There are currently 0 users and 23 guests online.
Linz's Mario Book—Updated!
It is morally defensible to establish a nation-state built around maintaining a specific and exclusive ethnic population
Total votes: 11
Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Fri, 2008-04-04 02:20
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.]
More SOLO Store
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand