Unraveling Libertarianism and Objectivism

Almost all of my friends who understand and agree with Objectivist philosophy (and turned me on to it) refuse to call themselves Objectivists, and not without good reasons. First, they risk being labeled as cult members because most visible Objectivists behave as such - this group is commonly known as the RANDROIDS. A Randroid believes that Ayn Rand has never done anything wrong and every idea which spawned from her head, no matter how mundane the issue, is gospel. Why bother giving a debate adversary the ad hominem ammunition when you can avoid the label and still make a solid and valid argument? Second, the Randroids will jump on your case for the silliest of reasons, almost always regarding esthetic tastes. For example, Ayn Rand hated Mozart, but I enjoy Mozart very much. That alone is sufficient evidence of my irrationality and some would go so far as to forbid me ever to associate myself with Objectivism.

The second reason is the huge turnoff. I've read every major writing of Ayn Rand and many of the other head honchos of Objectivism, and I have yet to find any significant premise of the philosophy with which I disagree. Except for one idea: Rand said that to laugh at yourself is to condemn yourself, whereas I believe that it is possible for a caricature of you or your beliefs, while it may be a misrepresentation, to be very funny and laughing at it reaffirms your objectivity. For example, I am a die-hard Simpsons fan (the TV show on Fox, not the TV trial on the E! network), and I fell over laughing at the episode where Marge & Homer take Maggie to the "Ayn Rand School for Tots," as did everyone with a real sense of humor. Randroids, however, were in the law libraries researching the possibility of suing Matt Groening for slander.

A third reason which I have yet to mention is without a doubt the most volatile topic for any Randroid: Nathaniel Branden. For those who don't know about Branden, he was Ayn Rand's greatest champion of Objectivism from their meeting in 1950, when he was 20, until their explosive schism in 1968 when he broke their sexual relationship (this part is still denied by the most entrenched Randroids although there is ample testimony besides Branden's to prove it). She immediately banished him from Objectivism and published in her subsequent writings that he was a hypocrite evil to the bone who sought to destroy Objectivism and everything of value in the world. In Randroid circles, the very mention of the name Branden (including Nathaniel's ex-wife Barbara) gives warrant to summary execution. In the real world, however, Nathaniel Branden is a brilliant clinical psychologist who continues to write books concerning the improvement of one's self-esteem.

I highly recommend Branden's short essay The Benefits and Hazards of Objectivism to all would-be Objectivists. Randroids would encourage you to read it as well, but then insist that you denounce it as more vicious lies in his continuing smear campaign. However, in reading this essay I found I agreed with his statements that the philosophy is incomplete as Rand left it, and that many people read this philosophy supporting free-thinking and instead become true believers like the Randroids. I also recommend his autobiography Judgment Day. Both of these should be read within the context of everything else that can be read about the issue, as these are the viewpoints of the Randroids' proclaimed antagonist. In my estimation, it is possible for a real Objectivist to have some anger toward Branden, but you can easily spot a Randroid at a thousand yards by the animosity you inspire in exhibiting any respect for the man or his work.

Despite the Randroids, however, Objectivism is still a brilliant philosophy which will conceivably outlive Christianity, as Rand's novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged each continue to sell over 100,000 copies annually (and you won't find them in hotel rooms). I highly recommend any of her writings to anyone who considers oneself to be a free thinker and to totally dismiss the ramblings of Randroids when reading her work.

Libertarianism as a political philosophy is not quite so complex - this has both very positive and very negative consequences. To be a Libertarian one must simply believe that each individual is born with unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that government's sole responsibility is to defend those rights. There is room for atheists and believers in god(s) within Libertarianism, so long as you do not infringe on someone else's right to believe or practice their beliefs. There is room for drug addicts, prostitutes, porno freaks, and other social outcasts - the right to make your own personal choices of lifestyle is inherent in the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Anything goes, so long as you do not infringe on the rights of others (and obviously some exceptions when dealing with minor children).

As one would expect, the Libertarian party has many different factions just as any other political party, and many of these differences are quite severe. For example, there is a strong sector, though not nearly a majority, of Libertarians who are anarchists. Anarchism is totally unacceptable to Ayn Rand's Objectivism - when there is no one to make objective determinations of whether individual rights have been violated, the enforcement of disputes between otherwise good citizens falls into the hands of "private defense agencies" (a.k.a. civil war). In this kind of political structure, subjective whim determines right and wrong, and the winner is Nietzsche's Superman, not the interests of justice. The anarchist counter-argument is that Objectivism, practiced without contradiction, necessarily leads to anarchism, because this would be the only system which would not involve a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. I tend to sympathize with the anarchists' position concerning the monopoly on force (what is to keep an "objective" monopolist of force from abusing the privilege?), but ultimately I believe in a single Supreme Court over a given jurisdiction (state or national) which makes the final decision on the law in that jurisdiction.

Not all Libertarians are anarchists. Some yet are stoners and hookers who want to do what they want without going to jail, and that is the extent of their political affirmation. This amounts to nothing more than hedonism. "Do what you like" is not a proper standard of value. A hedonist can never consistently provide protection for individual rights, because hedonism does not follow reason and therefore has no real understanding of the concept of rights.

Yet another wing of Libertarians believe that individual rights are axioms, or metaphysically given - meaning that rights exist on their own independent of humanity. It is impossible for rights to exist outside of the conceptual creatures (man) which act rationally. Objectivism holds that rights are the possession of human beings as a consequence of their ability to act in self-interest through the use of reason. An axiom is a statement of something that cannot be proven because its existence is necessary for the process of proof. An example is "Existence exists." Nihilists, logical positivists and other evaders can say "Prove that existence exists." The only thing to do with such people is to annihilate them and then tell their corpses they were right. But to say that individual rights are axioms is just intellectual laziness on the part of such Libertarians.

However, there are many Libertarians who understand the underlying philosophy of supporting an objective government whose sole power is to protect individual rights of its citizens, certainly more than Objectivists will give credit. Some of these people define themselves primarily as Objectivists, which really draws the ire of the Randroids, and it is with this group of Libertarians that I ally myself. A real Objectivist acts to change the things that are wrong in the world around him, not just sitting around doing nothing except point their fingers at the people who do try to change.

As I see it, Libertarianism ideally should be the political structure of the Objectivist philosophy. There are not many conflicts at all between anything in the Libertarian Party platform and anything Objectivism says about how a political system should act. There is nothing in the LP platform supporting anarchism, though Party members may believe in anarchy. There is no real rational basis for the phrase "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty" coined by Objectivist Peter Schwartz; this is just Randroid rhetoric. As if Randroids are good messengers of Objectivism! As a matter of politics, it does not matter that Libertarianism does not require the acceptance of every last moral principle. The only thing that matters for the sake of a political structure is that the rights of all individuals are secure.

I think the future of the Libertarian Party is very bright, for they are doing an excellent job at subverting the bipartisan party's attempts at silencing other parties and the general population is sick of the welfare state. The LP will grow hopefully not too slowly, but it will grow and eventually send its candidate to the Presidency. I think things are going to have to get pretty bad for that to happen, for Americans as a whole don't seem to catch on too quickly to the fact that government is the cause of our problems. If I was asked to make a prediction of when a Libertarian would be elected President without having to stand by it as a promise, I would say that it will happen when the Social Security system collapses and the AARP abandons the bipartisan party.

As far as the future of Objectivism, it is hard to say what will happen. It will continue to grow, but I believe it could be growing faster. Since Ayn Rand's death, no prominent Objectivist has emerged as a true leader with the charisma necessary to make a strong impact in the next millenium. While Alan Greenspan was formerly a member of Rand's inner circle, his actions as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board are not very in tune with Objectivism. Leonard Peikoff, Rand's chosen heir, is an able philosopher and public speaker, but he has so far not shown an ability to rise out of the shadow of Rand and he is also guilty of fostering and supporting the Randroid counterculture. I believe that once Peikoff dies (he's about 65 now), the philosophy will no longer have Peikoff as an impediment to its growth and the Randroid culture will fade away.

So where does a guy like me stand? Democrats and Republicans are afraid to recognize my existence because I may topple their phony world, socialists think I'm a fascist because I won't support the murder of the bourgeoisie, anarchists think I'm a statist because I believe in a minimal government, Libertarians think I'm moralizing because I have morals, and Objectivists think I'm a total pain in the ass because I think Matt Groening and Michael Moore (of TV Nation and Roger and Me fame) are funny and my favorite band is not Rush. Well if you haven't guessed by now, I'm used to standing alone but always on my own two feet. And I never fall off the bus.

How do I vote? I vote first for the Libertarian when one is allowed onto the ballot. If not, I write in, usually either myself or my mom. I almost never vote for a Republican, and I find Objectivists who regularly vote for Republicans totally embarrassing. How better to perpetuate the bipartisan party than to vote for them. The Clinton presidency has done a great job in destroying socialism in this country, and I think a Bob Dole presidency would have been equally successful in destroying capitalism since the Republican party posits themselves as capitalists while they act as statists. The only Republican I could see myself voting for in a Presidential election would be Steve Forbes and that would be absent a good Libertarian candidate.

I'd be satisfied just to have my way a little more often.

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