George H. Smith

My 1973 Interview with Nathaniel Branden: Behind the Scenes

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https://reason.com/archives/1973/05/01/on-self-discovery-and-self-res

I happened to run across this 1973 piece from Reason Magazine, which contains an interview I supposedly conducted with Nathaniel Branden. (I also wrote the Introduction.) I say "supposedly" because the printed interview differs radically from the real one. After inviting Roy Childs and Tibor Machan to accompany me as backups in Nathan's offices on Sunset Blvd., I asked many theoretical questions, including methodological questions, about psychology. Overall Nathan did an excellent job responding to those questions, and I looked forward to having this substantive discussion published, partly because it illustrated that Nathan was a much deeper thinker in matters of philosophical psychology than his critics had given him credit for. But before the interview was published I got a phone call from Nathan. He said that some of the questions were so abstract and technical that he feared they would not be interesting to many readers. He then asked if I would consent to having him edit the interview and revise parts of it. I should have refused, but at that time I was overly deferent to Nathan, so I agreed. I never imagined the extent to which Nathan would change the interview. In truth, he virtually redid the entire thing, so the interview as printed, despite a few similarities here and there, is largely a self-interview. I was annoyed when it was published, because it comes across as a softball piece of fluff, at least on my end. Nevertheless, some of Nathan's comments are worthwhile in their own right.

Another bit of libertarian trivia that you won't hear from any other source. -8)

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I was asked on Facebook whether I still had a copy of the transcript of my original interview with Nathan. I replied:

 I had a transcript of the original interview for years, but I lost it in storage (with almost everything else I owned) in 1995. The interview took place in 2 parts, each 3 hours long, so the 6-hour transcript was extensive, unedited, and highly interesting. It was much different, both in tone and content, from the published interview. I did not come across as a sycophant who asked questions like "Do you plan to write about this?" and "Could you give illustrations?" I later complained to Nathan about the published interview I never gave. He replied candidly. He said that he agreed to the interviews with Reason to increase his book sales and his clientele, so he wanted something fairly simple and something that focused on his psychotherapy, not his abstract views on theoretical psychology. Here is one example. In my interview I spent a fair amount of time on how we could objectively judge the relative effectiveness of various types of psychotherapy. In this regard I mentioned "Psychotherapy: The Purchase of Friendship," a book in which William Schofield questioned whether any particular type of psychotherapy had better results than any other. Rather, the success of any method had a great deal to do with the "purchase" of a friend who would listen sympathetically to one's problems. I recall that we discussed this issue for around 30 minutes, and I thought Nathan raised some interesting points. But none of that, or anything close, appeared in the published interview. Nor did many other theoretical issues, such as my questions about Nathan's theory of volition. Most importantly, I didn't let Nathan off the hook if I thought an answer was insufficient or evasive. That's one reason I asked Roy and Tibor to participate--to ask follow-up questions in the event I missed something. They asked a few such questions, but not very many. One thing that impressed me about Nathan was the depth and extent of his knowledge of Freudianism and other schools of psychology. He was also well read in the contemporary literature. (He was very familiar with Schofied's book, for example, and had obviously given considerable thought to Schofield's points.) Lastly, Nathan freely acknowledged his uncertainty about some issues I raised. For these and other reasons, I thought the original interview I gave made him look far better than the interview he conducted with himself. But Nathan was a savvy businessperson, and he knew what he wanted. It had not been that many years since his split with Rand, and he was still attempting to establish his business and his independence from orthodox Objectivism. Nathan seemed very pleased after the interviews were over, which is why it came as such a shock when a different interview was published in Reason. Reason never sent me a copy of Nathan's version; I only saw it after publication. Had I seen it before publication, I almost certainly would have protested, or at least insisted that my name not be used as the interviewer. It really was an embarrassment--a type of "guru" interview in which the subject is never challenged..

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On 3/24/2017 at 1:41 AM, George H. Smith said:

I was asked on Facebook whether I still had a copy of the transcript of my original interview with Nathan. I replied:

 I had a transcript of the original interview for years, but I lost it in storage (with almost everything else I owned) in 1995. The interview took place in 2 parts, each 3 hours long, so the 6-hour transcript was extensive, unedited, and highly interesting. It was much different, both in tone and content, from the published interview. I did not come across as a sycophant who asked questions like "Do you plan to write about this?" and "Could you give illustrations?" I later complained to Nathan about the published interview I never gave. He replied candidly. He said that he agreed to the interviews with Reason to increase his book sales and his clientele, so he wanted something fairly simple and something that focused on his psychotherapy, not his abstract views on theoretical psychology. Here is one example. In my interview I spent a fair amount of time on how we could objectively judge the relative effectiveness of various types of psychotherapy. In this regard I mentioned "Psychotherapy: The Purchase of Friendship," a book in which William Schofield questioned whether any particular type of psychotherapy had better results than any other. Rather, the success of any method had a great deal to do with the "purchase" of a friend who would listen sympathetically to one's problems. I recall that we discussed this issue for around 30 minutes, and I thought Nathan raised some interesting points. But none of that, or anything close, appeared in the published interview. Nor did many other theoretical issues, such as my questions about Nathan's theory of volition. Most importantly, I didn't let Nathan off the hook if I thought an answer was insufficient or evasive. That's one reason I asked Roy and Tibor to participate--to ask follow-up questions in the event I missed something. They asked a few such questions, but not very many. One thing that impressed me about Nathan was the depth and extent of his knowledge of Freudianism and other schools of psychology. He was also well read in the contemporary literature. (He was very familiar with Schofied's book, for example, and had obviously given considerable thought to Schofield's points.) Lastly, Nathan freely acknowledged his uncertainty about some issues I raised. For these and other reasons, I thought the original interview I gave made him look far better than the interview he conducted with himself. But Nathan was a savvy businessperson, and he knew what he wanted. It had not been that many years since his split with Rand, and he was still attempting to establish his business and his independence from orthodox Objectivism. Nathan seemed very pleased after the interviews were over, which is why it came as such a shock when a different interview was published in Reason. Reason never sent me a copy of Nathan's version; I only saw it after publication. Had I seen it before publication, I almost certainly would have protested, or at least insisted that my name not be used as the interviewer. It really was an embarrassment--a type of "guru" interview in which the subject is never challenged..

Reason magazine was just as differential to Nathaniel as you were, maybe more so. His first interview made that publication. The evidence of that is you didn't submit the edited interview, he did. Did Reason say "WTF?" I doubt it.

His practice was well established by 1975-76. At that time he stated he had had about 3600 clients. He was running a monthly NYC group and at least two weekly groups back in LA. 25 clients active in NYC plus, oh 40 in LA. I don't know the rotation in LA but it was pretty stable in NYC. That group lasted 15 months ('75 - '77) and I was in it for a year. He shut it down in January 1977 so he could concentrate on his Intensives.

What was impressive about his work was the doing of it. There are no studies as to its effectiveness over time and against what standards. He saved me a lot of misery. I was well attuned to his approach. After the first exercise--it was individual therapy in a group context--he stated "You had an awfully good beginning." There were some people in the group who literally did no work with him and seemingly just sat there in the circle of chairs with NB at the head. That doesn't mean they weren't getting anything out of what was going on. 

I have the tapes of almost all my work. It was required you tape when you were working with him but verboten when someone else was. Eventually they'll be donated to some university library with annotated transcripts. I'll be dead when they are read.

NB considered The Psychology of Self Esteem--and maybe his next two books--to have justified his professional (and writing) life--that is he told his wife Patrecia if he were then to die he'd have been satisfied with what he had done. That book of course was mostly written when he was associated with Ayn Rand with minor re-editing of articles into book format plus getting rid of some language one might label moral hectoring. No other book of his reflected the same intense intellectual endeavor. Based on personal observation and reading of Rand and Branden I'd say she peaked in the 1960s and he in the 1980s in brain power. This was reflected in her published work but not his. For him I use his ability to extemporaneously speak at length. For her it was Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

--Brant

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Very interesting insights of Nathaniel Branden. Thanks George. I found this mention of Reason Magazine in my archives.

Peter

 

In the January 2004 issue of Reason magazine there is a brief interview by Julian Sanchez of American Heritage” columnist John Steele Gordon, author of the book, “An Empire of Wealth.” Gordon’s thesis is that: “The United States is rare among the great world powers in that its rise to dominance owes at least as much to its economic prowess as it does to its military might.”

 

Sanchez asked Gordon, “What would you advise the next president to learn from economic history?”

 

Gordon replied, “They should understand the story of ‘Gibbons v. Ogden,’ when in 1824 the Supreme Court said that interstate commerce was exclusively the province of the federal government and gave us the first really continental-sized common market in the world. The American economy prospered mightily therefrom. The fewer impediments there are to transactions, the better off everybody is. After ‘Gibbons,’ for instance, the transportation system in this country exploded with the end of the New York monopoly on steamboats. Prices came down wonderfully.”

 

Sanchez asked, “Why did the U.S., as opposed to the other countries in the New World, become such an economic powerhouse?”

 

Gordon replied, “One of the biggest pieces of luck was that we were a child of England rather than a child of Spain. Argentina and others imported Spain’s top-down control of the economy and every other aspect of life. England didn’t actually found the American colonies. They were founded by profit-seeking corporations or by individual proprietors such as William Penn. England did not control emigration. In fact it dumped prisoners and dissidents: ‘Hot dog, let’s get rid of these guys!’ These people made for interesting entrepreneurs because they were more independent in their thinking and therefore more risk-taking and more willing to go ‘do it.’ If America is famous for its get-up-and-go, it’s because we have ancestors who got up and came.”    

 

The other item of interest in the interview was Gordon’s view on the theft of Intellectual Property Rights in early America.

 

Sanchez asked, “Much of that early innovation depended on what we would today regard as vast intellectual property theft.”

 

Gordon replied, “Oh, sure. We stole quite cheerfully. In the case of textile technology, Samuel Slater was British and he memorized the plans of the textile machinery and then smuggled himself out of Britain. He listed himself as a farm laborer on the manifest of the ship and didn’t even write his mother until the day the ship was going to sail. Then he just dropped a letter in a box and hopped on board, because he was afraid of getting stopped. The British were trying to maintain their monopoly on textile technology – unsuccessfully, as always. Technology ‘always’ leaks out.” end quote

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George Smith -- Does no-one else have an original copy of your Nathaniel Branden 'Reason Magazine' interview? How about an audio recording? How many people ultimately read or heard the real interview? This is quite valuable. Seems like it must exist somewhere...

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On 3/25/2017 at 8:27 AM, Brant Gaede said:

Based on personal observation and reading of Rand and Branden I'd say she peaked in the 1960s and he in the 1980s in brain power. This was reflected in her published work but not his. For him I use his ability to extemporaneously speak at length. For her it was Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

--Brant

Yep. I had a single encounter with Branden in 1980 or 81. We discussed filming one of his Intensives. Charismatic, happy guy.

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