Objectivism vs Libertarianism: Different names, same idea?

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Objectivism vs Libertarianism: Different names, same idea?

  • Michael Hintze

    It appears that though this group has existed for more than three months, and has as of this moment 36 members, no member has wanted to be the first person to start a discussion. As I am not the shy, retiring type, I will.

     

    This group is dedicated to discussing Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, but is part of an overall project primarily dedicated to libertarianism. Therefore, how does one distinguish between the two philosophies?

     

    What are the differences between the two? What are the similarities? Is one a subset of the other? Are the differences, if any, that exist between the two problematic enough to cause them to be mutually exclusive?

     

    Please be as specific as possible with your answers to my inquiries. I look forward to your replies.

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  • Mike Vroman

    I’m not the one most qualified to go into detail, but if we use the term “Libertarianism” to describe anyone for whom individual rights supercede group rights, a broad definition indeed, then yes, Objectivism is a subset.

    Unfortunately, the fact that most objectivists recognize a need for a limited government creates an enmity of sorts between them and the anarchists, who attack the objectivists as “statists,” while the objectivists are only too happy to attack the anarchists in return as trying to foster chaos.

    We are all on the same side, but all too often out ideologies leave no room for compromise with those who are really our allies, hence the constant problem of libertarians spending so much time fighting one another that they make no overall progress.

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    Andrew David

    I come from O so I do know the difference. Libertarianism is not a complete philosophy, it confines itself to politics only. This was the great fear of Rand about libertarians (or hippies of the right, as she used to call them). They do not hold their ideas through a system of rational thought from the basic branches of philosophy. Instead, they pull out of a hat their primary axiom, the NAP. I think the very essence of the problem here is that its arbitrary and this axiom is really a product of what people feel already – they want to be left alone, they don’t like the impositions of the State (or from any other source), they want to do drugs or whatever else to their bodies on whim, and this is why rand called them hippies, basically undisciplined people. This is also why Rand said she would rather live in a socialist state than under a libertarian government. I cant recall why but I presume because at least under socialism you could predict what the government was going to do – they are quite open about what rights they are going to violate and which they will permit. Under libertarianism, there is less stability and everything could change tomorrow – something like an collectivism without a state.

    One more quick point, I cant understand why As would called Os statists, O does not advocate forced taxation, only that certain institutions (namely police, military, courts) cannot work without centralized planning (to achieve objectivity) and are paid for voluntarily by its citizens. How this would be enforced I don’t know, but I assume through some kind of ostracism. If you didn’t contribute some modest amount, maybe 5% of your income, you would be seen as a freeloader. I’m not sure on that though so don’t quote me as speaking for O on that latter point, just speculation.

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    Martin Nicholls

    I learned about Objectivism primarily through these two essays; my favourite is by Roy Childs. According to Childs the root of the Objectivist philosophy is the validity of reason and the ability and right of man to think and judge for himself. But according to Childs, Rand’s political philosophy cannot be maintained without contradiction because in an Objectivist society the government is not open to competition and therefore is a coercive monopoly. He says her definition of government (an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct and holds a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force in a given geographical area) is epistemologically mistaken because she doesn’t identify its fundamental, and hence, essential characteristics.

    “Libertarianism vs Objectivism; A Response to Peter Schwartz” by Walter Block.
    “Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand” by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

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    Andrew David

    I’m happy to be corrected but I don’t think paying for the maintenance of an O state would be coercive, it was supposed to be voluntary, and likely a ‘duty’, ie. one ought to contribute what they can to maintain the essential features of State. There is no legal recourse if you were to choose to be a freeloader, only social disapproval. Whether this would work (viz. “tragedy of the commons” economic problem) is certainly an open question. The only thing ‘coercive’ although the word in this context is not quite right would be the acceptance of the judgement of the centralized justice system (ie.you must participate in the system and not be a vigilante).

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    Objectivist Dad

    The idea of voluntary contribution to “essential features of the State” reminds me of rural fire departments. Completely voluntary, no taxation involved as it is completely subscription based. IE you either pay or you aren’t covered. Was a recent case in TN where the FD responded and watched a house burn down. They responded since the house was near a subscriber’s house and wanted to make sure it didn’t spread.

    Needless to say there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media over the fact that they just watched, and many said why not save it and then charge them. I thought the answer was obvious. No one would pay until their house caught on fire, and it would be too late as there wouldn’t be any equipment etc.

    Seems like the same would apply here. If you aren’t a “paying member” of the community, then you would receive only the services, if any, that would offered as charity.

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    Michael Bunch

    I think Objectivism is a form of libertarianism and a very specific form at that. It also applies to life as a whole, as a branch of philosophy, whereas libertarianism is more specific to political philosophy.

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      Nick Newell

      I would say libertarianism is more than a political philosophy. It definitely extends into economics though known as Austrian economics and its extension into Anarcho-Capitalism. Libertarianism also extends into morality with NAP and individual sovereignty, etc. Libertarianism may have begun with NAP and hippies and stuff but it is definitely more than wanting to be left alone; anyone can be left alone in a cave, kills others that approach and living in isolation. Libertarianism is recognizing individual sovereignty and private property while living in a voluntary society, which beginning with politics, permeates throughout the way we choose to live our lives in all other spheres.

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        Michael Bunch

        I would disagree with that. Thomas Woods makes a good point about Austrian economics and libertarianism as being two separate fields, and I concur with that thinking. If I run across it, I’ll post it here for you. Now the two certainly go together well, don’t get me wrong, but they are distinct from one another. Hell, Mises himself didn’t even believe in rights; a concept core to libertarianism. I think it’s important to see the two as distinct, if only for intellectual honesty, since one is a field of economics (said by Mises to be value-free, though that’s debatable) and the other related more about the politics and morals themselves.

         

        Found it:

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    Youliy Ninov

    Rand did not in my view offer a working solution. She suggested that the state be supported by voluntary contributions, but this is all. One has to take her words for granted, but this is hard because for every case where this has turned out to be possible (the above mentioned “rural fire departments”) there are probably one hundred more where this system has failed. The state funding principle is plain wrong.

    What I did not see in her ” The virtue of selfishness” is how the state can exist if people are allowed to secede from it with their land. By Rand’s definition the state is there only to protect, but protection must be a voluntary service, not an obligation. If we accept Rand’s ideas exactly as she has given them, then everybody could quit the state at will and the state will have no right to stop him/her. So, a fixed land state as we have today would be impossible under Rand’s system. Basically the state would transform itself into a variable size jurisdiction. And since there could be many jurisdictions, the missing “competition” (mentioned in this discussion) would be present.

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    Seth Cochran

    Man’s survival requires that he remain free. Rand suggested government and laws as the means to enforce rights. She also suggested voluntary funding as a way to support government. Ultimately, they are just suggestions.

     

    What Rand sought in advocating a limited state was to distinguish production from the use of force. The liberals of her day (i.e. Rothbard, etc.) advocated for the production and sale of force in the market.

     

    Rand pointed out that the production of force is a contradiction and offered a few suggestions for resolving it. While she expounded at length on the proper limits of government, she left its precise nature open ended.

     

    The closest we can get to a concrete example from Rand’s own pen is the judiciary in Galt’s Gulch. Judge Narragansett holds a de facto monopoly (being the only bona fide judge) and is presumably paid for his judgements.

     

     

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      Youliy Ninov

      Galt’s Gulch is in no way something to draw conclusions from. The reason is: its structure is not well explained. So, many interpretations are possible, for instance:

      1. Judge Narragansett is the only one there because most of the people (but not all) have agreed that he will judge and create the laws.  Those, who do not agree have no other choice but to stay there, because if they decide to secede with their land they would  quickly be forced to come back by the others. Leaving the Gulch (without their land) is a no-option for them as well since they will be robbed on the outside from the other governments or poor/starving people. This is the typical state, as it exists nowadays.

      2. The option I suggest: The judge has written the laws in such a way that everybody there accepts them and wants to live under them. But everybody has the right to secede whenever he likes. Because of this the Judge is forced to write acceptable laws, otherwise he would be soon out of his job. This is a variable-size jurisdiction (in my terms). Very similar to a state but not the same.

      3. Anarcho-capitalism: It just so happened that this judge is the only one there. People have the choice to use his services or not, to accept his law or not. He is paid for his services from the plaintiffs.

       

      All of the above options are possible in my view.

      Rand has done quite a poor job regarding the explanation of the state-structure.

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    E. Lee MacFall

    Rand despised libertarians and called libertarianism “Objectivism with its teeth pulled”. She also ordered her followers to “excommunicate” Murray Rothbard, who literally wrote the book on libertarianism. So according to Rand, the two philosophies don’t have much to do with each other.

    Of course some say it is possible to be an “objectivist libertarian” without being a Randian. People like Wes Bertrand and Stefan Molyneux have made that claim for themselves. But I don’t see the point to calling one’s self an objectivist just because one agrees with some of it, while objecting parts that its founder considered essential. We all get parts of our philosophy from various places, including Rand herself. I think objectivism is valuable in some of what it offers, and therefore has its place within libertarianism, as a contributor to the tradition. But whenever it can be distinguished as its own self-contained system, it seems as though that only happens through its being distinguished from libertarianism.

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      Cameron T. Belt

      while objecting [to] parts that its founder considered essential.

      This is something I have a problem with, it isn’t “her” philosophy, its either right or wrong. So to say that I agree with everything she said up to a point then I say that she was wrong in her political conclusions, is either right or wrong. Just because she wrote these ideas down does not mean the ideas cant be wrong or changed.

      Sorry for the mild rant, I think that we all need to distinguish Rand the person from Objectivism the Philosophy. To me philosophy is like a math question, you start with an equation, then through logic you come to some other equation or you can make some true statement about the equation you started with, and both are either right or wrong, and no one can lay claim to “2 + 2 = 4” and say that that’s their equation and no one else can tough it.

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    P_Fritz

    Libertarianism tends to be more comforatble with religion (so long as it is not used coercively) whereas Objectivism tends to consider any form of religion or spiritualism to be collectivist mysticism and to be foolish and irrational.

    Objectivism also goes so far as to draw certain aesthetic conclusions i.e. The superiority of Modernism in architecture, Romanticism in literature. Libertarianism itself seems to draw no such conclusions or bother itself with such questions. So there you go, Liberariansim offers no suggestions for aesthetic considerations, which is fine if you know what you like.

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    Rodger Paxton

    I will never understand why Ayn Rand was so against the libertarian movement.

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      Danny Childs

      I will be defining Libertarian in her words rather than any of the varying schools; she viewed Anarcho-Capitalism as Libertarianism; not Minarchism ect

      Because to her, as I understand her work, the concept of capitalism without law is a fantasy. She stated that capitalism is the only system that absolutely requires objective law so the Libertarian tradition to her is an irrational contradictory belief system because “emergent order” is not order at all but rather acting upon whims rather than reason and a system that requires objective law can not emerge from whims because we know objectively how capitalism formed and cultures where those realities are absent did not and could not have capitalism “emerge”. She stated that Libertarians mistake Galt’s Gulch for a society when it was one mans estate who selectively admitted people only of the highest intellect and to extrapolate that to a society with every kind of mind and belief but no government is to return to the Middle Ages where people were at the mercy of bandits, the vile and immoral as the immoral will always resort to force and the moral will not and without the objective threat of violence by a third party against the immoral the immoral would merely size up their victims and attack whomever they believed could not win; it is even more arbitrary than the welfare state she argued which is why she said she had more respect for pragmatists and could come to an agreement with Communists but never a Libertarian.

       

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    Youliy Ninov

    I agree with Ayn Rand. That is why I suggest (and offer as an alternative social system) anarchism with laws. Ayn Rand however has  not offered a finished/uncontroversial system on her side, so she is not beyond reproach.

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    Cameron T. Belt

    I think if objectivist literature is read in a “vacuum” more or less the logical conclusion to draw from it is that the best way for societies to exist peacefully is through completely free markets. This sounds a lot like what many an-caps say, but when you dive into the cult of personality around miss rand and her own personal opinions you realize that as an objectivist you should be in favor of minarchism, this is logically inconsistent with objectivism in my opinion. First just because ayn rand said it does not mean that it is holy word from on high and to be regarded without question, this goes against the entire philosophy for rationality and individualism. Secondly she arrived at the NAP but then some how could not apply it consistently and through some verbal gymnastics tried to justify the state.

    I believe that to be an objectivist means to be an anarchist, but most mainstream objectivist would gouge my eyes out if they heard me say that, its kind of bizarre the level of cult like behavior many objectivist have towards ayn rand, but staunchly support individualism.

    In short, I agree with objectivism, but i dont agree with miss rands personal choices and life style, nor her never to be questioned dogma she created around herself.

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      Youliy Ninov

      I agree with you. Ayn Rand has not brought her own ideas to their logical conclusion. State does not fit well in her philosophy. For instance:

      The state,as per Ayn Rand is just a defensive agency so to say. The problem is that, if the state has just defensive functions it can not keep you inside with force. I.e. if you wish you could secede along with your land, property, etc. However, if it possible to secede, then the state as such can not exist, because if people disagree with it in any way they will vote with their feet. However a state without land is no state. So, Ayn Rand’s ideas lead towards communities/jurisdictions of like-minded people, people who agree to live under the same laws, whatever these laws are. In short: anarchy.

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