At Last!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2010-01-06 00:55

Harry Binswanger, fresh from advising his loyalty-oathed choir members not to read the new bios, gets off his cloistered ass and says:

I was one of Ayn Rand’s closest friends in her last years. I visited her in her apartment about once a week during the last year or so of her life, and spoke to her on the phone daily. This being a blog, I can only make assertions.

1. Rand had no problem with Dexedrine. She took a tiny amount daily (they even continued to give it to her when she was in the hospital).

2. Both the Heller and the Burns view of her character and personality is wrong: she was a fully rational person, as well as a gracious and charming one. The breaks she made with people were well deserved by them (I knew all the details in most of the cases.) I only wish she had broken with Greenspan.

3. She was very well versed in the history of philosophy, although more through secondary sources for the philosophers she disagreed with. Her knowledge of the history of philosophy is amply displayed in the title essay of her book For the New Intellectual. I’m a professional philosopher (not currently in academia, but I have taught graduate philosophy at U Texas/Austin), and I’m awestruck by the incisiveness of her presentation of the history of philosophy (presented in a highly condensed, masterfully essentialized form) in that essay. Oh, here’s another data point. A couple of years ago, the Ayn Rand Society of the American Philosophical Association had a meeting on her view of Aquinas, and one of the world’s leading authorities on Aquinas (not at all an Objectivist) stated that he was surprised to learn that she got Aquinas’ theory of universals right, as opposed to the claim of a lesser paper-presenter at the session arguing that she got it wrong.

You probably won’t be (and shouldn’t be) convinced by my mere assertions, but I wanted to go on record as giving a diametrically opposite view. You can pretty much judge for yourself by reading what she wrote, and as to her personality, read Letters of Ayn Rand–a fascinating look at her whole life through her letters. Also, highly recommended is the very short book by another of her close friends (Mary Ann Sures, who typed the manuscript of Atlas Shrugged in Rand’s apartment): Facets of Ayn Rand.

Yes, Kasper...

Ross Elliot's picture

...but I misread "there" for "here".

Carry on.


Was that directed at me?

Kasper's picture

Rand's ideas have credit on Fox news. Ideas of freedom, reason and individual liberty opposing a growing state tyranny and control are ideas consistently discussed on Fox news with a proudly staunch bias toward the former. I think that is fantastic. Here in NZ we don't get that at all.

People often say to me that Fox is biased... I always reply: Yeah, so what? If they want left stuff they can go to CNN. If they want neutral they should watch both and then neutralize the information in their empty skulls Eye

They do?

Ross Elliot's picture


Good stuff

Kasper's picture

thanks for that, Greg... At least these things get discussed on TV over there..

Here it is Kasper

gregster's picture



He could have been better

gregster's picture

But good to see Harry on the tele. The guy Gillespie from was a lot better. Harry's content was OK.

Here's a different appearance.


Kasper's picture

moment there's a clip of this available can you post it up?

Harry on Beck just now ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

This must be another first involving Harry—he just appeared with a libertarian (Nick Gillespie) on Glenn Beck, as part of a panel chaired by the KASS Andrew Napolitano. The judge's lead-in rant on freedom "vs" security was the best thing about the discussion; Harry's robotic demeanour and lack of TV nous were the worst. You've gotta seize those moments and not just utter a couple of rehearsed sentences and leave them hanging. A great opportunity blown there. ARI must do better than this.

The thing...

Ross Elliot's picture

...about Rand was that she never quoted sources except by way of her general narrative.

"She was very well versed in the history of philosophy, although more through secondary sources for the philosophers she disagreed with. Her knowledge of the history of philosophy is amply displayed in the title essay of her book For the New Intellectual."

But Objectivism is not a philosophy for dummies. You need to grip it, and grip it hard.

She wasn't interested in citing authority, simply acknowledging what had gone before. Objectivism is the shining city on the hill, driving its foundations *though* the rubble of imperfect first attempts.

It's not easy for beginners to get that first, hard grip, but once you do, you see the magnificence of her achievement; more than a codification, more than an extrapolation, but something wholly unique and vital.

At last!

Richard Goode's picture

I thought you were going to say you'd found a publisher for your book.

I want an autographed copy.

Ellen ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The part I excised from Scherk's "toast" post was directed at me and depicted me manipulating the strings of a puppet labelled 'Ayn Rand speaks,' that puppet supposedly being other SOLOists. I'm pretty sure the expression "only human" was not used of Rand in that segment. "Only human" was a Hilton paraphrase as far as I can tell. Scherk uses "human" to mean "only human" to be sure, but I don't think he's ever used the latter expression explicitly. I'm sure he won't tell me if I'm wrong. Eye If I'm wrong, and you have the segment salted away, by all means quote it.

"the human condition" - "only human"

Ellen Stuttle's picture

MM: "Barbara [...] too, sees the biography as 'objective'. A biography by a woman of integrity who apparently finds just the right mix of flaws and triumphs that allows her to capture 'the human condition'."

Things are moving faster than I can keep up with. I've been wanting to post something highlighting a particular usage by WSS -- in comments which Linz deleted (I was planning to ask Linz's permission to quote the passage, which had been picked up by Hilton -- see #82861, "A Toast to Frank O'Connor" thread) -- in which WSS used the expression "only human."

To me, this expression captures well a reaction to Rand of those who aren't out with an obvious hatred of Rand straight off . (The latter sort, those who hate Rand from square one, have a kind of visceral immediate recognition that it's either/or, that Rand is calling them on their game and they must try to bury Rand.)

It's instead revelatory of a feeling of discomfort with Rand, something which bothers them because...of Rand's saying that "only human" isn't the last word on "human," that "human" can be glorious, that to be "human" isn't necessarily to be pitiable?

WSS had indicated in an earlier post that Rand *was enhanced* in his opinion when he found he could pity her. See #82857:

Quote from an email of his to Barbara, my emphasis:

Reading your [Barbara's] book's chapters of the years since 1968 gave me an empathy for Rand (and Frank) as a person that I had not experienced before. It coloured my opinion of Rand, raising it. She was human. She suffered.

I'm sorry to post so briefly and sketchily. A family circumstance has come up which is keeping me rather round-the-clock occupied. But not to entirely lose the flow of what's happening here, I did want to interject a sympatico response to MM's comments.



Michael Moeller's picture

My hats off to Harry Binswanger for making corrections to the public record.

What I find interesting in many of the reviews of Heller's book is how the reviewers often pick up on the negative treatment of Rand. In the review from Ilya Somin, he wrote:

The overall picture of Rand is not always a flattering one. As in Burns’ book, she comes off as obnoxious and intolerant of opposing views, and often mistreating her friends, family members and supporters. It is telling that Rand ended up breaking ties with nearly all her friends and Objectivist movement allies, often over petty disputes.

I do not think Somin is out to gore Rand, this is simply the impression he got from the book. Similar to Tim Sandefur--who I think is serious intellectual and appears generally favorable to Rand. In these cases, I just do not think they paid close enough attention to Heller's alleged "scholarship", which I will be addressing in due course. But the impression they get from the book is quite clear.

I came across this review on Atlasphere a couple of days ago by some intellectual lummox. He repeats canards and alleged personal failings, such as Rand being excessively moralistic, Rand living in a fantasy world of her own creation, dual personality, narcissism, yada yada.

This appears to be the common pattern among these reviews--with varying degrees of how much the reviewer focuses on her alleged flaws. This general impression radiating from Heller's book can also be seen in the comments section under the Somin article, and here at Doubleday. A post near the bottom calls Rand a "full-blown narcissist with unstable moods — and a fucking baby!". Another one says: "AR appears to have been an extremely emtionally troubled person."

It is no accident this appears on Heller's Doubleday page, as this is the general impression given by the book. In light of that, let's look at what our very own Neil Parille wrote in his Amazon review:

At the same time, Heller's book is not a psychological melodrama. It is mostly a "nuts and bolts" account of Rand's life, with only occasional summaries of Rand's character. She tells the many examples of kindness that Rand displayed as well as her frequent cruelty. Better than anyone before, she captures the "two Rands," even if, at the end, neither Heller nor the reader knows quite what to make of this brilliant and eccentric person. To me the most telling account was that of Rand's secretary Barbara Weiss. Rand, she said, was the most repressed fearful person she had ever met. At the same time Weiss decided to leave after fifteen years of devoted service concluding that Rand did in fact know the harm she was causing other people, including her husband. She was a "killer of people" Weiss said.

And from Barbara Branden:

What is personally fascinating to me is to see a discerning, highly intelligent and fair-minded woman who has the integrity to approach Rand in a manner I have rarely seen before. She does not approach her as a goddess whose failures and faults are to b swept under the nearest rug because of her great virtues and accomplishments, nor as a villain whose admirable qualities are to be ignored or explained away because of her flaws and failures. Lo and Behold! – she approaches her objectively -- as a human being, subject to the problems, pains, joys, temptations, self-deceits, moments of grandeur, failures and triumphs that are built into the human condition.

Notice anything? Whereas many others--both with and without an apparent axe to grind against Rand--readily grasp the negativity towards Rand emanating from the Heller book.

Besides repeating such canards about "two Rands", Neil is not quite sure what Heller and the reader are to make of Rand. In Neil's eyes, Heller is "'objective' in the best sense of the word". You know, like relaying a quote about Rand being "a killer of people".

Same for Barbara. She, too, sees the biography as "objective". A biography by a woman of integrity who apparently finds just the right mix of flaws and triumphs that allows her to capture "the human condition".

And there's the rub. The earlier reviewers I noted have rightly picked up on the general personal negativity arising out of the Heller biography. No doubt, Barbara and Neil are aware of this too, which is why they try to sweep it under the rug of fair and balanced and objective. The reason is obvious--the book accomplishes their task for them.

The comments from Barbara and Neil are not commentary on Heller's alleged objectivity, but rather revelations of their own lack of objectivity.


Very good Harry

gregster's picture

Well spotted Linz. edit: or WSS.

I've never been convinced the Rand-diminishers genuinely mean their offense. I believe it's part of a flawed psycho-epistemology, much like a religionist.

Note Point 2 in particular

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The Babsians assume that anyone who breaks with someone must be in the wrong by dint of that fact—the fact that Ayn broke with a number of people is treated as signifying a flaw, with no consideration given at all to why she did so. It's an extension of their view of anger—that any anger (apart from their own) is wrong, regardless of what triggers it; "politeness" is always a virtue regardless of to whom or about what one is extending politeness.

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