|Given the subsequent distortions about what I said in post #6, let me plod a bit, to try to set the record straight on what I believe -- and what I don't. |
For the most controversial claims made in their books, the Brandens cited personal letters, diaries, and conversations with certain sources whose identities they have kept private. As I pointed out in my previous post, "Barbara and Nathaniel Branden relied upon their own memories, upon letters and journals which none of us have seen, and upon sources which they sometimes did not name."
I do not regard that observation as one from which the Brandens should take comfort. In fact, it is perfectly fair for readers to find their public claims on such matters unconvincing, in the absence of their publication of further supporting evidence. Moreover, there is no requirement for the Brandens' critics to try to "prove a negative" -- to refute a claim for which the Brandens may have supplied insufficient evidence in the first place. They bear the burden of proof -- not their critics.
But the overarching claim against the Brandens, made by Mr. Valliant and his champions, is more ambitious than this -- in fact, too ambitious. It is not merely the fair point that the Brandens too often fail to document controversial contentions. It is that, because of Mr. Valliant's privileged access to the archives of Ayn Rand's private journals and correspondence, certain of the Brandens' claims can be firmly refuted.
Now, it may well be true that specific claims by the Brandens can be refuted where they contradict either known facts, or each other, or themselves -- or where factual material exists in the archives to directly refute them.
But this is not true of those claims by the Brandens about which the archives do not contain any comments by Ayn Rand at all. The absence in the archives of comments by Ayn Rand relevant to the contentious issues concerning Frank O'Connor, for example, has been cited as refuting the Brandens' claims: There could not have been alcoholism or sexual problems or whatever, because there's no evidence of it in the archives of Rand's writings. But that doesn't follow. Just as the Brandens' absence of documentation fails to establish the merits of their claims, the absence of letters or journal entries by Ayn Rand about such issues fails to establish that such problems did not exist. The absence of comments by Rand could mean that there were no such problems; or it could mean that if such problems did exist, Ayn Rand chose not to commit her thoughts about them to paper.
On the other hand, it could also mean that the archives examined by Mr. Valliant are incomplete, perhaps by design. And that is the narrower issue I raised in post #6. Since the completeness of those archives depended entirely upon Dr. Peikoff, and since he has stated that it is "necessary and proper" to lie in order to protect personal privacy, that alone is sufficient grounds to call into doubt reliance upon those archives to refute the Brandens about issues on which no comments from Ayn Rand appear.
To address the point raised by Jeff Perren: It is not necessary for me either to endorse or to repudiate Dr. Peikoff's stated policy, or to advance my own, in order for readers to face the plain fact that the source of the private, personal archives of Ayn Rand believes in a policy of lying to protect personal privacy. I have not argued the legitimacy of his policy -- only its consequences for the archives as a final, definitive source on these contested matters.
After all, we are not dealing here with anything like a formal legal proceeding, in which the "trail of evidence" is carefully documented from the crime scene to the courtroom, and those called to testify swear under penalty of perjury that they are telling the whole truth. Quite the contrary: a "witness" to the trail of evidence has not only refused to take the oath, but declared outright his right to lie about that evidence. And that poses problems for those relying too heavily upon evidence supplied by that witness. Regarding its definitiveness, I have raised a simple question that only a partisan could regard as unfair: Shouldn't we consider the source?
Once again, asking this question does NOT establish the credibility of the Brandens' own accounts of the events, nor did I intend to. Only they can do that; to date, they have not supplied convincing documentation for some claims; and personally -- for the reasons I made clear in my previous post -- whether they do or don't, can or can't, I could care less. To the extent that Mr. Valliant casts legitimate doubt upon the adequacy of their accounts -- or to the extent that he catches them in contradictions to demonstrable facts, or to each other's accounts -- so be it. That's fine by me, because the value I find in Ayn Rand is not affected one whit by any of this.
Let me clarify two things in passing.
Mr. Valliant quotes me as saying, "It is dismaying that a pack of parasites has found a way to produce paychecks and royalties by rummaging through and selling off the contents of Ayn Rand's attic and wastepaper baskets." Since the appearance of The Early Ayn Rand, I have been appalled by the publication and sale of private material which Ayn Rand would NEVER have wished to appear in print. Whatever the excuses, publishing this material shows a profound lack of respect for someone its publishers proclaim to hold in reverence. (And for what it's worth, one of the first persons who ever expressed to me her anger and utter disgust at this exploitation of Ayn Rand was Barbara Branden.)
Second, I realize that Lindsay Perigo wishes to jump on his anti-TOC hobby horse at every opportunity. In this case (post #19), he continues an obnoxious habit of attributing to TOC any view I happen to express, or attributing to me any view expressed by anyone associated with TOC.
Let's get this straight, shall we? I speak and write only for myself. I did not consult anyone else, inside or outside of TOC, before writing these thoughts. They are MINE, not those of some collective labeled "TOC." I do not ask anyone's permission to write what I write, or say what I say. I never have. I never will. Nor does anyone at TOC ever ask me for permission before saying their own piece. The same independence applies to The New Individualist, which I edit: opinions in signed articles are those of the authors...period. That policy, after all, is inherent in the name of the magazine. The same policy of independence also applies to TOC forums, such as its Summer Seminar. At these open forums, we often invite people who represent a range of viewpoints, some of which challenge Objectivism. That's not because we endorse everything that is said, and not because we are skeptics or relativists. It's because we believe we benefit from intellectual challenges, and (unlike some organizations) we respect the intelligence of our audiences enough to believe them capable of sorting truth from errors. We have even had enough confidence in our participants to expose them to the Brandens and to Lindsay Perigo. After all, "that which does not kill you makes you stronger."
Returning to the subject at hand: let's take a step back, I hope in the direction of common sense.
Four individuals were engaged in a complex, intimate romantic interaction, which they succeeded in keeping utterly secret from the rest of the world for years. Some of them finally began to write and speak publicly about it, many years after the fact, when we all know that memories fade and one's subconscious tends to editorialize about the past.
Now, common sense (that is, anyone's personal life experiences in relationships that ended unhappily, coupled with a dash of logic) should tell outsiders like us that anyone's claims about such secrets, in the absent of sufficient supporting documentation, ought to be taken with a large grain of salt. Furthermore -- given the passions involved in this particular tumultuous episode, and the ideological divisions left in its wake -- whenever documentation is supplied by any of the participants or their partisans, it also should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. We should be asking: Is it accurate? Is it complete? Is there more to the story than each side recalls, or has revealed (and almost always, the answer to this last is an emphatic "YES")?
When Barbara Branden's biography of Ayn Rand first appeared, I was enthusiastic about it. It filled in a great deal of missing material about Ayn Rand's life. Knowing the details of her life and struggle elevated my already exalted opinion of the woman. And yes, the book also was the first public revelation of the existence of The Affair -- but that helped make intelligible for me a lot of the previously inexplicable aspects of that period. I did not think Barbara's account spared, let alone exonerated, either herself or her former husband; quite the opposite, in fact. (As for Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day, I had a much lower opinion of it -- as I told him to his face upon the occasion of our first meeting.)
But for the reasons I expressed in post #6, I have no further desire to try to untangle the entrails of this episode. This is not evidence of disinterest in the truth; it is my conclusion that the full truth here is probably impossible to find -- and in any case, IRRELEVANT to my appreciation of Ayn Rand as a philosopher and artist.
Those who would attack Ayn Rand's ideas and achievements, based on dubious and disputed accounts of her private life, I simply dismiss as purveyors of empty ad hominems. I invite others to copy this economical and logically sufficient approach to dealing with such critics, rather than engage them in endless and pointless debates over Who did What to Whom. For this approach has the incomparable value of returning the public debate to where it should be: on Ayn Rand's philosophical and aesthetic legacy. And all the proclaimed intentions of "setting the record straight" about Ayn Rand's private life have only continued drawing public attention to a side show: her private life.
I normally don't like to quote myself, but in conclusion, I don't think I can improve upon what I said at the end of post #6:
As in most cases concerning the intimate lives of individuals, this is likely a case in which we will never know all of the relevant information -- or, even if we have it, be certain that we do.
Nor is it necessary that we do. And why should we care that we do? Implicit in the approach of the zealous champions of Ayn Rand the person is the belief that, somehow, any perceived personal flaw will undermine the successful spread of her ideas through our culture. That is nonsense, and a tacit surrender to the perpetrators of ad hominems.
The merits of Ayn Rand's philosophical and literary achievements can be gauged objectively and quite independently of whatever was going on in her tumultuous personal life. We can know with certainty one thing: that whatever the full truth about Ayn Rand, the individual and the woman, she had sufficient character to achieve what she achieved as Ayn Rand, philosopher and novelist.
To me, the magnitude of her public achievements is a sufficient measure of the magnitude of her private character -- at least, in all of those ways that should matter to any of us.