Thursday, 11 January 2018

On Ridpath’s “The Academic Deconstruction of Ayn Rand”

Yesterday I read John Ridpath’s 2-page review of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (“The Academic Deconstruction of Ayn Rand,” The Intellectual Activist, January 1996 issue).

Ridpath has written a nasty review—he ignores the book’s content, and tries to discredit its author. He begins with a tirade against the academics who he says are “using current academic standards, methods, and language, and playing today’s academic game.” The aim of this game, he claims, is to “impress their peers with books upholding Ayn Rand as a ‘serious’ thinker.”

But why does he think that it is malicious to project Rand as a “serious” thinker? It seems that in his lexicon, a “serious” thinker must be a “Kantian” and “Hegelian” thinker. He offers an over-enthusiastic and under-informed rant against Immanuel Kant. Here’s an excerpt:

“The fundamental context for nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought is Kant’s severance of the mind from reality. Kant destroyed the basis of objectivity, and what predictably followed was a myriad of subjectivist options, all arguing over which consciousness (cosmic, collective, tribal, or personal) ruled and whether mystical access to realty is possible.”

After wrestling Kant in two paragraphs, Ridpath pounces on Hegel who he says developed a notoriously convoluted version of post-Kantian subjectivism. He thunders that Hegel’s philosophy is a “massive assault on the very precondition of objectivity” and “it centers on the assertion that reality and mind are the same.” He excoriates the neo-Hegelian clique in academia for being anti-Western, postmodern, deconstructionist and multicultural.

The first half of Ridpath's piece is an autopsy of academia, Kant, and Hegel—in the second half he finally turns his eye towards Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Ridpath hammers home the point that Sciabarra’s book is “preposterous in its thesis, destructive in its purpose, and tortuously numbing in its content.”

Ridpath accuses Sciabarra of being at base a neo-Hegelian and attempting to force Rand into the Hegelian mold and then presenting her to the academic world for its consideration.

But Ridpath does not offer an iota of evidence to back his assertions. In his article, he has not included a single quote from Sciabarra’s book. He has not analyzed any position that Sciabarra has taken. About his suggestion that Sciabarra is a member of a clique of neo-Hegelian academics, one can only say that it sounds curiouser and curiouser!

Ridpath’s article is condescending, illogical, and preposterous. He thinks that he can take on philosophers like Kant and Hegel, and the academic establishment (including Sciabarra) with a silly article of just 2 pages! This is overconfidence of the worst kind. Well, his review doesn't seem to have had any impact on the credibility of Sciabarra’s book. In the last two decades, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has become quite popular—it is now regarded as a valuable resource for those who are interested in Rand’s ideas.

PS: Here’s a link to an index of online and published reviews which do justice to Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical


Roger Bissell said...

Personally, I think that Ridpath was (and probably still is) eaten up with jealousy. (And he's not the only one. The list of Chris Sciabarra haters and bashers includes quite a number of people who would give their left whatever to have done what he has done. He has managed to write a book about Rand and philosophy that is at once profoundly insightful and thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable to read. (Unless you're a close-minded Orthodox Randian and/or a jealous wannabe who resents and wants to take down those whose accomplishments he cannot equal.)

Anoop Verma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anoop Verma said...


You are right. Jealousy really drips out of Ridpath's two page review. It is also worth noting that Ridpath wrote this review in heydays of the 1990s, when it was considered *normal* for the Objectivist scholars to think that they were the inhabitants of some kind of Galt's Gulch and the rest of the world was at war with them. From the accounts of that period, it is apparent that they used to think that they were the followers of the Philosophical Atlas and they would lead the world to the promised land or the utopia (Galt's Gulch). Alas, the dream of promised land was nothing more than a figment of literary imagination.