Nathaniel Branden about Rothbard's claims


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I have repeatedly seen posts on this forum or elsewhere on the Internet saying that Nathaniel Branden totally rejected Rothbard's claims in "The sociology of the Ayn Rand cult" or the rumors about Rothbard's Christian wife.

But I have never actually seen a statement from Nathaniel Branden on this subject.

Do you know where this can be found?

Thank you in advance.

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I found a slightly different compilation of what I have already presented, in a thread I labeled libertarianism. Peter

I wrote: How often have we heard someone extol altruism as the Supreme Virtue? Not just from Kant but from Christian pulpits and Religious Conservatives. “Sacrifice yourself,” we are told because, “We are all God’s children.” The sentence, “Share your toys,” from parents later in life, becomes share your hard earned wealth. If an altruist wants to help a pan handler or give to the Sisters of Mercy, that is their business, as long as they do not neglect their own families. Only the supposed Altruist also want to make YOU give up what you have earned.

I have heard the psychological argument that altruists are really just doing what they want to do for selfish reasons, like those of us with more, non-repressed, “sound” mentalities. The argument sounds like the rebuttal of Determinism argument from Barbara Branden, which was later stolen by Libertarian Communist (I have his words as proof,) piece of crap, Murray Rothbard. I don’t have Barbara’s Master’s Thesis handy but I do have Rothbard’s quote. And to be fair, the basic argument against determinism vs. volition was used by Kant and Blanchard too, but Barbara’s is the refined, latter-day, version.

Anyway here is Rothbard’s plagiarized version. Just juxtapose the concepts Altruism and Selfishness for Determinism and Volition. With a bit of tweaking this argument could refute Altruism at least in a personal, psychological sense, though not philosophically. It’s not a big point I am making but it is just a “Curiosity” to me, that Volition is required to be Altruistic *psychologically*. Do we take the Altruist at their word that they are not selfish people - in the closet?   

An excerpt from the article, "The Mantle of Science," published in the anthology *Scientism and Values* (ed. Schoeck and Wiggins, Van Nostrand, 1960), by Murray Rothbard: "If we are determined in the ideas we accept, then X, the determinist, is determined to believe in determinism, while Y, the believer in free will, is also determined to believe in his own doctrine. Since man's mind is, according to determinism, not free to think and come to conclusions about reality, it is absurd for X to try to convince Y or anyone else of the truth of determinism. In short, the determinist must rely, for the spread of his ideas, on the nondetermined, free-will choice of others, on their free will to adopt or reject ideas.

. . . In fact, if our ideas are determined, then we have no way of freely revising our judgments and of learning truth -- whether the truth of determinism or of anything else.

"Thus, the determinist, to advocate his doctrine, must place himself and his theory outside the allegedly universally determined realm, i.e., he must employ free will. This reliance of determinism on its negation is an instance of a wider truth: that it is self-contradictory to use reason in any attempt to deny the validity of reason as a means of attaining knowledge. Such self-contradiction is implicit in such currently fashionable sentiments as 'reason shows us that reason is weak,' or 'the more we know, the more we know how little we know.'" (pp. 161-2) END QUOTE

In a similar fashion, we must ask the individual for proof of altruism vs selfishness. If the Altruist claims they consciously sacrificed themselves to another for unselfish reasons rather than because, “they really wanted to,” it is like telling them that logically they could not have done so. I was thinking about this when I read David’s fictional “Charity.”   

What say you? Semper cogitans fidele, Peter Taylor

Danger! Additional, Olde letters follow. They may, or may not, be relevant. Read at your own risk.

NOTES: From: To: Subject: ATL: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 06:04:37 EST

Ellen Lewitt wrote me off-list, asking some questions about Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, and saying I might send my reply to Atlantis if I wished.

Here is my reply: << You asked if the rumor -- about Ayn Rand telling Murray Rothbard he must divorce his wife because she was religious -- was untrue. It was totally untrue. I was present at each of the (very few) meetings between Ayn Rand and Murray, and no such thing ever happened. Besides, it would have been totally out of character for her: she never told one spouse what he or she ought to do with regard to the other spouse.

To answer your other questions: Murray was never at all close with Ayn Rand. Despite his writings to the contrary, he met with her only a few times -- because she disliked him from their first meeting. When I later interviewed him for THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, he spoke to me about their meetings, clearly acknowledging that this -- that they met only a few times -- was true; obviously, he knew that I knew the truth, and that he could not pretend with me. I have the entire interview on tape.

Murray did not leave of his own choice. He had written an article (I forget for which publication) in which he clearly plagiarized my Master's thesis on the subject of free will -- that is, he used my arguments without giving me credit for them.  Nathaniel asked him to rectify this, perhaps in a letter to the editor of the publication; he would not have had to admit to plagiarism, but could say something to the effect that he had neglected to credit me. He refused, denying the obvious fact that he had plagiarized me -- and we ended our relationship with him.>> Barbara

From: "Reidy, Peter" <> To: Subject: ATL: RE: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 09:17:43 -0800

Barbara Branden writes that Rothbard "had written an article (I forget for which publication) in which he clearly plagiarized my Master's thesis on the subject of free will-that is, he used my arguments without giving me credit for them... He refused [to admit this], denying the obvious fact that he had plagiarized me-and we ended our relationship with him."

If this was the argument Nathaniel Branden has used several times in his lectures and writings (the determinist thesis is self-refuting because, if it were true, the most a determinist could say is that circumstances forced him to believe it, not that he had rational grounds for so believing), then, as ATL veterans will have read, old debbil Kant had used it about 150 years earlier, and Brand Blanshard presented it in "The Nature of Thought" before anyone in the Rand circle. Peter

From: "George H. Smith" <> Reply-To: "George H. Smith" <> To: "*Atlantis" <> Subject: ATL: Re: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 18:23:16 -0600

Greg Johnson wrote: "On the question of whether Murray Rothbard plagiarized from Barbara Branden's MA thesis, Peter Reidy writes that the "old debbil Kant had used it [the argument given by Nathaniel Branden and credited by him to Barbara, to wit that determinism is self-refuting] about 150 years earlier, and Brand Blanshard presented it in "The Nature of Thought" before anyone in the Rand circle." I do not, however, think that this is a relevant point, for two reasons.

"First, when I read the essay in question long before hearing about the plagiarism charges, I was struck that not only were the ideas the same as those expressed by Nathaniel Branden (I did not know their connection to Barbara at the time), but they were FORMULATED in almost exactly the same words . . .

continuing with Ghs letter: . . . Murray originally got these arguments from Barbara Branden's dissertation, but he didn't want to use a Randian source because, this being intended as a scholarly article, he felt that such a cite would appear disreputable. Thus, as Greg noted, he went searching for other sources that provided similar arguments. The irony is that he chose Thomistic texts, such as those by Phillips and Toohey, that had no more academic respectability than an Objectivist source would have had.

Unfortunately, Murray pulled a similar stunt with his book, *The Ethics of Liberty.* The original manuscript had many citations to the legal scholar Randy Barnett. But later, after Murray and Randy had an ideological split of sorts --one stemming from a paper ("Justice Entrepreneurship in a Free Market") that I delivered at a Princeton conference in 1978 -- Murray deleted many (though not all) of the references to Randy in the published version of his book.

Instead, Murray hired a friend of mine to comb scholarly journals in an effort to find other cites that could be substituted for Randy's. My friend delivered the goods, and Murray used these references without even consulting them.

Greg wrote: "Aside from the fact that he was "getting even" with Rand and the Brandens for calling him a plagiarist, I am sure that he thought--in a social metaphysical vein--that these would be more "respectable" citations than the MA thesis of Barbara Branden. Apparently Rothbard was so morally confused that he did not realize that this was tantamount to an admission of plagiarism. After all, one is a plagiarist if one does not cite the actual source of one's ideas. It does not matter if this source was not the originator of the idea in question. And one is still a plagiarist if one cites other works that were NOT where one learned the idea in question.'

In my opinion, it is a moot question whether it is technically plagiarism not to cite the source from which one originally learned an idea, when that selfsame idea was advanced by others *prior* the source in question. As other posters have pointed out, Objectivists were not the first to advance the argument that strict determinism is self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting. (Indeed, this has been a fairly common argument throughout the history of the free-will debate.) I can think of circumstances where it would be proper *not* to mention such a source -- for instance, if one learned of an idea by reading a general history of philosophy and then went back and consulted the original philosopher -- but in this case there is no good reason why Murray should not have cited Barbara's dissertation. His behavior was best extremely petty at best, as was his later treatment of Randy Barnett.

On a different but related issue -- I had a similar reaction to the fact that Ayn Rand deleted Nathaniel Branden from her dedication in later (post-split) printings of *Atlas Shrugged.* I faced a similar situation with my first book, *Atheism: The Case Against God,* which was dedicated, "To Diane, for the tender moments." By the time the book went to press, however, Diane and I had undergone a bitter split and were barely on speaking terms. Thus, in one of my less-than-tender moments, I considered omitting this dedication altogether, since it seemed so incongruous at the time. But I decided to let it stand, reasoning that the dedication reflected a past relationship and that to delete it would have been to falsify history, in effect. This was the right thing to do, and I have never regretted that decision. Ghs

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Here is an old document, Gio, that has four references to “Rothbard” and several for Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, and it may offer some clues, which is why I am reposting it. And it is interesting so if it does not help, others may appreciate it. Peter

 Objectivism and Academe: The Progress, The Politics, and The Promise By Chris Matthew Sciabarra Forum: Enlightenment's Online Conference

I’d like to open the discussion with just a few brief remarks about Objectivism and the academy: the progress, the politics, and the promise.

The Progress

The penetration of Objectivism into the academy is taking place through two basic means: First, through the scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand and her legacy. Second, by the extension and application of Ayn Rand’s philosophy to an ever-growing list of disciplines. The first means can be called, generally, “Rand scholarship” - that is, material that is about Rand and her philosophy (either critical or interpretive), but that is not necessarily produced by Objectivists. The second means can be called, generally, “Objectivist scholarship” - that is, scholarly work being done by those who work exclusively or predominantly within the general paradigm offered by Ayn Rand. I should note that it is certainly possible for those on the peripheries of Objectivism to contribute to this second means, by extending and applying (sometimes inadvertently) Objectivist principles through a critical engagement with Rand’s philosophy. (So there is obvious overlap between the two basic means; they needn’t be hermetically sealed from one another.)

Rand scholarship has had an unusual growth over the past five years. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of how Rand scholarship in particular has grown exponentially during this period. Since August of 1995, when Penn State Press published My Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, many, many books on Rand have appeared, including such works as Peter Erickson’s The Stance of Atlas, John Robbins’ Without a Prayer, Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult, Gene Bell-Villada’s The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand, Tom Porter’s Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, and Mimi Reisel Gladstein’s New Ayn Rand Companion, Revised And Expanded Edition. These works vary in their scholarly appeal, but each provides a very different take on Rand: historical, methodological, sociological, literary, and so forth.

More importantly, books have begun to appear in established serial collections of a canonical nature: Tibor Machan’s Ayn Rand is part of the Peter Lang series on Masterworks in the Western Tradition; Allan Gotthelf’s On Ayn Rand is part of the Wadsworth Philosophers Series; Douglas J. Den Uyl’s the Fountainhead: an American Novel and Gladstein’s Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto of the Mind are part of the Twayne’s Masterwork Studies series; and, of course, my own coedited anthology, with Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, is part of the “Re-reading the Canon” series put out by Penn State Press. And let’s not forget the publication of the first three Cliffsnotes monographs, on Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, all authored by Andrew Bernstein. What is really significant about these publications is that each is a part of a larger series, in which Rand is placed on the same shelf with every other major thinker or literary artist in the Western tradition. If ever there were a sign of Rand’s entrance into the pantheon of serious philosophical and literary consideration, her appearance in such series is cause for celebration - whatever the worth (or lack thereof) in any individual work.

Of course, as one of its founding editors, I should also point out a scholarly publication that straddles both Rand studies and Objectivist Scholarship: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which gives every indication of being a place where people working in very different traditions meet to discuss Rand’s ideas and legacy.

All of these developments have been noted by important periodicals inside and outside of academia: including the Chronicle of Higher Education, the National Post, Lingua Franca, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and even the Village Voice.

Scholarship on Rand or in the growing Objectivist tradition is also being aided by a continuing publication of posthumous “Rand” books, emanating from the Estate and from associates of The Ayn Rand Institute, including such works as The Ayn Rand Lexicon, Rand’s Marginalia, her Letters, her Journals, and her lectures as presented in The Art of Fiction and The Art of Non-fiction.

The Politics

What needs to be noted, however, is that some of the books mentioned herein provide us with a snapshot of the politics surrounding Rand and Objectivist studies. Of course, there is the typical politics that Objectivism must face from without: those who do not take Rand seriously, and who doubt the seriousness of any scholars who do. Often, this politics is quite literally political; that is, it is usually motivated by those who know that Rand is an uncompromising defender of capitalism, and who dismiss her work as an apologia for the corporate state. This left-wing bias is sometimes matched by a right-wing bias coming from those traditionalists who have always looked at Rand suspiciously, given her atheism and stance on civil liberties. These biases, while real, are withering to some extent. It is not that they are nonexistent; it is that the more that is published on Rand, the more the study of Rand and Objectivism is legitimated. As this young industry grows, even the critics must present sustained argument, rather than dismissal by “purr and snarl words,” if they wish to be taken seriously.

From personal experience, I can say that I have never, and I do mean never, received any stunning rebuke for mentioning Ayn Rand in class, whether as an NYU undergraduate (in the late 1970s) or as an NYU graduate or doctoral student (in the early-to-mid-1980s). Sure, sometimes, if I mentioned Rand, like in an introductory philosophy class, I’d get a little chuckle from the teacher. But sustained questioning, done with respect, often elicited more careful discussion. Possibly because I was always good-natured, even when criticized, I felt more and more comfortable bringing up Rand’s name in politics, economics, and history classes - in classroom discussion, on exams, in term papers. I was not naive; I had decided early on that I’d write a book on Rand, but I chose not to focus on her in my doctoral dissertation. I was encouraged, nonetheless, by my Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, to write a dissertation on Marx, Hayek, and Rothbard - with some bulky references to Rand.

When the time came for my oral defense, I introduced Rand’s name several times; the five professors who interrogated me voted to pass me with “honorable distinction” - on the condition, they said, that I not undermine my career so quickly by publishing a book on Ayn Rand before my projected volume on Marx and Hayek. We all laughed; I pledged that Rand would surely be number two on my list of projected books, and that they need not worry!

The point of this little autobiographical digression is this: I think that more depends on how you introduce Ayn Rand into an academic setting than on the simple fact that you do. As a colleague of mine once said, if you learn how to play nicely, and show respect to the other boys and girls in the sandbox, nobody will threaten to take your pail and shovel away. Often, the respect you receive will be a function of the respect you provide.

I was warned early on in my libertarian education not to be self-victimized by what was called “The Great Libertarian Macho Flash.” If you enter an academic discussion by beating people over the head with an ideological bludgeon, you will not get very far. On matters of academic exposition, one should not begin a conversation with the implicit premise (summarized well by Nathaniel Branden): “I’ll give you one chance... if you don’t get it, your soul be damned!” Do your best to relate your own views to the views of your opponents, to understand the interests and contexts of each audience that you address so as to bridge the gaps between you. We all have to provide a bit of translation among the traditions that we actively engage if we are going to be understood and appreciated.

Aside from the politics that surrounds Objectivism from without, another form of politics or partisanship comes primarily from within Objectivism. Ambrose Bierce once defined politics not as “the art of the possible,” but as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” Some of Rand’s more orthodox followers give substance to Bierce’s insight. What I mean by partisanship here is not simply the taking of a strong position in the intellectual give-and-take. It is support of a position based not on the correctness of the ideas, but on the source of those ideas - the group, the faction, or the party from which the ideas emanate. Partisanship is the opposite of objectivity.

Since the lexicons, the marginalia, the letters, journals, and lectures come ultimately from the Rand Estate, one would hope that they would be presented free of partisanship, with a willingness to open the facts of reality to scholarly discussion and evaluation. Sadly, this has not been the case. Let me say at the outset that we will find lots of value in these books; but unfortunately, there are distortions that can be found in the texts, which cast an unnecessary shadow on their authenticity. This is not a good thing for Rand studies or Objectivist studies, since scholars working within these areas require reliability in the sources they consult. I’ve written about this subject at some length; see for example:

Ultimately, the problem with the release of edited material from the Estate is that when we don’t have the original source with which to compare the material, we are left at the mercy of editors who sometimes do not recognize the importance of that which they have edited. (A less generous interpretation of such editing is that the editors DO know the importance of what they are editing, but this makes their actions even more tragic.)

In some instances, even the original sources have been altered. The Art of Fiction, for example, is based on Rand’s lectures on fiction-witing, but the lectures that are selling at Second Renaissance Books have been edited down from 48 to 23 hours, as Russ LaValle has pointed out. Unfortunately, even the audio lectures themselves have been edited. And some of those edits are curious, to say the least. For instance, in attendance at Rand’s 1958 course were Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Anytime either of these individuals speaks, a narrator interrupts the tape to tell us that “at this point in the lecture, a [nameless] student asked Miss Rand the following question . . .” Such air-brushing of reality is never completely successful, because those of us who know Barbara’s or Nathaniel’s cough or laugh can detect them in the background.

The Ayn Rand Institute is in the process of establishing an archival library, wherein the original lectures will be available. The work of the institute, in terms of the preservation of original documents and lectures, has been exemplary. But we can only hope that someday the archives will be open to bona fide independent scholars who do not have to pass a litmus test in order to conduct research, and who will be able to view materials without the distorting influence of editorial intervention.

The interesting thing about partisanship is that it often depends less on direct criticism of competing ideas (since that would entail actually entering into a respectful dialogue with one’s opponents), and more on an absence of competing ideas. It is a perverse Hegelianism: it is the absence that speaks louder than the presence. Ultimately, the orthodoxy is creating a kind of ideology - and I use this word in a pejorative sense, in this context. As John Davenport once wrote: “The hallmark of ideology is always to rule out alternatives before they can be critically considered.”

Several examples of this occur in Gotthelf’s book, On Ayn Rand, a fairly straightforward primer. He claims in that book that he wishes to deal only with primary sources, and will discuss secondary sources at another time. Still, he dismisses Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand for its “gratuitous psychologizing,” its “embittered” tone, and its “factual errors,” but he never actually provides the title for Branden’s book. He He dismisses the theses that Rand that Rand was ever influenced by a dialectical orientation or that her methodology or even her interpretations of Nietzsche were influenced by her Russian teachers.

Gotthelf is criticizing implicitly those who might hold such positions; but one can find no reference to Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical or its author, wherein such claims are examined quite extensively. Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is used as a primary source (Peikoff’s post-publication condemnation of Gotthelf’s book notwithstanding), but one will not find any reference to work by those who are persona non grata with the orthodoxy, including Machan, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, and Gladstein. There is no mention of David Kelley’s Evidence of the Senses or of Nathaniel Branden’s Psychology of Self-esteem (even though this latter work is filled with “approved” writings that Branden authored while he was associated with Rand). Gotthelf only states that Branden and Rand were friends, and that those wanting more information about the end of their relationship should consult Rand’s version of the story as published in the May 1968 issue of THE OBJECTIVIST.

This same bibliographic myopia is on display even in Bernstein’s Cliffsnotes. At the end of each of the monographs, there is a “Cliffsnotes Resource Center.” In every other monograph published by Cliffsnotes, one will find a nice diversity of sources cited for the particular author and work under consideration. In Bernstein’s monographs, here are the books listed under “Critical Works About Rand”

Letters of Ayn Rand (edited by M. Berliner)

The Ayn Rand Lexicon (edited by H. Binswanger)

Journals of Ayn Rand (edited by D. Harriman)

The Ayn Rand Reader (edited by G. Hull)

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand - by L. Peikoff

The Ominous Parallels - by L. Peikoff

None of these books is a critical work on Rand. Rand’s major works of fiction and nonfiction are listed thereafter, as are some Internet addresses (ARI, for example), and some films and audio recordings (the Paxton documentary, Ayn Rand: a Sense of Life, plus Rand’s Fountainhead, Love Letters, and You Came Along).

The only non-orthodox source listed is “The Passion of Ayn Rand” - not Branden’s biography, but the Showtime “film based on Ayn Rand’s life.” I was actually quite shocked to find this listed in the bibliography, but not surprised by the omission of information that would have identified the film as based on the Branden book.

Sometimes, the orthodoxy promotes those Objectivist scholars whose works even it criticizes as “burdened at times by an overly ‘academic’ style” - as Second Renaissance Books characterizes Tara Smith’s Viable Values: A Study of The Root And Reward of Morality.

As Objectivist scholarship goes, I think Smith’s book is worthy of our attention - whether or not we agree with her approach to Rand’s ethics - and I enjoyed the recent symposium on Viable Values at the December 2000 Ayn Rand Society meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Having met Smith, I am impressed especially by her willingness to engage with non-Objectivist academics in such a forum.

Still, I was disappointed that Smith’s book does not engage academics who have long published on the subject of Objectivist ethics. Considering that she presents a case for eudaimonia based on Rand’s ethical egoism, and that her arguments for human flourishing share much with positions offered in the early 1980s by theorists such as Den Uyl and Rasmussen (in Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, and later, in 1991, in their Liberty And Nature), it would have been good to see her situate her own work within this growing literature, to compare and contrast her approach with those who have come before her. I should note that Lester Hunt contributed to this literature in a paper for the 1996 meetings of the Ayn Rand Society, for which Tara Smith served as a commentator. Smith refers to her comment, in Viable Values, but nowhere mentions the paper by Hunt on which she commented. Neo-Aristotelian eudaimonism is happily on the rise in many quarters (even on the left, in the work of Marxist Roy Bhaskar); to not notice its champions among writers influenced by Rand is especially regrettable.

The Promise

There are other books being published, of varying quality, that seek to actively engage, extend, and apply Rand’s work to an ever-growing number of disciplines. The most important of these, in my view, is Torres and Kamhi’s What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. It is the first book that attempts to place Rand’s philosophy of art within the history of aesthetics, and that attempts to apply and extend Rand’s principles in an analysis of contemporary trends. The good news about this effort, however, is the dialogue that it is sparking: it has already provoked two reviews in The Objectivist Center’s Navigator, and has inspired a forthcoming symposium on Rand’s aesthetics in the Spring 2001 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS). This symposium features contributions from Objectivist philosophers, Rand sympathizers, and Rand critics - both Marxist aestheticians and traditionalists. This is the kind of critical engagement that will promote not only discussion of an important book, but of one of the most neglected aspects of Objectivist philosophy. And it is my hope that such discussion will branch out into publications outside our little universe.

One thing that I must emphasize about such symposia is this: as an editor, I do my best to keep scholars on the “high ground.” Sometimes, however, I will work with a scholar who has an intransigently negative view of Rand. In such circumstances, I will ask for clarification and amplification, but I almost always throw caution to the wind; there are many scholars on the left and the right who have read Rand and who have few prospects for publishing their own negative musings on Rand’s work. It is my view that a journal like JARS can be a place where such negativity is put on display - as one means of counteracting it, since we open our doors to those who will reply in kind, pointing out such an author’s errors or biases. I maintained this same approach in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, in which we printed previously published essays by authors such as Susan Brownmiller, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, and others, who were deeply critical of Rand. Fans of Brownmiller or Harrison might pick up the book, nod in agreement, and then, suddenly, find themselves in a quandary, as they read other essays in the book that challenge their cherished negativity. We’ve got to stop being fearful of this negativity; there’s lots of it out there - and it is going to take a gargantuan effort to overturn it. Better to notice it, and to respond to it. With each exchange, Rand’s work gains legitimacy. And as my colleague Roger Bissell points out, it was Rand herself who once said: “It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course...” I think Objecitivism can withstand the rocking.

Other scholarly exchanges among those sympathetic to Rand are taking place as well. I am particularly pleased by the recent publication of Roderick Long’s Monograph, Reason And Value: Aristotle Versus Rand, as part of TOC’s Objectivist Studies series. What is extremely important about this monograph (and others like it in the series) is that it features a dialogue among three participants: Long, Fred Miller, and Eyal Mozes. By weighing the perspectives of Rand and Aristotle, scholars working within or on the periphery of Objectivism, challenge some important aspects of Rand’s work. The challenge must ultimately result in refinement, revision, extension, application, and innovation.

I’d be remiss to not notice, in this context, the important work of Enlightenment, which is also extending the challenge by providing us with net access to a remarkable growth in work by budding Objectivist scholars. I am personally amazed by how much work is being done and I applaud the efforts of Carolyn Ray, Tom Radcliffe, and others connected to the Enlightenment project and the forthcoming Journal of Objectivity.

Just a cursory look at Enlightenment’s website shows us the work of dozens of authors, who have written dozens of essays and critical analyses, working papers, doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, and bachelor’s theses. The site also provides access to important email discussion lists, including “Analytic,” a list conceived, created, and run by Bryan Register; “Dictionary,” conceived and run by Carolyn Ray; and “Locke,” a read-list only, which provides a guided introduction for Objectivists to Locke’s work.

The web is extremely important to the future of Objectivism and the academy, and Enlightenment is taking advantage of this fact in many important ways, including, of course, its sponsorship of this Online Conference. We have barely touched the potential of the web. As technology advances, more and more long-distance education options become possible. (I, myself, continue to teach long-distance classes, such as my “Dialectics and Liberty” course.) Online education is a very fruitful area for development; it provides an alternative means for spreading Objectivism via a “parallel institution,” as Rothbard once called it. Actually, on this point, Rothbard echoes the views of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, who argued that Marxists could and should provide alternative educational and cultural organizations as one means of infiltrating the larger culture; over time, these organs of “civil society” penetrate the culture. They not only undermine established institutions from without; they are sometimes absorbed by established institutions, which are then undermined from within. The importance of using this parallel strategy in combination with the strategy of penetrating established educational institutions is that it provides us with a multi-pronged approach to undermining the intellectual status quo. The strategies are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, complementary.

I’d like to conclude with a few observations about the kind of Objectivist scholarship that we are most likely to see in the future. I’ve often argued that scholarship proceeds by a kind of hermeneutic: as more and more people enter a dialogue, each brings to that dialogue a personal context of knowledge with which to interpret the texts under consideration. The tacking back and forth between the intentions of the author as expressed in the text and the perspective of the interpreter creates a dynamic that almost always advances the dialogue further. Inevitably, competing schools of interpretation emerge, and the debates intensify over the original author’s meaning, and the implications and applications of the author’s ideas.

This is how most schools of thought have developed. Let’s take two schools in particular: the Marxist and the Austrian.

After Karl Marx’s death, two central schools developed: the orthodox and the revisionist. Engels promoted the orthodoxy by publishing many of Marx’s works posthumously. Other thinkers, like Eduard Bernstein, began a necessary “revisionist” critique of some Marxist ideas, while adhering closely to the Marxist paradigm. In Russia, Plekhanov took Engels’ writings on the dialectics of nature and developed a more formal “dialectical materialism.” Lenin applied Marx’s theories to the context of a “pre-capitalist” country (Russia) and developed Marxist-Leninist ideology. The works of Freud and Reich were integrated with some of Marx’s earlier, more “humanistic” works, by the Frankfurt school of Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, and others. By the end of the twentieth century, we were being offered competing pictures of Marx: the Aristotelian Marx (Meikle), the Hegelian Marx (G. Lukacs), the dialectical Marx (Ollman), the analytic Marx (Roemer), and even Marx the Market Socialist (Lawler and Schweickart - who have learned a lot from Hayek!). The point is that all of these developments have come from individuals working within the Marxist paradigm. And as their work has multiplied, it has affected every discipline from aesthetic criticism to political economy to cultural anthropology.

The same can be said, on a more modest level, about the Austrian school of economics. Developing out of the works of Carl Menger, Friedrich von Weiser and Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, the modern Austrian school of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek has given birth to a veritable industry in Austrian economics. Some have approached the body of Austrian theory in a deductivist or “rationalist” or “aprioristic” manner more consistent with Mises’ Human Action (e.g., Rothbard), whereas others have taken a more Hayekian route that stresses evolutionary processes and the unintended consequences of human action. Still others have taken the lessons of hermeneutical method and developed a kind of Austrian hermeneutics (e.g., Lavoie, Horwitz, Boettke, and others). (I discuss all of these developments in my newest book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.) Some stress the radical “subjectivism” of the theory (Lachmann), whereas others incorporate lessons on objective value from the classical school of political economy (Reisman). There are now very spirited debates within Austrian economics - taking place in Austrian-inspired journals and in mainstream journals alike. All indications are that Austrian theory is slowly emerging from its position as a relic of the history of economic thought to a vibrant, living paradigm, with its emphasis on the primacy of process as a foil to static, neoclassical economics.

The simple fact is: You can’t keep an idea down. Even bad ideas become fertile ground for major theoretical developments. Such developments are even more exciting when the ideas are good ones.

I think we are seeing the beginnings of such an evolution in Objectivism, and I do not think that this is anything to fear. There will be those who argue that the core of the philosophy will necessarily be stripped of its essence, and watered down. But that is not necessarily the case; what will happen is that as more and more people join the ranks of scholars who take Rand and Objectivism seriously, there will be more and more opportunities for different interpretations and developments within the paradigm provided by Rand. Some of those developments we will like, and some we won’t. But the great thing about an exploding industry is that there will be more and more opportunities to debate this or that development and its consistency with Rand’s philosophical framework - and ultimately, with reality, which, after all, is what matters most.

I see a Promised Land that will only be reached by the hard work and effort of dedicated individuals, who eschew dogmatism, who take ideas seriously, and who pursue this project with the intellectual honesty it requi Review of Chris M. Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical

It has been my extreme delight to witness the emergence of a new hero in the history of ideas: Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar at New York University. Though he is hard at work on his next book--Total Freedom, a study of the theory and history of dialectics--the reverberations are still echoing from his second book, which I review here.

Also, check out Chris' website, which is really quite amazing. Chris Sciabarra's website

Roger E. Bissell

Dialectical Objectivism?

A Review of Chris Sciabarra's

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical 

by Roger E. Bissell 

Few works with the level of scholarship evidenced in historian and political theorist Chris Sciabarra's book about Ayn Rand's philosophy have generated such a visceral, polarized response: scathing hostility and scorn on the one extreme and glowing, enthusiastic praise on the other. While an examination of personalities and events surrounding the preparation and subsequent reception of this book would be a fascinating study in its own right, the present review will focus instead on the thesis that spawned the controversy.

 Rand's philosophy of Objectivism was born in the aftermath of her final and most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, though the spiritual core of its ethos apparently dates back to her adolescence in Russia. That Objectivism champions reality, reason, egoism, individualism, laissez-faire capitalism, and romantic art has been common knowledge to its supporters and enemies alike for several decades. What is new in Sciabarra's thesis, what has set everyone on their ears--with either delight or outrage--is his claim that the methodology by which Rand developed her philosophy is the "dialectic."

Although Sciabarra doesn't provide a one-sentence, genus-differentia definition of "dialectic," the description he gives (pp. 14-18) portrays dialectics as a methodological orientation with six basic, interrelated characteristics:

 (1) holism--a commitment to preserve "the analytical integrity of the whole," to see its essential parts as "distinctions within an organic unity...inseparable aspect[s] of a wider totality," which cannot be "fully understood in the absence of the other[s]";

 (2) contextualism--a commitment to perform both abstraction and integration when studying a "whole from the vantage point of any part," rather than reifying its parts and treating them atomistically as if they were independent of the whole;

 (3) synchronic, or structural, or systemic, internalism--a commitment to grasp the systemic, often reciprocal, interrelationships among the various parts that constitute a whole (and especially the various theoretical issues that together form a wider philosophic context);

 (4) diachronic, or dynamic, or historical, internalism--a commitment to recognize the historical, often conflictive, interrelationships among the various events in the origin, development, and modification of a whole (and especially the past, present, and future course of a system of ideas); and (as a consequence of the first four)

 (5) a "revolt against formal dualism"--a commitment to treat only fundamental alternatives as being "mutually exclusive or exhaustive" and to seek to transcend the limitations of the half-truths in traditional, false dichotomies; and

 (6) radicalism in theory and practice--a commitment both to strive for a fundamental, critical understanding of a system and to advocate and work toward fundamental, revolutionary changes in the system.

 Although this description of dialectics seems to reveal quite clearly both its nature and its value, it is also, in this reviewer's opinion, a rather unwieldy checklist. But, then, the subject of methodology is not a simple one either. Eventually, one hopes, once the differences and similarities between dialectics and other methodological orientations are more fully sorted out, Sciabarra will zero in on a more elegant, concise (dare it be said: genus-differentia?) statement of what dialectics is. In the meantime, one other specific concern about his existing set of criteria should be addressed: the point about dualism appears to be overly one-sided (almost monistically so!) in its emphasis.

 Sciabarra provides ample illustration of Rand's "revolt against formal dualism," i.e., her policy of consistently rejecting false alternatives in every branch of philosophy: e.g., materialism vs. idealism in metaphysics, rationalism vs. empiricism in epistemology, altruism vs. hedonism in ethics, and statism vs. anarchism in politics. She discovers the common false premise in each pair of "ism's" and projects the truly opposite alternative view. Or, as in the dichotomies "between mind and body, reason and emotion, fact and value, theory and practice," she clarifies the common ground, usually overlooked, that ties the two phenomena together in an integral whole. (p. 17)

 Yet, Rand's approach is not, strictly speaking, the "transcendence of opposites," but rather the transcendence of, or moving beyond the limitations of, false opposites. Indeed, she was all for legitimate polarizing, for insisting that certain basic distinctions be recognized: e.g., identity vs. the supernatural, reason vs. irrationality, individualism vs. collectivism, sacrifice vs. the "trader principle," individual rights vs. the initiation of force, and capitalism vs. statism.

 In other words, Rand was just as adamant in opposing "monistic reductionism," the attempt to reduce one of two coequal principles to being a mere spinoff or disguised version of the other. Private property is not a form of theft, nor shouting "fire" in a crowded theater a form of free speech. Freely chosen acts between consenting adults are not a form of sacrificial exploitation, nor benevolent giving a form of self-sacrifice. Rational conviction is not a form of faith, nor reason a mere rationalization of one's underlying emotions. Non-existence is not a special kind of existence, nor consciousness a mere epiphenomenon of matter (or vice versa).

 Although Sciabarra notes many such points and correctly states that "dialectical method is neither dualistic nor monistic" (p. 16), a glance at the index of his book reveals a staggering disparity in the amount of treatment he gives to dualism (references covering 1-1/2 columns) compared to the 3 lines he gives monism. If, as it seems, Objectivism is just as much a revolt against the latter--and if, as Sciabarra says, "the best way to understand the dialectical impulse is to view it as a technique to overcome formal dualism and monistic reductionism" (p. 16)--one would hope that this inequity would be addressed in any future editions.


As to the structure of the book itself, each of its three main sections explores Rand's philosophy from a distinct, important perspective and in a very smooth, readable style throughout. Not surprisingly, Sciabarra finds the dialectical method to be unmistakably implicated in each instance and supports his case with voluminous citations derived from a thorough knowledge of the Objectivist literature. (His task was made considerably more difficult, and his achievement all the more admirable, by the fact that so much of Objectivism exists not in printed form, but as taped lectures.)

The four chapters of Part I, "The Process of Becoming," constitute a "diachronic" focus on the intellectual roots of Objectivism, i.e., on the historical process involved in "Rand's intellectual groping toward synthesis." (p. 11) Sciabarra's talents as an intellectual historian shine forth as he delves deeply into both Rand's educational background and the cultural conditions in Czarist and Revolutionary Russia, and as he carefully traces the gradual development of her outlook and ideas after she moved to America. He finds much evidence to suggest that Rand, throughout her life, was "a profoundly Russian thinker" whose views were, in large part, "an evolved response to the dualities that [she] confronted in Soviet Russia." (p. 10)

At times, due to handicaps such as the spottiness of academic records during Rand's college years and incomplete disclosure of Rand's early journals, Sciabarra was forced to resort to "argument from best explanation." The most intriguing examples of this approach were in regard to the questions about whether Rand actually studied, as she claimed, with Nicholas O. Lossky at Petrograd University during the 1921-22 academic year, and whether she might have gone through a Nietzchean phase, seemingly represented by certain colorful passages appearing in the 1933 edition of We the Living but removed from the 1959 revised edition (and which she referred to as "editorial line-changes," attributed to her earlier awkwardness in writing in English). In both instances, Sciabarra's "best explanation" ends up extending the benefit of the doubt to Rand, but questions remain.

Part II, "The Revolt Against Dualism," is a "synchronic" presentation, in six chapters, of the formal structure of Objectivism, beginning with the more abstract theoretical domains of metaphysics and epistemology and working on down through psychology and aesthetics to ethics and politics. Aside from Leonard Peikoff's recent book (Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 1991, Dutton), this is probably the best overview of Rand's philosophy available. And it has the additional virtue of highlighting the important work done in epistemology by David Kelley, in psychology by Nathaniel Branden, and in ethics and value theory by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, names seldom written or uttered by Peikoff and those in his, the more "orthodox" faction of the Objectivist movement.

Throughout this section, Sciabarra's reconstruction of Objectivism shows repeatedly "how it is an inherently dialectical and nondualistic formulation that differs considerably from conventional alternatives." (p. 11) Frequently, this entails elucidating the necessary "internal" relations between, for instance, existence and consciousness and identity and causality; between reason and emotion, cognition and evaluation, conscious and subconscious processes; between life, the rational, and the good; between the moral, the practical, and the happy; etc. Such a vista of conceptual connections, composed of elements in relations of "reciprocal causation and mutual reinforcement" actually seems more consonant with Rand's discussions of the various ideas than the standard hierarchical "strict logical dependence, or one-way causality" model we are more used to seeing from Objectivist writers.

Packed into the three chapters of Part III, "The Radical Rand," is the most original and challenging part of Sciabarra's thesis and the strongest part of the book. One of the key aspects of dialectics, and the major consequence of the "revolt against formal dualism," is the commitment to radicalism: the refusal to bifurcate human life into two hermetically sealed domains of theoretical, abstract, ivory-tower knowledge and practical, concrete, real-world action. The impulse to radicalism was prominent in Russian intellectual history and was fully expressed in Rand's philosophy. Sciabarra's acumen as a political theorist is highly impressive. He seems not to miss a single opportunity to weave together the many seemingly unintegrable aspects of Rand's thought into a highly compressed microcosm of Rand's own radical outlook.

Sciabarra identifies three levels of analysis of the power relations that underlie and sustain statist social systems: the personal (relating to ethics and mental function), the cultural (regarding language and ideology), and the structural (economics and politics). Rand had much to say about each of these distinct, but inseparable aspects of social systems, and she saw a thorough, deep-seated parallel between the political trends, culture, and lifestyle of the "social sphere" and the individual life path, conscious convictions, and subconscious of the "individual sphere." Sciabarra's tightly integrated treatment of Rand's radical social philosophy must be read to be fully appreciated.

Notwithstanding the engaging qualities of the main part of the book, it would be a sad oversight not to mention Sciabarra's excellent Notes, References, and Index. The Notes, in particular, give a fascinating peek at some of the behind-the-scenes work Sciabarra had to do in preparing his book. A couple of nitpicks: (1) Note 27 on p. 405 refers to Peikoff's course on logic, which could not have been in 1947 and which had only 10 lectures; the citation should (probably) thus read "Peikoff 1974T, Lectures 1 and 3." (2) The Letters of Ayn Rand, attributed on p. 450 to Douglas B. Rasmussen, should instead, of course, follow Rand's The Morality of Individualism, halfway up the page.

Note 20 on p. 408 is particularly noteworthy, since it concerns the concept of "objective" itself. Sciabarra points out that Peikoff, in his original course on Objectivism in 1976, referred to perception as "objective," as an application of the trichotomy of objective-subjective-intrinsic. Rand corrected him, on the assumption that "normative terms such as 'objectivity' cannot be applied to automatic processes such as perception." This reviewer finds Peikoff's unfortunate recanting of his original, illuminating discussion of the metaphysical status of sense data to result in a conflation of the normative sense of "objective" with the relational sense pertaining to the three kinds of phenomena focused on by the trichotomy.

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that, despite the overwhelming evidence and logic Sciabarra offers in his book, certain Objectivists have spoken out in rather caustic terms against his perspective. They vehemently resist identifying Rand's philosophic method with the dialectic, mainly it seems because of their acceptance of the traditional assumption that dialectical method is equivalent to Hegelianism or Marxism. Rand is not Marxist, therefore (they reason), her method could not be dialectical.

Sciabarra, however, firmly lays to rest both this assumption and the false conclusion drawn from it. He points out that even Hegel referred in laudatory manner to Aristotle as the "Father of Dialectic" and that Rand herself said that the only intellectual debt she would acknowledge was to Aristotle: "Rand was profoundly correct to view her own system as the heir to Aristotelianism. Ultimately, it might be said that her debt to Aristotle concerns both the form and the content of her thought." (p. 19).

In addition, Sciabarra shows just how thoroughly entrenched the dialectical method was in Russian culture--especially in her textbooks and in the minds of her professors--at the time Rand went to college. This argues convincingly for the strong likelihood that Rand absorbed the dialectical methodology from her milieu, even while emphatically rejecting the various religious and Marxist conclusions others derived with it. By this many-faceted approach, Sciabarra claims (and this reviewer concurs), he has offered "the best explanation yet published for the origins of Rand's unique approach to philosophic and social analysis." (p. 19)

In this connection, it must be noted that certain Objectivists often voice another nagging concern (and, unfortunately, not always in a calm, civil manner), namely, that linking Rand and Objectivism in any way, even methodologically, with thinkers she so despised as Marx and Hegel, will ultimately cause serious harm to the Objectivist movement and philosophy. But as Rand herself was fond of saying about allegedly fragile situations, "A boat that cannot stand rocking, had better be rocked fast and hard." Surely this dictum applies no less to her own system of ideas. And aside from those with a vested interest in the pristine isolation of Objectivism from rigorous academic scrutiny, it is difficult to imagine who could find fault with Sciabarra's masterful efforts to garner more mainstream attention to (not to mention respect for) Rand's philosophy. The truth will out.

In any case, while Sciabarra's methodological insights place Rand's development and that of her philosophy much more clearly in historical perspective, these revelations, he stresses, need not in any way tarnish her reputation as a staunch anti-Marxist nor lessen her originality and importance as a thinker. They simply identify the fact that "Rand's use of dialectical method was as essential to her historic formulation of Objectivist principles, as was her original synthesis in the realm of content." (p. 20) And although neither the various parts of its content, nor the use of dialectical method, is peculiar to Objectivism, when the method and content are considered together, they constitute Objectivism's fundamental distinguishing (i.e., defining) characteristic. It is their integration into a new system of thought that is unique, Sciabarra says, and therefore worthy of serious, deep study by scholars.

As Sciabarra observes: "Objectivism is a seamless conjunction of method and content--of a dialectical method and a realist-egoist-individualist-libertarian content." (p. 381) This unique synthesis, linking "a multilevel, dialectical analysis to a libertarian Rand's most important contribution to twentieth-century radical social theory." (pp. 319, 381) And, this reviewer would like to add, with Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical, as well as Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY, 1995), now under his belt, Chris Matthew Sciabarra has emerged as one of the most provocative, and enjoyable, writers on the history of ideas of the twentieth century.

Roger Bissell is a professional musician and graduate student in psychology in California Coast University in Santa Ana, California. A previous essay, "Dual-Aspect Theory of Agency," appeared in Reason Papers, No. 1, Fall 1974.

This review essay was published in Reason Papers, No. 21, Fall 1996, pp. 82-87. For information, contact Editor, Reason Papers, School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA 92866.

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This is not on topic (again) but I found this old letter from Ellen Moore about a mistake Ayn Rand “may have made.” Ellen lived in Canada and taught classes on Objectivism. I will stop quoting for now. Peter

 From: Ellen Moore To: Atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Rand's definition(s) of Reason – Bill Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 10:32:16 -0500. Bill, I'd like to get some dates more specifically recorded, and I'd appreciate it if you'll assist.

The Objectivist Ethics was copywrited by Rand in 1961 and 1964.  Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" early definition with "perceives" was in 1957, and this def. was included in the first edition of VOS.  I know because I have a first edition paperback of VOS first printed in December, 1964. I thought she may have applied for the second copywrite ~because~ she had changed her definition of reason to be "identifies and integrates". But I have no proof of that.  This essay was published only in VOS, as far as I know, until at least 1964 and maybe in later editions.  Does anyone know when the final definition first appeared in VOS?  I know that in my 10th printing the def. had changed to "identifies and integrates", but I don't have copies of printings 2-9.

When exactly was the definition changed, and what was her reason?  Well, I don't know exactly when, but I think I know why.  I simply do not think that it was because of the story Branden tells because the issue is much more complex than NB's line " we don't perceive the evidence of our senses."  As Rand answered the questioner, "You cannot have knowledge without a sensory base."  So even in her final definition, Rand stated the essential base by including "material provided by man's senses.   And in ITOE she wrote, Reason is "not axiomatic, but a complex derivative concept."  I think she had good reasons to define 'reason' as she did.  More on reason later.

Bissell's post, Ch.1, referred to Branden's early 60's lectures on Objectivism where he discussed the flaw and the fallacy in her definition of reason.  Yet he stated that VOS was published with her later definition of reason, with "perceives" cut out, in 1964. But, my edition of 64 still has the earlier definition.

You say that. "The evidence is contained in Nathaniel's lecture, 'Objectivism: Past and Future', in which he mentions the change in Rand's definition of reason that occurred in 1961, four years after the publication of _Atlas Shrugged_."  I have no knowledge of such a lecture, so I suppose it was published after the break of 1968.  Is this correct?  Is this lecture also Bissell's source for the Branden comments?

The story Branden tells would lead me to believe that the young student who asked the question also suggested to her at that time that the new definition of reason should include ~only~ "identifies and integrates". Did NB state what year this Q & A event took place?  As NB's story unfolds, it was the questioner who deserves the credit - if anyone does other than Rand - meaning no one else had the right, or the opportunity, to change her definition.  Yet, NB's story, years later, takes the credit for persuading her to change it.  When NB adds that he "had the feeling" that Rand did not want to admit in print that she'd made a mistake, I get suspicious.  The young unknown questioner is the one to be given credit.  Still, one is left to wonder, "did Rand steal that man's suggestion?"  Isn't this just another shifty attempt by Branden to malign Rand by telling such a story in such a manner?

Then, you say that "the revised definition which appears in _For The New Intellectual_ (1961).  Bill, I have a second printing hardcover of the first edition of FTNI, and although I have searched through it three times I cannot find any statement of Rand's final definition of reason. If you are right, would you give me the page number?

I agree with you that students of Objectivism would have benefited by learning about Rand's reasons for changing her definition of reason. Nevertheless, I do not think that NB's story helps to enlighten us on her reasons.  We know she did cut the term 'perceives' from the definition, yet she did include "the material provided by man's senses."  [If I grasp what Bissell is claiming is fallacious, it is because she included "identifies" with "the material provided by man's senses.']  If Bissell is correct in believing that Branden is correct, then I must ask, "Why was Rand so resolute in maintaining such a fallacy in her final definition?" and  "Is this really a "fallacy" according to Rand, or are Bissell and Branden "whistling in the wind"? Ellen Moore

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