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

I understand that ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm not disputing the break, or that Ayn cited, and meant, irreconcilable differences. I think she was unduly coy about their affair after it ended, though. The bits she excised from WTL look Nietzschean to me.

BTW, isn't Who Is Ayn Rand? great?! Especially knowing what we now know about its authors? Cracks me up.


James S. Valliant's picture

Well I really don't see how Rand did that, Linz. It's all over Who is Ayn Rand?, for example, where, as I say, she explains how and why she broke with him in her own development. The reference Burns provides below is from nothing less than the "Introduction" to the 25th anniversary edition of The Fountainhead! How much more would you have wanted her to stress this? We have to remember that FN sometimes seems to deny both the desirability and the very possibility of anything like Objectivism, Linz, which is why the title of "Baptist" is too much credit. Rand was a believer in fundamentals, and literally all of his basic philosophy is different from Rand's -- and, of course, so much of what he says was totally repugnant to Rand.

There's no shame ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

There's no shame in having flirted with Friedrich. Everyone should have a Friedrich phase. He's electrifying on first encounter. I don't know why Ayn would want to play down the extent of her early infatuation. She got over it.

I always like to say the difference between them is that Rand made a point of blowing up Cortlandt when it was vacant. Nietzsche would have waited till it was fully tenanted.

The Greek Connection

James S. Valliant's picture

Maybe this will advance a "discussion," and I've already raised the issue:

The superficial similarities between Rand and Nietzsche are clear: both were atheists (but so was Marx), both were egoists (but so was Hobbes), both could express in their writing a belief in the heroic potential. While such connections help to explain why Rand was drawn to him, why he "spoke to her," as Prof. Burns puts it, both Rand's methodological approach and the actual substance of her philosophy were diametrically opposed to those of Nietzsche, even in her twenties.

The two do belong to the same category of writers in one important sense, however: both sought to challenge the premises of the previous two thousand years of Christian culture, and both found kindred spirits in the pre-Christian culture of ancient Greece. As brilliant a critic as he could be of Christianity and altruism, Nietzsche, however, could not construct a positive understanding of the world. He just knew that his was sick and degenerate, suffocating with envy and resentment, and he knew that Christian ethics carried much of the blame. This makes him a very entertaining read.

If I were to say that he was the John the Baptist to Rand's Christ (qua moralist, folks), I would be giving him (and of course Christ Smiling) too much credit, but I am sometimes tempted... but not because of what Nietzsche actually believed, but because of what he so passionately opposed.


Frediano's picture


Ellen: Where does the belief in 'winners vs losers' come from?

Frediano's picture

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

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

1] From a view of the economies as 'The Economy', a One Pie World, or a poker game with fixed number of chips. I think that is totally innacurate. We bake pies, not 'the' pie, and money is both static and dynamic. We have both income and savings/wealth, not just savings/wealth. (And, apparently, a belief in boundless credit, infinite leveraging of future pulls on the pump handle...) But even that accounting view focuses too narrowly on value-proxies, not value, and it is gradients of value exchange that drive healthy economies. But, all of that is another discussion, it is enough to say "from a view of the economies/'the' economy as a zero sum game."

2] From a belief that others should not gain at all from their interactions with us, only we from them. A view of 'profit' as, that which someone else steals from us, when they exchange value-for-value with us. Which is, nonsense. It comes from a Marxist cartoon definition of economics, the hardly subtle "PRICE=COST+PROFIT" nonsense. That leads to all kinds of whackiness, like, a belief that 'non-profits' will deliver the most _value_ at the lowest price. "Well, d'uh, if you eliminate PROFIT from that simpleton's equation, the PRICE goes down." Better to think of it as a kind of efficiency. And while we are at it, eliminate 'efficiency' from a car engine, and see how much we spend on gasoline. Ditto the efficiency in the engines of our economies. Economies not running efficiently are the gray Soviet economies of waiting.

An alternative model is based on value-for-value, Rand's analysis, the trader principle. When you rationally enter trade in a free marketplace, you don't exchange a greater value for a lessor value (as you as principal--who else for you? -- define value.) If you do not value a gallon gasoline at $4/gallon, then don't buy it. But don't argue "I need it, and will pay anything for it." That is just admitting that you are still profiting from the exchange, and are just grousing about a loss in profit. As in, you value the gallon of gasoline at much higher than $4/gallon -- 'you need it' -- but will gladly pay less for it, and less gladly more for it, but for as long as you actually buy it, you are not losing value in your value for value transaction. In Rand's analysis, in a market otherwise free from coercion, there are no 'losers' in any value for value transaction. The possibilities are:

A] I value what I am offering less than what I am gaining: I will trade and win. Depending on how much less, as often as possible.
B]I value what I am offering precisely the same as what I am gaining: Rare, but I might still trade and not lose.
C] I value what I am offering more than what I am gaining: I would be a fool to trade, why would I do that?

Without coercion, the above applies to both sides of the transaction, so who takes a loss? Because we don't all value equally, in the marketplace in general, there is a lot of A], a little B], and hopefully no C] at all, except by fringe fools, which largely explains the slope of the Econ101 supply/demand curves.

So, in the instances where there is trade, there are no 'losers' on either side of the transaction. In the instances where I feely (I meant 'freely' -- feely trade, although the longest in seniority, is yet illegal) traded, I should count my 'profit' and not worry about the 'profit' on the other winners set of books, we both benefited from the trade, or at the very least, broke even, or we wouldn't have traded. No complaints, and yet, if we add the benefit of not having to be an expert in my trading partner's field to benefit from his expertise, that is an unaccounted for 'profit' that I realize.

I want to live in a tribe that encourages that marketplace of leveraged self interest, not discourages it.

I'm sorry, I must apologize, even after pondering aloud, I still don't understand where the belief in 'winners and losers' comes from. Bill Gates billions was the accumulation of circulated value in our economies, he left a lot of millionaires in his wake. And yet, those billions were not carved out of the hides of any identifiable losers, who once had billions and are today looking at empty pockets picked by Bill Gates&Co. Circulation of value in our economies was greatly increased by his participation, not decreased, and the result of all that ciurculation of value is the crass financial afterglow of his current account balance, essentially, IOUs he is holding for past value circulated.

So, where is the value, and more importantly, where are the losers? The key to understanding the trader principle is, there is no Grand Poobah of Value -- value is in the eye of the beholder, and there is no reason to believe value should be identically perceived by everyone in the marketplace. The value I place on that loaf of bread is much greater than the value a baker places on his ten thousandth loaf of bread, which is one and the same loaf of bread, and explains why he is willing to sell it to me for so little, and why I find it such a bargain, because the effort I would make to create that one loaf of bread would be much greater than the value I exert to buy it--or else, I wouldn't. So, he and I clearly do not value that same loaf of bread the same, even as we agree on a value-proxy exchange price for it, and I profit from buying it, even as he profits from selling it to me. Where is my 'loss' in obtaining bread so cheaply? It is nowhere to be found.

Lather, rinse, repeat. As long as the baker isn't holding some form of gun to my head.


Capitalism still the VERY unknown ideal?

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Neither this thread nor its cognate thread seems to be progressing toward some *discussion*.

Meanwhile, I've been bogged down with issues of "was Frank a drunk?" on OL, and next week I'll hardly have time for posting anywhere.


Let me raise a half-suggested question I've been thinking about quite a bit, from a multitude of sources:

- Jennifer Burns' book (Prof. Burns, may I call you "Jennifer"?).

- Blog posts galore I've been reading.

- Current events, including stuff pertaining to "AGW" -- some huge stuff, stay tuned, about to hit the fan there.

- Long-standing questions re such puzzlements as why evolutionists in general -- and Dawkins in particular is a prominent example -- are so negative toward "capitalism."

- Stuff pertaining to essayists attributing the financial policies which eventually resulted in the attempt to "bail out" to *Rand*, combined with Greenspan's nothing short, IMO, of traitorous remarks.

- And other influences I'm not able to call up to express at the moment.

All of which combined with Jennifer's (presuming an ok on using the first name) talking about Rand's supposed life-long discrepancy between "elitism" and "egalitarianism."

Thing is, there ISN'T any conflict, really, in Rand. The problem, I think, results from two factors:

Historically, there having been a ruling class, and maybe most horribly displayed of anywhere in Czarist Russia.

And people's not understanding that Ayn Rand's view of capitalism was that of a potentially win-for-everyone world.

Dawkins and Co, the evolutionists, who feel so appalled by the idea of capitalism, approach from their seeing the intellectual defense of capitalism as "social Darwinism."

They have basis for this because the so-called "social Darwinists" thought of the situation in Darwinian terms. That is, they thought (though many of them were actually Lamarckians, Spencer being a mixture) that the strong would rise to the top, never mind the fate of the weak, the "species" would be improved.

But this isn't AR's approach at all to capitalism. What she thought was that everyone would benefit. She did not accept the basic "Darwinian" (so-called) idea applied to human beings that there was any scarcity of resources, that there was any necessary need for "winners" and "losers".

In her view *everyone* stood potentially to win and what happened with the rights of the producers being respected was that benefits resulted for all -- though of course the utilitarian argument wasn't her reason for supporting capitalism. The rights argument was her reason.

Maybe this post will produce some discussion. Please excuse its haste.


Take a sjambok to me

HWH's picture

you wish Smiling

Now Hilton ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

One last time—*it is acknowledged* this is not the book an Objectivist would have written.

And there's no point in reacting to it as though it purported to be!!!!

Remember my initial disgust at that jarring line at the end of the intro, that Rand's life was a "tragedy of sorts"? Remember Ellen urging me to persevere? I'm glad I did. The book is much better than that inauspicious beginning would lead one to expect.

Now take your friend James's advice and read the bloody thing, or I shall take to your hard ass with a Sed Effrican sjambok!

My Friend...

James S. Valliant's picture

Please, don't just "judge second-handedly."

Do read it. Smiling

Just got back from the golf course

HWH's picture

and now find myself on the 19th hole with this reaction I stirred up here..

Even William has sampled the undercurrent and smelled sufficient blood to venture forth and take a decent bite out of my shanks due to all this egregious behaviour that disturbs him so.

In retrospect I definitely deserve this pasting. The reverence engendered by Dr Burns's book puts it on my "must read" list, and judging from the admonishments of Ellen and Linz I'm sure I will enjoy it.

However, having reread some of James's critique, I am still of the opinion that however benevolently Dr Burns dealt with Ayn Rand, in my book it still does not totally excuse her for choosing to stay ignorant of Rands Objectivist ethics, arguably her greatest achievement and also the one aspect of her ideas most frequently perverted and misrepresented by her antagonists.

The concepts of rational self-interest derived from the facts of human nature as opposed to the concept of "evil" selfishness as depicted by altruism vary so distinctly, and therefore this difference needs to be spelled out at every available opportunity, not just by Objectivists but by anyone interested in telling the real story..

If however Dr Burns chose consciously to remain aloof from this integral aspect of Rands life and ideas, she should have refrained from drawing any conclusions whatsoever about her subject.

as James remarked re this issue:

On the topic of ethics, Burns is equally misguided. By using altruism in Auguste Comte’s sense, according to Burns, Rand seemed to be attacking kindness itself (GOM, p.193) and was claiming the natural human sympathy for the downtrodden [to be] unacceptable. (GOM, p.173)

Rand had an answer to this, of course, in her explanation for using the term selfish,even though it usually means something very different from Rand’s intention in her Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness (and throughout that volume). It is the essence of such terms that has to be reclaimed, according to Rand, or the truth will be left unnamed, undefined and undefended. True self-regard is the opposite of the savagery meant by the only definition we are otherwise permitted. True self-sacrifice is the opposite of genuine goodwill, despite the usual meaning given to altruism. Bearing so closely on Burns’s point, Rand’s own argument should at least have been mentioned.

At times, Burns’s misunderstandings of Rand’s ethics are, sadly, inexcusable. She writes that, according to Rand, [i[t is immoral to ask anything from others, (GOM, p.167) and that Rand was simply untroubled by the idea of economic wants going unsatisfied. (GOM, p.220) For Burns, Rand is the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Now I sense that we have a friend in Dr Burns, relatively speaking of course, but should we so raptly embrace her comparative benevolence even though she lacks the intent to project, or at least make an attempt to understand her subjects greatest intellectual achievement as a philosopher.

Compared to Babs and Drabs yes, but in context of paying homage to a hero who will go down in the annals of history as the most influential intellectual colossus of the modern era, I think Dr Burns's could have done better (judging second handedly that is)

As for having her here, I hope I havent offended her enough for a flouncing, (because even though she cant yet compare to our lady Slapper:)) ,she is very eloquent, smart and classy, a "must have" for SOLO.

Bravo Ellen!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Hilton is a very good boy, but he's *very bad* at paying attention—he has Mark Hubbard Syndrome, so it's entirely possible he missed *all* your previous posts—so I shall reproduce your post in its entirety to help make sure he sees it. And these points are worth *everybody's* taking on board:

I recommend reading Goddess of the Market.

The smirches you're referencing don't draw nearly so much from the Burns as they do from the Heller book and the Branden predecessors.

Maybe you didn't see the numerous posts by me on earlier threads in which I expressed being heartened by the Burns book as a beginning of serious academic positive portrayal of Rand. Yes, there is the problem of Burns' not understanding Objectivism in important ways, but she presents Rand as a thinker who fully deserves to be considered significant. She engages in no ad hominem; she doesn't brush Rand's ideas aside. [Bold mine—Linz]

Personally, as someone who doesn't know a great deal about the history of political thought, I found Goddess very informative. Also, as I commented in a number of posts, it gave me a vivid sense of what Rand's intellectual struggles would have been like at the time in the context they occurred.


Mischievous remark on the ethnicity issue

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Burns: "why is the default ethnicity for Rand a bland Anglo-Saxon type?"

First, a couple non-mischievous remarks:

I wouldn't call her characters' appearance *bland*!

Her choices go back to her childhood fiction loves -- and to Daisy, the American girl she saw on her family's European vacation. She even features Dagny playing tennis.

The mischievous one:

A good friend of mine, a long-time Rand admirer, suggested -- and I think he meant it -- after seeing Kenneth Branagh's 1993 "Much Ado about Nothing," in which, with no reference at all to race being made, Denzel Washington plays Don Pedro of Aragon, that Washington would have been perfect as John Galt. (He wouldn't be today; he's gained too much weight, but he was mighty good looking then.)



Ellen Stuttle's picture

I recommend reading Goddess of the Market.

The smirches you're referencing don't draw nearly so much from the Burns as they do from the Heller book and the Branden predecessors.

Maybe you didn't see the numerous posts by me on earlier threads in which I expressed being heartened by the Burns book as a beginning of serious academic positive portrayal of Rand. Yes, there is the problem of Burns' not understanding Objectivism in important ways, but she presents Rand as a thinker who fully deserves to be considered significant. She engages in no ad hominem; she doesn't brush Rand's ideas aside.

Personally, as someone who doesn't know a great deal about the history of political thought, I found Goddess very informative. Also, as I commented in a number of posts, it gave me a vivid sense of what Rand's intellectual struggles would have been like at the time in the context they occurred.


Dear Missus Burns

William Scott Scherk's picture

HWH's "gosh your book is shitty, which book I haven't read yet, of course" was due a correction, and I thank Lindsay for performing. What I wonder about is if Mrs Burns is going to bother responding to anything on SOLO. How can she usefully engage with the 'Thanks for nothing' mash note below?

Another wonder is Lindsay's observation: I'm dismayed that most who've posted haven't bothered to read the bloody thing but think they know it all anyway.

Right. Though it could be argued that having an opinion on the Valliant/Burns exchange really only means having to read both pieces. Sure, Hilton's snarks are remarkably graceless, but maybe he is demonstrating that it's most important to choose sides, to stand with The Good Guys, fly the flag, beat the drum, bitch out The Eternal Other. If Burns gets an unfair and uninformed slagging during that exhibition of Goodness, too bad for her.

It's not that Hilton shouldn't judge Burns however he wants, harshly, snarkily, wittily, knowledgably, sloppily, whatever -- it's just that if Burns reads his two additions to this thread, she says to herself "What an ignorant loon. I am outta here."

Hilton, maybe a more thoughtful retraction of the slurs on Dr (not Mrs) Burns? Valliant's tone was quite lovely -- considering he has considerable differences with Burns. His tone signalled respect. What does your tone tell her?


What remaining hair? :)

HWH's picture

I get your drift totally Linz, and will undertake to read it and rescind and correct my take on Valiants critique if required.

I trust Mrs Burns has done as well a job as can be expected from a non-objectivist, but as intellectually lazy as I may appear for attacking her without having read her full account, she in my view by dint of her profession was as derelict and twice as culpable for not having at least attempted to understand Rands theory of ethics prior to painting her with the worn old brush of "compassionless emotionless selfishness" as that anti-concept exists due to modern symantics.

The problem I have is that Rand's anatagonists have no concern for facts nor nuances. They just go for the "jugular" by means of any foothold provided by someone with the intellectual equity the likes of Mrs Burns

That's why I alluded to the recent "short Russian bitch with the black wig" smirch that Ellen brought up. It shows how utterly teflon-coated Rand was to her enemies until Babs and the redemption craving traitor offered their diseased accounts of her private life.

Nevertheless, I fully acknowledge that Mrs Burns could have done a lot worse, even though based only on second handed hearsay on my behalf.

Guilty as charged until proven wrong.

Nothing like ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... reading the thing oneself and forming one's own judgment darling. Eye And stellar as James's review is, no, it's *not* all you need.

I don't recognise the Rand who emerges from your account based on James's account of the book as the Rand I encountered in the book myself, as you might infer from my own review. No, the book is not what we Objectivists would hope for as Objectivists, but it's as good as we might *realistically* hope for from a non-Objectivist and an academic at that.

We're honored to have the opportunity for this Symposium here on SOLO. I'm dismayed that most who've posted haven't bothered to read the bloody thing but think they know it all anyway.


(Tears remaining hair out)

Read the book

HWH's picture

No Linz, I've taken James's account at face value...

More telling however was Mrs Burns's response

It's all I needed wouldn't you say?

After all, having been a passionate student of Rand since '79, I'm probably not a dilettante on these matters.

Hilton ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Have you read the book?

The short compassionless racist Nietzchean Russian bitch

HWH's picture

Dear Mrs Burns

In your response to Valiant you mention that

"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."

Does this mean that rather than put out the fire with gasoline, you felt it your duty to put it out with low-octane gasoline, is that right Mrs Burns?

I agree with James Valiant that you should at least have repaired to Peikoffs "Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand" prior to licentiously painting her the compassionless racist Nietzchean automaton.

Had you been more willing to pay your dues to your claim of being an intellectual historian, you would surely have attempted to gain an understanding of Rands ideas prior to judging her from the default soapbox of ignorance and prejudice, the same vindictive song and dance routine we've seen ad nauseam?

A single glimpse of her concept of reality-based ethics would have lifted your vantage point so much higher, and rendered your biography that much nobler, but for you to to have gone there would have been paramount to suicide. You would have become hyper-uncool.

After all, what bright new intellectual historian would voluntarily opt for being branded a shill for the short Russian bitch with the black wig, when it's so much more convenient to skirt the issue and brand your dead subject instead.

Thanks to you she will now become the short racist Russian bitch with the black wig.

Thanks for nothing.


Remarking boldness in biography

F L Light's picture

As biographic instances may mold
Behavior, Rand’s decisions make me bold.

Poor Casting

James S. Valliant's picture

I sincerely hope that no serious person would leap to film-casting decision from a cultural comparison of that sort(!) Smiling

Francisco D'Anconia

Howard's picture

And it’s Francisco to the rescue! Well imagine that, but somehow I just knew that the 100 generation Spanish aristocrat born in Agentina would make an appearance! Smiling

Desi Arnaz as Francisco … ? hmmm, maybe so!

But instead of Desi, perhaps Antonio Banderas as Francisco would be better …


Personally, after a close inspection of Desi and Antonio's photos .. I'm conviced that both of them are actually Greek. Eye


Oh, haha!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Well, in that case, we're *all* Greek around here. I would hope. Eye

Frankly I can't get exercised by this ethnic thing. Burns is a modern academic. Some of the pomowank of academia must surely have rubbed off on her, including all its BS about class, gender and race. Which makes her book even more of a miracle: there's so little of that stuff in it. Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention.

A curious tangent: I recall two others referring to the "juggler" vein: Sister Jeffrina and Sewer. Now isn't *that* a coincidence? Eye

James, cool. I was too tired

John Donohue's picture

James, cool. I was too tired and distracted by something great here to write out my full point. Glad you picked it up.

Home is where the soul choses.

The Heart of a Pagan

James S. Valliant's picture

No, Linz, Rand may have had some accidental Russian characteristics, but, to steal Andy's line, she had the heart of a pagan, and an ancient Greek pagan at that.

The whole issue of Rand and race raised here is truly misplaced in my view. Rand put her heroes Ragnar and Francisco on different continents and hemispheres precisely in order to say that her theme crosses national, racial and ethnic barriers. Heck, if Lucy and Desi had "crossed a barrier" in this respect in the 1950s, the age of West Side Story, recall, then so did Dagny and Francisco. Yes, Rand's choices were quite deliberate. But to say more is to hold Rand to an entirely different standard than is common for 20th century writers: did Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, or even the southerner Faulkner have mixed race casts of characters in their books, books that were set in the great melting pot of America from that era? How often did Tennesee Williams even? Who, exactly, among her contemporaries, did have mixed ethnicities in their protagonists? Only works in which race was an important theme, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Huckleberry Finn, included such an element, until quite recently. The ideas in her work intentionally cross ethnic barriers, but only so far as to not create still another issue which would need detailed attention and follow-up. Most importantly, her philosophy screams its opposition to racism in a hundred ways.

Nor was Rand a "self-hating Jew" by failing to include an "ethnic" element from her own context. She would assert her "Jewishness" to the bigot, as Isabel Paterson herself learned, and her support for Israel was hardly shy.

Before Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, in the 1950s, no less, Rand was creating a female action-adventure hero in Dagny, as well as a competent corporate executive, flying her plane through electric screens and wielding a gun to free the hero from torture and death...

Again, I must wonder: is it because Rand was a woman that she is subjected to criticisms none of her contemporaries are ever subjected to? (i.e. their love lives, etc.?)

In any case, Rand's work is as trans-ethnic and trans-racial in its inspiration and intent as can be imagined, especially given their temporal context.

Mr. D

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Where on earth are you getting that from? She was as Russian as vodka (and even more potent).

Can we keep things sensible please?!

Angel Munoz:"She did not grew

John Donohue's picture

Angel Munoz:"She did not grew up in Greece, she grew up in Russia."

Then it didn't stick. She's Greek to me.

Greece is her homeland.


Angel Munoz's picture

She did not grew up in Greece, she grew up in Russia.


Howard's picture

ahahaha ... good shot, Greg!

Please forgive, but while writing that I got distracted with a phone call and was unable to jugular two things at once.



Huh Howard?

gregster's picture

"a juggler vein" Come on, raise your bar a little.

Ayn Rand grew up in Greece,

John Donohue's picture

Ayn Rand grew up in Greece, not Russia.

White Al Sharpton's to the Ramparts!

Howard's picture

Good lord, one can't even have a good faith literary speculation without the reverse-political correctness folks having fits.

First off, I can't imagine that many would argue against the proposition that the settings and character apperances that authors choose are often very telling of their values. And yes, I already know that that is not always the case, and that there exists innumerable exceptions. That said, oftentimes from the author's pen you may get a glimpse of their ideal of beauty, and other times, perhaps a sense of what they find significant (or insignificant), and still other times the character appearances and ethnicities may have been chosen almost arbitrarily. So one could ask themselves, if you were a betting man, how, on average, would a short female author of slavic-jewish origin, born and raised in eastern Europe, and living most of her life within the racial melting pot of NYC - how, on average, would she depict the appearance and ethnicity of her literary creations?

Now there is nothing in and of itself, insidious about this question; so no one need bust a juggler vein that it was asked. In fact, teacher and students in literature classes throughout the world, speculate and deduce along these lines every day, and usually their objective in paying close attention to the story settings and character apperance is in order to try and gain some additional insight into an author and a famous work. Sorry, but like it or not, one cannot evade the fact, that in literature - at least GOOD literature, anyway - settings, time periods and yes, ethnicity and character appearance, ARE, more often than not - implicitly important to the story's plot.

When speculating along these lines, the absolute worst conclusion one might arrive at would be, that Rand, like most of her contemporaries, and like millions of people to this very day, accepted the Northwestern European standard of beauty as the highest form of beauty. And since Rand stated that she wrote about the world, not as it is, but as it should be - then the appearance and ethnicities of her novels characters were chosen from this ideal.

That's it, no more, and no less - a speculation, granted, but certainly not a wild one.

Is this the case with Ayn Rand? - I haven't the foggiest. But even if it were, it would not make her a "Nazi" glorifying "Aryan" beauty. Besides, given this woman's irrefutable contempt for fascism and racism, that kind of a leap would be ridiculous. That said, the "Clark Gable/Vivien Leigh ideal" as depicted in the books and Hollywood of her time, was very real, and still exists to this day. So perhaps, this eastern European Jewish immigrant girl, like millions of others, and like many Blacks and Asians today, - maybe she held a bias in favor of the stereo-typical "real" American. If true,it should be of no great surprise; but on the other hand, perhaps her depictions are simply no more than Ayn Rand's personal aesthetic preferences, and perhaps her preferences were derived without any influence whatsoever from the prevailing biases that many non-"waspy" Americans had. Truth is, we will never really know; but this should not make it a crime to consider and evalute the possibilities.

In conclusion, from my reading of GotM, I do not think that Mrs. Burns suggests that Ayn Rand was a racist, but rather, that she is thinking along the lines of what I have just written, and then trying to apply that possibility to the ramifications it might have on her readers today.

Hopefully, Mrs. Burns will chime in and correct me if I am wrong.

Once again, thank you Mrs. Burns, for a wonderful observation on your part, and one that is often missed, and sadly, sometimes purposefully ignored by many of Rand's admirer's. However, on that other matter, I must agree with James V, and believe he is 100% correct in pointing out that the choice of "Aryan" as a descriptive could lead to some terribly erroneous conclusions.

Howard Campbell

Good, I am glad that story

John Donohue's picture

Good, I am glad that story made the book.

That is aside from the main point I made in my post.

For the Record

James S. Valliant's picture

Mr. Donohue,

Prof. Burns does cover that and quotes Rand, see page 56.

" ... Rand characterized her

John Donohue's picture

" ... Rand characterized her Jewish relatives as not being really American."

Even if true, you are spinning. Closer would be: 'Rand characterized her relatives as not being really American.'

Why did you throw the "Jewish" in? What is the deep message here Ms. Burns? That Ayn Rand considered her relatives 'not really American' because they did not have the correct skin/religion/ethnicity? If so, you are accusing her of outright racism.

I'll come back around to that in a moment.

I am from the early days, the 1960s. Back then there was a story we all loved. Rand on a soapbox somewhere and some rude person in the crowd saying "Hey shut up lady, you are not even from this country."

To which the reply came, fast and brutal as a bullet, I bet.
"That's right, I choose America out of conviction and worked hard to get here. What have you done besides being born?"

I have not read your book so I don't know if that story made it in. You may have missed it altogether. If you did know if it, perhaps you could not validate that it actually happened. I grant that it is even possible it did NOT happen. But that is so Ayn Rand.

If you did know of that fantastic story and could somehow validate it, what would motivate you to leave it out?

The point is this: I accuse people myself of not being "really American." Barrack Obama is at the head of my list. But so is Gwynith Paltrow and -- let's see, who is bland enough -- Albert Gore. Please get it: it is not race or any other collectivist prejudice based on the metaphysically given that makes you Not Really an American. It is your premises.

There is a basic Americanist premise. I doubt I have to elucidate.

I suggest you reconsider your insinuation that Ayn Rand made judgments such as the one you wrote of out of racism.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

[(Plot Plot Plot) and (Clarity Clarity Clarity)] or Race Race?

Angel Munoz's picture

Jennifer refers to the ethnicity in Rand’s characters as striking; but is it really? And if so what would be the matter? I think it doesn’t matter from which ethnicity the characters happen to be, imagine what would be the case if Rand would have chosen a diverse ethnic group (i. e. Asians, Eastern Europeans and middle eastern) wouldn’t the Mexicans or the South Africans feel a little left out? Or what if they were purple with green dots? Would that really matter? Would that affect the central tenets of the ideas which are everything but race bias or racism? I think not. I don’t think it was the case that Ayn Rand said “ My Jewish relatives are not really American because of their color (race or origins)” but rather because of the ideologies or the ideas they held. I think It will be rather absurd to think that Ayn Rand thought “If you don’t fit the ethnic type of my characters your ideas are not honorable.” Should the focus of a writer and a philosopher from the caliber of Ayn Rand be the ideas itself? or whether someone might think you are committing a form of racism which you might not even be aware of? What should come first? Making all your ideas clear in your philosophy so that you can write them and communicate them properly? Or to be thinking all the time about RACE, RACE, RACE, I will rather take PLOT, PLOT, PLOT; CLARITY, CLARITY, CLARITY over RACE, RACE, RACE. Where is the race bias (not to call it pejoratively as racism) coming from? From the author? Was her intention to say that characters are only ideals if they belong to certain race? Or from the reader making assumptions that are in fact contradictory of the main ideas? One should never take a particular as a principle, but rather a principle that addresses and justifies the particulars. If a hammer is the only tool you have, everything looks like a nail.

Prof. Burns

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You will gather from my review that on balance, I enjoyed your book immensely. I wonder if you've had further thoughts on two matters where I thought it was weak—Ayn's benzedrine habit and Frank's "alcoholism." I'd put it to you that the evidence that Ayn took benzedrine in such doses that it effectively "powered" her, and that Frank was an alcoholic, are both so weak as not to merit serious consideration. You might care to peruse Michael Moeller's sterling research in his Heller thread just below this one on the alcoholism matter, and Harry Binswanger's firsthand statement re the benzedrine here. Comments?

Thank You

James S. Valliant's picture

For such a serious and thoughtful reply.

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