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The Exploitation of Ayn Rand: a Comparison of the 1968 Statements of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden Regarding Their Break
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Sat, 2008-01-26 02:47
The following is an excerpt from The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. It is the bulk of Chapter 4, The Exploiters and the Exploited, with only a few modifications for publication here at Solo. Unfortunately, this includes the removal of the footnotes. For that, one must still repair to the text of PARC.
Ayn Rand’s endorsement of both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden had been a high one. Their closeness to Rand had given them a status within a subculture largely of their own creation which was equally high. Rand’s endorsement had made them sought-after teachers and Mr. Branden a sought-after therapist.
It is clear that in 1968 Rand did her utmost to remove that endorsement. Her repudiation of them, “To Whom It May Concern,” begins:
“This is to inform my readers and all those interested in Objectivism that Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden are no longer associated with me or with my philosophy.
“I have permanently broken all personal, professional and business association with them, and have withdrawn from them the permission to use my name in connection with their commercial, professional, intellectual and other activities.
“I hereby withdraw my endorsement of them and their future works and activities. I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesmen for me or for Objectivism.”
Rand explains that it involved her exploitation at their hands and their growing departure from the principles of Objectivism. Rand tells us:
“For the past three years, I have observed a disturbing change in Nathaniel Branden’s intellectual attitude. It seemed to indicate his gradual departure from the principles of Objectivism, a tendency toward non-intellectual concerns, a lessening of interest in philosophical issues and in the Objectivist movement as such.”
Rand says that “[t]he clearest indication of this trend was Mr. Branden’s venture into the theater with his project to produce Barbara Branden’s stage adaptation of The Fountainhead.”
Despite Rand’s alleged capacity to rewrite the virtues of former friends out of existence following a break, Rand says that “Barbara Branden... had written a good adaptation...”
Rand relates her concern, however, that “this project seemed to become Mr. Branden’s central concern, taking up a major portion of his time, causing him to neglect his intellectual and business commitments. His attitude... can best be described as authority flaunting, unserious and, at times, undignified.”
Rand noted that Mr. Branden had begun to “default” on his responsibilities, citing as two examples, “the growing and lengthening delays in the writing of his articles for the magazine (I have at times been late with my own articles, but not chronically nor to such an extent) [and] his failure to rewrite the ‘Basic Principles of Objectivism’ course for his own organization, Nathaniel Branden Institute.”
With regard to The Objectivist, we are told, “We agreed that we would write an equal number of articles and receive an equal salary.” Rand asks readers to review recent issues and that they would find that she was writing an ever larger share of the articles.
This disturbing trend had been observable for at least three years, Rand says.
“During the past three years, my personal relationship with Mr. Branden was deteriorating in a puzzling manner: it was turning into a series of his constant demands on my time, constant pleas for advice, for help with his writing, for long discussions of his personal, philosophical and psychological problems.”
Rand depicts a troubled man whom she was doing her best to help. Until, that is, she began to detect hypocrisy and dishonesty.
“I was shocked to discover that he was consistently failing to apply to his own personal life and conduct, not only the fundamental philosophical principles of Objectivism, but also the psychological principles he himself had enunciated and had written and lectured about... he admitted that in many respects he was acting on the basis of unidentified feelings.”
And then, Rand writes, Branden “presented me with a written statement” so “offensive” to Rand that she says she broke her “personal” association with Branden, if not her professional one. (In Part II, we will see, in some detail, the exact nature of the deceptions revealed by Branden in that paper.)
Nonetheless, Rand tells us that she was “about to acquiesce” in Branden’s plans to resume lecturing, when Barbara Branden “suddenly confessed that Mr. Branden had been concealing from me certain ugly actions and irrational behavior in his private life, which were grossly contradictory to Objectivist morality and which she had known about for two years.”
Following the “shock” of discovering him capable of “conscious deception,” Rand began inquiring about the finances of The Objectivist and was then informed that Mr. Branden had arranged for NBI to borrow “almost the entire cash reserves” of The Objectivist in order to meet NBI’s rent at the Empire State Building. Rand had found out about the loan after the fact; occasional loans of this sort had been taken out before, but the unprecedented amount of the loan was not revealed to her until the time of her break with Branden.
“The realization that Mr. Branden was exploiting me intellectually and professionally had been bad enough; that he should also attempt to exploit me financially was grotesquely shocking.”
As for Ms. Branden, her case, said Rand, was “far less complex and much more obvious.” Since it was she who had exposed Mr. Branden, at first, Rand says that she “gave her credit” for her belated honesty since Ms. Branden, too, had “seemed to be a victim of Mr. Branden’s policies.”
Rand notes that Mr. Branden apologized to the staff of NBI at its closing, admitting to them that “Miss Rand had given him a blank check on the use of her name and he had defaulted on his responsibility.”
Rand says that she then gave serious consideration to the idea of Ms. Branden running a lecture organization. Rand says that she was exceedingly reluctant because she was “not a teacher by profession and personal inclination” and that she never wanted to be the leader of “an organized movement.” Despite this, she gave Ms. Branden a hearing. “The plan did not offer any relevant factual material, but a projection (by unspecified method) of future profits to be earned... a business arrangement of so questionable a nature that I rejected it at once...”
It was the very next day that Rand heard that Ms. Branden had begun “to utter veiled threats and undefined accusations against me.” At her attorney’s advice, Rand authorized him to invite Ms. Branden to a meeting so that they could discuss the accusations she was making. However, Ms. Branden declined the invitation to explain herself.
Rand noted that the change in Ms. Branden’s attitude occurred immediately after the rejection of her business plan by Rand, who then asks the reader to “draw your conclusions about the cause and motive” of her behavior.
Rand concedes having made an “error of knowledge” with respect to her judgment of the Brandens, but suggested that the consequences of such an error “are never as hard to bear” as those of a breach of morality.
There is no question that Rand was not telling her readers everything. But it was also clear that this was intentional. Perhaps Rand was protecting the innocent, and much could rationally be considered not the public’s business, but Rand had certainly said enough to make clear that she had felt “exploited” by them.
In response, Nathaniel Branden begins:
“The charges and accusations stated by Miss Rand are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, either false or so misleading as to be false by implication. It is very unfortunate that Miss Rand chose to make a tragic, highly personal conflict between us the occasion of a public scandal, through the publication of her article; she has left me no choice but to make my response equally public.”
As an example of his reciprocating candidness, he states that the theater project “never took up more than a small portion of my time.” Branden even takes issue with the suggestion “that I was obliged to justify [to her] the disposition of my time and energies...”
Branden claims that “I never committed myself to writing an article per issue, nor would I have agreed to make such a commitment.” True, he had not begun the “total” rewrite of his course on Objectivism—which he planned to do “in 1969”—but he had been updating it all the time, he claims.
Branden notes what he calls Rand’s “astonishing lack of grace” in accusing him of professional exploitation in view of the enormous contribution his efforts made to Rand’s “career and the spread of her ideas.” The idea of Rand riding on his coattails is too rich an irony for serious comment.
He admits that Rand had “expressed apprehension” at the size of the Empire State Building lease and that NBI “required loans from time to time” from The Objectivist and even concedes that the loan in question was much larger than normal. He does not dispute that Rand found out about the loan after the fact, and he does not dispute Rand’s account of when she found out the exact amount of the loan. Branden merely says that he had done similar things in the past and that only part of the loan was for the rent. He says that Rand was wrong: the amount transferred was $22,500, not $25,000.
He denies that there was any “stipulation” between him and Rand (business partners in The Objectivist) that all decisions were to be “unanimous,” presumably implying that he was authorized to act entirely on his own. Branden then notes that he voluntarily signed over his interest in The Objectivist to Rand for absolutely nothing in return and that he would have been “entirely within my legal rights” to have demanded that The Objectivist be closed. Rand’s lawyers threatened him with a full investigation of his financial dealings and even a lawsuit to do so if he did not “sign immediately.” This made Mr. Branden feel “moral revulsion,” presumably his first pang of it thus far in his dealings with Rand.
Branden claims Rand was simply lying when she wrote that their relationship had deteriorated into “long discussions” of his “psychological problems” and “pleas for advice.” (In Part II, we will see that Rand was acting in almost an official capacity as his therapist.) He tells us that it was Rand who prolonged phone calls and it was Rand who was “constantly volunteer[ing] personal advice.” While it is true that Rand had been “of personal help” to him in the past, Branden says that he had helped her, too, during what he describes as Rand’s two-year post-Atlas Shrugged depression.
As Branden describes it, he “found [him]self” in an “agonizing personal dilemma which [he] saw no way to resolve.” He admits that he withheld “certain information about [his] personal life,” specifically his relationship with a young woman with whom he was in love. But he gives no suggestion why this should be of any concern to Rand.
The statement to which Rand had referred as “irrational” and “offensive” had been, according to Branden, “a tortured, awkward, excruciatingly embarrassed attempt” to make clear to Rand why he felt that the age distance between them “constituted an insuperable barrier, for me, to a romantic relationship.”
Notice how Branden powerfully implies that he would never, could never, have such a relationship with Rand, and recall that Branden is here in the act of detailing Rand’s “astonishing lack of grace.” (Branden, of course, had an affair with Rand lasting almost fourteen years of their eighteen-year relationship together.)
Branden also writes that Rand was lying when she suggests that her discovery of Mr. Branden’s “falsehood” was the final cause of her break with Branden. In fact, writes Branden, the decision had actually been made a month earlier when Rand learned of Branden’s “present feelings” but before she learned of any deception.
As we shall see, the Brandens’ later statements contradict this and, indeed, many other of their assertions in 1968, and the comparison of the Brandens’ rolling admissions indicates not only how right Rand had been at the time, but also the nature of the Brandens’ continuing dishonesty on these topics.
Rand, of course, was not herself privy to Branden’s memoir, nor did she make further comment on Branden after “To Whom It May Concern” was published in 1968. There, Rand tells us that she “observed a disturbing change in Nathaniel Branden’s intellectual attitude,” which seemed to “indicate his gradual departure from the principles of Objectivism.” Rand says that this became increasingly clear to her during Branden’s attempt to produce a stage version of The Fountainhead.
In his “Answer to Ayn Rand,” Branden denied and ridiculed Rand’s charge of “intellectual drift.”
In retrospect, Rand appears to have been quite perceptive, for, in subsequent interviews and memoirs, Branden would himself chronicle what amounted to much more than mere “intellectual drift.”
In Judgment Day, Branden claims that even during his earliest conversations with Rand he felt “pushed along a particular path faster than I would have moved at my own speed.”
Branden does not report ever expressing this feeling to Rand or ever asking for clarification from Rand. Nor does Branden specify the issues about which he felt “pushed.” In his typically vague fashion, Branden just “felt pushed.”
Though he never specifies the issues involved at this stage, Branden’s discomfort was apparently intense. Branden reports that for “all of us” around Rand, “there was terrible violence done to our emotional life—the repression or suppression of any feeling that clashed with what an ideal Objectivist was supposed to experience, be it a sexual impulse, an artistic preference...”
Branden is obviously not qualified to speak for everyone else, but taking his self-report at face value, Branden was engaged in a pretty comprehensive deception of both himself and Rand—given the “terrible violence” that he admits he was doing to his own “emotional life.” His use of the word “suppression”—as opposed to “repression”—suggests that it was, at least in part, conscious deception.
Here, Branden’s story confronts a certain problem: to the extent that he held views contrary to Rand’s during his association with her, he was deceiving and exploiting her professionally, and such differences may partially account for his break with Rand—as Rand had said. And yet, to the extent that Branden claims to have come to these differences only after their separation, he really does look like a socially conditioned robot—the true “social metaphysician” he identified as one whose opinions will vary depending upon who his friends happen to be.
To a certain extent, Branden does his best to have it both ways.
In what looks like a naked attempt to avert the criticism of intellectual hypocrisy, Branden’s version of events usually does suggest that only after his break with Rand in 1968 did he begin to have significant disagreements with her ideas, or that he was only dimly aware of these differences—perhaps psychologically repressing them—until after the break.
Branden asserts at one point that the entire situation had put him into a “trance.”
Branden also suggests that the very success of NBI and The Objectivist had contributed to an “emotional disorientation.”
“Increasingly,” Branden tells us, “I saw to what extent my personality had become distorted through [my] association [with Rand].” And later he says, “Today I am convinced there are errors in [Rand’s] vision, elements that need to be changed, eliminated, modified, added or amplified...”
Nevertheless, before his break with Rand, intellectual differences were emerging of such scope that even Branden must relate them to us. There can be no doubt Branden’s interests were straying from Objectivism. Branden reports that during one conversation with Rand she openly wondered, “hypnosis, Koestler—what next? Extrasensory perception?” (In a speech made shortly after her death, Branden would, indeed, admonish Rand for being “closed minded” on the topics of ESP and telepathy, a criticism he fails to repeat in either version of his memoir.)
Although Branden was the one “excommunicated,” his “dissatisfaction” with Objectivists, he told Reason magazine in 1971, was “a gradual thing”—a mere three years after his break with Rand.
In that interview, Branden also admits that “[t]here are certain touches in her novels that bother me and I guess always bothered me, but in the past I did not pause to consider them, I did not think about them.”
For example, Branden told Reason that the character of Dominique in The Fountainhead is “completely unreal” as a “psychological portrait.”
In Atlas Shrugged, Galt’s refusal to inform Rearden that Dagny is not dead for a month, claims Branden, is “morally and psychologically... criminal.”
Branden also maintained that the character of Eddie Willers—to whom he once compared his secret, new mistress—is “very neurotic and pathetic.”
These are hardly “touches.”
As Objectivism’s leading advocate outside of Rand herself at the time, it must have occurred to him that it was his professional responsibility to mention such sharp differences to Rand herself. But, of course, that would have been biting the hand that was feeding him.
Branden asks us to believe that he largely repressed his true opinion that Rand’s protagonists were “unreal,” “morally criminal,” and “very pathetic” during all of his eighteen years with Rand, and that it all became suddenly clear to him within three years of his break with her. Improbable, at best.
If Ms. Branden deceptively smiled and nodded in discussions of her artistic preferences, Mr. Branden did so in discussions of Rand’s work itself.
When the Reason interviewer asserts that Rand had claimed that “one must accept all of [Objectivism’s] tenets or none of them,” Branden agrees and calls this “pretentious” and “grandiose nonsense.”
As usual, the only “nonsense” here turns out to be that Rand ever said such a thing; she did not.
Of course, Branden was very familiar with what Rand had actually said, which inferred a similar but importantly different meaning.
In his lectures on epistemology at NBI, Nathaniel Branden had spoken extensively about the importance of comprehensive integration to certainty itself, the vital role of system-building in philosophy, the necessity of attending to the hierarchical structure of knowledge, and the fundamentality of philosophical knowledge.
Indeed, Branden had once proclaimed that Rand’s powerful insight could, perhaps, best be seen in the manner in which she had integrated her various philosophical positions.
None of this could he bring himself to mention to Reason in 1971.
All of this was apparently already “grandiose nonsense.”
So, as early as 1971, Branden provides evidence that he had been involved in a widespread conscious deception of Rand about the state of his mind, not just his heart.
Branden suggests that—from the beginning—his relationship with Rand to a significant extent was self-denial maintained by self-deception. “In one sense,” he conceded to Reason, “I can say I was never really happy [among Objectivists].” And about Rand herself, Branden says that it was “hard” for him to “face the fact” that he “did not really like her in important respects.”
In his memoirs, Branden supplies additional evidence of the very intellectual drift which Rand had observed—and that this drift involved far more than he had told Reason.
Branden reports in Judgment Day that throughout his relationship with Rand he became increasingly concerned that she seemed “closed” to certain new interests of his. He could not understand why Rand seemed nonplused by the ideas of Arthur Koestler. It bothered him that Rand did not seem more than mildly interested in hypnosis or the physiological aspects of depression. He tried to explain “non-Darwinian” theories of evolution and, again, Rand seemed insufficiently interested to him.
Still more significant, Branden tells us that he was, from the first, “uncomfortable” with the first sentences of Rand’s “Introduction” to The Virtue of Selfishness, which was published in 1964 and which contains some of her most important essays. Branden suggests that Rand’s alleged “moralism” was already making him “uncomfortable” in 1964.
When Rand broke with John Hospers in 1962, Branden relates that he felt “thoroughly miserable” having to “read [Hospers] the riot act”; allegedly, Branden had disagreed with Rand over the severity of her reaction to Hospers’ unspecified criticisms—while never breathing a word to Rand or Hospers about such disagreement until after his break with Rand.
Such differences might be regarded as marginal if they were with someone else, but to be the silently held opinions of Rand’s intellectual heir suggests a widespread intellectual hypocrisy on Branden’s part.
Cumulatively, these differences amounted to at least a drift—if not an active steering—away from Rand and her ideas, but the biggest indication of Branden’s admittedly increasing intellectual separation from Rand rested, apparently, in his own field of psychology.
In Who Is Ayn Rand?, Branden credits Rand with profound insight into human psychology. Many of his essays in The Objectivist Newsletter and in The Objectivist do as well. Branden explained how Objectivism provides a means of reconciling the alleged conflict between morality and psychology, how it makes possible an objective standard of mental health, how its insights into the nature of volition, the cognitive causes of emotion and the central importance of self-esteem, productive work and romantic love are nothing short of revolutionary—and how they constitute the necessary basis of any future science of psychology.
This is strong praise, indeed, for Rand was by profession a novelist, screenwriter, and non-academic philosopher. It should be remembered that Rand had no academic or professional training in psychology. Branden himself did not suggest that Rand had presented an entire psychological theory, only that the heroes in her novels are models of certain aspects of mental health and that her philosophy provided fundamental insights into his own field.
In the Reason interview Branden recants his praise, saying that Rand did not offer much psychological insight at all:
“I did not realize this, or did not realize it fully, during the years of our association, but Miss Rand is very ignorant of human psychology. On certain occasions she admitted that to me. It was not unusual for her to declare, “Nathan, I don’t really understand anything about human psychology.” But I never realized the full implications of what she was acknowledging. In Who Is Ayn Rand?, I compliment her psychological acumen. I was wrong to do so. That was my own naïveté or blindness. I think Miss Rand’s lack of psychological understanding is a great liability to her... “
Although Branden claimed in 1971 that he did not “fully” realize Rand’s weakness here until after the split, in Judgment Day, published eighteen years later, he admits that his essay on psychology in Who Is Ayn Rand? was “by far the briefest, since I did not regard psychology as Rand’s strong point, and my compliments felt a bit stretched to me even then.”
Branden did not tell Reason what will become obvious in Part II, that for many years—up to the last days of his relationship with her—he quite literally used Rand as his personal psychotherapist.
Branden does not claim to have abandoned reason, volition or self-esteem as central tenets of his psychological theories. His substantive differences with Rand in 1971 appear to be over issues such as to what extent conscious and subconscious processes can be “kept separate.” (The invitation to psychologize shall be duly declined.)
These issues would hardly seem to a casual observer to be reasons to retract the whole of the earlier praise, which had comprehensive and fundamental philosophical gravity. What is interesting—apart from his obvious squirming over exactly when these differences became apparent to him—is the incredible contrast: In print, he goes from believing in a brilliantly insightful and revolutionary Rand in 1962 to having no intellectual disparity with Rand in 1968 to branding Rand painfully blind by 1971.
Even taking Branden’s assertions at face value, his intellectual differences with Rand were widespread and growing as early as 1962, ranging from psychological theory to the characters and plots in her novels to her dealings with other intellectuals—and he never mentioned any of these things to Rand.
Nonetheless, for several more years Branden continued in his role as Objectivism’s foremost champion.
Branden never mentioned to Rand that he felt his praise of her psychological insights “felt a bit stretched” to him. Nor did Branden disclose his growing “discomfort” with the “Introduction” to Rand’s major book on ethics. Nor did he tell Rand that his role in Hospers’ departure made him just “miserable.” Nor did he say to her face that he believed that she was “closed” to new ideas—or that psychology was (at the very least) not her “strong point.” When he felt “pushed” too fast along a certain path he never said “slow down.”
Instead, he said, “of course, Ayn,” and remained the one intellectual in her presence who seemed to her to be her most intellectually sympatico colleague.
All these conflicts, if not many more, were left to stew.
Branden cannot admit that it was ever a conscious disagreement while he was still with Rand, and, hence, he says his compliments “felt” a bit stretched, he was “miserable,” he was “uncomfortable,” he was “bothered,” etc., about each of these issues.
It must be remembered that Branden has since written extensively about what he calls “the art of living consciously.” This appears to be merely an outgrowth of Rand’s principle that “man is a being of self-made soul,” that each of us has the responsibility actively to introspect, honestly to identify our values, and to avoid acting on the basis of unidentified emotions. In short, to know conscientiously what we are doing when we are doing it. This was the moral and psychological doctrine he would become famous for articulating both during his years with Rand and subsequently.
At NBI, Branden would lecture students on the virtues of rationality and honesty—and on the self-destructive vice of evading them.
He advised that all aspects of our lives must be brought into the light of reason and that happiness and joy were possible to the man who thus pursued rational values. He spoke of the ongoing commitment required to apply these virtues to our actual life. The virtue of integrity was repeatedly stressed by Branden in his lectures—the need to practice what one preaches. Perhaps no psychologist in history has stressed these ideas so explicitly.
Rand’s claim—the claim he angrily denied in 1968—that Branden was not living up to his own teachings and that he was acting on the basis of “unidentified emotions” is precisely what Branden now makes a central theme in his memoirs.
But these were not just personal issues and did not relate only to his private relationship with Rand. They pertained to his intellectual and professional life.
If, as a lecturer on ethics and as a psycho-therapist, he was having these kinds of emotional conflicts—for several years—and was letting them go without the benefit of any conscious thought or discussion, then Branden was—by his own admission—guilty of widespread intellectual and moral evasions. (We will see in Part II this kind of “mental drift” displayed by Mr. Branden in regard to a number of other issues as well.)
For a mind such as Branden’s that dealt daily with such explicit conversation on the evil and self-destructiveness of such behavior, it seems more likely, however, that Branden was engaged in a more conscious deception of Rand regarding his positions on these issues, given not only his eloquence on the topic so soon after his break with Rand and the comprehensive nature of the unresolved “discomfort” he admits to having experienced, but also on the financial and professional dependence on Rand he had developed during this time.
In 1982, a few months after Rand’s death, Mr. Branden delivered a speech entitled “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” at the University of California at San Diego (at my invitation).
There, he detailed a still broader range of objections to Rand’s work—its subtle but pervasive encouragement of emotional repression, its lack of benevolence, its unspecified “gaps.”
The death of Rand in 1982 seems to account for Branden’s failure to disclose these differences earlier. How much further back all of these differences go can only be guessed. In his 1999 Liberty interview, Branden was asked when it was that he discovered the unspecified “gaps” in Objectivism which he now contends exist. Could it have been before 1968?
“No, no, before 1968 the most I ever had was a feeling of apprehension, or something is not quite... but no. It all happened in the years after 1968 when I was out of that world and kind of took it as one of my challenges to rethink everything, and ask myself, you know, what really satisfies me intellectually, and where I feel something is not right. All of that is post-1968. I wish it had been earlier.”
In light of his position at the time, Branden, of course, owed it to Rand to have done so much earlier—even ignoring the other implications of this kind of intellectual—and psychological—irresponsibility to himself.
As Rand’s spokesman and business partner, he had a moral obligation to Rand to think—at least once—about these things before the break.
And, of course, his self-serving account cannot be taken at face value. We are asked to believe that the “gradual thing” Branden had spoken of to Reason magazine in 1971 lasted less than three years.
Listening to Rand praise his essays and lectures, in which Branden himself could not yet express his true feelings, would have tipped off even the most self-deluded that his professional and intellectual life was just as much a fraud as his personal life. Branden admits in his memoir that he “felt like a fraud facing [his] own students,” because of his personal hypocrisy, at least.
But, it is also clear that Mr. Branden was dishonest about matters other than his love life and to many more people than his lovers. By his own admission he was giving Rand rhapsodic praise in his first book for something he did not think was her “strong point.” If he was so conscious of his growing doubts as to make the psychology chapter “by far the briefest,” then Branden was also conscious enough of the potential impact of these doubts on the content of his essay, as well as its length.
Branden was lying to his readers. Such was the intellectual respect Branden gave his public.
Rand, of course, he treated much worse. As long as Branden continued receiving Rand’s unmitigated endorsement, it was surely his ethical responsibility, according to the principles he still explicitly espoused, to be honest with Rand about even the smallest philosophical disagreement, much less the degree of “misery,” “bother,” “discomfort,” etc., he now admits it was causing him.
And not doing so can only be characterized as professional exploitation—whether accomplished by conscious deception or by systematic evasion.
The philosophy Branden had publicly advocated, taught, and detailed holds that honesty is a virtue of fundamental importance.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand tells the reader through her hero, John Galt, that any attempt to gain a value through deception, be it love, fame or money, is immoral and self-defeating.
Such were the principles that he claimed to have shared with Rand, the principles he taught others.
If Branden knew that his new beliefs would upset Rand or cause a break with her, then for that very reason he owed her the truth—whether or not her reaction would be reasonable or unreasonable. And he could not help but know this.
Rand’s endorsement of him was her “spiritual property” and could not rightfully be taken from her by fraud, something Branden, of all the people on earth, knew more intimately than any other. His ongoing conduct to the contrary amounted to spiritual embezzlement.
We must also remember that Mr. Branden’s relationship with Rand was not merely intellectual; it was financial. Rand had no financial interest in NBI, but she and Branden were joint owners of The Objectivist, the magazine devoted to the dissemination of Rand’s philosophy. The magazine apparently turned a healthy profit.
Branden, it can be safely said, owed his career to Rand. It was with Rand’s literary agent and Rand’s publisher that he first signed contracts, presumably at Rand’s recommendation. It was Rand that had the international reputation as a novelist and an individualist philosopher. It was her work and her philosophy which had given Branden a subject to discuss at NBI and the frame of reference to his own work. It was her fame which established his fame, such as it is.
Branden’s own first book, Who Is Ayn Rand?, was the product of the generously long discussions he and his wife had tape-recorded with Rand.
The Nathaniel Branden Institute existed for the purpose of spreading Rand’s ideas.
The Objectivist magazine had the same purpose.
And, before the break, Branden’s reputation rested almost exclusively on the fact that Branden was Rand’s chief spokesman.
In denying that his dispute with Rand involved intellectual and professional exploitation on his part, Branden contends that Rand got benefits from the relationship, as well, such as his efforts through NBI and The Objectivist to promote her ideas, along with the admiration and love he had expressed to her.
Without NBI, he maintains, there would have been no “Objectivist Movement,” at least, the kind of “movement” that he confesses Ayn Rand never wanted.
But, especially in the face of multiple deceptions, that is not his call to make.
Branden blithely claims to have come to terms with what his “own rewards were for remaining with Rand,” but gives scant introspection to the degree to which he was professionally exploiting her, even as he reveals the evidence for this exploitation.
As for Branden’s motive in his professional deception of Rand, Branden gives several psychological justifications and excuses, but on this issue many of his statements regarding the matter Rand are rather revealing.
Branden admits that he was afraid that the entire structure he had built at NBI on Rand’s endorsement would be destroyed if he were to reveal the truth to Rand about his other affair. Recall that at this time Branden is married to Ms. Branden, having an affair with Rand which is known to their respective spouses, and having an affair with a third woman which both he and Ms. Branden are concealing from Rand.
He reports that during the years of his deception of Ayn Rand about his “private life,” at least, he “paced the floor of [his] office for countless hours, trying to think [his] way toward an alternative that would not result in the total collapse of the life I had built.”
Branden relates the following extraordinary account of a conversation he had with his former wife, in which they consider telling Rand the truth:
“There was a subtle note of hard, practical calculation behind [Ms. Branden’s] words, “Give up NBI? ... Give up everything we’ve created? ... How can you possibly do that? You can’t. You’d never respect yourself again.” I nodded in exhausted acquiescence; but my survivor-self contemplated Barbara as from a great distance, thinking: So. Well, well, well. We are all operators, it seems.” (emphasis added)
In other words, business considerations significantly played into Branden’s more than four-and-a-half years of deceiving Rand about his other, secret affair.
Although his income was destined to become even greater, promoting Rand’s ideas had provided him with a comfortable living. Branden notes the “hard, practical calculation” involved in Ms. Branden’s compact of dishonesty here, and the “countless hours” of thought and pacing which he gave these issues himself, none of which can be reconciled with his 1968 denials of financial wrongdoing.
Remarkably, Branden has long denied Rand’s accusation of financial exploitation and has mocked her specific allegations to that effect, and, yet, here he provides us with the details of his (and his former wife’s) very thought process as he nakedly chooses a course of exploitation.
Rand had specifically called into question both the lease at the Empire State Building, which Branden had pushed, as well as the transfer of money from The Objectivist to NBI in the form of “loan” in order to pay the rent on that lease.
In 1968, Branden conceded a good many of the facts Rand had alleged: that NBI “required loans from time to time” from The Objectivist; that Rand had expressed concern over the expense of the lease at the Empire State Building; that another, much larger than normal loan was then taken out, at least in part, to pay the rent on that lease. Nor did Branden contradict Rand’s statements regarding when and how she found out about this loan, i.e., after the fact.
In attempting to dispute Rand’s claim that the loan “represented the entire cash reserve of this magazine,” he actually admits its truth. He does not tell us what The Objectivist had in the bank at the time of the loan, but as of March 31, 1968, the amount was $17,434, he says. The amount of money transferred to NBI, he alleged, had only been $22,500, not the $25,000 Rand had claimed, and, of this, only $16,500 was “borrowed.”
Of course, the numbers cannot be verified by the author, but no matter how Mr. Branden slices it, the loan still required the depletion of most of the cash reserves of The Objectivist—as Rand had said. Rand’s only detectable potential error is, perhaps, having confused 22.5 with 25 thousands, but—given Branden’s own credibility issues—a “perhaps” is certainly required. Otherwise, all of Rand’s basic facts are confirmed by Branden.
Mr. Branden claims that the loan was repaid at his own instigation, but he also concedes that Rand did “put in a request for repayment, not knowing that I had already given instructions to that effect.”
Curiously, Branden does not then explain why he initiated repayment on his own so soon—if there was no impropriety with the original transaction.
In 1968, Branden contested Rand’s assertion that their “incorporation agreement” required their mutual agreement on all decisions, but in 1989—in another about face—he reveals that such was their oral agreement from the inception!
Still Branden completely ignores Rand’s reasonable—and, more important, legally correct—suggestion that, as co-owner of The Objectivist, Branden should have obtained Rand’s explicit agreement to such a loan before it happened.
Even assuming that most business decisions had been the exclusive concern of Mr. Branden, the loan was of an unprecedented size, as he concedes, and, therefore, required unprecedented treatment. Any such thought, however, Branden simply brushes aside calling Rand’s anger at his financial deception “controlling.”
It will become increasingly evident that it was Rand’s insistence on knowing the truth that the Brandens’ call “controlling” and “oppressive.”
Whether it was a little deception—like the surprise party—or a big one—like Branden’s intellectual fraud—the Brandens insist on their right to manipulate Rand with their lies. If Rand complains, they accuse her of being manipulative and “controlling.” Projection, smoke-screen, and avoidance, all in one increasingly familiar package.
Rand tells us that she did consent to the loan when she first learned of it a few months before her break with Branden, but that the amount of the loan remained undisclosed until the summer of 1968, in the midst of the break. These facts have never been disputed by the Brandens. This partial consent probably would have made any legal action against Branden for fraud difficult, but Rand had not accused Branden of an actionable crime, only of dubious business practices—in Rand’s words, “questionable policy.”
Morally, of course, Branden should have obtained Rand’s fully informed consent even if he was not also anticipating a break with Rand, as he now admits he was. In light of this additional fact, the loan was—morally if not legally—all the more fraudulent.
The essence of the financial exploitation involved in these transactions was not addressed by Mr. Branden in 1968. In 1989, with Rand now dead and her statement still standing as the final word on the subject, he finally gets around to it.
Less than a year before Branden’s break with Rand, NBI signed a lease at the Empire State Building—“the biggest financial commitment” Branden had ever made in his life. Branden was taking on such a responsibility even as he was contemplating the inevitability of a break with Rand, since this was precisely what he says he feared would happen if Rand ever found out about the various lies he had been telling her. Branden already felt, in his own words, that “his back was to the wall” because of the situation with Rand.
He quotes his ex-wife as saying at the time: “Are we crazy? Everything can explode at any minute! It’s only a matter of time until you have to tell Ayn the truth; we both know that. Wouldn’t it be better to tell her before signing the lease?”
Branden’s only response: “Eight thousand square feet in the Empire State Building to house all of our projects; I wanted that.” This is a strange attitude for a man who has “his back to the wall.”
In this context, “financial exploitation” seems a rather mild euphemism on Rand’s part. In any event, her focus on both the lease and the loan were apparently well justified.
The extent to which Branden actually verifies the facts behind Rand’s denunciation of him merely heightens the hypocrisy of the ridicule he heaped on that denunciation in 1968.
During an interview with Liberty magazine in 1990, Ms. Branden revealed that Rand had originally intended to write the introduction for Branden’s first book on psychology, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Ms. Branden tells us that when she began to plead with Branden to tell Rand “the truth,” Branden replied, “Just wait until she writes the introduction.”
Branden’s anxiety over getting that introduction from Rand has been confirmed by Joan Blumenthal, another member of Rand’s circle of friends.
There were, it seems, multiple layers of financial exploitation at least one of which Rand herself was wholly unaware.
In “To Whom It May Concern,” Rand had said that the production of Barbara Branden’s stage adaptation of The Fountainhead “seemed to become Mr. Branden’s central concern, taking up a major part of his time, causing him to neglect his intellectual and business commitments.” Rand suggests that this was chief among the reasons why Branden had become chronically late in delivering his articles for The Objectivist and another indication of his wavering commitments.
Branden takes issue with this, saying in 1968, of the theater project, “it never took up more than a small portion of my time.” He does not dispute—in 1968, 1989 or 1999—that he was “behind schedule,” or that he was becoming habitually late with his articles, or even that Rand was by then writing more than her share of articles.
Instead, Branden attacks a straw man. “I never committed myself to writing an article per issue...” he says. In her article, Rand had only asserted that their initial agreement was to write “an equal number of articles,” as they received an equal salary.
Branden simply claims that Rand was “often late with her articles, too.” (Something, of course, Rand had never denied.) Branden says that the reason for his tardiness was actually a result of “the theoretical complexities of the issues about which I was writing.” But in 1989, he adds, “I found it difficult to concentrate on my writing.”
Branden also now admits that “[o]f the various projects at NBI, none gave me as much pleasure” as NBI Theater, which Branden “had initiated” shortly before the break. Its first project was to be Ms. Branden’s stage adaptation of The Fountainhead. Branden reports that his new mistress, an actress, had “reawakened” an early love of the theater in him.
So, however much time he was actually devoting to it, NBI Theater had become his favorite activity, and another of Rand’s points against Branden appears to have been well taken—despite earlier denials.
In his 1968 “Answer,” Branden actually asserts that he had no responsibility whatever “to justify... the disposition of [his] time and energies” to his coeditor on The Objectivist, the founder of the philosophy he had dedicated his life to spread, and whose continued endorsement buttressed his livelihood. Branden conceded Rand’s point that he had not yet begun the planned “total” rewrite of his NBI course on Objectivism, though he conveniently responds that he had planned to do it “in 1969.”
Rand’s complaint regarding the course had included the observation that a major portion of the “Basic Principles” had by then been made available (and more affordably) in print. Even in the “updated” version which he sold on LP following the break, a substantial portion of the material appears to be (almost verbatim) what can be found in The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. Branden’s “continuous updates” consisted primarily of added quotations from Rand’s newly available, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which are also contained on these LPs. Otherwise, despite Branden’s claims to the contrary, his lecture material changed very little throughout the Sixties.
In 1968 Branden vigorously denied Rand’s assertion that their relationship “was turning into a series of constant demands on my time, constant pleas for advice, for help with his writing, for long discussions of his personal, professional and psychological problems.”
Branden has never disputed that he had certain personal and psychological problems. In 1968, however, Branden insisted that Rand had not spent all that much time with him on these issues, except, perhaps, for some telephone calls which Rand herself had dragged out. Branden conceded that Rand, his coeditor on The Objectivist, was “a more experienced and accomplished writer” and, therefore, had “a greater number of suggestions to offer” about the writing in their magazine. But that was it.
In 1989, Branden was a bit more forthcoming. Beginning at least as early as 1964, he tells us, he began to exhibit “erratic behavior with Ayn,” including an “elusiveness” and “coldness” which was “alternating, as always, with expressions of passionate devotion...” Branden admits during this period that it was he who sought out Rand’s advice and help with his deteriorating marriage. Branden even admits that he knew it was wrong “to solicit Ayn’s help with our marriage while withholding information” that he and his wife were both having other affairs!
Although it was Mr. Branden who had solicited Rand’s help, he now sees sinister motives behind the generous counseling and emotional support which Rand gave the Brandens’ troubled marriage during this time. In the new edition of his memoir, he suggests that Rand had tried to manipulate the situation for her own purposes. Although Rand did make “negative observations” about their marriage “from time to time,” her generous help now suggests to Branden that Rand was “keenly interested” in preserving the Brandens as a couple.
Ms. Branden was “safe,” formulates Branden, and Rand never had to worry about “another woman.” (Of course, there was “another woman” at that very time.)
This theory, of course, ignores the evidence that Rand had been a warmly supportive counselor to each of them long before the affair and, indeed, before the Brandens’ marriage. Both Brandens report that Rand’s supportive counseling had begun in California many years earlier.
Moreover, neither of them report that Rand’s attitudes towards them changed because of their legal separation in 1965.
Perhaps this is why, Branden says, “[i]t did not enter my mind” that Rand was being manipulative until decades later.
In 1999, Branden confessed to Liberty magazine that the thought had still not “entered his mind” when he published the first version of his memoir in 1989.
It turns out this theory was the suggestion of his third wife, Devers, and that upon first hearing it, Branden responded, “Jesus, you know something? I don’t know; I can’t prove whether it’s true or not, but it... it feels intuitively like—not that that would have been the only reason—but that would be quite like Ayn to have that as one of her considerations.”
It may come as a complete surprise to readers of his book that this is not a “claim of knowledge” by Branden, or that this is only a hypothesis or “partial” explanation of Rand’s behavior. In his book, Branden successfully hid all of these underlying qualifications that he admits in the interview.
One can only wonder how much else of his book, which otherwise seems to be a claim of knowledge, contains such uncredited “intuition.”
However, Ms. Branden does not repeat or suggest this herself in her own biography. It seems the thought never occurred to Ms. Branden, either.
In any event, it was Mr. Branden who solicited help from Rand as a marriage counselor, not Rand volunteering her services, as Branden has now made clear, again in contradiction to his 1968 assertions.
Branden now says that he consciously knew as early as 1964 that “the deception in the manipulation I was attempting was in conflict with my own convictions about human relationships.” Convictions? What is clear is that the convictions he refers to were Rand’s convictions, the ones he was preaching if not practicing.
As a therapist, at least, Branden must have been, even then, conscious of the simple truth that deceiving one’s chosen psychological counselor is inevitably self-defeating, if not self-mockery. Soliciting Ayn Rand’s help with his marriage while simultaneously concealing important facts about his (and his wife’s) romantic life can, therefore, only have been part of a sophisticated and deliberate effort to stall for time by deceiving Rand about the state of his mind and his relationships generally. It cannot have been part of any sincere effort by the famous psychotherapist to save his marriage. That much is certain.
Rand’s generous, unwittingly futile advice is now “manipulation,” according to Branden, when his own role in soliciting that help from someone he was deceiving is the only manipulation present here to an honest eye.
Branden’s memoir, in some respects, continuously reflects the trickery of an expert magician, causing the very thing he pretends is caused by something else, in this case, once again covering his own manipulation of Rand by accusing her of manipulation. Projection, smoke-screen, avoidance.
This was by no means the only psychological counseling, as it turns out, that Branden solicited from Rand in the period during which he was deceiving her on so many levels.
Ms. Branden describes conversations between Branden and Rand in the period before the break as follows: “He spoke vaguely of problems troubling him, of physical and emotional exhaustion, of depression, of being overworked, as Ayn tried conscientiously to listen and to help."
In Judgment Day, Branden describes his conversations with Rand in 1967 as follows: “At Ayn’s, we discussed my psycho-epistemology, my mysterious emotional repression, my difficulties with the triangle of Ayn, Frank and me, the question of my real values.” Branden even admits that he “had been complaining of depression a good deal” to Rand.
We shall see in Rand’s private journals (Part II) just how extensive this counseling had been. These confirm, however, one of Rand’s chief complaints to Branden, that he had, in fact, transformed their relationship into nothing but psychotherapy. Before she had learned of his four-year romantic deception of her, Rand would write in private journals that Branden’s “worst offense of all” consisted of his allowing the relationship to “drift” into “the last two years of myself as [his] psychotherapist.” She also makes quite clear in those notes that she communicated this complaint to Branden. Discussions of Branden’s psychology had involved more than a few prolonged phone calls, it seems.
Much of “To Whom It May Concern” was implicitly conceded by Branden in his 1968 response, “In Answer To Ayn Rand.” Most of the rest had simply to wait for the publication of Judgment Day for confirmation. But one could never have guessed the truth of Rand’s statement from Branden’s original response.
Contrary to Mr. Branden’s fierce denials, Rand’s accusations about his intellectual, professional and personal dishonesty and manipulation of her are largely validated—by Branden himself.
Perhaps the most dishonest (and ugliest) part of Nathaniel Branden’s 1968 response to Rand concerns his affair with her.
Rand’s references in her statement to professional and intellectual exploitation were just cover, he tells us. The “real” cause was kept secret by her: Branden had told Rand that their age difference “constituted an insuperable barrier, for me, to a romantic relationship.”
No mention was made by Branden that for the previous fourteen years such an age difference had not been “an insuperable barrier” for him.
In effect, he suggested that Rand had “come on” to him and that he had been forced by his own emotional integrity to nobly refuse before any affair had begun. Preying upon the discretion of the wronged, he actually implied that Rand alone desired such a relationship, that he would have been incapable of it, and, perhaps, that he always regarded the very concept as irrational.
Rand, by contrast, had merely said that “Mr. Branden had been concealing from me certain ugly actions and irrational behavior in his private life, which were grossly contradictory to Objectivist morality...”—a statement that was true and discreet while necessarily explanatory.
But by the time of his memoirs, Branden would finally concede the nature of his personal deception of Rand. His affair with Rand had been commenced only at his instigation and, at Rand’s insistence, with the full knowledge and consent of their respective spouses. By the start of 1964 Branden had begun a new affair (with a married woman) which he kept secret from the woman’s husband at first, from Branden’s wife for two years, and from Rand for over four and half years.
During the course of this secret affair, his marriage with Barbara Branden now in shambles, Branden nonetheless refused to give his wife permission to have an affair of her own (with a married man), when she had the honesty to come forward with her own new interest. (This appears to have been the first instance of Ms. Branden’s up front disclosure of a desired affair, but certainly not her first affair in the course of her relationship with Branden.) Branden would continue for some time in this stance against Ms. Branden’s own affair while secretly commencing his own, according to Ms. Branden.
Ms. Branden says that it was “several months” after Branden’s affair with the other woman had already become sexual that Branden gave his consent, while Mr. Branden claims that it was only twelve or thirteen days. In any event, it was at least a year after his romantic feelings for the new woman were known to him, even if his account is to be credited. Today, after having been exposed by his first wife, Branden admits that such behavior was “ludicrous and unconscionable.”
When Branden did finally consent to Ms. Branden’s affair, he still did not reveal the truth of his own affair to her, Branden admits. Apparently it was not until after their formal separation that Branden finally told Ms. Branden of his new affair sometime near the end of 1966. Even then, he told her only that he was about to begin an affair with her, not that the affair was now more than two years old.
When Branden solicited Rand’s aid with his shattered marriage during the year 1965 and, probably, into 1966, he still did not disclose either his or his wife’s other affairs to Ms. Branden or Rand.
All the while, he continued teaching courses discussing the primacy of existence, the fundamental virtue of honesty, the evil of “counterfeiting reality,” the objectivity of knowledge, etc., etc.
Dishonesty had become a way of life for Branden. Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the very thing he was selling, made it impossible for him to deny, every minute of every waking hour.
When Branden’s ex-wife told him he should tell Rand the truth before initiating major new business commitments, Branden plunged ahead—even as he was feeling that he had his “back to the wall.”
Nor was it Branden who finally told the truth to Rand. Rather, he left this dirty work to his former wife. It is not clear that Branden himself would have ever told the truth to Rand.
Rand’s description in “To Whom It May Concern,” while it certainly did not reveal the affair to which she had been a party, had been a fair summary of Mr. Branden’s dishonesty in the less personal areas of their relationship. But it was also clear from Rand’s statement that something was missing, that Rand was holding back certain information which, it might well be said, was no one else’s business. In this sense, Rand’s statement was perfectly honest.
The same cannot be said of Branden’s 1968 statement, which was clearly intended to mislead the reader and to slander Rand in a miserably exploitative way.
In his memoir, Mr. Branden says that only when his relationship with Rand had been “reduced to long, drawn-out sessions made of nothing but pity, rage, guilt, and mutually [sic] inflicted pain,” and only after years of deceptively encouraging Rand’s feelings, did he finally tell Rand that—despite all of his earlier protests to her concerns that she would “always be a sexual being” to him—the age difference did, indeed, matter to him.
Because of Rand’s understandable sense of betrayal at this prolonged deception, the Brandens both agree that Rand contemplated denouncing Branden even then and began considering whether Ms. Branden might assume Mr. Branden’s professional position at the head of NBI and The Objectivist.
But Rand’s anger, it seems, did not prevent her from continuing to have business meetings with Branden. Her private journals reveal that they even continued to discuss Branden’s psychology, as we shall see.
Additionally, it is now conceded by both Brandens that Rand spoke of giving Branden another 'chance.'" Thus, the Brandens’ contention in 1968 that Rand had already decided to denounce him before she learned of the deception in his personal life is—once again—something squarely contradicted in both of the Brandens’ later accounts. Once again, their 1968 statement proves to be the actual series of “fabrications.”
The Brandens say that it was the prospect of Ms. Branden’s own financial windfall implied in Rand’s deliberations which motivated Ms. Branden to tell Rand about Mr. Branden’s affair. Branden probably could not have prevented this disclosure to Rand by his former wife, but he somehow still manages to give himself credit for acquiescing to Ms. Branden’s decision.
If this is all true, it may say something for Ms. Branden’s belated and partial honesty to Rand about Mr. Branden’s four and a half year old secret affair. Mr. Branden does, however, reveal that for two years Ms. Branden had explicitly agreed to help him keep his new affair a secret from Rand. He quotes Ms. Branden as agreeing with him “because you’re right, that would be the end of everything.” (We will also see, in Part II, the elaborate extent to which Ms. Branden would go in assisting Branden in this deception.)
Ms. Branden, possibly to her credit, could not, in the end, accept such a reward while still deceiving Rand, despite the financial motives that drove her previously. This is not something that can be said of Branden, even though it was his affair they were concealing.
Following Ms. Branden’s disclosure of that affair, Rand’s mind was made up—Branden was gone, the denunciation would come. Discussion of Ms. Branden’s possibly running NBI suddenly became even more serious. Ms. Branden quickly drew up a business plan.
Ms. Branden reports that Rand hardly looked at it before rejecting it. She quotes Rand as saying, “I can’t run a business, and I can’t let anyone else run it when it carries my name!”
This meant the liquidation of NBI.
The same afternoon that Ms. Branden’s plan had been rejected by Rand, Ms. Branden now admits that she began to tell friends of her “growing concern at Ayn’s reckless accusations and threats against Branden,” her concern for Rand’s “state of mind,” and her concern for Branden’s “professional destruction” by Rand. Even in 1968, Ms. Branden had admitted that she had openly worried that Rand’s attack on Mr. Branden “would compel him, in self-defense, to reveal information which would be painful and embarrassing to Miss Rand.” Ms. Branden does not mention this last in her biography, but what Rand had referred to as “veiled threats and accusations against” her by Ms. Branden are again seen to be based in fact, vindicating Rand’s account.
In “To Whom It May Concern,” Rand had observed that Ms. Branden began to take Mr. Branden’s side, as it were, only after her business plan had been rejected. Rand tells readers to draw their “own conclusions regarding Ms. Branden’s motives.”
The Brandens take issue with Rand’s questioning Ms. Branden’s motives. In their “Answer” to Rand, the Brandens insisted that it was Ms. Branden’s despair of financial gain while still deceiving Rand that had motivated her belated honesty.
Even if this is true, it does not contradict the possibility that Ms. Branden’s motivation for later siding with Mr. Branden was revenge for the loss of the windfall she had anticipated. After all, Ms. Branden had for two years deceived Rand, at least in part for financial reasons, and then suddenly signed her name to Mr. Branden’s highly deceptive version of these events in 1968.
Nor can Ms. Branden deny Rand’s account of the timing of Ms. Branden’s sudden switch to a defense of her ex-husband.
Such facts compel one to reconsider the assertion that Ms. Branden’s belated honesty was even the product of ethical considerations at all. Her revelations to Rand did have as their immediate effect the termination of any talk about “second chances” for Mr. Branden and conceivably could have put Ms. Branden in charge of her ex-husband’s former businesses. There is no reason to suppose that this was not part of Ms. Branden’s motive all along. It was, after all, only when Rand had put the kibosh on her own business plans that Ms. Branden turned. Ms. Branden tells us, in fact, that it was later that same day. And if Ms. Branden’s concern for Rand’s state of mind had been a sincere one, it certainly had not prevented her from proposing to make Rand her closest business associate earlier in the day.
Apparently, we can identify this day then as the day that the Brandens’ need to slander Rand’s psychology was born, and the day that their historical revisionism would begin.
Ms. Branden has kept insisting that her business plan had been solid and that Rand’s dismissal of this plan as a mere “projection” is indicative of her growing instability. Of course, it was just a “projection,” and the prospects for this projection relied as much on Ms. Branden’s now-tarnished trustworthiness as on sound business judgment. And without the draw of NBI’s “star” lecturer, Nathaniel Branden, Ms. Branden’s projections, which as she says were based on NBI’s past performance, were of little value. Nonetheless, Ms. Branden goes into some detail in her biography to justify the economic soundness of this plan.
It seems that Rand’s rejection of Ms. Branden’s business plan still smarts.
Nathaniel Branden’s own exploitation of Rand is far more complex and layered than Ms. Branden’s. Mr. Branden, as we have seen, is compelled to concede much of this himself. Perhaps this can be associated with his newly found desire to avoid calling anyone’s actions “immoral,” just “harmful,” as in the sentence, “I was harmful to Ayn Rand.” Therefore, the obfuscation of his own wrongdoing, however artfully done, is insufficient.
“Rand wronged me, too,” he spins by way of justification. Rand exploited Mr. Branden, both Brandens insist. In one of the most absurd examples of his distorted bias, Branden claims that Rand literally tried to “destroy him”: “‘You’ve got to understand,’ Barbara beseeched me, ‘that Ayn wants you dead!... Ayn wants you dead! That’s all that’s moving her now!’... Now I asked my brain to absorb the fact that the woman who had been my idol was plotting my annihilation.”
To justify this operatic assertion, Branden points to Rand’s published statement “To Whom It May Concern,” her efforts to get both her agent and her publisher to cancel their contracts with Branden, alleged efforts by Rand’s attorney to “blackmail” him when she improperly, in his view, took The Objectivist from him.
It probably need not be pointed out that Rand never tried to have Branden killed. Nor do the Brandens even try to substantiate this melodramatic claim. The allegation provides no insight into Rand, but, rather, it is the extent of the Brandens’ own paranoia that it serves to illuminate.
The phrase “plotting annihilation,” for example, in light of the actual evidence, takes Brandenian distortion to a new and intriguing level.
Rand’s only written references to the Brandens after the break were the aforementioned statement and a brief “p.s.” in a couple of books which still contained essays of Branden’s, to the effect that he was “no longer associated with” Rand or her philosophy. That’s it. Then, complete silence.
While Rand also removed Mr. Branden’s name from the dedication to Atlas Shrugged, this hardly amounts to “professional destruction.”
His essays—and his name—remained in Rand’s books, The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal. The “annihilation” plot apparently missed this open shot, at least, in striking Mr. Branden out of existence.
Rand had thought the Brandens to be honest people. When she discovered that they were not, it might even be argued that Rand was morally obligated to take whatever steps that were necessary to remove her public endorsement, even as Rand continued to acknowledge, in some sense, the value of their previous work. If her endorsement had secured Branden his publisher and agent, Rand had every right to withdraw her endorsement as vigorously as she could, when she no longer believed Branden to be an ethical man.
Since there are other publishers in the world, Branden was somehow able to publish The Psychology of Self-Esteem in 1969, the year following the break. And he was somehow able to establish a psychotherapy clientele on the West Coast. (The “somehow” was by using NBI/The Objectivist mailing lists.) Even if it were simply his personal deception of her, Rand certainly had every right to do her utmost to remove the endorsement to her agent and publisher which had been so valuable to Branden.
Because Branden was late in delivering the book, Rand’s publisher was free to take her new recommendation, according to Branden. The agent, it seems, had no intention of dropping Branden and never did. Both were within their rights in making these decisions. (The publisher had every right to do so, if only to please one of its best-selling authors.)
Regardless of her right to withdraw her endorsement of Branden, was Rand ethically justified in doing so? In the face of Mr. Branden’s prolonged dishonesty and exploitation of Rand, as well as Rand’s personal responsibility for her public endorsement of him, it was not only understandable, but also, perhaps, morally necessary.
During the course of Branden’s ongoing efforts to obtain professional certification, Rand had written letters of recommendation for him to agencies like the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. It is true that, following their break, she wrote back with new letters simply withdrawing her previous recommendation. This was the apparent extent of Rand’s efforts toward Branden’s professional “destruction”—the withdrawal of her previous endorsements.
Branden, however, suggests that he was the one who had been financially exploited. He suggests darkly that his transfer to Rand of his ownership interest in The Objectivist involved “blackmail” and unfair pressure, if not actual coercion.
As co-owners of The Objectivist, Branden and Rand each had an arguable claim to the other’s copyrights to a great many substantive articles. The magazine was the chief voice of Rand’s philosophy. This, according to Branden, was a focal point of their legal problems in the midst of separation. Branden signed the transfer of ownership when the documents were first presented to him by Rand’s attorney. Wishing the spread of Objectivism to continue, Branden says, he was simply concerned about retaining the copyrights to all of his own articles, and via telephone Rand quickly gave him an oral agreement to the effect that Branden would be “treated fairly” with regard to his copyrights.
In his 1989 memoir, however, Branden does not mention any “treated fairly” proviso and now states forthrightly that he was told that his articles were “his own property.” Again, it is curious that the Brandens did not mention this in 1968, when it would have seriously helped Mr. Branden’s legal position, which was then supposedly still in question. It is likely that, once again, the Brandens are modifying the truth for their own ends. Branden also now adds that, despite this oral agreement, soon after the break he was claiming that Rand had “refused” to sign over the copyrights to his articles. Branden does not disclose why he started to make this accusation, but this may have simply been his way of demanding that Rand publicly acknowledge his right to his own articles.
According to Branden’s memoir, when he actually inquired of Rand’s attorney, Henry Mark Holzer, he was told that Rand had never refused, and Branden never makes clear from whom he got that idea in the first place. Branden says that Rand’s attorney did then try to impose certain conditions, among which were: Branden must keep the affair confidential, he must not “respond” to Rand’s forthcoming denunciation of Branden, and he must not accuse Rand’s lawyer (who, before the break, had acted as attorney for both of them) of acting unethically. Branden does not say, but he presumably had already made this accusation against the attorney privately, as he would certainly do publicly in his 1968 “Answer” to Rand.
While it is probably the case that Mr. Holzer’s joint representation of both Branden and Rand—and its sudden termination—should have disqualified him from any legal involvement in their conflict, only an attorney can be expected to be sensitive to this point in the midst of conflict, and Rand may have been poorly treated by her own attorney in this matter (assuming Branden’s assertion that Holzer had previously represented him separately is true.)
In that “Answer,” Branden did charge Holzer with shoddy ethics and, of course, he did respond to Rand. And, when Branden used his articles from The Objectivist to form the basis of his most important book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, published the following year, Rand took no legal action whatsoever.
There is thus no circumstantial corroboration that such “conditions” were ever imposed, and Mr. Holzer is apparently the only person now in position to confirm the truth of Branden’s account on this score. Even if it is an accurate account, Mr. Holzer’s interest in protecting his own license and reputation suggests that these “conditions” may have been the work of Mr. Holzer, if they are not the invention of Branden. Rand is not likely to have been the author of the attorney-ethics condition, at least. Rand may never have known of any of them, since the only “condition” in which Rand appears to have had a possible interest was Branden’s discretion about the affair.
Based upon existing evidence, there is no way to tell which may be true.
If such conditions were actually ever proposed, it further suggests the truth of the “treated fairly” proviso Branden originally reported in 1968. Arguably, such a proviso would have put Rand in a legal position to negotiate the release of Branden’s copyrights.
And if Rand had actually solicited Branden’s discretion through her attorney, this can only have been the opening bid in an attempt to negotiate their mutual silence. According to his own scenario, it is probable that Branden could have avoided “To Whom It May Concern,” despite his later complaints. It was Branden who necessitated the eventual exposure of his own comprehensive dishonesty.
Nor would soliciting such conditions have comprised a violation of Mr. Branden’s rights, much less an effort to “destroy” him, in any event. Even assuming that these conditions were made and that Rand herself was privy to them, Rand was simply asking for Branden’s agreement not to make a private matter public in the privacy interests of everyone concerned.
The Brandens not only denied Rand’s charges, they did so dishonestly. The Brandens, already comfortable deceiving their readers, would reveal in the substance of their memoirs that everything Rand had initially said about the break and everything that they had initially denied about it was true. Yet they simultaneously insist that Rand’s 1968 statement, not their own, was the libel.
Mr. Branden’s original description in 1968 makes quite clear that the original transfer—assuming his own copyrights were retained—reflected his own explicit, considered and voluntary wishes at the time. It was not the result of inappropriate outside pressure. Yet, in his memoirs, he now suggests it was the product of duress.
In 1968, Branden says that he would have been within his legal rights to have demanded that The Objectivist terminate publication. Legally, this may have been true, but to have done so, of course, would have constituted an even greater spiritual theft from Rand, whose own efforts—sans the intellectual dishonesty—had also built that magazine.
According to Mr. Branden, it was his devotion to the ideas of Objectivism which had already made him, in his own words, “willing” for Rand to continue publishing the magazine named for her own philosophy. Scruples do not appear to have plagued the noted psychologist then or now, as he would cite this modicum of decency years later as evidence of his mistreatment.
In immediately signing over his whole interest in the magazine without financial compensation of any kind, Branden was clearly acknowledging a guilt that was obvious to all those involved at the time.
In 1968, to be sure, Branden had said that he had been threatened by Rand’s lawyer to sign immediately or that Rand “would demand a full investigation” of NBI’s financial dealings with The Objectivist—and even initiate a suit against Branden to do so. In 1968, this was the extent of the unfair pressure he was willing to allege.
“Exhausted,” he tells us, and with “a last vestige of sympathy for Miss Rand’s anxiety,” he signed.
Ms. Branden goes so far as to call this “his gift to Ayn.”
Branden does not mention in 1968, 1989 or 1999, what Rand’s private journals now make clear, namely that Branden had offered to sign The Objectivist over to Rand at least a month before their break, a suggestion which Rand—at the time—took as “offensive”!
As has been already observed, if Branden had not relinquished his position as coeditor of The Objectivist, or if he had used his technical copyright on any other articles in The Objectivist, he would have been morally, if not legally, guilty of an enormous intellectual theft. His position at the magazine had been maintained for years by deceiving his business partner—and the originator of the philosophy he professionally espoused.
Branden’s only “gift” to Rand was not to further amplify his own policy of intellectual, financial and emotional exploitation of her.
One can only imagine “what Howard Roark would have done” to Branden under such circumstances.
In 1989, Nathaniel Branden, for the first time, has added a much more sinister dimension to his accusations when he claimed that he was told by one of Rand’s representatives, “We had to talk Ayn out of wanting to send Bob Teague up here with us to make you sign.” Teague, it is reported, had a “brown belt in judo.”
But, if this story is true, then why did Branden fail to mention any of this in 1968? He was perfectly willing to suggest that he was being wrongly “pressured” in other ways to sign the transfer, to have an affair, etc.
Indeed, Branden was giving a rather complete list of Rand’s dastardly role in the break. He certainly accuses Rand of slander and blackmail in that document. Furthermore, he was even willing to reveal Rand’s part (if not his own) in wanting a romantic relationship. Why suppress just this? And why, if Branden was so willing to sign over his rights from the start, would Rand ever have felt tempted to “send Bob Teague?”
Ms. Branden, in her 1986 biography, neglected to include mention of this, as well, though it certainly would have added to the book’s cinematic potential.
According to Mr. Branden, his former wife was also in the room at the time. Why did Ms. Branden not choose to include this alarming occurrence?
And, of course, there is the formulation of this double-hearsay to contend with. We are to believe that Teague never was called because Rand had already been “talked out” of it. More precisely, Rand had been “talked out of wanting to” do it. This is a very fine piece of wording, but what is it supposed to mean?
Three steps removed from Rand herself, this allegation says nothing about Rand, even if Branden’s is a true report. But the prevailing evidence suggests that this is simply another of Branden’s many creative and conveniently unverifiable recollections.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the story is not likely to be true. Had Branden withheld “his gift to Rand,” he would have been asserting his control over Rand’s valuable intellectual property. He would have been continuing in a position which he had kept up by fraud for at least five years. He would have denied Rand—who had never once consciously lied to him—control over the official voice of her ideas, and Rand—once again—would have been the one victimized by Branden’s fraud.
Morally, Branden should have signed over his interest in The Objectivist years earlier. To have asked for monetary compensation for this, in the wake of years of systematic deception of Rand about so much, would have been the equivalent of theft, a kind of spiritual theft grievously hurtful to Rand. The transfer was perfectly voluntary and proper, Mr. Branden’s subsequent objections and lies notwithstanding.
Rand had acted as best as she could to withdraw her endorsement of the Brandens.
However, it is beyond hyperbole for the Brandens to suggest that Rand was attempting to “destroy” Branden. Rand may have tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Branden from slandering her. Branden’s subsequent lies soon vindicated this motivation in spades.
The Brandens were dishonest with Rand about nearly everything a person can be dishonest about, largely in order to maintain the good thing they had going at NBI. This dishonesty lasted for years.
The Brandens not only lied to Rand, they lied to their readers about their relationship with her, and their break in 1968—and then they lied about their lies. Ever since then, they have continued to lie in memoirs and biographies about their lies to their readers in 1968—calling Rand’s 1968 statement, not their own, “libelous.” This remarkably all-encompassing dishonesty is manifest even from the biographies themselves—and it is all the more apparent, as we shall continue to see, now that we have Rand’s journal entries from this same period.
When Rand began to find out about the Brandens’ dishonesty, she severed her personal and professional relationship with them. The Brandens would go on and on in their dishonest attack on Rand in the years to follow. After her 1968 statement, Rand’s public silence about the Brandens continued until her death.
One thing the Brandens got right—someone had been exploited. But it was not them.
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