Cover image for Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Ayn Rand

The Russian Radical

Chris Matthew Sciabarra


$39.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06227-3

544 pages
6" × 9"
17 b&w illustrations
Second Edition

Ayn Rand

The Russian Radical

Chris Matthew Sciabarra

“Brilliant and pathbreaking. . . . Much more could be written in praise and in critique of Russian Radical because it is one of those rare books from which a reader raises her head every few pages and wonders, “Do I agree?” These are the books in life that make a wonderful intellectual difference because they inspire thought on a fundamental level.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1905–1982) is one of the most widely read philosophers of the twentieth century. Yet, despite the sale of over thirty million copies of her works, there have been few serious scholarly examinations of her thought. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical provides a comprehensive analysis of the intellectual roots and philosophy of this controversial thinker.

It has been nearly twenty years since the original publication of Chris Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Those years have witnessed an explosive increase in Rand sightings across the social landscape: in books on philosophy, politics, and culture; in film and literature; and in contemporary American politics, from the rise of the Tea Party to recent presidential campaigns. During this time Sciabarra continued to work toward the reclamation of the dialectical method in the service of a radical libertarian politics, culminating in his book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State, 2000).

In this new edition of Ayn Rand, Chris Sciabarra adds two chapters that present in-depth analysis of the most complete transcripts to date documenting Rand’s education at Petrograd State University. A new preface places the book in the context of Sciabarra’s own research and the recent expansion of interest in Rand’s philosophy. Finally, this edition includes a postscript that answers a recent critic of Sciabarra’s historical work on Rand. Shoshana Milgram, Rand’s biographer, has tried to cast doubt on Rand’s own recollections of having studied with the famous Russian philosopher N. O. Lossky. Sciabarra shows that Milgram’s analysis fails to cast doubt on Rand’s recollections—or on Sciabarra’s historical thesis.

“Brilliant and pathbreaking. . . . Much more could be written in praise and in critique of Russian Radical because it is one of those rare books from which a reader raises her head every few pages and wonders, “Do I agree?” These are the books in life that make a wonderful intellectual difference because they inspire thought on a fundamental level.”

Chris Matthew Sciabarra received his Ph.D. in political philosophy, theory, and method in the Department of Politics at New York University. He is the author of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State, 2000) and co-editor, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (Penn State, 1999). He is also one of the editors of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.


Preface to the Second Edition




1 Synthesis in Russian Culture

2 Lossky, the Teacher

3 Educating Alissa

4 The Maturation of Ayn Rand


5 Being

6 Knowing

7 Reason and Emotion

8 Art, Philosophy, and Efficacy

9 Ethics and Human Survival

10 A Libertarian Politics


11 Relations of Power

12 The Predatory State

13 History and Resolution


Appendix I: The Rand Transcript (1999)

Appendix II: The Rand Transcript, Revisited (2005)

Appendix III: A Challenge to Russian Radical—and Ayn Rand (2013)




Preface to the Second Edition

Nearly twenty years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published. In its wake came much controversy and discussion, which greatly influenced the course of my research in subsequent years. In 1999, I co-edited, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, part of the Pennsylvania State University Press series on Re-Reading the Canon, which now includes nearly three-dozen volumes, each devoted to a major thinker in the Western philosophic tradition, from Plato and Aristotle to Foucault and Arendt. In that same year, I became a founding co-editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a biannual interdisciplinary scholarly journal on Ayn Rand and her times that, in its first twelve volumes, published over 250 articles by over 130 authors. In 2013, the journal began a new collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand its academic visibility and electronic accessibility.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that two essays first published in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—“The Rand Transcript” (1999c) and “The Rand Transcript, Revisited” (2005b)—have made their way into the pages of the second, expanded edition of this book, providing a more complete record of the fascinating historical details of Rand’s education from 1921 to 1924 at what was then Petrograd State University.

In publishing the second edition of any book written two decades ago, an author might be tempted to change this or that formulation or phrase to render more accurately its meaning or to eliminate the occasional error of fact. I have kept such revisions to a minimum; the only extensively revised section is an expanded discussion in chapter 12 of Rand’s foreign policy views, relevant to a post-9/11 generation, under the subheading “The Welfare-Warfare State.” Nevertheless, part of the charm of seeing a second edition of this book published now is being able to leave the original work largely untouched and to place it in a broader, clarifying context that itself could not have been apparent when it was first published.

My own Rand research activities over these years are merely one small part of an explosive increase in Rand sightings across the social landscape: in books on biography, literature, philosophy, politics, and culture; film; and contemporary American politics, from the Tea Party to the presidential election.

Even President Barack Obama, in his November 2012 Rolling Stone interview, acknowledges having read Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity—that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. (In Brinkley 2012)

The bulk of this book predates the president’s assessment, and yet it is, in significant ways, a response to assessments of that kind. First and foremost, it is a statement of the inherent radicalism of Rand’s approach. Her radicalism speaks not to the alleged “narrow vision” but to the broad totality of social relationships that must be transformed as a means of resolving a host of social problems. Rand saw each of these social problems as related to others, constituting—and being constituted by—an overarching system of statism that she opposed.

My work takes its cue from Rand, and other thinkers in both the libertarian tradition, such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Murray N. Rothbard, and the dialectical tradition, such as Aristotle, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Bertell Ollman. From these disparate influences, I have constructed the framework for a “dialectical libertarianism” as the only fundamental alternative to that overarching system of statism. In this book, I identify Rand as a key theorist in the evolution of a “dialectical libertarian” political project.

The essence of a dialectical method is that it is “the art of context-keeping.” More specifically, it emphasizes the need to understand any object of study or any social problem by grasping the larger context within which it is embedded, so as to trace its myriad—and often reciprocal—causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical.

Systemically, dialectics demands that we trace the relationships among seemingly disparate objects of study or among disparate social problems so as to understand how these objects and problems relate to one another—and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. Historically, dialectics demands that we trace the development of these relationships over time—that is, that we understand each object of study or each social problem through its past, present, and potential future manifestations.

This attention to context is the central reason why a dialectical approach has often been connected to a radical politics. To be radical is to “go to the root.” Going to the “root” of a social problem requires understanding how it came about. Tracing how problems are situated within a larger system over time is, simultaneously, a step toward resolving those problems and overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books in my “Dialectics and Liberty trilogy”—of which Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical is the second part—seek to reclaim dialectical method from its one-sided use in Marxist thought, in particular, by clarifying its basic nature and placing it in the service of a radical libertarianism.

The first book in my trilogy is Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which I published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press. It drew parallels between Karl Marx, the theoretician of communism, and F. A. Hayek, the Austrian “free market” economist, by highlighting their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism and their mutual appreciation of context in defining the meaning of political radicalism.

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the second book in the trilogy, details the approach of a bona fide dialectical thinker in the radical libertarian tradition, who advocated the analysis of social problems and social solutions across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality—the personal, the cultural, and the structural (see especially “The Radical Rand,” part 3 of the current work).

The third book and final part of the trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, was published in 2000 by the Pennsylvania State University Press. It offers a rereading of the history of dialectical thinking, a redefinition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty and as a tool to critique those aspects of modern libertarianism that are decidedly undialectical and, hence, dangerously utopian in their implications.

That my trilogy places libertarian thinkers within a larger dialectical tradition has been resisted by some of my left-wing colleagues, who view Marxism as having a monopoly on dialectical analysis, and some of my right-wing colleagues, who are aghast to see anybody connect a libertarian politics to a method that they decry as “Marxist,” and hence anathema to the project for liberty.

Ironically, both the left-wing and right-wing folks who object to my characterization of a dialectical libertarian alternative commit what Rand would have called “the fallacy of the frozen abstraction.” For Rand, this “consists of substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs.” Thus, the left-wing and right-wing critics both freeze and reduce the concept of dialectical method to the subcategory of one of its major historical applications (i.e., Marxism). They both exclude another significant subcategory from that concept, whether to protect the favored subcategory (as do some conservatives, libertarians, and Objectivists) or the concept itself (as do the leftists). Ultimately, they both characterize dialectics as essentially Marxist. It is as if any other variety of dialectics does not or cannot exist. In each case, the coupling of dialectics and libertarianism is denied. The left-wing dialecticians don’t want to besmirch “their” methodology by acknowledging its presence in libertarian thinking, while the right-wing proponents of liberty don’t want to sully their ideology with a “Marxist” methodology.

But as I have demonstrated in my trilogy, especially in Total Freedom, it is Aristotle, not Hegel or Marx, who is the “fountainhead” of a genuinely dialectical approach to social inquiry. Ultimately, my work bolsters Rand’s self-image as an essentially Aristotelian and radical thinker. In doing so, my work challenges our notion of what it means to be Aristotelian—and radical.

I am cognizant that my use of the word “dialectics” to describe the “art of context-keeping”—as a vital aspect of Rand’s approach to both analyzing problems and proposing highly original, often startling solutions—is controversial. My hypothesis—in this book and in the two additional essays that now apear as appendices I and II of this expanded second edition—that Rand learned this method from her Russian teachers has generated as much controversy. Rand named N. O. Lossky as her first philosophy professor. Questions of the potential methodological impact on Rand that Lossky and her other Russian teachers may have had, and the potential discrepancies between Rand’s own recollections with regard to Lossky and the historical record, were all first raised in Russian Radical. These issues, nearly twenty years after they were raised, have resulted in Rand’s prospective “authorized” biographer arguing that Rand’s recollections were mistaken. In my view, however, this turn in historical interpretation is itself deeply problematic. I discuss these issues in a new essay, which appears as appendix III, “A Challenge to Russian Radical—and Ayn Rand.”

I am genuinely excited that the Pennsylvania State University Press has enabled me to practice what I dialectically preach: placing Russian Radical and its cousins in the larger context both of my research on Rand and of my Dialectics and Liberty trilogy enables me to present readers with a clearer sense of what I have hoped to accomplish.

Thanks to all those who have made this ongoing adventure possible.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra

1 July 2013

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