1998 Interview with Full Context (Continued)
Q: The Ayn Rand Institute is in charge of Ayn Rand's journals, letters, etc. What do you think of their handling of these items?
Barbara: I scarcely know where to begin. I think their handling of Ayn's estate is a shocking, unforgivable disgrace. I'll give you some examples. Years before she died, the Library of Congress approached Ayn with the request that she give them the manuscripts of her novels. She felt honored by the request, and agreed to it. Around the time of her death, I'm told, she was preparing her manuscripts for them. She died before the preparations were completed.
Since her death, Peikoff did send the Library the manuscript of The Fountainhead but has not honored Ayn's wishes and sent the other novels. He is, so he has announced, keeping his own archives. And of course, those archives are off-limits to any scholar or student who is not a true believer in Peikoff's version of Objectivism. The latest shocker is that he said, in a recent Los Angeles Times interview, that when he sent off the manuscript of The Fountainhead, he "stole" his word the first and last pages.
Q: I have spoken with the Library of Congress about this very issue because I heard that Peikoff was selling a lot of these things at his Ayn Rand garage sales, and they were horrified. They said that it was their understanding that they were supposed to receive these materials, and the few that they did receive were in broken down boxes and in less than fair condition and they were very unhappy about that. After a series of attempts by correspondence to get Peikoff to respond to The Library of Congress, he finally declared that he knew what Ayn Rand was thinking just before she died and so he is acting on those thoughts.
Barbara: Since I don't like to use four-letter words, I will not respond
I said I would give you other examples. Peikoff has published, for years, writings of Ayn that she never, never would have agreed to have published such as her earliest short stories which she submitted for publication at the time she wrote them under an assumed name. Realizing that she was not yet a professional writer, she did not want those stories associated with the name "Ayn Rand." She told others and me that she would not make those stories public. I well understand that her early fiction is fascinating to her readers. But those stories were Ayn's. It was her right to determine what would be done with them.
Q: Are you in contact with some of the people who were kicked out?
Barbara: Yes. And I'm delighted to say that some of them either left Peikoff's Institute or were excommunicated because they liked my book and said so. That, of course, is heresy.
Q: Are you in contact with Dr. Reisman and Dr. Packard?
Barbara: Semi-contact. I sent them an e-mail although I haven't seen them for thirty years after I read the correspondence posted on the Net about their expulsion. I extended my sympathies for what they'd been put through which I believe was totally unjustified and said that I was delighted they were out of that fanatical mess. They replied with a very nice note
I'll add one last example of Peikoff's behavior. It's the most appalling instance of the way he's handling the estate entrusted to him. He has, by his own admission some years ago in his magazine, edited some of Ayn's unpublished non-fiction. This appalling presumptuousness makes such work historically valueless. Chris Sciabarra has an article in the September 1998 issue of Liberty in which he discusses some of the editing. He compared a section of the Journals with what was supposedly the same material published by Peikoff years ago and pointed out the differences.
Q: Were they philosophical differences?
Barbara: How can one know what was omitted or altered?
Q: I wonder what Leonard Peikoff has done with the letters and the things that she wrote about her relationship with Nathaniel? This is of historical interest.
Barbara: Of course. One cannot fully understand Ayn's life if one omits that story. My guess is that he will never publish that material because he would feel that it raises questions about Ayn's character. And for whatever reason, he appears to think that it would be a disaster for Objectivism is it were known that she had any flaws. It's a very peculiar idea. I've never heard anyone say that they would reject Aristotelianism if they learned, for instance, that Aristotle was cruel to his wife.
Q: Sounds very Platonic.
Barbara: That's the least of what it is. I'm convinced that the intolerance and fanaticism of the Institute has done serious harm to Ayn's reputation, and has given her philosophical opponents good cause to speak of dogmatism.
Q: Do you think she was less intolerant or did she somewhat set a tone for it?
Barbara: She did set a tone for it, without question. But some of her supposed followers are more royalist than the king.
Q: She did have those kangaroo courts and such.
Barbara: Well, she and Nathan did.
Q: So Nathaniel had more to do with starting that than she did? Did she go along because she was getting bitter?
Barbara: She more than went along. She approved. But Nathan was the instigator of those terrible sessions. I believe he would agree that this is so.
Q: You very recently closed a deal to auction your Rand collection. Can you tell us about this, the kinds of things you have, who can bid and where, when it will happen, and if anyone can submit their mementos for sale with yours? Also, how can people who want to submit their items contact you and when is the cut off date for their submissions?
Barbara: Let me first tell you how the auction came about. It's a remarkable story. I had been thinking of selling my memorabilia because I'd learned something I had not known: that photocopies of documents, manuscripts and so on are considered as important as the originals for archival purposes. I had always wanted to create an archive of my material, and I now realized that I could do so and also sell much of it.
I was at first thinking of setting up an auction on the Internet, but that seemed very cumbersome and an enormous amount of work. While I was thinking about what to do, I had lunch with two men who are acquaintances of mine, one of whom is an Objectivist. I was talking to them about my memorabilia and my problems figuring out how to go about auctioning it and what starting prices to ask for, and as I was speaking, I saw that they'd begun to smile. I asked, "What's funny?" and the Objectivist pulled out their business card. It read: "Estate Appraisers."
Q: You're leading a charmed life, don't you know!
Barbara: It seems that way. I've told friends that the universe appears to be engaged in a giant conspiracy to make my life wonderful! In any event, the two men came back to my home and looked through part of one box of my memorabilia and I kept hearing "Oh, my god!" from my study.
Within two days, they arranged for Gregory Shaw, who is in charge of Books and Manuscripts at the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house, to come to Santa Fe to look through my things and to talk contract with my friend and attorney, Henry Mark Holzer, and me. The negotiations moved like lightning, and within a week all necessary arrangements were completed.
After that, I contacted friends whom I thought might have memorabilia they would wish to sell. I struck gold. Contacting Robert Hessen, I discovered that he has the handwritten manuscript of almost every article Ayn ever wrote! And other friends are submitting items such as a short film of Ayn and Frank, which probably is the only film she ever allowed to be made, and a postcard from Ayn, who was in Colorado at the time, which begins "Hello from Galt's Gulch."
Barbara: Precisely. Many years ago, Bob Hessen was typing for Ayn and when he finished typing an article, he saw her toss the manuscript into a wastebasket. Bob is an historian, and knew that her manuscripts were of great historical value. He asked if he might have them. She said yes, and each time she wrote an article, she gave the manuscript to Bob.
Q: Good man!
Barbara: He has, and will be auctioning, almost five thousand pages of manuscript. The story of the short film is also interesting. A good friend and NBI's former representative in San Francisco, Paul Eisen, spent the day with Ayn and Frank in 1966 when they were in San Francisco with Nathan and me.
Paul took Ayn and Frank to a beach, at her request, so that she could look for the semi-precious stones she loved to collect and Frank could sketch. By some miracle Ayn hated to have her picture taken she allowed Paul to film this scene and a later one when he took Ayn and Frank to the University of California at Berkeley. Incredible!
Q: Can Paul convert the film to video to preserve it? Film doesn't last long.
Barbara: It has been and will continue to be very carefully preserved.
Q: What sort of things do you have?
Barbara: I have letters, I have a substantial amount of Ayn's "thinking aloud on paper," I have photos and mementos and documents and a good deal of her writing on psychology which she did to clarify her thinking and manuscripts of unpublished material that she gave me and
Q: Manuscripts, you mean articles?
Barbara: Yes, and materials from her journals. For instance, she wrote a paper she called "Consciousness, Purpose, and Self-Esteem" as a preparation for writing Galt's speech. She gave me the manuscript. It is truly a treasure. And I have about thirty of the penultimate pages of Atlas which, like the articles Bob Hessen has, would have ended up in her wastebasket had I not asked for them. The next version and final version of these pages that she wrote is pretty much what appeared in the book. But my pages, the version next to last, shows her editing. One is able to see the workings of her mind, and it's fascinating.
Q: What other things do you have for the auction? Ashtrays and such?
Barbara: I have gifts Ayn gave, personal letters, letters she wrote to my mother and to others, first editions of her books with wonderful inscriptions, many candid photographs that have never been seen because I took them myself.
Q: Do you have any intention of publishing your photos someday?
Barbara: I hadn't thought of it, but I probably should do it eventually.
Q: That would be fun! When and where is the auction?
Barbara: It will be held at Butterfield and Butterfield in Los Angeles, on November 18. If anyone looks for me, I'll be the woman gulping tranquilizers. There will be bidding by closed circuit television in Chicago and San Francisco, and banks of phones available for bidding in New York and abroad in Geneva, London and Hong Kong.
Q: If anyone is interested in submitting material for the auction, who would they submit it to?
Barbara: They should contact me at BBranden@aol.com and I'll pass the information along to the auction house. My web site is now up, and I give further information about the auction there. The URL is www.BarbaraBranden.com
Q: Will there be a booklet of the items for sale with photos? If so, how can one obtain one?
Barbara: There will be a four-color catalogue which Laissez Faire Books will make available.
Q: Besides writing Passion, what kinds of creative activities have you been pursuing since the split with Rand?
Barbara: You're asking me what I've been doing for the past thirty years! Okay, I'll try to give you a partial overview. A few months after my break with Ayn, I moved to Los Angeles, a city I had always liked and where I had a number of good friends.
For the next two years, I was engaged in a profoundly creative activity: it consisted of attempting to understand the past nineteen years of my life. I needed to understand much more about Ayn Rand than I did, much more about myself, about the movement I had helped create, about the values that had brought me to Ayn and Objectivism and had kept me there and the values that had finally led me to say "Enough."
I needed to take a fresh look at Objectivism, to see what I authentically accepted and what I did not. During my years with Ayn, I had believed myself rationally required to accept certain ideas and even certain idiosyncratic views she held that everything inside me screamed were wrong; but I had dismissed my emotional reactions as irrelevant.
Now, I had to go back, to re-examine those ideas and for the first time to examine those emotions. I had to approach my inner experience without the preconceived notion that it would lead me astray, lead me away from rationality. I had to learn to deal with my emotional repression; I had tried to deal with it during the Objectivist years but in fact I had not known how to. I had never examined, without prejudice and without guilt, the feelings and unexpressed thoughts that seemed to conflict with some of my "rational" conclusions. I had repressed them instead
I could go on for a very long time describing the issues I considered during those rather painful and intense two years. Suffice it to say that in the end I began gradually to know and it was a process that took years to complete, perhaps it is not yet finished that I was once again my own person, that I was looking at the world and at ideas through my own eyes.
My acceptance of Objectivism had always been first-hand but, as I now realized, with exceptions. There had been times when I fell under Ayn's sway and did not properly do my own thinking. There were issues I believed I must accept in the name of reason, that had in fact required profound self-denial
. I must add that during this period of rigorous self-examination and examination of Objectivism, I saw again, with more clarity than ever, the genius of Ayn Rand's philosophy and how much of it was part of me, built into my perspective on life, my world view, my sense of who I was.
And I knew that essentially I was an Objectivist, whatever issues of a non-fundamental nature I might disagree with. Perhaps I was more of an Objectivist than I had ever been, because what I now accepted I accepted without inner conflict.
After those years of introspection, I was in business for a few years, and I began working on a novel entitled Price No Object. Its theme was one that has been important to me precious to me for as long as I can remember: What price should one be willing to pay for what one esteems, loves, admires, wants, values? As I tell you the theme now, I feel again the inner excitement that I have always felt, the knowledge of how overwhelmingly important it is to me.
It took me five years to complete the novel. And in the end, I put it in a drawer, where it remains to this day and will remain. It was only when I finished it that I began to understand the extent to which Ayn influenced it, and so I decided that I did not want to have it published. It was not fully mine.
Re-reading it, I could see that as I wrote, I was finding my own literary voice, I was learning how to reach into and give reality to the deepest, most authentic part of me; but Ayn's influence had determined the structure of the novel and too much of the characterization of the protagonists. I learned a great deal writing the novel. There are things in it, especially one character that I want to use in a future novel.
Q: Tell us about that character.
Barbara: Creating him his name was Simon Garrick was one of the most interesting and unusual experiences I have ever had as a writer. I intended him to be a minor character, the heroine's attorney. But as I began to write about him I fell in love. I discovered what writers mean when they say that a character "wrote himself." Ideas about Simon kept rising from somewhere in my subconscious and within an hour he was a major character, and my favorite. That, of course, was one of the problems of the book: that the hero and heroine became my second-favorite characters, and presumably the readers would feel the same way.
To jump ahead a bit: When I began planning and then writing The Passion of Ayn Rand I wondered if I'd be in danger, because I was writing about Ayn, of being again too much influenced by her literarily. But somewhere beneath that concern, I knew, with total conviction, that this biography was my book, and in it I would write truthfully and objectively about Ayn Rand in the voice of Barbara Branden.
When the book was finished, I saw that what was on its pages was indeed my voice, that it came from my deepest self, from the experiences and conclusions and emotions of all my life. I cannot think of a happier time than the two-and-a-half years I spent researching the book, and especially the year-and-a-half I spent writing it. I woke up each morning eager to get to my computer, knowing that my subconscious was ready to go to work. Often a friend would say: "How are you going to handle such and such a event?" and I would answer: "Right now, I haven't the faintest idea. But when I get to it, I will know." And I did.
After Passion was published, I spent a year or more publicizing it not always directly, but there were many things I could do and wanted to do to be sure the book became ever more widely known. I loved doing the publicity. I had never been on television before and on radio only a few times. I remember being about to go on my first television show and thinking, "Okay, I'll be nervous. But I'll handle it, and after a few shows I won't be nervous." Then the lights went on, the cameras began to roll, I was asked the first question and I discovered that I was having the time of my life! I wanted the show never to end. Apparently there was more than a bit of exhibitionism hiding in my psyche that I had never been aware of.
Before and after Passion, I wrote a number of smaller pieces, articles and book reviews, and I continued to appear on television and radio and to be interviewed by newspapers and magazines. In recent years, I've been doing some editing, which I enjoy enormously. And I continue to do a great deal of public speaking. During the days of NBI, I gave lectures regularly, particularly for my course on efficient thinking. I enjoyed working on the material, I enjoyed the give-and-take of the question periods, but I did not particularly enjoy lecturing. I later understood why I hadn't enjoyed it. I spoke from prepared texts, so there was nothing for me to do except to say what I had written down.
It was only when I began putting the a few notes on cards about the material I planned to present, and to improvise within the parameters of my subject and theme, that I started to have a very good time. Still later, I stopped doing more than occasionally glancing at my cards, and I discovered the great pleasure of dealing more directly and personally with my audience, of noticing what reached them intellectually and/or emotionally about my subject, what they needed to know and what they enjoyed, and speaking accordingly. That interaction remains the major reason why I continue to give talks and why I look forward to them. That, and the question periods, which of course cannot be prepared in advance.
Q: Well, for us "aspiring" writers I'm one of them I find it hard to juggle writing and supporting myself. How did you manage that?
Barbara: It's terribly difficult. I find it close to impossible to do my best work if I cannot give it full time. But I had to do many things I didn't want to do in order to keep paying the rent.
Q: Are you planning more books?
Barbara: Yes indeed. I have two books in mind that will deal with Ayn Rand in a very different way than in my biography. But once the auction and those two books are behind me the books will not take long to do I will finally return to my first and greatest love, the novel.
Q: Do you have some ideas for a novel?
Barbara. Yes. It's something I've been thinking about and planning for a long time. It will be a love story; it will illustrate my concept of romantic love which is quite different than Ayn Rand's concept. It's not in all respects opposed to hers; it's simply different, it's mine.
Q: Can you give us an abstract of what the differences are?
Barbara: I don't see romantic love as the relationship between a hero and the woman who worships him. I see it as a relationship between a man and woman who are equals in every possible sense. And I believe that to say love is a response to one's highest values is a tremendous over-simplification. Our romantic and sexual responses are so complex particularly the responses that are not long-lasting that I don't believe anyone understands them at present. Certainly our values are involved, our most basic values, but we know relatively little about how that works out in our lives and emotions.
However, I don't plan to write a philosophical novel about the nature of love. I want to write about love as I have experienced it, I want to show what it feels like, how it changes the world for us, how it changes the lovers, how it brings with it a radiant light that illuminates the dark corners of our lives, how it calls on the most optimistic, the most generous, the most benevolent parts of us. That's what I want to make real in the pages of a novel.
Q: Now for some historical stuff that our readers are interested in. If you had it all to do over again, from the beginning, what would you do differently? How long do you think you could have remained friends with Rand, if you had asserted your own independent path much sooner than you did e.g., if you had told Rand you would continue to love the work of Thomas Wolfe even if he fell short of Rand's literary standards?
Barbara: I have to give you a two-part answer, since you've asked two questions. About Thomas Wolfe: I could not, at the time of my discussions with Ayn, say that I would continue to love his work. I believed that in reason I should love only that which I valued, which of course is true and, disastrously, I believed I should love only that which I could demonstrate to be rationally valid. It was the latter that created an insoluble problem for me.
Ayn convinced me that Wolfe was not a great novelist in his handling of theme and plot, even characterization; still more relevantly, and I believe mistakenly, she convinced me that it was irrational to passionately respond to a writer for reasons unrelated to those issues. I no longer accept that proposition, and even as Ayn and I talked, my emotions were screaming that there was something in Wolfe's writing that I was right to love, right to feel a profound kinship with.
But I did not know how to explain that his approach to plot and theme had nothing to do with my attachment to Wolfe's writing. It was the music of his words, the exquisite songs he sang, the overwhelmingly passionate emotion and love of life he projected these were some of the things I loved in his work. And love to this day. Now, I am proud that I love them.
You asked what I would do differently today, and I assume you were also referring to Ayn's affair with Nathaniel.
Barbara: It's very difficult to know what one would do differently in a given situation. If I were the same person, with the same convictions, I would have to do again precisely what I did then. But from my perspective today, I know what I ought to have done, what would have spared me years of pain. I ought to have said to Ayn and Nathan: "My blessings on you. Goodbye." I did myself enormous harm by not saying it.
Q: What do you think would have happened if you had said it?
Barbara: There are two possibilities. One, of course, is that the affair would have happened and I would have left to pursue a life of my own apart from Ayn and my husband. The second? I believe that had I said I would leave, there would not have been an affair. My refusal to acquiesce would have given Frank the courage to say that he, too, would leave and Ayn would never have risked losing him. Further and I don't know what Nathan would say to this it is my conviction that Nathan would have refused to enter into a relationship at the cost of losing me.
Q: Did you think it was a moral issue? People make covenants when they marry and to break that covenant
Barbara: No, I didn't see it as a moral issue in that sense. I have long thought that people make promises when they marry that they should not make and cannot reasonably be held to. How can two young people promise to love forever? They have no way of knowing in what ways they will change over the years, in what ways their partners will change; they have no way of knowing the true nature and strength of the connection that brought them together; they don't know what life will bring them or what paths they might later wish to follow.
Q: Why did you agree to the affair?
Barbara: For a host of very complex reasons which involved my psychology and life-experiences and convictions. But I can say that there were two fundamental reasons why I agreed. I felt considerable guilt toward Nathaniel, because I did not feel the sexual-romantic love for him that I believed I ought to.
In that respect I believed I was not the wife he should have had. I thought that if he could find fulfillment with Ayn in the areas in which I had failed him, I could not deny him that fulfillment. Further, I loved Ayn deeply, and I had been aware, from the first evening I met her, that she had suffered terribly in her romantic life. Over the years, I had come to see this with still greater clarity as she talked with me about Leo, her first love who did not return her passion, as I came to see that in her relationship with Frank she was and had to be the aggressor.
At social occasions, I would see Ayn surrounded by fascinated men who were eager to speak with her, but who, it was apparent, did not see her as a woman but only as a mind. Given her view of romance, her view of what love should be, this had to be terribly painful to her. And then writing Atlas, projecting so vividly what she thought romantic love could and should be, made the lack of it in her own life an even greater source of anguish.
And so I thought: How can I refuse her the experience she has always longed for and never had? Of course, it did not turn out to be the experience she wanted, as it could not be.
Q: Why not?
Barbara: For many reasons. Nathan was a boy; he was twenty-three years old. It was not possible for so young a man especially a man torn by his love for his wife to give her what she wanted. He was not John Galt. He could not be. Ayn would surely have known that had she not been blinded by her own unfulfilled needs and blinded to the fact that she was smashing the lives of the three people she loved most. And above all, she was smashing her own life. I criticize her for her blindness and I also feel great compassion for her.
Q: Do you think she viewed the men in her life as almost Platonic abstractions, as if she didn't really see the person there a lot of times?
Barbara: Most definitely. She talked about Frank and about Nathaniel as if they were the heroes in her novels, men of the same stature as those she wrote about. It was evident that she needed to convince herself of this, to convince herself that she could not and did not love two men who were less than her heroes.
Q: Do you think Frank O'Connor was in love with her?
Barbara: I have no doubt that he loved her and was bound to her by profound psychological and emotional ties, just as I loved and was bound to Nathan. I learned, during those years, that there can be powerful factors holding two people together that have little to do with romantic love. Certainly, Frank deeply respected Ayn, admired her, and understood, at least in emotional terms, the nature and importance of her struggle and her goals. Did he love her passionately? I don't think so.
Q: Did Rand ever think that you and Frank were sacrificing yourselves?
Barbara: Not ever, not for a moment. She had convinced herself that what Frank and I were doing, what we were accepting, was wholly rational.
Q: Do you think the two of you were sacrificing yourselves?
Barbara: Of course. I did not see it that way at the time, but it's no longer quite real to me why I didn't, why I didn't understand what I was doing to myself. I know the reasons why I accepted the affair, but I can scarcely understand that they seemed like valid reasons at the time.
Q: A number of Jewish refugees from the U.S.S.R. have discussed the prevalent anti-Semitism they suffered. Did Rand ever mention to you any experiences she had with anti-Semitism in the U.S.S.R. (or in the U.S.)?
Barbara: No, she never discussed Russian anti-Semitism, and I was not knowledgeable enough to ask her either early in our relationship or when I interviewed her for forty hours, creating the tapes that were to form a significant part of Passion. It was when I was doing research for the biography that I came to understand the full extent of the anti-Semitism to which Ayn must have been subjected.
For instance, a Russian-Jew was not allowed to live in St. Petersburg without special permission from the state. This meant that Ayn's family had sought and secured permission, and that Ayn would certainly have known about it. I have little doubt that there were many ways in which she was victimized by anti-Semitism. No Russian-Jew could escape it. I don't know the reasons, I have only hypotheses, why she didn't speak of it to me or to anyone else.
It's especially odd because during our taped interviews, Ayn spoke to me about deeply personal events and reactions, both happy and tragic, that she would not have discussed with anyone else; had she been willing to recall episodes of anti-Semitism, she surely would have done so then.
Q: Why do you think she didn't talk about being Jewish?
Barbara: What was there to say? She never hesitated, when it was relevant, to say that she was "born Jewish." But she was an atheist, and did not consider herself a member of any religion. She was not Jewish in the religious sense, and she believed that any other sense amounted to racism. She passionately rejected the view that Jews were a separate race.
Q: Chris Sciabarra conjectures that Rand must have been highly influenced by the Nietzchean "Silver Age" that gripped Russian culture during her youth. Did Rand ever discuss this with you? Did she have anything positive to say about Russian culture?
Barbara: Good heavens, no! I give considerable credence to Chris' thesis and I greatly admire his book, but Ayn never, at any time, had anything positive to say about Russia except for Rachmaninoff's music and Dostoyevsky's fiction. And she denied that Rachmaninoff was in any important sense a product of Russian culture. She considered Russia to be the dung heap of civilization.
Q: What were the best moments you remember of your relationship with Ayn Rand?
Barbara: I'm very glad you asked that, because we've spent a lot of time on painful memories, and I've been critical of Ayn. The early years of knowing her were predominantly an unclouded joy. As we talked philosophy evening after evening and day after day, talked about all the issues I had been grappling with as I was growing up and many issues I had not known to grapple with, it seemed as if she were opening up the whole world to me, that it was intelligible, that I could understand and deal with the choices before me, that no doors were closed to my understanding, that I could build my life on a rational foundation.
I can't fully communicate the exhilaration of being with Ayn during those years, the exhilaration of being in intimate contact with so great a mind and spirit
There is something else that remains with me whenever I think of the good years with Ayn. We would often walk together through the ranch while she looked for the stones she loved to collect, and we would talk about her life and mine, about the things we loved, the experiences we had had, the reactions we shared. There was a gentleness about her during those times, a warmth and empathy that I shall never forget.
Q: Was she patient back then?
Barbara: Very much so. People quite rightly are shocked by her quickness to anger and her condemnations of students for not understanding an issue during question periods at her lectures. But I rarely recall her being impatient or angry at questions in other contexts. Whenever she discussed ideas with one person or a few assuming she was not facing what she considered to be irrationality she was endlessly patient. She was a remarkable teacher, willing to elaborate on a point until she was certain her listener understood it.
Q: Did she ever talk about having children?
Barbara: She talked about it as a philosophical issue. She believed that if a couple wanted children, they must know that they were taking on a very serious and long-lasting responsibility. It was a responsibility that she was not interested in assuming. When she was writing Atlas, she would sometimes say that she was "with book." The only children she wanted were her books.
Q: Did you ever have any regrets about not having kids?
Barbara: No. I have always loved children, I get along wonderfully with them, it would be a painful loss to me if there were not children in my life. But I never wanted my own. I've known women whose need for motherhood is so great that without children their lives would be incomplete. But for many woman, including myself, there is no such need.
Q: Are there any aspects of the philosophy of Objectivism that you disagree with or think are misguided?
Barbara: That's a very large question! I'd have to refer you to The Passion of Ayn Rand for an answer. But in a word, yes, there are aspects of Objectivism with which I disagree predominantly though not totally of a psychological nature. Although one might well say that psychological statements are not a legitimate part of a philosophical system. I am very much opposed, as an example, to Ayn's glorification of stoicism.
Her heroic characters are concerned with not allowing themselves to feel any negative emotion such as pain or suffering, and, should they feel it, they are concerned not to reveal it. This makes a virtue of repression. Isn't it an act of self-deception to refuse to feel what one does in fact feel? One cannot go through life without experiencing pain. Why should a fact of reality be considered a failure of benevolence?
It's interesting that Ayn herself, who almost never acknowledged that someone had hurt her, nevertheless experienced a great deal of anger and was perfectly willing to reveal it. She appeared not to recognize that another person had the power to hurt her; they had only the power to make her morally indignant. Even after her break with Nathan, she spoke as if all she felt was outrage when in fact she was profoundly, bitterly hurt. Anger so often is a cover for pain, it's what one experiences when one will not acknowledge one's pain.
Q: It's hard to be close to people when you're like that.
Barbara: It's impossible to be happily and fully close. One has to be constantly guarded, constantly distrustful of other people. If one is open and willing to be self-revealing, one can be hurt. There's a wonderful line I read long ago that sums up this issue beautifully: "There is only one thing worse than being vulnerable. And that is being invulnerable."
Q: So what else do you have to do but play a role?
Q: Were all the relationships in the inner circle role playing?
Barbara: Oh, no. Because we didn't make repression a virtue, we tried to struggle against it. All of us were repressed in our different ways, but I think all of us knew quite clearly that we were suffering. We had "learned" that a rational person felt certain emotions and did not feel others, and we did not know how to get rid of our supposedly irrational emotions which is a certain formula for repression.
Q: What do you think are significant happenings in Objectivism since you wrote Passion?
Barbara: Both before and after Passion, the influence of Objectivism has become a global phenomenon of gigantic proportions. A friend of mine recently said that the Twenty-First Century would be the century of Ayn Rand, and I have no doubt that he's correct.
I could give you endless examples of Objectivism's influence, but I'll focus on one that particularly impressed me. I spoke three times, somehow at an ISIL convention in Athens, where there were attendees from twenty-seven different countries, including several of the former Iron Curtain countries. At each talk I gave, there were 125-150 people, with some overlap.
Because it's a subject of great interest to me, I asked each group how they had come to libertarianism. I expected that probably 75% of them would say that it was through Ayn Rand's books. To my astonishment, over 95% of them people from Rumania, the Ukraine, Hungary, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Sweden, Holland, South Africa, England, Canada, Russia, Argentina, the United States said that they had first read one or more of Ayn's books, had been overwhelmingly affected, and had gone on from there to discover and embrace libertarianism.
Q: I wonder if they had Iliad and Odyssey conferences back in the Greek days! Because it is literature that inspires people and then the philosophers work out the details later.
Barbara: In a sense that's true although philosophers have more than details to establish. That's why I think David Kelley's Institute for Objectivist Studies is important: because their focus is philosophical. Objectivism can never fully succeed unless it makes substantial inroads into academia. And they are not dogmatists, they are open to other opinions and to debate.
Too often, and with reason, Objectivism has been associated with dogmatism; one has only to look at Peikoff's ARI to understand why. If one demands blind faith in every word Ayn said, how can one possibly justify a philosophy of reason?
It was very interesting that in Athens several people from Iron Curtain countries told me how they had discovered Objectivist literature and, to my great pleasure, Passion. Someone would type The Fountainhead, for instance, with five copies which he would then distribute. Then the five people would each type another five copies and pass them around. And so on and so on. They were quite consciously risking their lives.
I was interviewed on a Denver talk show recently, and a man called in who had come to the United States from his home in Iran where he had discovered Atlas Shrugged. (I shudder to think of typing that!) He said that he would have been executed if he had been discovered. But the risk was worth it to him and as a result of reading Atlas he is now an American citizen.
Q: People risking their lives for Ayn Rand!
Barbara: Not for her, but for a philosophy of reason and individualism, for a philosophy of freedom for an rational alternative to the gray horror of life under dictatorship. Another example of the influence of Objectivism is the reaction to the filming of Passion. The pre-release publicity has been enormous, including a full page in the Sunday New York Times. This simply does not happen with an unreleased television movie unless, perhaps, it's a new version of Titanic.
Q: Maybe you'll be the next Titanic lady!
Barbara: I have to confess that the publicity is not because of me, it's because of Ayn. So I guess I won't be the next Titanic lady! It amuses me that people are saying that all the publicity about Ayn Rand and Objectivism is because new people are finding her work and responding to it. They don't realize that her influence has been growing all these years, ever since The Fountainhead was published. But it's been an underground volcano, which the press felt free to ignore. Now, that volcano has become too big to be contained, and it has erupted. It is so enormous that the press can no longer pretend it doesn't exist... Remember William Buckley's savage column when Ayn died? He was cheering "the death of Objectivism." A bit premature, Mr. Buckley?
Chris Sciabarra tells me that over the next two years, twenty or more books about Objectivism and Ayn Rand are due to be published. The books will not all be positive, of course, but in a sense that doesn't matter. I remember that when Atlas was published, the New York Times ran a violently negative review and many people told me they'd read the review, realized that another book by Ayn Rand had come out, and rushed to the nearest bookstore to buy it.
Q: It just occurred to me, is anyone playing Leonard Peikoff in the movie?
Barbara: Mercifully, no. One day on the set a group of young actors came up to meet me and said very seriously "We're the Collective." I didn't want to burst out laughing, but I couldn't help it! But they don't have the names of the people in the Collective, none of them is named Peikoff or is like him.
Q: What kind of projects are you planning for the future?
Barbara: I still have a lot of work to do for the auction. I will be doing publicity for the film, and, I hope, for the play; I'll go to London for the rehearsals and at least the first week of the run. And, as I said, I have two books in the works. When all of this is behind me, I return to fiction.
Q: Has life taught you any new, interesting lessons since we spoke last?
Barbara: These years have been among the happiest of my life, the most fulfilling. I'm doing work I love to do, I'm involved in very exciting activities, I have friends who are dear to me, I live in a city I adore and I feel an inner serenity and cheerfulness that is very precious to me. I think I have learned more about how to live in the world during the last ten years than in all the years before. The happiness and joy in living I experience is beyond anything I dreamed of in earlier years.
Q: How did you achieve that?
Barbara: By doing a lot of thinking, a lot of living, a lot of experiencing. By being open to the world, open to new people and new events, open to what life brings me and open to new ideas in a way I didn't know how to be in the Objectivist years. Can you believe that this introvert, whom everyone saw as distant and aloof has become spontaneous and extroverted? And I love it!
(See also Barbara's October 1992 interview with Full Context.)