Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
iplaydrums24

Ayn Rand and her adultery

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

I was reading through The Virtue of Selfishness, and I decided to look up Nathaniel Branden to learn some more about him after reading his articles. To my surprise, I learned that he and Rand had an longstanding affair while they were both married to other people. I was shocked to learn this, and even more surprised to learn that Rand terminated her friendship with Branden when she learned that he was with another women (after divorcing his wife and ending his relationship with Rand) against her wishes.

I always believed that someone who considers themselves to be an Objectivist, especially the founder herself, would be morally against adultery. Yes, I understand that Rand believed Branden to be her, for lack of a better term, soul mate, but by cheating on her husband, isn't that disrespectful to her husband and herself? Not to mention, I assume that Rand had to believe that, until she met Branden, her sould mate was her current husband otherwise she wouldn't of married him. If she chose to be married to her husband, does he not deserve the right to be informed of an affair? How could he be convinced to go along with it? Not to mention, it seems hypocritical of Rand to cut Branden out of her life when she learned of his relationship with another woman after her. For all she knew, Branden could have thought the third women was his soul mate, more so than Rand. Shoudn't Rand respect his decision?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Firstly, Frank did know about the affair. In fact she asked him if it was okay before getting involved, just as Branden asked his wife first. Both agreed. Secondly, Branden lied to her about the third woman. That is quite different to how Branden and Rand were honest with their partners about the affair. Also, that lie lead Rand to realise he had been deceiving her in other ways and that he was not an Objectivist after all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Huh. To be honest I am quite surprised to read that Ayn Rand did indeed have an affair. I thought this was just something the Brandens fabricated, but apparently it is so. Did she explicitly expressed regret in doing so?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Huh. To be honest I am quite surprised to read that Ayn Rand did indeed have an affair. I thought this was just something the Brandens fabricated, but apparently it is so. Did she explicitly expressed regret in doing so?

After she realized that Branden was not the value she though he was, she certainly did. The best book to look at Rand's state of mind during this period is The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, which debunks most of what the Branden's claim, and it does so using Rand's own journal entries.

I think that the question you have to ask yourself here is what were the terms of her marriage to Frank O'Connor, and what was discussed and agreed between them prior to the affair. There is ample evidence that such decisions were taken and full disclosure was made prior to the commencement of such an affair. But most of the details we will never know, but adultery per se I dont' think is unethical, but the terms under which such could be executed and remain moral are highly contextual, probably very difficult to endure psychologically, and probably not for anyone but the strongest sort of wills and personalities.

I believe than Rand said as much in a Q&A session regarding such relationships, but I do not have he reference handy.

This affair, and the rape scene in The Fountainhead are usally the first two places that people come to encounter the idea that context and principles replace commandments in Objectivist philosophy. There is no "Thou shalt not commit adultery" here. I believe that these two are one in a million sorts of contexts that throw most people initially.

Edited by KendallJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This affair, and the rape scene in The Fountainhead are usally the first two places that people come to encounter the idea that context and principles replace commandments in Objectivist philosophy.

It is funny that you mention that, because my wife and I were discussing the rape scene a few days ago. While she understands the scene, and the feelings between Dominique and Roark, she still seems to find it hard to swallow. To be honest, I am not sure I understand it as much as I should and I am going to use the search function to read up on it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

None of this episode reflects well on any of the parties involved, regardless of which account one thinks true. If romantic love, in the Objectivist sense means an intellectual, emotional and physical response to one's highest value and there should be no basis for any sort of conflict around love and sex, nor any reason to fake or maintain a secondary relationship. Consequently, when dealing with an established marriage, there should be either fidelity or divorce. Anything else is, at some level, an attempt to fake reality and that will (and did) have predictable results. If Rand believed Branden to be her highest value (and vice versa), they should have ended their respective marriages and married one another. There was no basis or need for asking the consent of their spouses to the affair because there was no value to be gained by anyone by remaining in unsatisfying marriages or by concealing the facts of the relationship. The contrast between the way all of this played out and the way Rand handled the Dagny-Galt-D'Anconia -Rearden relationship(s) in her fiction is striking. If the latter had elements of implausibiilty, it had least had the virtues of honesty and intellectual consistency.

To my mind, much of the subsequent debate - all of it passionate - engendered by this episode stems from the unnecessary need to see Rand herself as flawless in order to defend Objectivism. The merits of her ideas are perfectly adequate to stand on their own and any areas where there are shortcomings or errors, either in theory or practice, can and should be confronted honestly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
None of this episode reflects well on any of the parties involved, regardless of which account one thinks true. If romantic love, in the Objectivist sense means an intellectual, emotional and physical response to one's highest value and there should be no basis for any sort of conflict around love and sex, nor any reason to fake or maintain a secondary relationship.

I think maybe you should do some searching for threads related to this sort of topic. You'll find that the issues are hardly decided in Objectrivist circles and Rand herself was unclear. Your statement "If romantic love, in the Objectivist sense means an intellectual, emotional and physical response to one's highest value..." is an awfully big conditional that neither addresses the specfics of the marriage contract as it relates to love, nor what two parties can and cannot consent to within the boundaries of that sort of "response."

I'm not saying I advocate such action, nor that it is inheretly Obectivist or non-Objectivist, but rather that those who would try to expunge context from the evaluation of the situation without actually knowing the details (saying in effect, "we don't need to actually know the details") do not have firm Objectivist ground to stand upon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This affair, and the rape scene in The Fountainhead are...

I find it causes a bit of confusion to refer to it as a rape scene as opposed to a "rape" scene. Because it was not in fact a rape.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But most of the details we will never know, but adultery per se I dont' think is unethical, but the terms under which such could be executed and remain moral are highly contextual, probably very difficult to endure psychologically, and probably not for anyone but the strongest sort of wills and personalities.

Adultery isn't inherently immoral in that same sense that doing heroin isn't inherently immoral. In almost every conceivable context, it's a horribly destructive and evil thing to do, but in certain very unusual cases, it can be acceptable.

If you're dying of cancer, and every moment is a painful struggle, then heroin (or other opiates) can make you more comfortable. It can ease the pain while leaving you conscious and aware, still able to communicate with your family during your final days. In this kind of case, using heavy drugs can be moral. Maybe. But it's still very borderline, and we shouldn't condone it as a regular practice.

If your life-long lover doesn't fulfill your needs in some important respect, then it having an open affair might save your marriage in the long run. For instance, if you are a super-genius with a 200 IQ and your husband is only a normal genius with a 140 IQ, then it's possible that there are certain values he can't share with you. Perhaps he can't understand the breadth of your achievements, can't discuss ideas on the same level with you, etc. In this kind of case, having a (short-term) affair with another super-genius might fill your needs enough that you can stay with your life-long love. In this context, adultery could be moral. Maybe. But it's still borderline, and we shouldn't condone it as a regular practice.

While not inherently immoral, both heroine and adultery are inherently destructive.

No matter what the state of your health, heroine damages your body. It destroys part of your mental and physical capacities. No matter what the state of your romantic life, adultery damages your relationships. It destroys part of your capacity for intimacy and psychological visibility.

Whether or not Rand was moral in her adultery, I can't judge. I didn't know her personally, nor anyone else involved. But I will say that her example is not one to be followed, nor viewed as a standard of moral action.

--Dan Edge

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't read the journals of Ayn Rand, but from trusted sources who have read them -- i.e. Dr. Peikoff and other Objectivists who have read them and have commented on them -- the affair with Branden was Ayn Rand's attempt to experience sex with someone who in her estimation was her intellectual equal. Basically, Frank had the spirit but not the mind, whereas she thought that Branden had the mind and the spirit. In other words, Miss Rand thought that Branden really understood Objectivism, and she wanted to know what it would be like to have sex with a confirmed and dedicated Objectivists. It was a purely selfish motivation -- in Objectivist ideology this makes her morally perfect -- and she was still in love with Frank, so she didn't want to divorce him. Had Branden not betrayed her and Objectivism, she might have married him, but I think it needs to be kept in mind that in Objectivism, a relationship with another is not as sacrosanct as one's selfish relationship with oneself and reality. Miss Rand was firm about not deceiving one's lover and / or spouse, that honesty was a virtue even in a sexual relationship. So she was being honest to have sexual desire for Branden given her estimation of him at the time. She did discuss it with Frank beforehand, and he agreed, so I don't see why she had to consult anyone else.

If one takes a look at her novels, one can clearly see that sex outside of a marriage is sanctioned -- i.e. one does not need to be married before having passionate sex. As to when one can have sex with someone else while being married, she does have Rearden having sex with Dagny as a positive action even though Hank was married at the time. By a rational selfish standard, Lillian was not someone he ought to have remained married to, and having sex with Dagny was very beneficial to him, especially psychologically, since he learned to enjoy sex thoroughly. And it is interesting to note that in one of the Q&A books, she mentions that if Hank would have committed to Dagny in marriage, then she wouldn't have broken the marriage for the sake of being with Galt.

Would it have been better for her to have divorced Frank and then married Branden? Maybe in the short run, but in the long run she concluded that he betrayed her, so it is a good thing she didn't divorce Frank, who stood by her all of that time and never betrayed her.

Certainly, in this type of situation, one's dedication ought to be to one's spouse, that having an affair behind their back is considered to be immoral. But I can understand why Frank would want her to experience sex with someone who was her intellectual and spiritual equal, so he was not betraying his love for her by saying he agreed to let that happen.

She also mentioned after the fact and after it was over, that having an affair while being married should only be attempted by moral giants -- people who could hold the entire context in mind and act accordingly.

Did she regret having the affair? Yes, but only because later in her estimation Branden was not the man she thought he was when agreeing to have the affair with him.

So, I think the context of rational self-interest needs to be kept in mind. In essence, she wanted to experience sex with a John Galt, and she thought Branden was that type of man. And she didn't betray anyone in the process -- including herself -- because she cleared it with Frank beforehand; and it is such a personal matter, that I don't see why it is even anyone else's concern.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is funny that you mention that, because my wife and I were discussing the rape scene a few days ago. While she understands the scene, and the feelings between Dominique and Roark, she still seems to find it hard to swallow. To be honest, I am not sure I understand it as much as I should and I am going to use the search function to read up on it.

The best person to consult is Betsy Speicher.

See her post here Roark and Dominique

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
While not inherently immoral, both heroine and adultery are inherently destructive.

I would agree with this. I think therefore the only context under which somoene would agree to it, is as a temporary transitory state. Either the affair demonstrates that the other person is actually a higher value and divorce ensues, or that the original person is, and the affair eventually terminates.

I know some who think that multiple relationship senarios can exists will counter, but I'd agree here. This is also why I agreed with you on your essay about having intimate friends of the opposite sex. Examples like this, although probably moral are too much of a specialized special context to recommend as general action.

For what it's worth if I was to speculate, if Frank O'Connor agreed to remain married and did so for objectively non-altruistic reasons then he is the true Titan of the senario. Many would portray him as the cuckolded husband, bending to his wife's whim. I can think of only one circumstance where his actions were rational, and justified, and if that was actually the case, then he was a John Galt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I find it causes a bit of confusion to refer to it as a rape scene as opposed to a "rape" scene. Because it was not in fact a rape.

I find that it does at well, but if there is confusion, Rand began it because Dominique refers to the episode, after the fact, as a rape.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Has the fact of this affair ever been substantiated by a credible source? (I consider not having "Branden" as your last name as a minimum requirement for credibility.)

heh, agreed :)

Peikoff actually admits that he has evidence of it in A Sense of Life, the Rand documentary.

Additionally, it's pretty clear from direct Rand journal entries in PARC that their relationship was more than friendly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Adultery isn't inherently immoral in that same sense that doing heroin isn't inherently immoral. In almost every conceivable context, it's a horribly destructive and evil thing to do, but in certain very unusual cases, it can be acceptable.

Let's drag out some badly needed definitions:

Adultery is the act of a married man or woman who has sex with someone other than his or her spouse.

An affair is when a married man or woman comits adultery without the knowledge of his or her spouse.

The distinction is subtle, but real. In an affair there is the added element of deceit. So if Rand and Branden were engagin in adultery with the knowledge of their spuses, that is entirely their own business. Whether it is moral or not depends on the people involved, the terms of their marriage, and the circumstances of their lives at that point.

To gain an understanding of Rand's adultery in particualr, it might pay to see what she writes about it in her fiction. She certainly did a lot of it (Red Pawn, We The Living, Atlas Shrugged).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think maybe you should do some searching for threads related to this sort of topic. You'll find that the issues are hardly decided in Objectrivist circles and Rand herself was unclear. Your statement "If romantic love, in the Objectivist sense means an intellectual, emotional and physical response to one's highest value..." is an awfully big conditional that neither addresses the specfics of the marriage contract as it relates to love, nor what two parties can and cannot consent to within the boundaries of that sort of "response."

I'm not saying I advocate such action, nor that it is inheretly Obectivist or non-Objectivist, but rather that those who would try to expunge context from the evaluation of the situation without actually knowing the details (saying in effect, "we don't need to actually know the details") do not have firm Objectivist ground to stand upon.

Rand put a speech regarding the meaning of sex and its relationship to values in Francisco D'Anconia's mouth in "Atlas Shrugged", that provides some basis for her thinking on a critically relevant element of this subject. Ditto, the way the entire series of relationships involving Dagny Taggart were presented. Rand was absolutely single-minded on the subject of integrity and honesty, both of which are very relevant to this subject. Likewise, she wrote at length on the falseness of the body-mind dichotomy and rejected the Platonic concept of love. She stated publicly (on the Phil Donahue show) that Frank O'Connor was her true love and that, had she not been an atheist, she would have killed herself to be with him in the afterlife. I think there is some basis on which to draw conclusions regarding this subject.

Did Rand write specifically and in detail about marriage? No. It would be an interesting point to ask what is the purpose or meaning of marriage if it is not a public declaration of one's exclusive romantic love for a particular individual and, having made such a declaration, of one's intention to behave with integrity towards that person. Fidelity is merely integrity in one's romantic choices.

What value would Rand have derived from continuing to remain married to O'Connor? She was the primary breadwinner. She apparently saw Branden as her intellectual equal and believed that her sexual response would be greater with Branden. Branden was clearly unhappy in his own marriage. Divorce, although less common than today, was far from unknown and not inherently stigmatizing. In any event, the latter should have been of no concern to Rand since she was singularly indifferent to "society's" opinions. I see no consistent or logical answer to these questions within the framework that Rand herself established. An explanation is possible without it destroying the fundamental basis for Objectivism, but it would require some modification to the latter's conclusions on certain subjects.

I agree that understanding the full context and thus the details is critical to this and any other issue. In this case, the details themselves are often in dispute and the motives of all involved seem to depend on whom you talk to. Peikoff has pursued of a policy of keeping all of Rand's papers closed except to those whom he approves. Many within the ranks of what I think of as orthodox Objectivism (ARI, Peikoff et al) dismiss the Brandens as inherently dishonest and immoral, consequently, despite having been Rand's close associates for years, their views are considered automatically unacceptable. This is not an environment in which the full context is likely to be discovered or understood, and yet very definitive conclusions and an official position exists - at least as regards the affair. If not, then why would anyone bother to have produced "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics?" The end result is not pretty and that is why this particular incident is so often used to attack Objectivism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Did Rand write specifically and in detail about marriage? No. It would be an interesting point to ask what is the purpose or meaning of marriage if it is not a public declaration of one's exclusive romantic love for a particular individual and, having made such a declaration, of one's intention to behave with integrity towards that person. Fidelity is merely integrity in one's romantic choices.

...

An explanation is possible without it destroying the fundamental basis for Objectivism, but it would require some modification to the latter's conclusions on certain subjects.

The proposition that Objectivism or Rand's thoughts are not consistent with Rand's actions depends entirely on the proposition that you have supposed above (in bold). It is the bridge between the two, as is the specific context of the situation, neither of which you're providing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The "Rape" Scene

Everyone should buy a copy of "Essays on The Fountainhead." In it, there is a chapter by Andrew Bernstein on the "rape" scene. Bernstein argues that it in fact was not rape. Kendall mentions Dominique herself thinking "I was raped." But at this point in the novel Dominique is still a very confused and conflicted character. How well can we trust Dominiques's evaluation of some event, especially when it conflicts drastically with her own actions? Bernstein has some good answers. It's a fascinating article in an excellent anthology, well worth the money.

Edited by Atlas51184

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What value would Rand have derived from continuing to remain married to O'Connor? She was the primary breadwinner. She apparently saw Branden as her intellectual equal and believed that her sexual response would be greater with Branden.

The context changes if she saw Branden's potential status and had not reached conclusion on it.

I think the question is not what value Rand would have derived from a continued marriage. It is what value would O'Connor have derived from it. The decision to continue marriage would fundamentally have fallen to O'Connor, in response to Rand's proposed action.

Again, this is purely speculation, but since you're having trouble seeing ANY possible path forward in this senario, I need show you just one regardless of whether it was the actual one or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The "Rape" Scene

Everyone should buy a copy of "Essays on The Fountainhead." In it, there is a chapter by Andrew Bernstein on the "rape" scene. Bernstein argues that it in fact was not rape. Kendall mentions Dominique herself thinking "I was raped." But at this point in the novel Dominique is still a very confused and conflicted character. How well can we trust Dominiques's evaluation of some event, especially when it conflicts drastically with her own actions? Bernstein has some good answers. It's a fascinating article in an excellent anthology, well worth the money.

I agree with everyone who claims it was not rape. And I also found some evidence in her journals where she explicitly confirms the character's state of mind.

My only point to inspector was that if there is confusion, it might have helped her case if she had somehow made the issue more explicit in the work itself. As it is, everything about the scene is implied obliquely through dialogue, and the subtlety of the context is lost on most people.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I find that it does at well, but if there is confusion, Rand began it because Dominique refers to the episode, after the fact, as a rape.

Dominique was not being honest and/or correct in that statement. I was under the impression, however, that you on the other hand were looking to be honest and correct. :)

So once again I think it is inappropriate to not use scare quotes. And what would best help her case would be if people who know it wasn't rape stopped referring to it as rape.

Edited by Inspector

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So once again I think it is inappropriate to not use scare quotes. And what would best help her case would be if people who know it wasn't rape stopped referring to it as rape.

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll take it under consideration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×