[ARCHNBlog is privileged to have the following contribution by Neil Parille, who discusses some the latest information to surface concerning James Valliant and his book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics.]
As long-time readers of the Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature blog might remember, one of the strangest incidents in the recent history of the Objectivist movement was the publication in 2005 of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) by James Valliant. This book took aim at Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography of Ayn Rand, The Passion of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s two memoirs. It is also noteworthy for including Rand’s diaries from the time of her break with Nathaniel Branden. These diaries were provided to Valliant by Rand’s heir, Leonard Peikoff.
PARC is, to put it mildly, a rather bizarre book. Even on face value, much of what Valliant says doesn’t support his claim that Brandens' books are lies from beginning to end. To take a typical example, Valliant attacked the Brandens for throwing a surprise party for Rand to celebrate the publication of Atlas Shrugged. This was no less than a plot “control Rand’s context by deception.” The book is also incredibly sloppy. Page after page contains numerous misrepresentations of the Branden books and other source material. For example, in the book’s description of a two-paragraph interview of John Hospers, I counted five misquotations.*
PARC was initially greeted with enthusiasm by ARI-inclined Objectivists. But shortly after the publication of the book, I and others began critiquing the book. My 2008 critique took 81 pages to detail all the misquotations, copying errors, and false attributions in a book of 190 pages (the diaries begin at page 191). Things got worse for Mr. Valliant in 2009 when Jennifer Burns and Anne Heller published biographies of Rand. These biographies, while occasionally correcting the record (for example Rand didn’t get her name from a typewriter) were on the whole supportive of Barbara Branden’s biography. Indeed, in some sense they were more critical of Rand, arguing that Rand’s mental health was compromised by decades of amphetamine use. (Incidentally, Branden had said this was unlikely.) PARC is now out of print, the only book containing Rand’s posthumous material to have such a status.** Curiously, current ARI chairman Yaron Brook has on recent episodes of his podcast attacked the Brandens and their books, but did not mention PARC.
Following the publication of PARC, there was a great deal of back and forth among me, Valliant, and others about the book. Valliant was incapable of acknowledging the huge number of misquotes and misrepresentations of his source. One of the most humorous aspects of what I dubbed “the PARC Wars” was Valliant’s taking to Wikipedia to insert favorable mentions of his book in various articles, something contrary to Wikipedia’s rules. When the proverbial poop hit the fan, Valliant, you guessed it, said it was his wife who was responsible for the insertions. Valliant made other bizarre claims, most notably that Durban House, the book’s publisher, was “independent,” when in fact “Durban House” published a review of dissident Objectivist David Kelley’s The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand (which took aim at Leonard Peikoff’s essay, "Fact and Value") on Amazon. The review sounds suspiciously like something an ARI supporter would write.
In defense of his book, Valliant has said it was “heavily edited.” Over the years, Valliant has refused all requests to name the mystery editor. However, in October 2021, Valliant said Peikoff helped him edit PARC. This appears to contradict what Valliant’s friend and collaborator Casey Fahy said on the "Rebirth of Reason" website in 2005:
The repeated claim that this book represents the 'official' position of the Ayn Rand Institute is particularly amusing to me. When Valliant, a good friend of mine, wrote Part I of the book, he knew that the Ayn Rand Institute took a dim view of even mentioning the Brandens. When he published that part, on my own website, we both believed that doing so would jeopardize what relationship he had had with Leonard Peikoff. I can personally vouch for the fact that Jim did not consult with Peikoff or anyone else associated with ARI about the content of his book—at all, ever. As proof of this, when Dr. Peikoff did make Rand's papers available to him, Peikoff told Jim that his first reaction to the very idea of the project was, and I quote, 'Am I gonna have to pick a fight with Valliant now?' And it was reading those original essays alone that convinced Peikoff to make Rand's notes available. Period.
In the comment section to the same article, Valliant and his wife (the "Magenta Hornet") posted and failed to correct Fahy on this apparent mistake.
Best I can tell, Peikoff has never said he was involved in the editing of the book. Valliant also implied in October interview that he and Peikoff were rather close friends, something that he never hinted at. In 2009, Peikoff was asked about Valliant (and Diana Hsieh). His response:
Now I have another question from the same person about two individual Objectivists with a public profile. In a long question, he wants to know what I think of them, do I agree with them and my answer is I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Shay Shaw [Hsieh]. I admire the work of both to the extent that I know it.
Indeed, one note in the book is inconsistent with Peikoff’s having been the editor. One of the most sensational claims in Branden’s biography is the contention that Rand’s husband was driven to alcoholism because of Rand’s affair with Nathaniel. Valliant denies this, giving Peikoff’s rebuttal for some of Branden’s evidence. According to Valliant, “This is the author’s best recollection of Leonard Peikoff’s statement in response to a question on the subject given during a conversation at his home in California in 1991 . . . .”
We may never know the truth about this, but Valliant’s claim that Peikoff is the mystery editor raises a couple of questions.
First, Peikoff said that the time The Passion of Ayn Rand was published that he would never read the book (and this would presumably apply to any future memoirs of Nathan Branden). Editing a critique of books that you’ve never read and were written by people you despise strikes me as an ethical problem. And, as anyone knows who has ever written or edited anything for publication, the highest percentage of mistakes concern citation errors and copying errors. An editor who refuses to read the books in question and thus could not check the source material would be incompetent and almost useless as an editor.
Second, say what you want about Peikoff, he is a good writer. It’s hard to imagine him not catching some of the obvious mistakes, non sequiturs, and repetitions, particularly since he knew the parties and was involved in the various disputes which the Brandens are supposedly lying about. As an example, Valliant says that Rand never had any contact with the Brandens after the 1968 break. However, Rand and Barbara Branden met in 1981. Peikoff must have heard about this meeting. (It is mentioned in Peikoff’s then-wife Cynthia’s interview in the ARI sponsored oral history, 100 Voices.)
It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Perhaps Valliant is telling the truth and that during the promotion of the book Peikoff did not want PARC to be seen as an authorized response to books he would never deign to read. Needless to say, nothing in Valliant’s defense of PARC provides reason to give him the benefit of the doubt either.
After I sent this post to Greg, I re-listened to the video (which starts at 19:28). Valliant said that it was his intention to publish Rand's diaries "in raw form." However, when he began the editing process with Peikoff, he had already written some of the commentary on the diaries. When PARC was published these notes were integrated into Rand's diaries, presumably with Peikoff's approval. This certainly contradicts what Fahy said about Peikoff having no role in the content of PARC. It would be truly unfortunate if Peikoff was responsible for the insertion of Valliant's hectoring and borderline slanderous notes (e.g, "Bullseye, Miss Rand," comparing Nathaniel to a "junkie" and a "drug addict," having "the soul of a rapist," calling his girlfriend Patrecia a "fraud," etc.).
* When confronted with the various misquotations, Valliant said it is standard procedure to paraphrase sources, even when using quotation marks.
** Valliant said in the 2021 interview that he is working on a revised edition of PARC which will critique the 2009 biographies of Rand.