Q. Is it immoral for an Objectivist to join a political party? Why doesn’t the Ayn Rand Institute have its own political party?

A. It is not immoral to join a political party, although given the state of the major parties today, it may well be. The reason for this is that your own integrity requires that you must not compromise your principles. No party today stands for America’s founding principles in a manner with which an Objectivist could agree, and the likelihood is that supporting any party would imply your sanction of immoral principles.

In today’s context, however, there remain legitimate reasons for joining a party. Acting to defend yourself against government coercion, so long as it involves no sacrifice on your part — such as imposing on yourself the “duty” of becoming a politician to change the world — is a legitimate, moral course. For example, it may be moral to join a party with which you agree on basic principles, but disagree on details and strategy. If a party proposes to end Medicare, for example, you may support them with integrity, and a compromise over details and tactics, such as whether phasing it out will take 5 or 10 years. This is not a compromise over principle.

However, there is no morally acceptable compromise you can make with someone or some party that involves your support and sanction for the continued existence or expansion of today’s government health care system. (For policies such as this, neither of the major parties deserves any rational person’s endorsement.) There may be tactical reasons for joining a party, e.g., to oppose a particularly vicious candidate or policy. For example, joining the Republican Party to oppose George W. Bush today — or in 1992 to oppose his father — would be such a step.

Alternately, you may join a party in order to effect a more radical, long-term change, which is clearly more important than a tactical vote against the greater of two evils. The political vacuum created by pragmatism must be filled with better ideas: individual rights and capitalism. (The merits of either course depend entirely on their practicality; Objectivism does not endorse martyrdom.) However, changing a party is a very difficult and long-term project. In general, local constituencies are as pragmatic as the candidates they select, and their constituents are generally more concerned with opinion polls than with fundamental principles.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that this is impractical and very frustrating, isolated constituencies are more highly principled and open to better ideas. For example, Minnesota’s election of Jesse Ventura — who is out-spoken, radical and right on a number of issues — shows both how change is possible, and how disgusted many Americans are with the Democratic and Republican parties.

All these difficulties underscore the reason that the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) — for whom I do not speak but whom I do endorse — does not have a political party: it is too soon.

Politics is a derivative field. Political ideas depend, particularly, on moral premises, and, deeper, on epistemological and metaphysical ideas. Ayn Rand once explained her this as follows: “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason…Reason in epistemology leads to egoism in ethics, which leads to capitalism in politics.”1 What is required before the general population and the political parties are ready for pro-capitalist ideas, is education — philosophic education — and that is ARI’s primary function.

Objectivism holds that the most important means of changing a culture is through education, particularly in the realm of basic philosophic ideas. America is no longer guided by its founding premises. The same basic philosophy shared by socialism and religion — altruism and collectivism — augmented by progressive education, has created a population that believes increasingly in opinion polls, self-sacrifice, and service to the group. This is why we have the political parties and candidates that we do. To change the parties, we need to re-learn and spread the basic ideas upon which America was founded: the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Footnote: 1 “Brief Summary”, The Objectivist, September, 1971, 1