Review of the Book
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
by Chris Matthew Sciabarra
[Sciabarra's book published by Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1995.
This review reprinted from Fragments, Winter, 1995-1996]
It took Professor Sciabarra many years of research to write an
intriguing new book about Ayn Rand. This one deals with Russian
thought, and establishes the theme that, whether she was aware of it
or not, Rand was deeply influenced by Russian philosophy -- especially
as she learned it from Nicholas Lossky, her professor in Petrograd.
Lossky also introduced her to Aristotle; Rand subsequently viewed "her
own system as the heir to Aristotelianism." (p.19)
Sciabarra further contends that Rand was also influenced by the
Russian Marxists, whose dogma she bitterly denounced throughout her
mature and formative life in America. "From a historical vantage
point," Sciabarra declares, Rand's philosophy was "an
evolved response to the dualities that Rand confronted in Soviet
Russia. Although she rejected both the mysticism of Russia's religious
traditions and the secular collectivism of the Russian Marxists, she
nonetheless remained a profoundly Russian thinker."
"No theme," he continues, "has been more central to
the history of Russian thought than ... [the] struggle against
dualism. It emerges from a desire to transcend the dichotomies that
fragment human existence: spirit versus flesh, reason versus emotion,
the moral versus the practical. This yearning to achieve synthesis ...
was fully absorbed by Ayn Rand." (pp.23-24)
Rand accepted and followed the struggle against formal dualism. The
method used by the Russian thinkers (especially the Russian Marxists)
in their "revolt against dualism" is called "dialectics."
Even though Rand always contended that she was adamantly opposed to
the dialectical approach, there appears to be evidence that "Rand
had absorbed, perhaps unwittingly, crucial dialectical methods of
According to Sciabarra, there are "provocative parallels"
between the methods of Marxists and Rand. "Both Marx and Rand
traced the interconnectedness of social phenomena... Both Marx and
Rand opposed the mind-body dichotomy... But unlike Marx, Rand was
virulently anticommunist. Unlike Marx, Rand viewed a genuinely
capitalist social system for the achievement of truly integrated human
being. Paradoxically, Rand seemed to embrace a dialectical perspective
that resembled the approach of her Marxist political adversaries, even
while defending capitalism as an 'unknown ideal.'" (pp.8-9)
What is the meaning of "dialectics"?
"The best way to understand... [it] is to view it as a technique
to overcome formal dualism.... A thinker who employs a dialectical
method embraces neither a pole nor the middle of a duality of
extremes. Rather, the dialectical method anchors the thinker to both
camps.... In some cases, the transcendence of opposing points of view
provides a justification for rejecting both alternatives as false."
In Rand's "revolt against formal dualism," she transcends
such opposites and "false alternatives" as materialism and
idealism, intrinsicism and subjectivism, rationalism and empiricism,
mind and body, reason and emotion, fact and value, theory and
practice. "For Rand, these factors are distinctions within an
organic unity. Neither can be fully understood in the absence of the
other, since each is an inseparable aspect of a wider totality.... It
is this emphasis on the totality that is essential to the dialectical
mode of inquiry. Dialectics is not merely a repudiation of formal
dualism. It is a method that preserves the analytical integrity of the
And thus, Sciabarra argues, Rand, like her Russian "opponents,"
employed the dialectical method in her philosophy.
Also, Rand subscribed to the "Russian view" (again
according to Sciabarra) that mere philosophic contemplation is
considered incomplete; "it required consummation in the
quest for truth-justice." (p.297) (emphasis supplied)
The above "similarities" in the works of Rand and the
Russian thinkers (our author contends) prove his thesis that traditionally
Rand was a Russian thinker, and was influenced (in method at least) by
So much for Rand's "debt" to Russia. What were her original
contributions, that made Rand famous and unique?
"Rand's goal in writing was 'the projection of an ideal man."'
She also aimed to "reconnect" the elements in human
existence which Kant supposedly "had severed." (p.97) She
stressed the law of identity. (pp.49-51) She championed reason and
freedom, which alone (she said) could defeat faith and force. She
propounded the theory of individualism, but emphasized the need for
sociality. As humans we need social contacts. (p. 270) Rand espoused
the ethics of selfishness, opposing it to the prevailing creed of
altruism. She wrote: "The true, highest selfishness, the exalted
egoism, is the right to have one's own theoretical values and then
apply them to practical reality." (p.234)
"In her emphasis on the ontological priority of individuals,
Rand did not dissolve reality into wholly independent entities....
Everything is interrelated." (p. 144) However, "by stressing
the ontological priority of individuals, Rand rejected the
metaphysical basis of organic collectivism." (p.269)
Rand's greatest achievement was to glorify capitalism. Calling
herself a "radical for capitalism," she declared that
capitalism was made possible by the rebirth of reason. "The
capitalist system... was based on the volitional exchange of values."
Of eourse (in Rand's estimation), the eternal arch-enemy of humankind
is the murderous, predatory, racist, military, slave-creating monster:
Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote a powerful book. It is not easy
reading, but it is a MUST for all Randians, all individualists, and
all men and women who believe in and live by the precepts of truth,
reason, and freedom.