Parsing Walker's "The Ayn Rand Cult"

William Scott Scherk's picture
Submitted by William Scott Scherk on Mon, 2008-07-14 19:49

-- James Heaps-Nelson had asked a general question about undue critical attention paid in the Mullah Rand thread, to, well, the text of Mullah Rand, and by extension to the author and poster of redacted chapters, James Valliant.

JHN: Also, why the continual campaign against PARC and only PARC? Why not a campaign against Jeff Walker's Ayn Rand Cult?

Below is a cull from that book. In light of Sciabarra's spanking of Walker, and JHN's question, here's an opportunity to see how the book weaves its argument together . . . and to take the scope off James Valliant's work till he gets back on the ice in the series promoting PARC.

Who will take the first hack of the meat-axe to Walker's Objectiphobia, sloppiness, one-eyed bias and ill-will?

Excerpted from chapter five, Nathaniel Branden: The Godfather of Self-Esteem, pages 143-160. Headings from original, viewable in parts via Amazon Reader.

Branden as Cult Leader

By the 1960s, Branden was beating the drums for Rand's fighting creed of 'reason,' 'egoism,' 'individual rights,' 'capitalism,' and 'heroism,' in their purest, if eccentrically Ayn Randian, versions. It was Branden, already Rand's lover and protégé during the mid-1950s, who took the philosophic ideas scattered trhought her novels and systematized them in lecture format under Rand's guidance. He was the entrepreneur of Objectivism, setting up in 1958 the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) in New York City, where he, wife Barbara, Mary Ann Sures, Leonard Peikoff, and Alan Greenspan would lecture to spellbound Rand admirers. Rand would often help out by being available to answer questions after lectures, and by speaking at more than a dozen colleges.

Affiliated with NBI were the Objectivist Newsletter, which became the Objectivist, and a book service selling recommended free-market oriented books. This core sprouted Ayn Rand clubs, regional newsletters, and Objectivist social cliques throughout North America and abroad. It was Branden, far more than Rand, who was responsible for widely disseminating her ideas as an explicit philosophy of living—via essay, talks, radio broadcasts and a stable of busy Objectivist psychotherapists whom new Objectivist patients sometimes waited years to see.

Rand approved Branden as therapist for the Collective. Robert Hessen recalls typical sessions with Branden, who, today an advocate of a relaxed therapeutic approach, would pace back and forth like a caged panther. Hessens describes these as "hideous sessions," where, at least with others if not with himself, Branden "got away with murder, through bullying and intimidation." Hessen still has gruesome flashbacks from those Kafkaesque encounters, where the last think he would have done would be to divulge anthing truly personal. But such reticence was an exception. As Barbara Branden suggests, "Nathan had the power that only a psychologist had. . . . Because you open yourself up wide. When he then starts flaying you alive, . . . . that's the most painful destructive thing in the world."

Barbara suggests that during their last 14 years together, Nathan increasingly became a cipher to Ayn. The man she loved with all her heart was always insisting he loved her passionately and couldn't live without her, while blaming on his own elusive psychological difficulties the non-resumption of their sexual relations. For Rand, the situation generated endless conversations with both Nathan and Barbara, and even countless papers to clarify her thinking on the matter. "That he was a liar and a cheat—never occured to her," observes Barbara. "The who process was excruciating and heartbreaking, and when the truth finally came to light, it came close to destroying her." However the cover-up did allow Nathan to stay on for additional profitable yeas as the leader of her cult. He recalls thinking, "I can't let her go. I don't want to. I love it. . . . This was my first and only sense of 'home'. I was not prepared to give it up."

"He rewrites his own past," maintains Barbara Branden about her ex. "He talks, on one of his tapes, about how he argued with Ayn about her theory of sex" (that erors in generated by affinity for the other's fundamental values) "in the old days. Not only did he not argue with her, he was shoving it down other people's throats in therapy. He was all for it." In consequence, "I have seen too many people castigate themselves morally for an attraction to someone who is less than a hero." This, despite how the theory was helping to created absolute havoc in his own life, ever since Rand had asked him at the end of a supposed two-year affair, "Can you think of any good reason why we can't go on this way forever?" and he had responded, "No, I can't," because he knew this was what she longed to hear. Privately, not only did he regard Barbara as something other than a heroine, he came to believe that if being erotically drawn to Patrecia and repelled by Rand was inconsistent with Objectivism, then in what respect Objectivism was wrong. If only his students and clients had known one could pick and choose among one's Objectivist principles as he was doing. Instead, he concedes, "I was betraying what I taught to my students. . . . I was learning to lie expertly.

Branden as a Professional

Following his excommunication in 1968 and his subsequent move out of New York City, Branden obtained a licence in California to practice not as a psychologist but as a 'marriage family and child counselor.' It all goes back to his master's degree from New York University. NYU has become a prestigious, world-class school today, due to massive infusions of cash allied with a ruthless raising of academic standards, but in Branden's day it was a third-rate place. Branden relates in his memoirs that he wasn't even required to write a thesis. Seemingly, such was his brilliance that his advisor felt obliged to remove an obstacle that would needlessly delay his inevitable revolutionizing of the profession. A curious reader might wonder what reputable department of psychology would waive an integral element of its master's program—the original research thesis. Branden doesn't mention that this master's thesis is not from the university's Department of Psychology but from its School of Education, a less demanding degree and not much in the way of preparation for a career in clinical psychology. Paul Fussell has depicted the Education degree as "virtually empty of intellectual content," as befits "its dull aspirants." This, of course, wasn't the reason why the New York State psychological board denied Branden a licence. It did so because it thought Branden had an insufficient number of hours of practice as a (pre-psychologist) therapist and was running a psychologically damaging cult. Branden's high-powered lawyer couldn't sway the board.

[ . . . ]

Branden didn't have to produce a real Ph.D. thesis for his California Graduate Institute doctorate in psychology. CGI let him bypass the academic research that an accredited Ph.D. program would have demanded. Albert Ellis recalls that Arnold Lazarus, who has headed up departments of psychology at both Harvard and Rutgers, once met Branden and was favorably impressed with him as, among other things, a fellow atheist. However, after inviting him to speak at Rutgers, Lazarus had a colleague check out Branden's thesis "and found out it really consisted of a group of recordings that he had done years ago on romantic love." The invitation was revoked.

Branden is not licensed to practice as a 'psychologist' in California, where he has lived and worked for three decades. After continually being refused a psychologists's licence in New York State during his final ten years in Manhattan, he got licensed in New Jersey (and Washington, D.C.) in 1969. Because of a limited reciprocal agreement between state psychological boards, Branden is allowed to practice as a bona fide psychologist for 30 days a year even though he doesn't live in New Jersey. This allows him to lead his self-esteem workshops around the U.S. and Canada, and to call himself a psychologist on those weekends. The California Board of Psychology disapproves of this ploy but locates it in a legal grey area resistant to court challenges.

In Judgment Day Branden takes to task two named old acquaintances (now sworn enemies) for their psychological shortcomings, described in detail, not telling us they had been clients in therapy with him. Then in his self-improvement book, Taking Responsibility (1996), he takes to task two unnamed clients, described in details, for exhibiting precisely the same psychological shortcomings. The two are conjoined, in the same order and to illustrate the same point in both volumes. From Judgment Day alone, we do not know enough to fault Branden professionally, because he does not reveal that the two acquaintances had been his clients. From Taking Responsibility alone, we cannot fault him for unprofessionally divulging confidences from his therapist-client relationship because the clients' names are not published, not in this text. Yet the names of Leonard Peikoff and Joan Blumenthal will jump out at anybody who has read the other book. And most readers who have read both are neo-Objectivists or one-time followers of Rand, people who do know that Peikoff denounces Branden from the orthodox Objectivist perspective and may know that Joan Mitchell Blumenthal is also an enemy. Branden certainly objects when he is the victim of such treatment, as in Rand's published denunciation of him in 1968: "In her article Ayn hinted that I had dark psychological problems about which I consulted her . . . if it were true then it would have been a terrible ethical breach for her to disclose this information publicly." But all the more terrible an ethical breach, surely, when it's a professional therapist publishing confidential information on his former clients.

Man of Science

Lavish praise for anyone regarded as a friend was one of Rand's oddities, and it remains one of Branden's. His involvement with therapists Roger Callahan** and Lee Shulman tell us something about Branden's intellectual and professional scruples.

[ . . . ]

Branden has incorporated at least one of Callahan's 'New Age' techniques into his practice. It's a technique that Callahan promoted in an obscure 1985 book, The Five Minute Phobia Cure, and since 1992 on a video distributed by Laissez Faire Books and by the resurrected Psychology Today, now a very New Age magazine. Both books and video present some of the silliest pseudoscience ever captured by either medium.

One would expect a self-styled spokesman for rationality like Branden to distance himself as far as possible from these all-too-common kinds of claims, even if promoted by a friend. This, however, is the the testimonial Branden provided for the book: "Having witnessed you demonstrate your phobia treatment technique on a number of occasions, and having utilized it with my own therapy clients, I must tell you that I am overwhelmingly impressed by its speed and effectiveness—far surpassing any other phobia treatment of which I have knowledge. I think your innovation in this field will stand as an enormous contribution" ([emphasis added by JW]). On the flyer accompanying Callahan's video, Branden's blurb reads, "A practitioner who does not test this technique first-hand does a disservice to his clients." Finally, in Six Pillars he describes Callahan's techniques as "revolutionary," "groundbreaking," yielding "extraordinary results" and having "profound implications for all the healing arts."

Branden's other good psychologist friend, Lee Shulman, knew Callahan in Detroit. He too was a therapist to the emotionally afflicted with Branden's Objectivist movement in the 1960s. He also is a Southern California resident and earned a non-accredited Ph.D., as did wife and co-author Joyce, from Wisconsin's Walden University, which later did gain accreditation.

[ . . . ]

Branden's blurb on the cover of [Shulman and Shulman's Subliminal: The New Channel to Personal Power] reads: "Lucidly written, informative, and provocative, this valuable book takes the reader on a guided tour of subliminal teaching devices, reviews the salient research, and brings badly needed light to a subject of great potential importance ([emphases added by JW]). Coincidentally, Subliminal gives Branden's tapes and books three gratuitous pages worth of plugs.

Branden has long been drawn to pseudoscientific methods. He advises every therapist to become a hypnotist skilled in age-regressing and questioning his patients in that supposedly altered state. Research on hypnosis suggests that it is not an altered state of consciousness, as Branden contends. Neither is it reliable: hypnotics subjects often lie or confabulate. Recalling Branden's hypnosis demonstrations, Philip Smith opined that Branden "enjoyed the theatricality of it, . . . There was that thin veneer of scientific jargon around it, but I just think he enjoyed it and . . . like that relationship"—this referring to the relationship of controller and controllee.



** Roger Callahan has moved on to the even-more woo-woo edge of psychology with bogus Thought Field Therapy, and with his expensive long-distance 'VT' (voice technology) bullshit.

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