|Full Context · INTERVIEWS|
|Nathaniel BRANDEN, Pt. I||
Vol. 9, No. 1 (September 1996)
Q: You attended the Institute for Objectivist Studies (IOS) Summer SeminarDavid Kelley's organizationthis past July. What did you think of it? How were you received by the participants? What were your impressions of the people you spoke to?
Branden: I had a marvelous time. I was very impressed by the high intellectual quality of the presenters. I was also impressed by the caliber of the studentsvery bright, very eager, with a lightness and spontaneity one does not expect to encounter at Objectivist conferences, based on my own past experience as well as reports I have heard about what goes on at conferences held by the "orthodox" branch of Objectivism. People were not uptight. They did not project the nervousness I have seen so much ofthe fear of saying something that might be interpreted as "deviationism."
As to how I was received, from the moment I arrived everyone I encountered was warm and friendly asking me ten million questions, which of course I thoroughly enjoyed. When, at the end of my talk, the audience exploded into a standing ovation, I was a little stunned. There were quite a few tears in the room. Including mine, my wife's and, unless I am mistaken, David Kelley's. It was a courageous thing David did in inviting me. I know he took heat for it. I am glad it all turned out as well as it did.
Q: This was your first address to an "official" Objectivist audience in twenty-eight years. Can you tell us a little more about what the event meant to you?
Branden: As I said at the start of my talk, I felt like I was coming home to an important part of myself. Following the break with Rand, I needed to distance myself from the world of Objectivism, to get some fresh perspective on it all, uncontaminated by my personal hurt over the way I had been treated and by the incredible amount of vicious nonsense I was hearing about myselfand above all, by the loss of my vision of who Ayn Rand was. Over the years I was able to see with increasing clarity what my differences with Rand were. But I also gained a renewed appreciation for her genius, for how much she had contributed. Objectivism represents my intellectual roots. I wanted to acknowledge that fact and honor it. That was why I accepted David's invitation.
Q: A little later we'll ask you about those differences with Rand, but firstDoes Kelley's approach to Objectivism bode well for the future of Objectivism?
Branden: Yes. Because David is not a "true believer." He admires Ayn Rand, he has embraced her philosophy, but he has retained his ability to think and make independent judgments. His Institute for Objectivist Studies, while resting on Objectivist fundamentals, offers space for debate, further exploration. He does not regard Objectivism as a closed and finished system. He is willing to see where the gaps are, where more work needs to be done. Above all, what I admire him for is that he has created an environment in which people can have honest disagreements while treating one another civilly, without the need to make anyone a villain. This means: an environment that nurtures independent thought and welcomes new ideas.
Q: Do you think that IOS has been effective in maneuvering into a position of philosophical leadership within the broader family of libertarian or market liberal think-tanks such as CATO, the Reason Foundation, and FEE?
Branden: I really don't know. Has IOS been "maneuvering" with that end in mind? I would think it has established itself as a valuable resource for other free-market think-tanks. David is out to show that on any number of issues and fronts, the Objectivist perspective has something important to offer. I would say he is succeeding.
Q: What can it do to improve its position?
Branden: The three most important things to do are: Publish books and journal articles; publish books and journal articles; and publish books and journal articles. It is essential that Objectivism force its way into the academic world. You know what the resistance is so you know what courage and perseverance will be needed. Of course none of what I am saying need be confined to IOS. It is disappointing to me to consider how little has been written about Objectivism or about its application to various disciplines. Rand's thinking was so rich, so fertile, there's plenty to keep a lot of people busy for a long time.
Q: Why do you think that is? Do you think that a lot of Objectivists have a tendency to be just passive people who like to just talk about their opinions but don't want to put the work into it and do the research?
Branden: Someone said, by way of explanation, "Ayn Rand is a hard act to follow." Well, if that is the way some people feel, all I can say is, too bad. That's a self-esteem problem, isn't it? But I think another factor inhibiting some people is fear of getting it wrong, fear of being labeled a "deviationist." Rand, unfortunately, contributed to that fear, as do her orthodox followers, like Peikoff. Also, there's so much hostility against her, that I suspect some people are simply fearful of taking on the battleespecially in academia.
Q: Do you think it's relevant that Rand herself was not a scholar?
Branden: True, she wasn't a scholar, and that made it harder for academics to grasp what she was up to. However, I was discussing with the philosopher John Hospers recently that what is astonishing about her is the incredible number of times she was right in her historical analysis in light of the fact that she was not a scholar. We both agreed that if you don't get excited over trivia and small issues and go to the heart of what she was trying to say, she was right far more often than she was wrong. Did she sometimes overstate her case? Yes. Could she be guilty of over-simplification? Yeah. Those are the occupational hazards of a polemicist, and she was a polemicist. I went back to re-read her work to see how it strikes me today. And the thing that impresses me is the depth of her thinking, and the incredible amount of the time she is both right and profoundly ahead of her time.
Let me say further that Objectivists have a different kind of problem. You can be very much an admirer of Ayn Rand but if you're in academia you also want academic respectability. When you learn what a controversial figure she is and with what scorn she is considered in academia, for the average Objectivist this can be quite frightening. And he or she can begin back-pedaling and wanting to dissociate himself or herself from her work, to not be tarred with the same brush that is applied to her. It takes independence and courage to acknowledge her whenever it is relevant and appropriate to do so, and not be afraid to take on the battle that may follow.
Q: In Truth and Toleration David Kelley states that "As a philosophy of reason, Objectivism must be an open system of thought, where inquiry and debate may take place within the framework of the essential principles that define the system." Some detractors argue that since "Objectivism" is a proper noun, referring to Ayn Rand's philosophy, and not a term designating a concept, that Objectivism has no definition. What's your view about this?
Branden: You can define Objectivism as simply "the philosophy formulated by Ayn Rand." Or you can define it as "a philosophy formulated by Ayn Rand that teaches that...etc., etc., etc." What difference does it make? Isn't this pedantry? The truth is, Objectivism is both, depending on contexta proper noun and a concept.
In the real world "Objectivism" stands for a set of ideas formulated by Rand. Once those ideas are published, they acquire a life of their own. They can be accepted by different people to varying degrees. They are intellectual tools, really. Ways to understand the world. It's unrealistic to think one can freeze that philosophy into a static set of concepts and insist that no further implication, derived from the same base, is "Objectivism." We may not call our new thoughts "Objectivism," if we wish to stress that they were not originated by Rand, but we may certainly insist they are entailed or implied by Objectivist premisesfor example, the importance of benevolence in human dealings, benevolence taken seriously as a virtue.
One or two further observations: When you call someone a "Kantian," you don't mean someone who agrees with everything Kant said; you mean someone who has accepted important fundamentals of Kant's system. The same principle applies if you call someone an "Aristotelian." In philosophy, this is generally understood. Why is Objectivism a special case, with unique rules of its own? You try to lock a philosophy upairtightand you kill it. Kelley isn't the danger to the future of Objectivism. The true believers are.
I have very little doubt that much of my work will be labeled "Objectivist" even if the ideas were not proclaimed by Rand and we do not know if she would agree with every detail. It will be obvious to any knowledgeable person that the general orientation is Objectivist.
There is so much that Objectivism didn't address. There is so much work still to be done.
We can be precise about what we do or do not attribute to Ayn Randthat is a different matter and obviously the integrity of her own thought needs to be respectedbut if you want to see Objectivism a living force in the world, you better not fall so in love with orthodoxy that you paralyze people's ability to think and innovate. The first question a good Objectivist should ask is, "Is it true?"not, "Would Ayn Rand agree?"
Q: Following the break with Rand, why didn't you start a new Institute or movement of your own?
Branden: Ayn naively thought that once she had denounced me, none of her admirers would deal with me. She assumed they would automatically place her judgment above their first-hand experience of who I was. She never had much esteem for most of her followers and this is an example. A major effort was made to make me persona non grata among Objectivists, which didn't work. Of course some people turned against me and are still convinced I am a villain, but they are a minority.
The point is, had I wanted to start a new Institute or a new movement, it would not have been difficult. I knew much more about how to do that than anyone else in our circle. At the time of the break, I received a phone call from some businessman I didn't know. He asked me to resurrect Nathaniel Branden Institute in Los Angeles and offered to finance the whole operation. I thanked him but refused. The businessman said to me, "But what will happen to Objectivism now?" And I answered, with an immense sense of relief, "That's not my problem anymore."
I felt like a great weight had gone. What I wanted most was a private life. I wanted an office with one secretary, no big organization, never again. I wanted time to rest, to absorb what had happened, to get past it and start a new life. I wanted time with Patrecia. I was to have nine yearsuntil she died, at 37. I won't go into all that because the story is told in Judgment Day.
Q: I noticed that a number of letters to you were included in Letters of Ayn Rand. Did you have to give permission for that?
Branden: No. One needs permission to publish letters someone else has written, not to publish letters one has written oneself. Rand, and therefore Rand's estate, have the right to publish any letter she wrote. What they wouldn't have the right to publish without permission is my letters to her, or anyone else's. Of course there were letters from Rand to me not included in that collection. Either they were not included because they were very intimate, or because Rand did not keep copiesthey were not the kind of notes one would keep copies ofor both.
Q: In "Lectures on Fiction Writing," a course given by Rand in the late 1950s, you and Barbara Branden were in the audience. And yet, today, this course, being sold by Second Renaissance Books, has been edited so that every time your voice or Barbara's voice is to be heard, a narrator does a voice-over instead, summarizing whatever either of you said. This reminds me of the old Stalinist purges, where in photographs they cut out the heads of the people who are persona non grata, as if they never existed. What do you think of this practice of editing reality? And what are the implications for the reliability of the new archives being opened by the Ayn Rand Institute?
Branden: Ayn Rand herself set the precedent for this pattern. When, for instance, she broke with someonesay, Murray Rothbard or Edith Efronshe never could acknowledge anything good about them, not even that they were intelligent, no matter how much she might have praised their intelligence in the past. Suddenly nothing about them was any good and never had been.
For a brief while Ayn Rand even tried to sell the idea to some people that I had never been more to her than a student, not even a close personal friendafter removing the dedication to me from Atlas, when maybe 2 million copies with the dedication were already in print!so why would we expect better from the current guardians of the faith? Some years ago, Leonard Peikoff was being interviewed and he was asked how he met Ayn Rand. He answered that an "acquaintance" had introduced them. The "acquaintance" was his first-cousin, Barbara, and me. This is typical. He has done things like that on a number of occasions. Poor Leonard; I think this is his notion of being an "idealist."
What fascinates me, however, is the implicit contempt Leonard and his friends must have for their own audience. Don't they realize that a good many people have caught on to the truth of what they are doing? Strangers I meet often joke with me about it; the practice is well-known.
If Objectivism stands for anything, it stands for respect for reality, facts, and truth. But you see, this is what I meant in Judgment Day when I said that once someone is declared an "enemy" of Ayn Rand, all morality is suspended. My own view is that the ultimate test of our integrity is not how we deal with those whom we agree with, those on "our side," but how we deal with those who do not agree, those on the "other side."
As to the new archives being opened by the Ayn Rand Institute, it would be quite senselessin view of what is publicly knownto have much confidence in their reliability. One has to assume they will be very one-sided, very biased in what has been preserved, because of the evident obsession with preserving the Ayn Rand image.
Q: With the letters and documents you have, are you going to someday have an archive for future scholars?
Branden: Oh, I think so. After all the participants, myself included, are dead, I guess.
Q: What do you think of Barbara's Passion of Ayn Rand? In your opinion, was it on the whole an accurate biography?
Branden: Within the limits of my knowledge, it seems to be. The part I especially appreciated was Barbara's treatment of Rand's early years, about which I knew relatively little. I was impressed by her research. And the book is well-written.
Her treatment of the affair with Ayn and later with Patrecia was off on a number of points and left out a good deal that was important. To some extent, that was understandable. She couldn't know what went on between Rand and me, or Patrecia and me, when we were alone. That is the story I tell in Judgment Day. Barbara asked me for help with issues like that and I told her I couldn't help her because I was planning to write a memoir of my own. I was only able to help her on smaller, technical things, dates, sequences of events, and so forth. And when she complained that she couldn't decide what to call the book, I suggested The Passion of Ayn Randwhich she immediately liked. On most of the big issues, I think anyone can see that our portraits of Ayn Rand are fairly congruent.
Q: Do you have any contact with Barbara or Allen Blumenthal these days?
Branden: With Barbara there isvery rarelysome exchange of notes; nothing of great importance. It was a relationship that never should have begun and I think we're both clear on that.
With Allen, no contact since the time of the break with one exception. At that time, I requested a final meeting him, before I moved to Los Angeles, to see what he and I might be able to resolve. He refused to meet with me. Some years later, after Patrecia's death, I received a touching condolence note from him and his wife Joan. I was so devastated by the death, I had no heart for animosity with anyone, and I wrote back, thanking them, and suggesting that perhaps we should make a fresh effort to try to understand one another. Allen refused.
Q: There are people from Rand's inner circle that are still angry with you and think you are not a good person. Is there anything you would like to say to them? Are you interested in making amends?
Branden: Making amends for what? If they think I wronged them in some respect, they never communicated that information to meneither back in the days when we were all together in the circle nor afterwards, following the break.
I certainly feel badly about any harm I might have unwittingly done to my NBI studentsand one of my purposes in writing The Disowned Self was to help them against the kind of emotional repression we subtly and not so subtly encouraged. One of my intentions in writing Judgment Day was to help people sort out the good from the bad in Objectivist world. That, too, was a form of "making amends." And judging from the mail I received, I evidently succeeded with a good many people.
As to those who still think I'm a "bad person," or who are angry over how they feel I treated them, I can only say that if my life and published work since the time of the break has not given them grounds to do some fresh thinking, nothing I might say now would be meaningful.
As to the "inner circle" specifically, I will say again that not one of them ever confronted me with any complaint concerning my treatment of them. All they ever spoke to me about was how much I had helped them. Only after Ayn turned against me and I was gone from New York City did I begin to hear about grievances, but always second-hand, never told to me by the individuals actually involved. And do you know, it's been twenty-eight years now.
An exception to what I've just said is my sister Elayne Kalberman and her husband Harry, who were members of our group. They told me their hurts and I told them mine. We talked out and settled our differences many years ago and now have a very good relationship.
When people approach these issues with honesty and good will, they're usually not that difficult to resolve. Did I make some mistakes in the way I treated people I deeply regret? Of course. And over the years anyone who had the courage to come forward and speak to me about this got a fair and undefensive hearing. When apologies were appropriate, and sometimes they were, I made themeagerly and unreservedly. Those encounters typically concluded benevolently. I'm not shy about admitting errors, when I understand them.
Q: Many people have argued that you were less than gentlemanly for detailing so much in Judgment Day. Did you have to be so explicit in the sex scenes? Do you have any regrets for having "told all?"
Branden: You know, when I wrote the memoir I thought that one of its most interesting features would be a man writing intimately about the experience of being in love. Not many men have done that, while a great many women have. So I was shocked at reactions such as your questions implytruly shocked.
Judgment Day is the story of my development told through my relationships with three women, of which the relationship with Ayn Rand is the dramatic centerpiece that integrates the events. If you the reader did not know, in some detail, the nature of my relationship with Barbara, there would be no way to understand some of the choices I made regarding Ayn. Barbara was, in important ways, the emotional contextBarbara, plus, of course, all of my growing up years. And if one did not understand the dynamics of my sexual relationship with Ayn, one would not really understand the overall relationship at all.
The sex scenes were very difficult for me to write; I did not enjoy doing them, to put it mildly. But I became convincedslowly and after much considerationthat they were necessary. You have to understand the method of the book. First, realize that the book is not an autobiography but a memoirmeaning not a work of history but a selective recreation of certain key events in my life as I remember them. And it is not Ayn Rand's story, it is my story. I mention this because somebody once reproached me for writing so much about myself rather than about her.
And second, in recreating the story, I wanted you to live through the events with me; I wanted, not to talk about what happened, but to take you through the experience. What was it like to fall in love for the first time at the age of eighteen? What was it like to meet Ayn Rand? What was it like to be in a romantic relationship with her? What was it like to realize I had made a terrible mistake? And with Barbara conveying that, in spite of everything, she could not live without me (I have letters from her to support what I am saying in case Barbara feels like debating history with me), and Ayn declaring that I was her "lifeline to reality"what was it like to encounter Patrecia and fall in love with her? I wanted the reader to walk beside me through those events.
That is the key to how the book is written. And that is why I included what I did. In some situations I described my personal reactions to certain members of our circle in ways that fit then, when the events were happening, but wouldn't at all fit what I feel today. I included them because that was part of recreating the reality of the episodes. It's disappointing if people don't understand that. Perhaps there was a way to make it clearer.
Coming back to the more intimate aspects of the story, I will offer one more observation. If a woman had written something comparable, no one would complain that she was not a "lady." Women write such memoirs all the time. But it seems that for some people, men do not yet have that right.
As to regrets about what I put in the book, I have two small ones, but they are of a different nature entirely. At the end of the book, I regret mentioning my financial conflicts with Barbara; I know what my reasons were at the time, but the subject is simply too disgusting and should have been omitted. And early in the book I mistakenly condensed two events into one: the time when we went from New York to Toronto for Allen Blumenthal's concert happened several years after Ayn and Frank's visit to Toronto, in 1954, which culminated in the famous "car ride" back, when my relationship with Ayn shifted from a friendship to a romance. I treated both events as happening during the same week. Not only did my memory fail me on this, but it also failed all three of my sisters, whom I consulted and remembered the events as I described them. It's not important, but it's annoying.
Q: But most people I talked to who read Judgment Day thought the sex scenes were unnecessary to the story, that it seemed to them you included them to sell books. Granted, Rand lied about you and your financial dealings at NBI during the breakup to hide the embarrassing affair, and you had a right to reveal the truth about the relationship to explain what happened. But aren't the details of a romantic relationship, by its nature, still private, as if they were part of an oral contract?
Branden: It's very typical of Objectivists, when they object to something someone does, to have a strong opinion as to motivein this case, to sell books and make money. In other words, to them an honest difference of opinion is not conceivable. It does not inspire me to want to explain myself. So I will simply say that sex is not a sacrosanct aspect of life separate from all normal activities. Sex is part of life. Sex is part of love relationships.
Through sex, a man and a women disclose a great deal about who they are. This is why, in novels, we usuallytodayhave at least one scene showing the couple making love: it illuminates further who they are and what their relationship is. Imagine the sex scenes cut from Atlas. Do you think Ayn included those scenes merely "to sell books" or because she was honestly persuaded the story required them? A reviewer accused her of just what I am accused of: including sex for commercial reasons. Where must you be coming from to imagine such a thing? If my readers are offended by the sex scenes, I'm afraid I must say that it's their problem, not mine.
One more point. In her article, Ayn hinted that I had dark psychological problems about which I consulted her; it wasn't true, not the way she suggested, but if it were true then it would have been a terrible ethical breach for her to disclose this information publicly. Does anyone really think that this was any less "intimate," any less "invasive" than writing two sex scenes that were, by the way, very complimentary to her? At least what I wrote was true.
Q: In Judgment Day you describe Ayn Rand as having experienced a profound depression following the publication of Atlas Shrugged. Your romantic affair with Ayn essentially ceased during this period. Neither your book nor Barbara's really explains why. Could you explain?
Branden: In the words of Francisco D'Anconia, she wasn't "happy enough." Depression often drains all interest in sex or love. She was totally preoccupied with her position in the culture and could think of very little else. For two years, that's almost all we talked about. The atmosphere was that of being in a hospital.
In light of the fabulous sales of Atlas, I was never fully able to understand her attitude. I knew it wasn't the attacks that hurt her so much as it was the lack of a significant intellectual defense from someone outside our circle. I kept waiting for her life forceI don't know what else to call itto reassert itself. It never really did. Something was gone and gone irretrievably.
Q: In our interview with Jack Wheeler he said Ayn Rand was addicted to diet pills that altered her behavior. How much was she taking, and how altered was she?
Branden: She was taking a relatively small quantity of a drug called Dexedrine which in those days doctors were prescribing very freely for people who wanted to control their appetite. Today of course Dexedrine has a bad name and it's no longer recommended. But it was recommended to her, I think, when she was only twenty-eight years of age, and she had been taking two pills a day, I believe almost as long as she lived. I don't think she took heavy doses.
There's been some research that suggests that if you take Dexedrine year after year it may possibly introduce certain paranoid trends. I don't know if this is true or not. I know that there's been discussion about it in the pharmacological literature. I don't know what the more recent research is.
It would be very tragic if that played any part in the whole story of what happened. I've wondered about it because at times her behavior struck me as bizarre in ways that totally mystified me. But I really don't have any hard knowledge.
Q: Now for some controversial questions, about which I think it's important to hear your side of the story. In 1989 you published your memoir, Judgment Day, and in January, 1990, Liberty magazine published an interview with Barbara in which she described herself as quite "angry" with you. She evidently felt you had portrayed her unfairly. She also felt you had taken inadequate responsibility for some of the actions you took while associated with Rand. Finally, she insisted that when it came to handing out moral judgments, Ayn Rand was a "pussy cat" compared to you. Comments, please?
Branden: Let me take your questions in order. To this day, I do not know what Barbara thinks was "unfair" in my description of her. She certainly knows that I told the truth about our sexual history. She told someone I had presented her in the book as being, in effect, "the Whore of Babylon." I asked quite a few people if that was their impression; everyone said no, and were astonished at Barbara's interpretation. I paid her many compliments in the book and acknowledged her many virtues. But the difficulties between us did happen and telling them was essential to making clear what was to happen later.
A well-known actress, who was eager to play Ayn in a movie adaptation of the book (I rejected the proposal that was offered me)and who I think could have been terrificexpressed shock when I told her of Barbara's reaction, and expressed the opinion that I had shown Barbara great compassion in the book. This view has been echoed by many other people. I suppose what makes this issue difficult to settle is that each person brings his or her own psychology to the way the book will be interpreted.
As to acknowledging responsibility for my mistakes, I would say that I did so pretty clearly in the bookcertainly more clearly than anyone else who participated in that madness ever did, Barbara included. If I recall correctly, Barbara's big concession in Passion was to acknowledge that no one ever held a gun to her head and that what she did during those years, she did voluntarily.
I have no idea what Barbara would like me to have said beyond what I did say, which makes responding difficult. Not only in the memoir, but also in many public lectures, I acknowledged that in those years I was sometimes autocratic, moralistic, insensitive, uncompassionate, and even cruel. That was not my intention but it was how I acted at times. I don't know of anyone else in our group who has ever gone public as I have or done as much to clean up the past. Which leads me to your last question.
Thousands of people who were at our lectures know the allegation that Ayn was a "pussy cat" compared to me, in the realm of moral judgments, is untrue. No one could explode with wrath like Ayn Rand. It was Ayn who Barbara wanted out of the question-and-answer period following my lectures, as she says in Passion.
But suppose you're a newcomer to all this, weren't at the lectures, and can't decide who's telling the truth. Here's what I suggest. Read the articles by Ayn and me in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist. Judge for yourself who's the master of moralizing, psychologizing, and flinging moral judgments like thunderbolts. Notice, for instance, who ridicules the physical appearance of political opponents, such as Hubert Humphry. The evidence is there. You don't have to take anyone's word for anythingnot about this.
What is incredible to me about this accusationapart from how easy it is to disproveis how opposite it is to what Barbara used to tell me. In the early years following the break, Barbara would reproach me for being too hard on myself and too blind in my attitude toward Ayn. She would tell me how kind and benevolent I was when we first met, and how Ayn repressed and twisted all that in me. She told me I was refusing to confront the extent of Ayn's evil and of the harm she had done me and her and everyone else. Edith Efron joined her in this view.
I'm pretty sure I have somewhere in my files the copy of a letter I wrote Edith in which I argued that it would best serve all our interests, not to deny Ayn's faults, but to confront our own complicity in the nightmare of those years. I suggested that she and Barbara would benefit from spending more energy looking inward than always dwelling on how terrible Ayn was. Both women conveyed that I was naive. That was in the 1970s. In the 1980sI guess when she began working on the biographyBarbara turned around entirely and decided that I was the villain and that she, Barbara, would be Ayn's champion. If one knows the full story, this is all really a farce.
Q: Did writing Judgment Day help you to integrate the past, let go of it, and move on with your life?
Branden: That was not why I wrote the book, butyes. I decided to write the book on the day I suddenly saw all that had happened as a novel. I mean, it had the drama and plot structure of a novel. Also, there was the challenge of taking a fresh look at all that had happened, as honestly as I could.
Some people believe that the book was written "in answer" to Barbara's book. Barbara evidently believes that. Yet she knows that I was planning that memoir before she had written a word of Passion. If my primary purpose had been a defense of my actions, I would have made the book much more psychological. I deliberately didn't. I kept psychology to a minimum, by conscious intention. I wanted to recreate the essential facts, as I understood and remembered them, and let the story speak for itself.
My wife Devers was afraid that going back into all those events would depress me. Through most of the writing, I was incredibly happy. It was an emotional and spiritual adventure. I only had a few really bad days, when writing about Patrecia's death. Of course the experience was integrative and healing. I felt much more distant from that part of my life. So, yes, writing the book was good therapy.
Q: Barbara criticizes you in Passion for signing a 15-year lease with the Empire State Building, involving a commitment of almost half a million dollars (when that was a lot of money!) at a time when you knew your relationship with Rand could blow up at any moment. And during this same period you were willing to have Rand write an introduction to Psychology of Self-Esteem, in spite of the growing breach between you. Are Barbara's claims correct and if so how do you justify your behavior?
Branden: Until very close to the end, I could not believe I was not going to find a happy solution to everything. I believed very profoundly that what I wantedPatrecia, Ayn, the world of Objectivism, the battle I wanted to fight for the values of Atlaswas rational.
You must realize, I did not want a break with Ayn nor did I want to stop fighting for Objectivism. In a sane universe, I felt, those values could not be in irreconcilable conflict. Surely, I told myself, Ayn has to wake up one day and become once again my image of her, and then we will be able to work everything out benevolently. I suppose, playing this back, I sound rather foolish or at least naive. Anyway, that's why I signed the lease.
Regarding Ayn writing an introduction to Psychology of Self-Esteem, I believed that was owed me, after all the work I had done fighting for her work and all the compliments she had paid my book. I expected her to be willing to say in print what she had said to me privately. I did not believe that that should be contingent on my being in love with her, or on not being in love with Patrecia. Of course in the full context I was wrong, because Ayn certainly had the right to set the terms of her endorsement, whether those terms were reasonable or not. If loving her was part of the package, I was free to say "no." But I was not thinking very clearly during that period.
Q: In Judgment Day you cut out a story involving your present wife Devers' encounters with Ayn Rand. I saw a video tape of you talking about this episode. You mentioned that the last of these conversations, over the telephone, was tape recorded. Wasn't that both illegal and unethical? What were your considerations? How do you justify what you did?
Branden: You would have to know the full context. After keeping Devers in her apartment for 5 hours at their first meeting, and encouraging her to come back or callprovided Devers never mentioned my name!we began to hear rumors that Ayn was telling her friends this woman Devers was pestering her, evidently wanting a reconciliation between Branden and herself, which by then Ayn knew was nonsense.
Ayn got upset when Devers called to tell her about these rumors and wanted to know who was spreading these lies, who from her own inner circle had "betrayed" her? But we kept hearing these rumors of Ayn bad-mouthing Devers, and I got angry and sick over the whole situation and proposed to Devers that she call Ayn one more time and I would tape record their conversation because I wanted Ayn's repudiation of these rumors on tape. I was feeling very protective of Devers. But afterwards, I saw that the whole thing was stupid, pointless, and unworthy, since I knew that in the real world I would never actually play the tape of that conversation to anyone. We destroyed the damned thing.
The full story is now available on my web page. It's at: http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/. If anyone cares, read what I wrote and decide for yourself.
Q: Rand named Leonard Peikoff her "intellectual heir." Granted the concept is a peculiar one, do you think of yourself as Rand's legitimate intellectual heir?
Branden: No. I agree that the concept is an odd one. I would not wish to be thought of as Ayn's intellectual heir. And you have to realize that Ayn's number one value in such matters was loyalty. By that standard, Leonard is the man. He's proud to be Ayn's lifelong servanthe's as much as said so. I wouldn't be. I have a mission of my own. If you were to ask a different question, if you were to ask which of us in the end was doing greater honor to Ayn's work, then I would say that I was.
Q: Because you have written more books?
Branden: No. Because of the content and quality of those books.
Q: While both you and Barbara assert that Frank O'Conner had a drinking problem, Leonard Peikoff denies it. The empty booze bottles in Frank's studio, according to Peikoff, were used for mixing paints. I'm an artist and I've never heard of using booze bottles for that purpose because the necks are too small. What's the truth here? Did he have a drinking problem and if so, how severe?
Branden: Barbara tells the story accurately in Passion. I can't tell you how severe the problem was, beyond saying it was serious. I understand it was Ayn who originated the explanation that Frank used liquor bottles to mix his paints. As you point out, the necks are rather small. Let me put it this way: If Frank can mix paints in a liquor bottle, why can't Leonard be introduced to Ayn Rand by an "acquaintance"?
Q: In Judgment Day you said that after finishing Atlas Shrugged, Rand was thinking fairly seriously of divorcing Frank. Why? And what made her change her mind?
Branden: Ayn told me that she had been unhappy with Frank for some years, chiefly because of his overall passivity and lack of intellectuality. She could become quite agitated over what she would later call his "psycho-epistemology." He was not a linear thinker, which was the only kind of thinker she really respected. Then there were other reasons I don't care to go into.
She said that she could not blow up her life while writing Atlas and had decided she would confront the issue after the book was finished. But by the time I was hearing this, in 1954, I don't think she was still considering it. I believe by then she had decided they were bonded for life. Anyway, without going back into my notes for Judgment Day, that is how I remember it.
I don't think she ever would have divorced him. She needed him. And once I entered the picture, it was easier for her to accept his shortcomings because now she was getting important wants met by me. I sometimes tell clients that one of the problems with extramarital affairs is that they can make your marriage bearable.
I think it more likely, if he had money of his own, if he had been financially independent, that Frank would have divorced her. If I recall correctly, he once conveyed this thought to Barbara, in a moment of despair. The rage that came out of him when they had quarrels was something to see. In its intensity it could be both alarming and heart-breaking. I believe that was a major cause of his drinkingto make his life with her endurable. He was completely dominated. His one escape from her, apart from drinking, was his painting.
The myth of the happy marriage of Ayn and Frank is one more example of the kind of denial of reality that was originated by Ayn and then perpetuated by the guardians of her image.
Q: In Judgment Day you quoted Rand as saying that "We are lovers or we are nothing." Doesn't genuine love entail that sometimes we need to set a loved one free? Do you think Rand fully understood what loving a person meant?
Branden: Yes and no. She certainly understood what love meant in the abstract. But did she adequately understand it as applied to her own life? I would say no. It was hard for Ayn to fully see anyone's needs but her own. This is often true of highly creative people with an over-riding sense of mission. We get something very close to narcissism. "I am special. Everything is owed to me because I am creative genius with a very important task to accomplish."
Once Ayn decided that I should be in love with her, if I was truly "John Galt," then reality went out the window. What it was like to be a much younger man in that situation never seemed to occur to her. I cannot recall the smallest acknowledgment of what life must be like from my perspective. She took it as axiomatic that her perspective and mine must be the same. And admiring her as much as I did, and feeling so indebted to her for all I had learned, I lacked the wisdom and courage to call her on her obliviousness. I kept hoping that one day she would come to her senses. I kept telling myself that she was the greatest mind of the twentieth century and surely she would have to wake up and see our situation for what it was. My hope was that we could then become friends again.
What I failed to do was to take the initiative, take proper responsibilityI wrote about this in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteemtell Ayn the full truth as I saw it, confront her on her behavior, and fight for a benevolent resolution; or accept the consequences of not achieving such a resolution. Obviously that is what I should have done. Would I have succeeded with Ayn? I don't believe so, not in a million years. The ending would have been the samethe denunciations, the break-up, and the hysteria that came afterward. I am quite convinced of this, although there is no way to prove it. The only difference, and it's a big one, is that then I could have been prouder of my own role.
Q: Rand didn't have any children so she could pursue a career, and a lot of Objectivist couples followed her example. Do you regret not having children now that you so much enjoy your grandchildren? And did Rand ever express regrets about not having one?
Branden: I love children, get on famously with them, and my grandchildren are one of the great joys of my life. There are no words to convey how much I love being a grandfather. And yet, knowing myself, I cannot regret not having children of my own because I am so work-focused; I always knew that it would be a major achievement to integrate and do right by my career and my marriage, and that children would spread me too thin and I did not want to be the father who wasn't there.
I know, none of this is written in stone. I suspect that if I had met Devers when we were both younger, I might have changed my mind. We both stop children on the street and get into long conversations with them at the drop of a hat.
It's a shame if a couple chose not to have children merely because the O'Conners and the Brandens didn't, but I'm afraid that sometimes happened; not a good motivation, is it?
To answer the last part of your questions: I have never regretted not having children of my own and neither did Rand. The difference is: I got lucky in the end, in spite of myself, when Devers and her two grown daughters came into my life. To my astonishment, I have become something of a family man, and it is a source of great joy to me.
The only painful aspect in all this for meand it's very painfulis that our first grandson, Brandon, about whom I wrote in Judgment Daywas killed in an automobile accident early last year. Nineteen ninety-five was a rather difficult year for my wife and myself because of this. It was Brandon, who was born a few months before Devers and I methis name is pure coincidencewho opened me up to the world of children. Through him I got to know a whole other part of myself.
Q: I'm terribly sorry to hear that.
Branden: Thank you.
Q: Would it be better for the Objectivist movement if the full truth about Ayn Rand were known?
Branden: Objectivism teaches that nothing good comes from faking reality. It would have been a great gift to her admirers if Ayn Rand had been more honestly self-disclosing. If she acknowledged her problems and shortcomings, they would have honored her more, not less, because then she would have been in reality, and her admirers would have been in reality, and she would have been seen and appreciated as an actual human being, not a phony abstraction.
She was a genius. Her literary achievements and philosophical contributions are enormous. Couldn't she let that be enough? What good purpose was served by her grandiosity? All it accomplished was to give her followers a totally unrealistic picture of human psychology.
I remember one night, after Atlas was published, she was sitting on the sofa, crying, protesting the state of the world and her place in it, and then she said how much she would hate for John Galt to see her this way, how much she would hate for him to see her miserable or in tears. I said, "Why? Wasn't this part of the battle? Wasn't feeling like hell and then picking yourself up and carrying on part of what made the struggle heroic? What was there to be ashamed of? Why did one have to pretend that there were never moments of utter despair? Wasn't the challenge to experience them, own them, admit them, without denial or pretenseand then go on fighting?" I said we should be proudly willing to let people see us in our darkest moments because in the end it was not going to be our darkest moments that would define us.
Her answer was astonishing, coming from Ayn Rand. She said something like, "I agree with you, in the abstract, but I can't seem to get there. Not in this case."
Ayn had certain insecurities. Fine. Who hasn't? She was not consistently rational twenty-four hours a day. I've never known anyone who was. The goal is to keep raising our average. But by denying and pretending, we don't make ourselves more rational, we make ourselves less rational. It's not our shortcomings that are our undoing. It's our denial of them. We are defeated by what we refuse to own within ourselves. If we are willing to know and accept the truth about ourselvesour thoughts, feelings, and actionschange and growth become possible. If we refuse to know and accept, we remain stuck. Nothing can be so powerfully self-transformative as self-awareness and self-acceptance. That was the most important thing I had to learn following the break.
The longest chapter in How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, the chapter on self-acceptance, is devoted to explaining why and how this works. If Ayn could have faced her emotions honestly, if she could have let herself examine her fears, hurts, angers, and jealousiesabove all, if she could have admitted fully how wounded she wasshe would have been a far greater human being and would have left a far greater personal legacy.
Leonard and his colleagues are intent on selling her as a woman "of unbreached self-esteem, untouched by inner conflicts of any kind." Women of unbreached self-esteem, untroubled by inner conflicts, don't fly off into rages at the smallest provocation. They are more centered than that. They have greater serenity. They are not so easily thrown off balance. Would it be so terrible to admit that? Would Objectivism really lose so much? "Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever," says John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.