I was attending lectures and other events at the Nathaniel Branden Institute in a sub-level of the Empire State Building in 1968 when the Rand-Branden matter “blew up.’ Most regular attendees were left utterly ignorant of the reasons behind the conflict. I recall receiving the statements from both Ayn Rand and the Brandens about why it was all over, and of the two statements – even though the concrete particulars of Nathaniel Branden’s offenses especially were unfathomable to me and would remain so for years – I gave Rand the benefit of the doubt and granted her statement sole veracity, simply on the basis of her literary and philosophical achievements. But, up until that day, there was no evidence of a conflict between the principals, no hint or suggestion that anything was terribly wrong. The closing of NBI was a surprise.
I have just finished reading James Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics: The Case Against the Brandens. I was astonished by two things: the scope of the deceit and dishonesty of the Brandens, and the meticulous and scrupulous examination to which Valliant subjected them.
Until Barbara Branden’s Passion of Ayn Rand appeared in 1986, I remained in the dark about the exact nature of the conflict and split. I had heard rumors of an affair between Rand and Nathaniel Branden, but couldn’t credit them. Since they had left the field of serious philosophical engagement, what the Brandens did or were doing then was of no further concern to me. I had read that Patrecia, Nathaniel Branden’s wife, who played a passive role in Branden’s deception of Rand, was found dead in his California swimming pool, and that he had subsequently married someone named Devers. But this and other information about the Brandens I collected without any specific interest, in the haphazard way one notes odd things in the landscape as one speeds on a highway, observed one minute, forgotten a mile down the road.
At the time, I was writing book reviews for the Library Journal and other periodicals, and, out of curiosity, requested a review copy of Passion from the Journal. Also, I had recently been interviewed by Dr. Peikoff about writing a biography of Rand. After I read Barbara Branden’s biography, I called him and urged him to respond publicly to it, to set the record straight – not about the affair, but about all the backstabbing allegations made in her book, which I characterized as a prolonged character assassination in an elaborately contrived guise of “homage.”
Now that I see what was necessary to properly and thoroughly answer her and Nathaniel Branden’s books, I not only understand why Dr. Peikoff did nothing about it for so long – the scope of research and depth of intellectual effort that Valliant must have expended are nothing less than marvelous – but understand better why I knew then that I could not write a review of them. A mere book review critical of just Barbara Branden’s allegations would not have sufficed; it would have been an inappropriate and inadequate answer.
It is the difference between the Romans opening diplomatic talks with the aggressor, Carthage, to stop the third Punic War, and simply razing Carthage itself to ensure there would not be a fourth. The Estate of Ayn Rand permitted Valliant unconditional access to the journals that Rand kept while acting as Branden’s psychotherapist during this period. With them, Valliant has razed Carthage.
When Nathaniel Branden’s Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand appeared, on the basis of things I had read in libertarian publications and had heard on the Objectivist grapevine, I did not bother reading it. At the same time, I observed that the whole libertarian “establishment,” from party politics to journalistic commentary to scholarly studies, was largely, in spirit and intent, a concerted effort to discredit Rand and to render Objectivism invalidated, “cultish,” and an object of derision. In this campaign the libertarians were (and still are) in cahoots with both the collectivist left and the religious right. What an odd yet philosophically appropriate Triple Entente!
(A noteworthy observation: A few years after the dissolution of NBI, “libertarianism” enjoyed a revival. True to their anarchist heritage, libertarians of all stripes pounced on Objectivism like vultures to pick out features of the philosophy à la carte, all the while eschewing the necessity of a philosophical foundation for their politics. Without Ayn Rand, however, there would have been no libertarian revival. What political principles could they have appropriated and “package-dealt,” other than the morally contextless arguments from the 19th century? I have always characterized libertarians as “ventriloquists” for liberty.)
I have written fifteen novels, every one of them with a villain, but all my fictional villains are amateurs compared to the Brandens. I could never have conceived of such evil for any of my villains, of the kind of monstrous deception to which the Brandens subjected Rand even while they knew she was attempting to comprehend their behavior and problems, and even trying to salvage their lives and careers. They are beyond redemption. Valliant’s book is a long overdue work of justice, and anyone who values Objectivism and the truth should thank him for it. Ayn Rand is the bridge between Aristotle and our future. It would be tragic if her importance were diminished without challenge by backyard fence gossip and vile dissimulation.
Valliant cites one note of Rand’s in her journal (on page 375, top), close to the point when she was beginning to understand how much of a complete and unconscionable dissembler Nathaniel Branden was, stuck out in my mind because it reminded me of the fundamental motive of environmentalists: “…he was willing to destroy the earth (its reality) in order not to discover that he was neither worthy nor able to live on it.” I can only conclude, given the ample evidence present in Valliant’s book, that the Brandens then, and subsequently over the years, shared that same motive.
Valliant himself concludes about Nathaniel Branden:
“While his behavior was not, technically, rape, Branden’s was nothing less than the soul of a rapist.“
“While Branden’s behavior does not compare [with the actual action of a rapist] – his motive – like that of the “Power-seeking” social metaphysician – in his romantic conduct toward Rand was control and physical gain, not a sincere passion at all. Consent [to sexual relations] can be overcome by fraud as well as by force – Branden himself had written on the relationship between force and fraud as means of manipulation – and what his crime lacked in violence, it made up for in [Rand’s] prolonged psychological torment and deception.”
Overall, I would say instead that, barring her willingness to be deceived and exploited, Branden et al. wished to destroy Rand because they knew they were not worthy of her or of Objectivism, just as the environmentalists want to destroy man because they know they are not worthy of living on an earth they wish to remain “pure” in some autistic, unreal, anti-life universe of their own, of which they project themselves as the humble (and fundamentally homicidal), man-hating guardians. But, at bottom, they wish to perish, and to take with them anyone who can live successfully on earth.
In another sense, the whole saga of Nathaniel Branden’s deception is an object lesson in the exponential nature and consequences of faking reality. Practicing such deceit and maintaining such a façade requires building a house of cards; one lie calling for two more to insulate it from rational scrutiny, then those two requiring four, and so on, until the whole fabrication replaces whatever “soul” the perpetrator might have called his own. And, as Valliant demonstrates, Branden practiced it for over a decade. Having a vested interest in maintaining a lie over valuing the truth, he destroyed himself, but blamed Rand.
After finishing Valliant’s book, I wondered if there had been any reply to it by the Brandens or any of their allies. What could anyone possibly say against it, except in the form of more evasions, rationalizations, and lies? On the Internet (and that’s as far as I plan to go) I found irrelevant criticisms about some typos in the book, and some inconsistencies in style (National Review vs. The National Review!), comments on the production value of the physical book, and the like. Some anonymous person took Valliant to task for citing Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult, charging him with basing some of his factual statements on material found in that book, when Valliant had otherwise dismissed it as a tract largely founded on Branden material, that “critic” forgetting that Valliant qualified himself in that respect in terms of corroboration with other sources.
I must commend Valliant on a feat of detective work that would have daunted any career detective novelist. I have written one series in which the detective solves what I call “moral paradoxes.” It would have been beyond my abilities to imagine anything nearly as complex and insidious as the paradox Valliant explicates in his book. In my mind, Rand never needed exoneration for her actions, and his book more than vindicates my position. Now it all makes sense, that particular, real-life paradox is solved, and I am indebted to him for having undertaken and completed such a prodigious task.