Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nathaniel Branden's Nasty Swipe at Murray Rothbard

In a reminisce about the old days, and the 1979 Libertarian convention in particular, Robert Ringer drops this cute memory:
A few weeks after the convention I invited a number of noteworthy libertarians to a dinner party at my home.  With my newfound enthusiasm for libertarianism, I wanted to pick the brains of some of the smartest libertarian minds in the country.[...] At one point, in response to one of my guests extolling the virtues of Murray Rothbard’s anarchist beliefs — specifically alluding to his advocacy of private police forces — Nathaniel Branden tersely shot back that Murray Rothbard would be the first one to complain about a lack of police protection if he were in trouble.
What a nasty swipe from Branden. This was 1979 and Rothbard lived in NYC. There was no police protection. The father of a friend of mine was a top ranking NYPD officer, the friend told me that things were so bad in parts of the Bronx and Harlem that police did not go in to stop shootouts. They just blocked off surrounding streets so that the gunfights wouldn't expand. Calling the police back then was a joke. At the time, the NYPD  had a cop stationed in midtown outside the office of the Russian airline, Aeroflot. One night, I parked my car about 10 feet from where the police booth was located. The car was broken into, when I went to the cop just 10 feet away to report the break-in and find out he missed the break-in, he just shrugged.

NYC 1979 was a very dangerous place. People were fleeing the city. There were 149,000 violent crimes that year. By compassion in 2011, there were "only" 77,490.

Did "libertarian" Branden seriously think that private police were going to be less responsive than the government coppers?  Did Branden even understand what a private property society was all about?

Murray knew the score about Branden, when Branden's book, Judgement Day, came out in 1989, Murray wrote:
The battle between Rand and Branden, moreover, is really no contest. Rand created something, whereas Branden has lived his entire life parasitically off Rand, first as a worshipful disciple and cult organizer, then as a neo-Randian shrink who set up shop in California with the solid initial base of the RandCult's Nathaniel Branden Institute mailing list. And now, too, he is parasitically living off Rand as a scavenger and kiss-and-tell calumniator. Talk about your "social metaphysician!"
Just by coincidence, in the review, Murray even hinted in speculative fashion at how a private detective might operate more carefully then a government detective:
One of the curious aspects of Judgment Day is the Epilogue. The subtitle of the book is "My Years with Ayn Rand," and yet the Epilogue goes on and on about the mysterious death of Patrecia, wife number 2, almost ten years after Nathan's expulsion from the RandCult in 1968. Why does he keep dwelling on the details of an event clearly irrelevant to the book?

There are many possible explanations, some more sinister than others, that have been bruited around the libertarian movement for years. Here is one possible solution to the puzzle: In my days in the movement, we kept hearing about Nathan's plan to write one day his own Great Novel. So, just as Brahms's First Symphony has been called Beethoven's Tenth because it so closely followed the Master, perhaps we can treat Judgment Day as Nathan's first, or Rand's fourth, novel, albeit a "nonfiction" one, using real names. We could then, I suppose, excuse the falsehoods and the personal smears in the name of "art." And every reader of mystery stories knows the value of a dead body, especially of a pretty female perishing in mysterious circumstances.

But Branden is not off the hook, because Judgment Day fails even as a work of fiction. We are told many details of the death of Patrecia, for example, but other crucial items are missing. Thus, we are told such minute details as the exact time that Patrecia made her last phone call to Nathan on the day of her death, as well as the precise hour that Branden wound his way up the driveway to get to his home to find her body. And yet we are not told anything of Nathan's whereabouts that crucial afternoon; nor are we told the details of the autopsy report.

Furthermore, we are told odd details about their watchdog, and yet it is unclear why it is important that he was found inside rather than outside the house by the authorities. And how exactly and when did Branden "trip the burglar alarm" that summoned those authorities? Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. There wouldn't be any criminals on a private street to rob a car. They wouldn't have been allowed into the neighborhood in the first place.

  2. Bob, have you checked out Thomas Szasz's hilarious skewering of Nathaniel Branden in his book "Faith In Freedom"? You can read most of it for free on GoogleBooks.

    Also, check out the roasting Branden got from Penn and Teller on an episode of BULLSHIT! about self-esteem. Hilarious! Anyway, check both out.

  3. Does Ol' Rothbard suggests hiring private thieves/thugs as well?

  4. Silly post, all hinging on one off-hand remark made decades ago. But yeah, the cops in 1979 should not have roped off the competing defense agencies and let them shoot it out without interfering.