I am posting a series on James Valliant's book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics which was published in 2005. Since this book has prompted some people to reevaluate their view of Ayn Rand and the Brandens, I think it is appropriate to discuss the book's scholarship. Incidentally, I do not claim to be an expert on the life of Ayn Rand, nor am I a supporter of the Brandens. I have never met either and my only contact with them consists of a brief email exchange with Nathaniel Branden on an unrelated issue some years back. I have never contributed to The Objectivist Center and have never attended its conferences.
I'm now on chapter three, entitled "Mullah Rand?" Here Mr. Valliant discusses the claim that Rand was an authoritarian who demanded complete allegiance, thus provoking several followers such as Murray Rothbard, Edith Efron, the Blumenthals, the Holzers, and the Smiths to "split" with her.
I'll turn first to Murray Rothbard. Rothbard and Rand broke in 1958. Mr. Valliant repeats the claim that Rothbard "plagiarized" Rand. Here is Mr. Valliant:
"Murray Rothbard (43), apart from being an anarchist, was clearly using ideas he got from Rand in scholarly articles without crediting his own source for the material, and he continued to do so throughout his career. (44)".
He adds that when Rothbard discussed something that Rand also discussed, "[his] own first source for the point was invariably (and quite obviously) Rand." (pages 70-71.) He accuses Rothbard of "plagiarism" and "intellectual larceny."
Rothbard met Rand in the early 1950s and died in 1995, writing until the end. Mr. Valliant apparently contends that Rothbard had been stealing from Rand's for approximately 40 years without attribution. In footnote 44, Mr. Valliant gives his only examples: a work called "Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences" (particularly on the "validation of free will") and also chapter one of Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty, particular the phrase "the fusion of matter and spirit" in production. Mr. Valliant does not give any sentences from Rothbard's works that were allegedly lifted from Rand's writings.
The claim that Rothbard plagiarized Rand's ideas has been raised before, but generally revolves around Rothbard's 1958 essay "The Mantle of Science" and a claim this essay borrowed from Rand's ideas generally and Barbara Branden's master's thesis on free will specifically.
Mr. Valliant appears to be confused here. There is no essay by Rothbard entitled “Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences.” Cato however did publish a booklet entitled Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences which contains “Mantle” and an essay called “Praxeology as the Method of the Social Sciences.” In any event, Mr. Valliant seems to be referring to the discussion of free will in “Mantle” but neglects to mention that Miss Branden was the alleged principle victim of Rothbard's supposed plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a strong claim. It does not mean using a few ideas without attribution but literally stealing words. So Mr. Valliant should present the evidence that Rothbard copied material from Rand if he is going to make this allegation.
PARC came out in May 2005. Mr. Valliant did not have the benefit of hearing George Reisman's August 2005 speech at the Ludwig von Mises institute in which he discussed this incident. Reisman was on friendly terms with both Rand and Rothbard at the time. According to Reisman, Rothbard did not plagiarize from Rand or Branden, but should have mentioned that he first heard certain ideas from Rand. However, by the time PARC came out, Joseph Stromberg's discussion of the plagiarism allegation was available on the web and also Justin Raimondo's 2000 biography of Rothbard entitled An Enemy of the State which has the most extensive discussion I'm aware of Rothbard's relationship with Rand and the Brandens. Unfortunately, neither is mentioned.