Nathaniel Branden

Nathaniel Branden
Nathaniel Branden
Born April 9, 1930 (1930-04-09) (age 81)
Brampton, Ontario
Occupation Psychotherapist
Known for A Founder of Self-Esteem Movement in Psychology, Former Associate of Ayn Rand

Nathaniel Branden, né Nathan Blumenthal (born 9 April 1930 in Brampton, Ontario, Canada), is a psychotherapist and writer best known today for his work in the psychology of self-esteem from a humanistic perspective (see self-esteem in humanistic psychology). A former student and one-time romantic partner of novelist Ayn Rand, Branden had a prominent role in promoting Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.

In 1958, Branden established the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) as an educational organization to spread the philosophical principles of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Branden offered a series of lectures called "Basic Principles of Objectivism". Alan Greenspan, future chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, would contribute with a lecture called "The Economics of a Free Society". The NBI office was located at 120 E. 34th St. in New York City.[1] The lecture series was first presented in the old Sheraton-Atlantic Hotel on 34th St. and later, in the Empire State Building.

Barbara Branden (née Weidman), who married Branden in White Plains, NY in January of 1953, also contributed to the work of the Institute with a series of lectures on The Art of Thinking. Barbara and Nathaniel separated in 1965.

The Rand-Branden business partnership lasted till May 1968. Rand announced in the The Objectivist, Branden would no longer be her intellectual heir and ordered all future printings of Atlas Shrugged not to carry his name in the dedication page. At the time, Rand did not reveal she was having a secret love affair with Branden who was twenty-four years her junior and he was leaving her for a younger woman who was also an attractive model whom Branden would eventually marry. However, Branden divulged this information in his book, Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand.[2]

After the rift with Ayn Rand, Branden went on to develop what he initially called "biocentric psychology," basing his work mainly on the psychology of self-esteem. Branden's brand of Biocentric Psychology is neither Freudian nor behaviorist in nature. According to Branden, "...The establishment of Wilhelm Wundt's experimental laboratory in 1879 is often regarded as the formal beginning of scientific psychology. But when one considers the views of man and the theories of his nature that have been put forth as knowledge in the past hundred years, it remains a moot question whether the starting date of the science of psychology lies behind us—or ahead."[3]


Early life and education

Nathaniel Branden was born Nathan Blumenthal as the only boy in a family of sisters in Brampton, Ontario; his sister Elayne Blumenthal, a nurse, was part of the Ayn Rand "collective" as were his older sisters Florence (Hirschfeld) and Reva (Fox).[citation needed] Another family member, Allan Blumenthal, a cousin and a successful practicing psychiatrist, was also a member of "The Collective". Branden completed high school in Canada, his native country.

Branden received a BA in psychology from the University of California Los Angeles, an MA from New York University,[4] and in 1973, a Ph.D. in psychology[5][6] from the California Graduate Institute (CGI), then an unaccredited, state-approved school whose graduates may be licensed by the state to practice psychology.[7] Graduates of unaccredited state-approved schools such as CGI are limited to associate membership in the American Psychological Association.

Role in the Objectivist movement

In 1950, after having become a fan of Ayn Rand's novels and exchanging letters and phone calls with her, the 19-year-old Branden met Rand. The pair went on to develop an eighteen-year personal and professional relationship. Eventually, Rand and the much younger Branden had a romantic affair. While both were married to other people at the time, both of their respective spouses consented to the affair before it started. According to Barbara Branden, however, "the affair was agonizingly painful," both to her and Rand's husband.[8]

For many years Branden was considered to be a leading figure in the Objectivist movement; indeed, many perceived him as being second only to Rand herself. He was the leader of a group of Rand's closest associates known as The Collective, which also included his wife Barbara Branden, Leonard Peikoff and Alan Greenspan. At the time, Rand considered him to be a soul mate of hers and designated him her "intellectual heir." In 1958 Branden founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute to promote Objectivism through lectures and educational seminars around the United States. The NBI became enormously successful, and soon had representatives all over the US and around the world. During the period of her affair with Branden, Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, which she considered to be her magnum opus. She named one of the minor characters in the book "Nathaniel" after Branden. He was a heroic 19th Century railroad builder, an ancestor of the book's main protagonist whom she seeks to emulate and whose picture she keeps on her wall throughout the book.

In 1965 Branden separated from his wife. In 1968, the close relationship between Rand and Branden came to an abrupt end when Rand discovered that Branden had been having a sexual relationship with a third woman, actress Patrecia Scott, without Rand's knowledge, for more than four years. While Rand had grown skeptical of Branden's feelings, she had also grown skeptical of his general intellectual "drift" along with the weakening commitment to Objectivism that Branden would admit to in later interviews.[9] Rand then expelled Branden from the Objectivist movement. She published a letter in The Objectivist repudiating Branden for these reasons, including his dishonesty, but she did not mention their affair. Branden published a response in which he, too, did not disclose an affair, but in which he publicly accused Rand of desiring such an affair with him. He claimed that their age difference was "an insuperable barrier," for him, to such an affair. The two never reconciled, and Branden remained persona non grata to the mainline Objectivist movement, particularly the group that would go on to form the Ayn Rand Institute.

In 1989 Branden published his account of this time in his life. The memoir was entitled Judgment Day. Then in 1999, Branden re-published a revised edition, entitled My Years with Ayn Rand. Branden's account provides an inside view of Ayn Rand as a person, the development of Objectivism, its inner circle, and the tumultuous relationships between Ayn Rand and her associates. Branden supported David Kelley's notion of Objectivism as an "open system" in a 1999 article he wrote, "Who Owns Objectivism?"[10] Branden has since rejected certain elements of the Objectivist philosophy, particularly what he considers its strictly cognitivist view of psychology, and his memoirs chronicle many of what he charges to be emotionally repressive elements of Rand, some of which he argues show up in her fiction. He has likewise argued that followers' obsession with Rand herself led to an unhealthy cult of personality within the movement, damaging the common sense of both Rand and other Objectivists. Branden has also been known to talk freely of his interest in matters that Rand would have considered epistemological "mysticism," such as ESP, and has had a publicized relationship with Ken Wilber. However, while Branden has claimed that Wilber is "one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered," he also states that "[i]f you are familiar with Ken's ideas, you know that he and I have our disagreements, much as I admire his work. Ken is a mystic. I am not."

Branden has retained his support for the fundamentals of the Objectivist ethics. In his book "Honoring the Self" (Branden, 1983), he devotes Chapter 12 to a defense of Ayn Rand's metaethical theory, saying that, "the foundation of her ethics is an unassailable contribution" (Branden 1983, p205).

Role in the self-esteem movement

As a psychologist Branden has argued for the importance of self-esteem in psychological health, and has outlined six volitional practices he considers essential to achieving and maintaining self-esteem: "living consciously," "self-acceptance," "self-responsibility," "self-assertiveness," "living purposefully," and "personal integrity." As a therapist, he has promoted the use of sentence completion as a clinical and personal development tool for generating awareness of implicit knowledge and stimulating shifts of perspective.[11][12][13] His more recent therapy practice tends to use a blend of sentence completion exercises, exercises derived from energy therapy, humor, and "just plain talking". Branden continues to write and practice psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California, as well as present seminars and workshops on self-esteem.

In 1990, he became a member of the advisory board for the National Council for Self-Esteem (now known as the National Association for Self-Esteem), an organization "dedicated to integrating self-esteem into the fabric of American society."[14] However, Branden's view of self-esteem differs from those of some in the self-esteem movement, because he focuses on self-esteem as the result of actual accomplishments, while some others encourage self-esteem as a sense of positive self-worth independent of accomplishments.[14][15][16]

Personal life

In the 1970s, Branden moved to California and married Patrecia Scott (a divorce with Barbara Branden having occurred before his break with Rand). In 1977, Scott unexpectedly died at home due to what was thought to be an epileptic seizure presumably triggered by sunlight off the water in the pool while feeding their dog.[17] Branden married a third time in 1978, wedding businesswoman Devers Israel.[18] They later divorced.[19] He subsequently married his fourth wife, Leigh Horton.[20] Branden retained a relationship—sometimes friendly, sometimes acrimonious—with his first wife, Barbara, who wrote a successful book, The Passion of Ayn Rand, which detailed Branden's relationship with Rand and the bitter breakup. The book was made into a motion picture in 1999 titled The Passion of Ayn Rand starring Helen Mirren as Rand and Eric Stoltz as Branden.[21]


  • Who Is Ayn Rand? (with Barbara Branden) (1962)
  • The Psychology of Self-Esteem (1969)
  • Breaking Free (1970)
  • The Disowned Self (1971)
  • The Psychology of Romantic Love (1980)
  • The Romantic Love Question & Answer Book (with Devers Branden) (1982)
  • Honoring the Self (1983)
  • If You Could Hear What I Cannot Say (1985)
  • How To Raise Your Self Esteem (1987)
  • Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand (1989)
  • The Power of Self-Esteem (1992)
  • The Art of Self Discovery (1993)
  • The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994)
  • Taking Responsibility (1996)
  • The Art of Living Consciously (1997)
  • A Woman's Self-Esteem (1998)
  • Nathaniel Branden's Self-Esteem Every Day (1998)
  • Self-Esteem at Work (1998)
  • My Years with Ayn Rand (1999) (revised edition of Judgment Day)
  • 32nd Anniversary Edition of Psychology of Self-Esteem (2001)
  • The Vision of Ayn Rand (2009) (book version of his "Basic Principles of Objectivism" lecture series)

Branden's books have been translated into 18 languages, with more than 4 million copies in print. In addition, Branden contributed essays to two of Ayn Rand's essay collections, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness.

See also


  1. ^ Martin, Justin (2001). Greenspan: The Man Behind The Money. Da Capo Press. p. 47. ISBN 0738205243. 
  2. ^ Waithe, Mary Ellen (1994). A history of women philosophers. 4. Springer. p. 213. ISBN 0792328087. 
  3. ^ Branden, Nathaniel (1969). The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Nash Publishing Corporation. pp. 1–2. ISBN 840211090. LCCN 7095382. 
  4. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. Introduction: Contributors Biographies. Online presentation of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Retrieved 1 June 2007.
  5. ^ Branden, Nathaniel (1999). My Years with Ayn Rand. Jossey-Bass; 1999. ISBN 0787945137, p.370.
  6. ^ Walker, Jeff (1998). The Ayn Rand Cult. Open Court, 1998. ISBN 0812693906, p. 156.
  7. ^ Until 2008, according to the State of California Board of Psychology, the California Graduate Institute was an unaccredited institution approved by the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE). See Unaccredited California Approved Schools: A History and Current Status Report. Government, State of California. Retrieved 1 March 2007. In 2008, the California Graduate Institute merged with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and became included in that school's regional accreditation.
  8. ^ Reedstrom, Karen. 1992 Interview with Full Context. Barbara Branden interview in Full Context, October 1992. Republished on Retrieved 1 June 2007.
  9. ^ Rand, Ayn, "To Whom It May Concern," The Objectivist, May, 1968: Branden, Nathaniel (1968). In Answer to Ayn Rand: Part 1 of 2, October 16, 1968. Republished on; "Break Free: an Interview with Nathaniel Branden," Reason, October, 1971, 4-9.
  10. ^ Branden, Nathaniel (1999). "Who Owns Objectivism?". TDO 25 December 1999. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
  11. ^ Spero, David (2002). The Art of Getting Well. Alameda, California: Hunter House. p. 102. ISBN 0-89793-356-7. 
  12. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (1995). Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 198. ISBN 0-271-01440-7. 
  13. ^ Walker, Jeff (1999). The Ayn Rand Cult. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 0-8126-9390-6. 
  14. ^ a b Hewitt, John P. (1998). The Myth of Self-Esteem. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-312-17556-6. 
  15. ^ Walker, Jeff (1999). The Ayn Rand Cult. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing. p. 166. ISBN 0-8126-9390-6. 
  16. ^ Murray, Charles A. (2009) [2008]. Real Education (paperback ed.). New York: Random House. pp. 128–129. ISBN 978-0-307-40539-5. 
  17. ^ "...the coroner's verdict was death by accidental drowning. As a physician explained, the result presumably was a 'flicker phenomenon'...precipitating a seizure." Nathaniel Branden (2001), My Years with Ayn Rand, p. 386.
  18. ^ Branden, Nathaniel (1996). Devers Branden and Ayn Rand. Excised Part 4 of pre-final version of Judgment Day, published at Retrieved 1 June 2007.
  19. ^ Branden, Nathaniel (Jan 28, 2003). "(no subject)". Official Nathaniel Branden Yahoo! mailing list. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  20. ^ Heller, Anne C. (2009). Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Doubleday. p. 411. ISBN 978-0-385-51399-9. 
  21. ^ The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999). IMDb. Retrieved 2 March 2007.

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