Ed Cline recently posted a positive review of Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics on Rule of Reason. It’s worth a look.

Let me digress for a moment…

A few days ago, I watched an HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi entitled “Friends of God.” (The video showing an evangelical anti-evolution seminar that I blogged a few weeks ago was from this documentary.) Ted Haggard is featured prominently in the documentary. His downfall from high influence due to his meth-and-gay-sex scandal broke just as the documentary was wrapping up filming, if I recall correctly. In one interview, he speaks passionately of the need for religious leaders to be moral exemplars, not just for the sake of their own flock, but for everyone. Notably, he said that — with earnest sincerity and perfect ease — while actually indulging in his own dark vices.

Ted Haggard could not have said what he said in the way he said it — not if he valued moral honesty. I don’t think that mere repression would allow a person to become so very comfortable with that gross contradiction between his own preached ideals and his own behavior. More would be required to seem so sincere, particularly a positive pleasure in the capacity to deceive anyone and everyone. Any guilt he felt was thoroughly suppressed in public; he assumed a persona of his own creation, based on the expectations of others. And that’s why he was so very charismatic.

When exposed as a moral fraud, the enormous evil of Haggard’s actions probably crashed down on him — at least for a time. I don’t think he just regretting getting caught, as so many criminals do: Haggard wasn’t that kind of deliberate con artist. He was a sincere believer in Christian ideals, at least at one time. However, I’m sure that three weeks of therapy can’t even begin to scratch the surface of his twisted character, meaning that Haggard’s self-excusing and/or self-righteous facade will soon return. A person cannot live in the face of utter moral failure; unless he conceals himself with self-deception, he would be driven to suicide.

I mention the case of Ted Haggard in this post for one simple reason: I suspect that his psychology is fundamentally like that of Nathaniel Branden. Despite the radical differences in the ideals in question, the basic pattern is strikingly similar. If that doesn’t seem plausible to you, then you might wish to read Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. It’s very revealing, to say the least.

My History with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden

 Posted by on 22 March 2006 at 7:28 am  The Brandens
Mar 222006
 

I wrote the substance of this post on my personal history with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden quite some time ago. At the time of writing, my purpose was to more fully explain my strongly negative judgment of the Brandens, as well to use my own case to examine some of the errors commonly committed by honest admirers of Objectivism in the course of judging them. However, the publication of Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) rendered that whole enterprise thoroughly superfluous. For any honest inquirer, Mr. Valliant presents an overwhelming case against the Brandens. He does not merely prove that they manipulated, deceived, and abused Ayn Rand all those decades ago, but also that they continue to do so to this day. (And, I should add, they do so with the blessing and assistance of The Objectivist Center.)

So at this point, I’m mostly just posting this history for the record. Still, I think that my errors in judging Nathaniel and Barbara Branden indicate the great value of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, particularly to young people new to Objectivism. Certainly, my own history with the Brandens, and probably even with TOC, would have been radically different if I could have read that book ten years ago. (That’s why I’m such an enthusiastic supporter of the book.)

So here is my history with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden…

Early in my freshman year of college in the fall of 1993, I read Ayn Rand’s major philosophic anthologies — The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology — for the very first time. Just a few short months later, in February 1994, I read Nathaniel Branden’s article “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” At the time, my basic view of the article was very positive. I was too much of a novice to understand the gross inaccuracies in Branden’s claims about Objectivism, let alone the fallacies and falsehoods of his criticisms thereof. I wrongly read the article as identifying and criticizing certain common but significant errors of Objectivists in applying the philosophy, rather than as critical of the principles of the philosophy itself. Or at least I regarded his criticisms as valid to that extent. (Unfortunately, my e-mail record is a bit spotty on this point.)

Of course, Nathaniel Branden was clear enough that he blamed Objectivism in that article — and elsewhere. For example, in response to my “Yet Another Heretic” post to MDOP in February 1994, he wrote:

I AM SORRY TO TELL YOU THAT THESE FOOLISH PEOPLE ARE ONLY DOING WHAT AYN RAND TAUGHT US ALL TO DO. DON’T IMAGINE THAT THEIR POSITION IS A PERVERSION OF OBJECTIVISM AS HELD BY RAND. PEIKOFF IS RAND’S PRODUCT. SHE IS HIS FRANKENSTEIN. I OUGHT TO KNOW. I’M SOMETHING OF AN EX MONSTOR MYSELF.

In my reply, I clearly rejected Branden’s criticisms of Objectivism, unfortunately while still accepting his basic portrayal of Ayn Rand (and Leonard Peikoff) as demanding dogmatic agreement from Objectivists. That’s not surprising, since at that point, I’d already accepted David Kelley’s views about the injustice of the various “purges” in the Objectivist movement.

The next month, I read Nathaniel Branden’s memoir, Judgment Day. My reaction to that work was more mixed. I was completely enthralled by the brilliance of Ayn Rand’s mind as portrayed in his first meeting with her. Yet as the story progressed, I was deeply dismayed by her seeming irrationality in her dealings with other people. Knowing the ways in which strong emotions can distort memories over time, I did have some reservations about the reliability of Branden’s recollections. Yet I never really suspected outright, devious, and wholesale deception from him. I’m not entirely sure why not. I was likely naive, in that I tend to find grand-scale dishonesty utterly bizarre as a strategy in life. I was also likely impressed by his seemingly frank admissions of his own past wrongdoing. Obviously, I should have seriously considered the possibility of ongoing deception, given his admitted willingness to live in a mess of lies for so many years.

In those early years, I also read a few of Nathaniel Branden’s other books, namely The Psychology of Self-Esteem, The Psychology of Romantic Love, and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. I enjoyed them all to varying degrees. I attended a weekend seminar he conducted in Chicago in October 1994. During the seminar itself, I was favorably impressed by Branden’s intelligence, insight, and consistency with my (limited) understanding of Objectivism. (Later, once I knew more, I realized that his grasp of Objectivism was superficial at best.) About a year later, in November 1995, I heard him speak at the Cato Institute on “The Philosophical Foundations of a Free Society.” In response to a question, he claimed a close affinity for Objectivism:

Questioner: I’m wondering if you see yourself as a spokesperson for Objectivism and also how you’d contrast yourself with others who certainly do, like Leonard Peikoff or David Kelley.

Branden: I have struggled with that question for a long time. I don’t technically think of myself as a spokesperson for Objectivism because I’m no longer teaching Objectivism; I’m developing my own work and my own ideas. But if you ask me: In the main, am I in large agreement with the Objectivist philosophy? Yes. Do I have differences with Rand? Yes. Will historians probably say those differences are not that important and that in fundamentals Branden was an Objectivist? I’m sure of it, if anybody cares.

So I don’t really care that much about the labels anymore. I think that I certainly know that philosophy very intimately well, and I think it has enormous contribution to make to human well-being, and I have benefited from it in my own thinking enormously.

From my perspective at the time, Nathaniel Branden seemed very Objectivist, regardless of his tumultuous history with Ayn Rand. My doubts about his portrayal of Ayn Rand slowly faded into the background.

After graduating from college in May 1997, I moved to Los Angeles in search of web programming work. As I was job hunting, I approached Nathaniel Branden about the possibility of developing a web site for him, mostly so that I would have some work for my portfolio. (It wasn’t because I was a big fan of his work, since I wasn’t.) That began my long tenure as his webmaster. For many years, we had a reasonably friendly business relationship, mostly consisting of infrequent e-mails about the web site. While living in southern California, I also attended a few gatherings of people interested in Objectivism held at his house.

During those years, I never bothered to read Barbara Branden’s biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, except for a page or two. Predictably enough, I’d totally lost interest in the details of Ayn Rand’s life after accepting Nathaniel Branden’s basic portrait of her. Reading Passion seemed like an unnecessary and unpleasant chore. In those years, I did frequently hear disparaging stories about Ayn Rand from people in and around David Kelley’s then-named Institute for Objectivist Studies (IOS). Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Barbara Branden’s biography was often the only source for those stories. I presumed her to be fairly reliable reporter of the early history of the Objectivist movement because Passion seemed to be the widely-confirmed truth. (What a vicious circle!) Also, I thought of her as reliable simply because she was a first-hand observer of events. As with Nathaniel Branden, I did not seriously consider the possibility of grand deception, personal bias, or the like.

So in time, I came to accept the broad strokes of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden’s portraits of Ayn Rand’s character. Despite my admiration for the philosophy she created, I concluded that Ayn Rand was often deeply irrational in her dealings with other people. It was a harsh disappointment at first, but one which I felt bound to accept in light of the seemingly well-established facts. (I can vividly remember a moment of grappling with that bitter conflict in my freshman dorm room.) I concluded that I would not have liked to have ever met Ayn Rand, since we surely would have been at odds. (Augh!) Obviously, I failed to examine the portraits of Ayn Rand created by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden critically enough, in substantial part because I was too quick to accept the standard view of Ayn Rand found in IOS/TOC circles.

Without a doubt, the Brandens’ portrayals of Ayn Rand were widely taken for granted in the intellectual circles of IOS/TOC in which I involved myself (to varying degrees) for ten years. That’s hardly surprising, given David Kelley’s reliance upon and praise for Barbara Branden’s biography in making his allegations of recurring tribalism in the Objectivist movement in Truth and Toleration. Kelley conceded that he did not regard Ayn Rand as “entirely responsible for the tribal character of the [Objectivist] movement,” but then wrote:

It is clear to me that Ayn Rand was a woman of remarkable integrity, who largely embodied the virtues she espoused. But it is also clear that she had certain other traits often found in great minds who have waged a lonely battle for their ideas: a tendency to surround herself with acolytes from whom she demanded declarations of agreement and loyalty; a growing sense of bitter isolation from the world; a quickness to anger at criticism; a tendency to judge people harshly and in haste. These faults did not outweigh her virtues; I consider them of minor significance in themselves. But they were real, and I thought [Barbara] Branden’s book, whatever its other shortcomings, gave a reasonably fair and perceptive account of them (T&T 75, emphasis added).

In the mid-1990s, David Kelley invited Nathaniel and Barbara Branden to actively participate in IOS/TOC. For the past decade, both have done so to varying degrees. Nathaniel Branden has spoken at TOC’s Summer Seminar almost every year for the past ten years. He has been prominently featured at other TOC conferences, including “Reclaiming Spirituality From Religion” (1999) and “Success: What it Is and What it Takes” (2004). Both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden were invited to speak at “Atlas and the World,” although Barbara had to cancel at the last moment due to illness. Barbara Branden was featured as the keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary banquet in 1999. TOC’s magazine, Navigator, published two articles by Nathaniel Branden and favorably reviewed The Art of Living Consciously and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. In 1998, Navigator welcomed the publicity from the then-forthcoming movie The Passion of Ayn Rand based upon Barbara Branden’s biography. In a 2003 book review of by William F. Buckley’s Getting It Right, Robert Bidinotto clearly treated Barbara Branden’s biography and Nathaniel Branden’s memoirs as accurate and reliable accounts of Ayn Rand’s life, even referring to “Barbara Branden’s excellent biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand.” TOC’s book service reissued his Basic Principles of Objectivism course, as well as edited versions of his essays from Who is Ayn Rand?, “The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged” and “The Literary Method of Ayn Rand.” Both Nathaniel and Barbara were interviewed for the so-called Objectivist History Project in 2003, 2004, and 2005. (Nathaniel was interviewed twice.)

Perhaps most telling of all, despite the publication of Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are slated to speak at the upcoming 2006 Summer Seminar. Barbara Branden will speak on “Rage and Objectivism.” Nathaniel Branden will speak on “The Implications of Love.” Together, they will be publicly interviewed on the topic of “Galt’s Gulch and Objectivist Community.” (Uncle! Those three topics are so pathetically ironic as to be beyond my capacity to mock.)

Predictably, once Nathaniel and Barbara Branden became officially involved with IOS/TOC, the general attitude toward them among IOS/TOC supporters shifted in a significantly positive direction. Self-selection was partly at work; most of the few people who strongly objected to their presence, such as Joan and Allan Blumenthal and Jim Lennox, quietly abandoned the organization. Others stayed but tended to keep their objections quiet. Many devout fans of Nathaniel Branden began attending the Summer Seminars largely to hear him speak, to the point that people sometimes joked about him “holding court” in discussions with far too many people gathered in concentric circles around him. Also, more than a few individuals adopted a more positive view of the Brandens at this time. I suspect that many people, particularly those confused or undecided about them, were swayed by their trust in David Kelley’s judgment. They were also likely influenced by Nathaniel Branden’s charm, large persona, and seeming friendliness to Objectivism. Moreover, given the pre-existing break with ARI, people generally ignored or dismissed the contrary testimony of ARI-affiliated scholars who personally knew Ayn Rand and/or the Brandens as biased hagiography. Many people attempted to erect an untenable wall between the person of Ayn Rand and her fiction and philosophy, disclaiming any interest in the person, even though disdain for person clearly bled over into disdain for the fiction and philosophy. (All that was certainly true in my own case, I’m sorry to report.)

Notably, all those changes happened without any serious discussion about the honesty and objectivity of Barbara Branden’s portrayal of Ayn Rand in The Passion of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s in Judgment Day. Personally, while I often heard objections to the quality of the Brandens’ writings and lectures, moral objections to their involvement in a supposed Objectivist organization were not just rare, but non-existent. Nathaniel Branden was such a regular fixture at TOC that he was widely regarded as the Benevolent Patriarch of Objectivism. Correspondingly, Ayn Rand was generally seen as the Wicked Witch of Objectivism. For so many years, I went along with all that.

Now let me pause here to offer an assessment of all that.

While writing up the bulk of this history in the summer of 2004, I came to a hard judgment about myself: Over the course of far too many years, I defaulted on the task of morally judging Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, particularly Nathaniel. To be clear, the fundamental problem was not that my moral judgment was in error, nor that my method of moral judgment was flawed, but rather that I refrained from moral judgment. Here’s what happened — or rather, did not happen. I did not come to a clear and solid evaluation of the Brandens’ actions and character based upon the evidence available to me. When the evidence seemed mixed and confused, I did not set myself the task of answering the critical questions, e.g. “Are the Brandens’ trustworthy recorders of Ayn Rand’s life?” and “Are their criticisms of Objectivism just?” and “Are the Brandens genuine allies of Objectivism?” Instead, my judgments tended to drift along in confusion, pushed here and there by the evidence close at hand. As a result, I passively absorbed a fairly positive view of both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, as well as a correspondingly negative view of Ayn Rand, from the culture of IOS/TOC. My negligence in this case resulted in substantial injustice, not just to Ayn Rand but also to all those who saw through the con game of the Brandens years ago.

And yes, it was important for me to come to a clear moral judgment of the Brandens, particularly Nathaniel. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden were not mere distant strangers, but intellectuals actively involved in an organization claiming to represent and promote Objectivism. So by supporting and promoting that organization, I was also indirectly supporting and promoting Nathaniel and Barbara Branden’s unjust and dishonest attacks upon Ayn Rand’s philosophy and character. I was helping to send the message to the world, including to newbie Objectivists, that Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are basically friends of Objectivism, that their criticisms thereof are honest and reasonable, and that their portraits of Ayn Rand are generally correct. By participating in an self-described “Objectivist” movement which welcomed the Brandens as friends, I implicitly sanctioned — and even encouraged — those nasty smear articles on Ayn Rand and Objectivism based upon the “stunning revelations” of the Brandens. From an outside perspective, if even defenders of Ayn Rand’s philosophy accept that she lived a sordid life, then that’s all fair game, right? (Every single person who still chooses to associate with TOC in any way, shape, or form, is guilty of the same injustice, even if sometimes critical of the Brandens. That’s why I think it’s so critical for the few honest ones to read The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics — and then sever their ties with TOC.) Even worse, as Nathaniel’s webmaster, I personally and directly promoted his work, including his attacks upon Ayn Rand and Objectivism. So due to my failure to judge the Brandens as I ought to have, I was destroying the very values I wished promote.

All in all, I feel a rather mushy and foul disappointment with myself for this failure to properly judge the Brandens. Even given my limited context of knowledge, I could have and ought to have done better. In contrast, although my ten years with IOS/TOC was predicated on substantial error on my part, at least those errors were mine. I made them, by my own conscious judgment and deliberate choice, because I believed David Kelley to be on the side of the true and the good. In contrast, with the Brandens, my failure to judge meant that I passively allowed others to decide for me. I had no malicious motive: I did not wish to think ill of Ayn Rand, as so many of the nasty folks on “Rebirth of Reason” and “Objectivist Living” clearly do. Still, I allowed my confusions to get the better of me; I passively accepted the standard views at TOC; I defaulted on the responsibility of moral judgment. At least that black cloud has a small silver lining: that failure provided me with an enormously clear lesson in the real-life importance of moral judgment. As with all philosophic issues, if you do not decide for yourself, you allow others to decide for you.

So let me now return to my history.

My turning point with respect to the Brandens began in 2003, as I was editing my introductory course on Objectivism, Objectivism 101, for the 2003 TOC Summer Seminar. I decided to add a brief biographical sketch of Ayn Rand to the first lecture, focusing on her life up through the writing of the novels. For some background, I skimmed the early chapters of Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand, as well as the material covering the same time period in her biographical essay from Who Is Ayn Rand?, both for the first time.

Although I was delighted by some of the childhood stories in The Passion of Ayn Rand, my overwhelming response was disgust at the barrage of disparaging, gratuitous, and arbitrary psychologizing of Ayn Rand. Barbara Branden seemed determined to spin the worst possible interpretations from the most innocuous facts. In order to do so, she routinely interjected herself into the story to draw some unwarranted negative conclusions about Ayn Rand’s psychology, usually about her deeply repressed subconscious motives. She refused to allow her readers to form their own judgments based upon the facts presented. It was infuriating. (I’ll rip apart some examples in a later post.)

At the time, I recognized that Barbara Branden’s basic evaluations of Ayn Rand were less than objective, even malevolent. I suspected that her account of her own years with Ayn Rand was similarly, if not more seriously, poisoned by bias. I wondered whether Nathaniel Branden’s memoir was similarly flawed. In addition to these worries about the Brandens’ portrayals of Ayn Rand, I also wondered what justice was rightly due the creator of Objectivism, whatever her personal conduct. In particular, I was disturbed by the contrast between my tepidly mixed feelings toward Ayn Rand and my wholehearted reverence for Aristotle. After all, Aristotle advocated slavery! (As it turned out, I didn’t need to solve that dilemma, since I soon realized that it was based upon a false premise about Ayn Rand’s private conduct.)

My assessment of these matters was substantially hampered by the thought that I faced the Herculean task of having to find out the truth about those long-gone days of the Nathaniel Branden Institute. I thought, for example, that I had to determine who was responsible for the stifling atmosphere around NBI, if such existed at all. That seemed impossible to me, as I couldn’t blindly trust the claimed recollections of one side of the conflict while arbitrarily ignoring or discounting the other. Nor was I going to adopt some cowardly middle position. I wanted to judge for myself based upon direct knowledge of the facts, but such knowledge seemed out of my reach. (In fact, I could have largely decided these questions first-hand by listening to Ayn Rand’s Ford Hall Forum lectures, as I did in 2005. Her tone in the lectures is serious but not angry — and her benevolent responses to all sorts of questions were clearly nothing like the dogmatic authoritarianism portrayed by the Brandens.)

For the next few months, I was overwhelmingly busy with work in graduate school, not to mention with my efforts to get to the root of my unhappiness with The Objectivist Center. I pursued my questions about the Brandens only on occasion, mostly by speaking to a few trusted friends who’d attended NBI lectures and seeking out various criticisms of the Brandens.

Finally, in the spring of 2004, I was able to come to firm moral conclusions about both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. In the course of reading some of their recent writings on Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I realized that I did not need to somehow uncover the hidden truths of decades past. Those writings were revealing enough on their own. As indicated in my “Unnecessary Evidence” post, further consideration of Barbara’s arbitrary psychologizing of Ayn Rand in her biography, combined with her too-often-ludicrous posts in NoodleFood’s comments, were reason enough for me to judge her guilty of longstanding, malicious injustice toward Ayn Rand. Since then, her behavior has only confirmed that judgment: she arbitrarily accused her then-friend Lindsay Perigo of alcoholism, invented ludicrous fairy tales about Leonard Peikoff, offered fantastically twisted interpretations of Ayn Rand’s personal journal entries, and more. As for Nathaniel, re-reading his “Benefits and Hazards” article told me more than I needed to know about his character. For him to promulgate such amorphous, slippery, and context-dropping criticisms of Objectivism, even while asserting his great authority on the subject, was beyond the pale. (I’d like to blog on his particular charges someday, since some are quite cleverly constructed, almost worthy of Ellsworth Toohey.) And so I concluded that Nathaniel and Barbara Branden were and are dishonest, unjust, and generally vile people. I told them so in a private e-mail in June 2004. I announced that judgment in my August 2004 blog post, Unnecessary Evidence, after Nathaniel Branden decided to play a malicious practical joke upon me — by trespassing upon my property, no less. (My e-mail to the Brandens is reproduced in that blog post.)

Since then, Jim Valliant published The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. He sealed the case against them, revealing them as dishonest, unjust, and malicious critics of Ayn Rand and Objectivism — to this very day. Before I read the book, I did not think that I could possibly think worse of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. I was wrong.

In the meantime, the leadership of TOC is steadfastly refusing to consider the issue. In the wake of the revelations about the ongoing immorality of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, they are suddenly disclaiming all interest in Ayn Rand’s life, while simultaneously refusing to even read the book. TOC is too committed to “openness” and “tolerance” to make the requisite moral judgments of the Brandens. As someone said in the NoodleFood comments recently, they’re willing to tolerate everything — except genuine Objectivists.

With the publication of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, all those who claim some affinity for Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism face a stark choice: EITHER Ayn Rand and Objectivism OR Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. It is simply not logically possible to value both Objectivism and its would-be destroyers. The middle ground is gone forever. For many years, I thought that I could and ought to stand on that middle ground. I’m delighted to have been proven wrong, since that leaves me free to admire Ayn Rand in the way she so richly deserves.

More than anything else, that is the great value of Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.

Jim Valliant in Chicago on April 15th

 Posted by on 21 March 2006 at 9:20 am  Jim Valliant, The Brandens
Mar 212006
 

The Chicago Objectivist Society is hosting two lectures by Jim Valliant about The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics on April 15th:

Ayn Rand and the Virtue of Integrity by James Valliant

James Valliant, the author of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, is presenting two new lectures to the Chicago Objectivist Society. For the last twenty years, Ayn Rand has been the victim of attacks on her behavior and psychology inspired by the biographies of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden. Finally, a critical response to the Branden’s allegations has been published, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, by James S. Valliant.

In this two-part lecture, Mr. Valliant first examines the problems with the Brandens’ accounts. The second part of this lecture is a unique insight into Ayn Rand’s character from the only author who has had access to her private journals.

“Jim Valliant… is one of the few people that knows what he’s talking about when he says something.” — Leonard Peikoff, author of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Part I: Ayn Rand and the Virtue of Integrity

This engaging lecture lays to rest the myths about Ayn Rand’s life and character that have been promulgated by her detractors. It is highlighted by extensive, never-before-published personal journal entries of Ayn Rand. These passages are immensely valuable, not only in revealing the claims of Rand’s critics to be profoundly inaccurate and unjust, but also in showcasing her epochal mind at work resolving complex questions of personal life.

Part II: Working With Ayn Rand’s Journals

Mr. Valliant will discuss the process of writing this book, how and why the Estate of Ayn Rand made Rand’s private journals available to Mr. Valliant – and his surprise at the dramatic confirmation of his hypotheses. Mr. Valliant will describe his experience working with Rand’s Estate, and share his insights about Ayn Rand’s personality – her serenity and rationality, her righteous anger, her careful moral judgment of others, and, above all, her remarkable integrity.

About James Valliant

James Valliant is the author of *The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics* and the editor of Ayn Rand’s private journals used during his research. His op-eds have appeared in publications such as The San Francisco Chronicle.

He has been a Deputy District Attorney in the San Diego area for over 16 years. Mr. Valliant is a magna cum laude graduate of New York University with a degree in philosophy. He received his JurisDoctorate from the University of San Diego. With his wife, he created the 1995 television interview show, Ideas in Action, the winner of two prestigious Cinema in Industry (CINDY) Awards.

Mr. Valliant is a regular expert commentator on several news programs in San Diego, California, including Fox 6 and KUSI news programs as a religious, legal, and political analyst. His next book is on the origins of the New Testament, and will be titled, Behind the Cross.

Date: Saturday, April 15th

Time:
12:30-1:00 pm: Author Meet and Greet/Reception
1:00-2:40 pm: Part I: Lecture + Author Signing
2:45-4:00 pm: Lunch Break
4:00-6:00 pm: Part II: Lecture + Author Signing

8:00 pm: Dinner with Mr. Valliant
Location: Downtown Chicago at the DePaul University Campus. More specific information will be provided to registrants.

Cost: $44 per person ($34 full time students) before April 3rd
$49 ($39 full time students) after April 3rd

Enrollment: E-mail contact@chicagoobjectivists.org your RSVP.

You can pay with a credit card via the Chicago Objectivist Society’s web page.

Interviews with the Vampires

 Posted by on 22 January 2006 at 6:19 pm  Jim Valliant, The Brandens
Jan 222006
 

Some of the die-hard defenders of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden have criticized Jim Valliant for failing to interview the Brandens for his excellent book The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. Like so many others, this criticism is a pretty weak grasp at straws. After all, the whole point of PARC was to examine the lengthy books written by the Brandens about Ayn Rand, books perfectly capable of being evaluated without additional input from the authors. Moreover, given the dishonesty of the Brandens proven by an examination of those books, the only point of interviews would have been to see if the Brandens could concoct some new dishonest rationalization for their past and present immorality. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine that any new lies would be so much more interesting or important than the old lies. Also, I can’t help but observe that the Brandens ensured that Ayn Rand couldn’t be interviewed on the subjects of their books by publishing them after her death, so just on that score they cannot rightly claim any unjust treatment. After all, they are still alive to say whatever they wish about Valliant’s book.

Interestingly, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden have chosen to remain more or less silent about PARC. Nathaniel Branden did have something interesting to say in response to a friendly inquiry about any response to the book:

No. What for? If a reader can’t see what’s insane about that book on his own, I doubt that help from me would accomplish much.

What a perfect statement of intrinisicism! Valliant’s case against the Brandens is so overwhelming that poor old Nathaniel couldn’t really say much else, now could he? All his inner children must be crying!

Better yet, Barbara Branden is positively bored by all the discussion of Ayn Rand’s private life. In response to someone who said that “I never really cared about the Rand/Branden split issue” but that she regards the basic story as “Rand got pissed off and wrote Branden out of her life,” Barbara Branden wrote:

Teresa, it was a pleasure to read your post: “Why don’t I care about this?” I am in total agreement with you. I am bored silly by the whole controversy, and I can’t understand why everyone else isn’t, also. It never ceases to amaze me that people who weren’t even born at the time of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s break, are heatedly taking sides and hurling moral condemnations about an issue and people they know nothing about. Thanks for your sanity.

That’s just too perfect: The author of a smear biography on Ayn Rand suddenly decided that the central topic of that work is boring and insignificant — at the very moment of its discredit!

Nathaniel Branden Versus Objectivism

 Posted by on 2 August 2005 at 3:29 pm  The Brandens
Aug 022005
 

On occasion, I hear people claim that Nathaniel Branden is still very much an Objectivist. For various, I believed that myself for many years, unfortunately enough. (I was stunned to my senses by re-reading his Benefits and Hazards essay.) I certainly hope that Branden’s increasingly public professions of mysticism will quiet those claims somewhat, but I’m not holding my breath. Too many people wish to love him unconditionally, I suppose.

For the rest of us, Nathaniel Branden offers quite a few choice examples of the deliberate obfuscation and sloppy thinking required for such a once-knowledgeable man to criticize Objectivism in a recent interview with Alec Mouhibian for Free Radical. (The interview is posted on SOLO in four parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

For example, in Part 2, we find this exchange:

AM: You said at the last TOC conference that you’ve come to differ with Rand on some political issues. Could you elaborate?

NB: Well, it’s a subtle issue, and it goes like this: Objectivism says the sole purpose of government is to protect individual rights. I would say the primary purpose of government is to protect individual rights. And any other activities that the government may claim justification for doing must not be of an order that violates anybody’s rights. For example, some national weather disaster in which certain problems can arise that the marketplace has no way to respond to quickly enough. Or diseases that travel across borders and don’t respect passport laws. I will leave the door open for emergency situations that I just can’t imagine being resolved in a market context. If they could be, then they should be. But the fact of emergencies should not be made as justification for violating individual rights, so as you can see, it’s a very tiny difference.

In other words: A proper government will never violate rights, but it may sometimes act for a purpose other than the protection of rights. I must admit, I was rather baffled by this argument when I first read it many months ago. How could a government act not so as to protect rights without thereby violating rights? Governments are, after all, all about force. So if a government action does not wield retaliatory force against those who initiate it, then it must be initiating force itself. Is anything else possible? I started wondering about a voluntarily-financed government that opened restaurants, doled out blankets to the homeless, and manufactured computer hardware. Would that government be acting not so as to protect rights, but also not violating rights? At this point, I knew that I had fallen into hopeless confusion. So I asked Don Watkins about the matter in private e-mail. As I hoped, he promptly straightened me out:

The fundamental point, I think, is this: what distinguishes a government from other entities is that it has the exclusive right to dictate the terms on which force is used within a geographical area. If what the government is doing is not ultimately reducible to force, it is not acting as a government — it’s acting as a business. So long as it is acting as a government, “protecting rights” and “not violating rights” amount to the same thing. So long as it isn’t acting as a government, it’s going to do a screwy job. But more than that, as [another person] indicated, if the government is acting in a non-governmental capacity, even utilizing voluntary taxes, I think you could make the case that that is a violation of its citizens’ rights, since presumably people paid those taxes for the express purpose of funding a rights-protecting agency: not a not-for-profit corporation.

All of that is completely right, of course. Branden’s general theory of government action that neither violates nor protects rights is incoherent, as it ignores the basic nature of government as an agent of force. So let us now turn to the two particular examples Branden offers as concrete instances of this theory.

Branden’s first particular disagreement is that governments ought to offer some services in natural disasters because they can respond more quickly than markets. Certainly, governments must respond quickly to ensure law and order in case of natural disaster. Yet looting cannot be the problem in question, since preventing that is just the protection of rights. In general, governments lack the incentives for swift and effective action felt by individuals, businesses, and charities in times of crisis. A rights-respecting government wouldn’t even have the resources to do anything beyond ensure law and order in a natural disaster. So what on earth does Branden mean by saying that “certain problems can arise that the marketplace has no way to respond to quickly enough.” It beats me! It’s just an arbitrary assertion, too vague to have any meaning whatsoever.

Branden’s second supposed disagreement about disease is equally vague. What exactly is he proposing? Presumably he means to say that we ought to refuse those with communicable diseases entry into the US. But what kind of communicable diseases — Ebola, smallpox, typhoid, AIDS, the flu? How are these diseases to be detected — self-reporting, suspicious symptoms, mandatory testing for all? What should be the response — turning away, quarantine, forced medication? Branden does not even hint, so I cannot hope to comment. (However, I should mention that Ayn Rand regarded quarantines as justified under certain conditions by the principle of rights.)

Such is the clarity and depth of thought that Nathaniel Branden brings to his objections to the Objectivist politics. I’m not impressed.

Branden then continues:

I have a suspicion–I haven’t read her essays in many years–that if I reread Rand today I might have differences not necessarily with her conclusions, but with the reasons she gives on her way to getting there. I don’t think, for example, that the case she makes for individual rights is strong enough. I think there are things in it I could see an intelligent person questioning. Do I think she could end up answering appropriately and winning? Yes. But it’s not in the text, it’s in her head. For example, in Atlas Shrugged, Galt says (and I’m paraphrasing) that since man needs his rational faculty to survive, you mustn’t suppress his rational judgment. What’s tricky about that is, does that mean you do what you want with his irrational judgment? Her theory of rights has to be broad enough to include the right to be irrational, but you don’t see that in the way she has formulated it.

Branden’s hypothetical objection from “an intelligent person” obviously refers to this critical passage of Galt’s Speech:

You who’ve lost the concept of a right, you who swing in impotent evasiveness between the claim that rights are a gift of God, a supernatural gift to be taken on faith, or the claim that rights are a gift of society, to be broken at its arbitrary whim–the source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A–and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, his right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.

In essence then, Branden is criticizing Ayn Rand for failing to spell out her views with adequate clarity and detail. She said that a person has “a right to live as a rational being,” but not that he also has the right to live as an irrational being. Obviously, the proper response to that objection is that you cannot force a person to be rational. Force negates the mind by rendering a person’s judgment (right or wrong) irrelevant to his actions. So the freedom to be rational is just the freedom to exercise your reason as you see fit — and to enjoy or suffer the consequences.

However, the real question to be asked of Branden’s criticism is whether it is fair or not. Surely he is right that “an intelligent person” might raise that question. Perhaps such a person might even be confused about it for a while. Is that worrisome? Absolutely not. After all, Ayn Rand has provided that person with more than adequate means to resolve any confusion in the pages and pages of prior philosophic discussion about reason as volitionally exercised by the individual, a man’s life as depending upon his independent judgment, force as opposite to mind, and much more. All that the “intelligent person” must do is put two and two together to make four.

In essence, Nathaniel Branden rips this argument out of its rich and detailed philosophic context of Galt’s Speech, then criticizes Ayn Rand for failing to offer an adequate philosophic context. A writer who attempted to follow his advice could not make any claim, not matter how well-grounded by prior discussion, without addressing the gaggle of objections possible to someone who, although smart, hasn’t yet integrated it all yet. (Just for the record, I haven’t bothered to check whether Ayn Rand addresses this particular point in any of her other many writings.)

The tapestry of ideas woven into Atlas Shrugged are daringly revolutionary, rich in complexity, and pregnant with implications. As a result, a person is unlikely to grasp them in a single reading. Unlike Nathaniel Branden though, I do not regard that as a reason to find fault with the book — or its author.

Then, in Part 3, we find this exchange on moral judgment:

AM: Let’s talk about moral judgment. This was certainly essential to Randian Objectivism, as the initial title of your memoir suggests. And much is made of the personal, judgmental nature of our current political climate. According to Rand, one’s only exemption from being “evil” is ignorance. You’ve denounced the harsh moralizing of Rand, yet you’re presumably a pretty judgmental man, who’s probably made over 7,000 judgments about me already.

NB: Wait, let me check. 6,700.

AM: Either way, what is the proper role of moral judgment? At what point is one immoral?

NB: One of the mistakes that Rand makes is that after she condemns a belief or an action, she goes on to tell you the psychology of the person who did it, as if she knows. I focus my judgment on the action and not on the person. My primary interest is: do I admire or dislike this behavior? And there, judgment is important for me. People often attribute all kinds of things to another person, without ever knowing where that person’s coming from. Most of the time, I regard the judgment of people as a waste of time. I regard the judgment of behavior as imperative.

Now, there are some people who are so clearly evil (e.g., Saddam Hussein) that we can’t imagine anything mitigating their horror. But even there, I’ve come to feel the following: if there is a mad animal running around, eating people, I may have to shoot him. I don’t think: “Oh, you rotten bad dog, you.” There’s nothing you can do except shoot him.

But the Saddams are only a small minority. Take the Middle East suicide bombers. God knows, if I had the opportunity, I’d kill them without any hesitation. But I also know, as a psychologist, that they were raised in a culture in a world I can’t even conceive of. They were propagandized about the glory of martyrdom since the age of five. Whereas Leonard Peikoff might be hell-bent on calling every one of them evil, I wouldn’t. They may or may not be. All I know is: in action, one kills them, rather than getting killed by them. Lots of times, we don’t know the ultimate truth about a person. And here’s the point: we don’t need to know.

To start off, Alec Mouhibian misrepresents the Objectivist view of moral judgment in claiming that “According to Rand, one’s only exemption from being ‘evil’ is ignorance.” Ayn Rand distinguished between breaches of morality and errors of knowledge, not between evil and ignorance. (Also, I suppose that I should at least mention the omitted possibility of right action.)

It gets much worse with Nathaniel Branden’s reply — so bad that it’s probably unnecessary for me to say anything about it at all. I’ll make a few quick comments anyway.

First, Branden’s explicit focus on particular actions (i.e. “behavior”) rather than moral character (i.e. “people”) ignores the obvious fact that a person’s actions flow from his moral character. We do not reinvent ourselves at every moment with every choice. Rather, all our choices are framed within the context set by moral character, i.e. by our deepest beliefs, values, and commitments as thoroughly automatized in our subconscious by myriad past choices. So to focus upon a person’s concrete, here-and-now actions is to willfully blind ourselves to the general character of his future choices. After all, if a person is acting cowardly now, he will continue to do so until and unless he chooses to overhaul his character by deliberately committing to defending his endangered values. Yet such is precisely the sort of consideration that Branden’s concrete-bound focus on “behavior” would compel us to ignore.

Second, by likening thoroughly, irredeemably evil people to mad animals in need to bullets not condemnation, Branden explicitly exempts them from moral judgment. Of course, as the saying goes, that’s an insult to mad animals everywhere. A rabid dog has no choice in its actions, no capacity for rationality — but Saddam Hussein did. Saddam deserves to be morally condemned, not in the hopes of magically transforming him into a decent person, but for the sake of preserving our own moral clarity, for the sake of the countless people who suffered and died under his rule, for the sake of warning those like him that they will share his fate.

Third, the tentative free pass that Branden gives to suicide bombers who intentionally kill and maim innocent men, women, and children for the crime of being Israeli is similarly revolting. Of course, the Palestinian terrorists grow up in a deeply irrational culture, right alongside all their non-exploding brothers. That pervasive irrationality is why clear moral condemnations of those who choose to kill and maim innocents is so very urgent. It’s not an excuse.

In general, I’m struck by the likeness of these views to behaviorism. Much like the behaviorists he tore to shreds in Psychology of Self Esteem, Nathaniel Branden is now saying that mental states are internal mysteries inaccessible to observation, so we ought to just ignore them and focus instead on discouraging or arresting certain undesirable behavior. (Oy, I’m feeling a bit sick to my stomach now!)

Honestly, I wanted to work through some more examples, but I’m just too disgusted to continue. It’s hard enough to slog through Nathaniel Branden’s twisted sophistry against Ayn Rand and Objectivism, but with Alex Mouhibian’s pathetic bootlicking, it’s just too much to bear.

I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s fantastic line from “Of Living Death”: “Actually, this is too evil to discuss much further.” So it is. Like her, I have a few more observations to offer — but I’ll save them for later posts.

Brothers, You Asked For It!

 Posted by on 19 July 2005 at 11:01 pm  The Brandens
Jul 192005
 

Mike Shapiro shares “highlights” from the Summer Seminar of The Not-Really Objectivist Center, including this news tidbit: “Duncan Scott interviewed Nathaniel Branden, who admitted some belief in ESP and the supernatural, much to the raised-eyebrow dismay of the audience.”

Nathaniel Branden’s explicit embrace of such hokey mysticism should hardly come as a surprise to those familiar with his work: he’s been dropping not-so-subtle hints for years. Let’s consider a few examples.

In his 1984 article “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” Branden criticized Ayn Rand for dismissing claims to psychic powers:

Like many other people, [Ayn Rand] was enormously opposed to any consideration of the possible validity of telepathy, ESP, or other psi phenomenon. The evidence that was accumulating to suggest that there was something here at least worthy of serious scientific study did not interest her; she did not feel any obligation to look into the subject; she was convinced it was all a fraud. It did not fit her model of reality. When an astronaut attempted during a flight to the moon to conduct a telepathic experiment, she commented on the effort with scorn–even the attempt to explore the subject was contemptible in her opinion. Now I have no wish to argue, in this context, for or against the reality of nonordinary forms of awareness or any other related phenomenon. That is not my point. My point is the extent to which she had a closed mind on the subject, with no interest in discovering for herself why so many distinguished scientists had become convinced that such matters are eminently worthy of study.

In some sense, Ayn Rand surely did dismiss such psychic claims on the grounds that they failed to “fit her model of reality.” She understood that arbitrary flights of fancy should not be granted the dignity of “possible.” She grasped the difference between genuine science and pseudo-science. She identified the primacy of existence as a fundamental principle of metaphysics. She rejected the alternative — the primacy of consciousness — in all its forms.

Of course, Branden intends his “model of reality” comment to be taken in a wholly different way. He’s obviously reproaching Rand for stubbornly refusing to consider the facts due to ideological blindness. But is that fair? As a general rule, we have clear and ample evidence that Ayn Rand accepted or rejected ideas on the basis of her commitment to rational understanding of the facts, not blind ideology. Without that commitment, Objectivism would be a radically different philosophy, to say the least. Yet Branden offers us no reason to think otherwise in the case of psychic claims.

Consider, for example, the laughable absurdity of Branden’s astronaut-cum-psychic example. Did NASA scientists have any rational reason to think that failed tests of psychic power on earth would yield different results in space? Is the theory that the earth somehow suppresses telepathic waves? Do the planets and stars exert a more powerful force upon a person’s life if he is closer to them? Branden does not bother to explain the logic of such an experiment, even though it is hardly apparent. Nor does he offer any hint as to the “accumulating” evidence about psychic phenomena. Nor does he name any of the “many distinguished scientists … convinced that such matters are eminently worthy of study” (!). Such vague claims are impossible to pin down, let alone refute. They are wholly arbitrary, to be dismissed without consideration — not cited as evidence that Ayn Rand was blinded by her own ideology. (Of course, it’s quite fitting that Nathaniel Branden indulges in the arbitrary in the course of criticizing Ayn Rand for refusing to do so!)

(As a side note: Given Branden’s loaded description of Ayn Rand’s “closed mind” and so forth, it’s worth noting that Robert Efron reviewed a book entitled ESP: A Scientific Evaluation by C.E.M. Hansel in the March 1967 issue of The Objectivist.)

Branden’s criticisms of Ayn Rand on this matter are clearly baseless, if not absurd. Of course, he does not here directly advocate mysticism by championing the transcendent reality of the supernatural. (He is far too subtle for that!) Indeed, he even cautions that he has “no wish to argue, in this context, for or against the reality of nonordinary forms of awareness or any other related phenomenon.” That agnosticism is certainly consistent with Branden’s reluctance to name any particulars to support his assertion that psychic claims warrant scientific study.

Nonetheless, Branden’s declared agnosticism is telling, in a slightly subtle way. When a man as knowledgeable of the Objectivist view of the absolutism of reason and reality is willing to wallow in the arbitrary for the sake of considering the possibility of the paranormal, it’s pretty darn clear that he’s well on his way to outright advocacy. He’s just testing the waters, perhaps in his own mind, but more likely in the minds of his readers. So it’s not surprising that he’s now progressed to that more advanced stage of outright advocacy. I expect that he will become even bolder in his claims with time, provided that he’s not reincarnated as a bat before then. (My apologies to bats, of course!)

A more recent example of Nathaniel Branden’s arbitrary agnosticism about the supernatural is also worth mentioning. In a Navigator article on death and dying, he is quoted as saying the following about an afterlife: “What happens? Well, I really don’t know, do I? But I’m inclined to believe it’s pure non-existence.”

Again, does Branden have any evidence to believe that death is not “pure non-existence”? Of course not. Evidence is beside the point! He’s just “inclined”!

Notably, this indulgence in the arbitrary has clear and significant ethical implications: If the alternative to life is not just the non-existence of death, then the choice to live could not be the fundamental choice that gives rise to all values. The Objectivist ethics would be dead in the water, killed by groundless skepticism. (Then again, it were true that “we are all of us organisms trying to survive,” as Branden claims in the “Benefits and Hazards” article, then the Objectivist ethics would be just as dead from the determinism of psychological egoism. Really, wasn’t The Big Lesson learned by Dagny in Atlas Shrugged precisely that not all people pursue life?!?)

I can’t resist mentioning that Nathaniel Branden’s indulgence in the arbitrary on this matter is spectacularly outdone by his former wife, Barbara Branden, who is quoted in the same article as saying:

I would love to believe in reincarnation, so I could come back and live again and again and again, as long as it was as a human being like myself. But since there are so many contradictions in the idea of reincarnation, I suppose I’ll have to do without it. And I would love to believe in an afterlife, so that I would once again be with the people I love who have died. But apparently I’ll have to do without that, too. Yet, since energy is not destroyed, perhaps one’s soul is not utterly destroyed; perhaps it continues to exist in some form; it is so wondrous a possession that it seems wasteful of reality to allow the soul to cease to exist. But that would be of no use to me unless the form in which it continues to exist remains myself. So perhaps the best answer is, ‘Who knows?’

I love that “wasteful of reality” bit. I couldn’t make that up in a million years.

Consistent with his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, Nathaniel Branden has on occasion clearly denied any indulgence in mysticism over the years. Consider this exchange from a 1996 Full Context interview:

Q: Then the rumors are false that Nathaniel Branden has been flirting with mysticism?

Branden: Yes, they’re false. Also the rumors that I have become a convert to God, altruism, and flying saucers.

Q: Why do you suppose such rumors started?

Branden: Perhaps because of what I’ve just said about Ayn not knowing much about mysticism. Or perhaps because in my lectures and writings I talk about the importance of kindness and benevolence in human relationships. Or perhaps because, in light of how much Branden hurt Ayn Rand, why wouldn’t he believe in flying saucers?

Oh, what fearless honesty! Of course, if Nathaniel Branden were actually fearlessly honest, I’m sure that he would attempt to win James Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. Sure, it might be hard to “show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” But if he has reason to believe in ESP and the supernatural, then that seems like easier way to make some money than to write yet another rehashed book on self-esteem. Then again, maybe Self-Esteem for Dogs will be a big hit!

Sarcasm aside, I’m sure that Nathaniel Branden’s explicit rejection of the most fundamental principles of the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology will not endanger his position as a prominent speaker at future TOC Summer Seminars. After all, his cheaply disingenuous attacks upon Objectivism in the “Benefits and Hazards” article didn’t prevent David from inviting him in years past. Yes, David Kelley’s standards really are that low, particularly for a big draw like Nathaniel Branden. (In 2003, I was told by a TOC staffer that Nathaniel Branden’s absence substantially lowered the turnout. If I recall correctly, they actually lost money on the seminar that year, about $30,000.)

I hope that perhaps a few TOC supporters are disturbed by the thought that such monetary concerns would trump basic moral principles of association, such that David Kelley would sell out Objectivism for a few extra donor dollars. Although dismay is certainly in order, surprise is not. After all, Kelley boldly announced his policy of “weigh[ing] the costs of association against the possible gains” in each case way back in “A Question of Sanction.”

The fruit of that harvest of pragmatism was rotten all along. Now it’s just starting to stink.

Update 1: On her Forum, Besty Speicher reminded me of yet another example of Nathaniel Branden’s not-so-subtle mystical hint-dropping:

Date: Tue, 17 Aug 1993 12:08:05 EST
Reply-To: Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy
Sender: Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy
From: Nathaniel Branden <73117.607@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Reflections

… For Objectivists, no one is ever misguided or simply mistaken. Opponents are always “irrational” or even “mystics.” Objectivists tend to use “mystic” like communists in the thirties use “fascist”–to brand anyone who disagrees with them. Rand herself set the pattern for this, unfortunately.

If, for example, one even suggests that there is some pretty impressive evidence accumulating for the reality of non-ordinary forms of perception (forms that do not fit contemporary paradigms), count on many Objectivists to howl “Mystic!” or “Irrationalist!” or “Whim- worshiper!”–all the old Objectivist cliches when dealing with “enemies.”

Folks, if we want to be genuine advocates of reason, we’ve got to rethink this practice. I wish I had understood this 30 or 40 years ago. I promise you, fifty years from now what is called a “reasonable” view of the universe is going to look very different from the view we call “reasonable” today. This is not–let me emphasize this–an invalidation of reason; not at all; it is reason that will lead the way to the new and improved world view. But it would be foolish vanity to imagine that we will see and understand this right from the beginning. No, some of us will brand the bringers of the new world view as “mystics.” And the truth is, mysticism will have nothing to do with it.

As sure as I’m writing this, someone on this list will write something like “I never expected Nathaniel Branden to embrace all this New Age craziness!” Why? Because that is the way too many “students of Objectivism” will process my above remarks…which, in reality, have nothing to do with “New Age craziness.” (I am NOT a New Ager.)

Or they will say, “I never expected Branden to come out for extra-sensory perception.” Read this article again. I never said that, either. …

So just what exactly are these grand and revolutionary “non-ordinary forms of perception” were supposed to be, if not “extra-sensory perception”? Branden never tells us, of course. Yet now we know that they were one and the same all along. What spineless dishonesty!

Update 2: Having just read through the replies to that message, I think that my recollections of MDOP may be rosier than deserved. Most responders objected solely to Nathaniel Branden’s claim that someone was sure to accuse him of “New Age craziness” and the like. (After all, we’re the nice guys here on MDOP!) Only one person (Eyal Mozes) attempted to pin down Nathaniel Branden by asking him what these “non-ordinary forms of perception” were, if not “extra-sensory perception.” It was rather pathetic.

Unnecessary Evidence

 Posted by on 10 August 2004 at 3:53 pm  False Friends of Objectivism, The Brandens
Aug 102004
 

A few months ago, I reconsidered an issue that has often troubled Objectivists, namely that of the proper moral judgment of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. The catalyst was my discussions with a friend about issues surrounding my departure from The Objectivist Center. He presented me with some tough questions and compelling arguments about the dishonesty and viciousness of their portrayals of Ayn Rand, criticisms of Objectivism, and so on. So I resolved to revisit the issue as soon as I could afford the necessary time.

At the time, my opinion of Barbara Branden was already exceedingly negative. Just a few months earlier, I had read a few early chapters of The Passion of Ayn Rand for the very first time. I was immediately appalled by her constant psychologizing of Ayn Rand. My judgment was sealed upon watching her argue in the debates in my comments this spring, such as in this thread. Perhaps the worst was a post from May 4th in which she quoted this passage from Passion with a prefatory comment about how it showed that she “was not attempting to denigrate Rand”:

And yet, when one looks at the life of Ayn Rand, one must wonder if the dogmatic absolutism of her certainty, the blinding conviction of her own rectitude and her special place in the world, the callousness of her intolerance for opinions that were not hers, the unwavering assurance that she was alone to know the truth and that others must seek it from her — the eyes that looked neither to the left nor to the right, but only at the path ahead — the savage innocence of her personality — was not the fuel required for the height of achievement she attained. Just as when one looks at history’s great achievers one so often encounters the desperate loneliness and alienation which is perhaps the emotional price paid by men and women who see farther than their brothers, so one encounters these qualities in Ayn Rand. And one must wonder if they are not precisely the qualities that make possible the courage and uncompromising dedication of those who forge new paths through the unknown, enduring and persevering,shouting defiance at tne enormity of the opposition which follows them at each step of their lonely journey,and adding new glories to our world.

So much is wrong with that passage that I simply cannot afford to dissect it. So I must leave the task of noticing the psychologizing, the loaded language, the logical leaps, the absurd mischaracterizations, the change of subject, the implied mind-body dichotomy, and so on to my readers.

The history of my judgment of Nathaniel Branden is too long of a story to recount here, but it was generally positive at the start of my process of reconsideration. Nonetheless, the doubts raised by my friend’s arguments made it clear to me that I had to give his recent writings on Ayn Rand and Objectivism a second look. (It had been quite some time since my first look, as I read his memoir Judgment Day and his article “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” in early 1994, just a few months after first reading Ayn Rand’s philosophic essays, but never since.)

I decided to start with Branden’s “Benefits and Hazards” article — and that was all I needed. In the article, Branden repeatedly mischaracterizes, confuses, and belittles Objectivist positions. He offers laughably weak criticisms of Objectivist ideas. He unjustly blames Objectivism for the confusions of people struggling to understand and apply the philosophy to their lives. (Again, I cannot afford the time to give details at present.)

As I’ve said before: With friends like these, who needs enemies!?!

All of that inanity has a special meaning coming from a woman like Barbara Branden and a man like Nathaniel Branden, namely that they know better. They deserve to be judged in light of the fact that they were experts on Objectivism, that they learned the philosophy from Ayn Rand herself, that they were teaching courses and writing articles on it. They are not confused novices struggling but failing to understand the issues. Theirs are not honest errors, but rather breaches of morality. And they deserve to be condemned and shunned by people who understand and value Objectivism.

In light of that judgment, this spring I privately banned both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden from posting comments on NoodleFood. How it happened is somewhat complicated, so bear with me. Paul and I had just recently returned from our two-week rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. During our absence, I shut down the comments entirely, as the debate had been raging out of control and into absurdity for far too long. After I returned to blogging, Richard Dover added two comments attacking Chris Sciabarra and Barbara Branden to my post about our trip. I was annoyed, to say the least. I replied thusly:

Thanks for the totally apt comments about the trip to the Grand Canyon, Richard. (Yes, that was sarcasm. Sheesh.)

Please folks, let’s not return to the insane discussions of last month. If that happens, I will simply have to close down the comments entirely, particularly if people are posting on totally irrelevant entries. I have no desire for my blog to become the place for people to spout nasty accusations back and forth. Thoughtful, relevant, and civil philosophical debate and argument is welcome. If that is not possible to you, do not post.

This is not some “Can’t we just all get along?” plea. It’s a demand: Say something worthwhile on something relevant to the blog post, or say nothing at all. If some people are unable to abide by that demand, I will remove my property as a forum for them. If that does not work, I will shut down the comments entirely.

You are in my house when you post comments on this blog. Act accordingly, or you shall be ejected.

Of course, I had to leave Richard Dover’s comments up for all to see, otherwise people would have no idea of the kind of comment which was so grossly inappropriate.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet informed Barbara and Nathaniel Branden of my decision to ban them from my comments when Barbara posted an inquiry as to why Dover’s comments were allowed to remain. I quickly deleted the message, as I didn’t want her in my comments. She posted again, I deleted again. Then Nathaniel posted, inquiring as to why Barbara’s comments were deleted but Dover’s remained. I deleted that too. Obviously, the issue could not be put off any further. So I set aside my work to write Nathaniel and Barbara the following e-mail:

Date: Tue, 08 Jun 2004 08:25:25 -0600
To: bbranden1@aol.com, n6666b@cs.com
From: diana@dianahsieh.com
Subject: my comments

Nathaniel and Barbara,

Since you two seem to be tag-teaming in your complaints about my blog yet again, I may as well write a single letter in reply. I regret the necessity of all that is below, but consider it your fair warning.

Barbara wrote:

“Are Richard Drover’s comments that Chris Sciabarra and I are either liars or stupid among the comments that are allowed?”

I highlighted Richard Dover’s totally inappropriate and irrelevant comments as an example of that which I do not wish to see on my blog. To have deleted them would have destroyed the necessary context.

And speaking of that which I do not wish to see on my blog, let me say that you, Barbara, are no longer welcome to post comments. Any and all comments from you will be deleted, regardless of content. Your comments on my blog this spring confirmed the suspicions and deepened the objections raised by reading some early chapters of _The Passion of Ayn Rand_ for the first time last summer. As far as I am concerned, you have revealed yourself as vicious and dishonest through your own words. So I am withdrawing my comments as a forum for you. Go grind your ax somewhere else.

To answer your question, Nathaniel, such were the reasons why Barbara’s comment was deleted while Richard Dover’s remained: he was an example, she was unwelcome. Given our prior friendly relations, I regret to say that I must give you the same warning: If you post any further comments on my blog, they will be deleted. I recently twice re-read your “Benefits and Hazards” article, which is an embarrassing, unjustifiable, and inexcusable attack on Objectivism. Such transparently fallacious arguments against the philosophy are to be expected from the mouths of ignorant critics, but you certainly know better. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Together, you two have done more damage to the cause of Objectivism than I ever imagined possible. I regret that it took me so long to see that. But now that I do, I will certainly not help you do any more damage. I want nothing to do with either of you.

You can complain about this ban all you like to whomever you like, but you are not permitted to do so on my property, nor will I engage in debate with you elsewhere. My judgment will not be swayed by the intervention of mutual friends, as my mind has been solidly made up for some weeks now. I will be announcing the ban and the detailed reasons for my negative judgment on the blog soon enough.

I’m certain that I will be branded a crazy moralizer by you and others for making such strong moral judgments, but so be it. In my view, a stark choice must be made: either the Brandens or Objectivism, but not both. My choice is clear.

diana.

So that was that, or so I thought. Until now, I’ve refrained from any public announcement of or comment on my present views of the Brandens, as I wanted to present my full reasons in a long and careful post to the blog. However, recent events have compelled me to write up all of that quick background so that I might say a few words about more recent events on this blog. (Just FYI, I’m bothering to reprint the following comments in full because they will be deleted.)

Yesterday, someone named “Hellen Rearden” posted the following inquiry to the comments of this blog:

Monday, August 9, 2004 at 14:36:12 mdt
Name: Hellen Rearden
E-mail: Helen Rearden(at)cs.com

Forgive me, but I am new to Objectivism and to many of the issues you are discussing. I have read all of Miss Rand’s books, almost all of Dr. Branden’s books, and Barbara Branden’s biography of Miss Rand. For reasons I don’t yet know, I gather both Brandens are sort of anathema here.

Barbara Branden in her biography, and Nathaniel Branden in his memoir, are accused of spreading lies and distortion about Miss Rand. But how is this known to be a fact? On what grounds are the charges made? How can any of us be certain what the truth is since I assume we don’t have first-hand knowledge?

Judging from some of the comments here, that seems to be self-evident, but to a newcomer it’s not self-evident at all.

Could someone on this list kindly offer some help?

I wrote the following reply:

Monday, August 9, 2004 at 15:05:22 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
E-mail: diana@dianahsieh.com
URL: http://www.philosophyinaction.com/blogger/

Helen —

Those are excellent and important questions for a newcomer to Objectivism to ask. I am presently working on a long article which does answer them, so I’m not going to say too much here. But let me offer a few bits of advice based upon my own personal experience.

(1) Listen to interviews with Ayn Rand and Q&A sessions in which she participated. See for yourself whether she engages in the sort of authoritarian, irrational behavior of which the Brandens charge her. When possible, directly compare the summaries offered by the Brandens to the actual event. (This is possible, for example, with AR’s first interview with Phil Donahue, which BB discusses on pages 391-2 of her biography.)

(2) Talk to people who attended NBI lectures. Ask them to tell you about the behavior of NB, BB, and AR during Q&As, etc.

(3) Re-read the early chapters of BB’s _The Passion of Ayn Rand_, paying particular attention to her claims about AR’s psychology. Notice whether those psychological conclusions are supported by the evidence she provides.

(4) Consider whether someone who was as irrational and psychologically twisted as BB and NB claim that AR was would be able to develop and advocate a consistent philosophy of reason over the course of a lifetime.

(5) In reading NB’s “Benefits and Hazards” article, try to determine whether his portrayal of the Objectivist positions that he then goes on to criticize are accurate — and whether his criticisms have any merit.

Personally, I don’t think that these issues are self-evident in the slightest. They are epistemologically complicated and morally charged. That’s not an easy combination to handle, particular not for someone new to Objectivism.

Good thinking! diana.

“Hellen” then responded:

Monday, August 9, 2004 at 16:45:35 mdt
Name: Hellen Rearden
E-mail: Helen Rearden(at)cs.com

Diana,

Well, I appreciate your speedy response, but I can already see there are going to be troublesome complications.

I have met a number of people, now in their fifties or sixties, who were at NBI in the old days and who support Dr. Branden’s descriptions of some of Miss Rand’s behavior at those events.

Second, saying that at times Miss Rand could be autocratic is not saying she always was that way, and she most likely would be most careful to be balanced if she was being interviewed on the radio–don’t you think?

Third, I’ll re-read the “Benefits and Hazards” piece, as you suggest.

Most important, you ask me to consider if someone as troubled as the Brandens claim Miss Rand could be at times could produce work of literary and philosophical greatnes. I have two responses. Yes, I think it’s possible; great thinkers, scientists, artists are not revered for their mental or emotional stability. Next, I don’t think the man who wrote the books Dr. Branden has written could be the vicious, irrational character some people make him out to be. That’s one of the reaons I find this whole situation so confusing and bewildering.

I appreciate your kindness in trying to bring some daylight into all this.

And Don Watkins also replied:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 6:29:15 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
E-mail: egoist(at)gmail.com
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Hellen,

You write: “Most important, you ask me to consider if someone as troubled as the Brandens claim Miss Rand could be at times could produce work of literary and philosophical greatnes. I have two responses. Yes, I think it’s possible; great thinkers, scientists, artists are not revered for their mental or emotional stability.”

To whatever extent that’s true, we are not talking about just any thinker. We’re talking about someone who discovered fundamental truths on a massive scale, including – for the first time in history – an objective code of morality. We’re talking about the author of *Atlas Shrugged*.

According to Objectivism, morality, in the most basic sense, means: to think. Ayn Rand didn’t stumble onto Objectivism, she had to devise it by looking at reality. You can’t do that and at the same time be a neurotic evader. It is simply not possible. The best evidence of Rand’s moral character, then, is her unequivocal rationality.

What troubles me about your post, however, is your next comment: “Next, I don’t think the man who wrote the books Dr. Branden has written could be the vicious, irrational character some people make him out to be.”

You can say this about Branden but not about Rand? Have you actually READ Judgment Day? If so, and if you’re honest, I can only say to Diana that we impatiently await your paper. It is badly needed.

Richard Dover then replied to Don:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 8:36:39 mdt
Name: Richard Dover

Don: “Have you actually READ Judgment Day? If so, and if you’re honest, I can only say to Diana that we impatiently await your paper. It is badly needed.”

Anyone who reads both “Judgement Day” and the rewrite of it, “My Years with Ayn Rand”, will see that Branden is a liar.

Then two very strange comments appeared this morning. The personal information was that of Nathaniel Branden, but the comments themselves seemed to be be from “Hellen”:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 9:42:15 mdt
Name: Nathaniel Branden
E-mail: n6666b(at)cs.com

Richard

Your declaring that anyone who reads “Judgment Day” and “My Years with Ayn Rand” will see that Branden is a liar is not an argument, it’s an assertion. I’ve read both books and was impressed by the author’s honesty and ruthless self-examination. And I am not alone in this impression. To me, Dr. Branden’s love for Miss Rand comes through loud and clear, and that is one of the reasons I cannot understand the reaction of people such as yourself. What am I missing?

And:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 9:54:52 mdt
Name: Nathaniel Branden
E-mail: n6666b(at)cs.com

Don,

I was really sorry to see in your answer to me the words “if you’re honest,” the implication being that if a person does not see things your way the only explanation is dishonesty. Was it your intention to intimidate me? Please think twice if that’s the message you want to send out.

Then finally, this one from “Hellen,” which repeats the charge of intimidation:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 10:52:35 mdt
Name: Hellen Rearden
E-mail: Helen Rearden(at)cs.com

Don,

You write “if you’re honest.” I hope that was not meant to intimidate me.

I was quite puzzled, to say the least. After all, anyone could have typed in Nathaniel Branden’s name and e-mail address into a comment. Yet the comments themselves did seem to be from “Hellen.” And, as Don Watkins noted, both “Hellen” and Nathaniel had “cs.com” (i.e. CompuServe) accounts. So I checked my referrer logs. Although the IP addresses didn’t match exactly, all of those posted under “Hellen Rearden” and “Nathaniel Branden” were from the same ISP, the same one used by the real Nathaniel to send e-mail. And both used exactly the same browser, build and all.

So I wrote to Nathaniel, reminding him that he was not welcome to post in my comments and accusing him of “attempting to engage me and others in debate through deception.” We went back and forth a few times, then he finally told me his story:

Not long ago I acquired a girlfriend, new to Objectivism, utterly bewildered by the warfare between you-know-who and rage against the Brandens. She found it difficult to believe my explanations of how “the other side” operated. So I offered a challenge. Let her write to your list, as benevolently and openly as possible, and ask for insight re the war against the Brandens. My position was that no matter how benevolent and balanced her inquiry, someone on the Noodles list would–within the space of 3 exchanges–raise of the question of her honesty if she did not see things their way.

I won the bet.

After that, we were laughing so hard that I decided it was time to announce the farce over. So I wrote a message in my name.

Go ahead, my dear old friend, attack away!

I still say what I have said to you before: one day Leonard P. and his associates will be too much, even for you, and your natural intelligence will reassert itself, and you will leave the ARI world (if you are not excommunicated first)…and then all these exchanges will be understood in a different light.

With all good wishes,

Nathaniel

So folks, there you have it. Nathaniel Branden, despite knowing that he was most unwelcome on my blog, chose to entertain himself and his new honey at the expense of my time and effort. He challenged her to deceive me and others, all while recommending that she write “as benevolently and openly as possible.” (However honest she may be, do not think that I would have bothered to answer such sweet little questions from Nathaniel Branden’s girlfriend!) And despite displaying such utter contempt for me in public and on my property, he’s sure that we’ll soon be good buds.

As of this morning, I did not need any further confirmation that Nathaniel Branden is a dishonest prick. But I got it anyway.

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