Ayn Rand's Finest Condemnation of Libertarianism

November 2, 2011 by  

Over the years, I have read several compilations of Ayn Rand quotations concerning libertarianism. For the first time today, I was able to listen to Ayn Rand’s the Questions and Answers following her April 11, 1976 speech at the Ford Hall Forum, titled “The Moral Factor”. Her answer there was arguably the most succinct and essential statement of her views on why libertarianism deserves to be condemned.

During the Q&A segment, an audience member asked Rand:

Q. “By any chance have you heard of Roger McBride of the Libertarian Party? Can you tell us what you think of him?”

A. “My proper answer should be: ‘I don’t’. But I’d like to elaborate. To begin with [in my speech] I mentioned the candidates which were mentioned as the particulars…article. They didn’t hear of McBride, which is just as well: there’s nothing to hear there. Now, why would I be opposed to him? Because I have been saying – look, if you know nothing about me except the lecture today – but I have been saying the same thing in everything I’ve spoken or written: that the trouble in the world today is philosophical; that only the right philosophy can save us. And here is a party which plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes it with the exact opposite – with religionists, with anarchists, with just about every intellectual misfit and scum that they can find – and they call themselves ‘libertarian’ and run for office.

“Just let me add: I dislike Mr. Reagan. I dislike Mr. Carter. And I’m not too enthusiastic about the other candidates. I would say the worst of them are giants compared to anybody who would attempt anything so unphilosophical, so low, and so pragmatic, as this libertarian party because it’s the last insult to the idea of ideas, and to philosophical consistency.”

NOTE: You can listen to Ayn Rand giving this answer by signing up (it’s free) to be a Registered user of the website and visiting the Rand audio library there. Those who would like to read the various essays I’ve written about libertarianism can find most of them by using the search tool on this blog. You can also find my videos on libertarianism by visiting my YouTube channel.


The above blog entry was cross-posted to my facebook wall and to Some interesting discussions ensued.

On facebook, S wrote:

…libertarianism is a broad term used to describe people who politically support (A) little to no government (B) free markets and property rights and (C) personal liberty. Under this definition, Rand would certainly qualify as a libertarian, her own distaste for the label notwithstanding.

I replied to S as follows:

As to “libertarianism” being a “broad term”: of course it’s broad – it’s deliberately, and intentionally, and strategically broad, and it is that strategy that lies at the heart of libertarianism. Specifically, by trying to bring together anyone who claims to like a floating conception of “liberty”, it attempts to attract even people holding opposing, mutually exclusive metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and even political philosophical commitments. “libertarian” necessarily implies a collective entity (i.e., the libertarian movement or Libertarian Party) that demands of its constituents that they agree to disagree about everything that makes liberty right for man. That willingness is a willingness of the movement – of libertarianism – to be, by design and intention, indifferent to philosophical beliefs that, in fact, undermine the case for liberty.

As one case in point: take Ron Paul – widely recognized and championed as a libertarian – who felt it very important to say, during a presidential debate in Nevada, that rights are god-given. Were a proponent of reality, reason, and rational selfishness to stand shoulder to shoulder with that clown saying both Ron Paul and he are “libertarians”, what theist cannot make the same claim? If rights are god-given, they are Allah given too, and one is left debating what rights man has by way of debating whose imaginary friend is the REAL omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent rights-giver. Sharia – Allah’s law, including the rights Allah says man has – is not pro-liberty (by most “libertarians’ ” conception of liberty), but if libertarians accept that (a) belief in the supernatural is a foundation for liberty; (b) that faith in the alleged words of alleged gods are a valid source of knowledge in defence of liberty, (c) that obedience to a god is a defence of liberty; etc. then forget about trying to win an argument with a Islamic theocrat about whether or not it is right for man to have liberty: you’ve conceded to him everything he needs – the supernatural, faith, obedience as a virtue, etc. Stand by Ron Paul; call yourself a fellow “libertarian”; and thereby serve the cause of defeating the prospect for liberty.

Also on facebook, A wrote:

Paul, while I share your distaste for anarcho-capitalism (which is basically the belief that you can have meaningful laws without enforcement), I don’t understand your distaste for the more sensible varieties of libertarian. If someone has the same politics as you, why not work together in the political sphere? Sure, you may disagree on philosophy, but debates about philosophy can happen after you’ve gotten what you both want out of the political process, they don’t need to happen before.

I replied to A as follows:

Nobody will achieve, from the political process, freedom unless ones policies and electoral platforms – and ones arguments – are founded on a commitment to reality, reason, and the virtue of every individual’s rationally selfish pursuit of his own happiness. Governance involves not just political considerations, but metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical considerations. To govern in a way that is pro-freedom is to govern solely according to the physically provable facts of reality, by way solely of reason, never failing to remember the purpose of the law (which is to ensure that no man is prevented by any other from rationally pursuing his own happiness). To come up with a party whose policies are indifferent to metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical concerns is to come up with a party that will not – if it wins – be committed to the the things that make rational, pro-freedom governance possible.

Philosophy is not academic. Everyone has, and operates upon, a conscious or subconscious philosophy. Governing for freedom requires an unswerving philosophical dedication to rational decision making, and that precludes decisions founded on such things as the possibility of an afterlife, the impossibility of certainty, the virtue of duty, etc..

To another of A’s comments – about suggesting Objectivists should collaborate with libertarians – I replied:

When it comes to the issue of philosophical advocacy (as opposed to advocating certain concrete changes to laws, taxes etc) one simply cannot align oneself with a person whose philosophy is contrary to ones own metaphysically, epistemologically, ethically, or politically, if one wants ones philosophy – and all of the benefits that result from its prevalence – to gain prevalence.

A responded:

If your political end is, for example, lower taxes, then Objectivism and a hippie’s distaste for The Man actually are interchangeable means to the same end. You may disagree on other issues, but on that one you’re allies, full-stop (unless, as you say, someone is so loathsome that accepting their help actually makes progress less likely). And if the set of “issues you agree on” encompasses everything related to government, then the disagreements are by definition apolitical. I’m not saying that you need to pretend apolitical differences don’t exist, but you seem far too intent on bringing them into the political sphere unnecessarily.

I replied:

It’s not an uncommon belief, but it’s an incorrect one, that only issues of political philosophy have anything to do with governance. That’s not so. Let me give you an example.

A few years back, a teacher in an Ontario school had a young student (I think her name was Victoria) who is autistic. Apparently, it is not uncommon with autism such as hers to be associated with children masturbating and doing so at inappropriate times and locations. Such, as I understand it, was the case with Victoria. Anyway, the teacher went to see a fortune teller one night. The fortune teller asked the teacher if she had a girl in her class having a first name starting with the letter V. The teacher responded yes. The fortune teller told her that V was being sexually abused by a man in V’s house. Presumably, the masturbation, combined with the fortune teller’s story and the teacher’s willingness to believe in the supernatural led the teacher to worry. The next day, she told the principle. The principle was, apparently, equally nutty. The principle called the Board. It was apparently equally nutty. The Board called the Children’s Aid Society. Being equally nutty, the CAS attended V’s house and inspected (no warrant needed, of course). V’s mother was shocked and outraged. The CAS discovered no man lives in the house. V’s mom was single.

So, here’s the question: ignoring the anarchist answer (“Smash the state to ensure that doesn’t happen”), what other libertarian answer is there to this situation? What is the answer that is based upon the alleged political “philosophy” of the libertarian movement? Forgive me for not holding my breath, because the issue is *not* political (and the libertarian movement does not have *a* political philosophy). The issue is not one of politics, but of metaphysics and epistemology. Everyone in this utterly wrongful chain of events was operating on the false metaphysical belief that the supernatural/mystical exists, and that reading crystal balls, tarot cards, or the wrinkles on ones hands, etc. are ways of obtaining knowledge. The correct answer, for the government observing that this BS went on, is to make laws that (a) exclude any consideration of the allegedly supernatural, and that (b) exclude any consideration of claims founded on mind-reading, fortune-telling, speaking with the dead, palm readings etc.. Yet there is NO libertarian objection to the supernatural (it is to be regarded, by the libertarian movement, as no less valid than claims that can be proven true with physical evidence), and there is NO libertarian objection to treating the alleged mystical insights of a “psychic” to be worthy of consideration by the government. Libertarians will disagree as to what should or should not have been done, as a result, because there answers will not be based upon libertarianism, but upon any of a wide and differing variety of metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, or political beliefs they hold. There *IS NO* libertarian answer to this situation, largely because even if there was a single libertarian political philosophy that all libertarians agreed with, a political philosophy would have nothing to say about the root problems in this case (which were matters of the GOVERNMENT’S metaphysics and epistemology).

Finally, it’s not a matter of bringing metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical issues into the “political sphere”. It is a willingness to *acknowledge* that metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical philosophy determines GOVERNMENTAL decisions and actions every day, and more fundamentally than political philosophy. To say metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (and, for that matter, the need for a particular political philosophy) doesn’t matter, so long as we all agree to a few floating political abstractions is utterly false and naive, and that utterly false and naive belief is why libertarianism cannot possibly achieve anything at all. They are trying to drive a car merely by operating the brake pedal, hands off of the wheel, feet off of the gas pedal, and eyes on their navels.

Meanwhile, over at, debate roared over whether Objectivism was just another form of libertarianism. I there decided to do what I rarely like to do (provide an analogy):

By way of concretes: the libertarian movement set up a factory to make knock-offs of Barbie-doll heads, which, on a doll-by-doll basis, it attached to a randomly-grabbed assortment of defective GI Joe, Robbie the Robot, or Swamp Thing arms; rejected Hulk, Rubber Man, or dildo torsos; discarded licorice whip, wooden stick, or dried up worm legs; dressed the resulting Frankensteins in potato sacks, garbage bags, or dominatrix clothing; packaged the resulting Frankensteins into boxes labeled “Beauty Doll”; and then claimed that the integrated beautiful womanesque invention called Barbie was “just another Beauty Doll, because they all have the same head”.

Not many daughters would buy that argument. No Objectivist should accept the argument that Objectivism is just another exemplar of libertarianism.


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