I know there are (completely valid) reasons for the negativity towards McElroy, but when dealing with this piece (and her review of PARC) we should try to at least be charitable (I am not excusing Ms. McElroy's conduct with respect to The Reasonable Woman
but I am asking we try to look at her argument on its own merits (and yes, for the record I believe we should treat all arguments this way, irrespective of the arguer)).
First, in McElroy's review of PARC, she didn't exactly give the book an uncritical look. Here's a quote from her: "Valliant's book is not a scholarly work that aims to provide a balanced view; nor does it pretend to be. Valliant's book is not written in a "popular" manner that seeks to entertain; nor does it pretend to be. The Passion
is best viewed as a legal brief, with all the strengths and weaknesses inherent in that sort of document.
"Valliant, a real-life district attorney, has taken on Rand as a client whom he defends against the Brandens' accusations. And the best defense is an offense, with the Brandens becoming "the accused." Like a good attorney, he does not credit both sides; he does not give the opposition any benefit of the doubt. He advocates for his client" (McElroy 2008, link: http://wendymcelroy.....php?content.30
In other words, McElroy is explicitly conceding Valliant is biased and thus implicitly admitting the book isn't to be considered "the truth about how Ayn Rand really was." She also sharply criticizes Valliant's use of various Objectivist theories of psychology to analyze Branden, owing to strong disagreements with the theories.
She isn't defending PARC as factually true and her review isn't an endorsement of PARC from an historical angle.
So, why is she giving (limited, qualified) praise to the book? From her review: "the truth (Rand's journals which mentioned the affair) is important to those who admire Rand, especially to those who have been personally transformed through her influence.
"I am one of them. As such, I would like to understand an important event in my life. At 15-years-old, I became an Objectivist through reading We the Living
and, then, everything I could find by Rand. Her impact on my life was profound and benevolent. At 15-years-old, I needed
a role model; I needed an ideal at whom I could look up and toward whom I could climb." (Brackets mine)
A futher quote: "At that point, I had already developed significant political disagreements with Rand; specifically, I was a Rothbardian and an individualist anarchist. Rand had ceased to be a desperately needed ideal and, so, the impact on me was dulled.
"But I've wondered how the 15-year-old I used to be would have reacted. I think the news would have been devastating. I also wonder how many other teenagers are deprived of the chance to use Rand as a role model due to accounts of "the affair."My point is not
that Rand's personal life or character should be whitewashed for the greater good; truth is the greatest good. But if the facts have been presented incorrectly or in a manner that renders Rand pathetic, then I want the record corrected so that other 15-year-olds regain the opportunity to admire Rand both as a woman and as a philosopher."
A final quote: "The Passion
accomplishes one of the psychological goals Valliant intended. To a significant degree the book restored to me and (I believe) others a better opinion of "Rand the woman.""
In other words, McElroy's praise of PARC came from a psychological angle, and (for the most part) not a factual one. The book helped fulfill a psychological need of hers; to be able to remember the great things about Rand.
Intellectual tribalism, and the deification of the founder, and the whole "seeing an attack on Rand's personality as an attack on Objectivism" complex, have done tremendous damage to Objectivism. But this desire to feel close to that which one admires and values is a natural thing; after all, it is one of the reasons people create heroic fictions.
McElroy's gratitude to PARC comes from a context where people talked about Rand's sex life and character flaws as a way to impugn Objectivist ideals. In essence, after seeing Rand's name be dragged around in the mud, she was starving for spiritual fuel.
I should make an important clarification: I do not believe Barbara Branden (I have not read Nathaniel's account yet but I suspect I'll have a similar evaluation of his account to my evaluation of Barbara's) dragged Rand's name through the mud. Passion was a very heartfelt, sympathetic, loving portrait of Ayn
. But Rand's actual critics (not BB or NB, but those that sincerely hate Objectivism) do
use Rand's eccentricities to discredit her ideas by proxy.
As I read McElroy, what she praised PARC for was that it served as an antidote to the more venomous, cruel and vicious portraits of Rand pushed by the haters. It served her psychological need to reinforce Rand's admirable side; to keep Rand's virtues as much a part of her concept of Rand as Rand's flaws.
This isn't a glowing, ringing endorsement. She isn't saying "this book is perfect truth." She's saying that, for her, it served as a corrective against the very unflattering popular portraits of Rand (portraits which, I must add, are not ones that the Brandens can be fairly blamed for), and thus was psychologically beneficial.
Okay, now onto the article about favorite Rand flaws: note the title
. She's bluntly admitting that Rand's character flaws were actual flaws
. Contrast this against Peikoff and Valliant, who both basically do their best to prove that Rand's conduct was perfectly
rational and moral. Quoting from Kelley's Contested Legacy
"The contradictions and equivocations I have pointed out at length reflect an effort to read Ayn Rand's personality into her philosophy, to twist the principles of Objectivism into a rationalization for her flaws" (Kelley, p92).
In other words, Valliant is arguing that Rand was absolutely justified in her eccentricities and flaws. McElroy, on the other hand, is saying that we should tolerate Rand's eccentricities and flaws in the same way we tolerate eccentric madcap artistic types and praise their craziness as a product of the fine line between genius and insanity.
Valliant is arguing for Rand's perfection, and McElroy is arguing for us to accept Rand's imperfection (just as we accept the imperfections of many geniuses).
These are very different arguments.