This is the tenth entry in my Antistatism Series.
Objectivism has nothing substantive to say about the private ownership of firearms, and nothing at all to say about the revolutionary and radical implications of the Second Amendment. Objectivists, in the aggregate, tend to follow Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff in thinking of the right to keep and bear arms as a peripheral issue in politics. After all, â€œA political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.â€ For Objectivists per se, there is no concern that Americans might ever need to shoot their way to a free country; they intend to think, write, and talk themselves into that state.
Since Objectivism itself has no substantive position on the right to keep and bear arms, Objectivists have assumed varying positions. Some are trenchant supporters of the Second Amendment; some are tepid supporters; some seem to want no truck with guns at all. If there is a consensus among Objectivists, it is this: Individuals have the right of personal self-defense, and a proper government must permit the personal ownership of small firearms at least for this reason, and probably for sport and target shooting as well. Notably, there is not a consensus amongst Objectivists against what is presently called â€œreasonable gun-control.â€
Leonard Peikoff, for example, argues that the right to self-defense implies that citizens should be permitted to own only those firearms suited to the purpose of personal defense or other â€œdomestic use[s],â€ and that the private ownership of fully automatic weapons, or other weapons that are demonstrably ill-suited to stopping a burglar or dropping a moose, should be outlawed. Given the radical meaning of the Second Amendment, that it exists to empower the people to forcibly check the expansion of government power, it is clear from his position here that Peikoff either misunderstands, rejects as outmoded, or rejects fundamentally the principles of the Second Amendment. (Lest it appear I might agree with Peikoff on this issue, let me pause to note that, while I have argued in this series that the Second Amendment is outmoded, I have not said what implications, if any, this has for contemporary gun-control debates.)
As I have already alluded, Objectivists have no interest in violent revolution, except to preempt one through intellectual and cultural revolution. As is plain from their reverence for the Declaration of Independence, Objectivists agree with the Founders on right of revolution (in theory). It should also be plain, from their treatment of gun rights, that they part ways with the Founders, radically, when the question arises of what the people should do when, in the the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.
No. That is wrong. Objectivists do not part ways with the Founders when this question arises; they part ways with the Founders when it doesnâ€™t arise.
Though I am not aware of any serious or extended Objectivist argument that the right of revolution â€” backed up by popular sovereignty, in turn backed up by force of arms â€” has been superannuated by Ayn Randâ€™s political philosophy, such an argument is tacit in the Objectivistsâ€™ silence. The tacit argument is that, once an objective government has been established, it will usher in an era of perpetual justice and domestic tranquility. Jeffersonâ€™s famous Tree of Liberty will no longer need to be refreshed. Everyone will live happily ever after.
Objectivists seem to think: Since ideas move history, and since Ayn Randâ€™s capitalism is the ultimate (or insuperable) pinnacle of political ideology, once Capitalism is established, history will end; there will be nowhere to go but onward. (Picture it: there is an almost Egyptian permanence to it: sometime in the distant but plausible future, President Galt Ramses Cincinnatus LVII of Atlantis presides, like his predecessors, over a state powerful enough to wipe all other states off of the face of the earth. After a suitable term in office, he refuses to stand for reelection (there being no need for term limits in utopia), and beats his sword into a ploughshare, like all before him, and all who will come after. On and on, ad astra, ad nauseam.)
It is inconceivable to Objectivism that a proper government, once established, would ever need to be overthrown. This is because reality never enters into the rationalistic and utopian Objectivist conception of the state. This stands in stark and unflattering contrast to the reality-oriented statecraft of the Founders, who recognized that a disarmed citizenry has, in the end, no means to enforce its rights. Objectivism, despite meaningless, airy formulae to the contrary, objectively intends a polity of subjects, who are to be granted privileges, not a polity of citizens, who will enforce a claim to rights.