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The Practicability Gap: A Recap

This is the sixth entry in my Antistatism Series.


The last two posts in this series, “Practicability,” and “Heaven, Hell, or Hades?,” showed that Ayn Rand’s politics is incomplete because it provides no sufficiently realized account of limited government’s practicability. Objectivism states that a government of delegated and enumerated powers, limited to the purpose of enforcing the principle of individual rights, is requisite in order for man to reap the benefits of social organization. Objectivism does not, however, make any explicit argument that such a government can actually be established and maintained.

Objectivists, of course, universally believe in the practicability and sustainability of limited government. If they believed otherwise, their politics would be futile and impractical, and therefore immoral by their own standards. Since their philosophy lacks any explicit argument for the practicability and sustainability of its core institution, how do they justify their belief?

As we have already seen, Objectivists justify their belief in limited government by gesture to the first century of American republicanism, roughly 1789–1889. (The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 makes a convenient bookend.) This brief golden age of free minds and free enterprise is for Objectivists a “proof of concept” demonstrating the practicability of limited government. The fact that limited government failed, or is in the midst of over a century of slow, ugly failure, does not, for Objectivists, indict limited government itself. Rather, the Objectivist view is that American Constitutional government was doomed to failure from the start because it lacked a proper philosophical foundation. Now that Ayn Rand has provided that foundation, they believe, it has become possible to restore limited government and to maintain it.

Any Objectivist, therefore, can stand on one foot and explain in two words why things have a chance to be different next time: Objectivist philosophy. The question is: does this explanation count for anything, or is it just empty posturing?

In essence, my first two posts outlined formal criticisms of the Objectivist argument for limited government. My contention that the Objectivist politics is incomplete will stand, and graduate from a merely formal objection to a fully substantive one, only if I can show that the Objectivists’ implicit “1787-plus-Objectivism” argument is based on faulty reasoning. (I have already indicated my belief that Ayn Rand’s reasoning was faulty on this point because it was essentially deductive, yet needed to have been essentially inductive.)

Human nature is at the heart of both the Objectivist politics and my own. Essentially, the Objectivist view is that human nature requires a society that enforces the principle of individual rights through the institution of limited government. My view is that human nature precludes the practicability of limited government, irrespective of how badly rights enforcement is needed.

My view, radical antistatism, cannot be judged one way or the other, true or false, from within the framework of the Objectivist politics. This is because I have based my conclusions on evidence beyond the purview of Objectivism, on a much more detailed examination of man-and-the-state than is ever undertaken by Ayn Rand. Either it will turn out that looking in this further detail at human nature as it relates to state power will reveal nothing important or new, or it will turn out that Objectivism stopped short, that indeed it is incomplete, that indeed its reasoning is faulty, and that the evidence it overlooks is not peripheral to the question of human survival, but essential to it.

My next post will look at the true nature of government: what it is, and what really limits it. (Yes, government can be limited — but not by law.) A future post will look at human nature and philosophy, and the limits of philosophy’s power to motivate and direct human activity within government. I will show that neither government nor man is what the Objectivist politics presupposes.

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