The Ayn Rand Archive

 Posted by on 3 September 2006 at 8:42 am  Uncategorized
Sep 032006

Recently, I had a good opportunity on SoloPassion to dispel the standard myth about the Ayn Rand Archives spread by the Ayn Rand Institute’s critics that they only permit ARI-affilited Objectivist scholars to access the archives. Since I thought others might run into the same myth, I thought the following two citations of the Archive by non-Objectivists might be helpful. (For the record, I haven’t read either of these papers.)

First: Jennifer Burns, “Godless Capitalism: Ayn Rand and the Conservative Movement,” Modern Intellectual History, Vol 1, No 3 (2004). Footnote 17 reads:

“Details on Rand’s political awakening are taken from Biographical Interview with Ayn Rand conducted by Barbara Branden, Interview # 14, tape # 8, Side 1, “Activities in Politics: 1926 to 1952, The Conservatives,” pp. 351-5. Ayn Rand Papers, Ayn Rand Archives, Irvine, CA.”

The Ayn Rand Archives is also cited in footnote 56. That paper is available online to academics.

Second: Merrill Schleier, “Ayn Rand and King Vidor’s The Fountainhead: Architectural Modernism, the Gendered Body, and Political Ideology,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol 61, No 3 (Sept. 2002). In the general notes on page 327, the author writes:

I would like to thank Jeff Britting, the archivist at the Ayn Rand Archives in Irvine, California (hereinafter referred to as ARA), for giving me unrestricted access to the Rand materials when they were still being catalogued. His many perceptive observations and his generosity benefited the current project.

That’s rather more friendly than the gratuitous swipes found in some other journal. The “ARA” is cited multiple times thereafter, along with Barbara Branden, Chris Sciabarra, and others. This article is also available online to academics.

I’ve also heard of other cases, but those aren’t yet in print. If anyone knows of other examples, they are welcome to post them in the comments.

I’ve not spoken to anyone official about the policy of the Archives, so I don’t know the Ayn Rand Institute’s official policy. However, the above citations clearly show the standard (usually belligerent) claim that ARI permits access to only ARI-affiliated Objectivist scholars to be a myth. It wasn’t ever a terribly plausible claim, I might add. Given ARI’s mission and programs, it makes sense that they would grant access to regular academics. ARI wants such people to be publishing on Ayn Rand. Significantly, they may be safely presumed not to have some kind of personal ax to grind, whatever their disagreements with Ayn Rand.

In contrast, some few people have already sliced and diced Ayn Rand with their dishonest axes. The Ayn Rand Institute has every reason to expect more of the same from them, namely that they would twist information gleaned from the Archives to further misrepresent Ayn Rand’s person and philosophy. Such people belligerently demand access to the Archives under the guise of “honest scholarship” — even while misrepresenting its very policy toward them, loudly proclaiming it to be an insular, cultish refusal to deal with non-Objectivists. That’s hardly a sign of fair scholarship on their part.

In my view, the resources of the Ayn Rand Archives ought not be spent assisting the dishonest projects of such disreputable scholars. Just consider the obligation it would impose: since the Archives are still under construction and not yet easily available to the public, some honest scholar would be obliged to dig through the Archives to correct the misrepresentations of these dishonest ax-grinders. Not only would that be a huge waste of time, but the correction would likely not spread as far and wide as the lies. (There’s already been enough of that, I think.)

The far more critical point is the moral principle of the sanction of the victim. The basic purpose of the Ayn Rand Archives is to preserve the genuine record of Ayn Rand’s life and philosophy. To allow scholars with a well-established track record of dishonesty about Ayn Rand access to the Archives would subvert that goal. Those scholars can only be expected to twist the facts to provide semi-plausible cover for their dishonest claims. And if they could cite the Archives, they’d surely be taken even more seriously than they are now.

Similarly, imagine that a well-known Holocaust denier wanted access to an archive of personal remembrances of Holocaust survivors. Should that archive allow him to comb through their files to find those few bits of information that might be twisted into the illusion of evidence? Absolutely not. Or imagine that an academic was given access to the Thomas Jefferson archive, then blatantly lied about the contents thereof in a fairly popular book. Should that archive allow him access for his next project? Absolutely not. The lies of such scholars would be bad enough, but the impression that those lies are truths supported by the materials contained in the respective archives would be even worse. That kind of damage could take years or decades or even centuries to undo.

Notice that in all these cases, the “scholars” have access to more than enough data to correct their own errors on their own. The archive will not make them more honest; it will not change their minds one iota. They are not merely critics, they are liars. Moreover, the fact that more people believe the smears of Ayn Rand and Objectivism than the claims of Holocaust deniers and Jefferson maligners only makes the need to exclude the dishonest scholars from the Ayn Rand Archive all the more pressing: Ayn Rand’s reputation isn’t yet robust enough to fend off even more lies. Such “scholars” have already done enough damage with their lies: why help them to do more?

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