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The Passion of Barbara Branden
I have no intention of writing detailed essays in order to defend myself against whatever accusations anyone might care to make against my biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand. For years, ARI people have been accusing me of everything but the gentle art of well-poisoning; Leonard Peikoff waxed eloquent for a long time about the "fact" that I invented out of whole cloth the story that Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden had a long-lasting sexual affair; Peter Schwartz simply called me unpleasant names. I said little or nothing. I let the accusations speak for themselves. I shall follow that policy in the future.
Nor shall I defend Nathaniel’s Judgment Day, a book I disliked, as I stated publicly when it came out. His revision, My Years with Ayn Rand, is a much better book.
I shall continue to let my readers decide for themselves what they think of my story, and of me.
I am proud of The Passion of Ayn Rand. I told the truth about Ayn Rand, to the best of my ability, knowledge, and recollection. That is all I needed to do. But I would like to say something about why I wrote the book, since my reasons have proved to be of interest to many of my readers.
During the nineteen years I was close to Ayn Rand, I observed her remarkable life with never-ending fascination. It seemed to me, then, as it does now, to have the attributes that real life rarely has: the attributes of a novel. According to Rand’s own definition, a novel is "a purposeful progression of events leading to a climax." I have always loved the novel form, and when I came to consider writing her biography, it seemed that I had been given a marvelous plot—and all I had to do was the work I loved best: the work of putting it into words.
The effect of Rand’s ideas on our world was becoming apparent in the years during which I wrote her biography: 1981-1985, although that effect was not nearly as obvious as it is today. I believed that her story should be told, and that someone would tell it and probably quite soon. It was important to me, because I loved and valued Rand and valued the lessons of her life, that it be told properly, by someone who had watched so much of that life, had been part of it for many years, and would struggle to do it justice. I hated the thought that the only biographies to come out would be precisely those that have come out in recent years: biographies that are flat, ignorant, insensitive to the extraordinary nature of this great writer and thinker, to the richness and turbulence of her life, and to the extent to which she has forever altered American thought.
But there were other reasons, of a more personal sort. As Executive Vice-President of Nathaniel Branden Institute, I had had an important role in its success during the ten years we taught Objectivism in New York and ultimately in eighty cities across the United States and Canada. I had had an important role in forming the Objectivist movement that had sprung up. And I had helped to create the "cult of personality" that had formed around Rand in particular but also around Nathaniel and to some extent around myself. The three of us, and Frank O’Connor, were seen as ideal exemplars of the Objectivist morality and sense of life; admirers of Rand’s ideas were expected to understand that to criticize us was equivalent to criticizing the ideas that, for so many of them, had changed their lives for the better and had given them exalted ideals and goals to reach for.
When Rand broke with Nathaniel and me, it appeared to her admirers that a near-impossibility had occurred: in the persons of Ayn and Nathaniel, two totally rational people had encountered differences that reason could not resolve. It was a deeply shocking and hurtful event, made much worse by the fact that the real reason for the break was not presented, leaving our students deeply confused and deeply hurt. I felt strongly at the time that the truth—that Nathaniel was in love with another woman and was unwilling to continue his affair with Rand—should have been stated if anything at all was to be stated. But Rand was unwilling even to consider this, and I had given her the most solemn oath of secrecy of my life.
In 1981, I decided to break my vow of secrecy, and I shall forever be glad that I did so. I believed—and believe—that my debt to my students and their right to know the truth overrode that vow. I had to break the presumed link between the validity of Objectivism and the perfection of Ayn Rand. As I wrote in the Introduction to The Passion of Ayn Rand:
"Her person encompassed the grandeur of the heroes of her novels, their iron determination, their vast powers of intellect and imagination, their impassioned pursuit of their goals, their worship of achievement, their courage, their pride, and their love of life—as well as the terrors, the self-doubts, the lack of emotional balance, the private agonies that are so alien to an Ayn Rand hero. Her virtues were larger then life—and so were her shortcomings….
"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 was epic; the principle is inherent in human existence."
And so I wrote my book, and spent the happiest four years of my life doing so. As the writing progressed, it became the passion of my life, such that, toward the end, I found myself thinking one day: "I don’t care if the world is to end—as long as it doesn’t do so before I’ve written ‘The End.’" And what I had to say about Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, I said. And so you read my book, most of you, and what you think, you think. Perhaps we all have done well, you and I.
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