Category Archives: Periodicals

JARS Holiday Shopping!

Now that the thrills and chills of Halloween are behind us, the holiday season is in full bloom (though I’ve been seeing holiday decorations in the stores since before Labor Day!). For those who have not gotten a copy of the 2023 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, this is just a reminder that you’re missing out on a terrific grand finale to the journal’s 2+ decade run.

With contributions from Pavel Solovyev, Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya, Robert F. Mulligan, David Tyson, Marsha Familaro Enright, Roger E. Bissell, Cory Massimino, Douglas B. Rasmussen & Douglas Den Uyl, David Beito, Raymond Raad, Aaron Weinacht, Luca Moratal Roméu, and Roderick T. Long, the issue includes essays on topics of historical, archival, epistemological, methodological, ethical, political, and literary importance.

You can still access the issue online or as a hard copy by following this link.

Happy Holiday Shopping!

The Challenges of Becoming: Looking Back — and Ahead

(This Notablog entry is a republication of today’s Medium article.)

I am a political and social theorist committed to a “dialectical libertarianism,” an emancipatory research project that anchors human freedom and personal flourishing to a deeper exploration of the larger systemic and dynamic contexts that nourish them.

I am the author of a trilogy of books — Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995), Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995; 2d ed, 2013) and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000) — that laid the foundations for this project. I am the coeditor of two other books — Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999) and The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019) — and countless essays on everything from politics, economics, and intellectual history to filmmusicculture, and sexuality. I am also a founding coeditor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, published by Penn State University Press, which just concluded its twenty‑three-year history as the only critical, interdisciplinary, scholarly periodical devoted to the study of Rand and her times.

It is no coincidence that the last book I authored was published in the year 2000. After 2+ decades of coediting The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, producing the equivalent of two robust anthologies per year, it was impossible for me to focus exclusively on my own writing. Still, over that period, I wrote over 3,600 Notablog posts (including multi-part series installments on 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic) and over 80 articles published in various venues, while participating in countless discussions on Facebook and other forums.

Nevertheless, with the conclusion of the journal, I am poised to focus more than ever on writing, which remains my greatest passion. I begin a promising new chapter in my life that will extend my dialectical libertarian project in ways that grapple with the difficult realities and problems of our world — and of my world.

One thing I have learned is that it is both necessary and useful to draw important lessons from all the diverse thinkers and traditions I have encountered throughout my life. My motto has always been: Take the gems of wisdom wherever I can find them. Give credit where credit is due. Criticize that which requires criticism. And move the f&*k on. This last aspect is the most helpful — insofar as it has steered me away from the kind of ideological rigidity that all too often undercuts critical thinking, especially self­-critical thinking, essential to personal learning and growth. The key to that growth has been to accept challenges — even when they arise in ways over which I have no control. It is in those unwelcome instances that I have gained a sense of my own efficacy to rise above. But not without struggle. And not without help.

Where I Have Been

From my beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, still my hometown, even in my earliest years in elementary school (Morris H. Weiss, P.S. 215) and middle school (David A. Boody Junior High, I.S. 228), I was empowered by teachers who challenged me to think critically and who offered constructive criticism as a guide to learning. I began my high school studies at an incredible institution, John Dewey High School, which had a Pass-Fail grade system. Entering that school with a more conservative politics, I was encouraged to pursue my passions in a noncompetitive setting. I completed all the course offerings of the Law Institute (now the “Law Academy”) and studied with many wonderful teachers, including Ira Zornberg, who taught the first class ever offered on a high school level about the history of the Holocaust. It had a profound impact on me insofar as it documented the horrors possible to human beings under barbarous social conditions.

A gifted and learned teacher, Ira also served as advisor to the school’s social studies newspaper, Gadfly, of which I became editor. I knew I was making an impact when one of my lead essays, a conservative critique of the school’s Young Socialists club, was found baptized in a boy’s room urinal. The shock and awe of encountering that sight was softened a bit, since the cover page was printed on goldenrod-colored paper.

In my senior year, I took a year-long college-accredited advanced placement American history class with Social Studies Department Chair, Larry Pero. It was during this course that my conservatism was fundamentally challenged by the first Ayn Rand book I ever read: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Rand’s critique of the “New Fascism” of those on both the right and the left who favored corporatist government-business “partnerships” and especially those conservatives who supported the segregationist “state’s rights” policies of Southern apartheid, nationalism, the “slavery” of conscription, the Vietnam War, and the war on women’s reproductive freedoms was a revelation. And it targeted in a polemically charged manner, those very aspects of conservative thought with which I was uncomfortable. I read all of Rand’s nonfiction before moving on to her novels, short stories, and plays.

Rand’s work opened the door to a universe of libertarian literature that embraced not only “free markets” but “free minds” as well. Indeed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that cosmopolitan form of libertarianism challenged my whole understanding of the left-right dichotomy in American politics. I read the works of Austrian-school economists such as Ludwig von MisesFriedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard, and the revisionist works of New Left historians Gabriel KolkoJames Weinstein, and others. This libertarian turn was nurtured during my undergraduate years at New York University, where I was a triple major in politics, economics, and history (with honors). NYU gave me the opportunity to study with many insightful political theorists, including Gisbert Flanz and H. Mark Roelofs, and many great historians, including Gloria MainPatricia BonomiRichard Hull, and Vincent P. Carosso — for whose class on twentieth-century wars and the American economy I wrote what would become my first professional essay, published in The Historian (May 1980): “Government and the Railroads During World War I”. NYU also provided me with access to its distinctive Austrian economics program, in which I studied formally with such scholars as Israel KirznerMario J. RizzoGerald P. O’Driscoll, and Roger Garrison. Even the neighborhood around NYU was a source of libertarian learning. Laissez Faire Books at 206 Mercer Street was a mecca for anyone who wanted to peruse through the literature of liberty. I spent many precious hours in that bookstore. Beyond the confines of the university, I attended conferences that featured a host of libertarian luminaries, from Roy Childs to Leonard Liggio. These gatherings were sponsored by such organizations as the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, whose Vice President, the late Walter Grinder, provided me with immeasurable encouragement and guidance.

Through my continued participation in various Austrian seminars and colloquia at NYU, I met many others in the tradition who had an impact on my intellectual growth, including Rothbard and Don Lavoie. Rothbard’s work inspired my brief flirtation with anarcho-capitalism. Though I grew to reject the right-libertarian approach for its descent into illiberal private-propertarian fiefdoms, I remain inspired by the ideals of a philosophical anarchism, insofar as it draws from diverse traditions offering free and autonomous alternatives to domination, centralization, and authoritarian social relations.

That said, Rothbard’s work heavily influenced my choice of topic for an undergraduate honors thesis, where I applied my knowledge of Austrian economics to an understanding of the ebb and flow of labor strife in American history. Even in this pursuit, I was not content with finding an ideological ally as my thesis advisor. I selected Daniel Walkowitz, a labor historian, to challenge me further as I worked toward completion of my senior honors thesis, “The Implications of Interventionism: An Analysis of the Pullman Strike”.

In defense of that thesis, I learned firsthand about the hostility that could often mar scholarly engagement. On my committee was Albert Romasco, who had written a 1965 book, The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, The Nation, The Depression, which, unbeknownst to me, was the subject of a scathing critique by Rothbard in Studies on the Left (Summer 1966). Romasco was so irritated with my “ideological” framework that he scolded me: “Maybe you ought to go into political theory instead of history!” When I told Murray that Romasco had given me a whipping in my oral defense, he laughed heartily and explained that it was no doubt a knee-jerk reaction to my use of his own articulation of Austrian business cycle theory throughout my thesis. Romasco was also none too thrilled with the fact that I’d been instrumental in inviting Murray to speak before the History Department on “Libertarian Paradigms in American History”.

Murray gave me indispensable advice during this period; he urged me to carve out my own intellectual niche. I don’t think he was very happy with the area I eventually specialized in, insofar as he knew that my dialectical sensibilities had inspired me to write a critique of his work as part of my doctoral dissertation. My embrace of this explicitly dialectical methodological approach to libertarian social theory grew out of my deepening relationship with a great intellectual of the left academy, sparked by my on-campus student activism.

On the advice of Milton Mueller, National Director of Students for a Libertarian Society, I became a founding member and chairperson of its NYU chapter. SLS was galvanized against Jimmy Carter’s reinstatement of Selective Service Registration. On May Day 1979, I joined with other antidraft, antiwar activists of “The New Resistance” in Washington Square Park, chanting “Fuck the Draft”. As David Dellinger, one of the Chicago Seven, fired up the crowd of around 350 people, I handed out antidraft pamphlets to well-dressed G-men wearing sunglasses standing on the sidelines.

I also became editor of the NYU Politics Journal, Spectator, and wrote op-eds in the Washington Square News, including one that criticized the college for its incestuous relationship with the U.S. Defense Department, which was threatening to withhold funding because of NYU’s antidiscrimination clauses protecting LGBTQ students. By this point, I was out and proud, and where better to be so than in New York’s Greenwich Village, home of the historic Stonewall Riots?

My writing and activism caught the eye of Bertell Ollman, the famed Marxist professor in the Politics Department, who wrote the book on Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, in addition to being the creator of a board game that stood as a proletarian foil to “Monopoly”. “Class Struggle” sported cover art of Nelson Rockefeller arm-wrestling Karl Marx. Bertell wasn’t the first Marxist I encountered at NYU; I studied with Marxist economist James Becker in the first semester of my freshman year. But without a doubt, Bertell was the most provocative.

My illuminating conversations with Bertell changed the trajectory of my entire intellectual and professional life. Alongside those conversations were many that I had with the late Don Lavoie, who had become a cherished friend. In many ways, my journey mirrored Don’s. Whereas he had earned his Ph.D. in the Economics Department, with Austrian-school theorist Israel Kirzner as his mentor and Marxist James Becker on his dissertation committee, I would eventually earn my Ph.D. in the Politics Department, with Marxist theorist Bertell Ollman as my mentor, and Austrian economist Mario Rizzo on my dissertation committee. Don was among those who were very supportive of my work; he would later feature my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, as one of the required texts in his George Mason University course, “Comparative Socio-Economic Systems.”

On April 22, 1981, NYU-SLS and the Center for Marxist Studies jointly sponsored a discussion with Don and Bertell, “Freedom: Libertarian versus Marxist Perspectives”. As I’ve written in a previous Medium article, this debate was an eye-opener for me. In his exchanges with Don, Bertell threw down the gauntlet: “Libertarians are a little bit like people who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza.” The central issue, Bertell argued, is: What’s on the menu, given objective conditions and constraints? There may be lots to choose from, wildly different meals that one can order in a Chinese restaurant, “but pizza isn’t one of them.” I felt as if Bertell had brought into question the whole libertarian enterprise. Too much of what I’d heard in libertarian circles was based on atomistic “state of nature” assumptions and prescriptions that had no apparent applicability to the real world. Radical thinking of any hue — thinking that seeks to identify the roots of social problems — must start from somewhere, not from the nowhere of utopian premises. The very word “utopia” means “no place”.

Already steeped in Rand’s neo-Aristotelian emphasis on the importance of grasping the facts of reality as a means toward changing them, I was highly receptive to Bertell’s exposition of dialectical methodology. Aristotle, after all, was the first theoretician of dialectics, heralded by Hegel himself as its “fountainhead”. A genuinely dialectical and, hence, radical method of examining the world requires that we begin with somewhere, with the real world as it exists, and with the understanding that we are part of that world, embedded in it, that we can never grasp it as if from some Archimedean, God-like “synoptic” perspective.

One of the core methodological principles of dialectics is that one cannot examine any issue apart from the ways in which it is situated in a larger systemic context examined across time. As such, dialectics is the art of context-keeping. Every issue is constituted by a cluster of relations — that is, its connections to other issues, facts, events, and problems. These connections cannot be ignored without doing irreparable damage to our ability to grapple with and/or resolve the issues or problems at hand. Tracing relations is key to understanding how any issue, fact, event, or problem came to be what it is — while providing clues to what it can be, might be, or ought to be.

I was profoundly excited by the challenges of thinking dialectically. But if I wanted to study with a master dialectician, I had to engineer a course correct.

Nearing the end of my undergraduate years, I had initially hoped to earn a joint J.D./Ph.D. — and applied to both law schools and graduate programs in history at Columbia, the University of Chicago, and NYU. Unfortunately, my scores on the 8-hour marathon LSAT were a barrier to my acceptance to any of those university law schools (though I was accepted to Fordham Law, which did not offer a joint degree program). Having taken the comparatively puny 3-hour GRE a week after the LSAT, I scored very high and was accepted to all the graduate programs at those universities.

Bertell advised me to switch my graduate major from history to politics. He also told me that it was less important where I studied and far more important to base my choice on the person who would mentor me through my doctorate. I knew that NYU was the place to stay — and it certainly helped that NYU offered me a full scholarship for my doctoral program, just as it had funded virtually my entire undergraduate education. I also knew that Bertell, more than any other scholar, would challenge me to understand the views I opposed and to grapple with my own views in a self-critical manner. I made the change.

As a graduate student, I studied with many fine scholars, including sociologist Wolf Heydebrand, who exposed me to the work of the Frankfurt school in his comprehensive course on the “Logic of Inquiry”. But it was my studies with Bertell that most energized me — courses on Marxism, fascism, dialectical method, seminars in political philosophy, and independent studies that enabled me to probe even more deeply into dialectics. He was a mentor without parallel. More than any of the classical liberal, libertarian, or Austrian scholars I knew, Bertell encouraged my dialectical investigations and their applications to libertarian social theory. He had worked closely with libertarians in the past and had enormous respect for their principled stances against the draft, war, and imperialism, having befriended both Rothbard and Liggio in the Peace and Freedom Party. Moreover, he had been a Volker Fellow at the University of Chicago under Hayek. He was enthusiastic over the direction of my master’s thesis, “A Brief Survey in Methodological Integration: Dialectics, Praxeology, and Their Implications”. He was a strong presence in the department who defended the topic of my dissertation and guided me toward the completion, with distinction, in May 1988, of my doctoral thesis, “Toward a Radical Critique of Utopianism: Dialectics and Dualism in the Works of Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Karl Marx”. The sections on Marx and Hayek contributed to what would become Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; the section on Rothbard contributed to Part II of Total Freedom. As for Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, it was Bertell who persuaded me to delve into Rand’s Russian roots, seeing in her those dialectical methodological elements endemic to the Russian Silver Age and the lessons she would have learned at the University of Leningrad, from which she graduated.

The Personal and the Political

Educational institutions are not the only — or even the most important — avenue for our personal growth. I was born into a working-class family of Greek and Sicilian ancestry, which placed an enormous emphasis on the value of learning and teaching. My mother, a garment worker for most her life, was the first in her family to get a high school diploma (from James Madison High School); my sister, Elizabeth, was the first in our whole extended family to get a bachelor’s degree, master’s and professional degrees as well. She would go on to become a beloved educator who would impact the lives of countless students and colleagues. My loving father, who had worked as an eye setter in a doll factory before becoming a cargo worker with Trans World Airlines, had died in 1972, when I was 12 years old. My Uncle Sam, a graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School and a veteran of World War II, who painted everything from ships to houses for a living, was like a second father to me. He stoked my earliest political interests with a unique blend of fiery commentary and humor. He died in 1994 from prostate cancer. A year later, my mother died after a 5-year battle with lung cancer. Throughout those 5 years, my sister and I, along with my brother Carl (a virtuoso jazz guitarist and teacher) and sister-in-law Joanne (a terrific singer and voice teacher) took care of our mom with great commitment. And when she passed, we continued to take care of each other.

More than anyone, however, my sister was my guide in all things great and small. As a person who suffered with congenital health problems, I was blessed to live with her my whole life. She was my indefatigable supporter, both spiritually and materially, advising me on my educational and personal choices, and by my side for every medical procedure I endured. These lifelong medical issues have been detailed elsewhere, most explicitly in a 2018 Folks interview. Suffice it to say, I was born with a serious illness, known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS), which, by the time I reached puberty, became a life-threatening condition. It was definitively diagnosed by the great physician, Hiromi Shinya, who was an endoscopic pioneer. A duodenojejunostomy saved my life in 1974, but a variety of side effects from that intestinal bypass surgery led to more than 60 additional surgical procedures — for everything from inguinal hernias and kidney stones to intestinal bleeding. These medical complications emboldened my resolve as a strong advocate for myself and for those I loved. So, when my sister became seriously ill in November 2020, I was her primary caregiver, until the day she died in November 2022.

What I say here about “living with disabilities” is not universal; I can only speak for myself. Though it is impossible to know how things would have turned out in the absence of my disabilities, this much I can say: I am thankful that I have had such caring family, friends, and classmates throughout my entire life, and I believe that I am a far more caring and empathetic person having had these experiences.

But the struggles I’ve endured from these life-long medical problems have been immense. Indeed, I would never have been able to pursue my education at NYU without the enormous help I received from professors, fellow students, and the Office of Disabled Student Services. When my doctoral studies were complete, I found myself unable to work in the traditional academic job market. An earlier attempt at employment in the heart of midtown Manhattan as a business researcher had failed, largely due to my inability to sustain a 9 to 5 workday — though, in fairness, even if I were well, it was most likely doomed from the start insofar as it educated me on the hierarchical mediocrity and stultifying conformity of the corporate world.

In the face of these difficulties, I had no clue how to monetize the achievement of a Ph.D. without the ability to teach and lecture. It was as if my world had come crashing down. Even with Bertell’s help in sponsoring my appointment as a non-salaried Visiting Scholar to the NYU Department of Politics (1989–2009), it took me years to secure post-doctoral fellowships so that I could begin the process of writing my Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy. The trials and tribulations of getting that trilogy published — and the scathing reviews and condemnations it initially provoked — could fill volumes of its own.

And here is where the personal and the political ultimately collide. As a young libertarian college student, I had initially resisted seeking Social Security Disability (SSD) because of my principled opposition to the welfare state. That I, and my whole family, had paid taxes and suffered under the crushing financial costs imposed on us by a healthcare system marred by institutional decay, didn’t seem to matter. At least not until health insurance companies were charging us prohibitively high premiums, not even covering many of my medical procedures. My family was being crippled financially and it nearly bankrupted us.

My decision to pursue SSD came with great personal anguish. When some of my libertarian friends were telling me that things would be better under the “unknown ideal” of free market healthcare, it wasn’t helping me to grapple with the now. They criticized me for my lack of “consistency” and “purity”. It was as if they were tone deaf to the inner contradictions of the system. But I remembered the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay on “Self-Reliance”: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

As my principled opposition to government assistance came face-to-face with structural realities, I accepted the necessity of pursuing disability benefits without any sense of remorse. I refused to sacrifice my life on the altar of “consistency” and “purity”; I could not serve the cause of freedom or personal flourishing as a libertarian martyr.

Though I finally began receiving Social Security Disability benefits in the 1990s, it would take many years for my family to emerge from the financial nightmare left behind, not only from my illness, but from my mother’s as well. By the time our debts were paid off, my sister, the family’s primary breadwinner, was struck down tragically by a life-threatening illness of her own. The financial burdens of my care and my mother’s care paled in comparison to the burdens she faced.

A woman who had worked her entire life did not qualify for Medicaid because she was deemed too “wealthy” (as the recipient of a pension and Social Security retirement benefits) and yet, not “wealthy” enough to sustain her own healthcare. We had no choice but to beg for money through a GoFundMe campaign for her. We raised a staggeringly large sum of money only because of the generous contributions that came from thousands of people whose lives she touched as an educator. Not everyone is that lucky. And nobody should ever have to be put in a position to beg for their lives because the system makes it impossible for them to survive. I thought I had seen it all with my own health problems, but the inhumane aspects of the U.S. healthcare system were laid bare by what I witnessed throughout my sister’s devastating illness. It’s a story I will detail another day.

Where I Am Now

Nevertheless, what we raised allowed my sister to die with dignity at home. No stranger to grief, having lost so many loved ones, and all too familiar with the stages of what grieving entails, I am being ever-so-gentle with myself as I process a heart-shattering loss beyond anything I have ever experienced in my entire life. Though my sister provided for me in life — and, to a limited extent, in death — I remain in a precarious situation of long-term financial uncertainty. It is yet another challenge I will have to figure out, with the help of family and friends.

Unlike my sister, however, my healthcare costs will not be the source of financial collapse. I know that, as a disabled man, I could never have survived without Social Security Disability, Medicare, and, later, Medicaid. Despite benefiting from the generosity of family and friends, no amount of charitable giving could have rescued me from certain death without the kind of health insurance I required to keep me medically stable.

Where I Am Going

This essay has told the story of where I have been and where I am now. Where I am going poses yet another glorious challenge.

My love of writing is an extension of my love of life. Now, unencumbered by colossal editing responsibilities, I have begun writing much more extensively on the nature of dialectical libertarianism.

It must be emphasized that while I was the first person to coin the term, “dialectical libertarianism,” my trilogy focused enormous attention on the presence of dialectical modes of analysis in the works of many important thinkers in the classical liberal and libertarian traditions. It may have taken nearly a quarter century, but I am grateful to have lived to coedit a book on The Dialectics of Liberty, which includes contributions from nearly 20 other contemporary thinkers extending this dialectical paradigm in challenging and sometimes diametrically opposed ways, encompassing both “right” and “left” variants, and everything in-between. Indeed, even I don’t agree with every application therein! Dialectical libertarianism is marked by a focus on context specificity. But it is not a monolith; the diversity of approaches on display in that anthology is just one indicator of the vitality of an evolving project.

My convictions can be spelled out on three interconnected levels, “the three Ps”, if you will: the Philosophical, the Political, and the Personal:

Philosophically, the influence of Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and the neo-Aristotelian tradition is deeply ingrained in me insofar as I uphold all those life-affirming values that constitute what it means to be fully human and, therefore, fully social. It should be noted that these values are not to be dismissed as particularly ‘right-wing’, since even Marx expressed a parallel neo-Aristotelian eudaimonistic perspective (on this point, see Scott MeikleCarol Gould, and Sabeen Ahmed.) We are integrated beings of mind and body — and our capacity to nourish our self-esteem and self-worth is best fostered under social conditions in which we are more free. By contrast, that capacity is inhibited under conditions in which we are less free. In broad terms, my vision for social change promotes the organic unity of human freedom and personal flourishing within a cosmopolitan culture of tolerance that is respectful of difference — whether it be along the lines of race, color, creed, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, or gender. If these sound like ‘left-wing’ “New York values”, they are. And I’m proud of them.

Politically, getting ‘from here to there’ requires a more nuanced method for understanding how to act in an imperfect world. All the institutions of civil society and state, be they markets, nonmarket and communal associations, or government agencies, are imperfect because people are imperfect. It’s a cliché, but a true one at that, to say that in moving toward social change, we ought not to make the perfect become the enemy of the good. Self-righteous moralizing over how we have failed to achieve an illusory ‘perfection’ is no friend of freedom or flourishing.

Freedom abstracted from real conditions is an illusion; flourishing without such freedom is an impossibility. And that is the problem with all ideologies that become one dimensional and rigidified: If they are wedded to “principle” without any consideration for the hard facts, they become useless abstractions, making it impossible for any human being to flourish under any conditions. A dialectical approach neither dilutes nor deludes. It doesn’t dilute the project of human freedom and personal flourishing because of its “impurity” or its “inconsistency”. The impurities and the inconsistencies lie not in dialectical libertarianism but in the system that it encounters. A dialectical approach enables us to analyze that system and to act based on the flawed conditions that exist. Hence, it does not suffer from the delusions of those abstract premises that underlie the moralistic pronouncements of some libertarians.

Ultimately, we act within the context of the system we have, not the system we wished we had (H/T DR).

That’s why I believe a social safety net is both necessary and unavoidable. Whether any system could ever arise that would make such a social safety net superfluous is an academic question. I am not oblivious to the impoverishing effects of markets that have been distorted by licensure, regulation, and land and intellectual property monopolies — all tools of the politically privileged rich and powerful. Free-market economist that he was, Hayek himself advocated a social safety net to mitigate the effects of systemic hardships through public healthcaresocial securityand other forms of social insurance. But he also understood the class character of bureaucratic, administrative, and regulatory institutions. He argued that these institutions often benefited those who were most adept at using their instruments, which is why the worst tend to get on top.

However, the institutionalized poverty that the current system engenders makes a social safety net an inescapable reality for those who cannot afford to live. And that net will become wider to the extent that this system makes it increasingly difficult for so many to survive. Given how untenable these harsh realities are, any genuinely emancipatory movement must address what needs to be changed — and how to change it. Whatever shape a future, freer society takes, it’s going to require both analysis and activism with the use of dialectical scalpels, rather than ideological sledgehammers. It requires a dose of empathy that speaks to our common humanity and our common struggles.

I have written elsewhere of my antipathy to all the conventional “isms” — be it “socialism” or “capitalism”. While I endorse the left-libertarian idea of “freed” markets, I reject the use of the word “capitalism” to describe my politics. The very word “capitalism” was coined by its critics, as Hayek has shown. Its historical genesis was nothing like the “unknown ideal” of “vulgar” libertarianism (rooted in the intellectual mistakes of “left” and “right” conflationism). Just as the state was not born of a bloodless “immaculate conception”, so too, capitalism, “the known reality”, like every other social system, arose from a bloody history. It emerged through the state’s violent appropriation of the commons, enclosure, and mercantilist and colonialist expropriation.

Ayn Rand was right that libertarian ideals could never be achieved by merely ridding us of the state, that the project of human freedom and personal flourishing is not reducible to a mere political question concerning the state’s existence. Like the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci before her, Rand understood that no structural change could occur from the “top down”; its achievement requires a massive ideological and cultural shift from the “bottom up” that would ripple throughout a society’s economic and political formations, ridding us of the structural causes of poverty and systemic decay, and the repressions of public and private institutions that subvert individual autonomy and empowerment. So much of our current illiberal culture breeds toxicity and intolerance on both ends of the conventional political spectrum. That’s why challenging conventions and changing culture are crucial to the achievement of a free and open society. It’s also why the right-libertarian’s endorsement of liberty conjoined to deadening reactionary cultural values is at odds with the dynamic processes of spontaneous order that often bring into question, and undermine, traditional mores. As I put it in Total Freedom, this kind of “Liberty Plus” will result in minus liberty.

Just as societies are always evolving, so too, we are all in the process of becoming — a point understood by thinkers as varied as AristotleHegel, and the New York-born writer, poet, and activist Audre Lorde.

Personally, that process is endemic to the pursuit of my own happiness and all that it comprises. I am dedicated to living. At the core of living is love: love of self, love of others — and love of writing. I am happy that I’m now spending more time writing, reading, and learning — all pleasures that intersect with passion. But even more importantly, I’ve been enjoying precious moments with those without whom I would not be here. Even in the face of palpable loss and grief, I continue to build a meaningful life — of fun and friendship. This process of becoming is the most fundamental challenge that I embrace with all my heart.

Special thanks to my very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer for inspiring me to bring this essay together and for being among my most cherished blessings.

See Facebook for comments here and here.

JARS: The 2023 Grand Finale Arrives!

My hard copy of the nearly 400-page 2023 grand finale of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has arrived.

This project is finished! Woo hoo!

JARS Grand Finale Debuts on Project Muse

The 2023 grand finale of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has now made its debut on Project Muse. This double issue constitutes the final volume in our 2+ decades of publication. For those who don’t have access to the Scholarly Publishing Collective, or a print subscription, check out JARS on Project Muse.

I’ll be posting one more announcement on this truly grand finale … when I have a photo of the hard copy in my hands! Can’t wait!

JARS: 2023 Grand Finale Live!

The grand finale volume to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies went live today on the site of the Scholarly Publishing Collective. Check it out here. The Introduction to the issue is Open Access.

Unlike the print edition, the e-platform version is the only one with full-color images!

The 2023 grand finale is a double issue and constitutes the last volume in the journal’s 2+ decade history as the only critical scholarly periodical devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times. It will be live on Project Muse in 2 weeks, and should be in the hands of subscribers in about 2-3 weeks. I’ll post an update when I have it.

Also of interest, the JARS site now has links to the Master Author Index to Volumes 13-23 (which joins the “Master Author Index to Volumes 1-12“) [pdf links].

JARS: The 2023 Grand Finale Arrives!

I am delighted to announce the publication of a special blockbuster 2023 double issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that constitutes the final volume in our twenty-three-year history. As I write in the introduction to this very special issue:

In 2020, when JARS celebrated its twentieth anniversary, I provided an in-depth tribute to all those who had contributed to this project. Here, I will only repeat that this journal was the brainchild of the late Bill Bradford and that it is to him that we owe our creation. And it is to the hard work of all our editors, advisory board members, peer readers, and contributors that we have owed our continued success. Since 2013, we have been grateful for the remarkable support of the Pennsylvania State University Press family, which has led to our greater visibility as the only globally accessible academic journal devoted to Ayn Rand and her times.

In these more than two decades of our existence, JARS has been a trailblazing periodical that has both reflected the growth in and furthered the dissemination of scholarly discussions of Rand’s work. There is barely a topic that this journal’s contributors haven’t touched upon over these many years; we have featured articles examining significant issues in ontology, epistemology, methodology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, social theory, culture, literature and literary criticism, psychology, sexuality, history, anthropology, and the natural sciences, truly exemplifying the interdisciplinary nature of our project.

From the beginning, we have been committed to introducing at least one new JARS contributor with every issue that we’ve published; in this issue, we add three new contributors to our ranks, for a final tally of 191 authors, who have written 422 articles in the span of 23 years.

Among those articles, there have been 129 formal book reviews. But when one counts the many scholarly surveys that we have featured, which have traced Rand’s impact on everything from literary fiction and popular culture to progressive rock, our contributors have examined well over 200 works relevant to Rand studies. There are still dozens of books that we never got around to discussing here. But this only underscores our conviction that Rand studies has grown so extraordinarily that not even we can keep up with the demand for reviews of that expanding literature. It is more apparent than ever that Rand has truly become a part of the scholarly canon.

We are proud of the role we have played in creating the first forum for the critical scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand’s life, thought, and legacy. We leave this field in 2023 a far better place than it was in 1999, when our first issue was published.

Our deepest appreciation extends especially to our devoted readers, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Our Grand Finale features the following articles and contributors:

Introduction – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

ARTICLES

What She Left Behind – Pavel Solovyev

Ayn Rand’s Years in the Stoiunin Gymnasium – Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya

Epistemology According to Rand and Hayek – Robert F. Mulligan

Check Your Presuppositions! A New Kind of Foundationalism in Objectivism – David Tyson

Life is not a Machine or a Ghost: The Naturalistic Origin of Life’s Organization and Goal-Directedness, Consciousness, Free Will, and Meaning – Marsha Familaro Enright

How We Live: A Dialectical Examination of Human Existence – Roger E. Bissell

Ayn Rand’s Novel Contribution: Aristotelian Liberalism – Cory Massimino

BOOK REVIEWS

On Grounding Ethical Values in the Human Life Form (Review of The Women Are Up to Something by Benjamin Lipscomb and Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachel Wiseman) – Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl

Freedom’s Three Furies (Review of Freedom’s Furies by Timothy Sandefur) – David Beito

Retaking America’s Universities (Review of Retaking College Hill by Walter Donway) – Raymond Raad

Ayn Rand and Russian Nihilism Revisited (Review of Ayn Rand and the Russian Intelligentsia by Derek Offord) – Aaron Weinacht

Ayn Rand, Fascism, and Dystopia (Review of Ayn Rand e il fascismo eterno. Una narrazione distopica by Diana Thermes) – Luca Moratal Roméu

Postmodern Rand, Transatlantic Rand (Review of Questioning Ayn Rand: Subjectivity, Political Economy, and the Arts, edited by Neil Cocks and Out of a Gray Fog: Ayn Rand’s Europe by Claudia Franziska Brühwiler) Roderick T. Long

Index to Volume 23

Master Author Index (Vols. 13–23)

Check out links to the abstracts and contributor biographies of this truly grand finale. Subscription information can be found here. The issue will be available in approximately two weeks on the Scholarly Publishing Collective and will be mailed to print subscribers thereafter. Follow-up announcements will be posted.

Also see the Facebook announcement.

Russian Radical Review in “Savvy Street”

Marco den Ouden wrote a really nice retrospective review of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical for The Savvy Street. Marco writes:

In a brilliant piece of philosophical detective work, Chris Matthew Sciabarra examines her Russian background and Russian education and discerns distinct influences of both on her methodology.

Early in this review I quoted Sciabarra to the effect that during his research he “rediscovered elements in Objectivism that challenged my entire understanding of that philosophy and its place in intellectual history.” Sciabarra’s book did the same for me.

I had hitherto taken a disaggregated view of Rand’s work. The problem with such an unintegrated view is that it lets you take isolated elements of her work out of context. This is the error of many of her followers who focus on her politics to the exclusion of the other elements of her philosophy. This was the source of her disdain for libertarians. If you consider her philosophy as an integrated whole, libertarians focused on one narrow element, her politics, and even there, they focused very narrowly on one maxim, the so-called non-aggression principle. They saw only a solitary tree but missed the grand forest that was her work.

Sciabarra’s book gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the holistic nature of Rand’s work, for her ability to parse and dissect disparate elements of current events and to integrate them by their essences. To see connections that others miss.

Check out the whole review here.

JARS Grand Finale Update #2

As I reported on December 13, 2022, I had signed off with the Penn State University Press copyeditor on the final group of essays for the July 2023 double-issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Today, I am happy to report that I have just submitted our corrections to the first set of page proofs for what will be a truly blockbuster grand finale to this journal’s 23-year run!

More updates to come as we near publication, but for now: Woo hoo!

DWR (8): A Dialectical Journey from Religion to Politics and Elsewhere

As readers know, I have had an ongoing dialogue with my very dear friend, Ryan Neugebauer, whom I have known for nearly five years. In those five years, we have developed a remarkable friendship, uplifted by spirited intellectual engagement, mutual inspiration, support, and love through good times and bad.

I’ll have more to say about some of his future activities in the coming weeks, but today, I’m just pausing to say how proud I am of his newly published wonderful essay—his first ever posted on Medium—entitled “A Dialectical Journey: From Religion to Politics and Elsewhere“. I’m not promoting the article simply because he describes himself as a dialectical left-libertarian, who places a high value on “the art of context-keeping”, with an explicit nod to my “conception of what dialectics is.”

What impresses me most is Ryan’s intellectual honesty and vulnerability, his willingness to explore his intensely personal evolution that has shaped his attitudes toward religion and ritual, politics and culture, sexuality and social change. As he writes:

It would be easy for some people to wonder why they should trust my thinking after having admitted that I have changed and evolved so much. I’d first respond by saying that I’d be skeptical of the thinking of anyone who hasn’t changed or evolved. No human has a synoptic or total view of everything, so we are all going to get plenty wrong and must engage in a life-long learning process. I also think that most people just go about their lives unreflectively and take whatever they think as “the truth”, which takes little effort. So when they see someone who has changed a lot and expelled a lot of effort, they look down on it and pity the person. Well, much like Socrates, I think the unexamined life is not worth living.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, moving forward I hope to get better in touch with my principles and provide even greater evidence-based arguments in defense of them. I also hope to keep an open mind to conflicting information, which is why I watch content and engage with others that I don’t agree with. It’s unhealthy to stay in an echo chamber where you only hear arguments and commentary in favor of your positions. That’s a sure way to grow callous toward those opposed to your views and to remain quite ignorant. That goes for strict Fox News watchers and MSNBC watchers alike, just as two examples.

A good framework for moving forward would be to get in touch with your own perspectives and arguments. Know why you hold them and what their strengths and weaknesses are. There are no risk-free or negative-free options, as pretty much everything comes with a tradeoff of some kind or another. Know what tradeoffs you’re willing to put up with and why (as one example, do you think that high economic inequality is worth putting up with in the pursuit of some rigid free-market perspective? Why?). Be open to hearing arguments opposed to your position and seek to buttress your position by taking into account criticism/feedback. Be charitable to those who respectfully disagree with you and seek their best, most steel-manned argument to deal with rather than some weak strawman argument. Doing all of that is what I strive to do, even if I still fall short. I think it’s the best way forward if we are to progress in any meaningful sense, personally and as a global community. So, let’s get to it then!

I can’t think of a more refreshing approach to ideas—and to life itself. Here’s to many more articles and much future engagement!

JARS Grand Finale Update!

I am happy to report that today I signed off with the Penn State University Press copyeditor on the final group of essays for the 2023 double-issue grand finale of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

The next update should come early in 2023, when I sign off on the first set of page proofs for what will be a truly blockbuster conclusion to our 23-year run. To say “I can’t wait” is an understatement! Then they’ll be the second set of corrected page proofs, and, possibly a third set… but ultimately, that issue is slated to be published on or before July 2023.

On a personal note, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now to say the least, and will have much to deal with for the foreseeable future. But I’m confident that even as I’m zigging and zagging emotionally … I continue to work productively and will ultimately flourish in a post-JARS era.