Category Archives: Rand Studies

Roark Rolled

This one came out of a chat with philosopher and friend Roderick Tracy Long! For those who have been “Rick Rolled”, consider yourself “Roark Rolled.” For like Rick Astley, Howard Roark has Red Hair and Never Gives Up [YouTube link]!

😂

Eric Fleischmann on Social Change and Thinking Dialectically…

I first encountered Eric Fleischmann back in 2018 when I came upon one of Eric’s papers on Academia.edu. So intrigued was I by this article—and its reference to my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000, Penn State Press)—that I dropped Eric a note. Since then, we have become the best of friends and watching Eric’s intellectual and personal growth has been a remarkable adventure. I mean, back then, Eric was a junior in high school. Today, Eric is a sophomore at Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine), double-majoring in anthropology and philosophy.

As a left-libertarian anarchist and a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society, Eric is currently involved in two forthcoming book projects, as a co-organizer of—and contributor to—Defiant Insistence: David Graeber, Anarchist, Anthropologist, Fellow Worker (1961-2020) and TOTAL ABOLITION: Police, Prisons, Borders, Empire

Today, I had the great pleasure of listening to a wonderful interview with Eric given by host Joel Williamson as the second episode of The Enrages. Folks can listen to the interview, which covers topics all over the ideological map—from abolitionism and social change to intellectual history and dialectical method. I especially appreciate Eric’s shout-out to me as friend and “mentor” and also for telling the world exactly how to pronounce my last name (around 31 minutes or so in!).

Check out the interview here. Proud of you, Eric! Keep up the great work!

Oh, and one other thing: I will be featuring one of Eric’s scintillating punk-rock performances on my “Song of the Day” series in the near future. Don’t let that calm and relaxed conversationalist fool you; Eric’s a Total Tiger on the Stage!

JARS: The Benefits of the Collective!

Last Friday, I announced that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies celebrated its twentieth anniversary with an astounding 22,209 global article requests from JSTOR and Project Muse (not counting print subscriptions). As it happens, though Project Muse will continue offering current issues as part of its program, JSTOR will be ending its policy of offering current journal issues by December 31, 2021. What does this mean for the JARS e-subscriber?

Well, all electronic subscribers to the journal will continue to have access to what will be 21 years of JARS back issues through the JSTOR platform. According to JSTOR, back issues will continue to be accessible as the “moving wall advances each year.” So where will new issues of JARS be published starting in 2022?

The Scholarly Publishing Collective, that’s where! From a February 9, 2021 press release comes this news:

Duke University Press is pleased to partner with nonprofit scholarly journal publishers and societies to provide journal services including subscription management, fulfillment, hosting, and institutional marketing and sales in a collaboration called the Scholarly Publishing Collective (SPC).


Beginning in 2021, the SPC will provide subscription management and fulfillment services, in partnership with Longleaf Services, to Cornell University Press, Texas Tech University Press, and the University of North Carolina Press. The SPC online content platform will launch in 2022, hosting journals and fulfilling digital access on behalf of Michigan State University Press, Penn State University Press, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the University of Illinois Press.

“Finding a powerful hosting platform for our eighty scholarly journals, as well as securing the expert sales and marketing services of the SPC, will transport our journals to new levels of impact,” said Patrick Alexander, director of Penn State University Press. “We’re thrilled about offering enhanced services to our societies, journal editors, and libraries, and we are eager to work with colleagues at Duke University Press, one of the most talented teams in university press publishing.”


Through the SPC, publishers will have access to resources that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, such as a best-in-class web platform, proven customer relations and library relations teams, and a network of global sales agents with insight into university press content.

“We are honored to be working with this prestigious group of publishers,” said Duke University Press director Dean Smith. “The SPC gives us an opportunity to support a healthy ecosystem for nonprofit, mission-driven publishing and to help ensure that these publications and organizations remain vital to the communities they serve.”

More information will be forthcoming to JARS subscribers, but the expansion of the journal’s global visibility, accessibility, and scholarly impact can only be enhanced by this new endeavor.

Our July 2021 issue will be submitted to the press in a few weeks!

Rand 116 … Still Challenging Traditions

Today is the 116th anniversary of the birth of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. Interestingly, on Sunday, the New York Times Book Review published an Alan Wolfe-penned essay on Benjamin M. Friedman’s book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Amazingly, Wolfe took aim at Friedman’s attempts to connect free markets to religion and the Protestant work ethic (something for which Max Weber is most famous).

This is from Wolfe’s review:


For one thing, this book is mistitled; its overwhelming concentration is on only one religion, the Protestant one. You will not find a discussion here of the two great papal encyclicals, “Rerum Novarum” and “Quadragesimo Anno,” that form the basis of Catholic social teaching. By confining himself mostly to the Protestant countries of England, Scotland and Holland, Friedman, for all his range, narrows his focus too much.

What is more, economics and theology may have intertwined in the past, but they rarely do now. If anything, someone could write a contemporary work, surely shorter than this one, on atheism and the resurgence of free-market economics. The 19th-century economic thinkers Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, both influenced more by Darwin than Calvin, were quite hostile to religion. The 20th century’s most widely read advocate for laissez-faire, Ayn Rand, was a militant nonbeliever. Milton Friedman, who needs no identification, was Jewish by birth but nonobservant. The story so brilliantly told by the author, it would seem, has reached its end.

A provocative observation that places Rand’s take on free markets (and the work of others in the classical liberal and contemporary libertarian movement) outside the religious context to which it has often been wedded by conservative thinkers especially.

Jeff Riggenbach, RIP

I met Jeff Riggenbach many, many years ago at a libertarian conference when I was in my early 20s. I had first encountered his singular voice in a New York Times article published on June 24, 1979: “In Praise of Decadence” (before publishing a book of that name) and later, in Reason magazine (December 1982), where he discussed “The Disowned Children of Ayn Rand,” putting forth an audacious thesis:


If any single American novel of the past quarter-century may fairly be described as one of the major definitive documents of the ’60s, that novel is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.


To some readers this proposition doubtless seems paradoxical, even perverse. Ayn Rand an avatar of the ’60s, that decade of campus unrest, acid rock, and flower childishness? The very idea! Was it not Rand who described the Berkeley rebels of 1964 as “savages running loose on the campus of one of America’s great universities” and as “contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything”? Was it not Rand who described the participants in the Woodstock music festival of 1969 as “scummy young savages” who spent the weekend “wallowing in the mud on an excrement-strewn hillside”? Was it not Rand who dismissed the New Left as “wriggling, chanting drug addicts,” rock ‘n’ roll as “primitive music, with the even beat that deadens the brain and the senses,” and the spread throughout America of the counterculture lifestyle as an “obscene epidemic of self-destruction”?


Were the flower children and the campus radicals of the ’60s obsessed with their own youth? Did they regard young people as uniquely qualified by the very tenderness of their years to see through and expose the evils and the hypocrisies of their elders? Did they soberly counsel each other not to trust anyone over 30? If they read Atlas Shrugged, they found nothing in it to dissuade them from this prejudice. …


Were the ’60s radicals openly contemptuous of establishment intellectuals, conventional wisdom, and eternal verities? Atlas Shrugged contains the most acid-etched portrait of establishment intellectualdom ever published in America. It stands all of contemporary conventional wisdom on its head. And as far as eternal verities are concerned, Rand herself never tired of remarking that her big novel challenged the entire Western cultural tradition of the past 2,000 years.


Were the ’60s radicals feminists who believed a woman was as good as anybody else? Atlas Shrugged could have done nothing but fuel their fire. For here was a deeply intellectual novel written by a woman and depicting the adventures of one of the most extraordinary women to be found anywhere in 20th-century fiction—a beautiful female entrepreneur who flies her own plane, runs her own railroad, and takes her own risks and who is equally good at engineering, philosophy, tennis, housework, and sex—the sort of woman who is not only as good as any man but in fact better, better than almost any man you’ll ever meet, in fiction or out of it.


Did the ’60s radicals hold a dim view of the military-industrial complex? They would find nothing in Atlas Shrugged to teach them otherwise. If one were to judge the worlds of government, big business, and the scientific establishment purely by reading Atlas Shrugged, one would have to conclude that almost all big businessmen are parasitic incompetents who owe their profits to special deals worked out for them by politicians, that the scientific establishment is nothing but an arm of government, and that the principal function of government is to use its stolen resources in the invention and manufacture of loathsome weapons of mass destruction. …


In the late 1970s, a pair of young journalists, Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman, teamed up with a professional pollster and conducted a wide-ranging opinion poll of self-identified “’60s people.” (Sixty-two percent of the respondents reported that they had considered themselves “hippies” during the ’60s, and most of the others had been sympathetic to the hippies’ cause.) …


One of the questions Weiner and Stillman asked their respondents called for them to list the names of individuals they had “admired and been influenced by.” One respondent in six listed Ayn Rand in reply to this question. She came in 29th out of 81. And if the entertainers and politicians are eliminated so that the list contains only the names of the authors that hippies admired, Rand comes in tied for sixth place with Germaine Greer, behind Kurt Vonnegut, Kahlil Gibran, Tom Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (who tied for fourth), and Allen Ginsberg, but ahead of Rod McKuen, Hermann Hesse, Paul Goodman, Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, and LeRoi Jones. …


If a cheap, reliable solar converter had been perfected a decade ago, the young inventor will tell you, it would have meant “about ten years added to the life of every person in this country—if you consider how many things it would have made easier and cheaper to produce, how many hours of human labor it would have released for other work, and how much more anyone’s work would have brought him. Locomotives? What about automobiles and ships and airplanes?…And tractors. And power plants. All hooked to an unlimited supply of energy, with no fuel to pay for, except a few pennies worth to keep the converter going.”


As the initiated know, all these quotations I’ve attributed to the young inventor come from Atlas Shrugged and pertain to John Galt’s motor that runs on atmospheric electricity. But the rough equivalent of that young inventor really exists somewhere. And despite his long hair, his faded jeans, and his work shirt, he is a true Randian—just as thousands of the pursuers of self-realization who made the 1970s the “Me Decade” are true Randians—just as thousands of the militant feminists, gay activists, and untraditional businessmen (dope dealers, headshop owners, street artists) who have won so much media attention over the past few years are true Randians.


All of them are truer Randians by far than grim, humorless, regimented, robotlike “students of Objectivism” who are ordinarily regarded as the truest of the true. These wretched conformists, so lacking in self-esteem that they willingly enslave themselves to someone else’s ideas on every conceivable subject, so obedient intellectually that they turn their backs on a culture literally teeming with Randian ideas and denounce that culture as evil and irrational merely because they are told to do so by their mentor—these Randians are not representative of the spirit of Atlas Shrugged.

It was the rebels of the ’60s who were the true children of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Disowned children, certainly—cast out of the house and into the cold world for the sin of taking their mother’s injunctions too literally, for adopting her ideas and ignoring her personal prejudices. But they are her children nonetheless and unmistakably. They are hers. And she is theirs.


So impressed was I by Jeff’s keen insights into the ways in which a thinker’s ideas filter through a culture, affecting even those whom that thinker might have “disowned,” that I was ecstatic when he later agreed to write a couple of articles for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which I co-founded in 1999 with Stephen Cox and Bill Bradford. He contributed a wonderful essay to the first symposium on Rand’s aesthetics ever published (Spring 2001), and then went on to write a wide-ranging, deeply insightful piece for the first of our two symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary: “Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact” (Fall 2004). In “Ayn Rand’s Influence on American Popular Fiction,” Jeff surveyed a remarkably diverse group of writers upon whom Rand had exercised a substantial influence, including former associates such as Kay Nolte Smith and Erika Holzer as well as Gene Roddenberry, Ira Levin, Terry Goodkind, and other contemporary purveyors of science fiction and crime fiction.

Getting to know Jeff through the years was a hoot; he was a perfectionist in his work, and even when you disagreed with him, he was always a gentle man—with me at least!

This morning, I learned that Jeff died. I know he was battling serious health problems and I have been deeply saddened by the news, having just posted on January 12th, on his Facebook Timeline: “Miss you, Jeff! Happy birthday…”

RIP, my friend. And my deepest condolences to Jeff’s family and loved ones.

Jelly: Who Needs It?

Okay, so you figure, it’s January 16th, and if I’m going to echo an Ayn Rand title, I’d put up one questioning: Where were you on the Night of January 16th? But noooo… I have to reference that other book (and essay) Philosophy: Who Needs It to address this issue! After all, there are much more pressing problems that I am compelled to face!

From the time I was a little kid, in those footsie PJs (yes, I wore a few of those when I was, like 3 or 4 years old), I remember my Mom (Rest In Peace) telling me, when I was eating toast with grape jelly smeared on it, “Watch the jelly! Don’t get jelly on your pajamas!” And without fail, the sticky stuff ended up on the PJs and everywhere else.

To this day, no matter who I am with, who is using jelly on their toast or crackers or English muffins, somehow, someway, that sticky jelly or jam gets SOMEWHERE on a utensil, a plate, a table cloth, the floor. This sticky stuff finds its way through the air onto surfaces far and wide!

Would somebody please explain this to me? Are we just slobs or is there some metaphysical reason why this happens?

To 2021 (I): Pearls Before Swine Strikes Again!

Well, the New Year has come in. 2021 is real, it is possible, it is yours! Alas, while watching the news tonight, I was reminded of another recent “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip installment that has already captured the spirit of the young New Year (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News). I don’t care what your politics is because this one seems to capture the very culture of our age!

To 2020 (1): Counting My Blessings — But Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out…

Clichés, by definition, are trite and lacking in originality. But you’ll find more than a few in the following post. This year didn’t lack for originality, but it helped to illustrate more than a few clichés.

This week, I’ll be featuring a few hilarious tidbits from my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis), all centered on a single theme: What a Miserable Year 2020 Was! Today, it’s best captured by yesterday’s featured strip in the New York Daily News:

Courtesy of The New York Daily News (27 December 2020)


So, before we start counting our blessings, let’s review our journey through the utter misery of 2020. I wrote 29 Notablog installments on the Coronavirus pandemic, not to mention umpteen entries on everything from racism and social injustice to civil unrest and a crazier-than-usual election year. (In-between, there were nearly 100 new songs added to my “Song of the Day” series—because music helped to ease the pain of a year like no other.)

Our social fabric has been drowned in so much sadness—in grief, in fear, in pain, in anger—but somehow, we seem to have made it through to the end of 2020. Then again, there are still a few days left to this miserable year, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth of that other cliché: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” Or as that old poster for “Jaws 2” once declared: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …” SLAM! The Great White Shark Shows Up Again!

For me, personally, I experienced more sorrow crunched into twelve months than I ever thought possible. I saw mass death and destruction in my hometown on a scale that, after living through 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, I never could have imagined. I lost neighbors, friends, beloved local proprietors, colleagues, and even a cousin to a virus that hit New York City like a nuclear blast, with the fallout going on for months on end. I saw the ugliness of racial injustice give way to the agony of civil unrest. I saw political actors and political pundits incapable of dissecting, analyzing or helping to resolve complex social problems with intellectual scalpels, as they approached every issue with a sledgehammer, giving expression to yet another old cliché: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But there was another side to this tale that reveals how many blessings I truly have.

Professionally, I count my blessings to have been here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary volume of a scholarly periodical that I cofounded way back in 1999: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I also helped to organize and moderate an illuminating four-month Facebook symposium with over 100 members, including nearly all of the contributors to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins; Lexington Books, 2019).

Personally, I count my blessings that I saw compassion manifest itself throughout 2020 as people came to each other’s assistance.

I count my blessings that I have family and even neighbors, who have become like an extended family, offering their love and support through it all.

I count my blessings that I have great doctors who were able to coordinate the squeezing of nearly six months of “elective” surgical procedures into a two-month period, completing (and recovering from) four surgeries by the first week of November.

I count my blessings that I was then able to summon the strength to face a dire medical crisis on November 13th, when I almost lost my sister (to a non-COVID-related illness). In the middle of this, we had to give up our cat Cali for adoption, but I count my blessings that she was adopted by a loving mommy—who had first given her to us!

I count my blessings that I have seen, for months on end, the heroism of first responders, saving the lives of countless people, including my own sister’s life, as EMS workers rushed her to the emergency room on that harrowing morning. After a month in the hospital, my sister returned home on December 12th, brought up the stairs in a wheelchair by a couple of other EMS workers who showed the same depth of care as those who first brought her down.

Through it all, we’ve never lost our sense of gallows humor. When my sister wondered how on earth she would get down the stairs to go for follow-up medical appointments, I told her: “If all else fails, there’s always the Richard Widmark Way!” (For those who haven’t seen the 1947 film, “Kiss of Death,” check it out [YouTube link]!) We have a tough road ahead, but we are here to talk—and to laugh—about it.

I count my blessings that when I wrote about my sister’s ordeal, I saw an outpouring of love and support on Facebook, on email, and elsewhere, attesting to how deeply she has affected the lives of so many people: her colleagues, her friends, and, most of all, those who were her former students.

I count my blessings that at the end of this challenging year, I am here, my sister is here, my brother and sister-in-law are here, my family and dear friends are still here. We are here to lift a glass to the promise of 2021, knowing full well that when we did so at the end of 2019, in the hopes that 2020 would bring greater health and happiness to all, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that this too shall pass. Or as my urologist’s office reminded me: “It may pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”

Count your blessings, folks. For there is no truer cliché than this one: Where there is life, there is hope. And where there is love, all things are possible.

“Dialectics of Liberty” reviewed in JARS: Thumbs Up …

As I mentioned yesterday, the concluding issue of the twentieth anniversary volume of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was officially published on JSTOR—as hard copies are on their way to print subscribers.

In this December 2020 issue of the journal, another publication close to heart was reviewed: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. The review essay, written by Allen Mendenhall, can be found on JSTOR here.

It’s always a bit awkward inviting a colleague to review a book you’ve co-edited for a journal of which you are a founding co-editor! But when I approached Allen, I simply told him, in essence: Just because I’m a founding coeditor of the journal and a coeditor of DOL doesn’t mean you have to give us Two Thumbs Up. I asked of him only that he mention those authors in the anthology who were members of the JARS editorial board (Robert L. Campbell, Roderick T. Long, and me) or advisory board (Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen), or contributors to past issues of the journal (Roger Bissell, Ed Younkins, Steve Horwitz, Gary Chartier, and Troy Camplin), which would at least provide us with some context as to why the review is appearing in the journal. Yes, context-keeping applies even to reviews of books about the art of context-keeping!

Then, I told him: “Take no prisoners, and have fun!”

And that he did. Allen gave us a really wonderful review. An excerpt can be found on the book’s home page here. But here’s a key comment:

The … chapters … are broad in scope, treating such expansive and seminal concepts as freedom, reality, and human flourishing and such elemental philosophical fields as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and ontology. They send a message, namely that the editors are “thinking big,” calling into question whole schools of thought and promoting approaches to inquiry that are primary, essential, and comprehensive. They’re hitting the reset button. …

DOL is a wide-ranging volume colored with the unique voices and personalities of its various contributors. Yet it is united in purpose and models the dialectical method that it celebrates. [Contributor John F.] Welsh registers a memorable line that supplies fitting closure to this review. “A volume dedicated to the ‘dialectics of liberty,'” he states, “provides a wonderful opportunity to explore not only the interstices at which dialectical and libertarian theory overlap, but how the two might enhance each other for the benefit of advocacy for individual freedom, free markets, and minimal government.”

I concur. And The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom is that volume.

Folks looking to pick up a copy of the anthology can still do so at the heavily discounted rate of $5 per softcover book (with a $5 shipping charge no matter how many copies you order). There are only a dozen or so books left at this special rate. Please visit the DOL Discount Page and let Paypal do the rest!

New JARS News

Back on October 11, 2020, I announced the publication of the December 2020 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. As noted in my previous announcement, this completes the twentieth anniversary volume of the journal. Two decades of critical, independent, interdisciplinary Rand scholarship to celebrate! (Abstracts of the essays from the current issue are available here; contributor biographies are available here.)

Today, I have some follow-up news: JSTOR has just published the new issue. Subscribers can find the contents here. Print subscribers should be receiving their hard copies in the coming weeks.

But I have additional news to share! As readers no doubt know, we are abstracted and indexed by nearly two dozen services. Today, we have been added by the European Reference Index for the Humanities and Social Sciences (ERIH PLUS). With a significant expansion in our subscriber and reader base and in our accessibility through libraries worldwide, our global reach expands as well. This important reference index will further enhance that reach.

Happy Twentieth Anniversary to JARS! To many more milestones to come!

The Conclusion to the Twentieth Anniversary Volume of JARS