The [Marxian] doctrine itself—that all that need be done in order to awake the next morning in, or on the way toward, an idealistic Utopia is to destroy the admittedly crude and imperfect civilization which the race has developed through history thus far, by destroying its institutions and power relations and turning over all power to the promoters of the destruction for the purposes of reconstruction—has an evident if mysterious appeal to elemental human nature. How such propaganda and the romantic appeal of destruction in general, is to be effectively combated, is perhaps the most serious of practical social problems. And the most serious as well as the most puzzling phase of this situation is that in their manners and conscious intentions the promoters are for the most part “nice people,” and “honorable men,” and will readily, and often artistically, “with reasons answer you.” Not only that; they are morally earnest, even to a fault—in fact, to a degree which makes it a serious ethical problem whether moral earnestness can be assumed a virtue at all [a statement that can be applied to Objectivism as well]. For in plain factual appraisal, what they are doing is more catastrophically evil than treason, or poisoning wells, or other acts commonly placed at the head of the list of crimes. The moralisation of destruction, and of combat with a view to destruction, goes with the kind of hero-worship that merges into devil-worship. [Freedom and Reform, 118-119]
Knight’s phrase “moralisation of destruction” goes to the very heart of the nihilistic pathology. On a superficial level, Rand’s view is not necessarily all that different. Nihilism, for Rand, is “hatred of the good for being good.” Okay, someone who hates the good for being good will probably be attracted to destruction, so Rand's speculation here at least has plausibility on its side, if not truth. Where Rand goes seriously off the reservation is when she speculates about the source of this hatred. Consider Rand’s analysis of the infamous streaker at the academy awards as related by Peikoff:
Having grasped the streaker’s nihilism … [Rand] was eager to point out some different examples of the same attitude. [Peikoff goes on to relate how Rand observes the presence of nihilism in modern literature, progressive education, and “avant-garde physics.”] That streaker, in short, was the very opposite of an isolated phenomenon. He was a microcosm of the principle ruling modern culture, a fleeting representative of that corrupt motivation which Ayn Rand has described so eloquently as “hatred of the good for being the good.” And what accounts for such widespread hatred? she asked at the end. Her answer brings us back to the philosophy [Rand opposed], the one that attacks reason and reality wholesale and thus makes all values impossible: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. [Voice of Reason, 344]
Here is a good example of Rand’s typical mode of proceeding on such questions. She starts out promising enough by identifying the streaker with nihilism. That’s a bit over the top, but interesting nonetheless. She goes on to relate the streaker’s attitude to modern literature, progressive education, and “avant-garde physics” (what on earth could that be?). Again, it’s over the top; and Rand also leaves herself open to accusations of painting with too broad a brush. Still, with a bit of overly generous interpretation, we might be able to extract something resembling plausibility out of it. The very worst aspects of modern literature and progressive education do have a strong nihilistic stench to them. And Rand’s phrase “hatred of the good for being good” also shows promise as a fascinating conjecture. Of course, it may also be possible that nihilists simply have a different idea of the good; still, it’s an eloquent phrase and Rand may really be on to something. But having gotten this far without making any serious blunders, she could not, alas, leave well enough alone, but has to reduce her entire analysis to raving absurdity by bringing up her long-established bête noire, the old wizened pedant of Königsberg, Herr Kant. It appears that Kant’s philosophy is the source and cause of nihilism! If only Kant had been smothered in his cradle, we would have been spared the combined horrors of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Look-Say method of pedagogy!
Rand’s philosophy of history (like her view of human nature upon which it is based) is a millstone around the neck of her social and political views. It drains her social analysis of whatever aura of plausibility her skill as a propagandist can attach to it, and renders her political objectives unreal and impractical.