Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ayn Rand on Libertarianism

Yesterday, I read this great article that addresses some of the issues I have with my personal philosophy. I consider myself to be both a Libertarian and an Objectivist. For those of you who are familiar with Rand's writings and speeches, you know she had a low opinion of Libertarians. As this article from Organized Exploitation points out, the Libertarian Party has come a long way, and Miss Rand could be a little rigid in her ideas. Here is the full article:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Debating Ayn Rand

I received quite a lot of flack, particularly at FreeRepublic, for my post last week where I proffered my opinion on what I perceive to be the possible death of the GOP. One of the most intriguing responses I received was attacking Libertarianism, and doing so by throwing an assembly of interview questions with Ayn Rand discussing with her, her disdain for the Libertarian Party.

I found this to be quite interesting, in that Rand has defined the philosophy by which I have come to attempt to live my life. In that the Libertarian movement has not died, as I am sure she wished it would have, I decided to respond to her thoughts on the movement. While obviously she cannot possibly respond, I hope you will be kind enough to respond to some of my thoughts on the matter with your own. If anyone else reading is a blogger as well, I would also be interested in doing some cross-posting on the matter.

Q: What do you think of the Libertarian movement? [FHF: “The Moratorium on Brains,” 1971]

AR: All kinds of people today call themselves “libertarians,” especially something calling itself the New Right, which consists of hippies, except that they’re anarchists instead of collectivists. But of course, anarchists are collectivists. Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet they want to combine capitalism and anarchism. That is 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. They want to be hippies, but don’t want to preach collectivism, because those jobs are already taken. But anarchism is a logical outgrowth of the anti-intellectual side of collectivism. I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect. The anarchist is 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.

My immediate response to this particular line of thought is that Rand provided this answer in 1971. Thirty-seven years later, I don't believe that there exists in the Libertarian movement, any semblance of a grouping of anarchists that have any kind of voice in any matter. I agree with her thoughts on anarchists in general, that they are simply another style of collectivist, and that they are the scum of the intellectual world. I can't say of the intellectual world of the left, since I think that nearly four decades later, there is no home left anywhere politically for an anarchist. Perhaps some anarchists would feel like calling themselves Libertarians, but I do not believe that at this point in time, Libertarians would accept being associated with anarchists, much less believe that Libertarianism's makeup is heavily laden with anarchists.

Q: What do you think of the Libertarian Party? [FHF: “A Nation’s Unity,” 1972]

AR: I’d rather vote for Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis. I don’t think they’re as funny as Professor Hospers and the Libertarian Party. If, at a time like this, John Hospers takes ten votes away from Nixon (which I doubt he’ll do), it would be a moral crime. I don’t care about Nixon, and I care even less about Hospers. But this is no time to engage in publicity seeking, which all these crank political parties are doing. If you want to spread your ideas, do it through education. But don’t run for President—or even dogcatcher—if you’re going to help McGovern.

This statement on her part, I think, had so much more to do with her pure absolutism more than anything. I think to Rand it was much more relevant to teach people something through honest discourse, and she therefore loathed the idea that anybody would stain her ideas by grandstanding with them politically. There is such an element of propagandizing and dishonesty that pervades political discourse, that I don't believe she felt it possible for people to learn anything via a political campaign. So she ultimately seems to have taken the approach that I see many disheartened conservatives take, in that they vote grudgingly for the Republican candidate, despite not thinking he is the right choice.

This is an argument that I hear a lot of. That being that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. It is not an argument that, for me, falls on deaf ears. It makes all the sense in the world. Every election is a battle, and particularly this last election. I voted for John McCain, despite hating myself for it, because I felt a deeper need to see Barack Obama not step foot into the White House. I couldn't stand John McCain. If he was conservative enough, and principled enough, to lead the party, he would have beaten Bush in the first place eight years ago, and also wouldn't have needed to make back-room deals with Huckabee to sabotage Romney in the South during the primaries this time around. So in that respect, I fully understand her position that it would be a "moral crime" to vote otherwise. However, it should be known that it was a personal crime against my own morality to have supported someone like John McCain, who, to be perfectly honest, would have simply wound up being a watered-down version of Obama anyway.

Q: Libertarians advocate the politics you advocate. So why are you opposed to the Libertarian Party? [FHF: “Egalitarianism and Inflation,” 1974]

AR: They are not defenders of capitalism. They’re a group of publicity seekers who rush into politics prematurely, because they allegedly want to educate people through a political campaign, which can’t be done. Further, their leadership consists of men of every of persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists. Moreover, most of them are my enemies: they spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas. Now, I think it’s a bad beginning for an allegedly pro-capitalist party to start by stealing ideas.

This exchange follows the previous one nicely I think, in that it is an extension of Rand's thoughts on the men pursuing politics through the Libertarian Party. If you're educated in Objectivism, you'll understand immediately that it's really the "collection of misfits" here that she's disgusted with. The "men of every persuasion" she discusses, I think, made her hate the party. She very much wanted people to view Objectivism as a new way live their lives and I don't think she could stand that so many people she felt belonged in a different classification would gather into a group simply to be "anti" whatever elese there was. She believed people should live for things, not against them, and that people needed to be taught to live for themselves as their own highest purpose. With such an assemblage of different people grouping together to be against other principles, she felt that they were not making choices for their own benefit, but rather against the benefits of others.

It's interesting to me that someone who wrote for a living felt that the people considered the leaders of the Libertarian Party at the time were nothing more than publicity hounds. I personally find myself in a position to want to write and put forth ideas that I feel can help. I find it hard to believe that other writers or speakers discussing Liberty and Freedom and Capitalism at the time felt like they would just talk about such concepts out of self-promotion. Rand seemed particularly upset that they would steal her ideas and not credit her, as she should have been. I'm admittedly ignorant of who took what ideas from her, but it seems to me she wouldn't have been so upset had these same people been able to convey her ideas and teach people with such ruthless competence as herself and Peikoff were capable.

As to her point that it is impossible to educate through a political campaign, it is difficult to disagree. One learns nothing by listening to different people spouting different canned talking points. But I have to disagree that the political campaign is useless in spreading education. We see it now more than ever. Freedom and Liberty are, I think, more on the table now than ever before in my entire lifetime due primarily to Ron Paul's recent political campaign. Without that political campaign, it is impossible for me to believe that we would now have people again discussing F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman and yes, Ayn Rand as heroes of economy and philosophy as vehemently as we are. We also would not see movements like the Campaign for Liberty or Young Americans for Liberty. It's doubtful that educational reading by authors like Tom Woods would be so popular as it is now. Making important ideas highly visible to inspire people to educate themselves cannot be considered a bad thing.

Q: Have you ever heard of [Libertarian presidential candidate] Roger MacBride? [FHF: “?” 1976]

AR: My answer should be, “I haven’t.” There’s nothing to hear. I have been maintaining in everything I have said and written, that the trouble in the world today is philosophical; that only the right philosophy can save us. Now here is a party that plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes it with the exact opposite—with religionists, anarchists, and just about every intellectual misfit and scum they can find—and they call themselves Libertarians, and run for office. I dislike Reagan and Carter; I’m not too enthusiastic about the other candidates. But the worst of them are giants compared to anybody who would attempt something as un-philosophical, low, and pragmatic as the Libertarian Party. It is the last insult to ideas and philosophical consistency.

This quote, I think best sums up Rand's issues with the Libertarian Party. Her belief that "the trouble in the world today is philosophical" is never moreso evident than it is today. Every person needs a philosophy to guide them, and Rand could not see a consistent philosophy that drove the Libertarian Party, and was angered that she became so associated with it.

I cannot speak to the beginnings of the Libertarian Party and whether or not it had a true guiding philosophy. But I can speak to where it is now. Libertarians believe in small government, true free-market capitalism, liberty and freedom as inherent for all, not given or granted, and respect of that freedom by all and for all.

Liberty, Freedom and Respect are ideas that sure seem like good philosophy to me.

For more from Organized Exploitation: This is a great site, that I just found through friends at Digg. I look forward to more articles from them. This piece has inspired me to do some writing about Rand, as well as the current project I am working on with her quotes. I will try to post both here shortly.


Michael M said...

Very nice, and I was with you all the way down until you did the that-was-then-this-is-now thing. The guiding philosophy you allot to the present day Libertarians is not a philosophy, it's just a set of political principles.

They hold these principles because they are practical, not because they are moral. That always was and still is their downfall.

They start with a love of freedom and want to spread it across the land. Recognizing that to do that they need to amass a formidable army of like minded advocates, they raise the big tent. This requires that they evade ethics at all costs in order to bring people with diverse philosophical and religious backgrounds together.

Politics, however, is the branch of philosophy that extends ethics (a more fundamental branch of philosophy) in the context of the individual into a societal context.

So a valid politics must be derived from a valid ethics. But the Libertarians cannot go there. They are unwilling and/or unable to formulate or embrace the objective, secular ethical system needed to validate their capitalism. They are left hanging, philosophically, and default to pragmatism.

Consequently, Rand would condemn them today as much as she did then.

machinepolitick said...

I think we need to address Libertarians, and their philosophy on an individual basis. It is unfair to lump people together under labels that are typically considered a stereotype. It would be no more fair to say that Republicans are zealots hell-bent on a theocracy or that Democrats are all Socialists. I find it unfair to assume that all Libertarians are immoral or that the prerequisite for Libertarianism is immorality.
I consider myself to be both a Libertarian and an Objectivist. I want no support from anyone, nor do I expect to be forced to support someone else. I respect the need for limited government and the rule of law. However, I do not recognize the government's 'right' to ignore or rewrite the Constitution to fit their agenda. I, unlike many Libertarians, support the protection of our borders and the maintenance of the military. As the cliche goes, Freedom is not Free.
To say I have these principles out of practicality rather than morality, is an insult to my intelligence and integrity. I am neither an anarchist nor a pot head. I am an individual who demands the right to have control over my life, and a government that does its job under the Constitution.
As brilliant as Ms. Rand was, she was also human. She saw the world in absolutes and had no use for compromise. Rather than blindly follow an ideology, I do what I can to work for the things that I can change. The Libertarian party has come a long way since the seventies. They have a much better set of political principles than the major parties, and I refuse to support a system that has no respect for the individual. That goes both for Republicans and Democrats. I am willing to accept the responsibility that requires, and I realize that it cannot happen over night. I am not looking to get something, and therefore it is a matter of Philosophy rather than Practicality.