A utopian view of human nature such as Rand’s will inevitably lead to a utopian theory of history. Such a theory usually posits that man is inherently good, and that any evil he might have done throughout history is the result of some external factor. For Marx it was an unjust economic system, for Rousseau modernity itself; for Rand, the effect of bad philosophical ideas. If man had only possessed a truly rational philosophy, none of the horrors of the past need have taken place.
According to Objectivism, the most important issue in human existence is how man should use his consciousness. “In the life of man,” writes Leonard Peikoff, “epistemological, metaphysical, and moral ideas – which means: philosophical ideas – are the ruling power.” (OPAR, p451) Ultimately every decision a man makes reflects his fundamental philosophical views, and this naturally this thesis expands to cover all of history. But where do these views come from? Well, Rand believed that only a small part of the population takes the trouble to define their views through conscious deliberation; these are “the intellectuals,…the guides, the trend-setters…”, who are the “transmission belts…between philosophy and culture.” Through their own incompetence in the defense of reason, the intellectuals had lost sight of reason’s prime mover, Aristotle, and had submitted to the evil of Immanuel Kant and his destructive Critique. This resulted, ultimately, in the horrors of the 20th Century such as Soviet Gulags and the Nazi death camps.
How does Rand’s theory stack up against the facts? Since it is beyond the scope of “Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature” to empirically verify the causal factors of every period in history, three specific evidentiary claims made by Rand and her followers are examined.
1) Christianity is responsible for Dark Ages in EuropeOn examining 1), it turns out that as usual Rand and Peikoff provide little or no hard evidence for their contention, only a lot of vague insinuation and oratical exaggeration. It turns out that the Dark Ages are far more likely to have been the result of severe trade contraction due to the Islamic military stranglehold over Europe from 7th to the 9th centuries, combined with the Danish and Norwegian barbarians laying waste to much of the North and West, than the rise of Christian belief. Likewise, contra Peikoff’s claim that it was due to the rediscovery of Aristotle, the subsequent Renaissance can also be readily attributed to the retreat of these influences, and subsequent revival of trade and prosperity. Further, if, as Peikoff contends, the asceticism of Christianity was the decisive influence in society, we would expect to find such societies economically destitute and culturally stagnant. Yet this is quite false, as of course the Renaissance marks the apogee of Catholic Church’s dominance over Europe.
2) The growth of statism in America is the byproduct of altruistic morality
3) German philosophy is responsible for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi death camps.
As to 2) we again find that this is undercut by a fundamental fallacy – that institutions such as governments are always the product of conscious moral design. In fact, we find the expansions of state power in America was largely brought about by unintended developments in the institutions of the Federal Government, especially Congress, such as ‘pork-barrelling’ and ‘log-rolling.’ These expansions of state power are arrangements that have little or nothing to do with ‘altruism’ or self-sacrifice, and everything to do with the exercise of politics for self-interest and mutual advantage.
Finally, turning to 3) we note once again that Peikoff offers no concrete evidence for this speculation. He is also simply incorrect in claiming Kant, and Hegel advocated “irrationality.” Some of their ideas may have been irrational, but this is hardly the same thing. Further, as the writings of the aforesaid are extremely vague, they are just as subject to the reverse interpretation – one could easily claim that they were responsible for the liberation of the death camps, so one be so inclined. It also appears that far from preaching abstruse doctrines of irrationalism, altruism and collectivism, much of the Nazi’s actually rather limited success came from standard demagoguery like “Freedom, Work, and Bread”, as well as capitalizing on the substantial underlying anti-Semitism that existed in Germany as it did in much of Europe. Even then this did not capture a majority for the Nazis, and Hitler’s subsequent ascent to Chancellor owed more to standard backstage political manoeuvering than the advocacy of any specific philosophical doctrines.
To conclude, it seems that the Randian historical narrative is merely an exaggerated romantic invention, which on examination turns out to be both shallow and factually inaccurate.
(Summary of "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" by Greg Nyquist, Chapter 2)