Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect

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Submitted by James S. Valliant on Fri, 2008-04-04 02:20

More PARC!

The following is Chapter II of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critic’s. The reader is reminded that the footnotes have been omitted for current purposes, and for these one must refer to the book. Some minor changes have been made to the text for its present posting at SOLO. For example, I have amplified my own evaluation of the surprise party thrown for Rand and credited the Brandens with throwing it. Ms. Branden has been excluded from the discussion of Mr. Branden’s attack on Rand’s gratitude. Ms. Branden is credited with merely reporting the speculation over Rand’s use of the diet pill rather than the speculation itself. For inspiring these changes, I am grateful to Neil Parille although he is a severe critic of this entire project. A couple of other minor changes have been made, and I have folded some of the endnote material into parenthetical comments on a couple of occasions and added a note on Sciabarra. In no instance did any change modify any of the original theses.

Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect

Between and within both authors’ biographies of Ayn Rand, and even between differing editions of those biographies, are obvious contradictions and distortions that demonstrate that neither author has achieved the objectivity necessary to depict Rand in a reliable way. Their mission, therefore, strikes the reader as one of vengeance and tastes of financial exploitation.

And as their own accounts certainly substantiate, this would not be the first time they had so exploited Ayn Rand.

Most helpfully for her readers, Ms. Branden wears her own distorting prejudices on her sleeve. The portrait of Rand that she paints is so filled with contradictions, both explicit and implicit, that they form a striking spectacle of their own that focuses the eye away from Rand and on a disturbing portrait of Ms. Branden painted with impressions of Rand refracted through the prism of her conflicted mind. Just as in non-objective art, the prism of Ms. Branden’s mind soon becomes the focus, since what is reflecting through it is clearly impossible.

Take, for example, the issue of intelligence to Rand. Ms. Branden writes:

“[Ayn Rand] placed on intelligence what can only be termed a moral value; intelligence and virtue were to become inextricably linked in her mind and emotions; where she saw no unusual intelligence... she saw no value that meant anything to her in personal terms.”

Oddly enough, Ms. Branden also reveals that:

“Throughout [Rand’s] life, she often said that the simplest of men, the least educated, had the power to grasp complex ideas if they were led through the necessary logical steps. It was a view that gave her infinite patience with minds slower and less competent than hers, so long as she believed the mind was honest and seeking... She believed that such people had a capacity for logic, for understanding, an intellectual integrity uncorrupted by what she contemptuously called ‘modern education’; her patience and respect for the uncorrupted 'common man' made her superbly able, in her personal dealings and through her writings, to reach him.”

A personality can be complex—it can even contain contradictory elements—especially the personality of a creative artist like Ayn Rand. But the Law of Non Contradiction, which Ms. Branden still claims to believe, remains true. Either Rand was a person who had a universal contempt for the less intelligent or she was a person who had “infinite patience” and “respect” for them—she cannot have been both.

The latter view is confirmed by Nathaniel Branden, who writes:

“[Rand] had a great talent for establishing intellectual rapport with 'ordinary people'—a cleaning woman, a taxi driver, a telephone installer. She was very proud of the fact that in conversation she could make her ideas clear to almost everyone...”

The following passage is from Rand's private journals, never intended for publication, dated July 13, 1945, prior to ever meeting the Brandens:

“The moral man is not necessarily the most intelligent, but the one who independently exercises such intelligence as he has.” (Journals, p. 281)

In her biography of Rand, Ms. Branden tells us as early as page 49:

“[Rand] could no longer live in the present, no longer stop to notice it, no longer remove her mental focus from tomorrow. Several of the people who knew her most intimately in later years commented that they never once saw her fully enjoy an event or activity that was here and now.”

“Never once” is a long time. Certainly longer than the nineteen pages between that and page 68:

“Whatever the mud and the dross of the years, that capacity for enjoyment... never wholly left her.”

And one only has to wait until page 71 for this:

“[Rand's] relatives recalled that Ayn seemed happy. Minna [an aunt] explained: ‘She sang a lot around the house... she'd dance around the room [to her favorite song]. She loved it.’ Ayn was happy; something inside her was blazing with a fierce, exultant joy.”

Ms. Branden also quotes Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor, on page 87 as follows:

“[Ayn] had a tremendous capacity for enjoyment. Whether it was a piece of music she liked or a story or some present I bought her that cost a dollar—she was so expressively and radiantly delighted.”

This zest for life lasts at least up to page 239, where Ms. Branden reports the following observation from her own early experiences with Rand:

“When we entered the living room, it was to the sight of this serious, austere woman, interested only in the most crucial issues of human life and thought, dancing around the room, spinning in circles and laughing, her head thrown back in a gesture of cheerful defiance, waving a baton that Frank had bought for her—like a child to whom life was an endlessly joyous adventure.”

We are told by Ms. Branden that: “Ayn had very little humor in her psychological make up, and was suspicious of humor on principle.”

We are then surprised to read that Rand “laughed uproariously” at her favorite comedian’s jokes, that she enjoyed the humorous stories of O. Henry, and that her husband, Frank, had a delightful wit which Rand appreciated. Among the many other examples in her book which contradict the idea that Rand was almost utterly humorless on principle (including humorous passages from Rand’s novels!) are the following:

“At [a friend’s] urging, Ayn gave her first talk in Hollywood at a Books and Authors group—at which the attendance established a record for the organization... She spoke for a few minutes, then asked for questions. At the first question [her friend] cringed with embarrassment. ‘Miss Rand,’ a woman said, ‘the sex scenes between Roark and Dominique are so wonderful! Do they come from your own experience? What is their source?’ Ayn brought down the house when she replied in two words: ‘Wishful thinking.’ Ayn gave another talk during this period [to the American Association of Architects]... During the question period, a man said, ‘You present Howard Roark as unconventional—but he wasn’t really—he was, after all, faithful to one woman all his life!’ Ayn replied, ‘Do you call that conventional?’—and the audience burst into laughter and applause.”

Nathaniel Branden reports that while Rand preferred small, informal gatherings, he attended at least one larger party at Rand's home in California before they moved to New York. He describes Rand at that party as possessing “great charm, warmth, and even humor” In a modest upgrade from his former wife’s contention, he suggests that, while Rand was no comedienne, she was certainly not humorless.

It is true that Rand was “suspicious” of certain uses of humor. In The Romantic Manifesto, Rand writes, “Humor is not an unconditional virtue; its moral character depends upon its object. To laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a hideous vice. Too often humor is used as the camouflage of moral cowardice.” Even from this passage, however, it is clear that Rand regarded humor as a “virtue,” and, from all the actual evidence, one she comfortably practiced.

Another issue Ms. Branden succeeds in confusing pertains to Rand's alleged insensitivity to “personal context.” After relating Rand’s disappointment with her peers in her early school days, Ms. Branden says:

“Nothing could be more typical of... Ayn Rand... the instantaneous judgment... the failure to ask any other questions, to consider the possibility of a legitimate context not known to her... [Rand's] psychological nature [was] arrogant, demanding, dogmatically wedded to its first passionate perceptions [and] would make her, in the realm of human relationships, impatient with methodology, with the calm and painstaking pursuit of hidden truth... in the realm of social dealings, there would be for her no subtleties, no context, no hidden meanings...”

In Rand’s “philosophy,” Ms. Branden concedes, there were plenty of “subtleties” but, it is insisted, never in her understanding of other people.

But, Ms. Branden also tells us that, “[a]n important part of the powerful effect of Ayn's personality on everyone who met her was that she appeared to have an acute sensitivity to the particular concepts most relevant to whomever she was addressing, a special antenna that gave her a direct line to what would be especially meaningful; many of her acquaintances had commented on this phenomenon, as many more were to do so throughout her life.”

And, it is clear from both Branden biographies that Rand’s alleged “insensitivity” did not prevent either of the Brandens from repeatedly soliciting Rand’s counsel on personal and psychological issues—even up to the last months of their association. The remarkable extent of the counseling they requested of Rand was so excessive as to render the claim that Rand was “insensitive” unbelievable to any but the most self-deluded. This will become ever more apparent as we proceed in this analysis.

Was Rand ever sensitive to a person’s context, or was she callously and “dogmatically wedded” to her “passionate” snap judgments about people? Apparently Ms. Branden would have it both ways since she reports the following from her own experience, on pages 237 and 238:

“Sometimes, on a bright afternoon, Ayn and I would walk together along the paths of the ranch, past the cages of Frank’s exquisite preening peacocks and along the alfalfa field, while she scanned the ground for the colorful rocks she loved to collect. As we walked, I would tell her about the problems on my mind... all the difficulties of a young girl on the verge of adulthood. Where I saw no avenue of solution, she would point out what I had overlooked, with a sensitive, non judgmental understanding of my context and needs. I have never forgotten those sunlit walks and those equally sunlit discussions.” (emphasis added)

Yet, she seems to have forgotten them—again—only three pages later, on page 241:

“The special softness, the need to touch and be touched, the concern with day-to-day activities, the non-judgmental tenderness, the unconditional acceptance that one associates with motherhood, were alien to Ayn.”

Somehow, once again, on page 357, Ms. Branden is still able to remember “Ayn’s smile whenever I entered the door, and the touch of her hand when something was troubling me... [and Ayn] blowing a kiss whenever we parted.” (emphasis added)


Words like “never” and “alien” have specific meanings, perhaps not those Ms. Branden has in mind, but did no one at Doubleday even read the book?

Nathaniel Branden meanwhile describes at least one conversation with Ms. Branden in which “[t]here was no sound of reproach in Ayn’s voice, just a gentle, persistent probing, encouraging Barbara to explore and voice her feelings.”

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s internal confusion can be seen in many smaller issues, as well. For example, we are left perplexed when Ms. Branden asserts that Rand’s arrival in Berlin in 1926 represented her “first sight of a major European city,” after telling us that (apart from being a native of St. Petersburg and having previously seen Moscow) Rand had walked “along a London street with her governess” in 1914.

A biographer’s subject, as mentioned earlier, can be complex and contradictory, but it is the biographer’s duty to sort these aspects out into something at least comprehensible. As described in Ms. Branden's book, Rand is not only hard to understand but impossible to have existed.


The Brandens’ portraits of Rand are nothing if not complex. Along with their many criticisms of Rand’s psychology and behavior are mixed significant complimentary references. They both concede that there is much for which Rand must be praised—using Rand’s own standards. Rand was a woman of fierce independence, brilliant and dedicated to her ideas and to her craft.

All this fails to assure the skeptic, however, regarding the Brandens’ objectivity, but, rather, highlights the persistent need both authors have to justify their own conduct in the events they relate and to justify their own, however temporary, admiration of Rand. Their critique, at face value, is overblown and overstated, carried by the obvious passions and prejudices they both still exhibit.

But even when taken at face value the total picture they paint of Rand, good and bad, one is struck by the contrast it creates to the lives of other widely respected writers and philosophers.

In Intellectuals, Paul Johnson’s biographical survey of many of the most influential thinkers of the past couple of centuries, a fascinating series of case studies offer a dramatic comparison.

Bertrand Russell, for example, while he was taking “free love” to promiscuous new heights with “chambermaids, governesses, any young and pretty female whisking about the house,” complained bitterly when his second wife, Dora, had an affair of her own.

Russell was a socialist, but, like his friend Clough Williams-Ellis, Russell’s inherited wealth permitted him a more than comfortable existence that included lavish gifts. However, Russell also exhibited at times a “meanness and avarice.” Russell's response to charges of hypocrisy was simple: “I'm afraid you got it wrong. Clough Williams-Ellis and I are socialists. We don't pretend to be Christians.”

Russell was also a pacifist, “but there were times when he loved force,” as when he stated his desire to murder British Prime Minister Asquith. So detached from physical reality was Russell that “the simplest mechanical device”—or even making tea—was well beyond his capacity.

Then, of course, there is Ernest Hemingway, who was an alcoholic, and who, under the influence, would often beat his wives or anyone else who happened to be within arm’s reach, that is, when he wasn't describing, in some detail, his wife’s genitals or boasting of his own pretended sexual prowess to the other guy at the bar. His own son, Gregory, reports how Hemingway so “tortured” his second wife, who had the nerve to object to “his drinking and the brutality it engendered,” that Hemingway “finally destroyed all her love for him.”

A Communist Party sympathizer, Hemingway was also a frequent and grandiose liar about everything from his own accomplishments (e.g., he claimed to have been the first person to enter liberated Paris in 1944) to the role of the communists in the Spanish Civil War. Papa ended his life with a shotgun.

Karl Marx rarely bathed, and though he got the nursery maid pregnant (“the only member of the working class that Marx ever knew at all well”) and refused to acknowledge any responsibility, he got his patron-sucker, Engels, to assume it.

Jean-Paul Sartre, who compared America to the Nazis, but was all talk and no action during World War II and the French Resistance Movement, was also said to have consumed a quart of alcohol, 200 milligrams of amphetamines, and several grams of barbiturates a day, in addition to various other chemicals.

Every significant fact about Lillian Hellman’s life—except her enduring sympathy for Stalin—was a fabrication, such that Mary McCarthy said of Hellman, “every word she ever writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” (Hellman was also a vicious critic of Rand.)

The other lives Johnson relates in Intellectuals tell much the same story. With principles that cannot be lived in practice, each, in one way or another, became an ugly hypocrite, or a tortured idealist, or a bit of both.

From the ferocity of the Brandens’ attack, one would assume that Rand was far worse than any of these celebrated figures. And, yet, an objective comparison—using the Brandens’ own works—suggests a contrast to these “giants” of another kind.

Ayn Rand came to America at the age of 21—a young woman, alone in the 1920s—half-way around the world to a country where she still barely spoke the language, determined to become a writer, an artist, in that new language. Less than twenty years later, after the publication of The Fountainhead, she was selling the movie rights to her best-selling novel, which was being praised by The New York Times for its literary mastery.

Rand’s novels represent a remarkable achievement. They involve complex plots that can last over a thousand pages and which are explained in long and complex philosophical passages. Yet, they are still “best-sellers” that keep readers in page-turning suspense through exciting twists and turns across vast and thrilling tableaux.

We the Living, Rand’s searing indictment of the Soviet Union—indeed, any dictatorship—was based in part on her own experience in Russia. First published in 1936, it predates the assassination of Leon Trotsky by four years, the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago by two decades, and that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work by two-and-a-half decades. Of course, with respect to their philosophies these authors are miles apart, and Rand, in contrast to so many anti-communist writers, opposed both socialism and mysticism in any form. Although Rand was certainly not the first Russian to complain about Russia’s experience with communism, she was among the earliest to gain an audience outside of that country.

Anthem, Rand’s depiction of a future totalitarian dark age in which the word “I” has been removed from the human vocabulary, was first published in 1938, eleven years before the publication of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and seven years before Animal Farm. Unlike Orwell, Rand labored under no illusion that a totalitarian state could long remain a technologically advanced society, and, again, she seemed uniquely able to perceive the dictatorship implicit in any form of collectivism. (For Rand's own criticism of Animal Farm, see Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 310, 337.)

Ayn Rand saw much more clearly, and much sooner, than even it most celebrated critics the nature and causes of Twentieth Century totalitarianism.

These novels were just etudes in relation to the concerto that would follow, but The Fountainhead would be rejected by a dozen publishers. Despite all the advice she received to temper her views, Rand refused to compromise and held fast to her controversial positions. With very little help, Rand was almost entirely a “self-made” success.

Conservatives hated Rand for her atheism, liberals for her defense of capitalism, and everyone objected to her egoism, but Rand refused to modify or moderate her views to please the critics, and she stuck to her beliefs through thick and thin. The battles she waged over her innovative Broadway play, The Night of January 16th, and the widely anticipated film version of The Fountainhead show how hard she was willing to fight, like her hero Howard Roark, for her artistic integrity—as the Brandens admit.

That Rand never surrendered her controversial stances for popularity would be tested again and again throughout her life—as when a “Texas oil man once offered her up to a million dollars to use in spreading her philosophy, if she would only add a religious element to it to make it more popular.” She refused.

Rand astonished her own publishers by getting them to agree to print every word she wrote in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. With the same energy and acumen, Rand had gotten Jack Warner to film every single word of the climactic courtroom speech of her hero, Howard Roark, in the film version of The Fountainhead.

Clearly, Rand could be as “hard-thinking” (Peikoff's term for Rand), hard working and fiercely independent as any of the characters in her novels.

The Brandens contend that Rand was blind—perhaps even dishonest—when it came to certain “personal areas,” especially in her relationship with the Brandens. Mr. Branden says that keeping his affair with Rand a secret involved an otherwise undefined “network of lies and deception.” That Rand and Branden worked closely together—and (at the time) had the highest admiration for one another—was certainly no secret, however. If nothing else, the original dedication of Atlas Shrugged to both O'Connor and Branden makes this obvious.

Actually, the extent to which Rand was serious about honesty can be seen from the fact that only with the full knowledge and consent of both of their respective spouses did Rand begin her affair with Nathaniel Branden.

We shall return to these "personal areas" shortly. On all other matters, they provide substantial evidence of Rand's impressively rigorous honesty.

Ms. Branden repeatedly tells us that a strict respect for the facts was Rand's normal policy, both in theory and in practice. Ms. Branden even reveals that she was “always impressed with the range and exactitude of [Rand’s] memory,” a capacity Ms. Branden elsewhere calls “remarkable.”

Even scholars who are critical of Rand have almost entirely verified the truth of Rand’s various assertions regarding her education and youth, long a subject of doubt and speculation in some quarters. Despite such verification, these scholars persist in treating Rand’s statements skeptically while they simultaneously refuse to subject the Brandens themselves to the same testing of credibility. (It should be noted that, in the wake of the first appearance of this volume, Rand scholar Chris Sciabarra, who is responsible for much of this verification, made clear in our correspondence that he, at least, does not rely on the Brandens' biographical works in his own work.)

Describing his first impressions of Rand, her husband, Frank O'Connor, is quoted by Nathaniel Branden as follows: “One of the most striking things about [Ayn] was the absence of any trace of deviousness. The total honesty...”

Branden writes that “[w]ith the exception of certain personal areas where she could be appallingly unconscious, [Rand] had the most profound and passionate respect for the facts.” More than this, he concedes, Rand was an honest writer who strove for clarity, lucidity and precision. Rand wrote exactly what she meant, getting straight to her point, pulling no punches.

Rand was also true to her values, an attitude which today is regarded as downright rude in dry, academic circles. If Rand admired something, her praise was an exultant hymn—when she admired someone, she hero-worshipped. Conversely, if Rand did not think highly of something or someone, her attack could be merciless. Her sense of justice demanded this attitude, according to all sources.

It seems that Rand embodied in her very personality—as well as in her philosophy—a passionate concern for truth and justice.

By Ms. Branden’s account, Rand got intoxicated exactly once in her entire life, at the final dress-rehearsal of the disastrous stage adaptation of her first novel, We the Living, titled The Unconquered, in 1940. She did not like the effects of alcohol, but she did not object to the social drinking of others.

It also seems, from her account, that Rand had sex with just two men in her life, both in serious, committed and long-term relationships.

According to the Brandens, Rand only became at all violent, if that’s even a correct description here, on exactly one occasion in her life—when she slapped Nathaniel Branden’s face upon learning, not that their affair was over (as we shall see, that had been clear to both of them for several weeks, if not months, by that point), but about Branden’s four-year, eight-month deception of Rand with yet another woman.

Outside of the Brandens’ own (brief) dispute with Rand, the Brandens seem to concede that Rand never violated anyone’s legal rights in her entire life. It seems that it was her constant policy to respect the persons and property of others. And, in their own case, the Brandens’ claims to the contrary prove empty, as we shall see.

Rand was no socialist; in fact, she regarded taxes as immoral. Yet, unlike many a socialist hypocrite, she was, going by the Brandens’ accounts, a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen. (As an egoist, Rand was dubious of self-made martyrs.)

Rand is also repeatedly described by both Brandens as being remarkably generous to others with both her time and her money. Ms. Branden writes that, “Ayn often was warm and generous with her friends, generous with her concern, her time, her attention...” (We shall return to the full quotation in subsequent chapters.) She also relates that an old friend of Rand’s recalled “that Ayn and Frank, despite their difficult financial circumstances [at the time], loaned small sums of money to out-of-work writers who were having an even more difficult time.” We also hear that, in later years, Rand “gave gifts of money, informal scholarships to young people who could not otherwise complete their education and in whom she saw intelligence and promise.” Each of the Brandens reports experiencing Rand’s various kinds of generosity, personally.

Rand’s gratitude was apparently no less than her generosity, “so much so that people who knew her were often startled by the extent of her gratitude, when they did her the smallest of services...” Rand’s charm, brilliance and, especially, her gratitude were the very attributes Rand’s publisher, Bennett Cerf, most recalled of Rand in his own memoir, At Random. Ms. Branden reports that this graciousness and charm were felt by people even in the last decade of her life.

Despite her atheism, and surprisingly to those who might not grasp her concept of egoism, Rand loved Christmas, “an excuse to give parties and exchange gifts with friends.”

In comparison to the “great minds” Johnson writes about, and even the average Joe, Ayn Rand was a sober, non-promiscuous, peaceful, rights-respecting, honest, hard-working and generous individual. Rand also exhibited a degree of integrity unknown to a majority of the “giants” of modern intellectual history.

The Brandens all but say that Ayn Rand was a genius of the ages, but they fail to give comparison to others who are said to have achieved that status. Was Ayn Rand harsh to questioners following a lecture, as they report? In comparison to Beethoven’s social manner, Rand was a pussycat. Was Rand alienated from her culture and those around her? In comparison to Van Gogh, Rand was a party animal. Was Rand authoritarian with her students? Mullah Rand?

To justify what they were willing to “tolerate,” Rand must be portrayed as a genius. To justify their break with Rand, Rand must be portrayed as a monster. Ms. Branden writes of Rand that both her “virtues” and her “shortcomings” were “larger than life.” The whole enterprise is suspect in light of their obviously similar agendas.

The Brandens’ criticisms of Rand are, mostly, but not exclusively, personal and psychological rather than philosophical. They briefly review several of Objectivism’s principal ideas, not always in the language Rand herself used to explain those ideas, but they do so in a generally laudatory manner. In fact, they appear to be repeatedly assuring their readers that they still support most of Rand’s ideas—and that they had good reason to be caught up in Rand’s spell, as it were. Their thrust is that Rand often did not live up to her own stated ideals because of deep psychological issues which Rand herself never acknowledged.

There are some significant philosophical differences, however. Mr. Branden rejects the use of the term “validate” with regard to metaphysical axioms, thinks Rand’s novels subtly but pervasively encourage psychological repression, and thinks Rand gave insufficient attention to benevolence.

Still more profoundly, Branden endorses such assertions as Haim Ginott’s “labeling is disabling.” Without disputing that it may be counterproductive in a psycho-therapeutic context to pour concrete onto a patient’s current self-estimate, surely even the field of psychology is conceptual, and Branden seems to have veered sharply away from the author of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, if not the necessity and objectivity of concepts themselves.

Branden also now generally rejects making Rand-style ethical judgments about others, and he says that he prefers a non-judgmental, psychological approach to human evaluation. For example, he now rejects the normative evaluations of the great philosophical systems in history—and some of their originators—which Rand had developed in For the New Intellectual. Branden does not argue with any of Rand’s specific evaluations, but he nonetheless claims Rand’s approach unnecessarily alienates intellectuals.

Branden asserts that the severity of Rand's moral judgments was a relic of religious thinking—which he had, he suggests, purged from his own psychology completely. He prefers now to see things simply as “harmful” or “beneficial,” rather than “good” or “bad.” Branden thus appears to accept the modern notion that passionate normative evaluation is “unscientific” or non-objective, hence, religious. Ironically, it is the psychological dimension of evaluations, i.e., emotions, which Branden now emphatically rejects.

Branden’s own confessions to having slavishly and “violently” suppressed his “true self” in order to identify with Rand (discussed in chapters three and four) do not suggest any disturbing religiosity on his own part to Branden. Nor does his self-defined role as Rand’s “enforcer” (also discussed in chapter three) strike him as “a remnant” of anything of the sort. The fact that in those days Branden could be what he regards as too “judgmental” and “intolerant” does not suggest anything about his own psychology to the famous psychologist, either.

For her part, Ms. Branden uses concepts that Rand would have wholeheartedly rejected. She refers, for example, to Rand’s “feminine instincts,” the “intuitive aspects of her nature,” and areas of “subjective preference.” Rand herself would have demanded definitions of these concepts—whether used about her or anyone else—and almost certainly would have rejected the terminology. Ms. Branden does not give definitions and leaves it up to the reader to rely on what Rand herself would have regarded as sloppy modern thinking. It is not too much to ask that Ms. Branden should explain her philosophically contentious terminology to, say, the average student of Rand’s philosophy.

In any case, the thrust of their critique is not aimed at Rand’s philosophy, but rather at her failure to live up to it. But they do concede that Rand had remarkable qualities, that she was a woman of rationality, artistic integrity and independence, that she conscientiously read her critics but never yielded to them. She made it her policy to respect the rights of her fellow man and to be an exactingly honest person.

And she was exciting to be around. New ideas flowed daily from a mind with a seemingly unlimited range. Her brilliance and charm could be irresistibly compelling. That is why, they say, they devoted their lives to the woman as well as her ideas.

However, in her dealings with her students and followers, they tell us, Rand could be oppressively authoritarian. It is claimed that Rand demanded absolute agreement. They say that her penchant for constant moralizing created a rigid atmosphere which stifled creativity and spontaneity. Her habit of ascribing behavior—or even artistic preferences—with which she did not agree to a psychological disease or moral failure encouraged an all-encompassing emotional repression of any desire or attitude not sufficiently in line with Rand’s views. During question-and-answer periods following a lecture, they tell us, Rand could get angry and, sometimes very unfairly, alienate or humiliate the questioner. We will examine each of these issues in the next chapter.

To explain this kind of behavior, Ms. Branden provides a detailed psychological profile of Rand. Nathaniel Branden apparently concurs with most of her conclusions. In the “Introduction” to the new edition of his own biography, Mr. Branden says that “in order to let the story speak for itself” he “offer[s] very little psychological analysis” of Rand. However, though Branden draws few firm conclusions of any kind, psychological analysis is implicit throughout his book.

Rand was a deeply repressed and alienated woman, both Brandens write, alienated from the culture in which she lived and from the material world itself. Such repression was the result of Rand’s burying a childhood, indeed, a lifetime, of emotional pain: parental rejection, surviving the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, including periods of near-starvation, an intense professional struggle and the unjust rejection by many critics of her titanic efforts.

According to the Brandens, this resulted in a pronounced psychological need for Rand to be “in control,” as much as possible, hence, a moralizing “authoritarian.”

In every case, the Brandens’ assertions on these topics are presented with little or no evidence to support them.

Rand was certainly in one sense very alienated from the world around her. She was at times depressed, angry and harsh. Presumably, she was, at times, tense, irritable and demanding—as, I fear, most of us are.

Rand’s fierce anger, however, was an unusually intense and major part of her personality—of this, there can be no doubt.

One does not have to be a psychologist to know that inappropriate or misplaced anger often does indicate repressed feelings of pain and injustice. This, of course, assumes that the anger is misplaced or inappropriate. Otherwise, anger is simply a healthy response to injustice.

In developing her psychological profile of Rand, Ms. Branden stretches well past the range of the evidence. Ms. Branden’s entire portrait is, in fact, simply a compilation of specious logic supported by virtually no evidence, at all, despite her prolonged personal history with Rand.

For example, it is exclusively from a family photograph that Ms. Branden divines that Rand’s maternal grandmother, about whom there is almost no other evidence or mention, was “clearly the feared matriarch and the soul of her family.”

That Rand’s parents are “leaning in opposite directions,” in this lone, innocuous snapshot from the awkward post-daguerreotype days of photography, is somehow grounds to conclude that “they are avoiding” each other.

From the “model” of their relationship, principally deduced from this photograph, Ms. Branden is able to see the same “pattern” that would emerge in Rand’s own marriage. Yet, from the evidence, the only similarity between O’Connor and Rand’s father is a quiet disposition. Claims of “passivity” or any other psychological conclusions are simply impossible to achieve from such a paucity of data.

The absurd extent to which Ms. Branden claims to be able to draw deductive conclusions from this single photograph is remarkable and must raise a bright red flag about her objectivity in general.

Ms. Branden is also convinced, not from witness statements or circumstantial evidence, but from her own deductions that Rand experienced comprehensive rejection from her parents.

The actual circumstances suggest otherwise.

The Rosenbaums clearly gave their children considerable attention, providing a comfortable home with servants and the best education they could obtain for them. As she matured, Alissa Rosenbaum, who would later take the name Ayn Rand, developed a real friendship with her father. Whatever their disagreements, it was her mother who had the sensitivity to her daughter’s needs to have sold the last of her jewelry to get Rand out of Russia. True, her father exhibited the reserve typical of the period, and her mother’s ideas and personality were anathema to Rand.

This hardly justifies the following:

“Her father’s seeming indifference to her and her mother’s disapproval had to be sources of anguish to the child. Yet as an adult she always spoke as if they were simple facts of reality, of no emotional significance to her then or later. One can only conclude that a process of self-protective emotional repression—which was so clearly to characterize her adult years—was becoming deeply rooted even in early childhood.” (emphasis added)

There is an obvious response which leaps to mind: no, one can more easily conclude that Rand had come to terms with these “facts,” even assuming that their attitude can be described as “seeming indifference” and “disapproval,” for which there is no real evidence provided.

Ms. Branden fails to consider the possibility that Rand was not somehow deeply disturbed by things she spoke of as “simple facts of reality.” But what would the state of the evidence look like if Rand had somehow managed to deal with such childhood issues as she had in a psychologically healthy way? Wouldn’t she, then, be able to talk about them without getting emotional—as Ms. Branden reports was just the case?

Rand was born to Jewish parents in Russia in 1905. The idea that she confronted anti-Semitism at an early age is at least plausible. Rand herself attached no significance to her race or ethnic heritage for both philosophical and psychological reasons, as Ms. Branden concedes.

Now, consider Ms. Branden’s psycho-epistemology in overdrive:

“In all my conversations with Ayn Rand about her years in Russia, she never once mentioned to me—nor, to the best of my knowledge, to anyone else—any encounter she might have had with anti-Semitism. It is all but impossible that there were not such encounters. One can only assume that, as with the pain caused by the indifference of her parents [notice that both are now “indifferent”], the pain and terror of anti-Semitism was ultimately blocked from her memory—in both cases, perhaps, because the memory would have carried with it an unacceptable feeling of humiliation.” (emphasis added)

The idea that anti-Semitism may not have touched her childhood in any dramatic way, or that Rand was simply able to deal with whatever level of bigotry she faced, is just not considered by Ms. Branden. “One can only assume” proves—even suggests—nothing.

But, Ms. Branden claims that since Rand spoke of her parents in a matter of fact way, we may conclude that she was highly repressed, and, from the fact that Rand never mentioned an anti-Semitic experience in Russia, that she was psychologically “blocking.” Rarely, if ever, has so much psycho-theory been built on so little reality.

Perhaps because of his background in psychology, Nathaniel Branden shies away from any detailed analysis of a family and childhood he knows little about. Nevertheless, he generally agrees with his ex-wife’s psychological assessments, while providing no more evidence for such conclusions than Ms. Branden does. Mr. Branden invariably uses the same, useless examples she does, and we are provided little or no additional detail when he recycles the same material. Merely adding a second voice to repeat the same foundationless assertions does not give the unproven any greater reality.

In fact, reiterating the same examples suggests a coordinated story, for we must remember that Branden suffers from the same highly biased position to his subject as his ex-wife does. Although long-estranged afterwards, in the immediate wake of their break with Rand in 1968 they did, in fact, coordinate their responses to Rand.

As with so much else, Branden does not attempt to demonstrate these theories about Rand but simply to insinuate them. As he told an interviewer, the suggestions he makes in his memoir are not “claims of knowledge” but, rather, possible or “partial” explanations of Rand’s behavior. A more artfully vague escape clause for any defects which might be found in his memoir is hard to imagine.

Mr. Branden tells us that “somehow [he] felt certain” that no adult had ever “cuddled” Rand as a child. Despite his professional training as a psychologist and his closeness to Rand, that “somehow” is never specified. That Rand herself could be warm and affectionate—even “cuddly” with her husband—becomes apparent from both Brandens’ descriptions of Rand. We are simply left to ponder Mr. Branden’s “intuitions.”

As proof that Rand experienced a “tension over practical affairs,” Ms. Branden cites the fact that “[a]lthough [Rand] was an excellent cook, she worked painfully slowly, her movements awkwardly overprecise...”

This is hardly surprising as Rand was then writing full-time, according to Ms. Branden. Awkwardness while cooking can be experienced by any otherwise employed adult, not even the “excellent cook” Rand was, without a “tension over practical matters” being indicated.

While he does not report any “awkward overprecision,” Nathaniel Branden does claim that Rand once gave him “a brief monologue on her hatred for cooking; for [Rand], cooking evidently required a form of concentration she found particularly onerous.” Rand is not quoted here, and whether Rand actually used the word “hate” is not at all clear. What is clear is that Rand often cooked—“hate” it or not—and that she gave it, like everything else she did, her full “concentration.” Her efforts apparently resulted in “excellent” meals.

Branden concurs that Rand was a talented cook and reports that the novelist’s culinary skills introduced him to a couple of his favorite dishes (including even his “number-one favorite” or his “absolute favorite,” depending on which edition you read)—in his own words, giving him “a new appreciation for Russian culture.” Curious results from a chef who “hates” cooking.

Ms. Branden also tells us that Rand worked in the wardrobe department at RKO Studios during the Depression. The job involved “filing, purchase supervising, keeping track of the costumes and accessories and seeing that the actors got the right costumes.” Bertrand Russell, it goes without saying, would not have lasted a week, while Rand became head of the department within a year. This is hard to reconcile with the notion of a Rand helpless in the face of “practical matters.”

Rand was alienated not just from the practical, according to the Brandens, but from the physical itself. To demonstrate this, Ms. Branden notes that Rand abhorred physical exercise. As a child she did enjoy climbing around the Alps, and, in her sixties, Rand took dancing lessons and seems to have enjoyed these, too. Despite this, we are told that Rand “loathed” physical activity from early childhood.

Ms. Branden relates the painful hunger and desperate privations of Rand’s youth, yet fails to mention that a childhood that involves periods of near starvation is usually not conducive to the development of good, lifetime exercise habits.

According to one source, Rand told Professor John Hospers that, as a child, she once had to walk from St. Petersburg to Kiev, a distance of 700 miles as the crow flies, in order to avoid such starvation. Hospers said that Rand recalled “going up hills and walking across rocks in broken shoes, at age twelve or thirteen.”

Maybe this had something to do with it, too.

With regard to Rand’s alleged alienation from the physical world, Nathaniel Branden reveals that one of the interesting things which Rand taught the cerebral young Branden was that the “physical is not unimportant” in relation to the differences between men and women.

This fact is a little more obvious to some than to others, it seems.

By Branden’s own description—if not admission—it was Rand who initially set him on the course to look for mind-body integration and the potential harmony of reason and emotion. By his own account, it was Rand who first got Branden in touch with his own “physical” side, both sexually and philosophically.

One can only imagine, then, how “estranged from physical reality” Nathaniel Branden was himself when he first met Ayn Rand.

From Rand’s own analysis of Mr. Branden’s psychology (which is the subject of Part II), we will see that Rand, in fact, believed Branden to be overly “cerebral” and “rationalistic,” and, simultaneously, that he was attempting to compensate for this by making a lurch in what might seem to be the opposite direction—“crude materialism”—in the last years of their association together.

Despite all of this, Nathaniel Branden agrees with Ms. Branden that Rand was “estranged from physical reality.” Branden relates that he “was sometimes astonished at the intensity of [Rand’s] exasperation over such trivia” as “[l]ocks that jammed, toasters that malfunctioned, blouses with missing buttons, dresses with falling hems—all seemed to be malevolent adversaries whose sole intention was to frustrate and thwart her.” One wonders whether Branden, as a man, ever deals with hems, buttons or toasters at all—and whether Branden would so criticize a career-minded male writer. These things are irritating distractions for someone as busy as Rand seems to have been, and it was not Rand who declared that these things were “malevolent adversaries” to her—it is Branden allegedly getting that grandiose impression.

Once again, we are given no evidence or incidents or quotations, only Mr. Branden’s hostile and baseless impressions to consider.

As Ms. Branden does, Nathaniel Branden places great importance on the fact that a writer born in Russia at the turn of the Twentieth Century never learned to drive an automobile.

For Ms. Branden, Rand was simply “unable” to learn to drive, as she found “mechanical objects impossible to master,” despite the fact that it is clear from her own account that Rand competently used typewriters, ovens and several other mechanical devices—including (under supervision) the engine of the Twentieth Century Limited locomotive (except for Rand, no one else even “touched a lever” of the engine, we are told.)

Ms. Branden reports that Rand’s husband, Frank O'Connor once tried to give his wife driving lessons. But, Ms. Branden asserts, these were abandoned in “mutual enraged despair.” The “enraged despair” is not quoted from either of the O’Connors and seems to be simply the author’s own dubious evaluation of a situation to which she was not herself a witness. In any event, however, being unable to drive after an undisclosed number of very amateur lessons does not make a person “estranged from physical reality”—it could simply make her husband charmingly paranoid for his wife’s safety. (It is also worth noting that Rand spent the last decades of her life in Manhattan where driving is not essential, in any event.)

Mr. Branden also suggests an alternative explanation, if one is really needed. Rand worshipped her husband. Although Rand was not a servile person in most respects, she was submissive to her husband in many respects. As Ms. Branden tells us, “...no one who knew Ayn and Frank ever saw her refuse him a firmly expressed wish.” When it came to driving, Rand may simply have been complying with her husband's wishes. If there is a necessity for psychological speculation, which is already an enormous stretch here, then perhaps at some level Rand wanted to depend on O’Connor for this.

There are other possibilities as well. The idea that O'Connor may simply have been a bad driving teacher—just to cite one of the more obvious contrary possibilities—does not occur to either Branden. All of these theories, of course, including the Brandens’, are sheer speculation.

Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Rand was definitely not “estranged from physical reality,” in this sense. Years later, Rand was up for dancing lessons, a skill which she learned “with remarkable speed” according to her teacher. While dancing is a whole lot safer than driving, it can be far more physically demanding, especially at sixty-two.

As proof that Rand had a neurotic self-image, the Brandens cite the fact that Rand was not happy with her own appearance.

They remain undeterred from this notion though they report that Rand did take apparent pride in her own “shapely legs, which she cheerfully flaunted in short skirts,” and that Rand “delighted in compliments,” to use Ms. Branden’s words. Nathaniel Branden says that Rand was “very proud” both of her “beautiful legs” and enormous eyes.

The Brandens also concede that jealousy was utterly alien to Rand. Ms. Branden says that Rand’s open delight in the beauty of other women had “no tinge of jealousy.” Mr. Branden says that “[n]ot once did I ever sense in [Rand] the slightest jealousy about anyone’s attractiveness.”

The Brandens point to hastily applied make-up and snagged stockings to suggest that Rand had some kind of neurosis about her appearance. Ms. Branden does not seem to appreciate that her own descriptions of Rand as being “impeccably groomed” on more formal occasions provide the important context on this issue.

We should suppose, Ms. Branden seems to be saying, that since Rand did not always obsess like a model over her clothing and make-up, she must have been alienated from the material world itself. In fact, Rand, at least at home, sounds a lot like the young Howard Roark, with buttons missing on his shirt, only neater. What the evidence does not indicate, however, is a neurotic self-image.

Nathaniel Branden says that “left to her own devices, [Rand] was more or less unconcerned with what she wore—because her writing, she said, ‘leaves no space in my brain for such things.’” If Rand actually said this about herself, then Rand—who purchased and wore the theatrical fashions of Gilbert Adrian years before she met the Brandens—is obviously being a little rough on herself, unless “left to her own devices” meant when she was at home immersed in the context of her writing. If the context were attending the Academy Awards, the Brandens themselves suggest she would happily have embraced the glamour of high fashion.

Another breathlessly reported instance of Rand’s psychological illness was that Rand did not travel by airplane until 1963, when she flew to Oregon to receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College. This claim is made despite the fact that air travel was not a commonplace until about the middle of the Twentieth Century.

Rand’s “powerful need for control, her need to run her own life, her abhorrence of ever dropping the reins and putting herself in the hands of someone else, was at the root of her fear [of flying].”

Yet, “[a]ll through the flight—which was, at times, unpleasantly bumpy—[Rand] thoroughly enjoyed herself.” It seems that it was “typical of Ayn that, once she made the commitment to fly, she was no longer nervous...” Rand later did “occasionally travel by air,” as well.

Unless standards of mental health have dramatically changed, this appears to be the description of a normal, indeed, a healthy psychology, hardly proof of an obsessive “need to be in control.”

However, this is the kind of evidence the Brandens find compelling in establishing their shared thesis.

Nathaniel Branden does not commit himself to many clear opinions about Rand—positive or negative—but he does adeptly insinuate several which are quite dubious.

As a professional psychologist who knew Rand in both personal and professional contexts, Mr. Branden cannot say that Rand was clinically paranoid, but he does claim that in “her grandiosity and suspiciousness, [Rand’s] behavior bordered at times on paranoia.” What behavior Mr. Branden believes actually “bordered on paranoia”—or even how it seemed to—he does not share. Branden may be making the unwarranted assumption that these conclusions are apparent from the allegedly “authoritarian” behavior he attributes to Rand (discussed in the next chapter), but he nowhere explicitly draws this connection himself.

Evidence of “suspiciousness” seems to be confined to how “closed [Rand] typically was to any new knowledge that seemed to clash with her familiar paradigms.” Control issues are involved again, it seems.

One must say “seems” as Branden never clarifies whether he actually agrees with many of the theories he develops in his book. Indeed, these theories may not even be, to use his own words, “claims of knowledge” but merely hypotheses.

Given the ample evidence which Branden supplies that refutes these same theories, he elects to merely suggest the worst without committing himself.

It “seems” to Branden that hypnosis, non-Darwinian theories of evolution, the ideas of Arthur Koestler, and biological causation in various kinds of depression “clash” with Rand's “familiar paradigms.” Objectivism, of course, is Rand’s paradigm and—rejecting any kind of philosophical cosmology—it explicitly has no position on evolution, Darwinian or otherwise. Likewise, Objectivism does not try to explain hypnosis or the physiological components and causes of emotion. It leaves all such things to the various fields of science, and—within the rather broad parameters of the “Primacy of Existence” and the Law of Identity (Objectivist metaphysics)—it cannot “clash” with scientific theories.

Just why it seems to Branden that non-Darwinian theories of evolution “seem” to threaten Rand’s philosophy—or how they ever could—he does not explain, nor does Branden tell us that Rand ever disapproved of his own experiments with hypnosis. Branden does suggest that Rand was dubious of the potentially fraudulent uses of hypnosis (Past-Life Regression comes to mind), but, it seems, she remained on the fence, as it were, about various other claims made about hypnosis.

Curiously, Rand’s private journals from July 4, 1968, reveal that Branden’s self-reported “love” for “scientific discovery” was one of the qualities she most admired in him.

Going by his own account, Rand did occasionally express an understandable irritation when Branden, her co-editor of The Objectivist, began spending time on these subjects, which time Rand believed should have been given to Objectivism. This, of course, has nothing to do with being “open” or “closed” to new ideas. The allegation that Rand was “closed” to new ideas appears to have been one of Mr. Branden’s key rationalizations for his growing drift from Objectivism, which we will take up in chapter four.

Set against all the many passionate odes to the discoverers of new knowledge—philosophers, scientists, inventors, creative artists—found in Rand’s work, Branden’s examples are paltry evidence of a “closed mind.” Regarding Rand, the most that Branden’s evidence yields is a lack of interest on certain narrow, scientific subjects. If Rand did not express an interest in neuropharmacology, is she supposed to have been “closed” to new ideas? Given the astonishing range of Rand’s achievement—as Branden himself describes it—this criticism borders on the ridiculous.

Mr. Branden does not say that Rand was a megalomaniac, but he insinuates much the same thing, claiming that Rand was given to making “grandiose” statements about herself. Of course, when it comes to examples, Branden provides nearly none. Comparing her own novel, The Fountainhead to other novels (including her own first novels), Branden does quote Rand as saying: “Everything I've liked has had some inconsistencies, some contradictions. The Fountainhead doesn’t have any.” Branden goes on, “This was said impersonally, with no implication of boasting, but merely as a self-evident fact. I had grown accustomed to hearing her discuss herself and her work in this way.” That Rand was fully satisfied with The Fountainhead, philosophically, is hardly surprising—after all, she wrote it. After We the Living, The Night of January 16th and Anthem, Rand had fully found her unique voice, literarily, with The Fountainhead. This is simply a fact that Rand would have been blind not to have seen.

If a writer is not writing the best thing that he can imagine being written, it is hard to imagine any readers will ever think so. If this is wild boasting, then to be an artist of any quality one must be a wild boaster.

As for Rand’s actual, historical significance, Branden himself states that he and others were “profoundly convinced that Ayn was bringing an inestimable value to the world—intellectually, literarily, socially—and that it would be virtually impossible for people not to recognize this fact.”

Branden claims to have retained his belief in at least the first part of this assertion, but still says that Rand was neurotic for believing precisely the same thing—although, even here, he cannot quote Rand as saying this much.

On the issue of Rand’s allegedly oversized self-estimate, it is interesting to note that Rand is quoted by Branden as saying, “The difference between me and other people is that I am more honest.” Branden even says that Rand “resisted the idea that her powerful intelligence was at least as important as her honesty.” If anything, Rand did not fully appreciate her unique talents. And, indeed, much of Rand’s anger at intellectuals stemmed from her conviction that they should have known better—as she had—and that, in Rand’s own mind, there was nothing “special” about her except honesty.

It is in this light that we should consider Rand’s most notoriously “grandiose” assertion: “I've never had an emotion I couldn’t account for.” Rand believed that anyone could access their own subconscious and do the same (except, perhaps, psychotics).

Ms. Branden does not tell us how she was able to determine that Rand meant by this “that the total contents of her subconscious were instantly available to her conscious mind, that all of her emotions had resulted from deliberate acts of rational thought, and that she could name the thinking that had led her to each feeling.” Rand does not appear to have believed the first two propositions at all, and she seems in fact only to be making the third assertion.

However, this statement is not so wild a boast as it might appear. When we are angry, scared or sad we usually know why. That part is typically not the mystery for most people other than the highly neurotic.

Branden quotes Rand as saying about her leadership role: “I never wanted to be a general, let alone a commander in chief. My dream has always been to be an ideal lieutenant—to my kind of man.” Rand explains elsewhere, “A man, conceivably, could adjust to the knowledge that he was at a higher level than those around him, although no rational man could possibly enjoy that perspective; but to a woman it would be intolerable.”

These are not the statements of a megalomaniac of any sort, but actually those of a rather “simple and modest” woman, as her publisher, Bennett Cerf, described her.

Nathaniel Branden says of Rand: “[w]ith the exception of certain personal areas where she could be appallingly unconscious, [Rand] had the most profound and passionate respect for the facts.” In a contradiction worthy of his former wife, Branden elsewhere complains of Rand’s “manipulative dishonesty,” and even calls hers “a life of lies and deception.”

Yet, apart from his highly dubious account of the events surrounding his affair and subsequent break with Rand (discussed in chapter four), actual evidence of any dishonesty on Rand’s part is wholly absent.

Branden recalls Rand once telling a group of people that “no one had ever helped her,” a claim he observes that Rand also made in the autobiographical sketch included at the end of Atlas Shrugged. This, he believes, is an obvious example of “grandiose” dishonesty.

Branden does not, however, reproduce the full context of Rand’s assertion. Rand writes, “I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs, until I could make a financial success of my writing. No one helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.”

Speaking of honesty, the honest reading of this passage is a bit more complex than the one Branden has suggested. Anyone reading it must suppose that Rand had received help from her publisher in printing her books and from her parents when she was a baby.

What could she mean?

Atlas Shrugged, the novel one has presumably just read, contains an extensive discussion of altruism. The author has just denounced any kind of “help” which involves self-sacrifice. In that book, the model for all human relations is “the trader,” for Rand believed that in spiritual as well as in commercial matters, human relationships must be an exchange of values—that is, Rand did not approve of any “help” that was not a selfish act on the part of the giver.

In this context, it is much more likely that Rand simply meant that she got no altruistic help, such as welfare or any private gift which involved self-sacrifice. Thus, she did not “think at any time” that it was anyone’s “duty” to help. One must presume that Rand had received some selfish “help” at some point—she could not have set the type and poured the ink and run the printing machines that produced copies of Atlas Shrugged all by herself, that much is clear. One must also presume that Rand knew that we must presume this; if Rand had wanted to lie, she could have been a lot less obvious.

Rand also might have avoided repeatedly acknowledging—both publicly and privately—her gratitude for the help she received from a number of people. Who Is Ayn Rand?, the Brandens’ first book, and its biographical essay by Ms. Branden, were sourced directly from interviews of Rand and were published with Rand’s approval. The inclusion of material there represents the very things that Rand wanted the world to know about her. There, Rand tells how it was primarily her mother’s efforts that got her to America, how relatives in Chicago put Rand up when she first arrived, how the Studio Club in Hollywood provided her affordable housing when she arrived there, and how Archibald Ogden even staked his career on The Fountainhead.

Ms. Branden, in The Passion of Ayn Rand, also notes Rand’s gratitude to her mother who had sold the last of her jewelry to get Rand out of Russia; she also quotes Rand as saying of her Chicago relatives that “they saved my life”; and, she reveals that Rand wrote an “open letter” to the Studio Club in which she spoke of their “great work which is needed so badly—help for young talent.”

Rand’s published letters confirm her profound need to offer gratitude and acknowledgment to those whom Rand knew had helped her. Still in her twenties, Rand wrote to Cecil B. DeMille that if she had “achieved any kind of success, I owe it to your instructions.” In same year, she wrote to H. L. Mencken to express “why I appreciate your kindness in helping me to put my book [We the Living] before the public.” In 1936, she wrote to Gouverneur Morris to express her gratitude for “the wonderful things you’ve said about me” and to the director of the Studio Club to “thank you and the other officers of the Studio Club for all your kindness and help at a time when I needed it so badly.” In 1942, she wrote Archibald Ogden to tell him that his work on both We the Living and The Fountainhead had been helpful to her, and that “you have analyzed my work better than I could have explained it myself.” In another letter, Rand catalogs the various other ways Ogden’s help was critical to The Fountainhead.

Finally, although this hardly completes the inventory of Rand’s openly expressed gratitude, in the “Introduction” to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead, Rand most publicly and permanently credited her husband, Frank O’Connor, with no less than having “saved” the novel.

The notion that Rand had any difficulty acknowledging what she regarded as appropriate “help,” or that Rand ever sought to deny or minimize this kind of help is simply absurd, as Branden knows well.

Mr. Branden also tells us that he was “shocked” to see several of Ludwig von Mises’ ideas “frankly condemned” by Rand in the margins of her personal copy of Human Action. Branden calls the language used “abusive,” and he believes it betrays hypocrisy since, in person, Rand was “never... anything but friendly, respectful, [and] admiring” towards Mises.

Rand’s occasional frustration while reading Mises is understandable. From Rand’s perspective, what classical liberal defenders of the free market, from Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill to Mises and F. A. Hayek—whatever their other virtues—all so desperately needed was a systematic moral defense of the profit motive, i.e., selfishness, something Rand’s philosophy distinctively provides.

More critically, Rand believed, they needed methodological foundations more secure than the skeptical philosophy of David Hume or the philosophical subjectivism of Immanuel Kant, influences that capitalism’s defenders seemed unable to shake until Rand.

If Rand thought Mises was a “goddamned fool” for some position he took, Rand is supposed to have been a hypocrite for otherwise being polite to the brilliant old economist? She could not still admire his other accomplishments?

And, if Rand had used such language with Mises himself, or did not still admire his work, wouldn’t that have been some real proof of her irrational intolerance? Or, is Rand not supposed to get passionate about ideas—even in private notes to herself?

Rand’s margin notes on this book and over twenty others are now available, so we can now make up our own minds on this issue.

That Mr. Branden is every bit as small and petty as is his former wife could not be more apparent—but criticizing Rand for her margin notes reaches a new low in pettiness, even for the Brandens.

Not to be outdone, Ms. Branden uncritically repeats the allegation that Rand was a hypocrite because—despite being an enemy of mysticism—she kept a little gold watch which she called her “good-luck watch.”

Such instances not only reveal the emotional animus behind the attack, but also the degree of distortion from which their perceptions suffer.


Ms. Branden has alleged still another area of Rand’s self-delusion in an attack that is surely the Brandens’ most substantive.

When Rand prepared her first novel, We the Living, which had originally been published in 1936, for its new release in 1959, she made some editorial changes. In her “Foreword” to the new edition, Rand calls these “editorial line-changes.” While she admits cutting even whole paragraphs of material which were “so confusing in their implications” that they had to be removed, Rand tells us that she neither “added or eliminated to or from the content of the novel.”

Ms. Branden and other critics have not been satisfied with Rand’s statement. In the original version, the heroine, Kira, tells the communist Andrei that “I loathe your ideals. I admire your methods,” that if one is right one shouldn’t have to wait to convince a million fools, “one might as well force them.” Indeed, at one point Kira suggests that it would be appropriate to “sacrifice millions for the sake of the few,” knowing “no worse injustice than justice for all.”

It may be said that Rand meant by this that if millions were to gang up and threaten the rights of the few, it would be more just that the gang should be “forced” than their victims, a point she would certainly elaborate on and clarify in Atlas Shrugged, where the few sabotage the intentions of the millions who would enslave them. Since this was not clear in the passage from We the Living and needed greater working out, it may be perfectly understandable that Rand would not allow the statement to stand unclarified in the earlier novel and rely on herself to make the same impassioned point more completely in subsequent writings. The delivery, and not the point, may well be all that she abandoned here.

However, to some Rand critics this sounds like the unmodified philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, famous for his lack of squeamishness when it came to the use of force and violence.

On the other hand, even in the original, Kira also says that she does not know “whether I'd include blood in my methods,” and that she does not want to fight for the people or against the people, she just wants “to be left alone.” And, of note, “left alone” to be an engineer, the only job left where she will not have to “lie.”

Although it is the Russian, not the American, version of “justice for all” which Kira is complaining about, the influence of Nietzsche on this passage is apparent. Rand admitted to the influence of Nietzsche on her own intellectual development while repudiating many of that thinker’s most fundamental ideas.

Rand was certainly right in calling this passage “so confusing in its implications” that it had to go.

Ms. Branden even agrees that Rand did not think that literally “forcing fools” would be a good idea, even “at the time of writing We the Living,” but implicitly gives credence to the notion that—at some earlier phase in her thinking—Rand might have actually been a full-fledged authoritarian under the skin. (For a related discussion of Rand's early political thinking see "Two Women, One Dynamo.")

But Rand is clearly not expressing a Nietzschean “will to power,” as some have asserted, and until it can be shown that Rand at that point in her thinking held an unreformed Nietzschean position, there is no basis to assert that she was being in any way dishonest.

As the recently published private journals of Rand reveal, she was already questioning many of Nietzsche’s most important ideas (the Will to Power, determinism, “instinct,” and, most importantly, knowledge as personal interpretation and the role of logic) in her very first notes of an explicitly philosophical nature, which were written when she was just twenty-nine. It is also clear from this evidence that if Rand was ever operating within a largely Nietzschean context it was during the period of her earliest extant literary notes in English, her notes for a proposed novel, The Little Street, which were written when Rand was just twenty-three—a project she quickly abandoned.

And of course, by her thirties, when Rand wrote The Fountainhead, Nietzsche’s influence had become a negative and polemical one; he had by then, if not earlier, become a foil and a foe in Rand’s mind, quite explicitly. In the character of Gail Wynand, Rand’s own break with Nietzsche was completed, her critique of the “Will to Power” fully embodied.

Far from impugning it, Rand’s admission of her early confusion enhances her credibility.

It also must be remembered that Rand wrote We the Living in her twenties, that she had not yet been in America for ten years when it was first published, and that she was still becoming familiar with a new language. Already fluent in Russian and French, and able to read German, Rand’s earliest notes in English demonstrate the remarkable speed with which she mastered English. But the process did take time and effort, something also to be seen in the progression of those early journal entries.

Ms. Branden alleges that dishonest grandiosity is apparent in Rand’s claim that “the only thinker in history from whom she had had anything to learn” was Aristotle. This is something for which Rand “should have been challenged,” according to Ms. Branden, who also claims that Rand “dismissed” as worthless, if not immoral, the whole “history of philosophy, with the sole significant exceptions of Aristotle and aspects of Thomas Aquinas...”

It is simply a fact that Rand was influenced by very few thinkers when it came to philosophical fundamentals. Does Ms. Branden wish to imply that Rand should have been more influenced by others?

And, as usual, what Rand had said, at least in print, was more than slightly different from what is being claimed. Rand explicitly acknowledged the influence that Nietzsche had had on her intellectual development in Who Is Ayn Rand?—by Barbara Branden. In that book, Ms. Branden had written:

“In [Rand’s] readings in philosophy [in her late teens], she discovered Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Because Nietzsche revered the heroic in man, because he defended individualism and despised altruism, she thought she had found a spiritual ally. But she was made uneasy by the implication that a great man would seek power, not over nature, but over other men; to rule, she thought, was an unworthy occupation for a hero; a hero would not degrade himself by spending his life enslaving others.

“As she read further in Nietzsche’s writings, her hope gradually changed to disappointment. And, when she discovered, in The Birth of Tragedy, an open denunciation of reason, she knew that any value she might find in his works could only be partial and selective; she saw that in their basic premises, Nietzsche and she were philosophical opposites.”

Ms. Branden even tells us that Rand only “gradually” changed from thinking of Nietzsche as an actual ally. While Rand would come to disagree with just about every aspect of his basic philosophy—and, hence, he cannot be regarded as a positive contributor to Objectivism, like Aristotle—Rand was certainly not concealing Nietzsche’s influence in the areas where his influence lingered.

In her “Introduction” to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead, Rand went so far as to reference her continued—if highly qualified— appreciation for Nietzsche. There, she tells us that she almost attached a quotation from Nietzsche to the original edition of The Fountainhead. Able to qualify her comments, Rand indicated that she was “glad” to restore it for the new edition. The quotation was: “The noble soul has reverence for itself.”

Rand was advertising his influence.

In Atlas Shrugged’s “About the Author,” Rand does acknowledge Aristotle as the only one to whom she owed a philosophical debt, but it is also clear that had Rand included Nietzsche on that list, a truly misleading impression would have been created. Nietzsche was, after all, proud of his opposition to systematic and principled morality as such, i.e., Rand’s very project and aim in ethics. At his own repeated insistence, Nietzsche must be regarded as a philosophical bulldozer—Rand was an architect.

Despite Ms. Branden’s assertions, Rand’s appreciation of the Aristotelian tradition itself extended further than just Thomas Aquinas—as is apparent from her review of Aristotle by Professor John Herman Randall.

As Ms. Branden also knows, America’s Founding Fathers were given great praise by Rand. Rand also acknowledged the important role of the philosopher John Locke, whose political philosophy the first Americans largely adopted. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand includes Locke in her account of that “long struggle” to achieve political freedom which had “stretched from Aristotle to Locke to the Founding Fathers.”

The claim that Rand was trying to hide the influence of these great thinkers, or to somehow magnify her own originality, is refuted by Rand’s own published comments. It is simply that Rand did not believe that either Locke or Nietzsche deserved the same kind of credit that Aristotle did and that she did not trace her fundamentals to their philosophies, as she did Aristotle’s.

Rand disagreed with many fundamental aspects of the philosophies of both Locke—a Christian who endorsed the “representationalist” theory of perception— and Nietzsche—whose own passion decayed into raw emotionalism. She believed that their virtues—i.e., the parts of their philosophies with which she did agree—had their roots in Aristotle himself, as she suggests, for example, in repeatedly calling Aristotle America’s first “Founding Father.” Locke’s focus on man’s nature in political theory and his belief that all human knowledge derives from sense-perception do owe much to Aristotle. The (largely unadmitted) influence of Aristotle’s egoism on Nietzsche’s egoism has been observed by no less than Walter Kaufmann, one of the foremost Nietzsche scholars of the Twentieth Century.

Who else would Ms. Branden nominate for Rand’s admittedly sparse list? Even stretching to add these two figures still makes for a pretty quick read.


To celebrate the publication of Atlas Shrugged, the Brandens threw Rand a surprise party. O'Connor was instructed to tell Rand to expect a special dinner out—just the two of them. According to the Brandens, Rand was not happy about the surprise party that ensued, and she made that quite clear at the time.

Nathaniel Branden says that Rand complained: “I do not like surprises.”

Barbara Branden quotes Rand as not “approving” of surprises.

Although Rand really enjoyed the custom cigarette case she was given that night, and although Bennett Cerf was later able to cheer her up, and although Ms. Branden admits that then “one saw again the childlike charm in the woman who a moment ago had been so sternly disapproving,” Rand’s initial reaction to being misled and surprised, it seems, is further proof of her controlling, repressed nature.

Mr. Branden concurs and again claims to possess special (i.e., unverifiable) knowledge: “Only I, and possibly Barbara, could know how many times in the months and years ahead Ayn would refer to this evening chastisingly, with an appalling lack of benevolence and grace, for our daring to take any action without her say-so.”

It is interesting to note that in his own memoir, At Random, Bennett Cerf does not mention the incident, and, indeed, he goes into some detail regarding Rand’s unusually intense gratitude at the smallest of favors.

In other contexts Branden himself notes Rand’s normally strong sense of gratitude, as does Ms. Branden. This should have—but did not—give him pause before launching into an attack on Rand’s graciousness.

Had the Brandens first inquired into whether Rand—the supposed beneficiary of the party—liked surprise parties or not, they would not themselves have been the ones who got surprised, and they would have discovered that Rand had a definite view on the subject. Rand later explained this to her stamp-collecting friend, Charles Sures, who reported her position in his own memoir:

“First and foremost is that it puts the recipient in the position of having to suddenly switch his context and deal with an unplanned for, unexpected situation. What, she asked, is the value of that? This is what we do in cases of emergency, she said. We shouldn’t be put in the position of doing it for a celebration. She objected to being 'put in a position' by someone else, of being deprived of choice in the matter. The giver mistakenly thinks that the shock of the surprise will be more appreciated than a planned-for party. On the contrary, [Rand] said. The recipient gets no benefit whatever from the surprise element. It adds no value over and above what would be derived from a planned-for occasion. Instead, it detracts from the value of the occasion, because the recipient is put in the position of being a guest of honor and a host at the same time. He has to put his shock aside and greet people he had not expected to see (or perhaps not wanted to see), he is expected to be grateful to the party givers who study him for his reactions, he is expected to be gracious and charming when he may feel annoyance, or anger, or overwhelmed by the situation.... [Rand] made additional points. The giver has no right to be the final unilateral authority on how anyone's achievement is celebrated. And the giver has no right to be the sole arbiter to determine who the guests are. Most important, the giver has no right to be the one who determines how any evening out of the life of the recipient is to be spent. That's up to the recipient.

“Added to all this is that the recipient is deprived of the pleasure of anticipation, which adds greatly to the enjoyment of the celebration.”

Sures was asked whether some people do not simply enjoy surprise parties:

“That may be. She couldn’t see any valid reason for them. But that’s something the giver should find out in advance, if the pleasure of the recipient is the first consideration. And, she said, it should be.”

Rand was not seeking to “control” anyone’s context here but her own. Despite their well-meaning intentions in this instance, it was the Brandens who were part of the effort to “control” Rand’s context through deception—Rand was merely objecting to the deception. (We shall see that this will not be the last time they will attempt to do this, merely one of the less important times.)

The Brandens do occasionally mention a psychologically interesting fact about Rand. One or two, at least, are corroborated by more credible witnesses. But they always make much more of the point than is merited.

If Rand picked up from her mother a mild fear of germs and a habit of washing dishes a certain way—her mother is said to have disinfected every toy before it came into the nursery—one can hardly criticize her, given the mortality statistics from diseases like typhus and cholera in Russia following the Revolution when Rand was a young woman, facts Ms. Branden herself mentions.

Like a lot of Russians of the period, Rand’s family barely survived. With this background, it is impossible to say that running the water before using it was even a symptom of neurosis, or, indeed, any more than a grim habit learned early and hard. Rand had a very rough youth. Other conclusions are unwarranted, but Ms. Branden forges ahead without benefit of evidence into the realm of sheer speculation, sensing in this, too, a neurotic need by Rand to “be in control.”

Ms. Branden also reports that Rand expressed concern if her friends failed to dress warmly when the weather was cold, that she kept a certain distance if her companion was ill, and that she, like modern dish washing machines, would “scald her dishes in boiling water.”

Apart from running the tap, all of these are common practices—even for many who have not experienced a childhood marked by fatal plagues and Russian winters. And it seems that her “phobia” manifested itself in no other symptoms. Indeed, at other times in her book, Ms. Branden provides clear evidence that Rand was otherwise no “clean-freak,” much less a compulsive hand-washer.

Rand spoke to a crowded venue just weeks before her death.

Nevertheless, Ms. Branden, true to form, has no problem conjuring up the image of a reclusive Howard Hughes, with uncut fingernails, fighting germs both real and imagined from this one unusual habit.

The level of Ms. Branden’s desperation for evidence can be measured by the fact that she reports in a footnote the speculation that the low-dosage diet pill Rand was prescribed by her doctor “may” have resulted in “paranoid symptoms.” Ms. Branden does so despite also conceding that the pills probably only had a “placebo effect” after just a short time. Nor is Ms. Branden in any way dissuaded by the fact that Rand easily discontinued their use, again, on medical advice. Indeed, Ms. Branden lists her use of this pill in the Index as one of Rand’s “illnesses.”

Though Ms. Branden draws no “conclusion” herself, she encourages her readers to speculate further within the vacuum of evidence provided. As with so much else, the reader is, in fact, only left trying to fathom why Ms. Branden even mentioned it.

Nathaniel Branden has elevated mention of the prescribed diet pill from the mere footnote which Ms. Branden had given it and has proudly introduced it into his text. However, Branden chose not to share with his readers the dosage, the possible “placebo effect” or the easy discontinuation of it, that is, the context which, at least, Ms. Branden had the fairness to provide. The Brandens are sometimes inconsistent in their suppression of important information, and, in this case, it helps to highlight that process in Mr. Branden’s writing.

What is clear is that the Brandens are willing to relate any information, however shaky in substance, that might reflect negatively upon Rand’s character and psychology. The obvious weakness of the Brandens’ case is matched only by the pettiness they exhibit in making it. This should not be surprising from a biographer who still “sees herself as a victim” of Rand, and her ex-husband, whose own continued fury is barely concealed.

The Brandens’ claims of a highly “repressed” Rand fly in the face of their own testimony: Rand was often warm and cuddly, soft and affectionate, but also angry, sharp and harsh—she sometimes got depressed at the state of things, but she was also “blazing” with a “fierce joy”—she “openly delighted” in the beauty of others, but she also delighted in compliments—she was often worshipful and reverent, but she was also proud and self-assertive. In other words, Rand seems to have been passionately emotional about everything that mattered to her.

Rand did have a lot of pain and suffering to deal with in her life. Yet, even if—as unwarranted as that “if” may be—the Brandens’ accounts can be credited, Rand appears to have dealt with this pain remarkably well, for she emerges looking much better than her detractors do, simply from their own renderings of Rand.

The Brandens were close to Rand for eighteen years, and they have demonstrated every desire to criticize her on every possible count, no matter how tenuous, frivolous or fatuous. In short, this must be the very best case to be made against Ayn Rand.

[Interested readers are directed to the next chapter.]

( categories: )

The Return of Mistress Phyllis?

Lindsay Perigo's picture


Apparently he's starting to bore the people at OL, just like he was at SOLO. Linz's problem with the people at OL? That they level judgment (at people such as himself) unobjectively and use a double-standard. Phyllis's problem? That they're leveling the judgments at all. No wonder they're getting tired of his sissy sermonizing.

I thought she left during the lynching? Did she go back, like our friend Heaps?

Mistress Phyllis is a hypocrite. She's done more than her share of smearing on behalf of Babs.

It was great to read Diana's piece on the Brandens again. I think Nathaniel wins plaudits from psychological cripples addicted to the Therapy Culture because he dispenses all that Californian snake-oil stuff. But the snake hasn't changed its spots.

Note, incidentally, the equivocation between "screwing up" (making mistakes, innocently) and being a scumbag (being a scumbag, deliberately) in the scumbag's quote you furnish.

Scumbags and sissies

Chris Cathcart's picture

A couple posts on OL merit some comment/attention. First, MSK objects to the characterization of Nathaniel Branden as a scumbag. First he says that a scumbag is someone who won't own up to their misdeeds, whereas Branden supposedly owned up to them in '68 and afterwards in his memoirs. Then, in a subsequent explanation, he writes:

"As to the Nathaniel issue, I refuse to be taught the hatred of anybody. The guy screwed up big time and atoned for it. Then he lived an honorable life of high achievment and productivity. That's more than good enough in my book. Others want me to hate that. I won't. In fact, I denounce such hatred as the evil it is.

Nathaniel's example is something to aspire to if you ever screw up in life. It is an inspiration of what could and should be. I think Nathaniel Branden is good people and I am more than honored to know him."

Only problem being that, at least on one count -- justice with respect to Ayn Rand -- Branden was a massive scumbag and remains a scumbag as long as he sticks with his version of events. One thing that Branden was apparently counting on, when he published his memoir, was that Peikoff would never let forth Ayn Rand's journals. What the journals all too painfully reveal is that Branden was copping to a lesser misdeed, just some pretty bad deception and using of Ayn Rand, not the monstrous kind that the journals made fully clear.

Branden, for a matter of years, was willing to live a double life that would torment folks of normal moral dispositions. He got up there time and time again and lectured on the importance of not faking reality, while faking reality right then and there at each and every lecture podium. The guy behaved for an extended period of years in a morally despicable fashion, and was hardly fazed. By all indications, the only thing that made a difference to anything he did was the fact that he was eventually caught. By all indications, he would have kept it up, if he could get away with it, until the day Rand died. And we're asked to believe that his days of prolongued and massive dishonesty are long gone, out of his system, that at mid-life he became a new and changed man.

If only that were true. Again, what did he count on, in publishing his memoir, and leaving out all the crucial details that revealed him to be the monster that Ayn Rand had identified him as being, that revealed why she screamed at him that if he had an ounce of morality he'd be impotent for the next 20 years? He was, again, counting on not being caught -- that Peikoff would not publicly release the contents of her journals in relation to the affair. Branden was in fact on record gleefully making predictions more or less to that effect, almost as if daring Peikoff to do it, like releasing the contents of the journals would be too much of an embarrassment to Peikoff.

Well, that other shoe dropped, and there's really nothing Branden can say in his defense, now is there. He got caught, again.

As recently as 2004, Branden flouts moral principles as he sees fit, as witness his trespassing on Diana Hsieh's online property and making up a lie about it. Incidentally, Diana reached a conclusion similar to mine above, in her own words: "Obviously, I should have seriously considered the possibility of ongoing deception, given [Branden's] admitted willingness to live in a mess of lies for so many years."

Given Branden's demonstrated ability to live a double life and be unfazed by it, his intellectual achievement and productivity on self-esteem issues is meaningless as a reflection on his moral character -- just as it was in the period of years preceding 1968. He has shown that he can say all kinds of great, remarkably well-argued, noble-sounding and true things one moment, and do exactly the opposite thing the next.

On a shorter and ironic note, we have the blouse, the schoolmarm, Phyllis Coates, waging his ongoing campaign against applying ideas to the act of judging people. What is Phyllis condemning? "[O]bsessive focusing on Personalities, Negatives, Enemies, Gossip." What's funny is that this is something Phyllis obsesses over non-stop. He harps constantly against how certain personalities operate, and he just loves to focus on the negatives he sees in how they operate. What's the main thing he's leveling his condemnation about? That people engage in condemnation. Apparently he's starting to bore the people at OL, just like he was at SOLO. Linz's problem with the people at OL? That they level judgment (at people such as himself) unobjectively and use a double-standard. Phyllis's problem? That they're leveling the judgments at all. No wonder they're getting tired of his sissy sermonizing.

Prof Campbell

Lindsay Perigo's picture

But before Dr. Peikoff made acceptance of the DIM hypothesis mandatory for the faithful, sparking thel blowup, I didn't notice you giving Ms. Hsieh hell about her bigoted remarks.

I'm sorry I can't time everything to your specifications, Prof. I'm sure Diana was never in any doubt about my position on "unfortunate and sub-optimal." I'm also pretty certain I made fun of it pre-fatwa but I don't propose to go looking. We did have an understanding that at some point Diana would get round to explicating, but I guess that was overtaken by other events like the fatwa.

Once she got a sense of the internal politics within ARI, and she picked that up very quickly, she settled on the advancement strategy of always toeing the strict Peikovian line.

I don't know anything about "internal politics within ARI." Do you, really?

For the record, Diana's off-pissedness at Sciabarra was all her own work, as far as I could tell, and was correct in its content, though I disagreed with its finale, as previously discussed. My view of her defence of the fatwa is already a matter of unambiguous record, as you note.

Will Thomas's ambition, judging from what he told me in January, was not so much to provide an open forum, as to unite the Objectivist movement.

I doubt that Will would take such a Herculean responsibility on his slender shoulders, and he certainly wouldn't have imagined one invitation would effect such a miracle. There was an element of "we should be fighting the real enemy, not each other" in the discussions we had, for sure, but he also knew from experience that I would deliver damn good presentations that would help get bums on seats and it was time to see if we could start collaborating again on a no-false-pretences basis. It's a great pity that you and your fellow-tolerationists set out to thwart him. The fact that you succeeded indicates that TAS has ossified into the kind of monolith you accuse the ARI of being.

And there's something really screwy when an avowed non- and arguably anti-Objectivist gets to dictate who speaks and who doesn't at an ostensibly Objectivist conference!

Pre and post-fatwa

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Perigo,

I do appreciate your willingness to raise the signal to noise ratio on this occasion.

From what I have seen of the exchanges between Ms. Hsieh and yourself after Leonard Peikoff issued his Word of Wisdom to vote Democratic, you certainly didn't mince words.

But before Dr. Peikoff made acceptance of the DIM hypothesis mandatory for the faithful, sparking thel blowup, I didn't notice you giving Ms. Hsieh hell about her bigoted remarks.

If "unfortunate and suboptimal" is in fact the latter-day Peikovian line (I will confess to not having studied up on his metaphysical sexual psychology, or whatever he calls it these days), the most straightforward explanation is that Ms. Hsieh adopted it in emulation of him. Once she got a sense of the internal politics within ARI, and she picked that up very quickly, she settled on the advancement strategy of always toeing the strict Peikovian line.

For which reason, I doubt it matters what Ms. Hsieh now claims to believe privately. I bet you will see no public rejection of "unfortunate and sub-optimal" until Dr. Peikoff changes his position, or his place his taken by another whose line Ms. Hsieh will promptly begin to toe.

Will Thomas's ambition, judging from what he told me in January, was not so much to provide an open forum, as to unite the Objectivist movement.

I'm not convinced that that's either feasible or desirable, and I told him so.

Particularly when you didn't seem to share his ambition back in 2006.

But, then, I'm not an Objectivist, so I may be missing something.

Robert Campbell

Thank you!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I was incorrect in saying that you defended Ms. Hsieh's statement that homosexuality is "unfortunate and suboptimal."

Thank you. At last! And were you also incorrect in the conclusion about my character which you based on this alleged hypocrisy?

But, during Ms. Hsieh's entire sojourn at SOLOP, she explicated her views... Where? How often? I can't find any explication. Was she too valuable an asset, in your fight against an assortment of enemies, to risk pressing on the issue?

Oh, what a shame to ruin it. There you go again. In case you hadn't noticed, Mr. Campbell, I don't give a damn whom I upset. (In fact, you must have noticed, because you often attack me for this very quality.) You think I pulled my punches with Diana? I think that would be news to her. She flounced over my ferocious disagreement with her over Peikoff's voting fatwa. Are you not familiar with the term, "Hsiekovian"?

I am of the opinion that she held the "unfortunate and sub-optimal" view of homosexuality out of the same deference to Leonard's view that she displayed over the fatwa—"unfortunate and sub-optimal but go ahead with it if you can't fix it" sums up his stance, which I consider unfortunate and sub-optimal, quite neatly. She did indicate to me privately that she had changed her mind but wouldn't be saying so publicly—at least not on SOLO—because she was so pissed at me over the fatwa. She considers me to be a "dishonest emotionalist" and Galt knows what else. Perhaps you and she should team up, Professor!

See, Professor, I don't like mindless adherence to the dictates of an authority figure any more than you, if I'm to take you at your word. But for me that includes the Brandens as well as Leonard Peikoff. When Barbara leads a campaign, in which you actively participate, to drum me out of a Seminar, when in the course of that campaign she repeats old lies about me and makes up new ones, when a lynch-mob on O-Lying calls me Arafat and Hitler and the like and demands my removal from the speaker list—when I'm not even going to be mentioning the Brandens—what credibility do you folk have in your claim to be the "tolerationist" wing that encourages open debate and honest dissent? Poor Will Thomas had that vision for TAS, but was hung out to dry on account of it: by you and your crowd! You remind me of the cackling fanatics who hanged young Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy in 1697, gathering round and howling ghoulish, gloating prayers.

All of this is to say nothing of the old matter of Kelley and KASSless's reversal on whether the matters raised in PAR should be debated.

James and I differ on the ARI. I think it's much improved, but I shall be forever suspicious as long as the Unholy Trinity are running it. James doesn't agree that any improvement was necessary, and no doubt cringes at my calling those three snotty farts that, or "snotty farts." None of this alters the inescapable facts that emerge from PARC about the Brandens' portraits of Rand, or James's heroism in persisting with the exercise (in the teeth of opposition from the orthodoxy, let it be noted).

And observe—for all our disagreements, James has not flounced (at least, not recently!), nor has he been ordered off this board by Peikoff (nor, I'm certain, would he obey such an order), nor has he been booted off by me. Neither, for that matter, have you, Professor. That says something, doesn't it?

Campbell has PMS

Chris Cathcart's picture

As in, Persistent Meltdown Syndrome.

What's his latest example, you ask? Well, here we go:


I've given credit, where I believe it is due, not just to Leonard Peikoff but to others affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. I recommend Tara Smith's book to non-Randians, for instance. Some other folks there are doing good work, too. A recent article by Keith Lockitch (in The Objective Standard) provides an excellent overview of Charles Darwin's achievement.

Remember, though, that nonARIans cite ARIan material, where relevant. The ARIans are the ones who don't want to cite nonARIan material. Note the asymmetry--it's part of a bad institutional culture."

More or less a repeat of his earlier smear, as though his credit-giving and recommendation of valuable works by ARI-supported scholars -- a way of purportedly taking a high-ground that those scholars do not -- erases or mitigates that smear. I mean, it just doesn't seem to be enough for him to mention what he thinks to be an institutional tendency there -- a matter up for some debate given the behavior of some people that have emerged from that culture -- but he sees the need for some wholesale, blanket reference to "the ARIans." He seems to be able to come up with "evidence" for every single case he encounters: he's content to slime Tara Smith with this large brush by using one petty example, her not citing Nathaniel Branden in her relatively brief discussion of self-esteem. No consideration of Tara Smith's context or explanations she would offer if he bothered to ever ask her.

Strangely enough, he certainly can't level the "non-citation of nonARIans" charge at "ARIan" James Valliant, given his extensive citations of "nonARIans" Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, people who show about as much care in providing support for their negative depiction of things as Mr. PMS does. Even if it means shifting the charge to something else -- citing the Brandens in disreputable ways -- it doesn't stop him from employing the blanket characterization of "ARIans."

Mr. PMS has such a narrow-minded, bigoted view of his opponents that the irony is lost on him.

Individuals earn the intellectual credibility requisite to being studied and cited where relevant. Mr. PMS persistently soils his own intellectual reputation on internet forums, so he is definitely one "nonARIan" whose various published works the "ARIans" have little incentive prima facie to spend time and effort to seek out in hopes of finding things of relevance to their work.

Mr. PMS can't fail to be aware that good, honest ARI-supported scholars are involved in the Ayn Rand Society and work together with non-ARI-supported scholars who treat the project of Ayn Rand scholarship with due respect and scruple -- e.g., Lester Hunt, Fred Miller, Douglas Rasmussen. The annual proceedings of the ARS involve respectful back-and-forth between ARI folks and non-ARI folks alike. They're even doing such heretical things as comparing Rand's treatment of virtue with Nietzsche's. Tara Smith has been involved in activities and publications headed up by Fred Miller and Ellen and Jeffrey Paul at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center -- people with known interests in Rand's ideas and in libertarianism (as the term is usually understood in academe) who are not supported by or affiliated with the ARI.

Mr. PMS would really like it to be that some sinister plot afoot at ARI to blackball non-ARI scholars would plausibly explain the various appearances he thinks he sees. As we know all too well by now, this kind of wild-eyed reasoning would not be new to Mr. PMS.

Maybe Mr. PMS sees himself as some kind of target and victim of this conspiracy, citing his experiences going back to those college days when (if the story is really as he tells it) Peikoff wouldn't endorse his campus club because they had Branden's books on their suggested reading list. Another example of this sort of victim mentality came out upon publication of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics when Prof. Machan considered it necessary to ask, "Why didn't she cite the works of people like me who've published a lot?" as if there was supposed to be something of relevance written by Prof. Machan that really helped to properly illuminate our understanding of Rand. Maybe -- just maybe -- serious scholars who understand Objectivism correctly, who might happen upon Mr. PMS's writings, would encounter the same deal.

Maybe it just doesn't register with Mr. PMS that very few people have actually come to understand Objectivism truly correctly, and that the few that do will tend to the view that the ARI is one of the most valuable depositories of such understanding, and that untangling a lot of the other "understandings" out there made through whatever interpretive lenses are going to be superfluous at best. That's not a reason to ignore what some of these other thinkers have to say -- I consider Rasmussen and Den Uyl's neo-Aristotelian works to be particularly valuable (for right understanding not just of Rand but of the truth) but these are also matters of personal options. Would any advanced Objectivist's understanding suffer for lack of familiarity with those works? Probably not. For some of us, they were particularly helpful and illuminating, but let's put it this way: Peikoff didn't need Liberty and Nature to do Understanding Objectivism.

(I now regard familiarity with Mack's work as something that would definitely be of benefit to a full and thorough treatment of the issues surrounding rights theory (namely to correct misperceptions about what rights are and what they are not), but that his moral-dualistic approach -- referred to in print as such by the Dougs -- and very rationalistic-academicized approach had stunted my own proper understanding for years. His work is something I recommend parsing once one is equipped with a proper understanding. His arguments are eminently appealing when one doesn't have the background to realize that taking a teleology/deontology dichtomy for granted, as the academic tradition tended to do, is extremely rationalisitic, and attempting to graft them together under a full theory is admirable but already assumes a broken context. The '93 Reason Papers exchange brought that out, and which I only recently got around to understanding. Maybe I'll bring my thoughts on this to some full fruition with fresh insight that the Dougs didn't already provide, but it's doubtful at this point that I'll be doing so in the pages of your journal, Mr. PMS. At the least, I bring this point up to explain that, while there are publications out there that are quite accomplished at trying to "better" Rand's ideas in some areas, it's understandable how some of them would not cited as relevant and supportive of a project aimed at right understanding. [BTW, Mack's "Problematic Arguments" article would have been so much better were it focused on reconstruction rather than mere criticism. I mean, we already know that Rand didn't go in for a factual-conceptual dichotomy, right? So why do a criticism that takes the assumption that she does, without offering to show how, on her own grounds, these pseudo-problems can be readily fixed? Chris can do better than to allow criticism for the sake of criticism in his journal; that's not what philosophy should be about. Requiring a reconstructive approach would have meant raising the editorial bar somewhat -- to basically require agreement that Rand was right, not that she's subject indefinitely to open-ended criticism. Perhaps that's what really gets you about "ARIan sanitation of discussion" -- that providing a higher-level forum for discussion of Rand's ideas pretty much entails right understanding and, consequently, basic agreement with them? Yes, it's better that a broken criticism get aired and for a correction of it to be aired, than for broken criticisms to continue to float around in the unpublished world, but that doesn't mean the alternative is an editorial policy that just lets the broken criticisms to be thrown out there if the editorship is aware of how the criticism can be addressed or put to reconstructive use.])

Like I say, these are matters of personal context and options -- something that Mr. PMS's blanket portrayals run roughshod over.

Well, I've got a Mem. Day gathering to get to . . .

Alleged conspiracy theories

Robert Campbell's picture

During a couple of weeks in January 2008, Mr. Valliant seemed to have warmed up to the prospect of just maybe going and speaking at a TAS event himself.

Since he had openly despised TAS and all of its current top people for years, and made a joint appearance in solidarity with Mr. Perigo when the latter reneged on his speaking invitation in 2006, such a curious phenomenon stood in need of explanation.

Two different TAS insiders have strongly criticized me for suggesting that Messrs. Perigo and Valliant were interested in getting ideological control over the organization.

And I seriously doubt that my complaints about the invitation were decisive in getting it retracted. On this issue, I was just one among many.

But given what I have observed of both Mr. Valliant and Mr. Perigo, I remained convinced that each has a sufficiently unrealistic conception of his capabilities, and a prominent enough desire to be revered as a guru, to have tried something hare-brained like seeking a position of authority at TAS.

At this juncture it doesn't matter whether they were after authority at TAS, or just respectability.

They deserved neither, and got neither.

And it couldn't have happened to two nicer guys...

Robert Campbell

PS. The lie that I'd caught Mr. Valliant in was his n+1th denial of allegiance to the Leonard Peikoff, er, Ayn Rand Institute. Still denying it, Mr. Valliant?

I should have said, failure to rip "unfortunate and suboptimal"

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Perigo,

I was incorrect in saying that you defended Ms. Hsieh's statement that homosexuality is "unfortunate and suboptimal."

The correct description would be that you failed to blast, harangue, and excoriate Ms. Hsieh for her bigotry, employing your full customary vocabulary. Instead, quite uncharacteristically, you politely agreed to disagree with her on the matter.

When Ms. Hsieh finally romped out and said that Ayn Rand was "terribly wrong" about homosexuality, you replied:

Good for you! But then, I wouldn't have expected anything less from you (even while I disagree profoundly with you over "unfortunate and sub-optimal").


(The thread is already remarkably antiquated, what with the stuff about those ARIans who are "willing to engage." All but Mr. Valliant have long since departed.)

I will give you further credit for not letting her unload the blame for all of the homophobia during the NBI days on Nathaniel Branden.

But, during Ms. Hsieh's entire sojourn at SOLOP, she explicated her views... Where? How often? I can't find any explication.

Was she too valuable an asset, in your fight against an assortment of enemies, to risk pressing on the issue?

To this day, I have no bloody idea why Ms. Hsieh made her "unfortunate and sub-optimal" remark in 2005. When I knew her, before her conversion to ARIanism, she never made any negative remarks about gays or lesbians. Maybe she was just being a quiet bigot then--who knows?

Robert Campbell

Wouldn't It?

James S. Valliant's picture

It should be remembered that Campbell was attempting there to ridicule our logic and claim that we were being hypocritical in its application(!)

Oh, well spotted, James!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"People who refuse to admit errors when caught red-handed in them, preferring to go after the purported motives of their critics, are lying. Lying is dishonest, dishonesty is irrational..." R. Campbell, 1-14-2008

Which is why I'm so looking forward to Campbell's furnishing of my defence of "unfortunate and sub-optimal." I should hate to have to conclude that he's nothing but a liar, of the kind who routinely inhabits O-Lying. That would be terrible.

Ever More and More

James S. Valliant's picture

Thanks for the kind words, guys.

Yes, Linz, it might be a good time to remind ourselves of this assertion by Prof. Campbell, when he was working and lobbying so hard (yes, an editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies) to have you removed from the TAS lecture program:

"Mr. Perigo has no apparent positive regard for those who run TAS... and his professed scorn for the organization makes his decision to accept a speaking invitation hard to fathom. The hypothesis I find most plausible is that he is looking to seize control, running off his opponents there, and putting his associates (such as Mr. Valliant) in positions of authority." R. Campbell, 1-11-2008

Oh, so "hard to fathom" through the fog of his biases -- and, of course, that dastardly plot to take over TAS by infiltration and coup! Inventing conspiracy theories actually seems more reasonable to him than questioning a single premise of his bigotry.

This sane voice -- and others at OL who were comparing LInz to Nazis -- were the ones TAS chose to listen to when they decided to close down any real debate within its walls, and rescind their invitation.

If he sticks to form, in all likelihood Campbell will accuse us of bringing up irrelevant distractions(!)

So, while the above remains one of my personal favorites among Prof. Campbell's obiter dicta, perhaps, under the present circumstances in which he finds himself, this one is more appropriate:

"People who refuse to admit errors when caught red-handed in them, preferring to go after the purported motives of their critics, are lying. Lying is dishonest, dishonesty is irrational..." R. Campbell, 1-14-2008

Cathcart, you damned fool ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

what the fuck does Perigo speaking at TAS have at all to do with Jim Valliant?

Don't you know it was all a plot to take TAS over? Weren't you paying attention when Campbell pointed this out previously?

Hudgins was in on it, of course. He, Peikoff, Valliant and myself had been meeting at dawn behind a picket fence on a grassy knoll every morning for the past 6 months. Diana was supposed to join us but she got sidetracked channeling Ayn. This was indeed a narrow escape for TAS, I can tell you. And they have Campbell to thank for it. Had I gotten one tenth of one toe inside that lecture hall, it would have been all over.

I'll still resist the overpowering temptation to click on those links, thanks Chris - the spectacle of psychological spastics and moral maggots undulating together would altogether spoil my Shiraz.

And some more

Chris Cathcart's picture

More for entertainment value than disgust in this instance. Campbell has elevated his previous wild-eyed "plausible" hypothesizing about the TAS invite (prior to the dis-invite) into something we can now be "damn sure" about. Here we go:

"Because the leadership of The Atlas Society considered themselves "above it all," they nearly ended up with a couple of gross Perigonian diatribes on their Summer Seminar program. The next step, you can be damn sure, would have been to insinuate Jim Valliant into some of the programs."

And here the rest of the sane world can only wonder (followed by hearty snickering): what the fuck does Perigo speaking at TAS have at all to do with Jim Valliant?

Is there ever a time that Campbell isn't in meltdown mode?

And another

Chris Cathcart's picture

Hoo boy.

Neil P. quoted James V. (apparently from his appearance on a thread at RichardDawkins.net) citing numerous authors who have defended Rand's ideas in various areas, amongst whom he listed George Smith, David Kelley and George Reisman. Take a look at what Campbell had to say about these mentions:

Mr. Valliant exhibited considerable chutzpah when he paraded that list of Randian authors. Several of those listed are unpersons from the ARIan point of view, and Mr. Valliant had repeatedly defended their consignment to unpersonhood.

I guess it takes an "ugly troll" to point out things like that biggrin.gif

In other words, in Campbell's distorted worldview about the ARI, James, being the "ARIan scholar," is acting against an unspoken code at the ARI to treat the non-ARI scholars as unpersons. Indeed, there are some assholes who've aligned with ARI that have more or less done just that, but here we have a thinly-disguised collective characterization of ARI scholars and the insinuation that James, with the unstated threat of reprisal or disapproval hanging over him from his ARI masters, nevertheless defied his masters. And rather than recognize this act as one of integrity and indpendence, it's chalked up to "chutzpah." Moreover, to top the list of ugly smirking smears rolled into one compact statement, he says that it's their consignment to the status of unpersons that James has been happy to defend.

Ugly troll, indeed.

The context of his post, with the winks and grins, leaves open that it's just some joke. But the ugly premise of the "joke" is apparent enough.

Try out this gem from Campbell

Chris Cathcart's picture

From the current PARC thread on OL:


When Diana Hsieh ripped into you, she had been a public convert to ARIanism for over a year.

By then, anybody who didn't echo the Leonard Peikoff Institute line was automatically dishonest, as far as she was concerned."

This is just -- there's no other way to put it -- fucking ridiculous! I mean, how do you even dignify it with a rebuttal? It's a wild-eyed smear not even remotely supported by the facts.

You're an asshole, Campbell.

I'm sure ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

.... James knows he's writing for history. These exchanges will be among the material picked over by Rand scholars till kingdom come. And if Campbell is the best the Brandens can do, they are in worse strife than we thought. But yes, James is a hero, dispensing justice for a heroine. (Double-spasm for Campbell!)

Revealing indeed

Chris Cathcart's picture

I give one clean-cut example of how Rand would be looked at by her admirers (i.e., as a heroic embodiment of the principles she espoused), and look what he turns it into. The whole point is that if that is what "moral perfection" is taken to mean, then that's how they view her as morally perfect. Campbell wants to twist this issue into some other issue he's been pounding on going on two-plus years now.

I repeat: one simple, direct, straightforward example in contrast to the barrage of longer posts involving more and complicated issues, and he distorts it. The patience and endurance required to untangle the series of longer posts, James Valliant can only be applauded for displaying.

BTW, isn't it great how James Valliant gives lie to the notion that "ARI scholars" don't engage their critics. Here's a particularly nasty critic on display, out in the open, spewing forth every wild claim, every accusation, every aspersion on James Valliant's character and scholarship he can muster, and James isn't backing down from any of it. From this observer's standpoint, Campbell is getting schooled on the art of sound reasoning and it's an instructive example for all to see.

That "Much," If Anything, "More"

James S. Valliant's picture

You write: "The first type of 'active step' is mentioned in The Passion of Ayn Rand... The second and third types are inevitable when a secret affair goes on regularly for 3 to 4 years, and sporadically for some years after that."

I had myself excluded by the terms of my question the material in PAR, and was referencing the other "types" which you think may be inferred as "inevitable." As PARC notes, the first type is not a deception of any kind -- unless you also consider drawing the curtains before sex an act of deception. (Who's the "shameless" one?)

Now, as to the other "types," most of the lies told about and around affairs are designed to conceal it from the other spouse.

The spouse (or spouse equivalent) can claim a "right to know" that others usually cannot.

But, more to point, most of the need for concealment is obviated when the spouses do know. Thus, your "inevitabilities" make me wonder who is checking up after either Branden or Rand to actually require a whole "cover story." I wonder, how often, if ever, either would have needed say more than "I'm busy that afternoon," if an invitation conflicted? To smuggle in and impute every standard lie normally associated with affairs into this one is unwarranted, and somewhat... shameless.

No, that Rand and Branden had a high opinion of one another at the time was well known. It was well known that they worked closely together. The need to lie was almost non-existent under the circumstances. Absent from Ms. Branden's account is anyone they would have needed to lie to, and, perhaps, this is a good reason as to why that might be.

So, it is those of the "other types" you suppose are "inevitably" told which worry me, as I have said, and your thinking does not exhibit any appreciation of these factors in its transcendental refusal to consider PARC's actual case. It will take more than a "come on, man," to grapple with them, too.

No, sir, Hessen was specifically defending Ms. Branden's book from critics -- critics I still cannot identify. He is giving it an endorsement, otherwise, what's the value of an endorsement?

More importantly, Hessen himself defined his parameters. He explicitly said that her errors are trivial. He does say he disagrees with a couple of her interpretations -- but the quotations I have provided are no mere "interpretation," but fundamental conclusions about who Rand was -- and, in their scope, important themes of Ms. Branden's own work.

In particular, Hessen is saying that she was, if anything, too kind to Rand. This directly asks us to consider just how "kind" Ms. Branden was, because Hessen is directly endorsing the extent of her evaluation of Rand's treatment of others.

No, indeed, his very mention of "a few inaccuracies" implies an endorsement of the big points.

If Hessen's "endorsement" was so empty that he could still being disagreeing with assertions as big as the "fire and the rack" one, then, in substance, he actually said nothing in its defense at all.

But, of course, Ms. Branden's treatment is profoundly and fundamentally flawed, in part, because of these wild assertions. The failure to acknowledge this is itself revealing. Hessen went beyond this, "if anything," to explicitly endorse how far Ms. Branden went in her evaluations.

As you also know, what you have been saying for so long about PARC has been the cause for many of us to question whether you have read the book or not. Your posts show almost no indication of this, for example, but, as I say, I'll accept your explicit claim to have done so. In Hessen's case, it is his failure to ever indicate that he has read it -- or any other circumstantial evidence suggesting this to be the case -- which warrants the hypothesis.

I am certainly not "trying to discredit the man." That kind of approach is more in your line. Dr. Hessen's own work is not in question here -- but his evaluation of personal experience. In this respect, historians are subject to all the same issues other witnesses are -- and it is not his research, historiography or history writing that are here being considered.

He never lied to Rand, as far as I know, and he certainly did not write any book of PAR's quality.

But, like the rest of us, Hessen has lived a life and developed a context and perspective.

On its face, Hessen's statement is to be weighed and measured as going every bit as far as Ms. Branden's assertions went -- and, indeed, if anything farther than her assertions went.

What would be "shameless" qua historian is a blanket endorsement of PAR claiming any errors in it to be trivial -- it can only be understood qua friend of Ms. Branden. I have only responded to this precisely and only because it is being used by Ms. Branden's defenders as proof that she didn't go far enough.

11 on a scale of 10, eh?

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Valliant,

To put an end to the unbearable suspense, let me explain what I meant by "active steps" to conceal an affair:

-- Getting Frank O'Connor to leave the apartment when Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden were getting together, so AR and NB wouldn't have to go somewhere else and be seen together

-- Making up a cover story about NB's whereabouts on some occasion, when he was in fact at AR's apartment for a tryst

-- Making up a cover story about NB's reasons for being at AR's apartment, when in fact he was there for a rendezvous

The first type of "active step" is mentioned in The Passion of Ayn Rand. Are you contending that Barbara Branden made still another arbitrary assertion?

The second and third types are inevitable when a secret affair goes on regularly for 3 to 4 years, and sporadically for some years after that.

Come on, man, do you really think this is "just making stuff up"?

You're getting more shameless by the minute.

For that matter, the way Ayn Rand represented her marriage to the wider public might also qualify as an "active step."

Meanwhile, here's what you apparently want your readers to take as a case against Robert Hessen:

Dr. Hessen says, in a rather brief comment, that some aspects of Ayn Rand's character and behavior were worse than Barbara Branden makes them out to be.

You take this to mean that he endorses every last statement about Ayn Rand that appears in PAR, except he wants the condemnation intensified.

He obviously didn't mean any such thing, or (for instance) he wouldn't have mentioned what he took to be a few inaccuracies in that book.

What's more, Dr. Hessen is not writing his own biography or memoir about Ayn Rand. He isn't even writing a long article about her. Presumably if he were to do so, he would often mention different events from those that figured in Ms. Branden's book (because, for instance, he did not meet Ayn Rand as early as she did, he remained in good odor with Ms. Rand for some years after Barbara Branden was given the boot, and he might judge the importance of some events differently).

Yet you demand that he provide chapter and verse, whenever Barbara Branden has said something about Ayn Rand that you deem false or arbitrary.

Now, on what basis have you concluded that Dr. Hessen hasn't read your matchless opus?

--Because he told you to a take a hike when you sent him that copy?

--Because he politely received the copy and has had nothing to say to you since then?

--Because he told you he'd get back to you on it and he hasn't?

--Or because he told you that he'd read it and didn't think it was worth a whole lot?

After all, I completed my first reading of your book, in its entirety, during the first half of July 2005. It was in May 2008 that you finally agreed to quit accusing me of not having read it.

You know, I once said that Mr. Perigo's acolyte Peter Cresswell had "out-Vallianted" you because he appeared to accept every last word of your book—on which he then piled the, well, interesting assertion that "the Brandens" had deprived the world of Ms. Rand's projected final novel, To Lorne Dieterling.

But Mr. Cresswell had, to my knowledge, never expressed a single disagreement with your book.

Meanwhile, in trying to discredit Robert Hessen, you are trying to discredit a professional historian. You know, a guy who has forgotten more about scholarship than you've ever troubled to learn.

And you're trying to discredit a man who knew Ayn Rand personally. (Did Mr. Cresswell even meet her?)

Keep on with the shamelessness.

Robert Campbell

Such Statements Say a Lot

James S. Valliant's picture

About you.

The more fair-minded among us, Prof. Campbell, might suspect that Rand is suggesting that there is a reason to reject the commonly held conception of "perfection" by such a statement -- one that, in her view, might make this concept inappropriate to apply to herself (or anyone else.)


James S. Valliant's picture

You ask: "And being mistreated by Nathaniel Branden would make Robert Hessen unfairly disposed toward Ayn Rand... how, exactly?"

Well, the quotation you provided should have set you in the right direction:

"Of course, this should only amplify our concerns for Hessen's objectivity, not mitigate them, at least until we know who exactly he 'blames' for all of that. Intense personal experiences like this should only raise our concerns here, right?"

You don't think it conceivable that he would blame Rand for Branden's approach and conduct, given her endorsement and recommendation of him, do you?

Do you yourself give Rand any responsibility here?

PARC does -- it suggests that Rand gave Branden too much latitude.

Hessen, of course, took the "shot" at Rand, and thereby opened his own biases up to evaluation. Refusing to identify a source's perspective and potential biases is itself revealing on your part, but it is not good history.

And, by saying that Ms. Branden, if anything, undershot Rand's mistreatment of people, he has invited us to reconsider Ms. Branden's characterizations of this very subject.

According to Ms. Branden, there was "no context" in Rand's treatment of others. None.

Except, of course, on those "sunlit walks" where Rand was so "sensitive" to Ms. Branden's own "context," among other counterexamples.

Neil Parille, in the scholarship you've endorsed, calls this stuff "overgeneralization."

According to Ms. Branden, Rand used psychology like an "Inquisitor used fire and the rack." One would have thought that an assertion of this kind would be backed up with evidence to match.

No such matching evidence, of course, is produced by Ms. Branden. Nothing close.

Neil Parillle, in the scholarship you've endorsed, called this "unfortunate hyperbole."

In sharp contrast, Hessen says that Ms. Branden undershot the mark.

If someone who never knew Rand is confident that, in this area, Ms. B. is guilty of "unfortunate hyperbole," but someone much closer cannot see the same -- and indeed is so blind that he thinks he can say that it didn't go far enough -- it is a comment on his objectivity -- not Rand's personality.

If I may borrow your scholar, Mr. Parille's terminology, Ms. Branden's "unfortunate hyperbole" and "overgenralizations" tell us more about her own biases than about Rand.

If Hessen is running out to say "only worse" -- without providing us one more drop of evidence -- this is a confession about himself, not a report of any value about Rand.

When someone goes so far "over-the-top" with an opinion, the skeptical listener -- and the historians of the future -- will ask for the supporting evidence.

A comparison of the claim to the actual evidence will reveal the level of bias with which we are dealing. All other things being equal, the greater the differential between fact and opinion, the greater the revealed bias of the witness.

Some witnesses may be said to "wear their prejudices on their sleeves," as PARC demonstrates of Ms. Branden.

By this measure, the targets of Hessen's anger and blame for those extremely unpleasant experiences must extend beyond Branden himself.

So, no, it is not that he disagrees with me, but, rather, this commonly used historical measure of witness distortion which suggests radical bias in his case.

No, after getting Mr. Hoenig's kind words, I took the advice that Martin Anderson gave me -- and I did not explicitly seek endorsements.

I was, however, keen to share PARC with anyone and everyone who had known Rand, and I did hope for as many reactions as possible -- of course.

I am not at all sure, but, so far, it does not seem that Hessen has even read PARC.

A failure to endorse PARC, by itself, means nothing, of course, and there might be good reasons why someone would not care to read it -- or make any public comment on it -- which have nothing to do with the objectivity of the Branden biographies, for example.

There are those who go well beyond the Brandens' negative claims by just making stuff up, adding their own fiction to make their portraits of Rand much darker than reality -- e.g., Tuccille, Rothbard, and, now, you, Mr. Campbell, in your claims that Rand took "active steps," which you refuse to identify, in concealing the affair.

Hessen is by no means this bad.

He creates no fiction about it -- and, in fact, he adds no evidence whatever -- just a new level of volume to the expression of someone else's unsupported opinion.

But, as with the simple-minded chaps from Spinal Tap, his amplifier dial "goes to eleven."

Six of one, half dozen of the other

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Cathcart,

All you're saying is that in response to that questioner, Ayn Rand declared that she was morally perfect.

Except she wanted to put the point in her language, not the questioner's.

And this definitively refutes my argument... how?

An observer would surely be pardoned for gathering that it supports my argument.

A more insightful questioner would have used AR's preferred language. You know, did she think that she was another John Galt or Howard Roark?

Might have gotten a slightly more interesting answer, too.

Again, I cannot see for the life of me how anyone with a properly integrated understanding of anything would be angling to take over the role formerly occupied by Fred Weiss.

Robert Campbell

Rand's moral perfection

Chris Cathcart's picture

I was just reminded of how Rand herself responded to that question on her '79 Donahue show appearance, when a lady with a devious smile got up and asked, "Is it true that you see yourself as a perfect being?" Rand was not fazed by the question: she responded that she does not judge herself in that way. She judged herself by asking whether she lived by the principles that she espoused in her writings, and her answer was "Yes, resoundingly!"

So, really, what issue is there left here? Campbell has ridden this hobby horse long enough.

Coupla more things for Chris

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I did a Google search on "lying, smearing, lowlife bitch" and what are the first two hits to come up?

Hahahaha! Of course, I'll be even more delighted when it happens in reverse. Smiling

You wonder why I'm easier on Chris Sciabarra than on Babs. It might well be that I ought not to be, but ... I got to know him during the golden period of our collaboration much better than Diana did, and "fundamentally immoral" just doesn't fit. He was a superb and conscientious assistant-editor of The Free Radical, helping me out for nothing (and he a celeb and all!). It was such a boon knowing one other person who not only knew his grammar and punctuation, but cared about them. Ditto punctuality. I always knew that he'd beat his deadlines by days if not weeks. His own writing for the magazine, free as it was of "Polish" (which he knew was forbidden in the FreeRad) was plain English at its finest, a thing of beauty. We had a relationship of warm affection and hot banter, notwithstanding that I'd lose my rag with him sometimes over his "Saddamy" or some other pomowanking tendency. Together we battled silly old Regi's homophobia at the time the "homonograph" came out, another fruit of our collaboration. When we physically met for the first time, in 2003, it was as old friends already. After the obligatory Tour, we sat and listened to Mario, and he cried his eyes out. This was not faked for my benefit, it was true "value-swoon." He subsequently said, in our Desert Island Discs corner on the old SOLOHQ:

"I'd also probably add a greatest hits collection of Mario Lanza -- tracks chosen by Linz, of course -- but the point of being on a desert island is to be safe and sound from surging waters, and I'm afraid that listening to Mario tends to cause a flow of tears that might very well flood the island and endanger all human habitation."

I'm sure I saw the essence of the man, and it was noble, not rotten. However flabbergasted I was to see what he was saying behind my back, two years later, I thought it was an even worse betrayal of himself than of me. I live in hope that he'll get over the Brandens, get over academia, and put his exceptional mind to admirable use again. I want to see Sciabarra prevail over "Scumbarra." Clearly unlikely while he fraternises with the ilk of Campbell, I suppose, but as I say ... I live in hope. I see no comparable hope for Babs. She cannot admit a mistake, let alone wrongdoing.

Get that - the poster-girl for the anti-perfection brigade is perfect! Smiling

Did someone not endorse Mr. Valliant's book?

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Valliant,

Down-thread, you ripped Robert Hessen in a long, rambling response to Neil Parille.

Evidently, you were mightily displeased with Dr. Hessen's statement, made in 2004, that Ayn Rand's character was actually worse than one might conclude after reading Barbara Branden's biography.

From my hopelessly improperly integrated perspective, your post often fails to make any sense whatsoever. Except your hostility toward Dr. Hessen cuts right through the fog.

Sure, Hessen doesn't like Mr. Branden -- would you, if the man revealed confidences you had shared in the context of therapy? But how on earth does this make Hessen neutrally disposed towards PARC?

Of course, this should only amplify our concerns for Hessen's objectivity, not mitigate them, at least until we know who exactly he "blames" for all of that. Intense personal experiences like this should only raise our concerns here, right?

And being mistreated by Nathaniel Branden would make Robert Hessen unfairly disposed toward Ayn Rand... how, exactly?

Does Hessen know something [concerning Ayn Rand's alleged condemnation of persons who did not share her esthetic preferences] that sources as diverse as Rothbard, Ms. Branden and Peikoff do not? Does he know something that even those who were closer to Rand -- the Brandens and Peikoff and Ms. Sures -- do not know? For us to believe that he does, given the context, we require specifics -- i.e., who was denounced or attacked on this basis and how. (After all, it wasn't his name being printed on the cover of that biography he thinks was too kind to its subject, but Ms. B.'s.)

Neil, you yourself have called Ms. Branden's assertion about "torture and the rack" an "unfortunate hyperbole." But this is something Hessen has endorsed uncritically. If Hessen's other objections are so specific that they include the wrong dates he noticed in PAR -- and if he simultaneously claims Ms. B. was too kind to Rand -- then we are compelled to believe that he accepts her most dubious propositions -- "overgeneralizations," "hyperbole" and all. Indeed, for Hessen, PAR's errors are merely "trivial."
"If anything," to steal his phrase, this tells us that, in some ways, Hessen's judgment is even more warped by personal experience than that of his dear, old friend, Ms. B. (I also know from personal experience that a friend will often get more fired up about an insult to the friend than the actual victim of the insult.)
Hessen suggests that Rand was not only "cruel" but, in addition -- and you better sit down for this one, folks -- "rude"!

Well, what evidence of cruelty -- or even rudeness -- has he provided? Just a single instance of "rudeness" (forget "cruelty") would be appreciated -- especially given his endorsement (and then some) of Ms. B.'s most outrageous claims.

But what do we get by way of specifics from him?


Let me suggest, Neil, that history's final verdict on these matters will depend on specific incidents and their details -- or the absence of these details -- much more than on the dubious -- what did you call them? -- "overgeneralizations" of biased witnesses.

So Dr. Hessen is (and was) a biased witness...

Even Hessen must concede that he did not witness Rand arguing for these allegedly "ludicrous" opinions [e.g., concerning Spencer Tracy's nose] with others -- he says they seemed "self-evident" to Rand. However, without hearing Rand's case, how could he conclude that they were a "test" of rationality and bad premises for her? ESP? When asked, Rand always seems to have had a good answer -- on the merits -- about any of these things, just as Sures, Peikoff and even both Brandens insist -- and with vivid detail. And, absent Rand's case, how are we to evaluate it one way or another? (Of course, for Rand, only the perceptually given may be treated as the "self-evident," and it is therefore highly unlikely that Rand herself ever cast these things is such terms, in any event.)

Actually, the "opinions" Hessen cites do not seem to have prevented Rand from being a FRIEND with someone who held contrary views or who wore contrary beards.

No, it was merely the passionate intensity of Rand's personal esthetics -- and that Rand believed esthetic values to be eloquently revealing of one's soul -- that seemingly disturbed Hessen.

But just exactly how loving her mustachioed father renders Rand a "hypocrite" will require some further explanations, don't you think? For Hessen to be right, Rand would have had to have made a moral or psychological issue out of facial hair -- which she clearly did not.

Through the very issues he uses, Hessen only confesses his own bitterness and biases -- running far out ahead of Ms. B., precisely in order to make her seem objective. But even by your own score, Neil, he is suggesting that "unfortunate hyperbole" about "torture, the rack and fire" is still too kind to Rand.

And you have documented Dr. Hessen's bitterness and biases, how?

Have your inferred them merely because he disagrees with your assessment of Ayn Rand?

Or have you concluded that he was bitter and biased because you have specific data concerning his character, actions, and history that support your case?

You ask if the new ARI [oral history] book will include interviews with those with whom Rand had had "breaks."

I am uncertain, but I hope not. Those are people already quoted by name (the only type who can complain of being misquoted, btw) in PAR -- and these include the close friends of Ms. Branden from way back.
The many who refused to cooperate with Ms. B.'s project are the ones we now need to hear from, don't you think, Neil?

In March 2006, you announced, during a rare visit to Rebirth of Reason, that you had just sent a copy of your book to Dr. Hessen.



Did you ask Dr. Hessen to endorse your book?

Did he, in fact, endorse it?

Did you and he undertake any specific discussions of your book?

And what is your view of people in Rand-land who are given an opportunity to endorse your book and refuse to do it?

Robert Campbell

Lyin' 'n' lynchin', lynchin' 'n' lyin' ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture


I'm kinda surprised, during the lynch-mob fiasco surrounding TAS's invite/dis-invite earlier this year, that Linz didn't come up with a new nickname for the other forum: Objectivist Lynching.

Their lynchings come and go; their lying goes on for ever.Smiling

You say further back that Babs doesn't merit the appellation, "lying, smearing, lowlife bitch"; you obviously missed her climactic contribution to the lynching, her public letter to Ed Hudgins about me. It made Drooling Beast seem like a eulogy. Just vicious, outright lies and libels. I cannot get my head around the kind of foulness of soul it must take to do something like that. Then again, they, the O-Lyin' Lynchers, were all sooooooooo desperate to stop me speaking ... what were they so unhingedly afraid of, I wonder?

Now I see Campbell accusing you of mindless cheerleading. That's among the most ridiculous things he's said - and the competition is pretty stiff! Smiling

Edited to add, re Babs: when Sciabarra did his 18,000-word review of PARC, many of us, in our sublime ignorance, were dismayed that he didn't rip Valliant limb from limb. Babs reassured us that he'd done something far more effective by using a stiletto rather than a hatchet. Now, a stiletto is defined on Wiki as "a short knife or dagger, with a long slender blade of various designs. This dagger is primarily a stabbing weapon ..." Babs praised Chris for a subtle, systematic, clinical feat of cutting and stabbing ... which tells us a lot about her own approach.

Herein lies the difference, in hindsight, between her and Nathaniel - and you must ask yourself if there is really any essential difference between them: Nathaniel used a hatchet in his memoir on Rand, Babs used a stiletto in hers (and later stiletto-ized Nathan's).

Lately, however, in dealing to the likes of me, she seems to have relinquished the stiletto in favour of a steam-roller and the lynch-mob's noose. Smiling

Just for fun

Chris Cathcart's picture

I did a Google search on "lying, smearing, lowlife bitch" and what are the first two hits to come up? Laughing out loud

I'm kinda surprised, during the lynch-mob fiasco surrounding TAS's invite/dis-invite earlier this year, that Linz didn't come up with a new nickname for the other forum: Objectivist Lynching. Smiling

Prof Campbell ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Right here, Mr. Perigo:


Thank you. Yes, I certainly stand by those comments. Is there some reason you think I shouldn't?

I've just read Chris Cathcart's latest lengthy post. He makes the point there that you evidently don't "get" Objectivism nearly as well as the people you bash. This hadn't really occurred to me, but it would certainly help explain some of the strange things that come off your keyboard, and why you would be struggling with the idea that to lie about someone is a form of force-initiation against him.

Now, Professor, how are you going with "unfortunate and sub-optimal"?

Valliant and Sciabarra

Chris Cathcart's picture

In a previous posting I wrote:
"Valliant's subsequent actions in response to Sciabarra and the whole Linz/Babs/Diana/behind-the-scenes-whispering episodes had nothing whatsoever to do with Sciabarra's review of PARC. Nothing. Do I need to repeat? Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing."

Campbell challenged me on this point. My only response is to defer to what James Valliant himself posted in reply, as to any connection between the two. Thing is, this may not be good enough for Campbell, who apparently wouldn't take James at his word or accept that his motives are innocent, whereas I do.

James asked:
"(See what an ARI cultist I am, having a friendly correspondencew with Sciabarra and all?)"

Campbell seems to be of the mindset that James wasn't acting in good faith by having such a correspondence or that this was some kind of set-up. (Campbell's screwball theories about machinations and set-ups would fit perfectly with this idea.) One thing that I've admired and respected about James is his independence and his treating people and ideas as they merit, not on the basis of whatever group they're a part of. The partisanship that's run rampant throughout the Objectivist movement for so long stinks. And I have to say that Campbell, in his one-sided agenda against anything and everything ARI-related, is just an example of that stinky partisanship. And it runs against the stated mission of JARS.

And besides

Chris Cathcart's picture

I thought the whole Peikoffian-hagiographic-cultist-ARI approach was to ignore the Branden biographies, as something verboten to give attention to because it would be "sanctioning evil"? I thought that was the line pushed by people like you and Kelley for some 18-odd years? Can the Peikoffians win? If they ignore the Brandens, they're dishonest cultists. If they directly engage and challenge the Brandens, they're dishonest cultists. What, exactly, could they have done in regard to the Brandens that wouldn't have been cultish? Just go along with what they said and *shudder* embrace Nathaniel back into the fold just as IOS/TOC/KASSless did?

Professorial pomp and PARC

Chris Cathcart's picture

For all his professorial pomp, Campbell is one heck of a broken thinker. He says all this stuff about people being "born again" in the wake of PARC and becoming raving loonies as a result. His wild-eyed characterizations, his flimsy accusations of dishonesty (directed at scholars like Tara Smith), his conspiracy-theory mindset, his awkward stretches to pigeonhole his opposition this way and that -- all part of some attempt to make sense out of things he doesn't seem capable of understanding first-hand. I can see where he's coming from, I understand his mindset, his fervor to identify and marginalize cultism and dogmatism where he thinks he sees it. I understand his context quite well, and he's just doing a lousy job of thinking and applying it properly to actual situations and particulars. Time and time again he misunderstands and fails to grasp the context that his opposition is working from.

So what is PARC all about, to Campbell, who fails to grasp the context of those who like and appreciate it for what it is? For him, all he can see is that it's Peikoff sending out a messenger to do his dirty work, to demonize and to create another loyalty test in a long line of loyalty tests. When I read PARC, there was an entire perspective brought to the fore that wasn't brought forth before, which shed new light on a painful situation some 40 years ago that resonates to this day. There are certain things that PARC did accomplish and other things that it didn't and wasn't really designed to anyway. I don't think Campbell has any clear grasp on what PARC means and what it doesn't. Time and time again, and refuted each and every time, he has it in his head that PARC is all about accepting Rand's perfection. As long as that's where he's coming from, he's just not going to get it.

What PARC does, in part, is remove any doubts as to whether Objectivist organizations ought to be associating with Nathaniel Branden, inviting him to speak, etc. Some people get that, and others don't. Campbell appears to be amongst those that doesn't. There's the Kelleyian about-face as to whether Ayn Rand's personal life and real or alleged "flaws" ought to be brought out into the open and discussed rather than pushed under the rug as people like Peter Schwartz demanded; with PARC and some of its unpleasant conclusions, this appeared to be taken off the table. Now, it's like there's a lot of stuff now out there that would be most unpleasant for certain people who had so much invested in one or the other of the Brandens to have to deal with. I don't even see what's the big deal in the case of Babs; it means something that Rand and Babs had their meeting in 1981 -- it doesn't mean that Babs is off the hook or that she shouldn't be held accountable for a good number of her misdeeds and mischaracterizations. It isn't so much her deeds and words that have gotten people like Linz so pissed at her, it's her eschewing accountability for them, for not owning up. So with Babs there are issues, but hardly of the severity and finality that there is with Nathan.

There were problems in how both Brandens characterized Rand, and the defenders of one or both of them seem all too unwilling to acknowledge them, in light of the fresh perspective and balance (as in, the rest of the story was brought in, and the facts and logic used to challenge many aspects of the Brandens' accounts of things). I don't see what the big deal is, looking at this from the vantage point of wanting to make an honest assessment of the whole Rand-Branden situation. For those who are in close for a long time with Nathaniel, yeah, I can see how it would be a big deal to close off ties to the scoundrel, but sometimes ya gotta do those things.

And one thing I don't get (well, I do get it, realizing how their vantage point is a broken one) is the whole informal project of casting aspersions on James Valliant's character. He has been amply patient in dealing with criticisms and willing to grant any number of things as the facts warrant. For a guy supposedly in on the project of hagiography, the number of times he's said "Rand was mistaken" or "Rand's anger was sometimes unjustified" or "Rand probably could have handled such-and-such situation better" and the like, is downright eye-opening. And for all the shit-slinging, I've yet to see a serious challenge to Linz's defense of Rand's "perfection" as nothing more than that she did not consciously betray her principles.

So, anyway, where does this leave us? What is the main thing about PARC that we're supposed to "get" so that we can dismiss it as having little objective value? What exactly is the locus of criticism? PARC had a specific function which I think it served quite well -- namely, it brought to light new facts and a new perspective on the Rand-Brandens relationship. So it gets pretty extreme in some of its claims, e.g., the evidence about Branden's psychology is that it is comparable to that of a rapist. Well, yeah, a pretty harsh accusation, but beyond the pale? Well, you tell me what you think it takes for a man to do what he did and what he put Rand through. It's sick and disgusting and perverted. And not just Rand he did sick and perverted stuff to, but any number of his students and associates and even Barbara.

So I dunno, you tell me, Professor. What context am I failing to grasp here? I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge and concede this or that as the facts warrant. The facts warrant the conclusion that Nathaniel Branden is a scumbag who can't be trusted. I'll acknowledge and concede that Barbara has numerous problems and issues but she's not in the same category as Nathaniel. For all Linz's justified anger and disgust and feelings of personal sleight over the "Drooling Beast" episode, I don't share his conclusion that she is "a lying, smearing, lowlife bitch." But, hey, she's not yielding and being contrite due to the nature of the accusation, so they're at an impasse. (Strangely enough, when it's Chris Sciabarra, it's "he's fundamentally decent" but under the sway of people that leads him do things that a "lying, smearing, lowlife bitch/asshole would do.") Looks like the same deal with PARC, though I'm sure James is certainly more calm an measured in how he responds to new information, e.g., that Babs and Rand had a meeting in '81. The charge is still there and the facts back it up -- that Babs committed numerous significant injustices against Rand -- but she's evidently not such a scumbag that Rand wouldn't see her again. Are you saying that PARC would lead us to believe otherwise, that Babs is an irredeemable scumbag? Not a very reliable biographer, okay. There's plenty of examples brought up in PARC that call into question Babs' reliability.

So please, tell me, Professor, what's this terrible thing about PARC I'm supposed to be recognizing if my intellectual sanity is to be salvaged? And why should I figure that the author is proceeding in bad faith and that you are not? You want this whole thing to try to make sense on the premise that PARC is Randian hagiography at the behest of Peikoff, but you dig yourself holes to make your accounting of things "cohere." That's a sign of bad faith. Or, giving you the benefit of the doubt, it's you out of your depth grasping and trying to make sense of something that your broken approach to ideas isn't helping you to make sense of. But sooner or later, you should step back and maybe come to grips with some of the really stupid stuff you've been saying -- your conspiracy-nutter stuff about TAS's invitation of Linz (or supposed backstage online machinations by Linz, Diana, Valliant, et al), your unjust and unwarranted attacks on the characters of just about anyone (it seems) who does scholarship under approval of Peikoff or ARI, your one-sided treatment of PARC, etc.

I'm sorry, Professor, if things don't neatly fit into your preconceived worldview that it's people like you who do the respectable Randian scholarship and it's people working close to Peikoff that have this cultist, hagiographic, unscholarly approach. It's particularly funny coming from you, someone who hasn't listened to Understanding Objectivism, and who apparently doesn't have the properly integrated grasp of the philosophy that a number of the people whom you bash actually do have. And, I suspect, their understanding and your lack of it is why they manage to get the point of PARC and you don't.

So, Just Like Mr. Branden...

James S. Valliant's picture

... Linz holds deception to be form of coercion, I see, to be equated and fairly comared (as Branden himself does) to violence itself as a form of force and manipulation.

Initiation of force?

Robert Campbell's picture

Right here, Mr. Perigo:


Here's the full text:

Sadly, Chris had been hiding behind the veil of confidentiality to smear folk who had no idea what was going on until it was brought out into the open. The e-mails he sent to Joe Maurone about me, for instance. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first was shown them. And Chris had in effect been smearing the entirety of ARI with his "confidential" claims to Diana that sundry of its intellectuals were chomping at the bit to publish in JARS but were too terrified of possible reprisals to do so. With that sort of behaviour one forfeits confidentiality in my book. Clandestine lying about someone is surely no less an initiation of force because it's clandestine and the guy smiles to your face? In those situations, one should put up or shut up.

Robert Campbell


James S. Valliant's picture

Are you saying, Mr. Campbell, that Sciabarra's warm relationship with the Brandens (both) -- his sense of gratitude toward them -- had no impact on his review of PARC?

Are you saying that when he told Linz to lay off the whole topic of PARC out of consideration for Ms. Branden's age and feelings, that this did not reveal even more about his biases than his dishonesty to me, personally, did?

You've suggested this before, and, so, I must ask once more: do the editors at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies decide in advance which books to attack and which to praise for political or personal reasons?

And, most emphatically, yes, I would still have denounced Sciabarra's two-faced treatment of Linz, and the double-standards in his treatment of Diana -- you bet.

And, no, it wasn't so much Sciabarra's review as his lies to me which convinced me of his subjective biases toward Ms. Branden.

Before I learned of these lies, my interaction with Chris was quite friendly -- and for a period after his review. As he should report to you himself, our relationship after his review, in fact, was still extremely positive. (See what an ARI cultist I am, having a friendly correspondencew with Sciabarra and all?)

No, it was no "criticism of PARC" from you -- you've not addressed the book in any real way -- but the very bigoted attitude you display here to anyone with a different opinion of Rand -- and your intense animosities on vivid display as we speak -- which disqualify you from being the editor of a journal on the subject of Rand's ideas.

Now, as to all of those pending questions you've ignored...

Prof ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I don't know what you're talking about. Please refresh my memory, perhaps at the same time as you furnish my defence of "unfortunate and sub-optimal."

Initiation of force?

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Perigo,

Are you still charging that Chris Sciabarra initiated force against you?

Robert Campbell

Subjective certainty, objective ignorance

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Cathcart,

Once again you express total subjective certainty about matters of which you objectively know absolutely nothing.

Valliant's subsequent actions in response to Sciabarra and the whole Linz/Babs/Diana/behind-the-scenes-whispering episodes had nothing whatsoever to do with Sciabarra's review of PARC. Nothing. Do I need to repeat? Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing.

Do you really mean to say that if Chris Sciabarra had endorsed Mr. Valliant's book in July 2005, Lindsay Perigo, Diana Hsieh, Jim Valliant, and Joe Maurone would still have wanted to destroy his reputation in March and April 2006?

Do you really mean to say that Chris Sciabarra's failure to endorse Mr. Valliant's book wasn't seen by Mr. Valliant as proof that he was in the thrall of Barbara Branden? Has Mr. Valliant failed to accuse any persistent critic of his book of doing the bidding of Barbara Branden?

Do you really mean to say that Chris Sciabarra's failure to endorse Mr. Valliant's book wasn't seen by Mr. Perigo, in the wake of "Drooling Beast," as at least partial proof that he was in the thrall of Barbara Branden? Has Mr. Perigo, since his born-again experience, failed to accuse any persistent critic of Mr. Valliant's book of doing the bidding of Barbara Branden? I say "partial," because I suspect that Mr. Perigo wouldn't have been satisfied without an explicit public denunciation of Barbara Branden on top of the favorable review.

Do you really mean to say that if Chris Sciabarra had endorsed Jim Valliant's book, Diana Hsieh would still have picked him out as the highest-value target, when she sought to prove her bona fides to the Ayn Rand Institute by denouncing another one of her former companions in iniquity?

Do you really mean to say that if Chris Sciabarra had not personally endorsed Mr. Valliant's book, but had arranged for a favorable review by another author to appear in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Mr. Valliant would still have made a public show of being mightily offended by some damn thing or other about JARS, and declared that he was no longer interested in submitting a reply to the review in the journal?

Do you really mean that if I hadn't kept criticizing Mr. Valliant's book at SOLOPassion, Mr. Valliant would still have told Chris Sciabarra to fire me? (Mr. Valliant practically challenged me to a duel for saying that, in his book and in his online defenses of it, he aimed to substitute the worship of Rand's person for an informed appreciation of her ideas.)

Do you really mean to say that if Chris Sciabarra had appeased Mr. Valliant, by firing me from my Associate Editor position when Mr. Valliant demanded it, Mr. Valliant would still have participated in the joint project of denouncing him?

Please explain to me how Chris Sciabarra's response to PARC, including but not limited to his review, could not have had an effect on Mr. Valliant's subsequent conduct toward him.

Any connection between the two is the product of Campbell's fevered and overworked imagination.

I have no idea what your sources are.

I doubt it matters, because the kind of stuff you've been writing lately is easiest to produce when you aren't consulting any sources.

Back before your born-again experience, you wrote a piece for JARS that showed genuine philosophical insight.

Now you are threatening to outdo Casey Fahy and Fred Weiss for sheer inane pseudo-intellectual fury.

Do you really want to become known as a reliable provider of mindless applause?

What kind of ambition in life is that?

Robert Campbell


James S. Valliant's picture

Since we're on the subject of evasiveness, Mr. Campbell, I wonder if you could answer one of the latest of the perpetually hanging issues from my discussion with Mr. Parille, since it is relevant to this chapter.

Neil accuses PARC of misleading readers into thinking that Ms. Branden had suggested that Rand could "no longer fully enjoy an event or activity that was here and now" -- "as early" as page 49 of PAR. He notes that I left out Ms. Branden's citation of unnamed "witnesses from later years" in PARC's treatment of this on pages 16-18.

In response, I observed that Ms. Branden actually was suggesting here that this specific condition may have begun just that early -- after her separation from her youthful crush, Leo, to which Ms. Branden explicitly connects it. I noted that Neil had left out that part in his "more complete" discussion of this section. I observed that this is why Ms. Branden was talking about this so early in her book -- because she holds that this state may have begun back in Russia, according to the PAR quotation cited. I can also add that, being a story from so early in Rand's life, the reference to "later years" could mean any later year. She was alleging this was connected to the loss of Leo. And, in any event, PARC cites contrary examples from decades later, in the 50s and 60s, even if that's all Ms. B. originally meant -- despite her explicit statement to the contrary, the one left out by Neil.

To this, Neil has no reply.

And we've been around this block before.

This is only one example of his kind of just-move-along-to-the-next-thing approach to the refutations of his refutations.

Yes, I refuse to keep up a totally one-sided dialogue of this kind.

Is this what you call my evasiveness?

Is pointing this out what you call my "smarminess"?

In any case, Neil, whose scholarship you have endorsed, just got it wrong.


James S. Valliant's picture

...that's a "declined" on my offer to set aside all name-calling and have a civil discussion, Prof. Campbell?

If it's as inevitable that I will become rude and evasive as you claim, why not demonstrate this to the skeptical Mr. Cathcart, once and for all?

As you actually know, I am capable of a having a civilized conversation -- and with people I disagree with as intensely as we seem to -- and as I have demonstrated many times.

As anyone can see, the name-calling has been terminated here -- right now. Would you say I am being uncivil now?

As you also must recall, the name-calling and bizarre ad hominems between us were commenced by you long, long ago. (Up to this point, you will notice, I had avoided even the mention of this.)

And, now, you decline the offer to set all that aside... although you would leave unanswered questions...

Well, okay.

[edit.: And, Mr. Campbell, just exactly how was I "smarmy" or evasive or attitude-copping with or about Chris Sciabarra?

Also, while I did call you a "troll," this was no mere insult, but a description of your conduct at RichardDawkins.net. I was there happily discussing free will and determinism -- the substance of Rand's ideas -- when you and the "usual suspects," as Mr. Scherk called them, decided to make the issue me. I tried to stay on topic, but the focus on PARC -- at what you describe as a "neutral" forum -- became a complete distraction to any serious engagement. As I have said, that is why I left. (And I am still waiting for that "empirical" argument for determinism, btw.) The decision by y'all to turn a substantive conversation into an attack on me (and my book about Rand biographies) became a kind of ad hominem against Rand's case.

Attacking me was apparently more important than the explication of Rand's ideas in such a context to some -- since who was making the case, not the case being made, had become the relentless new focus for some.

If this is the kind of thing you enjoy crowing about -- go for it. (And I'm supposed to be the one who declares his own "victories"?)

But this is the conduct of those often termed internet "trolls."

As I say, I am happy to set all such language aside, for the chance at a civil conversation. Here is your chance to "talk PARC" during an appropriate exchange.]

What's the next distraction, I wonder?

Prof ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

If you haven't read Ms. Hsieh's denunciation of Chris Sciabarra, which sits right here on this board, do it now.

Yes, do. It's here.

Read Mr. Perigo's defenses of that denunciation, which he strongly encouraged behind the scenes.

I supported it, publicly and privately, because it was true. Chris had been attacking folk under the cloak of confidentiality for some time, including, as it turned out, me. Joe Maurone gave me chapter and verse. Chris's response was not to fix it, but to shun Joe Maurone for enlightening me! I didn't support Diana's ultimate conclusion that Chris was "fundamentally immoral"; I said he was a fundamentally decent person who'd allowed himself to do immoral things on the Brandens' behalf, if not at their bidding. (Not sure if I spelled out that last bit at the time, about the Brandens, but that's what I think now.)

Read Mr. Valliant's defenses of it.
Then lecture me, if you dare, about how I've got "broken thinking" and Chris Sciabarra doesn't.

I don't see the connection, frankly. What have Valliant's defences of the denunciation to do with the state of your thinking c/f Sciabarra's?

Nothing whatsoever

Chris Cathcart's picture

Campbell, wide-eyed, said:

Personally, I haven't the patience to respond to Mr. Valliant's book at the length that Chris Sciabarra did, with the forbearance he exhibited. It's all still there at Notablog.

A whole lot of good came of that for Dr. Sciabarra.

Mr. Valliant ultimately rewarded him for that review by teaming up with Mr. Perigo, Ms. Hsieh, a fellow named Joe Maurone who long since made himself scarce from these parts, and a couple of minor-leaguers who have since retreated to the Ayn Rand Institute, to try to destroy Dr. Sciabarra's career.

Valliant's subsequent actions in response to Sciabarra and the whole Linz/Babs/Diana/behind-the-scenes-whispering episodes had nothing whatsoever to do with Sciabarra's review of PARC. Nothing. Do I need to repeat? Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing.

Any connection between the two is the product of Campbell's fevered and overworked imagination.

Mr. Cathcart needs to inform himself

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Cathcart:

As Jim Valliant well knows, he called me an "ugly troll" when I showed up to challenge him over at the Richard Dawkins site.

I doubt that Mr. Valliant will return to any such neutral location any time soon. He likes to proclaim every three minutes how he has definitively vanquished some opponent, but this gives a semblance of working only when he has a claque ready to applaud him from time to time. "Physicist Dave" really wiped the floor with him over there, and Mr. Valliant is still fuming at Ellen Stuttle for taking apart his completely incompetent treatment of free will and determinism.

(Do you really believe what you said recently, about Mr. Valliant having a "properly integrated" understanding of Objectivism? There are significant chunks of Objectivism that he doesn't appear to understand at all. It's been two and a half years and he still doesn't know what Ayn Rand was ripping Bertrand Russell for, in a certain notorious passage.)

Now on my last visit to SOLOP, Mr. Valliant merely complained of my "presumption." I suppose you could take this as a sign of mellowing.

Sorry about confusing what Mr. Valliant called me in one venue with what he called me in another... They all run together after a while.

I again find it hard to judge whether you are incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous, when you make remarks like this:

BTW, has it been observed, if not once then numerous times, that Chris Sciabarra's response to JV's book was much more on-point than Campbell's and did not show signs of broken thinking -- and that JV did more than adequately in responding respectfully and pointedly?

Personally, I haven't the patience to respond to Mr. Valliant's book at the length that Chris Sciabarra did, with the forbearance he exhibited. It's all still there at Notablog.

A whole lot of good came of that for Dr. Sciabarra.

Mr. Valliant ultimately rewarded him for that review by teaming up with Mr. Perigo, Ms. Hsieh, a fellow named Joe Maurone who long since made himself scarce from these parts, and a couple of minor-leaguers who have since retreated to the Ayn Rand Institute, to try to destroy Dr. Sciabarra's career.

If you haven't read Ms. Hsieh's denunciation of Chris Sciabarra, which sits right here on this board, do it now.

Read Mr. Perigo's defenses of that denunciation, which he strongly encouraged behind the scenes.

Read Mr. Valliant's defenses of it.

Then lecture me, if you dare, about how I've got "broken thinking" and Chris Sciabarra doesn't.

Why is it that Campbell sees himself as some target of disrespect, smarm, and evasion from JV?

Anyone who criticizes Mr. Valliant's formulations eventually becomes a target of disrespect, smarm, and evasion. Most become instant targets.

Again, try actually informing yourself. Read a few of Mr. Valliant's responses to Neil Parille, and you'll get the flavor of it soon enough.

Robert Campbell


James S. Valliant's picture

Had to share this gem from Ms. Branden. It's from a post-PARC discussion of Rand's ability to be both angry and charming over at OL, on March 17, 2006 -- it's the one most appropriate for this chapter:

"There were times during the writing of The Passion of Ayn Rand when I felt that whatever I said about Rand's personality and temperament, I needed at once also to say the opposite, so changeable was she in this regard."

Imagine that! A person who could be (on different occasions) angry and sharp, warm and affectionate, a "diligent school girl," a supportive counsellor -- depending on the context.

Yeah, it's that overall assessment thingy...

Chris ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The great thing about SOLO is the intellectual independence one has to stand up and point out truths that may be unpopular in whatever circles. Given the Binswanker e-mail list's "Loyalty Oath," I'd probably be kicked out of there for "attacking" his nose-in-the-air buddy with the facts.

I think you should give it a try anyway and report back. Smiling


Chris Cathcart's picture

You pinpointed the exact fatal flaw in Schwartz's review that I've pointed out before. Rand said, "And I mean it!" Curiously, Schwartz didn't think this statement should have bearing on our evaluation of Ayn Rand, and by doing so he promulgates an ideas-actions dichotomy and projects it onto Rand. You would think that when the target is the Brandens -- whom Rand dismissed precisely on the basis that they failed to integrate their professed ideas and actions -- that the issue of ideas-actions integration would be crucial.

Schwartz isn't a guy to look to for sound orthodox Objectivist arguments on anything. His credibility took a huge hit with me both from this and from the way he treated the primary source material for his claim-to-fame essay on "Libertarianism" (which further suffers by providing zero practical guidance on its unstated terms and criteria for what, outside of the Libertarian Party presumably, is supposed to qualify as a "Libertarian" organization). I'm hardly a fan of Rothbard's but compare Rothbard's original writings in context -- it's pretty much all available on the web new -- with the way Schwartz quotes from and comments on them, and the result is a tissue of distortions worthy of one or more of the Brandens. Wink It pretty much destroys any objective impression that the rest of his lousy hash of an essay could be guided by intellectual scruple. And I can't trust that his broken apologetics for Ayn Rand's image was guided by intellectual scruple, either.

If that makes me out of favor with whoever in the ARI scene, so be it. The great thing about SOLO is the intellectual independence one has to stand up and point out truths that may be unpopular in whatever circles. Given the Binswanker e-mail list's "Loyalty Oath," I'd probably be kicked out of there for "attacking" his nose-in-the-air buddy with the facts. There are intelligent ways of formulating a criticism of the modern "libertarian" movement. Rand's own statements on the "libertarian movement" nearly sufficed on their own; Schwartz's went off into some other perverted direction and were used as a litmus test for loyalty and were part of creating the kind of atmosphere at ARI at the time that you (Linz) had criticized. Much better minds than his were driven out but at least a good number of much better minds (e.g. Binswanger or Tara Smith) stayed or since entered.


James S. Valliant's picture

Mr. Campbell wants a civil discussion, I'm willing. These recent threads, I agree, have been relatively civil.

So, why not lay to rest all ancient gripes about name-calling here and now?

Maybe I'm just a cockeyed optimist, but, since I'm not yet a mindless cultist to him, I'll allow that he's got an honest motive here.

If "smarmy" is not justified about me, then "clown" has not yet been earned by him, either.

Unless, of course, you disagree, Prof. Campbell...?


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I have just dug out Schwartz's review of PAR, given Campbell's resurrection of it here. It is chilling to read it after all these years, so starkly accurate (more than we could have realised at the time) and so tragically wrong simultaneously. A wrong turning was taken here for sure.

Here's some of the starkly accurate:

"Barbara Branden has a definite thesis she wishes to convey. In the attempt to substantiate it, she perverts the nature and significance of fact after fact about Ayn Rand. Her concern is not with the truth, but with whatever appears to lend credence to her message. She presents a host of pseudo-Freudian 'explanations' that are almost embarrassingly gratuitous."

Schwartz gives examples. Then:

"The obvious motive of such gross non-objectivity is to find clay feet on a heroic figure, thereby giving the finder a license to indulge in his irrationalities. However, the target of Mrs. Branden's attack is not just Ayn Rand, but Objectivism as well. She is insinuating—without the courage to say so openly—that Objectivism was originated as, in effect, a neurotic defence mechanism by an unloved child against an unloving world." (That's our psycho-babbling Babs all right!)

Schwartz elaborates. Then:

"The cash-value of all this lies in the obvious fact that if Objectivism is indeed a barrier between oneself and the rest of the world—if Ayn Rand's commitment to its principles is what made her life as unhappy and self-destructive as portrayed in the book—then it surely explains why Mrs. Branden made such a mess of her life." (Bullseye!)

More elaboration ... then the fatal wrong turn:

"Ultimately what real difference is there if any of the factual allegations made by Barbara Branden—or anyone else of her ilk—happen to have actually taken place? Ayn Rand's glorious achievement is her philosophy and her literature. They stand as her testaments, as the only testaments her life requires. ... Her books are what she should be judged by. ..."

I'm quite sure Ayn Rand would cringe at such a defence. If told someone was going to examine her life to see if it measured up to her books I'm certain she would say, within the bounds of respect for her privacy (of which Babs admittedly had none): "Bring it on!" She told us, remember, that her life was an "I mean it" Post-Script to her books. Schwartz's formulation sounds like an admission that her life contradicted her books, followed by a "so what?"

This kind of dismissive evasiveness created the information vacuum that the Brandens were able to fill and pollute for 20 years. The accuracy of Schwartz's critique became fully apparent only with PARC, including Rand's journals. That information should have been given out there and then. The Schwartz/Binswanger nose-in-the-air approach was never any good for anything, and it certainly was no good for this. It was no match for Babs's cleverness. She is able to coat her poison with such a convincing veneer of love and admiration ... it sometimes takes being the actual object of such "love" to make one realise what a cold, calculating vicious bitch she really is. (An "operator," to invoke the term used by Nathaniel that Babs excised from the second edition of his book.) The orthodoxy should have dropped its intrinsicism, whereby everyone was expected to "get it" in the absence of specific information, and gone into battle the way Valliant eventually did (against the orthodoxy's wishes).


James S. Valliant's picture

You write: "It's been clear on many occasions that you consider relevant to your book only what you felt like including in it. So, for instance, if Ayn Rand resorted to arguments from intimidation, and you didn't discuss those in PARC, they're irrelevant. Say what?"

No, what I have said is that if Ms. Branden (or Mr. Branden) did not mention something in their biographical works on Rand, I did not mention it.

PARC is about two other books -- it is not a biography of Rand.

BOTH Brandens are the ones you should be complaining to -- for both of them "left out" your stunning example, too -- and that's the only reason that it's not in my book about their books, either.

I believe that you've read PARC if you tell me so, and you haven't heard me say otherwise this year have you? Even last year? Nor have you (on any of these recent threads) been accused of being a "troll," and for good reason -- and, obviously, you've not come close to violating the rules that get one booted around here.

You write:

"If you don't care for my interpretations of some of this material, fine.

"But if you ever again allege that I have not read some item on the above list, when in fact I have read it, I will be compelled to conclude that you are either a pathological liar, or, as your mentor and sponsor likes to put it, you have become completely detached from reality."

On another thread I wrote:

"In fact, he claims that 'the distinction between Ayn Rand's philosophical ideas and her non-philosophical ideas is a latter-day convenience for Leonard Peikoff and his acolytes,' ignoring or unaware of the numerous statements by Rand herself regarding this distinction.

"It does seem pretty clear that he is unfamiliar with Peikoff's 'Understanding Objectivism,' at the very least.

"Particularly amusing is the fact that Rand discusses such 'rationalism' in the journal entries published in PARC!

"All of this material is far too copious and complex to school him on here, of course."

So, then, I was exactly right that you are unfamiliar with UO. This is why I allowed that you might have been "ignoring" this other material. And I hereby concede that you might even have merely forgotten it.

You say that you'll be responding to more of PARC -- great -- and please do give me something new so I can stop sounding like a broken record!

But, wasn't it just here that you were saying how the internet discussion has been dying away, along with PARC's significance?

Does it still need another stake through the heart or something?

Not an ugly troll -- an amusing clown

Chris Cathcart's picture

Take this from Mr. Campbell for instance:

When I post at OL and not at SOLOPassion, I'm allegedly a coward, because I'm not posting here.

Whereas when I do post here, I'm an "ugly troll" or something worse, because I'm still welcome back there.

Gimme a break.

If you really don't want me posting here, you may be able to prevail on your ally Mr. Perigo to ban me from this site.

I haven't seen anyone calling Campbell an ugly troll or even suggesting that he shouldn't continue posting here and reveal his comically broken thinking at every turn. Now he comically hints that maybe James can nudge Linz in an attempt to get him banned, as if Linz would ever consider banning such a solid source of entertainment.

BTW, has it been observed, if not once then numerous times, that Chris Sciabarra's response to JV's book was much more on-point than Campbell's and did not show signs of broken thinking -- and that JV did more than adequately in responding respectfully and pointedly? Why is it that Campbell sees himself as some target of disrespect, smarm, and evasion from JV?

Repetition: Mr. Valliant's forte

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Valliant,

It is odd that you complain about your critics employing repetition in place of logical argument.

Repetition as a substitute for reasoned argument is a technique that you seem to have perfected--first in your book, then in more than three years of online debate about it.

Anyone who criticizes you must not only have endless patience with your repetitions, including your declarations of victory every three minutes, but must also be prepared to ignore one burst of flak after another. (As when you reverted in your mind to 4th grade recess, and addressed me as "little Bobby," or asserted that your alleged latest triumph had reduced me to "agony," or whatever.)

Or, an old favorite, your nth charge that I haven't read your book. I've been very clear in disusssions on this board about what I'm familiar with:

--I've read your book. I've most of it multiple times. Among the portions I've read multiple times are every last line that you reproduced from Ayn Rand's personal journals.

--With the exception of her pieces about movies that were translated from the Russian, I've read all of Ayn Rand's published material, some of it many times.

--I've read Leonard Peikoff's OPAR, plus many of his articles. I've taken four of Dr. Peikoff's lecture courses, including the 1976 course that was officially endorsed by Ayn Rand. I am familiar with some lectures from later courses.

--I have not taken Dr. Peikoff's course on Understanding Objectivism, though I may some day.

If you don't care for my interpretations of some of this material, fine.

But if you ever again allege that I have not read some item on the above list, when in fact I have read it, I will be compelled to conclude that you are either a pathological liar, or, as your mentor and sponsor likes to put it, you have become completely detached from reality.

It's been clear on many occasions that you consider relevant to your book only what you felt like including in it. So, for instance, if Ayn Rand resorted to arguments from intimidation, and you didn't discuss those in PARC, they're irrelevant. Say what? Surely any argument from intimidation is relevant to an assessment of Ayn Rand's character. Maybe it isn't convenient for James Valliant's agenda—but that's not how relevance works.

As for your complaints about Objectivist Living, anyone there who comes over here is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't.

When I post at OL and not at SOLOPassion, I'm allegedly a coward, because I'm not posting here.

Whereas when I do post here, I'm an "ugly troll" or something worse, because I'm still welcome back there.

Gimme a break.

If you really don't want me posting here, you may be able to prevail on your ally Mr. Perigo to ban me from this site.

I will be responding to one of your chapters, in a little while. Here, unless Mr. Perigo bans me. Otherwise, at OL.

Robert Campbell

Rand as flawed, vs. Rand as deranged cult leader

Chris Cathcart's picture

The whole point of the Brandens and PARC can be boiled down to a short, simple, essential point.

The Brandens claimed to have presented, from their personal, fallible, and human context, a depiction of Ayn Rand's life that aimed to be as objective as possible -- which, in their view, necessitated presenting her human flaws as part of the whole story.

Except it just didn't work out that way. The Brandens were, instead, used by Rand's and Objectivism's critics as the leading sources, upon publication of their bios/memoirs, the chief pieces of evidence that Rand was a deranged cult leader.

Central to their depiction, as used by her critics in this fashion, was their story of their own casting out from the movement. They presented this as Rand's unjustly and irrationally casting them out. Mr. Branden, in particular, was depicted in both accounts as having been backed into some kind of corner -- that he was going to be cast out no matter what. Rand's journals give total lie to this. For all we know, Ms. Branden's account was colored by Mr. Branden's own statements to her, probably omitting all those elements of the real story that revealed him to be the total creep that he was.

The Brandens presented their dismissal from the movement as a product mainly of Rand's deranged anger, and that their own dismissal was par for the course for everyone else dismissed from the movement.

It's not at all hard to understand how the Objectivism-is-a-cult critics latched onto the Branden accounts as potent fuel for their attacks.

The Branden accounts would lend credence to those attacks. Now, either Objectivism is a cult and Rand was a deranged cult leader, which makes the Branden accounts useful, or these things are not the case, which means the Branden accounts are quite deceptive.

What is there to figure out here? Why are PARC's critics focusing on the irrelevant side issue of whether, to what extent, and what kinds of flaws that Rand had? The Branden accounts were crafted so as to elevate whatever flaws she had into a depiction of a deranged cult leader.

Objectivism's and Rand's enemies picked up on this, no problem. Why do the remaining Branden apologists have such a hell of a time picking up on it?

None At All

James S. Valliant's picture

The "sweep" of the assertion is precisely what went unidentified, so this is entirely ambiguous from the original statements of both Peikoff and Schwartz.

Both leave the reader highly dissatisfied.

They refused to discuss PAR in any detail (except a couple of examples Schwartz provided), and seem to imply that whatever they would object to is what's "arbitrary." I don't think that this is what they meant, but they sure left this open, in my view.

In Peikoff's case, since he did not read the book, this is inevitable and to be expected, right? His appears to be a global assertion about anything BB wrote of Rand that did not have corroboration.

In Schwartz's case, it is clear he recognizes that fact is to be found in BB's book, and, again, appears concerned with the uncorroborated.

But neither of them indicated which was what.

One of the frustrating things about their mistaken approach here is precisely all of the ambiguities it left in its wake.

Let me suggest that strong emotions were in play.

You say, "Active efforts were made to keep it [the affair] secret from others."

Apart from not telling them, which seems rather passive, specifically what "active" efforts do you mean?

Rand left her notes which make it plain, and do you claim to know when Peikoff and his wife found this there?

What is encompassed within Mr. Schwartz's indictment?

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Valliant,

Of my remarks about Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz declaring large chunks of The Passion of Ayn Rand to be arbitrary assertions, you say:

BB also said that Rand gave speeches, wrote books and took dancing lessons. This, too, is all "behavior" which neither Schwartz nor Peikoff "dismiss" and which would obviously constitute no "retraction" to believe.

It seems that your position is simply incoherent.

Would you mind explaining, then, what was encompassed in the sweep of Mr. Schwartz's declaration of arbitrariness?

I quoted him.

He said, "any of the concrete factual allegations Mrs. Branden makes about Ayn Rand’s behavior."

I didn't put those words in his mouth.

He further gave as an example alleged visits to a Buddhist temple that only he and Ms. Rand allegedly knew anything about.

How about that? For years, only four people were supposed to know about the affair. Active efforts were made to keep it secret from others.

Was Barbara Branden's claim of an affair between her ex-husband and Ayn Rand encompassed within Mr. Schwartz's declaration or not?

You've read Mr. Schwartz's piece. You even cited it in your book. You claim to understand the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion.

If your position is coherent, you should have no trouble answering this question.

Robert Campbell


James S. Valliant's picture

As readers of these discussions can see for themselves, a pattern has emerged here.

Time after time, PARC's critics will throw out an objection only to have it batted down.

After a post or two, the objection is left in a pile of smoldering ruins.

At this point, the objection is merely dropped.

Out shoots another: "Well, what about this one?"

It, too, is shown to be in error, and, so, also quickly ignored... only to be replaced by another.

"Well, what about this one?"

Each time, they repair to that alternate reality called ObjectivistLiving -- where no response is even permitted -- to "add up" a fictitious score of baldly asserted claims about PARC, simply ignoring what was said in response to each one.

Of course, it soon becomes an endless circle, for, after running out of "this ones," we get a repetition of something previously refuted without any sort of answer.

Rather than attending to anything I actually said about, say, Hessen's statement, the same formulations of the same allegations are reissued at some later point, pretending that nothing had been said at all.

Often, the issues raised have nothing whatever to do with PARC.

Around and around we go on an endless merry-go-round of recycled refuse and repeated refutations -- repetition serving as substitute for logic as the tool of persuasion.

How tiresome.

I still await some response -- any response -- to the posted chapters.


James S. Valliant's picture

Neil Parille has certainly demonstrated "errors, poor scholarship, and misleading presentations" -- unfortunately, his own -- and had he really shown this of PARC, as you claim, he would not still be trying so hard, and this discussion would have been over by now. It's been a bit like pulling teeth, but recent days have seen whole new admissions from Neil about "unfortunate hyperbole" and "overgeneralization" on Ms. Branden's part.

And maybe, then, you can provide the answers to all of the many, many responses he has simply ignored altogether. You can start with his claim that BB's "here and now" assertion applied only to Rand's "later" life, among other reading-comprehension issues.

And maybe, then, you can give an answer -- any answer -- to the posted chapters.

BB also said that Rand gave speeches, wrote books and took dancing lessons. This, too, is all "behavior" which neither Schwartz nor Peikoff "dismiss" and which would obviously constitute no "retraction" to believe.

It seems that your position is simply incoherent.

Retractions again

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Valliant,

Neil Parille needs no help from me. All by himself, he has done a first-rate job of exposing errors, poor scholarship, and misleading presentations in your book of material that you are criticizing.

Here is what Peter Schwartz said about The Passion of Ayn Rand:

It is only in this context that the question can be raised of whether to believe any of the concrete factual allegations Mrs. Branden makes about Ayn Rand’s behavior. When the truth of such allegations rests entirely upon the testimony of the author (and of unnamed “friends” she regularly cites), one must ask why she is to be believed when she has thoroughly destroyed her claim to credibility. It is very easy to accuse the dead of almost anything. I could readily assert that Ayn Rand met with me at dawn on the first Thursday of every month to join me in secret prayer at a Buddhist temple—and who could disprove it if I maintained that no one else knew about it?

Epistemologically, conclusions reached by a categorically non-objective method have the status of the arbitrary. They are not true and not false, but are, rather, entirely outside the cognitive realm—because they are not genuine attempts at cognition. Admirers of Ayn Rand need not—and should not—feel compelled to try to rebut each and every concrete charge made by Barbara Branden (and others who are sure to follow). Let the authors of any such charges first establish their credentials as honest, objective reporters intent on presenting the truth, not on trying to salvage their own sadly wasted lives.

"Any of the concrete factual allegations Mrs. Branden makes about Ayn Rand's behavior" does not pertain to Ayn Rand's being born in 1905. It does include within its sweep any allegation that Ayn Rand had an affair with Nathaniel Branden.

So unless Leonard Peikoff did not agree with Mr. Schwartz on this issue, he, too, considered Barbara Branden's claim that there had been an affair to be arbitrary.

Consequently, when he admitted in public that there had indeed been an affair, that was a retraction.

Unless, of course, it was possible for Leonard Peikoff to truly assert that Ayn Rand had had an affair with Nathaniel Branden, while Barbara Branden's assertion of the same proposition remained arbitrary, even after Leonard Peikoff got around to making his true assertion.

In that case, I suppose you could say that Leonard Peikoff made no retraction.

But I fear that you would have grave difficulty convincing anyone else to accept your formulation.

Robert Campbell

Mr. Campbell

James S. Valliant's picture

Well, I mean nothing personal by this, but it did seem that Neil needed help rather badly. I don't know who but other posters at OL such as yourself he might have asked, or, indeed, if others at OL reading this thread, observing the situation, would have asked on his behalf.

But the question mark at the end there did mean to elicit the reasons for your sudden presence here that you have now offered, so thank you.

Now you say you "don't know" if Peikoff ever denied the affair -- but you have already claimed that he had to make a "retraction" in this regard right here, and without any of your newly provided qualifications. (In any event, Ms. Branden's book also contains the fact that Rand was born in 1905, so, obviously, it is not safe to assume that either Schwartz or Peikoff "dismiss" something simply because it's in PAR.) I believe that without checking Bidinotto's own sources this was irresponsible on your part.

You ask what impact Peikoff's "arbitrary" evaluation of Ms. Branden's book had on me. It certainly did not dissuade me from "checking out" and carefully considering that book -- if anything, it caused me to urge the release of important new evidence, the Rand notes.

And I, too, believe that PARC has become a required citation, in many contexts, and, certainly, that merely citing PARC implies no evaluation of it.

Just Himself?

James S. Valliant's picture

Yes, of course, Peikoff -- and his audience -- were so involved in his comparison that it seemed unnecessary to remind anyone, or even to ask, "who else?"

It did seem important to observe, however, that earlier in this same section of the essay, he had written about those "individuals" who were "publishing their memoirs in the hopes of getting even with Ayn Rand...," the apparent motive for diverting from his otherwise "intellectual" memoir of how Rand's mind worked. And it is these "memoir writers" -- and the subjective bias he attributes to them -- whom he is asking us to contrast with himself as those who seek "feet of clay," again, obviously the Brandens.

Those folks, "in point of fact," are also involved, whether or not Campbell can see this.

The paragraph Campbell claims "follows" the first one he quotes is actually preceded by this paragraph:

"I am not a Kantian. I do not believe that we can know Ayn Rand only as she appeared to somebody or other. But if I were to grant that premise for a split second, if I were to agree that we all construe reality according to our own personal preferences, then I would still draw a fundamental moral distinction between two kinds of preferences: between those of the muckrackers and those of the hero-worshippers. It is the distinction between the people who, confronted by a genius, are seized with a passion to ferret out flaws, real or imaginary, i.e., to find feet of clay so as to justify their own blighted lives––as against the people who, desperate to feel admiration, want to dismiss any flaw as trivial because nothing matters to them in such a context but the sight of human greatness that inspires and awes them. In this kind of a clash, I'm sure you recognize where I stand."

While Peikoff explicitly believes that an objective biography of Rand is possible -- if these (and other similar) comments are an indication -- he might not be certain that he has the perspective to write such a thing. Peikoff is definitely not claiming such perspective here, and he has not written one. In this regard, he has considerably more self-awareness than Ms. Branden.

Peikoff knew Rand quite well, in fact, and, in some ways, he came to know her better than either Branden.

In PARC, I have written:

"A novel is an intimate experience. To create characters and situations that can engage the reader’s emotions, a good writer must bare his own soul and reveal the deepest workings of his heart and mind. The reader’s response is just as personal.

"This is especially true of Ayn Rand’s major novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. They are philosophically comprehensive, and written with such obvious sincerity that the sensitive reader cannot help but learn a great deal about their author and her character.

"But there is no substitute for personal, first hand knowledge. While the Brandens were associated with Rand for over eighteen years, I never met Rand. Although Rand had said that the Brandens were dishonest, for me to have known just from the pages of Atlas Shrugged that the portraits which they drew of its author must be entirely flawed would have taken an intelligence I did not possess."

I firmly believe that emotions are not tools of biographical cognition, and I don't think that Peikoff does, either.

But he is asking us to consider not just his soul, but our own souls -- and the souls of the "clay-feet-seeking" Brandens'.

And the souls of the Brandens are important facts for those of us trying to determine who Rand really was -- just as Peikoff's soul would be if he had written a biography of Rand -- they were all just so close to the subject. If Peikoff had written such a biography, I would be on the alert for the very values he so openly expresses in this very essay -- and the direction of his biases would be clear.

Just as the direction of Ms. Branden's biases is also quite clear.

Peikoff is, in part, asking us to consider the souls of those who are drawing these portraits of Ayn Rand -- including himself.

To be fair to him, I think we should say that he believes that the facts can reveal the truth about Ayn Rand -- and that our own approach to the person of Ayn Rand reveals an important truth about ourselves.

Future citations of Mr. Valliant's book

Robert Campbell's picture

Why Mr. Valliant thinks "they sent" me here is beyond me.

Since he gives every indication of knowing something that I don't, he should end the suspense by telling me who "they" are.

I have, in fact, been planning to post here for a couple of months. Having classes to teach, committee work, articles to write, and so on, I have been short of time until recently.

Besides, I've found it fascinating how Mr. Valliant's loud challenges to all and sundry, alternating with preemptive declarations of victory, have been echoing hollowly though cyberspace. For a book with the high impact that Mr. Valliant keeps claiming for it, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics really isn't drawing a whole lot of interest any more.

Of course, Mr. Valliant's book will be cited in future biographical treatments of Ayn Rand. That is guaranteed, for his book is the only publicly available source for Ayn Rand's journal entries from 1967 and 1968 concerning Nathaniel Branden.

It does not follow that future Rand biographies are going to agree with what Mr. Valliant wrote. Nor does it follow that future Rand biographies will offer a favorable evaluation of his scholarship.

I have no idea what Anne Heller is going to say in her biography of Ayn Rand (except maybe for a few bits that she presented at two conferences I attended). In particular, I have no idea how she is going to present the affair between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, or the break that followed. Unless Mr. Valliant actually knows how she is going to handle these matters, it would be unwise for him to presume, in advance of receiving the galleys, that Ms. Heller will agree with his evaluations. Or that, in the event of disagreement, she will make whatever changes Mr. Valliant demands. It is her book, not his.

In my forthcoming article on the Peikovian doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, I will be discussing Mr. Valliant's handling of the doctrine, which figures rather prominently in his book. If there are further published exchanges concerning "the arbitrary," Mr. Valliant's book is likely to come up again. Will Mr. Valliant then claim that his book has forever changed the field of Objectivist epistemology?

I do not know whether Leonard Peikoff ever denied that there had been an affair between Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand. Robert Bidinotto has said that he did. I don't have access to Mr. Bidinotto's sources, so that is a matter better taken up with him. All I know is that in The Objectivist Forum, Dr. Peikoff expressed his disapproval of Barbara Branden's then-forthcoming biography, declaring that he "had no reason to believe that the book would be... a truthful presentation of Ayn Rand's life." He also declared that he had not read the book and never would read it. Not long after the book came out, Peter Schwartz, in the Intellectual Activist, declared its entire contents to be arbitrary. Obviously, the claim that there had been an affair was included in the dismissal.

So I'll presume that Dr. Peikoff's position, prior to 1987, was similar to Mr. Schwartz's: the claim that there had been an affair was an arbitrary assertion, to be dismissed out of hand.

Dr. Peikoff was subsequently presented with evidence concerning the affair that he could not dismiss. That's all I meant by saying that he had to make a retraction.

The Peikovian doctrine has the interesting consequence that one may correctly toss an assertion aside as arbitrary, only to discover at a later time that it is actually true.

The Peikovian doctrine also has interesting consequences regarding scholarship. Because, according to Dr. Peikoff, if an assertion is arbitrary, one is not obliged to see whether any evidence confirms or disconfirms it. Or one is actually under an obligation not to see whether any evidence confirms or disconfirms it—he never has made up his mind.

The weaker version of the doctrine implies that there is no scholarly obligation to check out an arbitrary assertion.

The stronger version would imply that there is a scholarly obligation not to check it out.

I can't recall any statement from Mr. Valliant about the impact this doctrine has had on his own scholarship.

But if he takes the doctrine seriously, I presume there has been some.

Robert Campbell

Who was Leonard Peikoff talking about?

Robert Campbell's picture

If Leonard Peikoff intended, in his essay on "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," to make the point Mr. Valliant now wishes to attribute to him, he was certainly articulate enough to state it plainly.

In point of fact, Dr. Peikoff was obviously speaking about himself, in the paragraph that I previously quoted.

Here is his run-up to it:

But for you to judge these matters for yourself and reach an objective view of Ayn Rand, you must be an unusually philosophical person, because you are living in a Kantian, anti-value culture, and you are going to be offered some very opposite accounts of the facts of her life. So you have to know: what is objectivity? What sort of testimony qualifies as evidence in this context? What do you believe is possible to a man—or a woman? What kind of soul do you think it takes to write Atlas Shrugged? And what do you want to see in a historic figure?

Dr. Peikoff offers no answers to the first two questions. Instead, his next paragraph appeals to what he wants a historic figure to be like—and you'd better better want it, too.

Now here is the paragraph that follows:

I knew Ayn Rand longer than anyone now alive. I do not believe that my evaluation of her is subjective. But if am to go down in history as her apologist or glamorizer, so be it. I am proud to be cursed as a "cultist," if the "cult" is unbreached dedication to the mind and to its most illustrious exponents.

Not a whole lot about objectivity, is there?

He knew Ayn Rand for a long time; as he had apparently just recently learned, there was also a lot she never bothered to tell him.

He didn't believe that he was being subjective; he had also just finished making a subjectivist appeal.

Robert Campbell

Who Was Peikoff Talking About?

James S. Valliant's picture

Wasn't it those "individuals" who were "publishing their memoirs" of Rand, i.e., the Brandens?

What Peikoff is pointing out so movingly -- though it soars over Campbell’s head -- is that if one is going to be a subjectivist anyway -- like the critics of Rand often are -- why wouldn’t someone paint the world rosier instead of uglier? In part, it's a critique of the character of those who turn away from objectivity –- and who don’t even do it for benevolent ends. These throw away reality not for a beautiful fantasy but for an ugly one.

The premise that Leonard Peikoff is willing to grant

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Cathcart,

I estimate I've been using that "if" word for 51 years, give or take a few months. As a rule, I have no difficulty following conditional reasoning. Even conditional reasoning of the counterfactual variety.

What I find remarkable about Leonard Peikoff's statement, however, is the kind of premise he is willing to grant, even "for a split second."

He thinks that certain moral judgments would still apply if objectivity about human beings were impossible.

What do you suppose would happen if you were walk up to Dr. Peikoff and casually suggest to him that even if human cognition were entirely faith-based, or entirely dependent on personal subjectivity, some moral distinctions would still apply?

Your ears might quit ringing after a week, if you were lucky.

You'd have to expect the author of "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" to be pretty damn restrictive, as to the kinds of possibilities that ought to be given rational consideration. You know, on account of his belief in natural necessity, his rejection of any distinction between logical possibility and physical possibility, and all that kind of stuff.

Dr. Peikoff has been known, throughout his career, for his rejection of the science-fiction counterexamples so beloved of most analytical philosophers. In one of his lectures on Objectivism through Induction, he goes so far as to insist that no consideration be given to allegedly arbitrary claims that just about anybody could figure out how to test empirically.

So what the hell is Leonard Peikoff doing in this essay, granting for the sake of argument that objective knowledge of another person's character and actions is impossible?

Granting that premise, according to the selfsame Dr. Peikoff, means rejecting the axiom of consciousness.

Granting that premise, then judging someone as morally heroic, further amounts to using stolen concepts of virtue. If one cannot objectively know the character and actions of another person, there is no basis for any moral evaluation of that person.

And the conclusion he wishes to draw is a positive one; he's not granting the premise so he can run it right through reductio ad absurdum and discredit it.

You don't need to listen to 1000 hours of high-priced audio recordings, or spend 10 years at the Objectivist Academic Center to learn this stuff—it's Objectivism 101.

And one reading of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is enough to fill you in on all of the choice language Dr. Peikoff would employ, if anyone else were to make this kind of claim, about evaluations of anyone besides Ayn Rand.

Consequently, I take this Peikovian paragraph as a frank admission of nonobjectivity on his part.

For had he been satisfied that he had provided objectively conclusive evidence to back his assessment of Ayn Rand, he would never have pretended to discern a "fundamental moral distinction" among purely subjective preferences.

I also take this paragraph as evidence that Dr. Peikoff preaches systematic integration in philosophy, but remains a long way from practicing it.

Robert Campbell

Seems to me ....

Lindsay Perigo's picture

.... Leonard has the likes of the Brandroids at O-Lying well taped:

It is the distinction between the people who, confronted by a genius, are seized with a passion to ferret out flaws, real or imaginary, i.e., to find feet of clay so as to justify their own blighted lives—as against the people who, desperate to feel admiration, want to dismiss any flaw as trivial because nothing matters to them in such a context but the sight of human greatness that inspires and awes them.

He was dead wrong to ignore PAR though. Twenty years of folk believing the Brandens because no rebuttal was forthcoming is taking quite a bit of undoing, though thankfully the undoing is well underway.

Just Confessions

James S. Valliant's picture

Notice MSK's revealing title, "Why Nobody Takes PARC Seriously Anymore" -- they may have gotten wind of Anne Heller putting me on the "send" list for the galleys of the new Doubleday biography she's writing (and which Campbell himself has implied he's looking forward to! She has lectured at TAS, not ARI, btw.) And, of course, just the variety of errors listed by BB's defender, Dr. Hessen, in PAR far exceed anything yet found in PARC, so by his "standards"...

The backstory of Campbell's visit

Chris Cathcart's picture

I knew there had to be something to send him ambling on in here after so long. Over on OL there's an article posted by MSK, Why Nobody Takes PARC Seriously Anymore, that's got everyone over there in a group orgy.

Apparently all of it revolves around the insignificant mistake when James wrote that Babs never saw Rand again. Never mind that James gave ample reason to doubt Babs' credibility based on everything else in the book. True enough, "She never saw her again" and "Her claim to have seen her again is unsupported" are two different things, and James is up-front enough to admit that his own claim was unsupported and, in the end, mistaken.

That's pretty much all this comes to. This point absolutely pales in comparison to the basic presentation of the Rand/Branden(Drunk scenario in PARC. You only need to look at the Brandens' accounts of things, compare them with Miss Rand's own journals, and you get a very clear and thorough picture of what happened: The Brandens' took the hero they professed to love, fucked around with her emotionally and professionally, lied for years, covered up for years, defended themselves against Rand's charges with half-truths that unjustly cast Rand into the negative light, then wrote biographies and memoirs that further unjustly cast her in a negative light, Mr. Branden's own memoirs and Miss Rand's own journals revealing that he was on a sick power-trip over Rand for years that he expects us to believe is now long out of his system.

When reading PARC, I remember seeing the claim that Babs never saw Rand again and remarked to myself that this is most likely an error, but a completely inconsequential one. And this is the best the anti-PARC crowd has been able to do in 3 years?

Note: I, for one, didn't really see reason to disbelieve Babs when it came to claims such as this (her '81 meeting with Rand). Her story of the visit and the portrayal of Rand's demeanor in that visit is plenty consistent with the rest that we've seen and heard about Rand. In portraying her so positively, this is no doubt the Babs Crowd's way of saying that Babs wrote her bio out of such great love, respect and admiration for Rand. But on the whole it's in actuality a gesture of love, respect and admiration that Rand could have done without. Road to hell paved with good intentions and all that. You'll also notice that, aside from the meeting being thoroughly inconsequential to the main focus of PARC, Rand did not forgive Babs for her past misdeeds (also guided by some fucked-up sense of good intentions). It's not that Rand said that Babs was or wasn't a good person; it's that Babs is too screwy intellectually to properly integrate intention and deed. From the persona we see she has presented publicly, she is a subjectivist and emotionalist who feels her words and deeds when it comes to Rand coincide. So she's going to interpret her '81 visit on the basis of her feelings about it. Rand was warm and friendly to her, so that's enough, and we can forget the reasons and causes behind that -- what the warmth and friendliness rationally meant and what it didn't. Similarly with the '68 break -- all she can report and interpret is that Rand was in a fury. The rest is all just projection of feelings. (Hence the title of her bio?)

That Close to the Bone, Eh?

James S. Valliant's picture

Things got so very bad for Neil, that they sent in Professor Campbell for one of his rare -- if always humiliating to him -- appearances among those for whom he has nothing but obsessive and seething contempt, eh?

1. Peikoff did not write a biography of Rand -- and never claimed to have the perspective to have done so -- and that "paragraph" is essentially a postscript to his essay-length and essentially intellectual memoir of Rand. (And one, incidentally, Campbell would refuse to see the profound meaning of, even if he could, I suspect.)

2. PARC in no way attempts to defend this paragraph, or Peikoff's position generally. Indeed, it commences the project by saying, in effect, that Peikoff is wrong inasmuch as Ms. Branden's biography does deserve attention, for example.

But notice the shallow "group-think" in how Campbell's bigoted brain operates.

3. The last three years of debate (and such personal vitriol as he shows off here) have occasioned precisely one (excruciatingly unimportant) "retraction" (has he just been glossing these threads, again?) -- rather remarkable for a book of this size, if I say so myself.

4. Speaking of "scholarship," I'll wager little Bobby cannot cite us to Peikoff's alleged denial of an affair -- rather than just a statement that he wouldn't believe anything that his cousin BB ever said.

5. Yes, Peikoff still thinks highly of me -- and if Ms. Heller's private comments -- and asking me to read the galleys of her new biography -- are any measure -- PARC has forever changed the field of Rand biography.

Sorry -- I can just feel your agony from here, Bobby.

I fully appreciate that we are still talking about the basics of PARC three years later -- but here it looked like one of PARC's critics, Mr. Parille, was almost actually addressing one of those "basics" for the very first time.

(With appropriate apologies to Dr. Chris Sciabarra, I must observe, as usual, that this is the sort of "editor" The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies [spelled out for the benefit of search engines everywhere] employs -- and the sort of motivating prejudices and wild emotions behind its own veneer of "scholarship.")


Chris Cathcart's picture

Buffoons like Campbell are regarded as hot shit over in Babs Land?


Chris Cathcart's picture

I guess Dr. Campbell doesn't know the meaning of the term "if". Laughing out loud Laughing out loud Laughing out loud

What has Mr. Valliant added to this statement?

Robert Campbell's picture

In his 1987 Ford Hall Forum speech, "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," Leonard Peikoff made the following declaration:

I am not a Kantian. I do not believe that we can know only Ayn Rand as she appeared to somebody or other. But if I were to grant that premise for a split second; if I were to agree that we all construe reality according to our personal preferences; then I would still draw a fundamental moral distinction between two kinds of preferences: between those of the muckrakers and those of the hero-worshipers. It is the distinction between the people who, confronted by a genius, are seized with a passion to ferret out flaws, real or imaginary, i.e., to find feet of clay so as to justify their own blighted lives—as against the people who, desperate to feel admiration, want to dismiss any flaw as trivial because nothing matters to them in such a context but the sight of human greatness that inspires and awes them. In this kind of clash, I am sure, you recognize where I stand.

Dr. Peikoff could easily have boiled this down further, into a single sentence: When it comes to Ayn Rand, I'm nonobjective—and I'm proud!

After publishing The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, making several public speeches, and appending hundreds of posts to online discussions over a period that now exceeds three years, has Jim Valliant added anything of positive value to Dr. Peikoff's single paragraph?

Has Mr. Valliant provided any scholarship that Dr. Peikoff failed to provide?

Have his arguments been more successful at meeting objective standards than Dr. Peikoff's?

Has Mr. Valliant been more fortunate than Dr. Peikoff in avoiding the need to make retractions? (It was during the Q&A following this very Ford Hall Forum speech that Dr. Peikoff first publicly admitted that there had been an affair between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden.)

Does Dr. Peikoff still believe that "Jim Valliant... is one of the few people that knows what he's talking about when he says something"?

Or would Dr. Peikoff now vastly prefer that no one remember this particular endorsement?

Robert Campbell


James S. Valliant's picture

Those able to read English may just come away a bit disappointed by your "remarks," Neil, since, of course, they were not an answer in any way, shape or form.

Not even a partial one.

The example from childhood that Ms. Branden cites does not establish what she claims it does -- even about that one incident -- much less about Rand's whole life -- for it is just another characterization of material she has herself selectively related. And you do not attempt to defend it in even that specific context, I notice.

But even if we conclude that what BB says is true of that one incident, it hardly establishes the claim she jumps forward to say that this merely foreshadows does it? How could it?

PARC actually does, of course, indicate that Ms. Branden had just related an experience from Rand's childhood before she launched into this sweeping generalization about Rand personality as such, doesn't it?

What PARC is noticing is that BB's assertion is far more than an evaluation of a single incident from childhood which, by itself, would have almost no significance -- by Ms. Branden's own terms.

Ms. B. herself indicates that the story's significance is what it reveals about the "typical" Rand.

Why do you evade the scope of what BB said, since it is precisely the scope of it which PARC addresses?

While Ms. Branden has related a single story from Rand's youth, she is saying that this was not simply some immature event about Rand -- but that "nothing could be more typical" of Rand as such.

Did you miss that?

Thus, even if we accept BB's evaluation of this one incident (important context from which Ms. B. herself has "dropped"), you still have not begun to answer the question of BB's global assessment of Rand.

In any event, and you've genuinely made me curious this time, do you really think harsh evaluation is merited from a single childhood event?

And, would you like your own attitudes -- and specifically, your social skills and attitudes -- to be assessed from material gathered from your childhood?

Also, PARC does not claim that this was a matter of dishonesty in this context, although such an argument for dishonesty readily suggests itself here. (One can only assume that you are attempting to change the subject from one to which you really have no answer whatever.)

No, the average, fair-minded person simply could not miss the absurd expanse of her assertion and how it goes way beyond anything even remotely suggested by a single childhood event which PARC even mentions.

Maybe passion has so clouded BB's mind that she really is blind to such basic and obvious reality -- but, for her to be intellectually "honest," we would need just this extreme an explanation.

As for Rand's description of Libertarians -- as one who was one, and worked at LF Books, and ate pizza with Rothbard on his birthday -- Rand's was an impeccably correct assessment.

Down to the detail.

Yes, they "plagiarize" her very words for their magazine and books titles. Many -- like Tuccille (see below) and Rothbard (see below) and the Brandens (see all around us) attack Rand in ludicrously and viciously inaccurate and unfair ways. And, yes, a great many of these object to any attempt to provide a moral basis for liberty whatever -- from advocates of "value-free" economics to methodologically Kantian value subjectivism to raw epistemological skepticism (just ask our own Dr. Goode) to overt libertinism -- this is the essence of what's wrong with Libertarianism -- especially what was wrong with it when Rand spoke.

These are, fairly speaking, "monstrous" attributes.

Rand believed that anything which threatened human liberty was monstrous.

So do I.

And, once more, it seems that you really want to change the subject for some reason...

You're almost as unfair to PARC as BB was to Rand, Neil, no kidding.

With all of us, you and me included, Neil, the final test of character is not so much the absolute position at which we begin our journeys -- nor the final position where our journey comes to an end -- but the extent of our ambition and effort to forever improve our position, our willingness to grow, and our ability to confront things head on, even about ourselves, with a ruthless honesty.

Now, are you going to give such honesty a shot -- and attempt any kind of a real answer to the question posed?


Neil Parille's picture


I'm somewhat under the weather today, but I'll make a few preliminary remarks:

1. It looks like you are neglecting the context here a bit. Branden had just mentioned the story (which comes straight from Rand and is quoted) about when Rand was a girl (around 12 or 13 apparently) she became friends with another girl who she thought was a kindred spirit. She asked the girl what the most important thing to her was and she said "her mother." Rand was shocked that an apparently serious girl could have said such a thing. Rand concluded that the girl was "a mediocrity, she didn't mean anything as a person." A paragraph or two later Branden makes the statement you quoted where the emphasis is on moral considerations. Incidentally, you break off your quote on page 19 right when Branden makes this clear. (I'm not sure why you quote clip so often when in your notes to Rand's diaries your publisher afforded you endless pages of your own comments.)

2. Turning to the statement about Branden and Rand taking walks (pp. 237-38), something different is in view here. Branden is showing Rand sensitive to the normal problems of life.

3. The quote on 26-27 is not something I'll defend, but again it doesn't prove to me that Branden makes up events out of whole cloth as you appear to think. Why didn't Branden just leave out the nice parts of Rand's character to which only she was privy?

So that's all for today, hopefully more in the next day or two.

By the way, let me ask you a question. You just said that you were a registered Libertarian once. In 1981, Rand was asked about Libertarians --

"Q: Why don’t you approve of the Libertarians, thousands of whom are loyal readers of your works?"

"AR: Because Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and they denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication, when that fits their purpose. They are lower than any pragmatists, and what they hold against Objectivism is morality. They’d like to have an amoral political program."

Was Rand's statements unfair or a poor generalization? Did it apply to you?


James S. Valliant's picture


May I ask you to attend to one specific example, from this chapter, that you haven't yet addressed? I ask if you could give serious comment directed to the following:

Ms. Branden could not be more explicitly clear as to her opinion that "in the realm of social dealings," for Rand, not only was instantaneous, snap judgment of others the best way to generally characterize Rand's personality -- but that "nothing could be more typical" of Rand.

Indeed, Ms. Branden is nothing less than absolute: in matters involving her treatment of other people, there was simply "no context," and "no subtleties," etc.

That's "NO" context or effort to discover another's perspective.



BB leaves herself no wiggle room here, Neil. For Rand, in the area of "social dealings," there was just "no context."

Thus, a methodical attempt over time to uncover the inner thoughts and feelings of someone else with a context "unknown" to Rand was just not something she did, according to BB.

Okay, while "no context" means "no context," we might decide to give Ms. Branden an unmerited break, and re-translate her as intending to say, merely, that this sort of thing was rare, just not normal for Rand.

But even generously re-working Ms. Branden here, it is STILL a contradiction, and no mere "overgeneralization," no matter how you slice it.

Indeed, from her own experience, BB tells us of repeated -- more than one or two -- "sunlit walks" during which Rand exhibited "a sensitive, non-judgmental" appreciation of the author's very own "context" -- indeed, as she reports herself, a much better understanding of that context than Ms. Branden possessed of herself!

From her own reports, in fact, BB repeatedly sought out Rand's counsel -- from the first weeks of their acquaintance straight through to the last months of their friendship -- and, so much so, that Ms. Branden is compelled to describe Rand, elsewhere, as a "generous" person -- generous with her "time," "attention" and "consideration" -- in multiple contexts -- and not just with Ms. Branden herself -- but with a host of other people!

Indeed, so sensitive was Rand to a wide variety of other "contexts" that she had "an infinite patience with minds slower and less competent than hers," in Ms. Branden's own words, and Rand had the effect -- on "everyone who met her" -- not just some, Neil, we are actually told "on everyone who met her" -- of seeming to possess "an acute sensitivity to the particular concepts most relevant to whomever she was addressing."

Indeed, this was some kind of "a special antenna" giving Rand a "direct line" to what would be "especially meaningful" to the particular individual with whom she was engaged, we are told.

All those "sunlit walks" where Ms. Branden was relating personal issues and problems -- not intellectual ones -- i.e., "all the difficulties of a young girl on the verge of adulthood" -- seemingly, the day-to-day, real-life issues of growing up -- in which Rand was so encouraging, working "patiently" to untie Ms. B.'s private knots -- such that, "where I saw no avenue of a solution, she would point out what I had overlooked" -- and not in a harsh or moralistic way, either -- but, specifically, "with a sensitive, non-judgmental understanding of my context and needs..."

Of course, Rand also seemed to be encouraging BB to express herself for herself, chiming in only where BB herself could "see no avenue of solution" while otherwise allowing BB to spill her young guts to the already famous author.

Here, Ms. Branden tells us that on repeated occasions the famous Ayn Rand was "sensitive to context" -- the context of someone else's personal problems -- the context of a young fan she had only recently gotten to know -- and that on these occasions she exhibited what seems to be a better-than-average sensitivity and patience and kindness and understanding of human context -- specifically, the human problems of a human context "not known to her."

From this, we see Rand helping BB with "all the problems" of a "young woman" -- and, in BB's own account, we elsewhere witness Rand forever concerned that BB dress warmly on cold days -- and we are told that Rand would "blow her kiss" whenever -- that's "whenever" -- the two parted company -- and we see Rand giving (sometimes exaggerated) praise and encouragement for the minor achievements of her young friends' early, professional careers...

Rand was more of a "mother" -- as personal counsellor, as emotional support, as intellectual teacher, as protector against cold weather, as career-helper -- than BB's own mother seems ever to have been to BB -- and, yet, we are told that the attributes associated with motherhood were nothing less than "alien" to Rand.

This, Neil, means "altogether absent."

Indeed, down to the fine detail, Ms. Branden could not have been more specific -- the "need to touch and be touched" was also something "alien" to -- i.e., altogether absent from -- Rand.

And, yet, in another location of her book, Ms. Branden says that she can still recall "the touch" of Rand's hand when "something was troubling me..."

Okay, adult, heterosexual woman X reaches out and touches the hand of adult, heterosexual woman Y's hand -- no actual relation to her -- in an unprompted way -- just 'cause X can see that something was "troubling" Y. From this, X seems to be sensitive to when someone else "needed to be touched," and in a situation falling short of a death in the family, i.e., the merely "troubling," not the "devastating."

Can we fairly describe Miss. X as being "alien" to the need to "touch and be touched"?

Let's add to this picture a woman who is constantly touching, and hugging, and messing up the hair of, and, well, being downright "cuddly" with her husband at every available opportunity...

Do we describe such a person as simply not possessing a "need to touch and be touched"?

This stuff is IMPORTANT -- was Rand basically a cold, insensitive bitch -- or was she frequently a warm, soft and even cuddly woman?

Or, and this is the kicker, were such things entirely "alien" to her -- as PAR claims?

Also, this stuff is not a matter of mere exaggeration -- "alien," "never," "no context," "no subtleties," etc. -- it is unqualified and absolute.

More than that: even a radically "toned down" version of these opinions is obviously STILL an almost equally radical injustice to Rand's character.

On certain occasions -- and, seemingly, frequent occasions -- Rand was unusually "sensitive to context," as folks go -- and, she often very much needed to "touch and be touched," even if she could be also be serious and harsh -- and, she was more "maternal" to her students than many of their own mothers had been -- and, she was extraordinarily insightful into the workings of both the minds -- and the hearts -- of many people with whom she conversed.

All of this is made plain as day by Ms. Branden's own examples -- the actual facts, experiences and details she relates.

No, Neil, all of this, too, is, at the very least, an "unfortunate hyperbole" -- some would say an ugly contradiction -- which goes right to the essence of Ms. Branden's portrait of Rand.

To any but the most self-deluded partisan, Neil, it is obvious that BB's "judgment" when it comes to the subject of Ayn Rand is profoundly, fundamentally and hopelessly warped.

You're very welcome ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

In any event, THANK YOU, Linz for a courageous and truly OPEN forum!

Thank you, and you're very welcome. It is gratifying, what the openness has brought out, though I've become convinced that many folk prefer their comfort zones. Openness is always going to be UNcomfortable for the religious-minded, and it's clear from the flouncings on both sides of the ARI/KASSless divide that religious-mindedness is still with us. In the matter of PARC, however, The KASSless Society has displayed a dogmatic hostility to debate that makes the Vatican look like Hyde Park. All capped, of course, by its disinvite of a certain speaker at the braying behest of a lynch-mob, orchestrated by Babs-Bitch herself spouting worse lies and smears than usual. Thoroughly unedifying; The KASSless Society at a disgusting low point. I daresay Mr. Parille has no problem with any of it.

Incidentally, re Hessen—I was present at a panel discussion at the first TJS School. Hessen was one of the panellists, along with the usual suspects. I myself asked the panel to give us an idea of what Rand was like in person, since they all knew her and we, the audience, all didn't. Binswanker got all snotty as he always does on principle, but the rest all gave the question a shot. To the best of my recollection there was nothing negative, least of all from Hessen, though they all did acknowledge her ferocious temper (which I would see, overall, as a plus). If Hessen truly believed the things attributed to him now, there was his opportunity. Evidently he chose cowardice and hypocrisy over candor.

Bless You, Linz!!

James S. Valliant's picture

I think this is also a good opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Linz for SOLO itself.

This conversation is one that David Kelley had urged us to have at one time -- an open debate on The Passion of Ayn Rand. Having since made friends with both Brandens, he and his associates no longer feel this way, it seems.

And this discussion requires the openness and candor exhibited on this thread -- but an openness and candor which would not be permitted at other sites, like ObjectivistLiving.com. At OL, this discussion, however civil it may appear to the casual observer, would be called "Branden bashing." Sure, the harshest (and emptiest) things can be said about Rand, but the same sort of things cannot be considered about the Brandens at that sealed off echo chamber.

This disturbing slamming of the door -- by superficial advocates of "tolerance" and "openness" -- has proved to be a revelation -- a case-study -- in insincerity and pretense.

In any event, THANK YOU, Linz for a courageous and truly OPEN forum!

Some Very Thoughtful Thoughts

James S. Valliant's picture

... as always, Chris.

Yes, I should have thought that Rand's harsh answer to the question about homosexuality would be the premier example of her "moralism" or "intolerance." Given the "dirty hands" of some of Rand's critics on this topic, however, it rarely is.

It is, by far, a stronger case than any suggested by Hessen, that's for sure.

What she said was not only an assertion of her own esthetics on the matter -- for which she must be given the very same slack we allow others -- but an assertion about morality -- her very field of expertise.

Elsewhere, she indicates that people cannot be morally judged for their "psychologies," and that emotions, being outside the realm of direct volitional choice, are, therefore, outside the realm of praise or blame. In discussing birth control, for example, she is appalled at the Catholic notion of sex always being capable of making babies -- and the implication that young couples should engage in abstinence if they don't want kids.

By her own reasoning, even if she regarded homosexuality as less than psychologically optimal (or even a "disease") -- and even the arguments for this have never impressed me -- she should have been able to see that homosexuality was not "immoral" -- but she did not.

The fact that she was friendly with gays, like her brother-in-law, is both a comfort (as to Rand's tolerance in practice) and, yet, still disturbing (hadn't she had the occasion to have thought this through?)

In any event, I'd wager some major bucks that she would have gotten a helluva kick out of you, Linz -- brightly bearing both beard and boyfriend! Smiling

I don't think Rand would hate you today

Chris Cathcart's picture

As I said, her views were held back in the days when homosexuality as a scientific and psychological phenomenon were poorly understood. Her "bigotry" was going beyond the facts she had available to her; today, any such bigotry would be very real real bigotry, a dogmatic disregard of facts that fly in the face of one's preconceptions. There are just too many facts out there now that one would have to ignore. Some real bad bigots still remain in the American right-wing on this matter, and it's increasingly difficult to see how all that much of it is just honest mistake. It's just too irrational.

Rand and Fags

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Rand made those really stupid comments about homosexuality in a q & a session. They're not included in Ayn Rand Answers where a more reasonable response on the subject is included. But frankly I would rather have Rand's honest bigotry than the subtle bigotry of the Hsiekovian "unfortunate and suboptimal" position, stated by Leonard on air and echoed by Diana in the foregoing words.

Objectivism used to be rife with homophobia. It's hard getting anyone to admit it or explicitly repudiate it. It was I who nagged Chris Sciabarra into doing his monograph on the subject, designed as I said in the Foreword to drag Objectivist homophobia out of the closet. Interestingly, the folk least willing to talk on the record on the matter were on the then-TOC side of the divide. Branden, however, had no hesitation in writing an endorsement for the monograph. He had long since disavowed his previous position, the one found in VOS. I suspect Rand's bigotry was, alas, her own work.

It's alive and well in the likes of Regi Firehammer (or was, at the time the Sciabarra monograph came out), against whom James Valliant argued eloquently on his, Firehammer's, site.

Rand would be horrified to know how many fags adore her. She would hate me and hate SOLO, of that I'm certain. Her loss. Imagine having to spend your days with such tediously straight-laced straights as Binswanker and Warts! Evil


Chris Cathcart's picture

I hear tales about the way he treated people who crossed him and he comes across as such a jerk. The way someone reacts to those who disagree says a lot more than the way they react to those who do agree. With someone who disagrees, the good and rational person tries to connect with and become partners in truth-seeking with the disagreeing party, giving the benefit of the doubt to those who show signs of honesty. It's not someone who treats a disagreeing party as an enemy to be defeated, beaten down and denigrated, irrespective of whether the disagreeing parties have shown themselves to be open to reason. You can see the way Rand treated those who respectfully disagreed by reading her correspondences with John Hospers. For Rothbard, read the way he writes about "the Rand cult" and then realize that he's making up things as it suits him. That is the behavior of an asshole. His story, as George Smith related it, about his break with Rand and the plagiarism charge that precipated it, is more of the same kind of shit.

I find it fascinating that he would just openly admit this stuff to his students as well. Ah well, good riddance. Aside from the treatise he wrote in his area of specialty, I don't see what of much value that Objectivists could get from his writings that weren't done a lot better elsewhere and didn't contain the stupid rationalist-deductivist approach to political philosophy. Rand and the Dougs did rights-derivation better, just about anyone does the fleshing-out of rights' content better, David Friedman does the "anarchy" stuff better. The Ethics of Liberty should be used as a case-study text in how to think like a rationalist (i.e., what kinds of things to avoid) for students of Understanding Objectivism. Peikoff's example of the island owner that would allow someone to drown rather than have access to the island? Could have come straight out of Ethics of Liberty, and Rothbard's answer, had he raised and addressed it specifically, would have been clearly damning to his whole credibility as a "libertarian." His actual answers using his own examples were bad enough.

Some thoughts that just occurred . . .

Chris Cathcart's picture

Turned into a bit of a ramble once I got going . . .

As I was reading through James's lengthy commentary on Robert Hessen, there was some point about Rand providing a good reason or explanation for her aesthetic preferences on things such as Ingrid Bergman's lips that immediately got me to make a connection on something. It doesn't have to do with Rand's alleged negative reaction to people who share different tastes in music. Hasn't Peikoff said that he is a big fan of Beethoven and has an extensive collection of his works? Doesn't that testimony count for something to the Branden crowd?

Okay, so Rand didn't say that she had developed a conceptual vocabulary to deal with major aspects of music in an objective sense. She so much as said so in her published writings. So we have some clue into her views based on publicly available remarks.

On matters of music preference, it's far from being established with solid evidence that Rand held negative opinions of people. There wasn't a reason to feel hurt or threatened by her views on that.

More troubling, though, is those views of hers that are publicly available on matters of homosexuality. Maybe I'll have to check the record one more time for the exact wording, but exact wording aside, there's the general thrust that is impressed into the listener's mind: she regarded it not merely as aesthetically "disgusting" but that there are immoralities at its root. And this isn't just a matter of some off-hand remark at someone's prompting in a Q&A session or something that wouldn't have come up from time to time in her salon discussions. This attitude had in fact been put into print in one of the essays Branden wrote that was included in TVOS, and which received Rand's stamp of approval.

Who knows how many bullshit hours of tortuous psychotherapy Branden would have subjected some of his "sexually confused" patients to because of this. In any event, the remarks he and Rand would likely have made and did make publicly on this subject are cause for some considerable concern. This wasn't simply a matter of a difference in aesthetic preference; there was an implicit moral dimension. On this we have some evidence to go on that Rand had negative judgments to make about people in an area where, shall we say, at the time, the psychological field hadn't yet developed an adequate conceptual vocabulary to deal with it.

In this instance, it is appropriate to ask: how would gay Objectivists feel being in this environment back in the day, given these attitudes?

On that count, there's a mitigating factor to it: back in that day, Rand and Branden's attitudes reflected what a gay person probably encountered pretty much anywhere else, so the Objectivist world wouldn't have provided much of a different environment than the usual. What's fascinating, though, is how a supremely reality-oriented philosophical sub-culture could import poorly-supported notions from the mainstream culture where psychology, neuroscience, etc. really had little understanding to go on. It's not an implausible hypothesis, though, that Branden was the one most responsible for importing and offering justifications for this stuff as a way to represent a greater affinity with Rand rather than to offer challenges to her not-so-well-formed views on the subject. He simply doesn't merit a benefit of the doubt on these things.


James S. Valliant's picture

With regard to my own "biases," Neil, let me just add that I met Branden well before I ever met Peikoff -- and knowing full well what Rand had written about him. (Unlike Ms. Smith, he responded positively to my request for an interview.) It was I who later arranged for Branden to deliver his speech, "The Benefits and Hazards...," for the first time -- and it was I who introduced him at that lecture (and asked the written questions Branden got from the audience that night.) When I moved to New York to attend NYU, I worked as the weekend sales clerk at LaissezFaire Books in the Village. At one time, I was a registered Libertarian. As previously indicated, I got to know Rothbard, too.

I hate to break it to you, but I had to be convinced of each and every aspect of my critique, and, in order to become what I would describe as an"Objectivist," it took Peikoff (and me) some real effort.

And, Neil, I have no problem going "global" here, as it appears that you have no serious response to the posted chapter -- and because this is the most comprehensive that you yourself have been to date about these things.

Don't worry, just as soon as I get the chance, more is coming!


James S. Valliant's picture

If I give you an answer on Hessen, Neil, will you promise to answer the rest of the many pending responses to what you've said about PARC, rather than just ignoring them?

Well, no matter, now is as good a moment to respond to Hessen as any. In coming to PAR's defense (without, it seems, "having read" PARC, speaking of hypocricy), he has opened himself up to similar charges.

I must ask again: how is Ms. Branden's report of what the housekeeper said any less "hearsay" than Peikoff's report? Do you know what hearsay is?

Such assertions, whether you know it or not, are confessions of your own biases, Neil.

Sure, Hessen doesn't like Mr. Branden -- would you, if the man revealed confidences you had shared in the context of therapy? But how on earth does this make Hessen neutrally disposed towards PARC?

Of course, this should only amplify our concerns for Hessen's objectivity, not mitigate them, at least until we know who exactly he "blames" for all of that. Intense personal experiences like this should only raise our concerns here, right?

PARC was not meant to be an analysis of Branden, Neil, only his memoir. There is copious material on that score, had that been PARC's subject.

When I first read "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult," I happened to be studying with the author himself, Murray Rothbard, through the auspices of The Center for Libertarian Studies. In that essay, Rothbard had suggested that an admirer of Rand risked excommunication for musical opinions which differed from Rand's.

So, I asked him -- "Who was ever denounced on this basis?"

Rothbard replied that, to his knowledge, no one had ever been "cast out" for this reason --- and he admitted that this was one of the "fictionalized" elements of his essay.

And that was his word.

"So, why say that, Professor Rothbard?"

It seems that it came down to the significance Rand attached to such values -- they reveal one's deepest essence, according to her philosophy. It seemed to me that, for Rothbard, this was as such already too "totalitarian" and "totalistic" a position for him to swallow.

In her own memoir, Mrs. Sures, who was quite close to Rand, related how Rand responded to her own admiration for a work by Cezanne --- an artist whom she knew Rand detested!

But no questioning of her premises, no denunciation, no moral criticism, and no "rudeness" was reported by Sures.

Quite the opposite.

Rand did comment to Sures on how getting in touch with the causes behind one's most profound emotions helps to get one in touch with the deepest workings of his soul, however.

Alas, Hessen is not so detailed as either Mrs. Sures or Ms. Branden about these matters.

As I wrote in PARC, according to Ms. B.:

"If someone expressed an artistic value not shared by Rand, she might actually say something like: 'not my kind of person,' or 'not my sense of life.' Rand even once said of a student who enjoyed Mozart and Beethoven, 'That's why there will always be a wall between us. Our souls are essentially different.'

'"The fascist implications speak for themselves.

"Notice, too, that, as in the case of the Mozart lover, such differences did not cause a 'break.' They apparently did not even cause the moral condemnation for which Rand was allegedly famous. According to the Brandens' own reports, the only quoted reaction Rand had was one of personal dislike, 'not my kind of person,' and such." (pp. 62-64)

Does Hessen know something that sources as diverse as Rothbard, Ms. Branden and Peikoff do not? Does he know something that even those who were closer to Rand -- the Brandens and Peikoff and Ms. Sures -- do not know? For us to believe that he does, given the context, we require specifics -- i.e., who was denounced or attacked on this basis and how. (After all, it wasn't his name being printed on the cover of that biography he thinks was too kind to its subject, but Ms. B.'s.)

Neil, you yourself have called Ms. Branden's assertion about "torture and the rack" an "unfortunate hyperbole." But this is something Hessen has endorsed uncritically. If Hessen's other objections are so specific that they include the wrong dates he noticed in PAR -- and if he simultaneously claims Ms. B. was too kind to Rand -- then we are compelled to believe that he accepts her most dubious propositions -- "overgeneralizations," "hyperbole" and all. Indeed, for Hessen, PAR's errors are merely "trivial."

"If anything," to steal his phrase, this tells us that, in some ways, Hessen's judgment is even more warped by personal experience than that of his dear, old friend, Ms. B. (I also know from personal experience that a friend will often get more fired up about an insult to the friend than the actual victim of the insult.)

Hessen suggests that Rand was not only "cruel" but, in addition -- and you better sit down for this one, folks -- "rude"!

Well, what evidence of cruelty -- or even rudeness -- has he provided? Just a single instance of "rudeness" (forget "cruelty") would be appreciated -- especially given his endorsement (and then some) of Ms. B.'s most outrageous claims.

But what do we get by way of specifics from him?


Let me suggest, Neil, that history's final verdict on these matters will depend on specific incidents and their details -- or the absence of these details -- much more than on the dubious -- what did you call them? -- "overgeneralizations" of biased witnesses.

Otherwise, poor Rand!

She is not permitted to dislike facial hair on men without being attacked! Nor can she be "revolted" by certain facial features on a couple of actors. (And by critics strikingly blind to the irony here -- their own bizarre moralism and judgmentalism.)

Gosh -- what a tyrant! How "ludicrous" -- that she did not like facial hair! (Both my wife and my mother hate facial hair, too, so are they also nut cases?)

Of course, Rand never wrote about the ethics or psychology of facial hair (from what I can tell, even in her private journals), so she must not have considered this issue all that fundamental or important -- contrary to Hessen's implications.

No, in truth, Rand was so overwhelmingly important to some people -- and, thank Zeus, I'm not one of them -- that if Rand's taste in ice cream differed from their own, they felt personally betrayed by Rand.

Then, of course, no actual friend of Rand's who wore a beard -- yes, she had them -- was ever excommunicated for that fact -- just as he was never morally condemned -- and just as he never had his psychology criticized on this score...

According to one such friend of Rand's -- whom I knew personally -- the extent of the grief he ever got from Rand for his (very full) beard was her saying to him, and I quote, "You have much too handsome a face to cover up like that."

That's it.

This scruffy fellow not only disagreed with Rand -- he sported a beard! And, yet, he did not report being "suspected of irrationality." No, he only reported on Rand's charm, friendliness and affection. If, in the privacy of her own thoughts, she "suspected irrationality" or "bad premises" of him (something she did not express to him), this did not prevent Rand from entrusting this savage with one of her beloved cats when she died. (I guess he wasn't that irrational, after all, whatever the state of his facial hair.)

But, can't you see, Neil, that this is an example of her "cruelty," or of "ludicrous" opinions , or, at least, her "rudeness"?

Again, numerous witnesses report Rand's lack of jealousy when it came to the beauty of other women. Rand was known for her capacity to just gush about such things -- with "open delight," to borrow Ms. B.'s language -- so if Rand expressed a negative opinion about Bergman's lips, in private conversation, she may just be telling the truth. And it didn't also prevent her from admiring Casablanca. Just what exactly makes Rand's opinion here "ludicrous"?

And, in any event, just who's being absurdly judgmental about esthetics in this picture -- Rand or the critics?

Ayn Rand really should have admired Spencer Tracey's nose, don't you think?

Otherwise -- "what a bitch"... right?

Or, take the "Mozart is pre-music" comment. Since Rand referred even to that detested folk music as "music" in her published writings, fairness requires that we consider this as intentional overstatement on Rand's part.

More importantly, Rand -- explicitly -- did not even believe that an objective vocabulary for discussing music had yet been developed, much to Linz's distress, if you hadn't noticed.

Rand also entrusted a jazz lover, Peikoff, with her estate and her final endorsement.

Once again, no one was morally condemned or "excommunicated" for liking Mozart -- or for any other musical opinion -- as witnesses as diverse as Rothbard and Peikoff have told me themselves.

Indeed, neither Branden can claim that Rand ever denounced, or "excommunicated," or morally condemned anyone for his or her musical tastes. They cannot give us a single example, at least. Yet, they, too, make much of Rand's allegedly irrational "demands" in this regard, so, if there were such specific examples, let me suggest that they would have so informed us.

They did not.

The Thomas Wolfe story Ms. Branden relates from her own experience in PAR actually confirms Mrs. Sures' -- not Hessen's -- perspective. Rand's analysis was of Wolfe's novels and their literary merit -- not BB's character or psychology.

No, it is the "threatening" notion that there are reasons behind our esthetic preferences -- i.e., Rand's belief that they do reveal things about our souls -- that seems to have made some folks less than comfortable.

Even Hessen must concede that he did not witness Rand arguing for these allegedly "ludicrous" opinions with others -- he says they seemed "self-evident" to Rand. However, without hearing Rand's case, how could he conclude that they were a "test" of rationality and bad premises for her? ESP? When asked, Rand always seems to have had a good answer -- on the merits -- about any of these things, just as Sures, Peikoff and even both Brandens insist -- and with vivid detail. And, absent Rand's case, how are we to evaluate it one way or another? (Of course, for Rand, only the perceptually given may be treated as the "self-evident," and it is therefore highly unlikely that Rand herself ever cast these things is such terms, in any event.)

Actually, the "opinions" Hessen cites do not seem to have prevented Rand from being a FRIEND with someone who held contrary views or who wore contrary beards.

No, it was merely the passionate intensity of Rand's personal esthetics -- and that Rand believed esthetic values to be eloquently revealing of one's soul -- that seemingly disturbed Hessen.

But just exactly how loving her mustachioed father renders Rand a "hypocrite" will require some further explanations, don't you think? For Hessen to be right, Rand would have had to have made a moral or psychological issue out of facial hair -- which she clearly did not.

Through the very issues he uses, Hessen only confesses his own bitterness and biases -- running far out ahead of Ms. B., precisely in order to make her seem objective. But even by your own score, Neil, he is suggesting that "unfortunate hyperbole" about "torture, the rack and fire" is still too kind to Rand.

It is astonishing how Ayn Rand could stir the deepest passions of those who had known her. Professor John Hospers, several years after Rand's death, could still be moved to tears when discussing Rand with Liberty magazine -- and his was basically a professional relationship with Rand.

With such intense emotions in play, Neil, you should be cautious -- especially when it comes to unsupported "generalizations" -- and, in your own terms, those "overgeneralizations" of the type we can see running amok in PAR.

Now, as to your own unfounded claims:

Where exactly does Peikoff even imply a "claim that Rand's only flaw was occasional outbursts of anger (which he even minimizes)"?

What flaws do you accept and why? A judgment of "cruelty" -- or even "rudeness" -- unsupported by a single example?

Such "perfection" was not even implied in Peikoff's essay, was it? In fact, he uses such phrases as "whatever her errors..." and the like. Moreover, even laboring under dozens of "flaws" -- even some moral lapses -- does not necessarily suggest that they must be included in an essay-length survey of a person's life, does it?

For there to be "other" flaws so serious as to require inclusion -- much less a harsh moral judgment from us -- we need the goods, Neil, and Hessen gives us less by way of fact than even Ms. Branden had.

Forgive me, but, before I accept the "generalizations" of those capable of "unfortunate hyperbole," I will continue to insist on an answer to this question: What did Rand actually do -- and to whom?

I must also ask, Neil, how precisely would you say that Peikoff has "minimized" her anger? Did Rand become violent -- did she break things -- did she stew in resentments for year after year -- did she backstab? So, how should Peikoff have characterized Rand's anger, in your view -- and why?

You ask if the new ARI book will include interviews with those with whom Rand had had "breaks."

I am uncertain, but I hope not. Those are people already quoted by name (the only type who can complain of being misquoted, btw) in PAR -- and these include the close friends of Ms. Branden from way back.

The many who refused to cooperate with Ms. B.'s project are the ones we now need to hear from, don't you think, Neil?

* * * * * *

Now, as to my discussion of Branden's psychology in PARC: don't be shy, Neil, say it!

See, there was an argument in PARC -- along with evidence -- not the boldly empty assertions of Dr. Hessen that you have cited. No reason to avert your delicate gaze.

Yes, PARC compares Branden's psychology to that of a rapist, and -- while it stresses that Branden, of course, is not an actual rapist of any kind -- it observes the astonishing similarities.

In Rand's own contemporaneous private journal entries -- and, specifically, ones she shared with Barbara Branden and Dr. Blumenthal, as well as Branden himself -- Rand reports that Branden told her that he became sexually excited during his violent arguments with Rand.

Okay, to me, that is creepy in the extreme.

It had the same impact on Rand.

But, I admit, my opinion may be colored by the fact that for many years I actually prosecuted rapists. I have had professional training and experience in this area -- I have spoken to a number of rapists, rape victims and a variety of professionals concerned with rape investigations -- physicians, nurses, counsellors, psychologists and detectives -- and I have read dozens and dozens of forensic psych reports on rapists. I have helped to train members of Sexual Assault response teams. I have repeatedly secured life sentences for criminals who have raped elderly women.

As is now well known, these criminals are not engaging in sex for romantic reasons, but reasons of power. Divorced from personal context, Branden himself would likely admit that the rapist is a kind of a Power Luster. I quote Branden himself describing -- professionally -- the similarity between deception (Branden's means) and violence (the rapist's) as forms of coercion, and their similar motive -- power.

From my own professional experience, I believe this to be true in general of the rapist.

Branden coerced his sex partner through deception, not violence -- Branden himself has written that both are forms of coercion. In addition, his motive was the same -- power -- and his confessions to getting "turned on" during "violent quarrels" speak for themselves.


Neil Parille's picture


I haven't read the Buckley book or the Tuccille book. Assuming that Tuccille misrepresented something that the Brandens said, this is unfortunate. I don't think the Brandens can be expected to publicly criticize how others have misused their books. (I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment.)

You asked what evidence I rely on to come to the conclusion that Branden view of Rand is close to the truth. Of course, I didn't know Rand nor do I know anyone who knew her well. I base it on the fact that Branden knew Rand and interviewed dozens of people who knew Rand. To the best of my knowledge, no one whom Branden interviewed has says he or she was misquoted or has dissociated himself from the book. (The only possible exception is the housekeeper, but that's via Peikoff and so is hearsay.) As I've mentioned, some of those who have said very critical things about Rand stayed with Rand after 1968 and to this day are not big fans of Nathaniel Branden.

Robert Hessen is one who knew Rand well. This is what he said a couple years ago.

"If anything, Ms. Branden's portrait of Ayn Rand's personality is too gentle and too forgiving. Those who condemn her biography (without actually having read it, of course) should go to their nearest public library and consult pages 329-30. After a brief, undetailed account of Rand's anger, she offers mitigating considerations to excuse Rand's inexcusable anger, rudeness and cruelty. She generously omits naming some of Rand's most ludicrous opinions: that Mozart was 'pre-music,' or her revulsion at actor Spencer Tracy because his nose was too big or at Ingrid Bergman because her lips were too full. Nor does she speculate about Rand's intense loathing of any form of 'facial hair' (beards, sideburns or mustaches), despite the fact that her beloved father, Zinovy, sported a luxurious handlebar mustache. These likes and dislikes were not merely Rand's personal preferences; they were self-evident truths to her, which any rational person had to accept or else be suspected of irrationality or 'bad premises.'"

"In rising to Barbara Branden's defense, let me acknowledge that her biography contains 5 or 6 errors of dating, a couple of dubious interpretations, and that minor discrepancies exist between her memories and those of Nathaniel. But these are trivial and do not detract from the over-all accuracy of her account."

How do you deal with all this evidence that contradicts Peikoff's claim that Rand's only flaw was occasional outbursts of anger (which he even minimizes)? Or does Peikoff concede Rand might have had some other flaws, but doesn't want to discuss them?

I will purchase the oral history of Rand that is coming out and will of course modify my position as necessary. (As you know, this collection contains a statement confirming that the 1981 meeting between Rand and Branden took place, which you implied was a lie in PARC.) Do you know if includes interviews with people who split with Rand such as the Smiths, the Blumenthals, the Kalbermans, etc.?

As far as the quotation from PAR about Rand using pyschology like an inquisitor used the rack, I think this is unfortunate hyperbole. But what about your comparisons of Nathaniel Branden's psychology to . . . well it's too disgusting to mention. Doesn't that indicate bias on your part?

Layers Thick

James S. Valliant's picture

Consider the Jerome Tuccille example, Neil.

Mr. Branden writes that it seemed to him that Rand's status as the inerrant source of all Truth was one of the "implicit" premises of early movement. He concedes that this was never stated openly -- thus, this was merely an "implicit premise" -- and all of the actual evidence compels such a concession, of course. (After all, Rand had repeatedly and explicitly asserted that no human being could claim infallibility. Branden's assertion also flies in the face of such items as Rand's confession to confusions in the early version of WTL, something we just mentioned.)

Branden even feels compelled to reveal that it was also "implicitly" believed to be "best not to say" such a thing "openly."

Yet, citing Branden as his source, and otherwise repeating Branden's very language, Tuccille writes that Rand's students were "required to believe and state [this] openly"! (Alan Shrugged, pp. 73-74.)

Now, did either Branden come to Rand's defense?

At least when the PAR film came out there were a few who found fault -- though not Ms. B. herself, of course.

Is this the tradition that you want to defend?

Exaggerations, Biases and Lies

James S. Valliant's picture

In your fierce passion to defend Ms. Branden, you simply refuse to understand PARC for what it is, Neil.

You just don't "get" it, do you?

You ask, in effect: "Why -- if she is anywhere being dishonest -- would Ms. Branden provide the evidence of Rand enjoying the 'here and now' after claiming that Rand was incapable of such enjoyment?" You argue that this "actually helps" the biographer's credibility when she makes such a claim about Rand(!)

But PARC does not argue that this was a matter of dishonesty, only the sort of distortion which results from the biases we should expect given the biographer's own biography.

It is, of course, this very tension -- as you now concede, such "overgeneralizations" on Ms. B.'s part -- to which PARC is drawing the reader's attention. PARC asks whether such generalizations are to be believed in light of the evidence provided. Ms. B. cannot deny verifiable evidence known to others -- sometimes, evidence she had written about herself at an earlier stage -- and which contradicts her new claims.

However, for reasons which might readily suggest themselves to those familiar with her background, Ms. B. lacks the judgment to see how this kind of evidence repeatedly undermines her many "overgeneralizations" (to use your own term) to the contrary.

It is Ms. B.'s judgment which PARC questions in such instances. Curiously, in the hands of a Jerome Tuccille, or a Bill Buckley or an Edward Sorel, it is only this sort of "generalization" which forms the basis of their harsh mischaracterizations of Rand, not the evidence.

However, these are not mere "overgeneralizations." Indeed, your claim that you are "not an uncritical defender" of PAR is undermined by the fact that you deny what is a flat contradiction. You write: "Actually, I don't think it is a literal contradiction, for reasons that I mentioned before." In fact, you gave us no "reasons" to think that it was not a contradiction, you merely asserted that it was not. Anyone who can read can see the contradiction that it is, Neil, and you have simply ignored the specific and clear refutation that was offered.

As to my alleged "overgeneralizations," PARC argues that the Branden biographies are "valueless" in a specific context and for certain reasons -- and this argument includes the idea that there is "much truth" to be found in those books. This argument goes unaddressed by you.

Indeed, a whole series of arguments in PARC go unnoticed and unmentioned by you -- this is only one example -- with complexities you simply ignore -- and this is itself a gross oversimplification on your own part.

It is your characterizations which are plainly lacking the basic elements (forget the nuances) of PARC's actual position.

Once again, PARC does not unfairly "lump" the Brandens together -- it was they who actually coordinated their lies to Rand when they were with her -- and, then, coordinated their lies to the public about the Break in 1968 -- and, then, years later, after Mr. Branden's initial offerings in book form so badly contradicted Ms. B.'s own, it was Ms. B. who helped Mr. B. out with the needed revisions. No, they frequently contradict one another -- and this, too, is part of the problem -- as PARC repeatedly observes. PARC "de-lumps" the Brandens accounts as never before.

For PARC, there are significant differences between them -- even contradictions between tham.

Indeed, PARC almost begins by considering the enmity between the two Brandens and their verbal contest over which of them most lacks of objectivity.

Also, it is one of PARC's very themes that it is the Brandens who unfairly "lump" all of Rand's other breaks together and, once more, it is PARC which attempts to sort out some of the differences -- the differences NOT provided or emphasized by either Branden -- differences which, in fact, refute the "lumping" the Brandens engage in -- and which were suppressed seemingly for this very reason.

One can only presume that you wish to ignore the fact that similar experiences might lead to similar biases -- the point PARC actually makes about this -- i.e., that there are any connections to be made between them.

You say PARC's generalizations are "poor," but you have yet to state them accurately. Chris Sciabarra did much better than that, Neil. The "poor generalizations" to observe here are your own absurd over-simplifications and re-castings of PARC, sir. (BTW, none of the changes made here should be seen as a concession of error on my part -- just a desire to avoid a pointless quibble, as I have already indicated.)

Speaking of absurd over-simplifications, consider your versions of the Rand statements you claim that PARC "defends." Mr. Branden claims that Rand once said that no one helped her -- and he provides no context whatever for the statement. Since Rand -- on numerous occasions and very publicly -- acknowledged the help she received from others, PARC suggests that we consider the whole range of evidence -- especially in light of Rand's famously unconventional views on altruism and "help." It is you and Mr. Branden who are doing the over-simplfication and context-dropping -- and with a disturbing eagerness.

Again, Rand also said that whole paragraphs of "confusing" material had been removed from WTL -- and, once more, it is the bizarre context-dropping of the critics which becomes more noteworthy than the original claim about Rand.

Finally, you say: "When all is said and done, I think it is highly likely that when the definitive biography of Rand is written, the truth will be considerably closer to what 'the Brandens' say than what Peikoff says."

Of course, Peikoff has written no biography of Rand, just an essay-length intellectual memoir. What assertion there do you think was wrong or unfair? His concession that Rand's anger could sometimes be unjust?

Or, do you mean the dozens of witness statements ARI is publishing?

True, Peikoff says nothing like Ms. Branden's claim that Rand may justly be compared to a torturer who uses "fire and the rack" on his victims, does he? And, no, he asserts no empty defamation regarding O'Connor's allegedly excessive drinking. And, no, nothing like the slander of the PAR film has been created as a result of what he said, either.

Are those the sort of things you think will be vindicated at the end of the day? Are those the kind of claims which make the Brandens' portraits superior in your view?

And we've gone through every bit of this before, elsewhere, haven't we, Neil?

It just never seems to sink.

What personal knowledge gives you such confidence in the Branden portraits and characterizations? You don't even seem to need to hear the dozens of eyewitness accounts soon to be published... in fact, it seems that you are a highly motivated partisan, Neil.

Generalizations and Overgeneralizations

Neil Parille's picture

Actually, I don't think it is a literal contradiction, for reasons that I mentioned before.

That being said, I'm not an uncritical defender of The Passion of Ayn Rand. I think there are some overgeneralizations and this is one.

But note that you say: "Ms. B. actually depicts Rand (repeatedly) enjoying some "here and now" experience with a total abandon, i.e., fully and completely enjoying an event or activity that was "here and now."

Now, if Branden is giving us the happy (and also kind hearted I would add) side of Rand (on "numerous" occasions) then I think this actually helps her credibility. If she set out to deliberately distort Rand, why didn't she leave them out?

In addition, this is a good example of you failing to give the Brandens the benefit of the doubt, but always giving Rand the benefit. You have defended such Rand statements as:

1. "No one helped me."
2. The changes to WTL were "editorial line changes" not involving the substance of the work
3. "All my heroes will always be reflections of Frank, anyway."

You've also made some poor generalizations in PAR:

1. The books are "valueless" to historians.
2. Lumping the Brandens and their books together (you even had to modify one statement in this chapter when I pointed out the mistake).
3. Combining the Brandens with other "critics" of Rand (such as the discussion of libertarianism).

When all is said and done, I think it is highly likely that when the definitive biography of Rand is written, the truth will be considerably closer to what "the Brandens" say than what Peikoff says.


James S. Valliant's picture

First, it seems obvious to me that one cannot be described as being "happy" if one is simply unable to "fully enjoy" a present experience.

But, more directly to the point, Ms. Branden's contradiction is quite specific as to what she meant in each context. She describes not only later "happiness" in Rand -- in some vague sense -- but Ms. B. actually depicts Rand (repeatedly) enjoying some "here and now" experience with a total abandon, i.e., fully and completely enjoying an event or activity that was "here and now."

This capacity to fully enjoy the here and now endured throughout Rand's life.

Thus, the assertion in question is a contradiction.

Neil ....

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Got an answer to my query re "anger issues"?

No longer enjoy life?

Neil Parille's picture


Could you please give me a page from PAR for your claim that:

"I don't know if Ms. Branden is backing away from her claim that Rand could 'no longer' enjoy life -- perhaps before she ever came to America -- but a more recent speech . . ."

I did an amazon.com search and couldn't find that (no longer enjoying life). Branden does say in PAR, p. 49:

"She could no longer live in the present, no longer stop to notice it . . . . Several of the people who knew her most intimately in later years, commented that they never once saw her fully enjoy an event or activity that was here and now. . . ."

No longer living in the present isn't the same thing as not being happy. (Keep in mind what Fred said about the law of contradiction.)

Branden does describe Rand as happy at times, even in her later years (for example when Nora came to the US and her last meeting with Branden). Rand told her in their final meeting that she had a mathematics tutor and was pondering the relationship between math and philosophy. (p. 399.) Incidentally, this is confirmed in Gotthelf's book On Ayn Rand at p. 25 ("[S]he received tutoring in algebra . . . .She reflected further on the relationship between mathematics and concept formation . . .").

I don't find this portrayal of Rand contradictory at all. I'm sure we've all met people who seem happy, but one can sense that they aren't completely enjoying things in the "here and now" (perhaps because of tragedy or sadness).


James S. Valliant's picture

It's probably a good idea to provide links to the other parts of PARC now available on SOLO. So far, these are the Introduction, Chapter One and Conclusion and Chapter Four.

Well, Once More...

James S. Valliant's picture

... I need to ask Neil and other critics: is that it?

So, to another chapter, there is no serious response whatever?

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