|Michelle, I really don't think the ridicule heaped on Objectivism is due solely, or even mainly, to the details presented by the Brandens in their accounts of The Affair. The tawdry details can always be disputed. But here, the devil isn't in the details.|
I think public ridicule stems mainly from the very fact of the relationship (a fact now uncontested). And what was the nature of that relationship? It was an affair between a brilliant older woman and a young, immature acolyte twenty-five years her junior, occurring while both were married to other people -- an "open marriage" arrangement that was clearly very distressing and painful to the two abandoned spouses, who were intellectually and emotionally manipulated into accepting it, but whose pain and injury apparently didn't matter decisively to the two participants.
Those are the undeniable, bare-bones facts of the "arrangement." On its face, it's ludicrous and unseemly and very sad.
Any further details in this book might cast specific situations and actions in a different light, weighing more heavily against the Brandens than Rand. But nothing can negate the basic fact of this excruciatingly foolish and destructive "arrangement," and Rand's co-authorship of it with the young Nathaniel Branden.
I call the affair not only ludicrous and unseemly, but also "very sad," because I can imagine (and even sympathize with) the emotional needs that motivated it. But no amount of rationalistic "spin," no additional details about specific events, could conceivably justify it. If Rand and Branden had truly felt that way about each other, then the honorable thing for them to do -- on behalf of the spouses they still publicly professed to love -- would have been to separate from them and/or obtain divorces.
But to most outside observers -- and count me as one -- the affair was a case of two people wanting to have their marriages, and eat them, too. It was a case of their publicly faking reality, pretending to be devoutly married to others, but obtaining their true romantic fulfillment furtively with each other -- and damn the emotional consequences to their spouses. It involved living a hurtful lie.
There would have been much less subsequent damage to the public reputation of Objectivism, the philosophy, had its principals not cast themselves as its perfect ethical embodiments. But that damage is only compounded when -- in a desperate effort to rehabilitate Rand's public image -- her partisans now attempt to rationalize conduct that is simply unjustifiable on its face.
If the Objectivist ethics is now to be recast in order to rationalize excruciatingly bad judgment, the public "faking of reality" about one's highest romantic values, and a pattern of callous, emotionally destructive behavior toward one's own spouse -- then the reputation of Objectivism could be irreparably damaged. Millions will say: If that kind of conduct is an example of "rationality," if that squares with Objectivis -- then give me some form of religious mysticism!
Rand had John Galt say, "Nobody stays here by faking reality in any matter whatever." If some would add "reality faking" to Objectivism's list of acceptable virtues, merely in order to defend Rand's reputation, then they have lost any remaining credibility as defenders of her philosophy.
It's really "either/or": either Rand and Branden were acting in accordance with Objectivism, or they weren't. If they were, then Objectivism, the philosophy, is done for. If they weren't, then all that remains damaged is their own reputations.
The Brandens have been willing to acknowledge publicly that their conduct was not consonant with Objectivism. Let us see whether Ayn Rand's partisans have the same courage -- and whether their first loyalty is to her, or to the principles she defined and espoused.