Nathaniel Branden (9 April 1930 – 3 December 2014) was a psychotherapist and writer most famous for his works on the psychology of self-esteem. Once an associate of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, Branden had a prominent role in promoting Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.
- One of the mistakes that Rand makes is that after she condemns a belief or an action, she goes on to tell you the psychology of the person who did it, as if she knows. I focus my judgment on the action and not on the person. My primary interest is: do I admire or dislike this behavior? And there, judgment is important for me. People often attribute all kinds of things to another person, without ever knowing where that person’s coming from. Most of the time, I regard the judgment of people as a waste of time. I regard the judgment of behavior as imperative.
- Rand always says, “Never pass up an opportunity to pass moral judgment.” Well I say: “Look for an opportunity to do something more useful instead.” Nobody was led to virtue by being told he was a scoundrel.
- Interview by Alec Mouhibian in The Free Radical (November 2004)
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994)
- It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.
- Pride is the emotional reward of achievement. It is not a vice to be overcome but a virtue to be attained.
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- Most of these were simply provided a citation link that no longer works — better citation is needed
On Objectivism and Ayn Rand:
- Most of the failings of Objectivism all pertain directly or indirectly to issues of psychology.
- Objectivism says the sole purpose of government is to protect individual rights. I would say the primary purpose of government is to protect individual rights. And any other activities that the government may claim justification for doing must not be of an order that violates anybody’s rights. For example, some national weather disaster in which certain problems can arise that the marketplace has no way to respond to quickly enough. Or diseases that travel across borders and don’t respect passport laws. I will leave the door open for emergency situations that I just can’t imagine being resolved in a market context. If they could be, then they should be. But the fact of emergencies should not be made as justification for violating individual rights, so as you can see, it’s a very tiny difference.
- When your principles seem to be demanding suicide, clearly it’s time to check your premises.
- For somebody who presents herself as a champion of the joy of living, [Rand] has very rigid rules about the path you must walk on in your pursuit of enjoyment. Of all the objections to Objectivism, none is stupider than the claim that we are a hedonistic philosophy. Man, we are as rigid as the Catholic Church in the 13th century, you know?
- I’m very aware of that over-application of the trader principle, as if that’s all you need to know to understand human relationships. Good God... [W]ho among you, tell the truth, last time you played with a little kid—or a dog, did you think you’re going to have a trade relationship with the dog later in life, for crying out loud? Because there’s a good analogy there... As a dog-lover, when I’m looking at a dog nose to nose, the trade is happening right now. The interaction is the reward... Anybody who doesn’t understand that, I don’t wish to speak to. My official response to such people: they can go fuck themselves.
- Objectivism comes on, sometimes, as if the most important issue you have to understand is the issue of egoism versus altruism. But that’s nowhere near the beginning of the process.
- Ernest Van Den Haag, a sociologist, wrote a fascinating book called The Jewish Mystique. I read that book, got a lot out of it, and went over to Ayn and said, “I’ve got to tell you something shocking.” Because we never thought of ourselves as Jewish in any important way, I announced, laughing, “We are both exponents of the Jewish messianic tradition. We believe we are here on earth to be signposts pointing to the good life.” What I got out of that book was how Jewish that was. The whole idea of these prophets coming along, or however he was describing it—it fit Ayn and me to a tee. I thought that was very funny.
On the psychology of ideology:
- In order to have any sense of control over our own life, we need to know that we’re able to make sense out of our experience, in all of its many aspects. It’s the need that religion addresses, that philosophy addresses... if you have a moral code that you do your best to live up to, other things being equal, it’s very positive in its consequences for your self esteem, even if the moral code is in some ways mistaken. If you conscientiously try to live it to the best of your ability, that would have a salutary effect on your self-esteem. If you violate it, it would have a negative effect on your self-esteem. But suppose you have nothing to violate, no worldview—that absence will limit your self-esteem, because you need to feel aligned with reality. You need feel that you are in appropriate contact with the real world. Now your theory of what the real world is might be right or wrong. But so long as you are able to believe that you are in contact with the real world and are acting on that knowledge, your self-esteem benefits... Regardless, upsetting as it may be to orthodox Objectivists, I think you can show that in the short run and in [a coerced] environment, a person who has some overarching faith has a better chance of surviving. But I wouldn’t explain that all away by saying ignorance is bliss. The point is to understand what function a belief system provides. Then you can understand why an imperfect one is sometimes beneficial.
On Ronald Reagan:
- He has been a very underestimated man by his opponents. I think that his understanding and handling of our relationship with the Soviet Union was brilliant. Gorbachev himself gives Reagan credit for effectively ending the Cold War. Are there areas where I would disagree with him? Sure. He was opposed to abortion. He did not believe in total laissez-faire capitalism. He did build up our national debt enormously. But I tell you one thing he did that impressed me so much it almost wipes everything else off the mat. It’s something I found thrilling beyond words. And that was: he was in Russia, and he gave a speech in the University of Moscow. And the theme of the speech was to explain to the people there what American capitalism is. Here is the president of the United States, in a distinguished university in a country with whom we’ve had hostile relationships for decades—getting up, and in the most passionate yet totally non-belligerent way, explaining what economic freedom means, what capitalism means. It was so extraordinary in the moral clarity that he brought to his presentation that I’ll remember it, with great admiration, forever.