Apparently I missed the news that Ayn Rand’s former lover and protege, disciple or sycophant, depending upon your tolerance for Ayn Rand, Twentieth Century philosophy and/or cults, died. Luckily, I have friends looking out for me, so I was tipped off to the story, which I found, among other papers’ accounts, the L.A. Times article summary of the life, death and love affairs of Nathaniel Branden (formerly Blumenthal).
Of course, the article focuses on the most famous and all encompassing love of his life, Ayn Rand, best known as author and purveyor of her own brand of philosophy, Objectivism, and someone long embraced and cited by Conservative Republicans, most notably in recent history by Paul Ryan in the last presidential race. In fact, she is one of the “staples of the modern Conservative canon,” according to Beverly Gage of Slate.com in her intriguing August, 2012 article entitled, “Why is There No Liberal Ayn Rand?”
Fortunately and unfortunately for Nathaniel Branden (he changed his name to include “rand” in it), his life’s sum and legacy is dependent upon Rand. His story is only interesting by virtue of his involvement with her as first fan, then disciple, then lover, and finally nemesis. According to the Times, when Branden and Rand found themselves in love, the ever rational Rand insisted that their spouses be sat down and informed:
In 1954, Branden and Rand, who was 25 years his senior, started their affair after summoning their astonished spouses to a meeting.
“We’re not Platonists,” Rand reminded them, in Branden’s account. “We don’t hold our values in some other realm, unrelated to the realm in which we live our lives. If Nathan and I are who we are, if we see what we see in each other, if we mean the values we profess — how can we not be in love?”
How Rand. Reading the above passage in the Times article, I was caught once again in Rand’s net: that simple, affirmative, rational and adult-like composure to fiercely defend natural human want, desires of the flesh and the heart–by the head. I was very drawn to her ideas, her promoting the will of the intelligent, rational being as prevailing above all, when I read the Fountainhead at age 14. I was not aware then of her philosophical agenda.
For Rand and Objectivism, the here and now (the real world, the one that can be perceived with the senses) is all there is and the ultimate moral objective for humankind is each individual’s rational pursuit of his or her own happiness:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute (Atlas Shrugged)
She spoke out against anything remotely ‘socialist’, which is what she considered the payment of taxes (one of the three pillars past of Republican principles: taxes, defense, and anti-Communism); she was for anything diametrically opposed to the communism of her descendants’ Cold War Russia. Thus, the Republican lure.
Politics aside, of course it makes sense that two people would fall in love if they are passionate to the point of obsession about a cause, an idea. And isn’t Rand to be applauded for her forthrightness and honesty to tell the spouses, hers and Branden’s, about their intention to engage in a love affair and the reasons? How mature and insightful about the human condition. After all, people get married at specific times in their lives to others who fit their needs. But needs change. Partners do not always change together, keep their goals the same. Those facts should be clear and common sensical. So why not acknowledge that as just another fact of the human condition? Why not acknowledge the unreality of monogamy as a viable institution, right? If folks were just practical…
The couple announced they wanted to be alone in Rand’s New York apartment for one afternoon and one evening each week. Over the next few years, Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor, started drinking heavily and Branden’s wife, Barbara, began having panic attacks.
Ultimately, both couples divorced; Branden and Rand went through their final, searing rupture after he revealed his intense, secret relationship with Patrecia Scott, a young model and aspiring actress he later married. She acted under the name Patrecia Wynand, a surname drawn from “The Fountainhead”.
Well, there are good ideas, and then there are behavioral realities. How does a philosophy work that is based only on what the rational self can produce? Whose rationality? Rand would dismiss the idea that there is more than one rationality, that there is no such world produced by individual minds, only the one physical world. But that does not jive with lived experience. If you asked my brother and me the story of our childhood, he (2 years my junior, same parents and home) would bemoan the poverty and deprivation, missed birthday presents, whereas I would express gratitude for a carefree, want-for-nothing childhood. Whose reality is the real one?
My egocentric young teenager self was attracted to Rand’s thinking, deliciously indulging my belief ultimately in my own intelligence, strength and determination as the tools for my future success (Tomorrow, Pinky…the world!). But there was an unease, a coldness about that rational world that even I could not fully subscribe to or believe. In fact, Objectivism, it occurred to me later in adulthood, was only appealing to me as an idealistic, selfish adolescent inexperienced in life’s ass kickings delivered by human beings with diverse interpretations or completely devoid of rationality, reason and/or logic.
Even Branden, a psychology student and PhD, finally figured it out: that the world would be great if we could all just sit down like rational adults and reason this affair thing out–but that’s just not the way it works–especially if some other hottie comes along to derail your principles and your rational lover and guru turns irrational (but logically so) in a rage of vindictive jealousy as a result thereof.
I guess that’s why in the articles I read, Branden’s successive work, after Rand, published books on self esteem, gets footnoted almost, with a hint of an ironic wink, a chuckle and a nod.
And I suppose that’s the fate of the mistress, sometimes, when he/she is caught or even up front about the ‘other.’ People may get hurt in the schism between reason and emotion. Certainly society’s eye will sneer and smirk at his/her downfall.