Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

Song of the Day #1977

Song of the Day: Don’t Stop features the music and lyrics of singer and keyboard player Christine McVie, who, along with Lindsey Buckingham, provides the vocals to this Fleetwood Mac song from their classic album “Rumours“. The album produced four Top Ten singles and spent 31 weeks at #1, becoming one of the best-selling albums in history, even winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Today, we have this rare event in the constellation of “My Favorite Songs”: This Song of the Day #1977 was actually released in 1977 and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yes, the song has been used for various political campaigns, including, most notably, the 1992 presidential bid of Bill Clinton. It has an upbeat message: “Yesterday’s gone” and tomorrow will “be better than before.” McVie died on November 30, 2022 at the age of 79. She left behind in her music so many tomorrows. Check it out here [YouTube link].

JARS: New December 2022 Issue!

As I announced on September 6, 2022, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be publishing its grand finale in 2023 as a double issue. We are working very hard right now to complete the submission of the full slate of articles toward that end—an elegant conclusion to our 2+ decades of commitment to being the only nonpartisan, interdisciplinary, double-blind, peer-reviewed, biannual periodical devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times.

Today, it gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of the penultimate issue of JARS (which will be published on both the Scholarly Publishing Collective and on its way to subscribers in hard copy next month). Our December 2022 issue continues another commitment we made when this journal began, that every new issue would feature at least one new contributor to our project. With our newest issue, we welcome three new contributors: Mikhail Kravtsov, Luca Moratal Roméu, and Elizabeth Bissell, bringing our total number of authors to 188, who have contributed 408 articles over the past 22 years. Our 2023 grand finale will add to those totals.

The December 2022 issue features the following articles and contributors:

Introduction – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

ARTICLES

Archival Discoveries Related to Ayn Rand’s Residences in Saint Petersburg
(Petrograd/Leningrad) – Mikhail Kravtsov and Mikhail Kizilov

Objectivism and Libertarian Political Thought: A Comparative
Introduction – Luca Moratal Roméu

Chosen or Proven Ethics? – Robert Hartford

Error, Free Will, and Freedom – Kathleen Touchstone

Where There’s a Will, There’s a “Why?” Part 2: Implications of Value
Determinism for the Objectivist Concepts of “Value,” “Sacrifice,” “Virtue,”
“Obligation,” and “Responsibility” – Roger E. Bissell

REVIEWS

Ayn Rand, Nihilist? (review of Aaron Weinacht’s book, Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America) – Elizabeth Bissell

“Atlas Shrugged” Explored (review of Edward W. Younkins’s book, Exploring “Atlas Shrugged”: Ayn Rand’s Magnum Opus) – Fred Seddon

Index to Volume 22

Check out our article abstracts and our contributor biographies. Subscription information is available here. (This announcement has also been posted to Facebook here.)

Only one more (double) issue to go! Don’t miss out!

Sharon Presley (1943-2022), RIP

My dear friend, Ellen Young, announced today that Sharon Presley, lifelong libertarian feminist writer and activist, died on Monday, October 31, 2022, at the age of 79. Her partner Art—who has had his own share of health challenges—was able to be there to say goodbye to her.

Sharon had been suffering from serious illnesses for quite a while. In the wake of eviction from her apartment and the loss of her cats, she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for over a year.

Sharon received her B.A. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, her M.A. in psychology from San Francisco State, and her Ph.D. in social psychology from the City University of New York. She taught on the psychology of women and other gender-related courses at California State University, Iowa State University, the College of Wooster, and Weber State College. Her published research included historical papers on women resisters, a study of Mormon feminists, an edited collection of essays on nineteenth-century individualist feminist Voltairine de Cleyre and the 2010 volume, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities: How to Avoid Being Intimidated, Manipulated, and Abused. Sharon was also a national coordinator for the Association of Libertarian Feminists and Executive Director of Resources for Independent Thinking.

Her frail state over these many months was quite a contrast to the rambunctious fireband whom I met way back in 1978, when I was an undergraduate student at New York University. She and John Muller had helped to launch Laissez-Faire Books, which offered a treasure-trove of classical liberal, libertarian, and anarchist literature in the heart of Greenwich Village. As a cofounder of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, I spent a lot of time at that bookstore, especially in 1980, when it became a virtual warehouse of antidraft placards and pamphlets that we distributed in Washington Square Park, joining with other student groups to protest Jimmy Carter’s reinstatement of Selective Service Registration.

From the very beginning of our friendship, Sharon and I had our differences, but it never interfered with her willingnesss to step up and speak out in an uncompromising, principled way on many controversial topics. She gladly accepted our invitation to speak at an NYU-SLS-sponsored event, delivering a fiery lecture in support of reproductive freedom. Given that Ayn Rand’s work played such a key role in initially sparking Sharon’s political radicalization, I was delighted, many years later, when she accepted an invitation to be among the diverse group of contributors to Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999), which I coedited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, for the Penn State University Press series, “Re-reading the Canon.” That volume, prominently featured among anthologies on thirty-five major figures in the Western philosophical tradition, brought Rand’s work into critical engagement with various feminist perspectives. Sharon’s essay, “Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Individualism: A Feminist Psychologist’s Perspective”, was one of its gems.

My very deepest condolences to all those who knew her. I will miss her.

Sharon Presley (1943-2022)

See comments on Facebook.

Anne Conover Heller, RIP

I was very saddened to learn this morning that my dear friend and colleague, magazine editor and journalist Anne Conover Heller, passed away on October 10, 2022. We had been in touch over the summer, and I knew she had been battling cancer. She lost that battle at the age of 71. As the NY Times legacy page tells us: “She is survived by many many friends from all corners of life, her dear sister Peggy, and David, her devoted husband. A memorial celebration will take place at the Church of the Holy Trinity in December.” My very deepest condolences to all those who had the pleasure of knowing her.

Over the years, Anne had been the managing editor of The Antioch Review, a fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, features editor of Lear’s, and the executive editor of the magazine-development group at Conde Nast Publications. She would go on to author the probing biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009) and the insightful Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times (2015).

She was one of the most curious, tenacious, and courageous scholars I’ve ever known. She was also a very sweet, caring, supportive, and loving friend.

We first met many years ago, when she was researching her book on Rand. She was very deeply impressed with my own book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995, first edition), and was embarking on major research on Rand’s Russian background. Aware of my previous work on Rand’s education at Petrograd University and my discovery that Rand had studied at the Stoyunin gymnasium—including my essay “The Rand Transcript,” featured in the 1999 debut issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—Anne worked diligently to provide further documentation of many aspects of Rand’s Russian beginnings that became more transparent over time. She gained access to materials that I did not have when I first put forth my theses.

Unlike those who had access to certain archives but who had refused to share these materials with others without stipulations that were meant to crush independent inquiry, Anne openly shared with me key documents on Rand’s education at Petrograd University. In collaboration with such scholars as the esteemed philosopher and intellectual historian, the late George Kline, I was able to provide Anne with a thorough exploration of the materials. The results of that investigation—“The Rand Transcript, Revisited” (JARS, Fall 2005; republished in the 2013 expanded second edition of Russian Radical)—were used by Anne in her 2009 Rand biography. In later years, I was able to revisit that material and expand on it greatly, in collaboration with my dear friend and colleague Pavel Solovyev. Our coauthored essay, “The Rand Transcript Revealed” (published in the December 2021 JARS), utterly delighted Anne. None of it would have been possible without the pioneering steps taken by her.

As a friend, she had this unique ability to lend a heartfelt word of support when times were tough and to laugh through the tears. And laugh we did. Our countless hours of conversation over the years were the source of great joy to me. I am greatly indebted to her—for so much. I will always honor her immense generosity of spirit. And I will miss her.

RIP, dear, dear friend.

Posted to Facebook with discussion.

Film Recommendation: I Am Not Alone (2019)

I finally had a chance to see the 2019 documentary, “I Am Not Alone“, written, directed, and coprodued by Garin Hovannisian, with whom I enjoyed much correspondence some years ago. Among its other producers is my friend Alec Mouhibian. The film details the makings of the 2018 Armenian “Velvet” Revolution, which commenced with the anti-government protests staged by Nikol Pashinyan (who went on to become that country’s Prime Minister in May 2018). The against-all-odds protests began in response to the third consecutive term of Serzh Sargsyan, the most powerful politician in the country at that time.

This truly outstanding film documents the power of bottom-up civil disobedience as a means to affecting political change. Highly recommended!

Film: We the Living 80 Update

I last wrote about the 80th anniversary restoration of the 1942 film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s We the Living back on April 28, 2022. Here’s another update from Duncan Scott.

We wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of the great people who contributed time, money, and encouragement towards restoring We the Living.

This Labor Day weekend marks the exact 80th anniversary of the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. So it’s the perfect time to share some terrific news: All the finishing touches to the We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration have been completed!

The last major challenge was restoring the audio. Previously, static, popping, and hum could frequently be heard in the film. After a six-week process, those defects have been almost completely removed. The movie now sounds as good as it looks—nearly as good as when it first played in theaters in Rome!

Next, the critical distribution and promotion phase begins. ​We the Living will enjoy a wide release that includes art-house movie theaters, DVD, and video-on-demand. In addition, it will be distributed to colleges and schools through educational distribution services. Audiences around the world will be able to discover this inspiring movie and the fundamental values it so powerfully dramatizes.

And if you haven’t heard the news: We the Living was honored at Il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered) on June 27, 2022, in Bologna, Italy. Il Cinema Ritrovato is the world’s major festival of film restoration. This brought the movie to the attention of distributors of classic films. Discussions with three of those companies are underway.

Also, a sneak preview of We the Living was shown on July 5th at OCON, the Objectivist Summer Conference hosted by the Ayn Rand Institute. Over 350 people attended the screening and several hundred more attended a one-hour presentation on the history of the film. These events heightened awareness of the upcoming release among a key audience—fans of Ayn Rand’s works.

A theatrical booking service has been engaged and is now setting up art house theater engagements in New York City and Los Angeles. These two markets are critical to the successful launch of any film, but they are particularly important for bringing attention to a newly restored film classic. Other cities across North America and overseas will be added as the general release of the film gets underway. After the theatrical release, it will be distributed to home video, video-on-demand, and to educational markets.

The premiere engagement had been long planned for the fall of 2022, but for strategic distribution reasons, it will be a few months later. October to December is “award season” in the movie industry. During the flurry of award-qualifying screenings, theater availability is very limited and the movie would not get maximum attention from the media.

We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration will open as early as possible in 2023. We will be excited to announce to you the specific theaters and dates as soon as these engagements are confirmed.

Stay tuned!

We the Living 80

“The Dialectics of Liberty” Reviewed in RAE

I was notified today of a wonderful review of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019, Lexington Books) which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. “Freedom in Context” by Alexander W. Craig, appears in the current Review of Austrian Economics. An excerpt from that review is on the book’s homepage.

Perhaps the following remarks fall under the category of “reviewing a review” of a book, but, in my opinion, Craig provides the most insightful and profoundly dialectical discussion of this eclectic volume yet published. In short: He gets it! What he has to say about a dialectical mode of inquiry is worthy enough to have been included in the anthology. He writes:

The contributors to ‘The Dialectics of Liberty’ demonstrate that libertarians can engage in a careful context-sensitive analysis of social behavior and political ideals. The book refutes the notion that libertarians must be insensitive to nuances in social environments and reliant on a woefully oversimplified conception of individuals, businesses, and governments. In this review, I first discuss the nature of dialectics, making explicit the mostly implicit definition running between the chapters of ‘The Dialectics’. I then summarize several of the chapters, synthesizing from them generalizable lessons about what Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars more generally can learn by being mindful of social context, synthesizing disparate ideas, and transcending dichotomies. …

Where logic supplies the principles whereby one may validly move from premise to conclusion and empirics discover the line between what is actual and what is merely possible, dialectics serves to keep the analyst mindful of how propositions surrounding the main object of study may change the meaning of facts under discussion. … Although all data is theory-laden, data never speaks for itself, etc., one can often take these data as they are and proceed, the empirical stage of research now giving way to the analysis stage. Logic retrospectively analyzes an argument and declares its conclusion valid or invalid based on the premises, which it has relatively little ability to discuss in themselves. Dialectics, however, is an approach to active inquiry. It makes recommendations about how an investigator might make progress in understanding a subject. Many issues one encounters in ongoing research are not so much questions of the internal and external validity of one’s empirics or the logical validity of one’s argument. They are issues of relevance and salience. …

This orientation towards the active process of investigation raises two more salient features of dialectical thinking: tacking between subjects; and transcending divides. In many situations, a researcher must find their place between at least two alternatives that are in tension with one another. … Dialectics often proceeds by transcending such dichotomies by situating them within a context. …

[The] deliberate intention to think dialectically about one’s work is likely to yield fruit for Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars. … [This book] succeeds in demonstrating the existence and value of dialectical thinkers. It is a stimulating series of inspirations for further work, and a useful reference for many interesting directions of contemporary libertarian scholarship. I would be pleased to see more scholars ask themselves not only ‘Is my evidence compelling?’ and ‘Is my argument sound?’ but also ‘Have I considered the context carefully?’

The review consists of a nice survey of many of the articles within the book. I heartily recommend the review—and the book (!)—to your attention! Readers can pick up a heavily discounted autographed copy of the volume from the C4SS Store.

Song of the Day #1952

Song of the Day: American Pie, words and music by Don McLean, was the title track to the artist’s 1971 album. The folk-rock song would hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1972, and would be dubbed “one of the most successful and debated songs of the 20th century”—due to an array of interpretations as to its meaning. (And McLean is still making headlines till this day!) Check out the original album version (below), a truncated Madonna rendition, a jazz funk rendition by Groove Holmes, and a “Weird Al” Yankovic ‘Star Wars’ parody, “The Saga Begins” [YouTube links]. A Happy Independence Day to All!

And in Brooklyn, it’s not Independence Day without Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest! Joey Chestnut is vying for his 15th win … after last year’s record-setting 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Ugh.

Go Joey! (Live stream here.)

Postscript: With a ruptured tendon, Joey Chestnut takes his 15th win, consuming 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes in Coney Island!

See Facebook comments here, here, and here.

Song of the Day #1951

Song of the Day: Sweet Cherry Wine, words and music by Richard Grasso and Tommy James, appeared on the 1969 psychedelic rock album “Cellophane Symphony,” by Tommy James and the Shondells. This anti-Vietnam War protest song was among those included on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of this day, when that gay bar was raided by police for the umpteenth time. But the patrons fought back, asserting the authenticity of their own lives and the right to pursue their own happiness. In looking back on the Stonewall riots, some commentators have cited an urban legend that views the June 27, 1969 funeral [YouTube link] of gay icon Judy Garland—who was born 100 years ago this month (on June 10, 1922)—as an emotional catalyst for the riots late that night. This view has been challenged by many, but there is a poetic irony that gay men of a different generation once referred to themselves euphemistically as “friends of Dorothy” and that Garland’s most iconic song (and LGBTQ anthem), “Over the Rainbow” [YouTube link] (from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz“) finds its symbolic expression in the rainbow flag of Pride (though its creator, Gilbert Baker, denies the connection). Be that as it may—today, I proudly salute the Stonewall Rebels. From the 1969 Stonewall jukebox, check out “Sweet Cherry Wine” (below).

It’s Mourning in America

If you are among those conservative folks who simultaneously believes that abortion—even in the first trimester—is murder, and you also happen to be in favor of the death penalty, I hope you’ll be ready to start executing women and doctors who defy your celebration of today’s US Supreme Court ruling, which overturns Roe v. Wade after fifty years. The conservatives aren’t done yet. One of the concurring justices in today’s decision, the repulsive Clarence Thomas, thinks that today’s decision can very well impact the court’s rulings on contraception, sodomy, and same-sex marriage. (And under the radar today, the Court even eroded Miranda rights.)

It’s mourning in America.*

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* For those who don’t ‘get’ the title of this post, it’s a play on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad—given that the Reagan administration was the first to so embolden the Religious Right and its war on humane, cosmopolitan, liberal values. Well, that war has finally borne rotten fruit.

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Postscript #1

On Facebook, enraged over today’s ruling, I added these points:

I confess that I’m most angry at those ‘libertarians’ who have traditionally sided with Republicans because they favor “less regulation” and “lower taxes”—for them, it’s all about “business”. Gotta oppose the “left wing” and their “woke” agenda, after all! Don’t worry about things like “abortion”, they were saying, because it’s been the law of the land for 50 years. “Nobody is gonna touch that!”

Well, we’re back to the patchwork of state-by-state illegalities that will make it impossible for poor people especially (poor people? who cares about them?!), living in states dominated by the reactionary right, to secure reproductive freedom. Those who supported the GOP for “economic” reasons traded-in people’s personal liberties and the looney-tune right-wingers have finally won out. [And mind you, there’s nothing about the GOP that will ever give you “less regulation” or “lower taxes”, given the GOP’s commitment to both economic nationalism and the military-industrial complex.]

My rage is only outstripped by my fear—that I will never live long enough to see the damage done today, undone.

And with Reason magazine telling us to chill because the “other conservative judges don’t necessarily agree with” Clarence Thomas, all I could add is: “F*^K him, F^%K them, and F&^% all of them who got behind the conservative agenda [of “low taxes” and “less regulation”], such that this could eventuate.”

And by “this“, I mean not only the erosion of reproductive freedoms but the reactionary war on profoundly personal liberties, which will only gain steam in the shadow of today’s obscene Court decision.

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Postscript #2

This New York Times piece tracks which states banned abortion today. And it tells us which states are on the way to a total ban or deep restrictions. This is a blow to human liberty. Those who voted in the SCOTUS majority be damned!

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Postscript #3

Ayn Rand was correct when she cited the moral bankruptcy of conservatism. She understood that the “pro-lifers” were at their core anti-life and anti-liberty. And she also understood the blatant attack on the poor that the denial of reproductive freedom would entail. From the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents. As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption. For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs. The situation of an unwed mother, abandoned by her lover, is even worse.