Glenn Lamont Responds
I have read the book in question and I find myself agreeing with the substantive issues raised in Robert White's analysis. Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand is a book that should never have been written by anyone who claims to be sympathetic to Objectivism.
The contribution to this volume of most interest, in my view, is Joan Kennedy Taylor's "Ayn Rand and the Concept of Feminism." If the unanswered questions in this paper had been properly addressed, the question of the epistemological validity of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand would have been moot.
Taylor conducts an interview with David Kelley, Executive Director of the IOS, during which he very astutely observes that Ayn Rand would have considered feminism today to be an invalid concept. He notes correctly that "... a given concept's content is determined by what things in reality it integrates ... [a]nd it's valid or invalid depending on whether, first of all, the integration is consistent (if it embodies contradictions, it's invalid) but also whether or not it's integrating in terms of essentials." He continues, "In the case of 'feminism' however, I have doubts about its validity as a concept ... because I don't think it isolates a political outlook in terms of fundamentals."
In the book's introduction, Sciabarra and Gladstein claim that Dr. Leonard Peikoff and Dr. Michael S. Berliner of the ARI refused to contribute to this work. Their reasoning that they also agree that late 20th century feminism is indeed an invalid concept, i.e. a term that seeks to integrate errors, contradictions or false propositions, a rationally unusable term which gives the impression of a concept but which stands for a "package deal." Ayn Rand defined a package deal as consisting of "disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context ... whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential" ("'Extremism' or The Art of Smearing" Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).
In my view, Taylor fails to offer any evidence that feminism is anything other than an anti-concept. In answer to Kelley's question of a fundamental political outlook, the best she can offer is that "feminism may be viewed as a subset of liberalism ... [if] liberalism can be termed the political advocacy of liberty, feminism is the advocacy of equal liberty for women." There are problems abound in the feminist concept of "liberty," the meaning of which varies considerably within the feminist movement.
Observe that modern feminism is characterised by the assertion that "liberty for women" necessarily has requirements above and beyond liberty for men. Viewed in the context of the Objectivist idea of liberty the political right to use one's rational faculty, reason, to think, choose and act it is not difficult to sympathise with Peikoff and Berliner's alleged view, that feminism today claims a separate rational faculty or method of reasoning for women. Ludwig von Mises called this idea "polylogism" the idea that different social groups, by their nature, have different methods of inference and that there is no objective logic. Polylogist doctrines are characterised by the fact that they seek special privileges from the state by employing collectivist ideology. This is certainly true of modern-day feminism.
A Brief History of Feminism
The very worthy objective of the 1890s Suffragists was the attainment of equal political and legal rights for women, but was this feminism? The word "feminism" was not widely used by this movement; it was not until the 1960s and 70s that the women's movement retrospectively termed the Suffragists "feminists" and more recently, "proto-feminists." So it is debatable whether the movement that Nathaniel Branden identifies Rand's work as being "entirely compatible" with was, in fact, feminism, but whatever it was, it was certainly compatible.
If there is a relationship between modern feminism and "proto-feminism," there has certainly been a significant departure. Compare the Suffragist's legitimate struggle for objective rights with modern feminism's arbitrary scope which includes any theory which sees the relationship between the sexes as one of "inequality, subordination or oppression," and which aims to identify and remedy the source of that "oppression." (By Taylor's own admission, the feminist movement has yet to identify whether this is a "psychosocial doctrine or a narrowly political one.") Observe the contradictions that could and have ensued within this scope. Within the "package deal" offered by feminism, there are options of collectivist or individualist feminism, atheist or religionist feminism, "pro-choice" or "pro-life" feminism, pro-censorship or anti-censorship feminism or any combination or permutation of these. No objective definition of feminism a statement that is true of all and differentiates from everything else, an identity that can readily be defined is apparent.
Taylor's conclusion is that feminism is "wider than a political movement. It is an ethical-sociopolitical theory ... carrying on a very important battle with societally determined sex roles," a battle where "...often individual change and choices bring much more profound social change." Taylor chooses not to elaborate on this "ethical-sociopolitical theory," leaving the reader with the impression that it is some sort of revelation from reality. Despite this, Kelley seems to waver at this point and offers, "[t]hat maybe ... that is something we do need to designate with a concept" but concludes that a concept that would unite Kennedy Taylor's view with views "favouring egalitarianism and attacking rationality and individualism was still very questionable."
And he is right. A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristics. How can the disparate politics of both the fringe "individualist or libertarian" feminists and mainstream collectivist feminists both consistently integrate to the same "ethical-sociopolitics"? Observe the epistemological differences of the rational, pioneer proto-feminists and the modern polylogical feminists who reject their predecessors' "preoccupations" with Enlightenment philosophy, explicitly claiming that men and woman have different epistemological natures that men are rational and women are emotional, that men are logical, women, intuitive. How can these contradictory views consistently integrate to the same "ethical-sociopolitics"?
So what essential defining conceptual common denominator does the feminist movement share in light of such incongruity? What is the fundamental characteristic of feminism's units, that which the greatest number of it's other characteristics depend? What distinguishes these units from all else? The trivial answer appears to be "feminism," but the idea as to what feminism actually is and how it manifests itself in reality are, by feminist leaders' own concession, subjective. ("If you asked us our philosophy [feminism] ... each of us would give an individual answer." Ms. Magazine editorial, Issue 2.) And so the question becomes circular.
Until such questions are answered to an objective standard, feminism remains an invalid concept. With Feminist Interpretations, Sciabarra seeks to frame Ayn Rand's philosophy in terms of the "given context." I submit that an invalid concept is not an appropriate context, however "given," for an analysis of Ayn Rand.
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