From another point of view, however, [the power of philosophy to change the world] is not ominous—it can even be regarded as encouraging. For it means that if a good philosopher arises who answers and philosophically destroys [a pernicious philosopher like Kant], that will turn the reign of the evil and save the world. And such a philosopher has arisen in our time—in my judgment, at least, and I am sure in most of yours. I am speaking, of course, of Ayn Rand.
On the basis of the theory of history I have put forth today, therefore, it is proper to have hope for the future. I do think that Objectivism will triumph ultimately and shape the world’s course, and that today’s culture will be remember in the end only for what it is—which I refrain from saying.
So Objectivism will “ultimately” triumph! Here we find the primary raison d’être of Rand’s philosophy of history. “It took decades of collectivist philosophy to bring this country to its present state,” Rand wrote to a correspondent in March of 1962. “And it is only the right philosophy that can save us. Ideas take time to spread, but we will only have to wait decades—because reason and reality are on our side.”
This optimistic prognosis was made over four decades ago, and still Objectivism has made little if any progress towards its “ultimate” triumph. Indeed, if by Objectivism we mean the purest, orthodox brand of that philosophy, we would have to admit that it has regressed since 1962, thanks to two major schisms in the movement, one involving Rand and her leading disciple Nathaniel Branden, the other involving Rand’s intellectual heir Leonard Peikoff and the movements most promising and effective advocate, David Kelley.
Since Rand’s 1962 prognosis has turned out to be so palpably wrong, how much faith should we place in Peikoff’s suggestion of an “ultimate” triumph? Given the intellectual foundation that these Objectivist hopes are based on, no faith should be placed in them. The Objectivist hope for an “ultimate” triumph is on the same level as the Marxist’s hope of for the eventual triumph of the communist paradise or the Christian’s hope for the rapture. It is an extra-empirical hope, without basis in fact, science or even good sense. It completely ignores what actually motivates human beings, substituting instead an entirely baseless schema of motivations based on abstruse metaphysical and epistemological notions that hardly anyone understands or cares for. Worst of all, it is a species of conceit so gross and intense that it boggles the mind: for it suggests that Rand and her disciples, simply by wagging their tongues and jiggling their pens, can “turn the reign of evil and save the world.” Under this notion of history, ideas become a kind of talisman or power. “In the beginning was the Word,” begins the Platonist gospel of John. Rand’s philosophy of history is merely a kind of secularist riff on this mystical theme.
Should this mystical, Platonist detour surprise us? Not at all. For that is the tradition of philsophy that Rand harkens from: the Platonic-Aristotelean tradition of metaphysics and wishful thinking, rather than the tradition of the Greek Naturalists, modern science and the critical empiricism of Hume and Popper.