Friday, November 06, 2009

The Real Ayn Rand



Over at Inc. magazine Rand biographer Anne Heller gives a striking interview. Like Jennifer Burns, she has quite a positive overall view of Rand and her achievements. However, she pulls no punches in describing the real person, as opposed to the absurdly propagandised outpourings of Objectivism's apparatchiks. For example:

"[Rand] had a habit of exaggerating her own suffering, and she often forgot to credit those whose ideas she borrowed and who helped her in more material ways. She humiliated her husband. She could be narcissistic, shrill, demanding, untidy, even unclean, and her use of amphetamines exacerbated her angry outbursts, unkempt periods, and paranoia."

Heller even ventures some controversial speculations that definitely run contrary to the Official Hagiographic Narrative:

"In my view, Rand engineered the Brandens' disastrous marriage so that she could safely take Nathaniel, then 24, as her lover."


I'm looking forward to reading Heller's book.

19 comments:

Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

Heller's book definitively sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hi, here's a funny thing I stumbled upon, I think you will like it. An Ayn Rand satire.

http://ayndie.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

the bitch is back:

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/books/200911/ayn-rand-dick-books-fountainhead?printable=true

A said...

Thank you anon for that link to Corsello's article which is ALL TOO TRUE!!!

Being an econ major and having had to deal with one ARA that doubled down despite a very poor understanding of economics and history, I couldn't identify more with Corsello's words of infinite wisdom.

I needed that.

jpohl said...

I'm in the middle of Heller's book now, and intend to read Burns... for all the flaws in Rand's ideology it's fascinating to study someone with such single minded determination. Heller does a wonderful job (quite incredible really) despite her lack of access to files. I think she paints a very full picture. I can't wait to see what happens next. I feel very sorry for Barbara.

The first thing that became clear to me is how her relationship with her mother explains her complete lack of empathy for the maternal spirit. Rand told Paterson that given the choice between saving her own baby or herself from a burning building, she would choose herself. It's hard to not both admire and despise Rand.

It's surprises me so many people (granted many were very young) failed to see theflaws in her philosophy for all the truths, and that it has taken Greenspan forty years to do so. It's ironic they were ready to give up their sense of self, the very thing Rand claimed to promote. I have to wonder if it were not just the housing collapse. Perhaps he is beginning to feel his mortality. A pity he didn't listen to Brooksley Born when he had the chance.

Daniel Barnes said...

Good comments jpohl.

Rand's particularly difficult to see the flaws in at first as she uses a lot of jargon and intimidating tactics to make her claims. She rarely makes a clear argument, preferring to play on people's emotions. But it's a bit like a magic trick; once you see the gimmicks she uses the power vanishes.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Barnes:
Heller even ventures some controversial speculations that definitely run contrary to the Official Hagiographic Narrative:

"In my view, Rand engineered the Brandens' disastrous marriage so that she could safely take Nathaniel, then 24, as her lover."
(end quote)

Very interesting. I wouldn't put it past Rand to have done this, and when looking at the wedding picture in Barbara's book, had a gut feeling going in that direction too.

It looks like Rand was attracted to Nathaniel right from the start - from the first time she laid eyes on him actually.

One can of course ask why, if Rand was so keen on taking Nathaniel as her lover, she then didn't try to get rid of Barbara instead of encouraging the marriage.

Suppose it is true that Rand engineered the marriage - what do you think she gained from it?

Anon69 said...

>>what do you think she gained from it?<<

A "family" of sycophants? Why would she want to be rid of Barbara, if Barbara were a sycophantic follower, easily manipulable into the very "arrangement" that Rand had with Nathaniel as an application of "rationality"? It sounds perfect. Maybe Rand thought that it was perfect.

Objectivism works primarily as a cult because it does not work primarily as a philosophy; strip away the philosophic aspects and cultish followings are all that remain.

Richard said...

"In my view, Rand engineered the Brandens' disastrous marriage so that she could safely take Nathaniel, then 24, as her lover."

Because everyone knows that the best way to get a person into your bed is to marry them off to someone else. Anyone who raises a toast to the newlyweds should be suspected of wanting to bang at least one of them.

I think it is hilarious how some folks will believe almost any wild theory about Rand, provided that it says something disreputable about her. And it can't just be bad judgment, because that isn't disreputable enough. It has to be some Machiavellian plot that would be rejected as implausible if it were proposed during a writers meeting for Desperate Housewives.

Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

"In my view, Rand engineered the Brandens' disastrous marriage so that she could safely take Nathaniel, then 24, as her lover."

In all fairness Rand through, what evidence is there for that assertion that is not circumstantial? I have not read Anne Heller's work but shouldn't she shouldn't make an accusation like that without backing it up. Does she back it up?

Daniel Barnes said...

Damien:
>In all fairness Rand through, what evidence is there for that assertion that is not circumstantial?

Heller is the author of the most comprehensive, independent Rand bio in existence. She's spent years of her life researching the subject. Sure, it's speculative - in the end, a biographer can't read minds - but it's coming from someone who has a better grasp of Rand's personal life than you or me. So it's from an exceptionally well informed source..

gregnyquist said...

"Suppose it is true that Rand engineered the marriage - what do you think she gained from it?"

I haven't read Heller's bio, but the only way I can make sense of this assertion would be as follows: By having Nathaniel married (and publicly approving the marriage), it would allay any suspicions that Rand and Nathaniel were romantically involved. So with Branden safely married, Rand could much more easily keep the affair secret.

Now I am not suggest that Heller's speculation is particularly plausible: it's not. Rand may have had her faults, but I don't think she was capable of the sort of half-cocked deviousness that this implies. Indeed, if anything, Rand suffered the opposite fault of deviousness: namely, of being overly frank and confrontational.

Xtra Laj said...

Now I am not suggest that Heller's speculation is particularly plausible: it's not. Rand may have had her faults, but I don't think she was capable of the sort of half-cocked deviousness that this implies. Indeed, if anything, Rand suffered the opposite fault of deviousness: namely, of being overly frank and confrontational.

She was so frank that when the relationship ended, her heir, Peikoff, knew the truth during her lifetime.

I haven't read the book, but Rand was not beyond seeking social respectability on certain things and keeping the appearance of happy marriages in public when they were having affairs in private suits that kind of desire for social respectability to the T. The key was always the rationalization because as long as the rationalization fit, the desired result of the act, which was sometimes social respectability, could be described in other terms.

So while I don't have enough to consider the claim that Rand consciously engineered the marriage in order to get Nathaniel for herself and would be disinclined to believe she engineered it mostly because that planning required a level of deviousness and foresight that I would not ascribe to anyone without a clear history of such behavior, we do know that Rand was the one who facilitated the marriage if we trust the Brandens. It's only the motive that is in question.

Xray said...

"Quote:
".... Suppose it is true that Rand engineered the marriage - what do you think she gained from it?" (Xray)

Sorry about my original post accidententally showing up under 'Anonymous'.

Xray said...

Anon69 said...
"I think it is hilarious how some folks will believe almost any wild theory about Rand, provided that it says something disreputable about her. And it can't just be bad judgment, because that isn't disreputable enough. It has to be some Machiavellian plot that would be rejected as implausible if it were proposed during a writers meeting for Desperate Housewives." (end quote)

Rand's life is so full of implausibilities that it beats every fiction. Just think of the 'arrangement' where she made her husband Frank AGREE (!) to the sexual encounters between his wife and her lover Nathaniel taking place in the O'Connors' own bedroom.
I suppose if that were proposed as a plot at a writers' meeting for Desperate Housewives, it would be rejected too ...

Daniel Barnes said...

Good point X Ray, only it's not Anon69 who said that but Richard Lawrence, he of the Objectivism Reference Centre.

Richard said...

Xray wrote:
Rand's life is so full of implausibilities that it beats every fiction. Just think of the 'arrangement' where she made her husband Frank AGREE (!) to the sexual encounters between his wife and her lover Nathaniel taking place in the O'Connors' own bedroom.

Lots of couples have agreed to unconventional sexual arrangements, including wife swapping, cuckolding, etc. It is uncommon, but it is hardly implausible. I've known such people personally, and there are online discussion groups for people who are into such things. In the 1950s it was more transgressive of social norms than it is now, but if it had happened 15 years later, everyone would just be using it as the umpteenth example of how wild the Sexual Revolution was.

I don't know of any groups for trying to land someone in your bed by getting them to marry another person. Probably because it is a scheme that doesn't make a lot of sense. There are many plausible speculations that one could make about Rand's relationships, including a number of plausible speculations that are unflattering to Rand. This doesn't happen to be one of them.

Neil Parille said...

Perhaps what Heller meant was that Rand knew Nathaniel and Barbara wouldn't have a good marriage and that would make him more likely to have an affair with her.

-Neil Parille

Xtra Laj said...

Has anyone considered posing the question to Heller directly and getting her take on it, if the book doesn't make it clear why she arrived at that conclusion?