The Ideas of Ayn Rand

 Posted by on 12 June 2005 at 9:55 am  Uncategorized
Jun 122005

I just started reading The Ideas of Ayn Rand by Ron Merrill for the first time. It’s not going well.

I’m pretty thoroughly disgusted by Merrill’s uncritical acceptance and extensive use of Barbara Branden’s portrayal of Ayn Rand from The Passion of Ayn Rand in the first two chapters. Despite the fact that his reported personal experiences utterly fail to support Barbara Branden’s sweeping conclusions about Ayn Rand’s psychology, he appeals to them over and over and over again.

For example: Merrill claims that she “extorted” Frank and Barbara into consent to the affair by her “extraordinary skill in personal argument” and “their admiration of and gratitude to [her]” (5). He reports that in his few conversations with her, “her mind shone out at you through her incredible eyes with an intensity that seemed almost physically sizzling,” but then adds that this “stellar intellect… burned away” the personalities of her close associates (6). After the perfunctory qualification that “if we accept [Nathaniel and Barbara's] accounts,” Merrill then declares that Ayn Rand “stifled intellectual independence,” “crushed originality,” and “became a hypocrite who violated in her own life the ideals she had devised and explained to her followers” (6). Without even the bother of an example, he claims that she showed “an unwillingness to face unpleasant emotions–and consequently an unwillingness to face unpleasant facts” by the 1960s (16).

Merrill justifies this uncritical acceptance of Barbara Branden’s vision of Ayn Rand in a footnote: “Barbara Branden’s account of l’affaire Branden has been challenged. No doubt perfect objectivity cannot be expected of one so emotionally involved in the events, but overall her version rings true” (166).

No comment required on that absurdity, I think.

Update #1: I forgot to mention this little gem of an opening paragraph for the section entitled “The Evolution of Objectivism”:

Ayn Rand attempted to present herself as having started her adult life as an Objectivist. She claimed that she always held these beliefs, thought she gradually expanded and improved her understanding. This was a falsehood.

Ah, how easily Ron Merrill accuses Ayn Rand of being a liar! With defenders like that, who needs detractors?!?

Update #2: I can’t resist offering two small bits of commentary on the absurdity that requires no comment. First, Merrill is clearly appealing to the standard conception of objectivity as impaired by emotions, rather than the Objectivist view. The predictable result is skepticism. Second, how does a ring of truth establish the credibility of a biography, particularly in the face of (conveniently unidentified) objections? Oh right, it doesn’t.

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