Full Context Interview

1992 Interview with Full Context (Continued)

Q: Did Rand ever contact Nathaniel Branden after the split?

Branden: She never contacted Nathan, nor would she ever have considered it or been willing to see him. Her view of him remained very, very negative. She did, however, do one kind thing with regard to him. When Patrecia, his second wife, tragically died, she sent her sympathy to Nathan through a friend. She knew that however much she disapproved of him, no one deserves anything so terrible.

Q: You said that when you decided to write the biography that you would tell the truth. Did you plan to reveal the affair while she was still alive?

Branden: Yes, I certainly had no idea she would die before the book was begun. I always thought, despite her illnesses, that she would live to be very old. I wish she had.

May I ask you a question? You said something at the very beginning, something about families breaking up — was that over my book?

Q: Friendships, or associations.

Branden: Over my book?

Q: Oh, yes. Well, there was Petr Beckmann, his name was on the masthead of The Intellectual Activist, and he gave you a good review in his Access to Energy.

Branden: Oh, you're referring to relationships with Leonard Peikoff ending. Yes I know, all sorts of people were excommunicated because they wrote positive reviews of my book, or even said they liked it. I must say that I was pleased by how many of the people around Leonard broke with him over my book. He was so irrational on the subject. He wrote that he had not read my book and didn't intend to, but knew it was terrible, immoral, false, etc., etc., etc., and his irrationality boomeranged on him and cost him the best people around him. I think it was probably the last large straw with a lot of people who had worked with him.

Q: Well, what was the problem? Did he know about the affair and wanted to cover it up?

Branden: No, he said, and I'm inclined to believe, that he didn't know about it. He never asked Ayn, so he could think it was a lie. All these years he has been in a rage with me and Nathan, because we were telling this horrible lie. Then he announced one day, a few years ago, that his wife had been going through some of Ayn's papers and had discovered that it was true. His letter of apology to me must have been lost in the mail. I'm still waiting for it.

Q: Can't trust the mail anymore!

Branden: No, not at all!

Q: You're Leonard Peikoff's cousin?

Branden: Yes.

Q: Was your mother his mother's sister?

Branden: Yes. And I love his mother dearly.

Q: Are you pretty good friends with her?

Branden: Yes. He managed to come between us at one point, but that is over and finished.

Q: What were some of the relationships of the people who were around Ayn Rand? Sounds like a lot of relatives.

Branden: Friends more than that. It happened in the most normal way. Nobody set out to form the collective. Nathan and I had met Ayn. I had a very good friend, Joan Mitchell, now Joan Mitchell Blumenthal, who had read The Fountainhead and loved it (Atlas wasn't published yet) and wanted very much to meet Ayn. So I introduced her. It happened in that sort of way. Leonard was my young cousin who came to California for a visit, and was madly in love with The Fountainhead. He was very bright, so I took him to meet Ayn. We introduced other friends, some of whom were relatives.

Q: Are you all still friends today?

Branden: No. As far as I know, none of the people in the original group see Nathan. I see all the people from those days that I care about, and that really pleases me. Over the years, I got in touch with them, or they got in touch with me. The only ones I don't see are the one or two that I didn't care about anyhow. So it has worked out very well for me. In certain ways I'm closer than I ever was to the people I care about, because I'm capable of being closer these days.

Q: You said that none of them want to associate with Nathan, is there a reason, is it his personality?

Branden: They feel, and it's true, that much of the damage that was done to other people and to them as well, was secondarily Ayn's doing and primarily Nathan's. As a therapist, he was in a position to do a great deal of damage, and he did. He had much more to do the formation of the "cult" than Ayn did. And some of them, myself included, resent such things as the fact that he presents himself these days as the creator of the concept of self-esteem. That concept is presented in Galt's speech.

Q: He did popularize it.

Branden: Yes, he did a lot of good work with it. But that is not how he talks about it or how he writes about it. And he re-writes his own past, about things they all recall. He talks, in one of his tapes, about how he argued with Ayn about her theory of sex in the old days. Not only did he not argue with her, he was shoving it down people's throats in therapy. He was all for it.

Q: You said that you disagreed with her theory of sex in Liberty Magazine. What specifically?

Branden: It's not that I disagree with her basic view that love and sexual attraction are a response to values. But I do not think that we fall in love with somebody or are sexually drawn to them because they're honest, have integrity, are rational or productive, etc. Much as I admire those virtues, I think we often find ourselves attracted to someone before we can know if those values are present or absent. And when we do know, we may find that the person has certain of those virtues and not others.

The way I would put it, if pushed to the wall to define it, is that love is a response to very deeply rooted and complex values, but not necessarily what we would philosophically call our highest values. That is, when we are really profoundly, sexually drawn to somebody, romantically drawn, something very deep in us is responding to something very deep in them. But it can be immensely difficult to know what. Sometimes the person is very like we are; sometimes the person is very different, and the attraction may be in part to the differences that fill in the empty spaces in ourselves.

Q: Do you think that there are different kinds of love, like contextual love, where a person is giving you something at a certain time, and that's what you need?

Branden: It is such a complex issue, that saying it's your response to your highest values does not deal with the immense complexity of romantic love and sexual attraction and the immense amount we do not yet understand. I have seen too many people castigate themselves morally for an attraction to someone who is less than a hero. I believe one must respect one's choices, and not leap to condemn them.

Q: Can you share some of your favorite memories of Ayn Rand that aren't in the book, little peculiarities and such?

Branden: One of the things I remember with enormous pleasure is walking around their ranch with her, which we used to do by the hour. Just talking and walking through those beautiful trees and stopping to look at the gorgeous peacocks that Frank raised, and Ayn collecting stones. Her collection had no commercial value, but she would see a stone and pick it up simply because it was pretty.

As we walked we would be talking, maybe about personal things, maybe about philosophical issues, and looking at the trees and admiring the day, and keeping one eye out for pretty stones. Those are very dear memories to me, memories I'm glad I have. Because there was a lot that was painful, and it's important to me to have the other kind of memories. I've often felt that knowing Ayn in the '50's as I did, was a very different experience from knowing her later on.

Q: Do you think it was part Nathan's fault, or just getting bitter that there was no one out there to recognize her work?

Branden: There was a bitterness in her when I met her, but one rarely saw it. It was not nearly as deep, or intense. It grew with the years. Her troubles with Nathan certainly intensified it but they didn't cause it. What more basically made it snowball was her feeling after Atlas Shrugged was published, that the world around her had not given her the thing she most wanted: the recognition of the value of her work by her intellectual peers. Yet in many ways the world didn't have to be as empty for her as it was. She wasn't letting it in; she was cutting herself off, which was very sad. And there was nothing anybody could do about it.

Q: Leonard Peikoff said that Frank O'Connor was not an alcoholic, that those bottles in the painting room were for mixing paints, but booze bottles are not for mixing paint.

Branden: Of course! Who ever heard of a painter mixing paints in a liquor bottle!

Q: Hellman's mayonnaise jars are what everyone uses.

Branden: It's ridiculous, of course. Toward the end, I'm sure Leonard had to know that Frank was drinking.

Q: How could you tell?
Branden It showed! I've heard from too many people that they came in to the apartment and the first thing they smelled was alcohol, and Frank clearly had been drinking. It might even be in the morning.

Q: That must have been terrible for Rand.

Branden: Terrible.

Q: Did she ever talk about it, how she handled it?

Branden: One of the really awful things that would happen is that Frank would fly into rages over nothing, this gentle man who would never willingly cause pain. She would say, in effect, pass the salt the wrong way and he would blow. It was excruciatingly painful to her. She knew in a way that he couldn't help it. It wasn't just liquor; it was senility. I don't know if it was Alzheimer's, but something was very wrong with his brain near the end. He was forgetting everything, really losing contact in the last period.

Q: Was it like a couple years?

Branden: Much longer. As a matter of fact, I saw it beginning to happen. Even before I left. I was seeing something physical, as well as something psychological, by 1968 and even a little before then. I would see Frank being in the room for conversations that he should not have been present at, Ayn's conversations with me, for instance, about Nathan, and what was wrong with Nathan, and what was wrong with Nathan and Ayn's relationship. It could only have been terribly painful to him.

Things got worse and worse, and the conversations became more and more passionate and unhappy and Ayn's suffering more and more apparent. I began to see Frank emotionally and intellectually retreating from the room. You could almost touch it. I felt that each week he was understanding less of what he was hearing. That was his only way of protecting himself. He simply could not cope with what was happening to Ayn. It was a terrible time, and he had no means to handle it.

Q: Did he love her very deeply?

Branden: That's a hard question to answer. I would have to be much more an authority on what is love than I am, or am ever likely to be. She was the center of his life. There is no question in my mind about that.

Q: Was he financially dependant on her?

Branden: Totally, in the New York years. There was a time when he told me that if he could have done it, he would have left her. I think he probably would have done it in anger, but I suspect he would have come back whether he had money or didn't. But I never got from him the sense of romantic love towards her that I always got from Ayn towards him.

Q: So do you think he let her have this affair more because he valued her as a person and this is something she needed.

Branden: It was terribly painful to him. He and I were in a way in the same boat. I was not romantically in love with Nathan, but the affair was agonizingly painful to me. I had married him; I cared about him; there was a very powerful bond between us. I planned to spend the rest of my life with him. It was an absolute commitment in my mind.

Q: Did Rand know all this?

Branden: She certainly knew we weren't having a very good time. But I don't think she ever knew quite the extent of the pain. We didn't say. In certain ways perhaps neither of us fully knew, because once we decided it was reasonable and it was something we should accept, then I don't think we quite let ourselves know how desperately we were suffering.

Q: A lot of repressing going on.

Branden: I don't know how we would have lived with it otherwise. Which might have been a better solution — not to be able to live with it. The price of living with it was overwhelming repression. And you can't repress about just one issue, it spreads and grows and grows. The results were terrible for me. I ended up cut off from everybody in the world.

My dearest friend was Joan Blumenthal. I had known her since we were twelve years old, or as she would remind me, since I was thirteen and she was twelve. We always confided in each other, but once that affair between Ayn and Nathan began, I could no longer confide in her or in anybody. The eventual result was that I withdrew from her. I ended up withdrawing from her little by little, and from everyone I cared about, because I found there was very little of a personal kind that I could discuss that didn't have strings to the subject I could not discuss.

Q: It's like a crack that turns into the Grand Canyon between two people.

Branden: I ended up not being able to talk about what was inside me at all to anybody. And I ended up hardly knowing what was inside me.

Q: When the collective read Atlas Shrugged was it only the book's ideas that were discussed or did anyone mention its artistic qualities?

Branden: I don't even know what the emphasis was on most; certainly there were a lot of discussions, of the excitement of the book, the writing, the plot, the characters. We were not abstract philosophers not noticing that we were reading a thrilling novel. My response, which I think is a usual reader's response, was that one part of me wanted to stop and dwell on the philosophical ideas, but another part wanted to keep rushing along to see what happened to the people. And that was the reaction of all of us.

Q: I heard that she wrote a whole section of Ragnar Danneskjold's adventures that were cut out, is that true?

Branden: It wouldn't be a whole section. There were certain things that were cut out. At one point she had a priest as one of the people who goes on strike, but it just didn't work. She wasn't happy with it. He was too much like another character; so she took that out. But there weren't really long sections. I think that was probably the biggest thing she cut out.

Q: What about the writing, reading it in manuscript, the rough draft. We kind of had an indication of what that was like from the things Leonard Peikoff published from The Fountainhead. I remember reading it and being embarrassed for her, that it was in print.

Branden: It should not have been published. That was wastebasket stuff for her, the material from The Fountainhead. But Ayn was a paper-miser; she couldn't throw things out.

Q: Why do you think he published that?

Branden: Well, I can only think of one reason, to make money. What else could there be?

Q: Fill up the pages of The Early Ayn Rand?

Branden: He had to know that the reason she never published it is because she didn't want to publish it.

Q: The writing was so rough. When she read Atlas in manuscript to the group, was it rough like that too?

Branden: No, it wasn't. It was much more polished writing from the beginning. It was really final draft before she left any section. When Nathan and I first started reading it, it was typed, but then we caught up to her; so she would show us what was handwritten before it was typed. The really difficult thing for me was not to read what was crossed out. The temptation was overwhelming but she begged me not to. Oh, I was dying to see, and sometimes she would let me see what was crossed out and talk about it, which was fascinating. As a matter of fact I have some of the manuscript pages where she has cross-outs. It's immensely interesting to see, like seeing her thought processes.

Q: Did the people talk about their own lives? I noticed that a lot of Objectivists just talk about ideas and they don't ask the person how they're doing?

Branden: Oh, yes we did. We were friends. Things began to go wrong in later years with everybody but essentially we were a group of friends. We knew each other very well and cared for each other. We talked like real people talk.

Q: Ayn Rand appointed Nathaniel Branden, and later Leonard Peikoff, her intellectual heir; did she ever define what that meant?

Branden: I don't know that she defined it, but I knew what she meant. Specifically with regard to Nathan, she believed that, after she was gone, he would carry on her ideas and continue elaborating and presenting them. That's what she meant by intellectual heir. It wasn't that she had placed the mantle on him. She thought that's what he planned to do, and wanted to do, to carry on her ideas and continue as she was doing, presenting them to the world in ways that would be acceptable to her and that he was the person best qualified to do it.

I think that if that had been said, people wouldn't have had the objections that they do have. It is a very strange concept, intellectual heir, unless one understands exactly what she meant by it. It's not clear from the term itself. I assume she meant the same thing about Leonard. Unfortunately it hasn't happened. It hasn't happened with either of them. Which is part of what is wrong with deciding that somebody is your intellectual heir. You cannot know what the future will be.

Q: At the end of your interview in Liberty, you criticized the handling of Rand's estate, what specifically did you have in mind?

Branden: It has been really upsetting me since shortly after Ayn died. The fact that there have been no archives; the fact that Leonard is publishing material that shouldn't be published, but should be in archives. The fact that he is selling things which should have been kept. He has such an important literary estate, and he hasn't the foggiest idea of what you ought to do with a literary estate. Clearly he has not asked anyone who knows, or at least he is not interested in whatever they've told him. It's been sold off in bits and pieces, published in bits and pieces, and to me the worst thing of all is, not even that he published her philosophical "thinking aloud" notes, but that he edited them! Edited Ayn Rand has no historical value. Ayn Rand thinking aloud on paper — edited by Leonard Peikoff? It has no meaning!

Q: Do you think he edited it just grammatically, or did he change philosophical ideas?

Branden: I don't think he invented philosophical ideas, or reversed them. But I think he was very careful about the language that she might have used at one time, then later would not have written quite that way. To make such changes absolutely destroys the historical value of her notes.

Q: Do you remember anything specific?

Branden: I don't. When I saw this treasure of Ayn thinking aloud about philosophy on paper and then saw "Edited by Leonard Peikoff", I couldn't believe my eyes! Edited by anybody! You just don't do that. Because how does anybody ever know what was Ayn and what was Leonard? What was there and what has been cut out?

Q: That's a good point. In his obituary of Ayn Rand, William Buckley wrote that she burst into tears during an argument with Ludwig von Mises in which he called her a little Jewish girl. Do you know if that happened?

Branden: It absolutely did not happen the way he tells it. Buckley has been using that episode for years, and it has grown over the years. Ayn never burst into tears in an argument in her life. Nor did she have "a thing" about being Jewish. Nothing could have been less important to her than that she was Jewish. The whole thing is ridiculous. She and Mises did have a harsh argument, but all sanity leaves when such events get reported. Well, I've heard other stories about Ayn no part of which ever happened. Such inventions seem to go on and on.

Q: Sherlock Holmes is one of the few dramatizations of intelligence in literature. Did Ayn Rand ever read his stories?

Branden: I think she did, but I don't remember what she said about them. I know that she didn't buy his books. I've never liked Sherlock Holmes, and I would guess this would be her reaction. What he supposedly figures out from "x" facts simply does not follow. It's impossible to figure it out. It is not the logical deduction it's supposed to be. My guess would be that she would not have cared for him for the same reasons.

Q: Do you know whether Ayn Rand wanted her short stories to be published posthumously?

Branden: No, she didn't want them published.

Q: She actually said that?

Branden: I don't remember if she said those words, but remember that she wrote them under a pseudonym. She did say that they were not representative of the kind of work she wanted to present to the world under her name. She was proud of them as a first attempt, but she could have had them published any time she wanted to. She never did. She was even hesitant to show them to us. So certainly she did not want them shown to the world.

Q: Do you think Rand's growth as a philosopher lead her to lose a benevolent sense of life instead of helping her keep it? In other words to focus on negatives in the culture?

Branden: No, I think it's in reverse. Disillusionment with the culture led to so much negative analysis in her later non-fiction. I think the bitterness came first. There is nothing in her philosophy that would lead her to malevolence; nor was there anything in her philosophical thinking, per se, that would lead her to that. It was more her own personality and the tragedies, the suffering in her own life. Her personal bitterness was at odds with her philosophy. She knew this and was always struggling to deal with it, not to carry that kind of bitterness. She would often say: "John Galt wouldn't feel this. He would know how to handle it. I don't know". She never saw it as a virtue in herself, but as something she wanted to change.

Q: Do you think she needed more of a sense of humor?

Branden: Again, its an issue of what's the cause and what's the consequence. She had more of a sense of humor, and was lighter generally when I first met her. That too went as the bitterness increased.

Q: It seems that a lot of people disagree with Rand's argument against a woman President. What do you think of it? Do you think it reflected her loneliness?

Branden: I think it reflected a lot of things in her. I certainly don't agree with it. I wish Margaret Thatcher would run for President here. I'd vote for her. I think a lot about Ayn's theory of women came from the inevitable loneliness of the genius. Seeing so much that other people didn't see, with such ease and so clearly, necessarily creates a certain loneliness. When you see so much, so blindingly clearly, and you're surrounded by people who need it explained in detail and even with that sometimes don't see it, you end up feeling very alone.

Ayn would have given anything in the world to find an equal, and anything in the world — plus the next three worlds, if there are such — to have found a superior intellect. I think that longing, which was never fulfilled, had a lot to do with her focusing so much on a woman wanting to look up to a man. It was a very understandable and tragic result of her own need, a need we all have, but most of us can fulfill at least to some extent. She couldn't.

Q: Did you hear about Nathaniel Branden's wife almost breaking in on Ayn Rand?

Branden: Yes, I heard it from Ayn and from Nathan at the time it happened.

Q: What did Rand say about it, what was her reaction?

Branden: I haven't heard Nathan's tape on the subject, but I was told essentially what he said. I understand that he talked about Ayn and his wife in effect becoming friends; Ayn was not aware of that if it happened.

Q: What did she say about it?

Branden: She told me that at first she rather liked Devers, but that after a short while she was very annoyed by the intrusiveness, the phone calls and so forth, and she just stopped it finally. The friendship, that apparently Nathan talks about, did not exist, not as Ayn told me the story.

Q: Did she say what irritated her about the woman?

Branden: Yes, that Devers kept pushing for Ayn to see Nathan, which Ayn under no circumstances would do. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to discuss. She made herself clear and that was it, yet Devers kept raising the subject.

Q: Ayn Rand's characters generally appear to us as almost ready-made geniuses with high integrity, while Victor Hugo illustrates personal struggle and self-growth in his heroes. Do you think this is why Hugo had more mass appeal in his own time than Rand, because anyone could relate to a Jean Valjean but not a Galt?

Branden: I don't think what you've said is fully correct. First of all Ayn's appeal is unbelievably wide, which we can discuss separately. It is certainly true that John Galt and Howard Roark have no inner conflicts; it's not true of Hank Rearden. This is a man tormented by conflict. And we follow his growth as he slowly overcomes it. In my mind that is part of what makes Atlas Shrugged so fascinating.

Or look at Dominique, a woman with debilitating inner conflicts. People do something very strange with Ayn. They latch on to a certain idea about her, or about her work, and they just go with it and stop looking at her work to see if it is really or fully true. And that's one of the ideas, that she never writes about positive characters who have any inner conflicts. The only problem with that is that she does, though I certainly acknowledge in The Passion of Ayn Rand that this is not true of her top heroes.

Q: Some people have said that Rand, in her writings, made exaggerated comments such as Kant being the most evil man in history. Did anyone call her on that, or did she know that she was exaggerating, or was it just her sense of drama getting in the way?

Branden: No, she believed that it was so. I don't fully agree with her about Kant. The word "evil" is a word I pretty much leave to Hitler and Stalin. The idea of a thinker being evil doesn't sit right with me.

But if you had said to her, why do you consider Kant evil, why do you consider him such a philosophical disaster for the world, she would have explained and proved her point. What I think she did was overlook the achievements of Kant. Some of what he said was as disastrous as she said it was, but some of what he said was incredibly brilliant.

That is not what she focused on, and that was fairly typical of Ayn. She would see something in a thinker or a writer that really hit her very powerfully for good or bad, and that would be her focus. And in presenting or discussing them, that would be her focus. It was as if there were nothing else to the person. So you get a lopsided view of Kant from her. She is not wrong, but she doesn't say enough.

Q: On the 1st page of the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand writes "Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word 'selfishness' is: concern with one's own interests." Professor George Walsh has told me that he has searched through every possible dictionary he could find, and there was no such definition as this anywhere. Do you know where she got it?

Branden: No, I don't not for sure. She had some very old dictionaries. She probably got it from one of them.

Q: In your book you mention that Ayn Rand's ideas have turned the country to the right, can you elaborate on this?

Branden: They happen not to have affected our politicians too much, but I suspect nothing but possible votes can affect them. But she has had a profound influence in this country. For instance, in the '50's and the '60's "capitalism" and "free-enterprise" were dirty words. You heard them used only as negatives. If you said somebody was a capitalist you might as well have said that he was an axe-murderer.

Yet Ayn's major purpose in presenting her moral theory has been, I would say, more than 50% accomplished, and that is a miracle. In the '50's, '60's and '70's if you were an idealist, if you really held strong values, it was understood by everybody (whoever "everybody" is) that of course your values were Left. Politically and morally that was the only possible form idealism could take.

The incredible change, caused only by her work, is that today, when people talk about idealism, it is freedom they consider the ideal. It's no longer liberalism, socialism and communism. Today, idealism means that you want freedom. Maybe you think men aren't ready for it; they can't have complete freedom; they can just have part, but still that's the goal. That is an unbelievable change in a culture. And nobody did it but Ayn.

Q: Even with the concept of self-esteem, you hear that constantly now.

Branden: That's right, and that's a reflection of the same issue. You have the right to be concerned with yourself. There are a lot of voices still speaking against it, but generally there has been a reversal of direction. For one woman to have accomplished that is a bloomin' miracle.

Q: What do you think of David Kelley's Institute for Objectivist Studies.

Branden: It is wonderful. I think it is the best thing that could happen to Objectivism. Since Ayn died I have been appalled by what Leonard has been doing. Whatever cultism there was before looks like a joke in comparison to what Leonard's done. If you're not a true believer you can't come near those people, if you wanted to.

But when I finished reading David Kelley's first brochure about his institute, I was in tears. It was everything I wanted to see and thought I wasn't going to see. He is open to debate and welcomes it. He is a serious philosopher. He wants to get Objectivism into the universities, and he knows how to do it. You don't do it by being a raving fanatic, by saying we have the truth and there's nothing more to be said. He is so right in his approach, so good, so open. You know what he really is? He's an Objectivist. He's rational.

Q: He's very patient too.

Branden: I had heard about him for a long time, but I didn't know him. After I read that brochure I got on the phone and called him and told him how thrilled I was. We've become friends. I went to one of his seminars here, and it was brilliant. He's a wonderful lecturer. I am 100% for everything he is doing. I wish him the greatest success in the world, and I will do anything I can do to help.

Q: There was a passage in We The Living that I was always curious about and always meant to ask her at the Ford Hall Forum but I never got around to it. When Kira is asked why she wanted to go to America she says Jazz. Did Ayn Rand like Jazz?

Branden: No, not especially. What she said once was that what she would love more than anything is not ever to have to think about politics, because it wouldn't be necessary. She loved what she saw as the frivolous in America, that this was a country where you didn't have to be concerned whether you were going to starve to death before tomorrow, or freeze to death, or to be put in prison, or sent to Siberia. You could be concerned with things like lipstick and silk stockings. That was, to her, an incredible achievement.

It tells you a tremendous amount about the level that a society has reached when people have the leisure and the money and the mental freedom to think about enjoyment. One couldn't think about enjoyment in Russia. You thought about survival.

So that kind of thing, even if she didn't care for Jazz specifically, was symbolic to her of everything that Russia didn't have and that America did. The idea of silk stockings to her was thrilling when she was a girl, that you could think about and actually buy them. It was very interesting when the Wall came down in Berlin, that rush of East Germans to buy American T-shirts and crazy toys for their kids. They wanted something frivolous and light to let them know that it was possible to enjoy life.

Q: What would she think of Russia now? How do you think she would have reacted when Yeltsin triumphed over the tanks.

Branden: She would have been thrilled, thrilled by a lot that's happening. But also she would have been appalled by, and would have predicted, the kind of religious and ethnic wars that are occurring. She did not have a high view of what was the U.S.S.R. They have never had freedom. They have never discovered civilization, and it's going to be a long, hard road before they do. But she would have been delighted with the death of Communism. When the Wall came down she would have been cheering like everybody else.

Q: How would you advise a beginner to go about studying Objectivism?

Branden: I would say start with the novels. Start with Anthem. Read them in chronological order. You can't start with the equivalent of Galt's speech, either in Atlas Shrugged or in her non-fiction. The best thing for someone starting, is to get the overall sense of life and the whole value universe. Once you care about that, then you can be interested in learning the philosophy behind it.

Q: What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from all of this?

Branden: I don't think I could choose just one thing. There's so many lessons. I can answer you in one sense. This isn't quite your question. The most important thing I learned from Ayn came from studying how her mind worked, learning from her what thinking is. I know that I think and write with a clarity and rationality that, perhaps, I would have achieved on my own when I'm 80, maybe not. So much of whatever is good in my writing, as well as in my life, comes from what I learned about thinking from her. All the things that were wrong fade in comparison. I could never regret those years. I learned to deal with the world with my mind. There is no greater gift that she could have given me.