Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ayn Rand Bookstore Catalog

[Cross-Posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

My copy of The Ayn Rand Bookstore 2008 Catalog arrived the other day. The ARB is owned by the ARI, so you can be sure that you are getting your Objectivism straight-up. The catalog is 74 pages and well produced. It contains lectures, books, coffee mugs, t-shirts and just about everything else needed to make you a passionate valuer of all things Randian.

What is most striking about the catalog is how prominently Leonard Peikoff is featured. On page 2, right after “Who was Ayn Rand?”, there is “Who is Leonard Peikoff?” He is, of course, “the preeminent authority on Objectivism.” In fact, Peikoff’s works come before Rand’s. ARB even sells a documentary on Peikoff. “The life of Leonard Peikoff is a heroic one. From his early years as a precocious student tortured by the dichotomy of the ‘moral’ vs. the ‘practical’ . . . to his . . . already-classic books . . . .”

The catalog also contains the odd disclaimer that “the inclusion of Leonard Peikoff’s materials . . . does not imply that he agrees with the content of other items herein.” No such disclaimer is given for associates of Ayn Rand such as Harry Binswanger or Allan Gotthelf. I guess Peikoff doesn’t call himself Rand’s “intellectual heir” for nothing.

You can purchase lectures by Peikoff on subjects big and small, from his “Induction in Philosophy in Physics” where he solves the problem of induction (thus completing “in every essential respect, the validation of reason”) to “Poems I Like—and Why.” This doesn’t come cheap: $205.00 for the former and $47.00 for the latter (plus $27.00 shipping). And why is it that none of the material in the catalog is available to download to your MP3 players? Wouldn’t downloads be cheaper for the ARB to produce (no need to make CDs) and save customers the rather hefty shipping costs?

The ARB offers several courses and lectures by David Harriman, ARI’s resident expert on physics and philosophical issues related thereto. Readers of ARCHNBlog won’t be surprised to learn that modern physics has been “corrupted” by Kant. Space is even a “chimera” (why not an anti-concept?) and we should return to “the relational view held by Aristotle.”

There are many lectures that would be of interest to anyone critical or sympathetic to Objectivism. If you want to know the Objectivist take on numerous topics not addressed by Rand, there is a dearth of published sources. I’d be willing to pony up some of my hard earned cash to learn what Objectivists think of Karl Popper, or how the Objectivist theory of concepts differs from other theories, but these lectures are just a bit too expensive. And given the bluster that Official Objectivists often direct toward non-Objectivists, I expect to be disappointed.

There’s truly something for everyone in the catalog. Psychologists Edwin Locke and Ellen Kenner even offer a course on sex containing role-playing dialogues “suitable for . . . same-sex couples.” One wonders what Rand would have thought.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Literature of Orthodox Objectivism

In 1967, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism became complete. In that year, Rand published her collection of essays entitled Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (it was published by Mentor with Leonard Peikoff’s essay in 1979). By that time, she had written The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and published her important articles “The Objectivist Ethics” and “The Nature of Government.”

Considering the revolutionary nature of Objectivism and the pure evil and evident absurdity of non-Objectivist thought, one might assume that Objectivists would rush into print with defenses and elaborations of Objectivism. Best I can tell, the number of books actually advancing Objectivism is quite small. (I exclude books written by non-ARI Objectivists).

1. Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels (1982)
2. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1993)
3. David Kelley, The Evidence of the Senses (1988)
4. Harry Binswanger, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts (his doctoral thesis, published by the ARI press)
5. Tara Smith, Viable Values (2000)
6. Tara Smith, Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics (2006)

Even if I’ve forgotten a book or two, this is hardly an impressive list. Granted there is a fair amount of literature produced by Objectivists, but much of it is general discussions of Rand or material unrelated to Objectivism per se. I would put in this list Allan Gotthelf’s 2000 book On Ayn Rand (a 100 page synopsis of Rand’s thought) and Andrew Bernstein’s The Capitalist Manifesto, a defense of capitalism. One prolific Objectivist is Robert Mayhew, who has edited collections about We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Rand’s “marginalia,” Rand’s answers to questions posed at lectures or interviews, and a book on Rand’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities on the movie “Song of Russia” (Ayn Rand and Song of Russia).

While Objectivists are short on writing books, they are long on producing taped lectures. Quite often one will hear Objectivists recommend Leonard Peikoff’s tape courses, such as Objectivism Through Induction, to those who raise issues about Objectivism. I haven’t listened to this course, but it’s unreasonable to expect critics to spend $270.00 to purchase the CDs. (One can purchase slickly produced courses from The Teaching Company for much less.) If this course is so great, why doesn’t Peikoff publish transcripts of it?

For years we have heard that Peikoff will be publishing a book on his DIM Hypothesis, David Harriman a book on physics applying Peikoff’s theory of induction, and Harry Binswanger on consciousness. If these books see the light of day and are reasonably priced, I will be among the first purchasers.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Rand's Style of Argument, Part 2

[Cross-Posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

In the first part of this post, I discussed Rand’s style of argumentation as found in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. As I pointed out, Rand often defends her position using as a background the supposedly failed views of other philosophers. She takes much the same approach in “The Objectivist Ethics.”

Rand quickly disposes with the entire history of ethical thought. “In the sorry record of the history of mankind’s ethics—with few rare, and unsuccessful, exceptions—moralists have regarded ethics as the province of whims, that is: of the irrational.” Rand does not provide us with the names of those “rare” philosophers who consider ethics to be based on something other than whims. In any event, her claim is certainly exaggerated.

First, as Huemer notes, it is inaccurate to say that Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Aquinas, Butler, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Bradley and Moore regarded ethics as the province of whims and the irrational. And, even if unsuccessful, they are not the few.

Second, there is an entire traditional of natural law ethics which seeks to derive universal ethical principles from objective reality. Aristotle was called the “father of natural law.” Heinrich Rommen writes that, for Aristotle, “The supreme norm of morality is accordingly this: Realize your essential form, your nature. The natural is the ethical, and the essence is unchangeable.” (Rommen, The Natural Law, p. 15.) Thomas Aquinas, among others, passed this tradition to the West via his synthesis of Aristotelian and Christian thought.

Natural law theories were prominent in the Enlightenment. As Lord Kames, an important thinker in the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote, “A lion has claws, because nature made him an animal of prey. A man has fingers, because he is a social animal to procure food by art not by force. It is thus we discover for what end we were designed by nature, or the Author. And the same chain of reasoning points out to us the laws by which we ought to regulate our actions: for acting according to our nature, is acting so as to answer the end of our creation.” (Henry Home (Lord Kames), Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, pp. 25-26.)

Natural law ethics wasn’t dead by Rand’s time either. One example is philosopher Henry Veatch who published a defense of Aristotelian ethics in his 1962 book Rational Man. (Rand dismisses Aristotle with the debatable claim that he based his ethics on observations of what wise and noble men did, without asking why they did it.)

Since nature law ethics have commonalities with Rand’s ethics (and in many ways hers seems to be a version of it), her readers would certainly benefit from a discussion of why these theories are unsuccessful.

Rand’s first failed school is the “mystics,” who allegedly hold the “arbitrary, unaccountable ‘will of God’ as the standard of the good and as the validation of their ethics.” No mystic is mentioned, but I assume that these are conventional religious thinkers. Even so, the description isn’t apt. Most religious philosophers would probably disagree with the claim that they consider God’s commands “arbitrary.” The Ten Commandments, for example, contain a mix of religious injunctions (e.g., have no other gods) and practical commands (e.g, don’t steal). Religious thinkers often adopt a natural law ethic, arguing that God created human beings with a certain nature. (See the above quote from Lord Kames.)

Rand next turns to the “neomystics.” These philosophers attempted to “break the traditional monopoly of mysticism in the field of ethics . . . . But their attempts consisted of accepting the ethical doctrines of the mystics and of trying to justify them on social grounds, merely substituting society for God." Particularly problematic is Rand’s claim that apparently all neomystics are advocates of the unlimited state. Her statement is so sweeping that it should be quoted in detail:

“This meant, in logic—and, today, in worldwide practice—that society stands above any principle of ethics, since it is the source, standard and criterion of ethics, since ‘the good’ is whatever it wills, whatever it happens to assert as its own welfare and pleasure. This meant that ‘society’ may do anything it pleases, since ‘the good’ is whatever it chooses to do because it chooses to do it. And—since there is no such entity as ‘society,’ since society is only a number of individual men-this meant that some men (the majority or any gang that claims to be its spokesman) are ethically entitled to pursue any whims (or any atrocities) they are entitled to pursue, while other men are ethically obliged to spend their lives in the service of that gang’s desire.”

Taken literally, Rand is arguing that no secular philosopher places any limits on the state’s power over the individual. This hardly seems the case, the utilitarian Ludwig von Mises being an obvious counter-example.

As in ITOE, Rand’s scholarship is quite poor. Rand mentions only Aristotle, Nietzsche, Bentham, Mill and Comte. None of these philosophers is discussed in any detail, and none is quoted or cited. Rand’s only quoted source is herself, principally John Galt’s speech from Atlas Shrugged. (Galt is called, curiously, Objectivism’s “best representative.”) The amount of hyperbole is excessive, even by Rand’s standards. Rand is certainly entitled to disagree with altruism, but do altruists really hold death as their ultimate value?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ayn Rand's Style of Argument, Part I

[Cross-Posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

Ayn Rand’s two most important philosophic works are her essay “The Objectivist Ethics” and the essays on concepts that form Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. In their critiques of these works, Gary Merrill and Michael Huemer have drawn attention to an important technique in Rand’s argumentation. Rand defends her position using as a background the supposedly failed attempts of previous philosophers, arguing that the credibility of her position is advanced because their positions are so blatantly false (if not pure evil). To the extent that Rand fails to accurately describe these opposing views, her case for Objectivism becomes that much less credible. (Some of what I say is indebted to the discussions of Merrill and Huemer.)

Rand begins her discussion in ITOE with a review of various philosophical traditions on the question of universals with an overview of five schools: extreme realism, moderate realism, nominalism, extreme nominalism and conceptualism. (p. 2.) We are, however, given only two philosophers (Plato and Aristotle) who hold any of these positions (extreme realism and moderate realism). Not a single representative is given for the nominalist, extreme nominalist and conceptualist schools. This makes it difficult for the reader to determine the accuracy of Rand’s description. It might be the case that they were wrestling with problems or encountered difficulties which Rand’s theory also has. Her readers will never know.

Rand returns to these schools later with slightly more elaboration. Rand says the following about nominalists and conceptualists: “The nominalist and conceptualist schools regard concepts as subjective, i.e., as products of man’s consciousness, unrelated to the facts of reality, as mere ‘names’ or notions arbitrarily assigned to arbitrary groupings of concretes on the ground of vague, inexplicable resemblances.” (p. 53.) This is interesting because Rand’s position that only particulars exist is (in the view of many commentators) a version of nominalism or conceptualism. Is it really the case that all nominalists and conceptualists consider concepts “unrelated to the facts of reality”? Is there not a single significant thinker in this tradition who considered concepts objective? Doing a bit of reading lately in John Dewey (who probably falls in conceptualist camp), I came across the following from his Nature and Experience: “Meaning is objective and universal . . . . It requires the discipline of ordered and deliberate experimentation to teach us that some meanings, as delightful or horrendous as they are, are meanings communally developed in the process of communal festivity or control, and do not represent the polities, and ways and means of nature apart from social control . . . the truth in classical philosophy in assigning objectivity to meanings, essences, ideas remains unassailable.” (Nature and Experience, pp. 188-89.) Maybe Dewey and the like are mistaken, but it hardly seems fair to imply that their motivation is the destruction of the human mind without some evidence.

Even if the various positions with respect to universals are sufficiently well known as to justify Rand’s cursory discussion, there is much in ITOE that calls out for explanation. Merrill points to an example which has became somewhat famous: “As an illustration, observe what Bertrand Russell was able to perpetrate because people thought they ‘kinda knew’ the meaning of the concept of ‘number’ . . . .” (pp. 50-51.) Because of Rand’s unwillingness to provide a citation or elaboration concerning what Russell perpetrated, even her point gets lost.

There are many other jabs in ITOE which are almost as egregious. Rand occasionally objects to “Linguistic Analysis,” without much of a description of this diverse movement. (pp. 47-48, 50 and 77.) She does, at least, name Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of family resemblance as an example of what is supposedly wrong with it. (p. 78.)

Curiously, Kant does not loom large in ITOE, or at least not in the way one would expect. Since Kant was the most evil man in history and universals the most important problem in philosophy, one might expect that Rand would discuss Kant’s theory of universals. When Rand does get around to discussing Kant, she attacks him for inspiring pragmatists, logical positivists and Linguistic Analysts (“mini-Kantians”). Her two sources for Kant are herself (a quotation from For the New Intellectual) and a quote from the now obscure Kantian Henry Mansel. (pp. 77, 80-81.)

What David Gordon says of Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels is even more true of ITOE: it is “the history of philosophy with the arguments left out.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Oh Yes, They Called Him The Streak

[Cross-Posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

Objectivists often accuse non-Objectivists, anti-Objectivists and apostates from ARI Objectivism as suffering from “rationalism.” This term appears to mean something like applying principles to situations without taking into account the facts of experience. A recent example is Leonard Peikoff’s 2006 statement that anyone who considers voting Republican or abstaining from voting “does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.” Incidentally, the term does not appear in this sense in either The Ayn Rand Lexicon or the index to Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Ellen Stuttle has drawn attention to the following from Leonard Peikoff’s 1987 talk “My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand,” reprinted in The Voice of Reason:

About a dozen years ago, Ayn Rand and I were watching the Academy Awards on television; it was the evening when a streaker flashed by during the ceremonies. Most people probably dismissed the incident with some remark like: "He's just a kid" or "It's a high-spirited prank" or "He wants to get on TV." But not Ayn Rand. Why, her mind, wanted to know, does this "kid" act in this particular fashion? What is the difference between his "prank" and that of college students on a lark who swallow goldfish or stuff themselves into telephone booths? How does his desire to appear on TV differ from that of a typical game-show contestant? In other words, Ayn Rand swept aside from the outset the superficial aspects of the incident and the standard irrelevant comments in order to reach the essence, which has to pertain to this specific action in this distinctive setting.

"Here," she said to me in effect, "is a nationally acclaimed occasion replete with celebrities, jeweled ballgowns, coveted prizes, and breathless cameras, an occasion offered to the country as the height of excitement, elegance, glamor--and what this creature wants to do is drop his pants in the middle of it all and thrust his bare buttocks into everybody's face. What then is his motive? Not high spirits or TV coverage, but destruction--the satisfaction of sneering at and undercutting that which the rest of the country looks up to and admires." In essence, she concluded, the incident was an example of nihilism, which is the desire not to have or enjoy values, but to nullify and eradicate them.

[. . .]

Having grasped the streaker's nihilism, therefore, she was eager to point out to me some very different examples of the same attitude. Modern literature, she observed, is distinguished by its creators' passion not to offer something new and positive, but to wipe out: to eliminate plots, heroes, motivation, even grammar and syntax; in other words, their brazen desire to destroy their own field along with the great writers of the past by stripping away from literature every one of its cardinal attributes. Just as Progressive education is the desire for education stripped of lessons, reading, facts, teaching, and learning. Just as avant-garde physics is the gleeful cry that there is no order in nature, no law, no predictability, no causality. That streaker, in short, was the very opposite of an isolated phenomenon. He was a microcosm of the principle ruling modern culture, a fleeting representative of that corrupt motivation which Ayn Rand has described so eloquently as "hatred of the good for being the good." And what accounts for such widespread hatred? she asked at the end. Her answer brings us back to the philosophy we referred to earlier, the one that attacks reason and reality wholesale and thus makes all values impossible: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

The event in question was the 1974 Academy Awards. By that time, streaking had become the national prank. Ray Stevens’ song “The Streak” had been written but not published. Based on the little evidence available to Rand that night, the most likely explanation was that the streaker was just another “kid” pulling a prank, and the Academy Awards program chosen because it would give him maximum “exposure.”

In fact, the streaker was one Robert Opel, a thirty-three year old variously described as a photographer and an advertising executive. Opel wanted to make a statement about public nudity and sexual freedom (he was for it) as well as jump-start his career. His motive, then, does not appear to have been nihilism or tearing down the Academy Awards.

Rand’s discussion of the streaker incident highlights a couple of problems common with her analysis of historical and cultural events. First, she tends to draw conclusions in the absence of evidence. Second, she tends to ascribe philosophical motivations to individuals without considering more mundane explanations. In short, it was Rand who was guilty of rationalism in this case.

In the above excerpt, Peikoff continues that hearing Rand that night inspired him to write the chapter on Weimar culture in The Ominous Parallels. This misguided work, in which Peikoff all but blames Kant for Auschwitz, illustrates the streaker problem in reverse: the facts available to the historian are so vast that determining the one philosophic principle explaining it all (if there is just one) is close to impossible. It is more likely that a number of philosophical trends converged in 1933 which, when combined with the German public’s frustration over the economy and the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, resulted in the Nazi takeover. As Greg Nyquist argues in his book, if Hitler’s adversaries had adopted a better strategy, it is possible that the Nazis might not have seized power.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Jim Valliant Unplugged

Jim Valliant recently "went acoustic" on (registration required, even to view).

Among other pearls of wisdom, Mr. Valliant explained that didn't impugn the motives of the Brandens in throwing (or in his version, merely attending) the surprise party for Rand in honor of the publication of Atlas Shrugged.

This is Mr. Valliant yesterday on

Of course, PARC attributes no such malevolence to them for throwing a party.

Mr. Valliant said something quite different in PARC:

Rand was not seeking to 'control' anyone’s context here but her own. It was the Brandens who were part of the effort to 'control' Rand’s context through deception—Rand was merely objecting to the deception. (We shall see that this will not be the last time they will attempt to do this, merely one of the less important times.)

Mr. Valliant even claimed that no one had ever found a misquotation in PARC. Since numerous misquotations have been pointed out by me and others, this was quite a claim to make.

I responded with the following:
Here is Barbara Branden:

He retained his studio in the apartment building where he and Ayn lived, and continued to spend his days there. And each week, when Ayn’s housekeeper went to the studio to clean it, she found no new paintings but, instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.

Here is Jim Valliant:

As her sole corroboration for these sources, Ms. Branden refers to the “rows of empty liquor bottles” in O’Connor’s studio which Rand’s housekeeper is said to have found there after O’Connor’s death.

The response? As someone used to say, "Blank out."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

John Dewey on Concepts

From How We Think (1910)

Conceptions are not derived from a multitude of different definite objects by leaving out the qualities in which they differ by retaining those in which they agree. The origins of concepts is sometimes described to be as if a child began with a lot of different particular things, say his particular dogs; his own Fido, his neighbor’s Carlo, his cousin’s Tray. Having all these different objects before him, he analyzes them into a lot of different qualities, say (a) color, (b) size, (c) shape, (d) number of legs, (e) quantity and quality of hair, (f) digestive organs and so on; and them strikes out all the unlike qualities (such as color, size, shape, hair), retaining traits such as quadruped and domesticated, which they all have in general.

As a matter of fact, the child begins with whatever significance he has got out of the one dog and has seen, heard, and handled. He has found that he can carry over from one experience of this object to subsequent experience certain expectations of certain characteristic modes of behavior – may expect these even before they show themselves. He tends to assume this attitude of anticipation whenever any clue or stimulus presents itself’ whenever the object gives him any excuse for it. Thus he might call cats little dogs, or horses big dogs. But finding that other expected traits and modes of behavior are not fulfilled, he is forced to throw out certain traits from the dog-meaning, while he contrasts certain other traits are selected and emphasized. As he further applies the meaning to other dogs, the dog-meaning gets still further defined and refined. He does not begin with a lot of ready-made objects from which he extracts a common meaning; he tries to apply every new experience whatever from is old experience will help him understand it, and as this process of constant assumption and experience is fulfilled and refuted by results, his conceptions get body and clearness.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ayn Rand and Compromise

[Cross-Posted at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature]

Ayn Rand is often admired for her devotion to principles and unwillingness to compromise. In her biography of Rand, Barbara Branden tells the moving story of how Rand fought heroically to prevent changes to the script of The Fountainhead during its filming. (Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, pp. 208-209.)

Rand’s most important discussion of compromise is a brief three page essay in The Virtue of Selfishness entitled “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” She boldly proclaims that “there can be no compromise on basic principles or on fundamental issues.” (Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 80.) She highlights the mixed economy as an example of an unacceptable compromise on moral principles. “There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls; to accept ‘just a few controls’ is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights . . . .” (Id., pp. 79-80.)

As is often the case with Rand, she is good on principles, but weak on specifics. She gives examples of acceptable compromises (such as coming to a mutually agreed upon price with a vendor) and unacceptable compromises (attending a religious ceremony to placate one’s family). These examples make sense from the Randian perspective, but why not discuss situations that are more likely to confront the average Objectivist? For example, Rand considered taxation immoral. Yet she faithfully paid her taxes. By paying taxes one isn’t one “sanctioning” the welfare state? What about working for the government? Isn’t this a compromise on moral principles? A state employee’s income comes from money immorally seized by the government. Many Objectivist professors, including Leonard Peikoff, have taught at state run universities. Some, such as Robert Mayhew, have taught at religious schools. Voting appears problematic as well. Unless there is a consistently Objectivist candidate, isn’t it a compromise to vote? Wouldn’t the prudent course be to abstain from voting? Rand, however, voted for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. (During the 2006 elections, Leonard Peikoff went so far as to claim that anyone who refused to vote Democratic or abstained from voting “does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism.”)

Throughout her life Rand had little use for economists and conservative intellectuals who were not consistent supporters of the free market economy. In her recently published question and answers, she described Milton Friedman as a “miserable eclectic.” (Mayhew, ed., Ayn Rand Answers, p. 43.) In her marginalia, she launched a nasty attack on Friedrich von Hayek calling him, among other things, a “God damn fool” and a “vicious bastard.” (Mayhew, ed., Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, pp. 149 and 151.)

Interestingly, one compromising free market economist whom Rand admired was Alan Greenspan. Greenspan met Rand in 1951 and remained close friends with her until her death in 1982. He contributed three essays to her anthology Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, one supporting the gold standard and two criticizing, respectively, antitrust laws and consumer protection regulations.

In 1974, Greenspan was chosen by President Richard Nixon to head his Council of Economic Advisors. After Nixon resigned, President Ford re-nominated him. Rand attended Greenspan’s swearing-in ceremony in the White House. Greenspan states in his memoirs that by this time he had disagreed with Rand’s belief in government financing through voluntary contributions and hints that he had come to reject consistent laissez-faire policies.

Shortly before Rand’s death, Greenspan accepted an appointment by President Ronald Reagan to head the National Commission on Social Security Reform, which recommended large tax increases. The culmination of his career was his lengthy chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board. As Chairman of “the Fed,” Greenspan, in effect, repudiated his three essays in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. The Fed sanctions the printing of paper money, oversees anti-trust laws with respect to bank mergers and heavily regulates consumer transactions. “Compromise,” he now says, is “the price of civilization.”

Rand, of course, had no way of knowing that her friend and disciple would become the enabler-in-chief of the mixed economy, but she could not have been unaware of his partial betrayal of Objectivist principles by 1974. Ten years earlier she had written in “The Cult of Moral Grayness” that a mixed economy is “an immoral war of pressure groups, devoid of principles . . . whose outward form is a game of compromise.” (Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 91, emphasis is the original.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Test Your Knowledge, Number 7

Identify the following:

1. Railroad Earth

2. Rare Earth

3. Rare Bird

4. Earthworks


A. American bluegrass band

B. English progressive rock band 1969-1975

C. English jazz band featuring ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford

D. American rock band

Monday, October 08, 2007

Founders College Curriculum - Philosophy I

Professor Robert Garmong's curriculum for Philosophy I (Ethics) is available.

The following books are required:

Plato, The Apology of Socrates
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (excerpts)
The King James Bible (Matthew, Luke, and Acts)
Plato, Euthyphro
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism and On Liberty
Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

The following movies/TV shows are analyzed:

High Noon
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (selected episodes)

The list is quite good and not particularly Objectivist. I seem to recall that Rand was a big fan of Casablanca.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Test Your Knowledge, Number 6

Identity the following guitar slingers

1. Robin Trower

2. Peter Frampton

3. Dave Mason

4. Jeff Beck

With the band they were associated

A. Procul Harum

B. Humble Pie

C. The Yardbirds

D. Traffic

Friday, September 28, 2007

Founders College Curriculum - Novels I

Novels I has six novels:

1. Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
2. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
3. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
4. Victor Hugo, Ninety-Three
5. Edward Cline, Sparrowhawk Book One
6. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

This list is broadly Randian. Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, and Ninety-Three are books that Rand read, and Ninety-Three was perhaps her favorite. It doesn't appear that Rand said anything about Dickens and Austen.

Most notable is the first volume of Edward Cline's book Sparrowhawk series. Cline, who is associated with the ARI, is quite dogmatic, even for an ARIan.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Founders College Curriculum - Writing and Grammar

Here is the course.

There are four books that are required or recommended:

(1) Writing and Thinking: A Handbook of Composition and Revision, Norman Foerster and J. M. Steadman Jr., with foreword by Jean F. Moroney. Paper Tiger, N.J., (2000).

(2) Rex Barks: Diagramming Sentences Made Easy, Phyllis
Davenport, Second Renaissance Books, (1999).

(3) The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White, 4th
edition with foreword by Roger Angell, Longman (1999).

(4) A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler, 2nd
revised edition, Oxford University Press (2003).

The first two are ARI-approved texts. Writing and Thinking is published by ARI-associated The Paper Tiger. Jean Moroney is the wife of Harry Binswanger, Official Objectivism's number 2.

Rex Barks is also published by The Paper Tiger, and is favored by ARIans.

Founders College Curriculum - Ancient & Medieval History

The course syllabi for this semester at Founders College are now on-line.

Ancient and Medieval History has the least overtly Objectivist slant.

The required books are:

Hans Nissen, The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000 BC-2000BC (University of Chicago Press, 1988)

Charles Freeman, Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Plato, The Complete Works (Hackett Publishing, 1997)

William H. McNeil, The Rise Of The West (University of Chicago Press, 1992)

Chris Wickham, Framing The Early Middle Ages (Oxford University Press, 2007)

William Chester Jordan, Europe In The High Middle Ages (Penguin, 2004)

Most interesting is that students will be reading Plato's Republic in its entirety (a fairly long work). Given that Prof. Garmong has assigned some Plato for his Philosophy I course, wouldn't a book containing primary sources or a work such as Herodotus' Histories be better? This appears to emphasize the Objectivist view that philosophical ideas are the main drivers of history.

The time-span of the course is also of note. It starts with the beginning of history and ends at about 1300. However, the second year, second semester history course at Founders is Great Figures of the Industrial Revolution, a course with an explicitly Objectivist tilt. I'm all in favor of studying Edison, Ford and Vanderbilt, but the inclusion of a separate course on them has resulted in what should be a two semester course reduced to a one semester course.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Founders College

Over at Greg Nyquist and Dan Barnes' blog, Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, folks have been discussing Founders College. For those who don't know, it's a new liberal arts college in Virginia which obviously has ties to Objectivism (of the ARI variety), but doesn't want to come clean on its connection. (Which isn't to say that it is supported or sponsored by the ARI, which I doubt.)

Here is further evidence of the Objectivist connection.

Compare Founders' logo:

With this cover to Rand's The Romantic Manifesto:

For what it's worth, I think a college with a moderate Objectivist tilt would be a step up from what Russell Kirk called Behemoth State University.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Test Your Knowledge, Number 5

Identify the following:

1. Carlos Slim

2. Slim Whitman

3. Slim Pickens

4. T. Boone Pickens


A. Mexican Billionaire

B. Actor

C. Corporate tycoon

D. Country Crooner

Sunday, July 29, 2007

James Valliant and Rand's Use of Dexamyl

The extent to which James Valliant is willing to misrepresent his sources can be seen in his evaluation of Barbara Branden’s discussion of Rand’s use of a diet pill, Dexamyl (which contains an amphetamine).

On page 173 Branden mentions that Rand had low physical energy level. and was worried about her weight. She then drops the following footnote, which I will quote in full:

"It was during this period of nonstop work on The Fountainhead that Ayn went to see a doctor. She had heard there was a harmless pill one could take to increase one's energy and lessen one's appetite. The doctor, telling her there would be no negative consequences, prescribed a low dosage of a small green tablet which doctors had begun prescribing rather routinely. Its trade name was Dexamyl. Ayn took two of these pills each day for more than thirty years. They appeared to work: she felt that her physical energy had increased, although it was never high, and her weight stayed under reasonable control. In fact, medical opinion today suggests that they soon ceased to be a source of physical energy; their effect shortly became that of a placebo."

"Dexamyl consists of two chemicals: an amphetamine and a barbiturate. It was not until the sixties that researchers investigated the effects of large doses of these chemicals. They found that extremely high doses were harmful, sometimes even resulting in paranoid symptoms; but to this day, there is only the most fragmentary and contradictory scientific evidence to suggest that low doses such as Ayn took could be harmful. As one pharmacological specialist has said: 'Perhaps they hurt her, and perhaps they didn't.'"

"In the early seventies, when for the first time she became seriously ill, her doctor took her medical history, and, quite innocently, she told him about the Dexamyl. Disapproving, he ordered her to cease taking them at once. She never took another."

"I include this discussion only because I have learned that a number of people, aware that she took this medication, have drawn ominous conclusions about Ayn's mental health; there is no scientific basis for their conclusions." [PAR, p. 173 n. 1.]

There have been (and continue to be) unsupported allegations over the years that Rand was addicted to “speed.” Branden wanted to put these allegations to rest.

Valliant’s mangling of Branden’s footnote is as follows:

“The level of Ms. Branden’s desperation for evidence can be measured by the fact that she speculates in a footnote that the low-dosage diet pill that Rand was prescribed by a doctor ‘may’ have resulted in ‘paranoid symptoms.’ Ms. Branden does so despite also conceding that the pills only had a ‘placebo effect’ after just a short time. Nor is Ms. Branden in any way dissuaded by the fact that Rand easily discontinued their use, again on medical advice.” [PARC, p. 51.]

Monday, July 16, 2007

Society Without A State

Society Without a State by Murray Rothbard is probably the best introduction to anarcho-capitalism and how such a society might function

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Free and Pay Media

The internet makes it possible to distribute large amounts of media for free. It's interesting to see the different approaches taken by organizations.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute provides audio or video of what seems like all of their conferences for free. For example, David Gordon's recent series on The History of Political Philosophy was posted on its website within a day or so of each lecture. Religious organizations also provide large amounts of free material, much of which is of interest to those who don't share their perspective. Reformed Theological Seminary has a number of free course lectures. I've been listening to John Frame's lectures on the history of philosophy and they are quite good. Also worth listening to are Knox Chamblin's lectures on C.S. Lewis.

The Ayn Rand Institute has only a limited amount of free stuff. They have recently posted some free lectures by Rand and others, available to registered users. Most of ARI's material is quite expensive. The Teaching Company's slickly produced courses must be half the price of ARI's lectures, and you can download them and save shipping costs. The Teaching Company's courses I've heard are excellent, if a bit self-consciously "middle of the road."

I'd recommend Prof. Daniel Robinson's course Great Ideas of Psychology which is excellent, if a bit chatty in places. (When the course is on sale you will be able to download if for considerably less than $100.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fred Seddon on James Valliant versus the Brandens

This is an interesting essay by Fred Seddon on part of PARC that I haven't discussed (the break with Rand). A good example of how Valliant's claims don't stand up to scrutiny. Note the non-existent fact checking by Valliant and the poor sourcing.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

James Valliant on Rand's Claim that "No one helped me."

Valliant accuses Nathaniel Branden of alleging that Rand engaged in “grandiose dishonesty” in making her claim in the About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged that “no one helped me . . . .” Valliant notes that Branden also says that Rand made a similar assertion on another occasion. (PARC, p. 41.) Valliant concludes that because Rand did express gratitude for the help she received on numerous occasions, Branden is wrong to conclude that Rand sought to deny or minimize the help she received. (PARC, p. 43.)

As usual, Valliant’s description of his source omits important points. Nathaniel Branden begins his discussion by recounting Rand’s relationship with screenwriter Albert Mannheimer. Rand told Branden that “during her years of financial struggle”, Mannheimer sent her a check for five hundred dollars. Rand said how she would never forget the helped she received from him. However, Branden noted that in another conversation in front of several people and in the 1957 About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged, Rand denied that anyone helped her during that same period of time. Branden sees this as an “evident contradiction.” (JD, pp. 60-61.) Valliant ignores the fact that Branden’s discussion is explicitly limited to Rand’s “years of financial struggle”, which would apparently be from her arrival in the United States until she first obtained success as a writer. Nowhere (at least in the pages cited by Valliant) does Branden refer to this as “dishonesty” (grandiose or otherwise). Although Branden doesn’t say it, it is reasonable to conclude that he sees Rand as minimizing the help that she received during this period of time as far as her public personae was concerned. It is important to note that, contrary to what Valliant implies, Branded does not say that Rand never publicly acknowledged the help she received from others.

Valliant attempts to refute Branden on this by pointing to the many occasions that Rand did acknowledge help from others. Most of these examples are irrelevant because they fall outside the time period at issue.

As far as 1957’s About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged is concerned, I think it is an example of Rand ignoring the help she received. Her statement is sweeping:

“I decided to be a writer at the age of nine, and every thing I have done was integrated to that purpose. I am an American by choice and conviction. I was born in Europe, but I came to America because this was the country based on my moral premises and the only country where one could be fully free to write. I came here alone, after graduatingfrom a European college. I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs, until I could make a financial success of my writing. No one helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone's duty to help me.”

Valliant claims that Rand was only denying “altruistic” help, such as welfare. I don’t find this persuasive, but readers can decide for themselves.

Five years later, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden published a book entitled Who is Ayn Rand?, which included a biographical essay by Barbara Branden based on interviews with Rand. In this essay, Branden discusses how Rand’s relatives in Chicago put her up after she arrived from the U.S.S.R. and how she received affordable lodging at the Hollywood Studio Home shortly after her arrival to California in 1926. Nathaniel Branden doesn’t mention this; at the same time, he doesn’t say or imply that Rand never publicly acknowledged that she received help from others.

Valliant ends his discussion by thundering that “[t]he notion that Rand had any difficulty in acknowledging what she regarded as appropriate ‘help,’ . . . is simply absurd, as the Brandens know well.” (PARC, p. 43.) Why “the Brandens”? Valliant does not quote Barbara Branden as making any blanket claim about Rand in this respect. In fact, he does cite PAR for three examples of Rand’s gratitude toward others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Granted, government was roughly the same in 1989 as 1981, but would Carter or Mondale have said: "Tear down this wall"?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

History of Political Philosophy

Dr. David Gordon of The Ludwig von Mises Institute is giving an excellent series of lectures this week on the history of political theory.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

James Valliant and "Uncritical Reliance" on "the Brandens"

In reading PARC, one gets the impression that all the negative reports about Rand’s personality have their origin in the Brandens’ books and that without these books there is no reason to accept as accurate the description of Rand provided in them. Let’s remember that the most Valliant is willing to concede about Rand is that her anger could be unjust at times and that she made some poor choices.

However, we shall see that Valliant has ignored a large amount of evidence that Rand had personality flaws beyond her anger. These were well documented prior to the publication of PARC.

Valliant makes no mention of Justin Raimondo’s biography of Murray Rothbard, An Enemy of the State, published in 2000. Raimondo 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.)

Another book which isn’t mentioned is Stephen Cox’s 2004 biography of Isabel Paterson entitled The Woman and the Dynamo. Although I won’t go into the details, Cox’s description of Rand is somewhat negative and he takes Paterson’s “side” against Rand’s claim that Paterson failed to acknowledge that she got some of her ideas from Rand. Cox interviewed Nathaniel Branden, Henry Holzer, and Ericka Holzer.

One book that Valliant does cite is Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult. Valliant occasionally uses this as a source, claiming it gives a version of events different than Barbara Branden’s, while attacking its general reliability. There is nothing inherently contradictory about finding a book that one doesn’t consider reliable to be accurate in certain cases. However, Valliant doesn’t say why TARC is reliable when it quotes Kay Nolte Smith concerning changes to Penthouse Legend but not the critical things she says about Rand. Likewise, why is TARC believable when it quotes Henry Holzer concerning his break with Rand, but not believable when it quotes the Holzers’ description of Rand as “nasty”, “insensitive” and “unkind”?

Finally, Valliant’s use of the Brandens' books as historical sources is contradictory. Valliant says that the books are “valueless as historical documents.” (PARC, p. 6.) However, they become quite reliable when they contain admissions by the Brandens. For example, Valliant credits Nathaniel Branden's claim that he became Rand's "enforcer" although alleging that Rand didn't know about Branden's conduct. (PARC, p. 59.) And, as Ellen Stuttle has noted, Valliant does not question either Nathaniel or Barbara Branden when it comes to their claim that Rand received Frank’s consent for the affair. Yet they are the only sources for such a claim.

Branden bases much of her account on interviews with those who knew Rand post-1968. Some of these people are quoted 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 this, he says he doesn’t dispute the Blumenthals’ account or that they have been quoted accurately. I read the Blumenthals account to go considerably beyond a claim of “unjust anger.”

Incidentally, Valliant does not dispute the reliability of anyone who says anything critical of Nathaniel Branden. Edith Efron is not credible in her description of Rand's anger, but Valliant finds her trustworthy in her denunciations of Branden. (PARC, 65, 77-78.)

Finally, Brian Doherty recently published a history of the libertarian movement in 2007 called Radicals for Capitalism which discusses Rand extensively. He likewise confirms unfortunate aspects of Rand’s personality and the authoritarian nature of her movement. He interviewed, among others, Robert Hessen, Ralph Raico, Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, and Joan Kennedy Taylor. He also quotes letters from two anonymous “longtime members” of Rand’s “inner circle” attesting to Rand’s “cruel[ty]” and lack of a “benevolent sense of life.” (p. 705.)

In addition to my general point that negative aspects of Rand’s personality have been confirmed by those who knew Rand, Walker, Cox and Doherty have obviously made their own independent evaluation of the credibility of many of the sources used by Barbara Branden. It is thus unfair for Valliant to claim that they uncritically rely on PAR for their negative assessments of Rand.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Walter Block on Ayn Rand

An article from The Journals of Ayn Rand Studies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Atlas Shrugged and Virginia Tech

A post from Carol Iannone on National Review:

"I'm not a fan of Ayn Rand's writings or ideas but she has a long section in one of her novels about a train wreck which kills many people that seems apropos today. Everyone says of the train wreck that nothing could have been done to prevent it, but she goes over the whole buildup to the accident, every little piece in the chain, and shows how human choice, action, and decision-making accumulated step-by-step until culminating in the horror. That's how the Virginia Tech Massacre appears to me. No one thing might have prevented it, but it was caused, or permitted to happen, by a long accumulation of faulty actions and perceptions, of denials and mistakes, of bad decisions and assorted other failures. The only thing is to try to learn from it all. "

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Radicals for Capitalism

My copy of this new book hasn't arrived, but I did come across this rather snide review in the New York Times by David Leonhardt.

Here is a sample:

"MOST troubling, Doherty merely catalogs the movement’s failings rather than grappling with them. He relates that Rand 'notoriously testified' before the big-brotherly House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947, when the committee was investigating Hollywood, where Rand had worked as a screenwriter, but the episode receives only two paragraphs. He skates over other questionable matters, too: for instance, that Friedman advised the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile; that Merwin Hart 'infected his free-market thought with anti-Semitism'; and that Rothbard supported Strom Thurmond’s segregationist campaign for president in 1948 (because, Doherty casually observes, 'he admired Thurmond’s states’ rights position'). The book fails to ask why people who claim to love freedom have so often had a soft spot for those who would deny it to others."

A few comments:

1. Yes, Rand testified before the House Un-American Activities Commitee, but to discuss the role of commies in the film industry. Not the wisest decision perhaps, but Leonhard leaves the impression that she was turning people in for prosecution.

2. Who is Merwin Hart? I've never heard of the guy and I'm pretty much up on the libertarian movement. And in case Leonhardt didn't know, the main libertarians (Rand, Friedman, Rothbard and Mises) were all Jewish.

3. Friedman advised the Pinochet regime. That appears to be something of an exaggeration. In any event, does it bother Leonhardt that Friedman also gave advice to the Red Chinese or the Yugoslavian communists?

4. Rothbard supported Strom Thurmond in 1948. Yes, but Rothbard throughout his career tried to make alliances with people who shared some of his ideas. Of course, one might question the widsom of this approach, but let's not forget the context either.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Truth Is Out There Somewhere, Part II

As I stated in a previous post, Valliant uses as one of his sources Jeff Walker’s book The Ayn Rand Cult (“TARC”). TARC is an explicitly anti-Rand book which is, as Valliant notes, is something of a repository for all anti-Rand stories. Curiously, Valliant uses TARC at times to supplement PAR, implying that it contains a better or more complete account of some events. He does this notwithanding that he accuses it of “extensive reliance” on the Brandens’ books. (PARC, p. 373.) One example concerns the production by Phillip and Kay Smith of Rand’s play Penthouse Legend (Night of January 16th), which precipitated the split between Rand and the Smiths. Valliant notes that while Branden reports that Rand split with Phillip and Kay Smith, she does not give the details of the split or connect it with the play.

In 1973, an off-Broadway performance of Penthouse Legend (Night of January 16th) was staged. Phillip Smith directed and co-produced the play; his wife, Kay Nolte Smith co-produced the play and acted as well. (PAR, pp. 369-372.) Walker says that Kay Smith made “unauthorized changes to a few lines of dialogue for a public performance” and for that reason was expelled from Rand’s inner circle. (TARC, p. 35.) Valliant’s only source is TARC. (PARC, p. 400.) Valliant’s version of the events is different. He says the Smiths, “changed the dialogue in their production of Penthouse Legend without authorization from Rand.” He describes the Smiths’ conduct as “systematic and personal betrayal.” (PARC, pp. 75-76.) However, TARC doesn’t describe the changes as concerning the “production” of the play but limits it to lines in one performance. Valliant doesn’t acknowledge the fact that TARC not only doesn’t support his description of this event, but contradicts it. Valliant also mentions that he asked Kay Smith for an interview in 1983, which she declined. Of course this could not be in connection with PARC since PAR wasn’t published until 1986.

As Michael Stuart Kelley notes, Phillip Smith supports TARC’s contention that the change was limited. Dr. George Reisman recounts the incident as follows in his weblog in 2006:

"Many years ago, there was a young actress to whom Ayn Rand gave the responsibility of directing a production of her play 'The Night of January 16th.' Toward the close of the play’s run, an actor prevailed upon this young woman to allow him to alter one of Ayn Rand’s lines in one of the play’s last performances. When Ayn Rand learned of this, she was furious and completely ended her relationship with this young woman, who had been in her inner circle for several years."

So while I think that, in retrospect, Branden should have included the details of this split, reporting it probably wouldn’t have changed the typical reader’s opinion of Rand.

Incidentally, when confronted with the obvious problems in his description of the split with the Smiths by Chris Sciabarra, Valliant responded that he had “anonymous sources” for his version of the split (and also anonymous sources for other events). Yet no such sources are mentioned or even hinted at in PARC with respect to the break with the Smiths or any other event. Valliant even goes so far as to claim that “[u]nlike Ms. Branden, I do not rely on anonymous sources as my only source for something . . . .” Valliant is relying on his anonymous sources exclusively for the Smith break given that Walker contradicts his version (or, perhaps, he is just misquoting TARC). And finally, one can’t notice the double standard employed by Valliant: when Branden said post-PARC that she heard the Remington-Rand story from Rand, Valliant accuses her of dishonestly attempting to bolster her case.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Truth Is Out There Somewhere, Part I

One claim of PARC is that the Brandens’ books can be shown to be unreliable based on evidence that Valliant has unearthed. Most significantly, Valliant argues that Rand’s diaries contradict the Brandens’ version of the 1968 split. However, these diaries do not shed much (if any) light on other events.

Valliant has referenced some, but not all, of the other published works that bear on his topic. He mentions, among other material, Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult, recollections by John Hospers, interviews (by others) with the Brandens, and the video of Rand’s first appearance on The Phil Donahue Show. At the same time, he has ignored other sources relevant to his work, such as Justin Raimondo’s biography of Murray Rothbard and Joseph Stromberg’s essay on the Rothbard plagiarism allegation. In addition, while he accuses Nathaniel Branden of departing from Objectivism in various ways, he does not reference any of Branden’s post-split work, with the exception of his memoirs and his 1984 essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.”

So far as I can tell, Valliant did not ask either Nathaniel or Barbara Branden for interviews. Barbara Branden’s book is based on dozens of interviews. He did not ask Barbara Branden for permission to listen to the tapes of interviews she had with others. It is quite brazen for Valliant to allege that Branden has fabricated entire incidents without seeking access to the evidence upon which she based her claims. The only interview (or rather attempted interview) that Valliant mentions is Kay Nolte Smith, who he claims refused an interview with him in 1983. (PARC, p. 400.) As Ellen Stuttle noted, by Valliant’s own admission he was, in 1982, a teenager in college.

Notwithstanding his apparent lack of interest in the evidence upon which Barbara Branden bases her accounts, Valliant is quite content to leave the impression that there is some version of events “out there” that she is suppressing. As one example, take Branden’s contention that Frank O’Connor drank excessively. Branden says that “each week” Rand’s housekeeper went to Frank’s studio and “found no new paintings, but instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.” (PAR, p. 366.) We are told by Valliant that “the housekeeper is said to have been indignant at Ms. Branden’s allegation”, apparently telling Leonard Peikoff that she was misquoted or misinterpreted by Branden. (PARC, p. 144.) The source for Peikoff’s statement is “the author’s best recollection of Leonard Peikoff’s statement in response to a question on the subject given during a conversation in his home in California in 1991, and it echoes comments made be Peikoff in the question and answer period following his speech “My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand” . . . on April 12, 1987 . . . .” (PARC, p. 407.) Since Valliant appears to be on rather friendly terms with Leonard Peikoff, it would not have been too difficult for Valliant to have asked Peikoff about this matter instead of relying on his recollection of a conversation fourteen years before. Incredibly, Valliant even claims that “as previously indicated, it is those closest to the O’Connors in their later years who most vehemently deny this charge.” (PARC, p. 147, emphasis in the original.) Really? The only people to whom Valliant could be referring are Peikoff and the housekeeper, and neither is quoted by Valliant as actually denying that O’Connor drank excessively.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Objectivist Heretics, Part I

One of the central sub themes of PARC is that not only that the Brandens’ books are untrustworthy, but also that the Brandens have so departed from Objectivism that they view Rand from their new perspective, often distorting Rand as result. At times, Valliant also hints that their alleged departures from Objectivism are so severe as to render anything they say suspect. However, even Valliant must concede that by all accounts the Brandens remain quite favorable toward Objectivism and their departures are principally in the areas of psychology and moral judgment. (PARC, p. 27.)

Turning to Nathaniel Branden, Valliant argues that there are “significant” philosophical differences between Branden’s current views and Objectivism. (PARC, p. 27.) First, he argues that Branden rejects the term “validate” with regard to metaphysical axioms. Valliant’s source for this contention is a conversation recounted in JD between Branden and Alan Greenspan, apparently from the 1950s.

“Can you prove you exist?” he would ask, and I would respond, “Shall I send you my answer from nonexistence?” “Validate the laws of logic,” he would insist, and I would reply, “’Validate’ is a concept that presupposes your acceptance of logic; otherwise, what does it mean?” (JD, p. 133.)

Valliant is obviously reaching here. A conversation (or summary of conversations) from the 1950s doesn’t appear to have much relevancy to what Branden believed in 1989 (the year JD was published). And this conversation doesn’t support his claim that Branden rejects to the idea that one can validate axioms. While I no more profess to be an expert on Objectivism than Valliant does, Branden appears to be employing the “stolen concept” argument.

Valliant also contends that Branden’s approval of child psychologist Haim Ginott’s phrase “labeling is disabling” is another example of his departure from Objectivism. Valliant suggests ominously that “Branden seems to have veered sharply away from the author of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, if not the necessity and objectivity of concepts themselves.” (PARC, p. 28.) Branden’s favorable quotation of Ginott’s phrase is in the context of a discussion of the term “social metaphysician.” Branden says that he no longer use that term and instead he prefers to focus on one's “growing in autonomy and self-trust.” (My Years With Ayn Rand, [“MYWAR”], p. 111.) Branden does not deny that social metaphysician remains a valid concept, but its use circa 1960 presupposed a level of independence and autonomy which he no longer believes exists in the average person.

Valliant’s next example concerns Branden’s distancing himself from some of what Rand said in her introductory essay in For the New Intellectual. In that essay Rand surveys the history of philosophy, briefly summarizing the ideas of central philosophers such as Plato, Kant, Hegel and Spencer, drawing broad conclusions about their influence on history. Valliant says that “Branden does not argue with Rand’s evaluations, but he nonetheless claims Rand’s approach unnecessarily alienates intellectuals.” (PARC, p. 28.) This is another very poor summary. Branden says that many philosophy professors, in commenting on the essay at the time it was published, told him that they thought that Rand’s treatment of philosophers “oversimplified, in some respects erroneous” notwithstanding the “valid points” Rand made.” Branden says that while he didn’t agree with this criticism at the time, he now sees they were “right.” Thus, Branden does disagree with Rand’s evaluations (at least in part) and his reason is not that it alienates intellectuals. (JD, p. 281.)

Valliant’s final example concerns Branden’s claim that Rand’s moralism reflected a remnant of religious thinking. According to Valliant, Branden now prefers to see things as “harmful” or “beneficial” rather than “bad” or “good.” Valliant concludes that Branden “appears” to embrace the current view that moral evaluations are non-objective and unscientific.” (PARC, p. 28.) Valliant again misrepresents Branden’s views, although he is perhaps a bit more in the “ball park” this time. Branden writes that, even during his years with Rand, he tended to see “good and evil” in the context of an individual’s spiritual and psychological well-being. He believed Rand was too quick to condemn people with stern moral pronouncements such as “evil.” On the other hand, he was more inclined to ask “what is this person trying to accomplish?” (JD, p. 296.) Branden does not deny that there are actions that may appropriately be called “good” and “evil” much less deny that ethics is objective and scientific. Indeed he evidently believes his approach to ethics is more objective and scientific than Rand’s.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Did No One at Durban House Even Read This Book?

The opening chapters of PARC are an attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of The Passion of Ayn Rand (“PAR”) by suggesting that it is riddled with errors and inconsistencies. Valliant asks rhetorically, “did no one at Doubleday even read this book?” Although I believe Valliant vastly overstates these alleged problems, the same could with more justice be said about PARC. PARC is filled with mistakes. The Brandens’ books are frequently misquoted. Indeed, the very first quote from PAR contains a typo. (PARC, p. 9.) PAR is misquoted again on page 12. On the following page, Valliant quotes Nathaniel Branden as telling an “undetermined ‘us’” that Rand’s name came from her Remington-Rand typewriter, but it is clear from the context that the “us” refers to Barbara and Nathaniel Branden. (Judgment Day [“JD”], p. 73.) There is no need to surmise (as Valliant does) that this second person is “likely” to have been Barbara Branden. When Nathaniel Branden describes Rand's claim that no one ever helped her as an "evident contradiction" with other facts, Valliant claims he calls it "'grandiose' dishonesty." (PARC, p. 41; JD, p. 63.)

Minor mistakes abound in areas tangential to the book’s argument, often in footnotes. Stephen Macedo’s The New Right v. The Constitution is called The New Right Versus The Constitution. Murray Rothbard’s Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences is called Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences. Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty is misquoted. An internet article by David Hayes is given two slightly different titles. Chris Sciabarra is misrepresented twice concerning his views on Rand’s philosophical background. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is cited inconsistently. Sometimes it's National Review and other times The National Review.

Granted all books contain mistakes of this type, but the sheer number in PARC casts doubt about the care the author has taken with his sources. More importantly, it makes one wonder if Rand’s diaries (which make up a large portion of PAR) have been accurately transcribed.

Our doubts with respect to PARC have of course been confirmed. Divergent accounts by the Brandens are presented as if they were identical, as in the case of Rand’s break with John Hospers. Sources are summarized carelessly as in Valliant’s claim that a surprise party to celebrate Atlas Shrugged was thrown by Random House, when his only sources say it was thrown by the Brandens. Most notoriously, Valliant claims that Barbara Branden conceals the fact that the Blumenthals broke with Rand when PAR quotes Allan Blumenthal stating explicitly that they decided to leave Rand. Another misrepresentation concerns Branden’s report that Frank O’Connor drank excessively. Branden says that “each week” Rand’s housekeeper went to Frank’s studio and “found no new paintings, but instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.” (PAR, p. 366.) Valliant changes this to “’rows of empty liquor bottles’ . . . which Rand’s housekeeper is said to have found there after O’Connor’s death.” (PARC, p. 144.) He omits the part about their being no new paintings. Suspicions are raised when none are warranted, as in the case of the origin of Rand’s name. It is not at all surprising that Barbara Branden did not mention in PAR that she heard the Remington-Rand story from Rand given that Fern Brown’s recollection (which she quotes in detail) purports to be an eye-witness account of Rand actually choosing her name and was not questioned until years after PAR was published. (PAR, p. 71.)

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism, Part II

In my essay The Passion of James Valliant’s Criticism, I focused primarily on James Valliant’s use of the Nathaniel and Barbara Brandens’ books as sources. As I showed, Valliant consistently misrepresents the Brandens’ books. I occasionally discussed, often in passing, some of the more serious methodological problems with PARC, such as Valliant’s uncritical grouping together of the Brandens’ books. In this series of posts I will discuss many of these larger problems of PARC in more detail.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer

Although I've read Rand's Journals, this never quite clicked.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Final Word on PARC

The internet is wonderful, and the ability to debate ideas in "real time" is exciting. On the other hand, there is always the tendency to want to get the last shot in. This will probably be my final response to Valliant, . . . for now . . .

Anyone who has read my review knows full well that it is not a defense of either Nathaniel or Barbara Brandens’ books. I make it quite clear that my critique is limited to PARC's use of the Brandens' books as sources. I explicitly state that I am not vouching for the accuracy of their books. However, I have not concluded, as Mr. Valliant alleges, that there are “many” mistakes in Ms. Branden’s biography. The Passion of Ayn Rand is roughly 425 pages long and it contains some errors. I have no reason to think that it contains more errors than the typical book of its length and kind; but again, this isn’t the focus of my review.

Given the purpose of my review, an intelligent critique would take an issue I discuss and attempt to show that my contention that Mr. Valliant has not accurately evaluated the Brandens' books is mistaken. For example, with respect to the surprise party, one might attempt to show that: (1) it really was an attempt to control Rand's "context through deception"; (2) although Rand's husband was part of the "deception" (having invited Rand out on the pretext of a quiet dinner), the Brandens' conduct was nonetheless culpable; and (3) Mr. Valliant's contention that Random House threw the party is correct, notwithstanding the lack of documentation.

Likewise, with respect to the Blumenthals, one would provide evidence to refute my contention that Mr. Valliant is wrong to say that Branden conceals the fact that it was the Blumenthals who left Rand. I see that Mr. Valliant contends that I have engaged in selective quotation, yet in PARC he quotes Jeff Walker’s book and not Branden’s biography concerning this particular split. So who is the “selective quoter” here?

As a final example, Mr. Valliant might attempt to support that his claim that Branden accuses Rand of being “self-delusional” in her 1959 Foreword to the new edition of We the Living. Branden describes Rand's conduct as conscious and deliberate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Remington-Rand Story, Again

In my discussion with James Valliant, I pointed out that in Allan Gotthelf’s 2000 book On Ayn Rand, Gotthelf says that Rand took her last name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. I also pointed out that Gotthelf states that he checked all the biographical portions of the book with archivists at the ARI. Valliant responded by stating that Gotthelf says that he "erroneously" relied on PAR. Valliant further says there is nothing in the archives to support the claim that Rand took her name from a Remington-Rand (“RR”) typewriter.

I am willing to give Gotthelf the benefit of the doubt. Certainly he realized the mistake quite shortly after he published his book.

Here is what Gotthelf says:

“Barbara Branden has written a biography/memoir of Ayn Rand, based in part on taped interviews with her in 1960 and 1961. The book has numerous factual errors . . . . Because of this, although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked every report I have used (and other details of Ayn Rand’s life) with archivists at the Ayn Rand Institute, which has access to all the tapes.” (OAR, p. 27.)

A couple things should be noted. First, Gotthelf says that he relied on PAR only where it concerned taped interviews of Rand. Branden attributes the RR story to Fern Brown. Therefore, by Gotthelf’s own admission, he didn’t rely on PAR for the name issue. Second, he says he checked his facts in all instances with the ARI. He emphasizes two more times that he checked the biographical sections with the ARI. (Pages 2 & 17.) He also says that Harry Binswanger read drafts of the book (although it’s possible that the draft Binswanger read didn’t have the name discussion).

It’s also important to compare what Fern Brown said about the name (as relayed by PAR in 1986) and what Gotthelf said in 2000.

Here is the Brown version (at page 71 in PAR):

1. AR chose the first name “Ayn” upon arrival to the US, having first heard it presumably in Russia (this actually is not from Brown);
2. Rand brought a RR typewriter with her from Russia;
3. While in the U.S., AR looked at her RR typewriter, prompting her to chose “Rand” as her last name;
4. Rand didn’t tell her family in Russia her new name for fear that they might be endangered.

Here is the Gotthelf version (at page 19 in OAR):

1. AR settled on “Rand” while in Russia;
2. AR first spotted “Rand” on a RR typewriter in Russia (no mention if it was hers or if it was brought to the U.S.);
3. AR was leaning toward “Ayn” while in Russia;
4. AR’s family in Russia knew her new last name;
5. Rand decided on a new name because, if she became famous, her family in Russia might be endangered.

Gotthelf bases at least part of the above on a letter that AR’s sister Nora wrote to her from Russia before Rand had arrived in the U.S. This is obviously information from the archives that Branden didn’t have access to.

The versions are more dissimilar than similar. The most significant difference is the name “Rand.” Gotthelf says that AR chose it while in Russia after spotting it on a RR typewriter. There is no mention of whether the typewriter was Rand’s or whether it was brought to the U.S.

I think it’s clear that by 2000 Gotthelf/ARI knew that Fern Brown’s story could not be true, at least in large part. Knowing this, it is extremely unlikely that they accepted the RR story based exclusively on PAR. Therefore, there was a separate oral tradition that supported the RR story.

If this is true (and I think my analysis has shown it to be more likely than not), this makes plausible Barbara Branden’s recollection of having heard the RR story from Rand. It certainly undercuts any claim that she is lying.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

PARC's "Main Point"

James Valliant has accused me (and others, I think) of ignoring the "main point" or "major substance" of his book.

I get the impression from reading PARC that Valliant's "main point" is that the Brandens books are unreliable and in fact dishonest, thus their "picture" of Rand should not be trusted. PARC makes its points by an analysis of the Brandens books taken either individually (internal contradictions), a comparison among them (gross inconsistancies) and a comparison to other, more reliable version of events (such as, apparently, Jeff Walker's TARC).

There are six chapters of the book and the general approach described above is taken by Valliant in each chapter. I discuss chapters 1, 2 and 3 in depth. Chapter 4 concerns the split with the Brandens which, as I point out, I am unable to discuss based on the lack of public evidence. Chapter 5 concerns Frank O'Connor and focuses on Branden's claim concerning his alcoholism. I do not discuss this chapter because it has been discussed in depth. Chapter 6 is a minor chapter which summarizes some of his points.

If there is another "point" to Valliant's book, it would appear to be that Nathaniel Branden deceived Rand in 1968 both personally and professionally. Granted, I don't discuss this, but I do concede in my review that Nathaniel Branden's dishonesty vis-a-vis Rand should be weighed in evaluating his memoirs.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Amazon PARC Review

I published a brief review of PARC on James Valliant responded.

Jim's first point is that because the Remington-Rand typewriter story cannot be true, Barbara Branden must be lying about having heard it from Rand. This is a non sequitur. First, Rand could have lied, telling Branden that Fern Brown's story was true. As I point out, archivists at the ARI believed until recently that Rand's own statement about her name was a "red herring" to protect her family in Russia. In other words, they believed that Rand told at least one lie about her name. I doubt this, but it can't be ruled out. Second, it's possible that Rand inadvertently said something supporting Fern Brown's account. Third, it's possible that Branden has mistakenly remembered something Rand said as supporting Brown's story. Valliant and his side-kick Casey Fahy are quick to accuse people of lying (Fahy claims my review is "dishonest") but I'm willing to believe that Branden has made an honest mistake.

In response to my claim that Valliant mischaracterizes PAR with respect to the Blumenthals, Jim's response is . . . well, he doesn't respond. He claims that Branden has falsely grouped all of the breaks in the same category. I don't believe this is true, for the reasons I mention. However, note that Valliant has misrepresented PAR concerning the Blumenthal's break with Rand. Let's (again) look at what Valliant says in PARC:

"One would never have guessed it from reading Ms. Branden's book, but it was they [the Blumenthals and Holzer] who left Rand." (PARC, p. 75.)

However, Branden quotes Allan Blumenthal "I telephoned Ayn and said we no longer wished to see her." (PAR, p. 388.)

I encourage people to read my review and look at Valliant's responses.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Free Man's Library by Henry Hazlitt

Mentions Anthem and The Fountainhead.

Hazlitt notes that some will find Rand's individualism "extreme."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Objectivist Ethics

In the recent Gotthelf/Salmieri piece that I linked to below, it says as follows:

"Rand’s virtue-focused rational egoism differs from traditional eudaimonism in that Rand regards ethics as an exact science. Rather than deriving her virtues from a vaguely defined human function, she takes 'Man’s Life' – i.e. that which is required for the survival of a rational animal across its lifespan – as her standard of value."

A couple points:

1. What is the difference between Rand's ethics and "traditional eudaimonism"? Why didn't the authors give us a single example of whose ethics is different (I realize that they had limited space, but ARIans love to tell us that Rand is so different without providing even a name of another philosopher to compare).

2. The language concerning the "survival of a rational animal across its lifespan" is unusual. The "lifespan" idea doesn't have any precedence in the Objectivist literature, from what I can tell.

The Passion of James Valliant's Critcism: Link

I have created a link to the draft of my essay on PARC at the upper right.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Contraditions Galore

The first part of chapter 2 is a lengthy discussion of various alleged contradictions within and between the Brandens’ accounts. Valliant starts with two quotes from Barbara Branden where she describes Rand’s view the value of intelligence. One quote appears to say that Rand didn’t value people unless they had unusual intelligence. The other quote indicates that Rand believed that simple people could understand complex ideas with some help and she greatly valued the simple person who wanted to learn. (PARC, pp. 15-16.) Only taken in the most wooden manner are these quotes contradictory. Here is what Branden says: “where she saw no unusual intelligence—nor the capacity for dedicated productive work its consequences—she saw no value that meant anything to her in personal terms.” (For some reason, Valliant places ellipses in the place of “nor the capacity for dedicated productive work its consequences.”) She then discusses how Rand never said as a significant compliment such things as “he’s generous” or “he’s kind.” (PAR, p. 7.)

In other words, people with average intelligence, who weren’t interested in learning, weren’t of value to Rand. And if Branden meant what Valliant claims she meant, it is hard to imagine her loving description of Rand explaining metaphysics to a student, a gardener, or a housekeeper.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers -- Ayn Rand

This is an article from the above reference work about Rand and Objectivism written by Allan Gotthelf and Greg Salmieri.