Ayn Rand and the Perversion of Libertarianism

Posted by drjmetz 3 years, 4 months ago to Philosophy
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I would be interested to hear the Gulch's thoughts. Comments are not allowed on the article itself.
SOURCE URL: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/lance-klafeta-ayn-rand-and-the-perversion-of-libertarianism

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    Posted by $ MikeMarotta 3 years, 4 months ago
    So much is wrong with the original article that I was tempted to give the post itself -1, but relented because this is at least worth discussing in order to expose the errors.

    To start, author offers a definition of "libertarian" that is so broad as to be amorphous. Klafeta subsumes under "libertarian" both American republicans and federalists of the revolutionary war period as well as modern unaffiliated left wing anarchists. Then the author dismisses the former. So, yes, Ayn Rand is easily an opponent of left wing anarchism.

    To take the first assertion with actual substance, the author claims:
    Her justification of the state is derived from a Hobbesian state of nature theory:
    “...a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into chaos and gang warfare....” [The Virtue of Selfishness, 152; pb 112]

    Ayn Rand lived through the Russian Civil War. It was a time when armed gangs claiming to be the government fought in the streets and innocents caught by them or between them were shot wholesale. So, her opinions on the need for a central monopoly on force were, indeed, based on personal experience. But her philosophical justifcations for government, and the determination of its nature, and the prescription for the ideal government were derived from first principles and proceeded logically; and, to the point in question, were validated against empirical evidence. And there is too much of that, sadly. From the horrors of the Second Congo War, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the chaos in Iraq, Afghanistan, and then Syria, to the death squads of Brazil, Argentina, and El Salvador, there is no lack of physical proof that absent sufficient central authority, localized gangs will commit atrocities.

    The author piles errors on top of each other:
    To Rand, the essential characteristic of the state is that it possesses a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. How does she justify this monopoly or national sovereignty? She accepts it as a given, something not requiring a justification, and demands that an-archy, the negation of the proposition, justify itself.

    Her concept of national sovereignty is then something transcendental, existing separate and apart from individuals. and beyond the right of the individual to accept or reject according to his or her own reason.

    As stated above, Rand did not accept the state as a given. She went to great lengths to explain why govenment is necessary what the attributes of the best government. (See: "Man's Rights" and "The Nature of Government". which appeared in both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and "Government Financing in a Free Society" from VOS. But, see, also "Galt's Speech" and much else.)

    The author then glides from "government" in the abstract to "national sovereignty." As patriotic an American as Ayn Rand was, she never endorsed "national sovereignty" as an unvalidated primary. In fact, Ayn Rand warned against "Balkanization" the establishment of myriad sovereign nations defined not by principles of law but by ethnicity.

    Finally, contrary to the quote above, Ayn Rand specifically endorsed every individual's right to accept or reject the government of a nation, simply by emigrating as she did. To her, immigration derived from self-interest. If you can make a better life for yourself, even by illegally gaining entry to another place, then do it. She did.

    The author next descends into ad hominem argument. For example, she did not like men who wore facial hair or listened to Mozart, and if you didn’t give them up you were unfit for Rand’s inner circle. About that, there may be no argument. However, like her preference for operetta music, "tiddly-wink music' she admitted, it is irrelevant. Just as it is appropriate, when discussing the ideas of Wittgenstein, Russell, or Popper, that we do not delve into their quirks. But Ayn Rand is somehow special because the original article is not the first putatively "philosophical" criticism of Objectivism to take the low road to personal attack.

    (more follows later)
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  • Posted by $ MikeMarotta 3 years, 4 months ago
    (continuing). The author wholly misunderstands and confutes the reason why Objectivism denounces the initiatiion of physical force, and the nature of literary devices in romantic ficiton.
    Even the pledge which all Libertarian Party members must sign is taken directly from her admonition, “I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.”
    Ayn Rand’s writings are not entirely consistent on the point of non-violence either. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark resorts to the use of dynamite. In Atlas Shrugged, Ragnar Danneskjold engages in piracy on the high seas and even shells a factory which has been nationalized. In a clandestine rescue mission, Dagny Taggart shoots a guard who stood in the way of her desired end.

    In the first place, the abandonment of aggression is a consequence of the prior agreement to live together. It comes from the necessity of trade and voluntary exchange as the modes of social engagement. Force and the abandonment of it are negatives. Values begin with positives. If the (so-called) Libertarian Party makes this pledge an intellectual short-cut or an easy wrapper for a complex treatise, that says nothing about Ayn Rand or Objectivism.

    “Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.
    “It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use. No, I do not share his evil or sink to his concept of morality: I merely grant him his choice, destruction, the only destruction he had the right to choose: his own. He uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction. A holdup man seeks to gain wealth by killing me; I do not grow richer by killing a holdup man. I seek no values by means of evil, nor do I surrender my values to evil."
    -- Galt's Speech

    In the context of novels that the author, Lance Klafeta, cites, the heroes are acting in retaliation to aggression. Roark, Rearden, and the others had their intellectual property stolen by others who left them no legal recourse. In fact, Rearden told the government to come and seize his metal as he was powerless to stop them. It was Danneskjoeld acting in response as his avenger who leveled the foundry of a looter. The guard whom Dagny shot abandoned his clain to life by refusing to make a choice. In any case, all of those were literary devices. Ayn Rand never advocated rebellion. In fact, when the question of gun control came up at a Ford Hall Forum, she specifically denounced such range-of-the-moment thinking as armed rebellion against the government.

    In the event of economic upheaval, ruined by unemployment and inflation, tenants and home owners may refuse to make rent and mortgage payments. The unemployed may seize vacant land and begin to farm, and factory workers may realize they can run things without stock holders.
    The author falls into the common error of all so-called left wing "libertarian" anarchists. Having read and appreciated Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and knowing about the League for Industrial Democracy and other similar histories, I get it: workers can run the factories. Ayn Rand spoke up on behalf of labor unions. What motivated collectives of workers cannot do - have never done because they cannot do - is create new means of production. They can seize the ones that exist. They might be able to run them well enough. But in the best socialist utopia, there will be no new ideas.

    Last month, I gave a talk to a computer security group about Charles Babbage. I have been continuiing my research by reading old books about old times. The Age of Steam was the first industrial revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution was the Age of Electricity. If the workers of the world had listened to Marx in 1848, they never would have known that second wave which lit the world only beginning 1878.

    State-sponsored hackers from North Korea and China can and do compromise security here in the USA, stealing intellectual property, stealing state secrets. But the Internet was born here, not there. No worker's paradise created the personal computer. No clever college kid in Russia, China, or Cuba changed the world by building boxes in his dorm room. That is why Ayn Rand's ideas influenced and continue to inform innovators.
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    • Posted by 3 years, 4 months ago
      I don't understand why you would have given this post a -1, especially since the response you gave was excellent - and precisely why I posted it in the first place. I was hoping to learn from the experience of those here, which I have, and am all the more enriched from the experience. Thank you for taking the time to enumerate your responses this way. I found it extremely valuable.
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      • Posted by $ MikeMarotta 3 years, 4 months ago
        It was out of deference to you, personally, that I did not vote down your post. The article by Lance Klafeta is close to spam. People who consider themselves Objectivists disagree with various formal philosophical statements made by Ayn Rand. There is a peer-reviewed academic journal, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS for short). But that article fell far short.

        I responded to your request for comment out of benevolence, assuming that you do not know much about Ayn Rand's works. She is often associated with libertarianism, though not at all by any choice of hers. See this entry in the Ayn Rand Lexicon: http://aynrandlexicon.com/ayn-rand-id.... In the general sense, someone who advocates for personal liberty is a "libertarian." But note, as Lucky pointed out, that the author of that essay equates libertarianism and socialism. See my response below.
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        • Posted by $ puzzlelady 3 years, 4 months ago
          The morphing of concepts is a fascinating phenomenon to observe. Libertarianism grew out of classical Liberal ideals of individual rights. But the neo-liberals have transmogrified liberal tenets into socialist notions of egalitarian rights, including the right to take from others to level out what people should be allowed to have. With ideas as with lifeforms, it is the raw struggle of survival of... the survivors. If natural selection won't do it, unnatural selection is improvised. The dark side of the mother of invention...
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          • Posted by $ blarman 3 years, 4 months ago
            And that morphing of liberalism from the classical liberalism of the Founders to modern-day "liberalism" (really socialism/communism) was instigated by none other than that champion of Progressivism: Woodrow Wilson. He knew that before he could successfully pervert the American system he had to disassociate the Founders principles from what they actually meant to what he wanted it to mean, paving way for an imperial President with broad "discretionary" powers. You can see this in his academic writings long before he became President.
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            • Posted by $ puzzlelady 3 years, 4 months ago
              Well said, blarman. Of course, Wilson didn't do it by himself. He may have even been a tool, albeit willing. It's going on today, with the innocent-sounding label, "progressive".
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        • Posted by 3 years, 4 months ago
          I have read a few of her works (aside from the obvious ones, I've read through some of the transcripts of interviews that she's had, as well as some of TV appearances and a video set from ARI). My unread audiobook library has several more books of hers that I have yet to read.

          You raise an excellent point, though, in that I have yet to find a decent program of study. As much as I have read, I have yet to find a good synthesis of the best sequence to learn more. That is, once you read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which set of books - whether by her or those who actually have a clue - should be pursued and in which order. Unfortunately, picking reading materials is a crapshoot; you don't know where it fits in the learning process until until after you've read it.

          I once saw a video documentary (can't even remember which one it is now) that claimed Ayn Rand was a "Hard Libertarian" and Milton Friedman as a "Soft Libertarian"), made after Rand's death but had interview clips with Friedman. Somehow that comparison stuck, so Klafeta's assertion of Rand as a libertarian went unchallenged by me. That's why I found your answer (and links) so valuable. So, thank you.
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          • Posted by BeenThere 3 years, 4 months ago
            Check out the Ayn Rand Institute on-line............it will lead to all you choose to learn.
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            • Posted by 3 years, 4 months ago
              I'm afraid that's part of the problem. My point is not that there isn't information available - it's that there is no clear path for which information is best to read and in which sequence... and why.

              From my perspective, it's difficult to encourage people to learn about Ayn Rand and Objectivism by just saying "Read The Fountainhead or Read Atlas Shrugged" or, even worse, "go educate yourself" (you're not saying that, but I've seen it elsewhere). Simply pointing someone to a library and saying, "There are books in there. Go find them" doesn't actually count as guidance, IMO.
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  • Posted by Lucky 3 years, 4 months ago
    Mike's comments are good, he has given more time to the article than I am willing to give.

    I find the article hard to comment on as it is all over the place.
    Whether the author has a theme is not clear to me.
    'Libertarianism is and always will mean socialism'
    Is he for or against, and if so, what?

    Libertarianism has appeal for people with an amazing range of opinions. I suggest that is the reason for the appeal, it combines being vague with idealism so that it is easy to interpret, or misinterpret, as being in agreement with ones own socialism, anarchism, rebelliousness, capitalism, and illegal drug supporting. Yes, I for one find libertarianism appealing, but in odd moments, the need for a little intellectual rigor comes on and then the ideas put by Ayn Rand described as Objectivism are a better framework for analyzing ethical, political and economic systems.
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    • Posted by $ MikeMarotta 3 years, 4 months ago
      Thanks, I believe that socialists began using the word "libertarian" to distinguish themselves from pro-Moscow pro-Stalin socialists of the 1930s and 40s. Of course, that socialism was specifically Marxism-Leninism "centralized democracy" in which a small cadre of the politically correct led the revolution. Show trials, mass executions, starvation, and war were the inevitable consequences. Against that the seemingiy well-meaning socialists advocated for "worker control", co-operatives, and syndications, etc., from the bottom up. In all I have read, I never found out how any of them intended to respond to the one person who chooses not to go along.

      A different set of problems plagues the Libertarian Party. It is true that you have a political right to self-destructive actions that do not harm others. But that is not a political action program that can bring laissez faire capitalism to America and the world.
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  • Posted by $ Temlakos 3 years, 4 months ago
    To Mike Marotta's excellent comments, I would add:

    The original author should never dare call himself a libertarian. Not, at least, as I understand the term. He used the word socialism, and socialism is clearly what he favors. His would be a leveled society, in which no person need pay the slightest respect to another's curtilage or even to his dwelling.

    Since when did libertarianism mean "don't fence me out"? It means don't fence me in.

    His articulation of the non-violence or non-aggression principle brings to light another problem I have with anarchists. They would never offer rescue to anyone whom another was holding captive and threatening to murder. Oh, but such rescue requires a violent act! Can't have that! Yes, and that proves Rand's point: without someone to keep order, society is at the mercy of the first criminal to come along.

    Now that someone could be either a Committee of Safety, consisting of the largest stakeholders in a society and anyone else willing to put his own resources on the line (and serve without direct compensation), or it can be an organized government. But clearly the anarchist wouldn't even answer to a Committee of Safety. Atlantis clearly had one. That Committee consisted of the Triumvirs: John Galt (as proxy for Midas Mulligan), Francisco d'Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjold. Not only that, but when John Galt fell captive to the crumbling State, Ragnar Danneskjold organized an air-and-land militia to get him back. Would the original author do that? Certainly not.

    The author's scathing commentary on Rand's origins also tell the tale. To hear him explain it, all possession of more than a plot of land sufficient for a subsistence farm is ipso facto inimical to liberty, and no society ought to tolerate it. So what next? Does he actually apologize for the violent overthrow of the Czar and the piratical seizure of the lands of the boyars? Does he take the position that any enterprise larger than a blacksmithy ought to be subject to seizure? And how does that square with the non-aggression principle?

    Furthermore, a society without industrialization (or no more than cottage industries) remains vulnerable to the first dictator who can build an industrial base and use it to raise and support big-enough land and air forces and provide for and maintain a big-enough navy.

    Alliances can check this. Those who opposed the Kaiser in WWI and the Fuehrer in WWII called themselves the Allied Powers. But even that would violate the principles the original author defends.

    Last of all: the anarchists make the same error as do the socialists and communists. They refuse to distinguish between the use of force in retaliation and the provision of any other good or service. The communist answer is to insist that the State own and run everything. The anarchist solution is to let everyone go about armed and post signs that say things like "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Subject to Shooting On Sight" or at least "Beware of Dog." (Sorry, cat owners, but no army in history ever fielded a Feline Corps--always a K-9 Corps.) I repeat: even the Committee of Safety goes beyond the strict non-aggression principle--because the anarchist would regard that Committee as just another gang, this although he would brook no protection against the gangster!
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  • Posted by Lucky 3 years, 4 months ago
    drjmetz For a web site on libertarianism, instructive and entertaining, see
    Run by a chap in Sydney, Australia, it is well worth looking at, he has a few answers to the question of the inability to deal with issues needing co-ordination. He responds- How well is your existing system working then?
    As I said, I have a soft spot for Libertarianism, there is often the same views as Objectivism on current issues.
    My reservations are mainly on the inability of such a system to survive a coordinated attack, as well as it being so all-embraceing that contradictions are included.
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  • Posted by $ Snezzy 3 years, 4 months ago
    The perennial question to Rand at Ford Hall Forum was, "Why won't you support the Libertarian Party?"

    She invariably denounced the questioner scathingly, as if addressing a thief who was attempting to shame her into giving up her property out of some sense of "the public good." She occasionally used the term Libertarian Hippies, pronouncing "leebertayrian heepies" as scornfully as possible. I imagine that to her they were crooks attempting to steal her ideas and her country.

    The libertarians I knew at that time invariably referred to Rand as their source, either by direct attribution and misquotation, or by borrowing ideas without crediting them to her. Those that were not actual anarchists were ineffectual politicians, whining that they "didn't get no respect." A few attempted to found utopias, actual physical Gulches, all of which failed quickly.

    Rand apparently regarded the ordinary American, represented in Atlas shrugged by Eddie Willers, as potentially heroic. She had no use for failures, for hangers-on, or for fools. Much of her effort in answering questions at FHF went into helping helping her audience in defending themselves, intellectually, against those who would destroy by faith and by force.
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    • Posted by 3 years, 4 months ago
      Is there video available of her response about "leebertayrain heepies"? :)
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      • Posted by $ Snezzy 3 years, 4 months ago
        Nobody was doing videos of everything around 1970. Video equipment was quite expensive, and the broadcast media were specifically uninterested in recording Rand. The FHF talks were regularly broadcast by Harvard's station, WHRB, but on more than one occasion they "forgot" to broadcast Rand's appearance.

        I think that you can get recordings of the FHF talks from the Ayn Rand Institute, but apparently the Q&A after the talks were often not recorded at all.

        In general, you can get all you need from the existing books and recordings that are available.

        It is important to realize that some of the second-hand material about her is untrue or slanted. This includes material that appears to be FAVORABLE to her.

        When looking at writing that attacks Rand you should remember the saying, "When you are catching flak, you are over the target." People attacking Rand just might be fearing exposure!
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        • Posted by 3 years, 4 months ago
          I had a feeling that might be the case. I know that video was a more ephemeral medium before the 1980s, but I still held out hope (there is still footage available of the Wallace interviews, for instance, as well as Donahue).

          Your caveat strikes at the heart of what I see as an emerging issue - that it seems that there is enough information that is misleading or incorrect - even among the documents that seek to promote her - that an unguided wandering amongst the aisles could possibly lead to, well, ideas that form the basis of the article attached to here.

          Nevertheless, I'll go back and reread the FHF transcripts. Thanks. :)
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          • Posted by $ Snezzy 3 years, 4 months ago
            Right. The Wallace interview, as well as other video recordings, are always or nearly always from TV shows. Commercial TV videotape became widely used in the 1960s. You could, if you desired, look up the history of the use of videotape in TV news reporting. Prior to 1960 any such recording would have been on film, if I remember correctly.

            So do not expect to find any "casual" or non-studio TV recordings of Rand.

            As for attending her FHF talks, there were times when leftists would be there for the purpose of being disruptive. You could feel the hatred in the air for some of the answers she gave, especially when she merely referred the hostile questioner to her writings. The only reason she deigned to appear was the strong presence of Judge Ruben Lurie, the Forum's president. He always protected the speaker when taking questions, and immediately stopped people who were making statements instead of asking questions. "Let me remind you, the speaker is on the platform. The questioner is in the audience." He did this for ALL speakers, not just Rand.

            On rare occasion Judge Lurie would try to silence an obnoxious questioner, but Rand would be fascinated by the point the person was making, and interrupt the Judge: "No, no, let him speak. This is very interesting. I want to hear what he has to say."
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  • Posted by DrZarkov99 3 years, 4 months ago
    To see how "well" an anarchistic society works, one only needs to see Somalia. As Ayn Rand described, the people are at the mercy of warlords, since there is no consensus strong central government to restore order. Utility and health care infrastructure is non-existent, except for what a few NGOs provide, at great personal risk.

    Anarchists are almost the greatest delusional fools when it comes to human social development. Despite the fantastic progress of developed countries (although the Democrats and Socialists are working very hard to destroy that), it takes very little time for things to deteriorate facing natural disaster or economic collapse. The example here is Venezuela.

    America's constitutional republic provides basic order and protection. It has ballooned beyond that which is beneficial, overreaching its defined responsibilities. A trimmed back central government would greatly benefit further progress. Ayn's judgement was right, and still is.
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    • Posted by LibertyBelle 3 years, 4 months ago
      When I was a teenager, I once considered anarchy---for a few minutes. But I realized that if we got it,
      the Soviet Union (or Red China, if not both) would take us over almost immediately.
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  • Posted by chad 3 years, 4 months ago
    After reading some of the comments, especially Mike Moratta's, I don't know that I could add much about this specious article. As far as having a strong central government whom we must obey until we have its permission to do otherwise always results in a society where people die by the millions at the hands of the governors instead of dying by the hundreds or thousands at the hands of the criminals. Not having a central government that is the only allowable entity to use force does not mean that you would have to be armed at all times and shooting everyone who approached you. The example of Somalia is false because, as admitted, there are a bunch of warlords exercising their authority is not the same as a central authority (which is more efficient at killing) which is not the same as not granting a sole authority to a state to use violence. A slave state might be quiet because the slaves are afraid to act, that does not make them free.
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  • Posted by jdg 3 years, 4 months ago
    While I am more libertarian than objectivist, I don't agree with the article's conclusion that we should prefer pure ideology over opportunities to make positive political change by allying, within limits, with fellow travelers including conservatives. Ironically, one of Rand's major errors, in my view, was to hold this same attitude as a reason not to cooperate with libertarians.

    But the article's major point about Rand is that she based many of her dictates (for instance, her loyalty to the institution of government) on beliefs that she never explained, and which therefore appear to the reader to be nothing but dogma. I agree with this and see it as her other major error. This is not to say that all or even most of her beliefs where her writing fits this description are indefensible -- only that she was too intellectually lazy to bother defending them against attacks such as this article, and if she had done so, maybe most people wouldn't dismiss her as a crank.

    I'm at least partly playing devil's advocate here. But a better persuader would have avoided these mistakes, or so I believe.

    And I agree strongly with Temlakos that the author is a bigger perverter of the true meaning of libertarianism than anyone else I've read.
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  • Posted by dansail 3 years, 4 months ago
    I'm thinking that an anarchist's desire is to flood their followers with such disinformation that they end up thinking down is up and A is not A. This article was so full of holes, but others have already recognized that fact.
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