Chris Sciabarra
Chris Sciabarra

Chris Sciabarra Responds

In his most recent contribution, Robert White argues that, by virtue of my having edited Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, I have accepted the "standards of modern academia," simply because "modern academics" accept them, and that I view "academic jargon [as] epistemologically preferable to clear English." Just because I co-edited a book, in which some essays include dense language, however, does not mean that I accept the substance, methods, or "jargon" of every published article. I dare say that Lindsay Perigo does not accept as valid everything published in this magazine. That is not the role of an editor. My role was to bring together, as part of an anthology in an acclaimed university press series, essays that might address provocative issues of gender and sexuality in Rand's works.

Personally, I believed that the volume could provide an opportunity to feature contributors not found in typically left-wing "feminist" collections. By accepting the proposals of more than a dozen individuals who had published previously in libertarian, individualist, and Objectivist venues, we were able to create a context that challenged the collectivist conventions in contemporary feminism, just as surely as it challenged the dogmatists within Objectivism.

The only "standard" of modern academia that I accept is the importance of dialogue. I am dedicated to a dialectical process, partially, because it compels one to look at an issue from a variety of perspectives, and this helps to sharpen one's understanding of one's own views, the views of others, and the issue itself.

Still, White asks: "Why are feminist interpretations of Ayn Rand (or of anyone) epistemologically valid?"

From my own perspective, not all "feminist" interpretations of Rand are epistemologically valid. (But then again, given the interpretations offered by some "Objectivists," I do not believe that all "Objectivist" interpretations of Rand are epistemologically valid either.) Certainly, I reject as an assault on objectivity those "feminist" interpretations that depend upon any polylogist notion of "feminist epistemology." One will find in our volume feminists who fully accept objectivity and logic.

A "feminist" interpretation is one that contextualizes principles according to their relevance and applicability to "women's issues." I do not want to hear from anyone who has any familiarity with objective reality, that there are NO issues specifically of concern to women. Because women have been viewed as inferior, across cultures and time periods, "feminism" emerged as a legitimate ideology advocating socio-political equality and individual autonomy for women. It was, in its origins, and should remain, a subset of liberalism and individualism, but that does not make it any less valid as a separate distinction. Ideologically, it speaks to the fact that women have been oppressed by various Western religious and cultural traditions, and, in the "Third World," by barbaric tribalist practices.

Because I see a role for "feminist interpretations" in contextualizing these facts of reality, I believe it is valid to edit a volume so named. By contrast, I would not have edited a volume entitled Racist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, because I believe that the notion of a "racist interpretation," as such, is epistemologically invalid. Racism is a derivative of polylogism because it entails the view that ethnicity or skin pigment dictates the structure of a person's thinking. Note that our volume is not entitled Women's Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Feminism — properly conceived — rejects polylogism, since it is entirely possible to be a man and be a feminist (as our volume demonstrates).

It is possible (and ultimately, necessary) to view feminism as the specific application of individualist-Objectivist principles to women's issues, for the same reason that it is possible to view libertarianism as the specific application of individualist-Objectivist principles to the general realm of politics. For those, like Glenn Lamont, who reject feminism as a movement of contradictions, and on that basis, reject feminism, per se, I see no escaping the proposition that libertarianism (or liberalism) must be similarly rejected. For as a movement of contradictions, the home of Rothbardians, Christians, and atheists, it too is "invalid." And Peter Schwartz has so argued. But this throws the baby out with the bath-water. If we are unwilling to rehabilitate concepts and ideologies in an objective fashion, then we are left with only one term to designate what we stand for: "Objectivism." Even Rand had occasion to use such words as "egoism" and "capitalism" to describe the subsets of her own philosophy. And she used various qualifying words, like "rational" and "laissez-faire," respectively, to bolster the point — even though she believed the qualifications to be redundant.

So too, I use "individualist feminism" and "dialectical libertarianism" as descriptive qualifications to distinguish myself from others. And I use "given" terms like "feminism" and "dialectics," recognizable to some in the academy, in ways that thoroughly reclaim them for liberty. The only alternative to reconstructing given concepts is to develop incomprehensible neologisms. Not even I, apparently so enraptured by "jargon," would give into such a temptation.

Interestingly, White agrees with Lamont's repudiation of feminism, but qualifies that agreement with the argument "that Objectivism is 'entirely compatible with the direction of nineteenth century feminism.'" (White refers to TFR #36 as an acknowledgment of this position, but we find there only White's summary of Nathaniel Branden's points. I am encouraged to see that White now views Objectivism as compatible with the individualist version of feminism.) Lamont, by contrast, seems to reject feminism in toto, since he refuses to identify it with anything but the most irrational polylogism. But even Lamont hedges his bets: his essay keeps referring to "modern feminism," effectively bracketing out any possibility for a rational individualist feminism.

With regard to Lamont's essay, let me say that he is incorrect to believe that Peikoff and Berliner refused to contribute to our volume because they saw "late 20th century feminism [as] . . . an invalid concept." They saw feminism, per se, as invalid. Not even Mises, who criticized "polylogism," rejected feminism per se. As we note in the book, Mises supported the individualists within feminism. But as orthodox Objectivists, Peikoff and Berliner are guilty of "package-dealing," since they refuse to recognize any group within the diverse feminist movement that might reflect — or be responsive to — Objectivist principles. They declined to participate because, ultimately, they do not believe in dialogue. They believe in monologue. For them, exposition can only take place under carefully controlled circumstances in which only they or their hand-picked associates can control the agenda and the stream of questions. The end-product of this siege mentality is dogma.

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