Saturday, January 12, 2008

James Valliant, Esq.

Objectivists with an independent brain, which mostly means non-Orthodox Objectivists, are quick to denounce and distance themselves from James Valliant and his book The Passion of Ayn Rand's critics. Even some more mainstream Objectivists of varying degrees of Orthodoxy are nixing it. Greg and Daniel at ARCHN even ran a contest for the most cringeworthy moments in the book.

So I bought the book (second hand) expecting to be entertained by how hilariously bad everyone was saying it was. I was disappointed. It really wasn't that bad.

James Valliant isn't a dumb guy. He did a really great job with the material he had to work with. That is, he had the job of discrediting the Brandens, and having Rand come off smelling like a rose. That's a pretty tall order. Mr Valliant has been a public prosecutor in California for sixteen years. He didn't get and keep that job by having bad polemical skills. His arguments are cogent and clearly expressed. The only thing is that we (at least most of us whose brains aren't completely Rand-addled), don't agree with his premises and his conclusions, so we find them amusing.

So when you pan PARC as being ridiculous, or trash, remember that it isn't an isolated case of someone misinterpreting Objectivism or Rand's life. It is a logically consistent* defense of someone who admits to the facts of Rand's life (ie, her affairs, her inability to accept criticism) but yet chooses to believe that Ayn Rand lived a life beyond reproach.

I believe that many Objectivists are quick to distance themselves from this book because it has gotten such bad reviews from the public in general. But those Objectivists should "check their premises" again, because what makes their position so different from Valliant's? If they can do a better job whitewashing and justifying Ayn's every misstep and temper tantrum, I'd like to see it.

*Logic, in this case is used in the strictly mathematical sense, where one defines the axioms and then goes on to perform logical induction. This "logic" does not include what most people would refer to as common sense, such as the intuitive knowledge that most people would not be thrilled to find their partner in bed with their cradle robber. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, logic is in the mind of the reasoner.


Neil Parille said...

Hello Meg,

I have written two critiques of PARC, which are linked to my blog. To the extent that Valliant makes any good points, it's generally because he misrepresents "the Brandens" (they are one person to him).

Meg's Marginalia said...

Hi Neil,

Mr Valliant is a public prosecutor, so his tactic is to discredit the Brandens as unreliable witnesses, and thus discredit whatever negative things they said in their books about Rand. He does this in the belief that if he can restore Rand's immaculate image, he can justify his own and other Objectivists slavish devotion to her.

Anyone who wishes to believe that Rand was an exemplar of morality her entire life needs to come up with some explanation of her more questionable actions. That is what I meant in my post, that any Objectivist who wishes to be an apologist for Rand's actions has the same issues to contend with as Valliant.

There definitely are inconsistencies in his book, as you pointed out, but my main point was that I don't know how much better a person can do to justify Rand's actions as described in the Brandens' books.

I guess similarly to religious chauvinists, Valliant sees Ms. Branden as an extension of her (now ex) husband (lol)

Neil Parille said...

Hi Meg,

Valliant is genuinely shocked that people don't consider PARC the last word on the Brandens.

I think it's because he views the world through Randian eyes.

For example, because Frank was apparently a staunch Objectivist and a rather stoic guy, the idea that he might have considered leaving Rand is beyond his comprehension.

And, now that Rand has given the definitive evaluation of surprise parties, how could the Brandens attending a surprise party be anything but evil?

For those of us who are not Objectivists and (in particular) don't agree with Rand's view of human nature, much of the book is quite silly.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Hi Neil,

Of course to normal people like us, his allegations are over the top and silly. But if the purpose of the book was to "disprove" the Brandens and justify Ayn's actions in cheating on Frank and going ballistic over the surprise party, then he did the best possible job (which is still abysmal)

Valliant is shocked because after years of deep Rand conditioning, he is unable to see things from another point of view, that normal people don't hold the a priori assumption that Ayn Rand can do no wrong.