BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nathaniel Branden, author of "Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand." Are you surprised that the people have reacted strongly to your book?
NATHANIEL BRANDEN, AUTHOR, "JUDGMENT DAY: MY YEARS WITH AYN RAND": Well no. I guess it's going to be a controversial book. Both on the part of people who admired Ayn Rand and on the part of people who disliked what she stood for. I may take some flack from both sides in this book because my own position is -- you might know from the book -- is rather more complex than simple pro or con.
LAMB: For those who may have never read "Atlas Shrugged" or " The Fountainhead" or a number of other books who was she?
BRANDEN: Ayn Rand became famous -- this was not her first novel, but she became famous for a novel called "The Fountainhead" which tells the story of an independent architect of genius struggling to make a career against a society committed to tradition and mediocrity. And the essence of this book is a celebration of the importance of personal integrity and the defense of the morality of individualism. What she became famous for was Ayn Rand -- Individualist ... Ayn Rand - Champion of the Creative Mind ... Ayn Rand - Champion of Personal Integrity.
And this was a novel that would inspire literally millions and millions and millions of readers and goes on selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies every year both in hard back and in soft back now close to 50 years after its original publication. This book was followed some years later of course by "Atlas Shrugged," which also became an international best seller. It is the more global treatment of her philosophy which tells really the story of what happens to the world when the people of ability go on strike against us. Sort of a status collectivist world.
And what I'm often asked in shows-- "Well, what did she stand for philosophically?" And although the issues are rather more complex than one can cover here, to boil it down to a few essentials, to make it meaningful, I would say she was first and foremost a champion for the supremacy of reason -- the authority of reason. Secondly, the argument that a code of ethics could be devised not dependent upon supernatural claims, but on reason, on human nature which would respect the human being's right to belong to him or her own self. In other words -- to own his or her own life. To respect his or her own needs and not to see the self as more or less a servant of society or the state or the globe or the planet.
She was a great individualist as I've already said. She was a champion of the rights of the individual which socially therefore meant a champion of the individual against the state. Therefore an advocate of capitalism. So in simplified essence -- and it really is simplified -- this is what the name Ayn Rand is associated with and this is what I taught through the Nathaniel Branden Institute for many years.
LAMB: Let's talk about her to just bring people up to speed. She's dead now but where did she come from?
BRANDEN: She was born in Russia. She came to America in the 21st year of her life marginally speaking English. She had a long very difficult struggle. She held many many jobs before she could break through as a writer. She became world famous with "The Fountainhead" followed by "Atlas Shrugged" followed by a series of non fiction books. She died in 1982 at the age of 77. Her influence while world wide is especially relevant in the great political changes of the last decade. People such as Nobel Laureate Milton Freedman or Presidential Advisor Martin Anderson as well as others have commented on the fact that she is clearly one of the intellectual forces responsible for the reorientation of the 1980s, to a reappreciation of capitalism, a reappreciation of free markets a turning away from the statist socialist orientation that was definitely had the higher respectability in the previous decades than it does today.
Needless to say, a great many other factors were also influencing the chain of events; other intellectuals and also the various world wide sheer failure of socialism to work. But among the intellectual powers, I don't think anybody would argue that Ayn Rand was one of the major influences.
LAMB: Where did she live most of her life in this country?
BRANDEN: She lived all of her life from the age of 21 on in the United States. She lived either in New York or Los Angeles. She spent some time working the movie industry on the West Coast and she spent the last third of her life in New York City.
LAMB: What do you think people who read this book will enjoy the most -- the personal stories that you tell about yourself and your involvement with several women in your life including Ayn Rand, or the political side of it?
BRANDEN: Well, I would have said awhile ago of course that although the story is philosophical, psychological and political -- as well as personal -- clearly the drama of the personal is paramount. However, I've just been talking to some people earlier today who while praising the book and finding the dramatic keenly interesting, were primarily focused on the intellectual development of the whole Ayn Rand movement. However, I suspect they will be a minority. I decided to write the memoir only when I fell in love with the sheer drama of the story. I never had any previous interest in writing memoir or autobiography. I have written 10 previous books in the field of psychology and philosophy. This is my first venture of anything of this kind. I had other motives, but the first motive -- without which nothing would have happened -- was I suddenly saw this incredible novel like chain of developments except that it was all true.
"Judgment Day" was really conceived by me almost as a non-fiction novel. And to illustrate what I mean, a few simple facts: First I'm fourteen years old and living in Toronto and I read "The Fountainhead" and fall in love with it. And this becomes the chief companion of my lonely rather alienated adolescence. At the age of 18 I meet the girl who will become my first wife. Why are we introduced? Because she is as enthusiastic about "The Fountainhead" as you are. That's the beginning of the plot integration. Two years later we're studying at UCLA. Barbara's majoring in philosophy and I'm majoring in psychology. I write Ayn Rand a letter to ask her a number of rather challenging questions about her ideas. She is living outside of Los Angeles in San Fernando Valley. She's fascinated by my letter. It leads to a personal meeting. I arrive at 8:00 in the night and I stay talking philosophy till 5:30 in the morning. This is March of 1950 a month before I turn 20 and she is 45 years old.
The next week I bring Barbara and we four that is to say Ayn Rand, her husband Frank, Barbara and I become almost like a family. We become very very close. Barbara and I are keenly interested in her philosophy. I'm keenly interested in its application to psychology. We begin to read "Atlas Shrugged" in manuscript as it's being written. And we're having these intoxicating philosophical discussions endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. Lasts for two more years ... We're all in New York City. Barbara and I are getting married -- unwisely. Ayn Rand is matron of honor at the ceremony. Frank is best man. Ayn is suffering serious frustrations in her marriage. My marriage should never have happened in the first place. Even though I like and I'm very fond of Barbara in many ways, it was never meant to be a marriage and 18 months later after a long agonizing process, Rand and I plunge into a love affair, with the knowledge and consent of Frank of Barbara.
LAMB: This picture on the screen here is of your first wife Barbara.
LAMB: At your wedding.
BRANDEN: This sets in motion everything which is to happen thereafter. "Atlas Shrugged" is initially dedicated to me, which is published in 1957. By now I realize that I have made a terrible mistake and confused hero worship, admiration and other kinds of love with romantic love, but I have become incredibly important to Ayn at the most personal level and do not know how to extricate myself. My marriage to Barbara is predictably in succeeding stages of disintegration even though we become closer and closer friends. The affair with Ayn Rand essentially ends after three years just about the time "Atlas Shrugged" was published because she goes into a very bad depression and decline.
LAMB: What year is this?
BRANDEN: 1957. The affair began in 1954. But it's like defacto. In other words, it's never firmly decided that it will be over it just kind of falls away because of her depression. I write a book -- my first book -- called "Who Is Ayn Rand" with Barbara which is a study of her philosophy with Barbara contributing a biographical essay. This book is published in 1962.
However, in 1961 building Nathaniel Branden Institute -- building this institute which is teaching her philosophy all over the country and later all over the world through tape courses given live in New York City. I'm lecturing in a new course and a young woman, 10 years my junior -- I'm 31, she's 21 -- comes to New York to take Nathaniel Branden lectures. Why? Because she has read and admired "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged." And this is Patricia. All the players moving toward the final explosion are now on the board. After several more years of struggling with the situation, in 1964 Patrecia and I begin a love affair. Barbara and I are separated. Ayn is still wanting a resumption of an affair.
Finally, there is this tremendous confrontation in 1968 after four dreadful years in which the full truth a) that I don't want that kind of continuation of relationship b) that I'm in love with Patrecia and I've been having an affair with her are disclosed.
I am now 38 Ayn is now in her 60's and Ayn a) writes an article denouncing me in the publication that we have co-created call the "Objectivist." She mobilizes as best she can the objectivist movement that she and I have created to wreck and destroy me in every way she can professionally. She influences my publisher with whom she has an association to cancel the contract for my first big book "The Psychology of Self-Esteem" which she had previously been proclaiming was a work of genius and she's now convinced that Nathaniel Branden is finished having ended his association with Ayn Rand. Patrecia and I leave New York to start the new life in California. And the climax of the book is all the events leading up to this.
Of course, "They Psychology of Self- Esteem" was subsequently published and now 20 years later in about its 27th printing. And the balance of the story is very, very brief because there was a tragedy. Nine years later my wife Patrecia was killed in a freak drowning accident. But that's really another story. The story of "Judgment Day" is the story of moving from being 14 years old reading "The Fountainhead", idolizing this woman, becoming the number one teacher and apostle of this philosophy, and finally finding myself in an agonizing conflict that eventuates at a point where I have to let in the fact that this woman really now wants me dead. Wants..
LAMB: Ayn Rand..
LAMB: ..wants you dead.
BRANDEN: Yes, Ayn Rand wants me dead. It is Barbara Branden who is very influential in getting this message finally through to me because for awhile I'm kind of dazed and I'm slow to grasp the magnitude of the war that is now about to be launched. And the lies that are about to be circulated. And for me, I suppose, the fascination of the story is to show something about the many sided personality of this extraordinary genius. To show what was marvelous and what was fantastic and also to show what was pathological and horrifying. To show what was wonderful and exciting and inspiring about those years and also what was destructive. To write intellectual history involving quite a number of rather interesting people -- such as, for example, one of the lesser characters in this story who is now the chairman of the Fed, Alan Greenspan, who has a kind of wonderfully interesting smaller role in the book. One of the members of our original New York circle. And ...
LAMB: Let me stop you to ask you the..
LAMB: How about the many sides of Nathaniel Branden? I mean -- am I wrong, but at one point you were involved with three different women?
BRANDEN: Correct. You're not wrong.
LAMB: And was there a time when you and Barbara -- your first wife -- were living together and you were having an affair with both Patrecia and Ayn?
LAMB: Was that all happening at one time?
BRANDEN: No. No.
LAMB: You must excuse me though when you read it ...
LAMB: ... it's hard to keep track.
BRANDEN: By the time Patrecia had entered the picture there was never ... there was not an affair. Ayn was pressing for a resumption of the affair. There was almost nothing between Barbara very little let alone between Ayn and me. It sounds like all well, it's really, you know -- a heavy sexual story. If you actually pay attention to the details, if you tell it quickly, it's not quite the way it is. There is a humorous element of -- here am I, stuck in an unhappy marriage, also in a very difficult relationship with Ayn Rand, and in the midst of these two women who in different ways are both communicating to me that they need me and what is life without me and I'm in love with yet a third woman and quite incompetent at handling the whole situation.
LAMB: I want to show our audience because I'm sure anyone who follows this network knows that this is a network that deals in policy and politics and all that. And one of the reasons that we thought it would be interesting to talk to you about this besides the obvious is this gentleman right here who is Alan Greenspan.
LAMB: Who is the head of the Fed and who was a follower of Ayn Rand. Close?
BRANDEN: Oh, very much so. He was a member of our circle brought in by another member of our circle. He was reading "Atlas Shrugged" as it was being written. I kind of love the story of Alan because it was -- all in its own terms -- a happy story. Because what made it interesting is that when Ayn first met him in an elevator, or met him through this other person, she was kind of negatively impressed. I liked him initially a good deal more that she did. There were reasons she didn't like some of his ideas. He was a Keynesian economically. He wasn't what he is today politically or economically. And he also at that time was a supporter of a then fashionable philosophy called "logical positivism," which taught that you can be certain of nothing. You can know nothing for sure. You can't even be certain that you existed.
So he and I would have rather hilarious conversations in which he would try to convince me that one couldn't know for a certainty that one existed. And my task was to see how irrational this was and to prove philosophically that one could have such knowledge for a certainty. Ayn thought I was quite mad to even waste my time talking to a person who would be saying he doesn't know if he exists or not. I kept saying -- listen, this is a very intelligent man. He is a good guy. You're going to see this story is going to have a very happy ending. And eventually he did change his ideas on these various subjects. He did become a very close friend Ayn Rand. I think that she really cared for him a lot. And they were devoted until Ayn Rand died in 1982.
LAMB: Is Alan Greenspan a smart man?
BRANDEN: Oh, I would say he is an extremely intelligent man .
LAMB: Let me read and let me ... we're not here talking about your ex-wife's book but she had a best seller.
LAMB: Or one that did well. It looks like this. Quickly what's the difference between reading this book and reading your book? What's the ...
BRANDEN: Barbara's book was a biography of Ayn Rand. I am writing a highly intimate and personal memoir of my relationship with Ayn Rand in the context with my relationship with two other women and the broader context of my personal, psychological and intellectual development. So I'm writing a very very intimate memoir with is not intended to be anyone's biography or autobiography. Barbara had a problem with her book in that the last of it deals of course with this whole situation. But by the time she had a contract to write her book, I already knew I was going to be writing the memoir and therefore I could not make myself available to her as a resource. And I couldn't and didn't choose to talk with her about the story as experienced from the inside because I wanted to save it for my own book so that her treatment suffers because it had to be written very externally with no access to the internal experience of the two key characters.
LAMB: Does she still speak to you?
BRANDEN: Well, we haven't spoken in I don't know maybe a year. It isn't that we don't speak, we've just drifted apart more and more the last decade and gone our separate ways.
LAMB: This is Barbara. But you're married again.
LAMB: Ten years?
LAMB: In this book, and excuse me for using her book on your program but I want to quote because you didn't have this in your book. At least I didn't find it. In 1981 the New York Times noted and this is a New York Times quote "If there is a novelist with unusual appeal among the Reagan organization it is Ayn Rand -- proponent of the enlightened self interest. Some of Reagan's closest advisors including his Director of Domestic Policy Martin Anderson, who is now at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, sat at her feet when they were fledgling disciples and a Reagan Presidency just a gleam in the eye of G.E. Theater host." Ayn Rand have a tremendous influence on the Reagan Administration people?
BRANDEN: Sure. Oh, yeah. More recently than that. I wish I could remember it well enough to quote to you the -- New York Times did a story on the number of different people in the Administration who have been recognizably influenced by "Atlas Shrugged." Alan Greenspan was one. I think Kemp was another. Of course Martin Anderson was a third. They named some other people but right now I'm afraid I've just forgotten.
LAMB: Ayn Rand was an atheist?
BRANDEN: An atheist, sure.
LAMB: All of her followers atheists?
BRANDEN: As far as I know. Wait a minute. I don't want to say that any longer because it depends on how you define followers. I suppose that those who would consider themselves pure and consistent objectivists would be atheist but she is admired across the world by people from every culture and probably every religious tradition there is.
LAMB: OK. But let me ask you about the atheism. Is there something about her philosophy that doesn't track with a belief in God?
BRANDEN: I would put it differently. I would say that as an advocate of reason and as an opponent of any form of revelation or faith or supernaturalism she would regard the belief in God as something that could only be an act of faith and therefore groundless philosophically. And therefore it isn't that we were "anti god" but there would be no grounds within our view of reality to put up the idea of a supernatural being. I was personally an atheist long before I ever read Ayn Rand. I was an atheist when I was 12 years old for reasons unrelated to anything that she wrote. And most of the people in our circle actually were before -- as far as I could say they -- read Ayn Rand although I'm not certain that that's true in every case. The interesting thing is, you know, if you are keenly interested then this is kind of a hot issue for objectivism but you must understand that for us it was not a hot issue. Meaning we were not polemicists we were not militants on the subject. We were simply non-believers.
LAMB: I have no idea if this isn't just stretching it dramatically, but would Ayn Rand believe that you should get it while you're here? Get it now?
BRANDEN: Get what now?
LAMB: Money. Power. Things. To wait for the future is a waste of time.
BRANDEN: Well, she would never talk in those terms. Power didn't interest her and money didn't interest her. That may shock a lot of people but I tell you she lived like a most esthetic unworldly person. She lived very very modestly. She had no interest in material acquisition. She had no interest in material luxury. She lived in many ways, personally, a very spiritual existence. Very much a life of the mind. And she probably wouldn't have had a very good opinion of people who are overly interested in material acquisition. What she really admired was people who were interested in creative work. She thought, and I would say, that what exists is this world and this life and one should honor it and do the best with it and not endure suffering passively on the assumption that some time in some other dimension or some other life then you will be happy. But that if you honor your own life and you want happiness, the place to fight for it is here on earth. Now I think that is a view that a great many religious people could subscribe to.
LAMB: Did she develop her pros her thinking out of her own head? Did she have followers? I mean did she follow anyone?
BRANDEN: Well I suppose that she certainly studied and learned from the philosopher Aristotle. She certainly studied from the founding fathers. There are certain individual people from whom she learned things. But she was a very creative mind. And I would say that a great deal of what she thought was very much an independent creation without denying the fact that at some level all of us learn from other people. I would still say she had quite an original mind and was very much an independent thinker.
LAMB: Go back to the people that joined the Reagan Administration that followed her.
LAMB: Can you tell us some of the things that were done by the Reagan Administration in politics that fit her philosophy.
BRANDEN: Well I would say the general tendency toward deregulation is the most important I would think of. Maybe the revision of the tax code. Maybe the somewhat less sentimental attitude toward communism in the Soviet Union to name a third.
LAMB: Sentimental attitude?
BRANDEN: Yeah, right.
BRANDEN: Well I think that there was a very strange attitude prior to Reagan toward the Soviet Union on the part of let's say the Carter Administration. He was kind of shocked on more than one occasion when the Soviet Union acted like the Soviet Union. As though gee they're not nice guys just like us. Reagan took a lot of heat you know for the phrase "evil empire." But if you remember the context and the time in which he said it he wasn't saying the Russian people are evil. But after all Soviet Russia was a dictatorship. It was and is oppressing millions of people. And that in fact an evil. That is reality. Now the fact that it's undergoing the most extraordinary and exciting changes quite unpredictable at least to me and to a lot of other people let's say in 1980 doesn't change that fact of history. So you have to look at Reagan's statement when it was made and the context when it was made. If dictatorship is evil, if imprisonment of innocent people is evil, if the autocratic rule the authoritarian rule of millions of people is evil then the Soviet Union was aptly described as an evil empire. And the fact that so many people were scandalized by that -- I would call a sentimental attitude toward the Soviet Union and a naive one, sure.
LAMB: Are you happy these days?
BRANDEN: God yes. I said god yes terribly. My wife is always kidding me. I said ... but my use of the word god in that way but it's a voice of enthusiasm. I have been happier during my 50s than at any other time in my life. And I must say that the two and a half years of writing "Judgment Day" between 1965 and 1968.
LAMB: You mean '85?
BRANDEN: Forgive me. Thank you 1985 ... 1986 I began the book and finished it in '88 were the most marvelous two years of my life. Absolutely the happiest, most fulfilling years of my life.
LAMB: Writing the book itself?
BRANDEN: Writing the book.
BRANDEN: Several reasons. To begin with I went through a very bad long period of recovering from the death of my previous wife Patrecia, who was the woman I had fallen in love with and was responsible for the whole world crashing. I live in Los Angeles and practice psychotherapy in Los Angeles. We also bought a home in the mountains two hours drive from Los Angeles in a marvelous area called Lake Arrowhead. I spend a lot of time there with my wife Devors. Spending about two and a half years of living in this world telling this story ...
LAMB: By the way they're going to see your wife Devors on the next photo on the screen. Go ahead.
BRANDEN: This is a picture that Devors and I -- a photographer took for a book we wrote together called "What Love Asks of Us." Anyway, the 1980s were a very marvelous period for me. I published seven books and after writing books on psychology all of my adult life, I am a frustrated dramatist. Ayn Rand used to tell me you should write novels, not just books on psychology. I have a great love of theater. I had no outlet for that in my books on psychology. I've already said at the start of our discussion that what excited me about telling the story was only when I saw it as a kind of non-fiction novel. That's what inspired me.
So now the challenge was to take that story and tell it but to tell it ... the difficulties was the excitement. The difficulty of the sheer complexity of the story of intertwined and intermingling the philosophical, the psychological, the sociological, the personal, the developmental. Two -- the challenge to almost terrifying honesty. The challenge to almost terrifying self confrontation because I did a lot of things I regretted very, very bitterly and I had to go back and look at that. And I am a man who is a professional psychologist, teaches other people to do it and now not only was I challenged to do it, but I was challenging myself to do it publicly. A lot of people have expressed shock that I was willing to be this self disclosing in print.
LAMB: Why were you? Why are you?
BRANDEN: Because I'm not afraid of the truth. If the story was worth telling it was worth telling truthfully. I was extremely aware that I'm saying a lot unflattering things about what I did. That was part of the story. I think I was very even handed. I told it as best I knew it, whether I was talking about myself or Ayn Rand or Barbara or anybody else in that circle. I didn't keep one set of books for one person and a different set of books for another. I think that is the strength of the approach. I'm not afraid of the truth and I teach other people not to be afraid of the truth. I think people literally die of their secrets. I think people pay a terrible price -- now I speak as a psychologist -- for the secret that they absolutely must keep or the world will come to an end. I'm absolutely convinced that if you want to be free tell the truth.
LAMB: Talk a little bit about how you wrote the book itself. Two and a half years devoted to it -- where were you physically when you wrote the book?
BRANDEN: My life is divided. I have a private practice in Los Angeles, as I've said, where I typically see my clients two days a week -- Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday through Sunday we drive to our home on Lake Arrowhead, California where I write. I've computers in both homes. I write by word processor which is the great working tool joy of my life. So that physically I sit at a desk with a magnificent view of the lake and the mountains and the squirrels and the blue jays and my computer screen. And when I was 50, my wife Devors gave me the most marvelous present in the world. She gathered photographs of my whole life of all my key relationships and she mad a fantastic, immense -- it's like five feet by five feet -- all photographs beginning with me as a child up through Barbara, Ayn, Patrecia ending on the grandson that I acquired through marrying Devors. And I wrote the book with this whole story of my life in pictures to my left. And the excitement and the joy was at having through everything. I was doing the work that I loved. I had a marvelously happy marriage with a woman that I was really very deeply in love with and am very deeply in love with who treats me marvelously and supports me in every possible way in my life and my work. And I felt that for some reason I had been blessed as no one has a right to ask of life.
To have come through the tragedy of life in New York, which I write about in this book, to come through the far worse tragedy of the death of Patrecia when I really didn't want to live a lot of the time following that. And to have come back and to have rebuilt life a second time and to have had the chance to -- through this marvelous woman, Devors. In the early years it was almost frightening, like why am I ... I almost felt a strange about it that I am this fortunate, that this should happen to me except that it gave me a certain strong sense of responsibility about making my life count. And I wanted to tell the story.
I wanted to -- aside from all the reasons which I've named -- I felt it would be useful to a lot of people. I'm already getting mail to tell me I was right in terms of liberating them. I wanted to say -- you know it's possible to really make bad mistakes and clean it up and begin again. That's another important theme of mine which as a psychologist you will understand. I believe that the greatest toughness in the world is not the toughness of rigidity but the toughness of resilience. And I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about picking yourself up. Of course, I suppose of any one group the group I was most curious about how would my own psychotherapy clients react reading about these adventures of their psychotherapist as a younger man. And they were, I have to say, very enthusiastic about the book. And we joked about it and they said -- well, you know, if you can go from there to here it's very encouraging. It's very inspiring. That made me happy.
LAMB: I want to get back to Ayn Rand. But before we do that you mentioned Patrecia too many times. I think it would be helpful for the audience to hear the story of your life together and how she died and that's Patrecia.
BRANDEN: Patrecia came to Nathaniel Branden Institute where I was teaching objectivism in 1961. She was then 21.
LAMB: Let me stop you and ask you what Nathaniel Branden Institute was?
BRANDEN: Sure. When "Atlas Shrugged" was about to be published I realized there was going to be a great deal of interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy. I thought it would be worthwhile to create a lecture course that would teach her philosophy in a more organized academic way since the only presentations available then were in novels. So I created an organization originally called Nathaniel Branden Lectures and then incorporated at Nathaniel Branden Institute.
I gave a variety of courses, my other friends gave a variety of courses. We put them on tape. We offered the all over the city at the end we were in 80 cities, as I think I mentioned earlier. Patrecia took that photograph of me by the way. Anyway, that's me lecturing at NBI. I'm around 34 as I recall when that picture was taken. As Patrecia told me later, when she saw me for the first time she felt this is the man. But she almost immediately learned that I was married, and as far as she new happily married, and she told herself -- oh, well, he will have to remain an abstraction. She began dating another man who was at my lectures -- a very nice man with whom I'm still friendly named Larry Scott. They subsequently married.
LAMB: Here's a photo of it and who is in this photo?
BRANDEN: Larry and Patrecia. On Larry's other side is Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is there, then Larry next then Patrecia and then me then Barbara. We were all at the wedding. There am I standing flank with Barbara on one side and Ayn on the other side and Patrecia is walking down the aisle with her father toward Larry and it hits me for the first time I do not like this. She is walking down the aisle and it hits her so this was pretty tough.
I began to see her at my lectures. She more or less ... she and Larry moved into our social circle. I saw more of her. She began stopping by my office and we'd talk and fell in love. And I was in absolute distress because I thought once I had asked Barbara to accept Ayn -- which she could accept because she idolized Ayn, because she felt badly about the quality of our marriage, for which she blamed herself in certain ways. No way was this going to be acceptable. Ayn was in a very bad depression. Ayn was telling me you are my lifeline to reality. I cannot exist without you. My whole life at that time consists of duty. I feel like I am suffocating. Every path that I consider I see nothing but trouble ahead. I feel this is the only light in my entire existence is this relationship. In carrying it on in secret I'm betraying Barbara. I'm betraying Ayn. And worse still I am betraying my own integrity.
So I struggled and I suffered with this and I felt if I don't have this woman I'm going to ... I do not know what. I knew very well something terrible is going to happen sooner or later cause this is wrong. And what was very bewildering was that I felt myself being changed and transformed in ways that I like very much through the relationship with Patrecia and interestingly enough, in ways that other people began noticing and liking very much. I became "human." I became kinder. I became warmer. I became more empathetic. All of that was she was kind of acting like a counter force -- she was a far more vulnerable and open and giving person than anybody in my circle. A far more spontaneous person a far more joyful person and she reactivated those elements in me.
And so I began reemerging as the person that I had been when I was much younger. So I was caught in this dilemma. I was behaving in a way that I was condemning and I was simultaneously liking many of the other psychological consequences in terms of the changes in me. And I understood none of it. It was a period of dreadful intellectual turmoil. To recapitulate what I've already, said eventually Barbara and I are now separated. I tell Barbara about Patrecia. We have this big confrontation with Ayn in 1968 and it looks like everything is now solved. Because of the movie this is not a happy ending. You break, you go off to start a new life in California and you expect everything to be wonderful.
LAMB: When did you move from New York to California?
BRANDEN: In October of 1968. And we had nine years. And..
LAMB: You and Patrecia?
BRANDEN: Patrecia and I had nine years. I published three books. I was instantly successful as a psychotherapist in California in spite of all of the predictions that everything with me was now finished, you know, because the word was out that anybody who deals with Nathaniel Branden is anathema. Well, of course I sent out to this same mailing list the announcement that I had opened a practice in Los Angeles and almost instantly my appointment book was filled. Ayn had made the mistake and assumption that people only responded to me because she in effect sponsored me. The truth of the matter was that they all knew me. I had lectured and taught a great deal and I had independent relationships with a great many people. And it was very very simple to reestablish myself.
Anyway, Patrecia was an actress. On the day before the day of her death we'd come back and -- she had spent the first 11 days of her life in an incubator. She was an identical twin. And the doctors hypothesis is there may have been some oxygen deprivation that produced some submicroscopic problem at that level. Anyway, later in life she became mildly epileptic as a couple of time she had lost consciousness. It didn't impair her life in any way what so ever. She took a medication for that and she was assured that so long as she took it everything would be fine and it would never be an issue in her life which it never was. She was very tired. She was both going to school studying psychology working as an actress and waiting to see if she was going to be. She had auditioned for a very important series of Shakespeare productions. They were very important to her. And she was under a lot of stress waiting to find out if she would get the job or not. She was also working very hard at school.
We went away skiing with some friends to Aspen. She had not thought she would go with me. Only at the last moment did she not want to be separated from me and so decided on a moment's notice to pack her bags and come with me. That's significant because she didn't notice before she left that there was only one tablet of medication left in her bottle. We spent several wonderful days skiing in Aspen except that we were skiing all day and talking half the night and so the exhaustion kept building. We came back on a Wednesday, March 30, 1977 and we were both utterly exhausted from the trip and very, very close and woke up on the morning Thursday of the morning and we're talking about how much we had survived together and how was it possible that we had now known each other for 15 years still to feel so much love and devotion for each other. I go off to my office to work and she goes to school. I'm sorry -- she stays home to hear about this production. Will she get the job or not.
At 2:30 in the afternoon she telephones me to say, in effect, "Well, darling -- well, Nathaniel, I got it." She's very, very happy. I'm very happy for her. She says she has to go to school. We agreed to meet that evening at 7:30. Later, someone at school would say of her that she looked so happy that she looked as if a fuse was going to blow. I didn't mention that no one had told us that if you take this pill for a long time this medication and then suddenly ...
BRANDEN: Dilantin. And then don't take it you lower the threshold to make you more susceptible to a seizure. That combined with the stress combined with the exhaustion set up the whole problem. We had a dog, a Japanese Akita. Typically she would feed Takia, Takara rather by the swimming pool around 5:30 in the afternoon. This was all reconstructed later. I'm out wondering whether she remembered to feed Takara. I come home at 7:15 and I see her car in the drive way. I didn't think she'd be home from school for another 30 or 40 minutes. I think she was so happy and excited that she had cut her classes early and came home because I knew she wanted to see me and I wanted to see her. I can't find her in the house. The dog is inside the house. I'm wondering how the dog got there. I see the back door is open. And then I see the body in the swimming pool. And she's dead.
What is reconstructed later is that she had been feeding Takara by the side of the pool. Something called the flicker phenomena where sunlight flashing very brilliantly on water or on leaves or grass or glass all of which is our back yard can cause an electrical discharge in the brain which can be sufficient to trigger a seizure. Had she not been feeding the dog by the swimming pool had she been back a foot or two she really would have lost consciousness for maybe 40 or 50 seconds and everything would have been fine. She fell into the water and drown. And there are simply no words to even begin to talk about the agony that followed. It's simply outside normal experience.
Death is terrible. The death of somebody you love is terrible. And the discovery of the body with no preparation, no context no sign of illness happening this way is like a nightmare that I wouldn't wish upon my very worst enemy. The recovery period was very, very long and very, very difficult. Maybe that's why I'm very very appreciative of what I have today. Maybe that's why when I married again, when I was able to rebuild my life, it gives you a very strong sense of what counts in life and what doesn't count. What matters and what doesn't matter. When you're young you feel ... you're very -- at least I was -- reckless. You think everybody is going to live forever. You think you're indestructible. You think everybody you love is indestructible. And sometimes you find out the very worst way possible how wrong you are.
LAMB: We're talking about this book "Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand." And this is Nathaniel Branden who is the author of this book. You can see the picture on this book. No not that one. Give me a long shot here so I can show that to the audience. They may not have noticed it Ayn Rand, I assume that's Ayn Rand.
BRANDEN: Yes it is.
LAMB: ... back there.
BRANDEN: And in the foreground is me age 34.
LAMB: Are you ...
BRANDEN: That's the story of Patrecia in brief.
LAMB: And that's all in the book.
BRANDEN: That's all in the book.
LAMB: Back to Ayn Rand. 20 million copies of her books have been sold in this country or world wide?
BRANDEN: I don't know whether it's in this country or world wide. I'm afraid I can't answer that. It's a lot either way.
LAMB: Still selling?
BRANDEN: I'm told the big ones sell in excess of 100,000 copies each a year. What's very interesting is that her big novels are still available selling actively in hard back as well as paper back.
LAMB: Which one of the two books -- the big ones "The Fountainhead" or "Atlas Shrugged" had the most impact on you? I know you said that you started reading "The Fountainhead" when you were 14.
BRANDEN: Developmentally "The Fountainhead" because I read it at 14, because I reread it and reread it and reread it all through my adolescent years. In the broader philosophical sense "Atlas Shrugged" did. That was a book I read more in my adulthood. It's a far more ambitious book philosophically. It's a far more philosophically explicit book. But they impacted me in very profound but somewhat different ways. I would sometimes tell Ayn Rand in the early years about "The Fountainhead" that in effect you brought me up long distance through "The Fountainhead."
BRANDEN: Because of the influence that book had on my formative years. The whole celebration of the importance of creative work as a heroic activity. The importance of integrity. The importance of individualism. The importance of honoring your own inner signals, those themes.
LAMB: You refer often to long hours of conversation. Do you enjoy long hours of conversation, discussion, political discourse?
BRANDEN: Not as I did then. Sometimes I do but in some ways I talk less today. I talk a lot I guess but I probably talk less.
LAMB: Do you feel yourself having a message that you want the rest of the world to hear for any reason?
BRANDEN: That's a really interesting and challenging question. I suppose that my most important book so far in the field of psychology is a book called "Honoring the Self." And the title is the most important message. All my life, even as a boy, that always felt like the great challenge to find out who you are and to honor that and to live up to that. And sometimes it takes a long time because it's not a simple question at all. And it isn't that we ever find it out fully. But we can find out enough to keep going for a very long time and to keep unfolding and keep developing. I wanted to say -- and I said this in "Judgment Day" -- it really felt important to say to people your life is important take it seriously. Don't live by some set of rules that other people laid out for you that may not be right for you at all. If I were asked today as I sometimes ask in shorthand from where I stand today, what's my morality -- I'll give you a one sentence summation. I would say today live with integrity, respect the rights of other people, and follow your own bliss.
LAMB: Why do people get so upset about Ayn Rand?
BRANDEN: Different people get upset for different reasons. Some people get upset because of her deep disagreements with religion. Other people get upset because of her uncompromising advocacy and individualism and capitalism. Some people get upset in my view because they really do not understand her philosophy of enlightened self interest. And having said all of that I believe there is another reason why they get upset which they will never tell you. It may also be a reason why some people will get upset with my book "Judgment Day" that they will never tell you.
Great many people simply are not comfortable with a heroic vision of life period. They are not comfortable with the heroic way of looking at things. They find it disquieting for any number of reasons and she was as a novelist what she call a romantic realist. She created larger than life characters. It's a whole way of seeing life that many people are antagonized by and we would have to speculate on their psychology as to why. But I'm aware in some of the stuff that ... some of the remarks that come back to me about "Judgment Day" -- the charges of self dramatization that people don't understand, the perspective from which I'm looking at my own life.
Perhaps this will help to illuminate. Sometimes in therapy the client may be in their 20's or 30's will say to me, "Nathaniel, it's so embarrassing -- I'm still preoccupied with separating with my parents. I should be way beyond that by now." And I like to say to them the following, and I'll explain my reason because it bears on your question. If you study the various great legends or mythologies of the world and different cultures in almost every version of the heroes journey that exists, the first great rite of passage is the struggle to leave home. So that's the first great battle on the path to self realization. And then instead of looking at this as some kind of undignified, unworthy beneath you kind of struggle, see it as a journey -- as a rite of passage on a journey which you are on to finding your own destiny.
Now why is that valuable? Because if you see it in those terms it's a motivator to persevere. It gives the battle dignity. It motivates you to give the struggle for self realization your best rather than to collapse into passivity and self contempt. Now I see life in those terms -- not only my own life; I see other people's lives. I see struggle in those terms. I see the human struggle in those terms. I see people working to find out what their destiny is and then to reach it. Sometimes consciously more often unconsciously. So when I write "Judgment Day" or when Ayn wrote her books and there she was writing as a novelist, but I see a certain integrating principle. I wrote from a certain view of what human beings are which a lot of people don't share. It isn't that they didn't like Rand writing about her characters that way or me writing about me or Rand that way they don't like anybody writing about anybody that way. They don't like that very large scale way of seeing things. So I think that they will be understanding of what she was trying to do in her books or certainly what I'm trying to do in "Judgment Day."
LAMB: One of the early things you did was change your name.
LAMB: Used to be Nathan Blumenthal.
LAMB: Why did you change it?
BRANDEN: You know, ever since I was a boy I had a very possessive feeling of choice. What I like and what I don't like. I had a favorite color. I had a favorite number. I had a favorite car. I had a favorite everything. And when I knew I was becoming a writer I never especially liked my name. It didn't feel like me who knows why I began to think why ... wait a minute ... why am I stuck with somebody else's choices? I'm choosing my own partner. I'm choosing my own friend. I'm choosing my own convictions. My name is important to me. Why should I be at the mercy of a choice I didn't make. So I began to think what name might I like? Well, I like ... well, out of Nathan, Nathaniel was very obvious since I really liked the name Nathaniel. And as Ayn once kidded me -- like criminals and writers, you keep your initials, so I wanted a B. So I began looking through the phone book for a B that went well with Nathaniel and then out of that came Nathaniel Branden. There's no extraordinary or exciting significance other than the importance that choice always had for me and the feeling that I'm choosing as much about myself as I have the power to choose and names are something I care about.
LAMB: How old were you when you did that?
LAMB: Were you married?
LAMB: So you're wife had to change her name with you.
BRANDEN: Didn't have to, but she was happily eager to. She liked it very much.
LAMB: What would Ayn Rand think of you today if she were alive and saw you doing this?
BRANDEN: I think that she would have a real difficult problem.
LAMB: The last time you talked to her?
BRANDEN: Well that might change the subject.
LAMB: I know I want to come back to that. But the last time you talked to her was in what year? She died in '82.
BRANDEN: It's in my book but I can't recall whether it was '75 or '76. It's kind of an interesting story. We've now been estranged and not spoken for seven or eight years. I'm in Los Angeles I'm in my office. It always bothered me the way everything ended. It had no dignity, it had no sanity; it was really ugly and it was stupid. I knew very clearly I didn't was a resumption of a friendship with Ayn. I knew it couldn't possibly ... I could never co-exist in that environment nor did I imagine for a moment that she would be remotely available to such an idea.
But I felt at the same time that we had once really meant a great great deal to each other. This ending was not a worthy ending. I like something a little cleaner and more decent and I also knew this was completely impossible because I know her very well. Anyway it's 1975 or 6, I'm walking from my office to the elevator. I am not thinking about this subject. I hear a voice inside my head saying it's time telephone Ayn. I stand stock still in a state of shock. I begin to argue with the voice what are you talking about it's time to telephone Ayn. It's a completely futile endeavor and I have nothing to gain nothing to accomplish and the voice ... it feels like me, but another me. It doesn't feel like an outside source, it feels like another Nathaniel. Like somebody wiser. That sounds a bit strange but that's how it felt at the time. Like a wiser Nathaniel Branden talking to me and he said it's time to telephone Ayn -- that's all he said. And instantly I knew there's nothing to think about, I'm going to have to do it.
So I go home and I hint to Patrecia I had the damndest experience today. And I told her what happened. And I said you know something this is complete futile. It's not going to go anywhere. It's going to be completely a pointless exercise but I must do it. And Patrecia said to me -- why? What do you want to accomplish? I said, well, I certainly don't want a reconciliation nor do I think one is possible. I don't know what I want. But I just want to re-encounter her as as I who I am today in a unconfused clean well grounded state. I just feel I'm so dissatisfied with the way I handled things back then. This is between me and me it's got nothing to do with Ayn. I have to attempt to have one sane conversation with Ayn and then say a proper goodbye to her.
Patrecia completely approved and supported it. A few months later I'm in New York conducting a workshop and from my hotel room I telephoned Ayn. I can give you the verbatim conversation because it was very very brief and I immediately wrote it down on a piece of hotel stationery. Here is the whole conversation: I telephone and Ayn answers the phone and she says, "Hello." And I say, "Hello Ayn, this is Nathaniel." And rather sharply she says, "Who?" And I say "Nathaniel ... this is Nathaniel." And she says more sharply, "To whom am I speaking please." And I said gently, "Nathaniel Branden." And she said, "Well, you didn't really think I would speak to you did you?" And I said, "I didn't know, but I do feel there are important things we need to say to each other and I wanted to try," or words to that effect. She said, "Well, no. Goodbye." And she hangs up. And I hang up and I begin to laugh. And all I can explain is that I had the most incredible sense of euphoria and the freedom. Some kind of final affirmation that I was really finished with that part of my life. It was a complete feeling of cheerfulness of like, it's your problem now -- it's not my problem any longer. I felt some sense of letting go internally in a kind of a very good natured and cheerful way and that was my last communication with Ayn Rand.
LAMB: Now let's go back to the original question -- what would she think of you today if she saw you writing this book and talking about her in this way?
BRANDEN: Well, she would be horrified. But I think she would be impressed by the quality of the writing. She always admired my writing and literally this is far and away the best thing I've ever done. And I think that the novelist in her and the writer in her would be in conflict with the woman etc. That aside..
LAMB: Isn't this reason though and isn't this ...
BRANDEN: I know but ...
LAMB: ... being honest ...
BRANDEN: Since her perception of the events is obviously different from mine she would not accept the characterization of her that I present here. It isn't that she would argue with the gross facts but there's a subtler level of disagreement. I don't think anybody by the way Ayn Rand or anybody living is going to challenge me on the facts in the book. There will be other arguments. Yes, you wanted to say something?
LAMB: No, I'm sorry I just wanted our cameraman to get a shot of Ayn Rand. What does this look like? A picture taken from what year? In the Los Angeles Times ...
BRANDEN: Oh, that was before I knew her. That was, as far as I know, earlier. I don't really know. I have no idea. Or maybe it was taken later I don't really know. It's not a picture in my collection.
LAMB: Do you think people followed her because of the way she wrote or her philosophy?
BRANDEN: Both. Some one, some the other, many both. You know, there's a interesting spin on this. I talk to people including people who have attacked her in print -- this has happened as recently as today, I mean literally today -- who personally talk about how they read her and reread her and learn from her and these are people who have attacked her in print. It's a very strange phenomenon. I know that she has contributed to a lot of people who don't acknowledge their sources. The sources of their ideas. So that a lot of people feel kind of funny about admitting you like Ayn Rand because it's very unfashionable. It puts them into a lot of conflict with a lot of their friends. So it's kind of like a private vice. I've seen a lot of that too in my time. You know, I've been involved in this -- I'm now 59, I'm involved in this since I was 20. I've seen a lot and I've seen very strange behaviors. And among the strangest behaviors that I've seen -- I've seen people for whom Ayn Rand is almost like a guilty secret. Like somebody they really like and enjoy in private, and sometimes oppose and sometime ridicule in public.
LAMB: Let's -- for someone who's just joined us -- sum up a little bit of what we've been talking about. We have a book called "Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand" that we've been talking with Nathaniel Branden about. He is the author of this book. It's brand new in your book stores. This is your what book? What in numbers?
BRANDEN: My eleventh book.
LAMB: And it's a story of your life -- started reading "Fountain Head" when you were 14. Met Ayn Rand when you were 20. Three marriages. One of your marriage ended in death. First one Barbara you divorced has written a similar book. Not a similar book but a book about ...
BRANDEN: She wrote a book about Rand. Right.
LAMB: What do you think Barbara's reaction will be to your book?
BRANDEN: Well, naturally I would expect Barbara would be uncomfortable with some of the information concerning herself. But I think that other parts that Barbara will like the book because, not to sound arrogant about it, she'll appreciate the writing.
LAMB: She a good writer?
BRANDEN: Yes. Barbara's a very good writer. And she has a very good appreciation for writing. I think subtracting those elements where personal history of her own is involved, I think that there's elements of the book that she would appreciate very much and parts of it naturally that will make her uncomfortable.
LAMB: We also talked about how Alan Greenspan was a member of the collective?
BRANDEN: Yes. That was our we thought humorous name for this great group of individualists.
LAMB: Because you weren't obviously in favor of collect ...
LAMB: How many were members of the collect?
BRANDEN: Oh golly Ayn and Frank are two, Barbara and I are four, Greenspan is five, Jonah six, seven, around nine or ten of the original circle.
LAMB: And did you meet often?
BRANDEN: Almost every Saturday night.
LAMB: What did you do?
BRANDEN: Talked philosophy. Read "Atlas Shrugged" in the early years while it was still being written. After that talk about the world. Talk about philosophy. Talk about art. Talk about politics. Talk, talk, talk. A lot of it was great. Very exciting, very stimulating. You know why? Because there was this great passion for ideas. There was this great feeling that ideas matter. There was this great energy.
LAMB: Do they matter by the way?
BRANDEN: Oh yes matter very much.
LAMB: Did you ever think that the collective would move into a political operation somewhere?
BRANDEN: No I never thought that these people would. Alan Greenspan of course was a professional economist. I personally would never have forecast that he would become involved politically as he has.
LAMB: Were you followers at that time of something other than Ayn Rand? Did you have a political favorite?
LAMB: Were you Republicans or Democrats?
BRANDEN: Well here's the point. We would have been more likely to vote Republican than Democrat and more likely not to vote at all. We certainly wouldn't have liked a Democrat Administration and we really didn't like Nixon or Eisenhower or those people.
LAMB: Would you be a Liberaterian today?
BRANDEN: In a general sense I'm a Liberaterian. It depends on how you define it. If you mean by that like an advocate of liaissez fare capitalism. I'm not an anarchist as some Liberaterians are. There are other differences. So it depends how the public or you understand the word Liberaterian. But if you mean an advocate of individual rights and a very minimalist view of government then I would say Libertarianism.
LAMB: You had a newsletter called "The Objectivist."
LAMB: How many people subscribed to that?
BRANDEN: I think at it's height we were up to approaching 22,000. I could be wrong. That's my memory.
LAMB: When did that newsletter go defunct?
BRANDEN: Well, it began losing circulation following the Rand-Branden split. A few years afterwards, Rand discontinued it and switched to something called the "Ayn Rand Letter." That also went defunct. It was harder and harder for her to keep writing for it. Her health was not good in the last few years of her life.
LAMB: And you are a psychotherapist?
BRANDEN: I'm a psychologist. I'm a psychotherapist.
LAMB: What is a psychotherapist?
BRANDEN: Someone who works with people with various types of behavioral and emotional difficulties whether it be marriage and family counseling or problems of anxiety and depression or problems of career or under achievement or inability to enjoy you achievement which is a very big problem today. And most of the problems that we struggle with in life.
LAMB: What's next for Nathaniel Branden?
BRANDEN: Well, I'm afraid to say. I will say, but I'm afraid to say because I have a notoriously poor record for forecasting my own future, because I sometimes am all geared up to do something and then another project hits me and I become so excited I change course in mid stream. But I have become increasingly interested by what's happening to the world economy and the business economy in the Unites States and I have become interested in the relevance and the application of my work in self esteem to innovation and entrepreneurship and to the whole entrepreneurial explosion. So I'm working on a book now which is entitled "Self Esteem Innovation and Entrepreneurship." It's kind of a new direction for me.
LAMB: Our guest on Booknotes: Nathaniel Branden. Here is his book "Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand." Thank you very much for being here.
BRANDEN: I really enjoyed this. It was absolutely from my point of view wonderful. Very relaxed, very easy, very natural. I don't know how any of it sounded to you, but whatever your personal agenda was, I had a very good time.
LAMB: Thank you.
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