Rand’s admirers brag about how prescient they find her on social and political issues. But her record (and that of her leading disciple, Leonard Peikoff) hardly bears up well under critical scrutiny. In October, 1963, Ayn Rand claimed that Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater “may become very much worth supporting ... most particularly because he seems to be our last chance to preserve two-party government.” In her last public appearance, Rand claimed that “the threat to the future of capitalism is the fact that Reagan might fail so badly that he will become another ghost, like Herbert Hoover, to be invoked as an example of capitalism’s failure for another fifty years.” After Rand passed from the scene in 1982, her leading disciple, Leonard Peikoff, continued the tradition of dubious commentary about politics. In 2004, Peikoff claimed that “there is no longer a mass base or any crusade for big government” and that “Bush is working to achieve a massive entrenchment of [Christian] fundamentalism into our government and political system.”
These statements by Rand and Peikoff strongly suggest a lack of judgment about political reality. Rand and Peikoff are ideologues who judge politics on the basis of their own unrealistic moral ideals. They are focused so intently upon how things ought to be that they haven’t a clue on how things are or are likely to be. Indeed, if they understood politics realistically, as the Founding Fathers and the Italian Elite School understood politics, they would realize that their political ideals, their “normative” politics, are unrealistic and therefore “utopian.”
My criticism of Objectivist political theory will have a realistic and naturalist base. My focus will be on whether Rand’s political theories can be realized in the world of experience and fact. The starting point will be human nature as it is discovered by the experimental sciences. The philosopher George Santayana gave voice to this position as follows:
There is a double force in repeated the old axiom that man is an animal. In the first place we confirm our initial naturalism, and place man among the wonderfully various living creatures that feed, fight, and reproduce themselves on the surface of the earth. But there is a second implication in that axiom that is no less important. An animal has inward invisible springs of action called instincts, needs, passions, or interests; and it is only in relation to these psychic springs of action that Powers and Dominations can be distinguished. The ... agent in politics is ... an inner proclivity to action and passion that animates [the individual], and that I call the psyche...
This topic, which might seem academic and speculative, is of great moment for the understanding of politics, especially in the present era. The literary philosophy and the psychological novels which have been dominant in modern times assume, if they do not teach, that thought is something substantial and self-developing; that it has no origin or milieu except in other thoughts; and even sometimes that the evolution of this ideation in a vacuum is itself guided by dialectic [i.e., by logic—which is more or less what Rand’s view of the matter amounts to in the end]. Nothing could be better calculated to keep politics in a fool’s paradise of verbal reasoning. [Dominations and Powers, 14-15]
That is precisely where we find Rand’s politics: in a fool’s paradise of verbal reasoning. The following series of posts on “Objectivism and Politics” will seek to demonstrate this assertion.