Saturday, August 12, 2006

James Valliant on Ayn Rand and the Blumenthals

On pages 74-75 of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (“PARC”) James Valliant discusses Rand’s breaks with Henry Holzer and Allan Blumenthal as related by Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand (“PAR”).

Valliant says “one would never have guessed it from reading Ms. Branden’s book, but it was they who left Rand.” (PARC, p. 75.)

But let’s look at Ms. Branden’s book. With respect to Holzer, she says that Rand “broke” with him. (PAR, p. 385.) With respect to Allan (and Joan) Blumenthal, Branden explicitly says that it was the Blumenthals who broke with Rand. She quotes Allan Blumenthal: “I telephoned Ayn and said we no longer wished to see her.” (PAR, p. 388.) Valliant has mischaracterized PAR with respect to the Blumenthals.

Incredibly, Mr. Valliant doesn’t even cite PAR concerning Rand’s breaks with the Holzers and the Blumenthals. His source is Jeff Walker’s book The Ayn Rand Cult (“TARC”). What does Walker say? Concerning the Holzers, he implies that Rand broke with them, but “she explicitly left the door open.” (TARC, p. 35.) On page 37, Walker quotes the Holzers as saying that it was hard to walk away. Taken as a whole, I don’t think the account in TARC contradicts Branden’s account. And it doesn’t support Valliant’s claim that the Holzers broke with Rand.

Valliant also implies that Branden contends that Rand’s break with the Holzers and the Blumenthals constituted an “excommunication.” (PARC, p. 75.) But that certainly is incorrect as far as the Blumenthals go, and Branden doesn’t claim that Rand “excommunicated” the Holzers.

I’ve discussed Rand’s break with Mark Holzer, so I’ll confine my comments to the Blumenthals.

You wouldn’t know it from reading Valliant’s book, but Branden quotes the Blumenthals extensively.

Branden quotes Allan Blumenthal: "She [Rand] was relentless in her pursuit of so-called psychological errors [concerning judgments on art]. If an issue were once raised, she would never drop it; after and evening's conversation, she'd telephone the next day to ask what we had concluded about it overnight . . . It was becoming a nightmare." (PAR, p. 387.)She quotes Joan: "but, often, she would seem deliberately to insult and antagonize us." (Id.)

When I asked Valliant about the Blumenthals, he said that PARC doesn’t dispute that Branden has accurately quoted the Blumenthals or their version of events. He says we should be cautious since we haven’t heard the other side of the story, and I agree.

Although Valliant didn’t have space to mention what the Blumenthals told Branden, he does quote what Allan Blumenthal told Walker, viz, that he believes that Objectivism was created by Rand as self-therapy. Now, Walker doesn’t indicate when Blumenthal came to this conclusion. Even if we assume that Rand had good reasons for breaking intellectually with the Blumenthals (because, for example, she believed they were drifting away from Objectivism) does that make Rand’s conduct any less unfortunate? And PAR’s discussion indicates that, regardless of whatever differences existed between Rand and the Blumenthals, the Blumenthals wanted to remain friends.

I got the impression from reading PARC the first time that Valliant questions most the stories about Rand that her former associates related. He describes the Branden’s “biographical efforts” as “useless to the serious historian.” (PARC, pp. 85-86.) If the Blumenthals and others are telling the truth about their interactions with Rand, then I think it’s fair to say that Barbara Branden’s biography is not useless.

Interestingly, Valliant says a great deal about the people who broke with Rand, and questions their commitment to Objectivism and the like, but virtually never relates the rather substantial difficulties they had in getting along with Rand.


James S. Valliant said...

Are you acknowledging, then, that Ms. Branden does not adequately reveal to her readers what she knew about Hospers, Holzer, Kay Smith, Edith Efron -- material essential to a fair evaluation of Rand?

Are you suggesting that the Blumenthal account, as presented by Ms. B., IS adequate and "fair enough" to Rand, however accurately they may have been quoted?

I had no need to quote Ms. B quoting the Blumenthals, Neil, since it was Ms. B who had absurdly "lumped" all of Rand's breaks into the same package -- not me. Why don't you quote Ms. B about that?

No, Neil, as it seems that you've read and considered the whole of PARC, and that this stuff is what you regard as an honest approach to it -- or a fair appraoch to this subject -- then, I fear that this discussion is, dare I say it?, "useless," both to you and to any potential readers.

James S. Valliant said...


I will respond to what you post at only, for the reasons I indicated in my earlier posts on these topics.

sa said...