[Marxism] Ayn Rand

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Mon May 9 07:18:53 MDT 2005



On Mon, 9 May 2005 04:17:54 EDT PATPEND3 at aol.com writes:
> Does any one know of any good concise Marxist/leftist criticism of 
> the  
> author Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosophy? Its more for a 
> friend than any  
> thing else.
>  
> thanks, Otis
> _______________________________________________
> Marxism mailing list
> Marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu
> http://lists.econ.utah.edu/mailman/listinfo/marxism
> 

I don't know if this will adress your interest in Rand or not.
But I wrote the following several years ago for Doug
Henwood's LBO-Talk list.

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On Sat, 28 Aug 1999 18:07:31 -0400 Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at
osu.edu>
writes:

>On Lou's marxism list, I read James Farmelant's (or was it someone 
>else's?)
>deft explanation and critique of Sciabarra.  He might do the same 
>here.
>
>Yoshie
>
>

Louis Proyect commenting:

> In the latest Lingua Franca, I should 
>add,
>he has a long profile on Ayn Rand giving the old buzzard much too much
>credibility if you ask me.

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
(Brand Blanshard) ,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.
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).  In the case of Rand though, this argument carries
IMO much less plausibility, if only for the reason she was such a
crude and often 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.
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

And I also wrote:

I realize that I omitted the name of the American idealist philosopher
in question.  His name was Brand Blanshard, who taught for many
years at Yale and was basically the last of the American idealists,
a neo-Hegelian school that had pretty dominated American academic
philosophy towards the end of the last century (British academic
philosophy was similarly dominated by idealists at about the same
time).  Unlike most of the earlier idealists though Blanshard was
an avowed atheist, and he was active in various freethought and
humanist organizations.  He was noted among other things for
his defense of the notion of internal relations, an issue that
he debated vigorously with the empiricist philosopher, Ernest
Nagel.

The notion of an internal relation is closely tied to the notion
of necessity.  Thus if an individual X has a property, such that
by virtue if having that property, X necessarily has a relation
R to a certain thing or things, then R can be described as 
an internal relation of X.  Thus if X is a bachelor, then the
relation of not being married to anyone else is an internal
relation of X.  The notion of an internal relation is contrasted
with the notion of an external relation.  Thus if X has a relation
to certain other things but there is no property that X necessarily
has this relation, then this relation is said to be an external
one.  Towards the end of the last century, however, some
of the British neo-Hegelians were arguing that all relations
are internal.  This thesis was closely connected with the
coherence theory of truth that was also embraced by the
neo-Hegelians.

In the US, Brand Blanshard who was a disciple of Bradley
was a leading defender of the thesis that all relations
are internal, notably in his 1939 book, *The Nature of
Thought*.  As such his thesis bore an obvious kinship
with Leibniz's view that all truths are analytic as well as
to Spinoza's idea that causal relations can be reduced to
logical relations.  Blanshard's own defense of this thesis
focused on the argument that the distinction between logical
necessity and causal necessity which most Anglo-American
empiricists took for granted was in fact untenable.  Since,
empiricist philosophers derived most of their understanding
of causality from Hume, Blanshard turned much of his
firepower against Hume's analysis of causality.  Many of
the connections between the thesis that all relations are
internal and associated conceptions of causality were
elucidated in the course of the debate between Blanshard
and Nagel.

Concerning Blanshard, I once saw him at a commencement
at Boston University back in the 1980s where he delivered
the commencement address.  He was well into his 90s but
he was still writing and publishing in philosophy.  For
his commencement address, he delivered a learned talk
on the life of reason.  As I recall, he cited his old friend,
John Dewey, as an exemplar of the life of reason.  He may
have also said something about Bertrand Russell but I am
not sure.  I also recall, that he lambasted religious fundamentalism
and so-called "scientific" creationism.  One thing that I am sure
about is that his talk sailed over the heads of at least 95%
of the audience at BU.  I suppose that he believed that university
commencement was a proper place for delivering a learned
address.  He probably also thought that universities were
places for learning and scholarship.  Imagine that!  
What cheek!


		Jim Farmelant




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