by Murray N. Rothbard
in the August, 1989, issue of The American Libertarian.
death of Abbie Hoffman has swiftly transformed the long-forgotten
clown of the New Left into a veritable publishing industry. As one
long-time member of that industry commented: "Death is hot."
the publication of Barbara Branden's Passion
of Ayn Rand in 1986, the Ayn Rand scavenger hunt has begun,
with the orthodox Randians auctioning off her sacred relics. The
latest entry in the Rand sweepstakes is Judgment
Day, by Barbara's ex-husband, Nathan, and unfortunately
it will not be the last.
If the book
makes a lot of scratch, Nathan has been threatening to publish a
sequel (Son of Judgment?) consisting of allegedly juicy outtakes
cropped from the current book. So, what's next "I was
Ayn Rand's Rational Dentist: See How She Reacted to Abscess Pressure"?
There are considerable
differences, however, between Barbara's and Nathan's books. For
one thing, Barbara focused on a legitimate topic: a biography of
Ayn Rand, for all her follies an author of some stature. While Barbara's
effort was overblown and had considerable flaws, she at least tried
painfully to come to terms with her experience with Rand. There
is indeed in her work a considerable amount of passion.
Branden's Judgment Day focuses on a far less interesting
or legitimate topic: the history of his own feelings in every situation
in his life. I can't think of any topic less interesting to a rational
And what feelings!
For a shrink, and for a man of his narcissism, Branden displays
an amazing lack of self-knowledge or of insight into the people
around him. For here is the allegedly mature, post-Randian Branden
writing a saga of unrelieved tedium. The story of Nate the Great,
a world-historical figure of our century, spending all of his life
amid an endless array of shmucks, creeps, lowlifes, and assorted
villains and morons. And these were his lovers and supposedly
his best friends!
in Toronto, the Great One is scarcely understood by his dull and
uncomprehending family. His fellow students, too, have no inkling
of his greatness.
Later, he formed
his buddies and subordinates into the Randian Collective, people
whom at the time he proclaimed to be the World's Most Rational Men
and Women. But now he reveals what he really thought them to be:
a gang of unproductive parasites, desperately trying (and obviously
failing) to win his favor by adoringly telling him how he saved
and transformed their lives (to which the Great One, at least in
retrospect, responded with thinly veiled contempt).
six months that I was associated with the Randian movement (the
first half of 1958, at the beginning of the RandCult), Branden once
told me that his cousin and psychologist-disciple, Allan Blumenthal,
was his "best friend."
best friend! In this tedious and repellent work, in which Branden
mercilessly slams every one of his old friends and lovers, poor
Blumenthal is arguably dumped on the most. Blumenthal was "prissy,"
a "eunuch" mysteriously surrounded by homosexuals (Hey,
what's he getting at?), his entire life dominated by malicious envy
of his brilliant and wonderful cousin. And on and on it goes.
As for his
lovers, "kiss and tell" hardly covers it. Poor Barbara
is slammed continually an inferior slut unworthy of the Great
One. It takes very little psychological insight to figure out that
Barbara, in Nathan's eyes, committed the Ultimate Sin: not being
sexually responsive to the Greatest Man of our Century.
Of all the
inferior subcreatures that Nathan has been forced to deal with in
his life, only Ayn Rand is judged as worthy of living on the same
planet and she, of course, was kinda crazy.
Day doesn't even have the virtue of first disclosing the juicy
details about Ayn and Nathan's sex life since Barbara has
already beaten him to the punch. What we are left with is a consistently
nasty and squalid book, Nathan getting back at everyone. This is
a book unrelieved by any flash of wit or genuine insight.
If you are
going to write a nasty book about your lovers and friends, you had
best have the wit and sparkle, the splendid writing style, of Truman
Capote in Answered Prayers. Instead, we have a humorless
thump-thump account as Branden hacks away at everyone around him.
Nathan's alleged recantation of his role as Enforcer and Lord High
Executioner in the RandCult sticks to pro forma generalities.
Not once does he actually apologize to any person whose life he
helped wreck. In fact, in one of the specific cases of expulsion
(my own, pp. 259261), Nathan presents a totally false account
my refutation in Liberty, September), in which he reverts
to the old Enforcer role of thirty years ago that he had supposedly
abandoned. In any case, this incident does not give me confidence
in the veracity of the rest of the book.
I know several
people who started reading Judgment Day neutral or moderately favorable
to Branden, and every one of them ended by virtually being ready
to organize a lynch party against him. "Branden is no gentleman,"
one exclaimed as he finished the book. That's of course a masterpiece
of understatement. Such a concept as "honor" has no place
in Branden's lexicon.
In the old
days, anyone who publicly maligned his sex partners in such a manner
would have been called a "cad" and a "bounder,"
and would have been horsewhipped out of town. Excessive punishment,
perhaps, but still.
hurled the book down at the end and exclaimed, "trashy and
self-serving!" The entire book is an exercise in self-justification
and glorification, as well as a condemnation of virtually everyone
else. But it's trashy too; the book is written like a bad soap opera
or an article in True Confessions, except that the latter
are more interesting. Nathan, for example, meets someone and invariably
correctly sums up his or her character (almost always crumby) in
one penetrating glance.
One of the
curious aspects of Judgment Day is the Epilogue. The subtitle
of the book is "My Years with Ayn Rand," and yet the Epilogue
goes on and on about the mysterious death of Patrecia, wife number
2, almost ten years after Nathan's expulsion from the RandCult in
1968. Why does he keep dwelling on the details of an event clearly
irrelevant to the book?
There are many
possible explanations, some more sinister than others, that have
been bruited around the libertarian movement for years. Here is
one possible solution to the puzzle: In my days in the movement,
we kept hearing about Nathan's plan to write one day his own Great
Novel. So, just as Brahms's First Symphony has been called Beethoven's
Tenth because it so closely followed the Master, perhaps we can
treat Judgment Day as Nathan's first, or Rand's fourth, novel,
albeit a "nonfiction" one, using real names. We could
then, I suppose, excuse the falsehoods and the personal smears in
the name of "art." And every reader of mystery stories
knows the value of a dead body, especially of a pretty female perishing
in mysterious circumstances.
is not off the hook, because Judgment Day fails even as a
work of fiction. We are told many details of the death of Patrecia,
for example, but other crucial items are missing. Thus, we are told
such minute details as the exact time that Patrecia made her last
phone call to Nathan on the day of her death, as well as the precise
hour that Branden wound his way up the driveway to get to his home
to find her body. And yet we are not told anything of Nathan's whereabouts
that crucial afternoon; nor are we told the details of the autopsy
we are told odd details about their watchdog, and yet it is unclear
why it is important that he was found inside rather than outside
the house by the authorities. And how exactly and when did Branden
"trip the burglar alarm" that summoned those authorities?
Inquiring minds want to know!
the writing is monotonous, the plot is boring rather than powerful
(as in the case of Rand), and the characterization is wooden and
one-dimensional. And surely, any work of fiction needs more than
one hero, and at least one heroine?
No, I recommend
that Branden stick to California psychobabble and shrinkage in the
future. He says in the book that he found his group intensives efficacious.
Somehow omitted is the fact that, efficacious or not, huge groups,
each patient paying a hefty sum for the weekend, with Nathan acting
as square-dance caller ("Turn to the person on your right.
Complete the following sentence: I hate your guts because.
brought in an enormous amount of moolah.
There is a
great line in The
Godfather when the Corleone family is considering holding
a meeting with someone, and the Don says, "he's a serious man,
worthy of respect." Doctor Branden on the contrary, is a poseur
and a mountebank, worthy only of scorn and contempt.
between Rand and Branden, moreover, is really no contest. Rand created
something, whereas Branden has lived his entire life parasitically
off Rand, first as a worshipful disciple and cult organizer, then
as a neo-Randian shrink who set up shop in California with the solid
initial base of the RandCult's Nathaniel Branden Institute mailing
list. And now, too, he is parasitically living off Rand as a scavenger
and kiss-and-tell calumniator. Talk about your "social metaphysician!"
Best of Murray Rothbard