Sunday, August 06, 2006

James Valliant on the Passion of Ayn Rand

My copy of the Donahue tape hasn’t arrived from the ARI, so I’ll have to discuss a couple points in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) that have been mentioned before, but this time with the emphasis on how James Valliant represents arguments made in The Passion of Ayn Rand (PAR).

More on the Name Change

On page 12 of PARC, Valliant says:

“’Ms. Branden also tells us: 'Ayn Rand never told her family in Russia her new name . . . they never knew she became Ayn Rand.’ Ms. Branden may be trying to insinuate that Rand was being neurotically secretive, perhaps even turning her back on her family. This is the sort of vague impression we will see the Brandens persistently attempt to create. Ms. Branden certainly claims that this was an important reason why Rand lost contact with her family shortly before World War II—they did not know her name.” [Ellipses in the original PARC.]

What Branden said in full is:

“Ayn never told her family in Russia the new name she had chosen. She had no doubt that she would one day be famous, and she feared that if it were known in Russia that she was Alice Rosenbaum, daughter of Fronz and Anna, her family’s safety, even their lives, would be endangered by their relationship to a vocal anti-Communist. Through all the years that she corresponded with her family, until just before World War II, Russia refused entry to mail from the United States and she lost track of them—they never knew she had become ‘Ayn Rand.’” (PAR, 71-72.)

Valliant creates a totally different impression of what Branden is writing through the use of the ellipses. He omits Branden’s assertion that Rand (allegedly) did not tell her family in Russia that here new name was “Ayn Rand” for concern for their safety. Had this been true (which it apparently wasn’t) it would have been a perfectly reasonably concern on Rand’s part. So while Branden may be mistaken on the name issue, nothing she says implies that she considers Rand to have been “neurotically secretive” much less “turning her back” on her family in Russia. In fact, Branden is saying the opposite. Rand corresponded with them often and would have continued had it not been for a change in Soviet policy shortly before World War II. Had Valliant included the material in the ellipses this would have been clear. Finally, although a minor point, I don’t read Branden as claiming that the new name resulted in her family in Russia losing track with her. I think “they never knew she had become ‘Ayn Rand’” refers back to the opening statement of the sentence about the correspondence (as Valliant appears to read it in his first sentence quoted).

More on We the Living

On page 44 of PARC, Valliant claims that Branden alleges that Rand’s statements concerning the changes in the revised We the Living were the product of “self-delusion.” Branden, while noting that Rand claims she did change the content of the book, says she removed the Nietzscheian element from the book. Branden says Rand “evidently considered it a defect” and decided to “ignore” the reason for the changes rather than explain it to her readers. (PAR, 114-15.)

Say what you want about Branden’s analysis of the content of the changes, she is not accusing Rand of being self-delusional. Branden accuses Rand of deliberately refusing to admit the extent (and the reason for) the changes. Perhaps it isn't too strong to say that Branden is accusing Rand of lying, but doesn’t want to come out and say it.


James S. Valliant said...

The omitted material on the name merely focused Ms. Branden's error, here, Neil: i.e., that Rand's Russian family never knew her new name (they knew it before Rand came to America.) The suggestion I make, as I explicitly indicate, requires a complete reading of the book. I also cover Rand's motive in adopting a new name, as Ms. Branden describes it, and as it it appears in the material I omitted by ellipses. (Something about PARC you left out.) There was nothing misleading there.

Indeed, it is your omitting the bulk of my case from consideration which I find the curious distortion.

In any event, with respect to the We the Living changes, when you say that Ms. Branden may be suggesting Rand is "lying" but "without coming out and saying" so, let me suggest that Ms. Branden wants us to see such "dishonesty" as self-delusion. Only rarely does she accuse Rand of telling a overt lie and, in fact, appears to have a general respect for her (conscious) honesty. Ms. B. repeatedly suggests however that Rand was self-deluded about things involving her self-evaluation. Okay, we disagree, but this appears to be one of those -- and, it's no great leap.

Neil, is this the only stuff you are going to talk about?

ObjectiBlog said...


I realize that you might not consider these to be the most important instances of the Brandens' dishonesty, but you are making a cummulative case againt them. So the best way to deal with these charges is to proceed chapter by chapter.

Had the tape from the ARI arrived, I would have been up to page 86, which is decent progress considering that I've been at this for two weeks.

James S. Valliant said...

Yeah, but what about all the other stuff you're just skipping?

ObjectiBlog said...

I'm not sure what you think I'm skipping up to where I am at in the book. Yes I haven't mentioned the points about whether Rand liked to cook, liked exercise, suprise parties and the like. Even if there are discrepancies there, I don't think they constitute proof that the Brandens are fabricating.

James S. Valliant said...


I am not sure I will be coming back here.

If you choose to ignore most of what I say about those things, and others, with an uncritical global dismissal of that kind, there seems little point in my going on with this.

Also, since you do not appear to have finished ~ even Part I ~ before making your global assessments, I can only guess that your conclusions are what you set out to convince yourself of in the first place.

ObjectiBlog said...


I don't think I'm ignoring what you say, it's just that as I work my way through the book I'm not pursuaded. My tape from the ARI arrived yesterday so that will be my topic this weekend.

What do you think the best examples of the Brandens' dishonesty are?

James S. Valliant said...

You are systematically ignoring stuff -- even from the perspective of the micronic method with which you are approaching things.

Tell 'ya what, Neil, before you publish anything further, would you do me the favor of reading the WHOLE thing? Then, by all means, let's go back and find the stuff you don't find convincing, and, together, we can evaluate what the strongest and weakest elements are.