Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Biography of The Goddess of Philosophy

The Passion of Ayn Rand
Barbara Branden

Was Ayn Rand an Objectivist? I ask this question because after reading Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand I am constrained to believe that at times Rand took decisions that were philosophically unsound. “Check your premises,” was her favorite injunction, but there are instances where she failed to check her own premises.

Branden writes with the flair of a gifted fiction writer—The Passion of Ayn Rand is like a magic carpet that transports you to an earlier instance, to the world of Ayn Rand where the absorbing drama of her life unfolds before your eyes.

Approaching her subject with sympathy and understanding, Branden gives a riveting description of the challenges that Rand faced before she become an established writer. Rand fled from Soviet Union and arrived in USA in 1926 with only $50. After living with relatives in Chicago for a few months she went to Hollywood where she initially survived by taking up all kinds of odd jobs. She attained financial stability after the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943.

The Ayn Rand that emerges from the book’s pages is completely believable—from the first page the book catches hold of your attention and fills you with the feeling that you are indeed engaged in reading the story of the writer of life transforming books like We The Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. This is Ayn Rand—this is how she was—this is how she ought to be.

In The Fountainhead, Peter Keating describes Howard Roark in these words: “He’d walk over corpses. Any and all of them. All of us. But he’d be an architect.” But Keating’s words can be applied to Rand. The inference that you draw from Branden’s book is that Rand, like Roark, will walk over corpses. Any and all of them. All of us. But she will write great works of literature and philosophy.

The Passion of Ayn Rand is divided into six parts: Prologue, We The Living, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Denouement, and Epilogue. The first three parts have many laudatory things to say about Rand. Even the last two parts—Denouement and Epilogue—pay glowing tributes to Rand.

But in the part titled “Atlas Shrugged” Rand’s major failings get revealed. The scenarios in this section are mystifying—Rand, the philosopher of reason and reality, comes out as a person who is consistently failing to apply the principles of her philosophy in several aspects of her life. She has surrounded herself with young men and women (devout acolytes like Nathaniel and Barbara) who are extremely obsequious with her—basking under their constant adulation Rand is convinced about her own philosophical infallibility.

Barbara surmises that Rand has worked with such severity for decades to complete her novels that she has reached the stage where she is trapped in the world of her own fiction. Rand is often unable to judge people and situations—everyone she sees is, in varying degrees, a copy of some character that she created in her novels. She thinks that those who do not share her taste in music, literature, painting and movies are suffering from a flawed psycho-epistemology.

“No one achieves power who does not seek it; had [Ayn Rand] not insisted upon being viewed as a goddess, she would not have been so viewed. Nevertheless, the adulation she received was a great disservice to her. She needed to be challenged when she applauded a young woman’s agony—or when she spoke of Aristotle as the only thinker in history from whom she had had anything to learn—or when she demanded, in her affair with Nathaniel, that a set of rules be held as applicable to her that were not applicable to others—or when she flew into a rage, as she did with her attorney, Pincus Berner, at his suggestion that everyone, including herself, had at some time done what they knew to be wrong—or when she made it implicitly clear that any criticism of her was an act of treason to reason and morality.”

There is one thing that Rand desperately quests for in her life—she wants to be in a relationship with a perfect man, one who is a quintessential John Galt. But when a real John Galt does not enter her life, she commits the psychological mistake of attributing John Galt’s qualities to the man who is available. Her husband Frank O’Connor becomes the first substitute for John Galt. But he is an unambitious, easygoing man who often indulges in boozing. When he fails to meet her expectations she looks for an alternative and discovers Nathaniel Branden.

Rand commences a relationship with Nathaniel with full knowledge and consent of her husband, Frank, and Nathaniel’s then-wife, Barbara. The problem is that she is around 25-years older than Nathaniel. He lacks the experience and knowledge to be her companion—but he is a quick learner and he soon develops a good grasp of philosophy. He initiates several ventures to propagate Rand’s ideas. Yet he is not John Galt. But she is convinced that he is.

In the beginning Nathaniel enjoys being hailed as a John Galt, but in a few years his consciousness begins to rebel at the idea of being something that he isn’t. The realization dawns on him that he wants to be who he really is. He falls for Patrecia, a woman of his own age. When Rand comes to know of his affair she is devastated, and she reacts in the only way she can—by accusing Nathaniel of being a moral monster. In her description of the torturous breakup between Rand and Nathaniel, Barbara tries to be compassionate to both sides. But she creates the feeling that the greater responsibility for what happened lay with Rand.

But what if a John Galt like figure did enter Ayn Rand’s life! In my view, it is impossible for Rand and a Galt-like man to coexist. When both are ruthlessly driven to achieve their own ambitions, a conflict of interest will inevitably arise at some point of time and they will be driven apart. I think Frank O’Connor, who allowed Rand to have her way in everything, was the right man for her. Whenever she needed his support he was available for her and he never let his own desires and ambitions come in the way of her work. It is true that their marriage decayed over a period of time but at least they remained together till the end.

Reading The Passion of Ayn Rand is a great emotional experience. You can’t put down the book once you start reading it. The spellbinding narrative enables you to develop a mature view of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism.

I will end this review with a passage from Barbara Branden’s Introduction that is sublime in its poetic expression:

“Those who worship Ayn Rand and those who damn her do her the same disservice: they make her unreal and they deny her humanity. I hope to show in her story that she was something infinitely more fascinating and infinitely more valuable than either goddess or sinner. She was a human being. She lived, she loved, she fought her battles, and she knew triumph and defeat. The scale is epic; the principle is inherent in human existence.”

Related: 

The Noumenal World of Nathaniel Branden

1 comment:

  1. Anoop Verma, I admire what you are doing, retaining a human quality in Ayn Rand being but one of them. You might find something that I wrote a number of years ago of interest. A link ...
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