Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Question about Nathaniel Branden

Rate this topic


CptnChan
 Share

Recommended Posts

I don't really know where to go to get the complete true story of what happened between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Obviously there are lots of forums and website that say a lot of things. I almost wanted to write Peikoff about it, but I'm almost certain he wouldn't address it, and honestly I don't really want to bother him with it. I'm sure he's heard it plenty.

It's just that on his podcast he has spoken negatively of adultery so much. He has spoken of the pain of being cheated on, and how if you truly love a person you will need no substitute. So this story of Ayn Rand having a consensual affair is very disturbing to me. Probably more than it should be. But really. Like, it bothers me a LOT. Kind of jarring really. I'm not a fan of being shaken.

So does anyone know where there is an official account, or "objectivist" explanation for such a thing? If she really did do this, did she ever say that she was sorry, or that it was a mistake? I placed this in ethics because if this story is true, how can you justify such an action? I'm having a pretty hard time with this.

(P.S. mods if ethics is the wrong place move me.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know if it can be called an 'official account' but there is a book called "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, The Case Against the Branden's" by James S. Valliant. It's been a long time since I read it but I believe it does contain an explanation of the affair. It was consensual amongst all the parties involved. But more than that the Branden's succeeded in pulling the wool over not only Ayn Rand's eyes but most every one around her for about 18 years. Someone who is more familiar with the book may want to comment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He's a con-artist. Please ignore him.

Branden or Valliant? Vallint's book thanks The Estate of Ayn Rand for access to her journals and also includes the name of Jeff Britting who is, I brlieve, the archivist at ARI. Also, just looked at Amazon and they want $78.53 for a new copy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The official statement is Rand's "To Whom it May Concern" in The Objectivist, 1968, and it doesn't mention the affair at all.

One of the interviewees (Peikoff, I think) in Paxton's documentary Ayn Rand: a Sense of Life allows that maybe Frank was hurt by it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When someone violates principles they advocate, it does not invalidate those principles. It only illustrates the just and deserved consequences of violating them. After reading each side's accounts of what happened, it appears to me that everyone involved got what they deserved.

Edited by moralist
Link to comment
Share on other sites

When someone violates principles they advocate, it does not invalidate those principles. It only illustrates the just and deserved consequences of violating them. After reading each side's accounts of what happened, it appears to me that everyone involved got what they deserved.

Thanks, this makes sense to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone who is more familiar with the book may want to comment.

If you’re going to read Valliant's opus, it's imperative to have copies of both Nathaniel Branden's memoir and Barbara Branden's biography of AR in hand, to check all quotations against their sources.

Placing a word or phrase within quotation marks does not indicate that the word or phrase is even a quotation, verbatim or otherwise. Even if it is a partial quotation, it is not uncommon to reorder the used words within a phrase, so long as the meaning remains intact. The result is not a "misquoatation."

http://www.solopassion.com/node/9529#comment-117592

Or you can simply look up Neil Parille’s extensive critiques of the book, where you’ll often find Valliant there on the same thread attempting to defend his distortions of other’s words, how he made them say the opposite of what they wrote via ellipses and reorderings, before skulking off to declare victory elsewhere. Truly disgraceful.

If she really did do this, did she ever say that she was sorry, or that it was a mistake?

Did she really have an affair? Yes, of course, no one disputes it anymore. So what? Does the fact she did it with the 'consent' of her spouse matter? And does it make it better or make it worse? According to Barbara Branden when they were first asked for consent they both emphatically answered 'no'. Shouldn't that answer have been the one that counted?

So they both made a bad mistake, were cruel to their loved ones and ultimately to each other. Now decades later some still get all bitter over how different people interpret it. Whether Ayn Rand was morally perfect, or that since, a priori, she was morally perfect, Nathaniel Branden must be a super-villain, not just then but for all time. You'd think this was some damn religion, with a god and a devil. Hell, even the Old Testament god 'repented' once or twice, after getting a good harangue from Moses. Hopefully, once the individuals who have a historical investment in this are dead, the dispute will finally go away.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, this makes sense to me.

Regarding human relations... others will treat you as decent as you are, and even if they are not as decent as you are, they will treat you as if they were. In my lifetime I've yet to see this principle violated.

Edited by moralist
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ayn Rand's nuptial and financial affairs only demonstrate that she was as fallible as anyone. What is remarkable are the significant contributions to philosophy and literature she made in spite of her personal foibles.

... If she really did do this, did she ever say that she was sorry, or that it was a mistake? ...

"Never apologize - it's a sign of weakness" ~ Gibbs Rule #6

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Regarding human relations... others will treat you as decent as you are, and even if they are not as decent as you are, they will treat you as if they were. In my lifetime I've yet to see this principle violated.

Whew. Not my experience at all. In fact, one of my personal phrases, it’s not a quote from anyone though I can’t imagine that the point is original with me: for others to start applying the Golden Rule, sometimes you’re going to have to do unto them as they've done unto you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So this story of Ayn Rand having a consensual affair is very disturbing to me. Probably more than it should be. But really. Like, it bothers me a LOT. Kind of jarring really. I'm not a fan of being shaken.

Your bewilderment is entirely understandable. As one who was there (meaning, a die-hard Objectivist) at that time, I can assure you it was totally bewildering to me.

The Nathaniel Branden Institute had just moved into its shiny new offices in the basement of the Empire State Building. The office was fantastic with a large lecture hall and listening rooms for hearing recorded lectures. The Empire State Building! Can you imagine how profitable NBI was to make a move of that kind? I had just flown to New York from Tennessee. As always, the first thing I did on arriving in New York was to visit NBI. There, on the reception desk, was a note that read: “An irreconcilable break has occurred between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden.” The note made clear that NBI was suspending further activity for the indefinite future.

I couldn’t believe it. My life was never the same again.

Prior to the break, the suggestion of any parting of the ways between Rand and Branden was unthinkable. Objectivists (or ‘students of Objectivism,’ the disclaimer we were supposed to use at the time) saw Rand and Branden as inseparable as God and Jesus. Their break tore the Objectivist movement apart. I don’t think it has ever recovered.

It may never recover, especially because certain Objectivist leaders will carry a vendetta against Branden to their grave. I have no doubt that Peikoff will pass that torch to whomever his successor may be. The guardians of her estate seem incapable of even suggesting Ayn Rand was in any way at fault. (Branden acknowledged his own culpability long ago.) I’m not sure that the deaths of the various surviving witnesses will change anything. It is a wound that may never heal.

In retrospect, however, the ‘Great Schism’ may have had one major beneficial effect: it destroyed Objectivism as a cult (which it largely was to that point) and forced Objectivists to begin thinking for themselves.

The world may never profit from the genius of Ayn Rand as it might have. Branden was not only brilliant but intensely charismatic. The success of NBI was no fluke. There is no telling how much of an impact Objectivism would have had on the culture with him at the helm.

Unfortunately, however, it was a movement of True Believers. The fate of True Believers is often quite destructive. Ironically, the by-product of the schism—i.e., that very important lesson, the virtue of intellectual independence--may well have saved many lives, including my own.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The world may never profit from the genius of Ayn Rand as it might have. Branden was not only brilliant but intensely charismatic. The success of NBI was no fluke. There is no telling how much of an impact Objectivism would have had on the culture with him at the helm.

That's interesting that you call Branden charasmatic. I have seen and heard mixed things. In recent videos he looks and sounds like a zombie who barely knows where he is. From someone who knew him back in the day, he was describes as a "game show host" with a lot of flash and suface charm, but a lack of substance and willingness to engage in intellectual rigor. On the other hand, I have also heard from other people who agree with your assessment. Can you elaborate on what Branden was like back then and how he complimented Rand?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Branden was at the helm, and the much-decried cultiness was mostly his creation.

Having spent lots of time as an NBI student and far too much, I blush to mention, as his patient, I'd say he had the vanity of a game-show host but not the charm. An MC who treated his audience the way Branden did wouldn't last past the first commercial break. He loved an adoring audience, and NBI gave it to him. After that he tried for twenty or thirty years to establish himself as both a major thinker and a major pop celebrity in his field. When this turned out to have been only a spotty success, he returned the Objectivist roots he'd downplayed all those years and got the audience he wanted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for these responses it is helping very much. The one thing that still bothers me, is that often times on his podcast, Peikoff has been asked if there are any real heroes, or "John Galts". He always answers emphatically yes, saying that Ayn Rand was such a person. A person who was the perfect embodiment of a moral code.

I certainly can see that she did this most of her life, and definitely in regards to her career, but as far as this one thing is concerned, it seems that such a poor decision would leave at least a small mark on her record. I just can't ever imagine John Galt carrying on a consensual affair.

Obviously I wouldn't expect Peikoff to answer like he does and then say with a footnote: "except she did have an affair which led to a lot of distress and is not consistent with rationality." That really wouldn't serve any purpose. But why declare so emphatically that she was John Galt? I don't expect her to be perfect, and I imagine any other rational person who accepts objectivism wouldn't either. Why not say something like: "There was someone with the reasoning capabilities and brilliance of John Galt and that was Ayn Rand." Or, "The closest thing to John Galt was Ayn Rand." Instead of saying she was the perfect embodiment of her moral code.

I don't mean to equate this with some kind of religious thing. It's not like I'm some kind of faith-driven follower who found out Jesus secretly did something for himself or anything like that. I apologize if this borders some kind of drone mind mentality.

Edited by CptnChan
Link to comment
Share on other sites

When this turned out to have been only a spotty success, he returned the Objectivist roots he'd downplayed all those years and got the audience he wanted.

He gave a talk at a hospital in Miami in the mid-nineties, a year or two before he started appearing at events with David Kelley’s organization, his return to Objectivism so to speak. There were at least 500 people there, the head of the department gave him a glowing introduction, and the name Ayn Rand wasn’t uttered once. For comparison, when Christopher Hitchens appeared here promoting his memoir in 2010, the turnout was about the same. OTOH when Umberto Eco came the turnout was at least 2,000. So, I’m not sure about ‘spotty success’, or whether NB’s latter day appearances at Objectivist events had any impact on his reputation in the pop psychology/self-help arena, or on his book sales generally. I believe NB appeared on Oprah at some point, I don’t know how many times. But he’s certainly never been as well known as Dr. Phil, FWIW.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's interesting that you call Branden charismatic. I have seen and heard mixed things. In recent videos he looks and sounds like a zombie who barely knows where he is. From someone who knew him back in the day, he was describes as a "game show host" with a lot of flash and suface charm, but a lack of substance and willingness to engage in intellectual rigor. On the other hand, I have also heard from other people who agree with your assessment. Can you elaborate on what Branden was like back then and how he complimented Rand?

Prior to the break, Ayn Rand made it known that she considered Branden her equal in all respects regarding Objectivism. She often said that she gave him a blank check to speak for her. Peikoff has never occupied a leadership position comparable to Branden’s.

Anyone familiar with Rand’s view of femininity will understand why she may given Branden so much authority. She desperately wanted to find a man whom she could regard as her equal.

Take a look at this booknotes interview with Brian Lamb from July, 1989, shortly after the publication of Judgment Day, Branden’s memoir of his association with Rand. (The memoir was later revised and re-published as My Years with Ayn Rand.) Branden was pretty much at the top of his game then. Unlike the youtube videos, this is vintage Branden--the same Branden I recall from the NBI years.

Branden was involved in a serious auto accident a few years ago, and had to undergo major back surgery. The surgery did not turn out well, and his health has not been good since then. I believe he may also take a lot of pain medication, which often affects memory as well as verbal communication skills. Most of the recent youtube videos reveal the enormous struggle he has been going through since that accident.

Edited by Dennis Hardin
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whew. Not my experience at all.

There are two basic approaches:

One is to take personal responsibility for the consequences of failing to set the moral tone... while the other is to see one's self as a victim and angrily blame (unjustly accuse) others for the same consequences. Using the Rand/Brandon as an example. Both got exactly what they deserved as the consequences of how they set the moral tone of their relationship.

In fact, one of my personal phrases, it’s not a quote from anyone though I can’t imagine that the point is original with me: for others to start applying the Golden Rule, sometimes you’re going to have to do unto them as they've done unto you.

Yes. That's a good example of taking personal responsibility to set the moral tone when interacting with others. You will get what you deserve as the results of your actions. And if you fail to set the moral tone, you will also get what you deserve. I also have a personal phrase to describe personal relationships (as well as business relationships) which did originate with me:

The fish always matches the bait. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for these responses it is helping very much. The one thing that still bothers me, is that often times on his podcast, Peikoff has been asked if there are any real heroes, or "John Galts". He always answers emphatically yes, saying that Ayn Rand was such a person. A person who was the perfect embodiment of a moral code.

I certainly can see that she did this most of her life, and definitely in regards to her career, but as far as this one thing is concerned, it seems that such a poor decision would leave at least a small mark on her record. I just can't ever imagine John Galt carrying on a consensual affair.

Perfection under Objectivist ethics is just a matter of leading a virtuous life, not a life without any mistakes. Admitting mistakes would still qualify as virtue, but those mistakes don't necessarily have to be admitted to unconcerned parties. I don't care much about the whole Rand/Branden thing beyond some biographical interest.

But that's supposing she did something particularly wrong in the first place. From what I've read, Branden was generally dishonest about his emotions towards Rand, but I don't know the extent in which he lied. There isn't anything wrong with romantic relationships with multiple people; at the time, she clearly thought they were okay as long as all the parties in question consent and are honest. So, I don't like characterizing the relationship as a "consensual affair" because that comes with a negative undertone. It was just a relationship gone bad, although I don't know of any particular reason to judge Rand as acting immorally in the first place. If there is a reason for negative judgment, it shouldn't have anything to do with Rand merely engaging in a relationship with Branden and her husband at the same time (the same goes for Branden).

Edited by Eiuol
Link to comment
Share on other sites

From what I've read, Branden was generally dishonest about his emotions towards Rand, but I don't know the extent in which he lied.

I don't think that's true. Branden was not "generally dishonest about his emotions towards Rand," but toward the end of their romantic years together he was confused about how he felt about her and about the fact that his feelings toward her had changed. Keep in mind that she was something of an authority figure in his life. She was his employer and mentor and was acting as his counselor in regard to his personal romantic relationships while having an affair with him. His entire concept of romantic love had come from her theories. He was being expected to follow her notion of romantic love, and he was being pressured and unfairly judged when he was discovering that that notion wasn't meshing with his reality.

At worst, he might have been guilty of withholding from Rand the information that he was having a romantic relationship with someone else (Patrecia). But that relationship was actually none of Rand's business since she didn't have a promise of exclusivity from Branden -- she was not married to him and they had not publicly entered into any romantic contractual agreements, so he did not need her consent to see anyone else, nor did he owe her any right to be informed of any other relationships that he might have had with anyone else.

There isn't anything wrong with romantic relationships with multiple people; at the time, she clearly thought they were okay as long as all the parties in question consent and are honest. So, I don't like characterizing the relationship as a "consensual affair" because that comes with a negative undertone.

If there was nothing wrong with the relationship between Rand and Branden, why did they keep it a secret? Why did they hide it from even their closest friends and associates? Why did Rand put Peikoff into the position where he went out and publicly denied the affair? Rand often publicly boasted about her relationship with her husband, saying that he was her highest value and such. Why did she not do the same with Branden if there was nothing wrong with multiple romantic relationships? The actions of those involved gives the impression that they were very concened about what others would think, no?

J

Note to moderators: If you delete this post, will you please give me the courtesy of notifying me and explaining why rather than doing it anonymously and without notifaction or explanation? Thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One is to take personal responsibility for the consequences of failing to set the moral tone... while the other is to see one's self as a victim and angrily blame (unjustly accuse) others for the same consequences.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice about whom you deal with. IRS agents and traffic cops come to mind as stark examples. Then there’s people at work. Sure you can find another job, or ditch an important client because one of his underlings is an asshole. But not always, not without a disproportionate sacrifice. This calls to mind one of Nassim Taleb’s phrases, he relates how he got a big bonus while he was working on Wall Street, it was a life changing thing, and he called it “fuck you money”. It empowered him to tell people he didn’t want to deal with where to go.

Anyway, I gather you’re not nearly as naïve as I feared, and I agree that one should try to set a good moral tone, and that for the most part it can be done.

Edited by Ninth Doctor
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If there was nothing wrong with the relationship between Rand and Branden, why did they keep it a secret? Why did they hide it from even their closest friends and associates?

I don't know, but that type of behavior is quite questionable, if Branden was such a high value, I don't know why she didn't mention the relationship at least eventually. Still, the judgment of that should be on the actions taken and any dishonesty that may have gone on, which you seem to be addressing.

Note to moderators: If you delete this post, will you please give me the courtesy of notifying me and explaining why rather than doing it anonymously and without notifaction or explanation? Thanks.

I don't know why it would be deleted if anyone did.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know, but that type of behavior is quite questionable, if Branden was such a high value, I don't know why she didn't mention the relationship at least eventually. Still, the judgment of that should be on the actions taken and any dishonesty that may have gone on, which you seem to be addressing.

Imagine that you've been having a romantic relationship with a very accomplished woman for years, and in your psychological counseling sessions with her (in which she is helping you with your psychological health and your romantic problems with her) you're cautiously trying to broach the subject that you've been dating a very attractive younger woman and that you don't feel the same as you used to for the older woman, and the hints that you've been dropping have had the effect of enraging the older woman. She says that the younger woman is beneath someone of your intelligence and accomplishments, and that it is not objective or rational of you to value her so highly. And it is an insult to her (the older woman) that you would want someone who is obviously so much less accomplished than what she is. She's judging you to be psychologically unfit and perhaps morally corrupt based on nothing but the fact that you are attracted to someone other than her.

Subconsciously, you're a bit confused because the man that the older woman is married to is less accomplished than the young woman that you're dating and who is the target of her harsh judgments, yet he is somehow worthy of being married to the older woman, and of being publicly praised by her as her ideal man while your relationship with her is something that she wants to keep secret as if it's embarrassing, despite the fact that you are significantly more intelligent and accomplished than he is.

Any attempt that you make at clearing up these matters with your counselor/romantic partner is met with resentment and rage.

What should you do? What action can you take which will not result in your being condemned?

I don't know why it would be deleted if anyone did.

The only reason that I asked to be informed is that a few of my posts have been deleted lately without notification or explanation, and despite the fact that they didn't contain anything that was against the rules or guidelines here.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...