Sunday, 19 February 2017

Is Suffering Necessary For Moral Development?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Many intellectuals claim that the poverty, insecurity and coercion in the theocratic and socialist regimes is not a bad thing because it enables people to develop proper virtues. They insist that individuals learn how to be moral when they undergo suffering, and that the empty stomachs, concentration camps, torture chambers and firing squads are necessary for creating virtuous men.

Indeed, it is true that even in a dictatorship like the Soviet Union a few people are able to flourish in some areas of their life. For instance, in the Soviet Union where tens of millions of people were incarcerated, brutalized and murdered by the communist government in the infamous Gulag prison camps, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn flourished—in the area of being a thinker and writer.

He survived the Gulag prison camp and went on to write his celebrated history of the Soviet holocaust, The Gulag Archipelago, and many other books. Can the case be made that Solzhenitsyn evolved morally and intellectually due to the years of incarceration, deprivation and torture that he suffered in the Soviet prisons?

In Norms of Liberty, Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl reject the idea that suffering is a necessary condition for the moral development of individuals. Here’s an excerpt:
“It is, of course, possible for coercion to bring some persons to a position where they come to understand the appropriateness of a moral norm that they may not have otherwise seen. In fact, the extreme example of this is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He turned the Gulag into an opportunity for moral development. However, there is no necessary relationship here. What examples like the Gulag reveal is that, if individuals have some control over some areas of their lives, they might be able to integrate their circumstances into their own unique form of flourishing. Yet what this illustrates is the pluralistic character of human flourishing, not the usefulness of coercion in creating moral excellence. Indeed, what coercion often means for countless persons is the loss of their moral compasses and indeed their souls. But numbers do not matter here; what matters here is that coercion bears no necessary, or even probable, connection to moral excellence. If our goal is moral excellence, then there is little to recommend coercion generally applied.”

Friday, 17 February 2017

Recommended Books on Epistemology

Based on the reading that I have done in the past few months, here’s my recommendation of some good books on Ayn Rand’s theory of epistemology.

I should caution that this is not a comprehensive list of books on the subject—it necessarily consists of the titles that I have read and I have found profound and useful.

I have listed the titles in the order in which a beginner should read them. For instance, I have placed Dr. Harry Binswanger’s How We Know at the first position because it gives a step-by-step exposition of the fundamental ideas in epistemology. The other books will be easier to understand if it is read first.

Similarly the books on 2nd position and 3rd position have the knowledge that will be critical for comprehending the discussion in the books further down in the list.

Here’s my recommendation:

1. How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation by Dr. Harry Binswanger

2. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Dr. Leonard Peikoff

3. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand

4. The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception by Dr. David Kelley

5. A Theory of Abstraction by Dr. David Kelley

6.  The Logical Leap: Induction in Science by Dr. David Harriman

7. A Companion to Ayn Rand, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri

8. Concepts And Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox

To understand the philosophical background in which Ayn Rand developed her ideas in epistemology it is necessary to study Aristotle. Here's the list of three books on the Aristotelian system:

1. An Introduction to Logic by H. W. B. Joseph

2. Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra

3. A Companion to Aristotle, Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos

The first book in the above list is on Aristotle’s logic, the second has an insight into Aristotle’s dialectics, and the third is an exposition of Aristotle’s entire corpus.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Noumenal World of Nathaniel Branden

My Years With Ayn Rand 
Nathaniel Branden

My Years With Ayn Rand is the reminiscences of a spiteful man—a bitter man—a malicious man. This is not a biography of Ayn Rand; it is the pathetic account of Nathaniel Branden’s personal feelings of the years that he spent with her.

The book transports the reader into an unhinged world. This is not the world of Ayn Rand’s rational philosophy; it is a world ruled by Immanuel Kant’s doctrine. Welcome to Branden’s noumenal world—a world where reality can be ignored, lying is a way of life, morality is whimsicality, hypocrisy is condoned and encouraged, and the mind is devoted to speculation and rationalization.

Branden, the narcissistic shrink, uses the vantage point of Freudian psychoanalysis to derive the conclusion that Rand, the philosopher of reason and reality, was in real life a repository of irrationality, immorality, maliciousness, hypocrisy, impoliteness, and vindictiveness.

Is he talking about the real Ayn Rand? I can’t believe that Branden’s Ayn Rand is the same Ayn Rand whose corpus consists of classics like We The Living, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. The philosophy of reason, purpose, and self-esteem that she has presented in her fiction and essays are an inspiration for individuals all over the world.

The contradiction between his Ayn Rand and the real Ayn Rand is irreconcilable. If Rand was irrational in real life how did she write a magnificent defense of rationality—if she was immoral and boorish in real life then how did she propose a standard of values that is based on man’s life—if she was a rationalizer then how did she develop an objective theory of concepts?

I am not claiming that Branden is lying about Rand. He may be telling the truth in case of some of the incidents that he talks about. Rand was not a blemish-free personality. She often reacted harshly and abruptly when she was being badly treated. She had little patience for people who she felt were wasting her time. At times she made mistakes while judging people and situations. But these are temperamental issues which cannot lead us to conclude that Rand’s sense of life was flawed and that she was immoral and irrational.

The 432-page book is divided into seventeen chapters and an introduction and epilogue. In the first two chapters, Branden talks mostly about the early years of his life and how he entered Ayn Rand’s circle when he was 20-years-old. In the epilogue he gives a short summary of his life after his separation from Rand. From chapter three to chapter seventeen, which means about 85% of the book, his focus is on presenting a laundry list of scenarios and arguments which show Rand in an extremely bad light. He hardly has anything good to say about her.

He displays ruthlessness in attacking not just Rand but almost every member of her circle: Alan Greenspan is uninterested and ready to fade away from Rand’s life; Leonard Peikoff is high-strung and chronically anxious; fear and malice drip out of Murray Rothbard’s face; and so on. He attributes all the good traits to himself. For instance, in his Introduction, he superciliously declares: “I was the person responsible for launching Objectivism as a philosophical movement.”

In Chapter 8, Branden gives an account of how Rand forced their affair on their respective spouses by describing it as an intellectual pursuit. “Ayn’s manipulative dishonesty, and my own complicity in it (which is obvious to me in retrospect), seemed in that moment like ‘rationality’ and ‘realism.’” He repeatedly points out that while Rand used to rationalize and lie about their relationship, he knew from the beginning that she was taking a preposterous stand, one that would lead to a disaster.

He claims that Rand was jealous of Barbara Branden (his wife in that period)—if he showed slightest concern for Barbara in Rand’s presence, Rand tended to flare up. He says that the fact that Barbara was his wife was of no consequence to Rand. “Confused and horrified, I had to keep reminding her of this reality.” But he contradicts himself when he goes on to describe several incidents which show that Barbara was in some aspects closer to Rand than he was.

It is well known that Branden caused great damage to Rand’s reputation and to the future of Objectivist movement by playing the role of an over jealous cult organizer for her. He makes a brief mention of that in the book, but instead of acknowledging his role he blames the students at NBI (Nathaniel Branden Institute) for trying to inculcate a complete devotion to Rand. He claims that the students were more severe than him in their condemnation of infractions.

But the students could be acting in a certain way because of the training they got from Branden. He reveals in the book that they used to tell the students that Rand was the greatest human being who has ever lived, and because she “has designated Nathaniel Branden as her ‘intellectual heir’ and has repeatedly proclaimed him to be an ideal exponent of her philosophy, he is to be accorded only marginally less reverence than Ayn Rand herself.”

It was common for people in Rand’s circle to get excommunicated for their betrayal of Objectivist standards. Branden claims that Leonard Peikoff was excommunicated and exiled to the University of Denver. “[Peikoff’s] offence, as always, involved some failure to support and defend Ayn and her work in his dealings with other people.”

Branden recalls that when he informed Rand that he was studying hypnosis, there was a disconcerted look on her face—she seemed torn between “the impulse to declare hypnosis nonsense and her reluctance to suggest that her ‘intellectual heir’ had lost his mind.”   He claims that he was astonished at how closed she was to any new knowledge that seemed to clash with her familiar paradigms. But why did he expect her to endorse his brand of hypnosis?

In the epilogue, Branden describes the suspicious death of his second wife Patrecia by drowning in the swimming pool at their home. He gives the precise time when Patrecia made the final phone call to him, and the precise time when he reached home to find her body floating in the swimming pool. But this precise style of describing an incident is not there in his descriptions of his interactions with Ayn Rand, and so there is a sharp mismatch in the writing style in the earlier chapters and the epilogue.

It is clear that Branden’s intention in the book is to establish that he is morally and intellectually equal to Rand. But it is quite irrational of him to think that he can be regarded as her equal. He cannot scavenge personal glory for himself by vilifying Rand. In My Years With Ayn Rand he has an outcome that he didn't set out to achieve—the inflicting of irreparable damage to his own reputation.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Ayn Rand’s Views on Political and Cultural Issues

Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A (Kindle Edition)
Edited by Robert Mayhew

Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A is an excellent resource for gaining insight into Ayn Rand’s views on political and cultural issues.

The interviews of Rand that are there in the book were conducted during the 1960s and 1970s but the ideas that she proposes are very relevant today. This is because the political problems that we are now facing are linked to the collectivist and altruist ideas that were developed during the first half of the twentieth century.

Ayn Rand could see further than most people and she knew about the absurd outcomes such ideas would inevitably lead to. It is an interesting experience to read her answers and compare what she has said to what is happening today.

Here are a few quotes from Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A:
“The first thing Objectivism would advocate in regard to undeveloped nations is not to send them material help but to teach them political freedom. For any nation, no matter how undeveloped, if it establishes a political system that protects individual rights, its progress and development will be phenomenal.” 
“When currency is not backed by gold, then we are under the power of a government that arbitrarily sets the value of money, devalues the currency, inflates credit, and taxes us indirectly through the manipulation of money (which is more disastrous than direct taxation). The government's power to destroy the objective value and security of currency is precisely what ultimately destroys the economy.” 
“The notion that antitrust laws protects free competition is a wide-spread economic fallacy.”
“Nationalism as a primary—that is, the attitude of “my country, right or wrong,” without any judgement—is chauvinism: a blind, collectivist, racist feeling for your own country, merely because you were born there. In that sense, nationalism is very wrong. But nationalism properly understood – as a man's devotion to his country because of an approval of its basic premises, principles, and social system, as well as its culture – is the common bond among men of that nation. It is a commonly understood culture, and an affection for it, that permits a society of men to live together peacefully. But a country and its system must earn this approval. It must be worthy of that kind of devotion.” 
"If men want to organize into a union and bargain collectively with their employer, that is their right, provided they don't force anyone to join, or force their employer to negotiate with them.
“Politics must begin with an idea. You cannot win elections with isolated slogans used once in four years. If anything practical can be done, it is this: Work out a consistent set of principles, and teach it to the people in your party: precinct workers, local candidates, and perhaps national candidates.”
“Anyone serious about saving the world today must first discard the dominant philosophy of the culture. Stand on your own as much as if you moved to a separate valley, like in Atlas Shrugged. Check your premises; define your convictions rationally. Do not take anything on faith; do not believe that your elders know what they're doing; because they don’t." 
“The difference between religion and philosophy is that religion is a matter of faith. You either have faith or you don't. You cannot argue about it. But when you deal with philosophy, you deal with reason and logic. That is an objective element of language common to all men. You can try to persuade others that you are right, or you are free to disagree with them. In a free country, you need not deal with them. But religion is an issue of faith. By definition, if one doesn't accept faith, or if different people believe different faiths, no common action, agreement, or persuasion is possible among them if religion is made a condition of political agreement.”  
“When a country doesn't recognize the individual rights of its own citizens, it cannot claim any national or international rights. Therefore, anyone who wants to invade a dictatorship or semi-dictatorship is morally justified in doing so, because he is doing no worse than what that country has accepted as its social system. It is improper to attack a free country, because it recognizes the individual rights of its citizens.”

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ayn Rand on the Right and Wrong Kinds of Nationalism

In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A, Ayn Rand says that there can be more than one kind of nationalism depending on how the term is interpreted. She says this in response to the question: What is the value of nationalism?

This is how Rand describes a wrong kind of nationalism:
“Nationalism as a primary—that is, the attitude of “my country, right or wrong,” without any judgement—is chauvinism: a blind, collectivist, racist feeling for your own country, merely because you were born there. In that sense, nationalism is very wrong.”
Here’s her description of the right kind of nationalism:
“Nationalism properly understood – as a man's devotion to his country because of an approval of its basic premises, principles, and social system, as well as its culture – is the common bond among men of that nation. It is a commonly understood culture, and an affection for it, that permits a society of men to live together peacefully. But a country and its system must earn this approval. It must be worthy of that kind of devotion.” 
Nowadays it has become cool to despise all nationalists as racists and collectivists of the worst kind. But Rand did not hold such an opinion. She thought that if the country is “worthy of devotion” then there is nothing wrong in people being devoted to their country. She regarded nationalism as a common bond between rational and free people who have knowledge of culture.

I have pointed out in my earlier article, “Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism,” that Rand was an advocate of intelligent patriotism.

Related:

Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism

Logic and Experience

“Man’s knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience or by experience apart from logic, but by the application of logic to experience. All truths are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience.” ~ Leonard Peikoff 

(Source: Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; Chapter: "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" by Leonard Peikoff)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism

Given the rise of nationalist political movements in the world’s major democracies, it is of no surprise that the Objectivist community is giving lot of attention to the topics of nationalism and globalism (internationalism).

For some Objectivists, nationalism is equivalent to barbarism, racism, senseless wars, and fascist dictatorship. Other Objectivists reject this view of nationalism—they say that the contemporary nationalist movements have gained popularity because normal people want political change—they are exasperated by the catastrophic domestic and foreign policies of the progressive governments.

But what was Ayn Rand’s position on nationalism and internationalism? Rand has presented her views on these topics in two articles that she wrote in 1962—“Britain’s National Socialism” and “Nationalism versus Internationalism.” (Published in The Ayn Rand Column)

In the article “Britain’s National Socialism” (LA Times, October 4, 1962), Rand writes:

“For decades, the ‘liberals’ have regarded “nationalism” as an arch-evil of capitalism. They denounced national self-interest—they permitted no distinction between intelligent patriotism and blind, racist chauvinism, deliberately lumping them together—they smeared all opponents of internationalist doctrines as ‘reactionaries,’ ‘fascists’ or ‘isolationists’—and they brought this country to the stage where expressions such as “America First” became terms of opprobrium.”

Rand points out that the liberals “clamored that nationalism was the cause of wars—and that the only way to achieve global peace was to dissolve all national boundaries, sacrifice national sovereignty and merge into the United Nations or into One World.”

She rejects the globalist idea that it is the moral duty of the people in developed societies to surrender their freedom, their rights, their wealth and even their military defence “to the mercy of the majority vote of the savage tribes of the whole world.” She says that a nation has the right to neglect the views of every other country in the world (if the need arises) and implement a domestic and foreign policy that will safeguard the interests of its own citizens.

In the article “Nationalism versus Internationalism” (LA Times, November 4, 1962), Rand denounces the doctrine of internationalism or globalism. She writes:

“Championed and propagated by ‘liberals’ for many decades, internationalism is collectivism applied to the relationships of nations. Just as domestic collectivism holds that an individual’s freedom and interests must be sacrificed to the ‘public interest’ of society—so internationalism holds that a nation’s sovereignty and interests must be sacrificed to a global community.”

Ayn Rand was certainly not a nationalist, but it is clear from the two articles that she did not equate nationalism with barbarians, warmongers, fascists, and racists. She thought that when the nationalists are motivated by intelligent patriotism they can achieve better political outcomes. What she strongly rejects is the doctrine of internationalism or globalism.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Foreign Policy Inspired by The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal For America
Ayn Rand Institute Press, 2004
Peter Schwartz

“The premise shaping our foreign policy is that we must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of weaker nations because self-interest cannot be the standard of our actions,” says Peter Schwartz in the opening chapter of The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest.

He is sharply critical of the American foreign policy which is modelled on the morally flawed precept of self-sacrifice. Such foreign policy emboldens the dictatorships and terrorist organizations—it leads to a rise in the threats that America faces—it hinders the American leaders from responding self-assertively and unapologetically to safeguard their nation’s interests.

Schwartz brings Ayn Rand’s philosophical principles of reason, individualism and capitalism to the realm of international politics and argues about the futility of having a foreign policy that entails a sacrifice of American interests. While his arguments are philosophical, his analysis of foreign policy is genuinely incisive.

He asserts that “freedom is the end to which all other political actions are the means. This is the standard by which a nation’s interests ought to be measured—and this is where the science of foreign policy should begin.” He says that as America is a nation that enshrines freedom it must adopt a foreign policy that is based on self-interest.

“Since freedom can be breached only by the initiation of force, our foreign policy must protect us from foreign aggressors. Our government must safeguard American lives and property by using retaliatory force agains the initiators. This is how our freedom is preserved.”

Schwartz says that the US must wage war only when there is a threat to the freedom of its citizens. “Our government is not the world’s policeman… It is, however, America’s policeman.” When self-interest and preservation of freedom are the considerations then America will have the moral power to use force to eradicate any foreign threat.

In his critique of American foreign policy, Schwarz devotes considerable attention to the Islamic states of the Middle East. He says that Washington is incapable of defending American interests because “our officials are uncertain about the moral validity of America’s war on terrorism.” The policy of appeasing the dictatorships is, in Schwartz’s view, contributing to the rise in terrorism.

A dictatorship that remains in power by robbing the freedom of its citizens will never have a foreign policy that promotes freedom. The aim of its foreign policy is to destroy freedom in other countries just as the aim of its domestic policy is to destroy freedom within the country.

He offers a forceful denunciation of the American policy of giving moral endorsement to countries like Iran. He rejects the possibility of American military being used to bring freedom to the people of the Middle East. He asserts, “Freedom is an idea. It cannot be forced upon a culture that refuses to value it. It cannot be forced upon a society wedded to tribalist, collectivist values.”

Washington’s vacillating foreign policy entails such erratic use of force that the dictatorships and terrorists think that they will prevail because Americans will be unwilling to fight a long drawn battle. Schwartz says that a principled foreign policy must anticipate the future consequences—it must be preemptive—in delivering punishment it must make the next attack impossible.

In the book’s final chapter, “The moral and the Practical,” Schwartz says that the threats to America are rising because of philosophical default on part of its intellectuals and politicians. He blames the false dichotomy between the moral and practical for weakening America’s foreign policy. “The dichotomy goes unchallenged because the only moral standard most people can conceive is one that enshrines self-sacrifice.”

The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest is of only 80 pages—you can easily read it in four or five hours. But in this small number of pages Schwartz explains why the foreign policy of America is failing to protect the country, and he offers an interesting exposition of a rational foreign policy based on Ayn Rand’s philosophic system, which espouses the values of reason, individualism and capitalism.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Lindsay Perigo on Philosophical Fakery

In his controversial article,“Philosophical Fakery,” Lindsay Perigo accuses Yaron Brook, the CEO of Ayn Rand Institute, of ditching Ayn Rand and siding with the leftists. 

It is difficult to believe that Brook, a world-renowned promoter of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, can have any association with leftist ideas. But Perigo insists that Brook and a few other scholars at the ARI are suffering from some kind of “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” which makes them vulnerable to leftist politics. 

According to Perigo, Brook and his colleagues at ARI have allowed Objectivism to be highjacked by the forces of Islamo-Marxism and their philosophy is no longer in line with philosophy of Ayn Rand. Their philosophy is, claims Perigo, “a manifestation of what I call Obleftivism.” 

Has Perigo given sufficient evidence to back the laundry list of accusations against Yaron Brook?—many people will ask this question. Perhaps there is a philosophical context behind the harsh comments that Brook has made against Trump in his radio broadcasts. In a forthcoming article, Brook may offer an explanation for the political outlook that the scholars at the ARI have of Trump.

But the view of rights that Perigo presents while making a case against "open borders" is something that may be of interest to the Objectivists. Here's an excerpt:
Objectivism does not contend that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Objectivism views that as an intrinsicist view of rights. Objectivists, if asked, would eschew such a view. 
Overall, the article is interestingly written and Perigo's arguments may appeal to the supporters of President Trump who seem totally convinced that their President is being irrationally targeted and opposed by the intellectual community, including many Objectivists.  

"Obleftivism," is an notable word and it is also a sharp accusation. If this word is not countered firmly and clearly, the accusation may actually stick and the reputation of certain popular leaders of Objectivism may get tarnished. Such an outcome will be very unfortunate. Here's Perigo's explanation of the term: 
Obleftivism refuses to acknowledge, let alone proudly proclaim, that Western Culture is The Best; that it’s entitled to protect and preserve itself qua Western culture, manifested in a plenitude of ways in specific Western nations; to say such a thing, according to Obleftivists, is “nationalism,” or even worse, “patriotism”—both odious signs of [gasp] “collectivism.” 
Perigo's ends the article with these lines:
I am a Deplorable, irredeemably. And I deplore Obleftivism.
Obleftivism is Fake Objectivism!
It's party time in America! Yaron Brook is a party-pooper!
Make Objectivism Great Again!
 
It will be interesting to see if Yaron Brook will take cognizance of Lindsay Perigo's article and come up with a riposte. Perigo's article is available at these two links: Here and Here

Monday, 6 February 2017

Awareness is not omniscience; it’s awareness of something in some form

In Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge, Gregory Salmieri has interesting arguments to explain why the limits of perception cannot be described as errors.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, "Forms of Awareness And 'Three-Factor' Theories," by Salmieri:
“Since any sense faculty will be limited in its acuity, regarding these limits as obscuring the world from us amounts to taking as one’s standard of awareness the sort of omniscience that Moore, Bertrand Russell, and others thought that we had of sense-data. But it is impossible to live up to this (supernatural) standard, and so it will push us toward the conclusion that our acquaintance with external object is always partially obscured or else superimposed with a hallucinatory material. Any view that includes this (supernatural) standard of direct awareness will, if developed consistently, lead us to regard ourselves as trapped behind a veil of perception (even if some versions will permit us to regard the veil as less than fully opaque).” 
The chapter (to be precise, the entire book) is worth reading.

(Source: Concepts And Their Role in Knowledge, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

What is wrong in the slogan — "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

Here's an excerpt from the letter that Ayn Rand wrote to Rose Wilder Lane on November 3, 1946:
About “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” You are right that one of the troubles here lies in the world “love.” It’s certainly the wrong word, with no exact meaning in this particular slogan. That is the first reason why the slogan should be dropped. Any inexact statement of what purports to be a principle, creates nothing but harm. 
But whatever meaning we attempt to attach to this slogan—it still remains a tenet of collectivism. If “love” here means self-preservation, as you say, or the protection of one’s interests—well, it still means that you must preserve and protect others as much as yourself. Since your chief activity of self-preservation on earth is work to obtain food, the slogan means that you must work for others as much as for yourself. If so—collectivism is the proper social system for men. (A slogan or precept should be applied and observed literally, concretely, consistently, in every instance which it covers—or not at all.)
Source: Letters of Ayn Rand

Friday, 3 February 2017

An Enquiry Concerning the Objectivist Movement During the 1950s and 1960s

With the aim of gaining an understanding of the role that Nathaniel Branden played in the early history of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist movement, I have procured three books:

The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden 
The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by James S. Valliant
My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden (Kindle edition)

Earlier I had read Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand And The World She Made—but I didn’t like the book because Heller has drawn all kinds of inferences without providing any valid reason.

The biographical essays on Rand that I have read are mostly lacking in a detailed picture of her life and work. A few of the biographical essays are too hagiographic and they avoid an objective discussion of Nathaniel Branden.

Apparently Branden was a central figure in Objectivism (next only to Ayn Rand) during the 1950s and 1960s. But most Objectivists have a very negative opinion of him.

I have read articles which suggest that Nathaniel, and his wife Barbara, were involved in financial improprieties. On their part, Nathaniel and Barbara have written articles in which they refute the allegations and make the countercharge that they are being victimized.

In the final pages of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, James Stevens Valliant delivers his moral judgement on Nathaniel Branden:

“Ayn Rand was a unique individual, generations ahead of her time. In the person of Nathaniel Branden, she had sensed the possibility of achieving the complete visibility she had yearned for… This hope, buoyed by Rand’s exalted sense of life and concept of romance, is what Branden profoundly undermined in Rand by his prolonged, calculated, and terrible deceit. The full measure of the suffering he caused her can only be guessed.”

I think that these few lines by Valliant represent the quintessence of the disgust that the Objectivists have for Branden.

It is worth noting that in 1968 Branden was evicted from Ayn Rand’s inner circle not because of any “philosophical or moral concern” but on emotional and perhaps financial reasons. In the l’affaire Branden the best Objectivists have been caught conducting in a non-Objectivist way.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the editor of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, is an outlier on the Branden issue. He blames the “orthodox Objectivists” for spreading disinformation to distort Branden’s legacy.

My interest in Branden developed after I read the December 2016 issue of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies which is a symposium on the work and legacy of Nathaniel Branden.

In the Journal’s Prologue, Sciabarra asserts that Branden played a critical role in the development of the philosophy of Objectivism. The Journal’s articles project Branden in a positive light and make the case that without his contributions there may not have been an Objectivist movement.

The scanty information that I currently possess does not enable me to decide what kind of person Branden was or what were his contributions, if any, to Objectivism. But I hope that in the three books that I will soon be reading I will find the information on Branden’s short-lived Objectivist saga.