFR #37, then this implies that I am advocating, among other things, the shooting of dissenters and the philosophically literate. I did not expect my claim that we are fighting a war to be taken out-of-context. We are fighting a literal war, but it's not a war between countries, it's a war between intellectuals — a war of ideas — and it must be fought as a war of ideas and not as a war between countries.

I am fascinated by Mr. Register's suggestion that I am opposed to people being "philosophically literate." Where have I condemned the study of non-Objectivist philosophies? Where have I stated that Objectivists shouldn't be familiar with the work of Kant, or Hegel, or Heidegger, or Derrida, or of any non-Objectivist or even anti-Objectivist philosopher? On the contrary, I think one should know thine enemy. What I have condemned are feminist interpretations and the use of academic jargon, and being able to write a paper from a feminist perspective is not the same as being philosophically literate.

Mr. Register clearly does not think modern academia is Objectivism's enemy. He refers to "our alleged academic enemies" (emphasis mine), and he states that he's "never understood the anti-academic hatred evinced by so many (pseudo-)Objectivists [sic]." Observe whom he lists as some of Objectivism's alleged friends: Christians, communists and deconstructionists. These people are not the man on the street, who may be innocently taken in by modern philosophy, but professional intellectuals, whose job and responsibility it is to know the consequences of the ideas they advocate.

Consider the communist. Dr. Nathaniel Branden observes: "We see [the absence of a firm, independent sense of objective reality] in intellectuals who operate as apologists for dictatorships ('you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs') and who, when the magnitude of the atrocities can no longer be evaded, proclaim themselves to have been 'misguided idealists' who bear no moral responsibility for the horrors they spend decades denying or condoning. (Talk about lack of accountability — this may be the ultimate example of its immorality in the twentieth century.)"

Dr. Branden refers to the immorality of those intellectuals who reject communism when they can no longer evade the consequences of their ideas. Mr. Register is referring to — as a friend of Objectivism — those intellectuals who are still evading. I make no apologies for calling such people scum, and if that makes me an "infantile ass," then I shall wear that epithet proudly, as a badge of honour.

Mr. Register writes: "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."

Dr. David Kelley once observed that "[t]he alternative [to Objectivism as a body of dogma] is not the freedom to rewrite Objectivism as one wishes. The alternative is to define it objectively." If one can define Objectivism objectively, then one can decide whether or not Feminist Interpretations is consistent with Objectivism. But what Mr. Register seems to be saying is that one cannot claim that Feminist Interpretations is inconsistent with Objectivism, which suggests that he thinks there is no objective definition of Objectivism (despite his appeal to "reality"). He seems to be saying — and I hope I have misunderstood him — that an "Objectivism" which rejects the law of identity, advocates the primacy of existence, claims that emotions are tools of cognition, that reason is invalid, that the senses are unreliable, that advocates altruism in ethics, totalitarian dictatorship in politics, and naturalism in aesthetics is still Objectivism.

Mr. Register writes: "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." I'd like Mr. Register to provide an example of where Rand is less clear than Heidegger or Kant, because I genuinely cannot think of one. Until then, I don't consider Mr. Register's claim worth responding to.

Mr. Register claims that I hate "Valerie Loiret-Prunet's paper worst of all, because it is 'bollocks' — the name-calling doesn't go with an argument." Nonsense. Re-read my review in TFR #36; the word "bollocks" doesn't even appear in it. I described Loiret-Prunet's paper as "sewage," but I provided reasons for this epithet. What I called "bollocks" was a claim by Dr. Sciabarra about Loiret-Prunet's paper (see TFR #37).

Mr. Register admits that Loiret-Prunet's section on "images of three" is "very silly," but then he writes: "[I]t 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." Readers may like to contemplate the following extract from the "substantive" section of Loiret-Prunet's paper: "'It' can be present or absent, or present in its absence (as referred to). Dufour [a French linguist and philosopher] sees this 'it' as the metaphoric and symbolic 'empty place' at the core of each individual's future, and life, that is to say, death. In the interplay of personal pronouns, 'it' or 'him' is capital: 'it brings into relation the first 'I' and the second 'you.''" Remember, this extract is from the section of Loiret-Prunet's paper that Mr. Register doesn't find silly.

Mr. Register writes: "White doesn't like Loiret-Prunet's notion of 'feminist synthesis' and doesn't want his readers to know what it means. [I]t means such anti-Randian heresies as breaking down false dichotomies and attending to context." What does "feminist synthesis" mean? Loiret-Prunet tells us: "[T]he Synthesist model echoes the triadic organizations in Hegelian 'logic,' in which the transcendence of polar opposites is achieved through a higher synthesis." Hell, I didn't want my readers finding that out!! (Yes, Mr. Register, I'm being ironic.)

Mr. Register admits that Loiret-Prunet's paper and Melissa Jane Hardie's paper are written "in an unfortunate style parts of which won't make much sense even to academics." He then states: "But that leaves 19 papers [sic] written in clear English, a fact that White doesn't point out." (It leaves 17 papers; there are a total of 19 papers in the entire anthology.) The obvious question is: how does the inclusion of 17 papers written in clear English justify the inclusion of two papers which, according to Mr. Register, "won't make much sense even to academics"? I look forward to Mr. Register's and Dr. Sciabarra's answer.

Mr. Register claims that I won't get anywhere if I persist in acting like "[a]nti-conceptual New Left movements which persist in drooling about how marginalized they are, how nobody will listen to them and how absolutely corrupt is the status quo." Where have I complained about being "marginalized" or not being listened to?! I'd like Mr. Register to tell me, because I don't recall making such a complaint. As for the status quo being corrupt, see Waikato Wackos in TFR #29.

Questions for Sciabarra and Register

I'd like Dr. Sciabarra and Mr. Register to answer the following questions, which, I think, go to the heart of the debate, and which raise issues my opponents have avoided addressing.

1) Why are feminist interpretations of Ayn Rand (or of anyone) epistemologically valid?

Dr. Sciabarra and Mimi Reisel Gladstein acknowledge, in the introduction to Feminist Interpretations, that Leonard Peikoff and Michael Berliner were unwilling to contribute to the anthology because, according to Dr. Sciabarra and Dr. Gladstein, for them, feminism is an invalid concept. They refer their readers to Joan Kennedy Taylor's paper, which argues that feminism is a valid concept, but Taylor doesn't establish her case. (See Glenn Lamont's brilliant critique of Taylor, which I have read, and fully endorse.) I suspect that Dr. Sciabarra and Mr. Register don't have an answer to my question or to Mr. Lamont's critique, because if they did they would have defended feminist interpretations as such by now, instead of arguing that feminist interpretations are justified in "communication theory" or as one "strategy" in the communication of ideas.

2) Why is academic jargon epistemologically preferable to clear English?

I've been wondering whether modern academics might be a new species, with a radically different consciousness to our own, which prevents them from comprehending an idea unless it's written in jargon, and which prevents them from understanding ideas written in clear English. Or do Dr. Sciabarra and Mr. Register just think that one should abandon a rational epistemology when the person one is speaking to lacks a rational epistemology? (That's how I interpret Mr. Register's instructions in "communication theory.") Or perhaps they don't see any objective difference between the use of academic jargon and the use of clear English? I look forward to their answers.

Next: Glenn Lamont on the very concept of "feminism."

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