Peikoff on Barbara Branden's book


Robert Campbell

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I find it full of irony that of the three full-length Rand Bios, by

Barbara Branden

Burns

Heller

it is only the first of the three which leaves the reader with the strong understanding, on finishing the book, that:

"This person understands Ayn Rand. And this person loved Ayn Rand."

Bill P

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It turns out that Harry Binswanger let his cerebral hygiene lapse, just long enough to read Jennifer Burns' book.

But he obviously views it as a lapse, and encourages his disciples over at HBL not to pollute their minds with Goddess of the Market.

Courtesy of our mole, here is Dr. Binswanger's review:

From: Harry Binswanger <<mailto:hblist@hblist.com>hblist@hblist.com>

Date: Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 9:37 PM

Subject: HBL The Jennifer Burns book on AR

To:

From Harry Binswanger

I said I wouldn't read either of the new biographies of Ayn Rand,

but after recently hearing Jennifer Burns speak at Columbia

University, I was positively impressed and decided to give it a try.

That was a big mistake.

I wouldn't have read this book had I known how bad it is. I advise

you to stay away from it, for the reason I gave in an earlier post: it

is almost impossible to keep all the false and slanted "facts" out of

your subconscious "file folders." Not only would reading it, quite

unjustly, tend to diminish your admiration for Ayn Rand, you are

very likely, years later, to treat as fact that which is false or

arbitrary.

P.S. As bad as the Burns book is, it is, I am told, considerably

better than the other new biography of AR, by Anne Heller--which I

definitely won't read.

Robert Campbell

Remarks like the above from Binswanger will likely be quoted in the future by scholars writing about the underlying religiosity of the "orthodox" Objectivists. Apparently, Binswanger has no idea as to how revealing these comments are about his rigid psycho-epistemology (a subject on which, he considers himself an expert).

Following similar tactics for dealing with criticism used by Rand and Peikoff (e.g., "I have not read,...but I have been told by others"), he relies on information, mainly from others who he apparently regards as his intellectual and moral inferiors - and who thus can be allowed to risk contamination by unpure thought, but who he nevertheless trusts, and then lauches off pontificating books he has never read.

With the exception of the Burns book, which he could not resist reading, violating his own policy of (to borrow a term from another practitioner, Auguste Comte) "cerebral hygiene." Then he quickly admonishes his supplicants to not do what he has just done, because of course their psychological constitution is just not up to his own, and would be damaged by reading this unpure literature.

What is so astonishing is that Binswanger cannot see how ridiculous this makes him look, not to mention the implied insult to all of his readers.

These people are doing more damage to Objectivism than any of the smears and distortions that have been perpetrated by liberal or conservative critics.

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On his site Binswanger writes:

I said I wouldn't read either of the new biographies of Ayn Rand, but after recently hearing Jennifer Burns speak at Columbia University, I was positively impressed and decided to give it a try. That was a big mistake.

The book has the same overall view of Ayn Rand as that promoted by the Brandens' book.

— Harry Binswanger

Someone should tell Valliant, ha ha!

Note also this peculiar construction: The Brandens' book.

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Robert,

Thanks for posting this note from Binswanger, of which I had not known. Glad that Binswanger took the time.

Atlas Shrugged had a decidedly misanthropic cast.”

Not. I read the book twice more during a three-year interval after first reading it in 1967. The cast I recall was: To the glory of man. From recollection too, of older legend, the reason Prometheus brought fire to man was because he loved man. I don’t mean to insinuate that Rand, like Prometheus, was beyond human. She has the place she has among literary artists and philosophers. What place her philosophy will have in the longer run, beyond our time, depends ultimately on how far the philosophy itself gets developed. It is petite as Rand left it (larger in serious contribution than Nietzsche, but smaller than Leibniz, let alone Kant or Aristotle), but it has potential to become one of the great ones. Anyway, Atlas is a gift speaking love of humanity, from the tears of Eddie in the desert to the laugh of Francisco with Hank in the mountains.

I always ignore those closers of reviews, in which they tell you not to read the book. As you know, I will not be reading these books. There has come along this year, I’m pleased to say, an essay of intellectual biography on the development of Rand’s ethical system from Fountainhead to Atlas. This paper is by Darryl Wright. As with Lester Hunt’s paper on the transformation of Nietzschean ideas in Fountainhead, I give it a gold star.

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PS

“By excising emotions, asserting that men were only ‘bundles of

premises’, and then outlining the correct rational premises that each

should hold, Rand made individuals interchangeable.” (p. 153)

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. How caricature, how original.

One pleasure I had in making Objectivity was to select a quotation for a page at the beginning of each issue. For the first issue, I selected a quotation from memory: “Words are signs of ideas.” My attribution is a little forever-embarrassing, as I attributed the line to Aristotle, when it should have been Locke. But the saying has truth. In talk or script, people reveal their ideas. It’s a mind-to-mind sort of thing, this words business. People anywhere near normal are indeed bundles of ideas, of propositions, even if Rand may have gone too far in emphasizing premises, rather than propositions.

My Mom was a Second Grade schoolteacher, who lived her entire life in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma (formerly Choctaw Nation region; hence my lineage from Father’s side). She would enclose newspaper clippings sometimes with her letters to me in Chicago those many years ago. In one there was a quotation attributed to Newton: “The world is moved by the power of patient thinking.” That is one smiling thing Mom and I would recall whenever we could be together.

I know as well as the next thinker that Rand’s ideas about emotions were not entirely correct nor fully developed. But the idea that being rational down to the fingertips excludes feeling or emotions is as unperceptive as it is ancient. Individuals can be profoundly bundles of propositions, with emotions importantly tied to those propositions. Speaking more generally than the saying of Newton, I say with Rand in Atlas: Ideas move the world. And keeping always at hand the fine duality in Republic—it is not only about the city, but the soul—I say: Ideas move the man.

“Rand made individuals interchangeable.” Not.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun
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Stephen,

I just looked up that quote in your last post and it is taken out of context. Burns was discussing Rothbard's view of Rand, not her own. It's fairly clear, too, especially when the principle of charity is used in understanding what a person is getting at.

Her style in that passage is very similar to how a fiction writer does when he is explaining the motives of a character and gets inside the character's head, changing the narrative for a moment as if it were the character's thoughts.

Taken out of context, it looks like the author's pronouncement. In context, it is obviously a pronouncement by the character.

Here is a similar example with Rand, although the style is different. I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds (which I like a lot, despite the following).

Part of the show's format is to include a quote at the beginning and at the end in VO that deals with the theme. In reflecting on the events involving a mass murderer, there was a shot of an airplane flying (if I remember correctly) and in VO you heard the following words:

We are all brothers under the skin—and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it. Ayn Rand

Ouch.

Is that really the way Rand thought? Of course not. That was a headline by Ellsworth Toohey in his column. But you wouldn't know it from the show.

Michael

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Stephen,

I just looked up that quote in your last post and it is taken out of context. Burns was discussing Rothbard's view of Rand, not her own. It's fairly clear, too, especially when the principle of charity is used in understanding what a person is getting at.

Her style in that passage is very similar to how fiction writers do when they are explaining the motives of person and get inside their head, changing the narrative for a moment as if it were their thoughts.

I suppose we're now discussing a review of a review of a review... oh, I lost count somewhere, I'm afraid. It's a venerable tradition of course, starting with Rand herself.

Taking quotes out of context is also popular. For example, the quote "Atlas Shrugged had a decidedly misanthropic cast" is taken from: "Reviewers were right to notice that alongside its reverent depiction of capitalist heroes, Atlas Shrugged had a decidedly misanthropic cast", followed by one and a half page of elaboration of that point. So before you start criticising one phrase taken out of context, you'd better read the context first.

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Thanks for the context and correction, Michael.

Peter,

[“Before you start . . . you’d better . . . .” Rather, “This context is important.” Same substance.]

I have a friend who is reading these two recent biographies. We talk about it in our conversations as he goes along. So I’ll query him further about that along the lines you have noted.

When you displayed the antecedent, “Reviewers were right to notice . . .”, I smiled. I had been thinking as the Binswanger excerpts from this biography unfolded: “Oh, I was reading all this in reviews of Rand’s fiction forty years ago.” I remember going to those big green reference books Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and looking up Rand. Very soon, I couldn’t help but notice how much reviewers had helped themselves to earlier reviews, repeating the same skewed and shallow (and originally odd) sing-song; it was a little like the way JFK having intimate relations with Marilyn Monroe entered into public “fact” by repetition at the grocery checkout.

One good thing about those old reviews of Rand’s fiction was that they pretty quickly degenerated into some discussion, however unschooled or reactionary, of Rand’s serious philosophical ideas in the novel. At least they brought up important ideas to be thought about more seriously, if not so seriously in the review. I do remember too, in my early days after first reading Rand, how paltry their criticisms of Rand’s ideas were in comparison to my own young criticisms, which I never saw voiced in the press. Oh well, as the end of twentieth century approached, I noticed those lists of greatest books being assembled by popular vote. I saw that a list for nonfiction was being compiled, and I immediately thought: “I know. Yes, I know: Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener.” It didn’t make even the top 100.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun
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  • 4 months later...

It turns out that Leonard Peikoff has had one more thing to say, within the last year, about biographies of Ayn Rand.

By implication, at least.

From his podcast of August 24, 2009 (1:40 to 2:17):

Now, I have another question from the same person, about two individual Objectivists in a public profile, and in a long question, he wants to know, uh, what I think of them—do I agree with them?

And my answer is, uh, uhh, I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Hsieh [struggles with pronunciation]. I admire the work of both so, to the the extent that I know it.

Robert Campbell

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It turns out that Leonard Peikoff has had one more thing to say, within the last year, about biographies of Ayn Rand.

By implication, at least.

From his podcast of August 24, 2009 (1:40 to 2:17):

Now, I have another question from the same person, about two individual Objectivists in a public profile, and in a long question, he wants to know, uh, what I think of them—do I agree with them?

And my answer is, uh, uhh, I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Hsieh [struggles with pronunciation]. I admire the work of both so, to the the extent that I know it.

Robert Campbell

Robert; Do you find this surprising? I don't.

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It turns out that Leonard Peikoff has had one more thing to say, within the last year, about biographies of Ayn Rand.

By implication, at least.

From his podcast of August 24, 2009 (1:40 to 2:17):

Now, I have another question from the same person, about two individual Objectivists in a public profile, and in a long question, he wants to know, uh, what I think of them—do I agree with them?

And my answer is, uh, uhh, I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Hsieh [struggles with pronunciation]. I admire the work of both so, to the the extent that I know it.

Robert Campbell

Robert; Do you find this surprising? I don't.

It's disappointing, though not surprising.

Bill P

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And my answer is, uh, uhh, I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Hsieh [struggles with pronunciation]. I admire the work of both so, to the the extent that I know it.

Can someone spell out where are the intellectual aspects of the “battle” waged by these two? Maybe Peikoff’s just being a sly boots here.

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There's some kind of intellectual battle going on with Valliant and Hsieh?

This is the first I've heard of it.

Singing to the choir, even if your song is scapegoating others, and doing the equivalent of a membership drive, is not much of a battle.

Gong on national TV, publishing articles in major newspapers, getting into the mainstream by constantly being referenced on major-player enemy turf, now that's waging war for real. Robert Tracinski, for an obvious comparative example, does intellectual battle.

Valliant and Hsieh do sermons in quite small venues for their cliques.

Michael

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And my answer is, uh, uhh, I thoroughly approve of the intellectual battle waged by Jim Valliant and Diana Hsieh [struggles with pronunciation]. I admire the work of both so, to the the extent that I know it.

Can someone spell out where are the intellectual aspects of the "battle" waged by these two? Maybe Peikoff's just being a sly boots here.

Diana took a bath to scrub the Brandens et al. right out of her hair so she could enter ARI-land, while James slimmed them so he could write a really bad book.

--Brant

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Michael,

The contrast with Tracinski is telling.

Robert Tracinski is having a national impact now.

And he got me to subscribe to The Intellectual Activist, something I would never have done when Bob Stubblefield or Peter Schwartz was the editor.

Robert Campbell

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  • 5 years later...

So the vast majority here seems to be that Frank may or may not have been an alcoholic and Ayn may or may not etc, and if it's being covered up.

Why TF do you guys care? Unless you consider Ayn Rand to be a god, then why should she, or her husband, have been perfect? She came up with Objectivism, and unless I'm mistaken, never claimed to be a perfect representative or that she had laid it all out and it was sacrosanct canon etc.

It really seems to me that many of you are trying to find fault with her to cover up your own inadequacies in following Objectivism (which in and of itself sounds likes it's counter to it) given if you can prove Ayn/Leonard/etc failed, then it's OK for you to do so.

Now I'm not a psychiatrist (I just play one on forums), so I may be way off here, but that's my $.25 worth.

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PS: I listened to an interview with Nathanial where he was asked about his forthcoming book, and he seemed smarmy to me. At the time, all I knew about him was he had known her, etc and that he had written a biography so I was excited for it. I came away with the impression (partially from him trading in his wife several times) that he was simply trying to cash in on having known her. FTR, I'm all for capitalism, but it seems to me he's being immoral in the sense that it's fraud to misrepresent facts in order to sell your product.

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So the vast majority here seems to be that Frank may or may not have been an alcoholic and Ayn may or may not etc, and if it's being covered up.

Why TF do you guys care? Unless you consider Ayn Rand to be a god, then why should she, or her husband, have been perfect? She came up with Objectivism, and unless I'm mistaken, never claimed to be a perfect representative or that she had laid it all out and it was sacrosanct canon etc.

It really seems to me that many of you are trying to find fault with her to cover up your own inadequacies in following Objectivism (which in and of itself sounds likes it's counter to it) given if you can prove Ayn/Leonard/etc failed, then it's OK for you to do so.

Now I'm not a psychiatrist (I just play one on forums), so I may be way off here, but that's my $.25 worth.

Makiaveli,

I don't take kindly to wholesale attacks on OL members.

Your $.25 worth isn't even worth that so knock it off.

You have the entire Internet to talk smack about OL people.

You don't have here.

btw - Please read the posting guidelines about the Brandens.

Michael

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PS: I listened to an interview with Nathanial where he was asked about his forthcoming book, and he seemed smarmy to me. At the time, all I knew about him was he had known her, etc and that he had written a biography so I was excited for it. I came away with the impression (partially from him trading in his wife several times) that he was simply trying to cash in on having known her. FTR, I'm all for capitalism, but it seems to me he's being immoral in the sense that it's fraud to misrepresent facts in order to sell your product.

You're addressing a context and people I have over 50 years first-hand experience with. You're not doing too well. It would be a mistake to say you're ignorant; pre-ignorant is more like it. That's because on a scale of 1 to 10 I can't find you, but I do perceive something on the -10 to 10 scale.

--Brant

I knew Nathaniel Branden and I knew him so well there's no one to lecture me about him--it simply can't be done

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So the vast majority here seems to be that Frank may or may not have been an alcoholic and Ayn may or may not etc, and if it's being covered up.

Why TF do you guys care? Unless you consider Ayn Rand to be a god, then why should she, or her husband, have been perfect? She came up with Objectivism, and unless I'm mistaken, never claimed to be a perfect representative or that she had laid it all out and it was sacrosanct canon etc.

It really seems to me that many of you are trying to find fault with her to cover up your own inadequacies in following Objectivism (which in and of itself sounds likes it's counter to it) given if you can prove Ayn/Leonard/etc failed, then it's OK for you to do so.

Now I'm not a psychiatrist (I just play one on forums), so I may be way off here, but that's my $.25 worth.

Makiaveli,

I don't take kindly to wholesale attacks on OL members.

Your $.25 worth isn't even worth that so knock it off.

You have the entire Internet to talk smack about OL people.

You don't have here.

btw - Please read the posting guidelines about the Brandens.

Michael

He must have taken the day tour at the ARI.

--Brant

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As an aside, "Nemo," are you as clear about Peikoff, and his motivations, as you "perceive" you are about Nathanial's?

A...

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