[Pareto’s] basic premise with respect to human nature is that people’s motivations are inherently irrational and based on sentiment rather than logic, and that any reasons that individuals ostensibly present for their actions are in fact post-rationalizations. To this my response to Pareto would be a paraphrase of Rand: “If you do not consider people capable of genuine rational judgment, do not check their premises, check yours.” Certainly, some individuals, perhaps most of those who lack a systematic worldview, do act on whim and impulse, and Pareto may well have been one of them, which might have led him to attribute his own inner state to all others. Indeed, he had not presumed to use rational thought to justify the very premise about people’s sentimental motivations! He merely stated that the matter is out of the scope of the given treatise.
This a typical example of muddled Rand-inspired analysis. First, we find the mania for polarizing arguments. Pareto, complains Stolyarov, believes in the “inherent irrationality” of human motivation. But that isn’t quite true. Human motivation is not, for Pareto, “irrational,” but “non-rational”—an important difference. Nor is Pareto required to use “rational thought” to justify his view: his book is not a treatise on psychology, and he addresses the issue in greater detail in The Mind and Society, which Stolyarov conveniently ignores. Even more curious is Stolyarov ad hominem attack on Pareto. Despite all their virtuous noise about logic, rank and file Objectivists frequently resort to ad hominem arguments, particularly of Stolyarov’s type. Stolyarov simply cannot admit that perhaps Pareto had reached his judgment about human beings from his own personal experience and his extensive knowledge of history! No, the only possible explanation is that Pareto himself is an irrationalist!
Yet if this is so, why does Stolyarov spend the rest of his review extolling Pareto’s analysis and making use of Pareto’s intellectual tools for his own ends? If Pareto’s “inner state” is that of an irrationalist, then what can he possibly say that is of any value to a follower of Rand, particularly when what Pareto says about elites is partially based on the very theory about human nature which Stolyarov, in deference to Rand, presumes to reject?
Stranger still, Stolyarov finds in Pareto an important Objectivist principles: the sanction of the victim! Can this really be? Can an individual whose inner state is confounded with irrational motivations be capable of anticipating a discovery of Rand by a half century? Well, not quite. While there are points of similarity between Pareto’s view and Rand’s on this issue, there are important difference as well. For Rand, the sanction of the victim occurs when the victim accepts the morality of the victimizer. According to Rand, businessmen allow themselves to be attacked because they agree with the morality of the attackers. That is not quite Pareto’s view. Pareto believes that businessmen who allow themselves to be attacked are merely cowards who are afraid to fight. Any agreement with the morality of their attackers is merely a rationalization to hide this pusillanimity.
Stolyarov concludes by attempting to enlist Pareto as a supporter of an optimistic scenario in which free market values triumph over the leftist elite:
If Pareto’s theory is to be extended to today’s conditions, the socialist/hippie elite is clearly in decline. No more does it arouse college campuses in waves of violent activism [that’s because there’s no draft]; no more do its youngest heirs champion “saving the world” (though the hippies could only have ruined it), but rather they seek to pay ritual homage to left wing principles in order to get acceptance into elite academic institutions and thus “get ahead in life.” Gradually, the young elites are falling prey to the rising doctrines of materialism, self-interest, and prudence, which are to overturn all remaining vestiges of socialism. Government continues to expand and redistribution of wealth continues to occur, but this more due to cultural inertia rather than any deliberate, devious, and coordinated scheme from the New Deal or the Great Society. In the meantime, a growing, vigorous, dynamic, principled, and broad-based ideological backlash is emerging [Really?]; it covers multiple constituencies, as Pareto said it well might; from the neo-conservatives to the libertarians to the Objectivists, [but Objectivists hate libertarians!] the advocates of limiting government, liberating free enterprise, and making more room for individuals to exercise their own self-responsibility, are colorful, creative, industrious, and vocal personalities. The spokesmen of the leftist elite, on the other hand, are bland, predictable rehashers of the same credos they had espoused forty or even seventy years ago. [But this rehashing is very effective at stimulating the sentiments of the lower classes.] They have nothing new to offer, and are gradually themselves being infused with bits of free enterprise materialism in their personal lives, if not their explicit statements. [In other words, they are perfect exponents for a European style welfare state.]
Alas, those very same “bland, predictable rehashers” of the Left have retaken power and are in the process of extending government well beyond what FDR or LBJ would, in their wildest dreams, ever imagined. Stolyarov’s analysis, posted in 2004, does not, in retrospect, appear in the least prescient. Where did he go wrong? Well, to start out with, perhaps Pareto was right after all about human beings being motivated by non-rational sentiments. Stolyarov also failed to note that, unlike Italy at the turn of the last century, American society is not threatened by any violent domestic faction. Stolyarov’s “socialist/hippie elite” is not going to be attacked with force by any neo-conservatives, libertarians, or Objectivists any time soon. As long as they feel safe, the Left will continue to hold its own on the political stage.
Note that Stolyarov omits the religious right among his “multiple constituencies” opposing the “socialist/hippie” elite. Here is another possible source of error in Stolyarov: he would like to see the Left opposed by a “rational” elite. In this wish, he clearly misunderstands Pareto’s position. Pareto doesn’t necessarily conclude that all non-rational motivations will have a bad issue. Some may prove helpful. In politics, one can’t be too squeamish about alliances. The religious right was an important component of the Reagan revolution. Reagan doesn’t beat Carter without the help of religious conservatives. This very alliance, however, is regarded as sinister by Leonard Peikoff and other orthodox Objectivists, who regard it as a precursor of a theocracy! They believe they can “change the culture” by refuting Kant’s obscure subjectivist philosophical legerdemain. What would Pareto think of such a view? He would find it silly and patently non-rational. He might even suspect it of being a mere rationalization of powerless intellectuals afraid to own up to their own powerlessness. What do Objectivists want? A society in which all initiation of force is verboten. How do they expect to reach this state of affairs? By doing what intellectuals do best: caviling about obscure ideas. How wonderfully convenient! Too bad it isn’t true.