Rebirth of Reason


What the Hell Has Happened to the Radical Spirit of Objectivism?
by Chris Matthew Sciabarra

For the past few months, debates over the war in Iraq have raged among Objectivists. In most instances, Objectivist commentators have made a good-faith effort to apply rational ethical principles to the realm of international politics in the hopes of navigating through the intellectual quagmire surrounding this issue. Clearly, there is a wide range of reasonable differences of opinion on this subject.

Nevertheless, I am routinely distressed by the neoconservatism that has infected "pro-war" Objectivist commentary-prompting me to ask the title question. In all fairness, however, neither side to this debate has paid enough attention to the methods that Ayn Rand herself used in analyzing any social problem. Whatever one's perspective on the war, I think it is incumbent on Objectivist commentators to better acquaint themselves not only with what Rand actually said about international politics, but also with the radical ways in which she analyzed global affairs.

What do I mean by "radical"? To be "radical" is to grasp things by the root. But to examine roots and origins, to engage in any analysis of fundamentals, one must be committed to a thoroughgoing, comprehensive strategy. Rand's strategy entailed both logical and dialectical thinking. The art of noncontradictory identification (logic) required the concomitant art of context-keeping (dialectics).

In analyzing any social problem, Rand sought to understand its logical roots and its logical implications. This required an equal attention to its historical and systemic context. Why? Because every social problem has a past, a present, and many possible futures. Because no problem can be understood by being totally isolated and abstracted from other similarly constituted problems. Looking at the relationships among social problems helps one to elucidate their logical interconnections and the ways in which they both reflect and perpetuate the social system itself. And if one is a revolutionary, as Ayn Rand most certainly was, it is the current social system that must ultimately be changed.

And so, when I see Objectivists applying Rand's ethical thinking to the current global crisis in an abstract manner, with little attention to history or to the current social system, I am dismayed. Rand warns us that "the facts of reality-which includes history and philosophy-are not to be evaded" ("Conservatism: An Obituary"). She has also taught us that "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part III"). That domestic policy Rand identified as the "New Fascism," a statist civil war steeped in social fragmentation and political privilege. She insisted that a hypocritical and fatally contradictory U.S. foreign policy was its logical extension.

In a forthcoming article in The Free Radical, I attempt to resuscitate Rand's radicalism by exploring key elements in her critique of the New Fascism as a global system. "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" will appear in the May 2003 issue of The Free Radical (and it will appear on SOLO HQ in due course). While my writing of this article was prompted by the war in Iraq, it is not about the war per se. It is meant to be a timeless think-piece on foreign policy, exploring the implications of Rand's methods for a revolutionary assessment and resolution of the current global crisis.

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