Friday, 21 September 2012

Is Objectivism's political philosophy anarchist? Did Ayn Rand advocate "anarcho-capitalism"?

While Ayn Rand advocated a highly limited government, Objectivism is anti-anarchist and Rand strictly opposed any variation of anarchism. Rand advocated a stable central government but that is limited only to the function of protecting individual rights and strictly restrained by the rule of law, very similar to that laid out by America's founding fathers.

As is typical, this myth exists even though Ayn Rand's statements on anarchy were quite unambiguous.
Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: . . . a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.
One source for this myth is that Ayn Rand advocated laissez-faire capitalism, and "the banishment of physical force from human relationships," which entails a much smaller government than exists today. But in Ayn Rand's view, while the government should be strictly limited to its function of protecting its citizens from the initiation of force, the existence of a government to perform such protection is absolutely necessary; anarchism of any sort would not banish physical force but lead to an excess of it.

Ayn Rand did not believe this was a compromise or a willingness to "give up a measure of freedom." The essential variable is not the amount of government per se but the protection of individual rights, to which (limited) government is essential.
When I say there should be no personal retaliation, this does not imply that one is giving up some freedom. We don't have the freedom to attack another person - to initiate force. We have the right of self-defense; but since another person is involved, and we want to deal with other people and live in a society, we must establish objective rules by which self-defense will be exercised. Establishing a proper form of government has nothing to do with surrendering freedom. It involves protecting yourself and everybody else from the irrational use of force. [pg. 4]
Another source of this myth may be the valley in Atlas Shrugged, in which a group of protagonists lived in hiding, without a state. But, as Ayn Rand explained, that was "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" and that a society without a government "would be dreadful." [pg.75.]

These same arguments apply to variations of anarchism as well, including "competing governments" and "anarcho-capitalism." Rand went so far as to say the "idea of competing governments" is an "irresponsible piece of nonsense." So not only was Ayn Rand not an anarchist, she was passionately opposed to any version of it. [pg.75.]