Dr. Edwin Locke's Comments on Burns

Submitted by wngreen on Wed, 2010-12-08 16:14

Comments on Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American
Right can now be found on Dr. Locke's website. I have not read the book and these and other comments/reviews have only confirmed the rightness of my decision.

Too Much Time

Luke Setzer's picture

Anyone who has time to play Mafia Wars (or Farmville or other Facebook games) has too much time on his hands!

I think he'd be back if SOLO

Aaron's picture

I think he'd be back if SOLO adds Mafia Wars Smiling.


Neil Parille's picture

Welcome back to SOLO. I just saw on FB that Jim Valliant is preparing an "updated" version of PARC. The best Christmas present I'll get.

BTW, while Jim's health is sadly precarious, it looks like he is active on FB. Did he flounce from SOLO?

-Neil Parille

Doug: natural law

Chris Cathcart's picture

The natural-law tradition traces to Aristotle via Aquinas and then up through Locke and Jefferson -- but there's little evidence Rand had to rely on them (or that she would have) for her formulations, given her need to integrate everything first-hand. She arrived at identifications much similar to what the natural-law thinkers had, but that's no surprise since they're all conscientiously looking at reality and gleaning a lot of "well, duh" things. Hell, there's a reason it's called a *natural* law tradition -- it's all coming from a naturalistic approach that contrasts sharply with a Platonist-rationalist one.

Burns, Locke, PARC, etc.

Chris Cathcart's picture

Parille really does need to get a life. How on earth someone ostensibly committed to productive values spends hours on end analyzing a commentary on a slipshod book is beyond me. The quotes taken from the Burns book are plenty sufficient to call into question its usefulness as a competent, informed, intelligent look at Rand. That some of Locke's commentaries are questionable (and they are) are one thing; that they establish Burns's book as unreliable is really beyond spending more than a couple minutes on at most.

As for Parille's no-life-having obsession with PARC . . . what else can be said after all this time? Nathaniel Branden is a compulsive liar, exploiter, manipulator, vulture, etc., who can't be trusted any further than he could be thrown, and that's what PARC set out to show and it succeeded. I don't know what about that is so hard to understand. That's the essential; the rest is all details and minutiae.

There's also something, shall we say, sense-of-life about all this. What sense-of-life reaction does Parille's obsession with pointless minutiae evoke? Well, you're seeing it here in this thread. Again, I point out that someone committed to productive expenditure of time doesn't go on endlessly the way he does. He squeezes whatever he can out of footnotes to footnotes, and doesn't seem to generate anything of much interest or use to anyone besides a few pathological Brandroids. Sad.

Ringleader of the terrible twosome

gregster's picture

"So, as a result of Nathaniel Branden's massive dishonesty, the progress of the pro-capitalist cause was set back by decades. Decades of delayed human progress. Do you fucking realize how many lives this cost, or how many people remained impoverished as a result? Billions, potentially. If sheer numbers dead or impoverished as a result of someone's dishonesty were the measure of evil, Branden might well be the most evil man who ever lived."

Chris Cathcart. Nice.


Neil Parille's picture


While I might be criticized for gratitously [sic] inserting attacks on Jim Valliant here, I don't see what my posts have to do with the "negative" about Rand.

My point is simple: (1) Locke does a poor job quoting and describing Burns' book; thus (2) his analysis isn't worth much. Just like Jim Valliant did with theBrandens, if I didn't mention that already.


You got it

gregster's picture

Could not have put it better myself Ellen.


Ellen Stuttle's picture

I haven't yet read the Locke review. I expect I'll find it obtuse (I generally find Locke obtuse) and unfair to Burns. Nor have I yet read more than a fraction of Neil's analyses.

I'm laughing at noticing Neil once again displaying Javertly doggedness in pursuit of the negative about Rand. I've come to think that from the start it was more an issue of Valliant's attitude toward Rand than of Valliant's misuse of sources -- Neil's stated focus -- which motivated Neil's diligence in critiquing PARC. Else why the continued pursuit, the effort at seeking and emphasizing in the subsequently published biographies those details which might shed unflattering light on Rand, the relentless countering of commentaries which challenge such details?

"From the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight can grow" -- a sentiment of Kant's which Neil has quoted approvingly. I think the sentiment is important to Neil's worldview, thus his persistence at gainsaying those who believe that Rand was NOT "a deeply flawed woman—putting it gently." (The description is from Charles Murray's June 1, 2010, piece "Who is Ayn Rand?" about the two recent biographies.)


Rothbard, Rand, Branden

Neil Parille's picture


I'll consider emailing Barbara. However, I don't think she has ever claimed that Rothbard plagiarized her master's thesis in the precise meaning of plagiarism (lifting sentences or paragraphs).

Burns says that Rothbard wrote Richard Cornuelle and said that Rand denied "basic instincts." It's not clear precisely what Rothbard or Burns means, but obviously to find his "official" position you have to read his works. Since Rothbard's works are available on the internet, I'm not sure what the problem is with "scholars" like Dr. Locke.

I think what is clear is that this paper used "Randian" language whereas Rothbard generally avoided sounding like Rand.


"Apparently, Rothbard also

Aaron's picture

"Apparently, Rothbard also believed in instincts . . ."

I was recently listening to 'Ethics of Liberty', and thought this sounded contradictory to Rothbard's stance. I just found the quotes, from chapter 6, A Crusoe Social Philosophy:

"He finds also that, in seeming contrast with animals, he does not possess any innate instinctual knowledge impelling him into the proper paths for the satisfaction of his needs and desires."

"And so man, not having innate, instinctive, automatically acquired knowledge of his proper ends, or of the means by which they can be achieved, must learn them, and to learn them he must exercise his powers of observation, abstraction, thought: in short, his reason."

Rothbard, Branden

Aaron's picture

Neil, Don-
I've also read plenty of Rothbard, and know where he had something useful to contribute and where he went wrong. His post-break treatment of Rand (e.g. 'Mozart was a Red') was more snide than hers, but still many Oists are missing out by simply condemning him and refusing to read 'What Has Government Done to Our Money', 'Man, Economy, and State', etc.

Plagiarism is a serious charge though, and one that would certainly color my view of him if true. I've heard it before with respect to Rothbard 'plagiarizing' Rand - in the rather empty sense of saying he espoused free-market ideas after her (i.e. in the same sense she could equally falsely be accused of plagiarizing von Mises). However, specific allegations concerning a specific Barbara Branden graduate paper could be another matter - at least having a real possibility of plagiarism, though evidence would still be warranted.

Branden is still around (on OL?), and I'm assuming you are on good terms with her Neil (I'm not on terms good or bad, I just don't know her from Eve). Could you ask her directly for clarification about the plagiarism accusation, what paper, and what text appeared in her work vs. Rothbard's? If anyone alive has information to support a charge of plagiarism, it would be her.


This was ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... my review of Burns when it came out:


I regarded, and regard, it as an honest work, unlike that of Heller, which was simply Babs II, driven by the author's self-confessed hatred for her subject.

I also regard it as tiresomely Randroid of people like Locke and Binswanger to expect a non-Objectivist author to write the book about Rand that an Objectivist would write and that only an Objectivist could write. And I disagree with Wm's approach of dismissing a book and not reading it because they have read it and dismissed it. If Burns is the enemy, then at least know thine enemy firsthand.

As to why I for one am not engaging in detailed debate with the self-confessed humanity-diminisher, newbies here should know that there have been countless posts on countless threads on these matters in the past. The PARC Wars, as we called them, were never waged more fiercely than on SOLO. But I have better things to do than play "Gotcha!" over numbing minutiae with someone whose entire waking hours are devoted to diminishing Ayn Rand because she was as great as he denies she was. Please note the conversation with Mr. Parille reported in my review.

Contrary to what Parille says, I am a Rand-worshipper. I just don't equate worship with uncritical worship.

Rand was unique contra Burns

Doug Bandler's picture

That Burns appears to believe that Rand's philosophy is not completely unique and falls within a liberal or natrual law tradition...

There's something else that pisses me off about this whether it come from an academic like Burns or a piss-ant like Parille. If it was true then why haven't we heard about the philosopher/thinker that supposedly first originated Rand's ideas? Further, why isn't this person (or persons) hated the way Rand is? The fact that it is Rand and only Rand that is so reviled by liberty haters everywhere tells us alot about the so-called "originators" of Rand's ideas. Not even the Founding Fathers or Locke are so hated. They often are perverted to be made to look adaptable to Left-Liberal politics but they are not as reviled as Rand is by the Left. The Left doesn't even try (indeed they can't) to make Rand compatible with Leftist thought.

I submit that if there were truly anyone else who had originated Rand's ideas in egoistic ethics, non-skeptical secular epistemology, or in the moral defense of capitalism we would have heard about them. Why? BECAUSE THEY WOULD BE HATED!!

Burns is an intellectual light weight for not understanding this and Parille... Well, he already knows what I think of him.


Neil Parille's picture

Doug is the only one who has made an attempt (albeit half-hearted) to refute what I said.

For example:


"Apparently, Rothbard also believed in instincts . . ." Big deal. Objectivists are just about the only ones I know who don't think human beings have instincts.

Objectivists deny that man has pre-formed conceptual knowledge. Instincts is a mushy term that can be defined many ways. No Objectivist intellectual denies that there are hard-wired emotional mechanisms in the human brain and certainly not Ed Locke. What Objectivism denies is that "instincts" provide man with automatic conceptual conclusions.

Does Doug know what Rothbard believed about instincts? I think that Rothbard agreed with Rand on this and it was one of the areas where he supposedly "plagiarized" from Rand.

EDIT: I'm right. "Man is born with no innate knowledge of what ends to choose . . . . Having no inborn knowledge of how to survive and prosper, he must learn what ends and means to adopt . . . ."

-Neil Parille

Doug's evidence?

Don E. Klein's picture

Neil: Perigo to his credit doesn't worship Ayn Rand. But members of his peanut gallery such as William Green, Gregster and others do. I shot down the one big attack on the Brandens and they will never forgive me for that.

I don’t think he’ll forgive me being lukewarm on Lanza while praising Fischer-Dieskau to the skies.

I don’t see how any fair minded third party can read this thread and not conclude that you’re the one making intelligent contributions, and the others are just spewing. That’s assuming that you don’t actually live in your mother’s basement and masturbate all day, I don’t credit the accusation but if Doug has evidence I know I don’t want to see it.

Back to the Burns book, I’m afraid I went a little overboard when I wrote that it “wasn’t worth much”. I took it in about the same time as the Heller bio, and I was pretty burned out on reading about Rand. I may have to give it another chance sometime.


Neil Parille's picture

It looks like I'm the only here (along with Don) who is actually interested in what Locke says and is discussing it intelligently.

I seem to recall that you somewhat liked Burns' book.

-Neil Parille


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Personally Neil, I think you are a warped, twisted fuck and there is no way I would provide you with a forum for your crap. Lindsay is far more tolerant than I.

The great value in providing a forum for sick fuck humanity-diminishers is that they reveal themselves to be such, unambiguously and incontrovertibly.

Besides, if Neil weren't here who else would elicit such magnificent KASS posts from you? Eye

So you see, I have selfful reasons for my "tolerance."

A Goblian

Doug Bandler's picture

And definitely not to the extent that you worship your infallible, omnipresent ghost.

Neil is a Goblinian? Wow, that explains alot. It would also explain why I see him commenting at or linking to very religious Conservative bloggers like Larry Auster. That also explains his friendly relations with the ContraAynRand crowd. Aren't they a bunch of Goblians also?

What a pathetic specimen.

Don: The Backstory

Curt Holmes's picture


As far as I can construct it, it’s as follows:

Parille has devoted his life to wallowing in anything that remotely is critical of Rand or her work.

I love Rand’s work and care little about the various scandals and Branden books one way or another.

If I had ever seen a comment from Parille that acknowledged the greatness in Rand and her work, I might have a different opinion of him. But I have never seen such a thing.

He is a termite.


gregster's picture

Parille - that had me laughing aloud; ”I shot down the one big attack on the Brandens..” Sometimes you are genuinely entertaining - probably not intentionally. The inordinate amount of time you continue to expend on “shooting down” PARC reveals that you know its truth. There can be no other explanation as to why one little man could become so sidelined from healthy daily activities. Here again you’re gnawing away interminably.

Thanks for that badge of honour. I do worship Ayn Rand in many ways, yes. Not in the conventional sense, that which you share with Heller and Burns, where worship is taken to have religious connotations. And definitely not to the extent that you worship your infallible, omnipresent ghost.

My worship takes the form of admiration for astounding achievement. There are no rituals associated with this, I don’t possess a wee shrine with the sacred texts up to and including PARC, as you do - set aside for the superb offerings from Babs and Nate.

"The man-worshipers, in my sense of the term, are those who see man's highest potential and strive to actualize it. The man-haters are those who regard man as a helpless, depraved, contemptible creature––and struggle never to let him discover otherwise. It is important here to remember that the only direct, introspective knowledge of man anyone possesses is of himself."

Merry Xmas Neil, but do get yourself out for some fresh air.

Litany of Bullsit

Doug Bandler's picture

All of Neil's points are attempts at obfuscation.

"Apparently, Rothbard also believed in instincts . . ." Big deal. Objectivists are just about the only ones I know who don't think human beings have instincts.

Objectivists deny that man has pre-formed conceptual knowledge. Instincts is a mushy term that can be defined many ways. No Objectivist intellectual denies that there are hard-wired emotional mechanisms in the human brain and certainly not Ed Locke. What Objectivism denies is that "instincts" provide man with automatic conceptual conclusions.

Well Locke is entitled to disagree, but Burns had access to Rand's papers and is entitled to conclude (if she does) that Rand wasn't as original as she claimed. This is the view of every non-Objectivist intellectual historian I know.

First of all, how many legitimate historians do you know? You're a loser who lives in his mother's basement and hangs out on Rand-hating sites all day while you probably collect welfare. But more importantly, why would that be shocking that establishment intellectuals want to deny Rand's significance? Do you not see the state of today's academy and its war against freedom and basically everything good and decent? Neil, you really are a mental midget.

That Burns appears to believe that Rand's philosophy is not completely unique and falls within a liberal or natrual law tradition doesn't mean that she believes all ideas are "pretty much equal."

Rand's political philosophy does fall within a natural law and liberal tradition. The point is that her innovations have properly grounded political liberalism for the first time in history. Also, the natural law tradition has been inescapably tied to Platonic Realism. This has always limited it. Rand solved that problem.

Neil, your posts here demonstrate that you are a psycologically troubled man. You need help. No one who dedicates this much time to hating on Ayn Rand could ever be healthy. Also, every one of your points is nothing more than playing games with MINUTIAE. You do not have the cognitive capability to deal with the ultimate SUBSTANCE of Rand's philosophy at the epistemological level.

Personally Neil, I think you are a warped, twisted fuck and there is no way I would provide you with a forum for your crap. Lindsay is far more tolerant than I.

Don: The Backstory

Neil Parille's picture


As far as I can construct it, it's as follows:

Perigo used to be friends with Barbarba Branden. He had a falling-out with her around 2005. At roughly the same time, Jim Valliant published The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, which accused Barbara of being evil and dishonest.

This was perfect timing for Perigo, since he used the book to attack Barbara, claiming that his falling out with her had something to do with an allegedly dishonest comment of hers about him.

In a very ill-advised move, Perigo decided to praise PARC, claiming that its research was "unimpeachable" or words to that effect. Problem was, Perigo didn't bother to check Valliant's sources. (Since Valliant used only three or four books as sources, it would have been very easy to do.) Shortly thereafter I began a critique of Valliant's book demonstrating how Valliant deliberately misquoted his sources.

Perigo will never forgive me.

Valliant and his early supporters (his wife and Casey Fahy) are now gone from SOLO.

Perigo to his credit doesn't worship Ayn Rand. But members of his peanut gallery such as William Green, Gregster and others do. I shot down the one big attack on the Brandens and they will never forgive me for that.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 15)

Neil Parille's picture

15. p. 90: Burns describes The Fountainhead as “a strange book . . . moody, and feverish.” No reasons are given for these assertions. In contrast, Burns presents quotes showing why people loved the book. Somehow readers failed to see the book in the snide way Burns did. No explanation for these conflicting views is given.

Here is what Burns wrote in full:

That Bobbs-Merrill failed to anticipate the book's success is understandable. The Fountainhead is a strange book, long, moody, feverish. Even after Rand's last-minute editing it took up nearly seven hundred pages.

What was it that readers found in The Fountainhead's pages? At the most basic level the book told an exciting story, and told it well. When freighted with Rand's symbolic connotations, architecture became exciting and lively.

1. Looking at the material that Locke omits it's clear that "strange" isn't equivalent to bad, as Locke implies. It's more like "unusual."

2. There is no contrast between an allegedly negative evaluation of the book by Burns and a positive evaluation of the readers. Burns likes the book and shares Rand's readers' admiration for it.

I take back what I said: Locke is as bad as Valliant.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 17)

Neil Parille's picture

17. p. 97: The heading of Part ll of Burns’s book is “From Novelist to Philosopher.” Again this is seriously off the mark. If Burns had studied Ayn Rand more carefully, she would have known that Ayn Rand’s literary goal was to present the ideal man (or woman). She recognized, unlike most, if not all, other writers, that to present an ideal you had to have a philosophy. Ayn Rand was philosophical from an early age. So her development was not one of
going from novelist to philosopher, but rather of formulating her philosophy more clearly and in more detail as she wrote her novels. Her philosophy is at the base of all of her books. It was the full development of her philosophy that enabled her to characterize the heroes (and villains) in Atlas Shrugged and to formulate the book’s theme.

Actually, the heading of Part II is "From Novelist to Philosopher, 1944-1957"

It's just a heading. Is Locke that dense?

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 20)

Neil Parille's picture

20. p. 128: Burns writes, “Rand’s theory of natural rights was based on fiat, on her stating it must be so.” This is totally false. Her theory was not a theory of “natural rights” in the Lockean sense at all. She does not derive it from man in a state of nature. Her theory of rights was based on man’s nature as a rational being, the morality of egoism, and the requirements of man’s survival in society. She wrote two whole articles on rights (see The Virtue of Selfishness and see also Galt’s speech, both of which Burns knew about). This is just poor scholarship."

A couple points here.

1. This is in a context of a letter from Isabel Paterson to Rand, long before her mature theory of rights was worked out.

2. In fact, I think the claim that Rand's theory was "based on fiat" is Paterson's evaluation of it. Two sentences later read, "Paterson concluded her letter with another snide remark."

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 35)

Neil Parille's picture

35. p. 219: “Rand’s invocation of the villainous Kant [whom she blamed for the state of the modern world] was one aspect of Objectivism’s kooky side.” This sentence is doubly bizarre, First, because Burns does not bother to give Ayn Rand’s reasons for her view (Kant’s attempt to destroy reason—which met with enormous success—and his advocacy of self-sacrifice which helped lay the groundwork for Nazism—see Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels.), and second, because in the very next sentence Burns acknowledges Objectivism’s (evidently non-kooky) “earnest intellectualism and deep reverence for the power of ideas.” It is regrettable that Burns has no such

Of course, Burns knows like the rest of us that Rand viewed Kant as irrational for a host of reasons. And most people think it is kooky to consider Kant the most evil man in history.

Burns does have "reverence" for the power of ideas, which is one of the reasons she wrote the book. She writes of Martin Anderson, "Rand help him clarify and unify his long-standing political beliefs, shaping them into a cohesive and integrated whole that helped direct his future work in Republican politics." (p. 235.)

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 37)

Neil Parille's picture

37. p. 223: Burns reports that Branden’s affair with Patrecia Wynand “lit the fuse that would blow Objectivism sky high.” But this affair did not affect the philosophy of Objectivism one iota. It simply upset some people. Somehow Burns cannot separate Objectivist ideas from the irrational actions of specific individuals.

Oh give me a break. Burns is obviously referring the Objectivist movement centered around the NBI. Is Locke really so "concrete bound"?

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 39)

Neil Parille's picture

39. pp. 234–5: Burns seems to think that Ayn Rand should have presented her philosophical ideas as one opinion, then presented other opinions, then claimed uncertainty, and then let the students figure it out for themselves. But why would Ayn Rand even consider this if she knew she was right (and had proved it)? Clearly Burns resents the idea of certainty, in line with current intellectuals. But denying certainty would have made Objectivism into a useless joke. Imagine Ayn Rand starting a lecture with: “Here are the axioms of philosophy and here is how I validate them—but, hey, maybe I am wrong so you decide.” Burns thinks certainty promotes dogmatism (p. 237), but in reality dogmatism is the enemy of real (rational) certainty, because dogmatism necessarily relies on the arbitrary, e.g., belief on the basis of faith, which can only be sustained by evasion.

The discussion referenced by Locke is lengthy and I can only encourage people to read what Dr. Burns writes and compare it to what Locke says Burns "seems to think." It is the least chartiable reading of something I can imagine.

Burns' point is not that Rand shouldn't claim certainty for her ideas. Rather, Burns thinks that Rand's attitude discouraged the kind of give and take that helps people learn independently and ultimately arrive at certainty by their own thought process.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 43)

Neil Parille's picture

43. p. 244: About the split with the Brandens, Burns quotes one student as saying, “The rationally ordered universe NBI students sought and found in Rand was no more.” Wasn’t it? Where did it go? The rationally ordered universe was not based on people but on ideas. The ideas were there, on paper, for anyone who wanted them.

Another mistake. This is straight Burns, not a quote from a student. The previous sentence does contain a quote about To Whom It May Concern, but is from a "fan."

In any event, does Locke dispute that many young people tried to find "new home" (for lack of a better expression) in the NBI subculture and had doubts about Objectivism when the Split happened?

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 46)

Neil Parille's picture

46. p. 269: “Rand had become increasingly unpleasant, querulous, and rigid as the years progressed.” There is no documentation for this claim. I only met her late in her life. I was fortunate enough to take her non-fiction writing course and had two conferences with her regarding papers I had written. She was unfailingly gracious and delighted to answer questions about her novels and philosophy. If she disagreed with something I wrote, she always politely explained her reasons. Ayn Rand, of course, could get angry (though she did not at me). But Burns does not understand why. Ayn Rand took ideas seriously; most people do not. She also understood in the most fundamental terms the consequences of irrational ideas for man’s life; for most people wrong ideas were just floating abstractions disconnected from reality.

Furthermore, Ayn Rand withstood decades of smears and denunciations from the intellectual establishment. In 100 percent of the instances that I am aware of, they misrepresented her ideas, often in the most grotesque manner (e.g., claiming her views were the actual opposite of what they were). Nevertheless, she never became bitter, never refused to explain her ideas (as long as the questioner was polite) and never deviated from her philosophy. She was inflexible in holding to her rational convictions against the most outrageous attacks. This is an aspect of her greatness—an aspect that Burns does not see at all.

Burns' evaluation of Rand's difficult side in later years may not be documented at this point in the book (or even in other places) but it is in fact documented. Just read that account of Allan and Joan Blumenthal in The Passion of Ayn Rand. (Not even Jim Valliant disputes the Blumenthals' report.)

No one disputes that Rand was a nice person most of the time. The evidence indicates the closer one got to Rand's inner circle the more difficult, controlling and demanding she became. There is no reason to think Locke would have witnessed much of this.

Obviously Burns understands the Peikovian take on Rand's anger (she was only upset at the irrationality in the world). Her years in the Archives an interviews with Rand's associates has led to a different conclusion.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 48)

Neil Parille's picture

48. p. 280: In her epilogue, Burns sinks into maliciousness (see also points 49 and 50). She argues that the Showtime television movie about Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, written by an enemy, Barbara Branden, “destroyed the vaunted image of Ayn Rand as an intellectual paragon who lived by rationality alone.” I noted earlier that Ayn Rand was never anti-emotion.

But more important, a less than C--grade, trashy movie written by an enemy who nonetheless wanted to exploit her connection to Ayn Rand, cannot be taken
seriously by anyone—and it wasn’t. We have no way of knowing what events in the movie really occurred and which Barbara Branden made-up.

Barbara Branden did not write or approve the movie script. Burns says that Branden's books was "transformed" into an "HBO" (not Showtime) movie.

The entire paragraph should be read. Burns says that many people got a very negative impression from Rand after reading the Branden biography and that this impression was further "reinforced" by the movie. It should be remembered that Burns (and also Barbara Branden) have many positive things to say about Rand.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 50)

Neil Parille's picture

50. p. 281: Burns claims that the Ayn Rand Institute has a “poor reputation.”

Again, she gives no documentation. Poor according to whom? The institute is skyrocketing in growth, popularity and influence (see its websites). No other allegedly Objectivist organization even comes close.

I think the ARI's poor reputation is so well-known that it doesn't need documentation. Who, other than a few ARI insiders, supports the ARI's rewriting of Rand's papers, as well the purges, excommuncations and fatwas by de facto chairman Leonard Peikoff? In 2007, Texas State University turned down an Anthem Foundation fellowship, it being common knowledge of the dogmatism that plagues the ARI.

BTW, what does Dr. Locke think of the rewriting of Rand's papers?

-Neil Parille

re Neil

Don E. Klein's picture

wngreen: I agree that Heller's isn't worth comment. For anyone new to the site, neither is anything written by Neil.

What his motivation is for putting in all this work is beyond me, but his references check out, he’s polite, and he makes careful arguments. There must be some personal history I’m not aware of to explain why everyone (?) hates his guts.

As to Heller, her book had a lot of new, interesting material on Rand’s childhood, I thought it was worth reading.

More Locke (point 7)

Neil Parille's picture

7. p. 42: In a very brief reference to Ayn Rand’s ethics, Burns writes that AynRand exalted “a psychological mindset utterly divorced from anything outside the self.” This totally misstates Ayn Rand’s position. Taken literally, Burns’s view would detach the mind from reality which would be a state of psychosis.

What Ayn Rand held was that in every issue of one’s life one should think for oneself and not sacrifice one’s mind, one’s judgment and one’s life to others. Thinking requires that one focus on reality, including the value of other people whom one deals with.

Here I agree that this is an imprecise characterization of Rand's thought. That being said, Burns' discussion is much better. Actually this is not a "very brief" reference to Rand's ethics - it is at least a couple pages long, which may explain Locke's concern. For example, Burns reference her previous discussion of Rand's admiration of William Hickman, a murderer who dismembered his victim.

-Neil Parille

More Lock (point 6)

Neil Parille's picture

6. p. 22: Burns discusses Ayn Rand’s rejection by a Russian boy named Levy and concludes: “To desire was to need, and Rand wanted to need nobody.” Bad writing aside, this is an equivocation about the meaning of need. Ayn Rand argued that to have a successful romantic relationship, you need self-esteem—you need to have a self (see The Fountainhead and Galt’s speech). Others cannot not fill the void of zero self-esteem for you. But, given that base, Ayn Rand certainly believed strongly in romantic love (and friendship)—as her life and her novels clearly demonstrated. For example, Howard Roark says to Dominique in The Fountainhead (p. 376), “I’ve given you, not my sacrifice or my pity, but my ego and my naked need.” Ayn Rand’s long and loving relationship with her husband has been well documented (e.g., see Mary Ann and Charles Sures’ Facets of Ayn Rand).

This is in the context of a letter written by Rand's mother to Rand while she was in Chicago reporting her anger that Rand didn't write in several months.

So Rand's feelings concerning a highschool crush gone unfulfilled and tensions with her family are to be explained by novels written decades later?

-Neil Parille

Doug, You are


You are welcome!


I agree that Heller's isn't worth comment.

For anyone new to the site, neither is anything written by Neil.


More Locke (point 5)

Neil Parille's picture

5. p. 16: Burns cites a quote from a cousin of Ayn Rand’s who said: Nietzsche “beat you to all your ideas.” But Burns does not mention here that the claim was not true. Even later in the book Burns indicates she does not get it (p.303-4, Note 4). Ayn Rand’s view of Nietzsche was made clear in her introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The Fountainhead. For a time when she was younger she admired Nietzsche, but as she developed her own
philosophy, she came to totally reject Nietzsche’s philosophy, because was it mystical and irrational—the complete antithesis of her own philosophy. She admired certain quotes from Nietzsche such as “the noble soul has reverence for itself.” Ironically, such a quote could not even be rationally defended without Ayn Rand’s philosophy at its base. Nietzsche’s alleged individualism had nothing in common with Ayn Rand’s which was based on reason. Nietzsche may have called for a new morality, but he did not provide one. Ayn Rand did.

I suggest people read the entire note that Locke references. I don't have time to type it all in, but Burns does mention the profound difference between Rand and Nietzsche. I'll quote the final two sentences:

Yet I approach the question of influence from a different angle, focusing primarile on Nietzsche's transvaluation of values and his call for a new morality. From this perspective, though, Rand's reliance on Nietzsche lessened over time, her entire career might be considered a '"Nietzsche phase."

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 4)

Neil Parille's picture

4. p. 11: Burns says Ayn Rand “escaped into French children’s magazines.” Ayn Rand’s love of (certain) fiction was not escapism but part of her search, even as a young girl, for interesting plots and the ideal man. This is explained clearly in Shoshana Milgram’s chapter (“Who Was John Galt? The Creation of Ayn Rand’s Ultimate Ideal Man”) in Robert Mayhew’s edited book Essays on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (which book Burns must have read because she mentions it in her Notes).

Oh for crying out loud. The context was that Rand didn't have a particularly happy childhood in part because she was too intellectual to connect with other children. Burns goes on to point that Rand was writing stories at the time and entertaining her sisters with her latest tales. She was even able to get the respect of her fellow students.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 9)

Neil Parille's picture

9. p. 63: Burns says that Ayn Rand viewed capitalism as “the solution to all ills.” Clearly, Burns is taking conventional literary license here, but again, it is a careless formulation. What Burns should have said here is that Ayn Rand held that capitalism is the solution to poverty or, more broadly, the only means of large-scale wealth creation. (Of course, more fundamentally, Ayn Rand regarded it as the only moral economic system.) The closest thing to a solution to all ills would be her entire philosophy.

Actually, the reference here is to Rand's 1930's piece "Manifesto of Individualism" written around the time of the Wilkie campaign and not a description of her mature philosophy. This piece hasn't been published. Has Locke read it?

-Neil Parille


Don E. Klein's picture

Neil: I believe in the talk you reference George Reisman says

I’d have to seek out and listen to the talk again, and it was pretty lengthy as I recall. Sorry, but I’m just not up for it. It was Barbara he plagiarized, I think it was her Master’s thesis, the subject was free will. It was suggested (still Reisman?) that Rothbard couldn’t cite a female’s Master’s thesis, there was a sexist spin put on the story. I don’t recall attorney’s getting into it. Sorry if I’m not being very helpful, but my interest level is only so high. Rothbard did therapy with Nathaniel Branden to cure his fear of flying, but it didn’t work. I believe he didn’t present the paper as planned because he couldn’t fly.

Also, Rothbard’s wife wrote or gave a talk on this, and it’s possible I’ve conflated things she said with Reisman’s account. My conclusion was that it’s all a he said she said, you might say I’m morally and factually agnostic on the subject, if still inclined against Rothbard.

More Locke (point 42)

Neil Parille's picture

42. p. 242: Burns claims Barbara Branden was rejected by Ayn Rand because Barbara tried to defend Nathan after the affair with Patrecia was uncovered. This may be Barbara’s story, but in fact, she turned against Ayn Rand when it became clear to her that she could no longer use her association with Ayn Rand to make money. Why did Burns choose to believe Barbara’s story and not Ayn Rand’s when Burns admits (in her “Essay on Sources”) that the
Brandens had revenge motivation and had biases and false statements in their books? (Burns presents no evidence that Ayn Rand was anything but 100 percent honest.)

1. How does Locke know that Barbara's story is wrong, but Rand's is right? What work has he done in the archives? Has he even read her book, or just relied on Valliant's BS?

2. "Why did Burns choose to believe Barbara’s story and not Ayn Rand’s when Burns admits (in her “Essay on Sources”) that the Brandens had revenge motivation and had biases and false statements in their books? "

This is what Burns says: http://jenniferburns.org/blog/...

In my first stage of research, one of my primary goals was simply verifying if the essentials of the Brandens’ stories were correct. I was surprised to discover how accurate both books were. I did not discover any major errors or distortions in basic chronology or timing. I viewed the first series of correspondence between Rand and Nathan Blumenthal, and Barbara Weidman’s letters to Rand when she was away from her (the two later changed their names to Barbara and Nathaniel Branden). All of this material matched the accounts in the memoirs: here was the story of early difficulties in the relationship between Barbara and Nathan, for the reasons described; Nathan’s turbulent relationship with his family; the inflammatory letter he wrote to the UCLA newspaper (which I quote in my book), and so forth.

3. "Burns presents no evidence that Ayn Rand was anything but 100 percent honest." Actually she does. She credits Henry Holzer's statement that Rand's claim in To Whom It May Concern about Nathaniel's alleged financial fraud were untrue.

-Neil Parille

More Locke (point 23)

Neil Parille's picture

23. p. 156: Burns says Ayn Rand wanted to keep her affair with Branden secret due to having “a streak of cultural conventionality.” Anyone who seriously studied Ayn Rand would have to know that she had no such streak. The obvious reason for keeping the affair secret was to protect her privacy.

1. How does Locke know that Rand kept the affair secret to protect her privacy?

2. Rand had no streak of cultural conventionality? Well, she denouced homosexuality as "disgusting and immoral," described her enemies as "hippies," kept her adulterous affair secret, described nurses who took care of her as "kids in miniskirts," voted for Richard Nixon etc. Sounds rather conventional to me.

-Neil Parille


Neil Parille's picture

I believe in the talk you reference George Reisman says Rothbard did not plagiarize from Rand or Barbara. That is, there was no word for word copying. I think he says that Rothbard should have said that some of the ideas came from Rand. That's not plagiarism.

Do you know for a fact that in the paper Rothbard added footnotes referencing scholastic philosophers? According to Murray's late wife, Rand threatened to sue and Rothbard and his attorneys prepared a response mentioning that many of the supposedly plagiarized ideas went as far back as scholastic thinkers.

-Neil Parille


Don E. Klein's picture

The trouble with Rothbard v. Rand is the level of acrimony and the he said she said aspect of it. According to George Reisman, no friend/fan of Barbara Branden’s, Rothbard did plagiarize her work (no reference handy, it was in a talk for the Mises people after his ARI break, available somewhere online). I’ve never seen the two papers to be able to compare and make up my own mind, has anyone else? Once Rothbard had that accusation hanging over his head, he went on the attack, first by reverse engineering references for his own paper, by his own admission with great difficulty, since he sought to use only the work of medieval scholastic Catholic philosophers, then came all kinds of off the wall charges of cultism from him. I’m inclined to credit Nathaniel Branden’s curt statement, again sorry for no handy reference, that Rothbard was simply a liar.

Is Locke the New Valliant? (point 22)

Neil Parille's picture

I don't think Locke is as a bad as Valliant, but he looks close.

22. pp. 151ff: Burns gives a great deal of press to Murray Rothbard, who showed an early interest in Ayn Rand’s ideas but who later came to advocate anarchism. Burns indicates that Ayn Rand disagreed, but Burns does not make
clear in this part of the book Ayn Rand’s full view: that anarchism as a political system is totally irrational and can only lead to dictatorship. (Apparently Rothbard also believed in instincts and the primacy of emotions [p.153], which is further evidence of his irrationality.) Perhaps Rothbard’s most egregious error is the claim that “the good stuff in Ayn Rand’s system is not Ayn’s original contribution at all.” This is totally false but Burns never says so. There is a special issue of The Objectivist Forum, edited by Harry Binswanger (which magazine Burns evidently did not discover in her research) that shows Ayn Rand’s original contributions in every sphere of philosophy (and even other fields like psychology). Burns also includes many snide comments by Rothbard, calling her students (who were known, in jest, as “The Collective”) as “a group of lifeless acolytes” and a “passive, dependent group.” Now I happen to personally know some of the people in this group, though not all of them. Their goal was quite simple: to learn from someone whose philosophical knowledge was light years above theirs. This required them to have active, questioning minds. Passive acceptance would not have enabled them to learn anything. Rothbard was an irrationalist and a subjectivist, but for Burns all ideas are treated as pretty much equal.

1. "But who later came to advocate anarchism." According to Rothbard's semi-autobiographical work he was an anarchist by the time he met Rand.

2. "Apparently, Rothbard also believed in instincts . . ." Big deal. Objectivists are just about the only ones I know who don't think human beings have instincts.

3. "and in the primacy of emotions." It's not clear from Burns' book whether "primacy of emotions" was Rothbard's term. Emotions are more like "tastes" taken in the context of the discussion. According to Rothbard, to deny this is to deny individuality. She quotes Rothbard as saying that, based on Rand's ethics, "there is not reason . . . why Ayn shouldn't sleep with Nathan." (I'm reminded of George Reisman's quote that Rand could have a rational reason for preferring vanilla to chocolate ice cream.)

4. "Perhaps Rothbard’s most egregious error is the claim that 'the good stuff in Ayn Rand’s system is not Ayn’s original contribution at all.' This is totally false but Burns never says so. There is a special issue of The Objectivist Forum, edited by Harry Binswanger (which magazine Burns evidently did not discover in her research) that shows Ayn Rand’s original contributions in every sphere of philosophy . . . . " Well Locke is entitled to disagree, but Burns had access to Rand's papers and is entitled to conclude (if she does) that Rand wasn't as original as she claimed. This is the view of every non-Objectivist intellectual historian I know.

5. "Burns also includes many snide comments by Rothbard, calling her students (who were known, in jest, as 'The Collective') as 'a group of lifeless acolytes' and a 'passive, dependent group.' Well, Rothbard seemed to have some first-hand knowledge of the students. I think everyone would agree there was a conformist attitude in the 50's and 60's. In the ARI-sponsored 100 Voices there is someone interviewed who says that Rand's students all bought the same type of kitchen set as Rand and another interviewee who said everyone was smoking cigarettes and acting like Rand and Dagney.

6. "Rothbard was an irrationalist and a subjectivist . . . " Locke presents no proof of this and if he had read Rothbard's works he would know better.

7. "but for Burns all ideas are treated as pretty much equal." What is the justification for this statement? That Burns appears to believe that Rand's philosophy is not completely unique and falls within a liberal or natrual law tradition doesn't mean that she believes all ideas are "pretty much equal."

I'll comment on a few other claims by Dr. Locke, time permitting.

-Neil Parille

Small yes, Don

gregster's picture

Locke points out another of Burns' errors in Goddess Of The Market's conclusion; that Rand's books teach "Be true to yourself." Further on that last page though she brings back some balance;

"In a 1968 introduction to The Fountainhead, Rand was forthright about the religious energies that pulsed through her work. She described the book's Nietzschean roots and registered both her disagreement with the German philosopher and her desire to convey his exalted sense of life in her novel. Rand argued, "Religion's monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life." According to Rand, the primary emotions that religion had usurped were exaltation, worship, reverence, and a sense of the sacred. She maintained that these emotions were not supernatural in origin, but were " the entire emotional realm of man's dedication to a moral ideal."

Still, an error is an error. And the biographies pale in comparison to Valliant's opus.

The Passion Of Ayn Rand

gregster's picture

Burns pg 280, "Barbara Branden's memoir was transformed into an HBO television movie starring Helen Mirren and Eric Stolz. Complete with scenes of a mink-clad Ayn making furtive love to Nathan in her foyer, the movie destroyed the vaunted image of Rand as an intellectual paragon who lived by rationality alone."

Branden may as well have scripted it, if that's how her book was interpreted with her latter commendation!


Don E. Klein's picture

Dr. Locke’s main point is that Burns lacks insight into Rand, in spite of her years of work on the book, and I agree. In my opinion, it is the fact that her book was published by Oxford University Press that made it notable, on its own merits it wasn’t worth much at all.

Where it was of some value was in the disinterested third party perspective on the Branden affair. Burns reportedly had access to the same material James Valliant used for his production, yet her conclusions are very different. Here Dr. Locke lowers his standards, particularly in item 24, claiming, without providing a citation (as is his practice in the rest of his review) that Burns “acknowledges that Barbara Branden’s book contains many misstatements of fact”, and amplifies this when he concludes “She does not say if or how she separated facts from fabrications”. Here’s a link to Burn’s own statement on the matter, you can judge for yourself:


“A few minor inaccuracies” is transformed by Locke into “misstatements of fact” and “fabrications”. For shame, you cultist hack. He then repeats, again without citation, Rand’s assertion from “To Whom it May Concern” that the break from Rand only followed when “Barbara realized that she could no longer make money through her direct association with Ayn Rand”. How any fair minded person can credit anything Rand wrote in that piece, knowing the circumstances, is beyond me.

So Dr. Locke has provided a typical production of the ARI echo chamber: some good insights mixed with some real whoppers. On certain subjects these people will never have an ounce of credibility.

Great find William

gregster's picture

Haven't read it all yet. As Doug says - it's devastating of conventional thinking Burns. (Don't even mention Heller, several rungs lower.)

"mostly nonsense" There again you reveal your soul Termite. It rings true and clear to me so far. Very well written Mr Locke.

Locke is 100% correct

Doug Bandler's picture

Thanks for linking to this. It was devastating. Burns is a simpleton who can't see past her academic trained nose. I skimmed her book and found it mostly poorly reasoned garbage. Locke's well reasoned and well written criticisms conform to my impressions of the book. I recommend this to anyone interested in Burn's book.


Your a putz and your objections are lame. Locke gives 50 well reasoned arguments with excerpts showing that Burns was an ignoramus and simply did not get Rand. You pick on some non-essential point about who wrote the screen play to the TV version of Bab's hatchet piece. That point does not affect Locke's argument in the least. Also, every criticism you ever made about Valliant's book was pure bullshit and refuted on this very site.

You're a pathetic hater Neil. And you have no life. I still think you live in your mother's basement and download internet porn all day when you're not bashing Rand. Get a life.

On Locke

Neil Parille's picture

I just skimmed it. A few good points, but mostly nonsense.

First, the HBO movie (if it was the Helen Mirren one) was not written by Barbara Branden. It was loosly based on Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand, but Barbara didn't have control of the script.

Second, he says people should read Jim Valliant's dishonest The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. This book has been discredited by me and others.

-Neil Parille

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