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Debate: Objectivists Are Not Libertarians

Or are they?

AFFIRMATIVE:
Libertarian Anarchists Are Collectivists

Ayn Rand

Joanna AndreassonJoanna Andreasson"All kinds of people today call themselves 'libertarians,' especially something calling itself the New Right, which consists of hippies who are anarchists instead of leftist collectivists; but anarchists are collectivists. Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet libertarians combine capitalism and anarchism. That's worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It's a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two bandwagons.…I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect. Anarchists are the scum of the intellectual world of the Left, which has given them up. So the Right picks up another leftist discard. That's the libertarian movement."

This passage is from the question-and-answer session at a 1971 Ford Hall Forum event.

NEGATIVE:
Objectivists Are a Type of Libertarian

Nathaniel Branden

Saratm/FiverrSaratm/Fiverr"If the defining characteristic of the libertarian movement was noninitiation of physical force…and if politically they are not advocating anything that contradicts our wider philosophic viewpoint, then it's completely unreasonable to require them all to be Objectivists.…Libertarianism has come to be understood as the political theory which holds to a minimalist view of the proper function of government, and to that extent Objectivists are libertarians! You can say we're Objectivist libertarians, we're not Catholic libertarians, we're not anarchist libertarians, fine, but we're libertarians."

This passage is from a 1998 interview conducted by Reason's Brian Doherty.

Photo Credit: Saratm/Fiverr

Ayn Rand (1905–1982) was the originator of Objectivism and the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Nathaniel Branden (1930–2014) was the founder of the self-esteem movement and a prominent proponent of Objectivism.

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  • Mauser||

    "Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet libertarians combine capitalism and anarchism"

    Spot on. Either you're for pure capitalism or you're not.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Either you are for small and limited government under Rule of Law or you are not.

  • Mauser||

    Rule of law is important obviously, but both parties have ignored, changed and steamrolled the rule of law pertaining to restricting government. BOTH parties are guilty—name one president since perhaps Coolidge that has promoted the rule of law as paramount.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    +1

  • ||

    Anarchist = anti-ruler. Ruler = one who initiates violence without respect for self-governance or limiting rules. It follows, rulers do not believe in rules for themselves, and usually pay no attention to contradictions in their rule such as punishing others for following their rules. In the end, rules are only for gaining control of others stupid enough to trust in violence as a means of social interaction. Presently, that's the vast majority of the world.

    To be a consistent anarchist one must believe in rules for everyone, including oneself.

    A statist believes a ruler is necessary and must overlook the lack of rules for the rulers, even to the point of "willful blindness". This irrational behavior is destructive psychologically and anti-life, generally and personally. It also contradicts the concept of "rules". If rules exist, they must apply to everyone, a fact the statist ignores.

  • Rat on a train||

    No one is a libertarian.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Ayn says "...anarchists are collectivists."

    What planet is she from?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Collectivist anarchism (also known as anarcho-collectivism) is a revolutionary anarchist doctrine that advocates the abolition of both the state and private ownership of the means of production. It instead envisions the means of production being owned collectively and controlled and managed by the producers themselves.
    Wiki- Collectivist Anarchism

    I suspect she means that unless you are an Anarchist that is only for complete individual autonomy, you find some way to make Anarchy work with some 'volunteer' group. A true Anarchist would not need anyone for any reason, I guess.

  • jay||

    the planet where cause and effect still exists. Collectivists always push for anarchy as a prelude to more collectivism, and they always get their more collectivism out of those situations. Just like socialists always deny the effects of their policies are not the same as their policies, - venezuela isnt socialist, they say, so also anarchists also say that the totalitarianism that comes after the anarchy, isn't anarchy either. So lets dream up some magically existing utopia in our head and only that is the true ideal, ignoring reality.

  • Baelzar||

    The one where you should google "Ancom."

  • Jgalt1975||

    Or "ansoc".

  • Hank Phillips||

    Earth, Russia, Jewish, and she wrote the NAP while trials for War Crimes such as exterminating Jews were winding down. Christian nazis in Germany tried to convince the Truman Administration they were "just like" Americans and the lalternative to commies. In the case of Henry Ford, this was true, so of course she was suspicious. When a kleptocracy party is sure to lose, as after the JFK assassination, they sacrifice someone like Goldwater to shut them up. That happened, but in the process convinced Rand the GOP was unlike the NSDAP and Soviets, both of which collectivized and mistreated Jews. So yes, I can imagine her seeing Republicans as allies and rejecting the LP as likely to draw away support and help the unreliable Dems win. But the truth is that in 2016 the states where the LP got more votes than the difference elected looters of both factions in nearly equal numbers. So Sarwark is right, we steer the entire government toward freedom, and Ayn was wrong about political details of a mixed economy. But Ayn is not infallible like a Pope. I think she made a bad call. So what?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Two things have happened since the days of Ayn Rand, to shove her philosophy to the side, to some extent, in the minds of the popular culture and in science, and I have to believe that both of these points below are true and valid...

    '1) See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG7SSznDYxg for example... Even a Capuchin monkey (not one of the very smartest monkeys) knows unfairness when he or she sees it, and will NOT react strictly rationally. Rational "homo economicus" as in the older models of the "free market", and repeated psychological experiments in many flavors, have shown that we will forego a financial reward (take a financial penalty) to punish people who "don't play fair." It's in our genes, imparted by sociobiology, in the name of tribal cohesion. If your economic model doesn't capture this, it isn't accurate... Or you are going to go and genetically re-engineer us all, to make your model work right?

    '2) As "tech" has advanced, there are more and more forms of pollution to worry about. I know that the EPA goes apeshit way too often, I will not argue that one with you. But as more poisons (wastes) are invented, pollution becomes more of an issue. The free market needs to be regulated around this issue, one way or another.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    2) If you are affected by pollutants, you sue. The courts should be more receptive to pollution lawsuits by average people who can prove their claims.

    Property rights and contract law are the keys to quite a few things that the government wastes money on these days. Pollution, privacy, 3rd party record holding (government illegal searches), etc.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Sad to say, juries in court are even crazier than Government Almighty... It is not for no reason at all, that many refer to the courts as the "lawsuit lottery"... Way-often irrational and inconsistent. I would point to the recent jury award for some very old lady who claimed that her ovarian cancer was due to having used talcum power (baby powder) to dry up her twat, during her long life. No science supports this... But juries are sympathetic to whoever suffers, for whatever reason, and biased against "deep pockets", who can "spare the change" for those who suffer. I am stockpiling baby powder now, preparing for it to cost $50 per ounce!

  • Steve D.||

    Sometimes juries render crazy verdicts, but often they do not. No system is perfect because people are not perfect. If they were, no government would be necessary.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Juries are a check to government abuse of power and appellate courts can be a check to a jury's abuse of power.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Government and the lawyers that run it have allowed damages to be arbitrarily high on some cases and restricted where actual damages could make a Plaintiff whole again.

  • Steve D.||

    It's been a while since I've read Ayn Rand but my recollection is that her philosophy doesn't rest on any particular economic model of behavior. She never claims people always act rationally, although she says that they SHOULD act rationally.

    Behavioral economic theories don't undermine libertarian political philosophy unless you can come up with a way of demonstrating that the state will make better decisions for people than people will make for themselves. Merely demonstrating that people often act irrationally doesn't do this.

  • Juice||

    Rational "homo economicus" as in the older models of the "free market", and repeated psychological experiments in many flavors, have shown that we will forego a financial reward (take a financial penalty) to punish people who "don't play fair."

    It's perfectly rational when you realize that in the real world no transaction takes place in a vacuum. The cheater must be punished or taught a lesson to increase the chances of fairness in future transactions.

  • vek||

    I do believe that at the extremes, this is why anarchism or VERY hardcore applications of the NAP cannot function in the real world.

    Just as communism ignores the individualistic aspects of humans, purist libertarian dogma ignores the pack animal nature we also have.

    This is why I advocate for a VERY limited government, but not NO government. Very limited "social contract," but not NO social contract. Humans want and need some amount of this kind of stuff. We just aren't wired to be pure An-Caps. There may be a very small subset of humans that would thrive and love such a situation, and I'm probably one of the ones that would be fairly favorable to it... But it just doesn't do it for most people.

    A single small nation that was An-Cap could world, assuming they only let in True Believers. But not the whole world.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Amen Vek!!!

  • Steve D.||

    This is a foolish debate -- or, really, a non-debate -- because there is no agreement between the two sides on what the term "libertarian" means. Ayn Rand, as is typical, sets up libertarianism as a straw man. Most libertarians are not anarchists; most believe in a minimal state, which is consistent with what objectivism advocates.

    Ayn Rand hated libertarians because she was paranoid and obsessively jealous about any challenge to what she perceived as her intellectual and moral authority. She and her close supporters reserved their greatest scorn for those who were close but not quite close enough to her, ideologically.

    Libertarianism is a political philosophy only; it doesn't require, as objectivism does, adherence to any particular metaphysics, epistemology, morality. So Branden is right that objectivism is better seen as a subset of a particular type of libertarianism -- minimal state libertarianism.

    Rand probably is wrong that anarchism -- at least, individualist anarchism -- is necessarily incompatible with objectivism. Galt's Gulch was an example of a functioning anarchist-libertarian community, that also was compatible with objectivism.

  • jay||

    "Libertarianism is a political philosophy only; it doesn't require, as objectivism does, adherence to any particular metaphysics, epistemology, morality. "

    Does it require these things for a reason or just because...- Rand hated libertarians and was paranoid/jealous, and wanted to protect her moral authority. If you believe the above is true or can at least see why SHE could see it as true, why toss out random judgements of her as possibly having other motives besides the requirements of her philosophy to feel as strongly as she did.

    Galt's gulch was not some ideal society. It was an emergency place for people to go, which was supposed to be temporary. The fact that it had no government does not mean she implied not having a government would work in practice. It was only put in place because of the emergency of the situation, and because it was private property, strictly limited to a small number of mostly geniuses.

    In the real world, only people whose goal was anarchism would be irrational enough overall to try it, completely ignorant that it would result in exactly what always results when some actual socialist thug used anarchism as a prelude to solving the anarchy, namely totalitarianism which always come out of anarchism. If you want to get 10 people together and try anarchism on a desert island, it could work. But having a society including everyone, but without a govt, would not sustain itself.

  • lafe.long||

    ^^^^ Good points. I came here to say this.

  • vek||

    Exactly Jay. Anarchism could work ONLY in a small setting, where you only allowed in True Believers. It could never function on a global scale. Anyone who thinks it could is a fool IMO.

  • ||

    Steve D.: Is it "typical" for you to skip defining words, using a "straw man" argument? You just did it. A.R. rarely did so. It was her practice to be crystal clear. That was one of the things I admired and appreciated about her. She started her lecture at F.H.F. on "Consensus: The New Fascism" by defining terms like socialism, fascism, and communism.

    Ayn didn't define anarchism but it is clear she used it to mean anti-ruler/rules. That was not correct. At 12 I realized govt. local, state and national was coercive, like the gangs in my ghetto. Since I was against coercion and for voluntaryism I identified as an anarchist, i.e., against rulers, not rules. Rulers rule by initiation of violence. They have no rules for themselves or any respect for reason. To be for rulers, even a minimum ruled system, is to be anti-rule, in principle.

  • Steve D.||

    Ayn Rand prided herself on being crystal clear, but I think she often was not, and this passage is a good example of that. She takes no care to distinguish different types of libertarians. On its face, the passage appears to characterize all libertarians as anarchists and collectivists. But not all libertarians are anarchists, and not all anarchists are leftists and collectivists. Murray Rothbard, for example, was an anarcho-capitalist, and one couldn't possibly describe him as left wing. He was a strong believer in individual rights who believed that the way to enforce those rights was through non-state means. I'm not convinced what he advocated was workable, but I'm not convinced it wasn't, either.

    But in any event, Ayn Rand's writings completely ignore these distinctions and subtleties, which is why I think it's fair to say much of her argument on the issue was a kind of straw-man argument.

    Rothbard's article on the cult-like qualities of Rand and her immediate supporters is eye-opening.

  • RoyMo||

    Right from the horse's mouth.

  • Furd Turgeson||

    I told you, we're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting, by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two thirds majority in the case of more....

  • John Donohue||

    Answer this, all libertarians: what percentage of libertarians support anarchism?

    With her answer in 1971, Ayn Rand did not address all who called themselves libertarian and supported proper watchman government deploying retaliatory force, that protected lives and properties ... they were fine, but really they were Objectivists.

    Instead, she was sharply perceptive of the real power in libertarianism of the time, namely coming from the left, bringing in full anarchism, flaunting the "non-initiation" principle even though anarchism fosters absolute victimization.

    If anything, her fierce condemnation of anarchism in that answer was moderate.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Anarchists like Jeff Hummell were infiltrating the LP when I found it in 1980, and I imagined Ayn was right, for every one I questioned was either a bomb-throwing communist or "former" communist. Petr Beckmann, who at the time was on both the Reason and TIA boards convinced me otherwise. Today we are instead infiltrated by rejected mystical republicans whose ONLY concern is to bring back the Saudi-style Comstock laws passed during Reconstruction. Like the lying anarchists, this lot too wants the LP to fail in its mission to restore freedom the way it was destroyed by socialist and mystical fanatics: spoiler votes that repeal bad laws. Anarchists are the same violent communists in every newspaper worldwide for a century before 1972. Republican bigots likewise are the same ideology that passed the Comstock laws and--like Germany's Christian Nationalsocialists--will die in their efforts to bring them back.

  • Hank Phillips||

    When the GOP put Goldwater in front of the train, Ayn misunderstood. He was the sacrifice in an election already lost, but to her it looked like the party was different from the Jew-hating Christian nationalsocialists, Soviets, and Henry Ford. To her, from Russia, new to elections, it looked like the GOP could be trusted and the LP might draw away spoiler votes and make them lose to the Dems--whom she regarded as much like nazis before JFK was murdered (The Fascist New Frontier). I see this as an honest mistake. Just now the states where we covered the gap elected both types of looters nearly 50/50. We nudge both parties to repeal bad laws, as Sarwark explains. Ayn was not a Pope, objectivists are not religious. She made mistakes--just not very many compared to her detractors.

  • ||

    If all we need to know about a libertarian is that he lives by the NAP, and the worldwide political paradigm is based on the initiation of violence, then to be a libertarian is to be anti-present governments, not anti-govt. For example, libertarians pride themselves on self-governance, an ordered life, not a rejection of all order.

    It is confusing to some that libertarians, i.e., voluntaryists, call themselves anarchists. They mean to boycott all present governments, not the act of being governed by voluntary consent. What libertarian would say a person who chooses a social contract is not libertarian? None. Libertarians do not reject objective rules for social interaction that does not involve coercion. That would be nonsense, a contradiction. One can't live by a principle and reject a way to implement the principle. A subjective implementation would be useless. To live among others, an objective ethics is needed. That requires agreed-upon rules, not rulers. Choosing a ruler is the rejection of self-governance and the acceptance of coercion, the opposite of the NAP.

  • vek||

    That is an important distinction! As a doable in the real world thing, I think we need to switch as much government as possible to being voluntary programs. If you switched things to fee for use, we would likely cut a lot of useless government, because nobody would support it, but we'd also get more of what we actually want. I'd gladly pay even MORE money than I do now if those morons would fix the damn pot holes that are everywhere! Some people would prefer more parks or whatever their pet projects are.

  • Dr. Zev||

    I wrote a quick review of Atlas Shrugged back in 2014: (see http://www.LeviCar.com/#AtlasShrugged)

    "I read it cover-to-cover, over a thousand pages, and found it hopelessly out-of-date, elitist, and immoral, and some of the dialogue was hard to understand. To me, it shows the dangers of Libertarianism. Some of Ms. Rand's basic tenets have since been contradicted by scientific research." — Joshua Zev Levin, Ph.D.

    The "scientific research" refers to behavioral research, like the videos involving Capuchin monkey (cited above), where fairness and sharing are shown to be regarded as positives.

  • macsnafu||

    All Objectivists are libertarian. Not all libertarians are Objectivist.