What was Ayn Rand’s view of the libertarian
Ayn Rand was opposed to the libertarian movement of her time.
In 1971 she wrote:
For the record, I
shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any
political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with
and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called
“hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones
of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and
advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his
inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational,
anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping,
whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs. [“Brief Summary,” The Objectivist, Vol. 10, Sep. 1971]
And in 1972 she wrote:
Above all, do not
join the wrong ideological groups or
movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I
mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and,
usually, contradictory) political
goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, that subordinates reason to faith, and
substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate
reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups
means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental
principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to
fail. It means that you help the defeat of your
ideas and the victory of your enemies. (For a discussion of the reasons, see
“The Anatomy of Compromise” in my book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) [“What Can One Do?” The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 7]
Rand was often asked about libertarians and the Libertarian Party in the
question-and-answer periods following her lectures. Here, from pp.72-76 of Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, ed. Robert Mayhew, are
some of those questions and her answers. (In the excerpt below, “Q” stands for
question, “AR” for Ayn Rand, “FHF” for Ford Hall Forum, a venue where Ayn Rand
was often invited to speak, “OC” for Objective Communication, a course given by
Leonard Peikoff in which Ayn Rand participated in some of the
question-and-answer periods, and “71” for the year 1971.)
Q: What do you think of the libertarian
AR: 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. 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. 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. [FHF 71]
Q: What do you think of the Libertarian
AR: I’d rather vote for Bob Hope,
the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis—they’re not as funny as John Hospers and the
Libertarian Party. If 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. (George Wallace is no great
thinker—he’s a demagogue, though with some courage—but even he had the sense to
stay home this time.) 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. [FHF 72]
Q: What is your position on the Libertarian
AR: I don’t want to waste too much
time on it. It’s a cheap attempt at publicity, which libertarians won’t get.
Today’s events, particularly Watergate, should teach anyone with amateur
political notions that they shouldn’t rush into politics in order to get publicity.
The issues are so serious today that to form a new party on some half-baked and
some borrowed—I won’t say from whom—ideas, is irresponsible, and in today’s
context nearly immoral. [FHF 73]
Q: Libertarians advocate the
politics you do, so why are you opposed to the Libertarian Party?
AR: They’re 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 persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists. Most of them are
my enemies: they spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas.
Now it’s a bad sign for an allegedly pro-capitalist party to start by stealing
ideas. [FHF 74]
Q: Have you heard of
Libertarian presidential candidate Roger MacBride? What do you think of him?
AR: My answer should be “I don’t
think of him.” There’s nothing to hear. The trouble in the world today is
philosophical; only the right philosophy can save us. But this party
plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes it with the exact opposite—with
religionists, anarchists, and 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. [FHF 76]
Q: Do you think Libertarians communicate the
ideas of freedom and capitalism effectively?
AR: I don’t
think plagiarists are effective. I’ve read nothing by Libertarians (when I read
them, in the early years) that wasn’t my ideas badly mishandled—that is, the
teeth pulled out of them—with no credit given. I didn’t know whether to be glad
that no credit was given, or disgusted. I felt both. They are perhaps the worst
political group today, because they can do the most harm to capitalism, by
making it disreputable. I’ll take Jane Fonda over them. [Earlier during this
same Q&A period, AR had been asked about Jane Fonda. For the question and
her answer, see below, p. 80.] [OC 80]
Q: Why don’t you approve of libertarians,
thousands of whom are loyal readers of your works?
AR: Because libertarians are a monstrous,
disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their
purpose, and denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication
when that fits their purpose. They’re lower than any pragmatists, and what they
hold against Objectivism is morality. They want an amoral political program.
Q: Libertarians provide intermediate steps
toward your goals. Why don’t you support them?
AR: Please don’t tell me they’re pursuing my
goals. I have not asked for, nor do I accept, the help of intellectual cranks.
I want philosophically educated people: those who understand ideas, care about
ideas, and spread the right ideas. That’s how my philosophy will spread, just
as philosophy has throughout history: by means of people who understand ideas
and teach them to others. Further, it should be clear that I reject the filthy
slogan “The end justifies the means.” That was originated by the Jesuits, and
accepted enthusiastically by the Communists and the Nazis. The end does not
justify the means; you cannot achieve anything good by evil means. Finally,
libertarians aren’t worthy of being the means to any end, let alone the end of
spreading Objectivism. [FHF 81]
Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, was a well-known libertarian.
Q: Could you comment on Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia?
AR: I don’t like to read this
author, because I don’t like bad eclectics—not in architecture, and certainly
not in politics and philosophy—particularly when I’m one of the pieces
butchered. [FHF 77]
Q: What’s your view on the idea of competing governments?
AR: It’s an irresponsible piece of nonsense.
That’s the only answer the question deserves. [FHF 70]
Q: Why is the lack of
government in Galt’s Gulch (in Atlas
Shrugged) any different from
anarchy, which you object to?
AR: Galt’s Gulch is not a society;
it’s a private estate. It’s owned by one man who carefully selected the people
admitted. Even then, they had a judge as an arbitrator, if anything came up;
only nothing came up among them, because they shared the same philosophy. But
if you had a society in which all shared in one philosophy, but without
a government, that would be dreadful. Galt’s Gulch probably consisted of about,
optimistically, a thousand people who represented the top geniuses of the
world. They agreed on fundamentals, but they would never be in total agreement.
They didn’t need a government because if they had disagreements, they could
resolve them rationally.
project a society of millions, in which there is every kind of viewpoint, every
kind of brain, every kind of morality—and no government. That’s the Middle
Ages, your no-government society. Man was left at the mercy of bandits, because
without government, every criminally inclined individual resorts to force, and
every morally inclined individual is helpless. Government is an absolute
necessity if individual rights are to be protected, because you don’t leave
force at the arbitrary whim of other individuals. Libertarian anarchism is pure
whim worship, because what they refuse to recognize is the need of objectivity
among men—particularly men of different views. And it’s good that people within
a nation should have different views, provided we respect each other’s rights.
one can guard rights, except a government under objective laws. What if
McGovern had his gang of policemen, and Nixon had his, and instead of
campaigning they fought in the streets? This has happened throughout history.
Rational men are not afraid of government. In a proper society, a rational man
doesn’t have to know the government exists, because the laws are clear and he
never breaks them. [FHF 72]