Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Only You, Lu

On page 43 of PARC, Valliant discusses Rand’s comments that she wrote about Ludwig von Mises in the margins of his books that she read, as well as Nathaniel Branden’s reactions to them. Rand was on friendly terms with the great Austrian economist and free market liberal. She recommended his books in her magazine. Von Mises, it should be remembered, was a Kantian in epistemology and a utilitarian in ethics, two positions with which Rand sharply disagreed, much as she agreed with his economics. In spite of these differences, Nathaniel Branden relates that he (Branden) was “shocked” when Rand showed him her comments in which she referred to von Mises as a “bastard.” Valliant contends that Branden considered Rand a “hypocrite” to be nice in public to von Mises, but so critical in private. Valliant considers this “small” and “petty.” Indeed, criticizing Rand for her marginal notes is a “new low” for Branden. (PARC, p. 43.)

As usual, Branden’s version is a bit more complex. Branden points out that Rand was polite to von Mises. When Rand showed him her marginal notes, he was surprised that they were so harsh. He asked her if she considered him a “bastard,” (note, not a “goddamned fool” as Valliant has it) and she said “As a total person, no, I suppose I don’t. But if I focus on that aspect of him, where he goes irrational, yes, I do.” He says that it didn’t occur to him to consider Rand a “hypocrite” (whether he does now isn’t stated). (MYWAR, p. 116.) This is the context of Branden’s comments. Branden doesn’t say that Rand shouldn’t be “passionate about ideas,” not does he deny that Rand legitimately believed that Capitalism needed a different foundation from that provided by Mises. It’s the tone that she uses and what Branden thinks it means that bothers him. Even if Branden is a bit harsh on Rand, this is a good example of a purported piece of evidence that does nothing to undermine the accuracy of his memoirs.

Incidentally, in the published version of the marginalia I can’t find Rand calling von Mises a “bastard.” Many people who have read the published version of Rand’s “marginalia” consider it unfair. See the critique by Michael Prescott here.

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