The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

Branden, Nathaniel (1930-2014)

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal) is known to many as “the father of the self-esteem movement.” Branden is the author of 20 books that explore the philosophical, psychological, and cultural foundations of individualism and the free society. Having developed a close personal relationship with novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand (whom he met as a college student in 1950), in 1958 Branden started Nathaniel Branden Lectures, in which he addressed and expanded on the psychological issues raised by Rand. These lectures were later formalized into the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). The NBI disseminated Rand’s Objectivist philosophy internationally through live lectures and audiotaped courses. Although his personal and professional relationship with Rand came to an end in 1968, his pioneering work on the psychology of self-esteem contributed to the renaissance of modern individualist and libertarian thought.

A defender of voluntarism as a moral concept and of libertarianism as a political concept, Branden argued, in Taking Responsibility, that “[t]he defining principle of libertarianism is the abolition of the initiation of physical coercion from human relationships.” Like Rand, Branden celebrates individualism and personal autonomy as foundational to human freedom. For Branden, a free society cannot be sustained without certain psychological, ethical, and cultural prerequisites.

Among the psychological requirements of a free society are the six pillars of self-esteem—practices essential to the achievement of human authenticity: living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and personal integrity. Branden sees the need for self-esteem as biological, as furthering human life, and constituting an aspect of an objective ethics that views such life and happiness as the standard of morality.

In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, he emphasizes the role of culture in both nourishing and suppressing self-esteem, and he challenges the “forms of culturally encouraged servitude” that reciprocally reinforce the political forms. Therefore, the struggle for a free society is a struggle for the values of the integrated individual self against groupthink and the entitlement mentality of the welfare state. Such authoritarian and statist political forms draw sustenance from implicit cultural beliefs that sanction conformity, dependence, and self-immolation.

In his clinical practice, Branden stresses a variety of techniques “[t]o honor the self—to honor mind, judgment, values, and convictions” as “the ultimate act of courage” and the ultimate prerequisite for human freedom.

 

Further Readings

Branden, Nathaniel. The Psychology of Self-Esteem. 32nd anniversary ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001 [1969].

———. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam, 1994.

———. Taking Responsibility: Self-Reliance and the Accountable Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Originally published .