Marx, Rand

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Thu Sep 21 08:17:55 MDT 1995


Ok Jamal -- now we are getting someplace!  (extending hand in at least a
cordial attempt at friendly electronic interaction...)  I appreciate your
approach here most of all, and I really am delighted to exchange ideas on
this level.  So here we go...


On Thu, 21 Sep 1995, Jamal Hannah wrote:

> It is not the idea that there are libertarian capitalists that bothers me
> per se.  If these people were true to their rhetoric, then they would
> be (possibly) amicable people I could get along with.. but all-to-many
> I have spoken to have supported extreme-rightist positions (secular
> ones), and place too much emphasis on profit _before_ liberty.  This
> is my observation.  Also, the assumption that "all communists are
> demons" is quite common.  You can imagine this would tick me off.
> Perhaps this will change, in time, if the left becomes more anti-
> authoritarian.  (though I would prefer that it were quite revolutionary,
> and not reformist)

	And so it should tick you off; too many so-called "libertarians"
that I've met have no understanding whatsoever of the relationships
between culture and economics and politics and psychology, etc.  They end
up reducing everything to a market solution, and the left is surely
justified in viewing them as vulgar in their economism.

> I do not think so.. because, remember, the slogan was: liberty, soliderity,
> fraternity (and socialism?).  All at once.  One did not come before
> the other..  they were all birthed at the same time.    Perhaps the
> liberals (small-time capitalist class) of the French Revolution of 1789
> used and tricked the poor masses.. they needed them to overthrow the
> aristocracy, so that a bourgeois republic could be put in place.  This
> is the impression I get.. and the "fraternity"/"Socialism" was thrown
> out, and the "liberty" was kept.  If this IS true, you might see how
> the poor masses and those liberals who broke ranks with the
> propertarians would have resentment.. and the wrath which rained down
> on the classical liberals from the more ardent communists, later on,
> had something to do with this.
	I think the liberal movement might have a claim to being older,
but I do admit that both liberal and socialist have roots in
Enlightenment thought.

> Who is Bertell Ollman, and, was he a leftist?  Did he dispise capitalism?
> or did he simply see Marxism as a hobby?  How did he feel about your
> own capitalist position?

	Bertell is a foremost Marxist scholar, author of ALIENATION and
DIALECTICAL INVESTIGATIONS.  He DOES despise capitalism, DOESN'T see
Marxism as a hobby (though he has marketed it in a board game called,
CLASS STRUGGLE!), and generally is intrigued by my own position, even if
he thinks I'm crazy.  He was, by the way, my mentor, the senior thesis
adviser for my dissertation, and now, my colleague.

> The only dialectical thing I remember about [Rand] was (or was this Branden
> saying this?)  "There are 2 sides to every issue: one is right, one
> is wrong, but the middle is always evil." .. this sounds profoundly
> dialectical, but not when the "bad" and "evil" are always insistently
> communist, altruist choices.  (I feel there is "good" altruism" and
> "negative" altruism)

	When I refer to Rand's dialectical savvy it has less to do with
her understanding of right and wrong, and more to do with her entire
approach to the study of society.  She sees society as an organic
totality, one in which all institutions, cultural practices, even
individual psychologies are internally related.  Hence, for Rand, as for
Marx, revolution must be total -- it must counter the forces of
oppression on every level of generality, not just economically, not just
politically.

> Hmm.  In a recent article about Rand in the New Yorker, they quoted
> her in the early 70's as saying "I thought people would get-over
> fads like Marx.. but Freud?"  (something along those lines).  So evidently
> she was not beyond sweeping dismissals of Marx.

	Rand was first and foremost a novelist given to theatricality and
hyperbole, and her dismissals of Marx are downright embarrassing at
times.  Nevertheless, in her more studied moments, she shows greater
respect for the old master.

> Two things about doing stuff with ones own body:
>
> 1) Some Rand-inspired right-Libertarians have pushed this notion that
> the left is "anti-sex".. more so than the Christian Right, and this is
> an underpinning of the "PC" talk that is very popular these days.  Like
> demonizing the anti-authoritarian left as being "closet Stalinists",
> (Ken Knudson basically did this in his massive anarchist-communism critique.)
> I think this is the same thing.  (the word is: "red baiting")o
> I personally feel that people should be allowed to do as they please,
> sexually.. why should what others do freely bother me?  This does not
> mean I will not speak about responsibility, however.
> "Trans-humanism" and body altering with technology is another issue.
> I'm not convinced that people are making choices about body-improvement
> based on human concerns, but more often because of corporate advertising
> encouraging people to hate their bodies and never be satisfied.
> The Libertarian Party appears to be using such things as the "merits of
> technology", pot smoking and explicit sexual freedom as "Selling Points"
> to win over those who are not specifically property owners.. and this
> appears to me to be as dishonest as cheap TV advertising promises.
> I will _never_ promise that libertarian socialism will lead to "great
> sex and the body you desire".  I would make it clear that I do not
> beleave that I know what is best for others, though I might
> have more experiance than they do and could offer advice.

	Well, AT LEAST promise great sex! :)  Anyway, libertarians are in
a curious position, because the right likes their economics but hates
their social agenda, and the left vice versa.  So it is like speaking out
of two sides of your mouth; this is less dishonest as it is a reality,
but there are certainly libertarians who are WORSE than Madison avenue in
marketing their own political product.  As for the freedom to do with
your own body what you desire, Rand certainly believed this-- but her own
position was somewhat more complicated.  She didn't aim for a society of
skinheads, or drug addicts, even if she believed people had a right to
get high.  Ultimately, she wants to understand WHY people choose to get
high, and her answer is profoundly social, since it relates phenomena
such as drugs to the wider social context within which they might be
perceived as a panacea.  It is ultimately the social context she seeks to
change.

> 2)  Rand's attitude about sexual relationships ultimately had some
> very negative consequences, for her, for her spouse, and for her
> love-interest Branden.  It's ironic that Rand played-up the personal
> faults of "leftists" all through "Atlas Shrugged".. somehow the physical
> and the ideological, to Rand, were linked. (of you were a commie, you
> were ugly and sneaky).. but Rand's own judgements are never ultimately
> used against Rand.  What does the disastrous relationship outcome of
> Rand say about Rand?   I'd say one could simply dismiss it as politically
> unimportant.. but then one should say the same about leftists too.
> (the only problem is when one is a hypocrite.)

	The NEW YORKER piece was a good one in many ways, actually.  And
you are right, she is prone to using imagery in her novels to show vice
and virtue-- but this is not unlike most Russian novelists who used
characters as symbols in the dialectical interplay of ideas.  As for her
personal faults especially in her love life, they were predictably
GRAND.  I don't know what this says about her philosophy; I tend to think
that all of us need to abstract the philosophy from the philosopher to a
certain extent, or else we are likely to condemn Nietzsche because he
died insane, or Schopenhauer because he slept with pistols in his hand,
or Marx for God knows how many reasons that his enemies have come up with
-- as if his personal faults and habits were proof of the inadequacy of
his theories.  NOT.

> My deepest apologies. This was purely emotional and pure arrogance on
> my part.  Personal insults never get one anywhere.

Apology accepted... thanks.
> No.. I dont want to bury people who disagree with me.  I would like
> a chance in this lifetime to make a difference.  My reaction was to
> your own sweeping dismissals.  What could be worse than to be told one's
> efforts will lead to nothing?  I should, perhaps, not take everything
> I hear as seriously as I did.
	Well, I understand fully.  We didn't know each other, or where
the other guy was coming from, and it is possible to fly off the handle
in such regard.  And I'm glad that I won't be buried after all, though
Poe's TELL-TALE HEART was always one of my favorite pieces.  :)

> Rand's unshakable imaginary individualist characters are simply not
> real people.  I remember when a Libertarian Party friend of mine
> cracked under emotional pressure and threatened someone's life.
> I wonder if they felt they had betrayed some Randian principle.
> (it must have been an awful mental bout of self-persecution..)

	Well, as I said above, she was very Russian in her delivery, and
often her characters come across as pure abstractions.  The more
interesting characters of hers are NOT her heroes, but the middle-ground
ones who are struggling to understand.  Some ultimately fail (like Gail
Wynand in THE FOUNTAINHEAD); others ultimately succeed (like Hank Rearden
in ATLAS SHRUGGED).  But it is these characters that are most compelling,
not the Howard Roarks, the Ellsworth Tooheys, or the John Galts, in my
view.  Your story of the LP friend is very typical of those who swallow
Rand's dogmatism hook, line, and sinker, which is why I maintained that
authoritarianism is not a sole characteristic of the left.  Too many
people who do not grasp the contextuality of Rand's ethics, for instance,
are prone to view it as another religion, much as do many on the left who
religionize Marxism.  It is simply not healthy; either the philosophy
helps you to live or to understand life, or it becomes a straight-jacket,
boxing you into categories and principles that are totally inflexible,
moralistic, and psychologically damaging.  I think of Rand's Objectivism
in the same vein as I think of Marxism -- something that might help, in
certain specific contexts, in our attempts to make sense of the world and
of our own lives.  I'm a bit of an eclectic, as you might suspect, but so
far, I seem to be making friends on the left and the right.  The most
important lesson I've learned though -- one I've almost universally
practiced -- relates to that "How to Win Friends" thing you cited;
civility and tolerance are foremost virtues.  You simply can't gain any
understanding of yourself or your opponent if you think you are in
possession of the holy truth -- and you say to your dialogical partner:
"I give you one chance -- accept this or suffer Hell!"  It doesn't work
from the pulpit, and it doesn't work in social discourse.  Anyway, thanks
for the opportunity to talk -- rather than shout.  Take care!

				- Chris
==================================================
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at is2.nyu.edu
==================================================


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