Libertarianism and Objectivism

Libertarianism and Objectivism

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism has been and continues to be a major influence towards the libertarian movement. Many libertarians justify their political views upon aspects of Objectivism.[1] However, the views of Rand and her philosophy among prominent libertarians are mixed and many Objectivists are hostile to the libertarian movement.[2]


Philosophical disagreements

Some libertarians, including Murray Rothbard and Walter Block, hold the view that the non-aggression principle is an irreducible concept: it is not the logical result of any given ethical philosophy but, rather, is self-evident as any other axiom is. Rand, too, argued that liberty was a precondition of virtuous conduct,[3] but argued that her non-aggression principle itself derived from a complex set of previous knowledge and values. For this reason, Objectivists refer to the non-aggression principle as such, while libertarians who agree with Rothbard's argument call it "the non-aggression axiom."

Libertarians and Objectivists sometimes disagree about matters of foreign policy. For example, scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute have opposed military intervention against Iran,[4] while the Objectivist Ayn Rand Institute has supported forceful intervention in Iran.[5][6]

Rand's influence on libertarianism

The Libertarian Party's first candidate for President of the United States, John Hospers, credited Rand as a major force in shaping his own political beliefs.[7] David Boaz described Rand's work as "squarely within the libertarian tradition" and that some libertarians are put off by "the starkness of her presentation and by her cult following."[8] Milton Friedman described Rand as "an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good." [9] One Rand biographer quoted Murray Rothbard as saying that he was "in agreement basically with all [Rand's] philosophy," and saying that it was Rand who had "convinced him of the theory of natural rights..."[10] Rothbard would later become a particularly harsh critic of Rand, writing in The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult that:

The major lesson of the history of the [objectivist] movement to libertarians is that It Can Happen Here, that libertarians, despite explicit devotion to reason and individuality, are not exempt from the mystical and totalitarian cultism that pervades other ideological as well as religious movements. Hopefully, libertarians, once bitten by the virus, may now prove immune.[11]

Some libertarians have argued that Objectivism is not limited to Rand's own positions on philosophical issues and are willing to work with and identify with the libertarian movement. This stance is most clearly identified with David Kelley (who separated from the Ayn Rand Institute because of disagreements over the relationship between Objectivists and libertarians), Chris Sciabarra, Barbara Branden (Nathaniel's former wife) and others. Kelley's Atlas Society has focused on building a closer relationship between "open Objectivists" and the libertarian movement.

Rand's view of libertarians

Ayn Rand condemned libertarianism as being a greater threat to freedom and capitalism than both modern liberalism and conservativism.[12] Ayn Rand regarded Objectivism as an integrated philosophical system. Libertarianism, in contrast, is a political philosophy which confines its attention to matters of public policy. For example, Objectivism argues positions in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, whereas libertarianism does not address such questions. Rand believed that political advocacy could not succeed without addressing what she saw as its methodological prerequisites. Rand rejected any affiliation with the libertarian movement and many other Objectivists have done so as well.[13]

Rand said of libertarians that:

"They are not defenders of capitalism... I've read nothing by a Libertarian (when I read them, in the early years) that wasn't my ideas badly mishandled—i.e., had the teeth pulled out of them—with no credit given."[12]

Responding to a question about the Libertarian Party in 1976, Rand said:

"The trouble with the world today is philosophical: only the right philosophy can save us. But this party plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes them with the exact opposite—with religionists, anarchists and every intellectual misfit and scum they can find—and call themselves libertarians and run for office."[14]

See also


  1. ^ Rand, Ayn, For the New Intellectual (1961) Random House; see also, Peikoff, Leonard, Objectivisim: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991) Dutton.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Peter (May 18, 1989). "On Moral Sanctions". The Intellectual Activist 5 (1). 
  3. ^ Rand, Ayn (September 23, 1974). "From My 'Future File'". The Ayn Rand Letter 3 (26): 4–5. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ See, e.g., Capitalism magazine, October 2, 2001, Peikoff, Leonard, "End States That Sponsor Terrorism," (retrieved 4-16-09)
  6. ^ "Iran and the 'Axis of Evil,'" The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, Feb 4, 2002 (retrieved 4-16-09);
  7. ^ Hospers, John, Libertarianism, Nash, 1971; "Conversations with Ayn Rand," Liberty, July 1990, pp. 23-36, and Sept. 1990, pp. 42-52; and, "Memories of Ayn Rand," Full Context, May, 1998.
  8. ^ Boaz, David (February 2, 2005). "Ayn Rand at 100". Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  9. ^ Doherty, Brian (June 1995). "Best of Both Worlds". Reason. 
  10. ^ Branden, Barbara, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1984, p. 413; according to his biographer, Justin Raimondo, Rothbard wrote a letter to Rand declaring, "Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel ever written," Raimondo, Justin, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard, Prometheus Books, 2000, p. 118, cf. Rothbard, Murray, "Letters: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," The National Review, January 18, 1958, p. 71.
  11. ^ Rothbard, Murray (1972). "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult". Retrieved 2009-08-04.  Rothbard's essay was later revised and printed as a pamphlet by Liberty magazine in 1987, and by the Center for Libertarian Studies in 1990.
  12. ^ a b "Ayn Rand's Q & A on Libertarianism", Ayn Rand Institute
  13. ^ Schwartz, Peter, "Libetarianism: the Perversion of Liberty," in The Voice of Reason, L. Peikoff, editor (1988) New American Library, pp. 311-333.
  14. ^ Rand, Ayn (2005). Mayhew, Robert. ed. Ayn Rand Answers, the Best of Her Q&A. New York: New American Library. p. 73. ISBN 0-451-21665-2. 

External links

  • [1] Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand Roy Childs

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