Two Objectivists on the Election

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Note added on Novermber 17, 2006: After careful evaluation of the evidence and some of the views pointed to here on my own, I have changed my mind. I was mistaken to side with Robert Tracinski. Some of my reasoning can be found at the above link.

Via Noumenal Self and The Primacy of Awesome comes Leonard Peikoff's take (apparently from a recent Q&A) on the upcoming elections. Because there does not appear to be a permanent link (and it is relatively short anyway), I will quote it in its entirety, minus the question.

How you cast your vote in the coming election is important, even if the two parties are both rotten. In essence, the Democrats stand for socialism, or at least some ambling steps in its direction; the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.

Socialism -- a fad of the last few centuries -- has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast -- the destroyer of man since time immemorial -- is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because "both are bad."

The survival of this country will not be determined by the degree to which the government, simply by inertia, imposes taxes, entitlements, controls, etc., although such impositions will be harmful (and all of them and worse will be embraced or pioneered by conservatives, as Bush has shown). What does determine the survival of this country is not political concretes, but fundamental philosophy. And in this area the only real threat to the country now, the only political evil comparable to or even greater than the threat once posed by Soviet Communism, is religion and the Party which is its home and sponsor.

The most urgent political task now is to topple the Republicans from power, if possible in the House and the Senate. This entails voting consistently Democratic, even if the opponent is a "good" Republican.

In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life -- which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world.

If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner.
With the approach of another election, we once again see a difference of opinion between major Objectivist intellectuals. Robert Tracinski, in a much longer article, recently discussed his initial leaning in the same direction, followed by his settling on the opposite conclusion -- to vote for the Republicans.
[I]f you want to have a debate over how to fight and win the War on Terrorism, you'll have to have it within the right. The left contributes nothing but proposals for surrender, appeasement, and passivity. As far as the war is concerned, that "D" next to a candidate's name on the ballot stands for "defeat."

A loss for the Democratic Party in November's election would be a crushing blow. If they lose when every short-term political trend was in their favor, everyone will see it as a public repudiation of the Democratic Party. I advocate this outcome, not because I think it will cause soul-searching and a change of policies within the left -- though that may well be the short-term result -- but simply because the decay of the left is the long-term trend of the past three decades, and we should do everything we can to hasten it.

The more the left fades from the scene, the more the national political debate will be a debate within the right. The American system is not friendly to monolithic one-party rule. The moment one party begins to dominate, it tends to split apart along its internal fault lines. The more the Republicans dominate American politics, therefore, the more intensely they will debate among themselves -- precisely the kinds of debates I have described above.

I can't guarantee that such a debate would produce the best result -- I would like to see the emergence of a small-government, pro-immigration, pro-war, secular right -- but I can guarantee that such a debate would be more interesting and much more productive than the debate we're having with the left right now. [bold added]
Each man makes very good points, although I disagree with Peikoff that "anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life".

Why? First, the manner in which electoral results affect the nation's public debate is a complicated topic. As things currently stand -- with small government and religious conservatives allied against the socialists -- each election ends up being exactly the kind of "choice" Peikoff describes. But what if the left were finally quashed in this election? Although a political realignment might also happen through the left joining forces with the religious right (e.g., via the environmentalist agenda) I think Tracinski has a good point.

Second, there is the only slightly less complicated matter of how we should best recover from our poor prosecution, so far, of the war. I do not simply hate the left blindly. I have noticed that they have no interest in fighting the current war at all and -- far worse -- I fear what kinds of restrictions they would quickly impose on freedom of speech if they ever were to regain power. No freedom of speech coupled with a huge overdose of multiculturalism will also put a "rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer" in charge. It will just be the other rotten killer: Islam rather than evangelical Christianity. The left in power again would manage to degrade our position in this war no matter where we started.

Even aside from that, I am not so sure that kicking the Republicans out will necessarily slow down efforts to inject religion into government -- because the left has shown that it is not above pandering to religionists, including the Christians they allegedly hate. (Where were Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson during the Schiavo debacle? Hint: Not defending Mr. and Mrs. Schiavo's previous agreement to "pull the plug" or the scientific evidence in the case or the rule of law.) At present, the religious right are allied with small government conservatives and the left is trying to court the religious right. We can continue having three factions, two of which compete to make the religionists the kingmakers. Or we can knock out the left and have two clearly opposing factions. I would far prefer the latter scenario, if at all possible.

In addition, I see the left as tending towards totalitarianism if in power (See "restrictions" above.) and -- as we saw in numerous incidents of violence and vandalism in the last presidential election -- irrational to the point of violence under the right conditions.

It is interesting that I learned of the Peikoff piece today since two postings at Sister Todjah, a conservative blog, had me thinking about just these issues. First, there is the matter of religious conservatives being unreliable allies of limited government, which Sister tells you in her "About" entry:
I've never looked back nor regretted my change from liberal to conservative, even when my party has sometimes not acted conservative - but that mostly seems to be happening on fiscal matters.
So the goals of the socialists are, apparently, tolerable so long as the government, say, forces our kids to pray in public schools (rather than abolishing them). Great.

But then we also have this (via Glenn Reynolds), which Sister quotes from The Huffington Post:
But whether it is hubris, loony tunes, or both, the White House's freakish calm about the elections makes me as nervous as the hell we seem to be headed for. Therefore we should all be on alert. If for whatever reason we don't win back Congress in November the only real answer will be to take to the streets. [formatting removed, bold added]
And this is what they're like without fangs....

This is a step beyond Al Gore's attempt to steal the 2000 election and reminds me of the following quote of Ayn Rand's that I dredged up when the loser -- a leftist -- of Mexico's recent presidential election did just that.
The only power of a mob, as against an individual, is greater muscular strength -- i.e., plain, brute physical force. The attempt to solve social problems by means of physical force is what a civilized society is established to prevent. The advocates of mass civil disobedience admit that their purpose is intimidation. A society that tolerates intimidation as a means of settling disputes -- the physical intimidation of some men or groups by others -- loses its moral right to exist as a social system, and its collapse does not take long to follow. [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 256]
I think the left is dying out, knows it, and will try to take us with it if it gets the chance. I think having the left in power remains a greater short-term threat (due to their suicidal levels of nihilism) than having the right remain in power. I'm with Tracinski on this one.

-- CAV


10-23-06: (1) Peikoff's Q & A now appear at Capitalism Magazine. (2) The Inspector voices concerns similar to mine.
10-24-06: (1) Mike N argues for split government here and here. (2) Via the trackback to Primacy of Awesome are links to two related discussions.
10-27-06: (1) Nick Provenzo agrees with Peikoff, but is unhappy with the way he presents his argument. (That's me in the "Amen corner" on the latter count.) (2) The original thread from Objectivism Online is here.
10-29-06: Michael Hurd weighs in in favor of a Democratic Congress, but stops short of Peikoff's advocacy of voting only for Democrats.
10-30-06: (1) Myrhaf says to "Wear a Gasmask and Vote Republican". He gives excellent examples of the threat to freedom of speech posed by democrats, as well as of their totalitarian tendencies. (2) Also, via Myrhaf's post are several others: Zach Oakes also advocates voting Republican. Advocating votes for the Democrats are Diana Hsieh, David Landy, and John Lewis.

The last of these gives the best rationale for voting Democratic.
In my view, if our choice is between two forms of welfare redistribution and military timidity, we would be best off with a president who openly espouses these ideas, and makes no claims to support the opposite. This would not lead to better policies, but it would result in clarity, a point of focus for an opposition, and a better chance for a true alternative to take hold.
If I thought freedom of speech could survive the rule of the left as it is today, I would be far closer to being on board with that.
11-1-06: (1) I have not read any of these yet as of this morning, but they are all "pro-" Democrat except the last: Craig Biddle, John Lewis, Andrew Medworth, and Myrhaf. (2) Added second link for Mike N.
at 10-24 update.
11-17-06: Added prefatory note on withdrawing my agreement with Tracinski.


Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"I think the left is dying out, knows it, and will try to take us with it if it gets the chance."

But can it? As you yourself admit, the Left is the losing side and they know it. Isn't the struggle for the future of the US also a war of ideas, much like the struggle against Islam? Whatever practical damage the Left can cause, ideologically they're run dry. "Taking to the streets" in case of electorial defeat is not an argument. And can you see a Leftist coup attempt succeeding? Which side would come out the winner after such a civil war?

The religionists on the other hand today are bold, assertive, righteous. And they have arguments that a large number of Americans can agree with. They hold the future in their hands and they know it. I'm with Peikoff on this one.

Gus Van Horn said...

I don't think the left would even get so far as a civil war. My argument there is that given how they act now, we don't even want to know what they would be like if they ever were in charge again.

My main fear with the left is that it still poses a greater short-term threat than the right in terms of what it would do once in power (particularly if they held Congress and the Presidency after 2008). They would attack freedom of speech, which would be a real catastrophe if they succeeded. More immediately, they would quickly de-fund the war effort. While there are some good arguments for leaving Iraq, there are still some good ones for staying, at least for a while longer. Pulling a "Vietnam", though is not the way we should leave, if we do.

But on to the larger point. You say, "Isn't the struggle for the future of the US also a war of ideas...?" Yes. It is. But if the left wipes out alternative media, how will we fight it? Furthermore, what of my point that the left and the secular right both are vying for the favor of the religionists? We have our work cut out for us on the intellectual front no matter what, but I'd far rather see the religious side being opposed for a change. A GOP split could get us there.

In our current social/intellectual climate, much of our participation in politics is along the lines of supporting the side that will give us more time to fight for cultural change. I do not think things have reached the point where voting Democratic is a sound strategy.

Myrhaf said...

Harry Binswanger endorsed withholding a vote for the Republicans. Is Leonard Peikoff saying that Harry Binswanger and Robert Tracinski don't understand Objectivism?

I respect Dr. Peikoff, but I agree with Gus Van Horn that figuring out which party is the lesser of two evils is complicated and knowledgable Objectivists can err either way.

What bothers me about the Democrats is that they are becoming more and more radicalized. They show elements of totalitarianism: contempt for truth, contempt for free elections, contempt for individual rights, contempt for free speech. They are far worse than the party of FDR that Dr. Peikoff seems to think they are; they begin to resemble the party of Lenin and Mao. Dr. Peikoff is extrapolating the potential for harm from the religious right, and that is a valid concern -- but looking at the actual parties, as they stand today, the Democrats are more dangerous.

Gus Van Horn said...


This is not, as an old ad campaign might put it, your father's Democratic party.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Peikoff's reasoning, but if the dems are really,"a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer" I can't see how putting them in power does anything to avoid the outcome Peikoff describe's. We need an alternative to the republicans, the fact that we don't have one is the problem, voting for the dems doesn't make the problem go away. Does it buy time? Well did the fact that Carter was one of the worst presidents ever help the popularity of the religious right?

Gus Van Horn said...

"Well did the fact that Carter was one of the worst presidents ever help the popularity of the religious right?"

No. (Which I think is your point.) It showed what a disaster the Dems were and allowed the Republicans to offer an alternative. Unfortunately, it was the religious right, and not some principled faction of the small gov't branch of the Republicans that eventually left with the momentum.

Before they won in 1994, the Republicans were sometimes magnificent (and represented a clearly better alternative) as an opposition party, especially when they rallied to prevent the socialization of medicine. In that respect, this election looks doesn't look much like '94 at all. (The Dems are lesser -- due to impotence -- of two evils at best, which is Peikoff's point, I think.)

Split government may be best, as I have seen some argue, and if that is Peikoff's goal in this election, then he has a much stronger point -- except that their ability to de-fund the war would make them a but too powerful. For split gov't., the best long-term prospect appears to me for the Republicans to have slimmer majorities after this one, and then lose a branch in 2008.

But nothing raelly looks terribly good to me....

Anonymous said...


It occured to me...

You said,

"I think the left is dying out, knows it, and will try to take us with it if it gets the chance. I think having the left in power remains a greater short-term threat (due to their suicidal levels of nihilism) than having the right remain in power."

Perhaps his point is that the Left is already discredited, and will be recognized for the moonbats that they are. Whereas the right, not being totally discredited, will be able to get away with more... even though they aren't as nihilistic, they will accomplish more nihilism.

I had that idea 4 seconds ago so I haven't had much time to chew. Figured I would throw that into the fray.

Gus Van Horn said...


Sorry for the late reply.

I think that the liberals' having been discredited is precisely Peikoff's point.

My disagreement with him is on whether it is safe to put them in the driver's seat just yet.

If it is sufficiently unsafe, then we won't have an intellectual battle to fight.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps his point is that no matter what we do, they won't make it to the driver's seat. Their collapse is so inevitable that we'd just be buying time before the inevitable takeover of the right.

But this is all speculation. Why won't he just say what he means? His wording indicates he's very serious, so why won't he give us more than a few fleeting sentences to go on?

Gus Van Horn said...

Your point about him offering this as a way to buy time is interesting. Peikoff has in the past admitted to being a pessimist by inclination. If he thinks the total collapse of the left is inevitable, then this would mean he sees it as a bad thing, unlike Tracinski.

At first, I was inclined (and perhaps I am not incorrect) to read this like something from Ayn Rand's Q&A: Peikoff thinking on his feet. The problem with this pet theory is that he published the remark on his site later and perhaps had it published at Capitalism Magazine as well. (They could have also just picked it up.) This would indicate that he really does hold this view in its entirety.

But if THAT is the case, perhaps a longer piece is in the works. Or perhaps I have missed something. Either he ought to say what he means or he has. But I'm not going to simply take somenone's word that something is immoral on his abrupt say-so, and I don't think Peikoff would expect me to.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, the "immoral" part assumes that one agrees with him that the Republicans are the bigger threat, and is deliberately choosing the worse candidate.

I noticed a lot of people think he meant that differently, but give it another read...

Gus Van Horn said...

At HBL, there has been lots of very good discussion. From it (as well as TIA Daily) comes another angle: What is the central issue of this election?

Peikoff and Tracinski differ here, too. LP says that it is whether religion is to have a bigger role in government. RT holds that it remains the war. I am inclined to agree with Tracinski here, too.

I do not see the Republicans necessarily winning a mandate to ram religion down our throats if they win. In fact, it is clear that they will win in spite of their bad behavior, and this would include their religious shenanigans.

One more thing. Someone at HBL pointed out that whatever disaster befalls us whenever the Dems take the reins (think Carter) gives the Republicans all the more credibility, and that we should let them stay in power for THAT reason.

This last is an excellent point and it strongly supports the Tracinski argument.

Anonymous said...

That last point is an angle I hadn't considered; that the republicans will be their own worst enemies if they stay in control. I'll have to think on that.

But anyway, I'm going to have to disagree with both side of this, lol.

Here's the way I see it... (grabbed this from my latest update)

If I look at the real impact on my life and safety, I'd say the biggest threats are, in this order:

1) The breakdown of law and order caused by left-liberal nihilism in the justice system (i.e. coddling criminals), combined with gun-grabbing. No, this isn't an ideological movement, but I must be ALIVE to advocate ideas.

2) Environmentalism. Oh, yes: They will put you on trial. (see Andy's article on the new Nuremberg) You will find more principled athiests than you will find people who are willing to oppose, in a principled manner, the environmentalist movement.

3) The religious right. This is now vindicated with big-government "conservatism." I would be glad to vote to "throw the bums out" if it weren't for the first two on this list. As soon as religious embrace of environmentalism becomes mainstream, it will bump up to #1, I think. If Dr. Peikoff's point is that this is going to happen soon, then I can see where he is coming from, and could be convinced (if he would only do some convincing along with simply declaring his position)

4) Islamism. Yes, I'm putting it as #4. We can hurt ourselves a lot more effectively than those primitive pukes ever will. I do not agree with those who put this as issue #1. If I lived in Israel or Sweden or France, it would be different.

Gus Van Horn said...

Fair enough, though I'd put any serious threat to freedom of speech on top of any such list. Right now, I think the left is worse in that respect.

Anonymous said...

Which brings us nicely to today's issue, with the leftist multiculturalist thought police and all...