Monday, September 27, 2010

The Objective Standard Reviews The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics

Five years after it was published and a year or two since it’s been out of print, James Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) finally got reviewed in The Objective Standard (TOS), the house organ of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). The reviewer is the relatively unknown Roderick Fitts. Fitts, a mechanic in the Air Force, has never published on Rand's life. He is certainly an odd choice to review a book about Rand, given that the ARI has many folks with expertise in this area, including Jeff Britting, Shoshana Milgram (the official Ayn Rand biographer) and Dina Schein.

Early on Valliant’s opus got some positive attention from ARI supporters. In 2006 Diana Hsieh wrote, “In my view, Jim Valliant's case against Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics is overwhelming that no honest person can read it without dramatically changing their judgment of the Brandens for the worse -- and of Ayn Rand for the better.” In early 2007 Edward Cline wrote, “I must commend Valliant on a feat of detective work that would have daunted any career detective novelist. . . . In my mind, Rand never needed exoneration for her actions, and his book more than vindicates my position.”

It’s been pretty much downhill since then for PARC. Hsieh didn’t mention PARC when she noted the publication of the two new Rand biographies. Nor did Cline. (Curiously, TOS was going to publish a review of Anne Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made written by Cline. Cline finished the review but apparently TOS decided not to publish it.) TOS did publish a negative review of Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market by Robert Mayhew. Burns, it will be recalled, identified Mayhew as among those who have rewritten Rand’s posthumously published material. Mayhew didn’t mention PARC.

Getting back to Fitts’ review. It’s brief and doesn’t go into much detail about Valliant’s charges. Nonetheless it appears that the wagons are being circled. Fitts implicitly endorses all of Valliant’s claims, including those about Frank O’Connor’s drinking. Fitts even approves of Valliant inserting his hectoring comments around (and sometimes right in) Rand’s journals. There is not a word of criticism* and Fitts even goes beyond Valliant in claiming that Rand and O’Connor were “happily married.” He makes the absurd claim that Valliant’s book is “well-researched.”

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics is well-researched and covers a wide range of articles, audio recordings, books, movies, and interviews with individuals who knew Rand for years, if not decades. Although the book focuses primarily on the Brandens’ claims and the evidence against them, it also includes interesting details about aspects of Rand’s philosophy (such as her little-known concept “meta-selfishness”) and fills many gaps in the history of her life.

Just what are the wide range of interviews covered in PARC? The Archives has done over one hundred and twenty with people who knew Rand. Valliant didn’t consult one.

Fitts’ review doesn’t betray any indication of having been run by the Archives. It doesn’t mention the two new biographies, both of which side with the Brandens on numerous questions with which Valliant took issue.

It’s always hard to figure out what is going out in ARI-land, but I wonder if Leonard Peikoff is happy with the help the Archives gave to Burns and Heller and Burns’ revelation about the posthumously published material. While Peikoff’s auto-da-fe of John McCaskey doesn’t mention the Archives, it does indicate a frustration level about his position in orthodox Objectivism.

Fortunately things are looking up for those who are interested in Ayn Rand’s life. The Archives will publish 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand on November 2. On October 19 the paperback version of Anne Heller’s biography appears.

*On Fitts’ website, where a lengthier review of PARC appeared, Fitts offered this minor criticism:

Generally, I'm satisfied with Valliant's quoting and sources, and will say that he should have been less liberal how he quoted others (bordering on paraphrasing, like in the case of John Hospers), and should been more careful in citing his sources, like in the case of Rothbard. If he ever publishes a second edition, I'd certainly like to help in any editing he would need.

No comments: