Like any new convert, I tended to frame the concepts [of Rand’s philosophy] in their starkest, simplest terms. Most everyone sees the simple outline of an idea before complexity and qualification set in…. It was only as contradictions inherent in my new notions began to emerge that the fervor receded.
One such contradiction I found particularly enlightening. According to the objectivist precepts, taxation was immoral because it allowed for government appropriation of private property by force. Yet if taxation was wrong, how could you reliably finance the essential functions of government, including the protection of individuals’ rights through police power? The Randian answer, that those who rationally saw the need for government would contribute voluntarily, was inadequate. People have free will; suppose they refused?…
I still found the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition compelling, as I do to this day, but I reluctantly began to realize that if there were qualifications to my intellectual edifice, I couldn’t argue that others should readily accept it. By the time I joined Richard Nixon’s campaign for the presidency in 1968, I had long since decided to engage in efforts to advance free-market capitalism as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer.
Greenspan here admits what has been suspected for some time: that he came to believe that Objectivism was flawed and so ceased being an orthodox advocate of Rand’s philosophy. More interesting is his decision to advance free-market capitalism “as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer.” This is really where Greenspan most differentiates himself from his former Objectivist comrades. Objectivists want to change the system without being part of it. Hence their conviction that social change can be brought about through philosophical patter.
But what is the real reason why Objectivists shrink from attempting to make change through action rather than merely talking about it? I can think of two main reasons:
1. Most Objectivists don’t have the ability to make change as an insider. While this lack of ability may be rationalized as an unwillingness to compromise (which all insiders must do), let’s not be naive: if every advocate of the free market adopted the attitude of “I will never compromise, therefore I won’t ever become an insider,” all this would accomplish is to surrender the political realm to advocates of various anti-market nostrums. Greenspan became an insider because he had the political chops to do so. Few people who came under Rand’s orbit have comparable chops.
2. Trying to change things as an insider as risky: one is inevitably competing against people who want to change things in a different direction, and it’s quite possible they will win out. Just look what’s happened with Greenspan: from our current vantage point, his attempts to advocate free market capitalism as an insider do not appear altogether successful. But is that any reason for not trying at all? Either one is willing to fight for one’s ideals on the political stage, or one isn’t. Those who are capable of fighting on political stage but choose not to are cowards—plain and simple.
Objectivists are now frantically trying to rid themselves of the taint of Greenspan’s former association with Rand. Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein have accused Greenspan of being “the voice of government central-planning”—another instance of Objectivists discrediting themselves by over-stating their case. They do nothing but talk and scribble—while attacking the one of the few individuals influenced by Rand who actually had the courage and the capability of trying to affect change within the political realm. Where are such people going to come from if they know ahead of time how they are to be treated if they fail? The hysterical denunciations of Greenspan demonstrate once again why Objectivism will never succeed as an agent of political change.