Ayn Rand & Murray Rothbard: Diverse Champions of Liberty
No one should attempt to treat Ayn Rand and Murray N. Rothbard as uncomplicated and rather similar defenders of the free society, although they have more in common than many believe. As just one example, neither was a hawk when it comes to deploying military power abroad. There is evidence, too, that both considered it imprudent for the US government to be entangled in international affairs, such as fighting dictators who were no threat to America. Even their lack of enthusiasm for entering WW II could be seen as quite similar.
And so far as their underlying philosophical positions are concerned, they both can be regarded as Aristotelians. In matters of economics they were unwavering supporters of the fully free-market capitalist system, although while Rand didn't find corporations per se objectionable, arguably Rothbard had some problems with corporate commerce, especially as it manifests itself in the 20th century. One sphere in which they took very different positions, at least at first glance, is whether government is a bona fide feature of a genuinely free country. Rand thought it is; Rothbard thought it isn't. Yet the reason Rothbard opposed government was that it depended on taxation, something Rand also opposed, so even here where the difference between them appears to be quite stark they were closer than one might think.
When intellectuals such as Rand and Rothbard have roughly the same political-economic position, it isn't that surprising that they and their followers would stress the differences between them instead of the similarities. Moreover, in this case both had a similar explosive personality, with powerful likes and dislikes not just in fundamentals but also in what may legitimately be considered incidentals – music, poetry, novels, movies and so forth.
Yet what for Rothbard might be something tangential, even incidental, to his political economic thought, for Rand could be considered more germane since Rand thought of herself – and many think of her – as a philosopher (roughly of the rank of a Herbert Spencer or Auguste Comte). Rothbard wrote little in the sphere of metaphysics and epistemology, although he was well informed in these branches of philosophy, while Rand chimed in quite directly on several philosophical issues, having written what amounts to a rather nuanced long philosophical essay on epistemology and advanced ideas in metaphysics, such as on free will, causality and the nature of universals. Her followers, such as Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, Tara Smith, Alan Gotthelf, James Lennox and David Kelley, among others, have all made contributions to serious discussions in various branches of philosophy.
The central dispute, however, between Rothbard and his followers and Rand and hers focuses, as I have already noted, on whether a free country would have a government. The debate is moved forward in the volume edited by Roderick Long and me, Anarchism versus Minarchism; Is Government Part of a Free County (Ashgate, 2006).
Even apart from their disagreement about the justifiability of government in a bona fide free country, there is the difference between them about the subjectivity of (some) values. Rothbard holds, for example, that "'distribution' is simply the result of the free exchange process, and since this process benefits all participants on the market and increases social utility, it follows directly that the 'distributional' results of the free market also increase social utility." The part here that shows the difference between Rothbard and Rand is where Rothbard says that the "free exchange process ... benefits all participants on the market." Maybe most of them benefit in such exchanges but some do not. Suppose someone exchanges five ounces of crack cocaine for an ounce of heroin. Arguably, at least as Ayn Rand would very likely maintain, neither of these traders gains a benefit in this exchange, assuming that both commodities being traded are objectively harmful to the traders' health. Both are, then, harmed, objectively speaking, even if they believed they would benefit.
This may be a minor matter but it isn't, not at least if Rothbard's idea is generalized to apply to all market exchanges. True, from a purely economic viewpoint, both parties in free exchanges tend to take it or believe that they are benefited by these. But this belief could well be false.
Now, of course, Rand would agree with Rothbard that just because people engage in trade that's harmful to them, it doesn't follow that anyone, least of all the government, is authorized to ban such trade or otherwise interfere with it. Such matters as what may or may not harm free-market traders from the trades they choose to engage in are supposed to be dealt with in the private sector. Family, friends, doctors, nurses, et al., or other agents devoted to advising people what they should and should not do are the only ones who may launch peaceful educational or advisory measures to remedy the private misjudgments and misconduct of peaceful market participants. Such an approach sees public policies such as the war on drugs as entirely unjustified even if consuming many drugs is objectively damaging to those doing so.
In any case, the Randian view doesn't assume that all free trades benefit those embarking on them. Let me, however, return to the major bone of contention between Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand, namely, whether government is (or could be) part of a free country. Given that Rothbard believes government cannot exist without deploying the rights-violating policy of taxation, his view is understandable but the underlying assumption that gives rise to it is questionable. Rand did indeed question it in her discussion of funding government in the chapter "Government Financing in a Free society" in The Virtue of Selfishness, at least by implication, when she argued that government can be financed without taxation. If she is correct, then Rothbard or his followers need to mount a different attack on the idea that the free society can have a government. (And some have indeed made this argument, including me in, for example, my "Anarchism and Minarchism, A Rapprochement," Journal des Economists et des Estudes Humaines, Vol. 14, No. 4 [December 2002], 569-588.)
Rand proposed that instead of taxation, which involves the rights-violating policy of confiscation of private property, a government could be funded by way of a contract fee, a lottery, or some other peaceful method. Whether this is so cannot be addressed here but it shows that Rand and Rothbard were not very distant from each other on the issue of the justifiability of government in a free country. Perhaps the term "government" is ill advised when applied to whatever kind of law-enforcement institution would be involved in bona fide free countries. But this is not what's crucial – a rose by any other name is still a rose and a law-enforcement, judicial or defense agency in a free society is what is at issue here, not what term is used to call it. So, again, Rand and Rothbard seem closer than usually believed.
Yet it's not just about taxation for many who follow Rothbard. Most also hold that the idea is mistaken that government – or whatever it is called – needs to serve a society occupying a continuous territory instead of a Swiss cheese-like region. The idea of a disparately located country, without a continuous territory and with the possibility of all parts being accessible by law enforcers without the need of international treaties, makes sense to Rothbardians. Not, however, to Randians, it can be argued – not unless the familiar science fiction transportation option of being "beamed up" from one area to another (so that law enforcement can reach all those within its jurisdiction) is available. Otherwise, enforcement of the law can be easily evaded by criminals.
Again, this isn't the place to resolve the dispute between Rand and her followers and Rothbard and his. This brief discussion should, however, indicate where their differences lie. It doesn't at all explain, however, why the different parties to the debate tend often to be quite acrimonious toward each other. What may explain this, though, is a simple point of psychology. Nearly all champions of a fully free, libertarian society are also avid individualists and often tend to insist on the policy of what might be called: My way or the highway! Even when their differences don't warrant it.
Posted by speedygonzales on 01/06/12 07:17 AM
"The censorship, together with our monopoly of cables and our passport control of passengers, enables us to hold all American newspapers as isolated from the non-American world as if they had been in another planet instead of in another hemisphere The realization of this by the Associated Press and the other universal news gatherers -- except Hearst -- was most helpful in bringing only our point of view to the papers they served."
Colonel Edward House report,1919
Many thought that the new world order proclaimed by George Bush was the promise of 1945 fulfilled, a world in which international institutions, led by the United Nations, guaranteed international peace and security with the active support of the world's major powers. That world order is a chimera. Even as a liberal internationalist ideal, it is infeasible at best and dangerous at worst. It requires a centralized rule-making authority, a hierarchy of institutions, and universal membership. Equally to the point, efforts to create such an order have failed. The United Nations cannot function effectively independent of the major powers that compose it, nor will those nations cede their power and sovereignty to an international institution. Efforts to expand supranational authority, whether by the U.N. secretary-general's office, the European Commission, or the World Trade Organization (WTO), have consistently produced a backlash among member states.
The leading alternative to liberal internationalism is "the new medievalism," a back-to-the-future model of the 21st century. Where liberal internationalists see a need for international rules and institutions to solve states' problems, the new medievalists proclaim the end of the nation-state. Less hyperbolically, in her article, "Power Shift," in the January/February 1997 Foreign Affairs, Jessica T. Mathews describes a shift away from the state -- up, down, and sideways -- to supra-state, sub-state, and, above all, nonstate actors. These new players have multiple allegiances and global reach.
Mathews attributes this power shift to a change in the structure of organizations: from hierarchies to networks, from centralized compulsion to voluntary association. The engine of this transformation is the information technology revolution, a radically expanded communications capacity that empowers individuals and groups while diminishing traditional authority. The result is not world government, but global governance. If government denotes the formal exercise of power by established institutions, governance denotes cooperative problem-solving by a changing and often uncertain cast. The result is a world order in which global governance networks link Microsoft, the Roman Catholic Church, and Amnesty International to the European Union, the United Nations, and Catalonia.
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There is no doubt now, with daily affirmations coming from the global elite themselves that their 'New World Order' is coming. There is no doubt, as exemplified in Libya, that they are willing to murder on vast scales to eliminate any obstruction to their designs. There is no doubt, after the corporate-financiers have just helped themselves to trillions of taxpayer dollars to cover their collapsing pyramid schemes that they are far from the progressive 'international order' they claim to represent. There is no doubt that now is the time to act. There is absolutely no justification for buying another Pepsi, Coke, Big Mac, or Starbucks and further empowering this modern day empire. What we have been taught are the features of a civilized society are in fact the padded, gilded shackles of our enslavement. There is absolutely nothing the global corporatocracy can do that people can't do better locally. The only barrier is ambition, education, and a shift in our collective paradigm to see ourselves, not some elected savior, as the ultimate solution to our problems.
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Posted by reegje on 01/06/12 11:29 AM
I have read somewhere that Ayn Rand was romantically involved with a Rothschild; he gave her the blueprint for writing Atlas Shrugged. Well the way it goes in the USA the book describes pretty much the way it is going in the USA so far.
Reply from The Daily Bell
We have read this over and over. It is intriguing but where is the evidence?
Posted by BASILOVECCHIO on 01/06/12 01:30 PM
Please once in a while other comparisions.
E.G.,... neo-chartalist, market monetarist, and Austrian
... ..Minsky, Copeland, Hawtrey, Hicks, Klugman.
Thanks again for this great article .
Posted by budwood on 01/06/12 01:51 PM
I'm with Rothbard. No government is better than a monopolistic government.
That said, I could very well be in favor of a non-monopolistic government. If fact, I'd like a choice of one out of perhaps three or four different governments. Then, I could choose which one to send tax payments to and which one I'd like to serve under for compulsory service, etc. Seems that I can choose a mortgage company from several, chose insurance from many, and even buy an automobile from whatever company I feel has the best product and service; those choices work.
So, let's get off from this governmental monopoly kick! Such has only wasted resources (including hundreds of millions human beings) and generally tried to turn the world into that proverbial vale of tears!
Posted by Bobby7 on 01/06/12 02:48 PM
'Rand' was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905... 'Ayn Rand' came to America from Russia presenting herself as if a radical anti-Communist. Hers was the typical modus operandi of Bolshevik operatives working for an official Soviet organization known as 'The Trust'. These agents, many of them crypto-Jews, came to the West in search of anti-Communists and infiltrated anti-Communist organizations and Western intelligence agencies. Their objective was to forward the interests of Communism by creating a controlled opposition to Communism which would serve the interests of the Communists while pretending to fight them. They also subverted all authentic anti-Communist movements.
'Rand promoted negative stereotypes of women, attacked homosexuals, advocated laissez faire Capitalism, and taught selfishness and disregard for humanity. She opposed charity and objected to any governmental assistance for those without means. She wanted to place America on the ruinous Gold Standard.
'Rosenbaum's 'good advice' to the blacks only held them back by preventing them from using the political process to forward their interests. Her good advice to the Goyim only held the Gentiles back, by making them selfish and irresponsible, and also by preventing them from using their government to better themselves and their neighbors. She taught the Gentiles to hate the poor, undermine the middle class and concentrate wealth in the hands of the wealthiest Jews, all in the name of 'fighting Communism'. Her'good advice' pitted Goys against one another at the time when they should have been helping one another to become successful. She taught Gentiles to shun any efforts to cooperate in their communities and improve the lot of one another.
'While Jews famously provided communal support and charitable assistance for their own, Rosenbaum helped to create the destructive 'me generation' attitudes in Americans, which undermined the good nature of Christianity, weakened communities and inhibited the advancement of the poor and middle class. Her beliefs also fostered the drug culture, pornography and the destruction of public education. While Jews promoted strong community ties, Rosenbaum taught the Goyim to be selfish and 'independent', meaning without any sense of social responsibility or communal cohesion.
'While Jews wisely took from the public schools all they could, Frederick T. Gates, an agent of World Jewry, used Rockefeller/ Rothschild money to finance institutions of higher learning which benefited Jews, while promoting the idea that Gentile students should be readied for factory work and work as field hands and farmers. While World Jewry took the monies they stole from Gentiles and distributed them charitably to their own, Rosenbaum taught Gentiles to abandon all social responsibility, obsessively focus on themselves, and destroy all government institutions which better the lot of the American middle class and poor.
'Alisa Rosenbaum's 'anti-Communist' philosophies weakened Americans opening the door for Communism. I suspect she was an agent of 'The Trust'.'
Ayn Rand authored the popular books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Readers unfamiliar with these tomes can listen to Rand's 1959 interview with Mike Wallace in which she expounds her philosophy of 'Objectivism' and 'rational self-interest.' Before an American audience, Rand disparaged God and Christianity, promoted Marxist atheism and unbridled capitalism wherein the pursuit of self-interest is the highest virtue. Rand redefined morality as the individual's pursuit of his own happiness to the exclusion of others' needs, while condemning altruism and charity as immoral because the recipients are unworthy, or they would help themselves and refuse help from others. One only need to listen to Ayn Rand to recognize that her philosophy is the fountainhead of the self-absorbed and atheistic 'Me Generation,' as well as the uncharitable self-interest that defines much of the Conservative movement.
'This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.' (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Posted by NAPpy on 01/06/12 08:26 PM
I view Rand as a philosopher who made a valiant effort at solving some of life's most important philosophical questions--yet failed. The philosophers who came closest are:
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-Ludwig Von Mises
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-Principia Cybernetica Web
Principia Cybernetica Web does the best job of laying out what the major questions are, and have the best answers related to evolution. Haselhurst has nailed metaphysics. Hoppe, building on Mises, has the best approach to epistemology I've seen. If you think "How do humans act" is an important philosophical question, as I do, than Mises Human Action is ground breaking. The question, "How should humans act" is also answered by Hoppe.
Rothbard, I think, should get credit for reaching the correct conclusion that government (in terms of coercive monopoly) is inevitably anti-market, and making it remarkably popular, but I do not think that natural law, as he formulated it, is correct.
Posted by LloydMiller on 01/06/12 11:52 PM
Bobby7: You post is full of lies and mischaracterizations. AT NO TIME DID AYN RAND SAY SHE OPPOSED CHARITY. Of course, she did not see it as a moral imperitive either.
Posted by DarbyJie on 01/07/12 11:24 AM
There is not the tiniest shred of evidence to support this lie; Nathaniel Branden should be able to set the record straight once and for all, one would imagine.
As a side note, it's really sad that destructive gossip should be given this much credence..!
Reply from The Daily Bell
We are not giving it CREDENCE. We have heard about it endlessly.
Posted by DarbyJie on 01/07/12 12:49 PM
"We are not giving it CREDENCE. We have heard about it endlessly."
Doesn't matter - it makes no sense. You contradict your own views-that she is a *Great champion of Liberty*-by saying you are 'intrigued' by this ridiculous rumor. Surely you have noticed that great figures have always attracted the malice of those who envy them, that is all that is at work here..
Posted by alexsemen on 01/07/12 03:09 PM
Why you try to sell to us with any price, anyhow all this Jews criminal trush !!??
Posted by Hoss on 01/08/12 12:09 PM
People rarely pass up a chance to show you what they're made of.
Posted by Bobby7 on 01/08/12 01:45 PM
AYN RAND GODLESS COMMUNIST
Ayn Rand, like Karl Marx, was a strong disbeliever in the values of religion, and Jesus Christ in particular. Ayn Rand, a fierce and aggressive critic of President Kennedy, was a strong disbeliever in the concept of patriotism that involves sacrifice for others.
At some point there will be a fierce debate on the right between the proud atheism of Ayn Rand and the proud faith of the religious right, and all of the policy differences these views create.
Ayn Rand believed in a Darwinian view of the world, in a supremely selfish notion of citizenship in which we are not our brother's keeper, in which her greatest good involves the most selfish ends.
Posted by Dilence Sogwood on 01/09/12 04:43 PM
Blueprint for Altas Shrugged?
Pretty easy - The New Deal. You don't need some lizard alien to tell you what happened 20 years prior!
People think it is a presceint work, FDR was the blueprint for Obama.
Posted by TPaine on 01/10/12 12:33 AM
" As just one example, neither was a hawk when it comes to deploying military power abroad."
False. Rand was an amerikkkan nationalist & military nutcase.