Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Virtue of Sycophancy (1)

I'm midway through James Valliant's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics". In it Valliant seeks to polish up Rand's tarnished image and debunk Objectivism's reputation as a 'cult of personality' by blaming everything on Rand's lover and his wife, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. But the book completely backfires: the 'cult' impressions are hardly going to be dispelled by breathlessly sycophantic doorstops like this; especially when they are also as tendentious as they are fawning.

Valliant manfully tries to establish his objectivity in the introduction:
"I had no illusions that Rand could be without fault or flaw. We will see that Rand herself admitted to being mistaken about something (or someone) on more than one occasion, and even her staunchest defenders have admitted that Rand's anger could sometimes be unjust."(5)

Now I admit I am halfway through, but so far Valliant's self-restraint hasn't lasted further than that paragraph. There is nothing that Rand does wrong that Valliant does not bend over backwards to defend from every angle conceivable - plus several inconceivable ones for good measure. In contrast, there is nothing that the Brandens can do right. Apparently, if Rand cheats on her husband Frank with Nathaniel, that's because she and Frank are intellectual and moral 'giants', whose revolutionary ethical system is obviously far too advanced for the mediocre and irrational society they found themselves living in. On the other hand, if Branden cheats on Rand with his bit of crumpet, that's because he has 'the soul of a rapist'!

You really can't make this sort of thing up. Anyway, if I come across any examples where Rand does something wrong - no matter how trivial - and Valliant doesn't mount a weirdly elaborate defence of it, then I'll post it.


Michael Prescott said...

One strange thing about this book is that it was published by Durban House, which has a reputation as a subsidy press (essentially a vanity press). I don't know if Valliant's deal was a subsidy deal or not. Given Ayn Rand's (presumably) large following, and the fact that the book includes journal entries written by Rand that had never before been in print, I find it odd that he would not go with a more mainstream publisher.

If anyone's interested, I wrote a little about Durban House and Valliant's book

Daniel Barnes said...

Isn't 'insanity' publishing the more accurate term here?...;-)

Anonymous said...

A problem with the book is that it is very poorly written, repitious, lots of silly cheerleading mixed in ("bullseye, Miss Rand", "Can you believe this guy?"), etc. that I don't think any publisher would publish it in its current form.