More on Hymowitz

Friday, September 14, 2007

Many thanks to those who sent readers to yesterday's post on the Kay Hymowitz hatchet job or posted their own comments here or at other blogs.

The Hymowitz editorial was in one sense very difficult to address and in another sense very easy. Its difficulty rested in the fact that Hymowitz committed numerous errors and basically threw every conservative smear and libertarian cliche she could at Ayn Rand. Where does one begin?

The ease rested with the fact that for her attack to be effective, it had to have a point. Those in public education who make her career as a writer possible still do have some work cut out for them. Her central point is what needed to be attacked and what dictated how to attack it.

Needless to say, there remained lots of room for further commentary, which several others undertook. Most notably, (1) Allen, Rational Jenn, and some commenters at Noodle Food take issue with Hymowitz's ridiculous assertion that Ayn Rand regarded the family as a "soul-killing prison", (2) Joseph Kellard picks apart some of the points I passed over in a comment here and posts an address at his blog to which readers can send letters to the editor of Commentary magazine (where the Hymowitz piece originally appeared), and (3) Qwertz comments on Hymowitz's "factual and interpretive errors". From that last:

Hymowitz commits many of the same errors that are de rigeur for the Libertarians she finds so amoral. Integration by nonessentials. Argumentum ad populum. Affirming the consequent. Substituting a definition of a concept for the concept itself. And of course, my old favorite, failure to recognize the ought in an is. [bold added]
It is indicative of Ayn Rand's increasing cultural influence that articles like this appear from time to time. And yet, such articles -- with Ayn Rand's friends around to defend her -- also represent opportunities to increase that influence.

As someone who first became interested in Ayn Rand because of someone writing something like this, I see such malfeasance for what it is: Yet another opportunity to set the record straight, and thereby introduce even more thinking people to the work of this highly original intellectual.

-- CAV

Updates

Today: Rational Jenn, mother and Objectivist, has posted something about what Ayn Rand actually has said about family.
9-17-07: Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard weighs in. I agree that Hymowitz owes a public apology for this -- erm -- piece of work.

6 comments:

Jim May said...

Hi Gus,

Reading this post, I thought of something I wrote to a fellow HBL member a few days ago; he was concerned about the "Ayn Rand basher cottage industry" based largely on the Branden hatchet jobs. Ilya Somin at Volokh is one of them, for instance, citing Barbara Branden's hatchet job as a "scholarly" source (that and his insistence that anarchism is a serious political alternative, just about finishes his intellectual credibility.)

In responding to the HBLer, I noted that:

1. the "bashers", for the most part, are mostly confined to the libertarian movement, and are therefore not very influential.

2. the Left's dominance in the culture at large ensures plenty of snarkiness directed at her, but compared to the first, it's fluffy nothingness

3. Few, if any, of her critics are any good at it. I'd swear that the vast majority of anyone who criticizes her nowadays hasn't read anything she wrote -- or at most read one fiction title. They'll even say so openly. It's like shooting fish in a barrel; the main problem we face is when the barrel is jam packed with 'em!

Is anyone else noticing this? It seems to me that the caliber of her critics is going down; the criticisms I saw on Usenet in the mid 90's seemed to be thought out a lot better than what I see on blogs/comments these days.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's an interesting observation, and I hope that someone else who actually was on the Usenet more than I was in the '90's would comment on that. (Having said that, I think you're probably correct.)

Assuming your observation holds, it remains hard to interpret. Yes, our job exsposing such nonsense/defending Rand (or more properly, getting people to see her taking care of herself) is easier.

But does this reflect a more general lowering of the level of intellectual debate in our culture?

Joseph Kellard said...

Gus,

Thanks for your mention of my commentary on the Commentary essay, and for linking to my blog.

You ask about this essay: Where does one begin?

Well, as I began to read the essay, and the author’s initial focus was on politics/economics, I said to myself: I just hope that she has the brains to focus on libertarianism’s philosophic grounding, particularly its morality, since this is the main issue with the movement. And she soon got around to discussing morality and stuck to it, making it the fundamental focus of the essay. While she correctly identified the subjectivism underlying the morality, she unfortunately kept hammering home the point that libertarians don't understand that liberal subjectivism won't bring them unregulated capitalism -- conservative "traditionalism" and "family values" will.

The point I plan to hammer home in the letter I plan to write is how Ayn Rand offered a unique, distinguishing fundamental philosophy, particularly her morality of rational self-interest, and only from this can support for unregulated capitalism fully arise and succeed.

Moreover, I will make the point that Rand totally disavowed libertarianism, believing they utterly bastardized her ideas. I’ll do this because, apparently, many journalists/commentator seem unaware of this. Since libertarians cite her as an influence, they conclude that Rand was a libertarian. I once emailed this complaint to a journalist who referred to Miss Rand as a libertarian. She wrote back to me that she wasn't aware that Ayn Rand condemned libertarians and totally disavowed the movement.

Gus Van Horn said...

Joseph,

You're more than welcome. Thanks again also for mentioning the address for the LTEs.

It is not surprising that Rand's non-association with libertarianism is something like a well-kept secret.

This might make it okay to chalk up to ignorance a casual mention of Rand as a libertarian, but the undisguised contempt for Rand coupled with the length of the article and the amount of research it took (which apparently stopped short of actually reading anything by Rand herself) makes this impossible with Hymowitz, barring a later, very sincere mea culpa on her part.

I won't be holding my breath for that.

Gus

Jim May said...

References to Ayn Rand as a "libertarian" -- where that simply refers generally to the larger genus of free-market politics which *ought* to be called liberal, but in America cannot be, due to the Left's subversion of that term to mean socialist politic -- are fine by me; in that usage, it's true.

But as soon as that word is used to mean the actual party or even the larger libertarian movment, then it's time to straighten people out.

Tangentially related: keep an eye on Drudge. As of right now, he has a link saying "In Ayn Rand, CEOs find defense of success" but that link just goes back to Drudgereport.com right now. I don't think I've seen him put her on his front page before.

Gus Van Horn said...

Jim,

First of all, thanks for the tip. I'll keep a lookout for it. But yes, that's annoying that his link does not even go to one of his "flash" temporary thingambobs.

I know what you're talking about WRT to there being a correct context (That was my teeth grinding you just heard.) for calling Rand "libertartian", although I increasingly regard even it as unacceptable, given how the Libertarians have subverted that term like the left did "liberalism".

Gus