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The *Vision* of Ayn Rand

by Roger E. Bissell

December 2012

In 2009, I had the great privilege and honor, as editor of Nathaniel Branden’s classic lectures on The Basic Principles of Objectivism, of helping to steer them toward book publication. Originally delivered internationally during the 1960s live and via tape transcription, under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, this series of 20 lectures was the first systematic presentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of which she personally approved.

The Basic Principles lectures were first sold commercially as LP recordings by Academic Associates beginning in 1969 and were later distributed as CDs by Laissez Faire Books and by The Objectivist Center (now The Atlas Society). With their hardbound and soft cover publication in January of 2010, however, they have forever escaped their confinement in the “oral (and aural) tradition” of the Objectivist movement and exist now as a tangible entity that one can hold in one’s hand and take in with one’s eyes and, most importantly, study in a much more convenient manner.

Later systematic treatments of Objectivism, such as Leonard Peikoff’s 1976 lectures, revised and published in 1991 as Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, had certain refinements and content not present in Branden’s version, but the same is true of Branden’s lectures as well. His pioneering material on self-esteem and its philosophical importance is a prime example. Also, his first lecture and the final two are quite inspirational bookends to the series and provide a very good historical and spiritual contextualizing of the philosophy.

The title selected for Branden’s book highlights not only the intellectual core of the series, but also the intuitive, spiritual heart of Rand’s philosophy, and its source in her early childhood experience and thinking. This is memorialized in her comment in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged: “To hold an unchanging youth…is to reach, at the end, the vision with which one started.”

Rand from childhood onward had a vision, a mental image, of the ideal man and the ideal life – man and life as they can and ought to be – and this was always the core of her philosophy. It was based, from the outset, on her perception and thought about the world, as embedded in her sense of life. She simply (so to speak) made it more and more explicit and intellectually grounded as she got older, as one can see from the progression of thinking in both her novels and her letters and journals.

Some of Ayn Rand’s supporters have expressed concern over the use of the term “vision” in Branden’s book title. They fear that it is an open invitation to Rand’s detractors to suggest that her philosophy involves the same kind of mystical, subjectivist emotion-worship as the irrational creeds and philosophies that she so roundly and justifiably repudiates.

I see no reason for such concern, however. My dictionary’s first entry in the definitions of “vision” has to do with the faculty or state of being able to see, and one of the sub-definitions of that definition is: “a mental image of what the future will or could be like.”

In a similar vein, one could easily take “vision” to be synonymous with: “a mental image of how the world is or should be.” Clearly, this is the same non-irrationalist sense of “vision” that Branden drew on for the main title of his book. If it helps, one might think of it as another way of saying “The View(s) of Ayn Rand,” as in: the fundamental worldview, including a broad perspective on the nature of man and the world and on how life and society ought to be.

While the factual foundations of Rand’s philosophy are vitally important, it’s helpful to remember that the great bulk of her philosophy is ethics and politics. Included in this are all of the ethical implications of the material on psychology that Branden includes in his exposition.

So, while it’s true that ethics and politics are based on what is, they constitute a vision of how man should live, what should be, given the factual base laid down in the first three or four lectures. Really, then, everything after the first four lectures is “should be” – i.e., vision – content.

And it’s a rational vision, not a “whim” vision. The primary is not “the world as Ayn Rand would like it to be,” but: “the world as Ayn Rand thinks it should be.” The “would like” proceeds from the “thinks” – as rational emotions do!

The Basic Principles lectures – and their embodiment in The Vision of Ayn Rand – are a very inspiring combination: an expansive delineation of the philosophy’s basic principles and a vision statement that robustly distills and reformulates for thinking readers the panoramic view of life on earth that is presented in such vivid fictional form in Atlas Shrugged. Paraphrasing Rand, it is a principled vision of man’s future – if he is to have one.

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Brant Gaede    1

The truth of Objectivism, Rand's philosophy, is mostly revealed after we get there. Much of her "vision," therefore, is speculative. Thus we get manifestations of a religion, a religion mostly blown up, but not fatally wounded, in 1968--just grossly diminished into cultural and intellectual ineffectiveness. This is because of the emphasis on ethics--not so much politics--with lip service given to rationality, except by Barbara Branden's "Principles of Efficient Thinking," with even less focus on critical thinking.

--Brant

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The *Vision* of Ayn Rand

by Roger E. Bissell

December 2012

[...]

The title selected for Branden’s book highlights not only the intellectual core of the series, but also the intuitive, spiritual heart of Rand’s philosophy, and its source in her early childhood experience and thinking. This is memorialized in her comment in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged: “To hold an unchanging youth is to reach, at the end, the vision with which one started.”

Rand from childhood onward had a vision, a mental image, of the ideal man and the ideal life – man and life as they can and ought to be – and this was always the core of her philosophy. It was based, from the outset, on her perception and thought about the world, as embedded in her sense of life. She simply (so to speak) made it more and more explicit and intellectually grounded as she got older, as one can see from the progression of thinking in both her novels and her letters and journals.

[...]

As a kind friend told me privately, the above quote from Atlas Shrugged is actually not from the afterword ("About the Author"), but from the mind of Dagny Taggart while she is in Galt's Gulch (p. 724, first edition). I conflated it with a comment Rand actually did make in the afterword, which is worth quoting here, in comparison with the second paragraph above:

I have held the same philosophy I now hold, for as far back as I can remember. I have learned a great deal through the years and expanded my knowledge of details, of specific issues, of definitions, of applications--and I intend to continue expanding it--but I have never had to change any of my fundamentals. My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

REB (in correction mode)

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Roger,

Ever since I first heard of it as the title of the forthcoming book, I've thought that "The Vision of Ayn Rand" was perfect.

Also, I've wondered: Who thought of using "Vision," and why?

Was the word choice Nathaniel's idea? Or was it suggested by one of the others involved with the project?

And was "Vision" the first choice? Or was it adopted as an acceptable second choice to "Philosophy"?

(I can well understand why Nathaniel wouldn't have used "The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," given Peikoff's already-existing Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. What I'm curious about is whether Nathaniel would have used "Philosophy" in his book title if Peikoff hadn't already used that, or if he liked "Vision" better for itself, irrespective of OPAR.)

Ellen

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Roger,

Ever since I first heard of it as the title of the forthcoming book, I've thought that "The Vision of Ayn Rand" was perfect.

Also, I've wondered: Who thought of using "Vision," and why?

Was the word choice Nathaniel's idea? Or was it suggested by one of the others involved with the project?

And was "Vision" the first choice? Or was it adopted as an acceptable second choice to "Philosophy"?

(I can well understand why Nathaniel wouldn't have used "The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," given Peikoff's already-existing Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. What I'm curious about is whether Nathaniel would have used "Philosophy" in his book title if Peikoff hadn't already used that, or if he liked "Vision" better for itself, irrespective of OPAR.)

Ellen

Ellen, I don't know for sure, but I can make an informed guess.

First of all, the chief instigators of the project were Barbara Branden and myself. I did not suggest "vision," and I'm not aware that Barbara did, though she well may have.

However, in perusing Barbara's introductory essay, "The Dawn of Objectivism," and Nathaniel's epilogue, "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," the apparent source is clear.

Barbara does not use the word "vision" even once, while Nathaniel uses it 18 times -- including "a heroic vision of life's possibilities," "a powerful, coherent and systematic vision of what life on this planet is essentially about and a vision of human nature and human relationships," "she had a vision, and a highly developed one, one that promised comprehensiveness, intelligiblity, and clarity," "ayn Rand has a remarkable vision to offer--in many respects, a radiantly rational one," "there is a great deal in her vision that will stand the test of time," "Her vision is an uplifting one, an inspiring one."

So, it looks to me like Nathaniel was already focused in on the idea of "the vision of Ayn Rand" when he initially wrote and shared his "benefits and hazards" talk many years ago. The word "vision" probably jumped right out at him for use as a title, if not way back then, certainly when he was reviewing the "benefits and hazards" talk for use as an epilogue.

REB

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A couple more comments on this, Ellen...

1. When Barbara and I urged Nathaniel to publish his lectures on Objectivism, I always assumed that the title would simply be the same as the title of the lectures: "Basic Principles of Objectivism." And it did end up as the subtitle. Kind of hard to summon up the audience and customer base without some prominent reference to the source of the book's content!

2. As for whether Nathaniel would have used "the Philosophy of Ayn Rand" as a title, I think that that option went out the window when he broke with Rand in 1968. He was entitled to present in 2010 what he presented prior to 1968 with the same title, but attaching a label implying authorization, when Rand had exclusively given that to Leonard Peikoff from 1976 on, would probably not have occurred to Nathaniel. (Just mind-reading, here.)

3. I don't see anything wrong with a title like "A Critique of Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand" or "Ayn Rand's Objectivism: a Closer Look," etc. But Nathaniel has for years labeled himself a Neo-Objectivist, and to be an expert on, but no longer an orthodox proponent of, Objectivism. So, again, the title you suggest would seem inappropriate for him to use.

REB

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Roger,

Thanks for your replies.

I'd forgotten how often Nathaniel refers to Rand's "vision" in his "Benefits and Hazards" talk/essay.

I became curious to reread the whole thing. Then, since he says the version in the book is a "revised version," I decided to do a line-by-line comparison with the 1984 version published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology to see what he'd revised.

The large majority of the textual changes are merely for stylistic niceties -- wording alterations to make sentences smoother or improve grammar, a lot of added paragraph breaks, some reordering of a few sentences. Plus he added a reference to The Art of Living Consciously (which was published in 1997), deleted a reference to The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book, which was co-authored with Devers, and added a mention of Barbara's biographical essay to the description of Who Is Ayn Rand?. Also he changed his form of reference to Rand in the places where he'd called her "Miss Rand" or "Ayn." He uses "Rand" or "Ayn Rand" throughout in the revised version. And he elevates "Objectivism" to upper-case status (he'd spelled it "objectivism" in the 1984 version).

Most of the few substantive changes are deletions of sentences or phrases which I suppose he thought were a bit overboard or "cutsey" or something like that. (For instance, he deleted "All done without drugs!" in the part about Roark's serenity.)

The only deletions that strike me as even minorly major occur in a couple places where he left out an expression of applause or strong agreement, viz:

1984 version:

Ayn Rand herself was not only a relentless rationalist, she was profoundly secular, profoundly in love with this world, in a way that I personally can only applaud.

2009 version:

Rand was not only a relentless rationalist; she was profoundly secular, profoundly in love with this world.

1984 version:

Now let us move on to still another aspect of the Rand philosophy that entails a great contribution, on the one hand, and a serious omission, on the other. I have already stressed that in the objectivist ethics a human being is regarded as an end in him- or herself and exists properly for his or her own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor sacrificing others to self. The practice of human sacrifice is wrong, said Rand, no matter by whom it is practiced. She was an advocate of what we may call enlightened selfishness or enlightened self-interest. Needless to say, this is a viewpoint that I support unreservedly.

1984 version:

Now let us move on to still another aspect of Rand's vision that entails a great contribution, on the one hand, and a serious omission on the other. I have already stressed that in the Objectivist ethics, a human being is regarded as an end in him- or herself and exists properly for his or her own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor sacrificing others to self. The practice of human sacrifice is wrong, said Rand, no matter by whom it is practiced. She was an advocate of what we may call rational selfishness or rational self-interest.

I'm puzzled as to why he dropped the statement of unreserved support.

(Note, too, the alteration of "enlightened" to "rational." There's also another place where he made that change.)

Mostly, I think that his analysis is very good.

One paragraph irritated me in the original and irritates me still. That's the one about Rand and evolution. I think that if he was going to make such a claim as that "there was definitely something about the concept of evolution that made her uncomfortable," it behooved him to supply stronger corroborating specifics than a reported conversation which we have no way of knowing he even remembered correctly.

Also in the science section, there's a paragraph which I'm surprised he didn't update. That's the one about "telepathy, ESP, or other psi phenomenon." (Should be "phenomena," I just noticed copying the wording.)

I hope I'll have time next year -- which starts this week -- to discuss some of the points he makes about The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Meanwhile, best wishes for a Happy New Year's, all.

Ellen

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Guyau    0

Letters from Ayn Rand to John Hospers responding to his letters to her on the Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures are included in Letters of Ayn Rand (1995). From a letter of 1/3/61, commenting on the nature of these lectures that have now been transcribed in Vision:

You write: “And I keep wondering: is the aim of the lectures catechetical or is it to provide intelligent comment?” Neither. Has no alternative actually occurred to you? The aim of the lectures was best expressed by George Washington: “to raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.” That is: to present what we know to be true, as clearly and rationally as we can, and to leave the rest to the intelligence and the honesty of any listener or reader. I have told you here in New York (and the lecture brochure states it explicitly) that “these lectures are not given to convert antagonists.” And they most certainly are not given “to provoke intelligent comment,” if, by that phrase in this context, you meant “to provoke, stimulate or encourage people to disagree with us.”

Observe that we are tolerant, but only of honesty, not of evasion. We grant that most people cannot grasp an entire philosophical system from one novel; so we offer a course of lectures to help them grasp it; and we intend to give many lectures and to write many, many books to help them grasp it, to offer further and further details, elaborations, and extensions. But we do not grant that my novel, or any lecture, or any future book has said nothing. Therefore, we offer these lectures only to those who have understood enough of Atlas Shrugged to agree with its essentials. That some people are attracted, not by any understanding, but by some blind emotions, is their problem, not ours; they are sailing under false colors and it will come out sooner or later. We cannot let them prevent us from addressing those who do seek to understand. And those who do seek to understand, do not disagree until they have understood; so if anything is unclear to them, the question period is available and they may ask questions which we are willing to answer; but there is a difference between a question period and a debate.

. . .

I know that part of your attitude on this issue comes from a certain confusion which you might tend to have about your own policy in a university classroom and our policy in these lectures. A teacher in a university has to be concerned, to some extent, with the “psycho-epistemology” of his students, with the development of their minds, with the inculcation of independent thinking; but even then, only to some extent and not at the expense of the subject being taught. But we are not and do not regard ourselves as teachers; we are not part of a wider program of education, we have nothing resembling exams, we address ourselves to adults and have to leave up to them the full responsibility for learning something from the course. The difference is the same as that between a textbook and a book; people can and do learn from both, but the authors’ methods and approaches are different. (531–32)

There is more on the sociological side of the lectures in that vicinity of Letters. Rand’s correspondence to Hospers concerning the lectures otherwise concerns their content, and this correspondence spans pages 510–63 of Letters. The picture one forms of Hospers’ agreements and disagreements with Rand, from quotations of Hospers’ correspondence within Rand’s, can be enriched by his 1990 recollections* in Liberty magazine. A main timber in the dispute between Rand and Hospers on philosophies today apparently rages on in the forthcoming book by Peter Unger titled Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy.*

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BaalChatzaf    0

Okay, maybe everybody here knows this, and I'm just chronically behind the curve....but David Kelley announced in a email/letter for TAS membership solicitation, that Nathaniel Branden's Basic Principles of Objectivism (the original 20 lecture course offered by NBI and with minor revisions in 1969, on records by Academic Associates) will be published (yes!...in print form!!!) by the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) in September, and offered through their book outlet, Laissez Faire Books. The book will be titled, The Vision of Ayn Rand ("Basic Principles of Objectivism" is part of the sub-title), by Nathaniel Branden.

and here is the link: http://www.lfb.org/product_info.php?products_id=292

Roger Bissell is primarily responsible for bringing this project to fruition. Also Robert Campbell, and (of course!)Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden.

Apparently there will be an initial release of 150 signed, numbered, leather-bound copies (at premium prices, but take a look!) and also, an economical paperback edition, apparently at the same time!

I have only waited for this for...oh...FORTY years!

OUTSTANDING!

Five years have passed. What has been the effect on the world?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Guyau    0

Bob, have you read Barbara Branden’s closing paragraphs of the Foreword to this book? Check them out.

I’ll put in a penny in reply to your question. Perhaps others will also respond. I included in my non-work hours public advocacy for libertarianism and Rand’s philosophy behind it for the first fifteen years after graduating from college. I used the Libertarian Party partly in the way many Objectivists use the Tea Party today: as a venue for advocacy of Rand’s philosophy. I stopped trying to influence the wider society towards libertarianism or towards Rand’s philosophy at the end of those fifteen years, in 1984.

The philosophy of Objectivism presented in these lectures, and presented again in this book, has some public impact in the usual diffuse way it has had through the efforts of NBI, ARI, and TAS. Books such as Vision and OPAR contribute to understanding of Rand’s philosophy as a systematic whole philosophy. Books elaborating and championing aspects of Rand’s philosophy have, like those three institutions, contributed to continuing new public interest in reading Rand’s works and to right understanding of them.

As you know, I’m not a proponent of all the important elements in Objectivism, and as just mentioned, I have not worked to effect cultural change these last thirty years. Principal authors on the philosophy in those years have, to the contrary, included cultural change among the purposes of their pens (not their most important purpose, of course). But unlike their aspirations in the early ’60’s, they have not expected any revolutionary transformation of the culture by the philosophy, only a slow infiltration, steady due in significant part to their efforts. Do you think they should just shut up if they cannot remake the world and in our lifetimes?

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”Those who fight for the future, live in it today.” – Ayn Rand

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Okay, maybe everybody here knows this, and I'm just chronically behind the curve....but David Kelley announced in a email/letter for TAS membership solicitation, that Nathaniel Branden's Basic Principles of Objectivism (the original 20 lecture course offered by NBI and with minor revisions in 1969, on records by Academic Associates) will be published (yes!...in print form!!!) by the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) in September, and offered through their book outlet, Laissez Faire Books. The book will be titled, The Vision of Ayn Rand ("Basic Principles of Objectivism" is part of the sub-title), by Nathaniel Branden.

and here is the link: http://www.lfb.org/product_info.php?products_id=292

Roger Bissell is primarily responsible for bringing this project to fruition. Also Robert Campbell, and (of course!)Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden.

Apparently there will be an initial release of 150 signed, numbered, leather-bound copies (at premium prices, but take a look!) and also, an economical paperback edition, apparently at the same time!

I have only waited for this for...oh...FORTY years!

OUTSTANDING!

Five years have passed. What has been the effect on the world?

Ba'al Chatzaf

Bob,

Not nearly as much as I had hoped when publication od The Vision of Ayn Rand was announced. In my fantasy, I imagined that it would take its place alongside Peikoff's OPAR on the Philosophy shelves of every Borders and Barnes and Noble, and of course, independent and college bookstores..........

(sigh!) That was my fantasy. I'm afraid that its range of distribution has been considerably less. Query the search engine at Barnes & Noble, and you will find no listing at all. According to B&N, the bookdoes not exist. As for Borders, well....never mind!

Jim Peron who is the sole publisher (Cobden Press), offers the book in paper and hardbound editions at his website, www.fr33minds.com. (as well as a great many other titles of interest to Objectivists and libertarians). I do not know if he has arranged distribution with independent booksellers, but I have never seen the book displayed. As for how many copies have been sold to date, I do not have any information. An updated and revised index for the book is available as a separate pamphlet.

Jim also has the book listed on Amazon.com. Unfortunately, he has serious disagreements against Amazon who he has accused on his Facebook postings of a series of unfair practices. Paradoxically, Amazon sells half of of all books sold in the U.S. and has a thriving business with its many "associate" booksellers. Jim, however, has reported less than satisfactory relations with Amazon.

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Brant Gaede    1
On 9/5/2011 at 8:15 AM, RightJungle said:

You can always go to the Branden Web site and e-mail him your questions about the book. He responds to e-mails.

Where have all the flowers gone . . .

--Brant

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Brant Gaede    1
On 5/20/2014 at 5:11 AM, BaalChatzaf said:

Five years have passed. What has been the effect on the world?

Ba'al Chatzaf

And on you?

--Brant

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