Branden and Rand (their careers overlapped but they were not a "team" in any permanent sense; I refer to the commonality in their thinking here for brevity) challenged and rejected one of society's most cherished mythologies, the supremacy of the group over the individual. I believe this accounts for the wildly enthusiastic response to their work (I include myself in this group with regard to Branden's psychotherapy work) AND the heated controversy surrounding their work, much of which continues to this day.
Nathaniel Branden was one of relatively few in the public eye who has pointed out the connection between our broken societies and the broken individuals they create -- and who, in turn, wind up perpetuating the broken societies. This is essential for anyone who genuinely wants to understand why our species -- so capable and intelligent in some ways -- continues to behave like ignorant savages.
He made a name for himself, initially at least, by aligning himself with another individual who had also become well-known for making a powerful case for individual rights through her novels: Ayn Rand. The fact that she and Branden both became somewhat controversial figures takes nothing away from the fact that both were -- and still are -- fairly influential.
But Ayn Rand died in 1982; Nathaniel Branden, as of this writing, died less than a week ago: December 3, 2014. The issues they confronted, however, are very much alive and well: individual rights are fading fast from the place Ayn Rand hoped would be the refuge for those fleeing totalitarian states -- America. And the "mental health" issues in this country are affecting more people than ever, and younger than ever as well. Yet the link between the broken societies and the broken individuals is less apparent than ever.
Yes, there are plenty of people advocating for more individual freedom, less tyranny, more peaceful societies. And the number of individuals and groups promoting the idea of "better mental health" is increasing, largely with the help of the Internet. Unfortunately, neither movement appears to be slowing down the negative direction our society, and many of its individuals, appears headed.
I am convinced that the connections Nathaniel Branden, Ayn Rand, and a few others have pointed out throughout their careers are the reasons the efforts just mentioned seem to be relatively ineffective. More specifically:
More individual freedom: huge portions of the public resist taking full responsibility for their own existence, which plays right into the hands of those wanting to keep things the way they are -- with them in charge, of course. This continues, generation after generation, century after century. Each new generation confronts the institutions that broke the spirit of the prior one; resistance is futile, since the prior generation has been co-opted.
Those advocating for more peace and freedom are beaten before they begin -- and many of them don't fully understand this. A greater understanding wouldn't guarantee that their efforts would suddenly become successful but at a minimum I believe it would increase their efficiency. It could also reduce the frustration and bitterness felt by those wanting to improve society who keep running into the same (apparently inexplicable) resistance.
Better "mental health." I hate that term but it's out there so it will do for now. I prefer "happier, well-adjusted individuals who are satisfied with their lives and have no desire to interfere with somebody else's." How many organizations are advocating for more "mental health"? Hard to say. Federal, state, county and city governments. Schools. Churches. Corporations. And any number of independent (more or less -- many are funded by pharmaceutical companies) organizations. Just about any organization of any size seems to have something to say about "mental health." Yet the numbers of those diagnosed with "mental health issues" keeps increasing. And the headline-grabbing incidents of those committing some kind of atrocity continues as well.
Ask the wrong questions, don't worry about the answers. The majority of those involved with "mental health" support the notion that these problems are based in the individual: brain chemistry, faulty DNA, bad influences -- one way or another, it's just something amiss with those involved. The notion that our society itself could in fact be driving people crazy is carefully kept out of the dialogue.
As an example of this: think about the school shootings that have been taking place for at least the past couple decades or so. Each one is followed by a flurry of talk, endless discussions, calls for new legislation, gun control, video game monitoring, whatever. But in all the thousands of words that are tossed about after these horrific events, how often do you hear any reference to the simple fact that many of the people in the schools don't want to be there? (It's called "compulsory" education, remember.) You don't, because it isn't discussed. Yet the schools themselves share this important characteristic with prisons. At least with prisons, the residents are there full-time. How much violence would occur at your state prison if the felons could go home at night, arm themselves, and come back the next day?
Just as the efforts to create more peaceful societies with more individual freedom are hampered by psychological and emotional damage within many individuals, the psychological damage -- the "mental health issues" -- are caused and aggravated by the distortions within the increasingly dystopian societies.
Not surprisingly, those who benefit from the transformation of intelligent humans into tax-producing livestock are only too happy to do whatever it takes to keep the game going. By keeping the link between the unfree societies and the unfree individuals obscured, all the ill effects can be treated as separate, isolated events. Unfortunate, yes, but without any real context or underlying cause... and most definitely without any resulting need to make any fundamental changes in society itself.
All of this is a lengthy way of saying that Branden, Rand, and whoever else can make the connections I refer to here is providing an essential element for the future of our civilization: hope. And some genuine information about how to go about truly improving things.