The Dark Side Of Ayn Rand

I read Ayn Rand’s books as a teenager and they had a big effect on me. They fit in naturally with my narcissistic and selfish dreams of greatness. I wanted to life for myself and no one else. I wanted to be magnificent.

I followed this dream until crashing into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in February 1988 and over the next years had to painfully rethink my premises. I ended up converting to Judaism and looking back on Ayn Rand as a fad.

Now I’m reading some books on Ayn Rand and learning more about the horror of her personal life.

I’m struck by the parallels between my relationship with Cathy Seipp and Nathaniel Branden’s relationship with Ayn Rand (though I was never romantically or physically involved with Cathy).

I loved hanging out with Cathy Seipp because she was so smart and she introduced me to many of her smart friends. Like Ayn, Cathy took little care with her appearance. She was similarly domineering.

When Cathy found out about the young women I was seeing, she’d go out of her mind. She was cruel and cutting about them.

“She has a look that says, ‘You can do anything to me,'” said Cathy about one of my girlfriends.

Cathy was right in this insight.

I once told Cathy over lunch at Real Food Daily on La Cienega, “You’ve spoiled me for other women.”

“You don’t know how true that is,” she replied.

Like Ayn, Cathy was a compelling writer. Like Ayn, Cathy had huge fits of temper. Like Ayn, Cathy had enormous resources of will and courage. Like Ayn, she was fundamentally unhappy. Like Ayn, she couldn’t understand why some people hated her.

Like Nathaniel, I was flattered by my hero’s attention. Like Nathaniel, I became a part of my hero’s family. Like Nathaniel, I was a lost dog who was adopted.

Leonard Peikoff — the heir to Ayn Rand’s estate — is a pathetic story. Once a bright young man, he was destroyed by his slavish adherence to Ayn Rand.

Peikoff claims on his website to be Ayn Rand’s “intellectual heir” but nowhere did Ayn deign to give him such a title.

Once a junior university Philosophy professor, he lost his jobs from inappropriately using his position to proselytize Randian thought and despite poignant and ceaseless attempts by himself and his wife, he could never get hired on full-time after 1973.

Peikoff was highly litigious, outdoing his mentor with his childish spite.

From page 373 of the book Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Conover Heller: “Not until after her death did Leonard Peikoff, her final heir and lone remaining full-time follower, uncover evidence of the fourteen-year affair.”

From page 387: “She kept him off-balance by favoring him as “her number-one man” without designating him her official philosophical successor” or “intellectual heir.” After Branden, it was unlikely that she would again invest a follower with so much trust and power. Yet he must’ve wanted the validation that came with the title “intellectual heir,” for he claimed it after her death, even posting it on his web site, implying to others that she had bestowed it on him in her will (there is no such reference). …He relentlessly proselytized for her in social and academic settings. He paid a price. The open, witty boy…gradually became humorless and dutiful.”

In 1974, Ayn Rand lost a lung to cancer. She finally quit smoking but refused to allow the news to go public and maintained that there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer.

In a public lecture, Ayn Rand declared homosexuality “disgusting.” So her homosexual and bisexual followers hid their sexual preferences from her and masked their pain by imbibing many drugs.

One homosexual film producer in Rand’s thrall dated Patrecia Gullison, who would have a secret four-year sexual affair with Rand’s lover Nathaniel Branden (who was 24 years younger than Ayn). When Rand found out about this affair in May 1968, she cut Branden out of her life.

This producer’s male lover dated Patrecia’s sister Liesha, who became a part of a evangelical Christian TV show and an Avon lady.
Scott Ryan writes on …Ellen Plasil details her horrifying experiences with “Objectivist psychotherapist” Lonnie Leonard, a manipulative sexual predator who nevertheless somehow managed to pass muster among the ranks of Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” movement (with the blessing even of the movement’s “official” psychotherapists).

Plasil’s upsetting account of Leonard’s monstrous behavior should be read not only by those interested in the misuses and abuses of “psychotherapy,” but also — and especially — by those who still think Rand’s “Objectivism” might somehow be philosophically respectable if only it were purged of some of its personal elements.

On the contrary, those “personal elements” infect very nearly the entirety of Objectivism, and Leonard’s behavior (particularly his manipulative technique) is demonstrably connected to Rand’s own “philosophical” premises.

And the Objectivist _movement_ (for the propagandistic support of which most of Rand’s nonfiction writings were expressly developed) was never anything more “respectable” than a psychologically totalitarian personality cult that allowed Rand and her protege Nathaniel Branden to exercise personal power over their unwitting victims in the official name of “reason.” Objectivists won’t like being reminded of this book’s existence and will undoubtedly claim that Leonard wasn’t an exemplar of Rand’s principles. And it is true that Rand would have been horrified by Leonard’s behavior.

Nevertheless that behavior was merely a physical implementation of the mindrape Rand and Branden had been committing all along, as described in the posthumous Rand biographies written by the two Brandens. Readers familiar with Objectivist history will also see parallels with Rand’s manipulative treatment of her own unemployed and dependent husband in securing his “permission” for an adulterous sexual affair with Nathaniel Branden — and with her self-serving contention that any _real_ man should have found her sexually irresistible even if she were eighty years old and in a wheelchair.

This interesting approach to romantic love was, of course, offered in the name of “reason,” and that is just how Leonard presented it to his own victims. Nor is it an accident that the movement tended to attract the sort of “true believer” who would fall for such stuff. Objectivists may say that Plasil herself (and Leonard’s other victims) should have known better, but they will merely be calling attention to their movement’s callous and utterly irresponsible treatment of those whom Rand would (and did) dismiss as, quite literally, subhuman.

And the fact that the morally corrupt Leonard was able to pass for so long as “one of them” says something crucially important about the movement’s standards and purposes: namely, that it _is_ awfully hard to tell a devout Objectivist from a narcissistic, manipulative sociopath. I wonder why. (Hint: it was hard to tell Rand from one too.)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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