questions for Chris Sciabarra

Chris Matthew Sciabarra cms10 at SPAMis2.nyu.edu
Thu Aug 26 09:00:36 MDT 1999



>If anybody has questions for Chris Sciabarra on Ayn Rand, dialectical
>libertarianism, etc., you can ask him directly through the list since I
>just added him on his request.

Hi all!  I actually "met" Lou on-line years back when we were members of
several marxism lists; I've been out of the loop for a while, working very
hard on my book, and other projects (one of which I'll give more details
about on Monday, August 30th).  I'm likely to remain pretty busy, so I
don't know how much I'll be able to contribute, but it has really been a
long time since I've interacted among my Marxist colleagues, and it is
always challenging.

I just wanted to respond briefly to some points made by Jim Farmelant in
his posting yesterday:

Jim writes:
Much of McLemee's article focuses on Chris Sciabarra's book
*Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical*. Sciabarra is a libertarian
who did his doctorate under the Marxist scholar, Bertell Ollman.
Ollman is noted among other things for his studies of Marxist
dialectics in which he applied the American idealist philosopher's
analysis of internal relations to the elucidation of dialectics.
Sciabarra has in several of his works attempted to apply Ollman's
approach to provide reconsiderations of libertarian and classical
liberal thinkers like F.A. Hayek, Karl Popper, and Ayn Rand.

Chris responds:
Bertell was not only my mentor; he remains a very dear friend. We are, in
fact, working on a multi-volume textbook of dialectical thinking thru
history, and it is an exciting project.

Jim:
In the case of the first two thinkers, Sciabarra's approach seems
quite plausible since despite their avowed anti-Hegelianism both
Hayek and Popper in their mature thought advanced evolutionist
conceptions of history and culture. Both Hayek and Popper were
not incapable of subtle thought. Their are IMO aspects of their thought
that can indeed be understood as being dialectical in character.
BTW the Soviet philosopher, Igor
Naletov, arrived at an evaluation
of Popper's mature thought that is similar to Sciabarra's.
(Indeed, Sciabarra was most intrigued when I pointed this out
to him a while back, I am even supposed to be given credit for this
in a forthcoming book on the dialectics of libertarianism or some
such thing).

Chris responds:
Yes, Jim is acknowledged in my forthcoming book (TOTAL FREEDOM, information
posted by Lou yesterday).  I found his points fascinating.

Jim:
In the case of Rand though, this argument carries
IMO much less plausibility, if only for the reason she was such a
crudoften dishonest thinker. I dare say that Chris Sciabarra
is far more learned and intelligent than Rand ever was and he
tends to read back into her a work a subtlety of mind that he
himself possesses but in which Rand was lacking.
Much of Sciabarra's book is devoted to tracing the influences
of Russia's Silver Age on the genesis of Rand's thought.
In particular he points out the influence of Nietzsche on her
philosophy, something that she was most loathe to admit
since Rand and her Objectivist disciples have always dismissed
him as an irrationalist. Of course Rand's Nietzscheanism
ought to have been apparent. After all, the hero oh her novel,
Howard Roark, was based on the architect Frank Lloyd
Wright who was very much a professed Nietzschean.

Chris:
I blushed when I first read this; thanks, Jim for your estimate of my
intellectual capacity.  This said, however, I have found that re-reading
Rand thru the lens of dialectics makes for a very fruitful encounter.  I
have an article coming out shortly (information to follow in a few days,
when I get all the facts straight) that examines Rand's historical
encounter with dialectics in much greater detail than even AYN RAND:  THE
RUSSIAN RADICAL, my book on the subject.

By the way, on Frank Lloyd Wright -- he was, apparently, quite attracted to
the esoteric philosophy of Gurdjieff and the Russian Ouspensky.

Jim:
It is true that Barbara Branden in her biography of Rand
noted her youthful infatuation with the
writings of Nietzsche and the impact of Nietzsche on the
development of her own ethic of egoism and on her romantic
individualism. That didn't stop orthodox Objectivists from
denying the influence of Nietzsche on Rand but on this point
Sciabarra has made a persuasive argument that has given
the orthodox Objectivists much trouble. In general Rand
was very reluctant to admit to being influenced by other
thinkers. She claimed that her thought stemmed from Aristotle
and from the free-market economists.
Rand was also arguably quite dishonest in her denials that she
was influenced in any significant way by contemporary philosophers.
Her book *Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology* includes
among other things a sustained argument aimed at demolishing
the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions.
For Rand the analytic/synthetic distinction was at the root of
nearly everything that she thought was wrong with modern
philosophy. So far, so good but what she didn't say in her book
was that Harvard philosopher, W.V. Quine had years before
published a demolition of the analytic/synthetic distinction in
his famous essay "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" in his book
*From a Logical Point of View*. Perhaps, Rand can be excused
or forgiven for this lapse since she was not a professional
philosopher but how does one explain the fact that the essay
by Leonard Peikoff on the analytic/synthetic distinction which
appears in Rand's book makes no mention of Quine either?
Peikoff who was Rand's designated intellectual heir (after
she had dumped Nathan Branden). Peikoff unlike Rand is
a professional philosopher with a doctorate in the subject
and he has served as a professor at several universities.
What's his excuse?
Jim Farmelant

Chris:
Actually, I don't think Rand was being dishonest at all in this regard.
Except for her college years, she was notoriously ignorant of the
contemporary debates in philosophy, and read very little.  As for Peikoff
and company, they are too busy trying to siphon off all other influences
from Rand's philosophy in an attempt to maintain its "purity."  This has
created, for them, an intellectual ghetto that is slowly being penetrated
by the work of others.  McLemee's piece, I think, gives a fine rendering of
the current academic attack on "proprietary Objectivism."

Anyway, nice to be here.
Cheers,
Chris

=====================================
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar
NYU Department of Politics
715 Broadway
New York, New York  10003-6806
Dialectics and Liberty Website:
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra
Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand:
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/femstart.htm
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