Saturday, August 15, 2009

Retouching Rand

Objectiblog's Neil Parille looks at the ongoing campaign to invent the Perfect Rand.
"A half-truth, in many issues, is more misleading than an outright lie; it is more of a distortion. Therefore if a reporter cannot reveal the whole truth in a given issue, he should not touch that issue at all." -- Ayn Rand, Objectively Speaking, p. 68.
One of the most genuinely weird features of Objectivism is the compulsion amongst orthodox Objectivists to mythologize Ayn Rand. This compulsion extends to even the most trivial aspects of her personality or life story, which, in classic cult of personality style, are the subject of deliberate and extensive rewriting, airbrushing, and half-truths until they are in accord with Objectivism's internal mythology.

The apogee of this compulsion to falsify in the service of the Great Randian Myth is probably James Valliant's bizarre The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics (“PARC”), a must-read for anyone who wants a glimpse inside Objectivism's cultic side. I've documented its many apple-polishing distortions and - often hilarious - outright fakery in considerable detail here.

Orthodox Objectivists, led by the Ayn Rand Institute, claim that Rand has been maliciously portrayed in the past by evildoers, and that they are trying to restore the true picture of Rand as humanity's foremost moral and intellectual exemplar. However, given that it's been recently confirmed that the ARI have surreptitiously and comprehensively rewritten Rand's own work to be more consistent with the myth, it is unlikely they'll be any less dishonest in the presentation of Rand's life.

Contrary to what orthodox Objectivists contend, Rand’s “bad side” is amply and credibly documented. In 1986 Barbara Branden published her biography of Rand entitled The Passion of Ayn Rand. Although Branden’s description of Rand was in many ways positive, it contained much that was critical. Rand held eccentric beliefs (such as cancer was caused by “bad premises”), was prone to moralizing over aesthetic matters, possessed a volcanic temper, was controlling, demanded strict loyalty, and held exaggerated views about herself, her husband and even Nathaniel and Barbara Branden (prior to their 1968 split). Barbara Branden’s portrayal of Rand was based on 18 years of close personal association and over 200 interviews. Robert Hessen, a professionally trained historian and biographer who knew Rand well from the 1950s until shortly before her death, opined that the biography was mostly accurate and if anything was too easy on Rand’s “inexcusable anger, rudeness and cruelty.”

The response from the ARI has been a strenuous counter campaign both denigrating the Brandens and trying to replace this warts-and-all-portrait of Rand with one ever more airbrushed into mythological consistency.

In 2005, ARI supporter James Valliant published PARC. This book -- which is endorsed by Leonard Peikoff and is sold by the ARI’s book store – was in effect a proxy for Peikoff’s belated in-depth response to Barbara Branden’s biography (and Nathaniel Branden’s memoirs). Following what appears to have become something of a party line, Valliant (following Peikoff*) explicitly identifies an occasional anger as her only character flaw, and that even that was well justified; and perhaps in the bigger scheme of the fight for Objectivism against the forces of evil, not even a character flaw at all.

In order to airbrush the inconvenient facts of Rand's personal life and behaviour away, Valliant engages in blatant misinterpretations of the Brandens’ books and other publicly available information. Indeed, just how much Kool Aid Valliant is drinking becomes evident when he blatantly distorts not just the testimony of others, but the testimony of Rand herself that he has reprinted in his own book. For example, in order to promote the myth that Rand was immune from envy (an emotion that contradicts Objectivist doctrine) Valliant tries to pretend Rand wasn't jealous of her lover Nathaniel Branden’s gorgeous new girlfriend Patrecia Scott - a claim flatly contradicted by the quotes from Rand's diaries reprinted in Valliant's book. As summarized by Daniel Barnes here at the ARCHNblog:
Only those inhaling the rarified air of Objectivist psycho-epistemology would not find the following statements rather conclusive evidence of Rand’s jealousy:

Rand: "...he [Branden] kept insisting that he sees some wonderful qualities in her, which he could not define and which were not seen, nor even sensed, by anyone else (most emphatically not by me)..."

Rand: "And what did he get in exchange for his mind and soul? Nothing. That is the grotesque emptiness of evil. Nothing but the empty chatter with [Patrecia] at their lunches...listening to the theatrical prattling of a girl who bores much lesser minds within half an hour...what else was there to do with a girl of that kind?...If one looks at the above in realistic, existential terms, it becomes pure insanity: why would would a man want to give up all the values representing his mind and his career...in exchange for this sort of silly, trashy, vulgar, juvenile nonsense?"

Rand: "[Patrecia] was disgustingly phony, and I felt strained..."

Rand: "Symbolically, this was a battle between my universe and [Patrecia's]. Existentially and objectively, the choice to keep [Patrecia's] and to reject [mine] speaks for itself..."

Rand: "Existentially, he must not have any romantic or even friendship relationship with [Patrecia]..."

Rand: I feel the strongest contempt I have ever felt - and I regard [Branden], for his relationship with [Patrecia] as the worst traitor and the most immoral person I have ever met..."
Like the old Chico Marx line says, who are you going to believe - Valliant or your own lying eyes?

Similar mental gymnastics have been performed by ARI scholars such as Robert Mayhew as they try to rationalize Rand’s claim that her later revisions to her early novel We the Living were only “editorial line changes” when in fact they were substantial. Most would see the first edition of We the Living as representative of a Nietzscheian phase in Rand’s early life, a phase she hadn’t completely left as late as the publication of Atlas Shrugged.

Likewise, even though Rand praised Nathaniel Branden’s works (and declined to delete them from reprints of her anthologies), ARI scholars such as Mayhew and Tara Smith studiously avoid any mention of him. In fact, Mayhew even attributes an essay by Branden to Rand in the index of his Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A.

A particularly blatant example of rewriting Rand’s life was done by Leonard Peikoff in his 2006 account of Ayn Rand’s decision to stop smoking.

Barbara Branden relates in Passion that Rand, a lifelong smoker, refused to stop smoking claiming that there was insufficient evidence that smoking caused cancer. Branden states, however, that Rand immediately stopped smoking in 1975 when her doctor showed her an x-ray indicating that there was a “malignancy” in her left lung. (The malignancy turned out to be cancer.) Rand put out her cigarette in the doctor’s office and never smoked again.

Branden’s version of events was confirmed in 2000 by ARI writer Andrew Lewis.
Miss Rand smoked for many years, until her doctor told her to quit. She put the cigarette out in his office and never smoked again.
In contrast, Leonard Peikoff, in 2006, gave a mythologised version of events:
Q: If Ayn Rand were still alive, would she smoke?

A: No. As a matter of fact, she stopped smoking in 1975. When the Surgeon General in the 50s claimed that smoking was dangerous, he offered nothing to defend this view but statistical correlations. Ayn Rand, of course, dismissed any alleged “science” hawked by Floyd Ferris, nor did she accept statistics as a means of establishing cause and effect. Statistics, she held, may offer a lead to further inquiry but, by themselves, they are an expression of ignorance, not a form of knowledge. For a long period of time, as an example, there was a high statistical correlation between the number of semicolons on the front page of The New York Times and the number of deaths among widows in a certain part of India.
In due course, when scientists had studied the question, she and all of us came to grasp the mechanism by which smoking produces its effects—and we stopped. Doesn't this prove, you might ask, that she was wrong to mistrust the government? My answer: even pathological liars sometimes tell the truth. Should you therefore heed their advice?
Peikoff’s version of events is a half-truth and thus, according to Rand, perhaps worse than a lie. Non-Objectivists would probably be content to say that it was so misleading as to constitute a lie.
But to ask more important questions: Why does Leonard Peikoff consider it necessary to lie about Rand, in particular when the account that Barbara Branden relates about Rand’s decision to stop smoking is, in its own way, inspirational? Why do ARI scholars consider it necessary to ignore the influence of thinkers such as Nietzsche on her work or the contributions of Nathaniel Branden to the Objectivist movement? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Rand had an inflated ego and a self-estimation that bordered on the delusional. Not only do ARI supporters have to justify this, but during Rand’s life the sycophancy of the orthodox Objectivism’s current leadership no doubt fed Rand’s borderline megalomania. For example, Allan Gotthelf relates that Rand once said that “I’ve done for consciousness what Aristotle did for metaphysics.” Gotthelf responded, “yes, that’s true.” In particular Leonard Peikoff has paid a high personal price to become Rand’s legal and alleged “intellectual” heir. He was even exiled by Rand to Denver for a time for failing to insufficiently advance Objectivism.

2. Rand also set in motion the claim that her philosophy did not undergo any changes, even telling an interviewer later in her life that she had held the same philosophy since her first memory at age 2 and a half. That Rand went through a Nietzschean phase would suggest that she was not a consistent Objectivist and that her own life’s story was false.

3. A high estimation of Rand the person functions as what sociologists call a “boundary marker.” It identifies those who are “in” and “out.” Those who dissent from a high regard for Rand the person are most likely to question aspects of her philosophy, such as her interpretation of other philosophers and the lack of empirical basis for many of her judgments.

4. Rand saw a particularly close connection between her philosophy and her life. She famously said that her life was postscript to her philosophy: “and I mean it.” To Rand her life was the perfect exemplar of an ideal Objectivist and living proof that the theory/practice and mind/body dichotomy that plagued Western civilization since Plato had been put to rest. If Rand can’t live up to Objectivist standards, then what does that say about Objectivism as a “philosophy for living on earth”?
- Neil Parille
* “My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand,” his 1987 Ford Hall Forum lecture



110 comments:

Neil Parille said...

I'd mention that whatever the original motivation of people like Peikoff was, it has now turned into a permanent power trip for the ARI. They alone are competent to opine on Rand's life.

I don't think I have seen a single mention of either the Burns or the Heller book on any of the ARI blogs I check.

You'd think ARI types would be happy that two authors will be giving independent reviews of the Branden accounts, but apparently not.

I guess they think we should wait until 2097 until the authorized bio arrives.

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent post, Neil. But you need to brush up on your Marxism. It wasn't Groucho who spoke the "who are you going to believe?" line. It was Chico, in "Duck Soup."

The actual line is, "Who you gonna believe - me or your own eyes?" I admit that "lying eyes" is funnier.

Here's something Groucho did say: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know. Then we tried to remove the tusks ... But they were embedded so firmly we couldn't budge them.
Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa, but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about."

Ba-da-bing!

Michael Prescott said...

Incidentally, back when I was an Objectivist (but starting to waver), I mentioned to another Objectivist that everybody has character flaws, including Ayn Rand. I still remember the shocked, disbelieving look on her face as she repeated incredulously, "Character flaws? Ayn Rand?!"

In the same vein, here's an excerpt from The Ayn Rand Cult, by Jeff Walker (emphasis in original):

"Binswanger doesn't think there were any negative elements in Rand's character. Well, 'she spoke with an accent,' but 'that's not a moral issue ... Hypothetically, if you have a great figure, whom the fate of the world depends on, and they have a few minor character flaws, and the world is against that person, I wouldn't put them into a biography until that person had, perhaps a hundred years later, gained the recognition they deserve.' " (page 86)

He's just speaking "hypothetically," of course.

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

This is what I said:

__

I guess they think we should wait until 2097 until the authorized bio arrives.

___

Apparently, according to Dr. B., I was off by 15 years.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mike:
>Excellent post, Neil. But you need to brush up on your Marxism.

That was my fault, Mike. A sub-editorial insertion...;-) We stand corrected.

Richard said...

I guess they think we should wait until 2097 until the authorized bio arrives.

For what it's worth, my speculation has long been that a full-length authorized biography (not the abbreviated ones already available) will appear shortly after the deaths of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. I doubt they will live quite that long.

gregnyquist said...

I guess they think we should wait until 2097 until the authorized bio arrives.

Perhaps the real reason why no such bio has appeared in the 27 years since Rand's death is that ARI hasn't found anyone either willing or qualified to do it. Authoring full length books hardly seems high on the list of the talents of the typical denizen of ARI. Nor are any of them, as far as I know, biographers or even writers of history by trade. Writing polemical essays which involve little research beyond dipping into the Objectivist canon and the occasional ARI approved work hardly prepares one for the sheer scholarly grunt work involved in biographical writing

Neil Parille said...

Greg and Richard,

It appears that Shoshana Milgram is writing an intellectual biography of Rand up to 57, with possibly a second volume.

Milgram is a careful scholar and she has an essay in Mayhew's Fountainhead collection in which she shows that Rand went though a Nietschean phase.

Speaking of the Brandens, it is often said that it was unfair for them to write and publish their accounts after Rand died. (It's possible that Barbara's book could have appeared during Rand's life.) But let's remember that Rand accused Nathaniel of financial wrongdoing in '68 (making a loan that depleted the cash reserves of The Objectivist). Branden denied it. There was nothing to prevent Rand from releasing the documents backing her claim. There is nothing to prevent Peikoff from doing that today. I suspect that the documents don't support Rand.

Richard said...

Speaking of the Brandens, it is often said that it was unfair for them to write and publish their accounts after Rand died.

Actually, it may have been necessary. There's an obscure booklet called In Defense of Ayn Rand by Virginia L.L. Hamel. In it, Hamel reports digging up court documents from an alimony dispute between the Brandens. These included a copy of a 1969 legal agreement between Rand and Barbara Branden requiring the parties to make no "derogatory statement" about their relationship. Hamel says a similar agreement with Nathaniel was referenced but not attached. If her information is accurate, then waiting until Rand's death to publish their books might not have been optional.

Neil Parille said...

Hi Richard,

I tried to get that booklet, but haven't been able to locate a copy. If what Hammel says is true, that isn't consistent with what the Brandens report, best I can remember.

Neil Parille said...

There are apparently a couple of used copies available via amazon.

Richard said...

If what Hammel says is true, that isn't consistent with what the Brandens report, best I can remember.

If you mean their statement "In Answer to Ayn Rand," where they said they had refused to sign such an agreement, that was issued in 1968. The document Hamel found was from 1969. One of her themes is that the Brandens were less than forthcoming about some things that happened after the break.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

No, I mean that I don't recall the Brandens saying that they reached such an agreement post-68 split. All I recall is Nathaniel saying that there were some negotiations about his being able to use articles he wrote in TO and Rand not wanting him to sue her.

I'll have to check their books though.

Richard said...

No, I mean that I don't recall the Brandens saying that they reached such an agreement post-68 split.

I guess I wasn't very clear. Hamel's point is that they don't say it. She argues that the implication in their books is that they never made any agreement with Rand, but they don't say that explicitly. If they really did reach such agreements (which they almost certainly did if Hamel's account is accurate), then it's a somewhat conspicuous omission. Hamel accuses both Brandens of omitting relevant facts, including not only the aforementioned agreements, but also items like a post-NBI business venture they had and some extravagant gifts that Rand gave Nathaniel before the break.

I was surprised that your favorite author never used Hamel's research. It seems to fit nicely with some of his own efforts.

BTW, in case it isn't obvious, I am not the "Richard" who has been commenting on your own blog recently.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ordering the Hamel effort now, thanks Richard...;-)

KateGladstone said...

The link to Neil Parille's Objectiblog fails; make it http://www.objectiblog.com .

Michael Prescott said...

The link should be:

http://objectiblog.blogspot.com/

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

Nor does Valliant make use of the various points in David Hayes' internet article on Barbara Branden's bio, which is much better than his book.

I think Valliant is so intent on pressing the idea that the Brandens are bad because they betrayed Rand, or disagree with her on certain issues (such as moral judgment), that he doesn't take advantage of some of the more obvious questions with respect to their books.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

But if what Hammel is saying is true, doesn't it undercut Rand?, e.g., making it look like the '68 statement was something of a hissy fit?

Daniel Barnes said...

Link fixed thanks...;-)

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

When you write, "post-NBI business venture they had," do you mean that the Brandens had with each other or one (or both) had with Rand?

Richard said...

When you write, "post-NBI business venture they had," do you mean that the Brandens had with each other or one (or both) had with Rand?

It was a venture the Brandens had with each other, plus a couple of other former Rand associates. (Juicy quote from Hamel: "It was an intimate little group with much in common, including Barbara, who had slept with at least three of the four men involved.") It was called Academic Associates, and it attempted to sell former NBI materials about Objectivism. Apparently not very successfully, since it went bankrupt.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

I'm not sure how that undercuts the Brandens' account. It does show, I imagine, that without Rand's name selling tapes and the like wasn't likely to be succesful. But the reorganized NBI that Barbara suggested to Rand did involve the tacit support of Rand, from what I recall.

Xtra Laj said...

(Juicy quote from Hamel: "It was an intimate little group with much in common, including Barbara, who had slept with at least three of the four men involved.")

Give Barbara some credit - she was being a true Randian Heroine!

Richard said...

I'm not sure how that undercuts the Brandens' account.

A great deal of Hamel's booklet is narrative (albeit occasionally snarky, as in the case I quoted) rather than argument. I suspect she expected that many of her readers would not have read the Brandens' books. And unlike Valliant, who always pounds his points into the ground, sometimes Hamel's purposes in recounting a matter aren't entirely clear. But I believe the upshot is that the Brandens had financial motivations for keeping a relationship with Rand, and their accounts omit information that would reveal those motivations. There's also a general implication that their accounts are intentionally incomplete, so other important information may be missing from the record.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

I just ordered a copy. I can't find anything out about the lady.

Richard said...

I just ordered a copy. I can't find anything out about the lady.

There's an author blurb on the back cover. Don't have it in front of me at the moment, but as I recall she worked in a medical job of some kind. (At one point she gives an extended analysis of the autopsy report for Patrecia Branden.) The whole thing is a vanity-published assembly of three essays that Hamel had circulated privately. If she did it today, I imagine it would be a blog. Not something I would recommend for a casual reader looking for Rand biography, but it has the virtue of providing some interesting original research.

Neil Parille said...

Dan,

You must have ordered the one reasonable priced copy of Hamel's book.

I did see another book that looks interesting, In Defense of Altruism: Inadequacies of Ayn Rand's Ethics and Psychological Egoism by Lloyd Bishop.

Richard said...

You must have ordered the one reasonable priced copy of Hamel's book.

My recollection is that there is no such thing. This is a rare, privately published booklet desirable only to collectors and a handful of researchers, and can't be found through any venue other than used booksellers or sites like eBay.

I did see another book that looks interesting, In Defense of Altruism: Inadequacies of Ayn Rand's Ethics and Psychological Egoism by Lloyd Bishop.

I'll repeat the description from my own website:

--begin quote--
After discovering the "shocking" fact that "Rand is still being enthusiastically read by undergraduates," Bishop decided to write "an informal essay" to fight "the pernicious influence of Rand's philosophy on young minds." This essay forms the second part
of Bishop's book.
--end quote--

The aforementioned essay is pretty typical of what happens when someone who doesn't understand Rand undertakes to critique her. YMMV

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

There was a copy of the Hamel book Amazon for $16 or so. There currently is another available for $107.

Richard said...

There was a copy of the Hamel book Amazon for $16 or so. There currently is another available for $107.

The $16 sounds like an aberration. When I bought my copy several years back, I tracked prices for several months and never found a copy below $70.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

What is "YMMV"?

I think a psychological critique of Rand's ethics would be interesting. What would happen if people decided to be charitable and help others only if they could justify it on rational self-interest?

Richard said...

What is "YMMV"?

"Your mileage may vary." A critique that I find uninteresting might be greatly enjoyed by another.

I think a psychological critique of Rand's ethics would be interesting. What would happen if people decided to be charitable and help others only if they could justify it on rational self-interest?

That's not a question Bishop addresses. The subtitle is misleading. It says, "Inadequacies of Ayn Rand's Ethics and Psychological Egoism," which makes it sound like psychological egoism is a position he attributes to Rand. It also makes it sound like she is the major focus of the book. The bulk of the book is about psychological egoism, a position which Rand did not hold and which Bishop does not attribute to her. Her name only appears once in Part One of the book. She is the focus of the much shorter Part Two (about 45 pages). Other than defending "altruism" from "egoism," any relationship between the two parts is unclear.

Barbara Branden said...

It had always been understood between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden that just as she was free to use material she had published in The Objectivist and the Objectivist Newsletter, he was of course similarly free to use the materlal he had published there - much of which was written, as was widely known, as sections of his forthcoming book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Late in 1968, Rand unilaterally reneged on their agreement.

Through her lawyer, she set, as the price of releasing Nathaniel's copyrights to his writings, a number of conditions,. Chief among them were the following. Nathaniel and I must guarantee not to initiate an action for libel against her; and we must further guarantee -- in perpetuity - not to defend ourselves against the charges made in her article, "To Whom it May Concern," that is, to make no statement or comment of any kind, oral or written, about the article.

We of course rejected Rand's conditions.

Barbara Branden

Barbara Branden said...

Richard:"Speaking of the Brandens, it is often said that it was unfair for them to write and publish their accounts after Rand died."

News Flash: Although movie actors sometimes celebrate their twelfth birthdays by publishing their autobiographies, it is considered ideal-- with some exceptions -- to write a biography after the subject has died, so that a complete life and a complete work may be viewed, analyzed, and understood.

However. I began researching "The Passion of Ayn Rand" in 1981, not knowing if Rand would be alive or dead when it was completed. I felt that the story of her life was, by then, essentially completed, ready to be viewed and considered.

Neil Parille said...

Barbara,

____

Speaking of the Brandens, it is often said that it was unfair for them to write and publish their accounts after Rand died.

____

It was I who said that, not Richard. I don't think it was unfair for you and Nathaniel to publish your books when you did, but just pointing out that there are problems with this claim, one of which I mentioned.

Richard said...

Barbara Branden wrote:

We of course rejected Rand's conditions.

So here is what I hope is a simple yes/no question: Did you ever reach a legal agreement with Ayn Rand and/or The Objectivist at any time after August 1968?

I'm trying to ask this as clearly as possible because there is published material indicating one answer to this question, while your statements suggest a different answer without quite saying it explicitly.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "I believe the upshot [of Hamel's book] is that the Brandens had financial motivations for keeping a relationship with Rand, and their accounts omit information that would reveal those motivations."

While I suspect it's unlikely (and psychologically improbable) that financial motivations played any significant role in keeping their relationship with Rand, so what if they did? Isn't that what Objectivism all about, selfishness, looking out for number one, the "trader principle" and all that? If it is argued that the Brandens lied to keep the money flowing in (as if they were reaping huge profits), one could easily reply (using the same sort of rationalizing that is used by the Brandens' critics) that Rand's pathological jealousy gave them little choice. After all, honesty is merely a contextual moral absolute, as any good Objectivist knows; and if telling the truth to an irrational person is going to make them more irrational, one could argue that it's best to remain silent.

Let's face it, these issues of financial motivation are raised merely as pretexts for discrediting the Brandens by people who have already made up their minds ahead of time and don't have any hard facts to back up their views. Whether allegations of financial motivations are true or not is irrelevant to the broader claims made by the Brandens about Rand, since, in all important essentials, these claims have been verified by other witnesses, and it is improbable that so many people would lie.

Barbara Branden said...

Richard: "So here is what I hope is a simple yes/no question: Did you ever reach a legal agreement with Ayn Rand and/or The Objectivist at any time after August 1968?"

No.

Neil Parille said...

The claim that the Brandens were motivated by financial concerns goes back to Rand herself in her '68 statement, in which she all but accused NB of defrauding her. She also implied that BB was motivated by money, if I recall. Certainly NB's financial situation improved when he moved to California. Rand was going to name BB her heir, which prompted Barbara to tell the full truth. So money doesn't appear to have been the driving motivation.

As I mentioned above, Rand accused NB of making a transfer of money from The Objectivist to NBI that reduced TO's cash reserves to almost nothing. Rand could have made the financial statements public.

As Greg notes, plenty of people who knew Rand have described her in the same way as the Brandens. If Anne Heller's bio confirms the Valliant/Peikoff description of Rand I'd be shocked.

Neil Parille said...

Speaking of Rand biographies, Jennifer Burns said on her blog that she was given access to the Archives on condition that she would not use the matieral to write a full-scale bio of Rand because Shoshana Milgram was writing an authorized biography. This was in 2001.

It now appears that Milgram is writing only an intellectual biography of Rand, perhaps only up to '57.

So I wonder if there will be a full-scale authorized biography of Rand. It doesn't appear that there is one in the works.

Neil Parille said...

As a final point, how would an authorized biographer deal with the Brandens and the other people Rand split with?

Someone such as Valliant can say that they all conspired to provide a dishonest view of Rand, but a competent ARIan would have to explain why so many people who knew Rand (including those who never split with her) have described her in the same way as the Brandens.

And after years of writing the author could wind up denounced by Peikoff and kicked out of the movement.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody really care what went on with Rand and the Brandens all those years ago?
Rand is dad and I'm sure the Brandens have moved on so why dig it all up again. I mean it wasnt very interesting first time round and over 40 years later it's even more tedious.
I read Barbara Brandens book on Ayn Rand and found it mediocre at best, it wasn't very interesting apart from part where Ayn finds out Nathaniel was 'cheating' in her with a younger woman. That at least was fun to see her reaction to it.
But come on, if you are still debating the 1968 split today, in the words of William Shatner "get a life!".
Would anybody here give two cents if Peikoff denounced them and kicked them out of the ARI?

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "Does anybody really care what went on with Rand and the Brandens all those years ago?"

The fact is, a lot of people care (often more than they like to admit). And they care for an important reason: namely, that Rand's creditably is the most important asset she has, and the revelations of the Branden's about her personal character undermine her creditability. Let's face it: most people become Objectivists when they are really young, before they have much experience in life and before they have had chance to develop any sort of reliable philosophical literacy. There are doctrines in Objectivism (e.g., her view of human nature, history, etc.) for which Rand provides neither evidence nor logical argumentation. To believe these doctrines, you have accept Rand as a special kind of authority. There is not anything necessarily wrong with this. We take all kinds of people as authorities. It would be impossible for each and every one of us to validate or test all the knowledge claims out there; so, up to a certain point, we have to rely on others to do this for us. But the very fact that we must rely on others makes it important that we select trustworthy and capable authorities. This is where so-called argument ad hominem comes in, and why, even though it is technically a logical fallacy, we can't do entirely without it when judging the reliability of some self-appointed authority. Obviously, it would be preferable if we could test all our knowledge ourselves, so we could avoid these problematic makeshifts. But since this is not possible, we have to make do with these devices or else give up altogether. And so if someone like Rand is taken as authority, the question whether she can be viewed as reliable authority becomes unavoidable. If Rand claims that her principles are "rational," that her morality is practical, that human beings really are as they are portrayed in Atlas Shrugged, and that her own personal life represents (at least by implication) empirical evidence of these claims, then her personal life becomes an important issue. If we are asked to believe things on Rand's say-so alone and to trust Rand's judgment, then how she used her judgment in her personal life also becomes an issue. I suspect that the people who run ARI intuitively sense all this, and that is (partially) why they go to such great lengths to deny or conceal any evidence that damages Rand's image as the perfect embodiment of the Objectivist morality.

Neil Parille said...

Anon,

If anyone is doing the debating, it would appear to be the ARI and its supporters.

The Brandens describe Rand in a certain way. Plenty of people who knew her say the same thing.

Then along comes the ARI claiming that Rand didn't have these flaws, without of course telling us why people who knew her well are mistaken or lying.

Richard said...

Greg wrote:

While I suspect it's unlikely (and psychologically improbable) that financial motivations played any significant role in keeping their relationship with Rand ...

It hardly seems "psychologically improbable" that someone would be motivated to maintain a relationship with a patron from whom they gain financial benefits, even to the point that they might lie to said patron. 'Trite' would be a better term than 'improbable'.

...so what if they did?

I believe at least one "so what" was in the statement you quoted: "...and their accounts omit information that would reveal those motivations." Presumably it is helpful, when reading a biographical account, to know if that account contains a systematic bias of some kind.

While I realize this may be a difficult notion to convey, I'll try anyway: There are those that actually care more about discovering the truth about a subject, than about drawing cartoon versions of it for use in ideological battle. I realize this may appear to some to be a fantasy akin to elves or unicorns, but amazingly such people exist. They can question the accuracy and perspectives of a source without such questions being "pretexts for discrediting" it. They can believe a source is flawed without discarding it wholesale, deciding that some elements it contains are accurate and others are not. To these rare freaks, it is also possible to see Rand as neither an idol nor a punching bag.

As to whether such issues are "irrelevant to the broader claims" which are verified "in all important essentials," that would depend on what those claims are supposed to be. For example, you mention a purported "pathological jealousy" on Rand's part. Is that one of those "broader claims" that is supported by many independent witnesses? Remember, it would be inappropriate to assign a disreputable motive to someone for the purpose of discrediting them.

Richard said...

Neil wrote:

Someone such as Valliant can say that they all conspired to provide a dishonest view of Rand, but a competent ARIan would have to explain why so many people who knew Rand (including those who never split with her) have described her in the same way as the Brandens.

I'm not clear on what the "description" is (even though multiple parties refer to it as if it were well defined). However, I think your hypothesis puts too much emphasis on description and not enough on interpretation. It is possible to describe the same basic events in a way that interprets them very differently. For example, everyone seems to agree that Rand had a fiery temper and would go off on people for saying things that seemed innocuous to others. Leonard Peikoff says as much in "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand". But he interprets Rand's anger very charitably, saying that her perceptive intellect allowed her to see implications in people's phrasings that others did not, not even the speakers themselves, and she had a passionate reaction to those implications. That's just one example, but a similar approach can be applied to almost any behavior one wishes. And as readers of this blog ought to know, the same approach can be applied in reverse, ascribing a behavior to the most disreputable motive one can come up with.

Anonymous said...

So it is a bit like scientoligists believing that L. Ron Hubbard really was a war hero and cured himself with dianetics then? Amongst all the other claims he made. I hesitate to put the word dubious in front of claims as I know that they are big on litigation.

Anonymous said...

Just as an aside do objectivists have a sense of humour? What I mean is can they laugh at jokes made at the expense of objectivism, Ayn Rand and objectivists?
I only ask because the Catholics, and I don't mean to pick on them, can and do laugh at jokes about the pope, priests, nuns thier faith etc. Though they might have confess this next time they are in the box but it seems to me that the only groups that can't seem to laugh at themselves are the Objectivists and Muslims. But hell, I wokr with some muslims who at least can poke fun at thier beliefs and themselves for following some of them. But it does seem verboten in objectivist circles to laugh at oneself and I'm not talking about if you spill some soda on yourself I'm talking about your beliefs and Ayn. Why on earth is that? What are they so afraid of? Isn't humour, even directed at what one holds near and dear, healthy?

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "It hardly seems 'psychologically improbable' that someone would be motivated to maintain a relationship with a patron"

Well now you're generalizing what was meant to be specific, while exaggerating the aspect of Rand's "patron" role. Rand's relationship to the Branden's was far more complex than that of a patron; they weren't living off her, but were, in effect, business partners more than pulling their own weight. Indeed, much of the profit-making enterprises centered around Rand (other than the royalities she received on her books) were brought about on Branden's initiative. It's not as if he was lounging about all day sponging off of Rand. Moreover, he was perfectly capable of earning a living on his own—which is what he very quickly did after breaking with Rand. So where, exactly, was the financial incentive for sticking with Rand? But what makes it particularly improbable, from a psychological standpoint, is that there is every reason to believe Branden, as an Objectivist (which he was at the time), had an ideological motive to keep the whole thing up and running. Let's face it, from the evidence I've seen (such as in Neil's web article), it does not appear that NBI was exactly a cash cow. But it was an important component in the Objectivist movement, in spreading the ideas of Rand and other Objectivists.

"For example, you mention a purported 'pathological jealousy' on Rand's part. Is that one of those 'broader claims' that is supported by many independent witnesses? Remember, it would be inappropriate to assign a disreputable motive to someone for the purpose of discrediting them."

It's not inappropriate to try to discredit someone by assigning disreputable motives, provided that (1) there really is solid evidence of the disreputable motives; and (2) there's little if any solid evidence on the other side of the question; and (3) the issue at stake cannot be settled without examining the creditability of the individual at the heart of the debate. In the Brandens' accounts of Rand, there are statements (the "broad claims") that are in fact backed by other witnesses, and therefore cannot be dismissed on the grounds that the Brandens' lack of creditability. Only those things that only the Brandens' were in a position to know could be questioned on creditability grounds. Yet none of those things, I suspect, would, if the Branden's account of them proved erroneous or biased, change our basic idea of what sort of person Rand was. These things may have curiousity value for biographical scholars of Rand; but they aren't capable of settling the controversy about Rand's character in favor of ARI. And so, since the claims about the Brandens' financial motivations are (1) not backed by solid evidence; (2) conflict with the more probable view that the Brandens' were motivated more by ideological and personal reasons; and (3) aren't able to discredit all the people who support the Branden's basic view of Rand: in that case, it is not so much "inappropriate" as it is quixotic to try settle any important questions about Rand by trying to play the financial motivation card in respect to the Brandens. If we are trying to get to the truth about Rand's character, we're not likely to find much in that direction.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>But it does seem verboten in objectivist circles to laugh at oneself and I'm not talking about if you spill some soda on yourself I'm talking about your beliefs and Ayn. Why on earth is that?

Hi Anon,

Some of the reasoning is here:
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/humor.html

It's about as good as Rand's other attempts at psychology ie not very.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>While I realize this may be a difficult notion to convey, I'll try anyway: There are those that actually care more about discovering the truth about a subject, than about drawing cartoon versions of it for use in ideological battle. I realize this may appear to some to be a fantasy akin to elves or unicorns, but amazingly such people exist. They can question the accuracy and perspectives of a source without such questions being "pretexts for discrediting" it. They can believe a source is flawed without discarding it wholesale, deciding that some elements it contains are accurate and others are not. To these rare freaks, it is also possible to see Rand as neither an idol nor a punching bag.

Richard, I must say it is truly amazing how you - and perhaps only you, it seems - have been able to remain so objective when it comes to your views of Rand and Objectivism; unlike those of us at the ARCHNblog or the ARI, who long ago abandoned the search for truth to instead merely lazily peddle our prejudices, no matter how wildly "inconsistent" and fantastically "implausible"!

As the superior honesty of your goodself (in contrast to the two-sides-of-the-same-Randroid-coin represented by the ARCHNblog and the ARI that you have so penetratingly identified), seems to be the tenor of most of your comments here at the ARCHNblog - that is, when you refrain from your normal habit of refraining from posting here - perhaps you could give us a few insights as to what's kept you on the High and Lonely Road in Search of Truth while the rest of us have fallen by the wayside. I'm sure myself, Greg, and, should he ever call by, Lenny himself could use the tips....;-)

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

I've often suspected that the ARI will have as a "fall back position" that Rand did have many of the bad qualities described by the Brandens (and others), but the interpretation that they give is false.

But as far as the "description" of Rand that the Brandens give, I'd say this includes the things I mentioned in the post (she held eccentric beliefs, was controlling, prone to moralizing over esthetic matters, allowed Nathaniel to run a cult, had a volcanic temper, could be petty in breaking with people, was unable to sympathise with people's psychological problems).

Now it's not as if everyone who knew Rand has said that she had all of these qualities, but enough have that I think it's fair to say that more than just the Brandens have testified to these. (And I haven't consulted the interviews with the Blumenthals, Robert Hessen, etc.)

It's true that Peikoff said Rand had a temper, but I think his portayal is a bit more subdued, even on a "phenomenological" level from the Brandens and others. And if Peikoff has said that Rand was controlling, harranged people over esthetic matters, etc. then that's news to me. Even George Reisman (an orthodox Objectivist not associated with the ARI) said that Rand had an "abrasive personality." Is Peikoff willing to admit that? Or is Peikoff's claim that the Brandens' accounts are "arbitrary" just a smoke screen to delay until an authorized bio comes out?

So while I think that there is a question of Rand's motivations (which is something that the Brandens disagree between themselves), I don't think that permits one to harmonize Peikoff and the Brandens.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

Speaking of Peikoff's interpretation of Rand's anger, I find it about as likely to be true as his "interpretation" of Rand's decision to quit smoking. (Or his claim a couple months ago during the Wikipedia flap when he said he would defend Valliant's book on "any forum.")

I'm sure Greg, Dan and those such as myself who post or contribute to this website are quite interested in "discovering the truth" and happy that Anne Heller and Jeniffer Burns are taking a fresh look at Rand's life and the Branden accounts. Are Diana Hsieh and Leonard Peikoff? They seem rather silent.

Barbara Branden said...

Neil, with all the hundreds of things you've said on these subjects that are true, forgive me for stopping you on one statement that is not.

You wrote that Rand "allowed Nathaniel to run a cult." Certainly Nathaniel bears much of the responsibility (as do I) for the cult-like aspects that began to appear in the early Objectivist movement -- but they were not initiated by Nathaniel. Long before the lectures began, Rand was demanding complete agreement with all her ideas from the young people gathering around her, often on pain of savage denunciation and excommunication. And remember how many former friends she already had broken with over intellectual disagreements, such as Isabel Paterson. If Nathaniel alone had been responsible for the cult, why did it continue after he left -- in fact, why did it go into higher gear, with loyalty oaths and enemies lists, than it ever had been, continuing unabated to this day?

Neil Parille said...

Barbara,

When I talk about Rand's "cult," I generally put quote around "cult." As unfortunate as things may have been, I was focusing on Valliant's claim that Ayn Rand didn't know what he was doing in her name.

My guess is that you and Nathaniel encouraged certain unfortunate tendencies in Rand, not that you created them.

Daniel Barnes said...

Barbara and Neil,

My opinion is that there are very specific "cultic incitements" in Objectivism's theoretical structure, and that these are the primary causes of Objectivism's cultic tendencies.

These are primarily but not exclusively 1) the incitement to "totalism" ie that no one part of Objectivism may be rejected without rejecting the whole and 2) the incitement to "absolutism" especially in her theories of knowledge and ethics.

These are actually quite common intellectual mousetraps that are found in other systems of thought, and might at bottom be problems to do with mapping abstract systems (like logic) on to the real world. I think these mousetraps were almost certainly placed unwittingly there by Rand and her followers, but have had particular force due to her powerful emotional writing style and personal charisma and sharp intellect. These intellectual mousetraps have a long history of trapping exactly these sorts of people, hence I am reluctant to make the personalities involved bear the full burden of blame.

I do not think these incitements can be eradicated from Objectivism without major concessions to skepticism - concessions that, in an ironic twist, Rand has already unwittingly made in the actual, as opposed to rhetorical, consequences of her contextual epistemology. Like a kind of Wrong Way Corrigan, she arrived at the right destination by going in the opposite direction. But unlike Corrigan, neither her nor her followers seem to have realised even to this day where her epistemology landed her.

BArbara Branden said...

Daniel: "My opinion is that there are very specific 'cultic incitements' in Objectivism's theoretical structure, and that these are the primary causes of Objectivism's cultic tendencies.

"These are primarily but not exclusively 1) the incitement to 'totalism' ie that no one part of Objectivism may be rejected without rejecting the whole and 2) the incitement to "absolutism" especially in her theories of knowledge and ethics.

"These are actually quite common intellectual mousetraps that are found in other systems of thought, and might at bottom be problems to do with mapping abstract systems (like logic) on to the real world. I think these mousetraps were almost certainly placed unwittingly there by Rand and her followers, but have had particular force due to her powerful emotional writing style and personal charisma and sharp intellect. These intellectual mousetraps have a long history of trapping exactly these sorts of people, hence I am reluctant to make the personalities involved bear the full burden of blame."

A very interesting and important point, Daniel. I am very aware, almost to the moment, of when and why I began to throw off the cultism I carried: it was when I understood that although I agreed with much of Objectivism, there were issues I emphatically disagreed with -- issues that were neither integrated to the essentials nor even reasonable on the face of it -- and that I must accept only what made sense to me and reject what did not. I realized that it was not all or nothing, as I had been so carefully taught -- a realization that was profoundly liberating.

Neil Parille said...

Here's a recent review of the two new book --

http://freestudents.blogspot.com/2009/08/new-ayn-rand-books-are-sure-to-heat-up.html

gregnyquist said...

Daniel: "My opinion is that there are very specific "cultic incitements" in Objectivism's theoretical structure, and that these are the primary causes of Objectivism's cultic tendencies."

Yes, that's true up to a point: but in addition there are probably also "human nature" reasons at the bottom of this. There's the old adage, attributed to various statesmen but actually uttered by Georges Clemenceau, that "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." Yet not all idealistic young people want to be socialists. For those idealistic young people yearning for a secular vision of self-actualization, Rand is just the ticket. By combining secularism, self-actualization, hero-worship, idealization of entrepreneurial activity, moral idealism, and high cognitive ideals into a unified vision of existence, Rand created an intoxicating brew which, when combined with her tendency to disparage most thinkers other than herself (as if only she had managed to solve all the great riddles facing mankind), could not help but awake cultic incitements in many who tasted of it. The trouble is, that what primarily makes Objectivism exciting to a young person are precisely those aspects that provide the fuel for the cultic fires. Take those aspects out of Objectivism and Rand's philosophy becomes, in large measure, simply another variety of a politically unfeasible liberatarianism competing for allegience of young anti-socialist idealists.

Richard said...

"More than the fury of a woman scorned, it was the fury of a woman betrayed. For nearly five years, Nathan had lied to Rand ... In the meantime, ... Nathan had become famous and wealthy speaking in Rand's name." Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market, pp. 241-242

Another ARI cultist speaks, providing a psychologically implausible cover-up for Rand's pathological jealousy.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

My copy of the book will arrive today. From what Robert Campbell says, Burns is pretty hard on both Rand and Nathaniel.

I would agree that Rand's diaries do make NB look bad, perhaps worse than what he admitted.

Does Burns provide an analysis of the truthfulness of the Branden and Rand statements?

campber said...

Richard and Neil,

I've got a lot more reading to do in the Burns book.

From what I've seen so far, Dr. Burns

(1) Agrees with Barbara Branden and Anne Heller that Frank O'Connor had a drinking problem (she prefers not to use the A-word);

(2) Thinks that Objectivist doctrines about romantic love and sexual attraction were grossly unrealistic, and tripped up both Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden;

(3) Does not find fault with Rand's counseling efforts as such;

(4) Considers Rand's public denunciation of NB "rambling and vague," and cites Hank Holzer in a footnote, denying that NB actually committed any financial impropriety;

(5) Doesn't like NB;

(6) Thinks he profited off Ayn Rand during his association with her, and afterwards as well;

(7) Has read Ayn Rand's journal entries about NB, in the original; quotes very sparingly from them; and, in what I have seen so far, neither cites them through Jim Valliant's book nor comments directly on Messrs. Valliant and Fahy's editorial efforts.

To be continued, obvioulsy...

Robert Campbell

campber said...

And that should be "obviously"...

RC

campber said...

One more thing.

On p. 243, Dr. Burns is highly critical of "In Answer to Ayn Rand, slamming NB for "skirting the issue" of the affair and his conduct while in it.

She does not address the consequences had he publlcly outed the affair.

Robert Campbell

Anonymous said...

Is there much new info in the Burns book? From what I've read, it sounds like mainly a rehash of material that would be familiar to most readers of this blog.

(Basically I'm trying to decide whether to shell out money for it.)

- Michael Prescott (Google won't let me sign in.)

campber said...

Michael,

Yes, there's new information.

Burns' focus is not on Rand's personal life, but on her role in American political thought. So she devotes a lot of attention to Rand's involvement in the Willkie campaign, her intellectual relationship with Isabel Paterson, etc.

Robert Campbell

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your quick response, Robert!

- Michael

Neil Parille said...

I'm up to page 50 and recommend it a lot. I think Heller's book will probably be more interesting, but the Burns book is excellent.

campber said...

Neil,

The way I'd put it is that I expect Heller's book will be more literary. Also, more oriented toward Rand's Russian days.

Burns is kind of perfunctory about We the Living, which is, after all, a Russian novel. She gets much further into The Fountainhead and has much more insight to offer, because the writing of that novel was so tied up with the development of Rand's political thought.

As of p. 140, I keep seeing good use of details that Burns obtained from oral histories in the Ayn Rand Archives.

Robert Campbell

Neil Parille said...

I think both books will be equally interesting.

However, a full biography of Rand should be fascinating.

From the notes to GM, it looks like Burns has been in contact with Heller (her book and page numbers are cited) and also Shoshana Milgram (an ARIan who is writing an authorized biography).

If Milgram is in fact writing a full biography, I wonder how she will deal with the people who split with Rand and probably haven't been intereviewed by the Archives (the Blumenthals, the Holzers, etc.). Will she try to interview them? It certainly isn't responsible to rely on, say, Leonard Peikoff, as one's exclusive source for Rand's splits with other people.

Neil Parille said...

Robert,

I think a different interpretation can be put on NB's response.

Everyone agreed to keep the affair private. Rand raised the issue by mentioning Branden's letter in her denunciation of the Brandens. Barbara said that based on the things that Rand was saying behind the scenes and in her denunciation that people were asking if NB was an alcoholic or a child molester.

Nathaniel was, as I see it, entitled to tell his readers and friends that it was all a bit more complicated than Rand was making it.

Burns is somewhat critical of the Branden books. She gives a brief description of Valliant's book, but surprisingly no evaluation.

I do recommend the book. It's enjoyable to read something on Rand from a non-partisan angle.

I'm on page 80 and there are a couple interpretive issues.

For example, Burns implies that Rand became increasingly less elitist in her view of the common man by the 40s. I'm surprised that she doesn't reference the Journals where Rand speculates that we are living in the midst of non-humans who appear to be humans.

Burns notes that Rand had a heavily marked up copy of Spencer's Man vs. the State.

campber said...

Neil,

Burns does say that Galt's speech exhibits a resurgence of the old elitism.

So she doesn't think it ever completely went away.

Robert Campbell

Daniel Barnes said...

Interested in your comments and looking forward to both these books, fellas.

Neil Parille said...

On the Classically Liberal blog the writer said that the Burns book is harsher on Rand than Heller's. I don't find it particularly harsh so far (page 90).

Michael Prescott said...

"I don't find it particularly harsh so far (page 90)."

I guess that's why I'm not too interested in reading it (or Heller's book). An author who takes Rand seriously is writing for an audience that doesn't include me.

campber said...

Michael,

Having read up to p. 187 now, I can testify that Burns does not think highly of Ayn Rand for cultivating a "Collective" and then largely isolating herself with it. And she makes frequent references to Rand's use of Benzedrine (she never identifies it as Dexamyl, or downplays its effect on her moods, as Barbara Branden did).

Over the Rand-Rothbard split of 1958, she shows some awareness of the ego-duel component, but clearly sympathizes with Rothbard.

Anyway, if you don't take your subject seriously on one level or another, why spend 8 years writing the person's biography?

It seems like a Hunter Thompsonization of Ayn Rand could be accomplished with a good deal less labor, in fewer than 369 pages.

Robert Campbell

Daniel Barnes said...

RC:
>And she makes frequent references to Rand's use of Benzedrine...

Well this I'll be interested to hear more about, because I've long suspected there is some influence in her work. She's not the first intellectual to pop them of course, but it's quite an insidious drug. I've dabbled with speed in my misspent youth (and have known some people who were quite badly addicted) and there is a real intellectual high you can get on, where all the problems of the ages seem to just unfurl, and can be despatched boldly and in short order. Your ego gets pretty out of control too. The ITOE to me reads a bit like some of the all-night conversations you might have a little wired up in a dorm room (Unfortunately I think it's about as deep too - she should have stuck with novels and polemics). So I will be fascinated to hear more detail.

campber said...

Dan,

Burns refers in passing to Jack Keroauc writing under the influence of Benzedrine.

If she'd been more oriented toward philosophers, the obvious example would have been Jean-Paul Sartre.

She's not saying, or implying, that Rand's level of consumption ever approached either of theirs.

Robert Campbell

Daniel Barnes said...

RC:
>She's not saying, or implying, that Rand's level of consumption ever approached either of theirs.

The ITOE never attained Being and Nothingness-level maximum heaviosity either...;-)

BTW, De Beauvoir famously remarked that Sartre was never so happy as when he did not understand what he was writing. I don't think Rand ever got that bad...

Daniel Barnes said...

Kerouac as I recall talked a lot about caffiene too.

Anonymous said...

The difference between Rand and Sartre is at least he was philospher. the difference between Rand and Kerouac is you can, at least, read a few pages of Kerouac before chucking his books in the garbage, where they belong. Rand...well who that loves good literature would read her?

campber said...

Daniel,

I don't think Sartre had, um, discovered amphetamines back when he was writing Being and Nothingness. The book that he supposedly cranked out at a fervid pace while on speed was his Critique of Dialectical Reason.

Anon,

You really don't seem to like Rand at all...

Robert Campbell

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

I finished the book and it gets harsher as it goes on. If you are interested in Rand I can't imagine you not getting the book.

-Neil

Michael Prescott said...

"If you are interested in Rand I can't imagine you not getting the book."

Thanks for the info. I'll probably pick it up one of these days - though, to be honest, my main interest in Rand these days is making fun of her!

Is that so wrong?

Neil Parille said...

Oh c'mon Michael, you make it out like you are broke.

Say what you want, Rand had an interesting life. The books will both be excellent.

-Neil

Michael Prescott said...

"you make it out like you are broke."

Not quite ... but after four years of Obamanomics, who knows? :-(

Daniel Barnes said...

RC:
>I don't think Sartre had, um, discovered amphetamines back when he was writing Being and Nothingness

Well I could be quite wrong about Rand of course. I do recall he had a similarly long term habit, at any rate. Interestingly it was said of Sartre that for him writing itself was a kind of drug.

Anonymous said...

I don't like Rand at all?

Bahh, do you blame me after making it to the bitter end of Atlas Shrugged. At least Battlefield Earth, a boke I read when 12 at least had 20 - 30 pages of enjoyable reading for every 200 ppages or so of boring ones. Though which book has the 'worse' science? Hubbard with his washing off radiation with water or Rand with the motor and project X?

Neil Parille said...

I would say that although Rand comes off rather poorly in the book, the portrait isn't entirely negative. Nathaniel Branden comes across worse.

If anyone should be made fun of, it's the ARI orthodoxy who, for almost 25 years have been denouncing the Brandens' books, when there is more than enough evidence in their archives to show that the Branden portrayal is basically correct.

To take an incredible example, Valliant accuses Barbara of practically making up her source (Don Ventura) for Frank's drinking in the 50s. Well, the Archives has an interview with Ventura which references his drinking! (I should mention that Barbara only identified him by name after PARC.)

-Neil

-Neil

Anonymous said...

Yes, but just becasue Frank was an alcoholic and a failed B-movie actor why does that mean he was not a 'prime-mover'?

Anonymous said...

Michael you will be broke if you spend your money on pointless books like this.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "The difference between Rand and Sartre is at least he was philospher."

Why can Sartre be regarded as a philosopher and not Rand? Because Sartre's philosophy is more "sophisticated"? Because Sartre was more learned and philosophically literate? So what if he was. His judgment (which is even more important) is even worse than Rand's, and his philosophy is dreary, pedantic, with a strange air of German profoundity about it (which doesn't speak well for Sarte, since he wrote in French). A philosopher must be able to communicate his profounder principles and his vision of life and the world; and if he can't communicate these things, or if he communicates them badly, or through the veil of a nauseous verbiage, fit only for pedants and other mole-like creatures, then why should he be considered much of a philosopher at all? At least Rand is readable—even to the point of liveliness in her more polemical works. If her philosophy is riddled with inept formulations, errors of fact, and equivocations based on vague words, then so are the philosophies of many other so-called great thinkers. Let's face it: much of what passes for great philosophy is little more than bad reasons for believing in things that aren't true. If Plato, Hegel, and Sartre can be regarded as philosophers, then there's no reason to exclude Rand from their company. She's hardly the worst of that group.

Anonymous said...

Greg I agree with you when you wrote this -
"A philosopher must be able to communicate his profounder principles and his vision of life and the world; and if he can't communicate these things, or if he communicates them badly, or through the veil of a nauseous verbiage, fit only for pedants and other mole-like creatures, then why should he be considered much of a philosopher at all."

But the above described Rand, right down to the pedants, and not Sartre. Nice try though and saying nasty things about Satre does not make them true.

P.S. Rand clearly is the worst of that group.

Anonymous said...

Greg you use of the phrase "other mole-like creatures" makes you sound like a pathetic Randiod. Grow up and apologise Nobody comes here to read filth like that. Idiotic comments like that are the stock in trade of 5th rate Objectivist forums.

Michael Prescott said...

For the record, I did buy "Goddess of the Market" and am about one-quarter into it. I find the book interesting and well-written, but one thing bothered me. On p. 2, Burns writes, "Unlike other novelists of her stature, until now Rand has not been the subject of a full-length biography."

This isn't accurate. Barbara Branden's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand" is a full-length biography. Though it concentrates on the period of Rand's life when Branden knew her, it also covers the rest of Rand's life in detail.

So far, I'd say roughly 80% of the material in "Goddess of the Market" was familiar to me from the Branden book. In some sections the figure is close to 100%.

Of course, Branden's book is also a personal memoir, which Burns' is not. But that doesn't mean it's not a legitimate biography in its own right. Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" is perhaps the most famous bio ever written, and Boswell had a long, close, personal association with his subject.

Michael Prescott said...

Though it's probably of interest to no one but me, I want to update my previous comment for acccuracy's sake. Now that I've nearly finished "Goddess of the Market," I retract my statement that 80% of the material in the book was familiar to me. This was true of the early section, but after p. 100 or so, there was a great deal of new material. Much of the content relating to Rand's life in the 1950s and onward was fresh.

In her "essay on sources," Burns criticizes the Barbara Branden bio for various alleged errors and says the book is "marked by a certain amount of score settling." This probably explains why Burns does not designate "The Passion of Ayn Rand" as a "full-length biography." I still think she is wrong on this point, however. Whatever its defects, "Passion" is a full-length bio by any reasonable standard.

Overall, I found "Goddess" to be a well-written, balanced portrait, though personally I would have laid more stress on Rand's dark side, and the dark side of the Objectivist movement generally. The sexual abuse suffered by Ellen Plasil at the hands of an Objectivist therapist is not mentioned. Neither is the often-reported claim that at least one young Objectivist committed suicide after being excommunicated from the movement. Edith Efron's famous statement about Rand, that there was no way to describe how crazy she was, isn't reported, nor are many similar statements from others who knew Rand. (See Jeff Walker's "The Ayn Rand Cult" for a huge amount of this material.)

Burns also slightly downplays the creepiness of the youthful Rand's fascination with tabloid murderer William Hickman. She describes Hickman as "a teen murderer who mutilated his victim and boasted maniacally of his deed when caught," which is accurate as far as it goes, but leaves the reader unaware that Hickman's murder was one of the goriest and most horrific in Los Angeles history, rivaling the Black Dahlia case and the Manson killings. The nauseating details, which were fully reported at the time, put Rand's apparent infatuation with Hickman (whom she writes about as if he were a dreamy teen idol) in a rather more disturbing light.

(Details of the Hickman murder are here: http://snipurl.com/sbkhk )

In my opinion, Rand wasn't just an eccentric; I think she was mentally ill, and that her illness - probably a form of borderline personality disorder - developed when she was very young and got worse as she aged. No doubt my perspective colors my reaction to Burns' book. In any case, I enjoyed "Goddess of the Market," learned many new things, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Ayn Rand.

tenaj said...

Well I have a great idea. Why doesn't someone pitch a pseudo reality show of Ayn Rand. Just think, those Russian years and the Revolution of 1917! Wow!

The coming to America, relatives, going to California and Cecil De Mille selecting her at the gate to come in. On the second day. Seeing Frank in the crowd, marrying him, writing The Fountainhead, the movie with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal (real life lovers doomed to be apart) meeting Nathaniel, coming to New York, the collective, writing Atlas, the affair, the secrecy, the betrayal, and on and on. What a great long run soap opera could be made of it.

And I know this sounds ironic, but I mean it. This is great entertainment, much better than Mad Men and the same period for some of it. Can't you just see it roll out on and on forever!

Somebody pitch this and make millions and millions. Perhaps BB who has lived all her life on Randian fame.

tenaj said...

I am beginning to think that LP has in fact protected her legacy. If all the contradictions and stories had come out right away her fame would have been tarnished. The time between the Brandens' books gave him time to polish up, organize the material, and allowed the myth of Ayn Rand to solidify before any cracking at the foundation. If the internet had been around at the time of her death he wouldn't have been able to do it.

Ah transparency.

tenaj said...

I'd mention that whatever the original motivation of people like Peikoff was, it has now turned into a permanent power trip for the ARI. They alone are competent to opine on Rand's life.


All the secrecy will come back to bite them. But now they have established her and she is a cultural force. And I repeat, they owe it all to NBI.

tenaj said...

Good post Michael Prescott I liked it.

Hickman fascination is directly linked to her favorite book Dostoevsky's The Possessed. Stavrogin's heinous crime is similar and there is another one similar in Brothers Karamazov. She is clearly not differentiating between fiction and reality, rather typical for severely disturbed persons, which I think she was. (Of course Dostoevsky was too and others.)

Heller's first chapter on amazon is a hole blown in the dike. (No pun intended.) Ayn's early years, her relationship with her mother is graphic in its account of her Oedipal period. Laugh at Freud as you will , it is classic in her unreconciled hostility toward her mother and her really awful precociousness which was such an incredible defense that she must have felt her very life and soul was at stake.

Her adoration of lithe blond peers is scary. Repudiating herself, her physical being, her Jewish heritage, she worships the blond Aryan. Now where have we come across that before. This colors all her writing and politics. Simply ghastly in psychological terms. She is revealed naked to all by Heller and this is just the first chapter. The psychologists and psychoanalysts will destroy her over this.

For a marvelous book on this theme of worshipping the aggressor (identification with the aggressor)go to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye a story of a little black girl who loves her white doll with blue eyes. And so much more and beautifully written.

Daniel Barnes said...

Just read the first chapter myself, it's superb. Aren't we lucky to get two brilliant bios at once, after the long wasteland of apparatchik drivel!

Michael Prescott said...

Thanks for the pointing out that the first chapter of Heller's book is online. For those who might have trouble finding it on the Amazon page, as I did, here's a direct link to the PDF file:

http://snipurl.com/sbv5c

"Her adoration of lithe blond peers is scary."

Jennifer Burns observes that all Rand's heroines are blonde, something I hadn't noticed. (I pictured Dagny as dark-haired, like Rand herself.)

As is well known, Rand had a rather odd fascination with Nathaniel Branden's secret girlfriend, Patrecia, described as a striking blonde. Rand even kept a photo of Patrecia in her desk drawer for some reason. And in her later years she was strangely fascinated by Farrah Fawcett and "Charlie's Angels." She seems to have wanted Farrah to play Dagny in the miniseries.

Richard said...

Jennifer Burns observes that all Rand's heroines are blonde, something I hadn't noticed. (I pictured Dagny as dark-haired, like Rand herself.)

"A sweep of brown hair fell back, almost touching the line of her shoulders." -- description of Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged

Perhaps we should file this next to other "often-reported" or "well known" claims.

Michael Prescott said...

I think I was right in saying that Burns makes this observation (about blonde heroines), but possibly I misread or misremembered what she wrote. I don't want the author to take the hit for making a mistake when I may be the one who is mistaken.

I'm not too surprised that Dagny does indeed have brown hair. Supposedly the character was modeled after Katharine Hepburn.

Michael Prescott said...

Okay, I found the reference, using Amazon's "search inside" feature.

On p. 157 of "Goddess of the Market," Burns writes, "Like all Rand heroines, Dagny is beautiful as well as brilliant, and socially well born. A glamorous and striking blonde, she is the granddaughter of a pioneering railroad tycoon whose empire she now controls."

Given the quote from "Atlas" that Richard supplied, Burns appears to be in error when she describes Dagny as a "striking blonde."

Dragonfly said...

I got curious, so I read also the first chapter of Heller's book. After all the praise I've seen here I'm rather disappointed. It doesn't tell me much that I didn't know already, except for a few details here and there, but nothing remarkable. I found the tone rather adulatory and uncritical, which doesn't incite me to buy the book. I'm ready to believe that it isn't a hagiography in the ARI style, but it doesn't seem very critical either.

I see for example no footnotes (or are these deleted for this example?), so I've no idea how reliable this all is. I'm at least rather skeptical about Rand's own "memories", knowing how she could embellish the truth if that suited her ("no one helped me", yeah sure). Probably there is no way to find out anymore (except for straight facts like where she lived, went to school, what her father did, etc.), but then I'd at least wanted to see what is fact and what is speculation. Now it's just a nice story that doesn't tell us much that we didn't know already.

Michael Prescott said...

"I see for example no footnotes (or are these deleted for this example?)"

I haven't seen the book, though I have pre-ordered it, but my guess is that there are endnotes, keyed to specific lines of text. This technique is often used to make endnotes less distracting.

It's hard to believe that a 500+ page bio of Rand would not include extensive endnnotes.

tenaj said...

As is well known, Rand had a rather odd fascination with Nathaniel Branden's secret girlfriend, Patrecia, described as a striking blonde. Rand even kept a photo of Patrecia in her desk drawer for some reason. And in her later years she was strangely fascinated by Farrah Fawcett and "Charlie's Angels." She seems to have wanted Farrah to play Dagny in the miniseries.

Rand also had a fascination with BB. Rand thought she was the embodiment of one of her heroines. And the description of Devers one visit to her sounds like another. I have no reason to think Devers was being inaccurate.

So we have the classic case of the paranoid personality. Fascination and jealousy of the love object's other(s). A typical oedipal configuration. The jealousy drives the passion and it is excessive because its roots lie in the unresolved oedipal complex. So she is hostile to her mother which obscures her jealousy of her mother in the struggle for her father.

Yeah I know this sounds so dated. But Heller has made this so clear. Heller makes no judgment but just reports. So Dragonfly I think she has given valuable new material that is subtle, factual and enlightening.

And the affair is not secret from Frank and BB but it is secret from the rest of the collective. How is that honest? This is collusion between Rand and NB. And I think the omission of honesty is serious. Plus the fact that secrecy is an important element of affairs. It increases the erotic potential greatly. Openness and honesty makes the affair more everyday, less romantic, less exciting.

A romantic relationship divorces the relationship from its inherent capitalistic connotations. Rand's insistance on a romantic relationship was an ideal way to deny the capitalistic aspect of sexual relationships, marriage or not. As Durrell said in one of his novels post Alexandria Quartet,concerning the pill, Now woman has become a commodity. She is no longer an event. She has become like grain, corn, or any commodity that can be bought and sold. And this is said with despair and chagrin.

tenaj said...

I have imagined NB's preoccupation with Rand's jealousy when he was trying to detach emotionally. Unfortunately this came at a time when he was involved with someone else at least emotionally before physically. Now that must have been erotic for him. And it had to be secret, even from Barbara.

NB knows more than anyone else how much jealousy Rand is capable of. He knows she will bring down the entire NBI empire he has nurtured to success. And as he says, he wants it all. Why can't he have it all?

Rand in 1960 resembled a harridan. Unkempt chopped gray hair, stocky fat and ill dressed, making no attempt at all to be attractive, at least when she gave lectures in Philadelphia. Why a young charismatic man like NB would have been attracted to her is difficult to conceive. She was no couger. No Sophia Loren, no Demi Moore. How she could deceive herself about her desirability boggles the mind. But to believe that her mind was the highest value for her and NB for a sexual relationship was not in question. Her philosophy depended that it be true. And it wasn't, so, therefore, NB had to have failed intellectually to prefer Patrecia.

And anyone who has read his Judgment Day can appreciate that Patrecia is a rare being. And to his credit he recognizes this and gives it all up for her. She may not be Rand's equal intellectually, but she is her superior in emotional understanding and rationality and intellectual honesty. She is not the kind of woman that thinks one person can own another person.