Saturday, November 15, 2008

James Valliant on "The Exploiters and the Exploited," Part V

Financial Exploitation

Rand accused the Brandens of financial exploitation. With respect to Nathaniel Branden she asserts that he authorized an improper loan from The Objectivist to NBI, and implies that there were additional improprieties. (TWIMC, pp. 4-5.) With respect to Barbara Branden, she implies that Branden proposed a business plan for a reorganized lecture service that was financially so unreasonable that is was little more than an attempt to cash-in on her name. (TWIMC, pp. 6-7.) We shall see that there is no evidence to support these claims.

Valliant supplements Rand’s allegations in an additional way. He alleges that the Brandens’ deception of Rand concerning Nathaniel’s affair with Patrecia was motivated by financial concerns. Had Rand learned the truth, she would have broken with one or both of them, thus cutting off their “meal ticket.” In addition, he asserts that Nathaniel Branden was gradually drifting away from strict adherence to Objectivism and his failing to disclose this to Rand constituted continued exploitation. I will discuss Branden’s alleged departure from Objectivism later, but I find Valliant’s claim of financial exploitation unpersuasive.

The Brandens’ business relationship with Rand was likely beneficial to all parties, but there is no reason to think that their deception of Rand about Nathaniel’s affair with Patrecia was motivated primarily by financial concerns. It is more likely that they feared Rand’s volcanic temper and the shattering of the Objectivist movement if the relationship was disclosed. As even Valliant concedes, Nathaniel Branden’s finances improved dramatically when he moved to California and went into private practice full-time. (PARC, p. 108.) Branden writes in his memoirs that after the break, NBI was liquidated and the amount after debts was $45,000 – which was split among him, Barbara Branden and Wilfred Schwartz. He adds that “[t]his was all that was left of ten years of work. I had no other personal savings.” (MYWAR, p. 354.) Barbara Branden doesn’t discuss her financial situation at the time of the break, but it doesn’t appear to have been strong. In any event, it was Rand’s intention of naming Barbara Branden her heir that prompted Branden to disclose the truth to Rand (which Valliant, bizarrely, attempts to turn into further evidence of her alleged exploitation of Rand). (PAR, pp. 342-43; PARC, p. 119.) People as talented as Nathaniel and Barbara Branden no doubt could have established themselves in stable careers by 1968 had money been their life’s ambition.

This chapter is an additional example of Valliant’s one-sided writing. In his attempt to convince readers that the Brandens were motivated by a desire to cash-in on Rand’s name there is little, if any, mention of the countless hours of uncompensated time that they spent advancing (if not creating) the Objectivist movement. Instead (in keeping with Rand’s 1968 denunciation), their contributions are slighted:

A couple of years later, a newsletter—to be replaced by a magazine—was founded by Branden and Rand to publish Rand’s speeches and essays and essays, as well as the essays of Rand’s students, including the Brandens’, applying Objectivism to the questions of the day and the Questions of the Ages.

These activities soon became the Brandens’ full-time employment.

Rand's novels were really the only advertisement NBI ever needed. While the lectures at NBI -- including those of Leonard Peikoff and Alan Greenspan -- provided important applications and amplifications of Rand's ideas, it was her novels which recruited the students at NBI, not vice versa . . . . Whatever the quality of the work done at NBI, it was Rand who had pulled the students through the door in the first place--every time.

The same must be said of The Objectivist, which gave Branden and other young students of Objectivism a publishing outlet which they needed far more than Rand did at the time. (PARC, pp. 88-89.)

The Brandens were merely students and employees of Rand.

In an interview with Barbara Branden, Rand said the following (as reported by Mrs. Branden):

As cultural signs, I think the thing that really changed my whole mind is NBL. [Nathaniel Branden Lectures was the original name of Mr. Branden's organization.] It's the whole phenomenon of Nathan's lectures. As you know, when he first started it I wasn't opposed to it, but I can't say that I expected too much. I was watching it, in effect, with enormous concern and sympathy for him, because I thought there was a very good chance of it failing... Since the culture in general seemed totally indifferent to our ideas and to ideas as a whole, I didn't see how one could make a lecture organization grow . . . But with the passage of time . . . I began to see how even the least promising of Nathan's students . . . were not the same as they were before they started on the course, that Nathan had a tremendous influence on them, that they were infinitely better people and more rational, even if they certainly were not Objectivists yet... What I saw is that ideas take, in a manner which I did not know... The whole enormous response to Nathan gave me a preview of what can be done with a culture. And seeing Nathan start on a shoestring, with the whole intellectual atmosphere against him, standing totally alone and establishing an institution, that was an enormously crucial, concrete example of what can be done

Likewise, one certainly wouldn’t know the substantial role that Nathaniel Branden played in turning Rand’s ideas into the mature philosophy of Objectivism. In For the New Intellectual, Rand thanked Nathaniel Branden for his contribution of the “Attila” and “Witch Doctor” archetypes. In the forward to “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” published in The Objectivist in 1966 (which her followers consider her most important writings), she acknowledged the importance of Branden’s article “The Stolen Concept.” One need only consider the seminal essays Branden wrote such as “The Psychology of Pleasure.” In fact, his “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course was the first systematic presentation of Rand’s ideas and was listened to by countless thousands of students throughout the United States. Branden may have been a “student” of Rand’s, but he was the first teacher of Objectivism.

Barbara Branden devoted more of her time to the business side of the Objectivist movement, but she contributed articles to The Objectivist and presented a lecture series entitled “The Principles of Efficient Thinking” at NBI. Rand’s slight of Branden in TWIMC (“I cannot say as much for Barbara Branden” in comparison to Nathaniel’s “waste” of “human endowment”) was entirely unfair given her years of devotion to Objectivism and Rand’s previous praise of her talents and character (which she compared to the heroes of her novels).