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Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden's Dispute

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I've been reading "Six pillars of self esteem" by Branden, and I've wondered:

What was the source of the dispute between Rand and Branden? I mean, what are the philosophical differneces-  the ideological dispute, not the personal one.

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There has been a lot of discussion about this over the years. Personally, I had an interest in what might have gone on between them until I visited this site: Rand and the Brandens: a Chronology, which had so much detail that I decided that it really wasn't anybody's business, and didn't matter much anyway. Their personal lives might be of marginal interest up to a point, but you will know neither of them personally -- it's their writings and ideas which matter more, and you can judge that on your own independently as long as they are still available to read.

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I'm not sure there was one.  Nobody to my knowledge ever gave details.  Branden later dabbled in some non-Objectivist notions, and the orthodox faction (Diana H at least) used this as evidence of his bad character, but that was years after they'd made up their minds about him (and after Rand's death).

Edited by Reidy

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"the ideological dispute, not the personal one."

 

You can't separate the two.  Branden's initial 'disagreement' was in the form of faking reality on a large scale.  Only after Ayn Rand died did Branden begin to comment on her, saying In essence that Ayn Rand's ideas encourage 'moralism', repression, and the unfair blanket dismissal of mystical phenomenae.  The more I have learned about Rand and Objectivism over the years, the more I have come to realize what a confession Branden's charges are.

 

If you want to know what Rand's 'disagreement' with Branden was, I would say it was pretty simple in essence:  'don't pretend to embody and agree with my philosophy, or lie in other ways to gain values from me'.

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To my knowledge, Branden never challenged Objectivism, as a philosophy, in any significant way. He criticized Ayn Rand's application of it, especially as related to Psychology, but that was about it. Beyond that, his conflicts were with Rand personally, and with Objectivist groups and organizations. 

saying In essence that Ayn Rand's ideas encourage 'moralism', repression, and the unfair blanket dismissal of mystical phenomenae.

In essence, huh? How about a literal quote or two, to back those claims up.

Like this one:

For eighteen years I was a close associate of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand whose books, notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, inspired a philosophical movement known as objectivism. This philosophy places its central emphasis on reason, individualism, enlightened self-interest, political freedom -- and a heroic vision of life's possibilities. Following an explosive parting of the ways with Ayn Rand in 1968, I have been asked many times about the nature of our differences. This article is my first public answer to that question. Although agreeing with many of the values of the objectivist philosophy and vision, I discuss the consequences of the absence of an adequate psychology to support this intellectual structure -- focusing in particular on the destructive moralism of Rand and many of her followers, a moralism that subtly encourages repression, self-alienation, and guilt. I offer an explanation of the immense appeal of Ayn Rand's philosophy, particularly to the young, and suggest some cautionary observations concerning its adaptation to one's own life.

Note that he doesn't say that Rand's ideas encourage moralism. He says that Rand and many of her followers' moralism encourages repression and guilt. He doesn't have a problem with the philosophy, but rather has an objection (objection stemming from the nature of human psychology) to the way Rand publicized and taught her philosophy.

Here's the full essay, by Branden, on his break with Rand: http://mol.redbarn.org/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/BenefitsAndHazards.html

As far as your claim about mystical phenomenae, I've got nothing. It would be very odd if Branden ended up saying the he believes in ghosts and unicorns, so I'll wait for your proof.

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Thank you for your answers. 

 

Recently, I've heard a lecture by Edwin Locke, where he says that you cannot cure your self esteem directly. Do you think he is trying to critique Branden's approach?

And what do you think about Branden's philosophy of self esteem in general?

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Recently, I've heard a lecture by Edwin Locke, where he says that you cannot cure your self esteem directly. Do you think he is trying to critique Branden's approach?

Without a proper reference, you're unlikely to get a good answer to this. However, unless Locke made it obvious, I doubt such a remark was in reference to Branden.

And what do you think about Branden's philosophy of self esteem in general?

What do you mean by "philosophy" of self-esteem? Do you think he differed from Rand on this? If so, in what way?

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As far as your claim about mystical phenomenae, I've got nothing. It would be very odd if Branden ended up saying the he believes in ghosts and unicorns, so I'll wait for your proof.

From the essay you linked to (which is thoroughly interesting):

 

"The problem is that she became very quick on the draw in response to anything that even had the superficial appearance of irrationalism, by which I mean, of anything that did not fit her particular understanding of 'the reasonable.' . . . 

Like many other people, she was enormously opposed to any consideration of the possible validity of telepathy, ESP, or other psi phenomenon. The evidence that was accumulating to suggest that there was something here at least worthy of serious scientific study did not interest her. . .

My point is the extent to which she had a closed mind on the subject, with no interest in discovering for herself why so many distinguished scientists had become convinced that such matters are eminently worthy of study.

Another example -- less controversial -- involves hypnosis. I became interested in hypnosis in 1960. I began reading books on the subject and mastering the basic principles of the art."

 

I realize that I'm pulling out a lot of little snippets, with little to no context, and that none of these snippets explicitly declare a belief in ghosts or unicorns.

My point is, if such a belief wasn't present, why level such assertions?

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His point there is that Rand formed judgements about issues (evolution, hypnosis, etc) without even studying them. In other words, if something seemed to go against her views (even superficially), she wrote it off entirely and called it irrational.

 

Obviously this was written as an insult- but taken as is, it's understandable that Rand wasn't interested or devoted to learning the truth about every single subject in the world (gardening, hypnosis, African art, rice cooking, evolution, etc.) Her expertise was in other fields. Further, just because NB was interested in hypnosis at one point in his life doesn't mean Rand automatically had to be interested in it too. Remember she was 25 years his senior- they were at very different stages in their lives. (Imagine writing down all the arguments against creationism and giving them to a Catholic priest, 25 years your senior. Think your arguments will get through to him on any meaningful level?)

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With regard to science, this led to an odd kind of scientific conservatism, a suspicion of novelty, an indifference -- this is only a slight exaggeration -- to anything more recent than the work of Sir Isaac Newton. I remember being astonished to hear her say one day, "After all, the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis." I asked her, "You mean you seriously doubt that more complex life forms -- including humans -- evolved from less complex life forms?" She shrugged and responded, "I'm really not prepared to say," or words to that effect. I do not mean to imply that she wanted to substitute for the theory of evolution the religious belief that we are all God's creation; but there was definitely something about the concept of evolution that made her uncomfortable.

 

I wouldn't assume she was not interested in or did not understand the theory of evolution. No one here would claim that she did not understand of economics just because she didn't like Keynsean economics. I would be surprised if she of all people didn't care about the origins of humankind. She simply didn't like the theory of evolution, but was not ready to say why, because she was simply not yet ready to do so. Perhaps she wanted to ponder on the issue a little more before she confronted others with it. Nobody today knows why she didn't like the theory... well except maybe Peikoff...

Edited by Dániel Boros

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I wouldn't assume she was not interested in or did not understand the theory of evolution. No one here would claim that she did not understand of economics just because she didn't like Keynsean economics. I would be surprised if she of all people didn't care about the origins of humankind. She simply didn't like the theory of evolution, but was not ready to say why, because she was simply not yet ready to do so. Perhaps she wanted to ponder on the issue a little more before she confronted others with it. Nobody today knows why she didn't like the theory... well except maybe Peikoff...

 

I can just see this becoming the next anti-Rand straw man. "Did you know she praised a serial killer and hypocritically took social security? Oh, and she didn't believe in evolution!"

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Harrison, your profile says you're 22. You just had a son.   How old were you in 1960, when you became interested in hypnosis.

Well, that was a quote of Branden.

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I can just see this becoming the next anti-Rand straw man. "Did you know she praised a serial killer and hypocritically took social security? Oh, and she didn't believe in evolution!"

Let's hope not...

 

Hickman's, "I am like the state; what is good for me is right," which Ayn Rand thought was, "the best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I ever heard," is an interesting assertion, considering the source.

http://murderpedia.org/male.H/h/hickman-william.htm

 

And the social security issue raises some interesting thoughts about justifiable restitution.

 

Speaking not as an Objectivist, but as one who greatly admires both the person and her philosophy, I consider Ayn Rand's statements and actions, however contraversial, more interesting to consider in the context of Objectivism as a whole, rather than to dismiss as embarrassing incidents.

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I can just see this becoming the next anti-Rand straw man. "Did you know she praised a serial killer and hypocritically took social security? Oh, and she didn't believe in evolution!"

 

Or maybe it will be used as an anti-evolution slogan instead.

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Harrison, your profile says you're 22. You just had a son.   How old were you in 1960, when you became interested in hypnosis.

That was year 31, BH; coincidentally the same year that Branden (whom I was quoting) became interested in hypnosis.

 

His point there is that Rand formed judgements about issues (evolution, hypnosis, etc) without even studying them. In other words, if something seemed to go against her views (even superficially), she wrote it off entirely and called it irrational.

Yes, it is.  I was inferring more, on a different subject, from the implicit premises in his article.

 

She simply didn't like the theory of evolution, but was not ready to say why, because she was simply not yet ready to do so. Perhaps she wanted to ponder on the issue a little more before she confronted others with it.

I agree.  And, if you think about it, there's actually something admirable about that- simply "I don't have enough information, yet, to express an opinion about it."

 

I can just see this becoming the next anti-Rand straw man. "Did you know she praised a serial killer and hypocritically took social security? Oh, and she didn't believe in evolution!"

I can see it, too. . .  :dough:

 

http://verybadfrog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Futurama-Professor-Farnsworth-Meme-I-dont-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore-12.jpg

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Didn't Rand break up with Branden because Branden had an affair with someone else the same time he had an affair with Rand? Not because of the affair, but because he was lying to her. This might be a rumor though.

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Didn't Rand break up with Branden because Branden had an affair with someone else the same time he had an affair with Rand? Not because of the affair, but because he was lying to her. This might be a rumor though.

I don't know.  I do think Branden's wife was maintaining such but I'm not entirely certain.

However [again, from Nicky's article]:

". . . this generated a problem because on the one hand Ayn Rand knew, or believed she knew, that hypnosis was a fraud with no basis in reality; on the other hand, in 1960 Nathaniel Branden was the closest thing on earth to John Galt. And John Galt could hardly be dabbling in irrationalism. So this produced some very curious conversations between us."

 

As I was reading this it struck me that those few sentences, right there, could be the deepest and most genuine glimpse of the matter that any of us are likely to see.  In any case, that alone (whatever else occurred, aside) would explain the whole fiasco.

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