Monday, January 21, 2008

Myths and Truths About Libertarianism

Murray Rothbard's essay Myths and Truths About Libtertarianim is available on-line. I tend to think that Rothbard's style of anarcho-libertarianism, while not utopian, assumes an amount of goodness in human nature that is unwarranted.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

PARC: Four More Points

Since my two critiques of PARC, I've moved on to other projects, but here are a few things worth mentioning.

1. Frank's Drinking

One of the most notorious misrepresentations by James Valliant in PARC is his misquote of what Barbara Branden says Rand's housekeeper told her concerning liquor bottles in Frank O'Connor's studio.

Here is Barbara Branden (emphasis added):
He retained his studio in the apartment building where he and Ayn lived, and continued to spend his days there. And each week, when Ayn’s housekeeper went to the studio to clean it, she found no new paintings but, instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.

Here is Jim Valliant (emphasis added):
As her sole corroboration for these sources, Ms. Branden refers to the 'rows of empty liquor bottles' in O’Connor’s studio which Rand’s housekeeper is said to have found there after O’Connor’s death.

Now, finding empty liquor bottles "each week" and finding them "after O'Connor's death" are two different things.

Robert Campbell has pointed out that the source for Valliant's misreport is apparently Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult.
Barbara Branden relates that toward the end when people came into Rand's apartment, "the first thing they smelled was alcohol, and Frank had clearly been drinking," even in the morning. Now "Frank would fly into rages over nothing." After he died, his studio was found littered with empty liquor bottles. [TARC, p. 264.]

Walker does refer to an interview with Barbara Branden for the part in quotes, but nothing for the statement about the liquor bottles.

2. The Break With The Holzers

In PARC, Valliant speculates that the split might have something to do with Henry Holzer's views concerning constitutional interpretation. I came across this 1996 interview with Erika Holzer on her website.

FC: Did you show her any of your writing?

Holzer: Ayn had already seen samples of what I called my "practice pieces." These she went over with me in great detail, giving me invaluable literary feedback. But by the time I had completed my first novel Double Crossing some years later, she and I had become estranged.

FC: Over political or philosophical issues?

Holzer: Neither. It was a personal matter involving some friends of hers who'd known her a lot longer than we had. Even after this estrangement, she remained cordial to my husband and me whenever we'd see her at some public event, such as a lecture on Objectivism, even telling us that, unlike everyone else she had “excommunicated,” her “door was always open to us . . . ” [For various personal reasons, my husband and I chose not to re-enter that door.] It was too bad, really. When we were still friends, Ayn said to me on more than one occasion that I'd never have to endure from the liberal publishing establishment what she'd had to endure — all those endless doors being slammed in your face. That, given her clout, she would see that the right doors remained open to me. But that never happened. I did have to wage that enormous uphill battle she had promised to spare me. It went on for many years.

I have no idea which friends of Rand's Holzer is referring to, but: (1) she does describe their break with Rand as an "excommunication"; and (2) it didn't have anything to do with political or philosophical issues (for example animal rights or constitutional interpretation).

3. Speculation in PARC

James Valliant likes to claim that there this is too much speculation in the Brandens' books. I should have highlighted more the fact that Valliant is the king of speculation.

To take one example, Barbara Branden says that Frank told her that he wanted to leave Rand, "'But where would I go? . . . What would I do? . . .'" [PAR, p. 262.]

Here is Valliant:
The manifest absurdity of believing that a husband of a very successful author--whose crucial role in that author's own work had been publicly professed by Rand--would be left penniless from a divorce cannot be ascribed to O'Connor but to Ms. Branden. (Even in those days, husbands of high-income wives could--and did--get attractive settlements.) [PARC, pp. 151-52.]

Barbara Branden was an eyewitness and I see no reason to doubt her recollection. Even if what Valliant says is true about husbands receiving generous settlements (a claim he doesn't document) Frank might not have known this or might have felt there was something wrong about asking for money from Rand.

After quoting from Rand's notes for Atlas Shrugged from 1949 where Rand writes that Rearden takes pleasure in the thought of Dagny having sex with another man, Valliant writes that "this particular account of male psychology is almost certain to be an expression of her husband's own psychology." [PARC, p. 166, emphasis added.] This note isn't even about Frank and was written before Rand met the Brandens.

Or take this piece of speculation on p. 167 of PARC (emphasis added):
O'Connor almost certainly believed that his wife was an exceptional genius and a woman intensely loyal to her values. He may well have appreciated his wife's complex emotional--and intellectual--needs. Possessing such a sensitive and daring soul [it's now a fact] may well have given him the capacity to embrace his wife's quest for joy, a capacity obviously not shared by the Brandens. (And he surely could have left Rand without much fear, had he truly objected to the sitation.)

The only direct evidence bearing on the affair's effect on Frank are the reports of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden that it hurt Frank. To to extent that one need speculate, experience indicates that these types of relationships cause hurt and even the innocent party may feel "conflicted." Valliant has to admit that "[w]hether they were always truly happy together, especially in light of Rand's affair, can be questioned . . . ." [PARC, p. 157.]

4. Alan Greenspan

In his recent memoirs, Alan Greenspan (a member of the Collective who sided with Rand in 1968) says he remained a "close friend" of Rand's until her death. On the back of my copy of PAR, there is a supportive blurb from Greenspan: "A fascinating insight into one of the most thoughtful authors of this century."

If someone who knew Rand well for 30 years vouches for the book, by what right does Valliant (who didn't know Rand) denounce the book as one long "abitrary assertion"?