The Objectivist Divide

by Sean Gangol
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

I remember the early days when I was just starting to flirt with libertarianism by reading books from authors, such as L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Shulman and Vin Suprynowicz. This was before I had read any of the deep philosophies of Murray Rothbard or Ayn Rand. At that point I hadn’t even heard of Reason magazine. I would later discover the works of Ayn Rand, while searching the net for libertarian literature. After reading several of Rand’s books I become quite confused about the differences between objectivism and libertarianism. They both believe in free markets and self-ownership, but there had to be some major differences between the two ideologies, since Ayn Rand herself had rejected the libertarian movement.

Later I would read Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer, where an entire chapter was dedicated to calling objectivism a cult. I initially thought that Shermer was full of crap because it seemed absurd that an organization that preaches rugged individualism could possibly be as cult-like as he claimed. Usually individualism is the very trait that cults like to eradicate among their ranks.

Later I would learn that objectivism wasn’t just a political philosophy that emphasized individualism. Objectivists were huge believers in metaphysics and thought that atheism was a perquisite for the ideology. They were also hawkish when it came to war and foreign policy, which explains why Ayn Rand referred to libertarians as right-wing hippies for their non-interventionist beliefs. While there are considerable differences between the two philosophies, it still didn’t explain why Rand and her followers were so hostile to libertarians. That didn’t become clear until I found out that Ayn Rand had a vindictive streak that made her cut people out of her life over the slightest disagreements. Murray Rothbard was one of those people who would find himself booted out of her circle for daring to show any dissent towards her ideas. She would later show the same vindictiveness towards her partner/lover Nathan Branden when they had a falling out.

In the book, I Chose Liberty, there are a series of personal stories by prominent academics and activists who dabbled with objectivism, before being put off by the way that the hierarchy of the organization seemed to demand a cult-like obedience to their founder. That was why many would refer to Rand’s followers as Randbots. Murray Rothbard would put on plays mocking Rand’s authoritarian attitude towards her followers.

Sadly, it seems like the vindictiveness towards dissenters didn’t seem to soften when Ayn Rand passed away. One of their members, David Kelly was expelled from their ranks when he dared to praise a biography written about their founder, when he was expected to trash it. There was also some talk about Kelly corresponding with those dastardly libertarians. He also talked about making it more of an open system, where ideas can be discussed and debated. The horror! So, as you can imagine, their attitudes towards libertarians haven’t softened much either. Prominent Objectivists Peter Schwartz and Leonard Peikoff have spent years ruthlessly attacking the libertarian movement as if it was led by the anti-Christ.

In a Winter 2013 issue of The Objective Standard, there was an article titled Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism by Craig Biddle. The problem with this article is that its author doesn’t seem to understand that not all libertarians think alike. He talked about how libertarian, Bryan Caplan believed that we should never engage in war, even in self-defense because innocent people will be harmed as a result of collateral damage. Usually, it is the preemptive wars and unnecessary military actions that libertarians take issue with and not defensive acts.

He also mentions Murray Rothbard’s belief that parents shouldn’t be forced into being providers for their children. The point that Rothbard was making was that the government shouldn’t force parents into being caregivers to their children and in the same breath children shouldn’t be forced to bend to their parents’ will. You could certainly argue that this is an extreme position, but considering the track record that the government has had on the issue of child rearing, I think Rothbard certainly had a point. Personally, when you chose to bring children into the world, I think you have a moral responsibility to be their caregivers until they reach a certain age. I just don’t believe that the government can force anyone into being a better parent.

Apparently, they never heard the famous expression that getting libertarians to agree with each other is like herding cats. What libertarians do have in common is the Non-Aggression Principle, which prohibits the initiation of force. Objectivists, who aren’t allowed to have any differing opinions from Ayn Rand or her successors, don’t seem to comprehend how libertarians can have a plurality of differing opinions. After everything that I have discovered about the objectivist movement, it has actually become quite clear why many have referred to it as a cult. I will admit that we libertarians owe their founder a debt of gratitude because if it wasn’t for her the libertarian movement would either be nonexistent or extremely obscure. That being said, I have to point out that their founder has been dead for quite some time, so she is no longer around to force everyone to conform to all of her viewpoints. I’m not saying that their side has to change completely, but I think that they need to be a little more flexible with their views. Instead of fighting us, they need to follow the lead of David Kelly and start exchanging some ideas with us. Maybe then they will realize that we are not their enemies.


Happy with this piece? Annoyed? Disagree? Speak your peace.
Note: All letters to this address will be considered for
publication unless they say explicitly Not For Publication