by Neil Parille
In my essay “The Passion of James Valliant’s Criticism,” I focused primarily on James Valliant’s use of Nathaniel and Barbara Brandens’ books as sources. As I showed, Valliant persistently misrepresents their books. I occasionally mentioned, often in passing, some of the more serious methodological problems with PARC, such as Valliant’s uncritical grouping together of the Brandens’ books. In this essay I will discuss some of these larger problems of PARC in more detail and analyze additional examples of misrepresentations by Valliant.
Did No One at Durban House Even Read This Book?
Valliant attempts to cast doubt on the reliability of PAR by suggesting that it is riddled with errors and inconsistencies. Valliant asks rhetorically, “[D]id no one at Doubleday even read the book?” (PARC, p. 20.) Although I believe Valliant vastly overstates these alleged problems, the same could with more justice be asked about PARC. PARC is filled with mistakes. The Brandens’ books are frequently misquoted. Indeed, the very first quote from PAR contains a copying error. (PARC, p. 9.) PAR is misquoted again on page 12. On the following page, Valliant quotes Nathaniel Branden as telling an “undetermined ‘us’” that Rand’s name came from her Remington-Rand typewriter, but it is clear from the context that the “us” refers to Barbara and Nathaniel Branden. (JD, p. 73.) There is no need to surmise (as Valliant does) that this second person is “likely” to have been Barbara Branden.
Minor mistakes abound in areas tangential to the book’s argument, often in footnotes. Murray Rothbard’s Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences is called “Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences.” (PARC, p. 421, p. 400 n. 44.) Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty is misquoted. (PARC, p. 400 n. 44.) An internet article by David Hayes is given two slightly different titles. (PARC, p. 390 n. 14, p. 417.) Chris Sciabarra is misrepresented concerning his views on Rand’s philosophical background. (PARC, pp. 391-92 n. 28.) The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is cited inconsistently. (PARC, p. 1, p. 422.) Sometimes it’s The National Review (p. 67, p. 77, p. 399 n. 37, p. 417) and other times National Review. (PARC, p. 417, p. 421.)
Our concern with respect to Valliant’s use of sources was confirmed in Part I of this essay. As we saw, divergent accounts by the Brandens are presented as if they were identical, as in the case of Rand’s break with John Hospers. Sources are reported carelessly, as in Valliant’s stating that a surprise party to celebrate Atlas Shrugged was thrown by Random House, when his only referenced sources say it was thrown by the Brandens. Some sources are outright misrepresented, as in Valliant’s claim that Barbara Branden conceals the fact that Allan Blumenthal broke with Rand when PAR quotes Allan Blumenthal stating explicitly that he and his wife Joan decided to leave Rand. Another misreport involves the issue of Frank O’Connor’s drinking habits. Branden says that “each week” Rand’s housekeeper went to Frank’s studio and “found no new paintings, but instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.” (PAR, p. 366.) Valliant changes this to “’rows of empty liquor bottles’ . . . which Rand’s housekeeper is said to have found there after O’Connor’s death.” (PARC, p. 144.) This is particularly significant given the importance Valliant places on attempting to undermine Branden’s claim that O’Connor drank excessively.
Although some of these mistakes could be attributed to copying errors, the sheer number in PARC casts doubt on the care the author has taken with his sources. Furthermore, it makes one wonder if Rand’s diaries (which make up a large portion of PARC) have been accurately transcribed.
The Brandens, their Friends and Rand’s “Critics”
As I observed in Part I, Valliant repeatedly groups Nathaniel and Barbara Branden together is if they were one person. Yet, as even he acknowledges, their post-split relationship has not always been friendly. Although Nathaniel Branden is listed in PAR as having been interviewed by Barbara Branden, she states in a footnote on page 357 that she and Nathaniel had not met in “several years.” In a C-SPAN interview aired on July 2, 1989, he said that he had not spoken with Barbara in “I don’t know maybe a year.”(1)
Throughout PARC, Valliant not only attacks the “Brandens” as if they were one person, but also links them with various (and generally unnamed) “friends.” (These friends are apparently a subgroup of Rand’s “critics.”) Valliant argues that because the Brandens’ “friends” and fellow “critics” allegedly share the same interest in portraying Rand in a negative light, their accounts of Rand should be treated with skepticism. Valliant has the audacity to state:
All those with whom Rand had a “break” share precisely the same bias and precisely the same interest in presenting Rand as an “authoritarian” as do the Brandens. Ms. Branden’s book appears to have been the receptacle for all the stories most likely to demonstrate Rand’s alleged injustices to each of them individually and collectively, but none that might explain Rand’s side. (PARC, p. 76, emphasis added.)
A review of the evidence does not support this contention. Allan and Joan Blumenthal stayed with Rand after the 1968 split. Allan Blumenthal disassociated himself from The Institute for Objectivist Studies in 1996 because it invited Nathaniel Branden to give a talk at one of its events. Henry Mark Holzer has also been critical of Nathaniel Branden, as was Edith Efron. Yet another Rand critic was Murray Rothbard. In 1972, Rothbard wrote an essay entitled “The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult” which portrayed Rand (and by implication the Brandens) quite negatively. Rothbard was highly critical of Nathaniel Branden, who returned the favor by claiming that Rothbard launched a campaign of “lies” against him and Barbara Branden. Barbara Branden has also challenged Rothbard’s account. On the other hand, some of those whom Barbara Branden interviewed never “broke” with Rand, either because they were never part of her inner circle or because they remained friends with Rand until her death (such as Alan Greenspan, Mimi Sutton and Rand’s housekeeper). So it would seem that those who have contributed to a less-than-flattering view of Rand represent a fair cross-section of those who knew her in terms of both their involvement in her life and their attitude toward either of the Brandens. Valliant’s dismissal of these individuals’ accounts in the absence of a detailed evaluation of their motivations would appear to represent what Valliant and Leonard Peikoff call an “arbitrary assertion.”(2)
Not surprisingly, while Valliant never fails to raise suspicions concerning the potential biases of acquaintances of Rand who have painted a critical account of her, he is silent on the potential biases of those on whom he relies for his version of a near-perfect Rand. Leonard Peikoff’s portrayal of her is never questioned. This is in spite of the fact that he oversees The Ayn Rand Institute (“ARI”), which is devoted to presenting a view of a “morally perfect” Rand whose sole character flaw was occasional outbursts of anger. People associated with the ARI, such as Peter Schwartz, Harry Binswanger, Allan Gotthelf and Robert Mayhew, are mentioned without acknowledgement of their ties to this institution. (PARC, p. 393 n. 50, p. 389 n. 4, p. 13, p. 395 n. 97.) Charles and Mary Ann Sures’ memoirs are quoted without mention of their association with the ARI. (PARC, pp. 49-50, p. 64, pp. 84-85.) Michael Paxton’s hagiographic documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is referenced without mention that it is a Peikoff-approved work sold by the ARI. (PARC, p. 13.) Granted these biases are not sufficient reason to reject the accuracy of these individuals’ recollections or works; however, their biases are as great as those of Rand’s “critics,” if not greater.
The Truth Is Out There Somewhere
A major claim of PARC is that the Brandens’ books can be shown to be unreliable based on evidence that Valliant has unearthed. Most significantly, Valliant argues that Rand’s diaries contradict the Brandens’ version of the 1968 split. However, these diaries do not shed much (if any) light on other events.
Valliant has referenced some, but not all, of the other published works that bear on his topic. He mentions, among other material, Jeff Walker’s book The Ayn Rand Cult, recollections by John Hospers, interviews (by others) with the Brandens, and the video of Rand’s first appearance on The Phil Donahue Show. At the same time, he has ignored other sources relevant to his work, such as Justin Raimondo’s 2000 biography of Murray Rothbard and Joseph Stromberg’s 2000 essay on the Rothbard plagiarism allegation. He does not mention Stephen Cox’s excellent 2004 biography of Isabel Paterson, The Woman and the Dynamo, which contains a detailed discussion of the relationship between Rand and Paterson. In addition, while he accuses Nathaniel Branden of departing from Objectivism in various ways, he does not reference any of Branden’s post-split work, with the exception of his memoirs and his essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.”
So far as I can tell, Valliant did not ask either Nathaniel or Barbara Branden for interviews. Barbara Branden’s book is based on dozens of interviews. He did not ask her for permission to listen to the tapes of interviews she had with others. It is quite brazen for Valliant to allege that she has fabricated entire incidents without seeking access to the evidence upon which she based her claims.(3) The only interview (or rather attempted interview) that Valliant mentions is with Kay Nolte Smith, who he claims refused an interview with him in 1983. (PARC, p. 400.) As Ellen Stuttle noted, by Valliant’s own admission he was, in 1982, a teenager in college.
Notwithstanding his apparent lack of interest in the evidence upon which Barbara Branden bases much of her biography, Valliant is quite content to leave the impression that there is some version of events “out there” that she is suppressing. As one example, take Branden’s contention that Rand’s housekeeper found empty liquor bottles in O’Connor’s studio. (PAR, p. 366.) We are told by Valliant that “the housekeeper is said to have been indignant at Ms. Branden’s allegation,” apparently telling Leonard Peikoff that she was misquoted or misinterpreted by Branden. (PARC, p. 144.) The source for Peikoff’s statement is “the author’s best recollection of Leonard Peikoff’s statement in response to a question on the subject given during a conversation at his home in California in 1991, and it echoes comments made by Peikoff in the question and answer period following his speech ’My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand’ . . . on April 12, 1987 [.]” (PARC, p. 407 n. 42.) Since Valliant appears to be on rather friendly terms with Peikoff, it would not have been too difficult for Valliant to have asked Peikoff for a quotation on this matter instead of relying on his recollection of a conversation fourteen years prior. Incredibly, Valliant even claims that “as previously indicated, it is those closest to the O’Connors in their later years who most vehemently deny this charge.” (PARC, p. 147, emphasis in the original.) Really? The only people to whom Valliant could be referring are Peikoff and the housekeeper, and neither is quoted by Valliant as actually denying that O’Connor drank excessively.
Just How Unreliable are Rand’s “Critics”?
Valliant says that the Brandens’ books are “valueless as historical documents.” (PARC, p. 6.) Yet they become quite valuable whenever they contain admissions by the Brandens. For example, Valliant credits Nathaniel Branden's claim that he became Rand's "enforcer" though he goes on to allege that Rand didn't know about Branden's conduct. (PARC, p. 59.) And, as Ellen Stuttle has noted, Valliant does not question either Nathaniel or Barbara Branden when it comes to their claim that Rand received Frank’s consent for the affair. Yet they are the only sources for such a claim.
Even Walker’s book The Ayn Rand Cult (“TARC”), which, because of its gossipy nature and extensive reliance on the Brandens should be considered even less reliable by Valliant than anything the Brandens have published, becomes reliable at times. TARC is reliable when it quotes Kay Nolte Smith concerning changes to Penthouse Legend but not when she says critical things about Rand. Likewise, why is TARC believable when it quotes Henry Holzer concerning his break with Rand, but not believable when it quotes Henry and Erika Holzers’ description of Rand as “nasty,” “insensitive” and “unkind”? (TARC, p. 29.)
Incidentally, Valliant does not dispute the reliability of any reports which are critical of Nathaniel Branden. Edith Efron is not credible in her description of Rand's anger, but Valliant finds her trustworthy in her denunciations of Branden. (PARC, pp. 65, 77-78.) Henry Holzer is also credible when it comes to Branden. (PARC, p. 75.) Apparently Valliant credits these statements because they tend to confirm what he reluctantly concedes: that there was an authoritarian aspect to the Objectivist movement in the 1960s. Valliant implies, however, that the authoritarianism was entirely Nathaniel Branden’s fault and Rand wasn’t aware of it. (PARC, p. 59.) If anything isn’t believable, it is Valliant’s contention that Rand (whom he repeatedly praises for her insights into virtually everything, including the deepest secrets of Nathaniel Branden’s psychology)(4) was unaware of what Branden was doing in her name.
Valliant even conceded that the recollections of Allan and Joan Blumenthal as quoted in PAR are accurate. The Blumenthals were among those who knew Rand best in the period from the 1968 split until the time they left her in 1978.
Rand was hospitalized for over three weeks in 1975. Joan Blumenthal spent every day at the hospital with Rand. Allan Blumenthal visited her once or twice a day. One day Rand asked Joan about a tree she saw through the window. Joan told her that it wasn’t a tree, but rather a reflection of an IV pole. Joan told Rand that the pain medication was causing a mild hallucination. Rand refused to believe it. Some months later, Rand called Joan to her apartment to discuss a “serious matter.” Rand berated her for attempting to “undermine her rationality” over the tree incident. The Blumenthals were hurt, believing that Rand should have been kinder. They had stayed with her during her hospitalization, when others had abandoned her because she was such a difficult person. (PAR, p. 382-83.)
Nonetheless, the Blumenthals remained friends with Rand for over two more years. In 1978, they decided to leave. The Blumenthals’ discussion of their relationship with Rand during this time is quite detailed, lasting nearly two pages.
“Her discussions of our artistic and musical choices grew very difficult,” Allan was to say, “and often heated and condemning. She was relentless in her pursuit of so-called psychological errors. If an issue were once raised, she would never drop it; after an evening’s conversation, she’d telephone the next day to ask what we had concluded about it overnight; if we hadn’t thought about it, that led to another conversation about why we hadn’t. It was becoming a nightmare.”
The Blumenthals say that Rand harangued them on esthetic matters, seemed to insult them, and didn’t want them to have a life of their own. Finally having enough, Allan called Rand on the phone and said that he and Joan didn’t want to see her any more. He refused to discuss the matter with Rand, knowing that this would lead to further arguments. (PAR, pp. 386-88.)
Shortly after the Blumenthals left Rand, Harry and Elayne Kalberman left. Elayne’s final conversation with Rand erupted into a shouting match during which Rand condemned the Blumenthals, again raising the issue of how Joan allegedly attempted to undermine her mind over the tree incident. The Kalbermans were shocked that Rand could be so ungrateful to the Blumenthals after the kindness they showed her, particularly during her hospitalization.(5) (PAR, p. 388.)
None of the material which I have quoted above is mentioned by Valliant. Indeed, he has the audacity to state that Barbara Branden refuses to tell her readers that it was Allan Blumenthal who left Rand. (PARC, p. 75.) The detailed recollections of the Blumenthals and the Kalbermans undermine two central claims of his book: First, they refute Valliant’s claim that Rand’s sole personality flaw was occasional outbursts of anger. Second, they refute Valliant’s contention that Barbara Branden describes all or most of Rand’s breaks with people as having been initiated by Rand. Branden makes it abundantly clear that the Blumenthals and the Kalbermans left Rand and gives their reasons for doing so.
Valliant accuses the Brandens’ of omitting information necessary for the reader to come to a fair appraisal of Rand, yet it is clearly he who is selective.(6)
A Case Study: Penthouse Legend (Night of January 16th)
As I stated, Valliant uses as one of his sources The Ayn Rand Cult. TARC is an explicitly anti-Objectivist book which, as Valliant notes, is something of a repository for anti-Rand gossip. Curiously, Valliant uses TARC at times to supplement PAR, implying that it contains a better or more complete account of some events. He does this notwithstanding his accusations of “extensive reliance” on the Brandens’ books. (PARC, p. 373.) One example concerns the production by Philip and Kay Smith of Rand’s play Penthouse Legend (Night of January 16th), which precipitated the split between Rand and the Smiths. Valliant notes that while Barbara Branden reports that Rand split with Philip and Kay Smith, she does not give the details of the split or connect it with the play.
In 1973, an off-Broadway performance of Penthouse Legend (Night of January 16th) was staged. Philip Smith directed and co-produced the play; his wife, Kay Nolte Smith, co-produced the play and acted in it as well. (PAR, pp. 369-72.) Walker says that Kay Smith made “unauthorized changes to a few lines of dialogue for a public performance” and for that reason was expelled from Rand’s inner circle. (TARC, p. 35.) Valliant’s only referenced source is TARC. (PARC, p. 400.) Valliant’s version is different. He says the Smiths “changed the dialogue in their production of Penthouse Legend without authorization from Rand.” He describes the Smiths’ conduct as a “systematic and personal betrayal.” (PARC, pp. 75-76.) However, TARC doesn’t describe the changes as concerning the “production” of the play but limits it to lines in one performance. Valliant doesn’t acknowledge that TARC not only doesn’t support his description of this event, but in fact contradicts it. Valliant also mentions that he asked Kay Smith for an interview in 1983, which she declined. Of course this could not have been in connection with PARC since PAR wasn’t published until 1986.
As Michael Stuart Kelly notes, Philip Smith supports TARC’s contention that the change was limited. Dr. George Reisman recounts the incident as follows in his weblog in 2006:
Many years ago, there was a young actress to whom Ayn Rand gave the responsibility of directing a production of her play “The Night of January 16th.” Toward the close of the play’s run, an actor prevailed upon this young woman to allow him to alter one of Ayn Rand’s lines in one of the play’s last performances. When Ayn Rand learned of this, she was furious and completely ended her relationship with this young woman, who had been in her inner circle for several years.
When confronted with the obvious problems in his description of the split with the Smiths by Chris Sciabarra, Valliant responded that he had “anonymous sources” for his version of the split (and also anonymous sources for other events). Yet, no such sources are mentioned or even hinted at in PARC with respect to the break with the Smiths or for any other event. Valliant even goes so far as to claim that “[u]nlike Ms. Branden, I do not rely on anonymous sources as my only source for something . . . .” Valliant is relying on his anonymous sources exclusively for the Smith break, given that his only named source contradicts his version. And finally, one can’t help but notice a further double standard employed by Valliant: when Branden said post-PARC that she heard the Remington-Rand story from Rand, Valliant accused her of dishonestly attempting to bolster her case.
Further Contradictions Solved
Valliant claims to find numerous contradictions within and between the Brandens’ books. The alert reader can see that most are not literal contradictions. For example, it is possible that Rand did not like to cook, but at the same time was quite capable of cooking well when she put her mind to it. (PARC, pp. 33-34.) To take another example, Valliant alleges that Barbara Branden’s accounts of Rand’s personality are contradictory. Valliant, mistakenly arguing that Branden’s descriptions violate the law of non-contradiction, juxtaposes accounts of Rand’s personality that are decades apart. (PARC, pp. 16-18.) There is no contradiction in claiming that Rand was happy circa 1926 and not as happy in “later years.” (PAR, pp. 49 and 71.)
Nathaniel Branden, Objectivist Heretic
One of the central sub themes of PARC is that the Brandens’ books are untrustworthy, in part because the Brandens have so departed from Objectivism that they view Rand from their new perspective, often distorting Rand’s personality as a result. At times, Valliant hints that their alleged departures from Objectivism are so severe as to render anything they say suspect. However, even Valliant must concede that by all accounts the Brandens remain quite favorable toward Objectivism and that their departures are principally in the areas of psychology and moral judgment. (PARC, p. 27.)
Turning to Nathaniel Branden, Valliant argues that there are “significant” philosophical differences between Branden’s current views and Objectivism. (PARC, p. 27.) First, he argues that Branden rejects the term “validate” with regard to metaphysical axioms. Valliant’s source for this contention is a conversation recounted in JD between Branden and Alan Greenspan, apparently from the 1950s.
Valliant is obviously reaching here. A conversation (or summary of conversations) from the 1950s doesn’t appear to have much relevance to what Branden believed in 1989 (the year JD was published). And this conversation doesn’t support his claim that Branden rejects the idea that one can validate axioms. While I no more profess to be an expert on Objectivism than Valliant does, Branden appears to be employing the “stolen concept” argument.
“Can you prove you exist?” he would ask, and I would respond, “Shall I send you my answer from nonexistence?” “Validate the laws of logic,” he would insist, and I would reply, “’Validate’ is a concept that presupposes your acceptance of logic; otherwise, what does it mean?” (JD, p. 133.)
Valliant also contends that Branden’s approval of child psychologist Haim Ginott’s phrase “labeling is disabling” is another example of his departure from Objectivism. Valliant suggests ominously that “Branden seems to have veered sharply away from the author of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, if not the necessity and objectivity of concepts themselves.” (PARC, p. 28.) Branden’s favorable quotation of Ginott’s phrase is in the context of a discussion of the term “social metaphysician.” Branden says that he no longer uses that term because many people do not in fact think for themselves. Instead he prefers to focus on “growing in autonomy and self-trust.” (MYWAR, p. 111.) Branden does not deny that “social metaphysician” remains a valid concept, but its use circa 1960 presupposed a level of independence and autonomy which he no longer believes exists in the average person.
Valliant’s next example concerns Branden’s distancing himself from some of what Rand said in her introductory essay in For the New Intellectual. In that essay Rand surveys the history of philosophy, briefly summarizing the ideas of central philosophers such as Plato, Kant, Hegel and Spencer, drawing broad conclusions about their influence on history. Valliant writes that “Branden does not argue with Rand’s evaluations, but he nonetheless claims Rand’s approach unnecessarily alienates intellectuals.” (PARC, p. 28.) This is another poor summary. Branden says that many philosophy professors, in commenting on the essay at the time it was published, told him that they thought that Rand’s treatment of philosophers was “oversimplified, in some respects erroneous,” notwithstanding the “valid points” Rand made. Branden says that while he didn’t agree with this criticism at the time, he now sees that they were “right.” (JD, p. 281.) Thus, contrary to Valliant, Branden does disagree with Rand’s evaluations (at least in part) and his reasons have nothing to do with a fear of alienating intellectuals.
Valliant’s final example concerns Branden’s claim that Rand’s moralism reflected a remnant of religious thinking. According to Valliant, Branden now prefers to see things as “harmful” or “beneficial” rather than as “bad” or “good.” Valliant concludes that Branden “appears” to embrace the current view that “passionate normative evaluation is ‘unscientific’ or non-objective, hence, religious.” (PARC, p. 28.) Valliant again misrepresents Branden’s views, although he is perhaps a bit more in the “ball park” this time. Branden writes that, even during his years with Rand, he tended to see “good and evil,” in the context of an individual’s spiritual and psychological well-being. He believed Rand was too quick to condemn people with stern moral pronouncements such as “evil.” On the other hand, he was more inclined to ask “what is this person trying to accomplish?” (JD, p. 296.) Branden does not deny that there are actions that may appropriately be called “good” and “evil,” much less deny that ethics is objective and scientific. Indeed, he evidently believes his approach to ethics is more objective and scientific than Rand’s.
“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 “years earlier when she and Frank had been financially desperate,” Mannheimer had sent her a check for five hundred dollars. Rand said she would never forget the help she had 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. 62-63.) 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 persona was concerned. It is important to note that, contrary to what Valliant implies, Branden does not say that Rand never publicly acknowledged the help she received from others, much less claim that she never in private acknowledged that she received help from others.
Valliant attempts to refute Branden on this by pointing to the many occasions when Rand did acknowledge help from others. Most of these examples are irrelevant because they fall outside the time period at issue or concern private thanks for help.
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 everything 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 graduating from 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), and that readers, having finished over one thousand pages of Atlas Shrugged, would have understood this. I don’t find this persuasive, but readers can decide for themselves.(7)
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, Mrs. 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 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 claims about Rand in this respect. In fact, he cites PAR in this very section for three examples of Rand’s gratitude toward others.
Rand’s Use of Diet Pills
The extent to which Valliant is willing to misrepresent his sources can be seen in his distortion of Barbara Branden’s discussion of Rand’s use of a diet medicine, Dexamyl (which contains an amphetamine).
On page 173 Branden mentions that Rand had low physical energy level and was worried about her weight. She then drops the following footnote, which I will quote in full:
It was during this period of nonstop work on The Fountainhead that Ayn went to see a doctor. She had heard there was a harmless pill one could take to increase one's energy and lessen one's appetite. The doctor, telling her there would be no negative consequences, prescribed a low dosage of a small green tablet which doctors had begun prescribing rather routinely. Its trade name was Dexamyl. Ayn took two of these pills each day for more than thirty years. They appeared to work: she felt that her physical energy had increased, although it was never high, and her weight stayed under reasonable control. In fact, medical opinion today suggests that they soon ceased to be a source of physical energy; their effect shortly became that of a placebo.
Dexamyl consists of two chemicals: an amphetamine and a barbiturate. It was not until the sixties that researchers investigated the effects of large doses of these chemicals. They found that extremely high doses were harmful, sometimes even resulting in paranoid symptoms; but to this day, there is only the most fragmentary and contradictory scientific evidence to suggest that low doses such as Ayn took could be harmful. As one pharmacological specialist has said: “Perhaps they hurt her, and perhaps they didn't.”
In the early seventies, when for the first time she became seriously ill, her doctor took her medical history, and, quite innocently, she told him about the Dexamyl. Disapproving, he ordered her to cease taking them at once. She never took another.
I include this discussion only because I have learned that a number of people, aware that she took this medication, have drawn ominous conclusions about Ayn's mental health; there is no scientific basis for their conclusions. (PAR, pp. 173-74 n. 1.)
Valliant’s mangling of Branden’s footnote is as follows:
The level of Ms. Branden’s desperation for evidence can be measured by the fact that she speculates in a footnote that the low-dosage diet pill that Rand was prescribed by her doctor “may” have resulted in “paranoid symptoms.” Ms. Branden does so despite also conceding that the pills only had a “placebo effect” after just a short time. Nor is Ms. Branden in any way dissuaded by the fact that Rand easily discontinued their use, again, on medical advice. (PARC, p. 51.)
There have been (and continue to be) unsupported allegations over the years that Rand was addicted to “speed” to the detriment of her mental health. Branden wanted to put these allegations to rest.
James Valliant’s attempt to undermine the accuracy of the Brandens’ books is filled with erroneous readings of his sources, double standards, dubious reasoning and a profound unwillingness to come to terms with evidence that undermines his case. While the Brandens’ books may not be the last word on Rand, they should not be so easily dismissed.
August 22, 2007
1. I owe these references to Ellen Stuttle.
2. Valliant (mis)quotes Peikoff as defining an arbitrary assertion as “a brazen assertion, based neither on direct observation nor an attempted logical inference therefrom.” (PARC, p. 4, quoting Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 164.) In addition, given that Valliant professes to be uncertain concerning the reasons why many people broke with Rand, by what right does he speculate on their motives?
3. Nor does it appear that Valliant asked the Ayn Rand Archives for permission to listen to its interviews with those who knew Rand. One of those whom the Archives interviewed was Fern Brown, whom Valliant accused of making up the Remington-Rand story.
4. For example, Valliant says, “Rand’s mind is the equivalent of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging device in psychological diagnosis.” (PARC, p. 287.) Valliant further claims that Rand was able to diagnose Branden’s psychology notwithstanding his admitted concealment of his affair with the future Patrecia Branden and his alleged concealment of numerous other matters. (See, e,g., PARC, pp. 286-88.) Indeed, Rand’s diaries contain “invaluable insights into human psychology” that will apparently be studied for years to come. (PARC, p. 7.) As Valliant might say, “Can you believe this guy?” (PARC, p. 298.)
5. According to 1999’s TARC, Allan Blumenthal not only confirmed his previous account, but stated that Barbara Branden’s biography constitutes a “whitewash” of the negative side of Rand. (TARC, p. 79.)
6. Brian Doherty published post-PARC a history of the libertarian movement called Radicals for Capitalism which discusses Rand extensively. He likewise confirms unfortunate aspects of her personality and the authoritarian nature of her movement. He interviewed, among others, Robert Hessen, Ralph Raico, Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, and Joan Kennedy Taylor. He also quotes letters from two anonymous “longtime members” of Rand’s “inner circle” attesting to Rand’s “cruel[ty]” and lack of a “benevolent sense of life.” (Radicals for Capitalism, p. 705.)
7. In an interview on The Les Crane Show, which appears to date shortly before the publication of The Virtue of Selfishness in 1964, Rand makes an equally sweeping statement. This interview is available on the web site of The Ayn Rand Institute with the title “Selfishness as a Virtue.”