The Passion of James Valliant's Criticism


Neil Parille

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I have one minor piece of information about Henry Mark Holzer, which may shed a tiny amount of light on the matter of the split with Ayn Rand:

In 1995, I contacted Harry Binswanger, asking about how to contact Mr. Holzer for some advice about a tax problem. Mr. Binswanger's response was unexpected: he advised me to steer clear of Holzer, citing Mr. Holzer's alleged 'animal rights activism' as the reason.

I think that says something about Mr. Holzer, if it is true.

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Mark,

That's well known and has been for years. Here is his CV where you can find many references:

Henry Mark Holzer - Curriculum Vitae

He never hid his opposition to cruelty to animals and activism to prevent it. From what I see on his CV, he has been formally involved since the beginning of the 70's, when Ayn Rand was still alive and possibly still in contact with him. Here is a quote from the CV:

Drafting of "An Act Amending the Act of November 25, 1970 (No. 230), entitled 'An Act Codifying and Compiling a Part of the Law of the Commonwealth (of Pennsylvania),' redefining the Offense of Cruelty to Animals and Providing Additional Remedies." This Act was signed into law by the Governor of Pennsylvania on December 12, 1973.

I can't seem to find the date of when Rand broke with him and Erika (or they left). Barbara Branden, in The Passion of Ayn Rand (p. 385), stated that it was in "the early seventies." I know there were a lot of issues. For example, the Italian We The Living film that the Holzers had recovered and Rand edited around that time was put on ice until after her death.

I should add that PARC also gives no date for the Rand/Holzer break. How could it? The date wasn't given in the Brandens' works or in The Ayn Rand Cult by Jeff Walker. These were Valliant's main sources of information on the people with whom Rand broke and he did very little research about these people outside of those sources.

Michael

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Mark & MSK,

I think it's important to realize that Valliant is trying to create a "counter mythology" to the effect that Branden describes every split as: (a) being entirely Rand's initiative; and (b) culminating in some sort of "excommunication" by trial. This isn't what Branden says.

With respect to the Blumenthals, Branden is clear on the fact that they left Rand and the reasons. Valliant, however, relies (again) on Walker's book for A. Blumenthal (again) undated opinion on Rand's philosophy.

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Neil,

For the record, here is what Nathaniel Branden said of Holzer's split with Rand in My Years With Ayn Rand, p. 363 (JD, p. 408):

I said to Patrecia: "I don't know how long anyone will last, but the Collective will not stay together. One by one, for one reason or another, they will leave or be thrown out. Holzer won't last; he's too abrasive. The Blumenthal won't last; they never belonged in that environment in the first place, even at its best. Elayne and Harry won't last; sooner or later their basic sanity will prevail. Maybe one day we'll be friends again. I don't know whether Mary Ann Rukavina will remain with Ayn or not. I can't see Alan Greenspan breaking with Ayn, or Ayn with him. My guess is that after a while, he'll simply fade away without ever severing the connection officially. But Leonard Peikoff will last, because he truly has no identity apart from his relationship to Ayn."

I made this forecast in public lectures on more than one occasion because I wanted to be on the record. It all came true.

The statement is clear, even in NB's less flattering account: "... for one reason or another, they will leave or be thrown out." That certainly doesn't sound like him saying Rand was always the one who broke with others, or "excommunication" by trial. It is obvious to me that he was talking about the whole cult-like structure around Rand. If he was blaming her for anything, it was given in a statement he made a paragraph earlier that had nothing to do with Valliant's insinuations: "Eventually, she will drive the Collective crazy with her psychologizing."

As to anyone thinking that anything new about Nathaniel Branden was revealed in PARC other than Rand's journal entries, here is another statement from MWYAR that jumped out at me a few paragraphs before the quote above (p. 362-363 - JD, p. 406):

Anyone who professed any reservations about Ayn Rand's being right in the matter of her conflict with Nathaniel Branden was declared an enemy. Decades-long friendships shattered over disagreements in this matter. Marriages and families broke up. Former lovers no longer acknowledged each other.

I heard the rumors from various sources: "Separated from Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden will now disappear into oblivion." "Ayn Rand says Nathan was a gigolo." "Brandon is an embezzler." "Branden was only an Objectivism for the money." Branden hurt Ayn Rand; that's all anyone needs to know to condemn him." "Branden will become a bum; he's finished." "The only moral thing Nathan can do is commit suicide."

"No one should discuss the situation with Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden." This was the word sent down by Ayn, passing to Leonard Peikoff, Allen and Joan Blumenthal, and Hank Holzer, then to our students, our readers, and an ever-widening network. Some people obeyed. Others did not. Some came to me, and I answered their questions as best I could. I did not tell them about my affair with Ayn.

That sounds an awful lot like the core of PARC: the rumors NB listed (back in 1989) are the exact themes running throughout PARC, and no one on the ARI side discussed this matter with NB or BB for research, not even Valliant, the author of PARC. And the result, the divisions between people, was exactly the same. I don't know about families or lovers, but I do know what I saw happen online over this issue. It was ugly.

Michael

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I read somewhere--I think BB wrote it--that AR was once asked whether there were any rights of animals, and she answered: "I hope so."

If true, this throws quite a monkey wrench into the thinking of some Objectivists, whose rationalism makes them strive to be "more royalist than the king" where deciding such issues is concerned.

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I read somewhere--I think BB wrote it--that AR was once asked whether there were any rights of animals, and she answered: "I hope so."

It was an affectionately told story about her by some of those close to her -- I heard this from several of those people -- that she would have liked to see at least a case for "cats' rights," i.e., that she would have liked to have a basis to defend anti-cruelty laws for protecting pet cats, but she didn't see a way to derive such laws from her theory of rights.

Ellen

PS: Harry Binswanger (to whom Mark referred in post #76) was a complete twerp about cruelty to animals. He claimed that cats didn't feel pain, and he'd do various nasty things to his own cat, such as dangling the poor creature in a basket out his apartment window. My source for this is someone who was Harry's roommate at the time. I can't verify of first-hand knowledge that he did this, but I'm well prepared to believe he did. It would have fit with Harry's characteristics. (I did not like Harry at all; he, btw, is not one of those from whom I heard the "affectionately told story" reported above.)

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Edited by Ellen Stuttle
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That's not the version I heard. Perhaps it was two different incidents.

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Ellen; About Harry tell how you really feel? Wasn't there some French philosopher who argued that animals don't feel pain. I suspect Miss Rand did not know about some Harry's habits with pets because she wouldn't have stood for it.

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That's not the version I heard. Perhaps it was two different incidents.

I don't know what you're referring to there, Rodney, whether to the animal rights issue or to the Harry Binswanger and his cat scene or to something else...

The affectionate tales I heard don't at all disagree with the wording you report from Barbara -- although I think that it was Nathaniel who said that somewhere, but maybe Barbara did, too. The added detail is that the people close to her thought it was really cats that were the main impetus of her concern. I mean, look, for sure she wouldn't have wanted "animal rights" for protecting the snowy owl, and endangered species acts, etc. Her concern was with cruelty; she'd have liked to justify something like the SPCA.

Ellen

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Ellen; About Harry tell how you really feel?

I was being polite in saying that I didn't like him at all. The impolite version would have been more strongly worded.

Wasn't there some French philosopher who argued that animals don't feel pain.

Yeah, Descartes. He thought that animals are automata. Rand's theory of mind actually has strong similarities to Descartes' theory, since she limited "volition" entirely to humans. But that's a subject for a different thread (and a subject I haven't time for now in any case).

I suspect Miss Rand did not know about some Harry's habits with pets because she wouldn't have stood for it.

I suspect you're right, she didn't know and she wouldn't have stood for it if she did know. To repeat, I do not have first-hand knowledge of this myself. The source from whom I heard it, however, I believed to be reliable.

Ellen

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  • 2 weeks later...

I must admit amusement at a recent development in the PARC debate. Apparently, the PARCERS decided to take the so-called battle over to the customer reviews of PARC on the Amazon site. For as much as they are trying to force the issue, it is becoming painfully clear that hardly anybody is reading the stuff. (What is very amusing is that Valliant has been reduced to blowing his own horn to rebut critics. Nobody else seems to care.)

PARC is dying dead and nothing can be done to stop it. So the few straggling die-hard hold-outs holler where they can.

All this will go away eventually. PARC will go the way of the works of Madam Blavatsky, except it will not gain nearly as many followers. I predict that it will eventually become a historical curiosity along the lines of the Rosalie Nichols 1972 strange publication: Confessions of a Randian Cultist: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand regarding the Branden Interview, or In Defense of Ayn Rand by Virginia L.L. Hamel. Only scholars and cultists even know about these works nowadays.

Still, Neil has made a few blog entries that deserve to be read:

Amazon PARC Review

PARC's "Main Point"

The Remington-Rand Story, Again

Uhm... I forgot. The PARCERS have decided that Neil's review on Amazon is... ahem... guess what?

DISHONEST!

TA DAAA!!!

(Wait a bit and the "E" word should pop out somewhere. For those who don't know, the "E" word is "evasion," or in some cases, "evil." Ortho-type Objectivists are often Branden-haters and usually use these words when they have been proved wrong or have no real arguments against a devastating comment, like the several comments by Neil, with side-by-side quotes, showing Valliant's contradictions, inconsistencies and just plain wrong information and conclusions.)

Michael

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I don't think further debate with the PARCsters is justified given that anyone who has read my review knows full well that it is not a full-orbed defense of either Nathaniel or Barara Branden. I make it quite clear that my critique is limited to PARC's use of the Brandens' books as sources.

For example, an intelligent critique of my article would take an issue I mention and attempt to show that my contention that Valliant has not accurately evaluated the Brandens' books is mistaken. For example, with respect to the surprise party, one might attempt to show that: (1) it really was an attempt to control Rand's "context through deception"; (2) although Rand's husband was part of the "deception" (having invited Rand out on the pretext of a quiet dinner), the Brandens' conduct is nonetheless culpable; and (3) Valliant's contention that Random House threw the party is a minor mistake, not characterisitic of his book as a whole. Since no PARCster has attempted such an analysis, I will assume that they do not believe it is possible.

Edited by Neil Parille
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About the typewriter story, my own belief is that Ayn indeed was the source of it, and that the Brandens did first hear it from her.

As best as I can piece things together, this might be what happened...

Ayn was concerned about her family's safety. Possibly the story she told to The New York Evening Post in 1936 (and then again to The Saturday Evening Post in 1961) is the true story about the origin of her name, but, notice, she isn't reported as having said there what her original name was.

Nathaniel says in his memoir that she never told Barbara and him her real name until years after they met her.

1936, the year of The New York Evening Post interview, was before World War II. At the time of that War, Rand lost contact with her family (not because they didn't know her name but because, as Barbara plainly says, contra Valliant, the Soviets started forbidding entry to mail from the US). Once the Stalinist regime was set up, Ayn would have had much reason to fear for her family, whose fate and whereabouts she didn't know. (Turns out her parents died in the siege of Leningrad, but she didn't know that.) She therefore, when she was becoming friends with the Brandens in 1950, made up the typewriter story -- and at some point she told Fern Brown's mother that this was the story she was putting around. Fern later conflated things in her childhood memories and remembered Ayn herself having said, when Ayn was staying with her relatives in Chicago, that Ayn was calling herself "Rand" from the typewriter on which she was typing.

A detail here: In 1983, I first heard the typewriter story, from Barbara. Barbara gave a breakfast talk at a Libertarian nominating convention in New York City. Larry and I attended the talk. She told the story about Rand's getting the name "Rand" from the typewriter. I don't recall her saying, if she did say, where she heard the story. I think it was during the question-and-answer period when she told it. If only there were a tape of the event and if she said then she heard it from Ayn, that would provide documentation against the idea that she came up with the memory only after she was challenged by Valliant.

The audience laughed at the tale. Barbara then said -- I have clear and distinct recall of her having said this: "Don't laugh; for awhile she considered 'Remington.'" Now where would Barbara have gotten THAT detail? From Fern as well, or from Ayn?

Fern, btw, is still alive and Barbara says she was astonished to learn that the typewriter-origin-of-the-name idea has to be false.

Ellen

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About the typewriter story, my own belief is that Ayn indeed was the source of it, and that the Brandens did first hear it from her.

As best as I can piece things together, this might be what happened...

Ayn was concerned about her family's safety. Possibly the story she told to The New York Evening Post in 1936 (and then again to The Saturday Evening Post in 1961) is the true story about the origin of her name, but, notice, she isn't reported as having said there what her original name was.

Nathaniel says in his memoir that she never told Barbara and him her real name until years after they met her.

1936, the year of The New York Evening Post interview, was before World War II. At the time of that War, Rand lost contact with her family (not because they didn't know her name but because, as Barbara plainly says, contra Valliant, the Soviets started forbidding entry to mail from the US). Once the Stalinist regime was set up, Ayn would have had much reason to fear for her family, whose fate and whereabouts she didn't know. (Turns out her parents died in the siege of Leningrad, but she didn't know that.) She therefore, when she was becoming friends with the Brandens in 1950, made up the typewriter story -- and at some point she told Fern Brown's mother that this was the story she was putting around. Fern later conflated things in her childhood memories and remembered Ayn herself having said, when Ayn was staying with her relatives in Chicago, that Ayn was calling herself "Rand" from the typewriter on which she was typing.

A detail here: In 1983, I fithe typewriter story, from Barbara. Barbara gave a breakfast talk at a Libertarian nominating rst heard convention in New York City. Larry and I attended the talk. She told the story about Rand's getting the name "Rand" from the typewriter. I don't recall her saying, if she did say, where she heard the story. I think it was during the question-and-answer period when she told it. If only there were a tape of the event and if she said then she heard it from Ayn, that would provide documentation against the idea that she came up with the memory only after she was challenged by Valliant.

The audience laughed at the tale. Barbara then said -- I have clear and distinct recall of her having said this: "Don't laugh; for awhile she considered 'Remington.'" Now where would Barbara have gotten THAT detail? From Fern as well, or from Ayn?

Fern, btw, is still alive and Barbara says she was astonished to learn that the typewriter-origin-of-the-name idea has to be false.

Ellen

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Ellen; I too was at that breakfast and remember the story. I remember someone saying at least it wasn't an Oliveti. On this whole cortroversy I think Ayn Rand told different people different stories to protect her family.

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Ellen,

I was amazed at your recounting that Harry believed cats incapable of experiencing pain. In college, in ’89 or ’90, I arranged for him and Ed Locke to debate animal-rights activists at my school. In a conversation following the debate, Harry said that while Peikoff thought hunting a legitimate activity, he (Harry) found it barbaric. I will never forget him raising his crooked finger to his distorted lips and saying, “Even fishing. The poor thing has a hook in its mouth, how can that not be traumatic and painful? And that’s just a fish! How could someone shoot a sweet, cute deer?”

He said another thing that night that made me believe he was sensitive to animal welfare. Someone asked if the availability of synthetic steak would render beef production immoral. He first answered, no: because it would not taste the same and so it would be immoral to deprive people of proper steak. But when pressed to consider the question where the synthetic was indistinguishable from the real, he relented. I found that interesting because, of course, the availability of synthetic hardly eliminates the value people derive from real beef by raising and killing real cows—and yet, he answered that it would be wrong to continue using cows under that hypothetical.

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Jon; I don't know which portrait of Harry Binswanger is worse. The story of his torturing of his cats makes him sound like a sadist. The hook in the fishes month story makes him sound like a little girl or old woman. Neither is an appealing picture. I don't think I want Harry to be my philosopher king.

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Re Harry B. and the conflicting stories, I don't know what to tell you. The person from whom I heard the cat story was for a time Harry's roommate, and was someone I considered reliable on issues of straight reportage (interpretation could be another matter entirely). Maybe Harry changed his mind. Maybe the story is apocryphal, though it fits my image of Harry. We used to call him "the Stormtrooper of Objectivism" -- and not because of the cat tale, because of his oh, so superior enforcer-of-morals way of acting toward people.

Ellen

PS: Hi, Jon; it's nice to see you here.

___

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Jon,

In my family, a boy could go hunting with the men. I began to carry my father's little 22 rifle when I was about 12 as I recall. We hunted mostly quail in tight brush. Lots of scrub oak. Very challenging. If we got up a rabbit, which we usually did, that was also fair game. We ate the quail, but not the rabbit. We did not use dogs. Usually, we would not see the quail in advance of their fluttering up. Sometimes we would hear their calls in advance. I remember my first kill. We had the rare luck of spotting a quail on the ground beneath a bush ahead of us. My father and uncle whispered that I should take a shot at it with the little rifle, and that would get up the covey. I got him! Just above the breast.

When I was about 14, I received my own shotgun for Christmas. It was a 20 gauge Remington pump. My brother and I and our father and uncles had many wonderful hunting days through my high school years. But then I went to college, a cousin-in-law gave me Rand's Fountainhead and Atlas, I read them and "The Objecetivist Ethics," and my hunting days were over. On my own, I simply reached the conclusion that killing animals for the pleasure of it did not fit with the role of life in Rand's theory of value, which had become mine as well. I explained to my father that I would not be able to hunt further. It was all my own thinking and new awareness; I had not heard any word on the topic from Rand or her spokespersons.

That was 1967. Ten years later, I heard Leonard Peikoff's new taped lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism. In the Q&A session which followed the eighth lecture, Peikoff fielded a question about the propriety of hunting. According to my notes, as well as my memory, he said that killing animals for sport is wrong, though it is surely fine for getting fur coats and other rational purposes. Naturally, I was smiling that we had come to the same place independently. (And I would be smiling again later in that same evening when Rand joined the Q&A and answered what she considered her greatest intellectual discoveries.)

So I wonder about your recollection of the remark that "Peikoff thought hunting a legitimate activity." Could the point have been that hunting for sport should not be made illegal?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Does anyone here have any competent contemporary references on the question of which animals can feel pain? A couple of years ago, I came across a neurobiologist writing that even amphibians cannot feel pain. No mammalian cortex, no pain. Does anyone here know anything about this?

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Stephen,

Harry was definitely not saying Peikoff thought merely that hunting should not be illegal, but that it is a proper, appropriate activity. Perhaps the caveat of using the fur or eating the meat was assumed. Still, whatever caveats were assumed, Harry said Peikoff thought it OK, while Harry thought it not.

I’ve never understood the hunting for “sport” vs. hunting for “rational purposes” distinction. The anti-hunting response—that in the 21st century there are better ways to obtain clothing and food—is pretty much unanswerable. The anti-hunting conclusion—that modern hunters, while they may eat the animals, are really hunting because they enjoy it for itself—is also unanswerable. While I certainly agree that a hunter whose sole interest is in the ending of life must be disturbed, I also have never met such a hunter. I won’t even start about someone who would shoot a game bird on the ground! (just ribbin’ ya’.)

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For what it's worth, I heard Nathaniel Branden say the same thing during the NBI era: killing animals can be justified for food, clothing, self-defense, etc., but he couldn't see why anyone would enjoy it as an end in itself.

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Hunting is a remnant from our evolutionary past. I used to go coon hunting and fishing with my dad in rural Georgia as a kid. I did a little of target shooting, but never shot a live animal as I was too young. I regularly caught a stringer full of bass however :-). My dad got most of the pleasure from working with his bluetick coonhounds. Typically you'd go out and track the coons, the dogs would tree them and you'd let the coons go. However, about 1 out of 6 hunts you would shoot a coon to keep the dogs interested. My dad also occasionally had to shoot a bobcat or deer to keep the dogs form chasing it. You never want your coon dogs chasing other game. My dad owned one dog, Hobo, that could smell a coon 4 miles away :-).

Today, I don't own guns, not because I don't approve of them, but because gun ownership is a large responsibility and because it would be a reasonable time commitment to train on them, clean them and take care of them. I went target shooting for the first time in 21 years a few months back with a local Objectivist and it was just like starting all over again :-).

Jim

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Hunting is a remnant from our evolutionary past. I used to go coon hunting and fishing with my dad in rural Georgia as a kid. I did a little of target shooting, but never shot a live animal as I was too young. I regularly caught a stringer full of bass however :-). My dad got most of the pleasure from working with his bluetick coonhounds. Typically you'd go out and track the coons, the dogs would tree them and you'd let the coons go. However, about 1 out of 6 hunts you would shoot a coon to keep the dogs interested. My dad also occasionally had to shoot a bobcat or deer to keep the dogs form chasing it. You never want your coon dogs chasing other game. My dad owned one dog, Hobo, that could smell a coon 4 miles away :-).

Today, I don't own guns, not because I don't approve of them, but because gun ownership is a large responsibility and because it would be a reasonable time commitment to train on them, clean them and take care of them. I went target shooting for the first time in 21 years a few months back with a local Objectivist and it was just like starting all over again :-).

Jim

Now we go hunting on the Internet, looking for prey to bring down and consume.

--Brant

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