Passing Thoughts on Rand's Journals
Every so often I'm told by this person or that person that I'm being mentioned in the blogosphere. I am honestly and sincerely flattered that so many people think my musings worth mentioning, but it is impossible for me to keep up with the many discussions of my work. If bloggers or other writers wish to inspire me to a response, the best policy is to simply inform me of your writing, and I'll do my best to reply privately or, perhaps, with a public post. The engagement, after all, is the dialectical oil that keeps the blogosphere humming along.
So, recently, somebody informed me of this post by a gent named "Mike" who runs a blog called "Passing Thoughts." (I'd drop you a note Mike, but I don't see any email contact information at your blog.) Mike seems to be quite enamored of the Ayn Rand Institute, and has been engaging in an ongoing critique of ARI critics. One of those whom he criticizes is my friend and colleague Robert Campbell (see here and here). Robert's replies are worthwhile reading (see here and here, for example).
I'm not going to re-open the debate over The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies here. Suffice it to say: If some Rand scholars do not like JARS, they can and should take their business elsewhere. We are a nonpartisan journal and we would gladly publish any articles that pass our double-blind peer review process, and that most definitely includes any articles submitted by those of a more "orthodox" hue. Now in our seventh year of publication, we are abstracted by over a dozen professional indexing services and are doing fine. So while others are indicting the quality of the journal, writers as diverse as Erika Holzer and Bill Martin, George Reisman and Slavoj Zizek, have been represented in our pages.
Nevertheless, I was relieved to discover from Mike's postings that he and his ARI friends "don’t have weekly burnings of Chris Sciabarra books (we only do that stuff once per year)."
Whew! At least now when there's a spike in sales of my books at that time of the year, I'll know it's due to some Farenheit 451 Celebration!
In an earlier post at Passing Thoughts, Mike takes me to task with regard to criticisms I once made of both the Estate of Ayn Rand and editor David Harriman on the subject of the editing of the book Journals of Ayn Rand. Those criticisms can be found here and here, where I note, for example, that the name "Albert Jay Nock," which appeared in an earlier publication of an entry from Rand's journals suddenly disappeared from that same entry republished in the Harriman-edited Journals of Ayn Rand.
Now, the first thing to notice for any objective observer is that this criticism can only be leveled at Peikoff and Harriman. They are responsible, not the ARI. Secondly, there is no motivation for intentional dishonesty (why on earth would Peikoff be interested in eliminating Albert Jay Nock from history when there are much worse people cited by Rand that remain in the notes?). So the only explanation that fits the facts is scholarly incompetence. A very bizarre scholarly incompetence. Sciabarra makes the very serious charge: “How many other revisions of the historical record are there?” Now, this implies that whatever got mixed up was intentional. There is no evidence to support this, so from the outset, Sciabarra is being a jack ass.
If Mike re-reads the essay in question, he'll see that I only mention the Ayn Rand Institute once and not in the context of altering the historical record. I state: "Officials at the Ayn Rand Institute are busy establishing a research archive, but until independent scholars are able to examine Rand's personal papers, serious doubts will remain."
Throughout the essay, my criticisms are of the Estate (i.e., Peikoff) and of Harriman.
Mike goes on:
But a quick look at the date of publication of this article is 1998. Sciabarra should have done his homework. In 1995 Harriman gave a lecture in which he pointed out that, after writing her notes, Rand would RE-WRITE them in a condensed form. This is confirmed by Harry Binswanger (it’s in his first lecture on psycho-epistemology). So what has been available to all who are interested, since 1995 (at least), is the FACT that there are at least two versions of all of Rand’s notes.
Alas, I get an F for not doing my homework. When I reviewed the book in question, it didn't occur to me that I'd then have to consult several audio lectures to understand the context of Harriman's editing. Instead, I made the mistake of taking Harriman's preface seriously, wherein he states the following:
AR sometimes rewrote her notes, often for the purpose of condensing and essentializing. I have included such later material only when it contains provocative new formulations.
This statement conflicts with the Binswanger statement that Mike reports on his blog. Harriman stresses that Rand "sometimes rewrote her notes" (emphasis added), not that there are "at least two versions of all of Rand’s notes." And Harriman stresses further that in such instances of repetition, he uses the earlier version unless the newer one has some "provocative new formulations."
In my comparison of the passages in question in my original 1998 essay, there is nothing "provocative" or "new" in the Journals passage when compared to the same passage, which was published earlier in The Objectivist Forum. The only thing that is "provocative" or "new" is the absence of various words and the name of a key historical figure from the Old Right, Albert Jay Nock.
And if Mike re-reads my essay, he'll also see that I did not utter the word "dishonesty"; he may think that it is implied, but it is not. What is made explicit however is this: When scholars are offered two different versions of the same passage, and the differences are so stark, it makes it very difficult to quote from either version with certainty about its accuracy.
As I stated in my 1998 essay:
When such editorial changes are not made explicit, when not even ellipsis points are provided to indicate missing text, doubt is cast unnecessarily on the volume's authenticity. Even if this does not impugn the book's overall value to critically-minded readers, it makes the serious Rand scholar question the text's accuracy. These questions are generated not by any inherent distrust of the Estate, but by discrepancies in the same passage published in two different sources authorized by the Estate. Which version is accurate? The first? The second? Neither? (emphasis added)
With Mike's newest revelations, drawn from a lecture by Binswanger, we learn "the FACT that there are at least two versions of all of Rand’s notes." This revelation makes the scholar's task even worse, in my view: Not only are we left guessing which version is being quoted, but with the added proviso that Harriman made certain editorial line-changes, we must now question if one version or the other was used or if both versions were used to supplement one another. With no indication from the editor, it makes an historical reconstruction of Rand's evolution as a thinker that much more difficult.
The only way any scholar can be certain about the chronological contents of Rand's journals, then, is by getting into the Rand Archives and taking a look. But, of course, the odds of a non-ARI scholar getting into those archives are slim. James Valliant is one of those scholars who did get access, but as I said in my review of his book:
His book is one of a very select group of secondary sources actually listed on the ARI site, with links for purchase: "Books About Ayn Rand." Since I personally know reputable scholars who have not been allowed to work in the Archives, and I have had my own failed dealings with ARI in pursuit of certain archival records (see here), I can only applaud Valliant's access, and hope, with him, that the archives will be made more generally available in time.
So, to repeat, this is not an issue of Harriman's or Peikoff's "massive dishonesty." It's an issue of publishing important journal notes in a way that brings into question unnecessarily their accuracy. Whether the alterations were intended or not, or simply the result of what Mike calls "a very bizarre scholarly incompetence," the fact remains that the historical record has been altered, and this is a serious problem.
So, sorry, Mike, if you think I'm no longer the "gentleman," "fair critic," and "scholar" you once thought I was. But until or unless the Institute opens its doors to all bona fide scholars, these questions of authenticity and accuracy will remain. It's not because I "pick and choose" the "evidence ... for [my] evidence-independent theories"; it's because the evidence shows that alterations have been made. My worries are not eased by hearing now that "there are at least two versions of all of Rand’s notes." For if that is, indeed, the case, then those of us who are not able to check the archives are forever at the mercy of those who do, in fact, "pick and choose" what journal entries to publish, and what journal entries not to publish. It makes the job of tracing Rand's intellectual development, her chronological "chewing" of various ideas, virtually impossible.
Dialectician that I am, I didn't want to conclude this post without at least mentioning a few of Mike's other comments, ever in search of the "full context" of my interlocutor's passing thoughts. So I actually discovered that Mike has some semi-nice things to say about me here. Except even there, he is more wrong than he is right.
For example, he is disappointed by early commentary I wrote on James Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Fortunately, he adds a link in his update to my full review of the Valliant book, but it's still not enough to correct the distortions in his post. He's right that I have been critical in the past of the Estate's "handling of historical materials" and how the voices of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden were airbrushed out of existence on various taped lectures. He claims that "it is clear that the voices were removed for legal reasons," but I don't believe that has ever been made clear.
He goes so far as to say that I should have been "deeply troubled" by the Brandens' books, given my concern with "the accuracy of the historical record," especially since I used the Brandens "as major sources for [my] book on Rand."
Uh, no, Mike. My work in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical did not depend on the Brandens as "major sources"; indeed, the "major source" for the historical aspects of my book was my own archival researches. That research has continued here, here, and here, but not a single ARI-affiliated scholar has ever publicly (and I do stress publicly) commented on the very detailed work that I continue to do in reconstructing the record of Rand's early education.
Let me say in conclusion that those who adhere to a "closed-system" view of Objectivism will get little argument from me; I have stated here, for example, that "[i]n essentials, every 'philosophy'—be it 'scientific socialism' or 'Objectivism'—is, by necessity, closed: It must be something definite, or it is not definable; it must have identity and it must have boundaries or there will be no way of distinguishing one doctrine from another."
But even a closed system view does not require that its adherents close themselves off to discussion with those who do not identify themselves as Objectivists. Such a policy can only lead to the formation, over time, of a kind of sclerotic intellectual ghettoization for which I have no use.
So I commend people like James Valliant, and even Mike at Passing Thoughts, for actually attempting to engage their interlocutors.
At SOLO, a relevant discussion on these issues is taking place. Below, I reply to various points made by James Valliant and Magenta Hornet here, here, and here. My comments are also archived at SOLO starting here.
For the record, I did not find "very few (if still unexplained) problems" in Harriman's editing of Journals of Ayn Rand. I was only able to compare one journal entry from that book to the same passage published previously in The Objectivist Forum. And a comparison of these different versions of the same passage showed inexplicable editing, including the elimination of the name "Albert Jay Nock" from the Journals' version. I have never seen the actual journals in Rand's handwriting, and I've never seen any other published passages from Rand's journals by which to make a more general comparison. So, what few problems I identified were only identified because I had a basis for comparison. With no archival access and no alternatively published versions of the journal entries available, I have no basis for assessing the overall quality of Harriman's editing.
What I did say, in my initial essay on Harriman's editing (see here), however, was not that Harriman was being dishonest in his editing but that the introduction of these alterations, with no explanation, leaves scholars in the position of having to question their authenticity in part, or in toto. This is a totally unnecessary problem that emerged, which could have been very easily addressed by those responsible for the editing of Rand's personal papers. Unfortunately, the problem has never been addressed by Harriman or anybody else. (That's not quite correct; one blogger recently addressed some of these issues, but I think the questions this blogger raises only compound the problem. See Notablog here [above].)
I should state that whatever objections people have to Jim Valliant's parenthetical remarks in his publication of Rand's personal diaries, I praised him, from Square One, for having published the material raw and for having indicated every change he made with proper use of brackets and bold emphasis.
As for the issue of the Brandens' accounts: Jim has, no doubt, found a number of inconsistencies and conflicts within each of the Branden accounts and between them. But most of these conflicts revolve around "subjectivity" issues: how each person, deeply embedded in the interpersonal dynamics that constituted The Affair, interpreted the other person's thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc. in the context of that Affair. I am not saying that The Affair is unimportant; I just continue to maintain that it relates less to the philosophic system that is Objectivism than, say, an understanding of Rand's intellectual development (which has always been of more interest to me).
As for the removal of the Brandens' voices from audio lectures, such as Rand's lectures on fiction-writing: All this would be put to rest if those responsible for the editing simply provided us with an explanation. But this practice of airbrushing people out of existence once they've broken with Rand or her immediate followers is not restricted to the Brandens. See this lovely demonstration at the Free Radical site, for example.
I have a problem with practices that alter the historical record; differences such as those that exist between the Brandens' accounts of The Affair and Rand's own journals can at least be placed in the context of motivational or interpretive differences. Jim V and I can disagree over the motivations of the players in question on any number of issues; but at least Jim V decided to approach the issue head-on, rather than bracketing out the existence of the Brandens from public discussion.
When people simply disappear from an historical record, there is something important that is being eliminated, something that partially explains that record or provides a richer context for understanding it.
As for my use of the archival material in the possession of ARI: I was in touch with Leonard Peikoff briefly prior to the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He refused to provide me with any photos for my book because he had had a bad experience with the use of a photo by James Baker for a book that Baker wrote on Rand. Not only did I understand his apprehensiveness, I actually raised the issue of the Baker book before he had a chance to. He explained that unless he really knew the people involved, he would not share such material. That was his right.
I had also asked him relevant questions concerning Rand's relationship to Professor N.O. Lossky, which he was unable to answer, but he had promised me at the time that if he came into any information about the case, he'd get in touch with me.
After the publication of my book, I received a number of letters from people at ARI who were pleased with the seriousness that I brought to the study of Rand. This didn't imply agreement with my work. But they were completely aware of my relationship to the Brandens (they saw in my book my extensive treatment of the Brandens' contributions as well as photos provided to me by the Brandens), and this never stopped them from continuing a correspondence. In fact, they were fascinated by my uncovering of information about Rand's early education at the Stoiunin gymnasium and secured from me a photo of Lossky for use in the documentary "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." I actually received a screen credit (along with Boris Lossky, N. O. Lossky's son) in that film.
Moreover, at the time, I had invited some ARI-affiliated scholars to contribute dissenting material to the volume Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; they declined. Perhaps, in that instance, the presence of both Brandens in the volume posed a problem. But this was not the explanation they offered.
All I know is that I was on the verge of receiving a faxed copy of Rand's college transcript when they suddenly told me that I could do the research, provide them with my evaluation of the material, but never publish on the subject. They gave me no explanation as to why I would be denied the right to publish my findings; at first, I simply thought that they would want to make the "big splash" and that it was a "timing" issue. But that was not the issue, and they never explained why it was that I would have no right to reap the benefits of my own work. As it turned out, I sought those archival documents elsewhere, and eventually published my findings in the first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
Let me stress my agreement here with Magenta Hornet, however, that "The Rand estate has every right to decide how and when Rand's journals are made public ~ in any manner it chooses," even if it has never been expressed to me, implicitly or explicitly, that I have been denied access to those archives because of my relationship with the Brandens. In any event, such would not explain the denial of access to many other scholars, like Mimi Gladstein or biographer Anne Heller.
In fact, to my knowledge, no non-ARI scholars have been allowed to use the Rand Archives. Jim V may be the exception, but he had a relationship of sorts with Leonard Peikoff and his intellectual conclusions were certainly in sync with the negative assessment of the Brandens that Peikoff himself shares.
Such control over archives is not unusual; the Freud estate, the Nietzsche estate, and so many other estates, in their infancy, attempted to control the flow of information as a way of protecting the legacy of the person in question. But, over time, that control just doesn't work. Scholarly pursuits will not be held back no matter how many litmus tests are put in place to guide those pursuits.
I agree fundamentally with Jim on this point: "It is certainly to be hoped and expected that one day all scholars will be able to use all of it ..."
Jim, you wrote:
But it's not suspiciously secretive of them, either. They significantly, then, did allow the examination of the materials you requested, just not their use, as I thought. Thank you for that. And for confirming that you do not contend that Harriman acted in bad faith.
No, you misunderstand. They actually did not allow my examination of the material. They wanted a verbal agreement from me before they faxed the material to my home that I never write on the subject. So, in truth, I never saw any of the material. Not until years later, after I'd spent tons of money and months upon months using research assistants to find another copy of the Rand transcript in the archives of the University of St. Petersburg.
I don't know if anybody else has asked to review the material from The Objectivist Forum, but I can tell you that I did find quite a few additional editorial changes in the passage comparisons that I did see. None of this implies dishonesty on the part of Harriman or anybody else; but it introduces unnecessary confusion.
As for the Reismans: I don't know the whole background; I just have a real problem with altering documents that were already published. I could be wrong, but it was my impression, for example, that even Edith Packer's lectures in Peikoff's brilliant course, "Understanding Objectivism," are no longer part of that course. Whatever the reasons are: Packer was a part of that series, and the lectures she gave were, in my view, indispensable to that series, the same way Branden's essays are indispensable to Rand's anthologies (which, thank goodness, for the most part, have not been altered... except one cannot find Branden's essays from Virtue of Selfishness or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal in the searchable CD-ROM of Rand's books).
I am happy to hear that Andrew Bernstein cites Reisman appropriately in his new book; that's quite a difference from, say, Salsman, who is now at intellectual odds with Reisman and virtually the whole Austrian school of economics in his most recent series of articles in The Intellectual Activist. (On this last point, see my essay with Larry Sechrest in PDF form here.)
I understand your point, too, Jim, about not wanting to promote the work of those individuals whom one considers immoral. But I'm speaking strictly from the perspective of an intellectual historian: I don't want to see any alteration in a book or a tape once it has been published or produced. I would sooner appreciate an editor stating at the outset that Person X is no longer associated with me or my philosophy... while still publishing the essays that were part of the anthology to begin with. This is, in fact, what Rand herself did. Her followers should have done the same thing. It would have preserved the integrity of the historical record, while allowing them to "set the record straight" in a postscript or preface.
And that's what irks me: For all I know, the principals in any of these conflicts may have been in the right in morally condemning any number of people with whom they were previously associated. But the historical record is what it is; a scholar can contextualize it in a new edition, but erasing a contribution that was part of the record is just not the scholarly thing to do. And, no, nobody owes me or any other scholar an explanation; but then they should not be upset when people speculate wildly about their motives.
As for the issue of your book and your views of the Brandens: I'll not revisit it here, since we've both discussed it here. All of it, in my view, still revolves around the Affair and the personal interactions of these people, including "the bogus counseling, the false pretenses about the Brandens' marriage, and such other issues connected to the Affair ..." I never paid much attention to this Affair prior to your book. It constituted a couple of sentences in my entire Russian Radical, and no more than a couple of paragraphs in a subsequent essay on the documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." I just don't focus on it because I don't believe it is essential to my understanding of Objectivism or Rand's intellectual development. (That's quite apart from the fact that I applauded you for bringing her private journals to light; I found that material very worthwhile reading.)
No, I think that you still misunderstand my point. You did have the opportunity to view and at least verify the material -- upon your agreement not to use it. Thus, the viewing and verification were not being denied, just the use of it. This is the distinction that I was making. It is an important one.
Ah, yes. Yes, indeed. I would have been allowed to read it, analyze it, give my results to ARI, but never use it personally. Praise be the virtue of selflessness and the theory-practice dichotomy! And to hell with the trader principle! :)
You misunderstand what I'm saying when I suggest "it's 'all' about The Affair." The Rand-Branden Affair certainly did involve much, much more. But it all revolved around their personal relationship, which developed over nearly two decades, entailing a host of complex psychological issues. And, quite frankly, Jim, you say that Rand thought the Affair was over; my reading of those notes shows me a woman who was deeply hurt, very angry, and, yet, still wanting to bring Branden back. Do we really have to revisit this here? I just don't see the point.
Same goes for our differences on the effect of the Brandens' works on Rand criticism: I still maintain that the people who despise Ayn Rand despise her because of her ideas; this attention to her Affair with Nathaniel is just icing on the cake for some; but it is a cake baked by those who have been ideologically opposed to everything she stands for.
That is where the battle must be fought: Over ideas. Not over the people Rand slept with, why, and for how long.
Jim, thanks for your reply.
When I say something is "personal," I am not saying that it entails no intellectual or ideological components; as my review of your book acknowledges fully: Nathaniel Branden did much to bolster a rationalist misapplication of Objectivist principles and to engender a sycophantic subculture around Rand. His psychological manipulation of Rand was immoral.
But Branden was not the only one engaging in the intellectual error of rationalism. Peikoff himself has admitted to this tendency, as have many other Objectivists. And Rand herself was prone to intellectualizing real human beings and to engaging in a certain degree of moralizing.
None of this implies a moral equivalence between the wrongs of Nathaniel Branden and Rand's errors. But it is also a mistake to suggest that by abstracting "the Brandens" from the history of Objectivism, we also bracket out any problems in "Objectivism." That's just ahistorical, in my view.
Just a note to say that after a day of discussion on this, I've just noticed that Mike from Passing Thoughts has posted a reply to me as well. Thanks for your comments, Mike.
In his reply, Mike states:
One of his major gripes with my post is that I accuse him of accusing Harriman and Peikoff of scholarly dishonesty. He says he does not think this. I will take him at his word and retract that. But I still don’t understand what the meaning of this is: "In this single three-sentence paragraph, there are six alterations. And at least four are important to scholars and others who want to understand Rand. How many other revisions of the historical record are there?" [bold is mine]
The word "revision," as I understand it, implies intent. I read this as Sciabarra accusing Harriman and the Estate of Ayn Rand of intentionally covering up historical fact. I think such intentional distortion would be wrong. Like I said, I will take Dr. Sciabarra at his word, but I do not think my initial reaction to his paper was unwarranted in light of his concluding paragraph.
Fair enough, Mike. I can understand how you might have thought "revision" implies "intent." But "to revise" something can simply mean "to reconsider," "to change," or "to modify." I meant it strictly in those terms: A change was made to the passage that subsequently modified its meaning. I don't think my use of the word necessarily implies an evaluation of the character, quality, or motivation underlying the change. But, as I said, fair enough.
As for how others have understood (or misunderstood) my comments: I can't be responsible for how every person interprets my points. I have enough trouble keeping track of the number of dialogues in which I, myself, have participated. As I said from the opening of this post, "it is impossible for me to keep up with the many discussions of my work" or, indeed, of points that I have made over the past 15 years.
One final comment: I am utterly delighted to see more dissent within "orthodox" ranks on questions as varied as economics and the war. It is my hope that over time the engagement of the "orthodoxy" will extend outward to include scholars of many different hues.
Thanks again for your reply.
There is a difference between the historical record and products SOLD by the ARI for learning purposes. The record is, IN FACT, preserved, but ARI has no obligation, and probably legitimate legal concerns about SELLING educational materials to which the Brandens contributed without remunerating the Brandens for such sales. Isn't that clear?
That's very clear, Casey, and very well put.
But let me repeat for the umpteenth time: Ayn Rand herself never sought to alter the historical record of the books that are still being sold in which Branden's essays appear. (And I don't believe Branden gets one dime of remuneration from the ongoing sale of such anthologies as The Virtue of Selfishness or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal). Indeed, the only thing Rand ever did was to remove the dedication she made to Nathaniel in Atlas Shrugged on post-1968 printings of the book. This was entirely understandable, in my view... as was the cessation of sales of courses in which the Brandens were principal lecturers ("Basic Principles of Objectivism," "Principles of Efficient Thinking," etc.). I suspect, however, that all of those recorded lecture courses are on file in the Ayn Rand Archives.
Rand was very clear in her anthologies that the Brandens were no longer associated with her or her philosophy, as I said earlier in this thread, but none of this required a rewriting of reality, even in the "SELLING" of what might be considered "educational materials to which the Brandens contributed." Adam Reed is right when he emphasizes this as an outgrowth of Rand's primacy of existence view.
If the Estate wished to continue the policy of keeping the historical record intact for saleable items, it could have done the exact same thing. And if it chose not to do the same thing, the Estate could have at least informed scholars, like myself, who spent exorbitant amounts of money on lectures and audio courses that the material had been edited for content because earlier unnamed participants were no longer associated with Rand's philosophy.
Understand that heterodox non-ARI affiliated scholars like myself have to depend on the materials that the Estate offers for sale because we will never gain access to the archives where the historical record is being "preserved." I'd like to be proven wrong.
Now James wonders why it is that those of us on this side of the divide aren't as upset by the "alterations" in the historical record perpetuated by the Brandens. But Nathaniel Branden wrote a memoir, and Barbara Branden wrote a biography with heavy doses of memoir. Neither of them has ever posed as a "keeper of the flame" and neither of them has a monopoly on knowledge or information about Rand. The fact that a book has now been written and published that provides a starkly different portrait of Rand in many respects is proof that this enterprise will continue. And there are other biographies in the works, including one being written by Shoshana Milgram, who has full access to the archives, and one being written by Anne Heller, who was denied access. The Brandens may have offered the first word on Rand biography, but they will most certainly not be the last word. Praise be to the proliferation of competition in the intellectual marketplace!
But competition is not something the Estate seems to want; it possesses a virtual monopoly on most of the written and oral record of Rand and her early associates and it heavily restricts access to that record. Those of us writing in the area of historical biography or on the evolution of Rand's thought and movement must depend upon that record, even as we must seek out alternative sources of information (like those being offered by the Objectivist History Project, with which I am associated). If we are denied access to the historical record because we just don't have the proper credentials or know the right people, our dependence on the saleable record is clearly not enough. Because that record is being edited, in some respects, heavily edited.
And, to repeat: the practice of bracketing out people who are persona non grata from the "saleable" items is not restricted to the Brandens. Until or unless the archives are opened to all bona fide scholars, we will forever be in the dark, guessing what has been excised and speculating, unnecessarily, for better or for worse, about the motives of those who do the excising.
So, James, you may justifiably feel that no injustice has been perpetuated by the editing of saleable items, but you've gone to the mountain top and you've seen the promised land. You were granted access to the archives.
The rest of us are still waiting. And a part of me suspects that we will all be dead before any heterodox non-ARI-affiliated scholar gets into those archives.
So, if Nathaniel Branden were to reprint "The Moral Revolution in 'Atlas Shrugged'" from WHO IS AYN RAND?, and then to have suppressed a credit reference to Leonard Peikoff in an original footnote within it, would that be same kinda thing being complained about here? (Thank you, Craig Ceely.**)
Except that the one reprint of that essay was by The Objectivist Center, and Nathaniel Branden indicates explicitly that he made "a few cuts." (He was not explicit about what the cuts were, but Rand herself was not fully explicit about the cuts she made to the 1959 edition of We the Living, so I'm not going to fault Branden for not providing an essay-length discussion of the cuts he actually made; the Peikoff note is only one of several.)
Branden also states in his preface to the reprint that the essay "was written at a time when my thinking was totally in alignment with that of Ayn Rand's, and thus none of the reservations or questions about her work that I would convey in later books and lectures is in evidence."
In point of fact, however, "Basic Principles of Objectivism," Nathaniel Branden's recorded lecture course, which TOC currently offers for sale, and "Principles of Efficient Thinking" (a Barbara Branden lecture course) have both been sold in the years after the break, and neither course has been altered at all, in any way, shape, or form, to my knowledge.
**Added note: BTW, Craig was also the one who reminded me recently about my screen credit in the "Sense of Life" documentary that I mentioned in this post. Not that I needed too much reminding; seeing my name on the big screen, I admit, was a thrill. :)
Casey writes: "But in the end, this issue is a pretty thin reed to hang all the uproar against ARI on. ... And getting all hot about this and not about the Brandens' disregard for the historic record is a little hard for me to buy at this point."
Sorry, Casey, what I'm saying is no thin reed.
As for the Brandens: It's not as if none of us was aware of the Branden deceptions prior to Jim's book. And whatever you want to say about Rand's critics, there isn't a reputable scholar alive that I know who did not place the Branden books in their proper context as "first words" from witnesses who had a very personal stake in the events they described.
We can keep debating this, but it will not be resolved to our mutual satisfaction. I continue to maintain that what the Brandens did and what they have said about Rand pertained primarily to their personal experiences with her. And they are not the only people who knew Rand and who have said unflattering things about Rand.
But even if Rand were the biggest bitch imaginable or the kindest person who ever lived, it would not matter to me one iota in terms of my evaluation of the truth of her philosophy or my understanding of her intellectual origins or legacy. I don't reduce my analysis of a philosophy to an analysis of the life of the person who forged it. And this is coming from somebody who spent an inordinate amount of time in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical trying to come to terms with a specific aspect of Rand's life, namely, her early education.
It is because my attention is focused on Rand's philosophy, and on her intellectual origins, development, and evolution as a thinker, that the Ayn Rand Archives are important to me.
Let me also state for the hearing of the world: I actually send a small annual contribution to the Ayn Rand Institute, because I believe that they are doing important work. From their essay contests to their archival preservation, there is much to commend here. That doesn't mean that they can't do better.
Perhaps if you better understood and appreciated the unnecessarily adversarial and often litigious relationship* of ARI to most non-ARI scholars (some recent promising changes notwithstanding at the Institute), you'd be better able "to buy" the passion that some of us bring to this discussion.
*The litigiousness pertains not to ARI, actually, but to the Estate of Ayn Rand.
I need to preface this post with a personal note. I want to thank the participants here for dragging me out of my doldrums, and inspiring me with "twisted balls" as we say here in Brooklyn, to jump into the fray. It has been difficult to do much of anything as I've been nursed back to my "normal" level of ill-health, coming out of a severe medical setback. I extended an official "thank you" at Notablog to all my well-wishers, but I wanted to extend it here as well.
Because of these recent medical woes, and because of some circumstances that are beyond my control, I am needing to "pull the reins" back a bit. I am behind in my normal work responsibilities by about a month, and I am poised to begin (again) a major research project on Aleksandr Blok, the Nietzschean Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her "favorite poet."
More importantly, I am spending a lot of time on responsibilities connected to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which I am a founding co-editor. One of the journal's co-founders, Bill Bradford, is suffering from severe health problems himself (see here).
And, I'm sorry to report today that I received word the other night that my Associate Editor, and prolific SOLO contributor, Robert Campbell, was involved in a serious bike accident in which he broke both his wrists. He underwent surgery and is currently in the hospital. He is scheduled to be released soon, but will be unable to use his hands much in the coming month or two. (Well-wishers may want to leave their "get well" thoughts here at SOLO.)
All this means that I have an enormous amount of work to do, more than usual, in readying the next issue of JARS.
I'm sure I'll get my "balls twisted" on occasion to post at SOLO again at some point and I will continue my daily blogging at Notablog. But I do need to adjust my work responsibilities accordingly in the face of these current difficulties.
All of this said, I do wish to respond at length to Casey and James. You've both been indefatigable interlocutors and I think that something should be said in response to your latest posts.
In response to Casey here: I am not going to speculate as to why Nathaniel Branden characterized his cut of a footnote (among other cuts) crediting Peikoff as a "superfluous" cut. I don't think one has to be a rocket scientist to know that these two men are not exactly affectionate toward one another. The point I was making, however, is that Branden at least told us that he cut something. Of course, most Rand scholars do have access to Who is Ayn Rand?, which, even though it is no longer in print, remains an important historical document in the evolution of Objectivism. (It is certainly in the hands of far more people than the TOC reprint.)
In any event, you won't find anything approaching an acknowledgment of editing in any current publications emanating from ARI-affiliated sources.
My comment that reputable scholars view "the Branden books in their proper context as 'first words' from witnesses who had a very personal stake in the events they described" is also not a new one. Most recently, I made virtually the same comment in my review of James Valliant's book (see the section on "Historical Methodology" in that review here).
As far as scholars go, I have never been to a conference at either The Objectivist Center or the Ayn Rand Institute. I have attended several "day" lectures through the years sponsored by TOC in New York City. At those conferences, the attention was on ethics, politics, or aesthetics. Nary a word was ever said about Ayn Rand's personal life.
My comments about the marginal character of the Affair in genuine Rand scholarship are based on years of contributing to, editing, and reading in the Rand scholarly literature.
For example: JARS is now entering its seventh year of publication. We have 13 issues to our credit since the Fall of 1999. I count a total of 152 articles published over this time period. Of these articles only a very few mention Rand's personal life, and only a very few of these mention Rand's "moral shortcomings." In these limited number of cases, the authors' judgments of Rand are based on their reading of the Branden works for sure. You will find a comment about Rand's "moral shortcomings" in Lisa Dolling's Spring 2000 review of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (a book that includes an essay by Barbara Branden); Joseph Maurone's Spring 2002 essay, "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism" (which deals with much more than Rand's "personal life," focusing on important Romantic themes in Rand's novels); and the James Arnt Aune Fall 2002 essay referenced in Valliant's book (an essay that was met with devastating critique by Leland Yeager in our pages). Other essays that mention Rand's personal life: Dean Brooks's review of the Sures memoir; and a 3-article exchange between Karen Michalson and Sky Gilbert on Gilbert's Branden-inspired play, The Emotionalists.
But a book review of David Kelley's Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand focuses almost no attention on Rand's personal life or the "movement" schisms; Jonathan Jacobs, the reviewer, is much more interested in philosophical issues and actually yearns for a "more purely philosoph[ical] book."
It is true that some left-wing critics, like Gene Bell-Villada, mention Barbara Branden's biography—but he sees Barbara as Rand's "frank yet devoted biographer" ("Nabokov and Rand," Fall 2001 JARS).
Other left-wingers, like Slavoj Zizek ("The Actuality of Ayn Rand," Spring 2002 JARS) go so far as to praise Rand for the way she handled The Affair. Writes Zizek: "There is a well-known story about Rand whose superficially scandalous aspect often eclipses its extraordinary ethical significance." That "ethical significance," for Zizek, is not located in Rand-as-Moral Monster, but in the fact that "Rand did not cheat" (Zizek's emphasis). He concludes:"To show such firmness in the most intimate domain bears witness to an ethical stance of extraordinary strength: while Rand was here arguably 'immoral' [in the conventional sense, a reference to the extramarital affair], she was ethical in the most profound meaning of the word. It is this ethical stance of inner freedom that accounts for the authenticity clearly discernible in Rand's description of ... Howard Roark." And Zizek then goes on to praise Roark as one of the most authentic and benevolent of fictional characters.
So, all in all, in seven years of publishing JARS, I count a total 10 articles out of 152 that mention Rand's personal life, and not all of these references are unflattering, as we have seen from the Zizek article.
Zizek didn't need to read Valliant's book (this was Spring 2002 after all) in order to come to this conclusion, and he had every reason, as a left-wing pomo, to make lots of snide comments about Rand. Instead, he formed his own positive conclusions from his own reading of the Branden books.
So, clearly, not everybody, including the critics, walks away from the Branden books with a view of Rand-as-Moral-Monster.
Remember, btw, that JARS is being "boycotted" by the likes of ARI-scholar Andrew Bernstein because of the "people" we publish. Bernstein called for that boycott of the journal and of all my works (which he admits to never having read), in the Spring of 2002, after we'd published a single paragraph reply Bernstein had written for the journal to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his Cliffsnotes (see here and here). I'll leave it to others to speculate on the character of Bernstein's denunciation. Clearly, from where I sit, it has nothing to do with the fact that we publish "the Brandens" (ooops, we have published an essay or two by the Great Mini-Satan, David Kelley!!!) or that we are some kind of Branden "front organization." That JARS is a "nonpartisan" publication has done nothing to ease the tension (see here and here).
Now, if I extend my inquiry to include the larger Rand scholarly literature, I can tell you that one finds very few references to Rand's personal life. ARI-affiliated scholars who have published fine books (I count the writing and editing work of Robert Mayhew, the work of Tara Smith, and others) never say a negative word about Rand's personal life. No surprise there. But non-ARI-affiliated scholars have a similar track record. Take a look at the countless volumes of essays and books on Ayn Rand, by Douglas Den Uyl (The Fountainhead: An American Novel); Douglas Rasmussen (with Den Uyl, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand; ); Mimi Gladstein (Atlas Shrugged: A Manifesto of the Mind; The Ayn Rand Companion); Tibor Machan (Ayn Rand, and hundreds of other articles), and you'll find almost an exclusive focus on Rand's philosophy or literary legacy. And that's where the focus should be.
(As an aside, I should mention that none of these non-ARI-affiliated writers is ever referenced in the works of any ARI-affiliated scholars. I can think of a single exception: Tara Smith, who has referenced Rasmussen in her work. But the overwhelming number of publications coming from ARI-affiliated scholars is marked by citational partisanship; non-ARI-affiliated scholars freely reference ARI-affiliated scholars, but not the other way around. On this peculiar phenomenon, see here.)
So, we're back to Square One: The smears of Ayn Rand are coming mostly from people who despise Ayn Rand's philosophy, and whose comments on her personal life are the icing on a cake baked in the oven of a primarily ideological opposition (the Commentary article that James references is a case in point; see here).
Folks, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree about our different views of the nature of the Branden books. From where I sit, scholars and other readers have been aware for nearly two decades of the central deceptions that the Brandens perpetuated toward the end of their relationship with Ayn Rand.
Where we are at odds is that I do not believe the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world; I do not ascribe every action and reaction of the Brandens to lying, deception, and manipulation; and I do not see conflict between or within the books as symptomatic of that evil. This was a complex tragedy that involved the poor choices and lives of four people directly and, apparently, countless numbers of people indirectly.
I suspect that this entire generation is going to have to die out before we relegate this whole mess to a footnote in the larger text that is Ayn Rand's profoundly important philosophical legacy.
Just a very brief rejoinder.
James, you have to allow that my participation in this forum and at Notablog, contextualized further by reading through several hundred (or is that thousand?) posts on this topic, might lead me to a little hyperbole. But if you clearly don't believe that the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world, I sure do get the impression that you—and others who support your position—really do believe that the Brandens are irredeemably evil and that their motivations are almost always base. I could be wrong about this ...
Let me state four further clarifications for the record:
1. I honestly don't see how my previous post was "a giant and irrelevant distraction from the book or its goals." I thought one of your points, James, was that too much criticism of Rand is rooted in charges made by the Brandens. I simply pointed to over 150 articles in JARS and much of the critical scholarship done on Rand, and I find that the discussion of Rand is not informed (much, if at all) by the Branden books. This much is true: We do need to be vigilant and call ad hominem for what it is, whether it shows up in Commentary or National Review.
2. The Zizek article was published in the Spring 2002 JARS; however, it is a revision and expansion of an article that Zizek wrote for the Fall 1997 issue of Lacanian Ink, so his views on this topic predate both his JARS article and the electronic publication of part 1 of your book.
3. I'll let David Kelley speak for himself. I think the issues he deals with in Contested Legacy, however, go far beyond Rand's biography and speak to the problems inherent in the very sycophancy that the Brandens played a part in creating in the historical evolution of the Objectivist movement. It is a sycophancy that is still with us today in some circles.
4. I do not feel that I've been dealt with uncharitably—in any way, shape, or form—by either you or Casey. I think we've been mutually respectful from the beginning. It's natural to get a little hot-under-the-collar on some of these issues, but I think we've conducted ourselves just fine.
I asked the Brandens about the issues surrounding the editing out of their voices on tapes still being marketed by the Ayn Rand Institute. I asked two questions:
1. Could it be that ARI and/or the Estate might have been worried that they'd have to pay a royalty to the Brandens if their voices were left on the tapes?
2. Did either of you or both of you negotiate an end to the use of your voices by Rand and her heirs in taped lecture courses?
Both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden answered "No" to both questions.
Barbara added that she could not imagine why anyone would be worried about paying royalties to the Brandens and not to everyone else whose voices were left in. She said she has had no communication or negotiation whatever with anyone at ARI or with the Estate about this or any other related issue. And she states further that she did not require or suggest that ARI cease using her voice. Nathaniel confirms this with regard to his own voice.
I also asked others who were around in the early days to confirm if, in the post-1968 era, the voices of the Brandens were ever heard on marketed recordings. Apparently, some recall that the Branden voices were originally left on marketed recordings but that every mention of the Branden names was deleted. Perhaps because the voices remained recognizable, later marketed recordings deleted the voices as well and substituted a narrator's voice.
(Other discussants have continued the dialogue over these points at SOLO, starting here.)
A lot has been made of the fact that the Brandens don't discuss much of the content of Nathaniel Branden's psychotherapy sessions with Rand in the time leading up to the end of their relationship. Rand's journals reveal that Branden was complaining of sexual paralysis. When, later, she learns of his lies, it is reported in the Branden books that Rand slapped his face, and proclaimed: "If you have an ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health---you'll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve any potency, you'll know it's a sign of still worse moral degradation!" And then she slapped him three times.
In Passion, Barbara tells us that the affair had been put on hold for 6 years, and that over that time, it "had rarely been sexual" (331). She reports that NB tells Ayn that he has no "emotional capacity" left for his relationship with her---because of his collapsing marriage. This is in sync with AR's report: that's why AR started to become a kind of "marriage counselor" to the Brandens.
She reports that NB starts withdrawing from AR, but talked obsessively about his relationship with Patrecia. He spoke of "physical and emotional" problems to AR (335) and AR began "to question the reality of his love." BB reports that NB felt guilt because he was not having the 'requisite' response to AR---his "highest value" and something that he believed he should have felt, given the Objectivist theory of romantic love. He was hoping that he'd be able to exhibit that "passionate sexual response to Ayn," but kept telling AR that his lack of response to her, "the problems besetting their relationship had nothing to do with his love for her."
It was my understanding when I first read these passages, and it is my understanding now, that this was BB's way of saying that NB wasn't getting aroused for AR, telling AR, in effect: "It's not you, it's me." He made every excuse: it was the "triangle," he said; etc. And AR began to counsel him on his problem, through "endless psychological sessions, endless excruciatingly difficult labor for her---and the tortured sense that everything she did and said was somehow beside the point, that she was losing him." (335)
"I love Ayn, but I can't release the feeling; something is blocking it---that's the only problem," NB tells himself (says BB).
I always interpreted these passages as grand self-deception and excuse-making (not only to AR but to himself) for Branden's inability to feel anything sexual toward AR. And he was also consciously deceiving AR: He felt the need to pretend that it was a generalized sexual problem, because if he didn't represent it as such, he'd have to admit that he was fully aroused for Patrecia.
But this shows the depth of Branden's deception: it was self-deception first, because he was accepting the theory of romantic love as response to "highest values" (read: highest intellectual values), thus rationalizing the whole theory, and if he were not responding to AR, it meant that the problem, in his mind, was, indeed, deep---pointing to his inner corruption. In other words, he not only accepted "the theory," but blamed himself for not living up to the theory or to AR, and had to lie to AR and to himself in order to deal with a mounting guilt, a devastating internal contradiction between his conscious ideas, subconscious desires, feelings, thoughts, and actions.
By p. 336, BB is talking about AR's questioning of the "age difference": trying to find every which reason to explain NB's lack of "desire" for her. NB seems to muster some "honeymoon periods"---but then he fell back "into guilt, into remorse, into further deceit." And then AR turns to BB---and BB now has to act as AR's "friend"---while protecting NB's secret. Oy. What a mess.
BB's rendering of AR's thoughts here seem in sync with what we now know from Rand's private journals ... though Valliant interprets it as AR conceding that NB can never really be her lover. But I don't think this is necessarily so: Clearly by "early in 1968," AR is saying that she thinks NB only loves her "theoretically, but it has no emotional reality." She does feel as if she's lost him and can't understand his obsession with Patrecia. She claims to believe NB that he wasn't in love with Patrecia (let alone involved with her sexually).
Finally, in July 1968, NB writes that letter to AR where he admits that "their ages had become an impassable barrier to his sexual feeling"; in effect, he enunciates that which he kept denying: "age differences have contributed to my sexual impotence with you."
AR is now furious... because he'd been denying it was an "age problem" all along. But he still fails to admit his relationship with Patrecia. Finally in mid-July, he admits to AR his love for Patrecia, but still denies the affair, and tells AR that he knows what this must mean to her, "to be rejected for a lesser value." She's furious, rightly so.
Finally, by August, all the truth comes out... and AR breaks with the Brandens completely. (She, of course, is in touch with BB again in 1981... and becomes aware that BB is writing her biography.)
I think NB's basic points here are in sync with BB's. He does tell us in his memoir that he felt AR "too old to inspire romantic feelings in me." [Read: sexual feelings.] It's clear throughout this entire time that despite his lies, he is, I think, subconsciously, putting all the "information" out there for Rand to see: his obsessiveness over Patrecia, talks of hypotheticals, etc.---all his way of telling her the truth, without having to tell her the truth... and in total contradiction to what he is saying to Rand on every other level.
So, getting back to Rand's comment that Branden ought to be impotent: When I first read the Branden books, and read that "impotence" comment from Rand, I interpreted it as follows: "You bastard! You claimed you had all these problems that prevented you from having an intimate relationship with me... and all along, you were having sex with Patrecia!" And if you factor in how rejected she must have felt by that point, how his lies tried to "soften the blow"---only to make the blow worse than ever---I must say that I had no negative reaction to Rand raising that impotence issue or to the number of times she slapped his face. I walked away from those books with a much more positive view of AR and a much more negative view of NB. (And the Valliant book has actually made Rand even more sympathetic.)
And I don't think my original reaction was so atypical: As I said above, even Slavoj Zizek, a left-wing pomo, drew the same conclusions, when he had every reason to use this against Rand, given his ideological opposition to her philosophy.
One final point: Valliant argues that NB had projected in his memoir that AR was literally insane. Except that the one place where he uses that word ("insane"), it is Patrecia who makes the statement (on p. 369 in Judgment Day, 1st edition) and NB never seems to use the word literally, placing it in quotes (on p. 372): "If Ayn was 'insane' [ed: notice he places that word within q