Barbara Branden Remembered


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Michael and Ed

Thanks a million for you posts about Barbara. It was quite a shock to learn of her death and to see photos of her in her last years. She was such a beautiful woman and I hadn't seen photos of her lately. Since learning of her passing I have been fishing around the Internet for news and some of the comments make me want vomit. Luckily, I saw your forum, your posts, and of what I can see, you love and admiration for Barbara.

I wish I could say I was a great friend of hers but I knew her only through Internet forums although I knew Nathaniel through his workshops, and had experienced most of the other main members of Objectivism in person in seventies in New York.

I first experienced Barbara at NBI in 1968 listening to her tape recorded course on Efficient Thinking. In 1986, living in Florida and estranged from Objectivism, I saw her book, brought it, and devoured it like a parched and stranded desert traveler. I wonder if Barbara ever realized her importance and what her book meant to so many people. I always thought she wrote it out of love, and that was her overwhelming feeling for Ayn Rand. Anyway, the book and Barbara were an intimate part of my life, and I wanted to praise her life and courage.

Without a doubt, it could not have been easy being the "children" of Ayn Rand. We all know she was an extremely demanding personality and she wanted the world from her adherents. No doubt Barbara had a lot of mountains to climb to free herself and I always wondered how she dealt with that.

Michael and Ed, thanks again for your comments about her life, and I enjoyed Ed's video with William Thomas.

I wrote a strong evaluation of her book on Amazon for the new E-book edition if you care to read it, you will probably appreciate what I said. I read Anne Heller's biography several times and felt she really didn't know or understand Ayn Rand, and why would she want to undertake a project of that scope without more intimate knowledge of the subject? Anyway, Barbara will go down in Objectivist history as the one who brought Ayn Rand to public vision and notoriety, and in my book, no one even approaches her.

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I don't think it has been mentioned here, but there is an excellent remembrance piece on Barbara Branden by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, without doubt, author of the most scholarly and thorough book yet written about Ayn Rand, (Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, just issued in a second edition, with some new material, by the Pennsylvania State University Press [it's on Amazon - be sure to look for the second edition, as the prior one also pops up!]}.

Here is the link: Scroll down to December 16, 2013. Sorry, had a problem with the copy/paste! Anyway, I'll post it here in a minute!...arrrgh!!!

http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog/

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I did not really know Barbara on a personal basis, although we corresponded over the publishing of the NBI course,Basic Principles of Objectivism, in print book format in 2009 (The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, By Nathaniel Branden with a Foreward by Barbara and an Afterward by Nathaniel). She did, with Nathaniel, convince the publisher, James Peron, to let it be available through Amazon.

I first saw Barbara, in the company of Nathaniel, Ayn, and Frank, sittin together at the side of the hotel ballroom that they had rented for the opening lecture of the NBI course. This was in 1967 or early 1968. Anyway, Barbara was striking. I recalled an article in Look magazine from the early 1960's which had an article on Rand and on the lectures from NBI. Naturally, it was not a favorable article, but it had some interesting pictures of Rand and the Brandens. I believe the photo that included Barbara described her in the caption as an "ice cool blond who could easily pass as a fashion model. My memory is hazy about the exact wording. Anyway, they were right in whatever compliments that they described her with. Personally, I would say, "Drop-dead gorgeous!"

I met her very briefly at a reception in Chicago in 1986, when her book first was published. She was signing copies and I asked her if she had seen the extremely nasty "letter" that Peter Schwartz had sent out to subscribers of The Intellectual Activist, which he owned at that time. Not a review, but an attack on both of the Brandens, describing them as "lice." A really charming fellow. Anyway, Barbara said that she had seen it, but did not think that it really mattered.

Some years later I saw her delivering lectures at some of The Atlas Society conferences and had a chance to talk with her. As always, she responded to any questions directly and politely, even if they were hostile. This was in contrast to Ayn, who did not suffer fools gladly, and told them so if they had asked her what she viewed as a foolish or hostile question.

Some her last lectures that she gave to The Atlas Society conferences dealt with the continued cultish and siege mentality exhibited by some of the ARIans. I think that many of those lectures by Barbara at TAS are available on their website and/or in audio format.

In conclusion, I would say that Barbara was a genuinely a warm and friendly Lady (with a capital L), a skilled lecturer and a brilliant conversationalist, who was in many ways the living personification of what an Objectivist should be.

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To #6 I'd like to further collect:

Is it an oxymoron for one to identify themselves as a Christian Objectivist?

(I apologize for not elaborating much on the question. It is a fairly straightforward question that I have been trying to figure out myself, figure I'll ask the OL community and get some feedback on it.)


Let's put it this way: The question boils down to answering: Is it possible to be an Objectivist and not be absolutely, 100% consistent with each and every consequence of Objectivism?

I think that the answer to that is . . . obviously, yes it is possible (and hence, no - not an oxymoron). Otherwise, anybody who thinks of themselves as an objectivist, but then changes their mind on learning something new which contradicts something they had thought earlier, either wasn't an Objectivist before or isn't after.

The only way around this that I see is to maintain that there is a short list of essentials without which one is not an Objectivist. If so, what is that short list, and on what is that list based? When Rand did the "standing on one foot" characterization of her philosophy, she didn't explicitly mention atheism.

Bill P


Bill, I strongly disagree with your statement of what the question boils down to. It is not whether, to be an Objectivist, one must accept each and every consequence of its basic principles claimed by Rand. It is whether one can be an Objectivist while denying its most fundamental principle. And its most fundamental, principle is the absolutism of reason. Rand wrote:

"I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. . . . This -- the supremacy of reason -- was, is and will be the primary concern of my work and the essence of Objectivism."

Religion -- any religion--requires a belief in the supernatural, in a realm unknowable by reason. In The Art of Living Consciously, Nathaniel Branden defines mysticism as follows:

"Mysticism is the claim that there are aspects of existence that can be known by means of a unique cognitive faculty whose judgments are above the authority of sensory observation and reason."

One does not have to accept the idea that a woman should not be president of the United States to be an Objectivist; one may quarrel with many of the concepts that Rand claimed logically followed from her basic principles and still be an Objectivist. But just as one cannot, for instance, claim to be a Christian while denying the existence of God -- one cannot claim to be an Objectivist while denying the absolutism of reason.

And -- not incidentally -- when Rand characterized her philosoophy while standing on one foot, it is true she did not mention atheism, but she most certainly named the absolutism of reason as essential to her philosophy. Her rejection of theism was implicit in that statement.

Barbara

Bill: "I am saying that some may not see that they are overturning the absolutism of reason in their embrace of theism. I know more than a few such people who do not see that when they admit "other modes of knowledge" (the mystical) they are in fact overthrowing reason."

Quite true.

Bill: "The problem is that ultimately, an acceptance of reason drives to the entire Objectivist system - so where do we stop, since as a result denying a part of Objectivism ultimately entails denying the absolutism of reason."

If I understand you, here we disagree. Rand stated that Objectivism is a totally integrated system, such that each aspect of it follows logically and inevitably from its fundamentals. But is that so? I do not believe it is. I do not believe that every statement Rand considered part of Objectvism is true or is consistent with its basic principles. One rather blatant example is many of her views of psychology; for instance, her insistence that most philosophers were evil men with evil motives, or that homosexuality is a neurosis. or her oversimplified concept of the relation between reason and emotions, or her again oversimplified presentation of the nature of romantic love. Ths realm of psychology is only one area in which Rand gave us a great many assertions but little evidence for those assertions. In such areas, one therefore may adhere to the fundamentals of Objectivism while questioning and/or denying aspects of her system that Rand believed flowed from those fundamentals.

Barbara

Christopher: "Mysticism merely represents knowledge derived from a realm of perceptions. Mysticism is not above judgments of reason. Mystical perceptions stands no more independent of reason than sensory input and must be dealt with as such."

You have just defined mysticism out of existence, But your statement is not what mysticism means, either in the discussions of its proponents or in the most sedate dictionary definitions. Here are some examples, from both sources, of what it does mean:

Merriam Webster:
"1. the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics;
2. the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight);
3.a): vague speculation: a belief without sound basis; cool.gif: a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power."

Or: "The belief that union with ithe Deity or the absolute, or spiritual apprehension of knowledge inacessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation."

Or: "A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience."

Or: "The doctrine of the Mystics, who professed a pure, sublime, and wholly disinterested devotion, and maintained that they had direct intercourse with the divine Spirit, and aquired a knowledge of God and of spiritual things unattainable by the natural intellect, and such as cannot be analyzed or explained."

Or: "A doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding,"

Or: "Having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond human comprehension."

Or: "A philosophy based upon spiritual intuition that is believed to transcend ordinary sensory experiences or understanding."

Or: "Mysticism may be defined as the belief in a third kind of knowledge, the other two being sense knowledge and knowledge by inference."

Encyclopedia Britannica:
"The essence of Mysticism is the assertion of an intuition which transcends the temporal categories of the understanding. . . . Rationalism cannot conduct us to the essence of things."

Barbara

Michael, my point is not to demonize people who are religious. It is not my view that they are demons, but only that they are mistaken. And as you well know, "mistaken" and "evil" are far from being equivalent in my understanding of psychology. There is a near-infinity of reasons why certain mistakes are made, and I rarely judge people solely by the label they attach to themselves. Besides, it's true that I have known religious people who are vastly immoral, but then I have also known atheists who are vastly immoral. I even (gasp!) have known people calling themselves Objectivists who are immoral, who find in Objectivism their one hope of achieving a longed-for intellectual superiority and who use it as a club, a justification for denouncing and demonizing those who have not understood what they understood only yesterday.

It is the true believer of every stripe that I consider dangerous, the fanatic who blindly follows the dogma of his particular religion -- whether that religion be Naziism or Communism or liberalism or conservatism or Catholicism or Mohammedanism or global warming or vegetarianism, or, yes, even Objectivism -- and who preaches hatred and intolerance of all those who do not see the world as he sees it.


Barbara

Michael: "I also agree that the Christian God as presented in the literature—or Jewish God or Allah or any number of other Gods I have read about—are intellectual mistakes when affirmed to be facts. They are fantasies or metaphors to simplify understanding broad questions like "Why must we die"" and "What is the meaning of life?" at best.

"But that still leaves the question of why people have sought this form of explanation throughout all of human history and why all societies have vast hordes of people congregating in places of worship. Do you have any thoughts on that?"

Michael, you have essentially answered, in your first paragraph, the question you posed in your second paragraph. Yes, religion does attempt to offer people answers to the questions we all necessasrily ask: "Can we understand the world we live in?"-- "How do we achieve knowledge?-- "What is the good for man?"-- "How shall we treat other men?" -- "Is there a purpose to our lives?"

However, predominantly the answers religion gives have not been helfpul. Rellgions have taught us that supernatural entities exist and have power over us that we cannot understand or deal with, and that our reason must bend its knees to faith. Most religions have taught us self-sacrifice; they have taught us that our lives are chained by Original Sin; they have taught us that we must, on pain of eternal hell-fire, sacrifice ourselvles to others; they have taught us that sex is evil, and that money is the root of all evil.

However, people still cling to religion because philosophy has not done much better. Not in the sense of providing a comprehensive and intelligible view of man and his world that could substitute for religion.

I believe that the reason so many people, discovering Rand, have without great difficulty been able to drop whatever religious views they held, is precisely because she provides answers to these fundamental questions. That is not to say that she necessarily always was correct, but that she offers a view of the world, of man, of his relationship to other men, of the good, of the possiibilities that life offers us, that is both comprehensive and intelligible.

Barbara

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