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It is “wrong and damaging” to think of Ayn Rand primarily as a political philosopher, that’s for sure

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, April 9, 1999:

In fact, notes Auburn’s Mr. Machan, “Rand has always been hovering in the halls of academe.” He cites Robert Nozick‘s 1974 Anarchy, State and Utopia, in which Mr. Nozick, a professor of philosophy at Harvard University, drew partially upon Rand to develop his concept of libertarianism.

Mr. Machan also mentions the work of James P. Sterba, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, who, for his part, says he’s surprised by the rise of recent scholarship on Rand, but only because Randians are generally unwilling to connect her to such “irrational” ideas as feminism. In fact, argues Mr. Sterba, one application of Rand’s style of libertarianism, with its emphasis on allowing individuals room to flourish, could lead not toward “no government,” but to a welfare state.

Mr. Machan, a libertarian who equates academic leftists with Stalinists, takes issue with such claims: “Jim thinks everything leads to the welfare state.” He adds, though, that he’s glad he can finally have such academic discussions about his favorite author without being ridiculed.

But Allan Gotthelf, a professor of philosophy at the College of New Jersey who is chairman of the Ayn Rand Society, says Mr. Machan’s notion of Rand as primarily a political philosopher is “not only wrong, it’s damaging.” Although his group maintains more distance from Rand than do outfits like the Ayn Rand Institute, Mr. Gotthelf maintains that Mr. Peikoff, chairman emeritus of the institute, has written the only definitive book on Rand, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (Dutton, 1991). Most of the other new work on her he dismisses as fanfare.

Mr. Gotthelf nonetheless describes himself as cautiously optimistic about the potential for an outbreak of objectivism. He’s working on a book he hopes will serve as a bridge between Rand and analytic philosophy, the widespread school of thought which — unlike the objectivist belief that the truth is available to our senses — holds that language can conceal logical structure and even mislead us. (Jeff Sharlett, “Ayn Rand Has Finally Caught the Attention of Scholars”). [requires subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education]

From the website of the Ayn Rand Society founded by Allan Gotthelf, among others (as of October 5, 2013).

Eastern Division 2013 ARS Meeting
Topic:   Rand and Nozick: Moral, Social and Political Thought
Speakers:  Lester H. Hunt (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Onkar Ghate (Ayn Rand Institute)
Chair:  Robert Mayhew (Seton Hall University)
Location:  Baltimore, MD
Date & Time:  December 28, 2:45 – 5:45 p.m.
Pacific Division 2014 ARS Meeting
Topic:   Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights
Speakers:  Fred D. Miller, Jr. (University of Arizona) and Adam Mossoff (George Mason University)
Commentator:  Matt Zwolinski (University of San Diego)
Chair:  Darryl Wright (Harvey Mudd College)
Location:  San Diego, CA
Date & Time:  TBA
Eastern Division 2014 ARS Meeting
Topic:   The Moral Basis of Capitalism: Adam Smith, the Austrians, and Ayn Rand
Speakers:  James R. Otteson (Yeshiva University)
Peter Boettke (George Mason University)
Yaron Brook (Ayn Rand Institute)
Chair:  TBA
Location:  Philadelphia, PA
Date & Time:  TBA

I know we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but to paraphrase Nietzsche, some realizations are born posthumously.

Irfan

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Walsh says:

    I love the Sterba quote.

  2. irfankhawaja says:

    I actually spent a fair bit of graduate school arguing with Jim Sterba about egoism and liberty (I went to Notre Dame). I didn’t agree with him and still don’t, but found the arguments I had with him more clarifying than most of the arguments I’ve had with Objectivists and libertarians.

    Irfan

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