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Hero of the Day - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Chris Matthew Sciabarra exploded onto the Objectivist scene in 1995 with the controversial tome Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

Russian Radical was a work presumably so scary in its implications that many a Randian hothead felt justified it condemning it one case, based on a scan of the jacket copy. A potentate of the movement who was an early reader of the manuscript saw fit to advise one university press that they should publish the book only if the Russian and dialectical themes—i.e., the heart of the argument—were scrubbed. (Gott help such "objective" Objectivist intellectuals.) To all public criticisms of the work, even those patently unfair, Sciabarra responded with superhuman patience, courtesy, and intestinal fortitude.

In the same week as the publication of Russian Radical, Sciabarra also published Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, a book partially derived from his doctoral dissertation (prompting Pete Boettke to observe at a book party for Chris that while other scholars must grind out their volumes slowly, Sciabarra produces them at the rate of "two a week").

What was so intimidating about Russian Radical?

Some didn't like the speculative delving into the Russian intellectual context in which the young Ayn Rand was educated. Yet many of the author's conjectures have since been confirmed, now that Rand's college transcript has come to light. Also angst-producing was his characterization of Rand's method as "dialectical," and the likening of aspects of her approach to the approach of sinister cogitators like Marx and Hegel. But Dr. Sciabarra had taken care to state explicitly that Rand rejected, and emphatically, any mystical or collectivist content of such thinkers, albeit sharing a dialectical sensibility. And his interpretation of Rand as dialectical only articulated more fully the attentiveness to context and integration that Ayn Rand herself had many times stipulated as epistemologically crucial—hardly turning Rand on her head.

Sciabarra has just completed the third volume of his dialectical trilogy, Total Freedom, which considers the history of dialectical thought and treats the work of Murray Rothbard in depth. Among other projects, Chris edits (working with Bill Bradford and Stephen Cox) the new semi-annual Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. And recently, his hard, patient, meticulous, years-long intellectual laboring all seemed worth the trouble when he was awarded the coveted post of TDO Academic Correspondent. At present, Chris is adapting material from his honors thesis, on the Pullman Strike, for an article to appear soon on TDO.

Chris discovered Ayn Rand in high school. "I was an outspoken political type," he told Full Context. "I had been involved in some pretty terrific battles with the Young Socialists of America who had buried the school in their propaganda. My sister-in-law had been reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and she said, 'I think you ought to read this woman, you'll find some similarities between what you're saying and what she advocates.' I wasn't a big fiction reader, so I read Ayn Rand's nonfiction first. I started reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Virtue of Selfishness, and it was as if I had found a whole new world. At the time, I was studying in an advanced placement course in American history, and I was able to bring to that class so many of Rand's insights on the history of capitalism."

"She also helped me deal with some pretty difficult personal health problems I had. Here was a woman who talked about heroism and potential rather than limitations. It was an articulated philosophy that gave me encouragement not to wallow in self-pity and dismay, but to make the most of my potential. So her writings had a tremendous impact on my life."

Copyright © 2000, The Daily Objectivist - Reprinted with permission of The Daily Objectivist and

12 Jun 2009