Ken Barclay

The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics

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In 1968, at the time of the break between Ayn Rand and the Brandens, I

was a subscriber to The Objectivist. For some reason that I don't

recall, my issues of the journal were arriving quite late that year.

One day, instead of The Objectivist, a publication arrived from the

Brandens. It was dated October 21, 1968. It contained an article by

each of them giving their "side" of their conflict with AR

This was the first I heard of any controversy within the highest reaches

of Objectivism. The Brandens had used their access to the mailing list

of The Objectivist to respond to "charges and accusations" made by AR

(in the May issue, which I had not received).

I was devastated. Since the early 1960's AR and Objectivism had been an

intellectual lifeline for me. It was very disquieting to find that

lifeline was fraying. And, I suppose I had indulged in fantasies about

the (probably) admirable relationships of the principals.

There followed insufficient information to form any but tentative

conclusions about what had caused the rift, and, like many another, I

suspect, I wondered about the circumstances in which it occurred. I was

left on my own to sort out the various claims and counter-claims of

those who took one side or the other. I found the publications of the

Brandens' books disquieting. Even to one unacquainted with the

circumstances, these books seemed to rely on innuendo and self-serving

allegations; intent, not on presenting an objective portrait of AR's

life, but evidence that she wasn't so great after all. What used to be

called "damning with faint praise."

With the latter-day publications of AR's letters and excerpts from her

journals which revealed her mind at work, the long-ago break became less

important to me. I nevertheless found myself pleased to learn, in

January, that a book was offered through the Ayn Rand Bookstore that

addresses the subject in depth and, hopefully, with more objectivity.

The book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, by James Valliant, is

finally out, and my copy arrived Friday. I'm looking forward to reading

answers to questions that were so important nearly thirty-seven years ago.

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I was perhaps the last person to interview for NBI business representative in 1968.

Months went by with no response. Then the fateful "To Whom It May Concern". I was devastated. How could the two people I admired most be so at war with each other? "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" is finally answering that question.

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I was perhaps the last person to interview for NBI business representative in 1968.

Months went by with no response.  Then the fateful "To Whom It May Concern".  I was devastated.  How could the two people I admired most be so at war with each other?  "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" is finally answering that question.

I look forward to reading that book myself.

While I am not nearly old enough to have been involved in the 1960s, I can say that I have had my own disappointments with people associated with Objectivism that I used to admire (I am not going to name particular names here.) There's a number of reasons for it, which I contrast with traits possessed by Ayn Rand.

First and foremost, I don't think that anybody who's ever gotten close to Ayn Rand and Objectivism has/had even 10% of her intelligence (at best). Genius is a "hard act to follow" but that hasn't stopped a number of wannabes who want to be classed in her league whether they deserve it intellectually or not.

Beyond that, her values were completely integrated. For example, she properly held philosophers as the most important intellectually but she did not make the error of holding up philosophy as the only important career in the world, and she thoroughly admired highly successful businessmen - an admiration that wasn't just lip service.

And while she made firm decisions based on her assessment of character, she wasn't eager to make snap judgements on the basis of skimpy so-called evidence that came from third parties: i.e., she was objective in doing so, on the basis of actual facts.

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Valliant's book is an act of justice. It's also a portrait of Rand's remarkable intelligence. Most important, it is a case study in the power of Objectivism. (I'm tempted to warn the reader of spoilers as in a fiction review. This book is every bit as gripping as a novel.)

In the long excerpts from Rand's journals we see that instead of telling the truth to Rand about his affair with Patrecia, Branden attempted to bamboozle her by pretending his problems were psycho-epistemological and therefore not in his conscious grasp. He repeatedly dodged Rand's questions by answering "I don't know." His implicit premise was, "The ways of psycho-epistemology are mysterious beyond the ken of man." Had Rand been less intelligent, less diligent in examining Branden's words and less possessed of self-esteem, Branden would have gotten away with his deception.

Branden's climactic ploy was a paper in which he claimed he was moved by something called "physicalism." Had Rand been a Christian or a materialist, she would have had no answer to this psychological version of the mind-body split. But Rand had a weapon that Branden apparently did not understand: the philosophy of Objectivism. Rand knew that sexual attraction cannot be sundered from values and character.

Branden predicted that Rand would write long analyses of him after their break, but Rand never wrote about him again in her journals. The 14-year old boy who memorized THE FOUNTAINHEAD ended up playing Ellsworth Toohey to Rand's Rourk.

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[...]

While I am not nearly old enough to have been involved in the 1960s, I can say that I have had my own disappointments with people associated with Objectivism that I used to admire (I am not going to name particular names here.) There's a number of reasons for it, which I contrast with traits possessed by Ayn Rand.

First and foremost, I don't think that anybody who's ever gotten close to Ayn Rand and Objectivism has/had even 10% of her intelligence (at best). Genius is a "hard act to follow" but that hasn't stopped a number of wannabes who want to be classed in her league whether they deserve it intellectually or not.

Beyond that, her values were completely integrated. For example, she properly held philosophers as the most important intellectually but she did not make the error of holding up philosophy as the only important career in the world, and she thoroughly admired highly successful businessmen - an admiration that wasn't just lip service.

And while she made firm decisions based on her assessment of character, she wasn't eager to make snap judgements on the basis of skimpy so-called evidence that came from third parties: i.e., she was objective in doing so, on the basis of actual facts.

I agree absolutely with all you have written here.

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FURTHER TESTIMONY TO BRANDEN'S DISHONESTY

I had advance notice of the "split" in 1968, a couple of weeks before it became generally known. That's because electical engineer and inventor Jim Davidson (1930-1979), informal leader of our Objectivist group at Purdue University, was friends with several employees at Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI).

Jim had a library of almost 200 reel-to-reel tapes, and he eventually told us the story behind it. According to Jim's account (which I have no reason to doubt), it was he who originated the idea of offering courses by tape transcription, sometime around 1960; after a great deal of arguing he persuaded Barbara Branden of the practicality of the idea, and she in turn convinced Nathaniel Branden. For the first several years Jim did all the copying and mailing of the reel-to-reel tapes. (After his death I saw the records he still kept in his card file.) Sometime in the middle 1960's, not long after Nathaniel Branden had signed a contract with Jim, Branden unilaterally broke the contract when he found a firm (G.E., if I remember correctly) that could duplicate the tapes somewhat more cheaply. Jim considered suing Branden but decided not to, since he was afraid that might harm the progress of Objectivism. He later remarked that if he had gone ahead and sued, possibly the "split" might have taken place several years earlier.

I believe ARI recently acquired this tape archive from Jim's heirs.

We had only Jim's word for most of what he said, but I must say that all of us who knew him found him the man of the highest character we have ever met; knowing him was an unforgettable experience, like knowing Howard Roark in person.

Turning, now, to the "split" in 1968:

According to what Jim passed on to us from his friends at NBI, Nathaniel Branden gathered his staff together and told them he had never been fully an Objectivist, but had merely been "playing a role," adding that he had "never taken Objectivism as seriously as some of them obviously had."

Jim's comment: NB was most likely rationalizing, to avoid the guilt of having betrayed his own values.

Reportedly, Branden was "definitely suicidal" at this time, and fled to Canada for several weeks. He later switched to alternate "explanations" of his behavior, changing his excuse to suit the occasion.

Jim was in a position to confirm some of Ayn Rand's lesser charges, e.g. that NB had not updated his lecture courses as he had promised. And that both Brandens, well aware that a break was coming, had copied "The Objectivist"'s mailing list ahead of time, which they had no right to do.

Another member of our group commented (I think correctly): "Nathaniel Branden is the Benedict Arnold of Objectivism."

My copy of Mr Valiant's book hasn't yet arrived, but I welcome any attempt to redress the enormous evil perpetrated by both Brandens.

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I will enjoy this book when I get it, but I have only one comment on this whole thing.

I am way, way too young to have known first, second, or even third-hand anything about these events since they took place before my birth. But, anybody that could not see the glaring falsehoods and fallacies and lies out of the Brandens' two books was asleep at the wheel, pure and simple. You don't have to know anything of "Ayn Rand's side of the story" to know that those two were dishonest in the most extreme. Just read their own words, or, if you will, their own distorted confessions.

To any person that has conscientiously read those two atrocities, this forthcoming book need only be like watching things fall to the ground for proof of the law of gravitation. Although it will be great to read some fresh words from Ayn Rand herself.

If anyone wants to volunteer that they do not see these fallacies and distortions, I'd love to point them out. Those books make me puke.

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I believe ARI recently acquired this tape archive from Jim's heirs.

Yes, from Ken MacKenzie, who inherited them. Ken lived in Indianapolis, not too far from me, but unfortunately I didn't really get to know him; by the time we first made contact, he was already badly affected by cancer. He died a year or two ago. From my brief acquaintance he also seemed to be a very good guy.

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I received my copy yesterday and I am also looking forward to reading the book. The only reason I have not started yet is because I received other items that I wanted to get through first. Oh! What happiness the Ayn Rand Bookstore can deliver to my front door.

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I am really grateful to be able to read the testimony of you guys who have been there, and who were witness to the days of the original NBI. It is a most invaluable experience for me to be able to read your reminiscing, reactions, personal feelings, everything -- it allows me to imagine in my head how those days (even before the break) must have been, when Objectivism was almost a physical force to be reckoned with. I would be most grateful if there could be a thread, maybe entitled something like "Remembering the NBI days", where your memories could be collected and preserved for all time, to the sheer delight of those of us who are too young to have been there and lived it ourselves (even my parents would be too young!).

Thoyd,

You don't have to know anything of "Ayn Rand's side of the story" to know that those two were dishonest in the most extreme. Just read their own words, or, if you will, their own distorted confessions.
I'd have to disagree with that. When I first read "Judgment Day", I was seriously disturbed, on a profoundly metaphysical level -- I had long held that Ayn Rand was as much of a hero as the characters she wrote about, but here was this once charismatic leader and her most trusted confidant, writing near obscenities and describing her in most vicious detail. I certainly could not admire him, but, being a very naive and helpless student of Objectivism back then, having just discovered Objectivism not a year or two before and being very vulnerable, the book had seriously undermined the image of Ayn Rand. Because of that book (and in some part also because of Barbara's book, which I sheepishly read right after), I was seriously gloomy for a year, feeling like the literary characters were the only ones I could truly trust to admire, since all the real life people that were admirable turned out to be quite opposite. It took me a long time, a year or two, to recover and figure out how to discard and shake off the Brandens' horrible message, and to reinstate Ayn Rand in her proper place (and in fact she's grown even more in stature, lately). I really think those books are extremely toxic.

As a sidenote, I strongly urge all newcomers to Objectivism to stay as far away from these two books as possible, to not play dare games and "check them out" out of curiosity. Yes, it's that serious. I have lost very dear and very close Objectivist friends because they read the books and fell victim to the message -- everything concerning the Brandens is very tragic, and I urge extreme caution when dealing with anything where they are concerned, especially to those who are new, unsettled and still vulnerable.

I should also mention that one of the big steps to my recovery from the Branden poison was the online version of Valiant's book, which he put on the Internet maybe 2 years ago in a much condensed form (it was approximately four very long Internet pages). I really appreciate the work he's done, and it's very needed and very welcome to finally do justice to all parties involved, especially those who have not received their due retribution.

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I received the book late last week and finished it yesterday. Since, much like Free Capitalist, I had read the original essay on Casey Fahy's website, almost half the book was not new to me. Valliant did then and does now an excellent job of showing the manipulativeness and dishonesty of both the Brandens.

I read Barbara Branden's biography in 1988, within a few months of becoming an Objectivist. At the time, I really did not think about it too deeply. I said to myself (I'm ashamed of this now) who cares what Ayn Rand was like -- the point is her ideas. On further investigation I did discover that there was some controversy about it. Later on, particularly when I read Ayn Rand's Letters I realized that the portrait that Barbara Branden paints and the portrait that the Letters create do not mesh. It seemed clear at that point that Ms. Branden was deliberately portraying Ayn Rand in a bad light. I never bothered with Nathaniel Branden's memoirs because, in essence, I didn't think anyting particularly useful could be gained by reading a book by somebody that Ayn Rand had broken with (I hadn't realized when I picked up BB's biography that Rand had broken with her as well). Some of my friends that did read it mentioned that Branded confesses to being a liar which again added to my aversion to him.

In the second half of Valliant's book, Ayn Rand's personal journal notes from the period just before the breakup are printed and these have never been published before. Much as with the Letters we gain an appreciation of the intense rationality, honesty, thoughtfulness and extraordinary generosity of Ayn Rand. Valliant concludes with a comparison of Branden's mentality to the mentality of rapists in Valliant's experience as prosecutor and while Valliant concedes that no physical force was involved in the Rand-Branden affair, the level of Branden's deception is fraud on a grand scale.

Unfortunately, there appear to be no private journal entries for the start of the affair which to me that would have been most interesting. At one point in her journals Ayn Rand calls the affair a mistake for the beginning, yet she insists it was worth attempting. Frankly, this is what I have yet to completely understand.

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I'd have to disagree with that. When I first read "Judgment Day", I was seriously disturbed, on a profoundly metaphysical level -- I had long held that Ayn Rand was as much of a hero as the characters she wrote about, but here was this once charismatic leader and her most trusted confidant, writing near obscenities and describing her in most vicious detail.

Well, perhaps I didn't say it quite right. Ayn Rand's story is the novels. I think I had a good lead on the character necessary to write what she did.

Then again maybe I'm much better at spotting BS than you are! B) I am a compulsive hairsplitter. The Brandens, at least on paper, evidently they are quite the actors in real life, were quite atrocious in their attempt at smearing.

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Not even a fig leaf

I once knew a woman who professed to admire Ayn Rand. She even claimed to accept Miss Rand’s philosophy. But when Barbara Branden’s pseudo-biography came out, this woman fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

“How,” I asked, “can you believe such contradictory nonsense? Branden claims, again and again, that Ayn Rand suffered from a lifelong neurotic fear of physical reality. Yet here she describes Ayn Rand as a child joyfully climbing a mountain, on a vacation in Switzerland. And later in life, happily taking the throttle of a Diesel locomotive!”

The woman shrugged it off, as though self-contradiction meant nothing to her.

But those who respect the truth, have never accepted the Brandens’ smear campaign.

Now District Attorney Valiant, with a ruthless respect for fact, marshals the evidence. He exposes, in full detail, literally dozens of major self-contradictions, fallacies, non-sequitors, and smears in the Brandens’ works, proving beyond all doubt that they have systematically tried to distort the historical record.

He leaves the Brandens not even a fig leaf to hide behind. They stand revealed: an aging Lillian Rearden and an aging Robert Stadler, finally exposed to the public shame they have so long deserved.

And by setting the record straight, he has performed an historic act of justice.

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I have just finished reading the book, doing nothing else for 4 days after coming home from work until I went to sleep. THANK YOU, MR. VALLIANT!!! All of the issues that were left as doubts or uncertainties or giving the benefit of the doubt to the Brandens have been expunged from my mind. Seeing Ms. Rand's method of problem solving and the absolute phoniness of the excuses that Mr. Branden used to trick her, convinced me that there is no room for doubt. I don't think there is one issue that I can think of that leaves me think that the Brandens have a leg to stand on.

I've been involved in studying and applying Objectivism for over 30 years. At last I'm free of all that nonsense that has been tossed about denouncing her character.

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As I am reading this book, I am enjoying the precision at which Mr Valliant is destroying all the lies proliferated by the Brandens.

I keep asking myself one question though. That question is, how much further could Ayn Rand have gone if she did not waste so much time on this couple? Although, at the time she did not know this. From her own journals one can see that she spent hours trying to help out this couple. I do not want anyone to misunderstand, this is not a negative on Ayn Rands part, but against the Brandens.

I would have loved to read books by her, furthering her insight into other areas, she just ran out of time.

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That question is, how much further could Ayn Rand have gone if she did not waste so much time on this couple?  Although, at the time she did not know this.  From her own journals one can see that she spent hours trying to help out this couple.

The first answer is the one you provided: it took time for her to see what was going on. The second answer, which relies on that, is: she had two very close friends whom she cared for, and she wanted to help them.

I understand the desire to find even more gems by her, but let's be grateful for the wonderful gifts she gave us. (And I don't intend that as a rebuke.) And, as a human being, she is certainly entitled to have those wonderful relationships that enhance our enjoyment of life. That's what she thought she was pursuing in this case.

I'm glad that she was the type of person who had friends that meant that much to her. And it's a further shame on the Brandens that they chose to take advantage of her.

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Ed,

My intention was not to question Ayn Rands actions towards the Brandens. But, to show how deceit can affect the good.

I am also glad that she was willing to go to such depths for her values/friends, and I would not have expected other wise.

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And, as a human being, she is certainly entitled to have those wonderful relationships that enhance our enjoyment of life.
That, I think, is the most important aspect of Ayn Rand's life, not the philosophy. If anyone ever deserved wonderful relationships, it was her. I would not, on my life, wish for her to become a robot who creates up philosophical answers for me to use while herself living a lonely, miserable, horrible life. Quite the opposite, the thought that makes me happy is imagining her spending her time describing ideal men and pursuing wonderful relationships, because she deserved them more than anyone else; then, if she did some philosophy on the side, then so much the better.

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FC,

If she did just "some philosophy on the side", you would not be at this site. It is the greatness of her that has brought you hear and everyone else, I would assume. It is the philosophy that allowed her to have such greatness on all levels, including friendships.

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[...] if she did some philosophy on the side, then so much the better.

I understand your sentiment in wishing her well in her own personal life. However, Ayn Rand was a primary philosopher, one of the four great philosophers. Primary philosophers don't do "some philosophy on the side." They are philosophizers from an early age. They "do" philosophy as part of the core of their lives. How much they articulate and publish, to meet requests from others, is another matter.

I recommend Jeff Britting's biography, Ayn Rand. It is short and understated, but appropriate in style and content for an archivist dedicated to getting documented facts into the discussion of the life of the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Mr. Britting shows that Ayn Rand was philosophizing -- "thinking in principles" and "going with reason" were her phrases, if I recall correctly -- from an early age. She had to philosophize in order to implement her original central purpose in life, the portrayal of an ideal man in fiction. The subject of an ideal man is a philosophical subject. Thus, philosophy was at the core of her life.

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RayK,

If she did just "some philosophy on the side", you would not be at this site.
Yes I realize that, but what I said was I would not her to live a sacrificial miserable life just to let me enjoy the fruits of her labor. I am most grateful to her for her contribution, but only as long as she herself is the primary benefactor -- it's only justice. That's why I said that if anyone deserved rewarding relationships, which are only an act of justice for someone with a great worth, it was her.

Burgess,

I understand your sentiment in wishing her well in her own personal life. However, Ayn Rand was a primary philosopher, one of the four great philosophers.
She certainly was. But she was also a human being, first and foremost a human being and only secondarily a person with occupations such as a CPL, an interest in philosophy, etc. And since human beings need and deserve warmth and affection of others, she deserves them most of all, because of her personal qualities (insofar as I can determine them from descriptions of others). That is all I was trying to say.

I was responding to what RayK said:

"That question is, how much further could Ayn Rand have gone if she did not waste so much time on this couple?"

I would absolutely not want her to spend more time on philosophy and less time on personal relationships, because she's a human being, not a robot, and that sometimes gets overlooked.

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RayK,

She certainly was. But she was also a human being, first and foremost a human being and only secondarily a person with occupations such as a CPL, an interest in philosophy, etc.

...

I would absolutely not want her to spend more time on philosophy and less time on personal relationships, because she's a human being, not a robot, and that sometimes gets overlooked.

I think Ayn Rand would have rejected what I take to be an implied dichotomy here - between beeing human and being a philosopher. There are no non-human, robot philosophers. And I believe she expected her significant personal relationships to be integrated and inseparable from her value and accomplishments as an intellectual - her central purpose in life.

As an aside, not "all human beings need and deserve warmth and affection of others" Kim Jong Il, posing an easy example, does not deserve anything but death. What people deserve is justice.

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Having read "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics," I am convinced that this work will play a pivotal role in stemming -- and reversing -- the transmission of misinformation about Ayn Rand and Objectivism that has been spawned by the Brandens. If you don't have it, or if it's not on order, I urge you to order it now. One cannot imagine in advance the extent of the fraud. It's available at the Ayn Rand Bookstore at www.tinyurl.com/4t2w4 (for $9.70 less then at Amazon).

See my review on Amazon: tinyurl.com/co5dz:

Ayn Rand: A Valliant Vindication

James Valliant, prosecuting attorney and graduate philosopher, aptly demonstrates a superior grasp of both professions with his book, “The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.” The prosecutor meticulously delves into the voluminous fabrications, misrepresentations and outright lies perpetrated against Ayn Rand by her former associates, Nathanial and Barbara Branden. The philosopher exhibits the insight essential to a proper analysis of the facts in a highly philosophical context.

As an Objectivist on the scene when Ayn Rand denounced the Brandens in 1968, I can attest to the ensuing turmoil among her admirers due to the sudden necessity to face the distasteful fact of the Brandens’ betrayal. In the confusion, they manipulated the unwary for years, strategically waiting until after Ayn Rand’s death to unleash their main vitriol via “biographies,” which in turn created a never-ending onslaught of attacks by a bevy of Ayn Rand haters. These books, notably Ms. Branden’s “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” are the primary source for virtually all the hatchet job op-ed misrepresentations that have appeared over the years of Ayn Rand, of her philosophy, Objectivism, and of her associates. The Brandens’ fabrications have gone unanswered for decades.

Now comes James Valliant to set the record straight. Every Objectivist should read his book in order to grasp the incomprehensible depth and breadth of the scurrilous injustice perpetrated against our heroine. Every skeptic with an abiding respect for ideas should read his book in order to free himself of falsehood. Every detractor (and anonymous reviewer) should read his book; then look in a mirror.

Valliant’s work is a tour de force. His is the dynamite to clear the logjam of deceit that has impeded the flow of Objectivism into the mainstream of popular thought; it will render the Brandens and their ilk just so much flotsam. As John Galt would say, “The road is cleared.”

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Does nobody here then have the slightest problem with the fact that Ayn Rand agreed to have an intimate relationship with Nathaniel Branden while being happily married to Frank O'Connor? I hoped in vain to find her journal notes on this issue in Valliant's book but there are none. To me the personality attacks of the Branden's were never the issue and after reading the Ayn Rand Letters I assumed they were distortions. The issue was the affair itself and how to fully justify it. Certainly, there was no dishonesty but I did not find what little Valliant has to say on the topic particularly enlightening. It still seems to me that she was at minimum going against her marriage vows (I'm assuming they included some reference to exclusivity).

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Does nobody here then have the slightest problem with the fact that Ayn Rand agreed to have an intimate relationship with Nathaniel Branden while being happily married to Frank O'Connor? I hoped in vain to find her journal notes on this issue in Valliant's book but there are none. To me the personality attacks of the Branden's were never the issue and after reading the Ayn Rand Letters I assumed they were distortions. The issue was the affair itself and how to fully justify it. Certainly, there was no dishonesty but I did not find what little Valliant has to say on the topic particularly enlightening. It still seems to me that she was at minimum going against her marriage vows (I'm assuming they included some reference to exclusivity).

It is my understanding (though I don't remember where I read it) that he knew and consented.

Though once again-that's just my understanding, but not a fact-though if anyone knows where I could have gotten this piece of information, I'd be very thankful B).

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