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Ayn Rand Was NOT a Libertarian

Many people assume that Ayn Rand was a champion of libertarian thought.

But Rand herself pilloried libertarians, condemning libertarianism as being a greater threat to freedom and capitalism than both modern liberalism and conservativism. For example, Rand said:

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.


I’d rather vote for Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis [than a candidate from the Libertarian Party].


[The Libertarian Party is] a cheap attempt at publicity, which Libertarians won’t get.


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Actually the validity of

the senses has been thoroughly thrashed by modern neuroscience. They actually call it "naive realism".

We do not experience direct reality as Rand suggests and never experience the "raw data" of sensory perception. The sensory cortices reconstruct sensory input (according to their unique and 'subjective' physiology) and all we ever experience is our brains interpretation of reality, and never reality itself. Even if there is an "objective" reality our perception has been proven to be subjective by the very nature of how the brain functions.

I AM is all that is. Everything else is malleable.

So when someone cuts off your finger?

You don't really feel it? You don't really know it's been cut off, your brain has to reconstruct data for you to understand?

Ask someone who has not eaten for 72 hours about how they "perceive" the world and that their "senses" are just reconstructed data.

They will kick your @ss (if they could). Please.

Sorry but

I did not lay out conjuncture but verified scientific fact! Research sensory integration disorder and maybe you'll have a better idea of how the brain functions. BTW: it is ok to get in a heated discourse without being an unkind person.


I AM is all that is. Everything else is malleable.

I'll stipulate for the sake of discussion...

...with that in mind, can you explain how it impacts the epistemology of objectivism? I'm genuinely curious of your view, in light of the science you wrote about.

Please try to be specific if you can. Thanks.

I completely agree with what you have written here, but...

...unfortunately Rand did not take into account marginal utility, a basic tenet of free market economics, as I illustrated in examples in my replies to you above.

Randroids who stop with Rand and do not learn about these fundamental principles of laissez faire economics are doing themselves, the objectivist movement and others you are trying to educate a disservice.

This was the fatal flaw in Randian Objectivism.

As I said, I consider myself an objectivist because I am in 100% agreement with what you have written here. I am trying to enlighten you to the fact that Rand's Objectivism is incomplete and has at least one logical inconsistency when it comes to individual utility, a basic premise of free market economics.

Okay, maybe we agree

... at least, mostly.

I'm not an Objectivist because I do not accept that she proved an ought from an is. However, I recognize her brilliance and the fact that she got at least 90% right. Her major contribution is far more important than anything else in the history of philosophy, outside of Aristotle's work.

Regarding marginal utility, it has been awhile since I read her book on Capitalism. ("The Unknown Ideal," I think.) I would be shocked if Ayn Rand had no idea of marginal utility. She was, after all, a laizze-faire Capitalist. She understood economics. She certainly understood the concept of marginal utility.

If she didn't write about it a great deal, it is probably because it is understood that one's long-term rational self-interest will include one's calculation (mostly at the subconscious level) of whatever utility one gets from a particular action.

Marginal utility is useful if we are talking about economic concepts, but not so much if we are talking about emotional nurishment.

One virtue Rand believed to be important was honesty. Holding up honesty as a virtue is in one's long-term rational self-interest. This does not mean it is 100%. If someone says they want to know where you wife is so they can kill her, you lie. Her value to you is more than telling a lie.

But in general, it is best to be honest in your dealings with others. Now, how do you square that with marginal utility, as you seem to be implying that marginal utility is something the be-all, end-all of how to live one's life?

Good starting point, now....

How are YOU able to determine that MY marginal utility from investing X% of my resources in feeding the homeless, for example, is absolutely LESS than the utility you derive from going to the movies?

It's impossible for YOU to determine that.

We can study the difference. We can measure similar differences over time. But there's no possible way for you to say the utility you derive from a 2 hour movie is more or less than the utility I derive from feeding the homeless for 2 hours.

Further, the motivation as to WHY I would prefer to feed the homeless for those 2 hours is ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT. The ONLY thing that matters, that would make my investment rational or irrational is whether that measurement of utility is POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE.

A primitive illustration is this. While I dont agree with this or do it, let's take someone who does. One could potentially derive POSITIVE utility from smoking a joint. However, if all you do is smoke joints to the extent you lose your job, your home, your girl, all your money and end up in a slammer, somewhere in there the UTILITY of smoking the next joint turned negative.

Whether that first puff was religiously motivated or the last puff from the 100th joint was smoked by an anarcho-capitalist atheist, explain where anything other than UTILITY mattered in the equation of what was rational?

exactly. This is why Ayn

exactly. This is why Ayn Rand's attempt to moralize objectivity is illogical. she only knows her own values. and she applies them to everyone.

someone mentioned the preference to a flavor. that is the same thing as a preference for any perceived benefit over any other perceived benefit.

it is,by nature, subjective.

But it's not ENTIRELY subjective.

Note the example about smoking joints in my reply above.

While the decision to smoke the first joint of the day may have been rational, the decision to smoke the last one in the example was demonstrably NOT rational.

The preference did not change in the example. The desire did not change in the example. The MARGINAL utility did, hence the RATION of each independent decision in the series DID change.

"is" vs. "should"

So what you are saying is not that values "are" objective, but that moral values "should be" objective. What you are arguing is not that man "is" rational, but that man "should be" rational. You are basically professing your preferences, which are subjective, meaning they are not universal. All I have to do is to show you two people with different morals to demonstrate that moral values are subjective. All I have to do is to show one act of a person acting irrationally, by whatever definition of "rational" that you choose, to show that man is not rational.

Arguing about what "should" be is a longer discussion, of course. But I will leave you with a simple example of why Objectivism is incompatible with libertarianism. If one community unanimously decides that their moral law shall be "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs," an Objectivist would be morally repulsed, while a libertarian would be a-ok with it, as long as everyone is participating voluntarily.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

You touched on something important here.

For whatever reason modern Americans are unable to distinguish between actual and subjunctive verb cases as well as similies and metaphors.

A perfect example you illustrated above: the "is" vs. "should be" logical error.

Let me give you another example.

"The United States is a constitutional Republic."

That statement is FACTUALLY FALSE. To repeat factually false statements is to SPREAD FALSEHOODS.

A factually accurate statement is:

"The United States is SUPPOSED TO BE a constitutional Republic, but is not currently."

Another factually accurate statement is:
"The United States IS LIKE (i.e may RESEMBLE) a constitutional Republic, but is, IN FACT, not one currently."

This is/"is like" or is/should be problem in logic, even among many of the best of us, is a product of mind control operations the government has been engaging in for a very long time. It is a product of natural language programming and similar to a visual sleight of hand, only verbal and cognitive.

Even those who are aware of it can catch themselves falling for it. Now that you are aware, watch for it. The truth literally sets you free. Until you can recognize the truth, you cannot assess your environment. If you cannot assess your environment, you cannot affect meaningful change as you would be fighting ghosts.

"Ought" from an "Is"

Ayn Rand's primary focus in the realm of Ethics is the idea that one can get an "ought" from an "is."

IOW: Man IS a rational being and, therefore, man OUGHT to act such and such.

I do not think Rand proved this. It was her contention. But I don't know we can really get to an ought (what someone should do) based on an is (that man is a rational being).

I think a better approach is Stephan Molyneux' idea of "Universal Preferable Behavior." The idea here is that everyone DOES agree to a few, limited ideals in the realm of morality. Even people who CLAIM they do not agree, actually do.

For example, the idea that "no person should steal property from another person" is a universal view of morality.

But you will protest that there actually ARE thieves amongst us! Yes, and WHY do they steal? Because they want to HAVE that property. But once they possess the property, they do NOT want ANYONE ELSE to steal it from them.

So, a person who does not steal believes in property rights, and his actions are consistent with his morality.

But, a person who does steal actually claims to both believe in property rights (when he has possession) and simultaneously claims he does not believe in property rights (when he is stealing). So, his morality is self-contradictory.

How would we determine if a concept such as "Thou shall not steal" is a valid moral principle? We must look at what would happen in a society where everyone agreed with it, as well as a society where everyone disagreed with it.

If everyone agrees (and does not steal), then we have a peaceful society, which is the goal of morality.

If everyone disagrees (meaning, if everyone believes theft is moral), then everyone would be (or should be, if they are consistent) be stealing ALL THE TIME. Everyone would be stealing from everyone else, and society would be in chaos -- something we are starting to see in the real world today.

So, I'm not convinced that Rand's "ought from is" was proven by her. I think Molyneux' "Universal Preferable Behavior" is more consistent with truth.

Having said that, however ...

That does not change the fact that Ayn Rand's great contribution to philosophy is the idea that our thinking PROCESS (Epistemology) must be an objective one in order to understand reality (Metaphysics).

So, I do not defend everything Ayn Rand wrote or said, but I acknowledge her huge contribution to mankind.

Regarding your other points:

(1) The fact that two people do not agree on what is moral does not prove that morality is subjective. It means they have different opinions about what IS moral. Surely, you cannot be claming that both the Jihadist Muslim who wants to kill non-Muslims is moral while the pacifist who wants to harm no one is also moral. We have to have a PROCESS of thinking to determine what ideas ARE moral and what ideas are NOT moral. This is the debate Rand addressed: HOW do we determine who is right and wrong?

(2) The fact that we all act irrationally at times does not change the fact that man is, by nature, a rational being (as opposed to other animals). Rand argues that we cannot live a happy life if we act irrationally. We must think longer-term to our rational self-interest. This is what she was saying. Far from denying that people act irrationally, she acknowledged it. You are wrong in your implication that some people are rational and some are irrational. We are ALL rational beings who often act irrationally. Rand said this was a problem if one wants to be happy (and being moral is part of being happy).

(3) I think you do not understand what libertarianism is. Libertarians accept the non-initiation principle. The idea that libertarians would accept the Marxist idea of stealing property from one person to give to another is completely opposite of reality. Libertarians oppose using force to take from one to give to another, regardless of whatever attempt to rationalize might be.

we all act irrationally at times?

i totally disagree.

it seems obvious to me that every choice we make is rational. it may conflict with what we say we want or believe in. but it is rational. there is a reason. thought is behind the decision. we make the choice because we think there is value in it for us.

Question on this point.

I am going to ask you if you wouldn't mind please to address this question from a raw logic perspective. Please do not provide an opinion. Thank you:

So, if you take this excerpt (below) from what you write above and consider it over the EXTREME long term, say, for example, a strategic game of 1000 years or 2000 years or 5000 years in length, would not it demonstrate that it would be rational, for example, from a purely Objectivist perspective, to be a true follower of Christ who genuinely emulates him at all times? If not, how or why not? Here is the excerpt. Again, the context is an infinite (or almost infinite period) strategic game, i.e. the extreme long term.

"We often act on emotional short-term benefit rather than our long-term best interests. Rand acknowledged this human trait and this is why she always wrote about "rational self-interest." She advocated that we consider our long-term best interests even when we feel short-term emotional whim. This is another of her genius where she correctly identified our emotions as a function of our values."

Couple of thoughts ...

First, Ayn Rand believed that each of us lives for our own sake. We do NOT live to serve other people, nor do they live to serve us. We are, therefore, NOT required to sacrifice our own lives to the "benefit" of others. Free association, including free market capitalism, will allow us to benefit each other without our having to SACRIFICE our own lives. Therefore, there is no point in thinking out 1,000 years. Our own RATIONAL SELF-INTEREST is what is best for OUR OWN LIVES, not people who might or might not be alive many centuries into the future.

Second, it is a bad idea to follow the teachings of any person (real or imaginary) whose ideas are not based in rational thought processes. This includes anyone who cliams knowledge about a world for which there is no proof. Would it be good to follow Christ's teachings? Some yes, some, no. Don't steal? Good one. Honor thy father and thy mother? No, not if they are evil bastards. If your parents abuse you, you have no moral obligation to honor them or even associate with them ever. If they are good to you, then you will probably benefit from having a relationship with them. But the idea that children should honor their parents, regardless of what nasty things those parents might do, is just a manipulative con game practiced by priests (and parents) throughout history.

Again, you have no obligation to sacrifice your life to others -- whether they are your parents, or politicians, or welfare queens.

I think that's along the lines of what Ayn Rand would say.

Again, I didn't ask for opinion.

I had asked you to apply raw objectivist logic to the question as stated above and would love if you'd take another shot at it.

Let me also ask a couple of corollary questions to my original one. Please address the original and these, if you feel so inclined:

Is it not in one's rational interest to maximize the survivability and prosperity of one's offspring?

Is it not in one's rational interest in the extreme long run to ensure the survivability and prosperity of one's offspring's offspring?

I have the brief version

I write a lot sometimes, but I don't have the time to write an entire book on the subject.

Regarding the 1,000 years thing, Objectivism concludes that one should not sacrifice one's life for another. That makes looking out 1,000 years irrelevant and not worth discussing.

Regarding following Christ's teachings, Objectivism concludes that faith is not a valid method of knowledge. When reason is applied to the question, one should not steal, but one should also not blindly respect (or honor) those who do not deserve respect. Those were just two the 10 Commandments I chose for illustration. Should one live their life according to Christ's teachings? Absolutely not, because faith is not a valid form of knowledge. Therefore, it is not a valid means by which to choose to live one's life.

Regarding offspring, if you bring a child into the world, you have a responsibility to care for him until he is old enough to care for himself. In terms of long-term survivability for ... what, exactly? So you have a legacy? It is a matter of caring for the child you brought into the world, and that is a matter of justice.

Still didn't address things.

I didn't state you had to believe anything "religious" to emulate Christ. You assumed that. What about the golden rule, as espoused by him? What about his other teachings, taken agnostically?

Also, doesn't this statement of yours conflict with the biological basis of behavior?
"Regarding the 1,000 years thing, Objectivism concludes that one should not sacrifice one's life for another. That makes looking out 1,000 years irrelevant and not worth discussing."

In other words, biologically speaking, is it not rational to concern yourself with the maximum survivability and prosperity of your offspring?

Well said TommyPaine. I love

Well said TommyPaine. I love Objectivism as a philosophy and consider it near 100% on the nose. People who don't like it tend to be religeous... and go figure. Rand wasn't exactly gentle with those who sell out their reason for easy make-believe answers.

Yeah ...

... that's a lot of it. It's been awhile since I've thought about Objectivism, and I forgot about all the hatred for Ayn Rand.

I think the main reason for the hatred is that Ayn Rand cornered people, intellectually. Her central thesis is that man's ONLY means of knowledge is the process of reason, by using the Rules of Logic.

Theists don't like this. They can't refute her conclusion (that reason is the only means of knowlege). They can't refute it because it is true. But religious belief is based on faith, which is NOT a valid means of knowledge, and in fact religion is shown for the scam it is when these principles are applied. That is a shocking thing to think about for a person who has always accepted religious ideas.

On the other hand, there are many statists out there who also hate Rand because she corners them, too. They do not want to accept any objective ideas because their ideas are so f**king irrational that they have to lie to themselves to really accept their ideas. They don't like religious ideas of morality, or objective ideas of morality, or any ideas of morality because they have already accepted some very dark, digusting things. To be intellectually forced into a corner that logic must be used if their ideas are to be taken seriously is something they cannot tolerate. Because their ideas are insane.

So, just by showing that reason is man's only means of knowledge she tends to piss off a lot of people who are immersed in irrational ideas.


Thanks for ruining my day :-)

One world, under government, with power and money for the elite


I don't know what this post is trying to accomplish, but I think it's obvious that the libertarian that Rand is talking about is not the kind of libertarian common to our current movement. She seems to be viewing the libertarian specifically as an anarchist, which, correct me if I am wrong but, that is certainly not the kind of libertartian common among the free market movement.
How many "anarchists" do we really have in this movement? Not many I'd assume. Capitalism is not anarchism. Laws exist to protect people's right to their capital. True anarchism, which she seems to be talking about, lacks any laws to protect an individuals right to their own capital, physical, intellectual, etc. She isn't talking about that. My guess (I'm only 31 years old) is that back then, the term libertarian, at least to her, didn't mean what it means today. In this excerpt, she obviously isn't talking about a free market capitalist libertarian, or even an anarcho-capitalist libertarian. It seems quite obvious that she is using the term "libertarian" to specifically mean ararchist. In which case, I'd agree. I don't like the idea of a sociey in which nobody agrees that I have the right to my own capital, because any law enforcing that principle goes against their "arnarchism" or "libertarianism".
As with almost everything Ayn Rand ever said, I think this particular excerpt has just been misinterpreted by people who just can't think passed their initial bias of her.

Free market capitalism isn't right for America because it works better. It's right because it's free (and it works better).

you contradict yourself

"Capitalism is not anarchism" and then "she obviously isn't talking about a free market capitalist libertarian, or even an anarcho-capitalist libertarian." Which is it, then?

BTW, the reason she attacked libertarianism is because libertarianism espouses subjective values (the correct view), while she espoused objective values (nonsense).

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

No I didn't.

There is a reason that anarcho-capitalists put the word "capitalist" at the end. It's not the same thing. Anarchists are not the same as anarcho-capitalists. And this is why we have a problem here. People define things however it suits them for whatever argument they are trying to make. The person here seems to want Rand to be someone we should all disagree with, so they assume libertarian they way Rand is using it, means libertarian they way most Ron Paul supporters or modern day free market capitalists would use it. Libertarian doesn't mean the same thing now as it did then, just as anarchist doesn't mean the same thing as anarcho-capitalist.

Free market capitalism isn't right for America because it works better. It's right because it's free (and it works better).

clarification of terms

AFAIK, "libertarian" always meant someone who is opposed to the initiation of physical force or the threat of initiation of physical force. There are many ways of stating this concept, such as the non-aggression principle or the voluntaryist maxim that all interactions should be by mutual consent. If you are using another definition, please state it, as I am not aware of any other widely used definition.

As far as the word "anarchist" goes, I am assuming you mean "anarcho-socialist," and you are distinguishing this from "anarcho-capitalist." You should make this clear, because when someone says "anarchist," I assume they mean "anarcho-capitalist." The reason I assume this (and this is perhaps presumptuous of me and detrimental to discussion), is that "anarcho-socialism" is a contradiction, because socialism requires a government to enforce the social ownership of the means of production, in order to prevent new entries of means of production into the market.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

Agreed. The libertarian she

Agreed. The libertarian she is describing has nothing to do with me. All of the liberty minded people I know hold the rule of law to be the cornerstone of freedom. What she is talking about is an anarchist. Ive met and debaited with many of them. While they don't want government, they haven't thought it through well enough to realize that in a lawless society, the warlords who would arise to take what they want would "be" the governments. Infact, thats how governments came about.

An anarcho capitalist on the otherhand mearly believes that governments are not an efficient way to produce rule of law. They may damn well be right. True capitalism without the unbalancing effects of government probably would do a better job of maintaining consistant rule of law than a government would. In my opinion, the only true reason we need governments is to handle a problem they caused. The nuke. So if we must have a gov, at least let it be small and restrained.

The way people adhere to labels is interesting. Every one of us reading that piece immediatly should have understood she wasn't talking about any of us, because none (or few) of us fit that description at all. So clearly either she was mistaken about what a "libertarian" is, or else libertarian ment something a bit differant in her context and time frame than it means for us today.

That's basically right.

The problem is definition of terms. Over the years, words can gain different meanings, and in the political realm, it is often done on purpose to confuse and obfuscate.

If we were to read that someone in 1850 said, "He's so gay!" would that mean he was homosexual or more likely to mean he was happy?

The term "libertarian" has different meanings depending on context. In a general sense, it is someone who supports liberty. Classical liberals are today's libertarians. Ironically, classical conservatives are also today's libertarians. That's because the words (liberal, conservative, libertarian) have all changed definitions for some people through the years. Again, this is done on purpose to confuse and obfuscate.

The word anarchy has been bastardized to equate to chaos. But that is not accurate. An-archy is simply "without a ruler," just as monarchy is one ruler and oligarchy is rule by a few. Anarchy is rule by no one, within the context of someone using force to rule over others.

Left-anarchism, also known as anarcho-communism, is the idea that the best society is one with no government and also that people would want to live in communes if given the choice. Karl Marx' ideas included the idea that this type of communism would be the end goal after a period of time where the "state withers away" during socialism.

Anarcho-capitalism is the idea that there should be no government and that people should be free to associate however they see fit. This could include communes for those who want it, but free-market capitalism for those who want that.

Capitalism itself is purely an economic concept where the government neither owns nor controls the means of production -- it is all in private hands. Take that to the ultimate conclusion and you get private enforcement, too.

Minarchism is the idea that the state should be very small, just military, police, and courts. With a government this small, you would also have capitalism since there is nothing for the government to do.

All of these could be considered "libertarian." But "Libertarian" (big L) is the Libertarian Party and whatever it currently stands for.

When the Libertarian Party was taken over by Bob Barr and his cronies, it seemed to change. But it seems as though it is now reverting back towards its original viewpoints.

In the quote above, Rand is talking about left-anarchists and I wouldn't be suprised if the quote was from before 1972, when the LP was founded. If not, it would be interesting to see the full context of the quotes, because the LP is certainly minarchist, which is what Rand was.

I've never taken this woman seriously--

not then, not now.

I don't think she ever did anything but have *ahem* out of wedlock, did she?

One of my adult children went on an Ayn Rand research spree and began reading her books and came away with a "blah" attitude about her--

said, "writing is highly over-rated"--

and . . . "she spent too much time in bed with people besides her own husband to be considered a great mind"--

it's hard to be awake; it's easier to dream--

Those are dumb reasons ...

... to dismiss someone's ideas.

you have a right to your opinion--

I know there is a lot of Rand admiration on here--

the downvotes made me chuckle--

it's hard to be awake; it's easier to dream--