Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Holding Court - June 6, 2005
by Barbara Branden

It occurs to me that since I now have my own column, I am perfectly free to pontificate at will. Isn’t that what columns are all about? I shall not pontificate in this, my first column, but in future ones I probably shall talk about a variety of subjects dear to my heart.

June 6, 2005

But now, to your questions. In a single column, I can answer only a few, but I shall get to the others in future weeks.

1.  "How did ARI and/or Rand's Estate get hold of a copy of the tape of your interviews with Ayn Rand?"
Peikoff not only has the master copy of the tapes, he owns the copyright. By our contract, I have only the to right to use the material (I have my own copy) in any book I might write, providing that it does not exceed one-half the length of the book.
For those of you who are new to Objectivism and/or SOLO, let me briefly explain that in the early 1960’s, in preparation for writing a biographical sketch of Rand, I interviewed her about her life for forty hours, taping each interview. I did not need that much material for the sketch, of course, but Rand and I agreed that I might one day want to write a full biography, and I would then have the material. When I did write that biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, in 1986, I indeed used a great deal of it.

Some time after the publication of Passion, I received a letter from the lawyer of Leonard Peikoff, the heir to Rand’s estate. The lawyer stated that I was to turn over my tapes to Peikoff and relinquish my copyright, or he would sue me for ownership. The interviews, he said, rightfully were the possession of the Estate of Ayn Rand, and hence Peikoff’s property as the heir to that estate. This was utter nonsense; I refused, and hired a copyright lawyer. Over the next months, as briefs and discussions mounted in number, my bills also mounted, although my lawyer charged me less than his usual fee. When I had spent $25,000, I asked him what it would cost me during the next period before we presented our case to the court. “About $100,000,” he answered. This was impossible for me. I had no alternative but to agree to Peikoff’s demands.

2.“In Rand's essay, ‘Man Rights’, she says, ‘As to his [man’s] neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of the negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.’ She goes on to say in the same essay: ‘No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty, or an involuntary servitude on another man’ and ‘Remember that rights are moral principles which define and protect a man's freedom of action, but impose no obligations on other men.’

“Which is it?  Obligation or not?  Is the definition of obligation that which is binding legally and morally, a duty?”

By “obligation,” Rand was speaking of a duty to act, and was stating that there can be no unchosen obligation to take action. Abstaining from acting, that is, not using force or the threat of force against others, is not an obligation under her concept of that term. She always was very careful to keep the two concepts separate: acting versus abstaining from acting, and, in a variety of contexts, to make it clear that an obligation can only be a requirement to take a certain type of action.  In this instance, as in so many others, one sees the care with which she made important conceptual distinctions and her remarkable ability to know which distinctions were crucial and which were not. 

Over the nineteen years I spent with her, I observed with fascination the workings of a great mind.  I studied her consciously and avidly, to learn, as best I could without being inside her brain, what were the principles - which she had not defined or explained - by which that mind functioned.  This almost obsessive concern with clarity and specificity of definitions was one of the attributes that explained so much of her philosophical achievements.  And when I came to present my course on Efficient Thinking, this, along with many other of my observations of the manner in which she functioned mentally, formed an important part of that course.  One only had to be with Ayn Rand for a very few minutes to realize that however her mind worked, it was vastly different and superior to the way that other people's minds worked - and that the philosophical results she achieved were vastly different and superior to those that others achieved.

3.  And now a personal answer to a personal question:  the perfume is Fracas.

4. One questioner wrote:
 "One thing I'd like to see you expand on would be the following quote from the bottom of your intro. You wrote:
'I call myself a "Neo-Objectivist"—meaning that I accept the fundamentals of Objectivism but not all of the principles that are said to flow from those fundamentals.'" 
And another followed with: 
"'Neo-Objectivist'? Please. Disagreeing about the principles that flow from the fundamentals doesn't make you "neo" anything: after all, reasonable people DO disagree...Please, drop the Neo, I beg...this isn't 'The Matrix.'"
I feel I should use some such term as “Neo” because the founder of Objectivism insisted that one must accept its fundamentals as well as what she considered its corollaries – that is, the principles she had enunciated as following from the fundamentals – in order to legitimately be considered an Objectivist. Rand’s most withering scorn was directed specifically at those she believed were “picking and choosing” among her philosophical concepts. Well, I haven’t picked and chosen; I have worked hard to separate out ideas with which I disagree and which I think do not in fact form an integral part of her philosophy. Nevertheless, those are my conclusions, not hers.
Another, peripheral reason that I call myself a neo-Objectivist is to separate myself from ARI. Its dogmatism and cultishness are widely recognized, and since I am neither a dogmatist nor a cultist, I want to make my deviation clear. 

If this be treason ... 


See you all next week.
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