Holiday Reprise - Symposium 2: Jennifer Burns Replies

Jennifer Burns's picture
Submitted by Jennifer Burns on Tue, 2010-01-19 04:32

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to James Valliant’s thoughtful review of my book. Unlike many reviewers of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Valliant does not use the review solely as a pretext to put forth his own ideas about Rand. Instead, much like reviewers who wrote for Rand’s own Objectivist Newsletter and Objectivist, he characterizes my book’s methodology and approach, grapples seriously with the issues the book raises, and then advances his own Objectivist critique. While I don’t agree with many of his criticisms, I do agree with the spirit in which he writes. In this response, I will briefly touch upon a few broad themes his review covers.

Goddess of the MarketGoddess of the Market Valliant’s attention to the context in which my book was published is welcome. In contrast to most hostile and appreciate reviewers of Goddess of the Market, Valliant is well versed in both the secondary literature about Rand and the historical literature about twentieth century conservatism and libertarianism. Thus he is willing to take my book on its own terms, as a contribution to this specific body of knowledge rather than a comprehensive treatise on all aspects of Rand’s thought. This enables him to understand that my book “provides – for the first time in detail – an account of Rand’s relationship to what has been called the ‘right wing intellectual movement of the 20th century’” and that it is “necessary reading for the serious scholar.”

Valliant also understands how unpopular Rand is in academic circles, and congratulates me on my “massive courage” for writing such an account. While I’ll accept part of this compliment, it’s worth noting that my decision to study Rand was perhaps less a leap of faith than he implies. From the start of my project, I have received a great deal of interest and encouragement from most of my fellow historians, including many who consider themselves firmly on the left. Much of academia remains hostile to Rand, though at least in my discipline, the growing body of work about the political right makes her impossible to ignore. My goal was not to dispel the hostility against Rand, which is more than one book can accomplish, but I did hope to at least create a more informed hostility.

Though Valliant in general praises my research, we do disagree about the reliability of some sources I used, namely the memoirs of Barbara and Nathaniel Branden. Of course the Brandens’ memoirs inform my account: it would have been irresponsible of me as a historian to write off the accounts of the two people closest to Rand for nearly twenty years. I don’t agree that because these books have their limitations, they are irredeemably damaged as sources of information about Rand. Indeed, one of the benefits of working in the Ayn Rand Archives was that I was able to, as Valliant suggests, corroborate much of their description of Rand and their relationship with her. If my research had revealed a personality or series of events profoundly different than what the Brandens described, I would have said so: it did not. Valliant refers to the Brandens’ 1968 letter “In Response to Ayn Rand,” as evidence of their unreliability, but both Brandens have clarified in later work the very significant omissions of fact in this letter. Ultimately, all of history is a secondhand account and as Rand might say, a selective recreation of reality. Casting a wide net and reading sources with a critical eye is the best strategy for approximating the past, and accordingly I believe the testimony of all figures who knew Rand, no matter how difficult their relationship, needs to be integrated into the story of her life and development.

Valliant takes me to task for my use of the word Aryan to describe Rand’s characters, and given the historic slur that Rand is a fascist, I should have been more careful in my terminology. Still, I believe the ethnicity of Rand’s characters is striking. Her two major novels are set in New York City, a polyglot metropolis with a nearly half the population of Eastern European Jewish origin, yet her massive novels are populated almost exclusively with characters who from their names and physical descriptions are of Northern European or Anglo descent. Perhaps as an individualist Rand wished to avoid any association with ethnic particularism. If so, why is the default ethnicity for Rand a bland Anglo-Saxon type? Surely this was a deliberate decision; reflecting upon her first months in Chicago, Rand characterized her Jewish relatives as not being really American. This is yet another piece of my larger argument that Rand did not stand apart from her time, but was influenced by the larger historical context in which she lived and worked. In a politically charged and moralistic novel about life in America, the absence of ethnicity is striking. It is also unfortunate, for as I show in Goddess of the Market, many readers were quick to read their own ideas about race and ethnicity into Atlas Shrugged.

The chief thrust of Valliant’s critique, however, is that I depict Rand’s ideas as evolving rather than static, failing to appreciate “the stalwart and straight line of Rand’s own intellectual career” and to understand that “Rand was a rock of intellectual changelessness and consistency in a tumultuous sea.” In comparison to the figures Valliant cites, who made some of the wildest swings in ideology imaginable, Rand was a paragon of consistency. It is to her credit that she saw Communism for what it was right from the start – though she had “inside information” that most American intellectuals lacked – and I do not believe any attentive reader of my book would miss this aspect of Rand’s thought.

Yet for Valliant Rand is more than consistent, she is unchanging, even when her own writing indicates otherwise. Some of this may come from Valliant’s focus on her published work, when most of my book looks at the spadework that went into Rand’s publications. In these unpublished materials, I find marked differences in tone and temper – which are important to any discussion of Rand’s ideas. But for Valliant, these differences are nothing more than “stylistic adjustment to differing venues for her thought.” If Rand began writing more about philosophy in the 1960s, that fact is insignificant to Valliant and indicates nothing more than “a new interest in writing about it.” For Valliant, “The process of Rand’s development was largely the process of finding the right words to express her original intention and the language to fit her unique vision with precise clarity.”

Here we are at an impasse about the meaning and significance of language. For Valliant, language does not precisely express concepts or meaning: if Rand changed the language she used, it was not because her ideas changed but because she simply expanded the repertoire of words she had at her disposal. This argument sheds some light on why editors at the Ayn Rand Institute consider it perfectly acceptable to alter Rand’s language in compilations of her writings, speeches, and interviews. It is not, however, convincing to me, particularly when we are discussing a novelist who was legendary for her precise use of language and her desire to painstakingly craft a stylized universe. Nor is it an adequate explanation for philosophy, a field that hinges upon the precise usage of language. As Rand might say, if words don’t express meaning, then we are lost in a sea of subjectivity.

On the issue of Nietzsche, again, there is a fundamental difference between how Valliant and I characterize intellectual influence. I certainly would not lump all egoists into the Nietzschian category. But the evidence of Nietzsche’s importance to Rand is irrefutable: not only in drafts of The Fountainhead, where each section of the book is prefaced by a headnote from Nietzsche, but in the book’s 1968 twenty-fifth anniversary edition, where Rand meditates on Nietzsche as an inspiration, and in her final 1975 message in The Ayn Rand Letter where she wearily quotes his dictum “it is not my function to be a flyswatter.” Thus we see that throughout her life, Nietzsche was a touchstone for Rand, and she was profoundly influenced by his work – yet this does not mean she was a “true Nietzschian” or in agreement with the fundamentals of his philosophy. It means that Nietzsche was a thinker who spoke to her, aroused her to great thought and disagreement, shaped her views and her goals and her vision of herself.

That Valliant and I have profoundly different understandings of what it means to say one thinker influenced another comes clear in the end of his review, when he rather unfairly claims that “It is almost as if Burns, an intellectual historian, does not recognize an independent causal role for the human intellect.” My exegesis of Rand’s thought comes from eight years working in her unedited personal papers, reading her diaries, drafts, notes, correspondence, articles and books she read, daily schedules, all the ephemera of her personal and professional life. What I found in this material was not a solitary and isolated woman living atop an intellectual mountaintop, but a deeply engaged and passionate thinker who worked her way through many of the most pressing ethical issues of her time. And she did it by reading what others wrote, thinking about what others said, and then refining her own responses over time. Her intellect was the driving causal force in her life; but it drove through a landscape populated with significant others who left their mark.

In the conclusion of his review, Valliant writes that “a true rendering of Ayn Rand’s life and ideas, indeed her very spirit, still awaits its muse.” I fear here a hint that Rand’s life ought properly be written by those who accept her philosophy. This idea does disservice to Rand by claiming her for a narrow slice of her readers, those in search of a systemic philosophy and willing to embrace the one Rand created. There is far more to Rand than Objectivism, and it is not necessary to accept her philosophy in order to understand her singular contribution to American thought. Luckily as Valliant notes, with the opening of the Ayn Rand Archives, “a new era in the scholarship of Rand’s life and work has begun.”

-Jennifer Burns


Brant Gaede's picture

In the early 1980s Greenspan had a chance to make a real difference with the Social Security commission he headed, but he went along to get along and that attitude defined his subsequent career as head of the Fed where he invariably poured liquidity into the economic fire to deal with problems that should have been resolved differently. That in turn set us up for the horrible economic mess we are now in. Its actually worse than this, but I don't want to pile on more detail. Basically, he took on the job Galt refused under torture--the irony!

Ayn Rand was right, but not about Alan Greenspan


Neil Parille's picture

Wonder about whom is he talking:


he [Greenspan] provided a laudatory dust-jacket blurb for a book attacking Ayn Rand (by a woman he had "irrevocably" condemned in print in 1968). Yet he repeatedly refused to contribute to or lend his name to the Ayn Rand Institute,


Would Binswanger have wanted Greenspan to contribute or lend his name to the ARI?

-Neil Parille

Linz, re Greenspan

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Linz: "Has Greenspan actually come out and blamed Rand?"

Not in so many direct words, but, as Harry says, clearly by implication. The implication has been picked up extensively in reviews and blog posts.

In conceding that his "ideology" was wrong, he was understood to be saying Ayn Rand was wrong--even though he had long ago forgotten or evaded every essential of what Ayn Rand stood for.


The essence of Greenspan's testimony is: "a wrong ideology was to blame, not me." What ideology? Well, in the popular mind it is Ayn Rand's.

So the meaning, which certainly has been seized on by the commentators, is: Greenspan belatedly realized how foolish he has been to believe in Ayn Rand's philosophy. The ideology of freedom, as taught by Ayn Rand to Greenspan, is what caused the current financial catastrophe."

I hadn't read the whole piece by Binswanger before. I'd seen excerpts from it.

On this part I can hear his worked-up voice tones -- this time being deployed to excellent purpose:

How much did he forget? Consider this interview with him from a year ago:

Fox Interviewer: "Now you were a great admirer, in fact an acolyte, of Ayn Rand, the great philosopher, who believed in the absolute most limited role that the government could play in people's lives. She probably wouldn't have been a fan of the Federal Reserve Board, would she?

Greenspan: "Well, uh, I don't know, because we never discussed that in particular."

He doesn't know that Ayn Rand opposed the Fed?! Every Objectivist knows it. The Fox Interviewer knew it. Anyone who can form a syllogism, and who knows Ayn Rand's major premises knew it. But Alan Greenspan doesn't, because, he claims, they never discussed that in particular. Okay, let's imagine that's true; they never discussed that in particular. But did they not discuss in all those years, the principle of individual rights? the proper functions of government? the fact that Atlas Shrugged advocates a gold standard? her famous dictum about the absolute separation of State and Economics? Did he not read the very book he published in--Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal?


Neil Parille's picture

You write:


Heller pretty much accepted Barbara Branden's viewpoint without cavil, and added some touches.


What exactly do you mean?

Although Heller didn't have access to the Rand archives, she did interview many people who knew Rand and also listened to Walker's interviews. There were archives that she consulted.

If Heller agrees with the Barbara Branden description of Rand, I assume it is because she believes Barbara's view is supported by the evidence. I doubt she's taking everything on Barbara's say-so.

Would you say you have done more or fewer interviews of Rand's associates than Heller?

-Neil Parille

Ellen ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Has Greenspan actually come out and blamed Rand?

When I was trying to track down what you might be referring to I came across this. I think everyone knows I'm not a fan of Binswangerism, snot-nosed jerkness on principle, as a modus operandi, but there's no doubt analyses such as this are stirringly on the money:

2 for 2

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Re "Vicious Hit Piece" below:

I disagree with Brant's opinion of the second paragraph, although I think it isn't so much what the Brandens wrote which is the "tragedy" but Heller's follow-up biography, which people are taking as "objective." Heller pretty much accepted Barbara Branden's viewpoint without cavil, and added some touches.

Also tragic at this time is Greenspan's traitorous putting the blame on Rand. Just what everyone who hates the free market wanted to hear and many who don't understand the free market are being misled by.


PS: I'm very much enjoying your posts.

Yeah, Doug!

Brant Gaede's picture

You could have written three paragraphs!

don't worry about people like me--keep on truckin'!

1 for 2...

Doug Bandler's picture

...means I'm batting .500. Things could be worse...


Brant Gaede's picture

You wrote two paragraphs. The first was great; the second horsefeathers.

Do you think this ass Hari has done Rand any harm? Innocents who read his crap go out and buy her books.


Vicious Hit Piece

Doug Bandler's picture

Johann Hari, the writer of the Slate piece, is a 31 year old "secular humanist" style Leftist. His hit piece on Rand has all the usual elements you find in any Leftist commentary on Rand. There is not one shred of intellectuality in it or one actual argument. He assumes the nobility of altruism and the insanity and evil of anyone who rejects it. He takes as gospel the accounts of the Brandens and he paints the picture of an angry, misanthropic woman who hated the world. All this to "prove" her philosophy to be a fraud.

This type of Leftist does make an argument for Robert Kocher's view (see Kocher thread) that Leftists are by definition psychotic. But the real tragedy is that the Branden's have given this type of subhuman filth ammunition to discredit Rand and delay her influence of the culture; and at a time where such influence is desperately needed.

The Babsian/Campbellian/Parillian Chickens ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... come home to roost:

Ayn Rand is one of America's great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that "the masses"—her readers—were "lice" and "parasites" who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is "evil" and selfishness is "the only virtue," she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

Etc., etc. Blah, blah, blah. Disgusting. Make you proud, Ms. Branden? Mr. Branden? Full piece of excrement here:

Hospers v. Nathaniel v. Barbara v. Binswanger

Neil Parille's picture

Jim writes:


All PARC had asked for was some detail on this, so that we could make up our own minds, and, at last, now we have some.

As I recall, Mr. Scherk had latched onto Rand's stated desire to see "intelligent agreement," rather than the "intelligent disagreement" for which she had previous sought, as a demonstration that Rand could tolerate no disagreement whatever. Numerous examples of Rand tolerating disagreement after this, and the context of her statement, seemed irrelevant to the defenders of Ms. Branden's account who appeared to require no specifics. Hospers must've been nothing but a gentleman and a scholar at the event, and Rand simply must've been out-of-head with rage, it was supposed, even if we were not told just what it was that had made her upset. If Mr. Branden's version suggested that Hospers had employed sarcasm of some kind, well, never mind what he actually said, we know Rand was a loose cannon.

Why should we doubt the summary conclusions provided by those who had had their own falling-out with Rand?

Dr. Binswanger's account now provides us with some actual detail. If accurate, Hospers was not merely sarcastic, as it turns out, he was dismissive and unprofessional.

Given his willingness to give such detail, Binswanger's testimony appears superior and more trustworthy on the face of it.

More than this, according to Dr. Binswanger, Rand's response was calm, flatly contradicting what we'd been previously told.


Nathaniel says Hospers used "gentle sarcasm," Hospers says he has no idea what caused Rand to fly off the handle, Barbara says . . .

Just because we have "detail" from Binswanger (a hardcore ARIan if there ever was one), why should we assume that a more detailed or vivid account is more likely to be correct?

-Neil Parille

I'm so furious I could kill a comrade

John Donohue's picture paraphrase what I believe James is saying: "morality ends at the point of a gun." The entire culture was a crime. The criminals were all around, it being a dictatorship of the proletariat. Frankly, I'd want to start swinging a club myself. I'd imagine that in private moments alone Kira would want to kill, if she could just find a way to also kill "it." I'd want blood.

"the existence of her shining bridge"

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Jim: "Should *Kira's* freedom depend on even the starvation or suffering of those "masses," as the Communists are demanding? If that is "forcing" the masses, then so be it, she is saying, the existence of her shining bridge should not have wait to "convince fools." After all, "steel is steel" and "numbers are numbers."

It's really the Rand we know."

The shining bridge was built in Atlas Shrugged. Dagny ran a train over it. She didn't have to wait to "convince fools." She saw the plans. She knew the bridge would hold.

Same Rand.



James S. Valliant's picture

Thank you. You remind me, first of all, that I haven't properly credited Dr. Mayhew here with both his outstanding collection, Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living, or his very helpful essay there. And his basic point is the most important point: our absolute guide here is the context of the story.

And the context the reader is witnessing, page after page, and in vivid, concrete detail, is precisely how Kira and those around her are being "ground under foot" and becoming just "fuel to burned" for others. As she has just said, she is throwing back in Andrei's face his methods, just as we have seen them in the novel deployed against Kira and her family and her friends and Leo.

Her context, with all due respect to Prof. Seddon's position, is one of self-defense, even a statement of simple eye-for-an-eye justice. This crushing of Kira and those like her has all been done for "the masses" and by "the masses" we are told by the Communists in the story, again and again. Kira is saying that if these "masses" are going to gang up and expropriate and enslave and kill those, like her, who just want "to be left alone" to be an engineer and build her bridge, it is better that they suffer the fate of that her people are suffering right now.

This context is inseparable from the meaning of this passage.

And who are these unnamed "masses" who are making life itself impossible for Kira -- just mouths and numbers? Is it a question of democratic numbers or their need? Should Kira's freedom depend on even the starvation or suffering of those "masses," as the Communists are demanding? If that is "forcing" the masses, then so be it, she is saying, the existence of her shining bridge should not have wait to "convince fools." After all, "steel is steel" and "numbers are numbers."

It's really the Rand we know.


Michael Moeller's picture

I am going to join you in an apparent minority here. I fully believe Rand when she stated, in the introduction to The Fountainhead, that she appreciated Nietzsche poetically for his projections of man's greatness, but not intellectually or philosophically. As you point out, her published journals simply do not illustrate the connection with Nietzsche's philosophy.

Furthermore, I think anybody interested in the Nietzschean influence should read Robert Mayhew's essay We the Living; '36 and '59 (Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living, 185) and Shoshana Milgram's essay The Fountainhead from Notebook to Novel: The Composition of Ayn Rand's First Ideal Man (Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, 3). I am not going to recount all of their analysis, but these are must-reads.

In any event, as Mayhew noted, the Nietzschean influence in WTL consists of five passages--five passages--in a 433 page novel. The simple truth, I think, is that Kira would be an entirely different character and there would an entirely different storyline if Rand was trying to capture the Nietzschean Overman.

As Mayhew also rightly noted, and a point Rand distinctly made about interpreting her fiction, one must look at fictional dialogue/passages in the context of the meaning of the story and the plot. With that in mind, here is one of the passages discussed on this thread (Andrei speaking first, then Kira--see Mayhew, 209):

"I know what you're going to say. You're going to say, as so many of our enemies do, that you admire our ideals, but loathe our methods."

"I loathe our ideals. I admire your methods. If one believes one's right, one shouldn't wait to convince millions of fools, one might just as well force them. Except that I don't know, however, whether I'd include blood in my methods."

"Why not? Anyone can sacrifice his own life for an idea. How many know the devotion that makes you capable of sacrificing other lives? Horrible, isn't it?"

"Admirable. If you're right. But--are you right?"

James has already gone over the "blood" issue. But there is another aspect that is perhaps more important. Kira is saying to Andrei: "If you're right". *IF*. It is clear she does not share his ideals, so where does that leave the IF? That IF appears to be a giant hurdle if one wants to claim Kira is advocating Nietzchean ethics when we know she loathes Andrei's ideals. Ergo, her endorsement of the methods would only apply if she accepted the ideals, which she does not.

Here is another passage discussed on this thread (Kira to Andrei):

"You can! You must. When those few are the best. Deny the best its right to the top--and you have no best left. What are your masses but mud to be ground under foot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it? What is the people but millions of puny, shriveled, helpless souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the words of others put into their mildewed brains? And for those you would sacrifice the few who know life, who are life? I loathe your ideals because I know no worse injustice than justice for all. Because men are not born equal and I don't see why one should want to make them equal. And because I loathe them most."

As Mayhew pointed out, this could mean that we should sacrifice the masses for the best, or it could mean that in the Soviet Union where the best are at war with the worst, the best should succeed. Mayhew offered a third alternate interpretation: that Kira is saying IF such a choice is the only choice (and it is in the Soviet Union), then the best should triumph. Mayhew compares this to a similar quote from Rearden in Atlas. And I find this interpretation completely reasonable given the context of totalitarianism with which Kira is dealing, which is the context of the story at that point.

Since the "masses" issue was brought up, it is also important to note that she is talking about the "masses" in Russia. She had respect for the American common man, sure, but this did not change her view of European masses. The latter does not contradict the former, or represent a change in her thought. Just look at the comparison she makes between the European masses and the American common man in her essay "Don't Let It Go" (PWNI, 205).

I think the best explanation for the WTL passages is that Rand's views on the operation of a constitutional republic were not fully developed at the time and/or her writing was not developed enough to fully express these ideas. Ergo, she made clarifications when her ideas/writing were more fully developed. This is certainly not the same as saying her development embraced Nietzsche, and then later rejected it. Instead, she simply clarified her ideas and writing, which made the contrast with Nietzsche all the more apparent.

I find a Nietzschean influence in The Fountainhead even more untenable. In Milgram's essay, she goes through Nietzsche quotes and references in earlier drafts, which were eventually excised from the final, published book. I suggest reading her essay to see what remains of Nietzsche in final version.

One could argue that, at the time of writing TF, Rand saw her distinctions from Nietzsche and "outgrew" them while writing, and therefore did not include them in the final draft. However, I do not think this argument works.

The quotations and references to Nietzsche in early drafts primarily pertain to Nietzsche's reverence for "the noble soul", of "what is possible", and man's potential for greatness. Rand always had this view, this is nothing new. But it does not constitute an endorsement of his ethics. I agree with Milgram that, for Rand to keep the Nietzsche passages, her inclusion might be taken as an endorsement of his philosophy, and therefore she excised them from the text.

This fits perfectly with her later explanation in the revised TF introduction when she reintroduced the "noble soul" quote. In the introduction, she was able to explain why she included the quote (i.e. "a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms), while still considering him "a mystic and an irrationalist". If included in the novel, she obviously could not do provide that explanation without potentially being taken as an endorsement of Nietzsche. That hasn't stopped some individuals from doing it anyway.

Here's another way to look at it. Consider this exchange between Stoddard and Roark:

"'You're a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark--in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.'

'That's true', said Roark."

Should we take this as Rand being religiously influenced? Of course not, we know from her writing that she rejected religion. And we interpret this statement in the context of the Roark's character and the plot. She is simply using the sense of worship and applying it to her own standards, in the same way she uses Nietzsche's poetry about man's potential greatness--adopted to her own standards and philosophy.

I don't see the problem in taking Rand at her word.

super bowl over, time to watch REAL bloodshed

John Donohue's picture

::::: making popcorn, getting settled, DVR is on to watch what comes next :::::


Brant Gaede's picture

I have no testimony about that event. I reviewed the three bios and read Binswanger's account and Burns' Harvard Magazine article and reported on that. I am also sensitive to how people can have different apperceptions and memories and subsequently make conflicting statements about an event in good faith. While Harry's article has verisimilitude Barbara typically doesn't write that way. It's not her style. This has nothing necessarily to do with truth or falsity of hers or anybody's else's account. It has more I think with differences between the masculine and feminine mind. The fact that my mind likes to gloam onto particular facts like a scientist, soldier or airplane pilot is why Harry's account sounds right as far as it goes. Barbara might write something like "The airplane made a smooth landing in bright weather." I'd write "I turned to final, chopped the throttle and dropped 30 degrees of flaps for runway 26 and crabbed to compensate for a 20 knot crosswind." Etc.


Thanks, Mr. Green

James S. Valliant's picture

All PARC had asked for was some detail on this, so that we could make up our own minds, and, at last, now we have some.

As I recall, Mr. Scherk had latched onto Rand's stated desire to see "intelligent agreement," rather than the "intelligent disagreement" for which she had previous sought, as a demonstration that Rand could tolerate no disagreement whatever. Numerous examples of Rand tolerating disagreement after this, and the context of her statement, seemed irrelevant to the defenders of Ms. Branden's account who appeared to require no specifics. Hospers must've been nothing but a gentleman and a scholar at the event, and Rand simply must've been out-of-head with rage, it was supposed, even if we were not told just what it was that had made her upset. If Mr. Branden's version suggested that Hospers had employed sarcasm of some kind, well, never mind what he actually said, we know Rand was a loose cannon.

Why should we doubt the summary conclusions provided by those who had had their own falling-out with Rand?

Dr. Binswanger's account now provides us with some actual detail. If accurate, Hospers was not merely sarcastic, as it turns out, he was dismissive and unprofessional.

Given his willingness to give such detail, Binswanger's testimony appears superior and more trustworthy on the face of it.

More than this, according to Dr. Binswanger, Rand's response was calm, flatly contradicting what we'd been previously told.

Brant ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Both Harry Binswanger and Barbara Branden were at the event. Their respective testimonies directly contradict each other. Binswanger's statement is much more detailed.

I suspect even an unreconstructed Brandroid like you Brant is inclined to believe the Binswanger version, and realises that the Babsian account that has gone unchallenged for decades is, like her claims about Frank's drinking, a crock.

Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

Our exchange has been a delightful experience for me.

And, trust me, I didn't miss a second. Smiling


seddon's picture

Your post is so reasonable that I would feel like I'm quibbling to argue. We have our disagreements but they are overshadowed by our agreements. And to think you posted during the Superbowl. You're a better man than I.



Brant Gaede's picture

Both Harry Binswanger and Barbara Branden were at the event. Their respective testimonies directly contradict each other. Binswanger's statement is much more detailed.

Burns' Harvard Magazine article conveys much more negativity about Ayn Rand than her book respecting this and the ancillary subjects. I don't remember if in her bio. she describes Rand as a "hack Hollywood writer" but if she did it wasn't as bad as putting it into the article because there it directly denigrates her other writing by implication without the buffer of thousands of words on other subjects. Rand was NOT a "hack" writer. That implies someone turning out cheap screenplays on order. She dealt with that question in her short story "The Simplest Thing In the World." She was psychologically incapable of "hack" writing. That's why she went nuts over what Al Woods did to her play "Penthouse Legend."


Hospers Betrayal

Dr. Binswanger has related his first hand account of the Hospers story on his subscription email list. He denies that there was any lashing out from the podium the day Hospers threw Rand under the bus.

Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

No, sir, shame on me if I have implied that there was "not much" development in Rand's thought over the period between the two editions. There was a huge development. But I still see no contradiction.

"Force" is no clearer for Rand at this stage than "sacrifice." Indeed, Rand herself would later add the modifier "physical" to force in order to specify precisely what she meant in her "initiation of force" principle.

Someone reading Atlas once complained to me that he thought that "allowing" Dagny and Hank to build a bridge that might not be in the "public interest" would be to "force" everyone to accept something they may not have "wanted." Early on, Rand herself seems to have been in this state of equivocal understanding about the meaning of "force." It is very clear to me that Rand never thought that democracy should be able to limit the freedom of the "best."

So, and once more, this passage may not imply physical force at all, merely "forcing" them to allow the "best" to operate, "forcing" even the democratic voice of the "many" into its corner.

Indeed, this is what she may have meant by her reluctance to use "blood," that is, this kind of "force" but without violence.

You say, "She then extends that to mean that one shouldn’t wait to convince the masses (i.e., use reason or persuasion), but should use force."

Indeed, I should not have to "persuade" anyone before acting as I think best, should I? Dagny should not have to "convince fools" before she can build the John Galt Line. And not waiting does NOT mean the use of any violence whatever yet. In this sense, we should be able to "force" everyone else -- including those "fools" -- to accept it.

So, this use of "force" does not seem to conflict with Rand's later views, either, and it does not imply an initiation of physical force yet. And this interpretation makes far more sense to me than drawing weird distinctions between "puncturing the skin" or not -- strangulation permitted, but not stabbing, or something.

That FN himself has some kind of issue with Borgia is clear, as I said, but it is still not clear what his "qualms" involved, or if they involved our "qualms" about his violence. This was the context of our discussion of Rand and FN. Hope this clears up what I meant.

Now, I must get back to the Superbowl. Smiling


seddon's picture

“We cannot simply import her later understanding of what "sacrifice" means at this early stage, any more than we can the rest. I suggested this possibility before, but you have not yet addressed it.”

I’m confused. I thought your position was that there is not much development between the early and late Rand. If I misunderstood, shame on me. So I agree with what you say here about “sacrifice.” It has a much less sophisticated meaning than what we read in ATLAS. It cannot mean the giving up a of higher value for a lesser or non-value since the masses mean MUCH less to Kira than the best.

“("Maybe yes" is grossly misleading.)”

Maybe for you, but when I say, “I don’t know . . . ” then I mean, “maybe yes, maybe no.” But I did not say it meant only “maybe yes.” I said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” In other words, “I don’t know one way or the other.” But putting that aside, let us see if we agree on Kira’s definitive statements. She admires Andrei’s methods. She then extends that to mean that one shouldn’t wait to convince the masses (i.e., use reason or persuasion), but should use force.

“As for having "spelled out" what this line means, you have conceded just the opposite already. If we may never know her meaning for this qualification, then we must also concede that we cannot be certain of what her admiration for his "methods" entailed, either, for she has pulled back from those methods to this undefined extent.”

It could also mean that there is a core of certainty, (she admires his methods) which she both knows and admires. The core is surrounded by a penumbra of uncertainty vis-à-vis the blood.

“There is, in short, no assertion of a willingness to initiate force to be found here, at all.”

At all. Then how do you read her line, “one might just as well FORCE them.” Since some kinds of force lead to bloodshed, her qualification makes sense, she is unsure about the blood.

“Whether any force she suggests using is only force to be used in self-defense is further complicated by this context.”

Not clear since she says, “one shouldn’t wait to convince etc.” This is hardly a case of self-defense.

“Whether any force she suggests using is only force to be used in self-defense is further complicated by this context.”

But no blood, so on your criterion the force is surely not terrible.

RE: FN. “That "even" is pretty thin, too.”

But that is all I need to refute your original assertion. You wrote, “Nietzsche had no moral qualms about the conduct of those dubious figures from history.” That a very strong statement (a universal negative) and its refutation does not need to be very strong, in fact, a single counterexample is enough. In the passage cited, he is comparing two evils and saying that Parsifal is worse. That is hardly having “no moral qualms.”


Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

Well, let's start with where I think we agree at this point.

1. As I have said, Rand does not yet have her "initiation of force" principle worked out in '36;
2. She has not defined her reciprocal ban on "sacrifice" yet, either.

And, of course, these two issues are closely related in her later thought.

But what on earth does Kira mean by "sacrifice"? She may simply mean that one cannot use even the starvation of the masses as an excuse to shackle or expropriate from the "best." If "sacrificing" the many can include this, i.e., merely allowing them to suffer or die, then an initiation of force is still not suggested. There is, outside of Rand's ideas, very much the notion of passively sacrificing one thing to another. We cannot simply import her later understanding of what "sacrifice" means at this early stage, any more than we can the rest.

I suggested this possibility before, but you have not yet addressed it.

Also, and more importantly, you have left ambiguous the actual implications of "I don't know whether I would..." by vaguely substituting "maybe yes, maybe no." It definitely does not mean, "Yes, under certain circumstances, I would, but under others I would not," for this would imply a certainty or definiteness that is precisely lacking here. At most, it means "maybe" only in the broadest sense of "I do not know if I would ever do that or not." ("Maybe yes" is grossly misleading.)

And, in common English usage, it can also mean, "No, I do not think that I would."

Again, it seems to me that you have not addressed this previous point of mine squarely, either.

As for having "spelled out" what this line means, you have conceded just the opposite already. If we may never know her meaning for this qualification, then we must also concede that we cannot be certain of what her admiration for his "methods" entailed, either, for she has pulled back from those methods to this undefined extent.

Frankly, drawing distinctions like "breaking skin" seems to me to be the most unlikely meaning of all -- once, again, as I have previously indicated. There is no reason whatever to suppose that either Rand or Kira had some definite and certain bright line of this sort. As I have repeatedly indicated, certainty or definiteness is precisely what I think she is saying she does not have on this issue, yet.

There is, in short, no assertion of a willingness to initiate force to be found here, at all.

It is in this sense that Rand's views seem not to have significantly changed, only grown more detailed, precise and specific. Earlier notes from Rand do show -- with clarity and certainty -- that Rand held Hickman to have been a "monster." Other evidence, far stronger than anything from these ambiguous passages from WTL, show that Rand supported a liberal politics of limited democracy, even as a teen.

I might also add that Kira had already been a victim of terrible force when this is said, and, under these circumstances, her reluctance is actually a remarkable statement of character. Whether any force she suggests using is only force to be used in self-defense is further complicated by this context.

Now, as for Nietzsche, is that really the best we have? Yes, he is saying, in effect, "give me a Borgia before any of your standard storybook Christian heroes." So, it's like saying, "I would rather have unscrupulous violence..."

That "even" is pretty thin, too. In what way does Borgia deserve criticism, according to Nietzsche? Can we assume anything about this implying commonly held values -- from the man who called for the complete "transvaluation" of all values?

Sheesh, I'd take something like, "I don't know whether I'd include blood in my methods" as a dramatic improvement in FN's thought. That is, if he had ever said that much.


seddon's picture

“you would indeed have to spell out what Kira's reluctance to use blood actually meant, for it conditions her approval of his methods.”

Maybe I was being a little too literal, but I have done the spelling out in a previous post. As long as you don't break skin, you can force the masses anyway you like. The internment of the Japanese during the 2nd world war is an example. One could deny them liberty and the pursuit of happiness (esp. if that happiness entails the destroying of the best, the creators), but let them live. And remember when she says, “I don’t know, however, whether I would include blood in my methods,” one can take that as “maybe yes; maybe no.” She seems to be sure that one must “sacrifice” the many to the few. She says, “You can. You must.” Compare this to Galt’s slogan and we see a huge change in her opinion about the necessity of sacrifice in life.

Here is where I stand on Rand’s development. It concerns two issues. (1) She came to realize the evil of force initiation and (2) she came to see that life does not require any sacrifice, neither of self to others or others to self. I’m not as convinced about the determinism issue, but in the ’59 edition she did remove expressions like, “born to rule,” “born to live.”

“It's simply that we must assume Nietzsche had no moral qualms about the conduct of those dubious figures from history for whom he expressed affection…”

But he did. Take Cesare Borgia as an example. He writes in ECCE HOMO, “Those to whom I said in confidence that they should sooner look even for a Cesare Borgia than for a Parisfal, did not believe their ears.”

I read the “even for” as evidence that he considers Borgia pretty bad but not nearly as bad as a Christian mystic.


Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

It's simply that we must assume Nietzsche had no moral qualms about the conduct of those dubious figures from history for whom he expressed affection -- that is, absent something like Rand's stated disapproval of Hickman, despite her own literary use of him.

Perhaps I was unclear. That Rand never approved of murderers is shown from her earliest notes at age 23. I do recognize that Rand's ideas on the subject of force have not been fully worked out yet. And Kira, indeed, may be saying that there could be a "good cause" to use force (which even the later Rand believed) without yet being able to spell out what, precisely, constitutes such a "cause." However, this is not the same as knowing that she positively approved of initiating force at this point, yet, either. For this, we still have no adequate evidence from the passage you cite from the '36 WTL.

Since you recognize that we may never know for sure what Kira's assertion of reluctance to "use blood" means, we also, then, cannot know exactly what her approval of Andrei's "methods" would have entailed, either. Therefore, the claim that Rand's views underwent any significant or practical change (other than the development of greater precision) simply cannot be shown from this passage.

Your final claim is therefore not shown, either. There is no apparent "contradiction" yet at all. For this, you would indeed have to spell out what Kira's reluctance to use blood actually meant, for it conditions her approval of his methods.


seddon's picture

“Oh, but for a single acknowledgement of this kind from Nietzsche!”

I’m not clear what you want here. Could you elaborate? Thanks.

“In fact, however, there is considerable mention throughout the novel of what the Communists were actually doing in Russia, and this, surely, must shape our understanding of the passage in question.”

Yes, but if Mayhew is right (a fact you dispute, I know) and Rand had not yet identified the evil of force initiation then what makes what the Commies were doing evil is their goal, a life dedicated to the state. Kira seems to find admirable the initiation of physical force FOR A GOOD CAUSE.

“she still expresses reluctance about using "blood" among those "methods." I have not yet heard an adequate explanation for this qualification.”

It may be the simple one that we are dealing with a young woman here who hasn’t thought things through, or maybe, as a woman, she is a bit squeamish about blood. Or it may be another way of distinguishing her position from Andrei’s harder one. Remember he is a soldier and has killed (many) men. She is still a college student and has not killed anyone. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

“However, I am convinced that even at this stage Rand did not approve of murderers and other violent criminals.”

Bu if we assume that murderers and other violent criminals do not have a good cause to justify their methods, then Rand could certainly hold both positions, she condemns murderers and other violent criminals while still allowing for the initiation of physical force in a good cause.


Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

In fact, however, there is considerable mention throughout the novel of what the Communists were actually doing in Russia, and this, surely, must shape our understanding of the passage in question. And whatever you say about Kira's instant focus (which I still maintain was the paradoxical reversal of standard expectations), she still expresses reluctance about using "blood" among those "methods." I have not yet heard an adequate explanation for this qualification. From this alone we can surely detect a concern, at some level, with the use of violent "methods."

And the notes for The Little Street, the earlier project you mention, actually show this concern in Rand, as well, and her use of the unsavory Hickman is noticeably different from FN's use of such characters.

First, The Little Street was to be a prolonged complaint about society's reaction to the criminal's attitude, and certainly not a defense of his criminal acts, as Rand originally conceived the story. The work was never written, but her notes nonetheless make this clear:

"And when we look at the other side of it–there was a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy turned into a purposeless monster." (Journals, pp. 37-38) She later repeats: "Yes, he is a monster–now. But the worse he is, the worst must be the cause that drove him to this." (Journals, p. 38)

Oh, but for a single acknowledgement of this kind from Nietzsche! In any case, Rand does not actually approve of his conduct, even then. (Burns compares her literary use of criminals to that of Truman Capote and other, later writers.)

I am not sure that I completely agree with Dr. Mayhew about this. No, Rand sure does not have her doctrine of individual rights yet, and she was probably unclear at this stage about the exact ethics of physical force. However, I am convinced that even at this stage Rand did not approve of murderers and other violent criminals.

[edit.: What's of more interest, to me at least, in the above quotation is Rand's suggestion (and it is just as suggestion) of determinism, viz. "... that drove him to this." But her notes show that by 1934 Rand had begun to self-consciously defend free will.]

There are noticeable changes in the published version of the journals from the originals, and this does limit their value (in some instances) to us as historians. Most commonly, as Burns says, it is the smoothing of her sometimes jarring use of English in these early notes that most stands out as different. On occasion, a change of potential philosophical significance is made. However, Burns's quotations, and mine here, do employ Rand's original language. It is to be hoped that one day a concordance of Rand's whole original work will make that language available to everyone.


seddon's picture

“And, yet, of course, the whole novel is powerful and bitter attack on what the Soviets were DOING.”

And yet in the very passage we are considering she has a longish paragraph in which she names the evil Andrei represents, to wit, “You claim that man must live for the state.” No mention of what they are doing, she is focused, like a good Aristotelian on the goal, not the method of communism, that man must live for the state. His methods are just means to an end. She even says that his methods are admirable, “If you are right.” It is not the methods per se that are wrong, but the goal or purpose they are designed to achieve.

“Doesn't all of this contradict any desire on her part for a political "method" of raw force?”

All of those items you cite in this paragraph have to do with ends or goals, or to keep to the language of WTL, “ideals.” Her ideal could easily have been those you state and yet she found something “admirable” in Andrei’s methods. If Mayhew is right and she hadn’t yet identified “the evil of the initiation of physical force,” (209) then her statements make sense.

“She may have simply overdone it in her youthful zeal and inexperience.”

Yes, and not only that. For me and from a purely literary point of view, the ’36 “reads” better. Besides she must have found it wrong given the considerable changes she makes in the ’59. So I agree with your suggestion, “Could it be that Rand's very literary style got in the way of her normal clarity here?”

“But even if there were some that she destroyed or simply lost, the notes that we do possess cannot be ignored or brushed aside.”

My fault, I wasn’t clear about my meaning. I was wondering how heavy was the editorial hand in these notes.

“All of the evidence that we do possess must be integrated into our final analysis.”

Agreed, provided we aren’t confronting contradictions, which, of course, cannot be integrated.

One more note. A few posts back you asked about FN’s citing of less than savory characters as “heroes.” I just recalled Burns’ sentence about Rand finding “criminality an irresistible metaphor for individualism.” (28) I have in mind, not the more familiar characters in NIGHT OF JANURARY 16TH, but William Hickman, “the teen murderer who mutilated his victim and boasted manically of his deed when caught” (24) She patterned the main character of THE LITTLE STREET after him.


Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

Well, that's the question, isn't it? If the interpretation of that passage that you have just suggested is correct, then, indeed, how could she have written it in light of what we now know to have been her actual views at the time?

Let me suggest that, while these notes indicate an early Nietzschean influence, or, at least, focus, Rand's explicit ideas are much more clearly indicated in those notes than by the passage in question from the 1st ed. of WTL.

So, for a minute, let's try the alternative hypothesis out for size.

While Kira is admiring of his "methods," to what aspect of these "methods" is she stating her approval? If they are simply coextensive, then she wouldn't have been much of anti-Communist at the time, either, would she? And, yet, of course, the whole novel is powerfui and bitter attack on what the Soviets were DOING.

And, in pulling back on the use of "blood," what, precisely, was Kira expressing reluctance about among those "methods"?

Is she merely saying that she opposes straight democracy, i.e., that one shouldn't have to "wait" to convince a "million fools"? That, too, is an essential part of the original context.

The most powerful evidence we possess shows that Rand favored liberal democracy both at the time of WTL -- and BEFORE. It isn't just the notes for which we must account, but the testimony of Miss. Nabokov that Rand was arguing for democracy in her teens, the credible evidence from Rand herself that she supported Kerensky, and the evidence from her contemporary correspondence in which she explicitly favors democracy, as well. How are we to reconcile all of this evidence with your interpretation of that passage? Doesn't all of this contradict any desire on her part for a political "method" of raw force?

I think so.

On the other hand, like Paterson, Rand was never keen on pure democracy. We know that as a mature thinker Rand held democratically instituted laws which violate individual rights to be repugnant. In this sense, Hank and Dagny should not have to "wait to convince a million fools" about the value (or even safety) of the John Galt Line, either, as she makes clear in that context.

So, are you able to show -- and at this point, I think, you have the laboring oar -- that this passage is something more than simply an expression of contempt at the notion that "the best" should have to "convince fools" before having the freedom to act on their own judgment? Kira doesn't want to lie, and, we are told, this is why she wants to be an engineer. Since, "steel is steel" and "numbers are numbers," she won't have to wait to "convince a million fools," either.

We must keep in mind that Rand used apparent paradox as a powerful literary tool throughout her career. The productive industrialist has become a decadent playboy in Atlas, and Dagny, as the ads for the book also stressed, must fight her toughest battle against the man she loves. Galt even instructs his torturers on how to fix the machine that is torturing him! Dominique seeks to destroy Roark's career -- precisely because she loves him and admires his work. Etc., etc., etc.

With the "methods" vs, "ideals" statement, she was inverting the normal criticism of Communism: "Oh, it's nobel in theory, but it just doesn't work in practice." What she wanted to stress was her rejection of that approach, that if it is bad, it is bad because of its "ideals" not in spite of them. She may have simply overdone it in her youthful zeal and inexperience.

Could it be that Rand's very literary style got in the way of her normal clarity here? (Ronald Merrill suggested something similar.)

Yes, Kira not only surprises Andrei, she surprises the READER in stating her (qualified) admiration for his methods. Rand was being her usual paradoxically inclined self even then -- but, at this early stage, her tool box is just not fully developed. Why else would she have pulled back from what would have been a perfectly symmetrical paradox of admiring the methods but hating the ideals by injecting a reluctance to use "blood" among those methods? She must have meant something very real here or she would not have ruined a perfect literary paradox in the process.

No, I am confident that Rand was NOT advocating totalitarian methods in this passage.

You ask, do we have all of her notes? This will never be able to be shown, of course, but we do have Rand's very first notes (she tells us in the notes themselves that they are her very first), and, then, we have her musings in a pretty regular sequence thereafter, given the dates. She also clearly took some effort to preserve her notes. (And as one who has had access to those notes, like Prof. Burns, I feel some responsibility here to speak out.)

But even if there were some that she destroyed or simply lost, the notes that we do possess cannot be ignored or brushed aside.

All of the evidence that we do possess must be integrated into our final analysis.


seddon's picture

“Her earliest notes seem to be a challenge to that very section.”

You bring up a very interesting point. How could she have written the passage under question in the ’36 WTL given the content of her “earliest notes.” Do you know if we have ALL of her notes from this period? I don’t know.

Your quotation from PARC may be the answer, or at least part of the answer.

“Aren't the rights of "the few" being unjustly violated in WTL, just as they are in Atlas?”

Yes, but I don’t think that is the context of Andrei’s question. He brings up the dichotomy between “ideals” and “methods” and it’s to that question that she surprises him by saying, “I admire you methods.” She also says that is it admirable to be willing to sacrifice “other lives.” NB. In celebrating Rand’s birthday today I was listening to a CD of ATLAS and Eugene Lawson says almost the exact same thing! Now that would represent quite a change.


Force and Numbers

James S. Valliant's picture

Let me be clear, Prof. Seddon: it was the "generalization" section from Nietzsche that I just quoted which has no analogue in Rand, not the early version of WTL's attitude toward the "masses," which obviously does. At least, I can see none in WTL or elsewhere. Her earliest notes seem to be a challenge to that very section.

However, it is still not apparent exactly under what circumstances Kira was suggesting that "millions" be "forced" or "squashed," is it? Permit me to quote from PARC, with a bracketed addition for our context:

"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" [or "squashed"] 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." (PARC, p. 44)

Aren't the rights of "the few" being unjustly violated in WTL, just as they are in Atlas? Isn't Rand asking: do numbers matter here? Or, does right?


seddon's picture

Thanks for the telling me the source of "the Aristotelianism of morals." I haven’t taught BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL for years now and had forgotten that FN was the source of that phrase. And Rand would agree with FN on this.

“At no point in her career did Rand ever sound remotely like Nietzsche does in the above context.”

But I differ with you here. FN is against generalization in ethics because of his master/slave idea but in WTL ’36 Rand does seem to distinguish the “best” from the “masses” that should be “squashed.” We find none of that in ATLAS where her ethics is designed to apply to all without distinction. All men must think; all men must produce etc.


The Mob v. the Individual

James S. Valliant's picture

Well, now ya got me, Linz.

I admit it: like Rand, I am terrified of the masses qua mob, as anyone with the sense of goat should be terrified of the herding behavior of humanity sans intellect, an attribute of the individual. When the mind stops working, one of the easiest and most enduring of substitutes is following.

As some permanent institution, no, there is no "mob," but, under the right conditions of evasion, it springs to life like mindless lichen at a single drop of water.

No, she had it sorted out to my satisfaction. Galt spoke to the masses, but sounded like he was addressing a single mind.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I probably know even less about Mr. Ra than you. But yeah, he's from Saturn, as Philip points out. Or is it Uranus? I came across him when reading up on Campbell. Went to YouTube and played the first Sun Ra I saw. Beyond hideous. A perfect match.

For a full understanding of

PhilipD's picture

For a full understanding of Sun Ra one must visit Saturn and talk to the aliens who had 'one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye.' These aliens profoundly influenced Sun Ra. And Campbell, too.

Sun Ra

Chris Cathcart's picture

Linz, I only know a bit about Sun Ra - that he's a free jazz artist. (As Ayn Rand might say, free jazz is lower than a free lunch.) Is it your view that jazz is an Objectively Incorrect genre of music, or only certain sub-genres of jazz? Is Coltrane's A Love Supreme, for instance, not a good expression of awe and reverence in its own way? Or maybe Mingus's Let My Children Hear Music? Meanwhile, I think I'd need to be in some kind of chemically-altered state to "get" Coltrane's Ascension. My review of that on this page:

Actually James

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm still of the view that the issue was not Nietzsche, whom she did indeed get over, but Nietzscheanism, which she didn't so readily, in the sense of her attitude towards "the mob." In the unedited WTL that attitude is Nietzschean for sure. Ditto, mutedly, The Fountainhead. All that stuff about "the mob." (But at least she emptied Cortlandt before dynamiting it.) And in Atlas with its "looters and moochers." Contrast this with her views stated elsewhere, including in "Don't Let it Go," that "the mob" in fact would be America's salvation, as opposed to the intellectuals. This, to the credit of her perspicacity, is a recurring theme in Burns. Ayn worshipped the "common man" but despised "the mob." And never quite sorted that out. Not an issue of good faith, just unfinished business. I think the truth is there's no monolithic "mob," but Airhead America is unfortunately very real ... and the worst contemporary "mob" are those who profess to be "intellectuals"—see Goode on that other thread, or the likes of Campbell. Mallory's "drooling beast" ... only way more graphic than Rand painted it.

Goode and Slayer, Campbell and Sun Ra ... do you believe, James, these are coincidences? And if not, isn't it time Objectivists rooted for Romantic music as objectively the best, even if Ayn, for specious reasons, couldn't bring herself to do so?

Yes, this is my hobby horse. There's a reason for that. Music is where it all comes together (or not). It's the moozik, stoopid!

And the orthodoxy are Neville Chamberlains on this matter.

Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

I honestly think that it is a stretch to believe that Kira was parsing levels of violence here, Prof. Seddon. Strangulation and poison versus stabbing or shooting? Or, prison versus a death sentence, when one omnipresent message of WTL is that a giant prison only means a prolonged death? No, she must have meant something else altogether, I think.

And, let's hear from FN himself about this, shall we? This is Beyond Good and Evil, "Part Five: On the Natural History of Morals":


"The old theological problem of `faith' and `knowledge' ‑ or, more clearly, of instinct and reason ‑ that is to say, the question whether in regard to the evaluation of things instinct deserves to have more authority than rationality, which wants to evaluate and act according to reasons, according to a `why?', that is to say according to utility and fitness for a purpose ‑ this is still that old moral problem which first appeared in the person of Socrates and was already dividing the minds of men long before Christianity. Socrates himself, to be sure, had, with the taste appropriate to his talent ‑ that of a superior dialectician ‑ initially taken the side of reason; and what indeed did he do all his life long but laugh at the clumsy incapacity of his noble Athenians, who were men of instinct, like all noble men, and were never able to supply adequate information about the reasons for their actions? Ultimately, however, in silence and secrecy, he laughed at himself too: he found in himself, before his more refined conscience and self‑interrogation, the same difficulty and incapacity. But why, he exhorted himself, should one therefore abandon the instincts! One must help both them and reason to receive their due. One must follow the instincts, but persuade reason to aid them with good arguments. ...



"All these moralities which address themselves to the individual person, for the promotion of his `happiness' as they say, what are they but prescriptions for behaviour in relation to the degree of perilousness in which the individual person lives with himself; recipes to counter his passions, his good and bad inclinations in so far as they have will to power in them and would like to play the tyrant; great and little artifices and acts of prudence to which there clings the nook‑and‑cranny odour of ancient household remedies and old‑woman wisdom; one and all baroque and unreasonable in form ‑ because they address themselves to `all', because they generalize where generalization is impermissible ‑ speaking unconditionally one and all, taking themselves for unconditional, flavoured with more than one grain of salt, indeed tolerable only, and occasionally even tempting, when they learn to smell overspiced and dangerous, to smell above all of `the other world': all this is, from an intellectual point of view, of little value and far from constituting `science', not to speak of `wisdom', but rather, to say it again and to say it thrice, prudence, prudence, prudence, mingled with stupidity, stupidity, stupidity ‑ whether it be that indifference and statuesque coldness towards the passionate folly of the emotions which the Stoics advised and applied; or that no‑more‑laughing and no‑more‑weeping of Spinoza, that destruction of the emotions through analysis and vivisection which he advocated so naively; or that depression of the emotions to a harmless mean at which they may be satisfied, the Aristotelianism of morals; even morality as enjoyment of the emotions in a deliberate thinning down and spiritualization through the symbolism of art, as music for instance, or as love of God or love of man for the sake of God ‑ for in religion the passions again acquire civic rights, assuming that . . ."

I think that he is denying that ethical generalization is either possible or desirable, and that laying down rules is in itself inconsistent with the expression of the Will to Power and represents an unnatural suppression of instinct. (Kaufmann has suggested that Aristotle was more of an influence than FN let on, but this is more typical of him.)

More importantly, I think that Rand saw this as a rejection of reason by FN very early on in her career. Yes, Rand rejected "the mean" as an ethical principle, and, yes, she, too, thought that risk-taking could be life-enhancing. However, she also believed that ethical "generalization" aimed at the individual's "happiness" and safety was not ill conceived.

I cannot resist some repetition here. Rand, bouncing off of FN, asked herself at age 29: "Is a history of ethics necessary? I believe only a system of ethics is necessary." (Journals, p. 69) This was on the same date that she rejected an argument for determinism, but when she also asked, "Isn't man the next step?" And this was written about a month after she had written, "Are instincts and emotions necessarily beyond the control of plain thinking?" (p. 68) And all before WTL was first published.

At no point in her career did Rand ever sound remotely like Nietzsche does in the above context.

Even that early on, FN was a negative springboard for Rand.

[Heavily edited as I accidentally hit "post" too soon. The bold emphasis is mine.]


seddon's picture

“What, exactly, are you claiming that Rand was saying in WTL? That the "masses" should be "squashed," only without the spilling of "blood"? How would that have worked?”

I suppose it might mean something like sending them to Siberia. And I don’t think waterboarding involves blood. Or more Rand related, think of how Toohey describes to Keating what is going to happen to Roark when he is found guilty of blowing up Cortland Homes.

Second, I have a purely informational question for you. Several times you have used the expression "the Aristotelianism of morals." What does it mean and where does I come from?



Thank You

James S. Valliant's picture

Not meaning to stop anything, I still gotta give a shout out to the participants in this discussion on both threads: thank you for making this such a terrific exchange of serious ideas and information, especially those who seem to have "signed in" specifically for this discussion!

John: How can a philosopher

Chris Cathcart's picture


How can a philosopher who believes in the existence of the Noumenal Realm, which is not in nature (supernatural, since it is somehow know with utter certainty that it cannot be detected, identified or known by the man's natural senses), nor if wisps of it arise in the human mind can the source of the awareness have come from existence/objective reality but rather from a transcendental process, and not only that but believes the noumenal is the True Reality and the phenomenal world is but an echo of Reality, be called "totally secularized?"

I think the answer is that while he believes in this non-natural realm and that this realm can in principle influence the natural one, he doesn't make any pretensions to being able to say anything about this realm as a philosopher using reason. Reason is limited in what it can know, to the sensible realm. So the answer, in brief, is: As far as he has anything of substance to say, it's by reference to the sensible/natural realm - whereas Christianity has all kinds of substantive things to say about this other realm and how it influences this one. I think he is left saying only that there is more to reality than what we sense, but says nothing about what it might be. From what I can tell, Kant is just fundamentally ambiguous about this "thing-in-itself," and he pretty much has to be given the conditions he places upon human knowledge. On what basis could he even say that there is some "underlying reality" that is any different in character than the world of sense? He can't. He can only say that for all we know, the world of sense is the ultimate reality. But for all we know, it isn't, either. This is how it seems he can say that the sensible world obeys natural laws but that we can think of free causation impacting the sensible world. Thinking it, but not knowing it. (That is the source of the term "noumenon" - it's something purely intellectual in nature, without sensible content.) Which is why he is left only having faith in it.

I'm just very curious as to how he ends up saying that the sensible world is all natural regularity, and yet free causation, if there is such, means it is not all natural regularity but that non-natural intervention can upset that regularity. When he does that, it looks like he's saying that if there is free will, this natural realm would indeed require a different character than the sensible one.

What's weird about this, to me, is the claim that the sensible world has this "natural-law regularity" that we need to posit a non-sensible underlying thing-in-itself in order to have free will. The weird and wrong thing about this is that the claim that the sensible world has this iron regularity is false: we don't observe that kind of regularity when it comes to humans. So why not treat free will as a sort of natural causation? That way, we don't have to do the metaphysically suspect thing of positing some realm beyond sense. But Kant kind of backs himself into that position by saying that the world of sense is not the object-as-such but rather the object-as-constructed using the formal characteristics of our sensibility (the forms of intuition of space and time) and of our conceptuality (the Categories). He pretty much has to do this, however, to give the answer to Hume that he does: In order for there to be necessity in experience, something has to be supplied by us, the thinking subject. But that necessarily cuts us off from the object-as-such.

There's a good reason this generates lots of confusion and all kinds of "charitable" interpretations to try to make sense of him (the German Idealists like Hegel simply said that his appearance/thing-in-itself distinction is untenable and there's no way to get past it except by embracing Idealism - that subject and object themselves are a unity). It's because Kant is in a real metaphysical pickle and I don't see a way out. I just see increasingly creative ways to purportedly square a circle.

More on this whole matter from something I wrote approx. 3 months ago:

Sliding past one another. I

John Donohue's picture

Sliding past one another. I don't care where he went to church.

I'll rephrase:

How can a philosopher who believes in the existence of the Noumenal Realm, which is not in nature (supernatural, since it is somehow know with utter certainty that it cannot be detected, identified or known by the man's natural senses), nor if wisps of it arise in the human mind can the source of the awareness have come from existence/objective reality but rather from a transcendental process, and not only that but believes the noumenal is the True Reality and the phenomenal world is but an echo of Reality, be called "totally secularized?"


Chris Cathcart's picture

I said that as a philosopher, Kant was thoroughly secularized. Beyond that, I don't know what his own religious beliefs might have been. I do know that later on in life he wrote a book called Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone and it is only within the limits of reason that he was going to talk on matters of religion (as a philosopher). He might well have believed in some supernatural realm, but he was quite explicit in his insistence that there is nothing that could be known about anything beyond the world of experience or nature. One thing that might be interesting to look into is whether he thought that one could be justified in having a faith in God and immortality. "Justification" and "faith" are notions fundamentally at odds in epistemology, but I believe he did speak of having a kind of faith justified practically (with God as some kind of "regulatory ideal" governing our practical/moral deliberations - i.e., what are the sorts of things that God would will as the good given that God is by definition perfectly benevolent [good-willing]). Beyond all that I really couldn't speak to matters of detail. I have a lot of catching up on the literature to do.

How can a philosopher who

John Donohue's picture

How can a philosopher who believes real reality exists in a supernatural realm be called "totally secularized."

Ways in which Kant is better than Christianity

Chris Cathcart's picture

There are a couple respects in which Kant himself rejected traditional Christianity. Well, I don't know what Kant's religious beliefs were, exactly. But Kant-the-philosopher was totally secularized, so much so to the point of basically tossing out metaphysics as rationalistic speculation. He's left with treating God as a "regulatory ideal" but not something we take by reason to actually exist. A couple good things:

(1) No basis for Original Sin. Kant actually takes "free will" to mean what it is supposed to mean with respect to this issue. As Rand said in one of her letters to Pat, it makes as much sense to speak of Original Virtue as it does to speak of Original Sin. In this respect, Rand and Kant would seem to be in agreement.

(2) Reason, and not Divine Command, is the fundamental basis of moral obligation. We see, in reason, the grounds for acting this way or that, not because "God said so." The more contentious matter is whether Kant divorced any concept of a reward from acting morally. The traditional Divine Command theory, as understood in the popular consciousness, says that God will reward us with eternal bliss if we act morally in this life, and that we know what acting morally is because of what God commands in some text. (And God would know better than we do, since we are weak and fallible and our minds unreliable.) You take God and eternal reward out of the picture, and Kant still says that we are able to determine what is morally right. Morality takes on its own authority in that sense. Where the contentiousness comes in is the issue of reward per se. Does Kant say that we shall do our duty irrespective of any reward we might expect? I think Kant would say that this is to ask the wrong question. The right question to ask is, in what way is acting according to the dictates of reason its own reward? But the question answers itself: in seeking an answer to that question, we are asking for justification, which presupposes that we already pursue and practice reason as a core value in our lives. That is to say, that by acting as reason would dictate, we are acting in the way our nature would demand if we are to be genuinely happy. All of a sudden there is a dovetailing here with eudaemonism. (I have seen Nietzsche referred to as a kind of Eudaemonist. In what sense might he be? I'm gonna have to read up on David Norton's Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism....) The groundings are different - an Aristotelian/Randian naturalist life-based grounding is markedly different from a Kantian formalist-universalist/anti-empiricist one - but the conclusions end up being markedly similar, both holding that our own reason is the source of obligation and that virtue and happiness dovetail closely. Oh - and that man is an end in himself. Eye


James S. Valliant's picture

I agree that her use of Aristotle becomes increasingly pronounced over time, and with Burns that her interest in him appears to have shot up at the same time as her discussions with Paterson took place, but I believe that, once more, I have adduced sufficient evidence to confirm Rand's self-description. It really appears to have been FN's apparent rejection of reason that rankled her even by the time of her first work, when an Aristotelian influence on her methodology can already be seen. But her focus does, indeed, seem to have been much more on Nietzsche at the start. (And on Hugo.) No question.

So, your suggested diagram of the perceived "historical progression" to which Rand was reacting seems correct to me.

[edit.: Rand says directly in the 1958 "Introduction" to We the Living that "[i]t was not until Atlas Shrugged that I reached the full answer" to the "question" she had raised in WTL. Apart from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand did most of her philosophical thinking in the very process of writing her novels.]


James S. Valliant's picture

You ask:

"Is it fair to say that they were just very flawed formulations from someone still developing as a thinker? I think the answer is a resounding Yes."

I think so, too, absolutely. Very well put. And while Rand was clearly already an advocate of liberal democracy at this stage of her career, I am not willing to call her a clear advocate of individual rights, or, as you put it, a "full libertarian" of any kind, yet.

But, I also think that you've just conceded that the "philosophical significance" of the cut passages was really in their philosophical ambiguity, in light of Rand's views, even at the time. What Rand is claimed to have been "coy" or dishonest about is that a fundamental change in her ideas over this period had taken place. She said that the cut passages were "misleading in their implications," but also that her original intent and meaning had not changed. This, I think, is true.

Rand was never "coy" about her early attraction to FN, as any reader of Who is Ayn Rand? can see, and she was always willing to use him openly, even in the "Introduction " to the 25th Anniversary edition of The Fountainhead.

It is not only clarity about Rand's intellectual development that is importantly shown here, but also the honesty of Rand's self-description in the 1959 edition of WTL, and our ability, as historians, to rely on those statements.

You raise a great question. Kira is in an almost permanent "bad mood" due to the conditions she faces.

It is plausible to suppose that America, and her husband, had a "thawing" effect on the bitterness and contempt Rand brought with her from the nightmare in Russia. Writing The Fountainhead, and O'Connor's "saving" of it -- along with Rand's growing confidence in her new language and in her own originality -- may truly have produced an important emotional development in Rand.

I would simply note that Kira is marching to the tune of an operetta, even from the start.

Further comments about Nietzsche, Aristotle, etc.

Chris Cathcart's picture

It seems to me that one thing that unites Nietzsche and the ancient Greeks is their glorification of strength and excellence. These things were nearly synonymous with virtue in the ancient world - with manliness. It's precisely human weakness and frailty that Christian ethics seems to excuse, morally-speaking. We are fallen sinners and whatnot, and our natural-world passions and urges prod us in the direction of vice and sin, whereas some focus on the otherworldly will prod us towards virtue. Nietzsche of course calls all this out as bullshit and blasts Kant for what he saw as this secularized Christianity: we're pushed by "inclination" towards vice and sin, and require ourselves to be "as God would be" (that's how I best understand his talk of God as a regulatory ideal for the practical consciousness) to reign that in and act (non-naturally will) as reason would dictate.

So, anyway, yes, it would be easy to see how Rand would have, from an early stage, been drawn towards the Greek worldview exemplified best in Aristotle: naturalism, a focus on virtue as a means to happiness, a real-world practicality vs. an otherworldly Platonic idealism, etc. Still, it doesn't seem to me that she really delved into a full-on Aristotle devotion until later on. That is to say, that she is due a lot of credit for developing a worldview by the time of The Fountainhead that didn't explicitly reference or draw on Aristotle. Her own egoistic conception of virtue, however much it might have had some quasi-precedence in the ancient Greeks, is truly her own original contribution - one informed more by her reaction to Nietzsche than to the ancient Greeks. It's only by the time of Atlas Shrugged that she had more consciously integrated Aristotle's worldview into her own. I might venture this notion: really understanding and coming to grips with Aristotle takes a more advanced intellectual understanding, life experience and wisdom than it takes coming to grips with Nietzsche. Aristotle is just that much greater a thinker. (I think I might say the same about Kant, though Rand saw in him only brilliantly-argued toxicity. That view, she apparently retained from Nietzsche himself. So you get a kind of historical progression: Platonism --> Aristotelianism --> Christianity via Platonism --> Kantianism as modernized Christianity, without Platonism/metaphysics --> Nietzsche as aestheticist "nihilist" iconoclast against Christianity/Kant, without Aristotelianism --> Rand as reaction to all of them, a modernized Aristotelian sans the residual Platonism.)


Chris Cathcart's picture

Of course, Romantic music is the best, the real question is what music exemplifies Romanticism at its best. Eye Actually, I place Tchaikovsky's Pathetique symphony right up there in the uppermost echelons of great Romantic music. His first piano concerto strikes me as boring by comparison. Rach 2 is too schmaltz-laden, even if it's good schmaltz. The Pathetique, meanwhile, is truly a serious work of composition. You do know that this was the composition that Tchai was, at long last, proud of and satisfied with, right?

Of relevant interest:


Chris Cathcart's picture

I specifically said that Rand was a post-Nietzschean, so I did not push this "Rand as Nietzschean" idea - however, it seems quite clear that Nietzsche was a huge and central part of intellectual context in which she was operating and developing. There are clearly aspects of his thought that drew her in and she embraced. She might be close to perfectly in line with him regarding his critique of Christianity and how it upholds weakness as a virtue or something to be celebrated. The fact that she had originally had quotations from Nietzsche at the beginning of the major sections of The Fountainhead indicate the profound influence he had on her in positive ways.

And I think I am well aware that her attraction to Nietzsche was very much more an aesthetic reaction than an intellectual one. One thing worth asking in this context: are Howard Roark and John Galt the sorts of characters that, at a basic aesthetic level, Nietzsche himself would have upheld as heroic, noble, etc.? A well-known Nietzsche scholar and Rand-hating blogger says that their commercial and capitalistic nature would have repulsed Nietzsche but it's also true that Roark and Galt are not materialists, vulgar or otherwise. Roark's decision to turn down the commission that resulted in his working in a quarry is clear and convincing evidence of that. (How could this otherwise seemingly brilliant Nietzsche scholar have failed to pick up on that? It is plain as day that Rand upheld integrity and one's soul over the pursuit of a dishonest dollar. What throws so many people into a tizzy of confusion is that she still called this moral idealism Egoism. But, of course, Roark's upholding the sanctity of his own soul was the most egoistic thing he could have done.)

It makes perfect sense to say that Nietzsche spoke to her in deep ways, that she was profoundly influenced in some respects by him, that this is reflected in her novels at a very obvious aesthetic level, and that she had many reasons to dislike his ideas at an intellectual level and to progress beyond them.

As for the passages she altered or removed from WTL, let me offer this proposition: In her intent, Rand was, as you say, a full liberal/libertarian from a young age and experienced first-hand the illiberal evils of the Commie regime. So let's say that her views had not really changed in any significant way from the publication of the first edition of this book . . . and, yet, these passages are so easily susceptible to misinterpretation that leaving them in would be a matter of philosophical significance. The passages, taken at face value, indicate a very toxic departure from her liberalism. Now, that's not something she had intended, but it's indubitable that, looking back at these passages in 1959, Rand knew something was not right with them and that they had to go. I don't know how you can say, in light of this, that the passages aren't of philosophical significance. It's because they are, that they had to go. That is consistent with her saying that her fundamental ideas hadn't changed since she was young. But the passages clearly go against those ideas. Is it fair to say that they were just very flawed formulations from someone still developing as a thinker? I think the answer is a resounding Yes.

Now, one interesting thing to ask here: was Kira in these passages perhaps this younger and developing Rand "in a bad mood"? After all, consider the many things that Dominique said, before she comes around, that are all kinds of objectionable in nature. Is Kira's saying these things something that perhaps, paralleling Dominique's development, she grew out of by the end of the story?

The Chosen Metaphor

James S. Valliant's picture

Even if Prof. Seddon is right about FN, that his use of historically dubious figures, Machiavellian thugs, really, is pure symbolism or metaphor for his idea of living power, it is still somewhat troubling that this should have been his metaphor of choice. (Perhaps this is what Rand meant by saying that FN's use of "power" was "equivocal.")

A much better claim to pure symbolism, I would suggest, is possessed by "Kira's Viking." (An enemy of both "priest" and "king," we are told, for all his walking through "ruins.") Even here, Rand softens the image for reality, and makes it distinctly symbolic, for we are told that Kira entered life "with the sword of a Viking pointing the way, and an operetta tune for a battle march." (emphasis added)

Notice the striking difference in Rand's chosen metaphor for living power in the first edition of WTL: Kira's shining bridge. It symbolizes all that was crushed by the Soviets. It is a productive, rational, technological and, above all, peaceful symbol, the dream of this Kira whose words we are trying to understand. This bridge is the light bulb from Anthem, the skyscraper of The Fountainhead, and it is Rearden Metal and Galt's Motor, here, already.

If Rand was in any sense a "Nietzschean" at this point, she has already, and dramatically, improved the metaphorical imagery along distinctly Objectivist lines.


No, Linz...

James S. Valliant's picture

I guess I still don't see it.

What, exactly, are you claiming that Rand was saying in WTL? That the "masses" should be "squashed," only without the spilling of "blood"? How would that have worked?

Are you suggesting that Rand, already an advocate of liberal democracy in her teens, was saying something else, politically, by Kira's reference here? Kira is pleading that even starvation of the masses does not justify the enslavement of the best, but she does not know how to say it, except by saying that there is no worse "injustice" than the Soviet version of "justice for all"... and neither yet did Rand know how to say it. Qua mob, these masses are indeed a frightening thing for Rand, to be sure, but Kira is pleading in WTL, even in the first edition, not for "power," or for a chance to crush this mob underfoot, but simply to be "left alone!" and just to be allowed to "live" (to use her own words).

You have not considered either Seddon's or my own reading of these passages, and nor have you considered the evidence of Rand's earliest political views, and nor have you begun to consider the extent of Rand's early philosophical differences with Nietzsche, but, rather, you seem fixated on a couple of phrases that are anything but philosophically clear. If, as Prof. Seddon says, FN is only speaking metaphorically about "power" and "brutes," for Zeus's sake, Rand, who will later clear up this ambiguity in her own work with crystal clarity, merits a similar kind of consideration, if only at this earliest stage of her career.

No James ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

To pretend her changes to WTL were of no philosophical significance is to play into the hands of Sun Ra-worshipping sub-humans like Campbell. There is a world of difference between squashing the mob because it is the mob (the original WTL) and simply letting it die by philosophical attrition. The changes were philosophically significant—the difference between altruism-in-reverse and rational egoism—and she should have said so. End of story.

Cathcart asks why I give her a free pass. The reason is that this coyness on her part is of utterly zero import in the context of what she understood and imparted when she got over Nietzsche (and would have been embarrassed by her infatuation with him). It is this latter, of course, which the Campbells seek to diminish ... nay, negate. Let us grant Ayn her infatuation, and understand her reasons for it, knowing that there but for the grace of her would go we; may we not "enable" her in her self-deception (the one instance in which Babs may be right about that quality) that it never happened.

When you folk understand the esthetics, you'll better understand the whole philosophy. While you continue to parrot that Romantic music cannot be adjudged objectively the best there's been to date, you're disarmed, without understanding why. And if you think what I just said is a non-sequitur, that just reinforces my point.

Of Course...

James S. Valliant's picture

... and as I have already indicated, Rand's language was quite Nietzschean in those early days.

For example, in some of those first notes, she asks, in an evolutionary context, "If men are the highest of animals, isn't man the next step?" (Journals, p. 70) But, even here, we see the distinctive and mature Rand peeking through -- "man" is not what needs to be "overcome," as FN would have it, but something still to be reached. Subtle, but so Objectivist in the difference. (And, in a way, so Aristotle about actualizing man's potential.)

Notice, too, the opening lines of those notes about religion. She is powerfully foreshadowing the theme of Atlas Shrugged and even Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism. She has begun to transform Nietzsche's critique of religion into a case that involves metaphysics, epistemology and psychology. Positing a supernatural dimension, another metaphysical realm, necessarily drives a wedge between one's capacity to think and act in an integrated fashion, she suggests, generating all those false dichotomies between theory and practice. Here, Rand is taking a Nietzschean idea and turning it into the outline of an integrated philosophical case, but one built on the foundations of some very anti-Nietzschean thinking.

And, yes, by "power" she means the Seddon-suggested Nietzschean meaning, I think, but this term is undefined in those early notes as far as I can tell. She may indeed have still been considering this in detail.

But what is so striking about these early notes is how un-Nietzschean, anti-Nietzschean and answering of Nietzsche, Rand's thinking was at the time, and how little of his basic philosophy Rand ever seems to have shared.


James S. Valliant's picture

Forgive me, Chris, but if the changes in We the Livibng were philosophically significant, as you claim, then would you be able to indicate what that significance was, specifically?

What Nietzschean idea did Rand express there, and later abandon?

What, specifically, was Rand saying in that early edition of the novel that indicates its "Nietzschean" character?

What was she saying at all -- that she would use blood among her methods? Why can't Prof. Seddon and I be right about this passage?

Would someone please tell me what the philosophical import of those changes is actually supposed to be?

To my recollection, no one has ever identified this.

Since there is copious evidence that Rand was a political liberal from her teens -- and in her notes before the first publication of WTL -- could it have been of a political character?

Perhaps your lack of familiarity with Nietzsche limits what you can see from those first pages of Rand's first philosophical notes. But to anyone familiar with FN's ideas, these notes can only be seen as Rand systematically and vigorously questioning one famously "Nietzschean" idea after another: instinct, perspectivism, determinism, logical system in ethics versus a "genealogy of morals," emotions versus logic, etc. These notes can hardly be said to be "Nietzschean" in character, but rather a Nietzschsean upside down cake, if you will.

Please read them again. Those notes show Rand explicitly committed to LOGIC before and to the exclusion of any of these Nietzcshean ideas which she has lined up to her mental firing squad. Indeed, from these very notes, your best case for Rand as Nietzcshean is that her focus appears to be so negatively Nietzschean, it is HIS ideas that she seems so bent on refuting in her twenties.

As for Aristotle, these notes are the very "reverse echo" of Nietzsche's denunciation of "the Aristotileanism of morals" and "generalization." It's pretty obvious to me that Rand is defending the approach of Aristotle against what she saw as the Nietzschean critique of it in those first notes.

Once more: these notes were written PRIOR to the publication of the first edition of WTL, when Rand was still in her twenties, and are the first words on philosophy known to exist from Rand.

As for Aristotle's explicit influence, along with that of the Scholastics, you are going to have to explain how the formula "A is A" appears, repeated, in that first edition of We the Living, and in the right kind of context, if it was not an early tribute Aristotle, just as the very same formula would later be in Atlas Shrugged. "Numbers are numbers. Steel is steel." Just a coincidence? I hardly think so.

In addition, we have Rand's own report of admiring Aristotle even at university. Her earliest philosophical notes, so ANTI-Nietzcshean in character, so insistent on the use of systematic logic, can only be seen as substantially corroborating Rand's own testimony. Rand's use of "A is A" in WTL can only be seen as confirming it rather conclusively.

Now, as I say, the influence of Nietzsche was very real -- but, as Rand herself reported, NOT the basic philosophy of Nietzsche which, even then, Rand in substance deemed dubious.

Kand and Rand and man-as-end-in-himself

Chris Cathcart's picture

It is worth asking where Rand got that "end in himself" phraseology. It's possible she was familiar with Kant enough to know how its meaning dovetails with her own meaning, in spite of the disparate routes they each took to arrive at that idea. If she developed that concept independent of familiar with Kant, all the more credit to her. She did, however, downplay any association between Kant's justification for that idea and her own (I'm thinking of her correspondence with John Hospers ca. 1961).

Jim V

Chris Cathcart's picture

I read through this thread and so have more of the context of the discussion about Rand and her relation to Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Pat. Now, from my vantage point, I see little by way of a serious excursion into Aristotle until sometime in the '40s. She might well have been familiar with Aristotle going way back to the '20s, but I don't see that as determining Aristotle as a chief influence until later on. My impression is that once she advanced beyond her Nietzchean phase, by the time of The Fountainhead, she more seriously delved into what past figures might be more suitable precursors to her rather new and original thoughts. First and foremost it is Aristotle, and secondarily (a distant second) it is Aquinas. (Given her attacks on Christianity and altruism and defense of nobility and pride, it's probably fair to say that, after Aristotle - again, we're talking distant seconds here - her philosophy still reflects more of a Nietzschean influence than a Thomistic one.) Then, at some point, she encountered Kant and projected him to be the embodiment of Tooheyism. When that was, I couldn't really tell, but by the late '50s her animus towards Kant was pretty extreme. As you might glean from her writings about her moral individualism upholding the idea of man as an end in himself, I don't see as much basis for such an animus as she does; he was also instrumental in striking down theology and deflating the pretensions of . . . rationalism!

(Kant is a whole topic in its own right, of course. You can most certainly and effectively argue that Kant knocked down some false dichotomies and erected others in their place. But I think she quite flatly missed the point of Kant's saying that he "had found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." Once you knock down philosophical pretensions to justifying belief in God, well, where does that leave the believers? Definitely at a disadvantage, epistemically and intellectually. And, of course, one can take great issue with the route Kant took to get to his refutation of the rationalists; it presupposes, after all, that we cannot access a mysterious "thing in itself." All that said, I think his ethics, despite some glaring foundational weaknesses that can be traced to Hume's model of practical reason, his doctrine of free will, and his meta-ethical anti-naturalism, emerges as a strong part of his philosophical edifice.)

Anyway, I thought this commentary was heading somewhere else but I don't know what right off. Fortunately I am in some reasonably constant contact with a leading Kant and Nietzsche scholar and Rand-sympathizer, to help sort through some of these issues of influence or animus.

Rand as post-Nietzschean

Chris Cathcart's picture

I have next to no exposure to Nietzsche save for some brief second-hand summaries. But based on my understanding from those summaries, Rand did have a Nietzsche phase lasting until some time in the '30s, then transcended his whole aesthetic by the time of The Fountainhead. You do must realize that Dominique Francon is the hot stand-in for Ayn Rand, "in a bad mood." It takes Dominique overcoming her Nietzschean streak by the end of the story to become fully a mate to her ideal man. Wynand fails because he had overcome it for a time and then resigned himself to a betrayal of his Roarkian principles. All three of them are Egoists, but each in their own way - and, in Roark, Rand was embodying her new concept of Egoism - someone who is at once noble and pure in spirit and respectful towards his fellow men. Her statement here is as much an aesthetic one as an intellectual one; the full intellectual statement comes later in The Virtue of Selfishness. (Disclosure: While the title doesn't scare me, I don't like it. C'mon, she's a eudaemonist. Eye )

Growing up in Greece?

Chris Cathcart's picture

I don't think Rand began living in Greece until the 1940s.


Chris Cathcart's picture

Re: changes in WTL, you write:

"As far as I'm concerned she gets a free pass for being coy about this."

Lindsay Perigo, giving free passes for coyness?

You acknowledge that "[t]hey were also more than mere editorial line changes of no philosophical significance," so how exactly do you get to the conclusion that coyness explains her saying something that is not the case? The line changes clearly are of philosophical significance.

I don't know why Rand said that about the changes. It is unlike her not to own up to the facts, as unpleasant as those facts might be. I won't venture a guess as to her motivations here, though it's telling that the likes of Robert Campbell jump on it as evidence of willful evasion. Since it is not in her general character to willfully evade, it makes sense to wonder why she said it, but not to conclude dishonesty off the bat.


seddon's picture

I find your posts uniformly high quality stuff. As for the quesiton,

"What are we to make, then, of FN's affection for Borgias and other dubious figures from history?" I read them in the same way I read about Gail Wynand (or Bjorn Faulkner) and his friendship with Roard; with reference to his line, "Verily I have often laugh at men who were good because they had no claws" they are men who try to make the world in their own image and likeness, but unlike Roard, made a mistake in the way they proceeded; I also recall his references to more Objectivist like creator types like Goethe and Beethoven, and even Wagner without the nationalism and anti-semitism.


I like the Wagnerian comparison.

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Bill Kaplan:

3) Static v Evolving Ideas: Rand's ideas evolve over the course of her life in precisely the same way a Wagnerian leitmotif "evolves" in "The Ring". The theme stays the same, but it is repeated more or less loudly, faster or slower, with or without other leitmotifs. No one I know was as consistent over such a long period as Ms. Rand.

Vivid way of expressing the constancy. Thanks. I'll use it. Eye


Jim, I read your review but

Bill Kaplan's picture

I read your review but have not read Ms Burns book. I have also read Ms Burns reply to your review.

As always, I thought your review to be thoughtful and certainly informed by more information than I have in my possession or have ever considered on the subject. I am also impressed with the seriousness Ms. Burns has for the subject. Good show both of you.

If you don't mind, I will take sides in the issues Ms. Burns lays out in her reply to the extent I can.

1) Reliability of Barbara and Nathaniel Branden: Yikes. I suspect there is a lot of picking and choosing of facts on part of the Brandens AND Ms Rand. Neither side's rendition (pun intended) should therefore be thrown out in whole. Thus, methodologically, I would support Ms Burns approach, but I am certain on specific issues we might agree or not. Point: Burns.

2) Aryan: Burns has a point that none of the characters are Russian or Jewish, two ethnicities Rand knew best. Yet to say they were Aryan is just wrong. Francisco and Ragnar could not be more different, although I detect a slight whiff of stereotyping in each character.

3) Static v Evolving Ideas: Rand's ideas evolve over the course of her life in precisely the same way a Wagnerian leitmotif "evolves" in "The Ring". The theme stays the same, but it is repeated more or less loudly, faster or slower, with or without other leitmotifs. No one I know was as consistent over such a long period as Ms. Rand. Point: Valliant.

4) Nietzsche: I am a student of John Wilcox, the man who highlights the "cognativist" elements in Nietzsche in his excellent book "Truth and Value in Nietzsche". Ms Rand was influenced by N, but I believe more stylistically than in any other more intellectual way. The dynamite in Fountainhead was Nietzchean in style.

Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

When I say "confusing and unclear," I do not mean confusing in the context of the story. I mean that it is confusing and unclear for ~ us~ who know Rand's mature viewpoint and are trying to understand her development. (Normally, a Rand quotation is easily understood in the context of her whole thought. This is the same context, I believe, for Rand's later description of this passage as unclear.)

In this respect, your own treatment of the Kira passage in the last post is nearly identical to the one I offered in PARC, pp. 44-48, except I used the heroes of Atlas as my example, not Roark. Smiling

And I have read your analysis and find it very helpful. Smiling

[edit.: What are we to make, then, of FN's affection for Borgias and other dubious figures from history?]


seddon's picture

On the WTL material. I don’t find the passage in the novel “confusing and unclear.” Even the fact that Kira isn’t quite certain about the “blood” is clear and not at all confusing. And if she was a liberal democrat or something like a liberal democrat, she still could have ponder the wisdom of “blood” if the masses were throttling someone like Howard Roark. She is speaking in defense of the best, after all.

“there is a valid use of "blood" even in the mature Objectivism”

Good point. She or Kira may have been considering the advisability of adding another circumstance in which “blood” would be justified, to wit, when the masses were strangling the best.

“Isn't it telling that Nietzsche does not express even Kira's reluctance about bloodshed?”

I don’t read Nietzsche that way, but I do believe his use of war metaphors are misleading. I have gone into this issue of Nietzsche interpretation in the Nietzsche chapter of my book AYN RAND, OBJECTIVISTS, AND THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY. The chapter is available for free from REASON PAPERS.


Mr. Scherk

James S. Valliant's picture

Of course Branden was objecting to the release of the journal material that had already been published -- and, if you're paying attention, this is the same material under discussion on this thread which has so far not made much use of the material from PARC. (If that was his view of the philosophical material, it takes no imagination to guess what his view of the PARC material would be, of course.)

Also, the entire question thus raised by Mr. Branden is still very much the background context for the question asked at the Cato event, and whenever this surprisingly dubious attitude is expressed in libertarian circles.

The evidence from Rand's philosophical journals is "vital evidence" of what her opinion was at the time she wrote them.

You are certainly welcome to continue, but if you are having that kind of trouble with this discussion, you might wish to reconsider your participation in it. Smiling

Since you have not addressed my position on Burns's criticism of Harriman, I will simply point you back to that section of my review.

[edit. P.S.: If this is relevant to your question, you will notice that Prof. Burns criticizes Ms. Branden on the same grounds and about as harshly as she does Harriman when it comes to using material straight from Rand, p.295, and Ms. Branden's purposes, like PARC's, were presumably exclusively historical.]

Prof. Seddon

James S. Valliant's picture

First, let me say that I agree that Nietzsche is a "one-worlder," and although FN is something of a moving target over the course of his career, I think that the "later Nietzsche" is best.

But I am also confident that we cannot classify this as an example of "the Primacy of Existence," either. I agree with the bulk of scholars who see FN as a "perspectivist," or what Rand would have called a "first-person subjectivist." Rand herself seems to have rejected this kind of subjectivism in those very first philosophical journal entries (written both prior to WTL's first publication and when she was still in her twenties) when she considers, and rejects, the idea that she is merely trying to impose her own perspective and "peculiarities" onto a system of philosophy (Journals, p.73). She has certainly rejected the idea of the independence or superiority of "instinct" over reason, as well.

In those earliest notes she has clearly staked out her opposition to Nietzsche's overt and repeated rejection of "the Aristotelianism of morals" and "generalisation" about ethics, rejecting his a-logical (if not anti-logical) methodology. Rand has overtly rejected the need for a "history" of ethics (or FN's "genealogy of morals") in favor of logic and system and principles (Journals, p. 69-70) -- once more, before the first publication of We the Living, and when she was still in her twenties.

The WTL material under discussion is confusing and unclear. In this context, evidence from Rand's private correspondence and journals, and eyewitness testimony such as that from Miss. Nabokov, is vital. If Rand was arguing for something more liberal than Constitutional Monarchy in her teens, if Rand is using the template of "liberal democracies" and "rights" in her earliest private notes, if Rand is mentioning in her correspondence "a mode of thinking that can be opposed to Communism in a true, sensible democratic spirit," before penning a single word of The Fountainhead, then let me suggest that all of this is much stronger evidence for her opinions at the time than is the confusing passage in question.

Now, as to the quotation from WTL about the use of "blood" in one's "methods." Since there is a valid use of "blood" even in the mature Objectivism, namely, the right of self-defense, defense of others, and legitimate warfare, we must be extremely cautious in our interpretation of this troublesome passage. The formulation: “Except I don’t know, however, whether I’d include blood in my methods," is indeed a formulation which suggests that she has doubts, to be sure, but it is also an assertion that Kira would not yet actually include them in her methods. When I say something like, "I agree that X is true, only I don't know if it I would apply it to Y," I am expressing doubt, yes, but I am usually taken to mean that in the meantime I'm not applying X to Y.

One thing that the interpreter is certainly not warranted in assuming is that Rand was advocating bloodshed in this passage, for it at least suggests that the speaker has a positive reluctance to use violence. But that's about as far as we can take this material. Moreover, this holding back does come in the context of discussing whether one must "wait to convince a million fools," and on this score, Rand's view never changed.

[edit. P.S.: Isn't it telling that Nietzsche does not express even Kira's reluctance about bloodshed?]


seddon's picture

I like to chew a little on the post you submitted on 1-23 entitled “I disagree.” So let me disagree with some of what you wrote there.

First you write, “Rand was already saying in that earliest edition of WTL that she wouldn't ‘include blood’ in those ‘methods’ she ‘admired’ -- in admiring his ‘methods,’ she was merely agreeing that one shouldn't have to wait to ‘convince fools.’"

I’m going to go along with your assumption that Kira speaks for Rand. You claim that Rand wouldn’t “include blood” in the Communist methods she agrees with. But that is not what the text says. In the first edition, after telling Andrei she agrees with the methods of the Communists, she says, “Except I don’t know, however, whether I’d include blood in my methods.” Your reading makes it seem as though Rand were positive in excluding blood, whereas Kira confesses that she doesn’t know if she would or not. Mayhew thinks this is because Rand had not yet “(fully) identified the evil of the initiation of physical force”! (209)

“Are you suggesting that Rand really ever wanted the masses to be "ground underfoot”?

I’m suggesting that this is what Rand (Kira) actually says. Recall that in the paragraph from which the phrase is taken, she is arguing FOR the idea to sacrifice millions for the sake of the few. “You can! You must,” she says.

"If so, her private notes, once more, contradict that notion.”

But here I would retort as I would to Heidegger, who preferred Nietzsche’s private notes to his published works. I prefer what Rand actually saw fit to publish. She thought, “These ideas about the masses are worth publishing to the world. They represent the best within me right now.”

“I will repeat my question: specifically, what Nietzschean idea or policy did Rand allegedly adopt but later abandon?”

Mayhew suggests that the passages that we have been discussing are “Nietzschean.” If so, and if she later abandoned them, as seems obvious from WTL ’59, then you have an answer to your question, at least as concerns one issue, the non-initiation of physical force principle from ATLAS and implicitly from WTL ’59.

More fascinating to me, and perhaps more germane to our dialogue with Dr. Burns, is the question “what Nietzschean idea or policy did Rand allegedly adopt and never abandon? One major idea from metaphysics is Nietzsche’s belief in a one-world metaphysics. I consider Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke and Nietzsche the major thinkers in the tradition that “spoke to her,” and of these only Nietzsche is explicitly a one-worlder. Every year when I teach Nietzsche and Rand, I point out when we read the famous “How the ‘true’ world finally became a fable” from TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS, that Nietzsche’s bashing of Plato, Christianity and Kant as two-world metaphysicians is something Rand applauds.

I want to close by thanking both you and Dr. Burns for your thoughts on these topics.


Misunderstanding . . .

William Scott Scherk's picture

James, thanks for the response, and please forgive my repetition. I could be misunderstanding the point you made in mentioning TheBrandens©.

You wrote:

Isn't it curious that the Brandens are among those critical of very the release of this vital evidence from Rand's journals?

I wanted to know what 'very the release of this vital evidence' meant -- the '68 personal journals? They weren't published till you did so. I do understand that your 2005 book tells us that Nathaniel Branden gave an 'overheated response to the publication by Leonard Peikoff of Rand's private journals' (page 87), but it doesn't give us a reference. Maybe you could 'point out' what PARC did not provide.

The mention of the CATO Q&A with Burns and Heller is misplaced. A fresh view of the session shows no indignant questioners who asked if the authors thought that Rand would have wanted her journals published. There was a question from a gent at the Bill Of Rights Foundation who asked about Archives access and rambled on about Them and They (presumably ARI) and their need to make money, but it wasn't clear what he was getting at (see the CATO tape at 61:25 for the rambler).

Heller, in response claims that Rand wanted her papers given to the Library of Congress, and also stated her belief that Rand would never have given her or Burns access to her papers. That's it on that subject. Hardly recognizable from your description, and in no way related in any fashion to any Branden.

I'm just not getting the 'vital evidence' thing, you see. Vital evidence of what?

Barbara Branden, you say, was among the first to give credence to the trope that Rand created a mythology about herself, and you mention papers and letters, early work, the Rand transcript, information discovered by scholars at ARI -- all this in the context of Nietzsche, taking issue with Burns. But you don't draw the connection to 'the vital evidence'; if anything, Barbara would like to see unexpurgated journals and letters published. Her main objections to Rand publications that weren't meant to see the light of day were Rand's early fiction; she is on record as being disgusted that Rand's journals were heavily redacted.

He [Peikoff] has, by his own admission some years ago in his magazine, edited some of Ayn's unpublished non-fiction. This appalling presumptuousness makes such work historically valueless. Chris Sciabarra has an article in the September 1998 issue of Liberty in which he discusses some of the editing. He compared a section of the Journals with what was supposedly the same material published by Peikoff years ago — and pointed out the differences.

Putting the nonexistent Branden connection aside, maybe you are right that Burns is utterly wrong about the weight of the Nietzschean influence -- despite her encompassing review of the papers.

Still, don't you grant Burns the right to a difference of opinion, since she spent at least as much time as you did looking at the 'vital evidence'? Similarly, Burns did a concordance between the journals as published by Harriman and the journals in the archives -- and found the changes appalling (in the scholarly sense). I believe she has earned the right to judge Harriman's work as failing to reproduce Rand faithfully.

All that noted, what does Barbara or Nathaniel Branden have to do with either of these conclusions of Burns? It was Burns' own research in the archives that led to these conclusions -- even if the conclusions may be wrong, Burns is responsible, not Barbara or Nathaniel. If what the two other authors said is important, it would also be useful, when introducing this side-issue, to cite them, so that we can find out just what they say on the subject at issue -- if not Rand/Nietzsche, then on the items you allude to and Burns found wanting -- the published letters and diaries.**

Now that another item of unredacted Rand is available, in the detailed concordance project between Rand Q&As in book form and recordings available at the ARI site, most anyone can see that Burns is right. Whatever Barbara believes, Burns has done her own homework.

You have already written a Case Against The Brandens. Burns obviously does not side with you on the prosecution benches, so why drag in irrelevancy?

Incidentally, when is the Symposium over? Is Burns slated to make another appearance?


** I do have a concordance, but since this material is
unpublished, I do not have the right to distribute it;
nor is it in an easily digestible format at present. I
noted in my book the most important changes given my
subject and emphasis; other changes may appear of
greater consequence depending on your approach to Rand.
Scholars interested in specific aspects of this
material may write to me (though I cannot promise a
swift response). The development and publication of a
clear concordance would be a wonderful project for the
archive to support.

[ . . . ]

Since my project was primarily intellectual, not
biographical in nature, I did not examine in great
detail the material James Valliant relies upon. What I
saw in the arch...

Thanks, Again

James S. Valliant's picture

In Prof. Stephen Cox's biography of Isabel Paterson, The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America (2004, Transaction), we find an even bolder claim than that of Burns, although closely related to it. Cox maintains that Rand's whole "classic liberal" orientation is owed to Pat's influence. Cox claims that before meeting Pat, Rand was merely a "continental Nietzschean" and no Jeffersonian liberal yet, at all.

My own case against this allegation did not even account for the evidence from Olga Nabokov.

But, by itself, her evidence annihilates Cox's claim.

And, once more, confirms Rand's own account of her youth.

Thanks, again, Ellen.


James S. Valliant's picture

Thanks. What caught my eye this time in the description of Rand's conversations with Olga Nabokov was that they appear to have happened before Rand's first formal study of U.S. government in high school.

Jeeze, was Rand born a lover of the American form of government? Smiling Actually, of course, this is more likely confirming Rand's own description of her father's political convictions and their influence on Rand, even if Britain also has a monarch.

Ellen: get the rich off our backs...

Frediano's picture


I enjoyed that anecdote, and it illustrates a truth about gradients in our economies. Its encouraging when you see evidence that folks get that, like the guy on the porch.

I am convinced that what leads to healthy economies is gradient based circulation of value, and the gradients of opportunity that result, not just simple access to value-proxies/money. Yet, so much of our tribal strategy to address the disparities among tribal members is focused purely on access to value-proxies.

When value circulates, a side effect is that our current accounts prosper. But we focus on the current-accounts and the value-proxies, and not the creation and circulation of value upon which they depend. Over time, the result is the gray economies of waiting. Waiting for what? If waiting for value-proxies, and not the opportunities to create and circulate value, then those economies are broken.

Gradient is key in the universe, there is an old silly saying, 'gradients drive everything.' But, it is silly precisely because it is patently true.

With gradients of opportunity come a wealth of choices as to where to engage in the economies. We are not all interchangeable bees in a bee colony, our species and its reliance on intellectual capabilities is more complex than fixed-function bees in a bee colony. Our species broadly thrives only in the presence of gradient of opportunity.

That is part of what is tubing our present economies. It is not a nefarious plot, it is a simple geopolitical fact, a too-recent historical boundary condition we are still reacting to. It's been over 50 years since America put the last star on the flag, we aren't the same developing nation we were two generations ago. What used to be a dirt-simple surface development wave with a broad gradient of opportunities has transitioned to a kind of development stasis, where all frontiers are increasingly intellectual, and the opportunites, although plentiful, come with a narrow price of admission. This has happened so quickly that broad segments of the population have not been able to react, to adjust. We're still thinking like those steel plant jobs from 50 years ago are coming back. Folks of all kinds have been saying for decades, the key to the future is education, but it has been insufficiently realized on a broad enough scale to transition enough of our economies to the new intellectual frontiers.

The result is, exactly what we see; a crust of wealth, and a wide loaf of anguish. Exactly what we see when we 'travel.' We at most get to the Singapores, and seldom cross the bridge 20 miles into the Malaysias. We visit most often the Paris and Londons, and less often the Dhakas and Chitagongs. The world is a very thin crust of haves, and a broad loaf of anguished have nots, and we are convinced too easily, because of the actions of the haves, and not the inactions of the have nots, even to the point of self inflicted guilt of the haves, the affluent left. But, in the instance of a forced partition Bangladesh and its schizoid three pronged battle between a tiny group of theocratic religious zealots, a passive core of moderates-moderns, and a seething street of undereducated mass misled by the theocratic religious zealots, you can't point at the resulting sea of anguish and despair and blame it on the affluent West -- as the theocratic religious zealots do, as they totally control education and the street. They do so because every other hovel has a satellite dish, and they have either got to explain away the local anguish and foul air on the Great Officially Godless Satan across the sea, or lose the local gig and their shot at the not so maggoty pieces of rotted meat, as defacto rulers of the local state. Bangladesh is an interesting example of a state on the edge, a balance between a nominally civil moderate-modern government and the local theocratic thugs who actually rule the nation/street. (The bayonnetted Enfield wielding civil government knows to not contest for the street during a religious Hartal, and simply begs to modern-up already. But the theocrats demonstrate their power over the street/nation via the almost pointless Hartals, whose point is really to demonstrate who is running the nation.) What the moderates-moderns in places like Bangladesh are explicitely and desperately crying out for is exactly capitalism, and their local problems are not too much of it, but far too little.

Unethical "winning and losing" is far more often associated with access to local force, not just in Bangladesh, with its crazy standoff and seething street, but in the US, as well, and the nonsense that has been going on for decades with an in-bred Ivy league running K-Street and Wall Street like a connected crony fraternity. Practically the same thing without the robes, and little to do with capitalism.


Rand's childhood political views

Ellen Stuttle's picture

I'd typed this before I came on-line and saw the latest posts. It's not offered as directly addressing the contentious issues in the last batch of posts, instead for its relevance to how early Rand's political orientation goes.


Here's a tidbit from Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The description pertains to Rand's 12th year, 1917.

Heller, pp. 26-27

Now in her third year at the Stoiunin school, [Rand became close friends with] a slightly older girl named Olga Nabokov. Olga, also a student at the school, was one of five children of a wealthy and distinguished family that was known throughout Russia and Europe even before Olgla's older brother, Vladimir, began to publish poems and novels, including, in English, Lolita. Olga's mother was a cultured heiress. Her grandfather had been the minister of justice under Czar Alexander III, and though a gentile, was asked to resign partly because of his outspoken advocacy of political rights for Jews. Olga's father, V. D. Nabokov, was a jurist and a statesman, a member of the Russian army's General Staff, and a founder of the Constitutional Democratic Party, which favored a parliamentary form of government and emancipation of the Jews. In 1917, he had a bird's-eye view of the unfolding revolutionary drama from his ranking seat on the Duma, St. Petersburg's on-again, off-again national legislative assembly whose power the czar periodically stripped away and then restored. In February 1917, the Duma was in session.

Olga had been a member of Rand's class since 1915, but the girls seem to have become well acquainted only in their third tumultuous year. [....]


[Rand] and Olga "conversed endlessly" about political ideas and events, [Olga's younger sister,] Helene [Nabokov] Sikorski remembered, with Olga bringing political bulletins from the family dinner table and Rand exercising, even then, her gift for analysis. Olga, echoing her father's conviction that Russia wasn't ready for a pure democracy, argued with Rand in favor of a constitutional monarchy, like that of England; Rand wanted a republic, she remembered, in which the head of state would be chosen for merit and there wouldn't be a king. The future aficionado of the U.S. Constitution hadn't yet studied American history (that would come in secondary school). But she had gathered impressions of America from family conversations, including the naming of the family cats, and from stories about a branch of Anna's [Rand's mother's] family that had moved to Chicago in the 1890s. With Olga, Rand's tendency to argue "violently" and "at the slightest provocation," which she knew to be socially "not right," seemed to make no difference. If anything, her passionate opinions enhanced her and Olga's pleasure in each other.


The endnote for "She [Rand] and Olga 'conversed endlessly'" is "'The AR Transcript,' p. 6, citing Helene Sikorski's correspondence [with Chris Sciabarra]."

The endnotes for "Rand wanted a republic" and "Rand's tendency to argue" are "'Ayn Rand's Life' [full citation: Harry Binswanger, 'Ayn Rand's Life: Highlights and Sidelights,' taped speech delivered at the Thomas Jefferson School, San Francisco, 1993]."

Thus, I guess the "she remembered" (in the clause starting "Rand wanted a republic") refers to Rand's remembrances, not to Sikorski's.

Whether the quoted evaluative descriptions ("violently," "at the slightest provocation," socially "not right") and the indicated effect on the girls' relationship are Rand's self-reports or Harry's assessments isn't indicated.


Mr. Scherk

James S. Valliant's picture

PARC pointed out, in two different contexts, N. Branden's public opposition to the publication of Rand's journals (in his memoir), and that's a good place to start. But even at the recent Cato function with Prof. Burns and Ms. Heller questioners asked, with an indignant tone of voice, if the authors thought that Rand would have wanted her journals published and suggested that their release was motivated by money. This is is just some of the flak.

Race, Too

James S. Valliant's picture

And while everyone has out their first editions of Anthem, and since we've been talking about race, do look at the final chapter where Rand explicitly attacks racism.

This was written in 1937 and first published in 1938, Prof. Burns.

Dissolving Mythology

William Scott Scherk's picture

James Valliant writes:

Isn't it curious that the Brandens are among those critical of very the release of this vital evidence from Rand's journals?

I'm a little hazy on what James is referring to -- what particular material from the journals has been criticized by TheBrandens©? Which Branden, and where were the criticisms made?


Distrusting Rand

James S. Valliant's picture

This is one of the rare actual instances alleged of Rand being less than honest about herself. It has served as a key basis for the fallacious belief that Rand created a mythology about herself. And, yes, Ms. Branden was one of the first to give it credence.

However, an examination of Rand's papers and letters, and a careful examination of her early work, reveals that Rand was right in her account about her intellectual relationship with Nietzsche. It also supports her claim that her basic convictions did not significantly change over time.

We can add this to the work of Sciabarra on the Rand transcript, which, whatever anyone may claim, also shows Rand's account of her education to have been accurate, and confirms all but one or two details from Rand's description, at least to a high level of probability.

This can also be added to the information discovered by scholars at ARI regarding Rand's family and her early crush, Lev, all of which also substantially confirms Rand's own autobiographical accounts.

It is important for the historian to be skeptical, but Rand has proved to be an outstanding witness.

Isn't it curious that the Brandens are among those critical of very the release of this vital evidence from Rand's journals?

On the issue of credibility: the Brandens lied to Rand, they lied to their readers in 1968 about those lies to Rand, and, then, asserted that those lies were the truth in their later books.

There is a gross double-standard in play here: an uncritical acceptance of the unverifiable claims of the Brandens on the one hand, and a hyper-critical scrutiny of every semicolon from Rand.

The facts are dissolving the real mythology, but this is gross injustice.

The Journals

James S. Valliant's picture

Please note: with respect to the materials I have cited, the Harriman edition is true to Rand's original.

P.S. Burns quotes much of this material herself, interestingly enough.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Happy for you to be correct about what she was saying in her Journals. As bad luck would have it I've just packed all my books up preparatory for a move next Thursday, so won't be able to delve into those Journals again for a week or so.

Thanks Scott.

Jmaurone's picture

Thanks, James.


James S. Valliant's picture

The full quotation from Paterson's 1943 letter to Rand reads (emphasis is original, and notice the "still"): "You still don't seem to know yourself that your idea is new. It is not Nietzsche or Max Stirner..."

Extensive conversation with Paterson would indeed have "constituted a virtual graduate school in American history, politics and economics." The woman was extremely well read and well informed. Rand reports being impressed with the American system of government when she was first exposed to it in Russia. I have no reason to doubt this, but her understanding of American law and history must still have been relatively limited. Becoming a citizen, it is likely to have expanded again before meeting Pat. Rand was already starting to write politics before she met Pat. But I also have no reason to doubt the descriptions of their late night encounters, for Pat would have been a tremendous resource of knowledge and wisdom about America at a very deep level.

My objection to that line from Burns is that it suggests that Aristotle was not already the primary influence on Rand's basic philosophy, which he clearly was, and that FN was essentially alone in the area of "fundamental influences" prior to her meeting Pat.

Once more: Rand's journals call for a "logical" "system" of ethics, oppose determinism, etc., etc., before WTL was ever published and long before she ever met or read Pat. The first edition of WTL uses the formula "A is A." Rand's notes and letters show her defending a "democratic" ideal of "equal" and "individual" "rights" before she met prominent conservative thinkers.

Rand's fundamental orientation did not change: she was an atheist, a metaphysical realist, committed to Aristotle's logic, a cognition based understanding of free will, a nascent cognitive theory of emotions, etc. Rand was already a profound admirer of "things American" from skyscrapers and movies to O. Henry and H. L. Mencken. I could go on and on...

All that Pat's relationship with Rand could have added was detail to this understanding. This may well have included new books and thinkers, although emphatically not Aristotle himself.

As I say, Rand is likely to have learned a great deal about history and politics from Pat, but their relationship simply cannot be credited with influencing the substance of Objectivism.

[edit. add.: For gosh sakes, just read the first edition of Anthem, also written before meeting Pat, and see how much of Rand's complete political argument for freedom is already there!]

Burns on Paterson, Nietzsche, and Rand

Jmaurone's picture

James, I'm curious, because I'm currently reading God of the Machine for the first time, and was looking through Burns' book yesterday for information about Paterson, and came across a claim that made me think of this thread. If you already mentioned it, my apologies.

(I see you've mentioned Paterson earlier on this thread: "In her correspondence we see that Paterson was repeatedly trying to convince Rand of the originality of her thought and the importance of writing a non-fiction book on her ethics, telling her just what we've been observing: "it's not Nietzsche...," she writes Rand.)

I see you mention Paterson, and I see Burns is persistent with the claims about Nietzsche's influence on Rand, so I was wondering your thoughts on Burn's mixing Paterson into the conversation.

"Rand's encounter with Paterson constituted a virtual graduate school in American history, politics, and economics. She soaked up Paterson's opinions, using them to buttress, expand, and shape her already established individualism. Paterson helped shift Rand onto new intellectual territory, where Nietzsche's voice was one among many."


I Disagree

James S. Valliant's picture

No, Linz, Rand was already saying in that earliest edition of WTL that she wouldn't "include blood" in those "methods" she "admired" -- in admiring his "methods," she was merely agreeing that one shouldn't have to wait to "convince fools." Are you suggesting that Rand really ever wanted the masses to be "ground underfoot"? If so, her private notes, once more, contradict that notion. From all the evidence, it is plain that she was a political liberal even at this early date. The notes she wrote in her journal prior to selling the first manuscript of WTL to a publisher are spilling over with anti-Nietzschean ideas, including political liberalism, even then. Can't you hear the bitter reality in that quotation about the masses?

I will repeat my question: specifically, what Nietzschean idea or policy did Rand allegedly adopt but later abandon? Please describe, specifically, what changed in her convictions?

The Idea of Winners vs. Losers

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Frediano: "Where does the belief in 'winners vs. losers' come from?

I only ask such questions, but I'll ponder this one out loud."

Some musings in response:

Seems to me it's a holdover from the human past, and maybe even from residues of our animalian evolution.

Darwin was very impressed by the theories of Malthus. The idea of scarcity was important to his forming his theory of natural selection -- the idea being that there are limited resources which can only support such-and-such population size (the size would vary with different species and different environments). If a creature had some adaptation which gave it an edge in obtaining resources, it would be more likely to "win" in the sense of staying alive long enough to produce viable offspring.

And I think this (roughly sketched) picture is accurate of animal existence. For instance, the squirrel population in our immediate neighborhood. We have a couple oak trees in our front yard. They provide food for a population of squirrels, but only up to a certain size -- there might be ten or so thriving at a given time but beyond that there isn't enough food, and I assume the weaker ones die off quickest (as well as more easily falling to predators such as raccoons), leaving a fairly stable number of "winners."

When humans were developing, in hunter/gatherer days, food supply would always have been iffy, only so much to go around and that was that.

It needs a surplus before there's anything TO trade, something which is left over more than necessary to satisfy one's immediate wants.

I long ago (in college) read a book called *Man Makes Himself* by V. Gordon Childe which talks about the need of an agricultural surplus for civilization to develop.

A surplus enabled an artisan class, people who could devote much of their time not to providing food but to making artifacts and art works. And it enabled a ruling class and an educated class (overlapping membership), royalty and religious leaders and learned folk who could devote much of their time to being in charge and instructing.

But there still wasn't near enough to go around so that no one was a "loser" in access to resources. And there developed groups which survived by plundering what others had produced.

It was a long while before there really was enough, at least within certain societies, so that everyone might at minimum eat and have somewhere to live. And for much of history it was the case that those with wealth were partly getting the wealth at the expense of others.

So I think that this is still the way a lot of people see the issue of wealth -- the rich got rich by exploitative methods. Not that this isn't so in some cases. But I think a lot of people *presume* that someone rich must have gotten that way through depriving other people, through unfair methods.

I once saw a wonderfully comic example of someone who did understand that in a society of abundance, the rich needn't be viewed as enemies of those who aren't rich.

It was during the Bicentennial Celebration. There were many activities in Philadelphia. Although I was living and working in New York City at the time, Larry was during graduate work at Temple, and I generally commuted to Philadelphia on the weekends.

There was TV coverage of activities, including some NPR-type reporters who were going around in poor areas trying to elicit disgruntled responses about how "the American dream" had played out. One reporter misjudged a prospective interviewee -- middle-aged guy sitting on a doorstep, heavy, perspiring, clad in a T-shirt, drinking a beer, missing a few of his teeth. The reporter must have expected growls and snarls upon asking this fellow how he felt about the rich being "on his back." "Ha!," the guy replied. "Get the rich off our backs, and we'll all starve!" The reporter promptly curtailed the interview.



Lindsay Perigo's picture

James—again, the point is not that Rand didn't repudiate Nietzsche, or repudiate him adequately. She did. The point is that she was entranced by him more, or at least for longer, than she was subsequently prepared to acknowledge. Dropping "I admire your methods" from "I loathe your ideals. I admire your methods," and dropping "What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot?" altogether were admirable moves. They were also more than mere editorial line changes of no philosophical significance.

As far as I'm concerned she gets a free pass for being coy about this. But no one else need be or should be on her behalf. Her great achievement was in part to transcend Nietzsche and show him to be merely the flip side of the very coin he professed to eschew. It took her a while to grasp that that's what he was. So what? If she hadn't grasped it, would anyone have done so yet? With the benefit of her *having* done so, the rest of us can now get it quite readily. Just another reason to be grateful to her, as I for one was when writing my essay.

This is the Point...

James S. Valliant's picture

Who is Ayn Rand? is a kick in that sense, yes, but since Rand was alive, it makes an easy reference as to what Rand was telling the world about herself.

And I was hoping you'd bring up those We the Living changes and her description thereof. Rand has taken unfair grief for this, in my view.

The importance of those first philosophical notes is precisely that they were written at the very same time she was writing the first version of We the Living, 1934, when the "Nietzschean" influence is said to have been at its zenith. Rand is already rejecting a "genealogy of morals," and determinism, and is defending logic, system, principles, individual rights and reason. Nowhere is a "will to power" to be found. That "A is A" is found in the first edition to WTL, and like evidence, confirms this.

These notes therefore CONFIRM RAND'S ACCOUNT that it was FN's rejection of reason which alienated her; that she was already enthralled by Aristotle's logic to the exclusion of Nietzschean methodology; and, that even when writing the first edition of WTL, she had developed much of the outline for the whole of Objectivism.

Rand's description of her edits suggests that she did not really change her ideas over that period, that her problems were largely linguistic. This is what her critics think is dubious. However, the notes she was writing during the same period as the earliest edition of that novel confirm Rand's description. Those notes show that, indeed, her basic ideas were unchanged.

Something did happen during the writing of The Fountainhead, but her earlier notes show conclusively that it was not some new abandonment of Nietzsche's ideas. I believe that, for whatever reason, Rand came to understand that her philosophy was something more than Aristotle's logic dressed up in Nietzschean poetry or Hugo-inspired novels. She came to see that she was doing something that even Aristotle had not done, and something directly opposed to much of Nietzsche's vision.

In her correspondence we see that Paterson was repeatedly trying to convince Rand of the originality of her thought and the importance of writing a non-fiction book on her ethics, telling her just what we've been observing: "it's not Nietzsche...," she writes Rand. I believe that Rand's confidence in her own originality was something of which she became increasingly convinced of during the writing of The Fountainhead, and it was during this period that we see the end of Nietzschean terminology altogether in her notes.

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