Nathaniel Branden has died

Nathaniel Branden, an important figure in Objectivism, has died.

Nathaniel was noteworthy for many reasons. I have heard it said that Atlas Shrugged would not have been completed were it not for his “affair” with Ayn Rand – at one time he was Rand’s second romantic partner. The Huffington Post – of all places – has an early obituary which to me at least seems very fair. It is credited to James Peron who was involved in publishing a book of Nathaniel’s.

That affair, the substance of which lasted at least 3 years, is a huge controversy in Objectivism and the source of divisions. Frankly, as a bit of an outsider looking on from the UK it does not feel that important. I imagine it to be a result of Rand creating and adopting a unique philosophy of life. The uniqueness and loneliness of that meant she needed discover for herself all the consequences, and non-consequences, of those new ideas without reference to centuries of prior experience of other systems. What is important that that Objectivists now are saying that there is an opportunity to move on now that those directly involved have passed away. While that is sad sentiment to express today, I’m sure Nathaniel will have wanted us to confront it directly and acknowledge that it may have some truth to it.

Here are some things I did not know that I just read in that obituary:

He was known as … the father of the modern self-esteem movement.

I did not know there was such a movement, though I have read a little of Nathaniel’s popular psychology. I agree with Frederick Cookingham that there are worse examples of the genre. His basic ideas, to the extent I know them, are interesting and seem to have some power. That this work has been influential outside of Objectivism is a pleasant surprise.

Branden systematized Rand’s philosophy, something she had not done, and presented lectures on the ideas

I knew about the NBI and the lectures, but did not know that it was Branden that systematised the philosophy. I suspect Leonard Peikoff may disagree.

He acknowledged his role in creating a spirit of intolerance within Rand’s circles

This is a very important observation, Rand is certainly seen as intolerant though it never seemed like a fundamental of her philosophy.

One of the things I realized is that as we age most of us become more and more like our worst self. It is easy to become bitter about how age treats the body and soul and to show that bitterness to the world. But, Nathaniel Branden, in his later years, became more and more like his best self.

I think this is a credit to Nathaniel’s ideas and those of Rand’s that he bucked the trend and become a nicer person.




Image via Reason.





  1. As I understand it (correct me if I am mistaken) the most important thing for an Objectivist is their work. So I hope that this gentleman achieved things of value in his work, and was able to work up to the conclusion of his life.



  2. The rap against Branden is personal stuff (which I am too middle aged to be shocked by any more), the rap against Rothbard is over such things as the Nazis, the Communists and the Islamists – and I will be angered by that sort of thing till the day I die (because I make a choice not to “get used to it” not to wink at it and say “oh it was just Murray sounding off again”). It is not a minarchist versus anarcho capitalist thing (although it is often as presented as such). Tim Starr (look him up on Facebook) is an anarcho capitalist and has taken a leading role in exposing some of Rothbard’s stuff to the young (exposing Rothbard’s stuff on the Soviet invasion of Finland – and thousand and one other things), but Brian M. (now of samizdata) and the late Chris Tame warned me against Rothbard many years ago – sadly Chris did not see an enemy of the West who was much closer to him that Rothbard was (Sean Gabb).

    I repeat I do not really care (not at my age) who Branden did or did not sleep with. What I care about was did he take the side of the Slave Power in relation to the Civil War (contrary to Woodrow Wilson and M.N. Rothbard the war was about slavery – indeed the killing started in “Bleeding Kansas” before Mr Lincoln was even elected), or the moral relativist elite of Imperial Germany in relation to the First World War (see the German Declaration of War upon France – and the reply of the French President, a philosopher, to this document, a reply that makes it clear that the conflict was now no longer just a conflict between two countries, but between the universal principles of Reason and Justice and those who deny that such universal principles exist), and the Axis Powers of World II, – especially National Socialist Germany, but Mussolini was also a relativist philosopher, taking his stuff from William James and Sorel, not just Karl Marx, the Cold War against the Marxists, and the struggle against the Islamists. The followers of Mohammed being the original rebels (more than a thousand years ago) against the foundational principles that humans are beings, that we can (with effort) tell basic moral right from moral wrong (that these are not just the arbitrary WILL of God or THE STATE) and (again with effort) choose to do what is morally right and reject what is wrong – choose to do other than we do.

    It is not a matter of doing bad things – in struggle and war there are no perfect people (there are no perfect people even in peace). It is a matter of whether or not one accepts that there are universal principles of reason and justice at all – the dark powers above, rejected the very principles themselves. So those who write de facto apologetics for them, for example presenting Britain as the aggressor in World War II – de facto siding with Hitler against Churchill, even if they try and hide that this is what they doing, do a very bad thing indeed – de facto they have joined the darkness. Ditto with the Cold War – with those who try and smear the West (even if they do not have the guts to openly say they are siding with the Marxists). It must be made clear that such people are NOT saying “such and such a tactic war wrong – it would have been better to have fought the war like this…….” – that is what I thought (I assumed) they were doing when I was young, only gradually did I come to understand that they did were against the West in principle – that they wanted us to LOSE. Like Rothbard rejoicing (rejoicing) as the Marxists conquered Indo China (Laos, Cambodia and the Republic of Vietnam) – just as (if one takes his “arguments” to their logical conclusions) he would have rejoiced at the victory of Nazi Germany in World War II.

    Those who think that the still living people who use Rothbardian arguments against Britain and the United States have changed are sadly mistaken. They continue to repeat (as truth) enemy propaganda in relation to the First World War, Nazi propaganda (as truth) in relation to World War II, Communist propaganda (as truth) in relation to the Cold War, and Islamist propaganda (as truth) now. They know perfectly well that what they say is NOT true (or, at “best”, is a hopelessly twisted version of the truth – with what is vitally important carefully left out) – but they do not care, not as long as the West (especially the United States and Britain) is undermined. For example those who take the side of Mr Putin (whilst denying they are taking the side of Mr Putin) in relation to the Ukraine would do the same if he attacked Poland or Estonia. It is not the specific case of the Ukraine (the details of this specific case) that interest them – it is the general principle, The general principle being (although they do not openly admit this) “DEATH TO THE WEST – LONG LIVE THE ENEMIES OF THE WEST”.

    Murray Rothbard declared himself an Aristotelian (thanks to the influence of Ayn Rand), but in all of the above conflicts – he took the wrong side, and used his mind to try and construct arguments to make the West (especially the United States and Britain) look like the bad guys. Those who use their minds to attack the mind – those who use reason to attack reason (perverting justice) are the worst sort of traitor. And it is not inevitable for anarcho capitalists – as I have already given examples of anarcho capitalists who made a choice not to fall into this darkness.

    I am a minarchist myself – and a hopelessly moderate one at that, seeking gradual reform in spite of betrayal after betrayal. However, it is quite possible for someone to be totally unlike me – to be a hard core anarcho capitalist (and to demand that it come at once – not gradual reforms) whilst NOT being a traitor to the West (in the political philosophical sense of that word). Indeed an anarcho capitalist would argue that they are far truer to the universal principles of reason and justice than I am – because they do not make the endless compromises that I do. The decision to goon the other side (to join the darkness) is utterly unnecessary for an anarcho capitalist.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s