Exclusive Interviews
Nathaniel Branden on the Atlas Shrugged Movie and His Own Life's Legacy as Ayn Rand's Primary Exponent
By Anthony Wile - May 08, 2011

Introduction: Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D., is a practicing psychotherapist in Los Angeles and also does corporate consulting. Dr. Branden offers workshops, seminars, and conferences on applying self-esteem principles to the problems of modern business. He addresses the relationship between self-esteem and such issues as leadership, effective communication, and managing change. Dr. Branden has a Ph.D. in psychology and a background in philosophy and has written 20 books, which have been translated into 18 languages. More than 4 million copies are in print, including the classic The Psychology of Self-Esteem, originally published in 1969. In it, he explains the need for self-esteem, the nature of that need, and how self-esteem – or lack of it – affects our values, responses, and goals. His many books include "Honoring the Self," "The Six Pillars of Self-esteem," The Art of Living Consciously," and a personal memoir, "My Years with Ayn Rand." His most recent book – "Self-esteem at Work" – deals with the application of his work in the field of self-esteem to the challenges of business in an information age economy.

Daily Bell: Please answer these questions as if readers were not aware of your famous books, your articles or frequently quoted opinions. Thanks for this follow up interview. To begin with, please remind viewers of your relationship to Ayn Rand.

Nathaniel Branden: My relationship with Ayn Rand went through different stages over the years. In the early stages it was like family with a lot of love and admiration. Later on when I created lectures and helped create the basic principals of objectivism, I was more like a partner, an intellectual partner, and a champion for her ideas in the world. Then on another level, which was after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, I was explaining what the world needed to understand about it and finally there was a relationship of lovers because we began an affair.

Then there was a serious problem with my falling in love with another woman and realizing I had been confusing admiration with love. I realized this was not the place I needed to be. She reacted to this quite violently and warned that she was going to destroy me.

Daily Bell: That's too bad. What is your favorite memory of her?

Nathaniel Branden: It would be the time that Barbara, my then-wife, Ayn, Frank O'Connor and I went out to celebrate the publication of Atlas Shrugged. The book was published by Random House and we were all so excited and thrilled about it, we could hardly believe it.

Daily Bell: Have you seen the new movie about the classic Atlas Shrugged?

Nathaniel Branden: Of course. We went to the premier and I liked it very much. I thought it was brilliantly produced and directed. It was a great pleasure to see it. In fact, I have seen it twice.

Daily Bell: Why isn't it receiving more attention?

Nathaniel Branden: I think it's receiving a great deal of attention, because it is selling books like nothing else in literature now. Naturally there are attacks on her, smears on her, being that she is dangerous and makes people think. She challenges people on the deepest level of feelings that you can imagine. I don't have the figures with me here but from my point of view it is a success because it is bringing the attention to her and her books again.

Daily Bell: Do you feel Atlas Shrugged is Rand's greatest work?

Nathaniel Branden: Of course I do. I think it's the work of a genius on a very high level. It is an international best seller and is the most global treatment of her philosophy, which tells the story of what happens to the world when the people of ability go on strike against a sort of statist-collectivist world.

Daily Bell: Can you sum up her philosophy and its antecedents?

Nathaniel Branden: Reason is the highest possible value, given the condition of all truth. Reason is our only means of acquiring knowledge. Reason is the foundation of ethics knowing that individuals require a code of ethics. Individuals have a right to exist and they have a right to protect values, to protect equal liberty. Her philosophy is more complex than we can discuss right now, but I would have to say she was first a champion for the supremacy of reason, then for the argument of code of ethics, on human nature which would respect the human's right to belong to him or her own self. Her thoughts were you must own your own life, and to respect your own needs, and not to see the self as a servant of society or the state or the globe or planet.

Daily Bell: Why the resurgence of interest in Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged?

Nathaniel Branden: Well, the book was originally published in 1957 and received largely negative reviews. It took a few years to catch on but once it did it sold consistently for 60 years. I remember being in Aspen skiing about 30 years ago and seeing numerous copies of her books in the bookstore window.

I decided to go in and the clerk began telling me that all the 18 and 19 year old kids were buying the books. A new generation was about to discover Ayn Rand he said. It has continued to sell consistently each year, about 80,000 – 100,000 copies. That is unrelated but is quite marvelous to realize the explosion of interest in her work that is worldwide and it appears to happen every 30 years or so. India has a huge following of Ayn Rand right now and I find that to be pretty amazing.

The world is falling apart, we are much more aware of the corruption of our political leaders and the world is looking more and more the way it did to Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. She seems to be one who understood this. All the madcap ideas that are coming out of Washington, DC, 30 years ago, Ayn was writing about this, and arguing that it was an absurd exaggeration and it couldn't possibly happen in America. And now here we are matching, irrationality for irrationality. Matching what an author gives you and what a world like Atlas Shrugged would look like.

This is the time when people are looking for explanations. How did we get this way? Why are we so susceptible to political ideas that have proven to be a disaster to the health and wealth of society? People are looking for answers and when there is too much government intervention they look to raise the human spirit. That provides the resurgence of Atlas Shrugged.

Daily Bell: What is the most important of her ideas, in your opinion?


Nathaniel Brandon: That human beings have a right to exist. They have a right to freedom. They do not belong to the government. These are all very liberating statements and that is the main message from her work. She also raises very important questions that are foundational. She asks, Why do we need ethics? That is key because you have to come to that conclusion for yourself. Life on all levels is full of challenges, and you are not born with the knowledge of what is best. You need to look at principals and how they relate to all parts of your life because without it you are susceptible to people with very vicious ideas.

Daily Bell: What was Ayn Rand's rational code of morality?

Nathaniel Brandon: Before you tell people what they should and shouldn't do, you have to have reasons why. What furthers human life? It has to do with what our positions are. She viewed rationality as the primary virtue. It involves full focus, constant expansion of one's knowledge and commitment to reality.

She felt each person's moral obligation is to attain his own moral well-being. Values are thus at the root of morality. Proper moral norms are determined by human nature. Rand's ethical egoism sees naturalism as leading to facts that become the basis for objective judgments of value. You have to understand the cause and effect relationships between your actions. Moral principals, as your guides are defined in relationships that make them essential. To flourish, a person must act in accordance and practice a systematic code.

Daily Bell: Explain why rational self-interest vs altruism is so important.

Nathaniel Branden: You have to understand what altruism is and needs. The term was coined in the 19th century by Auguste Comte, and it means "others above self." Altruism is to sacrifice and means insubordination of the individuals for the group, it meant it was morality superior in virtue of the fact that their primary goal was to service the state or the monarchy or the union or god knows what.

You will find it with Stalin, you will find it in any number of dictators and if you want power over people, it's a very useful concept to have. A lot of intellectuals who live in the world are surprisingly on the side of the "others" in this negative sense. I think they had this sneaking idea that it would work because they would be on the side of the good guys. It's the opposite of egoism.

You feel a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rational self-interest holds reason, purpose and self-esteem as supreme. You have a responsibility to yourself first to survive. To remain alive you must act and before you can act you must know the nature, and purpose of your actions. If you are living for others and not putting yourself first, that is altruism. Ayn did not use negative connotations, which are usually used for selfishness or self-interest.

Daily Bell: Did you know Alan Greenspan? What did you think of him?

Nathaniel Branden: Yes, I knew him; he was part of Ayn Rand's circle. We used to meet Saturday night as friends and were champions of Ayn Rand's work. He was around when Atlas Shrugged was being written. He educated me in economics. I liked him very much and a good deal more than Ayn did. There were reasons she didn't like some of his ideas. He was a Keynesian economically. At the time he was a supporter of a then fashionable philosophy called "logical positivism," which meant, you can't be certain of nothing. You can know nothing for sure and you can't be certain you even existed.

He and I had numerous conversations. Ayn thought this all quite mad and why would I waste my time. I don't know what happened to him the past few years but his performance has been disappointing. He disappointed a lot of people who believed in him, but that was the transition of Alan Greenspan.

Daily Bell: Did you know Murray Rothbard? What did you think of him?

Nathaniel Branden: Mr. bad news. I didn't care for him much. We had a difference of opinion related to the free markets.

Daily Bell: Did Ayn Rand have trouble with self-esteem?

Nathaniel Branden: That's a really good question. I think so. I have to say yes.

Daily Bell: Did you?

Nathaniel Branden: Of course; everybody does.

Daily Bell: How is leadership benefited by self-esteem?

Nathaniel Branden: Great question. My book, Self Esteem at Work, is all about this. Men are leaders but without self-esteem they are always playing the game, I'm right and you're wrong.

Daily Bell: Remind us of the six pillars of self-esteem.

Nathaniel Branden: The essence of this book consists of my answers to four questions mainly. What is self-esteem? Why is self-esteem so important? What can we do to raise the level of our self-esteem? What role do others play in influencing our self-esteem? Self-esteem is shaped by both internal and external factors. This book, ultimately is a call to action. It is a lifetime of clinical practice and research and introduces six pillars of self-esteem: six action based practices for daily living.

Daily Bell: Tell us a bit about the book, Honoring the Self.

Nathaniel Branden: I wrote this book in 1983 and I ask, tell me how a person judges his or her self esteem and I will tell you how that person operates at work, in love, in parenting and every aspect of their life and how high he or she is likely to rise.

Self-esteem is the single most important factor for a fulfilling life. This book is about the ultimate human encounter: the relationship of the "I" to "me", of the ego to the self. Do I belong to myself or do I belong to others? My goal in this book was to demonstrate specifically and concretely, what "honoring the self" means, and to show the overwhelming importance of this issue to human life.

Daily Bell: Would you call yourself a libertarian?

Nathaniel Branden: In a general sense, I'm a libertarian. It depends on how your define it. If you mean by it an advocate of laissez-fare capitalism. I am not an anarchist as some libertarians are. There are differences. I am an advocate of individual rights and a very minimalist view of government, then I would say libertarian.

Daily Bell: Last time we spoke you were pessimistic about the direction of the Western world?

Nathaniel Branden: Some days I feel like we are all doomed. The new enemy is not socialism or communism it's Islam. A whole new generation of anti-capitalist, anti-individualists cultures will be at war. I don't like to predict that the worst is yet to come but I certainly feel it some of the time. On the other hand, there seems to be a tremendous amount of energy and people are rebelling against our government and the way it handles the issues of politics and war. People seem to be more outspoken, so I guess we will have to wait. I am 81 but I don't know what will happen by the time I am 100.

Daily Bell: Any more thoughts on Barack Obama?

Nathaniel Branden: I still think he's the worst disaster this country has had to cope with.

Daily Bell: The death of bin Laden?

Nathaniel Branden: Well, I don't miss him. I have been glued to my television set, which I rarely am, because I'm very fascinated about what's going to happen next. It's all entertaining, to say the least, which I rarely do.

Daily Bell: What are the most important achievements of your life? Please provide details and expansion.

Nathaniel Branden: Definitely my books. The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Honoring Thy Self and finally, The Visions of Ayn Rand. After Atlas Shrugged was published there was an enormous interest in learning more about our philosophy and objectivism, so I created Nathaniel Branden lectures, which became the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

We took 20 weeks, which was how long the course was, transcribed the lectures and notes and made it into a book. I turned a philosophy into a movement, which Ayn was the first to acknowledge, until she and I broke up. After I fell out of her grace she denied everything that was good between us. So that meant Ayn Rand had absurd praise for me while we were lovers and friends but once we fell out I was a phony and fraudulent. I could see happening to me what had happened to others.

Daily Bell: What are you working on now?

Nathaniel Branden: Staying healthy and I still enjoy working with a few clients.

Daily Bell: Thank you so much. Please stay well.

Nathaniel Branden: Thank you, always a pleasure.

After Thoughts

Dr. Branden is not well, so we were very happy to receive this interview. The movie, "Atlas Shrugged," has not yet been the blockbuster that some suggested it would be. However, as Dr. Branden indicates, it is well done and bringing more attention to Ayn Rand's work.

Dr. Branden himself, as a prime exponent and elaborator of her ideas, should benefit as well. His perspective on self-esteem in our view is quite profound. Self-esteem is at the heart of much of what we do and don't do in life and it is not a topic that is readily discussed. By concentrating attention on it, Dr. Branden revealed some profound truths about how we live and work – and why.

Dr. Branden's life's effort – bringing issues regarding self-esteem to the fore – has presented clearly and simply a concept that everyone struggles with. What is remarkable is how kind (generous) an idea he has had. Ayn Rand's larger philosophy is sometimes seen as stern, even unforgiving (a misunderstanding) but there can be no doubt of Dr. Branden's ideas. He wishes for everyone to have a good and healthy life, living up to the fullness of his or her potential.

One would have to say that Dr. Branden himself has done so, participating in the leadership of one of the most important and influential movements of the 20th century.

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