A sweeping biography of Joan Kennedy Taylor coupled with a history of the American individualist movement she helped craft.
Riggenbach, a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, has previously written two book-length histories: In Praise of Decadence (1998) and Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism (2009). His third effort tackles Joan Kennedy Taylor, a friend and an admittedly little-known author/actress/psychotherapist who, despite her contributions to feminist and libertarian theory, is “not considered to be among the major theorists or practitioners of the libertarian and feminist creeds.” Her life, however, was deeply entangled in the unfolding of both: Riggenbach lucidly details her encounters with Ayn Rand and her schooling in objectivist philosophical principles; her commandeering of the important journal Persuasion until 1968; her long-coming break with the Republican Party; and her preoccupation in her later years with feminist theory and activism. The work splinters into essentially three parallel narratives: the historical ebbs and tides of American individualism, Taylor’s participation in its resurgence in the late 20th century and a biographical account of her own personal life. All three are handled with meticulous care, combining the investigative rigor of journalism with the intellectual breadth of academic scholarship. Particularly fascinating is an account of Taylor’s revisionist account of feminism’s history that, quite unconventionally, places it within the fold of individualist thought. The author concedes that, since his work uses Taylor’s life as a means to explicate individualism as a whole, it “does not qualify, strictly speaking, as a biography”; nevertheless, the narrative can sometimes become mired in personal details, including conflict with Taylor’s domineering mother or her failed first marriage. While interesting in themselves, these detours don’t help illuminate the intellectual movements at the center of the book’s purpose. Still, as someone who had a personal friendship with Taylor for a quarter-century, Riggenbach is well-positioned to provide such insights. Overall, the work is a model of historical clarity, reintroducing a woman whose not-so-minor life will enthrall readers. A foreword by Charles Murray is an added bonus.
A well-researched study of American intellectual history through one of its most committed advocates.