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Post 140

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 2:28amSanction this postReply
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Michael Smith,

 

Here is the quote from your original post from July 4:

 

I’ll give you one misrepresentation that really bothers me: The Brandens have consistently represented Rand as being universally and completely intolerant of any disagreement, of having no patience with or sympathy for those who do not immediately agree with her.  

 

This is similar to the contention of  PARC’s author that the Brandens painted a picture of Rand as demanding “absolute agreement from her students” as well as from friends and associates.  The context of the quote from Dr. Branden’s article on “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” makes clear that he often had disagreements with her—on such things as evolution, hypnosis and PSI—but was concerned about how far to push these subjects before she would “fling him into the abyss of the irrational.” 

 

Dr. Branden does certainly imply that she expected agreement on certain fundamentals. (Note his exact words from your quote: “Not in any fundamental sense.”)  And, again, Barbara Branden’s quote  (referenced in my response of  July 5th) makes clear that, at times, she undoubtedly did demand agreement.  But nothing they said is inconsistent with the fact that, on many occasions, she also had the ability to discuss differing perspectives on a wide range of issues that she did not feel constituted “irrationalism.”   

 

My position that PARC misrepresnted the Brandens on this issue is unchanged.




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Post 141

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 6:59amSanction this postReply
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Dennis,

I'm flattered by your characterization of me as an "intellectual giant," and I appreciate your attempt to clarify your comments.

In truth, I have been accused by some, right here on SOLO HQ, for my "lack of moral fastidiousness" through the years.  Be that as it may, I have grown tired of the kind of scorched-earth, slash-and-burn technique that is all too familiar across the political spectrum, and within Objectivism as well, which substitutes "purr and snarl" words for cogent analysis.  Now, before you take that personally, I am not saying that you did that in your review of Valliant's book. 

But I am a scholar by training.  I have spent my life taking everything I read with a degree of seriousness.  I have shown that degree of seriousness for writings authored by some of the most evil men in history---Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao tse-Tung.  Whatever James Valliant is, he's not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; I think we all need to achieve a bit of proportion here.

Sometimes it is required to devote a level of seriousness to a work one might reject.  I chose to do so primarily because I had a lot to say about broader issues of historical interpretation and methodology.  And since I am, among other things, a Rand scholar, I must take seriously the publication of a book that includes extensive excerpts from Rand's personal journals approved by Rand's Estate.  As an intellectual historian who has mined rare archival materials for over 15 years now, I cannot ignore this material.

To have dismissed Valliant's work because I have profound disagreements with its author, or to have written a piece that did not delve into the reasons for my disagreements---both interpretive and historiographical---would have served no purpose, for me.  And, in the end, I write for me, no matter how much I also write to reach others.

I have learned from both Ayn Rand and the Brandens.  And one major thing I learned personally from Nathaniel Branden long ago was this:  You can never hope to change somebody's perspective by beating them over the head and telling them that they are immoral scum.  I may judge the actions or writings of any given author as incorrect, wrong, perhaps immoral in its implications, etc.  But unless I grapple with the argument and its implications in a way that shows critical attention to detail, I cannot hope to reach those who might have been persuaded by the book to begin with.

One more thing---and perhaps you'll think me a bit too "Christian" for an Objectivist universe---but I do not treat people in a way that I would not like to be treated.  

Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.  When that book was published, it was met by knee-jerk condemnation by a host of people commonly identified as "orthodox" Objectivists.  Some repudiated the book on the basis of its dust jacket.  Others claimed to have read it but showed no evidence of having understood anything in its pages.  Still others provided the kind of "purr and snarl" review that was obvious for its axe-grinding.

I received more serious critical engagement from non-Objectivists than from Objectivists.  And since Russian Radical, the level of rudeness and personal attack grew with every article, book, or edited collection I published in the area of Rand scholarship.  While I'm willing to debate anyone on substantive issues, I will not sanction personal rudeness. I won't crawl into the sewer with people who insist on swimming in its waters or practice the very style I condemn others for exhibiting.

You quote Rand about how "moral agnosticism" corrupts a culture.  For me, rudeness, a raised eyebrow, a smirk, the pooh-poohing of critical engagement, the use of the argument from intimidation are all just as corrupting.

I wrote a trilogy that sought to recapture a dialectical method in defense of liberty.  In doing fierce battle against Marxists and statists of every stripe, I chose to engage their arguments.  Silence has never been an option.  But if I'm going to say something, it is going to be something substantive stated on my terms. 




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Post 142

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 7:43amSanction this postReply
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Chris,

I understand and even share a good deal of Dennis's outrage at this book (for many of the same reasons, but also for other reasons of my own). I don't blame him for his confusion about your approach, but I see what you do in a different light.

I have seen hybrid smear campaigns (like the Valliant book) detonated before. Your painstaking factual approach, stating your own doubts and agreement along the way according to objective standards - and letting readers come to their own conclusions - more completely wipes out the irrational part than any other technique I know of. You are the provider of ammunition, better, heavy artillery, not the front line man shooting the guns. I, for one, have no compunction about picking up the arms you manufacture and using them to deadly effect.

If truth and facts are your goals, and you are aware of any mendacity and undue bias (like most of Valliant's approach), then I know in your heart that you provided your review for the purpose of arriving at reasoned sanity on a polemical issue. I also know that you are well aware of what this will do to those (like Mr. Valliant) who practice otherwise.

Moreover, I know that, someday, should Mr. Valliant happen to come around to objective reason, even if he maintains a bias, you will welcome his correct statements with open arms. You appeal to the very best within all of us.

Your last post on this thread is one of the most inspiring personal statements of integrity I have read in a long, long time. It makes me want to be more me than I already am.

It is a tremendous honor to know you, sir, and have one of your books (Russian Radical) with a signed dedication to me. I will always cherish that.

Now, onto another matter, where the hell did that ignominious expression "purr and snarl" come from? You sure gotta mouth...

Ahem...

Michael




Post 143

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 10:40amSanction this postReply
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My reply to Dr. Sciabarra's review is posted over at Notablog now.



Post 144

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 10:53amSanction this postReply
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Chris,

 

I suppose one way we could characterize the difference of opinion between us is tactical.  I believe that the only chance Objectivism has of succeeding is if people grasp the nature of a rational morality.  I believe most people are positively starved for strong, uncompromising moral guidance.  This, in my opinion, is the reason for the resurgence of religion in our culture in recent years.  I am utterly unconcerned with trying to reform someone who could write a book of this kind, and I think he needs to know the evil that he has committed by attacking the Brandens in such a vicious manner.  And I believe adopting a strong moral position is critical for reaching those who might otherwise sympathize with his efforts to do ‘justice’ in the name of Ayn Rand. 

 

I do not think you meant to leave the implication that we must choose between meticulous analysis and moral judgment, but the implication is there, nonetheless.  For me, it would have made all the difference in the world if you had added a simply stated moral evaluation to your essay.  I do not think it would have detracted from your scholarship, although it might have in the eyes of those who disdain all moral judgment as religious in nature—the precise notion which Objectivists must attack whenever and wherever we encounter it.

 

So, once again, you and I must agree to disagree.  But let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on the tenth anniversary of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical—a truly excellent book.

 

Dennis




Post 145

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 11:05amSanction this postReply
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James S. Valliant's reply to Dr. Sciabarra is at

http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog/archives/000641.html




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Post 146

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 4:19pmSanction this postReply
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Just wanted to thank the participants here for additional comments; I do plan to answer James Valliant in the next few days, but before I do so, let me just reply briefly here.

Michael, thank you for your comments; they mean a lot. I will admit that I first became aware of the phrase "purr and snarl" :)  from David Gordon, who wrote a critical review of my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which also celebrates its tenth anniversary---next month. 

Dennis, I think you're right:  it is a tactical difference.  I'm not a believer in the fact-value dichotomy, though I am a believer in the division of labor and I don't think the approaches you outline are mutually exclusive.  Thank you also for your kind words with regard to Russian Radical.

(Edited by sciabarra on 7/22, 4:21pm)




Post 147

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 4:21pmSanction this postReply
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Regarding PARC’s author’s response to Sciabarra:

 

The following is an apparent reference to my review:

 

But I honestly stand in awe of any critic who levels at me the charge of “distraction.” One Internet critic has even laid the potential “killing” of Objectivism as a philosophy at my feet.

 

That’s fairly typical of the sort of unfocused, self-absorbed ramblings I would expect from this genius.  If you read my review, I make clear that it is not this book specifically, but the attitude of ARI and the Peikoff brigade--of which this book is merely a disgusting symptom—that is stifling the growth of Objectivism.   More specifically, the policy of whitewashing her flaws so as to make the purity of Ayn Rand into the equivalent of an Objectivist axiom.

 

Later, our attorney-author states:

 

However, while Sciabarra may not be an “Objectivist,” he has treated me with great fairness, for example, in giving me this extensive opportunity to respond. For all of this, and for his many insightful comments on what I regard as the beginning of a new chapter in Rand biography and scholarship, I am deeply grateful.

 

If your intention was to open a dialogue, Chris, it appears you have succeeded.  He will now apparently be using your blog to spread his venom.  Is this what your moral neutrality was intended to accomplish? 

 

 




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Post 148

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 4:36pmSanction this postReply
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Dennis, we must have crossed in the email. 
 
Valliant responded to me on my blog, as I had expected him to.  You ask:  "If your intention was to open a dialogue, Chris, it appears you have succeeded.  He will now apparently be using your blog to spread his venom.  Is this what your moral neutrality was intended to accomplish?" 

Let me just make something very clear:   I earned a reputation here in the hallowed halls of SOLO HQ as "Her Royal Whoreness"---so named by Linz, because of my penchant to "dialogue" with all comers.  And, in truth, over the past two decades, I have had critical public dialogues with people of many different stripes, from neoconservatives to Marxists.  At one time, in fact, I was a co-founder and co-moderator of a Marxist forum called "Marxism-Thaxis," where I participated in discussions with every variety of left-winger.  And I never ceased rocking the boat.
 
Ayn Rand once said that "It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course—but this realization presupposes a grasp of facts, of reality, of principles and a long-range view, all of which are precisely the things that the 'non-rockers' are frantically struggling to evade."
 
I believe that when dialogue progresses, the truth will out.  I don't believe in talking an issue to death, however.  I intend to write a rejoinder to Valliant and leave it at that.  I respect the intelligence of my readers to draw their own conclusions.




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Post 149

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 5:19pmSanction this postReply
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One thing that surprises me the most, is that people like Valliant and many other objectivists like him, Who profess that life is good, and have so much respect for life, are so much unconcerned when dealing with someone else’s life. Mr. Sciabarra with his politeness and respect for facts and other people's  life is an example to be imitated by many objectivists. Bravissimo to you Mr. Sciabarra.
Ciao dc.




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Post 150

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 8:15pmSanction this postReply
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I'm glad that I could add to the intellectual history and philosophical biography of Ayn Rand. I was the one who asked the questions that caused Ms. Branden to get caught in a lie, again.


Excerpt of Valliant's reply to Dr. Sciabarra's review, concerning the typewriter issue:


22)"While Sciabarra acknowledges that, from the first he realized that the Brandens' memoirs were written from a "particular point of view," I would ask him if he had appreciated the extent of the distortion that he now appears to concede exists in those books until he had read this one?"
[One of the good things about Dr. Sciabarra is he admits to bias in favor of the Brandens while agreeing that they distort the facts]

23)"In the book, of course, the "name issue" is dispensed with early and explicitly judged in the text to be something "minor.""

24)"No matter, for it seems that even here, the impact of the new evidence has not been grasped. Ayn Rand--in fact and actually--did not adopt her name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. It is simply impossible for her to have done so, since she was using the name "Rand" before there was any such machine in existence. For Rand to have ever said so would make Rand out to be a liar about this relatively insignificant matter. But, to those who wonder why~ the Brandens ~would lie about such things, the question must be posed: why would~ Rand ~have privately lied to the Brandens while publicly telling the press something else, both before and after she met the Brandens?"

25)"How curious it is that Fern Brown was unable to jog Ms. Branden's memory of Rand telling her this, as Ms. Branden is now claiming at the SOLO website, (Ms. Branden, it seems, was mistaken when she had thought that she had learned this through Ms. Brown for the first time, as she had suggested in her book), while Mr. Branden's later claim to have heard this from Rand herself was somehow able to remind her that she, too, was privy to this statement by Rand--that is, only after it had been challenged."

26)"Some have asked why the Brandens would dissemble over such a trivial matter, not realizing that such "insider knowledge" is precisely the sort of thing that gives them the aura of credibility--"we got the inside dope"--and not appreciating the context in which the Brandens relate this matter. For example, Ms. Branden say, absent evidence and incorrectly, that Rand's Russian family never knew he American name and that this was even a reason why Rand lost contact with them in the late 1930's. You see, the new name, not revealed to anyone, is another example of Rand's "obsession with secrecy" and alienation from her family-- as I suggest in the book--as well as and example of her self mythologizing."
[The name issue is trivial? It is used to build credibility, a web of lies, and psychologizing. The name+"family never knew" lies allows them to build an alienation and secrecy psychology of Rand, which let them off the hook for what they did to AR.] 

27)"As I note in the the book this minor matter serves only to set a pattern."

28)"What I also find more than curious in this charge of "distraction with trivia" is that it is the~ Brandens ~who have exaggerated and distorted the relative importance of such matters as Rand's name, or her margin notes in books, or her "good luck" charm, or her alleged fear of flying, etc., etc. As I repeatedly demonstrate in the book, it is the Brandens who use trivia to construct their vast theories about Rand's personality, a personality that in the end serves to exonerate and justify their own otherwise unjustifiable actions in regard to Rand."

29)"Once more, it is my book, in fact, that had first raised this issue, and in regard to the Brandens themselves, another fact completely ignored. Criticism of my book, at so many turns, has exhibited this eerie sense of projection."

[Underlining mine]



This pattern does explain why Barbara Branden reacts to things the way she does. One time she might be like the queen on Monty Python: "we are not amused" if someone uses words she "does not approve of." Or she might fly off the handle based on her own thoughts on the subject, irrespective of anything else. Like in her book, she set up her reality, then how everyone is suppose to act and react. She thinks this lets "her off the hook" for her reactions toward others. It's always the other guys fault.

For instances: Rand never told her family about her name. Why? Because she was alienated from her family. Why? Because she was obsessive and secretive. Which allows Barbara to act like its all Ayn Rands fault for everything. All four parties may have entered into a relationship by mutual consent and Nate and Barbara acknowledge that they lied over a long period time, but IT ALL AYN RAND FAULT for everything, don't blame me. 



To be fair to Dr. Sciabarra, he did basically inform the readers upfront, that the review would be biased in favor of the Brandens.
Dr. Sciabarra does seem to think that an endless stream of detail, important and not, but all presented equally important and all presented now, now, now--until the crow is not only taxed, but explodes, is a good thing. But not as good as hyperlinking everything. The title might have been "Reason, Passion, History, Empiricism, and Hyperlinks."













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Post 151

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 8:39pmSanction this postReply
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Well I guess that showed the world a thing or two. Nothing will ever be the same now that this hero is on the scene diligently trying to slay Barbara Branden in plain sight of everyone. LOLOLOLOL....

(I swear to God I can't take this guy seriously...)

Hey, Valliant! Can't you get someone better that that to champion you? Dayaamm, your level's not as low as a school-kid sticking his tongue out in public. This guy does not do you credit, believe me.

I just skimmed the Valliant's response to Chris, and unless my impression was wrong, believe it or not, he spends a good amount of space trying to prove that Chris's comments were one-sided while his in the book were fair and objective!

You look and blink your eyes and it is just hard to believe some things.

Well, Chris's comments are one-sided, but not people-wise. His master is objective truth and he calls it like he sees it.

More to come...

Michael



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Post 152

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 9:46pmSanction this postReply
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Dennis, I thnk you don't quite understand what Chris has accomplished with his review. You were seeing Erroll Flynn instead of a cave man: Chris didn't hack Valliant to death with an axe, he elegantly pierced him in the heart with a stilleto. He would have accomplished nothing if he'd called Valliant names from the height of a moral high horse.. He was less interested in venting his emotions than in accomplishing the task of refuting the book. Venting his emotions might have given him a momentary satisfaction; it would have done nothing for Nathaniel or for me -- and it would not have led Valliant to the silliness of his attempt at refuting Chris' arguments.

Barbara



Post 153

Friday, July 22, 2005 - 11:29pmSanction this postReply
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Barbara,

 

Since you believe Chris has helped your case and that of Nathaniel, it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand.  You are one of the two values being defended here.  If you feel vindicated, that’s what counts.  I will crawl back into my cave and shut up. 

 

Chris, 

 

For the record, I have nothing but the highest respect for you.  I hope nothing I have said was interpreted otherwise.

 

Dennis




Post 154

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 12:44amSanction this postReply
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Barbara, that's the best anyone could have worded what Chris does. Thank you.
(Edited by Joe Maurone
on 7/23, 12:45am)




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Post 155

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 4:27amSanction this postReply
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Dennis:"Since you believe Chris has helped your case and that of Nathaniel, it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand."

Well, yes, it matters to me. I'm sorry that we haven't come to an agreement. Let me say that sometimes it would be fine to write a piece full of moral indignation; it would be the most effective manner of writing. But in this instance, when Chris wanted to deal with all the major points of a long book, it wouldn't have made sense or have been effective..  

Joe, thank you.

Barbara



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Post 156

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 5:41amSanction this postReply
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Glenn, I did not inform readers that my "review would be biased in favor of the Brandens."  What I did was inform readers that I had a personal relationship with the Brandens.  That was the intellectually honest thing to say.  My purpose in the essay, however, was to review Valliant's work.  How else to get around an "endless stream of detail" when Valliant's own work provides us with that level of detail?

As for "taxing" the crow:  The essay is organized methodically, with section titles, citations, and parenthetical comments.  The hyperlinks are akin to footnotes.  You're free to pursue them, or not, based on your level of interest  (I can't resist; see here).

And Dennis, of course, I didn't in the slightest interpret anything you said as being disrespectful.  Thanks again for all your comments on this thread.




Post 157

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 11:41amSanction this postReply
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Barbara,

 

I appreciate your wish to help me understand the merit of Chris’ approach to this issue. Let me explain my position this way.

 

There is a difference between the detached analysis of abstract ideas and a vitriolic personal attack on good, decent people.  I agree with the basic point of David Kelley’s paper “A Question of Sanction,” that “truth and falsity, not good or evil, are the primary evaluative concepts that apply to ideas as such.”  I do not condemn people morally on the basis of the ideas they hold, per se, and I have absolutely no problem, morally, with engaging in prolonged debates with the advocates of such ideas.

 

In the same paper, Kelley states: “A cardinal principle of the Objectivist ethics is that one should not give evil the moral sanction it needs to justify itself and disarm its victims.”

 

As much as I respect Chris and as much as I admire the peerless scholarship of his work, it is my view that his refusal to pronounce moral judgment in this instance is helping Valliant promote his evil.  Reading the dialogue at Chris’ blog, it seems clear to me that Chris’ refusal to do so has given Valliant a platform to expound his views that he could never have achieved on his own.

 

Chris’ review of PARC would not have been compromised by such a moral pronouncement.  And he could also have given Valliant the opportunity to respond, but not with the implication of “respect” to which Valliant referred in his answer.  That, as I see it, amounts to the tacit moral sanction of what I consider to be deliberate and willful evil. 

 

Once again, let me hasten to emphasize that this is simply an effort on my part to try to understand.  I am not condemning Chris in any way.  In view of the complexity of the issues involved, the worst I would say is that he may have made a mistake here.  Period.  And I will concede that perhaps I am the one guilty of the mistake.

 

But I do not see the issue as either-or.  Chris could have written the exact same review, and included a judiciously worded moral evaluation, and it would not have given the appearance to visitors at his blog that he in any way respects or sanctions the opinions offered by Valliant.

 

Dennis




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Post 158

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 12:48pmSanction this postReply
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Dennis,

If I may say a word here. After Chris Sciabarra demolished Valliant's irrational attitudes throughout the book one by one with what I perceive to be a form of moral condemnation, I don't see a need for him to morally condemn the entire book - especially because of the Rand entries.

Chris Sciabarra's condemnatory technique is more like sweet poison than a bludgeon. Rather than say something is evil, he states that it is wrong. He constantly gives evidence and makes critical remarks on the incorrectness of Valliant's treatment. He does this point by labored point throughout his review. Here is a paragraph from the end summing up what he did, right under the title, Conclusion:

In this review essay, I have examined a number of issues raised by James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics.  I have criticized Valliant's rooting of Rand criticism in the works of Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. I have criticized his one-dimensional rereading of the Branden works as outgrowths of the basest motivations and biases.  I have taken him to task for insufficiencies in his interpretation of the Affair and for his marginalization of the Brandens' contributions to the Objectivist canon.  Along the way, I've examined issues of rationalism, idealization, sycophancy, and moralizing in the Objectivist movement, while defending my own work against some of Valliant's criticisms.  I concluded with a discussion of methodological problems in his book.

 

Chris Sciabarra then states that Valliant's book was worth the price because of Ayn Rand's journal entries, not because of Valliant's work, which he calls "one-sided." Then comes the final blow - Chris calls for an independent release of these journal entries as a supplement to The Journals of Ayn Rand (1997), including the ones left out from the early years. Chris explains that scholars would benefit from this in light of the "one-sidedness" of Valliant's presentation.

Anyone looking for objectivity will see clearly that it is not to be provided in Valliant's book. Instead of saying that the book is evil, he showed that it is extremely flawed in several aspects and conclusions, even in the method used. This approach and explicit moral condemnation are two sides of the same coin in terms of providing readers with a qualitative preview.

I will grant you that Chris Sciabarra has given Valliant a momentary forum for being taken seriously which he otherwise would not have earned. I just went over there and Valliant is even holding court a bit. He stated in his response to Chris's review that he was extremely grateful for Chris allowing him to respond. But even here Valliant misses the mark when he makes a public statement. The gratitude actually is for Chris devoting attention to his book. Valliant is having one devil of a time getting his work taken seriously by heavyweights.

Anyway, now I want to get back to my own pet issue of showing how a libel lawsuit can be won easily from the "soul of a rapist" thing. Hopefully by showing how it can be done, it will be done.

I am not a lawyer, but I am going for it. USA law is for every citizen - big and small - and that includes lawyers who commit libel and publishers who publish it.

Michael





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Post 159

Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 1:23pmSanction this postReply
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I am making this a separate post because I want to go out on a limb and ask a very unpleasant question. Quote from Chris Sciabarra's review:
Valliant (2005, 379) reports that beyond the summer of ‘68, “references to Branden in Rand’s private journal come to an abrupt end. If these notes are any indication, the state of Branden’s mental health was no longer a concern to Rand.  Valliant adds that Peikoff has “confirmed that he knows of no later journal entries referring to Branden” (414 n. 101).
Chris is way too much of a gentleman to ask what I am going to ask. Still someone has to do it, so here goes.

Given the nature of the constant attempts at rewriting Ayn Rand's personal history, essentially by whitewashing ugly facts, practiced over the years by ARI and presented copiously in Valliant's book, is it possible that there might be some "overlooked" journal entries, including later ones, especially ones that might have conflicted with Valliant's thesis of the Brandens being the root of all evil in Ayn Rand's life?

The only thing we have to go on is their word. Just their word and their word alone. Others of a more non-biased mind have been denied access to Rand's journals in the past by ARI and presumably will be denied access in the future. As the "party-line" word on Rand's personal history has shown to be either completely lopsided or has been reversed later, this is not a very reliable source for any question of this nature..

Michael



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