Skip to comments.What Is the Objectivist View of Libertarianism?
Posted on 04/13/2003 3:40:52 PM PDT by RJCogburn
The Objectivist political ideal is a society of trade, in which people interact by voluntary means to mutual benefit, rather than by coercion, plunder, and the exercise of power. A society of trade is a free society, in which individuals enjoy rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, and in which government is strictly limited to the function of protecting those rights through a system of law, with no authority to regulate belief, speech, the arts, or economic markets except to prevent one citizen or group from violating the rights of others.
This political outlook puts Objectivism squarely in the tradition of thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, as advocates of the political position known as "classical liberalism," "market liberalism," or, in Europe and Latin America, simply as "liberalism." All of these terms derive from "liberty" and signal someone who is a strong advocate of individual freedom. Classical liberals, unlike the leftist "liberals" in America today, advocate both freedom of speech and economic freedom"free minds and free markets," as Reason magazine puts it.
Libertarians are also classical liberals. Sometimes, indeed, the word "libertarian" is used simply as a modern equivalent for that broad political approach. More often, it means something narrower: Libertarians recognize that an individual's rights can be violated only by the initiation of force against him. Liberty therefore requires a political order that bans the initiation of physical force from human relationships (excluding, to some degree, relationships with children and the mentally incompetent). The implication, as David Boaz of the Cato Institute writes in Libertarianism: A Primer (New York: The Free Press, 1997), is that "the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used forceactions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud" (p. 2). And government exists for the purpose of seeing that these actions are forbiddenperiod. This limitation excludes certain functions that other classical liberals ascribe to government, such as providing roads and schools.
Objectivists agree with this strict limitation on government. It was John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, who said: "So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiatedo you hear me? no man may startthe use of physical force against others" (p. 949, paperback). The clarity and insistence of Rand's cry"do you hear me?"resounded through her essays and speeches on individual rights and limited government, igniting the birth of modern libertarianism in the 1960s. Indeed, Rand remains a major influence in the general libertarian movement.
Some Differences However, there are significant differences between Objectivism and the views of manyperhaps mostlibertarians. Rand herself thought these differences so great that she rejected the label "libertarian." She preferred to be known as a "radical for capitalism."
One key difference is over the need for government. Objectivism holds that liberty requires an enforceable system of adjudication based on objective principles, that is, a legal system. Such a system establishes when force has been used and allows for the rational settlement of disputes on the basis of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. Only an institution that effectively dominates and regulates the use of force in a given geographic area can provide and enforce such a system of law. So we need government to set us free from force.
While many libertarians would agree, others are anarchists who believe that some "free-market" system of competing law courts and for-profit police agencies can ensure a "non-monopolistic" system of rights protection. Objectivists would reply that freedom cannot come from the marketplace: it is a precondition of the marketplace, which can operate only to the extent that individuals can act, trade, and own property by their own choice, free from the use of force. It is thus impossible to have the market provide the protection that frees one from force in the first place. Anarchism, in practice, would amount to civil warfare (Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 112-13).
If we exclude anarchism, we can say that libertarianism is the Objectivist position in politics. But Objectivism includes more than politics. It is a systematic philosophy that also includes a specific view of reality, human nature, and the nature of knowledge. It includes a specific code of morality based on the requirements of life in this world. The Objectivist commitment to individual rights and a ban on the initiation of force is grounded in its view of nature, knowledge, and values. Its political conclusions thus stand on a firm and quite specific foundation. Ayn Rand put it this way: "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows" ("Introducing Objectivism," The Objectivist Newsletter, vol. 1 no. 8, August 1962, p. 35).
Philosophically, some libertarians are Objectivists, or would at least agree with the core elements in the Objectivist case for liberty, such as the individual's need to act by means of reason in pursuing his life and happiness as ultimate values. Others hold that liberty is grounded in some other philosophical (or religious) viewpoint, such as Christianity, utilitarianism, Kantianism, or postmodern subjectivism. Others still would deny the need for a philosophical basis altogether; in their view, the principle of non-initiation of force is an "axiom" of social organization that is self-evident or to be taken on faith.
What Does It Matter? These differences matter for two reasons. First, anyone who advocates a free society must appeal to some philosophical foundation or other. A foundation that is unsound yields bad arguments that undermine the credibility of libertarianism. For example, one cannot argue that libertarianism is true, good, or useful if one denies that it is possible to have objective knowledge in the first place; yet some libertarian thinkers embrace skeptical or relativist views that have exactly that implication. In the long run, the political principles of a free society cannot gain widespread acceptance without broad acceptance of the underlying moral and cultural values that make freedom an ideal. Creating such a culture must therefore be a long-term goal for advocates of liberty, and that goal requires us to understand what the essential values are.
Secondly, political principles are not self-contained units that can be swapped among philosophical systems without alteration, like beads moved from one necklace to another. A philosophy like Objectivism is a systematic whole, and the meaning of each principle is affected by the manner in which it is derived. Because Objectivism bases liberty on an ethic of individual happiness, for example, it does not reduce the essential purpose of rights to nothing more than the negative goal of freedom from force. The function of rights is primarily positive: enabling people to pursue their lives by reason and trade. This conception of rights has more in common with classical liberals like Thomas Jeffersonwho believed that individual rights existed to enable the pursuit of happinessthan with those libertarians who deduce rights from an axiom banning the initiation of force.
An underlying philosophy affects not only the meaning of broad political principles but also the answers to specific policy questions.
When does a "person" come into being? At what level of mental or physical competence does he gain or lose rights? Do animals have rights? What rightful claims do children have on their parents? Do adults have the right to have sex with children? Do you have the right to shoot trespassers? to build an atomic bomb in your basement? Does a nation have the right to bomb an aggressor nation in self-defense, even if innocent civilians will be killed? Does morality demand that we abolish all improper government interventions and programs overnight, rather than gradually?
The answers to these and dozens of similar questions will shape what "libertarianism" means in actual practice; yet surveys have shown that libertarians are deeply divided on many of the answers. Why? Because their concepts of freedom, rights, and justice are shaped
by clashing philosophical premises (Robert Bidinotto, "The Roundtable," IOS Journal, August 1997, p. 14). In light of these philosophical concerns, some Objectivists have concluded that libertarianism is utterly indifferent to philosophy and that libertarians are therefore nihilists. But that's a non sequitur. Though some libertarians advocate philosophical views that are deeply at odds with the requirements of liberty, many do not. And the libertarian movement in general is a positive force for political change. Libertarians have sought to make common cause in pursuit of liberty, despite disagreements on other issuesan approach that, within limits of broad compatibility, makes sense. Objectivists can benefit from taking part in the movement for liberty. And libertarians can benefit from the moral and epistemological insights of Objectivism.
I'll say. That's why I left the Libertarian Party and registered Republican. It boggles the mind the degree to which Libertarians are willing to be "deeply divided" over issues like what makes a Libertarian different from an Objectivist, a distinction that is meaningless to everyone else.
They sure could.
... surveys have shown that libertarians are deeply divided on many of the answers.
Self-marginalization in practice.
I say "Objectivist" and I get "Huh?"
Open borders, federalized drug program, all laws should be banned.
Nothing redeeming about the whole lot of 'em...
Tail chasing isn't much of a philosophical foundation.
"Prescription is the most solid of all titles, not only to property, but, which is to secure that property, to government. They harmonise with each other, and give mutual aid to one another. It is accompanied with another ground of authority in the constitution of the human mind-- presumption. It is a presumption in favour of any settled scheme of government against any untried project, that a nation has long existed and flourished under it. It is a better presumption even of the choice of a nation, far better than any sudden and temporary arrangement by actual election. Because a nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation, but it is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultuary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a Constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice--it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time." -- Edmund Burke
Hayek clearly explains that this is not the case. That societies and their moral codes evolve together.
But it seems lately that they are stuck on the "legalize all drugs and all our problems will go up in smoke" movement associating themselves with the socialist anti-gun movements.
I agree that Hayek is very convincing on this, he does a good job of explaining why the "rationalism" that is the root of socialism is so flawed.
However, IMO, Objectivism does agree on many points with Hayek. However, I have to admit to not being very knowledgable on Objectivism, I am making surmises based on my recent reading of The Fountainhead, which I enjoyed.
Yes. But only after getting rid of welfare and entitlement programs. Only those willing to work for a living and add value to our society would even WANT to come here. Also, allow our populace thier full right to the tools of self-protection... namely firearms. Anyone coming here looking to cause trouble should be fully cognizant of the fact that a few million armed civilians are keeping an eye out for them.
Federalized drug program.
Bravo Sierra. Ending the WOD ranks right up there on the issue list as high as ending government interference in our medical business. End HillaryCare and End the DEA are both issues on our table. Bush is the one pushing for a prescription drug program for agin hippies.
All laws should be banned.
More bovine fecal matter. Try all laws that do not involve "force, fraud, or theft". Most good laws fit under that catagory. Assault and battery. Murder. Rape. The Enron and Global Crossing fiasco's not to mention we would have had an easier time nabbing the Klintoons under a simplified fraud and theft charges without all the bearucratic dodges built into the system.
All this has been gone over on FR a thousand times and you flying monkies STILL have to come in here and crap all over everything.
Anyone that knows better can go ahead and correct me, though.
More anarcho-nonsense. The basis of human law is not the foreign philosophy of Objectivism as adhered to by a few hundred humanist ideologues, but religious morality.
Sorry. No. The ancient "Golden Rule" is about all anyone really needs to deduce the most effective and morally correct form of government.
The Taliban ruled over Afghanistan as a religiously founded government. Is that what you would have for us?
You are so full of it. You have no idea what you are talking about. I dare you to find the words "wage slavery" on an objectivist web site, being used in a manner other than to mock some left-wing cause. Objectivists are not opposed to businesses employing people.
And "wage slavery" is such an ugly term. Didn't Ayn Rand have a more pleasing way of putting it? Bearing in mind, of course, there are the John Galt Ubercapitalists and there are the necrotic, blood-leeching, lumpen subhumans who make up the remaining 95 percent of humanity.
Objectively an Objectivist's paradise...
. . . speaking of strawmen.
Come on KC... don't hold back now.
The one-word answer: HERESY.
An article that might have produced some serious discussion on a subject that might be of interest to some.
Your comments are in poor form, IMO, adding nothing of substance.
Not if the non-aggression principle (the cornerstone of libertarian political advocacy) is followed to it's logical conclusion.
Are there non-thinking dolts who call themselves "libertarian" because they think it sounds cool, without ever having bothered to find out what it is?
Are there pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals who stretch objectivism into all sorts of contortions to make it fit their worldview (making it essentially useless)?
But that isn't an indictement of either libertarianism or objectivism. It's an indictment of dolts and pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals.
Yes, it's a romantic, idealistic dream, which assumes people will act in a principled way, when left to their own devices. But maybe should all strive for a little more romance and ideals, in our politics?
It is a political party which is supposed to be predicated on the non-aggression principle.