Sunday, August 06, 2006

On Breaking With Rand

I have been discussing some of the people who broke with Rand, including Murray Rothbard, Henry Mark Holzer and John Hospers.

Barbara Branden says that starting with the publication of Atlas Shrugged many people entered Rand’s orbit. “Some of her new friends circled her orbit for a few weeks, some remained for months, some remained for years; but with very few exceptions, the relationships were ruptured in anger as Ayn felt her friends to have failed reason, morality and herself.” (PAR, p. 311-12.) I don’t read PAR as alleging that Rand never had good reason to split with people, or that the split was always Rand’s fault, or that every split ended in some sort of excommunication. So I don’t think it undermines Branden’s biography to point out that Rand had good reason to sever her relationship with John Hospers.

It is also true that many of this who split with Rand have confirmed the accuracy of parts of Branden’s biography. In the current issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Robert Hessen states:

“As an eyewitness to many such outbursts [Rand’s interactions with questioners], I can verify that Ms. Branden’s claim was accurate and not exaggerated.”

Justin Raimondo, in his biography of Rothbard, quotes a 1954 letter from Rothbard to Richard Cornuelle. Rothbard writes:

“[George Reisman] found himself under a typical vitriolic Randian barrage, according to which anyone who is not now or soon will be a one-hundred percent Randian Rationalist is an ‘enemy’ and an ‘objective believer in death and destruction’ as well as crazy.” (An Enemy of the State, p. 110.)

Interestingly, some who broke with Rand are, as Valliant acknowledges, no fans of the Brandens.

Unfortunately, it seems that almost all we have to go on is people’s recollections. I don’t know of many recordings, documents or journals that shed much light on the issue.

9 comments:

James S. Valliant said...

Do you "read me" was denying that Rand was angry?

Ms. B. claims that Rand's breaks were irrational - she was a the "victim" of one of these. Hmmm.

Neither Branden establishes the existence of a single irrational "break." This was, after all, their claim.

Reisman was never one of those "breaks," as you might find out if you ask him about it...

James S. Valliant said...

The first sentence should read, "Do you 'read me' AS denying..."

See, Neil, your silence on so much of what I do say about all of this has now become a giant distortion of its own.

ObjectiBlog said...

Barbara Branden concedes that there were people who stayed with Rand to the end. I checked the index to her book and she doesn't mention George Reisman at all. I think that was a mistake, given that he knew her since the 1950s.

You admit that Rand got angry and at times unjustly, but if I were the Brandens I could say "see Valliant will only admit that we are telling the truth when he can't deny it."

I don't claim that Barbara Branden is a particularly good historian or that Nathaniel Branden's books are reliable memoirs (I don't know). My point is only that I am not convinced that you have shown they are lying. (I believe that Richard Lawrence said the same thing on solo when your book came out.)

As far as the people who broke with Rand, I don't see the Brandens as arguing that there weren't philosophical differences. They claim that many people would have been happy to remain Rand's friends notwithstanding philosophical disagreements, but Rand was unkind to them, resulting in them deciding to break with her.

Let me give an example, on pages 386-87 of PAR, there is a discussion of the Blumenthals.

Branden quotes Allan Blumenthal as saying "She was relentless in her pursuit of so-called pyschological 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."

She quotes Joan: "but, often, she would seem deliberately to insult and antagonize us."

Are you claiming that the Blumenthals are lying or that Branden misquoted them? If this was Rand's attitude, then I think "irrational" might be a good word. I have plenty of friends who disagree with me on all sorts of issues.

Certainly Branden doesn't deny that it was they who broke with her. In fact she admits it.

I don't know Prof. Reisman and the only time I corresponded with him was to tell him how much I liked Capitalism. I don't believe that he has written in depth about his relationship with Rand. If, for example, he has said that he never saw Rand harrangue the Blumenthals or anyone else concerning their view of art, then this would be important evidence that would undercut the reliability of PAR.

james S. Valliant said...

PARC does not challenge the Blumenthals' story or the idea the Blumenthals were quoted correctly -- I presume they would have challenged Ms. B. by now about it if they were not.

But, as I say in PARC, it was not Rand who broke with the Blumenthals. This cannot be an irrational "break" on her part, whatever the truth of the Blumenthals' account.

But it should also be clear to you that I regard an evaluation of their statements as a completely different matter than those of the Brandens.

Even so, I would say that we are getting one side of the story and would exercise caution in relying upon their evaluations of these things.

I must also note that it is strange that my personal credibility is at question here. I really have no ax to grind like the subjects of my analysis obviously analysis do.

ObjectiBlog said...

Jim,

I'm not challenging your credibility. I'm just saying that you claims about "selective memory" on the Bradens' part strikes me as too speculative.

And where does Branden say that Rand broke with the Blumenthals. On page 386 she says: "In 1978, Joan and Allen ended their relationship with Rand." She quotes Joan: "I telephoned Ayn and said that we no longer wished to see her."

Anonymous said...

JV: "I really have no ax to grind like the subjects of my analysis obviously do."

It's not obvious to me that the Brandens have an axe to grind. Your book tries to prove this point (as well as trying to prove them as liars) and fails at both.

James S. Valliant said...

If bias issues are not immediately apparent from the circumstances of the Brandens' nasty break with Rand -- as will be obvious to future historians -- and if you cannot see that the attack on Rand doesn't just happen to fit their self-portrait of victimhood - again, as will be obvious with a bit more perspective -- then there is little one can say, anon.

Neil, in case you missed it, I do not believe that this is really a memory issue. The Brandens suppress information from Rand's "side" of each and every one of these things, except Rothbard's break.

That's the point you keep refusing to address. Well, one of them, anyway. The evidence and arguments for dishonesty won't go away by ignoring them.

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