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Rand and the Ad Hominem Fallacy

One would think after several years in the development of modern Rand studies that Rand scholars would not have to continue dealing with the fallacy of ad hominem, which is a familiar tactic used by Rand critics to discredit Rand as a philosopher.

This is quite apart from any genuine, substantive criticisms of Rand's work, which are needed, and which Randians should engage.

Granted, because Rand ended her postscript to Atlas Shrugged with the comment "And I mean it," suggesting that her life itself was a testament to the philosophy and morality she extolled, she virtually invited discussion of how well or how poorly she reflected Objectivism. And as I have said in my review of James Valliant's book here, "we can learn things about a philosophy by examining the ways in which those who adhere to it, or who claim to adhere to it, behave. But we canít reduce a philosophy to a study of biography. Ideas have analytical integrity quite apart from the people who enunciate them. And this is coming from a writer who has enormous respect for the necessity of placing intellectual figures in both a personal and historical context so as to better appreciate the process by which such figures came to their conclusions."

Nonetheless, the "commingling" of biography and philosophy continues, especially in discussions of Rand's work. The most recent example of this comes from Commentary magazine, in which Algis Valiunas attempts to dissect "the work of the high priestess of reason," whose "centenary has gone uncelebrated."

Hogwash! As my own Centenary articles make clear, the Rand Centenary attracted quite a bit of coverage. As I wrote: "Every publication from Reason, The Free Radical, and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New York Times featured something of significance in its pages. There were sponsored parties and panel discussions from California to New York to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C."

But disparaging the Centenary isn't Valiunas's purpose; it's disparaging Rand's person as a means to disparaging her ideas that is most obvious here:

In Rand's psychology, reason unfailingly determines emotion, never the other way around. But in her own erotic life Rand was at the mercy of a turbulent unreason that pulled her under even as she burbled on about her unimpeachable rationality. As she could only love an extraordinary man, she endowed the man she married, Frank O'Connor, with all the qualities of a hero, even of a god. In fact, in almost everyone's eyes but hers, O'Connor, a failure as a movie actor, was a raging mediocrity. At the age of forty-nine, Rand fell for yet another god, Nathaniel Branden, the husband of her biographer and himself a disciple younger than she by 25 years. She expounded the perfect reasonableness of their adultery to each of the injured spouses, whom she expected reasonably to accept their twice-weekly scheduled trysts in the bedroom she shared with her husband. After years of this, the Brandens' marriage collapsed and Rand's husband swirled down the alcoholic drain. When Rand was sixty-one and Branden thirty-six, the sexual fire went out for him and he found a younger lover. Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy. Maintaining that she was entirely reasonable and right, and Branden purely evil, she destroyed his professional reputation and banished him from the Randian kingdom where he had been until then the crown prince. Heroic reason, heroic freedom, heroic love ended, as they began, in folly.

As I mentioned in my critique of Valliant's book, I have devoted only a few paragraphs in toto, in all of my Rand scholarship, to the discussion of the Rand-Branden Affair. When the critics focus on this Affair and reify it as if it were a whole unto itself, one must begin to question precisely what this strategy seeks to accomplish. They wouldn't do this typically with Plato, Kant, or Hegel, would they?

As Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes."

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages a focus on prurient interests; that's why tabloids sell so well. And it's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

As I acknowledged in my review of Valliant's book, "[t]he particular charges concerning Randís sex life can be traced to claims made in the Branden books. That much is true." But these charges are almost always used by others as the veneer to cover up an essentially ideological opposition. Back to Valiunas:

What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails. Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own ... In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as "subhuman creatures," "looting lice." Galt's radio address to the nationóhe has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magicóis positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained. ... But compassion disgusts Rand; John Galt scorns it as love of the unworthy, a triumph of sloppy feeling over lucid reason. This is no doubt why, for all her continued popularity, Rand is anything but a commanding figure these days. Very few conservatives want any part of her, for she is the conservative bogeyman that liberals invoke to terrify their children: money-worshipping, absorbed in the pursuit of her own happiness, indifferent to the pain of others. Though she will no doubt continue to sell-there are certain effects she brings off as well as anyone, and they haye their undeniable appealóit is hardly a matter for regret that her centenary has gone largely unmarked.

Now, even if Valiunas is absolutely correct in every assertion (and these are assertions, since nowhere does Valiunas actually provide any argument), what "commingles" here is ad hominem and an essential hatred of Rand's intellectual body of work.

If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body, the state of Rand criticism and critical engagement would advance considerably. I know we are working very hard at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to advance that critical engagement (information about our new Fall 2005 issue will be posted here at Notablog on Tuesday, September 13, 2005). But more work needs to be done.

In any event, even if one wishes to focus on Rand biography, or on the particular issues surrounding the Rand-Branden Affair, then it is incumbent upon the critic to focus on all the material now available. Whatever one thinks about the Valliant book, I do believe that the publication of Rand's private journals changes the landscape considerably in any discussion of this particular aspect of Rand's biography. If Valiunas wishes to indict Rand's philosophy by assassinating her character, then it's important for Valiunas to at least weigh the evidence that is now available to scholars on this subject, for better or for worse. And though I have been intensely critical of how Rand's private papers have been edited up till now (see here, here, and here), I stand by my expressed belief that there is no reason to doubt the quality of Valliant's editing of those papers in his book. One may quibble with Valliant's parenthetical interpretive remarks. And one may still long for the unedited publication of all of Rand's private papers. But, in his publication of Rand's notes, Valliant is very careful to place any changes or substitutions in [brackets], unlike previous editors of Rand's letters, journals, and lectures. Such editors do not realize that their attempts to smooth out some of Rand's previously unpublished materials lead those of us who have not seen these materials to question their full authenticity.

Quite clearly, Valliant's book and my review of it are not the last words on this subject. Nor was my review or the lengthy dialogue on Notablog the last word on his book. In describing what is the essence of the "hermeneutical" enterprise, I state in my review:

The publication of [Rand's private] journals, however, will have unintended consequences; any published text is liable to generate such consequences, since it will be read and interpreted by many different people, each of whom brings a given context of knowledge and experience to the reading. And whereas people have been reading the Branden books and analyzing them for years, I suspect that even clinical psychologists will now have a field day poring over Rand's personal journals.

And so... the dissection of Rand's private life is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Rand's private life has now been made the subject of a comic book! Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have just published this past June the newest installment of their "Action Philosophers" series. This one is an "All-Sex Special" that focuses on "the shocking contradiction of Thomas Jefferson," the "Hard-Drinkin', Hard-Lovin' Saint Augustine," and "Ayn Rand's Non-Objectivist Love Affair." Oy.

The cover design for Issue #2 of this series only hints at the contents. The comic tells the story of Rand's life from her beginnings in Russia. In the context of a comic book, it accurately renders Rand's thinking, but the last two pages of it tell the story of the Affair. And on that note, Van Lente concludes: "Rand liked to say that modern culture 'seemed totally indifferent to my ideas and to ideas in general.' She made sure that that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Van Lente provides us with a "Recommended Reading" list at the end, which includes The Virtue of Selfishness. Though he "find[s] Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example)," he believes "she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist)."

The Rand-Branden Affair is not going away. And the rancor and divisiveness it provokes won't dissipate, I suspect, for a few generations. All the more reason for Rand scholars to insist that critics adopt a scrupulous focus on ideas in their engagement with Rand's philosophy. And if their subject is Rand biography, then they should do their best to assess all the information now at our disposal.

To reiterate: There is a place for biography and there is always a place for situating ideas in a larger historical context. But I don't think it serves the cause of Marxist criticism, for example, to criticize Marx's private life as a means toward criticizing his analytical framework. This tactic has been adopted by some critics of Marx (Gary North's essay, "The Marx Nobody Knows," published in the Yuri N. Maltsev volume, Requiem for Marx, and available as an mp3, comes to mind).

That kind of thing may be of interest to our understanding of the development of an idea. But it serves no purpose in grappling with the complexity of Marx's legacy.

If, in the future, Rand's legacy is treated with the same critical respect that has been given Marx's, it will be no small achievement.

Comments welcome.


Nice post. Another annoying thing about this sort of attack is the idea that Atlas Shrugged is "dated" because railroads figure so prominently. (I've heard similar criticisms of The Fountainhead, re her lionizing of modernist architecture.) That's like saying "Shane" is dated, because of the centrality of horesback riding. Total missing of the point. But it seems people are only this obtuse about Rand's novels, because they have decided a priori that they must be bad, inasmuch as they were written by Rand.

Your insights here are profound and should not be overlooked. I can only express my desire that you (and other scholars) be granted the same access to the Rand materials that was given so generously to me.

Thanks, Aeon and James, for your comments.

Of course, it helps that Aeon illustrates his point with "Shane"... which is one of my favorite Westerns. :)

Chris, your post was, for me, cathartic. I vicariously enjoyed getting that off my chest.

I vaguely remember someone writing about Marx and his neglecting his family or was that Rousseau? And I remember reading about Einstein not being the best of fathers. Such a gossipy focus, as a way of discrediting ideas, is embarrassing to watch.

I enjoyed your post. I think people forget that the purpose of a philosophy is to guide you. Since we are falliable creatures, we are not always going to make the most reasonable choices. It is philosophy's job to help us know when we have made an error. In Rand's novel's she has characters that have an error in their thinking. Forexample, there is dagny who contiues to have an error in thinking up till the end. John Galt does not give up on her because she has the qualities he looks for and the potential to overcome her mistake. The old saying "don't throw out the baby with the bath water," comes to mind. I personally have never looked at Ayn Rand as perfect, however she strove to live up to her ideals, and that is honorable. As well as the huge contribution she has made to the world.

P.S. Chris, you write so well. I want to improve my writing skills for articles and non-fiction/fiction books. I was wondering if you can recommend any resources i.e. websites, or books to read.

Randís life as entertainment, as pure theater, will always hold hypnotic fascination, and that is especially true of the Rand & Branden relationship. That part of her life is probably better left to playwrights and novelists. That instead it has been vigorously taken up by those with a prosecutorial or tabloid bent is at least partly due to Randís own influence: rendering moral judgment has been a central implication of her philosophy, and a constant theme of her and many of her followers. However, itís a bit whiny to make moral judgment such an issue, and then be surprised and outraged when others judge by using a standard of morality imbued in the culture for several centuries prior to oneís own ethical advances. A little objective study of how long it takes a culture to change its basic moral principles might provide a bit of perspective here. As a parenthetical note to that last point, a book recommended by Objectivists in the past, namely Crane Brintonís History of Western Morals, is helpful here.

I would also take issue with the Ďdonít bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishesí. To the extent the Valiunas is an extended ad hominem (and I am not convinced that is all he is up to), it is surely somewhat interesting that a fallacy that was identified so many centuries ago can have such appeal today in a magazine such as Commentary. That magazine is neither edited nor read by ignorant fools. What ad hominem is intended to accomplish is always clear, but why it is so appealing even at this late date to apparent intellectual sophisticates is surely a bit of an interesting mystery. How can such people believe that it will actually succeed? It makes me wonder, to use another method that Rand favored: what are the users of such a fallacy counting on? We might also ask: do they really see themselves as using this fallacy?

Anyway, Valiunasí article is more in the vein of a kind of profile that is not uncommon in Commentary and other places. It amounts to this: if we put this characterís life up against what we (as in Ďour group hereí) generally agree upon are our shared values and principles, how does this person measure up? Objectivists and non-objectivists do it. When non-objectivists do it to Rand, that may produce a judgment that objectivists find objectionable, but one cannot simply dismiss it as fallacy. It is something objectivists and Objectivists are going have to deal with for a very long time in the battle for the culture. Better to attack the principles that give rise to the erroneous aspects of the judgment, than simply attack it as an example of ad hominem. For, in the end, it is probably not fallacious to Valiunas, and calling it fallacious will carry little weight in argument with him, or with those even modestly sympathetic to him.

Cliff, thanks for your comments here. You make a number of very interesting points that I'll respond to briefly.

Randís life has actually been portrayed "as pure theater," in such movies as "The Passion of Ayn Rand," with Helen Mirren, and in such plays as The Emotionalists, which was written by Sky Gilbert. There was an exchange between Karen Michalson and Gilbert in the Spring 2004 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies on this very subject (see the abstracts here).

And Lord knows, people will be talking about the theatricality of Rand's life for a very long time to come.

And I agree with you that Rand's own approach has had an influence on those who wish to apply the same judgments to Rand's own life. But my essay is not "whiny" on this subject at all (and, in fact, I don't even identify myself as an "Objectivist"); all I've said is that if critics are going to focus on that life by selecting only evidence that is available in, say, the Barbara Branden biography or in the Nathaniel Branden memoir, then they're only getting one part of a complex picture. There are now other sources available, which require critics and scholars to weigh the evidence in coming to any judgment about Rand's life. They may come to the same judgment as before, but I won't accuse them of not looking at all the evidence, that is, I won't accuse of them of being anything less than scholarly.

I agree with you completely that it takes cultures a very long time to change their basic moral principles. To make my own parenthetical point, that insight is partially what has motivated my own critique of the attempts of neoconservatives to build "liberal democracy" in societies that have few or none of the cultural prerequisites that nourish liberalism.

As for the issue of "donít bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes": I don't believe that Commentary is a magazine written, edited, or read by fools. I can't imagine that Valiunas would admit to using this ad hominem fallacy; but I think it is clear that Valiunas's indictment of Rand's character and life is part of a much larger rejection of Rand's philosophy. All I'm saying is: That philosophy should be accepted or rejected on the basis of an analysis of its core ideas, not on the question of whether Rand herself lived up to its principles.

I have---and would---give the same respect to any other thinker, including Karl Marx, whom I mention in my essay, and who was one of the subjects of my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. My critique of Marx in that book is a critique of Marx's ideas, not a critique of his family life, or how well he treated his wife, or the fact that he was supported much by his pal, Frederick Engels.

I do agree that it's important to focus on "the principles that give rise to the erroneous aspects of the judgment"; in fact, as I suggest here, I welcome an ideological battle. I would prefer that the battle remain ideological.

I also wanted to thank Jason and Kamarat McWashington for their comments.

Jason, I think it may have been Marx that you're talking about (but I don't know enough about Rousseau's life to say one way or the other).

Kamarat, thanks too for your comments, and for your kind words about my writing.

As for resources on writing: It's hard to suggest style guides, since style is such a personal thing. Since this thread is about Rand, I should certainly mention Rand's own guides, derived from her lectures on fiction-writing and nonfiction-writing: The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction. See my own essay on the latter book, here. In that regard, I emphasize several points:

1. Place a priority not only on doing in-depth research on the object of your inquiry, but also on organizing your research methodically.
2. Know what you want to say.
3. Know your audience, its interests, level of knowledge, its context.

On the purely stylistic issues, just let your writing develop "organically." Go with the flow; worry about "editing" later.

I'll be writing more about this on Notablog over time for sure.

Chris, a quick note in response:

My comment about whining was not directed at your essay, though I can certainly see now that your thinking I suggested such is reasonable from your point of view. I blush at my own failure to appreciate your context here, and at the condescending tone it has in the light of the next day. I have great respect for your scholarship and objectivity, and your genial fair-mindedness. I canít remember any whining from any of your writing. I apologize, and can only offer the lame excuse that I did it in a rush. I had in mind those lame objectivists who argue thusly: ĎAyn Rand stood for the good, judge her enemies accordinglyí. Such people simply donít deal with the Valiunases of the world, but inhabit their own aerie, apart from the rest of us. Might one say that they are in but not of the objectivist movement?

Having said that, I now find that I do have a bit of residual uneasiness with your desire that Rand be fought over as an ideological battle. It may be a more reasonable expectation with respect to Marx, since he was mainly interested in determinist politics, but Rand had a great deal to say about ethics, human nature, and the consequences of personal choice. It seems to me that when one enters that territory, when one proposes oneself as a leader in that area, that it is reasonable to expect that people will be deeply interested in personal actions. They will also make their judgments in the light of both their own standards, and/or Randís own standards. This is not simply the tabloid mind at work, but a grappling with the problems of acting in accordance with professed principles. What I am trying to get at is that an evaluation of the personal actions of any moral guide is relevant to the ideological battle, and not simply an example of ad hominem. In fact, itís a sort of inductive evidence of the value of said principles. Itís also something every one of us deals with, in ourselves, every day.

I would like to add, as a final antidote for you to the dismaying condescension in my previous comment, that your own struggles in this regard have been evident in your scholarly writing and in your daily commentary, and your reasonableness seems to win an enviable percentage of the time. I, like many others, flatly admire that, without reservation.

Hey, Cliff, as we say: "No harm, no foul." I appreciate your explanation and such.

I have seen some people who have behaved, at least implicitly, according to the premises you suggest. I've seen too many people who self-identify as "Objectivists" and who refuse to debate their intellectual adversaries for fear of "sanctioning" the opposition.

Of course, that's not where I come from: More often than not, I jump into the fray, and almost always focus on the intellectual and theoretical issues in question.

I do agree with you wholeheartedly that "every one of us deals with" the issue of consistency between principle and practice in our own lives, especially those of us who fight any alleged dichotomy between theory and practice, the moral and the prudent.

I wonder, though, how much of what you say about weighing intellectual and personal evaluation is a function of time, that is, of the fact that Rand is a relatively recent thinker whose biography is still fresh in the minds of admirers and critics, many of whom knew her personally.

Biography always helps us to contextualize ideas, both in terms of the personal life of the thinker and the historical period in which they wrote.

But except for a few studies about "Queer Wittgenstein" or about some of the ancient Greek thinkers' sexual proclivities, most scholarship on canonical philosophers focuses on their ideas, not on whether or not they themselves lived up to their philosophical premises. In commenting on Kant's ethics, how many writers focus on Kant's personal relationships with others? In commenting on Aristotle's ethics, how many published discussions focus on whether Aristotle himself was a "great-souled man"?

I'm not saying that such discussions are irrelevant; as I say in this very essay, Rand's own statement, "And I mean it," as a postscript to Atlas Shrugged, invites a biographical analysis.

Again, perhaps the focus on Rand's personal life is to be expected at this point in time because many of her contemporaries are still alive, and many people still have a "personal" stake in fighting the battle over her alleged virtues or vices. In time, however, I suspect that this whole realm of discussion will take a backseat to the more important debates over issues in Rand's epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and politics.

Eventually, if the ideas are worth anything, it is the ideas that will outlive considerations of the personal character of the individual who first enunciated them.

Sciabarra's comments: "If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body..." though probably intended as humor demonstrates a constant misleading theme in the criticism of Valiant's book.

The book has nothing to do with bodies, but is solely concerned with Rand's integrity and the Brandon's lack of same. Unless one finds something erotic in the word "affair."

Almost no one cares if they had an affair, but everyone should care if they had integrity. Rand's integrity is worth carring about---and defending.

References to "caring about their bodies" creates distortion. Although I certainly agree that Rand's philosophy stands on it's own regardless of Rand's personal triumphs or the lack thereof.

Ste, eve, while I agree that the argument is, in fact, over Rand's integrity as a person (Valliant's book makes that clear too), I, personally, would prefer to focus on the ideas themselves.

I think that once you open this can of worms, especially with mainstream critics who reject Rand's moral framework to begin with, you end up in an endless debate over Rand's "consistency" or "hypocrisy," which, for me, tells us nothing, ultimately, about the integrity of her philosophic system. As you suggest, that integrity does not stand or fall with Rand's personal "triumphs" (or "failures" for that matter). And, as I've explained, I treat other thinkers in the same manner---not evaluating their philosophic legacy by (or reducing it to) their own ability (or inability) to practice what they preach.

Fortunately, we do have an intellectual division of labor, and there are plenty of others who prefer to focus on those personal dynamics. I'm not saying that that focus is illegitimate; it's just not mine.

Thank you for your response. I never posted here, or anywhere, before. I do benefit from reading your many thought provoking articles.

Two somewhat unrelated points I would like to make, neither of which really disagree with your above comment.

In my selfish desire to live in a world that shares my values, I want people to read Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged without the immediate mind block that "she's an atheist" or "she's a libertarian" (of course Rand was not a libertarian). The Brandons' messages have just added to the distortion by claiming she is a hypocrite. More far reaching, if it weren't clarified by Valient's book, historians will be distracted by the Brandons.

A second point. It is interesting to analyze NB's lie to Rand (at least as it is memorizlized through Rand's notes and NB's own accounts). Much discussion has focused on that NB lied, but not much discussion on the type of lie he chose to tell. If NB understood objectivism he never would have chosen the lie he told. The fact NB lied is proof NB was not acting as an Objectivist.

Assuming that the purpose of NB's lie was to fool Rand into believing that NB was an objectivist and was still romantically interested in Rand, NB told a lie that virtually confessed he was neither. NB provides Rand with information from which Rand could only conclude that NB did not know his highest values and he had drifted for a long time without knowing his highest values. There is no objectivist romance without an absolute clarity of one's highest values.

An objectivist can be factually or logically incorrect about his values and seek to change or amend them----but drifting is not within objectivist morality any more than choosing not to think is within Objectivist morality.

NB's discussion of a hypothetical third person is a virtual confession that he did not understand Rand's philosophy. [Dagny held Reardon as her highest value (although she would not have used that term then) until she met Gault. Dagny did not "drift" or feel any need to lie. Dagny had no concern about "how Reardon would react."]

NB's lie to Rand demonstrates a "libertarian rights" analysis of values not an objectivist sense of life. NB's self-defense focuses on Rand having no right to prevent his affairs and no right to impose an onerous and extreme punishment for NB's affair. Of course Rand had no "right" to prevent NB from having affairs, and no "right" to impose an unfair or extreme punishment. (Rand did have a right not to be lied to.)

Objectivism shares the libertarian recognition of not invading the rights of another. However, Objectivist morality requires far more than avoiding violating another's rights. An objectvist lives in accord with his values at all times because he has chosen those values as his own. Integrity to another is important, but integrity to oneself is paramount.

NB's focus in his relationship with Rand, or anyone else, per force must be on seeking his own highest values, or it is not moral. One should be faithful to a lover, becuase they are one's own highest value, not because they "made a commitment" or "a promise."

An objectivist stays in a relationship because that relationship is an expression of the values he chose, not out of some obligation that arises because his partner also chose him. An objectivist has integrity in a relationship primarily out of a commitment to his own values, and not primarily because he does not want to tread on his partner's rights.

To lie is not per se immoral. In order to judge, one must know all the facts. As you wrote in an earlier article, relationships are very complex, it is usually not worth my effort to unravel someone else's relationship in order to make such a judgment.

However, to not act in accord with one's own highest values is per se immoral. Of course, NB, or anyone else, is free to not be an objectist, and as long as they repect the rights of others, that is fine with me. NB had no libertarian duty to hold onto his highest values. NB was immoral as an objectivist to not do so.

The lack of integrity that Valiant's book exposes is that that NB did not act consistently with his own chosen values, and was in that sense immoral. Those who focus on a "rights" analysis focus on the lie to Rand as the primary immorality, as it invaded her rights to make a free, informed choice about her relationship with NB.

As is easy to see from Rand's notes, NB's lies, quickly alerted Rand that NB was not following objectivist morality. NB's belief that it was necessary to lie to Rand, shows he didn't understand objectivist morality. Once Rand was no longer NB's highest value, Rand would of course accept that fact. [If Reardon sought revenge on Dagney or Gault, I must have missed that part.] NB's primary concern at all times should have been on seeking NB's highest values.

For NB to claim that Rand would not or could not accept that she was no longer NB's highest value, is the equivilant of saying that Rand really did not understand objectivist morality. NB would then be lying to Rand to convince her that she was his highest value, in order to preserve his ability to help Rand decieve the public about an objectivist philosophy that neither she nor NB apparently had much faith in. Yes, it is just that preposterous.

One has merely to ask, exactly what highest value was NB seeking to achieve or preserve by his fraudulent therapy sessions with Rand?

Rand's notes show that Rand really did "mean it."

ste, eve, thanks again for your response here. I'm somewhat honored that you've not only never posted here, but anywhere before. Please feel free to come back and leave comments here at Notablog any time.

As to your comments, just a few points in response, which take us slightly off-topic.

1. You state that "of course Rand was not a libertarian." I agree that Rand never defined her mature political views as "libertarian." But I still titled the tenth chapter of my book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, "A Libertarian Politics" for a reason. As I have said in my other book, Total Freedom: Libertarianism is simply the political ideology of voluntarism: a commitment to voluntary action in a social context, where no individual or groups of individuals can legitimately initiate force against others. It's the modern equivalent of classical liberalism insofar as it is a celebration of the rule of law, and the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas.

Granted: the above definition/description is wide enough to include anarchists who celebrate the rule of law achieved through a "competitive" legal framework.

But "egoism" is the moral theory that roots morality in self-interest... and that is wide enough to include philosophers as different as Nietzsche, Stirner, and Rand.

And "capitalism" is a social system in which all property is privately owned ... but that leaves us with many unexamined implications too... not to mention the fact that most people would argue that Adam Smith, Carl Menger, Herbert Spencer, William G. Sumner, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman are all advocates of "free market capitalism."

But none of this stopped Rand from proclaiming a "new concept of egoism" or defending "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

In a sense, Rand's exploration of capitalism and egoism is an exploration of each of them as "unknown ideals"---since all prior conceptions of these terms were either wrong, or, at best, incomplete.

But I'd say the same about libertarianism; and at one time, Rand herself even used the word "libertarian" to describe her own politics (and the politics of those like Mises). It was only when the word became intensely identified with anarchists that she turned so violently against it.

In any event, for me, the bottom line: If it is legitimate to call Rand an "egoist," or a defender of "capitalism" ... then it is legitimate to call her a "libertarian" in her politics.

All of this said, I almost never characterize myself as a "libertarian" without qualification; one of my reasons for using the phrase "dialectical libertarianism" is that it does place me in, well, a different category altogether. :) In fact, few people would be caught dead uttering these words in the same sentence. :)

Anyway, that's just my take on it. (I'm not now and I have never been a member of the Libertarian Party; I think there is a distinction between upper-case Libertarian, in this context, and lower-case libertarian.)

2. With regard to your discussion of Rand and the Brandens: I discuss this at length in my review of Valliant's book here and there's a lively discussion that this provoked here. I am not wanting to re-open that discussion (it still goes down as the lengthiest thread in the history of Notablog), but I wanted you to at least be aware of my thoughts on the subject.

I didn't respond until I had a chance to fully re-read your RPH article. I'd like to respond to two issues. NB and the label "liberarian." That label itself can be an ad hominem attack, in some circles.

By the way, I am not judging NB, except in the limited context of his deception of Rand and the unfortunate effects caused by NB's discrediting or Rand. Of course, that is the only context that is relevant to me. I assume NB was an intellectual giant and a great man, or Rand would not have spent so much time with him, or held him in such high esteem. I don't think I will ever personally know enough to understand the nature of the relationship between them-----besides I'm much more interested in understanding the relationship between Dominique and Roark.

RPH is an excellent article {It's what originally brought me to your site} and I agree with many of your major points. However, I think perhaps my previous post was not sufficiently clear.

I was not pointing out that NB was immoral to lie. That point is not only obvious, but you already said it. Heck, Valliant and NB wrote books about it.

I was trying to make a new point about NB's attack of Rand; i.e., that the lie itself was flawed and exposed NB's objectivist errors. Since even my friends think I'm not sufficiently clear, I developed an analogy that I think makes my point, if you have the patience to read on.

An example: If X tried to empress Kant that X was an altruist by making the following false claim: "I risked my life to save my son from drowning, but unfortunately I had to let the stranger next to my son drown." X would be immoral to lie in order to achieve a false social metaphysical value of Kant's approval. However, X would also be demonstrating X did not understand Kant's version of altuism-----that Kant would prefer that X let X's son drown, save the stranger, and then tell no one, nor even feel proud. The correct lie to Kant would be to pay someone to tell Kant that "X had let his son drown to save a stranger but X didn't want anyone to know. The anology holds the same whether the liar, X, wanted to actually be a Kantian altruist, or was a wanna-be Objectivist.

The same can be said about NB's deception to Rand. It was a lie that exposed that NB did not uderstand that his fabricated story exposed his lack of understanding of Objectivist values. One example is repeated by you in RPH. The possibility of a Ms. X. Perhaps this explanation would make my previous post more clear.

I've said enough about that for now at least. I also want to respect your "division of labor in philosophy."

The libertarian issue. To me, libertarianism is a bit like a manual on how to sail a boat. It provides some excellent basic sailing rules, but it provides no quidance on where to go. Since the whole point of my life is to decide "where to go" the moral values as expressed by objectivism are indispensible to me.

Another concern of mine, is that I view libertarians, as sometimes tending to be intrinsicists. With no overarching moral theory, the libertarian rules can be come the equivilant of the book of Moses (the Milton Freedman tablets?). Hedonists and anarchists are examples. I don't think that the istrinsisim is intentional, but is the result of not begining with Rand's egoism. To respect the rights of others is great, but it doesn't help me decide what to do with my life.

I enjoyed your "capitalist" example. Adam Smith was a near mystic with his "invisible hand" explanation. Mises and Hayek may have staved off the Dark Ages by exposing the dangers of government controlled economies, but were still altruists in a sense. I think only Rand defended capitalism on moral grounds.

However, as far as capitalism goes, none of them held a position that was contrary to capitlism, therefore they all fairly come within the concept of "capitalist." (as you defined it.) I believe the label libertarian is insconsistent with objectism, even though they share "the rules of sailing."

HOWEVER, I will add chapter 10 of your book to my reading list, and give the issue some more thought.

Your comments on the Branden issue were thought-provoking. At the very least, I certainly do agree that NB's choices at that time showed a 'disconnect' between his enunciated understanding of abstract principles and his lack of integration or application of said principles into the context of his own life.

On libertarianism and intrinsicism: I think you're right that there are so many libertarians who approach the whole issue of freedom from an intrinsicist perspective. And it undercuts, in my view, their very commitment to freedom.

But I still think one can use the word "libertarianism" in a very general sense in the way I've described---even as one emphasizes that such a doctrine be based on objective premises.

One of the reasons I've called myself a "dialectical libertarian," btw, is precisely because I almost have an aversion to using either word without qualification. :)