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How Ayn Rand’s Objectivism Shaped Libertarianism

Despite butting heads with many libertarian leaders, Ayn Rand’s philosophy has contributed much to the libertarian movement.

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By Josh Hughes | United States

Ayn Rand’s philosophy was very essential for the development of libertarian ideas as well as the Libertarian Party in the mid-to-late 20th century. While Rand and other Objectivists often feuded with libertarians in their time, it is undeniable that, in hindsight, the two have successfully coexisted and made great contributions to each other.

Ayn Rand’s Background

Rand was born 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lived with her family through the Bolshevik revolutions of the 1910s, and personally experienced the horrors of Communism when her father’s business was taken by the state and her family faced starvation many times. She learned about America while in schooling and decided to leave for the land of opportunity in 1925, originally intent on being a playwright.

Rand’s Beliefs

As someone that lived through one of the most collective regimes in modern history, Ayn Rand had a unique appreciation for individualism. She first started expressing her beliefs as a fiction writer, specifically in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Her ideas centered around the idea that man as an individual is the single most important thing in the world. More specifically, whatever made him happy was the most important purpose of his life, and his success his “noblest achievement.”

With such an egocentric philosophy comes many stipulations. Ideally, an Objectivist society would exist only within a very free state. One of Rand’s biggest beliefs is the necessity of Laissez-faire capitalism. In fact, it’s the only economic system viable for humanity’s success. She claims that state and trade must be separated the same as state and church, and that man, in realizing his potential and strength, will demand his freedom in trading. A government, she asserts, has one job: to protect the rights individuals and nothing more, something the Founders and many current day libertarians would agree with.

How Objectivism Shaped Libertarianism

It’s pretty obvious that a lot of these ideas sound very similar to libertarianism, more specifically a night-watchman minarchy state. As close as they may seem, however, Rand and her Objectivists frequently feuded with Libertarians in her time. Her specific thoughts can be read here, but the main idea is she was against libertarians because they try to combine anarchy and capitalism, which, in her opinion, cannot coexist. She consistently refers to the Libertarian Party as “right-wing hippies” that have moral convictions of those on the left, yet they advocate for limited government. Her views on foreign policy are iffy, and she often clashed with libertarian figurehead Murray Rothbard on ideas.

Whether or not Rand would still hold those values is impossible to find out, yet it would foolish to say the two philosophies and ideologies haven’t strengthened each other throughout the years. Many libertarians consider themselves Objectivists, due to the fact that the philosophy stands so firmly on the ideas of limited government and individualism. It’s important that we are knowledgeable of what laid the foundations of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s. While Objectivists and Libertarians have had their fair share of quarrels and disagreements, it’s an interesting philosophy that is invaluable for libertarians to look into in order to help shape their views.


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  1. The biggest threat to liberty in our lifetimes is in the White House and Objectivists and Libertarians have been singularly ineffective in fighting it. In fact, some embraced it. Leading Objectivist and former Cato President John Allison angled for a job with the administration, calling it a “heady experience,” and Libertarian Walter Block launched Libertarians for Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are also Rand fans. As long as Trump cuts business taxes, packs the Supreme Court with corporate toadies, and keeps the warfare state running smoothly they’re OK with his abuse of power.

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  2. Both Objectivism and Libertarianism believe in subordinating government to business (taxation is theft, taxes should be voluntary etc.) and pave the way for fascism.

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    1. To the contrary, exactly the opposite is true. Under both Objectivism and Libertarianism the government’s only task is to prevent the use of force or the threat thereof to interfere with the voluntary exchange of values by individuals or groups of individuals regardless of the kind of their contractual relationships or associations.

      In such a society, there would be no way for businesses or anyone else to gain wealth other than by offering in the marketplace greater values at lower costs. Since the government would not own anything or control anything but the use of force, there would be no favors or influence with which to collude with businesses.

      In addition, well beyond the level of understanding your comment exhibits, is the philosophical distinction that sets Objectivism apart from both communism and fascism, meaning specifically, the mind-body dichotomy those two ideologies represent.

      While Objectivism and Libertarianism both eschew the initiation of force to achieve ends, both communism and fascism embrace its use. The only difference between them is the dichotomy between their preferential forms of victimization. Communists and all on the left are materialists whose primary interest is control of the material universe, hence their hatred for wealth and physical success not yet under their control. The fascists and conservative right are spiritualists whose goal is the control of the spiritual values of so called ‘free spirits’ they cannot tolerate.

      Objectivists and Libertarians to the contrary advocate the freedom of every individual to pursue whatever values they choose so long as they restrain themselves from coercing others for any purpose whatsoever.

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      1. Political power follows economic power. Without regulation, business executives buy politicians to get protection from market forces. That’s what happened in the Gilded Age with government monopolies and rampant corruption and that’s what’s happening today with executives running agencies that used to regulate their business. It failed before and it will fail again.

  3. It is true that the Libertarian movement is permeated with the ideas of Ayn Rand and the similarities of Objectivist principles with those of the Libertarians are many within the context of politics. Attempting to explain the differences between Objectivism and Libertarianism then with her condemnation of the anarcho-capitalists misses the mark entirely.

    Objectivism is a full blown philosophy, one integral implication of which is its libertarian style politics. The Libertarian movement on the other hand is a politics that eschews any philosophical implications for fear of alienating some component of their ‘big tent’. The principles that constitute their politics are but a grab bag of ideas from Rand, Mises, Adam Smith, the Founding Fathers, etc. regarded to be “practical” in the long run. In other words, they are a-philosophical pragmatists.

    Objectivism starts with a metaphysics that includes a definition of the universal nature of the human being, an epistemology that defines how we know, and then recognizes that given those facts we have an ethical mandate to maintain our autonomy in the application of our reason to our actions in the production of the values necessary to the pursuit of our life.

    When that ethical mandate, in the context of the individual, is applied to life in a social context, it demands that one advocate and sustain a politics that will enable one to continue upholding that requirement. Thus it is Rand’s egoist ethics that is both the foundation and motivation of laissez-faire capitalism as the only moral political system.

    It is therefore only an Objectivist who can, in the face of an appearance of impracticality, persist in the pursuit of a principle because it is before any other consideration ethical. For example:

    Since the ethical requirement is an individual autonomy that requires every exchange of values among men to be voluntary, then the most fundamental political alternative is freedom v. force (which is the philosophical grouping of the Non Aggression Principle). Consequently, Objectivism regards taxation as an act of force—as theft.

    Nevertheless, a multitude of Libertarians will challenge the Objectivist who would prohibit taxation of any kind on the grounds that it would not be practical, and some form of mandatory funding of the government would ultimately be necessary. The Objectivist will reply that if you cannot figure out how to fund the government without initiating force to gather the funds, then you don’t get a government, i.e. the prohibition of taxation is moral, and in the long run, it is only the moral that can be regarded as the practical.

    This explains why Libertarianism has to have such a big tent. Without a philosophy and its ethics to discipline their thinking, political capitulations and compromises on a wide range of principles is endemic.

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  4. As an old-timer who was there Objectivism was actually a project of the Libertarian International Organization and modern Libertarianism and the LP platform was created without reference to Rand–who was an LIO Fellow in good standing. Her remarks on the LP were during a period when the Libertarians briefly lost control of the LP to right-wing infiltrators.

    I suggest a few websearches and not rely on Wikipedia.

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    1. Rand made negative comments over the course of a decade, so it was more than simply a “brief period” of distaste. I never claimed the LP gave direct reference to Rand, but many libertarians of the time are quoted as saying they used parts of her philosophy to guide their political journey. Also, Rand wrote on her beliefs as early as the 1930s, and Objectivism was her philosophy. I can provide you with all of my sources (none of which were Wikipedia), including academic research of Objectivism for nearly a year if you would like.

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