Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical

Lindsay Perigo Interviews Barbara Branden
by Barbara Branden

Barbara, we look forward very much to your visit. I'm wondering what preconceptions about the country you might have. You've probably seen it described in certain quarters, rather ludicrously, as the freest country on earth. Is that what you're expecting to find?

I don't have many preconceptions about New Zealand, and I am very eager to learn more about it. I have heard many times that it is very beautiful, which is a great attraction for me. No, I don't think it is the freest country on earth; I once did, but you convinced me otherwise. New Zealand to me is another world, strange and fascinating, and I look forward to making its acquaintance. Perhaps most of all, I'm eager to talk with you, Lindsay - apart from our personal mail, we talked when you were in America only once, and very briefly - and I want to get to know my fellow-Soloists, including the ones I have passionately disagreed with. I only hope I survive the plane trip - not because of terrorism, but because of the length of the flight. But it's worth it to me, and I am very much looking forward to my visit.

In your own country, Objectivists & libertarians are hotly debating how much freedom, if any, may legitimately be forfeited for the sake of "security" against terrorists. What's your position on that?

This is an issue I am very concerned about. I fear not so much the loss of the freedoms that will be taken away during war time - although some of Ashcroft's intentions worry me a great deal - but that they never will be restored. This has been a common practice in any American crisis situation: Roosevelt abrogated many of our freedoms during the 1929 depression and during World War II - and we never have gotten them back. And war time or not, there is no possible justification for such atrocities as a National ID card. If it should become law, I think that this is the time for civil disobedience.

How do you rate Bush's handling of the crisis?

To my surprise, I rate him very highly. I think he is doing the best that can be done . . . so far; I cannot vouch for his future actions. What impresses me the most is his insistence not only that we destroy the terrorists, but that we punish any country that finances them, protects them, helps train them, and hides them. I believe this is the only possible solution to terrorism: to scare such countries out of whatever little wits they may have. It has interested me to observe the change in the man himself. It seems that the man and the moment have met, and the moment has brought out in him qualities of strength, decisiveness, and determination that were not visible before. Since Ronald Reagan cannot be our president - how wonderful that would be today! - I'm glad that we have George Bush. It's fascinating to see that there even in physical changes in the man. His face seems more taut and fined-down, he walks almost with a strut, and he speaks with an assurance he didn't have before.

Do you have any sympathy for the view that America brought this on itself?

Absolutely, firmly, irrevocably, and without ambiguity - NO! Have we made mistakes in our foreign policy? Yes, certainly. Would the terrorists hate us even if we had not? Yes, without any doubt. Their sniveling about our sins is a pretense they use in order to justify their hatred of all the things good and noble and heroic about America. It is a pretense to hide the fact that they hate us for our success, our prosperity, our generosity and kindness, our individualism, our love of achievement, our fairness...I could go on an on. I think that many - not all - of the people who blame America for the evils of the terrorists are deluding themselves and are hiding their own rejection of American values under the pretense that our sins created the evils of the terrorism. I have no sympathy with and no respect for such people.

Will the trip to NZ be your first flight since September 11?

Yes. I was to go to Europe with friends in late September, but they decided it was probably unsafe to go. I would have gone, but I respected their concern. I am not afraid to fly - but I do wish you'd move New Zealand a bit closer to Santa Fe.

What's your view of the state of the Objectivist movement today, nearly twenty years after Ayn Rand's death, over forty years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged? Has there been net progress, do you think? What about the factionalism?

I think the Objectivist movement is doing very well. The most important sign is the many serious books that are published about Objectivism, even those that are opposed to it. What this - and the growing number of Objectivists - has accomplished is twofold. It has begun the process of making Objectivism considered necessary to study in academia. There scarcely is an elementary, high school, or university in this country that does not include one or more of Ayn Rand's books in its curriculum. I constantly hear from young people - seventh grade and up - that they became interested in Objectivism when one or more of her books were included in their literature or philosophy courses. And, second, Objectivism has entered the mainstream. There are constant references to it and to Ayn Rand in the popular press, in newspaper columns, in OpEd articles, and so on. What's interesting is that one or more of her books often is referred to without explanation, such as: "This is reminiscent of Atlas Shrugged", or "Howard Roark would have hated this building", etc.. It is expected that the readers will be familiar with the books and the characters. In a television series, a character is shown reading The Fountainhead. In several other series, her name and her ideas are casually mentioned, again on the assumption that the viewers will know her work.

And books by and about Ayn Rand and Objectivism sell remarkably well. I once said that someone could publish a book entitled: Ayn Rand, the inside containing only blank pages - and people would still rush to buy it. The interest in her ideas and in her is enormous.

As for the factionalism, I don't think it important in the long run. It would not exist without Peikoff and his claque, and he is more and more widely seen as a cultist nut. I will cheerfully boast that I do my humble best to spread and justify that view of him. His incessant excommunications of heretics who dare to question a word Ayn Rand ever said have made him ridiculous.

It seems to me that if the Peikovians had been big enough & honest enough to welcome, rather than condemn without even reading, your biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, the subsequent history of the movement could have been a lot less fractious. On the other hand, perhaps something like the book was needed to catalyze a schism, since the dogmatists & religionists were dominating the movement. What do you think?

If the Peikovians had been big enough to welcome The Passion of Ayn Rand, they would not have been the Peikovians. Their entire psychology - their terror of ever being wrong, of not having the final truth - would have had to be totally different from what it is. They would have had to admit that Ayn Rand made mistakes, both in some aspects of her philosophy and in her personal life, which, in their minds, would have removed their justification for living. It isn't that Peikoff doesn't know the truth - he experienced many of her personal failings on his own hide - it's that he needs to see himself as the advocate of perfection, and to see anyone who doubts that that is what he is, as evil. It's so silly it's embarrassing. I'll never fully understand why these people cannot allow Ayn Rand to be both a genius and a woman with flaws.

With the benefit of hindsight, would you have given your blessing to husband Nathaniel's affair with Ayn Rand?

Definitely not. What I should have said is "My blessings on you - Good-bye." It's what I wanted to say, but at that time I did not think it would be right. Today, I suspect that had I said it, there would not have been an affair.

What's your view now of Rand's theory of romantic love?

That's a very big subject, that could be an article in itself. But I'll try to give the essence of my view briefly. I think the problem with her theory of romantic love is not so much that it's wrong, but that it's very much oversimplified. Human beings are much more complex than her view of love grants. Let me give an example from my own experience. When I was twelve years old, I went to a movie in which the hero behaved very aggressively toward the woman he loved. I don't mean that he used force, but that he seized her in his arms and kissed her. Watching this, I felt the first sexual response I ever had felt - and from then on, and to this day, his physical type and his sort of action is what most attracts me sexually. Clearly, there is an element of chance in this romantic preference - although if he were not intelligent or were a boor the attraction would die at once . . . almost.

I'm convinced that there can be many reasons why one is attracted to one person rather than another and, sometimes, it is difficult to understand the reasons. They can be very complex; they can be a function of some aspect of the person and not others; they can be long-lived or fleeting. If, for instance, I found heroic qualities of the Objectivist kind in a man who was severely emotionally repressed, I would not remain romantically attracted to him for long.

May I, one day, write an article on this subject for The Free Radical? [Absolutely! - Ed.]

As I say, we look forward to your visit with eager anticipation. Any idea yet what the subject of your keynote speech will be?

I haven't yet decided what the subject of my talk will be. I'd be happy to have your suggestions. What do you think the Solo audience would be interested to hear me discuss?

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