Saturday, November 01, 2008

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.)

1 comment:

Richard said...

So, you trust the arguments of people who have admitted to dishonesty, and who's books run a manipulative subtext (deceiving readers such as you) by wording issues in their favor. That is, they rationalize their activities. Rand did the right thing.