December 27th, 2011
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
While Greenspan (tagged “A.G.” by Rand) was the most famous name that would emerge from Rand’s Collective, the second most well-known name to emerge from the Collective was Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist, author and “self-esteem” advocate. Before he was Nathaniel Branden, he was Nathan Blumenthal, a 14-year-old who read Rand’s The Fountainhead again and again. He later would say, “I felt hypnotized.” He describes how Rand gave him a sense that he could be powerful, that he could be a hero. He wrote one letter to his idol Rand, then a second. To his amazement, she telephoned him, and at age 20, Nathan received an invitation to Ayn Rand’s home. Shortly after, Nathan Blumenthal announced to the world that he was incorporating Rand in his new name: Nathaniel Branden. And in 1955, with Rand approaching her 50th birthday and Branden his 25th, and both in dissatisfying marriages, Ayn bedded Nathaniel.
What followed sounds straight out of Hollywood, but Rand was straight out of Hollywood, having worked for Cecil B. DeMille. Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Branden’s astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Branden were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Branden would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his self-destructive affair with alcohol.
By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel Branden had grown tired of the now 59-year-old Ayn Rand. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Branden began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Branden to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Branden. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Branden and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you’ll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you’ll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!”
Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extramarital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Branden’s extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Branden with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)
After being banished by Rand, Nathaniel Branden was worried that he might be assassinated by other members of the Collective, so he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Rand fans were less fanatical. Branden established a lucrative psychotherapy practice and authored approximately 20 books, 10 of them with either “Self” or “Self-Esteem” in the title. Rand and Branden never reconciled, but he remains an admirer of her philosophy of self-interest.
Ayn Rand’s personal life was consistent with her philosophy of not giving a shit about anybody but herself. Rand was an ardent two-pack-a-day smoker, and when questioned about the dangers of smoking, she loved to light up with a defiant flourish and then scold her young questioners on the “unscientific and irrational nature of the statistical evidence.” After an x-ray showed that she had lung cancer, Rand quit smoking and had surgery for her cancer. Collective members explained to her that many people still smoked because they respected her and her assessment of the evidence; and that since she no longer smoked, she ought to tell them. They told her that she needn’t mention her lung cancer, that she could simply say she had reconsidered the evidence. Rand refused.
How Rand’s Philosophy Seduced Young Minds
When I was a kid, my reading included comic books and Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn’t much difference between the comic books and Rand’s novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.
Rand said, “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible….The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth—or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.” For many young people, hearing that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.
I have known several people, professionally and socially, whose lives have been changed by those close to them who became infatuated with Ayn Rand. A common theme is something like this: “My ex-husband wasn’t a bad guy until he started reading Ayn Rand. Then he became a completely selfish jerk who destroyed our family, and our children no longer even talk to him.”
To wow her young admirers, Rand would often tell a story of how a smart-aleck book salesman had once challenged her to explain her philosophy while standing on one leg. She replied: “Metaphysics—objective reality. Epistemology—reason. Ethics—self-interest. Politics—capitalism.” How did that philosophy capture young minds?
Metaphysics—objective reality. Rand offered a narcotic for confused young people: complete certainty and a relief from their anxiety. Rand believed that an “objective reality” existed, and she knew exactly what that objective reality was. It included skyscrapers, industries, railroads, and ideas—at least her ideas. Rand’s objective reality did not include anxiety or sadness. Nor did it include much humor, at least the kind where one pokes fun at oneself. Rand assured her Collective that objective reality did not include Beethoven’s, Rembrandt’s, and Shakespeare’s realities—they were too gloomy and too tragic, basically buzzkillers. Rand preferred Mickey Spillane and, towards the end of her life, “Charlie’s Angels.”
Epistemology—reason. Rand’s kind of reason was a “cool-tool” to control the universe. Rand demonized Plato, and her youthful Collective members were taught to despise him. If Rand really believed that the Socratic Method described by Plato of discovering accurate definitions and clear thinking did not qualify as “reason,” why then did she regularly attempt it with her Collective? Also oddly, while Rand mocked dark moods and despair, her “reasoning” directed that Collective members should admire Dostoyevsky, whose novels are filled with dark moods and despair. A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.
Ethics—self-interest. For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.