An Announcement

Posted April 7, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: Uncategorized

 Dear Readers,       
This is to alert you to the fact that we are relocating and redesigning our blog. It will be fully operational by April 17.  The new address is
See you there!

Nurturing Self-Esteem in Young People

Posted March 30, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: psychology, self esteem

Tags: , , , , , ,


Some time ago I was invited to contribute a paper that would suggest ways that parents, teachers and therapists could nurture self-esteem in children. I offer this paper in its original form, unchanged, as it was addressed to colleagues.

                                     Nurturing Self-Esteem in Young People

             If we are to consider how self-esteem is best nurtured in young people, we must first be clear on what we mean by “self-esteem.”  So I shall begin with a definition.

            Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life, and as being worthy of happiness.  Thus, it consists of two components: (1) self-efficacy-confidence in one’s ability to think, learn, choose, and make appropriate decisions; and (2) self-respect-confidence that love, friendship, achievement, success-in a word, happiness-are natural and appropriate (Branden, 1994). 

           If a person felt inadequate to face the normal challenges of life, if he or she lacked fundamental self-trust or confidence in his or her mind, we would recognize the presence of a self-esteem deficiency, no matter what other assets the person possessed.   The same would be true   if a person lacked a basic sense of self-respect, felt unworthy of the love or respect of others, felt undeserving of happiness, or was fearful of asserting thoughts, wants, or  needs.

          Self-esteem is not the euphoria or buoyancy that may be temporarily induced by a drug, a compliment, or a love affair.  If it is not grounded in reality, if it is only a delusion in someone’s consciousness–if it is not built over time through such practices as living consciously, self-responsibly, and with integrity, discussed below–it is not self-esteem (Branden, 1997). 

            We cannot “give” a child self-esteem; but we can support the practices that will lead a child to self-esteem, and abstain from the actions that tend to undermine a child’s self-esteem. 

             Over more than four decades of practicing psychotherapy, I have been preoccupied with the question of what people are doing right when they are strengthening their self-esteem and what they are doing wrong when they are undermining it.  In “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem,” I examine the six practices that I have found to be essential for nurturing  self-esteem, and that have been indispensable to my work as a therapist.   Here, I can only suggest the briefest essence of “the six pillars.”

              The practice of living consciously: respect for facts; being present to what we are doing while we are doing it; seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects; seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world, so that we do not act out of self-made blindness (Branden, 1999).

            The practice of self-acceptance:  the willingness to own, experience, and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning-and also without self-repudiation; the virtue of realism applied to the self.

            The practice of self-responsibility: realizing that we are the author of our choices and actions; that each one of us is responsible for our life and well-being, and for the attainment of our goals; and that if we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer values in exchange, since no one exists merely to serve us (Branden, 1997).

          The practice of self-assertiveness: being authentic in dealings with others; treating our values and person with decent respect in our social interactions; willingness to stand up for our ideas and ourselves in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.

         The practice of living purposefully: identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan); organizing behavior in the service of those goals; monitoring action to be sure we stay on track; and paying attention to outcome to recognize if we need to go back to the drawing board.

          The practice of personal integrity: living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do; manifesting our professed values in action.

         One of the simplest applications of living consciously and being self-responsible is being conscious of-and taking responsibility for-the words coming out of one’s mouth.  If adults did so, they would not be so prone to make the kind of statement’s that can devastate a young person’s self-esteem.  “What’s the matter with you?  Can’t you do anything right?” When I hear adults talking to a child abusively, I inquire, “What is your purpose?  Have you found that insulting a child’s intelligence raises the level of performance?”  I ask teachers: “Have you found ridicule to be an effective tool for facilitating learning?”  Pay attention to outcome!

             Or, a lesson in self-acceptance: Five-year-old Jennie bursts into the room and screams, “I hate my brother!” Mother number one says, “What a terrible thing to say!  You don’t mean it!  You can’t hate him!  He’s your brother!”  What is she teaching?  Self-alienation and self-doubt. Mother number two says, “Wow!  You’re really feeling mad at your brother right now!  Want to tell me about it, sweetheart?”  What is she teaching?  Self-acceptance and the non-catastrophizing  of negative emotions (Branden, 1987).

            Clearly, parents and teachers can make it easier or harder for a young person to develop self-esteem.  They can make it easier or harder for a young person to learn the six practices and make them an integral part of his or her life.  However, they cannot inspire these practices in young people if they do not manifest them in their own behavior.  In this area, modeling is essential to effective teaching.  According to Stanley   Coopersmith’s landmark study of the family origins of self-esteem,  the parents of children with high self-esteem tend to have high self-esteem themselves (Coopersmith, 1967).

            The six practices provide a standard for assessing parental and teaching policies.  Do these policies encourage or discourage consciousness, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposefulness, and integrity?  Do they raise or lower the probability that a young person will learn self-esteem-supporting behaviors?

            The issue of what supports-or subverts-self-esteem is present virtually from the beginning of life.  A child has no more basic requirement, a far as parental behavior is concerned, then that of safety and security.  This entails the satisfaction of physiological needs, protection from the elements, and basic caretaking in all its obvious respects.  It entails the creation of an environment in which the child can feel nurtured and safe.

            In this context, the process of separation and individuation can unfold (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975).  A mind that can later learn to trust itself can begin to emerge. A person with a confident sense of boundaries can develop.

            Today we know that touch is essential for a child’s healthy development.  Through touch we send sensory stimulation that helps the infant’s brain to develop.  Through touch we convey love, caring, comfort, support, nurturing.

            As the process of growth continues, a child who is treated with love tends to internalize the feeling and to experience him or herself as lovable.  Love is conveyed by verbal expression, nurturing actions, and the pleasure and joy parents show in the sheer fact of the child’s being.        

An effective parent can convey anger or disappointment without signaling withdrawal of love–and can teach without resorting to rejection, humiliating behavior, or physical or emotional abuse, all of which can damage a child’s fragile sense of self.

            A child whose thoughts and feelings are treated with acceptance tends to internalize the response and to learn self-acceptance.  Acceptance is conveyed, not necessarily by agreement, which is not always possible, but by listening to and acknowledging the child’s thoughts and feelings, and by not chastising, arguing, lecturing, psychologizing, or insulting.

            A child who is treated with respect tends to learn self-respect. Stated simply, respect is conveyed by addressing the child with the same good-mannered courtesy one normally extends to adults.   A home-or a classroom-in which people talk to one another with benevolent respect is an environment that supports self-esteem. 

          When praise is in order, convey appreciation of behavior, and do so realistically.  Do not make extravagant, global statements about the child’s intelligence or ability– because they make the child feel anxious and unseen. When criticism of behavior is necessary, do so respectfully, with regard for the dignity of the recipient. Do not indulge in character assassination (Ginott, 1972).   

            When parents express their pleasure in and appreciation of a child’s questions or observations or thoughtfulness, they are encouraging the exercise of consciousness or mindfulness.  When they respond positively and respectfully to a child’s efforts at self-expression, or invite such self-expression, they encourage self-assertiveness. When they acknowledge and show appreciation for a child’s truthfulness, they encourage integrity.   In short, catch a child doing something right and convey pleasure and appreciation at the sight of it.           

             How parents respond when children make mistakes can be fateful for self-esteem. If a child is ridiculed or chastised or punished for making a mistake-or if a parent steps in impatiently, saying “Here, let me do it!”-the child cannot feel free to struggle and learn. A natural process of growth is sabotaged.  A child who does not feel accepted by parents if he or she makes a mistake may learn to practice self-rejection in response to mistakes.  Consciousness is muted, self-acceptance is undermined, self-assertiveness and self-responsibility are suppressed.  It is more useful to ask, “What have you learned?  What might you do differently next time?”

             An effective way to stimulate expanded consciousness in young people is to avoid asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no and to ask instead questions that require thought.  For instance, instead of asking, “Did you have a good time at the circus?”-ask, “What was the most interesting (or exciting) thing you saw at the circus?”  Or: “What’s your favorite book (or class) and what do you like about it?” 

            There is no end to the possible ways one might encourage the six practices in young people; here, it has been possible to indicate only a few.  I turn now to some of the ways in which teachers can contribute to the development of self-esteem in their students.

            To many students, school represents a “second chance”-an opportunity to acquire a better sense of self and a better vision of life than was offered in their home.  A teacher who projects confidence in a child’s competence and goodness can be a powerful antidote to a family in which such confidence is lacking and which perhaps the opposite perspective is being conveyed.  A teacher who treats boys and girls with respect can provide enlightenment for a child struggling to understand human relationships and who comes from a home where such respect does not exist. A teacher who refuses to accept a child’s negative self-concept and relentlessly holds to a better view of the child’s potential has the power-sometimes-to save a life.  A client once said to me, “It was my forth grade teacher who made me aware a different kind of humanity existed than my family-she gave me a vision to inspire me.”

            “Feel good” notions of self-esteem are harmful rather than helpful.  Yet if one examines the proposals offered to teachers on how to raise students’ self-esteem, many are the kind of trivial nonsense that gives self-esteem a bad name, such as praising and applauding a child for virtually everything he or she does, dismissing the importance of objective accomplishments, handing out gold stars on every possible occasion and propounding an “entitlement” idea of self-esteem that leaves it divorced from both behavior and character.  One of the consequences of this approach is to expose to ridicule the whole self-esteem movement in the schools.

            A few words, as an aside, on the relationship of self-esteem to external achievements in school or beyond.  To observe that the practice of living purposefully is essential to well-realized self-esteem should not be understood to mean that the measure of a person’s worth is his or her external achievements.  We admire achievements-in ourselves and in others-and it is natural and appropriate to do so.  But this is not the same thing as saying that our achievements are the measure or ground of our self-esteem.  The root of our self-esteem, as I have discussed at length elsewhere (Branden, 1994) is not our achievements  but those internally generated practices that, among other things, make it possible for us to achieve-all the self-virtues mentioned above.

            If the proper goal of education is to provide students with a foundation in the basics needed to function effectively in the modern world, then nothing is more important than building courses on the art of critical thinking into every school curriculum.  And if self-esteem means confidence in our ability to cope with the challenges of life, is anything more important that learning how to use one’s mind?  This means learning, not what to think, but how to think.

            In an information-age economy, where everyone’s chief capital asset is what they carry between their ears, the ability to think independently is valued far above mere obedience. Individual teachers and designers of curricula need to ask themselves: How does my work contribute to the process of young people becoming thinking, innovative, creative human beings?

            To give a child the experience of being accepted and respected does not mean to signal that “I expect nothing of you.”  Teachers who want children to give their best must convey that that is what they expect.  Children often interpret the absence of such expectations as evidence of contempt.

            We know that a teacher’s expectations tends to turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.  If a teacher expects a student to get an A-or a D-either way, expectations tend to become realities.  If a teacher knows how to convey, “I am absolutely convinced you can master this subject and I expect you to, and I will give you all the help you need,” the child feels nurtured, supported, and inspired.

            If a proper education has to include an understanding of thinking, it also has to include an understanding of feelings.  A teacher is in a position to teach children a rational respect for feelings coupled with an awareness that one can accept a feeling without having to be ruled by it.  For self-esteem, this is an issue of the highest importance.

            Students can learn to own when they are afraid, and accept it, and (for instance) still go to the dentist when it is necessary to do so. They can learn to admit when they are angry, and talk about it, and not resort to fists. They can learn to recognize when they are hurt, and own the feeling, and not put on a phony act of indifference.  They can learn to witness their feelings of impatience and excitement, and breathe into them, and yet not go out to play until they have finished their homework.  They can learn to recognize their sexual feelings, and accept them, and not be controlled by them in self-destructive ways.  They can learn to recognize and accept their emotions without losing their minds.

            The last issue I will mention, equally applicable to parents and teachers, is the need to ask, “What do I want from this child?  Obedience or cooperativeness?”  If I want obedience, fear may be an appropriate feeling to encourage.  If I want cooperativeness, then I must speak not to a child’s fear, but to a child’s mind.

             If, in dealing with a young person, we remember that we are addressing a mind, the simplest conversation can be a vehicle for supporting and strengthening self-esteem.

            Such are a few of the ways in which parents and teachers can contribute to the self-esteem of young people.



Branden, N.   “How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.” New York: Bantam Books, 1987.

__________  “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.”  New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

__________   “Taking Responsibility.”  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

_________    “The Art of Living Consciously.”  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Coopersmith, S. “The Antecedents of Self-Esteem.” San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Co., 1967.

Ginott, H.  “Teacher and Child.” New York: Macmillan. 1972

Mahler, M.S., Pine, and Bergman  “The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant.”  New York: Basic Books, 1975.


Answering Misconceptions about Self-Esteem

Posted March 15, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: psychology, self esteem

Tags: , , , ,

 1.  Does self-esteem mean feeling good about yourself?

Self-esteem is an experience.   It is a particular way of experiencing the self.   It is a good deal more than a mere feeling.  It involves emotional, evaluative, and cognitive components.   It also entails certain action dispositions: to move toward life rather than away from it; to move toward consciousness rather than away from it; to treat facts with respect rather than denial; to operate self-responsibly rather than the opposite.

Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think.   By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and respond effectively to change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment-happiness-are right and natural for us.

Self-esteem is not the euphoria or buoyancy that may be temporarily induced by a drug, a compliment, or a love affair.   It is not an illusion or hallucination.  Lots of things (some of them quite dubious) can make us “feel good”-for a while.  If self-esteem is not grounded in reality, if it is not built over time through the appropriate operation of mind-for example, through operating consciously, self-responsibly, and with integrity–it is not self-esteem.

2.  Doesn’t a teacher’s preoccupation with nurturing a student’s self-esteem get in the way of academic achievement?

That depends on the teacher’s understanding of self-esteem and what is required to nurture it.  

If a teacher treats students with respect, avoids ridicule and other belittling remarks, deals with everyone fairly and justly, and projects a strong, benevolent conviction about every student’s potential, then that teacher is supporting both self-esteem and the process of learning and mastering challenges.   For such a teacher, self-esteem is tied to reality, not to faking reality.  

In contrast, however, if a teacher tries to nurture self-esteem by empty praise that bears no relationship to the students’ actual accomplishments-dropping all objective standards-allowing young people to believe that the only passport to self-esteem they need is the recognition that they are “unique”-then self-esteem is undermined and so is academic achievement.  

We help people to grow by holding rational expectations up to them, not by expecting nothing of them; the latter is a message of contempt.


3.  Can anyone develop high self-esteem or is it the prerogative of a fortunate minority?  

People of average intelligence or better can, in principle, grow into psychologically healthy adults. Obviously parents, teachers, and other adults can do a great deal to make the road to self-esteem easier or harder.   Sometimes, where there are deep psychic wounds and traumas, left unresolved since childhood, a decent level of self-esteem can be very difficult to achieve.   In such cases, psychotherapy may be necessary.  

But I have never met anyone utterly devoid of self-esteem and I have never met anyone unable to grow in self-esteem, assuming appropriate opportunities for learning exist in their world-space.


4.  Doesn’t a focus on self-esteem encourage excessive and inappropriate self-absorption?  

Rationally, one does not focus on self-esteem per se; one focuses on the practices that support and nurture self-esteem-such as the practice of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of purposefulness, and of integrity, as I discuss in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. 

Self-esteem demands a high reality-orientation; it is grounded in a reverent respect for facts and truth.   Excessive and inappropriate self-absorption is symptomatic of poor self-esteem, not high self-esteem.   If there is something we are confident about, we do not obsess about it-we get on with living.

5.  Can’t one have too much self-esteem?

No, not if one is talking about reality-based self-esteem rather than grandiosity.   It is no more possible to have too much self-esteem than it is to have too much physical or mental health.   But sometimes when people lack adequate self-esteem they fall into arrogance, boasting, and grandiosity as a defense mechanism-a compensatory strategy.   Their problem is not that they have too big an ego but that they have too small a one.

Further, let me say that high self-esteem is not egotism, as some people mistakenly imagine.  Egotism is an attitude of bragging, boasting, arrogating to oneself qualities one does not possess, throwing one’s weight around, seeking to prove one’s superiority to others-all evidences of insecurity and underdeveloped self-esteem.

6.  Isn’t self-esteem essentially a godless pursuit?

Is watching one’s diet and eating intelligently a “godless pursuit?”   Is exercising?   Is striving to learn and grow?   Is the pursuit of self-development and self-realization “godless?”   Why would one think in such terms?  

With regard to self-esteem, I do not see “God” as relevant, one way or the other-unless you believe in a malevolent God who wishes human beings to face the challenges of life in a state of terror and paralysis.  

The plain truth is, some people with good self-esteem believe in God and others with good self-esteem do not.

7.  Isn’t self-esteem determined by parental upbringing?

How some parents wish it were!   But the truth is, many factors influence our self-esteem.   Certainly parental upbringing is important; parents can make the road to self-esteem easier or harder-but they cannot determine the ultimate level of their child’s self-esteem.  

Neither can teachers or other adults.   Neither can biology–nor birth experiences.   Yet all these factors can play a role.   And among these factors, none is likely to be as important as the influence of parents, primarily through the values they instill, which can lead a child toward or away from growing self-esteem.

However, we must remember the role that each individual plays, through the choices and decisions we make every day.  

We are not merely clay on which external forces write.   We are active contestants in the drama.  

As adults, we carry primary responsibility for the level of self-esteem we develop.

8. Isn’t self-esteem the consequence of approval from “significant others?”

No.   If we live semi-consciously, non-self-responsibly, and without integrity, it will not matter who loves us-we will not love ourselves.   When people betray their mind and judgment  (“sell their souls”) to win the approval of their “significant others,” they may win that approval but their self-esteem suffers.

What shall it profit us to win the approval of the whole world and lose our own?

It is commonly held that among young people the approval of “significant others” does profoundly affect self-esteem, and to some extent this is doubtless true-but one has to wonder about the reality of a self-esteem that is so precarious that it crashes easily if that approval is withdrawn.

9. Don’t the possession of good looks, popularity, and wealth almost guarantee self-esteem?

People who lack self-esteem sometimes think so, but the truth is that in today’s world there are celebrities who have physical beauty, millions of adoring fans, and millions of dollars-and still they cannot get through a day without drugs.   They live with severe anxiety or depression or both.   Good looks, popularity, and wealth guarantee nothing-if one does not have the self-esteem to support them.  

Lacking such self-esteem, it is very easy to feel like an imposter, waiting to be “found out”–and waiting for all one’s advantages to be blown away.

Even among young people, where the assets mentioned above tend to be more important, the relation of these assets to self-esteem is fragile at best; long-term, they are far from an adequate foundation for the experience of competence and worth.

10. Does praising appropriate behavior nurture self-esteem?

That depends on what is meant by “praising.”

If we see a child acting consciously and responsibly, and we acknowledge this behavior with recognition and appreciation, we may increase the likelihood that such behavior will be repeated.   If we ridicule, punish, or ignore it, we may produce the opposite result.   Either way, we may indirectly influence the child’s self-esteem (although not necessarily).

But to be effective, “praise”-or, more exactly, recognition–should be reality-based, calibrated to the significance of the child’s actions (in other words, not extravagant or grandiose), and directed at the child’s behavior rather than his or her character.   Sweeping statements such as “You’re a perfect angel,” or “You’re always such a good girl,” or “You’re always so kind and loving,” are not helpful: rather than nurture self-esteem, they tend to evoke anxiety, since the child knows there are times when they are not true.

Even with these restrictions, praise or recognition needs to be administered cautiously, so as to avoid turning a child into an approval-addict.   We want a child to experience the intrinsic pleasure that flows from appropriate behavior.   We want the child to become the source of his or her own approval, not always waiting eagerly for ours.   So we need to avoid bombarding a child with our “evaluations.”

11.  Isn’t it true that if you have high self-esteem, nothing bothers you?

Some enthusiasts for self-esteem believe good self-esteem solves nearly all the important problems of life.  This is untrue.  Struggle is intrinsic to life.  Sooner or later everyone experiences anxiety and pain-and while self-esteem can make one less susceptible, it cannot make one impervious.   To offer a simple example: If someone you love dies, does having good self-esteem mean the loss won’t “bother” you?   Clearly not.

Think of self-esteem as the immune system of consciousness.   If you have a healthy immune system, you might become ill, but you are less likely to; if you do become ill, you will likely recover faster-your resilience is greater.  Similarly, if you have high self-esteem, you might still know times of emotional suffering, but less often and with a faster recovery-your resilience is greater.  

A well-developed sense of self is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of your well-being.  Its presence does not guarantee fulfillment, but its absence guarantees some measure of anxiety, frustration, and despair.

Some people, when they face new challenges initially perceived as intimidating or overwhelming, may suffer a temporary dip in the level of their self-esteem.  Then, as they persevere and master the new challenges, self-esteem rises again.   Such fluctuations are normal.

12.  Once you’ve attained self-esteem, is it automatically maintained forever?

Every value pertaining to life requires action to maintain it.  If we do not continue to breathe, the breathing we did yesterday will not keep us alive today.   The same principle applies to self-esteem and the practices that support it.  

If–through the six practices mentioned above–we have succeeded in building good self-esteem, this does not mean that we now drop those practices without harm to ourselves.

If we do not choose to sustain these practices-if we elect to operative mindlessly, irresponsibly, without integrity-there is no way for self-esteem to avoid being adversely affected.

Neither a business, nor a marriage, nor a soul can be kept alive and healthy without continuous effort. Responsibility for appropriate action never ends.

 Rate your self-esteem by clicking on this link

“Israel and the World”

Posted March 5, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: Politics and Social Philosophy

Tags: , , , , ,


It occasionally happens that I read an article or essay that affects me so deeply that I feel a strong desire to broadcast it to the world.  This does not happen very often but it happened recently.  I hope that no further explanation will be necessary.

  by Eric Hoffer (LA Times 5/26/68)

  The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.
  Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem.

  Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese-and no one says a word about refugees.
  But in the case of Israel the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees.
  Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab.

  Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.
  Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms.  
  But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace.

  Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.
  Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June [1967] he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews.  No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on.

  There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Blacks are executed in Rhodesia.  But when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him.
  The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews.

  They sent Hitler choice iron ore, and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.

  The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources. Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally.  We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us.  And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer [1967] had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

  I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us.

  Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.

A Bit of History

Posted February 28, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: Politics and Social Philosophy

Tags: , , ,

When I first heard the term “libertarianism” in the early 1950s, I mentioned it to Ayn Rand as a possible name for our political philosophy. She was suspicious of the term and inclined to dismiss it as a neologism.  “It’s a mouthful,” she remarked.  “And it sounds too much like a made-up word.”

          I answered  “Maybe so, but what alternative do we have?” 

          She said, “We’re advocates of laissez-faire capitalism.” 

          I answered, “Sure, but that’s kind of a mouthful too–it’s not a one-word name–and besides, it puts the whole emphasis on economics and politics and we stand for something wider and more comprehensive: we’re champions of individual rights. We’re advocates of a non-coercive society.”

       I suggested that “libertarianism” could convey all that by means of a single word–especially if we were to define “libertarianism” as a social system that (a) barred the initiation of force from all human relationships and (b) was based on the inviolability of individual rights.  

          Ayn considered this suggestion briefly, then shook her head and said, “No. It sounds too much like a made-up word.”  

          Later, when many advocates of laissez-faire took up the word, and some of them were anarchists (notably Murray Rothbard), Ayn felt vindicated at rejecting a term broad enough to include Objectivist advocates of pure capitalism, on the one hand, and “anarcho-capitalists,” on the other. She did not realize that the majority of people who called themselves “libertarians” were advocates not of anarchism but of constitutionally limited government (in essence, the Objectivist model), and that she could have fought for her interpretation of the term “libertarian” just as she fought for her interpretation of the word “selfish. “There was no good reason to surrender a much-needed word to the opposition.

        Later still, when she saw that libertarians often supported their position with aspects of her philosophy, without necessarily subscribing to the total of Objectivism, she became angrier still and decided that all libertarians were, in effect, and in her own inimitable style, “whim-worshipping subjectivists.”

       Being a more balanced and reality-oriented teacher of Objectivism than Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley addressed libertarian groups with the aim of persuading them that Objectivism was the best possible foundation for their political beliefs. For this he was denounced by Peikoff as a traitor to Objectivism. .

       In any event, today libertarianism is part of our language and is commonly understood to mean the advocacy of minimal government. Ayn Rand is commonly referred to as “a libertarian philosopher.”

          Ladies and gentlemen of an Objectivist persuasion, we are all libertarians now. Might as well get used to it.

Self-concept is Destiny

Posted February 15, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: Love and Relationships

Tags: , , ,

I met her when she came to a workshop I was conducting on “Self-esteem and the Art of Being.”

            She was thirty-two years old, pretty, and worked as a receptionist in a law firm. Early in life she had decided that she knew what she was—“a bad girl.” How else could she explain the endless screaming reproaches of her mother, and the emotional coldness of her father, and a home that lacked any trace of love, affection, or kindness? As an adult, she supported the claim that she was a bad girl trough sexual promiscuity, and an inability to remain faithful to any lover or boyfriend.

            I met him at the same self-esteem workshop as the one where I met her.

            He was thirty-five, athletic, and worked as an artist in an advertising firm.  He had come to the United States from Norway.

            Months later—when he became a therapy client—he would tell me their story as he saw it.

            When he was six years old, his mother had deserted him and his father to run off with another man. He knew what this meant.  “If your own mother doesn’t love you, what can you expect from another woman?”  He decided that he was unlovable.  With the help of his embittered father, he also learned that no woman can be trusted, all women are sluts, and to love is to be hurt.

            Picture about one hundred-and thirty people in a hotel meeting room   I give an opening talk of about ninety minutes, then there is a fifteen minute break, and then I ask the group to stack the chairs against the walls and sit on the floor in circles of four.  “Do not sit with anyone you know,” I say.

            I take the group through a sentence-completion exercise. Then I invite them to share their experiences and what they may have learned.  I stand on the stage scanning the room, and I notice a young couple whose hands and other aspects of body language suggest an immediate connection.

            I ask the group to stand up, stretch, and then move into new circles of four, but only with complete strangers.  “Don’t sit with anyone you sat with in the previous circle,” I say.  I see that this couple ignores my instructions and moves together into a new group.  This happens two more times as I keep “reshuffling” the groups until the evening program ends. Then I see them standing near the exit, until their bodies convey a kind of tension that is unmistakable in its meaning. “How in hell can it happen so fast?” I ask myself, fascinated.

            I see them finding each other with the terrifying accuracy of two guided missiles meeting in space.           

            Within a week, as I learn later, they were on fire with love.  They felt born to a new innocence.  All feelings of guilt, sinfulness, or weighted sadness were washed away in the cleanliness of a love liked nothing they had ever experienced.  They did not feel that they were unlovable.  They felt that they were the essence of love.

            Then the time bomb that lay sleeping in both of them began to tick—the sense that they were in danger, that love such as they imagined is illusion, that to love is to be hurt.

            Anxiety awakened first in him and then in her.  He became a little impatient with her, a little critical, and she responded by becoming defiant, contemptuous of some of his mannerisms—each of them gearing up to defend against the rejection they dreaded and felt to be inevitable.

            In one moment, she would complain of being “suffocated” in their relationship and in the next she would beg for more time and attention because, she would say, “I don’t know how to live without you.”  Then he would suggest that perhaps he had not paid enough attention to how few books she read.  She would say, bitterly, that she was not an intellectual, and he would mutter under his breath that she could say that again.  Then he would weep, “I love you so much.”

            It lasted a few months longer—until the day when one or both of them were no longer able to believe their relationship was salvageable.

            As he would tell me later, on the day that was the “official” end of their “romance,” they stood on the steps of the building where she lived, and they hugged each other, and then she watched him walking away and she cried “Why? Why? We were so happy together! What was wrong with us?”  He did not turn around, but merely shrugged.  Then, once again, she shouted “Why?”

            Self-concept generates life scripts.

Marx, Freud, and Freedom

Posted February 12, 2008 by nathanielbranden
Categories: Politics and Social Philosophy

Tags: , , , ,

This is part seven of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy” which will be posted on 2/12/08.           

       My own view is that the philosophical and the moral and ultimately the psychological are the base of everything in this sphere. And I’ll give just one concluding example of the psychological. When people think of the disintegration and deterioration of a semifree society such as we’ve had, they think of Marx as a very negative influence, which of course he was. They are much less likely to appreciate the relevance of a man from my own profession, Sigmund Freud.            What could Freud have to do with the welfare state? My answer is, plenty. It was Freud and his followers who were most responsible for introducing into American culture and spreading the doctrine of psychological determinism, according to which all of us are entirely controlled and manipulated by forces over which we have no control, freedom is an illusion, ultimately we are responsible for nothing. If we do anything good, we deserve no credit. If we do anything bad, we deserve no reprimand. We are merely the helpless pawns of the forces working upon us, be they our instincts or our environment or our toilet training.          Freud, whatever his intentions, is the father of the “I couldn’t help it” school. (Perhaps credit should be shared with behaviorism, the other leading school of psychology in this country, that propounds its own equally adamant version of determinism.) The inevitable result of the acceptance of determinism, of the belief that no one is responsible for anything, is the kind of whining, blame shifting, and abdication of responsibility we have all around us today. Any advocate of freedom, any advocate of civilization, has to challenge the doctrine of psychological determinism and has to be able to argue rationally and persuasively for the principle of psychological freedom or free will, which is the underpinning of the doctrine of self-responsibility.  

           My book “Taking Responsibility” addresses the task of showing the relationship between free will on the one hand and personal responsibility on the other as well as exploring the multiple meanings and applications of self-responsibility, from the most intimate and personal to the social and political. And that I see as the much wider canvas and much wider job still waiting to be done: to provide a philosophical frame so that people will understand that the battle for libertarianism is not, in essence, the battle for business or the battle for markets. Those are merely concrete forms. It’s the battle for your ownership of your own life.

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