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'Goddess of the Market' by Jennifer Burns

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Does anyone have an opinion of the very recent Ayn Rand biography, Goddess of the Market, by Jennifer Burns? I just finished reading it earlier today. It seems extensively researched and very scholarly. Unfortunately it's written by an opponent who, in turn, doesn't genuinely understand Objectivism. Still, getting to revisit Ayn Rand's truly heroic life -- and watching her revolutionary and ingenious thought develop -- was thrilling.

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What makes [author Jennifer Burns] an opponent?

Notwithstanding her extreme familiarity with the conservative, libertarian, and Objectivist movements since the 1930s, Professor Burns seems to be a standard-issue leftist academic.

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I don't quite understand why I should he tempted to read this. The title is off-putting, and you say the author is writing about Ayn Rand but doesn't understand Objectivism. What am I missing? Just watch Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Guarranteed to be more accurate and more inspiring because you get the story from people who knew her and understood her.

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Oh dear.

Couldn't help but notice that the host most certainly didn't read the book, from the way he claimed he did :D

Actually, I came away thinking that Stewart understood Ayn Rand's work more than the "PhD" Burns did. Not that he isn't part nihilist though.

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Oh, I'm sure he understands it well, since he is making his career out of being a Toohey or a tool to a Toohey.

But he refers to "all this dirty sex" which I find rather strange, since the FH has maybe a page out of 700 and AS a couple of scenes out of 1,300 pages which could fit the bill. Any book written today will likely have dozens of pages dedicated to the matter, and in a much more graphic manner; I even remember reading as a teenager those special forces popular fiction books, and THAT had its fair amount. Let's not even begin with either the chick lit or the "artistic" crap that this guy's audience probably reads on a regular basis.

However, this was shocking to the public back when the FH came out; as such, I do feel that he's only read the mid-20th century reviews and deduced his conclusions from them.

I disagree re:comprehension. I got from this that Burns is making a career for herself. She sounds smart and cynical.

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Oh, I'm sure he understands it well, since he is making his career out of being a Toohey or a tool to a Toohey.

But he refers to "all this dirty sex" which I find rather strange, since the FH has maybe a page out of 700 and AS a couple of scenes out of 1,300 pages which could fit the bill. Any book written today will likely have dozens of pages dedicated to the matter, and in a much more graphic manner; I even remember reading as a teenager those special forces popular fiction books, and THAT had its fair amount. Let's not even begin with either the chick lit or the "artistic" crap that this guy's audience probably reads on a regular basis.

However, this was shocking to the public back when the FH came out; as such, I do feel that he's only read the mid-20th century reviews and deduced his conclusions from them.

I disagree re:comprehension. I got from this that Burns is making a career for herself. She sounds smart and cynical.

Burns may be cynical, but is hers a sophisticated cynicism? or the garden-variety cynicism of the mediocrity? I didn't get the sense that she even understands philosophy, Objectivism, or Ayn Rand's influence. In two instances on the clip, she confesses as much. Then again, she could be lying to cover her moral tracks. She flatly and wholly attributes Ayn Rand's purpose and achievements to her early life in communist Russia. This is an amateurish denial of free-will and ability.

Stewart, on the other hand, recognized that Ayn Rand was an "extraordinary person" and, true to his egalitarianism, posited that Objectivism could only work for extraordinary people. This is a valid point for a first-time reader to make.

It's about time these naysayers gave up though. The whole I-hate-Ayn-Rand ship has sunk. Objectivism is like nothing you have ever encountered. Deal with it.

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Mercury - I mean philosophically cynical, in that she thinks she can make a faster buck by following Toohey's footsteps. It's hard to be taken seriously when you're a social sciences academic - this will give her fame and some degree of a following, and of course revenue from book sales. Would another Objectivist book have sold as well? Other than Ayn Rand's works, how many books do ARI writers sell vs. say Obama's "life story"?

Stewart may say so, but I wholeheartedly disagree. When I first read the Fountainhead it gave me extraordinary hope, because for me the message was not "if you are a hero you will succeed" (i.e. Roark is somehow special) but "success is resilience and refusing to compromise, and it is moral and leads to happiness". This was really the first instance of somebody telling me that great people are not great because they are born that way, but because they made themselves great. I may not be as smart as the guys getting scholarships to MIT and Stanford, but I have plenty of willpower. Stewart's message is akin to Moore's in his recent disgusting film when he claims capitalism is about preserving an elite on top and an exploited working class at the bottom, with no possibility of movement upwards.

Unfortunately Burns is right in one aspect - the Ayn Rand popularity cycles. Until a Republican President like Reagan has the moral courage and integrity to cut statism, all we'll see is cycles of two flavours of statism, one cycle with Republicans screaming for the Socialist's head, the other with Ayn Rand quietly put on the top shelf of the library until the next Democrat wins. I would LOVE to be proven wrong.

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Also, the part of the FH that gave me, personally, as a non-high flyer (at least not academically), hope was Keating, ironically. Keating "could" have become a great painter. The message I got out of this is that everyone, not just Roark, has a talent or passion lying latent to be discovered. I didn't need more than this brief description of Keating's lost talent.

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Mercury - I mean philosophically cynical, in that she thinks she can make a faster buck by following Toohey's footsteps. It's hard to be taken seriously when you're a social sciences academic - this will give her fame and some degree of a following, and of course revenue from book sales. Would another Objectivist book have sold as well? Other than Ayn Rand's works, how many books do ARI writers sell vs. say Obama's "life story"?

There is no other kind of cynicism, rtg24. When I wrote "cynical," I meant philosophically cynical.

She may be out for money, and has obviously benefited from her smears; but I suspect her lack of knowledge will come into play at some point. What will happen when her errors, already documented on at least one blog, are made public? I mean, calling Ayn Rand a "conservative"? That is old hat.

Stewart may say so, but I wholeheartedly disagree. When I first read the Fountainhead it gave me extraordinary hope, because for me the message was not "if you are a hero you will succeed" (i.e. Roark is somehow special) but "success is resilience and refusing to compromise, and it is moral and leads to happiness". This was really the first instance of somebody telling me that great people are not great because they are born that way, but because they made themselves great. I may not be as smart as the guys getting scholarships to MIT and Stanford, but I have plenty of willpower. Stewart's message is akin to Moore's in his recent disgusting film when he claims capitalism is about preserving an elite on top and an exploited working class at the bottom, with no possibility of movement upwards.

I, too, disagree. I took some of what you did from The Fountainhead. But, you can't assume your own psychology is the general case.

For instance, consider your interpretation of Roark's struggle as "success is resilience and refusing to compromise, and it is moral and leads to happiness." I grew up under military dictatorships (with brief civilian interregnums) during which many principled activists (journalists, lawyers, writers) were either assassinated, impoverished, or hanged. Even though they became societal heroes, they were sacrificed. They had a vision of society; yet, they died in the arms of their dreams. Given that reality, how does one explain Roark's success? Now, I'm not saying I don't know the answer to that question. I'm just trying to point out that these answers aren't obvious to many people. Notice that conscientious study of Objectivism is a sign of some specialness in the student.

I agree that Stewart's message is akin to Moore's. They are both egalitarians. Which is why idealistic slogans like "healthcare for all" appeal to them. Only Objectivism can counter this: "Individual rights are inalienable." The egalitarian's problem is coming to terms with the "extraordinary" individual.

Unfortunately Burns is right in one aspect - the Ayn Rand popularity cycles. Until a Republican President like Reagan has the moral courage and integrity to cut statism, all we'll see is cycles of two flavours of statism, one cycle with Republicans screaming for the Socialist's head, the other with Ayn Rand quietly put on the top shelf of the library until the next Democrat wins. I would LOVE to be proven wrong.

Reagan did some good things, but we are yet to see a real champion of capitalism (Objectivist or not) in the Oval Office. In my opinion, we are not likely to see one until the Left-indoctrinated students at, say, Berkeley are no longer the elite. There are many old and established altruist ideals, practices, and institutions which will have to be discredited or destroyed before a capitalist world emerges.

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What will happen when her errors, already documented on at least one blog, are made public? I mean, calling Ayn Rand a "conservative"? That is old hat.

Nothing. Her audience is the kind that doesn't bother digging. This is how the socialists are still popular.

I grew up under military dictatorships (with brief civilian interregnums) during which many principled activists (journalists, lawyers, writers) were either assassinated, impoverished, or hanged. Even though they became societal heroes, they were sacrificed. They had a vision of society; yet, they died in the arms of their dreams. Given that reality, how does one explain Roark's success? Now, I'm not saying I don't know the answer to that question. I'm just trying to point out that these answers aren't obvious to many people. Notice that conscientious study of Objectivism is a sign of some specialness in the student.

Is the answer to run away from that country?

Reagan did some good things, but we are yet to see a real champion of capitalism (Objectivist or not) in the Oval Office. In my opinion, we are not likely to see one until the Left-indoctrinated students at, say, Berkeley are no longer the elite. There are many old and established altruist ideals, practices, and institutions which will have to be discredited or destroyed before a capitalist world emerges.

Immediately, I thought of Milken's heroic work towards destroying the management elites (for which he was thanked with jail and a ban on his own profession).

But how can the educational and political elites be destroyed?

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My impression was that her treatment of Ayn Rand was more honest than most, but her commentary still offers no value to anyone who actually understands Objectivism. Coming from a collectivist world-view, I can understand why Burns saw Ayn Rand as being a reactionary against Communism, and as being a member of the right, since she can only see groups, not individuals. I did like when she said Objectivism was about being the hero of your own life, which is why I say she seemed more honest than other leftists in her research. But I'll repeat what I said above, that if you really want to know more about Miss Rand and be inspired by her life, watch A Sense of Life, or whatever else has been put out there featuring information from people who knew her personally and understood her philosophy.

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I grew up under military dictatorships (with brief civilian interregnums) during which many principled activists (journalists, lawyers, writers) were either assassinated, impoverished, or hanged. Even though they became societal heroes, they were sacrificed. They had a vision of society; yet, they died in the arms of their dreams. Given that reality, how does one explain Roark's success? Now, I'm not saying I don't know the answer to that question. I'm just trying to point out that these answers aren't obvious to many people. Notice that conscientious study of Objectivism is a sign of some specialness in the student.

Is the answer to run away from that country?

But, what if there's no freer country to run to? The answer would ultimately depend on the context. But, broadly speaking, I would say leaving the country. Fighting a dictatorship, once established, is the worst possible political situation. Even if some opposition to the regime were formed abroad, there would still have to be "foot-soldiers" within the country willing to fight, and many will, of necessity, die fighting.

Reagan did some good things, but we are yet to see a real champion of capitalism (Objectivist or not) in the Oval Office. In my opinion, we are not likely to see one until the Left-indoctrinated students at, say, Berkeley are no longer the elite. There are many old and established altruist ideals, practices, and institutions which will have to be discredited or destroyed before a capitalist world emerges.

But how can the educational and political elites be destroyed?

The essence of any cultural battle is philosophical. If America becomes a dictatorship before the educational tables turn (i.e., Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Objectivist Ethics being compulsory first- and second-level courses at all the major universities), then we will very likely have to turn to violence. But, this is a worst-case scenario. I hope it won't come to that.

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For me, a large part of the pleasure of this book was tracing out Ayn Rand's marvelous, fascinating life, step-by-step, from a fresh perspective which is, at least, internally consistent.

But if that isn't enough, or someone thinks they already have her bio down cold, it's fun and interesting to watch her form her ideas, also set-by-step, and see when they came into play during what fictional work, and in regard to what historical event, or in response to which personal and/or intellectual influence. It didn't happen by magic; it was often a hard slog; and it's truly thought-provoking and inspirational to watch the lunar rocket soar.

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But, what if there's no freer country to run to? The answer would ultimately depend on the context. But, broadly speaking, I would say leaving the country.

I agree, and whilst France is no dictatorship, I look forward to having a blue passport, or at least a green card...

There can't not be free countries to run to!

The essence of any cultural battle is philosophical. If America becomes a dictatorship before the educational tables turn (i.e., Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Objectivist Ethics being compulsory first- and second-level courses at all the major universities), then we will very likely have to turn to violence. But, this is a worst-case scenario. I hope it won't come to that.

1. I think this needs to be done privately. I have turned to explaining Objectivism without mentioning the key words (Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Atlas, Roark, etc.). Once I have thoroughly beaten my opponent at arguing, assuming he is open to a rational argument, I tell him where to read further into this. And make sure to include classics which aren't Ayn Rand, such as Hayek. I think the way to do this would be to have schools that teach reason to children, but call it "reason" rather than "Objectivism". One day...

2. Violence is manageable with superior technology (Galt) as we are in much smaller numbers. At the moment we do not have this advantage (and scientists are overwhelmingly liberal thanks to on-campus indoctrination). I am not sure about the next 50-100 years. Technology is no longer a government monopoly, even if they may have a few decades' leadership in military equipment. But I don't think we'll need it, as the world rebalances and the US needs to compete again.

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For me, a large part of the pleasure of this book was tracing out Ayn Rand's marvelous, fascinating life, step-by-step, from a fresh perspective which is, at least, internally consistent.

But if that isn't enough, or someone thinks they already have her bio down cold, it's fun and interesting to watch her form her ideas, also set-by-step, and see when they came into play during what fictional work, and in regard to what historical event, or in response to which personal and/or intellectual influence. It didn't happen by magic; it was often a hard slog; and it's truly thought-provoking and inspirational to watch the lunar rocket soar.

But what you mention is already out there through her own journals and other writings. And there are many other people such as Mary Ann Sures and Jeff Britting that do a good job of giving an indepth look into what Ayn Rand went through and how her thoughts progressed.

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The essence of any cultural battle is philosophical. If America becomes a dictatorship before the educational tables turn (i.e., Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Objectivist Ethics being compulsory first- and second-level courses at all the major universities), then we will very likely have to turn to violence. But, this is a worst-case scenario. I hope it won't come to that.

1. I think this needs to be done privately. I have turned to explaining Objectivism without mentioning the key words (Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Atlas, Roark, etc.). Once I have thoroughly beaten my opponent at arguing, assuming he is open to a rational argument, I tell him where to read further into this. And make sure to include classics which aren't Ayn Rand, such as Hayek. I think the way to do this would be to have schools that teach reason to children, but call it "reason" rather than "Objectivism". One day...

The private efforts you outline above are the methods you'll need to spread Objectivism on a local, piecemeal level -- to "convert" a friend, a business partner, a lover. For cultural transformation, however, there will have to be a thorough, large-scale revamp of secondary and entry-level university curricula with a solid emphasis on logical methods, both inductive and deductive; historical philosophical trends, errors, and their consequences; the proper foundations of mathematics, statistics, concepts, definitions, and propositions; and so on. Although some of these ideas are Aristotelian and some of the technical issues have been expanded upon by various individuals, I think it would be unwise to call them "Reason," which is a broad term that can be co-opted by anyone, as we have seen with Immanuel Kant. I think we will have to name the philosophy so that skeptic philosophical challengers of the future know what they are up against.

Ayn Rand provides an outline of what needs to be done in a Columbia University interview given sometime between 1962 and 1966. The interview can be found in Objectively Speaking - Ayn Rand Interviewed. What I have written here, though, is my view, not hers.

2. Violence is manageable with superior technology (Galt) as we are in much smaller numbers. At the moment we do not have this advantage (and scientists are overwhelmingly liberal thanks to on-campus indoctrination). I am not sure about the next 50-100 years. Technology is no longer a government monopoly, even if they may have a few decades' leadership in military equipment. But I don't think we'll need it, as the world rebalances and the US needs to compete again.

When I referred to violence, I was not thinking of dedicated Objectivists forming some tiny army and then fighting everybody else; that would be suicide. That's not how revolt would occur. Under a complete dictatorship, there would first be an ideological priming of the hostage populace over many years. There would be rebel leaders in prison; pamphlets passed in secret; several (or many) rebels martyred by the government. Then there would be rebel leaders abroad or in hiding, forming a shadow government, and passing messages via a technology the government must not be able to infiltrate. There would be regular inspirational broadcasts referring to the better times promised by the new ideology of freedom. There would be appeals to the military forces of the ruling regime, some of whom would be increasingly sympathetic to the struggle. Over time, hopefully, the dominant rebel leaders would be Objectivists. Then, something breaks, likely the exploitation of a crack in the regime's defenses; followed by a period of fighting which would be long or short depending on how much groundwork has been done. Then, Freedom.

Whether we enter into dictatorship or not, my current thinking is that the re-education of the elite in objective thinking methods will take at least a half-century. The Church, the Mosque, superstition, skepticism -- all these have been around for millennia. They will not go quietly. Prepare for battle.

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A

of Burns' attitude toward Rand, from a book promotional tour stop at Kepler's Books:

From her intro to her talk:

"You may know Ayn Rand as a cheesy novelist beloved by generations of adolescents... there is a grain of truth to this stereotype, but what I argue in my book... is that, instead, we should consider Rand the ultimate gateway drug to life on the American Right."

She concedes that, since most others on the political right are religious and Rand is an Atheist, she wouldn't call Rand a Conservative herself, but would "put her on the political Right." Again proving how vapid, misleading, and rationalistic the Right/Left axis is as a serious tool of classification. In casual speech it's fine, I use it here, but Objectivism doesn't fit on such a scale, when the Left considers the Left itself "The People" and the Right The authoritarian Elite. The irony of that, in light of history and the current administration, is profound.

She's worked a long time on this, studying the unedited journals of Ayn Rand and many other sources... and this is what she has come up with.

She's snide, and, though she's dived deep, she's come up shallow. It will never be a go-to book for the ideas of Ayn Rand, but it's encouraging that it may expose a few unruined student minds, since it is, as Burns is, a product of the academic Left.

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My impression was that her treatment of Ayn Rand was more honest than most, but her commentary still offers no value to anyone who actually understands Objectivism. Coming from a collectivist world-view, I can understand why Burns saw Ayn Rand as being a reactionary against Communism, and as being a member of the right, since she can only see groups, not individuals. I did like when she said Objectivism was about being the hero of your own life, which is why I say she seemed more honest than other leftists in her research. But I'll repeat what I said above, that if you really want to know more about Miss Rand and be inspired by her life, watch A Sense of Life, or whatever else has been put out there featuring information from people who knew her personally and understood her philosophy.

It is sad to see someone (Burns) work so hard at honest history for so long, even with access to the ARI archives, and come out of it with such a shallow, often confused academic understanding of Ayn Rand herself, i.e., her ideas, what she stood for and what motivated her. She does a credible job in answering some of the stock criticisms of Ayn Rand posing in the form of interview questions -- at least often bringing the topic back within range of the real world -- but Burns' own lack of understanding repeatedly leads to false statements and serious distortions as she tries to formulate Ayn Rand's position and motives in her own flowery writing, often with dramatic characterizations not intended to be negative but which are equally dramatically wrong. This in turn misrepresents Ayn Rand's own history despite Burns' attempt to honestly use objective source material. It illustrates that one cannot understand history without understanding the ideas that cause it.

You can see this in any of the interviews linked above or in this NPR interview including Burns' platitudes about lack of "balance" in Ayn Rand following cliched misrepresentations.

A good preliminary analysis of the book capturing what has happened is here referred to by Ed Cline here on Burns' own website.

Burns political analysis attempting to relate Ayn Rand to the "right" is consequentially equally misleading in these interviews. Unfortunately that was supposed to be the main purpose of the book, and Burns is apparently becoming a minor celebrity during her book tour promotion over a topic for which there are far better sources -- such as Sense of Life mentioned above and Ayn Rand's own extensive non-fiction writing.

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Burns may be cynical, but is hers a sophisticated cynicism? or the garden-variety cynicism of the mediocrity? I didn't get the sense that she even understands philosophy, Objectivism, or Ayn Rand's influence. In two instances on the clip, she confesses as much. Then again, she could be lying to cover her moral tracks.

She appears to be a serious scholar, not a hack covering anything. She began this project as a graduate student in history for serious and valid academic reasons; I would not accuse her of cynicism in publishing and promoting the book.

She flatly and wholly attributes Ayn Rand's purpose and achievements to her early life in communist Russia. This is an amateurish denial of free-will and ability

I think that superficial, bogus explanation of Ayn Rand, amounting to subjective speculation, is an example of what happens to historical analysis without serious conceptual understanding.

Stewart, on the other hand, recognized that Ayn Rand was an "extraordinary person" and, true to his egalitarianism, posited that Objectivism could only work for extraordinary people. This is a valid point for a first-time reader to make.

Not a "valid point", but a common beginner's error -- often continued long after with less intellectual honesty.

It's about time these naysayers gave up though. The whole I-hate-Ayn-Rand ship has sunk. Objectivism is like nothing you have ever encountered. Deal with it.

Yet it continues to be difficult for many to grasp because it is so radically different in so many ways.

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For my part, I realized just how central the notion of intellectual property is for her understanding of how society works. She had this idea that all ideas had owners, and, as a result, spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what belonged to whom.

One needs only read Ayn Rand's article on patents and copyrights to see what nonsense this statement is.

As for the dedicated partisans, there is much to learn here too, about the dangers of insularity in intellectual life and what precisely led to the famous defensiveness of the Rand circle in later years.

The libertarians who oppose or don't understand what Ayn Rand was talking about in her philosophy are the first to denounce and misrepresent her while desperately trying to cash in on her reputation.

The author has a blog in which she provides first-hand reports from her work at the Ayn Rand Institute. Most interesting is that reality compared to the reputation. She reports that far from being a cult-like place of purges and fanaticism, it is staffed by serious professionals who are dedicated to integrity in scholarship. They gave her complete access just for the asking, no restrictions except the usual concerning living persons.

Burns' discussion of this tries to drive a wedge between the "professional" archivists at ARI and Objectivists at ARI. Incredibly she claims that the editing (done for general readability) in the books on Ayn Rand's personal letters and diaries, which had originally not been written or edited for publication, is the most controversial aspect of Ayn Rand's legacy:

Perhaps no part of Rand’s legacy is more controversial today than the editing of her letters and diaries. When the Estate of Ayn Rand released two huge volumes of her letters and diaries in 1995 and 1997, Rand fans were thrilled. It didn’t take long, however, for suspicions to surface. Sifting through earlier published excerpts of Rand’s journals, NYU scholar Chris Sciabarra discovered that the journals had been edited. As I write in my forthcoming book, “After several years working in Rand’s personal papers I can confirm Sciabarra’s discovery: the published versions of Rand’s letters and diaries have been significantly edited in ways that drastically reduce their utility as historical sources.”

The two books Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand clearly state how the material in them was compiled and edited for the purpose of a general readership, not "archivists". Serious scholars who want to see the original writing and have the patience to go through it in that form can go to the archives.

The obsessive complaints over non-essentials raised by Burns and Sciabarra, especially in the context of their own basic misunderstandings and misrepresentations, are simply bizarre. They are both academic rationalists more concerned with "ellipses" than knowing what they are talking about. If there is actual misleading editing in either of the two books Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand, it has not been described here by either Burns or Sciabarra and one doubts that either would be able to tell the difference at their level of understanding. Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand both give far greater insights into Ayn Rand's thinking and method of thinking than anything even approached by the apparently enthusiastic but very wrong scholars Burns and Sciabarra.

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[...]

The obsessive complaints over non-essentials raised by Burns and Sciabarra, especially in the context of their own basic misunderstandings and misrepresentations, are simply bizarre. They are both academic rationalists more concerned with "ellipses" than knowing what they are talking about. If there is actual misleading editing in either of the two books Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand, it has not been described here by either Burns or Sciabarra and one doubts that either would be able to tell the difference at their level of understanding. Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand both give far greater insights into Ayn Rand's thinking and method of thinking than anything even approached by the apparently enthusiastic but very wrong scholars Burns and Sciabarra.

And, given this identification, why should they still be called "[serious] scholars"? What does that make those of us who study Ayn Rand and don't make these errors? Unserious non-scholars?

I absolutely and irrevocably refuse to grant them that sanction. These people range from garden-variety mediocrities way out of their league (Burns) to big-time crooks looking to cash in on Ayn Rand's reputation (the Brandens, Kelley, Sciabarra, and all the scumbags in the libertarian movement). True, among their readership there may be innocents who are wary of what they consider "religious fervor" among "true believers." Which is why it's up to those who understand the philosophy to speak out against these distortions, not sanction them.

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