Private Judgments and Cults of Personality

Apr 102012

On Saturday, I posted a notable comment on the thread of On Jim Valliant. (It was written in response to this comment from Jim.) It explains as much as I plan to say about my personal judgment of Leonard Peikoff, so I’m reposting it here, with some editing, plus an addendum on the “Premise Checkers.” Hopefully, these will be my very last remarks on these ridiculous WTFuffles.

Jim claims that I am “simply trying to conceal [my] true opinion of Leonard Peikoff from others” because “this would alienate a whole class of readers.”

That’s wrong, and it’s unfair. I am refusing to talk about my own judgment of Leonard Peikoff as a person because it’s a personal and private matter. It’s none of the world’s business.

Some years ago, I was friends with Dr. Peikoff. I didn’t discuss that publicly. Then, the friendship disintegrated. Again, I didn’t discuss that publicly. As usually happens when a friendship sours, I lost some respect for Dr. Peikoff as a person as a result of what happened. Again, I won’t discuss that publicly.

Basically, I regard my personal judgment of Dr. Peikoff as my private business, and I’m entitled to keep it that way. It depends on my private experiences, as well as my personal context of knowledge and values. For me to expose my personal conflicts with Dr. Peikoff to the world would be morally wrong. I won’t do it, no matter how much some people attempt to pressure or provoke me.

Other people can and should should judge Dr. Peikoff for themselves, based on their own experiences, as well as their own contexts of knowledge and values. Even though I might disagree with other people’s judgments, often strongly, I don’t regard the matter as suitable for public debate. That could only be a source of bitter conflict and pointless distraction at a time when our culture desperately needs an infusion of rational ideas.

My personal rift with Dr. Peikoff has not affected my intellectual judgment of his achievements as a philosopher. I don’t always agree with him, but his courses and lectures are indispensable to anyone interested in deeply understanding Objectivism. I’ve learned more from him than I can say, and I’m hugely grateful for that. That’s why I routinely recommend his lectures and books, and I will continue to do that.

Yes, I’ve had some serious disagreements with some of Dr. Peikoff’s remarks in his podcasts over the last few years. I’ve spoken publicly about some of them, partly as an expression of my respect for his importance and relevance to Objectivism. When my disagreements were strong, I expressed them in strong language — rightfully so, I think. I take full responsibility for what I’ve said, and I explained my views in my January blog post, On Some Recent Controversies.

As a result of expressing those disagreements, I’ve been unjustly attacked, harassed, lied about, and defamed on the internet. I can bear that well enough, but it’s an unpleasant distraction, to be sure. I’ve got better things to do than deal with the Premise Checkers and their ilk — as does every other rational and productive Objectivist.

That’s why I don’t plan to comment further on Dr. Peikoff’s podcasts, whether I think them right or wrong. I’ll simply talk about the substantive issues of interest to me, as I did in my recent webcast discussion of consent in sex. That’s a sad state of affairs, in my view: Objectivists should be able to discuss their disagreements openly, without worry that they’ll be unjustly smeared by a bunch of random strangers on the internet.

My critics can choose to interpret all that as me dishonestly concealing my true opinions of Dr. Peikoff. That would be completely wrong, however. I’m trying to be fair to a philosopher who has produced a fantastic body of philosophic work, who I’ve had a personal and private falling out with, and who expresses opinions on occasion that I think seriously wrong.

I will continue to expand my knowledge, pursue my values, cultivate my skills, act on principle, advocate good ideas, and enjoy my awesome life. Yes, I can do that while studying and enjoying Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, yet not revering or admiring him as a person.


The latest essay from the “Premise Checkers” — Diana Hsieh’s Subjective Morality by John Kagebein — aims to prove that I’m a moral subjectivist and a coward. That’s absurd, as anyone familiar with me and my work knows. (In addition to poor writing and poor argumentation, the essay seriously mispresents the cited exchange on Facebook. In fact, John and other soon-to-be “Premise Checkers” trolled a thread of mine with hostile comments that began with John saying, “Really, Diana? Your’re [sic] just going let the overt, mindless Peikoff-bashers have free reign on your wall?” It went downhill from there. Yes, I got irritated. Yes, I was rude. They earned it — in spades.)

The essay is informative on one point, however: it clearly states the basic moral standards and values of the “Premise Checkers.”

First, John is not merely concerned to defend Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, but rather his whole life: “Leonard Peikoff’s life, his work, stands nearly equal to that of Ayn Rand’s in the promotion of reason and Objectivism.” Then, after enumerating some of Dr. Peikoff’s accomplishments, John writes:

Every person who dares to call himself an Objectivist should have nothing but the profoundest respect for Leonard Peikoff and should demand nothing less from their friends and cohorts who also call themselves Objectivists. To fail to do so is an act of injustice!

That’s quite revealing of the core dispute here. The Premise Checkers are not merely lauding Dr. Peikoff’s achievements. They are not merely judging Dr. Peikoff to be a great person. That would not be controversial or problematic. Instead, they are claiming that anything less than “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff’s whole person constitutes as an intolerable moral failing in an Objectivist. That’s deeply wrong, even alarming.

Personally, I’m not interested in any such cult of personality — and I don’t wish to see the Objectivist movement transformed into that.

A person is an Objectivist or not based on his agreement with and practice of the principles of Objectivism. Objectivists can reasonably disagree amongst themselves about applications of Objectivist principles, as well as about issues outside the scope of the philosophy. Similarly, Objectivists can reasonably disagree in their judgments of any given person due to differences in their knowledge of and experiences with that person.

Some criticisms of Dr. Peikoff are unjust, but that’s not always the case. People can disagree in their judgments of him — or have less than “the profoundest respect” for him — without being irrational or unjust. Here, recall that a number of prominent Objectivists in good standing with ARI have conflicts with Dr. Peikoff. (He said in his statement on John McCaskey’s resignation that he is “on terms of personal enmity” with “a few longtime Board members” of ARI.)

Ultimately, to demand that every Objectivist experience and display “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff means demanding that some people ignore what they’ve seen and heard for themselves. Basically, it’s a demand for blind worship of a person — meaning: a demand that Objectivists repudiate the virtues of rationality, independence, and justice. Revering Dr. Peikoff based on your own judgment is not wrong. Loudly demanding that others do so, despite their own judgment, is deeply, deeply wrong.

If this cult of personality gains traction, the Objectivist movement will become insular, dogmatic, and repressive — as I’ve said before. Happily, I see much resistance to this trend, particularly from some of the most productive, benevolent, and effective Objectivist activists.

At this point, the “Premise Checkers” have revealed enough of their own premises, motives, and methods that I don’t plan to say anything further about them or their defamatory campaign against me. It’s just a waste of my time. The “Premise Checkers” will likely continue their attempts to intimidate Objectivists into their cult of personality. I hope that people resist, whatever their view of Dr. Peikoff and whatever their view of me. It’s a matter of principle, not personality.

Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth… thank goodness!


Several people have asked me about Jim Valliant’s recent public condemnation of me on Facebook. I’ve struggled with what to say about it because I think that Jim has judged me too hastily, based on some serious misunderstandings. He cut off our discussion prematurely, and much of what I say here is what I’d planned to explain to him. So I hope that he’ll reconsider his judgment.

Jim e-mailed me in mid-March because he wanted to write for “Checking Premises.” He didn’t wish to offend me, but he wanted to defend Leonard Peikoff against criticisms by others that he regarded as grossly unfair. In particular, he criticized Trey Peden, Kelly Valenzuela, and Jason Stotts in harsh terms to me.

As you might expect, I told Jim that I couldn’t look kindly on his writing for “Checking Premises,” and I gave my reasons for that view. As for the rest, that turned into Jim repeatedly demanding my view of claims made by Trey and Jason, usually framed in morally-loaded language.

I was perfectly willing to discuss any beef that Jim had with me — meaning, any problems with what I’d said and done. However, I didn’t think myself obliged to jump into the middle of Jim’s conflicts with other people, simply because those people were friends and acquaintances of mine. Speaking generally, disputes about whether one person has insulted or shown insufficient respect for another person usually generate more heat than light. A dispute about whether my friend Trey Givens insulted Jim’s friend Leonard Peikoff was sure to be hopelessly confused and painfully heated, in my view.

Basically, I didn’t want to get in the middle of conflicts between Jim and anyone else. Moreover, I didn’t think that Jim was entitled to interrogate me about the views of my friends. People can judge me on whatever basis they like, but some aspects of my life are private, and I plan to keep them that way. That includes many facets of my friendships.

My friends are my friends for good reasons, grounded in my own personal context and values. If I have a problem with a friend, I’ll discuss that with him or her privately. I don’t publicly announce every agreement or disagreement with a friend, even when substantial. I don’t feel any need to justify my friendships to others, and I don’t take kindly to insults of my friends from people who don’t know them. Hence, people ought to assume that I regard my friends highly, but not that I agree with everything they say or do. Some of my friends might dislike or even despise each other: I expect them to manage that civilly, with respect for my context of knowledge and values, as well as my independent judgment. If they can’t do that, they should distance themselves from me as needed.

I’ve been friends with Kelly and Trey for many years: we interact routinely online and in-person. I don’t always agree with them, but I respect, value, and trust them — hugely. I don’t know Jason well, but I’ve interacted with him enough to regard him as honest, careful, and fair.

As I mentioned, Jim attacked these people repeatedly in his e-mails to me. From the outset, I knew that those judgments were seriously mistaken, simply based on my personal knowledge of their history, personality, and character. In contrast, Jim has never met these people: he only engaged them online, and he did so for the first time recently over contentious issues. That, in my experience, is an easy way to misjudge a person.

Jim’s claims against Trey, Kelly, and Jason were not of a kind that could affect my own first-hand, in-person judgments of them, established over the course of many years. That’s why I told him that my friendships were not negotiable.

Unfortunately, Jim ignored or rejected my attempts to show that his judgments of these people were in error, despite my far better knowledge of them. After that, I declined to discuss them further with him, although he repeatedly queried me about whether or not I agreed with their views.

As I told Jim, I didn’t want to play defense attorney to my friends. Plus, I knew that any discussion about what others said was sure to become a terribly confused mess. For me to read Trey’s many controversial blog posts with a fine-tooth comb, trying to parse sentences for disagreements of substance versus style, would have been a waste of my time. Also, I wasn’t willing to pass judgment on a short phrase of Jason’s repeatedly quoted by Jim — not when its meaning and context were unclear to me. (The phrase was not from any public statement by Jason, but rather taken from a private conversation between Jason and Jim of which I knew nothing.) I said that I wouldn’t use such a phrase, but that wasn’t enough for Jim.

Instead of discussing the views of other people, I proposed to Jim that we discuss our own disagreements directly. I outlined my views on the date rape podcasts in an e-mail to him, but he ignored that. Also, as I told him, I thought he was seriously misinterpreting some of Peikoff’s remarks on controversial topics, which I thought was unfair to Dr. Peikoff and unfair to Dr. Peikoff’s critics. His reply mostly focused on Trey’s claims, yet again.

Basically, Jim was focused on what other people said and whether I agreed with them. I thought that line of conversation not just futile, but also inappropriate. I’m happy to defend my own words and deeds, but I didn’t see any reason why I was obliged to defend the words and deeds of other people acting independently of me, simply because I’m friends with them or because I’ve mentioned them favorably on NoodleFood. My refusal to discuss his charges against others was a matter of principle: his questions were intrusive and inappropriate, in my view.

In addition, Jim says the following in his Facebook comments:

[Diana] has also repeatedly indicated to me, without qualification, that she agrees with what Peden wrote in his attacks on Piekoff [sic] in this post specifically. Since she did not attempt to distance herself form [sic] any of it, I must conclude that she agrees with all of it, including the unnecessary personal attacks on Peikoff himself.

That is just not true.

First, I never claimed to agree with Trey’s public blog posts, nor his remarks on Dr. Peikoff. Instead, when I told Jim that I agreed with Trey’s arguments, I was referring specifically to Trey’s arguments on transgenderism from his private correspondence with Jim. (Jim sent me that correspondence with Trey’s permission.) Jim misunderstood that as a more global endorsement in his reply, so I explicitly clarified what I meant in a subsequent e-mail. Jim seems to have missed that, and the result is that he’s seriously misrepresenting me.

Second, I’ve not publicly commented on Trey’s controversial posts, either in agreement or disagreement, except to link to a post on transgenderism for its factual content. That silence should not be construed as agreeing with Trey’s other controversial posts in whole or in part. I’ve not publicly stated any opinion, and I don’t plan to do so.

Moreover, I’m not interested in stirring up any more pointless controversy among Objectivists. At this point, I’ve already said all that I wish to say publicly on some controversial topics, such as Peikoff’s views of transgenders. I’ve deliberately refrained from making any public comment about more recent controversies, such as Peikoff’s podcasts on date rape. Similarly, I’m not interested in discussing my private views of Objectivist public figures with anyone but close friends, as my views are personal to me and my context of knowledge and values. I’m certainly not obliged to discuss such topics, simply because other people are doing so.

If people find my refusal to say more than I have on these issues unacceptable, then they are welcome to judge me and act accordingly. Still, I don’t regard myself as obliged to submit to unwelcome and intrusive interrogations.

Based on his e-mails, Jim was deeply unhappy with my refusal to discuss what Trey and others wrote. I wanted to explain my reasons for that in greater detail, as I’ve done above. I didn’t know what the result would be, but I liked Jim enough from our interactions many years ago to make an attempt.

Unfortunately, that attempt didn’t go as planned. Jim repeatedly insisted that I respond to his e-mails immediately, even though my schedule did not permit me to do so. My mother was visiting, and then I had a lecture to prepare for Wednesday night. Plus, I wanted time to think through the issues carefully, rather than replying hastily.

Repeatedly, I told Jim that I was occupied with prior commitments, but that I would reply late this week. For reasons that I cannot understand, he found that unacceptable. He unfriended and denounced me on Tuesday evening.

Basically, Jim cut off our conversation prematurely, based on incomplete information and misunderstanding. That’s unfortunate, in my view. Again, I hope that he will reconsider.

To summarize:

(1) I value my friends, but that doesn’t make me responsible for what they say, nor imply that I agree with everything they say.

(2) I regard arguments about whether your friend insulted my friend as confused messes of fruitless conflict.

(3) I’m entitled to keep some of my views private, even when people inquire about them.

And that’s that, I hope.

P.S. I sent Jim Valliant a draft of this statement last night. He replied, but in a way that didn’t address my objections to his inquiries. In any case, he’s welcome to post that reply in these comments.

Jews and Jesus

Aug 022006

Jim Valliant just posted a really interesting essay on anti-Semitism in the New Testament to SoloPassion. It’s well-worth reading. (Don’t just skim it!)

Although I’ve read bits and pieces of the Bible before, I’m in the process of reading the whole Bible straight through for the first time. Or rather, I’m listening to it: I found a pretty good reading of the King James Version available for free. (I didn’t want any of those new-fangled translations.) So far, I’m finding it absolutely fascinating. For example, I never knew that God demands salt upon his meaty sacrifices, but that’s quite emphatically stated in Leviticus 2:13. I’m taking notes on my digital recorder of points of more substantial interest, so I’ll surely blog those once I transcribe them.

So I’ve not yet read the whole of the New Testament, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the points Jim highlights when I do. That should be interesting!

In general, I expect the New Testament to be far more philosophically painful than the Old Testament. However, I must endure that pain to teach a bit of Christian ethics this upcoming semester!

Jim Valliant in Chicago on April 15th

Mar 212006

The Chicago Objectivist Society is hosting two lectures by Jim Valliant about The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics on April 15th:

Ayn Rand and the Virtue of Integrity by James Valliant

James Valliant, the author of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, is presenting two new lectures to the Chicago Objectivist Society. For the last twenty years, Ayn Rand has been the victim of attacks on her behavior and psychology inspired by the biographies of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden. Finally, a critical response to the Branden’s allegations has been published, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, by James S. Valliant.

In this two-part lecture, Mr. Valliant first examines the problems with the Brandens’ accounts. The second part of this lecture is a unique insight into Ayn Rand’s character from the only author who has had access to her private journals.

“Jim Valliant… is one of the few people that knows what he’s talking about when he says something.” — Leonard Peikoff, author of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Part I: Ayn Rand and the Virtue of Integrity

This engaging lecture lays to rest the myths about Ayn Rand’s life and character that have been promulgated by her detractors. It is highlighted by extensive, never-before-published personal journal entries of Ayn Rand. These passages are immensely valuable, not only in revealing the claims of Rand’s critics to be profoundly inaccurate and unjust, but also in showcasing her epochal mind at work resolving complex questions of personal life.

Part II: Working With Ayn Rand’s Journals

Mr. Valliant will discuss the process of writing this book, how and why the Estate of Ayn Rand made Rand’s private journals available to Mr. Valliant – and his surprise at the dramatic confirmation of his hypotheses. Mr. Valliant will describe his experience working with Rand’s Estate, and share his insights about Ayn Rand’s personality – her serenity and rationality, her righteous anger, her careful moral judgment of others, and, above all, her remarkable integrity.

About James Valliant

James Valliant is the author of *The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics* and the editor of Ayn Rand’s private journals used during his research. His op-eds have appeared in publications such as The San Francisco Chronicle.

He has been a Deputy District Attorney in the San Diego area for over 16 years. Mr. Valliant is a magna cum laude graduate of New York University with a degree in philosophy. He received his JurisDoctorate from the University of San Diego. With his wife, he created the 1995 television interview show, Ideas in Action, the winner of two prestigious Cinema in Industry (CINDY) Awards.

Mr. Valliant is a regular expert commentator on several news programs in San Diego, California, including Fox 6 and KUSI news programs as a religious, legal, and political analyst. His next book is on the origins of the New Testament, and will be titled, Behind the Cross.

Date: Saturday, April 15th

12:30-1:00 pm: Author Meet and Greet/Reception
1:00-2:40 pm: Part I: Lecture + Author Signing
2:45-4:00 pm: Lunch Break
4:00-6:00 pm: Part II: Lecture + Author Signing

8:00 pm: Dinner with Mr. Valliant
Location: Downtown Chicago at the DePaul University Campus. More specific information will be provided to registrants.

Cost: $44 per person ($34 full time students) before April 3rd
$49 ($39 full time students) after April 3rd

Enrollment: E-mail [email protected] your RSVP.

You can pay with a credit card via the Chicago Objectivist Society’s web page.

Interviews with the Vampires

Jan 222006

Some of the die-hard defenders of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden have criticized Jim Valliant for failing to interview the Brandens for his excellent book The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. Like so many others, this criticism is a pretty weak grasp at straws. After all, the whole point of PARC was to examine the lengthy books written by the Brandens about Ayn Rand, books perfectly capable of being evaluated without additional input from the authors. Moreover, given the dishonesty of the Brandens proven by an examination of those books, the only point of interviews would have been to see if the Brandens could concoct some new dishonest rationalization for their past and present immorality. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine that any new lies would be so much more interesting or important than the old lies. Also, I can’t help but observe that the Brandens ensured that Ayn Rand couldn’t be interviewed on the subjects of their books by publishing them after her death, so just on that score they cannot rightly claim any unjust treatment. After all, they are still alive to say whatever they wish about Valliant’s book.

Interestingly, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden have chosen to remain more or less silent about PARC. Nathaniel Branden did have something interesting to say in response to a friendly inquiry about any response to the book:

No. What for? If a reader can’t see what’s insane about that book on his own, I doubt that help from me would accomplish much.

What a perfect statement of intrinisicism! Valliant’s case against the Brandens is so overwhelming that poor old Nathaniel couldn’t really say much else, now could he? All his inner children must be crying!

Better yet, Barbara Branden is positively bored by all the discussion of Ayn Rand’s private life. In response to someone who said that “I never really cared about the Rand/Branden split issue” but that she regards the basic story as “Rand got pissed off and wrote Branden out of her life,” Barbara Branden wrote:

Teresa, it was a pleasure to read your post: “Why don’t I care about this?” I am in total agreement with you. I am bored silly by the whole controversy, and I can’t understand why everyone else isn’t, also. It never ceases to amaze me that people who weren’t even born at the time of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s break, are heatedly taking sides and hurling moral condemnations about an issue and people they know nothing about. Thanks for your sanity.

That’s just too perfect: The author of a smear biography on Ayn Rand suddenly decided that the central topic of that work is boring and insignificant — at the very moment of its discredit!

A Review of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics

Jan 202006

Casey Fahy e-mailed me this morning to alert me to a fantastic review by Peter Cresswell of James Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC). It’s perhaps the most passionate book review I’ve ever read — and thus perfectly appropriate to its subject. It’s also a delight to read, so I’m pleased to strongly recommend it. Those who’ve already devoured PARC are sure to particularly appreciate its stubborn refusal to mince words. To whet your appetite, let me just quote one bit from the opening. Peter writes that The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics is:

… a book by author James Valliant–a San Diego prosecuting attorney–that examines the monstrous duplicity of her biographers, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, across almost the entire eighteen years of their time as associates of Rand. It is impossible both to admire Ayn Rand and to read this book unmoved. Valliant the attorney is out to convict, but Valliant the author makes abundantly plain–well beyond reasonable doubt–that Nathaniel Branden exploited Rand sexually and romantically, and that both Brandens exploited her professionally and emotionally, and did so consciously and fraudulently. To this day the Brandens continue with the deception, only now with us as dupes.

To put their story in a nutshell, in order to advance themselves by association with Rand they pretended to be what they were not, and in the end they both got burned by it. All else is obfuscation.

The scale of their duplicity is vast: it stretches almost from the time they first met Rand to the time of her death, and extends even after that with biographies and memoirs published after her passing that, as Valliant shows conclusively, are mired in contradiction and embroidered with tissues of self-serving lies. Rand was and still is a meal-ticket for both Branden, B., and Branden, N.; they have both done their best to consume her for their ends, and to dishonestly denigrate the philosophy and the woman they once claimed to represent.

All true.

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics reveals with crystal clarity the ongoing-to-this-day dishonesty, exploitation, injustice, and malice of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in their dealings with Ayn Rand. In so doing, it completely undermines their portrayals of Ayn Rand as a vengeful philosophical tyrant. Even better, Ayn Rand’s journals reveal her heroic benevolence, patience, and honesty in her attempts to right the relationship.

In my own case, I realized that Nathaniel and Barbara Branden were evil before reading PARC, just based upon Nathaniel’s dishonest smears of Objectivism in his Benefits and Hazards essay and Barbara’s disgusting psychologizing in The Passion of Ayn Rand. However, I didn’t know just thoroughly dishonest, manipulative, and unjust they were and are until I read James Valliant’s book. It was an eye-opener, even for me.

Like so many other people, reviewer Peter Cresswell was “persuaded reluctantly” to read PARC, yet he says that is “very happy” that he did. And he read it honestly, as his review shows.

Others dare not be so honest.

Bob Bidinotto has praised Barbara’s The Passion of Ayn Rand for years. He contributed a quote to its back cover, describing it as “an epic tale of soaring ecstasy and searing pain, of unbelievable triumph and unspeakable tragedy.” Yet just about the time that PARC was published, he decided that he’s not so interested in Ayn Rand’s life after all. On SoloPassion, he wrote:

My alleged “silence” about the controversy caused by your book, Mr. Valliant, has been anything but — as my many, many posts on SOLOHQ can easily demonstrate to anyone with your proven dedication to research. Rather, as I made clear again and again, its contents simply don’t interest me. The Brandens’s accounts of her intimate life hold no interest for me, and neither does yours. The whole point of Mr. Fahy’s post here is that such disinterest constitutes “evasion.” Baloney. Years ago I finally had a gutful of all the arguments about Ayn Rand’s person and private life. At some point, the poking and picking at the details, rumors, and gossip surrounding the intimate relationships of a dead woman became unseemly, even morbid.

Ed Hudgins demonstrated a similar lack of interest in the book, despite the fact that his organization regularly invites Nathaniel and Barbara Branden to speak at conferences and the like. Although willing to read criticisms of the book, he’s not all that interested in reading the book itself. He said: “Robert — Great to have you back posting on SOLO! How are you doing? Very thoughtful analysis of the Valient/Rand book. I’ve only glanced at it since I’m more interested in the ideas rather than personality issues, but I’ll give the AR entries a read.”

These two men know full well that Jim Valliant’s book is a bombshell regarding the moral characters of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. They have seen many, many reports of people dramatically changing their judgment of the Brandens upon reading PARC on SoloHQ and SoloPassion. Moreover, these men are the top brass of The Objectivist Center, an organization supposedly devoted to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but with strong ties to both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.

Yet they’re not interested in the book. It’s irrelevant to them. They do not care to learn that two people so intimately involved with their organization for so many years are thoroughly corrupt and dishonest. They are unconcerned that these people are the major source of vicious lies about Ayn Rand’s life. They aren’t bothered by the fact that Nathaniel’s criticisms of Objectivism as encouraging repression are the figments of his own twisted psychology. They are happy to present these people as experts on Objectivism, even though they’re still just pretending. They do not even care that they are aiding and abetting the Brandens’ in their vengeful quest to destroy Ayn Rand and Objectivism by offering them a seemingly respectable platform from which to do so.

In short, Ed Hudgins and Bob Bidinotto are determined to tolerate the evil of the Brandens, come hell or high water, yet too cowardly to even learn precisely what they are doing. As Casey Fahy said ever-so-colorfully in the comments on the review: “In reality, those who cling to the dirty bathwater of the Brandens are willing to throw the baby out just to keep wallowing in their filth for another bit of pseudo-Objectivist flattery from the false idols they have chosen to worship.”

In my view, Jim Valliant’s case against Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics is so overwhelming that no honest person can read it without dramatically changing their judgment of the Brandens for the worse — and of Ayn Rand for the better. Moreover, a person who accepts any part of the Brandens’ portrayal of Ayn Rand, yet refuses to read the book is either dishonest, irresponsible, or a coward. There’s just no excuse for self-inflicted blindness — particularly not from people with any measure of trust in or contact with the Brandens.

And yes, that includes those who attend TOC Summer Seminars, claiming that TOC’s involvement with the Brandens isn’t important. As PARC shows, Nathaniel Branden is determined to destroy Ayn Rand and Objectivism by whatever dishonest means he can — all because Ayn Rand dared to reject him after discovering his years and years of immorality concealed by deception. Such a person ought never speak under the banner of a supposedly Objectivist organization, particularly not with his reputation as some kindly grandfather of Objectivism. Any supposedly Objectivist organization willing to give him a platform ought to be boycotted — by every person who sincerely values Ayn Rand’s philosophy. The issue is just that serious: it’s like attending a “Freedom Summit” with Uncle Joe Stalin as the keynote speaker.

So please do read The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics — sooner rather than later. No honest man will regret the few hours spent.

Axiomatic – Issue 2 Is Available

Nov 022005

Axiomatic – Volume I, Issue 2 is now available. Inside this issue:

Ayn Rand vs. Hollywood’s Self-Censorship, Part 1 of 3 by David P. Hayes: David Hayes chronicles Ayn Rand’s experiences with Hollywood self-censorship during her years as a screenwriter.

Embracing Existence by Don Watkins III: While Ayn Rand said that morality begins with the choice to live, she spent virtually no time discussing what that choice consists of. Yet this is not a question we can gloss over. Merely to say, “We should do X if we choose to live,” fails to appreciate the importance of that choice, what it is we’re really choosing, and how we go about making it. To grasp the basis for the Objectivist ethics, answering those questions is essential.

Einstein’s Contribution to Quantum Theory, Part 2 of 3 by Travis Norsen: Understanding Einstein’s objections to the orthodox quantum theory — and the details of his attempts to construct a reasonable alternative — is a necessary first step toward untangling the quantum mess and constructing a fully rational theory.

The Frenzied Fans of Serenity by Daniel Schwartz: Serenity’s heroes are ideals that we can look up to. But unlike the quixotic heroes presented in such films as The Passion of the Christ or Spiderman, these people actually belong here beside us. They can and do exist — and succeed.

The Axiomatic Interview with James Valliant: James Valliant discusses the response to his very important and very controversial book, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics: The Case Against The Brandens.

Is Ayn Rand Optional?

Oct 122005

While preparing to interview James Valliant on the response to the publication of his book, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, I spent some time reading what Valliant’s critics had to say. One of the most common responses from people who object to the book is that they simply aren’t interested in the biographical details of Ayn Rand’s life. They are “above” what they call “gossip” or “drama” or “personal trivia.” All they are interested in, they say, is the philosophy.

At first, I thought this was understandable. So long as they recognized that setting the historical record straight is a legitimate enterprise (something most of the critics do not in fact concede), there was no reason why an admirer of Objectivism would necessarily care about the issue one way or another.

Now I think that’s wrong. I think concern with Rand’s life and character follows directly from the principles of Objectivism, and that those who claim to be “above it” have either failed to integrate Objectivism into their lives and their souls, or they are just posturing.

Objectivism is not first and foremost an academic philosophy. It is, as Rand said, a philosophy for living on earth. Rand did not define a philosophy because she wanted to be a philosopher. She defined a philosophy because she cared desperately for human greatness, and wanted to portray her vision of the ideal man. The impetus for Objectivism, in other words, was hero-worship.

Hero-worship is not an optional value. It is an aspect of justice, and more importantly, it goes to the heart of what it means to be a valuer. Life requires that we constantly work to create and achieve values — but that is a long-range enterprise, demanding struggle and effort. To be able to endure that struggle and triumph, a valuer needs fuel. There are two basic sources for this fuel: art, and other men.

A valuer is on the constant lookout for human greatness, for human achievement. It is not enough for him to grasp that man’s life requires rationality. He longs to see men who embody that virtue. It is not enough for him to grasp that the moral is the practical. He has to see good men triumph.

So when a valuer encounters Objectivism, when he discovers history’s first true philosophical system, when he encounters that philosophy dramatized in some of the greatest novels ever written, he knows that behind those achievements lies someone of extraordinary virtue. Does he shrug that fact off as unimportant? No. He inevitably wants to know more about the person who embodied those virtues. If he does not, that is not a virtue, not a mark of maturity: it is an unequivocal vice (or, at the very least, an indication that he doesn’t take ideas seriously).

This is what makes the Brandens’ “biographies” so evil. They are not simply inaccurate: they represent a concerted attack on hero-worship as such. They pander to the mentality that searches frantically, not for heroes, but for feet of clay. In the past, I have described my own reaction upon reading Judgment Day when I was fifteen years old. It was a very painful, very ugly experience. Now, if it had represented the truth, that would be one thing, but as Valliant’s book proves, Judgment Day was dishonest in its method and its purpose. Its aim was to cut down one of history’s most heroic figures. Thanks to James Valliant, it will not succeed.

Justice demands that we recognize Rand for her historic achievements, yes. But it is our devotion to values, and philosophy, that demands that we be concerned with Rand’s life in the first place.

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics

Jun 052005

An alert NoodleFood reader recently asked me in e-mail: “Why no comments on the new “Passion of AR’s Critics” book by Valliant? I can’t believe you didn’t pre-order and have read it by now. ”

Indeed, I haven’t yet read The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. I don’t even own it yet. Astonishing, I know!

Last summer, I was in the middle of writing up a long commentary on both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. I had to set it aside for that small matter known as graduate school. I plan to finish it shortly. I’d like to finish writing it — at least in draft form — before I read Valliant’s book. I want to keep my own thoughts separate from his arguments — and the best way to do that is to put my thoughts on paper before reading the book.

So the fact that I haven’t yet read the book is not due to any lack of interest — quite the opposite, in fact! From what I’ve heard from multiple sources, I expect it to be a very interesting read.

However, I have been following some of the online commentary on the book. It’s quite interesting to compare the comments on Objectivism Online and The Forum with those posted on SOLO. Tom Rowland summed up the state of the “debate” on SOLO nicely:

So far, all I have done, as far as I can remember, is raise questions about the posts given here and the appropriateness of giving the book an objective hearing on the merits. So far, most of the response has been anger, based on the assumed truth of Barbara Branden’s biography, Nathaniel Branden’s “Judgment Day”, NBs “Benefits and Hazards” piece, and assorted other letters, papers and street wisdom. But the assumed truth is exactly what is in question here. And yelling and screaming and waving your arms and pointing to the received word from all of the above begins to look like an evangelist pointing to the “word of God” and asking me to accept it all on faith. (How’s that for a metaphor?)

I was also astonished by the repeated claim that Ayn Rand’s history with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden is old news, unworthy of further discussion. Of course, that amounts to giving the Brandens the first, last, and only word. Oh yeah, that’s justice.

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