Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Objectivism & History, Part 12

Eschatology. Eschatology is a part of theology or philosophy dealing with the ultimate destiny of humanity or end of the world. While Objectivism does not have an explicit eshatology, it’s philosophy of history contains obvious eshatological implications. Consider the following from the pen of Leonard Peikoff: 


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.

9 comments:

RnBram said...

"This optimistic prognosis was made over four decades ago, and still Objectivism has made little if any progress towards its “ultimate” triumph."

"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.
"

What then, "actually motivates human beings"? Is it the desire for self-destruction through altruism? Come on. However confused or fraudulent, you too pursue your own personal interests and values, even when they are founded in a legitimate concern for certain other human beings —even in your ARCHN campaign.

Do you suppose, somehow, that the rate of spread of Immanuel Kant's (1724 – 1804) ideas, in a world of less than 0.5 billion, should be matched by the rate of spread of Rand's ideas in a World of 6+ billion?

One also has to consider the small proportion of the 1700s population that was literate, vs the 2000s six-billion-person-world, much of which is barely literate.

Near instant acceptance of Objectivism is an absurdist notion, and the factors involved too complex to even begin to use such comparisons in discussion. Since the 1930s (nearly 80 yrs) the influence of Marxist ideology still pervades both academia and the media. In the moral and spiritual vacuum that Socialist ideology produced, religion has been widely available to fill the gap; religion being a parallel enemy of rational thought and action. Not only is it difficult to reach independent minds, there are two ideologies fighting to captivate those minds —socialism AND religion.

The argument 'from lack of success' is a shameless grasping at straws. Such shamelessness is further evidenced in the following unaddressed factors:

How do you 'write off' the growth of the ARI from a couple of people on no budget, to a thriving group with some 9 million dollars of annual donations in about a decade?

How do you 'write off' the emergence of some 30 Objectivism-oriented professors in American Universities in the last decade?

How do you 'write off' the increased frequency of published Objectivist articles in prominent mainstream media, from one or less per year to weekly and even daily appearances?

How do you 'write off' multiple Objectivist appearances on television and radio programs?

How do you 'write off' the opening of the new Washington and Vancouver offices of ARI?

How do you 'write off' the increasing number of Objectivist publications from preeminent, academic publishing houses?

How do you 'write off' the influence of the para-Objectivist organization known as TAFOL in its influence of U.S. Supreme Court decisions?

How do you 'write off' the conscientious and well-read, mature (over forty years of age) population of Objectivists, many of whom are extremely well versed in philosophy and the history thereof?

How do you 'write off' the role of the Objectivist component of the American Philosophy Association?

How do you 'write off' the rapid growth of Objectivism in India, which is clearly not a function of resentment for "Russian communism" or love of "American capitalism"? ...those Indians are hardly just stupid dupes of America?

What have you missed, or actively resent, about Objectivism that has set you on a course of vilifying those who advocate Reality, Reason, Rational Individualism, Capitalist Politics and Romantic Aesthetics? Why smear the good, except in "hatred of the good for being good"?

Damien said...

RnBram,

Even if Objectivism has had some successes over the years, that does not disprove what Greg is saying.

Beyond that, do you honestly believe that Greg hates reason, reality, capitalism, and individualism and wants to destroy all that is good? You seem to be judging him based solely on the fact that he doesn't agree with Rand's ideas. If you want to discredit Greg's view of objectivism and his view of the world, you have to make the effort to discredit his ideas, not attack him personally. You must attack the message, not the messenger.

Plus he has talked about what he thinks motivates people before in his Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature book and this blog.

Neil Parille said...

This is part of the appeal of Objectivism. Even if there are only ten Objectivists, you can have a major part in advancing a movement that will take over the world. (See Peikoff's statement about the world being ruled by the ideas of a few.)

Objectivism does have a certain following, but as far as the number of intellectuals who embrace it, there aren't many.

The ARI's approach is to support only true believers, which has decreased the movement's influence even more.

gregnyquist said...

mbram: "What then, 'actually motivates human beings'? Is it the desire for self-destruction through altruism?"

There is no evidence in either history or psychology that most human beings are motivated by broad abstractions. The notion is absurd on the face of it. Since nothing specific can be deduced from these broad abstractions, no specific motives can be derived from them. As for the suggestion that people are motivated for the "desire for self-destruction through altruism," only an Objectivist could believe in something like that. Only a very small minority of individuals (e.g., extreme environmentalists, acsetics, and other mentally disturbed individuals) are ever motivated by the kind of "altruism" Rand and her disciples talk about. The majority people are motivated by two major concerns: concern for well-being and prosperity (creating a "better life" for themselves and their families) and concern for status or "face." Civilized peoples tend to be more concerned with the former; less civilized tend to be more concerned with the latter. Conflicts can arise between groups of individuals over competition for prosperity; but in advanced market economies this is less of a problem because in such economies are not a zero-sum game. That's not the case with competition for status, which is a zero sum game and which is driving force behind most anti-social (or anti-civilization) activity we find aroundthe world. This mania for status is not due to Kant or any "philosophy," but is an innate drive developed in human beings through centuries of evolution. The fight for civilization is a fight against these primitive drives for status and the like. To think that you can "save" the world by fighting against Kant is to be victim of a collosal delusion. It's picking the wrong enemy.

As for the list of accomplishments of the Objectivist movement, I'm sorry, I don't find them all that convincing. If mbram takes them as evidence that the Objectivist movement is succeeding in its goals, he is sadly deluded. So what, there are 30 Objectivist-orientated professors! There could be 300 or even 3,000, it wouldn't make much of a difference. The simple fact of the matter is this: the majority of human beings are innately predisposed against Objectivism. They don't want to live in the kind of world Objectivism advocates, a world in which every man is for himself and charity is a "minor" virtue. Most people want government help when a hurricane destroys their home. They want help if they get sick and can't work. They would like to think (right or wrongly) that there is something after death beyond mere pitiless extinction, that when a beloved relative or spouse dies, they'll have a chance to see that person again. If you tell people they are corrupt or depraved for wanting these things, you'll only alienate them from your movement and make them inalterably opposed to what you stand for.

For this reason, it is ludricous to believe that Objectivism stands for or advocates reality. For part of reality is the reality of human nature; and this part of reality Objectivists stand, not for, but firmly against.

Damien said...
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Damien said...
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Herbsewell said...

Human nature is probably too primitive at this time to accept Rand's ideas. It took several hundred years to free man from theocracies and monarchies, and I expect the same sort of transgression for modern society.

Damien said...

Herbsewell,

Weather or not it would be a good thing if people accepted and lived by Rand's ideas, (In some cases its at least debatable as to weather or not that would be a good thing) human nature will not change anytime soon. Human nature today is the same as it was during the classical era and the Dark ages. In all that time human nature didn't change, but cultures did, and even if human nature did some how change in the future, if we evolved so to speak, why should we assume that change would favor objectivism? Evolution does not run according to a plan.

Daniel Barnes said...

Herbsewell:
>Human nature is probably too primitive at this time to accept Rand's ideas.

That has got to be an ARCHNblog Quote of the Day right there.