Saturday, November 01, 2008

James Valliant on "The Exploiters and the Exploited," Part 1

In chapter four of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (entitled “The Exploiters and the Exploited”) James Valliant takes issue with what he alleges is the financial, intellectual and personal exploitation of Ayn Rand by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden which culminated in the 1968 break. Both Brandens concede that they deceived Rand about Nathaniel’s personal life but deny any financial or intellectual exploitation of her.

As is well known, Rand publicly denounced the Brandens in “To Whom It May Concern.” The Brandens, in separate responses, replied to Rand. (Rand then said nothing further on the subject.) This at least gives readers the ability to make a certain “common sense” evaluation of the charges, although it is ultimately difficult to come to firm conclusions without having access to primary source material and interviews. Valliant, who had complete access to the Ayn Rand Archives, is of little help here. He doesn’t supplement his critique of the Brandens’ books with any previously unreleased interviews. He does mention in the endnotes that he has reviewed certain letters and documents in the Archives (such as the business plan Barbara Branden drew up in 1968 for a new lecture service) but doesn’t reproduce them or discuss their contents.

The Play’s Not the Thing

Rand begins her critique of Nathaniel Branden’s supposed change in “intellectual attitude” by referring to his production of Barbara Branden’s stage version of The Fountainhead which, according to Rand, “seemed to become his central concern.” Needless to say, I have no way of verifying whether Branden’s involvement with this project took too much of his time, much less whether it was “authority-flaunting, unserious and, at times, undignified.” Valliant presents no evidence that Rand’s allegations are accurate. I am unaware of such a claim being made in the diaries reproduced in PARC, although the play is mentioned a few of times by Rand. (PARC, pp. 306, 308 & 334.)

Rand then mentions two additional “defaults” with respect to Branden’s responsibilities concerning Objectivism. First, “the growing and lengthening delays in the writing of his articles” for The Objectivist and, second, his failure to rewrite the “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course. These are, to a certain extent, subject to confirmation.

With respect to articles for The Objectivist, Rand says “[w]e also agreed that we would write an equal number of articles and receive an equal salary.” She adds:

If you check over the back issues of this publication, you will observe that in 1962 and 1963 Mr. Branden and I wrote about the same number of articles and that the carried his proper share of the burden of my work. But beginning with the year 1964, the number of articles written by me became significantly greater than the number written by him. On many occasions, he was unable to deliver a promised article on time and I had to write one in order to save the magazine from constant delays. This year, I refused to write more than my share; hence the magazine is now four months behind schedule. (I shall now make up for this time lag as fast as possible.)

Valliant made no effort to determine whether Rand’s claim on this is true. Fred Seddon did. His findings (which I have not attempted to verify) are as follows:

So let’s check over the back issues. Here is what I found. (A “+” indicates Rand is ahead of Nathaniel Branden's output; a “-“ that she is behind. Here are the results up to the break in May of 1968:

1962 +7
1963 -3
1964 +2
1965 +4
1966 +4
1967 +1
1968 even

Notice she is wrong about 1962 and 1963. They did not write “about the same number of articles.” In 1962 she wrote seven more than Branden, the greatest imbalance of any year, despite her complaint about 1964 on. In 1963 Branden actually wrote more articles than Rand—the only year that happened. Notice also that in all of 1967 and 1968, Rand only wrote one more article than Branden. Hardly enough to justify her fuss, especially considering the huge difference in 1962 of which she does not make mention.

As far as Branden’s alleged failure to update his “Basic Principles” course, I am not in a position to verify this. Valliant appears to believe that Branden is in error:

Even in the “updated” version which he sold on LP following the break, a substantial portion of the material appears to be (almost verbatim) what can be found in The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Branden’s “continuous updates” consist primarily of added quotations from Rand’s newly available, IOE, which are also contained on these LPs. Otherwise, despite Branden’s claims to the contrary, his lecture material changed very little throughout the Sixties. (PARC, p. 120.)

Valliant sneers at Branden’s contention that he planned a full update by 1969, but this is possible. It is likewise possible that Branden, after breaking with Rand, was not particularly interested in doing a substantial rewrite. I do find plausible Branden’s claim that of greater concern was his book on psychology, which was published in 1969. Branden’s version of events, all things considered, is at least as likely as Rand’s, if not more likely.

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