Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: The Surprise Party From Hell

Both Brandens relate a surprise party that was thrown for Rand to celebrate the publication of Atlas Shrugged. Barbara writes that it was thrown by “the collective.” (PAR, p. 295.) Nathaniel says that he and Barbara decided to have the party. For some reason, Valliant twice says that Random House (Atlas’ publisher) threw the party. (PARC, pp. 48-49.) The Brandens report that Rand was unhappy and made it clear that she didn’t like surprise parties. She was rather gloomy for most of the party, but eventually Bennett Cerf (who doesn’t discuss the incident in his memoirs) was able to cheer Rand up. Both Brandens engage in a bit of psychologizing relative to Rand’s reaction to the party.

Granted, one might find this psychologizing excessive. But Valliant’s claim that Nathaniel is claiming some sort of “special (i.e, unverifiable)” knowledge is off the mark. Branden knew Rand quite well and his (and Barbara’s) analysis of Rand is entitled to some deference. Particularly strange is Valliant’s claim that the party represented an attempt to control Rand’s “context through deception.” (PARC, pp. 49-50.) In any event, if Random House did in fact throw the party as Valliant contends, that makes the Brandens somewhat less culpable. Interestingly, Frank O’Connor (Rand’s husband) was part of the “deception”; but if Rand’s husband didn’t think she would get upset, I don’t see how the Brandens can be blamed.

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Cash for Trash?

Valliant mentions Nathaniel Branden’s claim that Leonard Peikoff has personally profited from publishing “Rand’s private journals.” Attempting to make Branden out to be stupid or disingenuous, Valliant thunders: “the publishing of notes of literary figures is quite common . . . .” (PARC, p. 11.) I’m sure Branden knows this. What he said was “[f]or example, he [Peikoff] published highly personal notes of Ayn’s, taken from her journals, that were never meant to be shared with the world.” (MYWAR, p. 364.) Branden is not objecting to the publication of Rand’s journals, but only certain portions of them (the personal parts). Valliant does make a valid point: virtually all the journal material published (up to his book of course) is of a non-personal nature, so Branden should have provided some examples.

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism: Only You, Lu

On page 43 of PARC, Valliant discusses Rand’s comments that she wrote about Ludwig von Mises in the margins of his books that she read, as well as Nathaniel Branden’s reactions to them. Rand was on friendly terms with the great Austrian economist and free market liberal. She recommended his books in her magazine. Von Mises, it should be remembered, was a Kantian in epistemology and a utilitarian in ethics, two positions with which Rand sharply disagreed, much as she agreed with his economics. In spite of these differences, Nathaniel Branden relates that he (Branden) was “shocked” when Rand showed him her comments in which she referred to von Mises as a “bastard.” Valliant contends that Branden considered Rand a “hypocrite” to be nice in public to von Mises, but so critical in private. Valliant considers this “small” and “petty.” Indeed, criticizing Rand for her marginal notes is a “new low” for Branden. (PARC, p. 43.)

As usual, Branden’s version is a bit more complex. Branden points out that Rand was polite to von Mises. When Rand showed him her marginal notes, he was surprised that they were so harsh. He asked her if she considered him a “bastard,” (note, not a “goddamned fool” as Valliant has it) and she said “As a total person, no, I suppose I don’t. But if I focus on that aspect of him, where he goes irrational, yes, I do.” He says that it didn’t occur to him to consider Rand a “hypocrite” (whether he does now isn’t stated). (MYWAR, p. 116.) This is the context of Branden’s comments. Branden doesn’t say that Rand shouldn’t be “passionate about ideas,” not does he deny that Rand legitimately believed that Capitalism needed a different foundation from that provided by Mises. It’s the tone that she uses and what Branden thinks it means that bothers him. Even if Branden is a bit harsh on Rand, this is a good example of a purported piece of evidence that does nothing to undermine the accuracy of his memoirs.

Incidentally, in the published version of the marginalia I can’t find Rand calling von Mises a “bastard.” Many people who have read the published version of Rand’s “marginalia” consider it unfair. See the critique by Michael Prescott here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism

I'm turning my posts on The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics into a lengthy essay tentatively entitled "The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism." It will contain lots of new material. If anyone wants a draft, please email me at objectiblog (at thing)

If anyone knows how I can link to a Microsoft Word file using blogger, then please let me know so I can make this contribution available to all.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

FDR: Objectivist Hero?

John Lewis, in an article entitled "No Substitute for Victory," compares the US war against Japan from 1941-1945 to the US war against "Totalitarian Islam." He calls for the invasion and supression of Islam in Iran and every other totalitarian Islamic state (which would include at least Saudi Arabia and maybe Egypt, Pakistan, Southern Lebanon, Sudan and Indonesia).

Franklin Rosevelt is held up as a hero for calling for the unconditional surrender of Japan and setting in place a policy of the supression of Shintoism as a political force.

It strikes me that there are quite a few "disanalogies" between these two situations. First, Japan was a modern industrial country, unlike Iran. Second, Islam is an ideology that is spread over multiple countries. Attacking Iran will create a backlash in Moslem nations, likely radicalizing them, particularly if the US goes nuclear (which Lewis appears to want). Third, an attack on Iran will be seen by the world as an offensive, beligerent act.

How the US can occupy Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries without a massive increase in taxes and imposing the draft isn't explained by Mr. Lewis.

But I find it most intersting that, as I point out below, Leonard Peikoff in 1982 opposed US involvement in World War II and even implied that FDR lied to get the US into war with Japan. He stated that US involvment in WWII was a factor in leading to increased control of the economy. The Ominous Parallels was, I gather, vetted by Rand.