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.

1 comment:

Valda Redfern said...

The truth may be out there, but it sure isn't in here.