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Reason, Passion, and History

Today, a Notablog exclusive is published: My comprehensive review essay dealing with James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics: The Case Against the Brandens (Dallas: Durban House, 2005):

Reason, Passion, and History

Comments welcome.

Comments

As I expected, a judicious and balanced and utterly convincing analysis of Valliant's work.

However, as with your review of Jeff Walker's pile of garbage you are far TOO fair with the author. I can only conclude from your account - and I suspect that my reading of his work will confirm this - that every vile slur he makes against the Brandens is a perfect description of his own character and intellectual honesty. His book is clearly the product of a demented and dishonest cultist and mountebank.

Now tell us how you really feel. :)

First, thanks, Chris T. for your compliments on my analysis.

I just want to caution commentators here to do their very best to raise the tone on this discussion from Square One. This is a subject, as I say in my essay, that seems to degenerate immediately into a slimefest. And it's easy to see why.

I think very important substantive and methodological issues are raised by Valliant's book, which is why I devoted so much space to it. And, yes, I'm fair... to a fault.

Cheers,
Chris

Chris:

As usual, another masterful and fair report. Thanks.
--
Jeff

Nice work, Chris. I doubt I'll ever read Valiant's book, but I too hope that ARI releases Rand's journals to the public in unedited form. I would actually rather they had been destroyed, as I would want any private writings of mine to be destroyed, but it is a bit too late for that with regard to Rand's journals and it is better that there be full disclosure and transparency than secrecy, manipulation, and character assassination.

This is brilliant work, Chris. Nowhere else have I seen these issues discussed both so thoroughly and so well.

I've read both of the Branden books multiple times (including both editions of N. Branden's memoir). I've also read Valliant's book once. For me (and in my judgment, for anyone who has read these books) your review essay qualifies as must reading.

Now, having read your review essay once, I can't think of one thing with which I disagree. Perhaps with additional readings (which I expect will be well worth the effort) I will find something here or there with which to quibble. I think you are clearly on the right track, though.

With issue after issue, you avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. If only everyone who discussed such subject matter could approach it with your level-headedness.

Unfortunately, I think that inadvertently, many people instead fall into the trap of moralizing about these topics. I say this in part based on personal experience. Years ago, in considering some of these same controversies, I sometimes did the same.

Nothing has given me more insight into the fallacies of moralism, however, than has Damian Moskovitz's talk, "Moralism in Objectivism: Why It's Bad and How We Can Get Rid of It." In the Guest Articles section of my Living Action web site, both in transcript and audio formats, this talk remains available.

This is the direct URL:

http://vidaxel.axelnetdesigns.com/content/view/17/83/

I suspect that many who find value in your comments will find value in Damian's, as well.

Thank you so much for composing and publishing such an outstanding review essay.

Great review Chris (as always!).

Hey, how come URLs aren't "clickable" in your comment section? Having to copy & paste is SO YESTERDAY!

;-)

On the other hand, there is something to be said for sharing your inner struggles with the world or having an empathetic and sympathetic person share them for you if you can't. In connection with this, I have always been fascinated and moved Orson Scott Card's dramatization of "Speakers for the Dead" in his novels: Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Have you read these, Chris? As a teenager, long before I had ever heard of libertarianism or Objectivism, I thought that if we could just have more Speakers for the Dead and less politicians and priests the world would be a better place.

Perhaps Objectivism and the world could use real-life Speakers for the Dead, sans the touch of emotivism and subjectivism Card unfortunately embued them with. I just reread a passage from chapter two of _Speaker for the Dead_ and Card unfortunately contrasts the Speaker doctrine of good and evil with a Calvinistic doctrine. According to Card, a Calvinistic view (at least as portrayed in the novel) holds good and evil to be solely in the act with the actor's motives or intentions being irrelevant. For Card, the Speaker doctrine is that good and evil exist entirely in human motive. This intrinsicist/subjectivist dichotomy could be dialectically transcended by Objectivist ethics. Despite his apparent acceptance of this traditaional dichotomoy, however, Card's Speakers attempt to portray the full context of a person's life, both the virtues and the vices, the triumphs and the failures, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain. Methodologically speaking, a Speaker strives for objectivity.

Chris, thank you so much for your calm, insightful review of Valliant's book. Your review was like an X-ray of Valliant's thought process, and the result was not pretty.

There have been some rather incendiary reviews and comments attacking Valliant's book, and I can't say that I disagree with them. However, it is much more satisfying to ponder his (or anyone's) book, and much easier to arrive at a balanced, nuanced assessment, when using (or guided by) your approach. One's confidence level in one's conclusions is much higher when ideology and personal biases are set aside and a careful look is taken at the methodology of the author.

To those who might object at your being too civil or fair or non-inflammatory in your review, I will just say that I think that your dispassionate look at the facts in this case are more than damning enough!

Again, good job!

Warmest personal regards,
Roger Bissell

Much appreciation for additional comments here from Jeff, Vid, Kernon, Geoffrey, Roger...

Geoffrey, I've heard of, but have not read, Card's work. Thanks for mentioning it and for your points.

Vid, thanks for your vote of confidence and for linking to Damian's piece.

Kernon :) ... last time I allowed clickable URLs, somebody put up a link to something having to do with women and barnyard animals. I'll try it again, and we'll see what happens.

Roger, I just had a chance to look at SOLO HQ, where Dennis Hardin faults "the absence of moral evaluation" in my review. I answer him there but I'll repeat the essence of what I say here, for readers of Notablog.

Hardin states: "There is no inherent conflict between moral evaluation and objectivity. And there is no claim to superior wisdom in treating an author who engages in vicious, scurrilous attacks on admirable people as if he deserved benevolence. To review this book---to grasp the naked evil of its despicable twisting of the truth to serve a transparent and loathsome agenda---without condemning it in the clearest possible terms, is a travesty of justice."

In essence, Hardin is arguing that my lack of condemnation is as "evil" as the very book he believes I should have condemned "in the clearest possible terms."

If Hardin is looking for any inherent conflict between moral evaluation and objectivity in my work, he won't find it. I evaluate everything on a variety of levels: morally, epistemically, logically, and so forth. What he won't find, however, is a review that adopts the very "scorched-earth" style for which I criticize Valliant in my essay. What he won't find is a review where the style of my language will be focused on to the exclusion of the substance of my points. There are too many incendiary condemnations at work in cyberspace, which end up generating far more heat than light.

I simply wished to provide an alternative.

The links for the SOLO HQ commentary are here:

My announcement:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_6.shtml#123

Dennis Hardin's comments:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_6.shtml#126

My reply:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_6.shtml#131

(And for some reason, I think you still have to cut and paste... hmmm...)

Chris, about an issue that evokes so much emotion and so little clarity in so many people -- an issue about which there is usually more heat than light -- I am more grateful than I can say for the calm reasonableness of your article.

Chris,

Excellent stuff as always. I haven't been in any great hurry to go out and buy this thing (the title pretty much indicated the essential nature of the content), but your reasoned analysis cleared away any doubts.

MH

Chris, insightful as always (and just as long).) :)

You speak often of the importance of separating the thinker from the philosophy. That is one area I still struggle with, because I do think that if one is going to suggest to others how to live, that person should also be able to live it. I do not think it's important to focus on every little aspect the way Prince Valliant seems to do. Although, when it comes to Rand, it's not so surprising that one is tempted to do so, since she postmarked her work "And I Mean It!".

I came across Carl Jung's comparison of Nietzsche to Schopenhauer, which some may find interesting in light of this issue (which is also kinda ironic, since in AR:RR you write "Yet the study of philosophy cannot be reduced to exploring this or that philosopher's idiosyncracies. That would be psychologism at its worst. One should not judge Schopenhauer's philosophy by his penchant for sleeping with loaded pistols or Nietsche's by the fact that he died insane."):

Jung-

"[Schopenhauer] was full of contradiction. His human existence was quite apart from his philosophy, while in Nietzsche the two began to come together and in a very tragic way. So he goes really further than Schopenhauer whose philosophy is merely a mental affair, while Nietzsche feels that it concerns the whole man; to him it was his own immediate reality. It is impossible to be this on the one side and something entirely different on the other, to have a philosophy which has nothing to do with one's reality...[Schopenhauer] still believed in the non-importance of this world. But Nietzsche begins to emphasize the importance of the body by losing his belief in other worlds. As soon as the transcendent goal of life fails, the whole importance is of course in the ego consciousness and in the personal life. That is inevitable."

So if Nietzsche's transvaluation of values results in an emphasis on this world and our actions here, it's no suprise that our lives and actions are subject to gossip and scrutiny in relation to our professed beliefs. And since Rand was a big fan of ZARATHUSTRA, it could explain the continuing fascination with THE AFFAIR and her moral judgements.

Anyway, some food for thought, I'll let you and Jung duke this one out! :)

Thanks for additional comments from Barbara, Matthew, and Joe (keep 'em comin'...)

Joe, that's some very interesting material from Jung.

Interestingly, even though Valliant himself tells us that one cannot judge a philosophy by the philosopher's biography, that "Biography and philosophy are two distinct subjects" (p. 3) as he puts it, he also argues that in the case of Objectivism, Ayn Rand did, indeed say "And I mean it"---thus inviting an investigation of "her personal life" to see "the practical effects" of her "operative ideas" on her own life.

I'm not saying that biography is irrelevant; obviously, I, myself, spend quite a bit of time in RUSSIAN RADICAL investigating one aspect of Rand's "personal life"---her intellectual growth in Silver Age Russia---which I use as one component for understanding her legacy.

The issue is ~reductionism~, as I imply in the very quote you cite. Context matters, but one cannot reduce an idea to the personal or historical context in which the idea was born. Ultimately, ideas must be judged by their correspondence to reality, their efficacy and explanatory power, not by the biographical details of the person who came up with the ideas.

Chris,

Excellent piece.

I think a key methodological issue is that you take the position that because the Brandens have acknowledged their role in the Affair and building the "cultic" attitude that surrounded the Objectivist movement, their version has a certain amount of credibility.

On the other hand, Valliant believes that because of the Brandens' conduct, their later accounts should be considered less valid.

Thank you, Chris for a wonderful well-researched and informative review of the book. I think it is important that this Randroid practice of blaming the Brandens is finally put to bed.

As I have said before Barbara and Nathaniel have made wonderful and important contributions not only to objectivism but psychology/self-help as well. Thank you for pointing out their accomplishments.

Rock on.

"Ultimately, ideas must be judged by their correspondence to reality, their efficacy and explanatory power, not by the biographical details of the person who came up with the ideas. "


Right on, Chris.

Thanks to additional comments, folks.

The discussion at SOLO HQ continues as well. Dennis Hardin continues to make points about what he perceives as my possible "moral agnosticism." You can read his comments here:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_6.shtml#139

I respond to him here:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#141

For Notablog readers, I reproduce my response here:

Dennis,

I'm flattered by your characterization of me as an "intellectual giant," and I appreciate your attempt to clarify your comments.

In truth, I have been accused by some, right here on SOLO HQ, for my "lack of moral fastidiousness" through the years. Be that as it may, I have grown tired of the kind of scorched-earth, slash-and-burn technique that is all too familiar across the political spectrum, and within Objectivism as well, which substitutes "purr and snarl" words for cogent analysis. Now, before you take that personally, I am not saying that ~you~ did that in your review of Valliant's book.

But I am a scholar by training. I have spent my life taking everything I read with a degree of seriousness. I have shown that degree of seriousness for writings authored by some of the most evil men in history---Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao tse-Tung. Whatever James Valliant is, he's not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; I think we all need to achieve a bit of proportion here.

Sometimes it is required to devote a level of seriousness to a work one might reject. I chose to do so primarily because ~I~ had a lot to say about ~broader~ issues of historical interpretation and methodology. And since I am, among other things, a Rand scholar, I ~must~ take seriously the publication of a book that includes extensive excerpts from Rand's personal journals approved by Rand's Estate. As an intellectual historian who has mined rare archival materials for over 15 years now, I cannot ignore this material.

To have dismissed Valliant's work because I have profound disagreements with its author, or to have written a piece that did not delve into the ~reasons~ for my disagreements---both interpretive and historiographical---would have served no purpose, ~for me~. And, in the end, I write for ~me~, no matter how much I also write to reach others.

I have learned from both Ayn Rand and the Brandens. And one major thing I learned ~personally~ from Nathaniel Branden long ago was this: You can never hope to change somebody's perspective by beating them over the head and telling them that they are immoral scum. I may judge the actions or writings of any given author as incorrect, wrong, perhaps immoral in its implications, etc. But unless I ~grapple~ with the argument and its implications in a way that shows critical attention to detail, I cannot hope to reach those who might have been persuaded by the book to begin with.

One more thing---and perhaps you'll think me a bit too "Christian" for an Objectivist universe---but I do not treat people in a way that I would not like to be treated.

Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the publication of ~Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical~. When that book was published, it was met by knee-jerk condemnation by a host of people commonly identified as "orthodox" Objectivists. Some repudiated the book on the basis of its dust jacket. Others claimed to have read it but showed no evidence of having understood anything in its pages. Still others provided the kind of "purr and snarl" review that was obvious for its axe-grinding.

I received more serious critical engagement from ~non~-Objectivists than from Objectivists. And since ~Russian Radical~, the level of rudeness and personal attack grew with every article, book, or edited collection I published in the area of Rand scholarship. While I'm willing to debate anyone on substantive issues, I will not sanction personal rudeness. I won't crawl into the sewer with people who insist on swimming in its waters or practice the very style I condemn others for exhibiting.

You quote Rand about how "moral agnosticism" corrupts a culture. For me, rudeness, a raised eyebrow, a smirk, the pooh-poohing of critical engagement, the use of the argument from intimidation are all just as corrupting.

I wrote a trilogy that sought to recapture a dialectical method in defense of liberty. In doing fierce battle against Marxists and statists of every stripe, I chose to ~engage~ their arguments. Silence has never been an option. But if I'm going to say something, it is going to be something substantive stated on my terms.

Reply to Dr. Sciabarra’s REASON, PASSION, AND HISTORY, by James S. Valliant

Introduction

My own background and early experience with Objectivism is much the same as Chris Sciabarra’s. We were both small children, I even younger than he, as the “Break” of August 1968 unfolded. I, too, had the benefit of absorbing Rand’s published corpus before I had heard any of the recorded lectures (though, like Sciabarra, I would eventually listen to them all, including those vinyl LPs of Nathaniel Branden’s “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course), or before I had met anyone who had been associated with Ayn Rand. I also regard this as a “fortunate” circumstance for similar, if not identical, reasons.

Unlike Sciabarra, however, I have no personal friendships with anyone who had known Rand, much less any of the principals involved in this complex story of the public divorce that occurred between Ayn Rand and the Brandens.

I am personally acquainted with many who knew Rand, and I have been a student at the home of Leonard Peikoff, who has dubbed me a “charter member” of his “Class of ’91,” but I cannot call anyone who knew Rand a personal friend, nor do I normally socialize in traditional “Objectivist” circles. I also must acknowledge the great assistance that the Ayn Rand Archive provided me by supplying me with no end of valuable materials, although this, too, came “with no strings attached.”

Let me also observe that I do have a number of friends who are Libertarians. Nathaniel Branden was the first associate of Rand’s I ever met. While I have changed my views significantly since then, I first registered to vote as a Libertarian. In college, I worked at Laissez-Faire Books in Greenwich Village. About this time, I was a student of the late Murray Rothbard, a.k.a. “Mr. Libertarian.” In the name of “full disclosure” I should also say that I value my recent correspondence with Dr. Sciabarra very highly. Readers of my book will see, however, where the course of my intellectual development has gradually taken me.

Like Sciabarra, I regard myself as an independent scholar. I commenced my project without any assistance, input or advice from any organization or institute. In addition, although I had encouraged their release in my original analysis, I did not solicit Rand’s journal material from her estate. Very much to my surprise, it was offered to me, essentially, condition-free, after Dr. Peikoff had read the first version of Part I of the book, and well after its publication on the Internet.

Despite his association with the Brandens, I do regard Sciabarra as an “independent” scholar, precisely because—unlike many of those who both praise and condemn my book—he is capable of acknowledging that Rand’s own perspective, though vital, has been sorely missing from the discussion so far. Indeed, I am highly gratified that he recognizes that these Rand journals are “required reading” for those serious about intellectual history and philosophical biography.

And, I most deeply appreciate that Sciabarra has provided thoughtful and thought-provoking comments that are serious, substantive—and that avoid personal abuse and rancorous emotion, something this topic, unfortunately, seems to inspire.

The “Distraction” of Rand’s Private Life
I also appreciate that Sciabarra recognizes our agreement on the most important issue, namely, that the truth of a philosophy is to be determined independently from any consideration of the philosopher’s biography. We are also in apparent agreement on the relative merits of attending to a thinker’s life as opposed to the substance of that thinker’s ideas.

But I honestly stand in awe of any critic who levels at me the charge of “distraction.” One Internet critic has even laid the potential “killing” of Objectivism as a philosophy at my feet.

Of course, the Branden books are more detailed and salacious, and certainly more aimed at a mass-audience, than my book. As proud of the book as I am, I suspect that its sales will trail those of Barbara Branden’s opus considerably. Of course, Ms. Branden allowed her book to be adapted into a cable-television movie now sold in video stores. And, Sciabarra himself refers to a “Branden-inspired” play depicting Rand as “an insane woman.” And this only begins the list of “Branden-inspired” material focused on Rand’s (and O’Connor’s) private life.

Yet, it is this book, the first voice of serious critical analysis of the Brandens’ biographical works that is getting charged with “distracting” us all with the issue of Rand’s personal life (!) What is this but the naked demand that all discussion stop—but only after the Brandens are allowed to raise the issue and define it for history?

Moreover, as long as Rand’s art and philosophy are admired, there will be an interest in the life of the author. The Brandens were part of that life, both as participants and self-appointed chroniclers. Any serious consideration of Rand’s life must give attention to them and their role in Rand’s life. As historians, we must take account of all of our primary sources when considering the topic at hand.

And, of course, consideration of these issues does not prevent philosophers and psychologists and economists from doing their substantive research and publishing it. Are substantive lectures being stopped by this conversation? Or, is it seriously being claimed that the new book will stop short significantly more serious discussions of Objectivism than the movie inspired by Ms. Branden’s book—complete with vivid sex-scenes—already has?

For years, Rand’s critics have made much of the silence of her defenders on the topic of the Brandens. Now, curiously enough, the complaint is that attention is being paid them at all.

Sciabarra has written that I spend an “incredible amount of time” in my analysis of the various Branden accounts of Rand on a number of what we must suppose he regards as minor issues. Some Internet critics of the book have voiced a similar complaint that boils down to the accusation that I am “nit-picking” the Brandens’ accounts, for example, by my identification of various contradictions between and within their books along with other errors. In this regard, Sciabarra, like the others, spends an “incredible” share of his own focus on a single such issue—how Rand chose her name. I admit to a sense of astonishment at the obsession paid to this single issue.

However, I also take this as a serious concession. Unable to dispute the content of my analysis, the critics ignore it. I leave it to others to say whether accusations that Rand was humorless, joyless, completely callous to personal context, border-line paranoid, tyrannical to her students, and the other matters on which such time is spent in the book, are trivial. To those who care if a highly distorted mythology about Ayn Rand is allowed to go unchallenged, let me say, the book does demonstrate that the Brandens’ accounts are, at a minimum, grossly warped, and that my critics’ inability so far to address this substance of the book speaks volumes.

Sciabarra has trouble seeing how PARC changes much over and above the picture created by Mr. Branden’s already-significant admissions, while simultaneously conceding that the portrait drawn of a psychologically disturbed Rand in what he calls a “Branden-inspired” play is now shown to be false (Branden himself suggested that Rand was literally “mad” on such topics as… Nathaniel Branden).

Very well, maybe all that the book does is to show that Rand was not literally insane, as previously suggested.

On the other hand, Objectivist-outsider Wendy McElroy, also appears to have significantly changed her view of Rand from her reading of the book, and, for example, now questions the evidence of O’Connor’s alleged alcoholism.

Another on-line critic of mine has conceded that, of course, it is now clear the “Break” was not really about the emotions of “a woman scorned,” after all, also as previously suggested.

Perhaps some students and admirers of Ayn Rand do not regard such revisions of the record as a significant improvement. I am willing to wager that some do.

While Sciabarra acknowledges that, from the first, he realized that the Brandens’ memoirs were written from a “particular point of view,” I would ask him if he had appreciated the extent of the distortion that he now appears to concede exists in those books until he had read this one?

In the book, of course, the “name issue” is dispensed with early and explicitly judged in the text to be something “minor.”

No matter, for it seems that even here, the impact of the new evidence has not been grasped. Ayn Rand—in fact and actually—did not adopt her name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. It is simply impossible for her to have done so, since she was using the name “Rand” before there was any such machine in existence. For Rand to have ever said so would make Rand out to be a liar about this relatively insignificant matter. But, to those who wonder why ~ the Brandens ~ would lie about such things, the question must be posed: why would ~ Rand ~ have privately lied to the Brandens while publicly telling the press something else, both before and after she met the Brandens?

How curious it is that Fern Brown was unable to jog Ms. Branden’s memory of Rand telling her this, as Ms. Branden is now claiming at the SOLO website, (Ms. Branden, it seems, was mistaken when she had thought that she had learned this through Ms. Brown for the first time, as she had suggested in her book), while Mr. Branden’s later claim to have heard this from Rand herself was somehow able to remind her that she, too, was privy to this statement by Rand—that is, only after it had been challenged.

Some have asked why the Brandens would dissemble over such a trivial matter, not realizing that such “insider knowledge” is precisely the sort of thing that gives them the aura of credibility—“we got the inside dope”—and not appreciating the context in which the Brandens relate this matter. For example, Ms. Branden says, absent evidence and incorrectly, that Rand’s Russian family never knew her American name and that this was even a reason why Rand lost contact with them in the late 1930s. You see, the new name, not revealed to anyone, is another example of Rand’s “obsession with secrecy” and alienation from her family—as I suggest in the book—as well as an example of her self-mythologizing.

As I note in the book this minor matter serves only to set a pattern.

What I also find more than curious in this charge of “distraction with trivia” is that it is ~ the Brandens ~ who have exaggerated and distorted the relative importance of such matters as Rand’s name, or her margin notes in books, or her “good luck” charm, or her alleged fear of flying, etc., etc. As I repeatedly demonstrate in the book, it is the Brandens who use trivia to construct their vast theories about Rand’s personality, a personality that in the end serves to exonerate and justify their own otherwise unjustifiable actions in regard to Rand.

Once more, it is my book, in fact, that had first raised this issue, and in regard to the Brandens themselves, another fact completely ignored. Criticism of my book, at so many turns, has exhibited this eerie sense of projection.

I had hoped that Sciabarra, of all people, would have appreciated the degree to which my analysis is an exercise in “the art of context-keeping.” Some admirers of Rand have taken me to task for suggesting a comparison between Rand and other contemporary intellectuals. But the truth is that if we are really going to refuse to “deny Rand’s humanity,” we cannot then lose sight of the full context of humanity—and what Rand’s life actually represents within that context.

Sciabarra concedes that I recognize and cite other critics of Rand who long preceded the Brandens, and that I acknowledge that long before the Brandens there were critics whose “most consistent complaint” was that the movement constituted a “cult.” It appears, then, that his charge against me is not that I claim that the Brandens invented “Rand-bashing” (which they did not), but the degree of blame I assign to the Brandens for this.

He notes that William Buckley had long been a Rand-critic, and, like most other Rand-critics, he is inspired by his ideological differences with Objectivism.

But, here, observe the difference the Brandens have made. Buckley’s pre-Branden short swipes and jabs—as well as the longer negative articles and reviews by others about Rand’s work that were published in National Review—were small potatoes indeed compared to his recent “historical” novel, Getting It Right. For the first time we get a whole book, and one that is deeply inspired by the Brandens’ legend. (Anyone else see another film there?) More importantly, a whole new dimension has been added to the assault—the attack against Rand based on her “private life” and psychology.
The impact of the Brandens has simply been incomparable to that of previous critics. Thus, into a loud and well-publicized conversation, already long begun by others, my book is obviously only a single new voice.

Perhaps this entire conversation has been a “distraction.” I wonder then why it was not until Rand’s own perspective became available that the subject suddenly became a “distraction”?

It is true that the motivation of Rand’s critics is and has always been their ideological differences with Objectivism. But, I was not discussing their ~ motives ~ but their ~ tactics ~ in avoiding serious discussion. The Branden books themselves do not appear to have focused Buckley’s attention (or anyone else’s) onto Rand’s ideas, but, rather, seem to have given him an excuse to dramatically expand his attack on such irrelevancies, and an improved technique in changing the subject.

I do not, in the book, object to Rand-criticism of every type. As I observe in the “Introduction,” there have been two types of “unfair” criticism of Rand, i.e., two forms of Rand-bashing: the inaccurate presentation of her ideas, and what I call only “the more recent trend” toward distracting serious discussions with accusations about Rand’s private life. It is this latter type, or, as I say there, this “particular form of Rand-bashing,” for which the Brandens are to be blamed. And, as I point out later in the book, the Brandens merely picked up the already existing and well-developed notion that Objectivism was a “cult” and used that canard to bolster their own case against Rand.

But there can be little doubt that the coming of the Brandens’ books rendered previous Rand-bashing obsolete and inspired a new and more personal wave of attack. As I clearly imply, it is this “recent trend” that “starts with the Brandens.”

And, while I can understand Sciabarra’s propriety concern to defend THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, such Rand-bashing has even appeared in that journal. He calls James Arnt Aune’s method in the pages of that journal “a familiar rhetorical strategy” that does ~ not ~ in fact, suggest that “the particulars of Rand’s private life” should cause us to “question” the validity of her philosophy; no, he is just “curious as to what Rand scholars” think about this question. Familiar though such a “strategy” might be, it is simply an indirect way of raising the same issue, which he at the very least credits with his curiosity. There is no other purpose to raising the issue except to distract from substance and “push buttons,” as Sciabarra seems to concede himself.

Whether directly or indirectly, this form of Rand-bashing has reached the pages of his own journal, whether Sciabarra will acknowledge it or not, and this fact does demonstrate its increasing currency.

Despite all of this, Sciabarra finds objectionable the rhetorical use of Tuccille’s earlier title—in a footnote—where I say “it usually begins with the Brandens” when it comes to Rand criticism. As stated, this is an overstatement if taken to mean all Rand criticism, as I already implied in the opening paragraphs of the book. And, given the topic of the book, as well as the short history of Rand criticism found in the introduction, I had hoped that the reader would know what was meant: “this particular form of Rand-bashing.”

In this regard, the Brandens represent a goldmine of material in current use by Rand’s less rational or honorable critics. In failing to recognize this, Sciabarra has mischaracterized “one of my premises in writing the book” by suggesting that I claim the Brandens to be the source of all, or even most, Rand-bashing, much less criticism. Moreover, an encyclopedic and comprehensive account of all such critics is hardly needed to acknowledge this, as he seems to imply.

Sciabarra, of course, correctly identifies the motive of most Rand-bashing, but he seems not to recognize the impact of this tactic of ad hominem distraction, oddly, even as he fears the capacity of ~ my ~ book to distract us from more serious matters.

“One-Sidedness”

One criticism that others, apart from Sciabarra, have offered suggests that my presentation is “one-sided.” Here, let me agree, at least in a certain sense, for I do not believe that the truth is determined by a process of “averaging” the available witnesses with the tired comment, “the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle,” wherever there is a dispute. We need to critically evaluate the witnesses’ testimonies—and this includes their very credibility—as well as their biases and “perspective.” Moreover, I do believe that ethical evaluations are frequently “black-and-white” matters, indeed. As a prosecutor, I know this only too well.

Nor do I believe that truly “one-sided” polemics, such as those found in the Branden books, become objective or “fairly balanced” because their authors acknowledged both “larger-than-life” virtues ~ and ~ flaws. This only heightens my suspicions of bias.

When Ms. Branden wrote that Rand used psychology like “an Inquistor might use the rack,” or when Branden suggested that Rand was literally insane on the subject of himself, or when they both suggested that Rand was moved only by a desire to see Mr. Branden dead after their falling-out in 1968, the voices currently complaining of “hyperbole” and lop-sidedness were curiously silent. And, although I explicitly recognize errors on Rand’s part, and even a virtue or two on the Brandens’ parts, the charges of bias and one-sidedness occur to students of the subject, again, only now, and only in regard to my book. Even more apparent issues of bias and hyperbole may riddle the Brandens’ efforts, but, somehow, the issue has only now become relevant to the conversation, it seems.

To avoid being called “one-sided,” I trust that a student of Objectivism will not require me to “partially,” but “equally,” accept all voices. If this charge has any validity, it means only that we must account for all of our primary sources. This is precisely what I have done by providing a detailed analysis of the Brandens’ main criticisms of Rand rather than ignoring them, unlike other admirers of Rand.

It is Sciabarra who has failed to be anything but “one-sided” in his analysis. He refuses to recount many of the arguments of the book or the basis for the conclusion he derides, and he consistently ignores the logical implications of the new evidence from Rand’s journals. The examples of this in his review are legion.

Sciabarra claims that I portray Barbara Branden as “a conventionally greedy woman,” but finds this implausible because he figures that Ms. Branden somehow could have taken over NBI by continuing to hide the truth from Rand, although he does not explain how exactly this would’ve happened. Instead, Ms. Branden dropped the dime on Branden.

Although I have never characterized Ms. Branden in this way—“conventional” anything, she was not—I do observe the apparent financial interest she had in revealing the truth to Rand. In fact, it apparently was this revelation that generated the most serious discussions about the possibility of Ms. Branden taking over Mr. Branden’s businesses. Up to that point, Rand was still giving Branden “second chances,” and Ms. Branden’s own continued “cover” for her estranged husband had little chance of profiting her in any way. I can only suggest that Sciabarra reread this section, as he does not appear to understand the argument being put forth there.

But the list of one-sided interpretations by Sciabarra in his review goes on and on.

Perhaps most strikingly, Sciabarra, after conceding the overtly misleading nature of Mr. Branden’s 1968 statement against Rand, openly wonders what a “more precise” admission by Mr. Branden would have accomplished (apart, presumably, from correcting that false impression he was leaving.) And, yet, Sciabarra—who seems to recognize that it was for Branden to admit blame at this point, and not Rand—also asserts that Rand’s reticence to make public her affair with Branden is “baffling and very difficult to explain.”

Remarkably, Sciabarra is not “baffled” by what is for him Mr. Branden’s understandable silence regarding an actual affair—even though Branden’s other assertions made this very silence now pregnant with falsehood. On the other hand, Rand, whom Sciabarra concedes had no ethical lapse to confess, is to him utterly mystifying in her silence ~ on the same issue. Sciabarra does not pause to consider the “one-sided” nature of his own approach to this issue.

And, of course, Sciabarra ignores the simple fact that Branden did not need to say anything at all. Or, he could have issued a blanket denial of Rand’s allegations just as vaguely as she had stated them. Or, he could have just told the whole truth himself. No, he chose the very limited parts of the truth to reveal, that is, he revealed Rand’s feelings only, knowing, as anyone would, the implications of his words.

Sciabarra asserts that I “flesh out” only “one-half” of the interpersonal dynamic between Rand and Mr. Branden, even as he swallows whole and uncritically the presentation of the “other half” of that dynamic from Branden himself. Whether the Branden accounts are warped by distortion or dishonesty, Sciabarra seems to concede that there are significant problems in those accounts. But such problems do not have any effect on his total acceptance of their uncorroborated assertions on everything from Branden’s account of “counseling” Rand following the publication of ATLAS SHRUGGED to the details of their statements to Rand in private.

Sciabarra’s fondness for the wisdom of that Indian Prayer has permitted him, through the Brandens’ books, to walk in their moccasins quite sympathetically. As he concedes, PARC represents, for the first time, our opportunity to walk in ~ Rand’s ~ moccasins, but Sciabarra is still, apparently, declining the invitation.

Of course, in truth, one need not actually live another’s life in order to evaluate it, and this adage is as dangerous as it helpful, suggesting a potential cover for the cult of moral grayness, even as it urges us to a rational empathy.

Equally slippery are such substitutes for thought as “it takes two to tango.”

Sciabarra is concerned that Rand’s statement had left open dark possibilities about the unrevealed flaw in Mr. Branden’s personal life to which Rand had referred. True, it did leave open possibilities that were much worse than the truth turned out to be. Of course, it must also be observed that it left open possibilities that were better for Mr. Branden than the truth turned out to be. Most importantly, and unlike Mr. Branden’s statement that made Rand look worse than truth would have, Rand left open the possibility of the truth.

Would it have served Rand’s interests better in the long-run if she had herself revealed the affair in 1968? Perhaps, but it is not difficult to see the reasons why she did not—reasons that in no way imply any consciousness of guilt on her part. Sciabarra’s implicit demand that Rand reveal this is noteworthy in its disregard for the very Objectivist value Sciabarra claims to prize so much—privacy.

Sciabarra concedes that the Brandens’ 1968 statement was actively and actually misleading. He admits that Branden himself concedes that his failure to disclose the affair was quite intentional and that the statement was carefully crafted with the help of an attorney. Yet, Sciabarra refuses to call this statement an “out-and-out lie,” that is, to credit its experienced author with its obvious and inevitable implication. We cannot believe that Branden meant what he said, or meant to leave us with the stark impression his paper clearly conveyed, according to Sciabarra. The fact that Mr. Branden did not correct this record in the years that followed seems to imply nothing about Branden’s intentions to Sciabarra. The fact that so much else in that 1968 statement was equally misleading does not get factored into his analysis, either, any more than the context of Branden’s previous dishonesty to Rand does.

No, Branden’s credibility gets every benefit of every unreasonable doubt from Sciabarra, who refuses, ironically, to exercise the “art of context-keeping” by ignoring the consistent, collective import of the evidence at hand.

This failure to acknowledge the only rational conclusion, namely, that the misleading nature of the Brandens’ 1968 accounts was quite intentional, causes Sciabarra to miss completely the main argument of Part I. The Brandens not only deceived Rand for years, but they also sought to deceive the world about that deception in 1968. Even in the light of all of the facts we now know, the facts that lead Sciabarra to concede the overtly misleading nature of Branden’s 1968 statements, the Brandens insist on the veracity of that statement to this day, and, indeed, they accuse Rand of defamation in 1968.

This can only have a devastating impact on the credibility of the Brandens’ uncorroborated reports, and an awareness of this must condition our understanding of all of the other distortions we find in their accounts, especially where those distortions serve to justify the Brandens’ own behavior or to depict Rand as being unjust to them.

Yet, Sciabarra acknowledges only distortion, not dishonesty, in any of the Branden accounts, refusing to acknowledge the clear pattern that can be detected, or even to consider the book’s argument to that effect. Rather than random and occasional, the Brandens’ distortions consistently add to an image of Ayn Rand that would seem to justify the Brandens own actions and claims.

I’m afraid it is Sciabarra’s approach to the work of his friends that is the “one-sided” analysis here.

Sciabarra’s most profound misunderstanding of the book is revealed when he claims that I somehow “paint [myself] into a corner” by a partial and selective reliance on the Brandens. This is absurd.
The most common phrases found in the book are variants of the following: “according to the Brandens,” or “Ms. Branden alleges,” or “Mr. Branden reports,” in order to stress the merely provisional acceptance I am allowing their accounts for purposes of analysis. In close second, come variants of the phrase, “since the Brandens are our only sources on this, it must be treated skeptically.”

In the book, I specifically disclaim that my use of the Brandens is to be taken as an endorsement of their veracity, for the simple reason that any uncorroborated assertions by the Brandens are to be doubted. In effect, I disclaim Part I of my book as a source for historical information about Rand at all, only the believability of the Branden accounts thereof. What else could be implied when I specifically state that the recounting of any event by me should not be taken as evidence that I believe it actually happened, and, at the end of Part I, when I express, at the risk of sounding repetitive, my own yearning for a still non-existent and objective account of these events.

Nonetheless, Sciabarra somehow takes issue with ~ my ~ “historical methodology,” not the Brandens’—i.e., the subject of the book. He takes issue, for instance, with my calling the Branden reports “evidence,” since I conclude that many of their assertions are purely “arbitrary,” and therefore beneath the dignity of an analytical response. But, as I make clear in the book, I only come to the conclusion that they are “arbitrary” after some careful analysis, since they are presented as primary eyewitness accounts, the very opposite of the “arbitrary.” The many assertions of the Brandens that come complete with an implicit or explicit admission that they have no evidence to support them are indeed some of my principle “evidence” for this. What could be better “evidence” of this than their own admissions to this effect?

Also, as I make clear in the book, some of the Brandens’ assertions are demonstrably false. In this matter, as well, the Brandens’ own assertions must be the principle “evidence.” When I observe a contradiction in the Brandens’ own accounts, each of the two competing assertions is certainly used as “evidence,” while it is obvious from the argument itself that one cannot believe both to be true. It is often necessary to use statements even of a liar in order to impeach the testimony of that liar.

Moreover, I acknowledge that the Brandens’ reports are potentially “evidence” in still another sense, for I readily admit that there is undoubtedly much that is true in their books. But, due to their already-established level of credibility, their reports cannot be believed absent corroboration, something else I repeatedly state in the book, and something Sciabarra himself observes.

Thus, take Sciabarra’s “examples” of my alleged “reliance” on the Brandens. In all three of the senses described above it actually would have been “quite helpful” if Ms. Branden had ~ reported ~ more of what she claims O’Connor had allegedly said in relation to the affair, just as it is helpful anytime a dissembler elaborates on the details of the alternative universe he proposes. True or false, such statements are excellent evidence—but not on the question of the truth of his assertions, but on the question of the speaker’s credibility.

Similarly, Ms. Branden’s ~ inability ~ to report that she ever counseled O’Connor to share with Rand herself any of the intense suffering Ms. Branden says that he had expressed to her (and, apparently, only to her) during his wife’s affair, undermines the credibility of her account of this alleged suffering, whether or not her report of such suffering is true or false.

Finally, in ~ contradiction ~ to her own portrait of a rather empty Frank O’Connor, Ms. Branden also provides “evidence” of his “perceptiveness.” This perceptiveness is, in fact, to some degree ~ corroborated ~ by the Branden-independent “evidence” (Rand’s letters) I then cite—and with the introductory phrase, “This [Ms. Branden’s report] is not the only evidence of O’Connor’s perceptiveness.”

None of this can be construed as “reliance,” since, in fact, I do not necessarily believe any of those assertions by Ms. Branden, and none of my actual theses depend on any of them for their demonstration. Sciabarra’s inability to name precisely how any of my actual themes rely upon the truth of any of the Brandens’ assertions is an eloquently sufficient response. His implication against me that such a selective “reliance” is a typical methodology employed in the book is a complete misreading of it and something that he cannot seriously maintain.

Sciabarra also takes issue with my true reliance on Walker’s book, THE AYN RAND CULT, especially in light of my demand for corroboration in the case of Branden-sourced evidence, and especially since I challenge Walker’s credibility, as well.

Sciabarra, of course, relies far more heavily on uncorroborated reports from the Brandens. For example, he takes the “psychotherapy” Branden claims to have given Rand during what Rand herself called her post-ATLAS SHRUGGED “crisis” period as an established fact. He takes their accounts of Rand’s emotions and emotional outburst at the time of the break at face value. These are matters that would seem difficult to so corroborate and plausibility is admittedly insufficient corroboration. As they say, plausibility is often the costume of lies.

In the few instances where I rely on Walker, such as Hospers’ report on Rand’s difficult youth and the “break” with Kay Nolte Smith, I do have other, corroborative sources, providing independent, if anonymous, verification. Unlike Ms. Branden, I do not rely on anonymous sources as my only source for something, but I will allow multiple, credible sources to remain unnamed where they serve as mere corroboration. Walker is cited because he is the only published source for them. Hospers has confirmed this testimony, if not in published sources, and the reported account of the Smith break, involving changes to the dialogue of a play by Rand they were producing, has been in circulation for many years, indeed. I should have, perhaps, included the fact that the changes made to Rand’s play were removed before its opening (although ~ how ~ Rand discovered these changes in the production remains the essence of the charge), but my own anonymous sources here are credible contemporaries to the event—and their reports to me long pre-date Walker’s book. As Sciabarra must know, Walker did not invent this.

But, if Walker’s reports are to be treated so skeptically, then why are we to trust the Brandens’? Are there then books so dubious that we should dismiss them altogether, or at least demand corroboration for all of their claims? I would ask Sciabarra for clarification here: is an uncorroborated and self-serving claim of the Brandens to be believed or cited without qualification?

Reliance on Walker in instances where he is our only published source is justifiable in the context of my book for two reasons. First, Walker himself is an important example of how dubious histories which themselves rely heavily on the Brandens have been written, though they certainly also add their own dimensions of dubiousness on top of such reliance. Thus, citing Walker was already inevitable, and, in a sense, an extension of my use of the Brandens, in this regard.

Second, the gaps only Walker’s account even attempts to fill highlight the importance of the information that Ms. Branden has herself suppressed.

For example, Ms. Branden is quick to wield Rand’s breaks with certain associates against her as evidence of Rand’s irrational intolerance, an image which is vital to the justification of the Brandens’ behavior toward Rand, but, more often than not, she gives us none of Rand’s actual reasons for those breaks. Where we are told—and whatever the source to which we have to repair in order to be told—more details regarding these breaks, Rand’s decision invariably becomes more understandable by the telling. My main point in all of this was to raise the simple question: why didn’t Ms. Branden tell us any of these details?

At the risk of being accused of being “one-sided,” I must also say that I believe that it is vital for us to identify values along with facts, and that we morally evaluate the topic under consideration.

Sciabarra’s review is almost painful in its own unwillingness to name the 800 pound gorillas lounging in the drawing room in this regard.

Ethically speaking, I do not see Rand as “gray,” but “white,” and the Brandens, in their treatment of Rand—while they were with her, and since—has been essentially “black.” Indeed, Rand made errors of knowledge—and judgment—in my view, but I can find no significant ethical lapse under the ethics that she taught. I cannot say the same for either of the Brandens, who paint their portrait of Rand in colors of mottled gray, obscuring the clarity of the facts against them. Sciabarra appears to recognize the facts that inevitably lead to this conclusion, but he remains reluctant to draw the only reasonable conclusions from those facts.

Sciabarra charges Rand with “colossal” errors of judgment, but still refuses to accept my own hypothesis, since it apparently requires him—for reasons not defined—to see Rand as “an imbecile.” Such vast misjudgments on Rand’s part are not defined by Sciabarra, but it is obvious that most of Rand’s mistaken judgments were the result of the bad data that Rand was being intentionally fed by the Brandens. This sort of misjudgment is not something that we can lay at Rand’s feet. One can hardly count one’s judgment poor for believing lies told by trusted friends.

Sciabarra struggles, again and again, to defend the now-discredited Branden portrait of Rand. For example, he concedes that Rand’s opinion of Branden’s new mistress was largely informed by Branden’s own reports to Rand of her “inferiority” (something revealed for the first time by Rand’s notes), and, yet, he still accuses Rand of jealousy for having a negative opinion of this “other woman.”

In this context her lack of jealousy about women’s beauty generally, her suggested new affair for Mr. Branden with some new “Miss X,” and her lack of jealousy in the case of Ms. Branden, are all ignored. Sciabarra finds plausible the conventional stereotype of a jealous older woman that is so central to the Brandens’ self-serving portraiture of Rand. Since we are speculating with tired clichés, may I suggest the stereotype of the younger man dangling the prospect of romance out to an older woman for ulterior motives? “Plausible”?

Sciabarra’s accusation of “hyperbole,” admittedly, is limited to a single issue, my analysis of Mr. Branden’s psychology. But, the book is necessarily caught up with personal and psychology issues, issues that the Brandens themselves were the first to pursue. Rand’s notes themselves are largely concerned with her complex diagnosis of Mr. Branden’s psychology. Where Rand is ignorant of important facts, due to Branden’s deception, we must supply them, and thus supplement her analysis where necessary. My own psychological assessment of Branden briefly and simply draws out Rand’s diagnosis, using Branden’s own contemporary work on psychology, and adding the missing facts.

It was Branden who had observed that the motivations of a deceiver are essentially the same as those of the violent—namely, the manipulation of another, getting that other to do something that he or she otherwise would not do. This is a desire to coerce the other, to overcome another’s free will, as Branden himself had observed. With his admissions since to having deceived Rand for some four and a half years, one must put these two facts together, and also admit that Branden sought to coerce Rand. Sciabarra is also one to insist that the “Break” was intricately and intimately tied to their previous romance, so he would admit, I presume, that one must also add that this was a sexual deception, that is, a form of sexual coercion, by Branden’s own reckoning.

It is hardly “hyperbole” to connect these dots, to consider the man, as described by Rand, and his own ideas on this very subject.

Sciabarra is likewise distressed that I do not acknowledge the value of Nathaniel Branden’s substantive work on psychology. I had hoped that the title of the book would have suggested its scope: the Brandens’ personal criticisms of Ayn Rand. This is also signaled in the “Introduction” and throughout. But if it was at all unclear let me state for the record that I did not intend in the book—or here—to evaluate anything except the Brandens’ writings on the life of Ayn Rand.

Referring to Mr. Branden’s work in psychology at the time as a “mere adjunct” to his personal issues is hardly to dismiss the objective value of that work, as Sciabarra skillfully observes, and is something that remains completely and intentionally unexamined in the book.

If anything, Sciabarra might have caught a different impression of my opinion of Mr. Branden’s substantive work from my other uses of his articles on psycho-epistemology, the cognitive causes of emotion, benevolence versus altruism, even the obligation of parents to children, and these were used precisely because I believe those articles to be our best evidence of the mutual understanding between Branden and Rand on those topics at the time.

Sciabarra’s own “one-sidedness” is exposed when, in his defense of the Brandens’ accounts, he actually denies Rand’s reports of her own state of mind that are contained in Rand’s private notes to her self. In January, and again, in July, of 1968, Rand reports in those notes that, at least in her mind, any hope for a continued romance had been over since at least January of 1968 when she wrote those entries. Sciabarra still insists on the now shattered Brandenian myth that Rand was still holding out hope for such a romance until the end. While we may speculate that Rand’s subconscious had its own agenda, the evidence of Rand’s journals is conclusive as to her conscious state of mind. Her retrospective summary in July merely corroborates the powerful evidence of her contemporary thoughts written in January.

These entries ~ written at the time and for Rand’s private use ~ are as powerful as DNA evidence in regard to the author’s state of mind.

After thus rejecting the evidence that demonstrates that Rand had seen the end of her relationship with Branden so early, Sciabarra then claims that ~ he ~ “would have seen the handwriting on the wall sooner” than Rand did (!) He assumes that the effort Rand was putting into helping Branden could only have been with a romantic end in mind, forgetting their business and intellectual relationships.

Sciabarra, for reasons undemonstrated, assumes that Rand’s highly integrated personality would have been unable to separate these things out in order to permit her to continue a “functional relationship,” as Rand considers in these notes. However, Rand’s serious considerations of this very possibility, and its growing viability in her mind, are discounted by him.

Sciabarra imputes a tendency to “totalism” that is not supported by the evidence he cites. Rand’s call for total epistemic integration does not imply that Rand also disregarded important distinctions. While hardly “compartmentalized,” Rand still recognized the limitations of human context, from concepts such as “the crow” epistemology to her recognition that moral judgment requires an understanding of personal context. Indeed, in these new notes, Rand develops her critique of “rationalism” in a way that appears to have foreshadowed the important work of Peikoff on this topic, as well as Branden’s own themes in THE DISOWNED SELF, and in a way that suggests something other than Sciabarra’s projection of ”totalistic” tendencies in Rand.

Once again, Sciabarra is simply unwilling to actually take this opportunity to walk in Rand’s moccasins.

Sciabarra claims that he “knows of no reputable scholar” who would “take any of [the Brandens’] works… as the last word in Rand biography.” While I agree with him that no one has explicitly claimed that the Branden books are the “synoptic” biographies of Rand, this is, however, how they are treated. Exhibit A: Dr. Sciabarra’s review, which most definitely takes the Brandens as the “last word” on the subject at every turn in the road where they are the only uncorroborated source.

However, I am gratified that, unlike some of my critics, Sciabarra recognizes that my book is not a biography of Rand. It does not attempt to evaluate Rand’s life in various ways, psychological and ethical, that such a project would necessarily entail. My current aim is only to evaluate the leading critical biographies of Rand in existence.

But, it seems, I must remind Sciabarra that this book is not a biography of anyone else, either, even the Brandens. It is a critical analysis of the Brandens’ biographical works on Rand, and an evaluation of their role in Rand’s life from the perspective of the new Rand notes. By its nature, then, it focuses on the many problems in the Brandens’ accounts. Sciabarra claims that “[e]very comment, every action, every reaction by the Brandens is viewed in negative terms” in the book. Ignoring his own stab at inaccurate “hyperbole” here, it is true that most of the book is focused on the Brandens’ errors, but such is the nature of the project at hand.

Sciabarra and I are in agreement that sound historical methodology requires that the topic be viewed from “multiple vantage points.” My book was an attempt to explicate Rand’s vantage point on the Brandens. This was, in fact, a highly negative one. I leave to biographers a more complete evaluation of Ayn Rand’s life. But this first required that we do something that Sciabarra is reluctant to do, i.e., to consider the errors and flaws in the Branden existing accounts.

An objective biography of Ayn Rand should not devote the attention to analyzing the Brandens’ claims that is given to them in my book. In my view, this would only serve to distort and warp the objective evaluation of Ayn Rand. My current goal was simply to clear the road precisely in order to allow a truly “balanced” take on Rand’s life, unencumbered with the need to disprove the baseless.

Thus, by its nature, my argument will be advocacy, something I also fully concede. This is so anytime an established view is being challenged for the first time. Historical revisionism must often assert its case in just this way. The correction of a falsehood is, of necessity, a one-sided business. That’s because A is A.

It is hardly surprising that nearly all of the corrections that need to be made to the Branden-created record will reflect poorly on them, for, whether consciously or subconsciously, it is precisely areas where personal motivations can be detected that they have the greatest interest in distorting.

Also, as a prosecutor, I have found that identifying the motive of the defendant’s wrongdoing, rather than absolving him of blame, only helps to convict him. I have also found that the most sympathetic of psychological reports on the defendant almost inevitably argues his guilt all the more earnestly.

If there is any usefulness to the term “balance” in this context, then it is precisely my book that is providing a much-needed “counter-balance” to the Brandens’ own self-serving and “one-sided” accounts.

Moralism and Totalism

Let me state forthrightly that, in contrast to Rand, I do not regard homosexuality as either “disgusting” or “immoral.” Sciabarra and I are also in agreement that Rand’s unpublished position cannot amount to a philosophical position or “part of Objectivism.” I also know that Objectivists who happen to be homosexual have been treated poorly by therapists and mentors in the past. Where Sciabarra and I part company is over whether Rand’s statement is a symptom of “totalism” or a significant indication of “moralism” on Rand’s part.

Sciabarra understands that, for Rand, moral judgment is a contextual matter, or, as he might put it, an exercise in the “art of context keeping.”

However, Sciabarra also notes that there are statements by Rand, such as her call for the complete integration of our mental contents, which tend to support a “totalism” which confuses the personal tastes and judgments of Ayn Rand with the essential tenets of her philosophy. Although he agrees with me that Rand’s pronouncements on the subject of homosexuality cannot amount to a philosophic principle of Objectivism, he argues that the certainty and sweeping character of Rand’s single public assertion on the topic is an instance of such moralism and totalism, and he does persuasively show that in the name of Objectivism some have elevated their negative opinion of homosexuality into such a “principle.”

But Rand did not present her opinion on homosexuality in her normally highly integrated fashion at all. She did not “connect the dots,” showing us why it was immoral or why she found it so esthetically repugnant. Thus, it is the very absence of any “totalistic” tendencies that convinces me that this was Rand and not Objectivism speaking to us here.

In addition, strongly held and stated personal judgments are not the same things as philosophically developed ones—or even ones about which the speaker may actually be certain. The equivalent of a loud “Yuck!” is just an emotional expression—nothing more or less—until integrated with other concepts and principles.

Rand did say that she found homosexuality to be “immoral,” as it surely would have been immoral for her, in my view, given her strong preference for men and her belief that femininity consisted of man-worship, in the gender-sensitive meaning of the term. If she meant more, then, as a moralist, the use of this word was an error since she did not then proceed to “connect” those “dots.” If I were certain that Rand meant to judge others in the mere practice of homosexuality by her statement, I would fully concede that the use of the word “immoral” suggests that her opinion was unjustifiable –and more elaborate than she ever demonstrated.

Nonetheless, a single un-integrated statement in a Q & A period, as much as it must have hurt many perfectly moral people, does not transform Rand into a “moralistic” person. Yes, it may even have been a mistake of “moralism,” but the most forgiving of us can make this mistake on occasion.

And this points to a more general observation I must make. As Sciabarra should be the first to appreciate, Rand cannot be judged out of context. In comparison to other moralists who passionately believed in the absolutism of principles, Rand was a remarkably cautious moral thinker, as can be observed from her private notes (another valuable service provided by their publication).

Seeing Rand as a human being means not only a refusal to see her as never having made a mistake, but also allowing Rand to make mistakes, and keeping a mistake “in context,” i.e., a non-totalistic response on our part.

It is precisely this kind of “context-keeping” that the Brandens routinely fail to do. Rand made mistakes, as I concede in the book repeatedly. Take the section on Rand’s ~ sometimes ~ sharp responses to questioners. I take the Brandens’ reports here at face value at least for the purposes of analysis in order to demonstrate their own overstatement of the issue and not to dispute the personal opinions of those present.

Sciabarra accepts the Branden portrait of Rand as esthetic tyrant hook, line and sinker, but, in fairness to him, Sciabarra sees Rand’s “totalistic” tendencies not from her personal behavior as much as from the indirect implications of her esthetic approach and the demands of her epistemology. I remain unconvinced since he also recognizes that, in many other respects, Rand’s philosophy appreciates the need to, as Sciabarra puts it, “keep context.” In other words, if one takes Rand out of context, one can see her as not appreciating context. Of course—but in these notes, Rand demonstrates, as never before, that sensitivity to personal context, both in theory and in human practice. She recognizes the area of personal “options,” morally and psychologically, in more detail than has ever been on display for readers to see “in action.”

It is this very aspect of Rand’s thought, her attention to personal context, that I would have thought Sciabarra would have appreciated. Unfortunately, it is this context that he himself fails to keep.

Conclusion

I am grateful for this opportunity to make an important correction, however, and I am grateful to Dr. Sciabarra for observing it. As it reads, the book implies that Sciabarra was among those who unfairly questioned Rand’s recollection of her education. Of course, skepticism regarding Rand’s alleged penchant for “mythologizing” her own past, however, is much older than Sciabarra’s investigations, which in fact have helped to verify Rand’s recollections. Indeed, even in the face of the skepticism of others ~ it was Sciabarra who continued to give Rand’s memory the benefit of the doubt ~ until more evidence was subsequently obtained. For the contrary implication left by me, I apologize, appropriately, here on Dr. Sciabarra’s own website. I can only express my hope that a subsequent edition of the book will permit me to make this correction there.

But when Sciabarra states that I misstate his position on what he calls Rand’s “dialectical” elements, he is being unfair to me. I do not say that he ever denied the relationship between Aristotle and the 19th Century dialecticians, as he seems to imply, I only state that, whatever the merits of those 19th Century thinkers, any aspect of their influence on Rand can be said to have its own roots in Aristotle, like that of Locke and Nietzsche, who are discussed in the text.

However, while Sciabarra may not be an “Objectivist,” he has treated me with great fairness, for example, in giving me this extensive opportunity to respond. For all of this, and for his many insightful comments on what I regard as the beginning of a new chapter in Rand biography and scholarship, I am deeply grateful.

Jim Valliant writes: "Sciabarra himself refers to a “Branden-inspired” play depicting Rand as “an insane woman.”

Without having read the book, I have no idea what Valliant writes about Branden's ideas on mental illness, but I do have to admit that after reading Thomas Szasz's take on Rand and Branden in FAITH IN FREEDOM, I am concerned about any account of Rand that attempts to label her as insane or mentally ill. (Not that I am accusing Chris of such.)

Answers to three questions would really help me put James Valliant's book in perspective, as well aa Chris Sciabarra's review of it, and Valliant's reply.

Mr. Valliant, do you think that:

(1) Ayn Rand thought she was an Objectivist hero?

(2) Ayn Rand was an Objectivist hero?

(3) Ayn Rand thought (from 1954 to somewhere in the mid-1960s) that Nathaniel Branden was an Objectivist hero?

By "Objectivist hero," I mean someone who not only has unusual ability or insight, but is also morally perfect (e.g., Howard Roark).

James Jacson

Mr. Jacson,

(1) Rand had a very high opinion of herself (curiously, not of her own intellect, but her own "honesty"), and that included the belief that she was not a hypocrite;

(2) Overall evaluations like "hero" are beyond the scope of my book, but I do think that Rand adhered to her own philosophy with greater consistency than most folks do (or, are able to, given the demands of those creeds);

(3) She thought of Branden as just about the closest thing to John Galt on earth until the mid-60's;

Does that answer you?

Oh, and Mr. Branden was and is a very, very smart guy, and Rand was hardly "taken in," in this sense.

Helpful?

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Mr. Valliant's book is his claim that Frank might have welcomed Rand's affair with Branden. The only source for this is a claim by N. Branden that Rand said Frank didn't disapprove. Why does Branden suddenly become credible when he says something favorable to Rand's case?

On another matter, Mr. Valliant contends that Murray Rothbard stole Rand's ideas, in particular in his essay "Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences" on the question of free will. Yet the standard claim is that Rothbard plagiarized Barbara Branden's masters theses in “The Mantle of Science” on the topic of free will. Is Mr. Valliant unable to give any credit to Barbara? Mr. Valliant also asserts that Rothbard stole her theories in The Ethics of Liberty, in particular the first chapter concerning natural rights theory. I could just as well argue that Henry Veatch stole from Rand in Rational Man.

Justin Raimondo, in his biography of Rothbard has an extensive discussion of Rothbard's relationship with Rand. In 1957, Rothbard wrote Rand a letter claiming that Atlas Shrugged was the "greatest novel ever written." Yet as early as 1954, Rothbard wrote letter to Richard Cornuelle in 1954 staing that “[George Reisman] found himself under a typical vitriolic Randian barrage, according to which anyone who is not now or soon will be a one-hundred percent Randian Rationalist is an ‘enemy’ and an ‘objective believer in death and destruction’ as well as crazy.” Besides shedding light on Rothbard's "break" with Rand, this letter (and others cited by Raimondo) provide contemporaneous evidence that Rand had a somewhat overbearing attitude toward those with whom she disagreed.

Mr. Valliant is certainly correct that there have been criticisms of Rand that have been unfair. At the same time, is it really true that the "method" of criticism has been to dredge up the Affair? The most recent critiques of Rand that I can think of (Scott Ryan and Greg Nyquist) don't mention the Affair (or don't make much of it). The customary response of Objectivists to critiques is to ignore them or claim that the critics don't understand Objectivism. In fact, it is customary for Official Objectivists to ignore all discussions of Rand by non-Official Objectivists. As Alan Gotthelf write in On Ayn Rand (2000), "There is, unfortunately, not much of serious interpretive value among the secondary material that has been published on Ayn Rand in books or academic journals to date.” Is there really nothing of value in the writings of Den Uyl, Mack, Rasmuessen, Sciabarra, Machan, etc.?

No doubt many Objectivists will condemn Mr. Valliant for posting on Chris’ blog, just as they did when Bernstein wrote a paragraph reply to a book review in JARS. Considering the attitude of Peikoff, et al, is it any wonder that people believe that Rand ran a “cult”?

Mr. Parille,

The evidence that O'Connor was, at least in some sense, "cool" with his wife's affair does not come from Branden, at all, but principally from the circumstantial evidence that he stayed with Rand, and continued being affectionate with her, throughout the period in question. This is confirmed by all of the witnesses. It is sure not conclusive, but already it knocks us out of "the typical," much less the stereotypical, encouraging us to look for unconventional explabations, in any event.

Also, Rand's considerations, found in her private notes, of Rearden's sexual psychology, in which she discusses the fact that Raerden actually takes pleasure at the thought of Dagny in the arms of another hero, are themselves VERY unusual, and pre-date Rand's acquaintance with Mr. Branden. What possible male psychology could she have modelled this on? Possibly her husband's--the "model," as she said, for all of fictional heroes. Rand's view that there are no "conflicts of interest" between rational men may have been understood by Rand and her husband is a shared way. There are eyewitness reports other than the Brandens to O'Connor's lack of jealousy, generally.

Again, I do not necesarily believe anything Branden says, but when an item stands out with such inconsistency from the portrait he noramlly seeks to draw, and when it "fits" with so much else, then even a Branden report is only corroborative of the rest. No more.

Most importantly, the only evidence we have of O'Connor alleged suffering is pure, uncorroborated-Branden. Cliches and plausibilities won't do since the situation was already outside of norm...

The works of Rothbard which I cite simply could never have been penned by him without the influence of Rand. Production as "the fusion of matter and spirit"? His whole approach to and definition of free will? These are matters in regard to which Rothbard, in private, very much conceded the influence of Rand, at least as his original inspiration. I will confidently leave it to others to see the degree of that final influence. No, he not an "Objectivist" but his whole orientation on these matters was originally informed by Rand, if modified by the influence of many others as well. He might have shared that with his readers, but anger sometimes makes us do unfair things...

Rothbard's opinion in that letter certainly foreshadows his later opinion, but, as always, I am curious as to what Rand is alleged to have actually done or said.

Mr. Parille,

When Rand reveals in her private notes that she herself might be "cool" with a new "Miss X" of Mr. Branden's, this reveals something more consistent about her approach than has been previously suggested. This approach may have been shared by her husband, especially when we consider how Rand projected something like this attitude onto her fictional male romantic hero, before meeting Branden, in her notes for ATLAS SHRUGGED.

There has been additional dialogue here (I see) and at SOLO HQ.

In the meanwhile, let me thank the additional posters for their comments.

Dennis Hardin at SOLO HQ is disturbed that my essay has succeeded in opening a dialogue with Valliant, but I fully expected that Valliant would reply here at Notablog.

As I say at SOLO HQ, however:

Let me just make something very clear: I earned a reputation here in the hallowed halls of SOLO HQ as "Her Royal Whoreness"---so named by Linz, because of my penchant to "dialogue" with all comers. And, in truth, over the past two decades, I have had critical public dialogues with people of many different stripes, from neoconservatives to Marxists. At one time, in fact, I was a co-founder and co-moderator of a Marxist forum called "Marxism-Thaxis," where I participated in discussions with every variety of left-winger. And I never ceased rocking the boat.

Ayn Rand once said that "It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course­but this realization presupposes a grasp of facts, of reality, of principles and a long-range view, all of which are precisely the things that the 'non-rockers' are frantically struggling to evade."

I believe that when dialogue progresses, the truth will out. I don't believe in talking an issue to death, however. I intend to write a rejoinder to Valliant and leave it at that.

I respect the intelligence of my readers to draw their own conclusions.

Mr. Valliant,

With respect to Rand's influence on Rothbard, I would suggest that readers consult Raimondo's biography of Rothbard in which he uses primary sources from Rothbard's archives to explore this issue. See p. 111 ("the good stuff in Ayn's system is not Ayn's original contrbution at all . . .Aristotle and Spencer were fine in this [rational ethics based on the nature of man." (also from 1954))

I too am interested in what actually happened. And isn't a letter from 1954 describing an event good evidence?

Mr. Parille,

Letters are some of our best evidence, indeed. (The author will be, of course, subjected to the same critical cross-examination to which all of our primary must be subjected.)

And, let's say that Rand's original contribution was zero (we'll leave that for another day), I think that Rothbard could have told us his own first source for the ideas at hand, since these ideas were part of a philosophical system that had had (to some degree) been an influence on him. I would also invite an actual comparison of the very language used by each of these sources (Spencer being one of my own favorites, with qualification, of course) and suggest that you will find a remarkable echo of Rand in Rothbard, again, at least, to some degree.

Prof. Sciabarra, I fully support your approach here. I have always said that no matter how seemingly irrational their views, opponents should, as far as possible, be intellectually engaged. If you draw out and speak to the other side's basic premises, you can often get through to them. And if you don't, you may nevertheless help third parties to understand. I am pleased also that Mr. Valliant has adopted the quiet, reasoning approach in this forum.

It makes the issues and arguments come out in relief. I'm pretty sure now that my initial negative impressions of the book were correct. However, I'll still read it with interest when I can get ahold of a copy.

I feel I must add that I have also formed a negative viewpoint on your theory of Rand's "influences" with respect to intellectual methods. But that is another topic that I may or may not post on.

Rodney, thanks for your comments and for the general tone of the discussion here, thanks to all.

As for my own theories on Rand's "influences"---I'm going to have quite a few essays posted toward the latter part of August on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of RUSSIAN RADICAL. Perhaps you can engage me on that topic at that time.

I also will be publishing a more extensive discussion of Rand's university years based on new archival materials in the forthcoming Fall 05 issue of JARS, which I plan to post on my website in due course as well.

It has been very difficult to read these comments because of the white letters on black background format. I read Valliant's rejoinder, but it was tough, especially for its length. Is there any way to get it in black letter on white background?

--Brant Gaede

Brant, given the length of this thread, and the number of offlist comments I've gotten about difficulty reading, I'm experimenting tonight with an alternative stylesheet, which I used once before to no great applause.

Let me know what you think.

Chris

Not as pleasing to the purely sensuous eye, but a lot easier to read.

I'd say go with dark on light, whatever you do.

Mr. Valliant,

If you read the letters referenced in the Raimondo book (which I of course don't have access to) it appears that Rothbard was influenced by the Aristotelean and natural rights tradition prior to meeting Rand. And, to the extent that he learned certain ideas from Rand, he ultimately concluded that there were better defences or explanations than Rand offered. Maybe he should have mentioned that Rand influenced him, but to describe it as "larceny" seems a stretch.

Of course, when I said intellectual methods, I meant Rand's--your theory of how it is that she learned to resolve contradictions and not drop contexts. That's what I would dispute.

I think you understood, but anyway ...

Mr. Parille,

Rothbard was a teacher of mine, as I say. He was a fun and funny man who had a book reference for everything. Let me take this opportunity to say that I learned a lot from him.

But let me also say that from my own conversations with him, it seemed to me that he was angry about his experience in Rand's circle, and especially angry at Mr. Branden. It was also evident to me that this anger came out in the form of unfairly downplaying the important influence that Rand had had on him.

My own opinion.

Chris,

The new style sheet is less flashy--but a lot more readable.

James Jacson

Thanks for the feedback on the stylesheet, folks.

I like the original for flash, but I'm persuaded that this is more readable. As readers of Notablog know, I've long debated the style issue, but for now, substance and ease of reading is taking precedence over style. I'd like to find a happy medium, but given the offlist correspondence I've had with many readers, I'm going to stick with this for a while and see how it goes.

The SOLO HQ discussion continues; today, I responded to comments by Glenn I. Heppard who accuses me of "empiricism" here:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#150

I reply here:
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#156

Mr. Valliant,

Here's the first pargraph of the "About the Author" note at the end of Atlas Shrugged:

"My personal life," says Ayn Rand, "is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it!' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books--and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same."

The note concludes:

"I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written--and published--is my proof that they do."

Isn't Rand claiming Objectivist hero status for herself?

James Jacson

Mr. Valliant,

On p. 168 of your book, you defend Rand's decision to keep her affair with Nathaniel Branden secret (even though this meant that she presented herself to all but a handful of her followers, and to the wider world, as loving only her husband).

You cite a passage from her journals about Dagny Taggart and Francisco d'Anconia keeping their affair secret.

The same thing is said, in more polished language, on p. 109 of Atlas Shrugged (hard cover edition): "They kept their affair secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone's right of debate or appraisal."

Rand believed in judging and preparing to be judged--and that seems inconsistent with seeking any exemption from appraisal.

Rand's stated reason for the secrecy is "the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man's lower nature, to be condoned regretfully," and their not wanting any "contact with the minds that held this doctrine."

But in Atlas Shrugged, Dagny and Francisco keep their affair secret even from their friend Eddie Willers, who is never described as sharing these unsanitary views about sex. (Eddie will persist for many years in the illusion that Dagny is married to her job and not involved with anyone.)

It strikes me that if Rand, who openly challenged other people's moral standards on a wide range of issues--indeed, took an in-your-face attitude about them--was not willing to be open about a non-monogamous relationship, it's because she shared some of the views about sex and relationships that she didn't want other people to apply to her.

All of this suggests to me that Rand was a good deal less "liberated" than some people now claim she was--and that, whatever her longings or her private fantasies, she still accepted the social mores that she grew up with, which prompted the avoidance of scandal and expected any sex scandal to be much worse for the woman than for the man.

Where I am wrong here?

James Jacson

Mr. Valliant,

One topic where I actually agree with you concerns Murray Rothbard. It's clear to me that he did have an intellectual debt to Rand that, after their falling out, he did not care to acknowledge in public. His 1958 article, which according to some sources was the immmediate cause of his exit from the fold, contains stretches of recognizably Randian rhetoric--but never cites her.

On the other hand, I suspect that Rand "railed" against anarchism (as Tibor Machan has said), instead of offering much of an argument against it, in part because she associated anarchism with Rothbard.

James Jacson

Mr. Jacson,

I don't think that Rand ever specifically referred to herself as a "hero," but there is no doubt she believed integrity to be possible and that she had achieved it, yes.

When you say "presented to the world" as loving only her husband, I don't understand you. A loving, affectionate, cuddly, even worshipful, relationship does not in itself convey sexual exclusivity does it?

And, I think that you are wrong if you interpret the "judge and be judged" principle to imply that one must open one's life to the "appraisal" or scrutiny of others, to put one's "business on the street," as it were. Rand elsewhere stresses that the opinions of "others" must take a backseat to one's own judgment, and that civilization's progress toward "privacy," as Sciabarra reminds us, places a big "No Trespassing" sign over matters personal. Rand taught that one is under no positive "duty" of any kind to other men, either a duty of material support or a duty to inform or to educate the other. "Judge and be judged" tells us only that we cannot evade the necessity and responsiblitity of ethical judgment of ourselves or others.

Mr. Valliant,

Doesn't AR's assertion that she would unhesitatingly risk death to save her husband (with no elaboration as to who else she might risk death to save) qualify as a public presentation of the sort I'm referring to?

Leonard Peikoff was associated with Rand during the entire period of time that the Affair went on, yet he apparently had to learn about it from Barbara Branden's book (which you may agree was a particularly awful way for him to have to learn about it). Do you believe that it was OK for Ayn Rand never to clue him in? Even when, in the early 1970s, Peikoff was telling people not to read Nathaniel Branden's books "because Nathaniel Branden has hurt Ayn Rand"?

Finally, if the appraisal of others really does take a backseat to one's own judgment, why on earth should one care so much what that appraisal is?

James Jacson

Mr. Valliant,

A somewhat different topic:

In your book you seem to accept Ayn Rand's decision to offer counseling or psychotherapy to people who were close to her.

Was Rand qualified to do this?

If she was qualified, was it ethical for her to offer therapy to her lover?

Nathaniel Branden is often criticized today for functioning as a therapist to members of Rand's Inner and Outer Circles (most notoriously, to Patrecia Scott).

Wouldn't such criticisms have to apply to Rand as well?

James Jacson

Mr. Jacson,

Rand used her husband as one example of this kind of "supreme value"; in facc, she was using her love for her husband to suggest that there is a whole class of things for which it might be worth risking one's life. Surely, that cannot be taken to exclude other persons or things that she, personally, may have also felt the same way about... say, freedom?

I don't think that learning about the affair only after Rand was gone (and Peikoff says that it was Rand's notes that convinced him, not Ms. Branden's book) was an "awful" way to learn of it. This imputes a negative evaluation to the very idea of an affair that I don't accept (anymore than Rand did.) Also, letting someone in on a secret imposes a responsibility on that person. It is not something to be done lightly, especially with those about whom we claim to care.

And, how much I "care" about someone else's opinion is a highly contextual matter, indeed. In most cases, I hate to admit it, but I really don't care what "others" think. Howard Roark did not even "hate to admit this."

The giving of advice is a grave responsibility, but Rand was not a professional therapist. I think that there is an important distinction bewteen the advice of a wise friend and that of a professional in the field who hangs out a shingle and normally takes money for the type of advice in question.

Also, Branden and Rand believed (at least at the time) that psychology was still in a "pre-science" phase, that their own approach was superior to others (at the very least.) In this context, who was Branden himself to turn to, as both a therapist and a pioneering theorist, but his own teacher? At least, that is how I think they saw it at the time.

Chris,

The following is a post of mine from SOLOHQ (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#142) - with a couple of small changes. I thought your readers might be interested in another view of your magnificent review and I also want to draw attention to your extremely inspiring Post 141:

"Chris

I understand and even share a good deal of Dennis's outrage at this book (for many of the same reasons, but also for other reasons of my own). I don't blame him for his confusion about your approach, but I see what you do in a different light.

I have seen hybrid smear campaigns (like the Valliant book) detonated before. Your painstaking factual approach, stating your own doubts and agreement along the way according to objective standards - and letting readers come to their own conclusions - more completely wipes out the irrational part than any other technique I know of. You are the provider of ammunition, better, heavy artillery, not the front line man shooting the guns. I, for one, have no compunction about picking up the arms you manufacture and using them to deadly effect.

If truth and facts are your goals, and you are aware of any mendacity and undue bias (like most of Valliant's approach), then I know in your heart that you provided your review for the purpose of arriving at reasoned sanity on a polemical issue. I also know that you are well aware of what this will do to those (like Mr. Valliant) who practice otherwise.

Moreover, I know that, someday, should Mr. Valliant happen to come around to objective reason, even if he maintains a bias, you will welcome his correct statements with open arms. You appeal to the very best within all of us.

Your last post on this thread (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_7.shtml#141) is one of the most inspiring personal statements of integrity I have read in a long, long time. It makes me want to be more me than I already am.

It is a tremendous honor to know you, sir, and have one of your books (Russian Radical) with a signed dedication to me. I will always cherish that."


Michael

Mr. Valliant,

Didn't Peikoff turn to Rand's journals for confirmation of the Affair only after hearing that Barbara Branden's book was to be published? Given Peikoff's own stated evaluation of the Brandens, hearing about it from such a source would have to be pretty awful, even if he was 100% OK with the Affair per se. And was he pleased to learn that Ayn Rand never saw fit to confide in him?

On the Rand-as-counselor issue, you say:

Also, Branden and Rand believed (at least at the time) that psychology was still in a "pre-science" phase, that their own approach was superior to others (at the very least.) In this context, who was Branden himself to turn to, as both a therapist and a pioneering theorist, but his own teacher? At least, that is how I think they saw it at the time.

*****

While psychology as it stood in the 1960s had plenty of weaknesses, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden actually drew on existing research in the field (something I don't see acknowledged in your book at all).

And Rand's own journals, as reproduced in Part II of your book, make use of philosophically motivated diagnostic categories (such as the "Kantian Goddess premise") that are unlikely to be taken up by any other counselor or therapist. Even after making allowances for the bullshit that Branden was feeding her (and some of it, like the stuff about "sexual paralysis," was outrageous bullshit), the apparatus didn't seem to help Rand answer the questions that most mattered to her, such as "Does Nathan really love me?," "Why is he behaving like this?", "Is there someone else?", and so on.

Besides, getting trained in counseling by being counseled by a mentor has fallen into disrepute in clinical psychology. One reason for this, historically, is the use of "the training analysis" in psychoanalytic institutes (where senior psychoanalysts would psychoanalyze the students, often for 2 solid years or longer). Today, the training analysis is generally seen as a method of insuring conformity of thought, not a way to help clinicians in training gain relevant further insights into themselves or otherwise prepare them to counsel their clients more effectively.

James Jacson

PS. I noticed that in your book you cited Branden's developing interest in hypnosis as an instance of his "intellectual drift," which Rand later publicly condemned in "To Whom It May Concern." Isn't hypnosis something a counselor or clinician ought to be interested in? In fact, Branden made extensive use of what he learned about hypnosis in his private practice after 1968.

Mr. Jacson,

I am quite intentionally not evaluating such things as to what extent Rand and Branden were drawing on other psychological research at the time. This is simply beyond the scope of my book, and I phrased it the way I did on purpose: "that is how I think they saw it at the time." Also, because they were drawing on the research of others does not imply that they believed those others would be better therapists.

I agree that mentoring by Rand would be insufficient training for a therapist, however brilliant one believes her to have been, and that, in her counsel to Branden, Rand was not seeking an answer to those questions you pose (however important they were to her), but sincerely to help Branden. Given his dishonesty, no amount of therapy was ever likely to get Branden to help to answer these questions. Those questions were in the background, sure, but the purpose of many of these notes is just her attempt to understand the inexplicable.

As to hypnosis, I actually observe that Rand never disapproved of Branden's experiments with hypnosis, suggesting that she agreed with you. It is Branden who says that his interest in hypnosis seemed a concern to Rand for some reason. I suggest alternatives to his claim that she was somewhat "closed" to new ideas. I also note that in contradiction to his 1968 derision of Rand's claim of "intellectual drift" that he cites examples of what he felt to be intellectual tension (and more) himself. Again, this brings out a contradiction, not necesaarily something that I believe.

Mr. Jacson,

Let me also agree that Rand's silence did have unfortunate effects on her defenders, as I say in the book. The first of these is that the Branden assault blindsided them, indeed. Hearing about it for the first time from Ms. Branden would no doubt have been distressing, if that was his first hearing of it.

Mr. Valliant,

I would point out (as a final comment on this issue) that Rothbard often acknowledged his indebtedness to other thinkers.

Rand, on the other hand, seldom did. She did mention Aristotle, and also Branden in FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL (which was dutifully excised by Peikoff in the AYN RAND READER). Am I supposed to believe that Rand got all her ideas from either herself of Aristotle? Where did she learn about laissez faire?

It seems to me that there are echoes of Old Right thinkers such as Richard Weaver in her thought. For example, Rand's views that nominalism was a disaster for civilization, her critique of egalitarianism, her belief that the attack on the rich represent an anti-conceptual mentality, etc. echo Weaver's IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES (1948). Even if I could prove that she read this book, I wouldn't accuse her of "larceny."

Chris,
Once again I am astounded by your dedication to this work. For you, the journey of discovery with regard to Rand has no endpoint.

I wondered as I read through this how the explosion of emotion-altering anti-depressant medications would have changed the course of Rand and Nathaniel Brandon's lives.

What would Objectivism be today? Would Rand have pursued the same goals in her life? Would she have been depressed after Atlas Shrugged, and would she have written it to begin with?

You always put Rand in a completely human context, which is the only proper context for any human being, including a genius like Rand.

Where do you find the time?

Neil, I think Rand also credited Nietzsche, and, certainly in her letters and journals, one finds that she gives credit to people like Isabel Paterson (on this point, I recommend Stephen Cox's book, THE WOMAN AND THE DYNAMO).

Chip, very interesting questions, for which, of course, I have no answer.

As for me, there is no endpoint in Rand studies... just as there is no endpoint in Hayek studies, or Rothbard studies, or Mises studies, or Marx studies, etc.---as I continue to learn about and from the thinkers who have preoccupied my time for many years now.

There will, however, be an endpoint to this discussion. I plan to post, in this comment section, in the coming days, my rejoinder to Jim Valliant. It will be the final post in this thread. Not because I wish to choke off a "dialectic" that has gone on too long (though, clearly, with 54 posts to this thread, it is the longest one ever in the history of Notablog). But because I honestly and sincerely have a lot on my plate in terms of essays and articles to write and edit. There comes a point at which we all need to move on.

In this context, let me reproduce a post I made earlier to SOLO HQ [ http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_8.shtml#168 ]:


Linz wrote [here: http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_8.shtml#167 ] that "Chris Sciabarra just wasted 18,000 words and months of his precious time. The thing [Valliant's book] doesn't begin to deserve that kind of attention from such an esteemed source."

Let me make one thing clear: My essay may have been about Valliant's book, but in a larger sense it was not about Valliant's book at all. I wrote the essay because I have a profound reverence for the art of interpretation and the science of historiography. My wide-ranging criticisms of the Valliant book served the larger purpose, of showing, specifically, where I believed Valliant went ~wrong~ interpretively and methodologically. And given my long-term engagement with Rand studies, I thought it was necessary to go "on the record" with these thoughts, especially since other writers and reviewers had already been referencing me.

I will be posting my rejoinder to Valliant on my own blog and, as far as I am concerned, that will be that. The discussion will conclude at Notablog. Officially. I hope that some have profited from the exchange, but I've got only a few hundred other essays and articles to author and edit.

And precious little time to do it all, indeed.

Chris,

You are correct and I certainly didn't mean to imply that Rand never credited other people, or only credited Aristotle.

Mr. Valliant,

Thank you for your patient answers to my wide array of questions.

We still disagree about a great many things, but I have a better understanding now of what our disagreements consist of.

James Jacson

Mr. Jacson,

My pleasure, sir, and I want to thank you, and everyone else here, for the critical engagement. (Now let me go duck and cover for Dr. Sciabarra's rejoinder!)

This rejoinder to James Valliant is also a concluding comment on the thread inspired by my essay, "Reason, Passion, and History."

Introduction

I wish to thank the participants for taking the high road and for engaging one another with civility on a topic prone to combativeness.

With regard to Valliant's reply, I'll make only a few points since I believe that I have already addressed many of his criticisms in my essay. Perhaps on the bulk of these issues, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

Valliant asks if, in the light of having read his book, I now appreciate the extent of the distortion that I "now appear to concede exists in those [Branden] books."

I state explicitly in the review that the Brandens' books are not the "last word" on Rand biography. I have ~always~ believed that the Brandens' books were written from a particular point of view. And I certainly agree with Valliant's points that corroboration is important on some issues, especially where personal bias may have influenced the exposition.

But, as I have written, in many instances, Valliant's good insights on the issue of corroboration are undermined by his own methodology.

What's In A Name?

Let's take that "nit-picking" issue of how Rand chose her name. It's certainly of historical interest. However, my "nit-picking" centers on Valliant's assertion that Barbara Branden's story of how Rand chose her name—it was allegedly taken from a "Remington-Rand" typewriter—is part of some larger pattern of deception. Valliant states here at Notablog that "the 'name issue' is dispensed with early and explicitly judged in [his book] to be something 'minor.' ... Ayn Rand—in fact and actually—did not adopt her name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. It is simply impossible for her to have done so, since she was using the name 'Rand' before there was any such machine in existence."

As I indicate in my review, the new information about how Alissa Rosenbaum's use of the Rand surname predated the 1927 merger of the Rand Kardex Company and the Remington Typewriter Company comes from Professor Allan Gotthelf, who is cited in Valliant's book (p. 13). Valliant would most likely agree with Gotthelf's own view of Barbara Branden's biography, expressed in Gotthelf's AYN RAND primer (Wadsworth, 2000), which I have criticized at this link: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/essays/text/chrissciabarra/openingaddress.html.

Gotthelf doesn't actually provide a citation for Branden's PASSION OF AYN RAND (nor does he provide citations for other views he criticizes). But he does state the following (hat tip to Neil Parille):

"Barbara Branden has written a biography/memoir of Ayn Rand, based in part on taped interviews with her in 1960 and 1961. The book has numerous factual errors and engages throughout in gratuitous psychologizing which seems to reflect its author's continued embitterment. Because of this, although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked every report I have used (and other details of Ayn Rand's life) with archivists at the Ayn Rand Institute, which has access to all the tapes" (p. 27, n. 8).

This good corroborative practice is emphasized earlier in Gotthelf's book as well. Gotthelf tells us that ARI's Michael Berliner (the very Michael Berliner who, with Richard Ralston, suggested the Cyrillic origins of Rand's name) "kindly supervised the checking of biographical information ... in the Institute's Ayn Rand Archives" (2).

So why is it that Gotthelf states the following in his own book?

"Soon after arriving in the United States, she took the name 'Ayn Rand' (14). ... The name 'Rand' is used by Ayn Rand's sister, Nora, in a letter she sent to Ayn before Ayn's first letter reached home. Nora's letters make clear that at the time Ayn Rand left Russia she (i) had firmly chosen 'Rand' and (ii) was leaning towards 'Ayn' but had not yet settled on it. Her primary reason for adopting a new name (although she kept her initials) was concern that, were she to become famous under her family name, it would endanger her family. 'Ayn' was modeled after a Finnish female name 'Aino' or 'Aina' which she liked; she probably first spotted 'Rand' on a Remington Rand typewriter in Russia. ('Ayn', as the introduction to her March 1964 PLAYBOY interview amusingly put it, rhymes with 'mine')." (19 n. 9)

Recall that Gotthelf's book was published in 2000. Why was it okay for Gotthelf to use the "Remington Rand" story, which was presumably checked by those working in ARI's Archives, but it becomes deception when uttered by Barbara Branden?

It's good to see that Gotthelf has since revised his speculative point based on new evidence. But it would never have occurred to me to accuse him of lying for having re-stated essentially the original Remington-Rand theory, 14 years after it had been proposed by Barbara Branden.

"Minor" or "relatively insignificant" as this might be, it is part of an overall pattern in Valliant's book, which puts the most negative spin on anything that the Brandens say or do.

Valliant, Walker, and Kay Nolte Smith

I know what it is to quote anonymous sources. For example, the vast majority of those whom I interviewed for my monograph, AYN RAND, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND HUMAN LIBERATION, chose to remain anonymous—so I can't indict a person's use of such sources without indicting my own use. Be that as it may, Valliant does make good points about the need to cross-check such sources. It's all a part of that larger issue of corroboration.

So let's take Valliant's reply to my points about his use of Jeff Walker's book, THE AYN RAND CULT.

Valliant admits to using unnamed anonymous sources to corroborate Walker's claims with regard to the break between Kay Nolte Smith and Ayn Rand because Walker is "the only published source" on the subject. Valliant is right that Walker did not invent these claims. But a comparison between Walker's exposition and Valliant's exposition is instructive.

In his discussion of the Rand-Smith break, Valliant (2005, 400 n. 57) cites page 35 of Walker's book. In part, here is what Walker says:

"Kay Nolte Smith was excommunicated in the mid-1970s for making unauthorized changes to ~a few lines of dialogue~ for a public performance of Rand's play PENTHOUSE LEGEND (NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH). [In an interview with Walker,] Smith concedes she shouldn't have done so but insists it was not a big deal. ~For that one mistake~ she was drummed out, 15 years of prior devoted association notwithstanding" (~ indicates ~emphasis added~)

Here's Valliant's rendering of the story, on pages 75-76 of his book:

"In the 1970s the Smiths produced an off-Broadway revival of Rand's play, PENTHOUSE LEGEND. When the play had been originally produced under the title, NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH, about forty years previously, Rand had waged a difficult battle to keep her dialogue intact. This history was well known to the Smiths. ... Such a famous reputation might be counted on to provide caution to those who would take liberties with this author's text. Not so with Kay Nolte Smith and her husband, who, ~in an act exhibiting unbelievably reckless judgment~, changed the dialogue in their production of PENTHOUSE LEGEND without authorization from Rand. In such ~an instance of systematic and personal betrayal~, a break was at least understandably in order, simply on the basis of their callous indifference to Rand's personal history, if not to her artistic integrity" (~emphasis added~).

We have gone from "that one mistake" of changing "a few lines of dialogue" in Walker's rendering to "an instance of systematic and personal betrayal" in Valliant's rendering. Now, unless Valliant has other information from ~his~ anonymous sources that would provide us with a whole litany of other instances, which would add up to "systematic and personal betrayal," I'm at a loss as to how he reached that conclusion.

Objectivism & Homosexuality, Again

Without renewing the discussion of "moralism" and "totalism," I just wanted to re-emphasize that, contrary to Valliant's claim, Rand's attitude toward homosexuality was not expressed simply in "a single un-integrated statement in a Q & A period." In my monograph, AYN RAND, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND HUMAN LIBERATION, while I go the extra mile in trying to contextualize Rand's own attitudes toward homosexuality, I also point to a number of negative references to homosexuality in the Objectivist literature. Many of these were authored by Nathaniel Branden, making their way into Objectivist periodicals, which Rand edited. In the monograph, I cite relevant passages from Rand's essays ("Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" and "The Age of Envy"), Branden's essays ("The Psychology of Pleasure," "Emotions and Values," and "Mental Health versus Mysticism and Self-Sacrifice"), a Peikoff book (THE OMINOUS PARALLELS), and so on. Rand's Q&A comment that homosexuality was "immoral" and "disgusting" was merely the cashing-in of all these tendencies that were already embedded in various Objectivist discussions and in the practices of various therapists who allegedly used "Objectivism" as a framework by which to attempt the transformation of their gay and lesbian clients to a heterosexual orientation.

And these attitudes can ~still~ be found among some self-identified "Objectivists"; as much as the culture has changed for the better, the wish to avoid the "judgmentalism" of their fellow self-identified "Objectivists" was the most frequently cited reason for remaining anonymous among the bulk of respondents I interviewed for my monograph.

Ayn Rand Studies and Ad Hominem

With regard to THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, I am not denying that certain ad hominem fallacies have leaked into a few essays that we've published. But in virtually every circumstance, the authors who have attempted to use that strategy have been criticized for it in our very pages. Since it is undeniable that these kinds of tactics have been used by Rand critics, I make it a point of publishing replies that expose such fallacies. (And we have worked very hard to exorcise such ad hominem attacks from essays long before they are even published.)

Still, the dialogue that has been published in JARS has disarmed the ad hominem attackers; it has shown that such attacks are, indeed, a smokescreen for ideological difference. To my knowledge, JARS is the only periodical that ~allows~ for the kind of critical engagement that has made such fallacies transparent.

In any event, the overwhelming majority of articles that we have published focus on matters of substance, not on Rand's personal life.

Conclusion

In reference to the Indian Prayer I cited ("Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I've walked a mile in his moccasins"), I cannot imagine how Valliant missed my own confession that Rand's journals made her a more sympathetic figure in my eyes. The fact that I also confessed to a degree of personal pain in reading these entries suggests a certain ~empathy~ for what she endured.

Far from having declined the invitation to walk in her moccasins, I stand by my view that these journal entries provide us with an opportunity to retrace Rand's footsteps. From the perspective of intellectual history and biography, that is a good thing.

Update: Readers wondering about the shut-down of comments on this thread should wonder no more. I was criticized by one person at SOLO HQ for closing down the comments section. See here: http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_9.shtml#185

I responded here (http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0524_9.shtml#190):

I come from a scholarly culture. In a scholarly context, the typical model is: review-reply-rejoinder. Sometimes, it goes a bit further. But I don't have an endless amount of time to debate issues when the lines are so clearly drawn and there is not likely to be any movement one way or the other. I treated James Valliant fairly---as he attests on my blog. (And yes, I announced last week that my rejoinder would be the last word at Notablog.)

In fact, I was kind enough to share my review with Valliant before it was posted; I was kind enough to invite him to post a lengthy reply. I was kind enough to allow nearly 60 additional comments---and Valliant authored an even dozen of them.

I should also mention that it is not fair to my readers to allow a comments section to go on endlessly when I don't have the time to pay close attention to that level of traffic, given my other research, writing, and editing commitments. I love blogging and I love cyber-culture, but I do have a life.

I am the host of Notablog. I wrote the review at Notablog. I have the last word at Notablog.