Objectivist Punctuation--Two Schools, One Method*

by Roger E. Bissell

September 27, 2005


There are many ways of distinguishing between the two main factions in the Objectivist movement, which are, of course, the pro-Brandenians and the anti-Brandenians (as in: Nathaniel and Barbara Branden). For instance, you can look at who gravitates to the two main institutions that promote Objectivism: the Objectivist Center tends to attract pro-Brandenians, while the Ayn Rand Institute seems to be totally comprised of anti-Brandenians. (This is not the official stance of either organization, but the Brandens have appeared at a number of functions of the former, while being entirely omitted from those of the latter.)

However, my favorite way of distinguishing between the two factions was suggested to me by the following comment by James Valliant on another thread (The Critics of the Passion of the Critics of Ayn Rand's Critics, or some such overly windy nonsense).

Valliant wrote (of Barbara Branden's book about Ayn Rand):
This sort of distortion cuts into both the "love" and the enmity simultaneously. 
Now that is pure anti-Brandenian punctuation.

Pro-Brandenian punctuation, on the other hand, would require re-writing the above quote thusly:
This sort of distortion cuts into both the love and the "enmity" simultaneously.
See? It's subtle, so you might have missed it. If you want to deny the truth of a pro-Brandenian claim (such as that Barbara Branden loved Ayn Rand), you put the word "love" in quote marks. If you want to deny the truth of an anti-Brandenian claim (such as that Barbara Branden had enmity toward Ayn Rand), you put the word "enmity" in quote marks.

Now, I'm sorry not to have had a real pro-Brandenian example to offer, but this approach to punctuation seems to be used largely (if not exclusively) by anti-Brandenians and ARI partisans. I will, however, continue to keep my eyes open for the tell-tale sign of Objectivist punctuation among the pro-Brandenians and TOC partisans. It would be a real shame if they were unable to be truly objective in their use of quote marks.

If you want a general guideline: basically, to employ Objectivist punctuation in the way that Mr. Valliant and so many others do -- whether pro- or anti-Brandenian -- you simply pick whatever you're trying to deny the truth of, and you put it in quote marks. This is a direct parallel to the Objectivist approach to humor, of ridiculing whatever you want to deny metaphysical significance to. Some might even claim that Objectivist punctuation is really a very crude form of humor, as evidenced by those who laugh when they see it being used in an attack on someone they dislike.

Here is another example, which shows that Objectivist punctuation is used for more than simply registering one's support or opposition to the Brandens. This example is taken from a comment in an Objectivist blog discussion by one L.S. (who seems at times to be channeling Leonard Peikoff, and at other times to be lapsing into near-hysteria at criticisms of Rand and ARI), who wrote of Bill Dwyer's critique of Peter Schwartz:
The flaw in Dwyer's "argument" against the Schwartz syllogism can be countered in much more brief from [sic] than the responses...
Now, if we could call this pro-Schwartzian, then an anti-Schwartzian re-writing might go like this:
The "flaw" in Dwyer's argument against the Schwartz "syllogism" can be "countered" etc. etc.
See how Objectivist punctuation works? If it still seems a bit unnatural to you, pick any raging (or tepid) controversy you are interested in, then make a comment about someone representing the side you disagree with. Be sure to refer to their "arguments" or their "logic" or their "decency," whatever positive attribute or action they might believe to pertain to themselves. But be prepared for payback in regards to your own "rationality" or "good character."