Sunday, June 17, 2007

James Valliant on Rand's Claim that "No one helped me."

Valliant accuses Nathaniel Branden of alleging that Rand engaged in “grandiose dishonesty” in making her claim in the About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged that “no one helped me . . . .” Valliant notes that Branden also says that Rand made a similar assertion on another occasion. (PARC, p. 41.) Valliant concludes that because Rand did express gratitude for the help she received on numerous occasions, Branden is wrong to conclude that Rand sought to deny or minimize the help she received. (PARC, p. 43.)

As usual, Valliant’s description of his source omits important points. Nathaniel Branden begins his discussion by recounting Rand’s relationship with screenwriter Albert Mannheimer. Rand told Branden that “during her years of financial struggle”, Mannheimer sent her a check for five hundred dollars. Rand said how she would never forget the helped she received from him. However, Branden noted that in another conversation in front of several people and in the 1957 About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged, Rand denied that anyone helped her during that same period of time. Branden sees this as an “evident contradiction.” (JD, pp. 60-61.) Valliant ignores the fact that Branden’s discussion is explicitly limited to Rand’s “years of financial struggle”, which would apparently be from her arrival in the United States until she first obtained success as a writer. Nowhere (at least in the pages cited by Valliant) does Branden refer to this as “dishonesty” (grandiose or otherwise). Although Branden doesn’t say it, it is reasonable to conclude that he sees Rand as minimizing the help that she received during this period of time as far as her public personae was concerned. It is important to note that, contrary to what Valliant implies, Branded does not say that Rand never publicly acknowledged the help she received from others.

Valliant attempts to refute Branden on this by pointing to the many occasions that Rand did acknowledge help from others. Most of these examples are irrelevant because they fall outside the time period at issue.

As far as 1957’s About the Author postscript to Atlas Shrugged is concerned, I think it is an example of Rand ignoring the help she received. Her statement is sweeping:

“I decided to be a writer at the age of nine, and every thing I have done was integrated to that purpose. I am an American by choice and conviction. I was born in Europe, but I came to America because this was the country based on my moral premises and the only country where one could be fully free to write. I came here alone, after graduatingfrom a European college. I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs, until I could make a financial success of my writing. No one helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone's duty to help me.”

Valliant claims that Rand was only denying “altruistic” help, such as welfare. I don’t find this persuasive, but readers can decide for themselves.

Five years later, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden published a book entitled Who is Ayn Rand?, which included a biographical essay by Barbara Branden based on interviews with Rand. In this essay, Branden discusses how Rand’s relatives in Chicago put her up after she arrived from the U.S.S.R. and how she received affordable lodging at the Hollywood Studio Home shortly after her arrival to California in 1926. Nathaniel Branden doesn’t mention this; at the same time, he doesn’t say or imply that Rand never publicly acknowledged that she received help from others.

Valliant ends his discussion by thundering that “[t]he notion that Rand had any difficulty in acknowledging what she regarded as appropriate ‘help,’ . . . is simply absurd, as the Brandens know well.” (PARC, p. 43.) Why “the Brandens”? Valliant does not quote Barbara Branden as making any blanket claim about Rand in this respect. In fact, he does cite PAR for three examples of Rand’s gratitude toward others.

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