Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism, Part V

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism, Part V is now up. This completes my critique, although I am taking the five parts and turning it into a stand-alone critique. If anyone wants a copy, please email me.

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).

Sunday, November 09, 2008

James Valliant on "The Exploiters and the Exploited," Part 4

According to Valliant, Rand’s defense in TWIMC was accurate whereas the Brandens’ responses were “dishonest . . . relying on direct personal slander.” (PARC, p. 90.) However, Valliant concedes that “Rand was not telling her readers everything.” (PARC, p. 95.)

It is evident from reading TWIMC that there was an undisclosed “personal” matter that provided the backdrop for the dispute. For example, Rand says that she was “shocked to discover that he [Branden] was consistently failing to apply to his own personal life. . . the fundamental principles of Objectivism . . . .” (p. 3.) She says that Barbara Branden later disclosed that Branden “suddenly confessed that Mr. Branden had been concealing from me certain ugly actions . . . in his private life . . . .” (p. 4.)

Although Rand did not say what these “ugly actions” were, she did reference Branden’s letter of July 1968. She wrote, “Mr. Branden presented me with a written statement which was so irrational and so offensive that I had to break my personal association with him.” (p. 3.) Left unsaid was that this statement was a several page letter which Nathaniel wrote to Rand explaining that their difference in age prevented him from resuming a sexual relationship with her. (JD, p. 375.) Branden reports that Rand was furious when he hand-delivered the letter to her. (JD, pp. 376-77.) Rand spent numerous pages in her diaries denouncing Branden and the letter. (PARC, pp. 311-69.)

Branden’s response to this claim about the letter was the following:

In writing the above, Miss Rand has given me the right to name that which I infinitely would have preferred to leave unnamed, out of respect for her privacy. I am obliged to report what was in that written paper of mine, in the name of justice and of self-defense.

That written statement was an effort, not to terminate my relationship with Miss Rand, but to save it, in some mutually acceptable form.

It was a tortured, awkward, excruciatingly embarrassed attempt to make clear to her why I felt that an age distance between us of twenty-five years constituted an insuperable barrier, for me, to a romantic relationship.

It is tempting to say, as does Valliant, that this portion of the Branden’s response was, if not gratuitous, at least misleading. In my opinion, the most natural implication of what Branden says is that Rand wanted to start a relationship. I don’t think most readers would conclude that Rand and Branden had a relationship which she wanted to restart. However, one must consider the context. At the beginning of the affair, all parties agreed to keep the affair secret. Rand, by mentioning the letter, in effect broke the agreement. By wording his response the way he did, Branden was able to keep his word and respond to the substance of TWIMC.

An additional matter is the addendum to TWMIC from signed by four lecturers at the NBI (Allan Blumenthal, Alan Greenspan, Leonard Peikoff, and Mary Ann Sures) who announced that they were breaking all ties with the Brandens and “condemn[ing]
them “irrevocably.” Of these four, Rand told only Allan Blumenthal of the affair. I find it a bit unfair for Rand to ask (or allow) these three people to sign such a statement without telling them know the complete story.

In hindsight it would probably have been better for Rand to write a short statement that she was ending her association with the Brandens for personal and professional reasons. By launching such a personal attack on the Brandens and indirectly referencing the affair, I find the Brandens’ response measured.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Stop Fact Checking and Start Reporting

Nothing annoys me more than the media claiming that it will "fact check" the various advertisements and claims of the candidates. Let's face it, members of the media will vote overwhelmingly for Sen. Obama. Yet when they profess to neutrally check facts, I'm supposed to take it at face value?

I'm no pomo-wonker who claims that "all facts are interpreted," but if some member of the media is going to assert that candidate x got his facts wrong I'd like to know if he is voting for or against candidate x.

Take for example one Calvin Woodward of the AP. Today he discusses (among other things) the McCain campaign's claim that Obama was too close to terrorist William Ayers.


William Ayers, a University of Illinois education professor and former member of the radical Weather Underground, was front and center in Republican claims that Obama was "palling around with terrorists," as Palin put it. Ayers had a meet-the-candidate event in his home for Obama early in the Democrat's political career.

The two served on the board of the Woods Fund. And they live in the same Chicago neighborhood.

McCain and Palin stretched the extent of that relationship to link Obama with shadowy figures.

Beyond that, they falsely implied that Ayers used the occasion of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to wish even greater harm. "We don't care about an old washed-up terrorist and his wife, who still, at least on Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more," McCain told a rally.

This distortion originated in Hillary Rodham Clinton's play book during the primaries, when she criticized Obama for the same relationship.

Ayers, Clinton said, made comments "which were deeply hurtful to people in New York and, I would hope, to every American, because they were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more."

By coincidence, The New York Times published a story on the day of the attacks about Ayers and what he called his fictionalized memoirs. The story was based on an interview he had done earlier, in Chicago, in which he declared, "I don't regret setting bombs," and "I feel we didn't do enough," even while seeming to dissociate himself coyly from the group's most destructive acts

Note the heading: "Guilt By Association." Is this "unbiased"? And where is the proof that Ayers' memoirs were "fictionalized"? Ayers still believes it was OK to "set[] bombs," so how is the McCain campaign wrong in claiming that Obama palls around with an unrepentant terrorist? "Shadowy figures"? How does Mr. Woodward propose to describe someone who was in hiding for years because he knew he was facing charges for planting bombs? "Dissociate himself coyly from the group's most destructive acts"? What does Ayers have to do to become a radical in Mr. Woodward's eyes, serve as Camp Commadant of the Gulag Archipelago? Being a commie terrorist isn't destructive enough?

Mr. Woodward: stop "fact checking" and start reporting.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

James Valliant on "The Exploiters and the Exploited," Part 3

Financial Wrongdoing

Perhaps Rand’s most serious charge against Nathaniel Branden is her contention that he financially exploited her. The centerpiece of this claim concerns a loan for $22,500 (or $25,000, depending on whom you believe) that Branden authorized from The Objectivist to NBI.

By way of background, The Objectivist (which was co-owned by Rand and Branden) and NBI (which was owned by Nathaniel Branden) were separate corporations. They shared a common business manager, Wilfred Schwartz. In September 1967, NBI secured a fifteen-year lease at the Empire State Building. The Objectivist was a subtenant, paying $6,000 a year to NBI. NBI’s rent was due yearly. From time to time Branden had authorized loans from The Objectivist to NBI. The Objectivist was profitable and the loans had been paid back. This much is agreed upon, or at least not disputed.

In July 1967, Branden authorized a loan from The Objectivist to NBI for $22,500. (Rand claimed that it was $25,000.) In any event, the loan included the $6,000 payment for The Objectivist’s lease, making it in effect a $16,500 (or $19,000) loan. It appears that this loan was greater than previous loans. It was repaid shortly before the break, probably in August 1968. According to Rand, the loan was made without her knowledge, in violation of the articles of incorporation, constituted almost the entire cash reserves of The Objectivist, and was not repaid until she insisted.

Here is Branden’s version of events:

Contrary to Miss Rand's claim, I never told her that I wished to borrow money from The Objectivist for the rent "because NBI did not have quite enough." At the time of the conversation to which Miss Rand refers, I had no reason to doubt that she already had knowledge of the loan, since there was regular communication between Mr. Schwartz and Miss Rand concerning the move to the Empire State Building, since The Objectivist's own Circulation Manager had prepared the check, and since the loan was entered on the books of The Objectivist. My passing reference to the loan was entirely perfunctory; it was intended, in effect, as a reminder, since I knew of Miss Rand's disinterest in business matters. When I mentioned the loan, Miss Rand said nothing to indicate that she was hearing of it for the first time; she uttered some casual expression of assent, said "So long as you pay it back" (or words to that effect), and waved her hand in a characteristic gesture, dismissing the subject.

Miss Rand states that "the original amount of the loan had represented the entire cash reserve of this magazine." The magazine's own financial statements do not support her assertion. The loan was made on July 6, 1967. The audited statement of the magazine, immediately preceding the loan, that of March 31, 1967, shows total assets in excess of $44,000 and cash in the bank in the amount of $33,881; the audited statement of March 31, 1968, shows total assets in excess of $58,000 and cash in the bank in the amount of $17,438, in addition to the $16,500 loan receivable from NBI (for which NBI was paying a higher rate of interest than The Objectivist obtained from its investments elsewhere).

Valliant alleges that this constitutes an admission by Branden that the loan in question constituted “the depletion of most of the cash reserves of the Objectivist . . . .” This is his reasoning:

He [Branden] does not tell us what The Objectivist had in the bank at the time of the loan, but as of March 31, 1968, the amount was $17,434 he says. The amount of money transferred to NBI, he alleged, had only been $22,500, not the $25,000 Rand had claimed, and, of this only $16,500 was “borrowed.” . . . . [B]ut no matter how Mr. Branden slices it, the loan still required the depletion of most of the cash reserves. . . . (PARC, p. 108.)

I’m no accountant, but I am at a loss to see how Valliant reaches this conclusion. While we don’t know the cash in the bank at the time of the loan, approximately four months prior it was $33,881. Valliant doesn’t mention this amount. Approximately eight months after the loan was made (but before it was paid back) it was $17,438. (Valliant mentions only this later amount, and gets it slightly wrong.) What is the evidence that this loan depleted the cash reserves of The Objectivist? I can only assume that Valliant believes that $17,438 contains funds from the repaid loan ($17,438-$16,500= $938), but the loan wasn’t paid until months later.

Concerning whether the articles of incorporation required consent of both Rand and Branden for such transactions, I can’t comment since I have not seen the document. Valliant doesn’t say whether the Archives has a copy. Valliant alleges that Branden admits in his Judgment Day that at the time of incorporation there was an “oral agreement” that there would be “mutual agreement on all decisions.” (PARC, p. 109.) Actually, Branden says only that there was an oral agreement that The Objectivist would not publish something the other opposed and if there was a falling out The Objectivist would cease publication. (JD, p. 291.)

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.

James Valliant On The Exploiters And The Exploited

In chapter four of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, 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 he 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 September 1968 Business Plan
After it was agreed that NBI would close, Barbara Branden presented Rand with a ten-page business plan for the creation of a new lecture service. The lecture service would take over NBI’s lease and The Objectivist would remain a subtenant. Branden presented this plan to Rand, which she rejected. Rand stated:

Then I considered the idea of endorsing Mrs. Branden’s proposal to run a lecture organization of her own, on a much more modest scale, with the assistance of NBI’s associate lecturers. But after a few inquiries, I concluded that this was impracticable: I discovered that NBI had treated its associate lecturers so unfairly that they were not eager to continue. (For instance, when the yearly grosses of NBI grew larger, the percentages paid to its associate lecturers were cut.)

* * *

On September 2, the plan was submitted to me at a business meeting attended by my attorney, Henry Mark Holzer. The plan did not offer any relevant factual material, but a projection (by an unspecified method) of future profits to be earned by a lecture organization patterned after NBI, with Mrs. Branden giving the “Basic” course. The essence of the plan required that THE OBJECTIVIST remain in the same quarters with Mrs. Branden’s new corporation, under a business arrangement of so questionable a nature that I reject it at once . . . .

In both her 1968 response and in PAR, Branden takes issue with Rand’s claims. Her response contains numerous points not addressed by Valliant which, if true, undercut Rand’s version of events. Branden claims that Henry Mark Holzer had in fact approved of the business plan. She alleges that the plan was accompanied by forty seven pages of analysis. If true, Rand’s claim that the plan did not contain “any relevant factual material” is likely false.

In any event, Rand’s claim of financial exploitation of the lectures appears unfounded. Rand asserts that lecturers were treated unfairly, using as an example the fact that percentages paid to NBI lecturer’s declined as NBI’s grosses increased. Why this should be surprising or unfair is beyond me. A decrease in percentage paid to lecturers doesn’t necessarily correspond to a decrease in payments. Here is Branden’s response:

Miss Rand states that when the yearly grosses of NBI grew larger, the percentages paid to its Associate Lecturers were cut. This is quite true. But she neglects to mention that when the percentages were cut, the minimum rate guaranteed to a lecturer for a course was more than doubled. (And surely the author of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal knows that the operations of a business preclude transactions which are not considered, by both buyer and seller, to be to their mutual advantage.)
I might add that, a few years ago, while lecturing for NBI during the summer months, Leonard Peikoff asked me if he might tell the head of his philosophy department the sum of money he was earning for his summer's work; he explained that the amount was so much more than a university professor makes, that his department head would be profoundly impressed with the "practicality" of Objectivism. I agreed.

Valliant repeats Rand’s claim that Branden’s proposal was only a “projection” and adds “without the draw of NBI’s ‘star’ lecturer, Nathaniel Branden, which as she says were based on NBI’s past performance, were of little value.” (PARC, p. 120.) Perhaps the report did mention the possibility of an initial fall-off in revenue. (Valliant’s comment about Nathaniel Branden is interesting given his attempt to downplay his contribution to Objectivism in the book.) Rand said that her name was a “gold mine” and it is certainly possible that a revised lecture service could have been equally profitable.

Valliant, who had complete access to the Ayn Rand Archives, was in a position to shed some light on these questions. He mentions that a copy of Branden’s business plan was likely found in the Archives, yet doesn’t reproduce it or discuss its contents. (PARC, p. 404.)