Two Women, One Dynamo

James S. Valliant's picture
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Fri, 2007-06-01 18:21

Professor Stephen Cox has done liberty lovers – and the world – a great service with his biography, 'The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America' (2004, Transaction).

This is one of those projects where the classic hyperbole is no hyperbole: this is a work of great importance. It would have been a tragedy had its subject, Isabel Paterson, gone without the biographical attention she so richly merits. Without a doubt, she was one of the most important political writers of the Twentieth Century. Among the many measures of this importance is the fact that Paterson probably had a greater influence on Ayn Rand than any of her other contemporaries. Together, these two women were the major inspiration for contemporary “radical” capitalist thought.

The book is thoroughly researched in most cases, and full of fascinating, new material. And, yet, for an intellectual biography, it is engagingly written – rich with all of the color of the amazing life and personality of a truly great woman – a real page-turner as such books go.

For all its virtues, however, there remain significant problems in its treatment of the relationship between those two godmothers of the American individualist movement, Isabel Paterson and Ayn Rand.

Therefore, what follows should not be read as an overall review, for this is a book with many outstanding qualities, but, rather, an analysis of its treatment of the relationship between these two important writers.

Among its many virtues, 'The Woman and the Dynamo' observes an error made by Rand's less-then-credible biographer, Barbara Branden, who wrote that both Paterson and Rose Wilder Lane had been "introduced" to Rand by the writer Channing Pollock in 1940. ('The Passion of Ayn Rand,' p.163) Cox observes that Paterson never seems to have even known Pollock personally. (Cox, p. 390, n49) The truth is that Rand took the initiative and called Paterson at her office – after the latter had ~ declined ~ the invitation to meet with Rand and Pollack "for the cause" in 1940 – and although they had briefly met several years previously – it was this later meeting which commenced their famous relationship. (Cox, pp. 218-220)

One can also add to Cox's corrections of Ms. Branden here by observing that Rand did not meet Rose Wilder Lane through Pollock, either. Rand wrote to Lane on November 30, 1945, that she was still unhappy that the two had yet to meet in person. ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 238) Finally, a letter from Rand to Lane dated December 13, 1947, opens with the following: "I was very happy that I had a chance to meet you at last after all these years." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 383)

Rand actively pursued intellectual alliances, especially during this period of her life, she did not passively wait for them to show up. It is a wonderful circumstance, but to some extent no accident, that the most lucid political writers of the Twentieth Century, Ayn Rand, Henry Hazlitt, and Isabel Paterson all knew one another.

One of the charming anecdotes in the book is the fun Pat had with the Russian-born novelist's occasional gaffes with English during their (often energetic) discussions. Rand once asked Paterson, "Will you write my autobiography? I can't do myself justice."

Paterson was amused, but Cox suggests that Rand, later famous for her “candidly exalted” opinion of herself, “might have meant a number of things by that..." (Cox, p. 221) It is well known that certain libertarians have long believed that Rand created a “self-mythology” – something their research, however, has consistently failed to demonstrate. Cox probably should have spelled out what he is suggesting here.

As for “exalted” self-estimates, get this one: in a letter to Rand, Paterson wrote, "It almost seems as if nobody, dead or alive, ever did know or does know how Capitalism really works, except Me." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 211) Now, years earlier, Rand had said something very similar as a compliment to Paterson herself, in praise of her classic book 'The God of the Machine,' but here we see Pat matching any boast for which we can credit Rand.

On a related topic, Cox claims that Rand brooked no literary criticism of any sort, and he asserts, without evidence, that Paterson was a great exception for Rand in this regard, "enduring [Paterson's] literary critiques." (Cox, p. 305)

However, at least during this period of her life, Rand's letters actually demonstrate that she welcomed such criticism – and that Rand incorporated into her work suggestions from more than one source, the outstanding example (apart from her husband) being Archie Ogden. Another interesting example is Rose Wilder Lane. ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 307) In my experience, professional writers are a sensitive lot, and any suggestion is often taken as deep criticism. Rand does not seem to have been this way at all.

It is true that her previous approach may have changed with the writing 'Atlas Shrugged,' when Rand's confidence in her literary judgment, and her reputation in the publishing world, permitted her to get an "up front" agreement from her publisher that there would be no changes made to her text – period.

Cox also commits a more serious error. He writes: "Rand regarded virtually all charity as a culpable form of altruism, but Paterson thought there was nothing wrong with charity so long as it remained intelligent and uncoerced." (Cox, p. 308) Cox can direct us to no evidence that this was ever Rand's position since, of course, there is lots of evidence that this was not Rand's position at all. The views he ascribes to Paterson, by way of contrast, are, in fact, a decent summary of Rand's own views. The evidence for this is so copious that Cox should definitely have known better in this instance.

As Rand told 'Playboy' magazine in the March, 1964 edition,

"My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong with helping people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them, I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and primary virtue." ('The Playboy Interview,' vol. II, p. 21)

Paterson wrote some things with which Rand definitely did take issue, and charity may have been among these. For example, Rand would not have agreed with Pat's praise for those from religious orders who devote themselves exclusively to charitable work. ('The God of the Machine,' p. 239) However, the two writers’ views on this subject are more alike than Cox seems to recognize.

More subtly, but still more importantly, Cox errs in suggesting that Paterson had a significant influence on the development of Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.

According to witnesses, Rand was seen literally sitting at Paterson’s feet, asking the questions which Paterson would patiently answer. Paterson was enormously well read and well informed, and she was obviously an important source for Rand on many aspects of American history and government. Rand herself acknowledged that she had “learned many important ideas” from Paterson, in a letter dated May 8, 1948. These “ideas” seem to have been factual and historical in nature, but Cox writes:

"There is evidence, indeed, that Rand's ideas were shifting significantly during the period of their first acquaintance. 'We the Living' is an anticommunist novel, but its treatment of alternatives to communism, of political ideas in general, is sketchy to say the least. It is a novel of psychological individualism. In succeeding years, Rand worked her way from a continental version of individualism influenced by Nietzsche to an American individualism grounded in a political theory of natural and equal rights." (Cox. p. 221)

Cox indicates that by 1942, when Rand was wrapping up writing on 'The Fountainhead,' she would, finally, give "her original quasi-Nietzschean ideas a classical liberal form." Cox continues, "If there was a crucial, external influence on Rand's political development, Paterson was that influence." (Ibid)

While he concedes that "the precise extent of her influence" would require overhearing their all-nighters for oneself, (Ibid) and although he is not as clear as one would like, Cox seems to be suggesting that Paterson had a significant influence on the politics of Objectivism, and, indeed, on Rand's "American" and "classical liberal" orientation itself.

It is true that Rand – in her early 20s – must be classified as a “quasi-Nietzschean,” if she can be classified at all. Her notes for the quickly abandoned project, "The Little Street," are the evidence for this. At least some traces of the distinctively “Nietzschean” can be seen in many of Rand's private philosophical journal entries throughout much of the 1930s, and, of course, in the first edition of 'We the Living.'

Nevertheless, Rand's important differences with Nietzsche, even in her twenties, were already portentous. In Rand's very first notes of a philosophical nature, dated from April through May of 1934, when she was still just twenty-nine – and before the publication of the first edition of 'We the Living' – she clearly states her un-Nietzschean belief that men can "use logical reasoning to govern their lives" – without recourse to either "faith" or emotion. Rand asks herself a question, and one suspects she already has at least an inkling as to her own answer: "Are instincts and emotions necessarily beyond the control of plain thinking?" ('Journals of Ayn Rand,' p. 68)

Also in these notes, Rand argues for free will, and, even more importantly, she comes out in favor of what Nietzsche contemptuously called the "Aristotelianism of morals," i.e., an ethics based squarely on logic and "generalization." ('Beyond Good and Evil' 198) Rand simultaneously and explicitly rejected any need for what she called a "history of ethics" – and what Nietzsche called his "genealogy of morals" – only a very Aristotelian "system of ethics" which would "stand or fall on its own merits." ('Journals of Ayn Rand,' pp. 68-70)

Even in the original edition of 'We the Living,' Rand's heroine first gives voice to John Galt's "A is A,” Rand's intended tribute to Aristotle in 'Atlas Shrugged,' by saying, "Steel is steel. Numbers are numbers." (See, Valliant, 'The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics,' pp. 44-48)

There is thus no reason to doubt Rand’s own reports of admiring both Aristotle’s logic and Nietzsche’s “heroic” sensibility as early as her teens.

Now, Rand did not become "acquainted" with many "prominent conservatives" until the Wilkie campaign of 1940, nor had she yet met Paterson, Lane, Albert Jay Nock, Henry Hazlitt, Ludwig von Mises, or even Channing Pollock, when she wrote those notes. But Rand had already rejected some of the most fundamental aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Cox leaves the impression that Rand was "politically" no more than a "continental Nietzschean" prior to the influence of Paterson, who may have been responsible for Rand's later, more "libertarian" political viewpoint. Cox strongly implies that Rand's political thinking as such, at least prior to meeting Paterson, was "sketchy to say the least," and that Paterson was crucial to the development of Rand's belief in "natural and equal rights."

There is good reason to believe otherwise. Even before the original edition of 'We the Living' had been published, Rand was already a liberal political idealist – opposed to anything like Nazism – as is evident from her journal entry from December 4, 1935 (not too long after Hitler had came to power): "If a man who is not a Nazi pretends to be one and goes on pretending to the end of his days in order to have a soft job, money and food – is he to be called an egotist? Or isn't the true egotist the one who starves in exile for the right to believe what he believes?" ('Journals of Ayn Rand,' p. 79)

No, Nietzsche was no proto-Nazi, but here we see Rand in sympathy with civil liberties in a way unknown to that philosopher’s writings.

In a letter dated August 12, 1936, some four years before meeting Paterson, a thirty-one year old Rand wrote the following to a reader who argued for the idea of "umpired individualism":

"I believe more firmly than in any Ten Commandments that the State exists only and exclusively to serve the individual. I see no conceivable logical or ethical excuse for the opposite belief, nor any possible compromise between the two. If the role of the state as a servant, not a master, is taken as a basic immutable Constitution – then 'umpiring' is safe and desirable; provided the 'umpiring' is done precisely to protect individuals, not society as a whole or the state as a whole; provided that each act of the 'umpires' is definitely motivated by and does not clash with the above sort of Constitution." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 35)

Five months later, on January 30, 1937, Rand wrote to the same correspondent,

"I am glad to know that there still are people and a mode of thinking that can be opposed to Communism in a true, sensible democratic spirit. I have met so many people who declared bluntly that anyone criticizing Soviet Russia is automatically a fascist and a capitalistic exploiter. And it was gratifying to read a voice in refutation of that preposterous nonsense." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 40)

Less than a month later, on February 22, 1937, Rand would write in her private journals that "[u]p to the twentieth century and Soviet Russia, the world [had offered some degree] of recognition for individual achievement... [T]he trend of ‘liberalism’ and the idea of ‘freedom' was freedom for ‘a man’ and the fight for the individual rights of ‘a man.’” She wrote positively of how, with the Industrial Revolution, humanity had “achieved that freedom... or came as near to freedom and general equality before the law as it had ever come…” ('Journals of Ayn Rand,' p.105)

That is to say, well before meeting Paterson, Rand was an advocate of a rather anti-Nietzschean form of "Constitutional democracy," one that included the concept of equal, but decidedly individual rights before the law, and this commitment had an historical perspective.

Moreover, Rand's comments suggest that she may not even have been familiar yet with writers who might have agreed with her position – or writers who might have influenced her in that direction – reporting in the above-quoted letter that she was “glad to know” that such people even existed anymore.

In fact, there is no reason to doubt Rand when she reported that such a commitment to the American political system went back to her teens – and that her sympathy for political “liberalism” had already started in Russia (her father's politics, is seems, also leaned in this direction). After all, Rand did "choose to be an American," as she retorted to hecklers, at the tender age of twenty-one.

While it is certainly true that Rand does not explore the "alternatives" to Communism in 'We the Living,' even in her earliest notes for the novel, Rand does explicitly express her intention to cover the "economic conditions,” such as the "terrific poverty" and its causes, the "Unemployment" and its effects, as well as the "Hunger. Cold. No living space. Terrible transportation. Disease. Lice. Dirt." ('Journals of Ayn Rand,' pp. 56-57) Rand’s descriptions in the novel vividly bear this intention out, and the author must be credited with something more than merely a "psychological" critique of communism.

Rand had still not met Paterson – or those who would become her other "political" friends – and, yet, she can only be identified as an advocate of both economic and personal liberties, a supporter of what she called “equality before the law,” “individual rights,” and “a sensible democratic spirit.” No, her political theory is not developed yet, but her sympathies – her basic values – are already clear.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Rand was already being influenced by Paterson’s column – or the writings of others – but it is difficult to see how Rand's desire for "sensible democratic spirit," at least, could have been influenced by Paterson's writings, since Pat was no fan of "democracy."

In any event, it is simply not possible that Rand’s personal interaction with Paterson was responsible for guiding the famous novelist into becoming an “American” individualist or a supporter of natural rights.

Cox also calls Rand's commitment to atheism a "dogma," and refers to "the thinness of Rand's cosmos." On the other hand, Paterson's tales of "reincarnation" – including her own – to Rand are but instances of Paterson's "candidness" for Cox. (Cox, p. 305-306) She was indeed being "candid" with Rand, but some readers will likely prefer the "dogma" of sticking to reality – however "thin" the cosmos with which we left.

Cox's efforts do seem like rationalization, at times, especially in his description of the two individualists’ falling out.

Certainly one of their arguments concerned Rand’s belief that Pat was recanting the credit she had once given Rand for her philosophical insights. In 1946, Rand reported to their mutual friend, Leonard Read, that Pat had once actually said that Rand's was "the greatest ethical discovery since Christianity." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 275) There can be no doubt that Paterson thought Rand brilliant, and if this did not involve creative contributions, such exalted opinions are hard to understand. In one of Rand's letters to Paterson, she also reminded the columnist that she had once had credited Rand with correcting her own thinking on the subject of altruism. Paterson, in reply, denied ever admitting to any such contribution from Rand. This is a classic case of she said/she said, impossible to resolve short of being a witness. Rand's contemporary boldness in asserting this to Pat, and her well-known sharp memory, however, are good reasons to believe her assertion.

While Cox demonstrates that Pat's writings do not reveal a significant influence from Rand, the famous egoist believed that her ideas had shown up in 'The God of the Machine' in some form, and that Pat was "back-tracking" on the credit she once gave to Rand. Especially in light of Cox's apparent misunderstanding of Rand's views on charity, his analysis does not satisfy as a proof that Rand had no impact whatever.

But the truth is that the fundamental philosophies of neither of these women seem to have been influenced by the other – no matter how profoundly impressed they were with one another.

In any event, their dispute over "credit" cannot be said to have caused their break. In 1946, Rand was already disturbed by Pat's "incredibly offensive manner toward people" ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p.275), and it seems that this was the real culprit.

In May of 1948 – at Rand's invitation and expense – Paterson came out to California to meet with Rand and her friends in order to discuss creating a magazine to promote the ideas Rand and Paterson shared. ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 275) Cox admits that Paterson's mood was foul even before she embarked for the West Coast, and he claims that Rand was "unhappy," too, although Rand's letter (dated May 17, 1948) to Paterson was nothing less than enthusiastic:

"I am so delighted about your coming here that I consider it conclusive proof of a totally benevolent universe, and I almost feel benevolence toward the Catholic philosophers... Is it very unphilosophical of me that I don't want to discuss philosophy right now, but only think about your visit? We [Rand's husband and herself] are so excited about it that we are running around in circles. Yesterday, I had my director, King Vidor and his wife here for dinner, and also our neighbors, Adrian and Janet Gaynor, and I was telling them at great length about your coming. They are all excited and waiting for you... so now this is the big event in Chatsworth – the personal appearance of a star from New York." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p.215-216)

During that meeting, Paterson was simply rude to Rand's famous guests. After meeting Gershwin’s collaborator and Rand’s friend Morrie Ryskind, Paterson told Rand (when they were alone), "I don't like Jewish intellectuals." Cox sufficiently demonstrates that Paterson was not a racist, and he thinks that Rand's umbrage stemmed from not getting an intended joke.

Cox, admits that Paterson's remark was "tasteless," but he also claims that Rand was "notorious for not understanding other people's jokes." (Cox, p. 313) Such a claim, of course, requires specific examples – or sources with examples – but none are provided. There is a big difference between not "getting jokes" and not telling them very often or not liking certain jokes. The “notoriety” Cox requires here is unknown to the author 'The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.' In any event, even the Gentile among his readers might appreciate Cox explaining this "joke.”

Paterson's mood in California did not improve. Meeting with one of Rand's business friends, William Mullendore, Paterson went on about how businessmen did nothing to help capitalism and left everything for her alone to do, etc., her typical gripe – to the face of a businessman who was then offering to help (!) Cox admits that Paterson was "dead wrong," in this instance.

Still worse, it seems that Paterson would brook no criticism of her behavior when her embarrassed hostess complained. The two ladies argued, and then (apart from one last meeting some years later) parted for good.

It is true that Rand would later become famous for her "breaks" with other associates – but the case of Paterson is hardly an example of Rand being "intolerant," "moralistic," or "excommunicating" anyone – as Rand's critics will inevitably claim. Paterson's behavior was simply nasty and rude. She also refused to deal with what seems to have been appropriate criticism of it. Cox concedes that Rand's departing line to Paterson in 1948 was insightful: "I hope you'll be happier than you are." (Cox, p. 314)

Whatever their previous arguments, none of them seem to have been sufficient to dampen Rand’s continued enthusiasm for Paterson’s last visit to California. No matter how Cox slices it, neither the argument over "credit," nor their arguments over religion (some of which clearly came at Paterson’s instigation) seemed to have caused the split. And, yet, for Cox, it was about these things – and about Rand not getting some kind of a "tasteless joke." Unfortunately, the facts, even as Cox reports them, do not support this claim.

The mere observation of Rand's many later “breaks” signifies little in this situation – Paterson, too, was famous for her “breaks.” Her own break with Rose Wilder Lane appears more senseless than any of Rand's – according to Cox, the two had simply “grown very, very tired of each another.” (Cox, p. 335) Rose Wilder Lane could lose her temper, too, as Max Eastman found out. The correspondence of all three of these “furies” bears witness to such events.

Paterson and Rand agreed about a great many things political – but when it came to the art of fiction, they seem to have agreed about very little. Paterson did not like the writing in 'The Fountainhead,' and Rand had a similar view of Pat's "literary judgment." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 276)

This did not stop the two women from promoting each other's work. Cox notes the eight mentions of 'The Fountainhead' in Paterson's column “in 1943 alone,” and there can certainly be no doubt that Rand's recommendations and public praise for Paterson’s work had a tremendous impact on the (eventual) success of 'The God of the Machine.'

Whatever Paterson thought of Rand’s fiction, much to her credit, she did later come to Rand’s defense when 'The National Review' did its legendary hatchet job on Rand’s novel 'Atlas Shrugged.' Paterson called the review by Whittaker Chambers “the dirtiest job imaginable… If I ever see Mr. Chambers again I won’t speak to him.” (Cox, p. 351)

As Rand’s continued recommendation of Paterson’s work also shows, it is safe to say that these two never really lost a deep and abiding mutual respect.

This continued admiration – even after their falling out – suggests the importance each placed on the other’s work – and the importance of Cox’s subject. If we have dwelt on details, it is because details matter and because the focus here has been highly selective. However, the subject is too engaging and the material too fascinating to miss this biography, whatever its problems.

The kind of sympathy for his subject that Cox displays is probably necessary for the motivation to complete such a biography. Such sympathy is probably important even to a biographer’s objectivity – as it is certainly necessary for a biographer to attempt to “walk in the shoes” of his subject – and so it is something that we must appreciate, despite some resulting errors.

However, it is a sympathy that Ayn Rand has yet to experience from an in-depth biographer.

[Thanks are owed to Professor Stephen Cox, Casey Fahy, and Aaron Haspel for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this. This, of course, does not imply any agreement on their parts, but they were all very helpful.]

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Neil Wants to Play

James S. Valliant's picture

In public, just this last Christmas, Neil Parille wrote:

'Too Funny'
(Submitted by Neil Parille on Fri, 2009-12-25 20:22
"Is there anything funnier than Jim Valliant trying to play intellectual?"

Imagine my surprise, then, at receiving an email today with this as the header:

From: neil parille...
Subject: Old Time Religion
Date: February 11, 2010 4:03:25 AM PST
To: jsvalliant...

In the email, he calls another post I had submitted a few days ago, "Gimme That Old Time Religion", "interesting." He then asks for my response to two serious questions (one of which was an excellent question), both directly related to that post. All polite and very "intellectual."

So, what I am to make of this? He could be saying that he wants to "play" intellectual with me and doesn't take our exchanges seriously. Or, he could be trying to pretend that the earlier post never happened after experiencing a sincere change of heart. Or, it could be that he never really believed the things he was saying about me, even then, and was just lashing out. Or, could he be trying to lay some kind of trap for me?

Well, none of these possibilities smell savory to me. Either we have intellectual dishonesty, gross hypocrisy or, at best, an unserious approach to thought.

Now, should Mr. Parille want some kind of a reconciliation in order to resume our previous (and extensive) engagement (and this is a possibility, too), he has my email.

However, before I will give him the time of day, much less "play intellectual" with him, he will have to publicly retract his childish insults, starting with the one on this thread.

Amen --

James S. Valliant's picture

Brother Joe! (Okay, Elmer Gantry was on t.v. tonight.)


John Donohue's picture



Chris Cathcart's picture

You ask:

"Second, are you actually sure Ayn Rand had no trouble with the word "libertarian" as an adjective for her political theory of rights at some point?"

Well, Jim V might be more intimately familiar with the archives and such, but one little tidbit of information is that in her biographical interviews with Barbara back in 1960ish, she did mention voting for Roosevelt in '32 because she believed him to be "the more libertarian candidate." I think at that time it had connotations quite unrelated to the Rothbardian take on libertarian thought that dominated in the early '70s and continues today at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and I think it's plainly clear by now how pointless and discreditable an exercise the whole Libertarian Party has been. I just don't take these folks and these phenomena to be synonymous with the word "libertarian;" rather, they represent an approach to laissez-faire political philosophy quite deeply at odds with Rand's. I take "libertarian" and "classically liberal" to be pretty much interchangeable, and there are people who self-identified as libertarians that Rand found allies in - such as Mises and Hazlitt.

well, this is James' thread

John Donohue's picture

well, this is James' thread on Paterson and Rand, so I'll just say:

Your project and that of others to argue'll have to judge for yourself if it is worth it and accomplishes good for Objectivism in academia. I am aware that Tara Smith agrees and once watched Harry Binswanger attempt it with an analytic philosopher. I am a rude Objectivist and find no value in spending pages and pages on a proposition that is already dead on arrival. In fact I hold it gives respect to something that should be disrespected.

Bass [edited to remove fluff] : Suppose an agent has a choice between two (and only two) options that are equally good in terms of his interests, but one of which will violate another person’s rights. Which of the options is it morally better or morally required that he take?

Me: "If in one of your possible worlds it might be possible in a non-emergency situation to violate another's rights and still be moral, I'm calling the cops the minute you suggest we go there."

Or something to that effect. I get banned from sites of academics and scolded by other Objectivsts for being too confrontive about things like this.

Second, are you actually sure Ayn Rand had no trouble with the word "libertarian" as an adjective for her political theory of rights at some point?


Chris Cathcart's picture

While I probably wouldn't use the term "libertarian" if I wrote the article today, I just don't have the same negative view of that term as you do - and neither did Rand, until the political party/movement of that name came along. The terminology of one word of it aside, what about the substance of my article?

Unfortunately, turning back an argument like the one Robert Bass gave, cannot be done in one sentence or even one paragraph. That's not how academic give-and-take goes. If a real and effective defense of her ideas in that arena is to happen, these sorts of arguments have to be unraveled and tackled in some detail. You'll notice that Tara Smith's books take hundreds of pages to clarify positions and refute skilled objections or mischaracterizations.

For a six-page response, as a first-time foray into the world of professional journals, I consider it a pretty good piece, but even still, it's like baby-steps in terms of addressing a large number of issues that can arise, in detail. Rand is going to get hit like this by some pretty smart people arguing in good faith and, until recently, the small number of people skillfully beating back these criticisms in a way faithful to the basic ideas she put forth had really harmed her stature in that arena. Rand's ideas can be ably defended in that arena, even in "academically-respectable" terms. As virtue-ethics is a very respectable genre in academia now, establishing her as a key and original voice within that genre takes some communication with the academic world on its own terms - including challenging a number of prevailing presumptions in that world. The virtue-ethics genre itself has come a long way in challenging the prevailing presumptions of standard consequentialist and deontological approaches - but it has required engaging proponents of these views even on their own grounds. I know that some folks just find that downright distasteful, but it's necessary - and doable - academic dirty work to clear the grounds.

Here it might be worth mentioning that Rob Bass and I share a common footing: eudaemonist virtue-ethics. He was criticizing her as, essentially, being a consequentialist. Now, why would that be? It is because egoism has traditionally been understood as a consequentialist ethics (if it was understood as a legitimate ethical position at all, given prevailing understandings of the meaning of "self-interest"). The point of my piece was to show that Rand's views advance the very appealing features of eudaemonist virtue ethics (grounded in an appealing meta-ethics) that also accounts for why we have rights, while still upholding an egoism worthy of its name. All this cannot be done in a short sentence or paragraph.

Indeed, the detail required to defend a basically Randian position on these points is something I am working towards now, as my piece is only an outline. My strategy and focus will probably differ in some ways from Tara Smith's approach, and it's going to take some time to really work out. (As my focus and interest goes, my approach most resembles that of Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, with some aspects of Eric Mack thrown in. Oh, and a "mentor"-figure here in Portland. Smiling This probably means, among other things, that Kant is only half-evil. Evil Oh dear, I've said too much; my defense of Rand shall surely be corrupted.)

God of the Machine

Jmaurone's picture

I havent' read Cox's book, but just finished GOD OF THE MACHINE, and now I wish I had read it long ago. It's a shame it's not discussed more.

Chris Cathcart

John Donohue's picture

"In what way did you not think you were hearing a defense of Ayn Rand's philosophy? Did you read the article all the way through?"

I already gave my reasons in a three-sentence sequence. You my have not grasped it was a chain of association: "her advocacy of libertarian rights" at the top of your essay took the starch out. The word "Objectivism" does not appear at all. I didn't feel I was hearing a defense of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Calling Rand's position on rights "libertarian" is an insult to her.

Additionally: entertaining "The Argument" as a legitimate contention is dubious on its face. If an Objectivist cannot nullify it in one short sentence it results in the effect of not hearing a defense of Ayn rand's philosophy.


Chris Cathcart's picture

In what way did you not think you were hearing a defense of Ayn Rand's philosophy? Did you read the article all the way through?

Chris Cathcart

John Donohue's picture

I read most of your piece and a good portion of Bass' reaction and then I found myself skimming. Without any position on the interchange between yourself and Bass I'll just say I saw right away what my own attack on The Argument would be. Let's just say I would have been brief and punchy. It is a form of "Ethics of Emergency" and deserves only the usual short orientation required to stop the premise in its tracks, when someone attempts to judge an entire ethics on it.

I also see how, were I Campbell, I would flip Bass' poor response back. Kant through Hegel through Obama would not have been allowed to stay in the smeary part. Ayn Rand did not pull a full-out assault on altruism just to refute some obscure guy who happened to have coined the word. Comte, who I see as sort of a loss leader for Kant, still poisons the world. All you have to do is hear the breezy tone of fait accompli in the hubris of the democrats as they encode the presumption of selfless duty to care for others into laws that compel it to see this is no moot point.

Be that as it may, Campbell's piece remains for me a potent bombshell for exactly the purpose I originally cited. Ayn Rand purposefully set out to champion The Virtue of Selfishness and dynamite altruism, both the sharp stick version and the toxic part of the smear. She was indeed an iconoclast. When there is a discussion in which warm-fuzzy is running wild and Rand is being excoriated as 'mean', that's the perfect moment to break back the other way. Campbell's piece serves perfectly.

I will add one thing: the formulation "her advocacy of libertarian rights" at the top of your essay took the starch out. The word "Objectivism" does not appear at all. I didn't feel I was hearing a defense of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Phil, Kenny, others...

Chris Cathcart's picture

The addition of Roderick Long to the editorial board definitely brings a Mises-Institute flavor to things, and it's just a plain fact that the Mises Institute is not well-regarded in the economics profession - not so much due to Mises himself (though reaction to him in the profession is mixed) but to the folks running the show now. We're all well aware of their methodological objections to mainstream economic science, but it's not like the mainstream hasn't adequately anticipated those objections. And deductive apriorism should be a big red flag to Objectivists who think empirical evidence is important.

I don't have a problem with Roderick Long being brought on there in its own right, but there's a politics surrounding that journal that is now decidedly "libertarian" in orientation and in what kinds of folks you'd expect to see publishing there. You will not expect to see serious ARI-affiliated Objectivists, namely Tara Smith, because for one thing, she can get published in more widely-read and well-respected journals within the profession. For another thing, diluting the interest and focus towards a "libertarian"-oriented bent means that much less emphasis on high-level understanding of Objectivism in its pages, something that Prof. Smith has but a number of JARS contributors do not. Campbell doing whatever non-psychology-oriented things in the pages of the journal is one example. Last I heard, he's never even bothered to listen to Peikoff's advanced lecture courses on Objectivism, something that serious and credible students of Objectivism should be at least very interested in doing. But someone who uses the term "Peikovian" in a journal article title is probably not all that interested in doing so.

If there are more advanced-level articles to be published, there are most likely more selective and respected journals in which they can be published. In its present format, I don't see how JARS is serving the cause of Rand studies in academia all that well. An increased emphasis on quality control is very much needed, starting with such things as using "Peikoff's" rather than "Peikovian" in a title.

John Donohue

Chris Cathcart's picture

I'm just now wandering onto SOLO with time management issues up the wazoo, but John, check out my piece in that same issue of JARS and Rob Bass's reply to both of us. I think my reply was much more on-point to the original criticism and I think Rob's response reflects that, but I'll leave that judgment to you.

My piece:

Rob's response:

Suffice it to say that I think Rob has a better grasp of the philosophical issues than Robert Campbell does.

I have plenty mixed feelings about JARS right now. On the cover of the latest issue, a piece by none other than Robert Campbell has the word "Peikovian" in the title. (where's the "face palm" emoticon?) There are quality people affiliated with the journal, like Lester Hunt and Eric Mack, but there's a reason it's not a major or well-regarded journal in the profession. Using "Peikovian" in a journal article title signals flakiness.

Flounced indeed ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... for the umpteenth time, and this time I took him at his word and blocked him. Brant knows this, but as a Brandroid his connection with candor is distant and disdainful. The Scherkian half-truth better serves his purposes. He's lucky I don't block *him* given all the flouncing he does, but then again his departures are usually amusingly enigmatic, and there's always his trampoline impersonation to look forward to.

I know practically nothing

John Donohue's picture

I know practically nothing about Robert Campbell. I've never been on a forum where he argued, never read anything by him, and I don't read The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. If indeed he is a destroyer or enemy of Objectivism, I would not know it. On the other hand, I do NOT know if he is not. So my situation is: I lack sufficient evidence at this moment to judge.

But I do know one thing: the pdf of an article about Ayn Rand's position on "altruism" written by Mr. Campbell which I somehow stumbled over one day is one of the most powerful, devastating and bullet-proof pieces I have ever read by way of demonstrating the actual root of Miss Rand's choice of that word to embody all she opposed in morality. I have linked this piece many many times in forums in which the discussion was on the very low level of "I liked The Fountainhead but how can I ever like someone who hates being nice to people and caring, you know, altruism?"

Just drop that bomb into a discussion where Ayn Rand is being thrashed for being cold, cruel and bonkers on "altruism" and listen to the deafening silence that follows.

On page 6 of that PDF is information pertinent to this thread, a mention of the Rand/Patterson exchange on altruism.


James S. Valliant's picture

... and doesn't want back, I guess.

But his lack of candor at the link he provided is plain to see.


Brant Gaede's picture

Neil is banned from SOLOP.


I Know! I know!

James S. Valliant's picture

Mr. Parille unable to say one thing actually about the thread on which he's posting.

And evading, as always, what's right in front of his eyes, and any pesky follow-up questions to his previous evasions.

As I weary of writing to him, no response is still no response.

(I would urge folks to follow that link provided by Mr. Parille to read my response.)

Too Funny

Neil Parille's picture

Is there anything funnier than Jim Valliant trying to play intellectual?


Among its many virtues, 'The Woman and the Dynamo' observes an error made by Rand's less-then-credible biographer, Barbara Branden, who wrote that both Paterson and Rose Wilder Lane had been "introduced" to Rand by the writer Channing Pollock in 1940. ('The Passion of Ayn Rand,' p.163) Cox observes that Paterson never seems to have even known Pollock personally. (Cox, p. 390, n49) The truth is that Rand took the initiative and called Paterson at her office – after the latter had ~ declined ~ the invitation to meet with Rand and Pollack "for the cause" in 1940 – and although they had briefly met several years previously – it was this later meeting which commenced their famous relationship. (Cox, pp. 218-220)

One can also add to Cox's corrections of Ms. Branden here by observing that Rand did not meet Rose Wilder Lane through Pollock, either. Rand wrote to Lane on November 30, 1945, that she was still unhappy that the two had yet to meet in person. ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 238) Finally, a letter from Rand to Lane dated December 13, 1947, opens with the following: "I was very happy that I had a chance to meet you at last after all these years." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 383)


This from the guy who can't even read what is before his eyes.

-Neil Parille

Other Opinions

James S. Valliant's picture

Those with a strong stomach may want to check out William Buckley's take on Pat. Bear in mind, he actively courted her for 'National Review,' once upon a time. For a more "reasonable" take, one must go here.

Like This?

James S. Valliant's picture

If you meant my mention of Campbell, Phil, here's a taste:

"I have read Mr. Valliant's book, however, and, in my opinion, it has a lot to do with the ARI true believer mentality. PARC shares with official ARI publications the presumption that Ayn Rand never did anything wrong and had no character traits that might merit criticism." (Mon, 2006-04-03 01:05. at

If he did read PARC, then dishonesty is the only appropriate diagnosis -- since I presume he's literate, given his claim to having read PARC.

And having editors with fair-minded opinions like that, it's no wonder certain writers refuse to publish in JARS. The absence of any Objectivist on the staff, under these circumstances, speaks volumes.

Give Us the Quote and Let Us Judge for Ourselves

PhilipC's picture

It's not possible for people to keep up with (or subscribe to in the case of journals and magazines) all the literature on Ayn Rand, whether it be the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies or books about Ayn Rand or critical books attacking Oism by Jeff Walker...or whoever.

A simple request:

Instead of telling us your characterization of what is said in / or an overall view of JARS or books by Walker or whoever, give us **substantive quotes of entire paragraphs** that show what you claim!!

That is not only protected by fair use, but it is what is expected in reviews, formal or informal. The same applies to Ayn Rand, like anyone else, unless it's very familiar material, give us EXACT AND FULL QUOTES. [James V just did this re: the Mencken thing above, although one might prefer an entire sentence or paragraph.]

(This would often apply to attributing non-Objectivist sources as well. For things which are not universally don't need to do it when you say Hillary advocates socialized medicine.)

Aaron of the Machine

James S. Valliant's picture

For those who aren't familiar with my friend Aaron Haspel or his website, God of the Machine, let me recommend both.

If I appreciate good poetry, it is, in large measure, due to Aaron's good taste and judgment about such things rubbing off.


James S. Valliant's picture

That's well observed, Aaron.

Even observing their all nighters still might not tell us much one way or another.


Aaron Haspel's picture

Jim writes, "While [Cox] concedes that 'the precise extent of her influence' would require overhearing their all-nighters for oneself..." Here I think he and Cox are both wrong; influence is a trickier matter than this, so tricky that it may be hopeless to disentangle. To demonstrate that one writer (call her P) influenced another (call her R), you have to show the following at a minimum:

1. That R read (or in this case, conversed with) P before writing the work in question. We have this much, at least, on excellent authority.

2. That P has a certain idea, or manner, or turn of phrase, that occurs later on in R. Jim rightly points out that even a short course in American government does not, in itself, constitute influence. If it did then I would have to cite my sixth grade teacher as an influence, which is unduly generous.

3. That R acquired the trope from P and not from somewhere else. The less common the trope is, the easier this is to prove, but it's never easy.

Authors are also often loath to admit their influences; sometimes they are even unaware of them. Ayn Rand, by no means the worst offender, cited Mencken as an influence in 1934; twenty years later she had whittled her predecessors down to Aristotle.

But surely someone who overheard every conversation between Rand and Paterson would be unable to gauge the matter "precisely," or even approximately.


James S. Valliant's picture

Not a "Catch-22," at all. Nope, this is putting the hungry fox in charge of the hen house.

Kenny, Some JARS essays are

Mike_M's picture


Some JARS essays are archived on The Philosopher's Index, if you have access to that.

Campbell and JARS

Kenny's picture

I will take a closer look at Robert's posts here. I tended not participate in the long and heated debates between Robert and other SOLO posters.

My experience of JARS is limited to downloading PDFs of several articles that authors have made available through their own or other websites. I was surprised by Roderick Long's appointment to the editorial board. He is a committed Rothbardian who calls himself a "left liberarian". The problem may be that Objectivists do not wish to be associated with JARS - almost a Catch 22 scenario.

Reasonable Expectations

James S. Valliant's picture

The problems involving Rand in Cox's book are significant enough that we shouldn't expect something called "the Ayn Rand Bookstore" to be carrying it, either, Kenny. And, yet, somehow, the legacy of neither lady will be much affected by this, I suspect.


James S. Valliant's picture

I suggest that you simply "track" his posts on this very forum.

Robert Campbell

Kenny's picture

Is Campbell an anti-Objectivist bigot or just an ally of the Brandens? My opinion of him has dropped considerably after reading his posts on a rare visit to Objectivist Living. However, I have seen nothing to suggest that Campbell is anti-Objectivist.


James S. Valliant's picture

Oh, Kenny, thank you for the opportunity to make this clarification.

A worthwhile book by Professor Cox does not convert 'The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies' into a fair or decent journal. That such a journal has NO Objectivist on its editorial staff -- but DOES have a real anti-Objectivist bigot like Robert Campbell working there -- are enough to indicate its toxicity level.

Stephen Cox, JARS and "Liberty"

Kenny's picture

Stephen Cox succeeded Bill Bradford as editor of both the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies "Liberty" magazine. I am delighted that Jim has given Cox's book such a positive review. It would grace the pages of "Liberty" and the "Free Radical" (Peter Cresswell take note please).

In a recent email, a well known SOLO poster (and friend of Jim) asked me why I have written for Liberty and suggested that I was therefore friendly with the Brandens, Sciabarra etc. Hopefully, my correspondent will have a more positive of "Liberty" and its new editor now.

How About Mencken?

James S. Valliant's picture

At least a case can be made for the writings of H. L. Mencken having a very early influence on Rand, for what it's worth. She wrote to him on July 28, 1934, calling him, "the greatest representative of a philosophy to which I want to dedicate my whole life." ('Letters of Ayn Rand,' p. 13) Rand is expressing her gratitude for his help in getting 'We the Living' the attention of publishers, but it's hard to fault Rand for insincerity -- there was no need to go this far.

Regarding Politics

Bill Visconti's picture

Thanks so much for this James. Its fascinating.

Regarding Ayn Rand's political theory, I find it telling that commentators think that Ayn Rand "borrowed from" or must have been "influenced" by libertarian thinkers. They don't understand that Rand's politics are the application of her ethics which are the application of her epistemology. I wouldn't be suprised if Rand's defense of capitalism was one of the last things she developed. It would make sense. She had to work it out not only for herself, but for the first time in history! No one before her had an objective theory of rights and based capitalism on the moral defense of individualism.

Also, the facts you present show that Ayn Rand once again comes through as a benevolent, caring person. I'm going to read Cox's book and reread "The God of the Machine." Thanks.

Proud Member Of The "Bomb-Them-Into-Oblivion" School Of Foreign Policy

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