December 03, 2014

Nathaniel Branden, Love and Friendship Eternal

Perhaps it is a sign of the fact that I am, like everyone else, getting older, and with age, comes the realization of one's own mortality and the mortality of those one has loved, respected and admired. Today, I learned that Nathaniel Branden passed away at the age of 84; I have been utterly devastated by the news. Too many bright lights of liberty have dimmed in the past few months.

Nathaniel Branden was one of those individuals who provided the kind of light that could illuminate the path to self-discovery and self-esteem. He was the father of the self-esteem movement, in every positive sense it has embodied.

But before eulogizing the man and his work, let's get a few items out of the way immediately: I am aware that he, like every other human being on earth had his faults, and that among these faults was that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) 25 years his senior, and lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed. My take on "The Affair" has been beaten to death. I am sure that those who hated him in life are gathering for parties tonight to dance and piss on this man's grave.

They should hang their heads in utter shame, for without Nathaniel Branden, nothing like a structured Objectivist philosophy would have emerged or influenced thousands of people across the globe.

I could not care less about all the naysayers; they owe Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his "Basic Principles of Objectivism" course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, 2009), a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of all the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden (who passed away a year ago, this December), a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published (though none of us Rand scholars non-affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute have had the privilege of listening to them, much less entering the premises to examine unpublished materials to compare them to their published versions---except for one, Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and her assessment of the state of affairs is worth reading).

But it was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to "The Collective," where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed; Leonard Peikoff did a similarly exemplary job in his series of lectures, "Understanding Objectivism," by far, his best post-Randian work.

Except it was Nathaniel Branden who led the way long before Peikoff took the necessary steps to shed the oppressive characteristics that were haunting the early Objectivist movement. Unfortunately, however, Peikoff, as heir to Rand's Estate, merely established another oppressive movement, and I suspect it will take a generation for this internecine warfare and insane back-stabbing to end. It is the kind of thing that undermines the integrity of Rand's philosophy, making it a laughing stock for writers who would rather focus on the salacious details of sex scandals and personal foibles than on the serious theoretical and philosophical implications of Rand's work.

To the critics of Rand, who would dismiss her philosophy by focusing on scandal and to the critics of Branden, who would seek to erase the contributions he made to Objectivism, I could only say: To hell with every last one of you.

Both groups ignore the works of Nathaniel Branden at their own peril. He was a man who eventually learned to "Honor the Self" in a way that he could not have accomplished fully under the spell of the "Collective."

Nathaniel Branden was a friend to me; he was a counselor and mentor. He helped me through some of the worst days of my life with his psychological acumen; he helped me materially and spiritually when my congenital health problems nearly destroyed my life and my family's finances. He was a consummate gentleman, a kind, loving, humane, and brilliant man.

I first met Nathaniel, the same way I first met Barbara; I sent him a draft of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and he returned it with so many remarkable edits, questions, and challenges, that if it were not for his input, the book would have suffered immensely. One of the problems we had in our early discussions, however, was that I was referring to Objectivism as a totality, from a historical perspective, a cultural-historio-philosophical movement. Toward that end, my book sought to look at the whole of Objectivism. I could not do so without a requisite encounter with Branden's work. My Russian Radical was the first book to reintegrate the contributions of Nathaniel Branden into the formal philosophical edifice of Rand's radical understanding of the world. Sometimes I'd find in the marginalia of his comments: "But Rand didn't say this, Branden did..." and I'd interrupt him and tell him, "But you don't understand: whether you like it or not, in a hundred years, people won't give a shit about who stabbed whom or who slept with whom, and simply look at all you folks as part and parcel of the same philosophical movement, one that aimed to change the world." He relented.

Before I had the privilege of taking him and his (then, wife) Devers Branden, for my celebrated tour of Brooklyn, I met him in Manhattan to discuss my book; we later joined up with David Kelley for dinner.

While we sat in his bright hotel room, Branden asked me: "So what does Chris Sciabarra do when he's not reconstructing Objectivism, when he's not helping us to understand the amazing historical context within which the philosophy developed? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"

To which I answered: "Well, Nathaniel, you know I have health problems, so I don't get out as much as I'd like; but rest assured, if I were to ever get married, it would not be to a girl."

Without missing a beat, he looked me directly into my eyes and said: "I did a lot of damage in the early years of Objectivism, especially in my flippant treatment of homosexuality. I would like to think I've come a long way and that I have made amends to those who were unduly hurt by the insensitive ways in which I characterized sexual orientation. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with heterosexuality or homosexuality, as long as you are happy and seek the kinds of relationships that will appeal to the best within you."

It was almost an apology to me personally, though I never felt wronged; I had read his evolving views on the subject, which gave me the balls to say what I said in his hotel room.

We spoke often through the years; he shared with me books that he wrote, which have still not been published. Some of these works were works of personal catharsis, something that all of us could use a dose of. He leaves a legacy that is so immense, I would not know where to start in characterizing its importance and its impact.

All I can say, for now, is this: I express my deepest appreciation to him, and my heart goes out to his current wife Leigh, who has weathered the storms of the last few years in ways that have proven remarkable. And to all those who mourn him and who will miss him, I extend my deepest sympathies.

I will forever honor Nathaniel Branden's work, his person, his generosity, his kindness, his sensitivity, and his gifts. I will miss him until my dying day.

Love and friendship, eternal,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

December 01, 2014

Cyber Monday Spectacular: December 2014 Issue of JARS Arrives!

What better way to start off Cyber Monday shopping for the holidays than to subscribe now to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

The New December 2014 Issue of JARS!

Here is the Table of Contents for the new December 2014 issue; abstracts can be found here, and contributor biographies can be found here.

ARTICLES

Corporations are People Too: An Argument for Corporate Moral Personhood - Robert White

Philosophical and Literary Integration in Atlas Shrugged - Edward W. Younkins

The DIM Antithesis - Dennis C. Hardin

Rand's Gender Politics: A Potential of Cognitive Dissonance - Mimi Reisel Gladstein

What’s in Your File Folder? Part 1: Rand’s Unit-Perspective, the Law of Identity, and the Fundamental Nature of the Proposition - Roger E. Bissell

REVIEWS

E-Book Enthusiasm (a review of How the Martians Discovered Algebra: Explorations in Induction and the Philosophy of Mathematics by Roger E. Bissell and Who Says That's Art: A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts by Michelle Marder Kamhi) - Fred Seddon

A Latter-Day Jacobin With a Lot of Data (a review of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty) - Hannes H. Gissurarson

Contributors

Index for Volume 14

So begin your Cyber Monday and Holiday Shopping with a subscription to the only scholarly journal dedicated to the examination of Ayn Rand and her times from diverse perspectives.

November 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1208

Song of the Day: Rapper's Delight is credited to Sylvia Robinson, Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, Master Gee, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, Grandmaster Caz, and Alan Hawkshaw. Big Bank Hank, aka Henry Jackson, who passed away on November 11, 2014 after a long battle with cancer, was a member of the Sugarhill Gang, which recorded this utter classic of American popular hip hop music, riffing on the infectious bass line of Chic's "Good Times" composed by Edwards and Rodgers. It also sampled from the disco hit "Here Comes that Sound Again" by Love De-luxe. In 1979, perhaps my favorite year of Disco Music [YouTube WKTU medley, though it ends prematurely], at 19 years old, there wasn't a dance club I went to that didn't feature the great 14-plus minute 12" recording of this track [YouTube link], which, in 2011, was made part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, among those culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant recordings of the twentieth century. We (my friends and I) could practically rap along with every word of the hilarious lyrics. "Ho-tel Mo-tel, Holiday Innnnn..."Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" gave us an equally hilarious take on this rap hit: a superb editing and splicing of footage from newsman Brian Williams (with a little help from Lester Holt and Kathy Lee Gifford). Check that out on YouTube (and check out Fallon's comedic interview with Brian Williams, Part One and Part Two and Brian doing "Baby Got Back" [YouTube links]).

November 11, 2014

Ayn Rand, Girl-Power Icon

I was interviewed by Maureen O'Connor for New York Magazine, and the resulting piece, "Ayn Rand, Girl-Power Icon," is an interesting read. My dear friend and colleague, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, with whom I co-edited Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, was also interviewed for the essay.

The article provides us with a lesson on how certain ideas penetrate our culture and enter popular consciousness.

Check out the piece here.

October 20, 2014

Leonard P. Liggio, RIP

I have belatedly learned of the passing of a great classical liberal scholar, Leonard P. Liggio. I first met Leonard at an Institute for Humane Studies conference when I was an undergraduate at New York University. He was a remarkable and remarkably patient and gentle teacher. I was in awe of his utterly encyclopedic knowledge across disciplinary boundaries. I especially valued his work on Left and Right and The Literature of Liberty. He became a colleague and friend over the years, and was supportive of my research, especially as I worked toward the completion of my doctoral studies.

Historian Ralph Raico has written a fine obituary of this gentle man. He will be missed by all of those who value liberty.

September 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1207

Song of the Day: My Way, with English lyrics written by Paul Anka, was set to music by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux, for the French composition, "Comme d'habitude." It was popularized by the Chairman of the Board, and though it was never my favorite Frank Sinatra recording, there is a dignity to the lyrics that cannot be denied. Derek Jeter used the song for a Gatorade commercial, in which he says farewell to his many fans. Check out that Gatorade advertisement on YouTube as well as the full song as recorded by Ol' Blue Eyes. Today, Derek Jeter completed his exemplary career in baseball with his 3,645th hit (a lifetime .310 average). He was replaced by a pinch runner, Brian McCann, after hitting a Baltimore chop in the third inning, at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. His infield hit drove in a run, and the Yanks went on to win the game 9-5. The Red Sox fans gave him a standing ovation, not only when he departed the game, but also in a pre-game ceremony honoring him (where even Yaz showed up!). The seventh inning stretch featured a rendition of "God Bless America" by Ronan Tynan (who often performed the song at Yankee Stadium) and a gorgeously arranged version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," by guitarist Bernie Williams, a former Jeter teammate. This was a classy sendoff to one of the greatest ballplayers to grace any sports field, and the Fenway crowd showed the respect and appreciation one would expect from any crowd so steeped in the history of baseball. Okay, and yes, I've been crying, and I'm going to miss one of my all-time favorite Yankees. Bless you, Derek, in all your future endeavors.

September 26, 2014

It Ain't Over Till It's Over, But . . .

I have seen many remarkable moments in Derek Jeter's remarkable career. From his 1996 "Rookie of the Year" season to his 2012 season, when, at the age of 38, he led the major leagues with 212 hits, before opening the postseason with a fractured ankle.

But as that great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said: It ain't over till it's over. And this season is still most definitely not over, though, mathematically speaking, the New York Yankees have been eliminated from contention in the postseason.

But Derek Jeter and the Yanks still have one more weekend of regular season baseball left to play, the last weekend, to be played on another stage, in another storied field: Fenway Park. I'd call it "enemy territory"---except in this season, Derek Jeter has had no enemies. Everywhere he has gone, on this farewell retirement tour, his opponents have shown him the "RE2PECT" he has earned over a two-decade career of consistently extraordinary achievement. Every opposing team, in every ballpark in which he has appeared across this country, has honored him, and given generously to his Turn 2 Foundation.

So last night, several weeks after the Stadium celebrated an almost funereal Derek Jeter Day (September 7, 2014), Yankee fans knew this would be their last opportunity to see this future Hall of Famer play in his home pinstriped uniform on his home field.

There isn't a Jeter fan I know that didn't want this man to leave this grandest of sports stages without the kind of "last hurrah" that each of us has come to expect. Jeter provides us with a legacy that transcends self; for all his self-achievement, it has always been about The Team, in his view; he has marked his career with an obsessive concern for winning, and it is only with an integrated team, one with professionalism and passion, one that embraces a stoic celebration of tradition, history, and pride---and a youthful exuberance.

Last night, partly through Jeter's efforts, the Yankees entered the top of the ninth inning, leading the 2014 ALDS victors, the Baltimore Orioles, 5-2. But reliever, David Robertson, pitched up a few home runs, and by the time Jeter came up in the bottom of the inning, the Orioles had tied the score, 5-5. With two men on, the Voice of God, the late Bob Sheppard announced Number 2, Derek Jeter, for the last time at Yankee Stadium; and it was a youthful Jeter who seemed to approach the batter's box on this field of dreams. He lined a first pitch to right field, demonstrating the inside-out style that has come to be called "Jeterian", and drove in the winning run, unleashing an explosive ovation from the soldout stadium crowd as if the Yanks had just clinched the World Series. He even got a Gatorade Baptism for this walk-off single, usually reserved for the walk-off HR.

Jeter would later crouch down by his shortstop position, kneeling as if in prayer, and later announced that he had just completed his last game as shortstop for the New York Yankees, opting for the Designated Hitter role at this weekend's Fenway Fest.

By Sunday night, I should be all cried out.

September 11, 2014

WTC Remembrance: A Museum for the Ages - A Pictorial

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the latter of which had not yet opened when I visited the site in 2012. It is an extraordinary experience in contrasts: ranging from sensitivity to loved ones to the barbaric savagery that snuffed out the lives of nearly 3000 people.

I invite readers to take a look at that pictorial; it can be found here.

Here is an index for those who would like easy access to the previous entries in this annual series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial.

September 07, 2014

Every Day is Derek Jeter Day

Religious fan that I am of the great shortstop of the New York Yankees, I am glued to my television set today, watching the festivities in celebration of the achievements of the Captain of the team, who retires at the end of the 2014 season: Derek Jeter.

To say it's been emotional is an understatement. But in true Jeter fashion, at the end of his speech thanking the fans and his professional colleagues and friends, he reminded the roaring crowd of the Sports Cathedral that is Yankee Stadium that 'we have a game to play.' However that game turns out, however much his game has suffered since that devastating injury in the 2012 postseason, he remains the Yankee of his generation. I have been a Yankees fan my whole life; that wasn't easy in the late 1960s and through the mid-1970s, when they were perpetual losers, or in the 1980s, when they lost after winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1977-1978, with guys like Guidry, Nettles, Randolph, and Bucky "Fu__king" Dent" as he is known in Boston, who hit a home run in the 163rd game of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox one-game playoff that propelled the Yanks to the American League Championship Series, an AL pennant win, and another World Series win, their second consecutive Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But in the 1980s, the New York Mets owned this town; so most of my growing up as a Yankees fan was not like rooting for "General Motors" as the Yankees detractors had always said. But in 1996, that all changed; Joe Torre took the helm; the New York sports pages called him "Clueless Joe," and Derek became the Yankees regular shortstop, the last regular season player to wear the last single digit available (#2), after all those retired numbers (#4, Lou Gehrig; #3 Babe Ruth, #7 Mickey Mantle, you get the picture). He became Rookie of the Year in 1996; he owns five World Series rings, and was an MVP of the All-Star Game and the Word Series in the same year (2000).

They didn't retire his number today, though that day is surely coming. As will the Hall of Fame; it isn't just that he is the player with the sixth most hits in Major League History (#3,449 and counting), or franchise records in most hits, most doubles, most at bats, most stolen bases, and so on and so on. It is that he is a consummate professional with all the charm of a New York celebrity, and all the quiet certitude in his talents befitting of a Howard Roark.

Three cheers for Derek on his special day; for me #2 will always be #1. But the Yanks are fighting for a postseason spot (a long shot, if you ask me). We'll have more to say about him as the season comes to its close. For now, I'm just taking every last minute in, and thankful to have witnessed the career of such a legendary sports figure in my lifetime.

September 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1206

Song of the Day: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Paul Brill with Amber Rubarth, opens the 2010 documentary about the life and career of a great comedian,author, and Red Carpet fashion critic. Over the last several weeks, I feel as if celebrities have been dropping like flies: Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Don Pardo, Richard Attenborough, and now, fellow Brooklynite, Joan Rivers, who died today at the age of 81. The music is spacey and haunting with snippets of the star's comic lines. Those lines were sometimes so over the top that only a big band could match the volume of the laughter she created. I last saw her critiquing the fashions at the VMAs and the Emmys, just last week. And ultimately, it was the melody of that laughter that endures; check out some of her greatest TV moments and an E! celebration of her work. Cultural icon, outrageous, and irreverent, she was the consummate entertainer. Few people have made me laugh harder; I will miss her. Oh, grow up!

August 30, 2014

Song of the Day #1205

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("T-Rex Rescue and Finale";), composed by John Williams, is one great way to celebrate Richard Attenborough, who played the film's visionary John Hammond in this classic Spielberg dinosaur flick, "unintended consequences" gone wild. Attenborough passed away at the age of 90 on August 24th; he was a fine actor who graced such films as "The Great Escape", and who showed his Oscar-winning directorial chops on the sprawling epic that was "Gandhi". Check out this tense moment in music that brought us to the film's finale [YouTube link].

August 29, 2014

Song of the Day #1204

Song of the Day: Loving You, music and lyrics by Michael Jackson, begins with the line: "Hello, August moon, where are the stars of the night?" This August, if MJ had been here, he would have seen a glorious moon at its closest approach to the earth in 2014. Now, like the cicadas who issue their lyrical calls every August in Brooklyn, New York, we are still "loving you" for the lyrical and melodic music you've left behind, MJ. In celebration of the day of his birth, here's a YouTube moment to cherish (and the demo too!), one of my favorite songs from his most recent posthumous album.

August 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1203

Song of the Day: Chicago words and music by Cory Rooney, is a sweet track on Michael Jackson's posthumously released album, "Xscape." It's a terrific feeling to hear fresh music that is so alive from an artist gone too soon. Listen to the track on YouTube, and the original demo MJ recorded as well.

August 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1202

Song of the Day: A Place with No Name features the music and lyrics of Dewey Bunnell, Dr. Freeze, and Michael Jackson. Today begins a mini-tribute to the late King of Pop, who was born on the 29th of August 1958. This song was posthumously released as part of the recent MJ album, "Xscape". The song is, in many respects, derived from "A Horse with No Name," but has an integrity of its own, making it one of the melodic highlights of the new collection. Upon hearing a snippet of the track back in 2009, Bunnell and Gerry Beckley of America expressed their gratitude to MJ: "We're honored that Michael Jackson chose to record it and we're impressed with the quality of the track. We're also hoping it will be released soon so that music listeners around the world can hear the whole song and once again experience the incomparable brilliance of Michael Jackson. . . . Michael Jackson did [the song] justice and we truly hope his fans -- and our fans -- get to hear it in its entirety." It's really poignant." And now the world can hear it, and it is both poignant and truly wonderful. With a rhythmic pulse similar to "Leave Me Alone," the song pops; check it out on YouTube. And check out the recording MJ did prior to this album's post-production.

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