On the Hellen issue, I would like to thank you for some history. From my viewpoint, it looked like a practical joke, and if you try to read the blog without prior knowledge, you will see that I am not the only one who can get this impression.
On legal issues, I’m glad you prompted me to make an initial inquiry to see if I was off base on thinking that a defamation charge in a real court of law is proper. I took a look at one of the sites that offer free legal advice http://injury-law.freeadvice.com/libel_and_slander/ and learned a really basic pre-primer about defamation law.
All quotes in italics here below are from that site. I will make a few comments in light of the "psychology of a rapist" allegation of fact in the Valliant book. I must stress, though, that this is merely an initial study to see if litigation is proper and befitting, and that the next steps are getting to the texts of the actual laws – and then to an actual attorney.
"Defamation, sometimes called "defamation of character", is spoken or written words that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person's reputation."
So far, that looks about right. Leaving the little Objectivist world of historical bickering and going out on the free market, where Mr. Branden makes his living, I can see a new client or book customer avoiding Nathaniel Branden’s books and treatment from imagining that there is some truth to the "psychology of a rapist" charge.
Here are two quotes from Valliant’s book, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics:
Valliant quote 1 – POARC, p. 382:That to me constitutes a statement of fact and not opinion. In a court of law, it would be incumbent on Mr. Valliant to prove those statements, not merely make an assault with armchair psychologizing. I am pretty sure that for every psychologist that he could produce, Nathaniel could produce 10 corresponding ones stating that he is nothing like that. Nathaniel also has an honorable career to point to. I don’t know if he ever suffered a sexual harassment suit or rape charge, but if not, that would make Mr. Valliant’s claim of fact pretty wild to prove.
As a professional prosecutor with over fifteen years of experience with this category of criminals, this author is able to identify at least one aspect of Branden’s character clearly: Branden’s psychology shows a striking similarity to the psychology of a rapist.
[Italics in the original.]
Valliant quote 2 – POARC, p. 383:
Branden was not only able to exploit Rand—intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, professionally and financially—he could do so with an erection.
While his behavior was not, technically, rape, Branden’s was nothing less than the soul of a rapist.
[Italics in the original.]
To quote again the text from the free legal advice site, these are "written words that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person's reputation." Simply put, Valliant’s words qualify. They go way beyond the exercise of his First Amendment rights.
"Slander is a spoken defamation."
"Libel is a written defamation."
Obviously a defamation of character case would be for libel, not slander. I still do not know the extent of liability to a publisher in this case – I am pretty much of a beginner here – but I am sure enough that some liability exists to investigate it myself. After all, I have the impression that the publisher agreed to publish the book from a pre-approved plan or outline – way before it was completed. So I suspect the publisher knew precisely what was being executed in advance.
Can I sue someone who says or writes something defamatory about me?
In order to prove defamation, you have to be able to prove that what was said or written about you was false. If the information is true, or if you consented to publication of the material, you will not have a case. However, you may bring an defamatory action if the comments are so reprehensible and false that they effect your reputation in the community or cast aspersions on you.
From the excerpts from Vallaint’s book that I quoted, I believe a case could be made that his statements of fact about Nathaniel Branden were so reprehensible and false as to qualify. He may not suffer in the Objectivist community very much, but in the community at large I see a clear case of defamation. Also, these remarks clearly cast aspersions on Branden.
Public figures have a "harder road to toll" than the average person since they must prove that the party defaming them knew the statements were false, made them with actual malice, or was negligent in saying or writing them.
You allege that Valliant believed his statements were true and possibly did not make them with malice. That could be debated. However, without actual proof from psychological evaluations, they were negligent in the extreme. If I were a lawyer and were to prosecute, I would go after all three, but the negligent part seems to be a slam-dunk from my humble viewpoint.
Don't I have a right to express my opinion?
Yes, so long as your statement of opinion is just an opinion, not containing specific facts that can be proved untrue.
Valliant tried to word the first allegation cleverly by saying "Branden’s psychology shows a striking similarity to…" instead of "is." However, if you cull all the mentions to rape throughout the book, starting with the title to the second half, "Part Two: Documenting the Rape of Innocence," it is clear that his intention is to make a factual statement.
Also, I see Nathaniel proving these claims to fact as untrue with one hand tied behind an incompetent paralegal’s back, much less in the hands of an experienced attorney. Piece of cake, as I have said already.
If you have been defamed you may seek both actual damages, to recover the harm that you have suffered, and punitive damages to punish the person who made the remark (and serve as an example to deter others).
If the defamation improperly accused you of a crime or reflected on your profession, the Court or jury can assess the damages.
I don’t know what kind of actual damages to recover harm suffered he could sue for, but punitive damages is certainly a reasonable claim.
Also, does accusing Nathaniel Branden, founder of self-esteem psychology, author of several wide-selling books on psychology and a practicing therapist for decades, of having the psychology and soul of a rapist reflect on his profession?
Come on. Do I really need to answer that?
On an initial and elementary level analysis, I think Nathaniel Branden has a very strong case. Next step, read the actual laws.
I hope someone out there also is reading this.