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Nathaniel Branden Symposium Reviews Begin

Anoop Verma has written a review of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden. Readers can find that review here, though the review has sparked a dialogue on Anoop's Facebook page.

I made one comment on the current thread (and will update readers as time allows):

I would just like to make one comment here, having been a coeditor on this project. Nobody should be speculating on what the "movement" would have been like had Nathaniel Branden not been there; this is a completely ahistorical way of looking at the world. We are not soothsayers; nor are we fiction writers who can easily recreate alternative realities. Reality is what it is independent of what people think or feel; Branden was there from 1950 onward. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to both Nathaniel Branden and Frank O'Connor; who knows how different Atlas would have been had Nathaniel not been in Ayn Rand's life? Would we have had the same plot and same romantic entanglements of Dagny with three men (John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Francisco d'Anconia)? Who knows?
Bottom line is: deal with what is, and form your judgments. Branden was there from 1950, and Rand and Branden went their separate ways in 1968. You may disagree with the directions that Rand and/or Branden went, but the fact is that Rand said explicitly that all the pre-1968 writings and lectures of both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden remained among the "only authentic sources" on Objectivism, in addition to her own work and the work of others featured in periodicals that she edited. As we say in Brooklyn: "Dems de facts." End of story. (And by the way, if there were no Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden in Rand's life, there would also have been no Leonard Peikoff, and so on...)
Those pre-1968 Branden writings and lectures are part of canonical Objectivism whether you like it or not; take them out of the canon, and you can take out all the essays and lectures that Branden contributed on perception, volition, the stolen concept, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, psychological visibility, romantic love, and countless other subjects, including analyses of Rand's literary method. Not to mention the essays that made it into both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (in the latter work, this includes all of the material that Branden integrated into the Objectivist corpus from the economic writings of Austrian economics).
And in terms of Barbara Branden, we have the only authorized course (a ten-lecture course) on "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which might as well have been renamed "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," since it is the only course to deal extensively with that crucial subject in the entire Objectivist tradition (oral and written). Nathaniel Branden himself credits Barbara Branden with having introduced both he and Rand to this crucial area of study.
Also note that Rand counted Who is Ayn Rand? (co-written by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) as among those only "authentic" sources containing information about her and her philosophy, and that that particular book has the only authorized biography written (by Barbara Branden) in Rand's lifetime.
I would prefer, of course, as a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that if readers would like to participate in a thread on the symposium, it would be great if they actually read the symposium and offer their critical comments as Anoop has done here. The essays in the symposium are not purely "hagiographical"; yes, some of the reflections are deeply personal and laudatory. But the subject matter of the symposium is made up of many different perspectives coming from many different disciplines; it is the only anthology of such essays of its kind. In fact it is the first of what we hope will be many more studies of Branden's work to come.

Additional comments were made on this thread; on December 31, 2016, I posted three additional comments, all in response to questions posed by Anoop Verma, whose review of the symposium is the subject of the thread.

Anoop wondered about the timeline of the relationships between Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff, and about the relationships among these individuals; he also asked about the book Who is Ayn Rand?. I wrote:

Hi, Anoop: you can basically get all the facts from two sources; one is of course Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, where she tells us on page 246 that after Nathaniel met Rand in 1950, and then she met Rand, they introduced Rand to others, including Barbara's dear friend Joan Mitchell (who had been briefly married to Alan Greenspan), and her 17-year old cousin Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff tells us in his essay "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," that he met her [Rand] when he was 17 in the spring of 1951. It should also be mentioned that almost the entire inner circle, that which became "The Collective", was made up of friends and cousins of Nathaniel Branden (then, Nathan Blumenthal) and Barbara Branden (then, Barbara Weidman): Elayne Blumenthal (Nathan's sister, who eventually married Harry Kalberman); Allan Blumenthal (Nathaniel's first cousin, who eventually married Joan Mitchell), etc. Others who came into the inner circle included Mary Ann Rukavina (who became Mary Ann Sures) and Joan Kennedy Taylor (who read an advance copy of Atlas and was daughter of Deems Taylor, composer). Hope this clarifies things; in essence, it was almost a family affair!

I added:

One other point: Barbara Branden was Rand's first biographer who wrote the first authorized biography in "Who is Ayn Rand?" but she also majored in philosophy and got a master's degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University (who was also the mentor to Leonard Peikoff, who completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU). Barbara did review books for Rand's periodicals and delivered a course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which is on its way to becoming a print publication, published by Cobden Press, for which I have written the foreword. It is a fine work on one aspect of philosophy: psycho-epistemology (which pertains not to the content of awareness but to the methods, means, and mechanics by which we think).

I added:

Nathaniel wrote three essays for "Who is Ayn Rand?": "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged"; "Objectivism and Psychology"; and "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"; this is followed by "A Biographical Essay": "Who is Ayn Rand?", the title essay of the book, the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, written by Barbara Branden. Most of the material for this was gleaned from the many hours of biographical interviews of Ayn Rand conducted in 1960-1961 by both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Check the materials I sent you and you'll find the authorized biography as the last chapter of the book.

I made an additional observation about Leonard Peikoff:

One other point, btw: None of my own admiration of Nathaniel Branden has affected any of my admiration for some of the important work, indeed--indispensable work--that Leonard Peikoff has done in the area of articulating Objectivist philosophy and extending some of the insights of Rand into areas in which Rand did not venture. Certainly his Ominous Parallels has some very important things to say about the phenomenon of Nazism, as well as the nature of social domination; his book on Objectivism includes crucially important material that was taken from the course he gave under Rand's auspices, but never put into print by Rand herself; his Understanding Objectivism is, for me, perhaps the most important series of lectures he ever gave, and I'm happy that it is now out in some form (even if not in its original packaging; that is, for example, we don't have Edith Packer's contribution to that course in print for obvious reasons: she and Peikoff parted ways some years ago in the split between Peikoff and George Reisman). I have learned immensely from Peikoff's work; a sizeable portion of my own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical cites his published work and so much of the work he did in lectures that can only be found in the "oral tradition" of Objectivism, on subjects as varied as the philosophy of history and the principles of logic.