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.