Category Archives: Rand Studies

Thinking Outside the Box: You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chains

This was something I posted on Facebook, in a discussion in which folks were using words like “socialist” and “capitalist” to define their political points of view:


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a lot of people I respect and admire identify themselves as “socialists” and some even as “capitalists.” I think we have gotten to the point, however, where these terms are almost indefinable without a mountain of modifying adjectives such that we find ourselves twisted into neo-logistic pretzels.

Having been introduced to libertarian thinking through Ayn Rand, who embraced capitalism “the unknown ideal”—that is, something which has never existed in the way she defined it (it was, essentially a Weberian ideal type)—it took years for me to abandon that term for good (in 2005), because capitalism “the known reality“, like virtually every social system before it, and any “post-capitalist” or “socialist” system after it, has been built on blood and massive state oppression.

Oppression must be opposed across political, cultural, and social dimensions—and to me, this is essential to any project aiming for human freedom and individual flourishing within a communal context. I have found all these terms to be like ideological straitjackets, which led me to embrace “dialectical libertarianism” as that to which I adhere. This of course has its own linguistic baggage, but I think that the politics of change needs to transcend right and left, “capitalism” and “socialism” (scare quotes intended), enabling us to embrace the kernels of truth in Menger, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Rand, and so forth, on the one hand and Marx, Proudhon, Gramsci, Chomsky, Goldman, Luxemburg, Bookchin, and so forth, on the other hand.

Again, though I deeply respect people for whatever labeling they’ve chosen, and the ways in which they’ve defined it, I think we need to begin the process of breaking out of this binary divide. Every time we embrace any term or phrase that has this much baggage, we face the impenetrable problem of communicating with people who simply can’t think outside the intellectual boxes to which they are accustomed, the boxes that make them feel “safe” but that never challenge them to “check their premises” (to use a Randian phrase). There’s got to be a better way of moving this dialogue forward. The “dialectics of liberty”—and our very lives—depend on it.

On Facebook, the discussion advances. I added the following points:

Too many people are talking past each other and the definitions of “capitalism” and “socialism” have never been stable, partially because the “real” history is in stark contrast to the “ideal” definitions being offered, even by these system’s most ardent defenders.

Let’s focus on Ayn Rand herself, for whom definition of terms must accord with reality. She saw capitalism as “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” Very nice description—but “ideally conceived.” (I might add that Rand also embraced similarly “ideal” conceptions of “selfishness” and “government” that were just as starkly different from the overwhelming conventional understanding of these terms.)

Capitalism did not have a virgin birth through the homesteading of untouched lands and the sanctity of “individual rights”. The whole schema of private property and the consequent recognition of the “individual rights” to such property only happened after the state—working at the behest of large medieval landowners—used such tools as the enclosure acts to nullify peasant land tenure rights and, through the legacy of colonialism, wholly dispossess many indigenous populations.

“Capitalism” in its origins—like every other “social system” before it—was bathed in blood. Hardly in accord with the Weberian ideal-type “definition” that Rand provided.

The well-known record of “socialism” in the twentieth century is also bathed in blood. The description of “socialism”, given by Karl Marx himself, was that of a post-scarcity society in which the abundance of goods is such that each can take according to their needs, without sacrificing anyone else in the process. Again, “ideally” conceived. No “socialist” country has ever been built upon such “post-scarcity” and the results have been murderous.

I would prefer not to speak in terms of these “isms” as goals because their history has severely tainted any possible rational understanding of what a genuinely free society might look like. Given the historical records of both “capitalism” and “socialism” and the role that the state has played in the founding of both “systems,” I’d prefer to sidestep the whole binary discussion. We might wish to talk in terms of such things as “markets” (which, as Pete Boettke once said, grow “like weeds” throughout all historical periods). Or better still: “freed markets“, that is, markets “freed” from the insidious role of political, institutional, and cultural forces that undermine the achievement of human liberty and individual autonomy. And freed and voluntary markets as such can have many different incarnations, from worker cooperatives to exchange relationships.

I have found that the usage of words like “capitalism” and “socialism” just does not advance the discussion, no matter how clearly one defines them—especially when the “ideal” definitions depart so dramatically from the real, historical record.

The “Homonograph” and DOL Available Thru C4SS Store!

Pardon me for this commercial break!

This being Pride Month, I am happy to announce that my 60+ page-monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation (2003) is finally available again for sale—though supplies are limited—through the C4SS Store (link to sale page). I donated virtually my entire personal inventory of the work to the store. The book may be out-of-print, but the copies are pristine and being sold for only $5 each!

Available Again thru the C4SS Counter-Economic Store

The “Homonograph” (as I’ve often called it) is a combination philosophical exegesis, sociological study, and political tract, which examines Rand’s impact on the sexual attitudes of self-identified Objectivists in the movement to which she gave birth and the gay subculture that she would have disowned.

I should also mention that our special discount sale of the anthology, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited by Roger Bissell, Ed Younkins, and me), is now over, because the book is sold out! It is still available at a higher price (in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle) through Amazon (as well as Google Books and Lexington Books), but why would you pay a minimum of $40 when you can get the book for $18 directly from the C4SS Store (link to sale page)! I’ve autographed all the copies that C4SS is selling. It is also available as part of the C4SS Store’s special collection: “The Intros Bundle” (link to sale page).

I want to thank James Tuttle for making all of this possible. Check it out!

A Photo Trip Down Memory Lane

I’ve been doing a lot of work in my apartment, cleaning up, in anticipation of my sister‘s return from the subacute rehabilitation facility she’s been in for several months now. When she returns home in July, she will not have seen the inside of this house since mid-March. So I’ve been busting my butt clearing things up and readying the space for her continued recovery.

This has led me to go through several file drawers that contain materials which will eventually make their way to the NYU Faculty Archives—after I’m gone. Have no fear, I ain’t going anywhere. Still, some of the stuff made me laugh out loud.

For example, I came upon an envelope of black-and-white stills, which were taken as “promotional” shots for my soon-to-be-released books, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995) and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995). This particular one was taken in 1994 in the backdrop of New York University buildings. We decided to pass on it because I was told to “Fuhgedaboudit“: It was a bit too “Brooklyn.” You decide … 🙂

Me, Circa 1994

JARS: The Third Decade Begins …

It is with deep appreciation to the readers and supporters of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that I announce today the imminent e-publication on JSTOR and Project Muse and in print of our forty-first issue, the beginning of our third decade as the only double-blind peer-reviewed interdisciplinary, scholarly journal devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times.

As I previously pointed out, since the beginning of our collaboration with Pennsylvania State University Press in 2013, JARS has become a truly worldwide publication. Our authors come from every corner of the globe, as does our readership. Indeed, while a strong 48% of our article requests still come from the United States, the majority of requests now stretch from North and South America to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, encompassing nearly 130 countries.

With Volume 21, Number 1, we have now published 392 articles by 181 authors. In this issue alone, we introduce four contributors new to our pages—Mikhail Kizilov, Abhijeet Melkani, Stephen Marvin and Syed Haroon Ahmed Shah—each of whom embodies our mission, which welcomes papers from every discipline and from a variety of interpretive and critical perspectives, fostering scholarly dialogue through a respectful exchange of ideas.

Here is our line-up for the new July 2021 issue:

Introduction – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Articles

Beyond “The Money-Making Personality”: Notes Towards a Theory of Capitalist Orthopraxy – Roger Donway

Hegemonic Change and The Role of the Intellectual in Atlas Shrugged: A Gramscian Study – Syed Haroon Ahmed Shah

Rand on the Atonement: A Critique – Amos Wollen

Selfish versus Selfish – Merlin Jetton

Mental Integrations as Functional Wholes – Abhijeet Melkani

Existence, We – Stephen Boydstun

Book Reviews

Re-reading Rand through a Russian Lens (review of Khudozhestvennoe tvorchestvo Ayn Rand v russkom kontekste [Ayn Rand’s Fiction
in a Russian Context
], by Anastasiya Grigorovskaya) – Mikhail Kizilov

A Multilayered Work (Review of Layers, by Nathaniel Branden) – Mimi Reisel Gladstein

A Journey to Fulfillment (Review of The Tao of Roark: Variations on a Theme from Ayn Rand, by Peter Saint-Andre) – Stephen Marvin

Discussion

Reply to Roger E. Bissell: A More Scientific Compatibilism – George Lyons

Rejoinder to George Lyons: Ontological, Ethical, and Methodological Compatibilism and the Free Will Controversy in Objectivism – Roger E. Bissell

Readers can check out the article abstracts here and the contributor biographies here. Those interested in submitting articles to be considered for publication in JARS, should use the Editorial Manager platform. And those interested in subscribing to the journal, should consult the various links here.

The third decade begins …

“The Greatest Enemies of Peace are Those who Extol War as Noble and Heroic …”

An earlier version of this revised essay first appeared on the Liberty and Power Group Blog (Memorial Day Weekend 2004). It also appears here. This 2021 Memorial Day Weekend mirrors that 2004 calendar.

As people honor the memories of those who died in wars past and present on this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a man who, not unlike others of his generation, served in World War II. His name was Salvatore “Sam” Sclafani, first cousin to my Dad, married to my mother’s sister, and forever etched in the minds of our family as “Uncle Sam.” Born in 1915, Uncle Sam left us in 1994, having succumbed to prostate cancer. But it was this man who was my earliest inspiration in all matters political; he nourished in me a love of history and politics, and was the guy to whom I dedicated Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

My Uncle Sam was, without doubt, one of the funniest and most benevolent souls to ever grace this planet. And when you got him to talk about politics, it was like a veritable ride aboard the Coney Island Cyclone, that landmark splintery wooden rollercoaster. He was the most opinionated and outspoken critic of politicians, left, right and center, whom I’ve ever had the privilege to know and love.

Back in 1976, I interviewed Uncle Sam for a special project I’d done on the veterans of World War II. His comments are as precious today, as they were back then.

He remembered that “day of infamy” in December 1941. His mother labored by the stove, preparing the traditional Sunday home-cooked Italian meal. In the background, the radio played the sounds of a Swing band … and then, a news flash came that the Japanese had attacked the US military base in Hawaii.

My Uncle had been classified in the army for the draft, but after years of working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he decided to enlist in the navy instead. Several days after his enlistment, he was shipped out to the Great Lakes Military Installation in Waukegan, Illinois, outside Chicago. Like a tale out of a storybook, he married his girlfriend, my Aunt Georgia, the day before he left.

From his hair-scalping at the installation to the strenuous marching, walking, running, rifle and rope exercises, boot-training was a test of his endurance. Even learning to sleep in a hammock—or as Uncle Sam reminisced, “trying to get into them, and involuntarily getting out of them”—was a chore. From Illinois, he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for further training. He eventually became a part of the Seabees (the United States Naval Construction Battalions), a relatively new branch of the navy that was similar to the army corps of engineers. In learning the arts of naval engineering, these Seabees were taught everything “from building bridges and laying down airfields in record time, to advanced techniques of camouflage.”

From Norfolk, Uncle Sam went on to Pleasantville, California, and then on to the Bremerton Navy Yard in Puget Sound, Washington state, where he participated in the salvage work on the USS Nevada, damaged in the Pearl Harbor raid. As they awaited orders on their next assignment, Uncle Sam’s group was split into two: Group 1 was headed south—to Guadalcanal. By the mere accident of being part of Group 2, Uncle Sam ended up in the North Pacific. “We then realized,” he recalled: “This is it. This isn’t playing anymore. We’re not training. From here on, everything is real.”

Morale was remarkably good on the trip. But there was a common expression on everyone’s face, he told me: an expression of suppressed horror, worry, and uncertainty. There was that constant alert for possible enemy aerial or submarine bombardment. While he remained remarkably calm, many of his newfound pals were desperately ill. “My comrades wished they had died. Men were throwing-up against bulkheads and walls and fainting on decks. They lost their appetites from terrible fear and severe seasickness.”

Ten days after rough riding, the ship neared its destination. A heavy fog descended. And when the land mass came into focus, it looked like the cold, barren surface of a distant planet: no trees, no vegetation, immense mountains of stone and volcanic rock. Uncle Sam wasn’t a few minutes on land before an alert signaled an imminent Japanese air attack. An earlier attack that day had destroyed the boats that lay docked around a makeshift pier. Running to take cover, the men passed an enormous hill of greenish-white pine boxes … coffins waiting for new inhabitants. It was the kind of greeting that sobered the most stubborn among them. “A morbid, depressing and unsettling sensation came over me,” Uncle Sam said. “We were finally aware that we had been sent to the notorious Dutch Harbor in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, the closest US military base to Japan, only 600 miles away.” This was a place where temperatures ranged from 12 below to 60 above. At times, many feet of snow would fall. Certain seasons brought 18-hour days, while others brought 18-hour nights. But always, there was a damp, musty fog; for the two years that Uncle Sam was stationed in the Aleutians, he never saw the sun.

Within the first week of their arrival, the new troops faced air attacks, volcanic eruptions, storms, earthquakes, and “horizontal rain,” due to “winds that could blow a building across the Hudson River.” Those winds, dubbed “Williwaws,” were sudden and severe, up to 200 mph. Ironically, it was the difficult climactic conditions that saved Aleutian Island residents from both constant Japanese aerial bombardment and the typical diseases that infected troops stationed in the South Pacific. “American pilots remarked that there were better odds in flying 50 missions over Berlin,” Uncle Sam would say, “than even one mission over the Aleutian Islands.”

He remembered walking along a dirt road, when a light breeze had suddenly transformed into one of those Williwaws. By the time he had hit the deck, the wind had uprooted steel cables, boulders, and a 13-ton patrol bomber on the beach—smacking it up against a mountain. The Seabees’ efforts to camouflage their work were not very successful because of these winds. “We were forced to build revetments for planes to try to camouflage them with heavy steel-cabled nets. After the first storm, all the nets went flying across the Pacific Ocean and days of work went down the drain.”

But the Seabees transformed the rough Alaskan terrain, by literally leveling mountains. After laying down many miles of airfields with heavy metal stripping, the Seabees paved the way for an Aleutian air-force, since land-based bombers were now able to land.

By this time, Uncle Sam had become a Second Class Petty Officer. His days began at 5 am. His meals consisted of passable substitutes, since there were no eggs or milk. Remarkably, he gained 30 lbs. while living in Dutch Harbor. It was weight he desperately needed, as he worked hard on airfield and submarine installations. (He remembered going into one of those primitive subs: “I was qualified for submarine duty,” he said, “but they were out of their minds: it was like staying in a narrow coffin, cluttered with levers, wheels, and machinery. I would never have survived!”)

When his day of rigorous work was complete, he’d go back to the bunkhouses, which had been built to withstand the wind, the rain, and the war. Fighting his solitude and isolation, he found comfort with his comrades, smoking cigarettes, reminiscing of home, listening to their “Pacific sweetheart” on the radio: Tokyo Rose. Whoever she actually was, Uncle Sam had vivid memories of all the things she told them on the radio. “She’d tell us how our girls were cheating on us back home. She would say that we were very stupid to be fighting … we were going to lose anyway. So we might as well rebel, destroy our superiors, and go home.” It gave them a lot of laughs, he said, but it was hard to avoid sobbing, silently, as you listened to the Swing music she played. From the crackling of the radio speaker, came the Big Band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey; more than anything “Tokyo Rose” had actually said, the use of this great music constituted a form of psychological warfare that infected everyone with homesickness, he said. “It would place us in a very depressing state. Some men cried openly.”

The men of Dutch Harbor served as a diversionary force in the Battle of Midway. They prepared munitions for the bloody US invasions of Amchitka, Adak, and Attu. They played an active part in the isolation of Kiska, even though they failed to prevent the evacuation of 5,100 Japanese troops, who departed in the middle of a fog-heavy July night to return to Paramushiro Harbor.

During his two-year tour of duty, Uncle Sam experienced about six Japanese air bombardments; though the attacks were only seven to eight minutes in duration, they felt like seven to eight hours. A two-hour alert would usually precede an attack, as men would frantically prepare their anti-aircraft positions. “We were told to run off the ships and scatter into the hills, where there were fox holes.” Men clung to their own hopes for survival, some praying and giving substance to the old adage “there are no atheists in foxholes.” You just didn’t know if “that next bullet would have your name on it. Then you’d hear the incoming planes.” Within seconds, bombs would be dropping, destroying installations, oil tanks, gasoline storage facilities, and piers. Raging infernos and thick, black smoke would engulf the camp. “Things flashed quickly through my head,” he painfully recalled. He had fears of invading parachutists, naval bombardment, “the end of the world. In one attack, our ship, the Northwestern, was blown into a million pieces as a bomb was dropped down the smokestack. Shrapnel and other fragments went flying, as the explosion echoed through the hills and canyons.”

Uncle Sam learned a few things about wars, even “good” wars. He thought it was a joke when some said that the Americans would sell you the noose with which to hang them … until he realized that scrap metal from Manhattan Els (elevated trains) had been sold to the Japanese and used by them to create their machinery of war. He even remembered going over to a downed Japanese Zero. “And on the engine was labeled ‘Pratt-Whitney Motors, USA.'”

While he wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting another human being in order to survive—“quite frankly,” he’d say, “it was either them or us”—he never accepted the notion that he should hate his enemy. “We had been taught to hate the enemy for their bombardment of Pearl Harbor, for their cruel and inhumane treatment of our men.” But when prisoners were caught, “you’d look at these men, ‘our enemy,’ and see a reflection of yourself. I felt sorry for them.”

In 1944, Company C was reorganized and sent back to San Francisco. As his ship neared the Golden Gate Bridge, Uncle Sam cried “like a baby. It was the most fabulous sight I had ever seen. To be on American soil again, a feeling you can’t imagine unless you had been in that situation. And there, on the dock was the American Red Cross—with gallons and gallons of ice-cold milk.”

The climactic changes were not friendly to Uncle Sam. He developed a mysterious illness in which his legs swelled, as he lay nearly paralyzed in pain. When it was apparent that he would be in a military hospital for months, he was given an honorable discharge. In May 1944, he finally came home to New York. For months, he had difficulty adjusting. He was immensely uptight and shuddery. He developed a fear of passing overhead planes—a fear that some New Yorkers might remember, in the wake of 9/11, in a way that my Uncle could never have dreamed. The war had split homes and families, had taken away friends and relatives, and had damaged relationships. “You never know if you’re going to come back during a war,” he stated. “But if you have that luck, you can really appreciate what you left behind.”

A bolder and more “patriotic” American you’d be hard pressed to find. But Uncle Sam had had enough with politicians. He had voted for FDR because he was convinced that the President would preserve the peace. “The President had said that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. He forgot to add: ‘They’d be buried in it.'” For thirty years thereafter, Uncle Sam refused to go into a voting booth.

I come from a family of servicemen. Uncle Sam was fortunate enough to come home and to live a wonderful life, becoming a second father to me, as my own father had passed away when I was 12. But other relatives were not as lucky. My Uncle Frank was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. My Uncle Charlie survived, but was unable to talk about his war experiences for the rest of his life, having lived for years in a German POW camp. Fortunately, my Uncle Al and Uncle Georgie lived to talk about their experiences in the European theater. And my Uncle Tony remained in the army for the rest of his life. They are all gone now.

The human cost of war is usually calculated by raw data on battle deaths, casualties, and medical evacuations. But my Uncle Sam always believed that Memorial Day weekend was not a celebration of the majesty of war. He used to cite the old adage that “the greatest enemies of peace are those who extol war as noble and heroic.” This weekend is about remembering those who were the victims of war, especially those whose lives were sacrificed on its battlefields. It is also important to remember, to tribute, those who survived, those who lived to tell us about the horrors of war, and who did the most heroic thing imaginable: Building and sustaining their own lives in the aftermath, drawing strength from their love of family, of friends, and for life itself.

I honor their memory.

This brick was placed in memory of Uncle Sam by my cousin William Jannace as part of the National WWII MuseumRoad to Victory Brick Program.” It is a commemorative with the exact engraving of the brick therein.

Salvatore “Uncle Sam” Sclafani (1915-1994)

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.