Saturday, February 4, 2017

An Enquiry Concerning the Objectivist Movement During the 1950s and 1960s

With the aim of gaining an understanding of the role that Nathaniel Branden played in the early history of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist movement, I have procured three books:

The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden 
The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by James S. Valliant
My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden (Kindle edition)

Earlier I had read Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand And The World She Made—but I didn’t like the book because Heller has drawn all kinds of inferences without providing any valid reason.

The biographical essays on Rand that I have read are mostly lacking in a detailed picture of her life and work. A few of the biographical essays are too hagiographic and they avoid an objective discussion of Nathaniel Branden.

Apparently Branden was a central figure in Objectivism (next only to Ayn Rand) during the 1950s and 1960s. But most Objectivists have a very negative opinion of him.

I have read articles which suggest that Nathaniel, and his wife Barbara, were involved in financial improprieties. On their part, Nathaniel and Barbara have written articles in which they refute the allegations and make the countercharge that they are being victimized.

In the final pages of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, James Stevens Valliant delivers his moral judgement on Nathaniel Branden:

“Ayn Rand was a unique individual, generations ahead of her time. In the person of Nathaniel Branden, she had sensed the possibility of achieving the complete visibility she had yearned for… This hope, buoyed by Rand’s exalted sense of life and concept of romance, is what Branden profoundly undermined in Rand by his prolonged, calculated, and terrible deceit. The full measure of the suffering he caused her can only be guessed.”

I think that these few lines by Valliant represent the quintessence of the disgust that the Objectivists have for Branden.

It is worth noting that in 1968 Branden was evicted from Ayn Rand’s inner circle not because of any “philosophical or moral concern” but on emotional and perhaps financial reasons. In the l’affaire Branden the best Objectivists have been caught conducting in a non-Objectivist way.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the editor of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, is an outlier on the Branden issue. He blames the “orthodox Objectivists” for spreading disinformation to distort Branden’s legacy.

My interest in Branden developed after I read the December 2016 issue of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies which is a symposium on the work and legacy of Nathaniel Branden.

In the Journal’s Prologue, Sciabarra asserts that Branden played a critical role in the development of the philosophy of Objectivism. The Journal’s articles project Branden in a positive light and make the case that without his contributions there may not have been an Objectivist movement.

The scanty information that I currently possess does not enable me to decide what kind of person Branden was or what were his contributions, if any, to Objectivism. But I hope that in the three books that I will soon be reading I will find the information on Branden’s short-lived Objectivist saga.

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