Friday, March 27, 2009

My Years With Ayn Rand

Psychologist and philosopher Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. is a founding member of Integral Institute and author of twenty books on the psychology of self-esteem, romantic love, and the life and thought of Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand. His work has been translated into 18 languages and has sold over 4 million copies, and includes such titles as Taking Responsibility, The Art of Living Consciously, A Woman's Self-Esteem, and the 1969 classic, The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

In a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month-Club, the #1 book that has made a difference in people’s lives is, no surprise, the Bible. But the #2 book is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. And #5? Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. In other words, two of the five most influential books written are from the hand of Ayn Rand. Meet the man who Ayn Rand considered to be the living embodiment of the principles of her Objectivist philosophy; in other words, meet Nathaniel Branden.

Nathaniel begins his story at the beginning: a boy of fourteen who stumbled across a copy of The Fountainhead lying on the coffee table. "I disappeared from this earth for the next two days, until the book was finished. It was an electrifying experience." Little did he know then that as a young man, a shade under twenty, he would actually meet Ayn and soon begin one of the most passionate and turbulent romantic relationships of his life, the effects of which would touch the lives of thousands.

As Nathaniel recalls: "I could hardly believe that this person who I had regarded as a goddess since age fourteen, saw me for all practical purposes as the apotheosis of everything she was writing about." Ayn and Nathaniel began an intense, romantic (and largely secret) relationship—she in her forties, Nathaniel in his twenties—that has become the stuff of legend and at least one movie. It is rare that any influential movement begins in such a way; rarer still to have an eyewitness report of one of the two involved parties.

Of course, when the relationship did end, it ended in an enormously difficult way. So difficult that in certain circles of Rand’s followers, Nathaniel’s contributions to the movement have been denied or ignored. But Nathaniel played an instrumental role in helping form and popularize Objectivist philosophy as a world-wide movement. Having founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute to help educate interested students in Objectivism, he was responsible for teaching distance learning courses in over 80 cities world-wide. To this day, Rand’s books sell over 400,000 copies per year.

We are fortunate to have this opportunity to listen to Nathaniel’s account of the life and times of one of the twentieth century’s literary giants. He was on the ground floor of a philosophical revolution still being felt today. (Example: it has been said that the most powerful man in the world is the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. That position was held by Alan Greenspan, one of a dozen members of the early circle with Ayn and Nathaniel.)

But there is a reason that Ayn invested so much in Nathan, as she called him, and it is that, in a peculiar way and from the beginning, Branden was his own man. He brought as much to the movement as he got out of it, as his long and distinguished career demonstrates. The Nathaniel Branden Integral Life presentation is the story of that astonishing career that has now lasted five decades, from age 23 to 73.

This wide-ranging conversation deal with the Ayn Rand years—utterly important, formative, movement-creating, and earth-shaking, certainly for a young man. But, as they say, go ahead and listen to the Ayn Rand years, but keep in mind, you ain't heard nuttin yet....

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