Category Archives: Rand Studies

Jim Peron’s “City Limits”

Having finished Jim Peron’s novel, City Limits, I sent him this blurb, and hope folks will check out the book! It can be purchased here.

Jim Peron has gifted us City Limits—a novel rich in characterization, adventure, charade, and humor, which takes us from a rural Kansas town to the ever-colorful Castro district of San Francisco. Peron’s laugh-out-loud portrait of a faith-healing evangelist crusade hellbent on keeping folks from embracing their inner truth is offset by a subtle shout-out to Ayn Rand, in her tribute to a “life, undefeated”. Though embedded in the particulars of a time and a place, this book’s poignant depiction of the search for individual authenticity and self-discovery carries with it universal appeal. A must read!

JARS: New July 2022 Issue!

The July 2022 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 22, Number 1) will be making its debut on the Scholarly Publishing Collective soon—and will be on the way to print subscribers thereafter. The issue is dedicated to the memory of Merlin Jetton (1946-2022), who contributed seven essays to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies from 2006 through 2021. He was a valued member of the JARS family.

Our newest issue includes three highly provocative essays, two of which were written by writers (Philippe Chamy and David Tyson) who have never appeared in our pages. Here’s the line-up:

“The Empiricist’s New Clothes: David Hume and the Theft of Philosophy” – Dennis Hardin

“Glimpses of the Mystical Dimension of Ayn Rand’s Thought” – Philippe Chamy

“Should ‘The Metaphysics of Man’ Be a Sixth Branch of Objectivist Philosophy” – David Tyson

Check out the abstracts here and the contributor biographies here.

Postscript (27 June 2022): The July 2022 issue is now available on the Scholarly Publishing Collective.

The Theft of the Commons

An extraordinary article, “The Theft of the Commons,” by Eula Biss, was published two days ago, on 8 June 2022. Extraordinary—not because nobody has ever discussed this topic before, but because it actually appeared in The New Yorker (H/T to my dear friend Walter Grinder for bringing this article to my attention). The article emphasizes the ‘original sin’ at the foundations of what I have called “capitalism: the known reality,” in contrast to that ahistorical “unknown ideal” that Ayn Rand and so many others in contemporary libertarian thought have projected. As Biss writes:

As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary—rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals. 

Biss goes on to examine the 1968 Garrett Hardin thesis of the “tragedy of the commons,” though this thesis was first developed by William Forster Lloyd way back in 1833, in an examination of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land. That thesis was rocked to its core by the Nobel prize-winning political economist, Elinor Ostrom, a writer whose work is, regrettably, not touched upon in the New Yorker article. What Ostrom showed, in books such as Governing the Commons, was not that the Lloyd-Hardin thesis was fundamentally incorrect; it was that such a thesis was applicable less to an acontextual commons and more with regard to an unmanaged, unregulated common pool. Ostrom stressed the importance of context and empirical study and documented what might be called the miracle of the commons, in a way that challenged the monistic approaches of strict propertarians and centralizing statists alike. As the Wikipedia entry notes:

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues looked at how real-world communities manage communal resources, such as fisheries, land irrigation systems, and farmlands, and they identified a number of factors conducive to successful resource management. One factor is the resource itself; resources with definable boundaries (e.g. land) can be preserved much more easily. A second factor is resource dependence; there must be a perceptible threat of resource depletion, and it must be difficult to find substitutes. The third is the presence of a community; small and stable populations with a thick social network and social norms promoting conservation do better. A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for overuse. When the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used.

I hope to have a lot more to say about this topic in time; but for now, check out the New Yorker article!

Ed Younkins is Savvy

My dear friend Ed Younkins (with whom I coedited, with Roger Bissell, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom) has published an essay in The Savvy Street that explores “New Perspectives on Ayn Rand’s Ideas“. Ed writes:

I believe the key is that the concern of every individual should be with truth as an integrated whole. When constructing one’s own worldview or conceptual framework, it is legitimate to take a selective approach with respect to existing philosophical positions because consistency with reality is all that really matters. It is thus appropriate for a person to extract what is true and good from the writings of Ayn Rand and others and to use those components as a basis for a better interpretation that allows for a superior understanding of what would constitute a morally right socioeconomic system. By integrating, modifying, and synthesizing ideas of others with one’s own ideas, it is possible to get closer to a comprehensive, logically consistent view of the world and a foundation and justification for a free society. Eschewing labels, each person has the ability to select the best ideas from a variety of sources, adapt them to his own purpose, and add his own views and integrate them to serve his own ends. The key is to use one’s own independent rational judgement. I have used this approach in some of my articles.

Our mutual friend and coeditor, Roger Bissell, provided some terrific additional commentary on Facebook here and here, which I reproduce below:

Some of us are old enough to remember that 7up used to be called “the uncola.” Chris himself has a long-running internet presence he styles in delightfully quasi-Hegelian fashion as “Notablog: The Blog of Chris Matthew Sciabarra.” For my part, I have received so many letters and emails addressing me as Dr. Bissell (I am master of one trade, doctor of none) that I sometimes refer to myself as “the undoctor.”Some may see this all as painfully negative and a sign of the “nihilism” of our times. But I can’t help noting that many of these are the same people who insist on defining logic as “the art of non-contradictory identification.” LOL. …

Five words: “The Divine Right of Stagnation.” This syndrome, so tellingly depicted in “Atlas Shrugged” and discussed in the essay of the same name in “The Virtue of Selfishness,” is a virus that has devastated the Objectivist movement since the very founding of the Ayn Rand Institute. You can rail against Open Objectivism and defriend people who push for research and development and expansion of Objectivism all you want, but all you do is betray that you, too, have fallen prey to the wasting, withering malady best encapsulated by James Taggart’s soliloquy about feeling threatened by new ideas and the lurid outburst “We’ve got to make those bastards stand still.”

To those who protest the idea of new, post-Rand Objectivism, I will remind readers that in her final years, Rand publicly acknowledged that Objectivism was incomplete and had gaps and that they would be worked on in the future and NOT by her. So, by whom? Only the anointed and officially approved? That, I think, is what it will ultimately amount to. Even now, we have already seen hints that Peikoff’s (and others’) writings will *eventually* be endorsed as “official Objectivism.” Will the defrienders and purists rail against this, too? Perhaps—but ultimately, who cares? And guess what? In the meantime, the “bastards”—whatever we decide to call ourselves—are NOT going to stand still.

Here, here, Roger!

The Essential Women of Liberty

For people looking for a fine introduction to the thought of a select group of women who have contributed to the cause of liberty, let me recommend The Essential Women of Liberty, coedited by Donald Boudreaux and Aeon J. Skoble, published by the Fraser Institute, with a foreword by Virginia Postrel. My dear friend Aeon informs me that the book is also available in hardcover and softcover editions.

The volume includes essays on Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Rose Director Friedman, Mary Paley Marshall, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand (a nice essay by Carrie-Ann Biondi), Anna Schwartz, Jane Jacobs, Elinor Ostrom, and Deirdre McCloskey.

I am truly delighted by the remarkably diverse selection of thinkers featured in this anthology. Indeed, any volume that runs the gamut from Wollstonecraft and Rand to Jacobs and Ostrom is worth the price of admission.

Deirdre McCloskey is the only woman featured in this collection whom I’ve ever had the privilege of getting to know personally, having worked closely with her as a contributor to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. (Indeed, a Facebook symposium dedicated to that anthology generated a colloquy on her delightful contribution, which appeared in the May 2020 issue of Poroi.)

The book is available as a PDF (for free) and in a Kindle edition (for a mere 99 cents!). Check out a nice YouTube video highlighting the collection …

Paul Crider on Ayn Rand

Notablog readers should check out a critical essay on Liberal Currents by Paul Crider that discusses “Liberalism versus Reaction in Ayn Rand“. Paul writes on Facebook:

Finally published my big essay on Ayn Rand. I’m very sympathetic to Rand and I encourage folks to see what people find so inspirational in her work. It’s all there.

BUT I do two—I think—novel things. First, I troubleth the idea that Rand fits within the liberal tradition, even classical liberal. Her perfectionism precludes the political contestation that is necessary for political liberalism. Atlas Shrugged itself is a kind of vanguardist integralism (though her real life activism differs from AS). Her hierarchical way of thinking masquerades as meritocracy but ultimately upholds traditional social hierarchies and reacts against upstarts—hence she’s much more a heterodox conservative than any kind of liberal. Second, I explore the possibility of a Randian left liberalism. I would say “left Objectivism” but the ARI would probably sue me. A Randian social liberalism seems like a contradiction in terms, but it draws on expressivist individualism of unfolding human potential and the concept of “truly human flourishing” (think Smith, Marx, Mill, and Nussbaum) that very much pervade her philosophy.

I read the essay and wrote on Facebook:

I very much enjoyed your essay, and I’m extremely sympathetic to a left-liberal reading of Rand, as anyone who is familiar with my attempts (in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) to link Rand to a dialectical mode of analysis can attest. (A more recent article of mine extends this to an alignment of Rand with a certain form of left-libertarian anarchism.)

I think that, like most thinkers, Rand embraces views that are sometimes at odds with her core values. I’d certainly count among these her views on Native Americans, homosexuality, and feminism. My coedited volume with Mimi Gladstein (Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand) includes contributions from those who take Rand rightfully to task for many of her anti-feminist views, while also arguing that her philosophy was fully consonant with a certain kind of individualist feminism.

As for Rand’s views on homosexuality, I’ve argued (in Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation) that many post-Randian thinkers have attempted to correct for her blind spots. And I’ve also argued that Rand has important things to say about race and class in ways that would surprise both her acolytes and her critics (see, for example, my post on the ‘ominous parallels’ between CRT and Rand’s analysis of systemic racism).

Since I’ve plugged some of my own writings in this note, let me plug The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—which would welcome thoughtful essays like yours into our pages.

Film: “We the Living” 80th Anniversary Preview

My friend Duncan Scott sent me this link to a preview of a newly restored 80th anniversary edition of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s tragic novel, “We the Living”. This is, in my view, the finest film adaptation of any work by Rand.

The description tells us:

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition – Preview

This is a preview reel of the newly restored, high definition 2022 version of “We the Living”, the film classic based on the novel by Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”, “The Fountainhead”) Set in the chaotic aftermath of the Russian revolution, “We the Living” is the story of a young woman who courageously defies a brutal regime. It is an extraordinary tale of romance and betrayal and, at its core, a fierce and impassioned outcry for the right of each human being to live free.

“We the Living” stars three film legends: Alida Valli (“The Third Man”), Rossano Brazzi (“South Pacific”) and Fosco Giachetti (The Life of G. Verdi). It was directed by Goffredo Alessandrini. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Ayn Rand. It was originally released in Italy as two films, “Noi Vivi” and “Addio Kira” (1942). The films were later combined and released as “We the Living”.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition, is a new edition of the film that is newly restored and rejuvenated—and in high-definition for the first time. Using state-of-the-art digital software technology, the film was cleaned up and repaired, frame by frame, removing scratches, dirt, and other flaws that are common in old movies. Improvements to exposure and contrast were also made, scene by scene. The soundtrack was de-noised and its fidelity improved.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition is set for release in the fall of 2022, exactly 80 years after the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. For more about the film and a behind-the-scenes documentary go here.

Check out the nice Facebook conversation on this post. (Information on a July 2022 screening of the film can be found here.)

LGBTQ + Education

Folks have long known my stance on LGBTQ+ issues, but I wanted to give a H/T to Ari Armstrong, who provides some worthwhile “Notes on the ‘Groomer’ Panic and Transgender issues“. Ari is spot on in his central concern that “various conservatives seem to be intentionally drumming up a moral panic about the alleged ‘grooming’ of school children who are exposed to conversations and readings that <gasp!> discuss gay and transgender people.”

Thanks too, Ari, for citing my 2003 monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation (now on sale at the Center for a Stateless Society).

Memories of Dad

As ballroom dancers, Mom and Dad met on the dance floor. Nobody could cut a rug doing a swift Peabody or a Lindy-Hop better! Dad always said if he had to die, he wanted to go out dancing.

And that is exactly what he was doing when he died on this date, fifty years ago.

On March 4, 1972, my father, Salvatore Charles Sciabarra (“Sal” to his family and friends), died of a massive coronary at the age of 55. He would have turned 56 on June 11, 1972. At the time, I was 12 years old, suffering from serious life-threatening medical problems, and the news of his passing shattered me. It was my first experience with death as a fact of life. It was so very hard. But the cherished memories I have of him are still very much alive.

Mom was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1919; Dad was born in Manhattan in 1916. As young children, they both moved to Brooklyn, New York and met as teenagers because of their mutual love of dancing. In 1935, she was 16 and he was 19. They had attended a wedding together and Mom missed curfew and didn’t want to go home to the wrath of her father, my Papouli, the first pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church. They decided to elope. Times were very different back then; intermarriage between faiths and ethnicities was frowned upon. Mom was an American-born Greek Orthodox woman whose parents had emigrated from Olympia, Greece. Dad was an American-born Roman Catholic man whose parents had emigrated from Porto Empedocle, not far from Sciacca (hence the last name), in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Or as I put it, tongue-in-cheek: My maternal grandparents came from the home of the gods and goddesses and my paternal grandparents came from the home of the godfathers; clearly, this Brooklyn-born boy came from tough stock!

My parents were not gods, goddesses, or ‘godparents’. But they were very human renegades for their time. And, in many ways, they raised three renegade children, each of whom danced to their own music. My brother Carl—exposed to my father’s mandolin, guitar, and drum-playing, would go on to become a virtuoso jazz guitarist. My sister Elizabeth—exposed to my mother’s love of education (Mom was the first in her family to graduate from high school, James Madison High School in Brooklyn)—would go on to become a lifelong educator. And both my parents encouraged me to follow my own dreams; I would not have become what I am today without them.

Mom and Dad separated when I was 5 years old. Though my sister and I lived with my Mom, my Dad remained a very strong presence in my life. In fact, in the wake of that separation, his presence in my life only grew. There were difficult times for sure, but these were far outweighed by fun times. Trips to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, its hills like huge mountains to me, its zoo full of wonder, nourished my love of nature. Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, car rides, music, and movies delighted me.

One of those movies was “The Love Bug,” whose action centered around Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle. Dad had proposed taking my sister and me to see the film, which was playing at the Cinema Theatre on East Kings Highway (previously known as the Jewel Theatre). Mom was flustered by both the title and the theater. “You’re taking them to see a film called ‘The Love Bug’ at the Cinema!”—knowing all too well that the theater was an infamous headquarters for first-run racy porn flicks. Dad explained that it was a Disney film.

Like Mom, who worked in the garment industry for most of her life, Dad too was a factory worker. Initially, he was an eye-setter in a doll factory. We still have some of those dolls, with their life-like eyes, which my Dad brought home for my sister Elizabeth. Eventually, he would become a cargo worker for Trans World Airlines at JFK International Airport. I still have plenty of TWA memorabilia, including TWA soaps and TWA Flying Magic Boards, given to kids of all ages on flights (see the collage below). Today, you’re lucky if you can get complementary snacks! I hadn’t flown on a plane in my Dad’s lifetime, but I got to see planes up close at the airport as a kid. It fueled my awe of the heavens and sparked my lifelong fascination with the human journey into air and space.

Despite losing my Dad in 1972, I continued to be nourished by a very loving and supportive family throughout my entire life. And it was to these family members that I dedicated each of my books. I told Mom that I would dedicate my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, to her. Alas, she died in April 1995, before that book was published. I told my Uncle Sam—my Dad’s first cousin, who married my mother’s sister (my Aunt Georgia) and who was like a second father to me—that I would dedicate my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, to him. But he died in 1994. It got so that I was very concerned about who would have been “sentenced” to death-by-dedication, for my third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So I opted for strength in numbers, a group dedication—to my brother, sister, sister-in-law, friend Matthew, and dog Blondie, and all, except for Blondie, are still kicking till this day!

I never had a chance to honor my father. I was his “Chrissy Bear”; he was my Daddy. This post acknowledges his joyous impact on my life.

That’s me with Mom and Dad in September 1969, along with that TWA memorabilia …








C4SS: Enough with The Isms!

I enjoyed an Alex Aragona article published on the site of Center for a Stateless Society: “No One is Talking About Capitalism — In Your Sense“. Alex points to many of the problems that I, myself, have noted with using the word “capitalism” in so many different ways that it has become virtually impossible to have any meaningful conversation about it without people talking over each other’s heads. Like so many other writers—including Kevin Carson whose critique of historically real, existing “capitalism” I highly recommend—I have railed against use of that word for seventeen years now, from 2005’s “Capitalism: The Known Reality” to 2021 Notablog posts, “Thinking Outside the Box: You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Chains“, “Thinking Outside the Box (II): The World You Desired Can Be Won“, and “Thinking Outside the Box (III): H/T Roderick Tracy Long!“.

What should be said, however, is that if one takes the lead sentence in Alex Aragona’s essay, and simply substitutes the word “socialism” for “capitalism”, it would be no less true: “If one’s goal is to have productive exchanges when the word socialism is thrown into play, they must stop doing two things: naively assuming people are more or less on the same page when the term is used; and suggesting that one or another meaning of the word is completely wrong.”

In a culture where “socialism” can mean everything from mutualism to tankie political economy, I fear we are all being flushed down a linguistic hole with all these ‘isms’ (“capitalism” at the top of this list, as Alex rightly notes in this essay). It’s become impossible to discuss any of these terms and their meanings in a world where they mean so many things to so many people, regardless of their historical lineage (for better or for worse).

The only ‘ism’ I subscribe to is dialectical libertarianism, not because it is so flexible as to have no meaning, but because it seeks to transcend the old ‘isms’ in favor of a vibrant, evolving project of human freedom and personal flourishing. It is not based on the unknown “ideal” Weberian types of “capitalism” and “socialism”. It gives new meaning to the what the New Left once called prefigurative politics: a project that seeks to build a new society out of the shell of the old—an adage that my friend Ryan Neugebauer always drives home.

No society can be built as if from an Archimedean standpoint; it is built from within, not from without. It can emerge only from the real conditions that exist, whether this means milking the inner contradictions of the current system or creating parallel institutions that supplant the status quo. Or both.

It’s time to get real about what it means to be radical.